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Iran Moving Aggressively in Latin America
Seems like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is not the only one who is entering into new strategic alliances with Iran while much of the world is backing away.

It is not much of a surprise that Nicaragua's new/old president Daniel Ortega has, according to my sources who have seen the documents, already signed agreements to send a small group of "diplomats" to Tehran for intelligence training.

In addition, Nicaragua will support Iran's nuclear ambitions and other Iranian positions. In exchange, Nicaragua will get a hydroelectric plant, a motorcycle factory and other economic toys. This is all in concert with Venezuela, who, as today's Washington Post reports, Chavez is consolidating his control in Venezuela while buying support of other nations. Along with his "brother" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Chavez is pledging a $2 billion investment fund for the region.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad are certainly free to spend their money as they see fit. The aid is given without the stringent marco economic conditions of the loans from the World Bank and IMF. Fine.

But there are conditions nonetheless, and it is truly unbelievable to read that there are those who think this is all done from the altruistic natures of Chavez and Ahmadinejad.

The deals will include support for Iran in myriad forms. One of them is expanding Iranian influence (and hence the influence of Hezbollah and other radical Shiite groups) through intelligence penetrations, "cultural" exchanges and general access to these countries.

Iran is likely to strike similar deals with Ecuador and Bolivia. While training is fine, it is unlikely the schools to be attended are on the niceties of diplomatic ins and outs. As far as I can tell, that is not a notable forte of Iran, at least as it relates to diplomatic activities in the Western Hemisphere.

The deal with Ortega, whom I covered extensively in the 1980s and 1990s is particularly troubling because of Ortega's long history in facilitating the clandestine movement of terrorists and his willingness to grant citizenship to members of the Red Brigade, under assumed names, along with more than 100 known terrorists and criminals. (This is amply documented in reports just after Ortega left office in 1990, when the massive, illegal granting of citizenship was discovered).

But one of my most vivid memories, and most interesting stories I investigated at the time, was the massive underground bunker that Ortega and his intelligence apparatus kept in the heart of Managua. Its existence became known in 1992 when some of the explosives inside blew up, causing a fire and prompting an investigation Ortega could not control.

Inside were literally hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of false IDs, blank passports (including diplomatic), money, weapons-everything needed to aid a non-state group if needed. Much of it been used by the FMLN in El Salvador, but there were records going to international terrorist organizations around the world.

Ortega's brother Humberto was so alarmed by the explosion that he showed up in the darkness of the early morning, in his pajamas, to try to begin a cover-up.

Ultimately, what was most dangerous was not that the Sandinistas and Ortega had mounted the infrastructure, with help from the Cubans and Soviet bloc, to maintain links to like-minded groups.

It was that, two years after losing the elections and long after the Contra wars ended, no one in the Sandinista leadership, certainly not Ortega, had ever told the new government of the existence of the cache, or moved to remove either the documents or the weapons.

Ortega, through years of struggle, and later as president of a government that grew increasingly repressive, learned how to build clandestine operations as well as how to run sophisticated intelligence apparatuses. That apparatus has been largely dismantled, but the knowledge and training remain.

It is hard to imagine those going to Iran will not come back with more of the latest intelligence hardware, software and training. And it is hard to imagine that Hezbollah and the Quds Forces operatives will not enjoy the facilities that Ortega has put at the disposal of terrorist groups in his past presidency.
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