Part of the concern about Iran’s intentions comes from the fact that many of the deals signed in recent years are shrouded in secrecy. A Venezuela visit by Iran’s defense minister in 2010 ended in a deal between the two militaries, but no details were made public.
But those who study the relationship between the two countries say that many of the promised and rumored projects – from homes to hospitals to a mega embassy in Nicaragua – have gone nowhere. “Iran has promised a lot, but delivered very little,” says Javedanfar.
And while trade has increased between Iran and Latin America, tripling from 2008 to 2009, Johnson points out that it still only a tiny fraction of Iran’s overall trade. Many question what Iran is getting out of the commercial deals in Latin America, apart from more support for its nuclear program and perhaps a boost at home for Ahmadinejad, because its allies are mostly poorer countries.
“It’s a very poor commercial fit because outside of Venezuela, these countries are very needy,” says Johnson. “They can’t give very much back.”