WASHINGTON, DC — Iran’s presence in Latin America and its growing influence in the region are causing consternation among senior lawmakers and top U.S. military officials.
Gen. John Kelly, the top U.S. commander in Latin America and the Caribbean, warned lawmakers earlier this month that over the last 15 years, Iran has been seeking to enhance its influence in the region he oversees as the chief of U.S Southern Command (Southcom).
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, indicated that Gen. Kelly’s warning should elicit action from elected officials.
“General Kelly’s warning arrives at a time when thousands of unknown individuals continue to be caught and released at the border,” Sen. Sessions told Breitbart News. “It arrives on the heels of repeated declarations from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) caseworkers that we are ‘rubber-stamping’ immigrant applications,” he then said, adding, “And it arrives squarely in the midst of President Obama’s unilateral suspension of our sovereign immigration laws.”
“All who hold or seek to hold elected office must work towards establishing now-absent control over our system of entry into, and exit from, the United States,” he declared.
As the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has vowed to look into the threat emanating from Iran’s presence in Latin America.
The House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a joint hearing on March 18 with the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa to shed light on operations in Latin America and the Caribbean conducted by Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and Iran itself.
The hearing was held amid nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5 nations (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China) and Germany.
All parties have agreed on a March 31 deadline to reach the outline of a nuclear agreement. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The U.S. is reportedly making many concessions in the Iran talks.
Repealing United Nations (UN) sanctions against the Islamic Republic, allowing Iran to simply “freeze” its nuclear activity for ten years, and rolling back elements of a UN arms embargo against Tehran have been identified as some of the concessions.
During the negotiations, the Obama administration has been ignoring Iran and Hezbollah activities in the Western Hemisphere, asserted Rep. Duncan.
Some congressional aides suggested to Breitbart News that the Obama administration is trying to keep the Iranian threat in Latin America quiet to avoid undermining its negotiations with Iran, which is still officially listed by the U.S. as one of the world’s primary sponsors of terror.
“Iran has established more than 80 ‘cultural centers’ in a region with an extremely small Muslim population. The purported purpose of these centers is to improve Iran’s image, promote Shi’a Islam, and increase Iran’s political influence in the region,” Gen. Kelly candidly told lawmakers on March 12. “As the foremost state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s involvement in the region and these cultural centers is a matter for concern, and its diplomatic, economic, and political engagement is closely monitored.”
Gen. Kelly noted that Iran is deliberately intent on countering American influence in the region and circumventing the sanctions that the U.S. and the UN imposed on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.
On March 26, Gen. Kenneth Tovo, Southcom’s deputy commander, told lawmakers that Hezbollah is generating “tens of millions” through drug trafficking in Latin America.
The terrorist group uses the revenue to fund operations in the Middle East, added the general.
Southcom is responsible for providing contingency planning and operations in 31 countries and 15 territories across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83.