News | June 2, 2021

Iran in Latin America: Malign Alliances, “Super Spreaders,” and Alternative Narratives

By Douglas Farah and Alexa Tavarez Strategic Perspectives 34

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Executive Summary

Iran’s ability to shape the information environment and spread the narrative of the United States as an imperialist force—perpetrating violence and instability in Latin America—has grown in recent years. These ongoing and multifaceted campaigns of disinformation and carefully curated messages are coordinated with Russian and Venezuelan state media companies and thousands of allied Internet and social media accounts. Together, these efforts pose a strategic challenge to U.S. interests and regional efforts to promote stability, democratic values, and the rule of law. While less visible than shipping gasoline to the Nicolás Maduro regime and other provocative actions, Iran’s advances in Latin America’s information space is not any less threatening than its more overt activities.

As part of its regional strategy, Iran has created a network of expanding echo chambers whose foundations are Iran’s own HispanTV state-owned satellite platform; teleSUR, the Bolivarian radical populist network based in Venezuela; and RT en Español, the Russian state news service. These platforms operate in tandem with social media accounts on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Telegram chat groups to coordinate narratives that are pushed from small platforms to mainstream media content in a relatively short period of time.

These narratives are then disseminated by a small corps of “super spreaders” and well-funded think tanks to push the same messaging across broader intellectual communities. Opensource data analysis identifies how these individuals act as cultural translators across different revolutionary settings and platforms. These crucial interlocutors hold various positions across a broad network of actors, including one senior member of the current Spanish government.

Ultimately, this Iranian-backed network is unified by a strong anti-U.S. ideology, providing a constant narrative of U.S. oppression and reckless exploitation of natural resources while portraying Iran as a key ideological ally of the radical populist Bolivarian Revolution. The overlap of messaging with Russian accounts and media platforms creates the narrative that the Iranian Revolution and the Bolivarian Revolution share a common set of anti-U.S. goals with Russia. There is no comparable U.S. counternarrative or sustained effort to counteract these ongoing narratives that have contributed to the waning political, military, and economic influence of the United States in Latin America.

This multifaceted and ongoing campaign is one of the primary reasons the Maduro regime and the Bolivarian Joint Criminal Enterprise (BJCE) continues to enjoy a large and surprising degree of legitimacy in the hemisphere. Iran’s occupation of Latin America’s information space has grown in effectiveness and sophistication, as all three core media outlets have moved from the fringes to the mainstream of media relevancy. The messaging, largely devoid of Islamic religious content, is at its core a call and convergence center for a global alliance against the United States by Iran, Russia, and the BJCE. Our partner Ex Arca LLC, an information operations analysis company, provided the digital media analysis in this paper. Our partners at iTask provided research support.

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