The Islamic Republic of Iran launched last week a Spanish language television station in what it says is an effort to reinforce cultural ties with Spanish-speaking nations and help introduce the country’s traditions to Latin America.
Iran, which already has close to Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, hopes to gain a foothold in other Latin American countries and offset the influence of the United States through the channel, which is called HispanTV.
“Launching a channel to act as a bridge between Iran and the countries of Latin America was a need to help familiarize Spanish-speaking citizens with the Iranian nation,” said Mohammad Sarafraz, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Deputy Director for International Affairs, according to the Tehran Times.
Sarafraz added that Western nations present a false image of Iran and other Islamic countries to Latin America. In the past Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other Iranian officials have accused Western news agencies of exaggerating the significance of issues, such as the sentence to death by stoning of a women accused of adultery and murder.
HispanTV officially launched last Wednesday when it aired “Saint Mary,” by Iranian director Shahriar Bahrani in Spanish. The film is a depiction the life of the Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus Christ from an Islamic point of view.
But some analysts see HispanTV as part and parcel of a political strategy towards the Spanish-speaking world.
“Iran has for several years been making overtures to Latin America," said Joel Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.
"First, they believe they can curry favor with Latin American nations in order to gain diplomatic protection (at the UN, IAEA, etc.) for what is seen as an increasingly dangerous standoff with the ‘west’. Secondly, they use their relationships with Latin America to launder money that would otherwise be subject to sanctions and to provide diplomatic cover to Hezbollah and the Quds force in their attempts to gain converts, raise money and establish sleeper cells to plan terrorist attacks against ‘western’ targets," explained Hirst. "The Spanish Language channel can be seen as part of this broader effort.”
According to a press release, HispanTV will air in Venezuela, Spain, Argentina, Cuba and other countries worldwide.
The launch of the television station comes soon after U.S. President Barack Obama openly criticized Venezuela’s Chávez for his close ties to Iran and reiterated his concern about Iran's nuclear program as well as allegations that the country supports terrorism.
"Ultimately, it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world," Obama said. "Here in the Americas, we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely."