Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is taking a tour of Latin America this week, making his first stop in Venezuela to meet with ally President Hugo Chavez.
The strategic visit comes as the European Union mulls tightening its sanctions on Iran, and the Islamic Republic could be looking to increase its financial ties to Central and South America before new restrictions on its oil industry set in. Earlier this month, the United States also imposed new economic provisions on Iran in an attempt to get the country to abandon its nuclear program.
The trip could also be a cheeky show of defiance against the U.S., which is trying to use its sanctions and its rhetoric to isolate Iran from the rest of the world. Ahmadinejad will also visit Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador; the first two nations on that list have been antagonistic toward the United States in the past, while Ecuador's President Rafael Correa twice denied the U.S. from leasing its Manta Air Base.
The five-day visit is also the Iranian president's fifth to Latin America since 2005, and it could be more a symbolic show of support than anything else.
Iran's Latin American allies shouldn't expect too much in return. Iran has yet to fulfill pledges made by Ahmadinejad on previous trips -- he's made five since 2005 -- to build a port in Nicaragua and an oil refinery in Ecuador, Bloomberg noted on Monday.
The Iranian statesman will attend the swearing in ceremony for Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan president who won re-election in November.
Unlike in previous trips to Latin America, Ahmadinejad will not be visiting Brazil, which wasn’t interested in inviting him, nor did he offer to come,” the political commentator Clovis Rossi wrote in the Folha de Sao Paulo yesterday.
Diplomatic ties between Iran and Brazil have soured since the election of President Dilma Rousseff, who said the absence of Ahmadinejad “spares us another pointless polemic.”