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From Havana to Tehran: The strange love affair between a theocracy and
an atheistic dictatorship
[31-03-2015 03:29:03]
Jaime Suchlicki
Director del Instituto de Estudios Cubanos y Cubano-Americanos de la
Universidad de Miami

(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- [On Dec. 17, 2014, President Barack Obama
announced a dramatic change in the United States’ policy toward Cuba,
heralding the end of a Cold War-era conflict that had begun to look
increasingly anachronistic. The benefits of the two longtime foes’ new
and improved relationship remain to be seen — but the contradictions
involved are already obvious. Over half a century of pursuing an
aggressive anti-American foreign policy, Cuba has made plenty of friends
whom the United States considers enemies, and Havana is unlikely to
easily let go of its longtime allies. These include Russia, ,
and a variety of Arab dictators, Islamic fundamentalist movements, and
anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. The list of Cuba’s unsavory
friends also includes Iran — a relationship of particular salience on
the world stage today.
Communist Cuba’s alliance with the Iran of the Ayatollahs dates to 1979,
when became one of the first heads of state to recognize
the Islamic Republic’s radical clerics. Addressing then-Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Khomeini, Castro insisted that there was “no contradiction
between revolution and religion,” an ecumenical principle that has
guided Cuba’s relations with Iran and other Islamic regimes. Over the
next two decades, Castro fostered a unique relationship between secular
communist Cuba and theocratic Iran, united by a common hatred of the
United States and the liberal, democratic West — and by substantial
material interests. (In the photo, Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza
Rahimi and Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister Marcos Rodriguez attend a
wreath-laying ceremony on Revolution Square in Havana on Sept. 7, 2011.)

In the early 1990s, Havana started to export biopharmaceutical products
for the Iranian care system and trained Iranian scientists to use
them. By the end of the decade, it had moved beyond simple exports to
transferring medical biotechnology and, along with the technical
know-how, capabilities for developing and manufacturing industrial
quantities of biological weapons. In addition to training Iranian
scientists in Cuba and sending Cuban scientists and technicians to
Iran’s research centers, the state-run Center for Biotechnology and
Genetic Engineering established a joint-venture biotechnology production
plant near Tehran at a cost of $60 million, with Cuba providing the
intellectual capital and technology, and Iran providing the financing.
This facility, now under Iranian control, is believed to be “the most
modern biotechnology and genetic engineering facility of its type in the
Middle East.”

Iran has also benefited from its friendship with Havana in more
aggressive ways. Geographically, Cuba’s strategic location enabled the
Islamic Republic, on at least one occasion, to clandestinely engage in
electronic attacks against U.S. telecommunications that posed a threat
to the Islamic regime’s censorship apparatus. In the summer of 2003,
Tehran blocked signals from a U.S. satellite that was broadcasting
uncensored Farsi-language news into the country at a time of rising
unrest. Based on the satellite’s location over the Atlantic, it would
have been impossible for Iranian-based transmissions to affect its
signals. Ultimately, the jamming was traced to a compound in the
outskirts of Havana that had been equipped with the advanced
telecommunications technology capable of disrupting the Los
Angeles-based broadcaster’s programming across the Atlantic. It is well
known that Cuba has continuously upgraded its ability to block U.S.
broadcasts to the island, and hence, conceivably, to jam international
communications. Although the Cuban government would later claim that
Iranian diplomatic staff had operated out of the compound without its
consent, given that Cuba “[is] a fully state,” as Iran expert
Safa Haeri has noted, “it is difficult to believe the Iranians had
introduced the sophisticated jamming equipment into Cuba without the
knowledge of the Cuban authorities,” much less utilized it against U.S.
targets without the knowledge of the Castro regime.

In return for its services, Iran has compensated the Cuban government
directly. During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Tehran
offered Havana an initial 20 million euro annual credit line. Following
the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, Iran expanded this credit
line to 200 million euros for bilateral trade and projects.
At the same time, Havana was spearheading a campaign within the
Non-Aligned Movement to legitimize Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program as
an “inalienable right” of all developing nations. In June 2008
Ahmadinejad approved a record 500 million euro credit for the Castro
regime. From Iran’s perspective, Cuba deserves to be rewarded for its
“similarity in outlooks on international issues.”

In total, Cuba has received the equivalent of over one billion euros in
loans from Tehran since 2005. With this financing, Cuba has begun to
make critical investments in the rehabilitation of dilapidated
Soviet-era infrastructure. Iran is funding some 60 projects ranging from
the acquisition of 750 Iranian-made rail cars to the construction of
power plants, dams, and highways. This infusion of Islamic capital has
strengthened the Cuban regime’s stability and reduced the risk of
economic collapse by adding a fourth financial pillar alongside oil from
Venezuela, bilateral trade credits from and Russia, and corporate
capital from , Latin America and the .

The election of the apparently more moderate Hassan Rouhani, the
reduction in the price of oil, and Iran’s involvement in the Middle East
have precluded additional credits to Cuba. Yet the relationship, as
evidenced by visits, cooperation in international organizations, and
joint support for Venezuela, has continued.

Tehran’s and Havana’s shared interest in Venezuela is another source of
potential concern to the West. Venezuela’s strategic position and
considerable resources make it a potentially greater threat to U.S.
interests in the region than the one posed in the 1960s by the Castro
regime. Venezuela’s alliances with Iran, Syria, and other anti-American
countries and its support for terrorist groups, while representing a
smaller threat, are as formidable a challenge as the Cuba-Soviet
alliance. And while Cuban support for the regime in Caracas is fairly
well known, Iran, too, has been offering Venezuela technical assistance
in the areas of defense, intelligence, energy, and security. Iranian as
well as Cuban personnel are advising, protecting, and training
Venezuela’s security apparatus.

Of more strategic significance is the possibility that Iranian
scientists are enriching uranium in Venezuela for shipment to Iran.
Venezuelan sources have confirmed this possibility. Foreign intelligence
services consulted by the author acknowledged these rumors but are
unable to confirm them. If confirmed, these actions would violate U.N.
sanctions as well as U.S. security measures.

If the United States really intends to expand its relations with Cuba,
Washington needs to address Havana’s troublesome alliances with rogue
regimes — above all, its friendship with Tehran. These alliances — as
well as the desire of the Cuban military to remain in power and transfer
control to younger, but still conservative, anti-American leaders — are
a troubling sign that internal liberalization will be slow and
difficult. No matter how much Washington may want to see a new and
friendlier Cuba, the island nation’s choice of allies says more about
the future of this relationship than any number of well-meaning
declarations.

Source: From Havana to Tehran: The strange love affair between a
theocracy and an atheistic dictatorship – Misceláneas de Cuba –
http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/Article/Index/5519f85f3a682e0838f8f552#.VRqNcfmUc3Q

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