Last week a delegation from Iran headed by Oil Minister Javad Oji and Mohammad Javad Bavand, head of the National Oil Refining and Distribution Company, arrived in Nicaragua on a mission to strengthen Tehran’s commercial presence in the country. It formed part of a larger tour of friendly countries on the continent that saw the group sign eight memoranda of understanding in mere days.
The group met with the country’s dictatorial long-time President, Daniel Ortega, on May 6 and pledged Iran’s readiness to supply oil derivatives to Nicaragua. Iran, they said, could also participate in future hydrocarbon exploration and potentially invest in Nicaragua’s refineries. “We will stop at nothing to guarantee fuel supply to Nicaragua," Oji promised in a televised address, aided by a Spanish translator.
Ortega later confirmed to the media that during the visit, "issues that are crucial that have to do with oil were addressed". The Venezuelan state-owned TV network Telesur, which is also part-funded by Cuba and Nicaragua, reported that Iran and Nicaragua had signed a new agreement on future oil supply and joint projects.
The details and scope were not specified, but among the ideas on the table is Iranian investment in planned a refinery in El Supremo Sueño de Bolívar Industrial Complex, which the Ortega regime began constructing in 2007 with cash from Venezuela. According to data published by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Production and Trade, the country currently consumes 12 million barrels of oil per year.
Tehran’s Overtures to Managua
The Nicaraguan and Iranian governments have indicated they have something of a close relationship. Last November, officials in Iran were among precious few worldwide to salute Ortega on his hugely controversial re-election for a fourth term. Seven Nicaraguan opposition candidates had been arrested in the run-up to the “vote” and two others had fled the country in fear for their lives.
Then in January, Iran sent Mohsen Rezaei, an ex-IRGC commander accused by Argentina of having been co-conspirator in the AMIA bombing, to Ortega's inauguration ceremony. The presence at the ceremony in Managua of a man thought to have helped engineer a devastating terror attack on the Jewish community did not go unnoticed; some 22 of 34 active members of the Organization of American States complained.
Speaking to Telesur at the close of last week’s visit, Oji added: "The main foreign policy focus of President Raisi’s administration is to extend and broaden relations, with a special emphasis on the economic aspect, with sister countries and friends in Latin America, such as Nicaragua".
The Iranian delegation duly went on to visit Venezuela and Cuba, its two main allies on the continent. Embattled Venezuelan premier Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter on Monday: “Venezuela has always had the support of sister countries. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of them. Count on our support and commitment to continue advancing along the path of shared benefit for our peoples.”
Hours earlier, Oji had met with his Venezuelan counterpart, Tareck El Aissami, a Hezbollah affiliate wanted in the US on narco-terrorism charges. The pair, Venezuela’s Oil Ministry later said in a statement, had discussed "the construction of routes and mechanisms to overcome the unilateral coercive measures [sanctions] imposed by the US government and allied countries”.
In Cuba, the Iranian representatives made for the capital city, Havana, where they met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel. According to state-controlled media on the Caribbean island, they also signed two memorandums of understanding to "expand cooperation between the two countries in various economic sectors, including energy and agriculture".
More Than Just a Trade Agreement
Exporting the principles of the Islamic Revolution has been a critical goal for the Iranian regime since the Islamic Republic came into being. And Latin America has always been a key location for achieving this expansionist goal.
Since the 1980s Tehran has sought to penetrate Latin America through culture, diplomacy, military and economic means, and since the 1990s, has also taken advantage of the presence of authoritarian regimes, contributing to their longevity through strategic alliances with such countries as Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua. These ties have simultaneously allowed Hezbollah to enter the region, take root, expand, proselytize, and build alliances with like-minded local ideological movements.
Since 2012 a Hezbollah training base has been located in northern Nicaragua near the border with Honduras. According to The Times of Israel, about 30 members of Hezbollah reside here, in an area closed to the public. The base reportedly serves as a training ground and organizing point for drug trafficking and organized crime, two of Hezbollah's primary sources of financing in Latin America.