Among the Islamic Republic of Iran's very few diplomatic friends are too many from Latin America's left, who are always happy to milk their cash-rich allies for all they are worth.
The Latin American Left has an incurable anti-Yankee fever. It is a sickness seen in the baffling support given by the socialist regimes of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela or Bolivia to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which to many exemplifies clerical fascism. And all for a single, crass reason: together they hate the United States.
The Islamic Republic has so many of the traits the Left used to hate and fight in the 20th century: a religious (Islamic) vocation, medieval obscurantism, misogyny... Its kleptocratic economy has turned bog-standard class divisions into chasmic inequalities reminiscent of colonial times.
This support is, of course, cynical and in line with the mandates of realpolitik. The regional master in this regard is communist Cuba, which has peddled its anti-imperialist discourse for 60 years, even as it awaits another chance at détente with its ever wealthy neighbor.
I reflected on this on the back of recent remarks by Bolivia's ambassador in Tehran, the 64-year-old Romina Pérez Ramos. She must be the busiest diplomat in Tehran right now, and not a day goes by without her going, appearing or speaking somewhere, with all the publicity she can expect from the regime's media.
Ignoring women's rights
A sociologist by training, she was a communist in her youth and fled for a while to the Soviet Union. Once she returned, her research work and activism revolved around miners initially, then the condition of women and native communities. In a conservative country, the Left saw these far-from-privileged sectors as its natural constituents and support base.
In time, her views and activities led her to join the socialist and indigenist MAS movement of the former president, Evo Morales. Late in his last presidency, in 2019, Pérez Ramos was appointed Bolivia's ambassador in Iran. The two countries' ties had flourished under Morales, again in part for their shared hostility to the United States.
The embassy was briefly shut in 2020, to save money, when Morales was replaced with a conservative administration, but reopened after the Left regained power that year. Last October, Pérez Ramos, this former defender of the rights of workers and women in her own country, denounced Iran's mass protests and the Woman, Life, Freedom movement as a Zionist and "British" plot.
Bolivia, she said, was a "brother country to Iran and we have anti-imperialist ideas"
She was speaking at a meeting with the mayor of Tabriz in north-western Iran. Bolivia, she said, was a "brother country to Iran and we have anti-imperialist ideas," adding she was confident Iran's problems would be solved "with the knowledge and intelligence of its dear leader." Her comments, so clearly dismissive of women fighting for their rights, caused a furore among government opponents in Bolivia and especially defenders of women's rights, and she later said they had been misunderstood or distorted.
Oct. 26, 2010: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomes Bolivian President Evo Morales in Tehran, capital of Iran.
You wonder if the envoy's prominence these days is for Bolivia's increasing importance as a chief repository of lithium. As a mineral needed for batteries and solar panels, it is in many ways the oil of the future. Or, as some Iranians suspect, are regime hands in both states forging "crony ties," like those likely developed with Venezuela?
Pérez often appears at state-sponsored events alongside the envoys of Venezuela and Nicaragua, but also in shrines and religious premises. Local media will show her leaning against a tomb, meditatively, like a Shia Muslim, which presumably she is not. She has claimed to have felt, after visiting a shrine in Qom in central Iran, the curative effects of soil taken from Kerbala (in Iraq), where the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein was killed. Whatever happened to communist anti-clericalism?
She might even have called the book "Islam in Action"
The envoys of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua were recently promoting the Spanish edition of the Iranian supreme leader's autobiography, entitled Cell Number 14. Pérez Ramos praised Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a "real fighter," speaking at the book's presentation at a Tehran book fair on May 15, saying she might even have called the book "Islam in Action," as this was essentially its "inspiring" message.
Such declarations might be dismissed as mere flattery, or preposterous, if they weren't made against a backdrop of state violence and murders.