US Vice President Joseph Biden downplayed Iran’s potential to affect US security through Latin American alliances, further calling into question those who suspect links between the Islamic state and organized crime networks in the region.
Speaking after his visit to Honduras and Mexico earlier this week, Biden told CNN, “People talk about Hezbollah. They talk about Iranian support for weapons and the rest. I guarantee you, Iran will not be able to pose a hemispheric threat to the US.”
InSight Crime Analysis
The US recently deemed transnational crime, particularly that stemming from Latin America, to be an "abiding threat" to its national security. If Iran's links to Latin American criminal groups were legitimate, therefore, it seems that Vice President Biden would not downplay the issue.
His low level of concern is not shared by all in the US, particularly the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla). Last month, Ros-Lehtinen pointed to the “Iran-Zetas” plot in October 2011 as proof of the growing threat of Iran in Latin America. The “plot” involved an alleged member of Iran’s Qods Force who supposedly sought the collusion of the Mexican drug gang to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the US.
Ros-Lehtinen also highlighted the danger posed by the “synergy" between Hezbollah and the drug cartels in Latin America.
However, the purported links between Iran and organized crime networks in the region cannot be substantiated. The Iran-Zetas allegation propounded by Ros-Lehtinen rested on a poor understanding of the Mexican underworld, making the legitimacy of the claim, and thus Iran’s actual involvement, highly questionable.
As the director of Southern Pulse told InSight Crime at the time, it is hard "to believe that the Zetas would entertain the thought of bombing a target on U.S. soil." Since the group committed five murders in Texas between 2005 and 2006, they have been especially low-key with their operations across the border due to the response they incurred from US authorities for the homicides.
In light of this, it is highly dubious that Iran, through its elite force no less, would ever look to seek out a partner with no history of cross-border political attacks and with no stated desire to venture into the business.
With regards to Hezbollah, the group's biggest support base in Latin America lies in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay where it relies mainly on financing from local syndicates. Given the nature of these links, Hezbollah is not believed to be actively involved in directing organized crime in the region. This is far cry from Ros-Lehtinen’s dangerous Hezbollah-drug cartel nexus, making such claims from Washington seemingly more based on political fears than any hard evidence.