Cuban-American congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) has labeled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Latin America trip, with stops in Cuba and Venezuela, a "tour of tyrants."
Ahmadinejad's trip represents his fifth visit to the region since 2007. Some, like Ros-Lehtinen, worry the Iranian President is seeking to unite Latin American leaders against US interests. Countries scheduled on Ahmadinejad's tour include Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela.
Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Republican Congresswoman from Florida, said the tour represented an opportunity for Ahmadinejad to "[spew] anti-American rhetoric" and "undermine U.S. national security interests," in a statement released on Monday.
Ros-Lehitnen adds that the "central agenda" of Ahmadinejad's trip is "rallying dictators against the United States."
Ahmadinejad's tour comes amid heightened international tension over Iran's failure to comply with United Nations nuclear non-proliferation agreements. The U.S. and the 27-country European Community have announced new economic sanctions against Iran, including a possible European oil embargo. The sanctions were a response to a recent UN report that said Iran was likely developing a nuclear bomb. Iran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane where 35 percent of the world's oil passes.
Other observers have said Ahmadinejad's getaway signals his growing weakness back home. The Financial Times reported:
"Perhaps the two biggest strategic questions surrounding the trip are the extent to which Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's socialist president, will back Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil shipping lane, or how much Chavez might undermine international sanctions against Iran by providing fuel or cash to Islamic Republic."
During the Iranian President's stop in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez offered words of support to the Iranian government, dismissing U.S. worries about Iran's nuclear program and his growing ties to Latin America.
"They accuse us of being warmongers,” Chavez said to The Washington Post. “They’re the threat.”
Chavez said that both Iran and Venezuela are peaceful and that the US overreacts whenever they meet.
“When we devils get together ... it’s like they go crazy,” Chavez told The Washington Post.
He then joked that that the Iranian President was traversing the “the axis of evil of Latin America.”
But for Congresswoman Ros-Lehitnen, Ahmadinejad's trip is no laughing matter.
In her statement released Monday, she warns that the "growing alliances between Iran and anti-American dictatorships in the Western Hemisphere pose a serious threat to democracy and stability in the region."
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