By Pooya Stone
These days, two pariahs of sorts in international circles —Iran and Venezuela— are scrambling together to withstand against collapse. Both governments suffer from reputation shortage among their citizens and this issue has been become acute with more economic problems and losing their sources of revenue.
In this respect, the coronavirus has amplified these governments’ economic crunch. For instance, last November, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced his administration’s intention to compensate for massive budget deficits by collecting taxes and raising the prices.
Several days later, the government suddenly announced hikes in gasoline prices. The matter prompted hundreds of thousands of Iranians to demonstrate their objection in street protests, according to Minister of Interior Affairs Abdul-Reza Rahmani Fazli.
“Based on the figures provided by our forces on the scene, including the Governor’s Office, between 130,000 and 200,000 people took part in these protests around the country,” the state-run T.V. Channel One aired Rahmani Fazli’s words in an interview on November 27.
Stunning admissions by Iran's Interior Minister on live TV:— M. Hanif Jazayeri (@HanifJazayeri) November 27, 2019
- 200,000 ppl took part in the #IranProtests
- Protests took place in 100 areas of Tehran + in 27 provinces
He is of course minimizing the numbers. After 40 yrs Iran's people are demanding freedom from religious tyranny pic.twitter.com/zlo9oMs8pU
Recently, the Iranian government is gradually increasing prices of basic supplies such as bread, while many people, particularly working and impoverished classes, are crippled to full their families’ food baskets, let alone thinking about hygienic necessities amid the historic health crisis.
On the other hand, Venezuela eventually went to its long-time allies Tehran’s ayatollahs to rescue the country’s economy after being disappointed by Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. However, Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, had previously cut deals with Iran on a variety of energy, agricultural, and financial projects.
On the Iranian side, the ayatollahs are in an acute need for financial sources while they have lost a huge part of their oil revenue. In addition, these days, they are experiencing burdens of their economic mismanagement and corruption, which left the country's economy on the brink of downfall.
In this context, Iranian authorities were recently forced to remove four zeros from their national currency and change the country’s monetary unit to ease intensive liquidity and inflation. Maybe it was ironic that Venezuela, with the largest oil reserves in Latin America, is receiving petrol shipments from a country, which exports around 70,000 barrels per day.
“Exports averaged 70,000 barrels per day in April, down from 287,000 BPD in March according to Kpler, which tracks the flows,” Reuters reported on May 14.
In reality, the ayatollahs are exploiting poverty in this South American country. In this respect, Iran sends its oil production surplus to Venezuela in return for gold cargos while it has no more capacity for stockpiling crude oil. Additionally, the Iranian government is balancing its torn economy with Venezuelan gold bars valued at $500 million.
However, given Iranian authorities’ efforts for not extending the arms embargo on the country, it is not unlikely that these volumes of gold will appear in vaults of the ayatollahs’ strategic allies like Russia and China. It is worth reminding that Iranian authorities cut themselves off from the global banking system by rejecting FATF bills February. In other words, they are unable to regularly purchase their required substances even after U.S. sanctions or the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747 are lifted.
Furthermore, Iranian officials have a notorious history of funding extremist groups. “I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” said former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the interview in Davos on January 21, 2016.
Caracas, the Ayatollahs’ Launchpad for Interference in Latin America
Simultaneously, Iran had turned the Venezuelan capital to a launchpad to expand its influence in South America. In this respect, the ayatollahs oversee their operations in the South American continent through a Qom-based organization under the name of ‘Islam Oriente.’ Mohsen Rabbani, who is one of the suspects in the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina, leads the organization and implements the government’s path by cultural centers for spreading the message of the Islamic Revolution.
Notably, the mentioned organization is recruiting locals to improve its schedules. In this context, it has founded a ‘Center for Iranian-Latin American Cultural Exchange’ in Caracas where has become the operating core for Iran’s agents. Suhail Assad, an Argentinian-Lebanese who has strong ties with Rabbani, directs the Iranian propaganda campaign. Assad is usually operating from Caracas while traveling in Latin America.
In sum, the ayatollahs’ deal with Venezuela as a long-time ally displays that they are comprehensively looting this country. This dark humor proves that the Iranian government does not show mercy even to its allies when faces the question of ‘to be or not to be.’
In this context, Iranian leaders resort to any device to lengthen their regime’s life while they are challenged by unprecedented protests inside the country as well as the coronavirus’s impacts, which has shaved off a significant part of their supporters due to livelihood pressures. They also face growing foreign pressure, which restricted their regional ambitions and aggressions, and makes it harder for Iran to fund its proxies such as Hezbollah.
Therefore, the ayatollahs are ready to sacrifice all their potentials, including their allies, to only remain in power. However, it is not surprising about a ruling system that killed its own citizens with either live ammunition in the streets or keeping them in dark about the coronavirus’s entry to the country and the magnitude of its risk. In fact, as the supreme leader Ali Khamenei has frequently affirmed, the ayatollahs describe all opponents as foes and believe they should be taken away.
In conclusion, as the Iranian people experienced the government’s tactics for more than four decades, the ayatollahs merely understand the language of power and firmness. In this context, they weigh their counterparties’ kindness as weakness, which incites them to amplify their aggressive behaviors. Therefore, the international community should show firmness versus the ayatollahs’ ambitions and meddling in the Middle East to Latin America if they pursue peace and security in the region and across the globe.
The major powers should also condemn Iranian authorities’ unlawful treatments against their own people and stand along with Iranians who struggle for freedom and a proper government. It is imperative that the civilized world holds the ayatollahs accountable for their numerous crimes, including the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, killing 1,500 protesters in November 2019, downing the Ukrainian commercial airliner in January, and misleading the Iranian people and other nations about the real scale of coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which led the country to become as the epicenter of the COVID-19 out of China.