How Iran is Making Inroads in South America

Colombians will vote to elect a new parliament on Sunday, two months before they will choose a new president. That might not be a big story for most Americans, but it’s worth paying attention to because of what it says about Iran’s intentions in South America. This year, the mullahs have their own man on the legislative ballot.

Meet Marlon Cantillo Borrero, No. 82 on the Senate list for the Fuerza Ciudadana (or Citizen’s Force). Fuerza Ciudadana is a left-wing political party closely aligned with former Marxist guerrilla and left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro. The nature of the Colombian Senate’s electoral system—a combination of pure proportionality and the right to choose individual candidates—means that if Cantillo musters enough personal support, he could become senator. Getting a senator elected in Colombia, possibly the U.S. closest ally in the region, would be a game changer.

Cantillo is a graduate of Iran’s Al Mustafa International University, a religious seminar based in Iran’s city of Qom that opened its doors in 2007 with the specific mission of proselytizing the non-Shiite, non-Muslim world and catering to converts in their native language. If Cantillo were elected, the Tehran regime would have a loyal advocate in Colombia’s next parliament.

Al Mustafa is one of Iran’s main vectors to export its revolutionary brand of Shiite Islam. Its key role in regime efforts to indoctrinate and radicalize its pupils, alongside its active training of Shi’a militias Iran deployed in Syria, earned it U.S. sanctions in December 2020. 

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