When Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela, he was exactly the partner Teheran was looking for. This may sound contradictory, as Venezuela has indeed a democratic Constitution whereas Iran has a theocratic one; besides, Chavez is influenced by the Socialist and Communist ideology. But the new Bolivarian leader was as revolutionary as the Iranian regime. Furthermore, Chavez and Teheran had as a goal the “destruction” of the same enemy: the United States. Hence, ever since 1999-2000 the relations between the two major oil producers started. Since then, the two countries gave birth to the emergence of a new worrying phenomenon that we may call Marxist-Islamism, where atheist communist ideology lives along with the Islamist one.
Iranian dissidents state that Khatami had no interest in pursuing an alliance with Venezuela; this was the policy of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who keeps the foreign policy of his country under control. The reasons for seeking links with Venezuela were multiple. At the time, Iran, under international pressure, was looking for new alliances particularly among the so-called non-aligned countries. In the Middle East, Iran could count only on Syria and Qatar, but it did not have any base close to the United States, a place from which Teheran could threaten the “imperialistic enemy”.
A witness of the starting of the Iranian-Venezuelan relations is Manuchehr Honarmand, an Iranian dissident journalist, who in 2002 was a victim of this “unholy” alliance. Honarmand, now a Dutch citizen, used to write columns for the opposition daily Kayhan International, based in London. In December 2002, he decided to go to the US to expand Kayhan’s distribution and went to South America for tourism. While in transit at the Caracas airport, waiting for a connecting flight, he was approached before by two Iranians, who asked him to identify himself, and soon after by two uniformed Venezuelan policemen.
With no apparent motivation, they cuffed his hands and brought him to an office behind the transit area. Then the Venezuelan police beat him and forced him to sign papers in Spanish, which he was unable to understand. A few hours later, Honarmand found himself in a dark cell in Caracas, and only then realized that he had been charged with transporting drugs in a suitcase. The accusation was a pure fabrication; the Venezuelan National Guard report stated that the suitcase was found with a Copa Airlines (A South American Company) luggage tag, whereas Honarmand had been travelling on a KLM flight.
For the first few months, the Venezuelan authority refused to allow him to contact the Dutch Embassy. Honarmand was robbed of his luggage, his money, and his papers and his Dutch passport were confiscated. While in jail, he tried to contact Houshang Vaziri, his editor in chief, who told him he would have helped him. But Vaziri disappeared and eventually was found dead in Paris.
Honarmand was freed only in 2005, thanks to the intervention of the Dutch government. Now he lives in Holland, but that experience has marked his life as a human being and as a journalist. After his release, he has devoted much of his work gathering information about the nature of the ties between Teheran and Caracas.
Honarmand found that Iranian officials are present in every sector of the economy. And according to an article, which appeared in the Iranian newspaper Entehab on December 8, Teheran is also engaged in religious proselytising aiming at the poorest sectors of Venezuelan society.
Iran’s long arm, Hezbollah, is also reported to be openly acting throughout Venezuela. Moreover, according to the US State Department, Hezbollah members are active not only in Venezuela but in all South America, particularly in the Tri-Border area where the frontiers of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay merge.
On October 23, 2006, two explosive devices were found near the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. One of the bombs was found in a box containing leaflets making reference to Hezbollah.
Recently, relations between Caracas and Teheran have developed further. During Chavez’s trip last November to Teheran, Ahmadinejad and he even decided to launch direct flights between Caracas and Teheran. However, according to comments in the Iranian blog Jomhour Iran, part of the Iranian population seems unhappy about the two counties’ alliance. The Iran regime has made huge investments in Venezuela - on the order of two billions dollars - creating discontent among the Iranian people, who need internal investments to boost their weak economy.
But Chavez is too important an ally. According to the Iranian newspaper E’temad-e Melli, thanks to his charismatic personality and Venezuela’s oil production and economical influence, he paved the way for Iranian political relations with Socialist-Marxist South American countries. According to the Washington Post, Chavez has encouraged his ally, Bolivian Socialist President Evo Morales, to open diplomatic relations with Iran and solidify an "anti-imperialist bloc" of energy producers. Ahmadinejad and Morales also signed a five-year industrial cooperation plan for one billion dollar investment as well as a 100 million dollar plan to jointly develop technology and trade.
Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan dictator, who seized power in December 1999, has established privileged ties with Teheran from the very beginning of his mandate. These relations were further reinforced when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran in 2005.
The Iranian reformist newspaper E’temad-e-Melli traces back the links between the Islamic Republic and Venezuela since the formation of the Iranian Reformist government. Former President Muhammed Khatami has actually visited Caracas in his first term. And in 2005, Chavez presented Khatami with the Order of the Liberator - the country's highest decoration - calling it a symbol of their strong ties.
E’temad-e Melli also states that relations with Nicaragua, led by Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, and Ecuador, lead by Chavez’s personal friend President Rafael Correa, are developing well. In exchange, Iran has received support from these above Latin American countries against sanctions in the UN.
Recently, Chavez announced his willingness to start a nuclear program for peaceful purposes, worrying US lawmakers. And he launched the Bank of the South (along with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia) as an alternative to the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. According to the Venezuelan media, Chavez has made the bank part of a strategy to weaken U.S. influence in the region. And for that purpose he knows that he can count on Ahmadinejad, who is said to be ready to spend billions of dollars to finance Chavez’s programmes to harm the United States.