Since its founding, the revolutionary regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran has made massive efforts to export the principles of its Islamic Revolution to the world at large. In the Middle East and Africa, this exporting of the revolution has been carried out by means of proxies such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, the Shi'ite militias in Iraq, and Shi'ite clerics in Nigeria, all of which Iran provides with financial, political and organizational assistance so that they can gradually undermine local politics and establish local support bases.
In Latin America, Iran has employed a similar strategy. Recognizing Latin America's geostrategic significance as the U.S.'s "backyard," it has sought to export the revolution across the region through the influence of local Shi'ite clerics and political leaders who seek to gradually infiltrate local politics and garner countrywide support for anti-U.S. positions.
These passionate pro-Iran leaders often collaborate with leftist politicians to promote the view that Iran's and Latin America's struggles are one and the same – that is, against the arrogant Western powers who oppress the free nations through moral degradation, economic slavery, and territorial colonization. To this end, the Iranian regime and its protégé Hizbullah have also traditionally used accounts on various social media platforms, including HispanTV, Al-Mayadeen Español, and Al-ManarTV en Español, as well as Khamenei.ir, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's official accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Through these, they address local audiences in their own languages. In this way, Iran has sought to continue recruiting local operatives whom Iran hopes will realize, through sufficient exposure to the core values of the Islamic Revolution, that it is only through collaboration with the Islamic Republic of Iran that their Latin American nations will regain their political and economic sovereignty – which, in their view, is under threat from all Western powers.
In 2023, Iran's latest attempts to indoctrinate such Latin American operatives largely focused on promoting the book Celda No. 14 (Cell No. 14), the Spanish translation of the memoir of Supreme Leader Khamenei. The book, originally written by Khamenei in Arabic and subsequently translated into Farsi and Spanish, is Khamenei's memoir of his imprisonment and exile in Iran prior to the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The book has been massively promoted at multiple international bookfairs across Latin America, including in Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia, and represents the Iranian regime's latest attempt at igniting the revolutionary spark in the region – this time through cultural and literary exchange.
Celda No. 14 ("Cell No. 14") – Khamenei's Memoir
On May 10, 2023, the Iranian cultural center Centro de Intercambio Cultural Latinoamericano launched the official Spanish translation of Khamenei's memoir Celda No. 14 at a ceremony. The title refers to one of the cells where Khamenei was imprisoned in during the Shah-era in Iran prior to the Islamic Revolution.
The book was the fruit of collaboration between Lighthouse International Publications and ONG Shahid Soleimani; the latter is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Iranian Embassy in Bogota, Colombia.
The cover of Celda No. 14
The publishing house Lighthouse International Publications – in Farsi, Fanoos Daryaei – belongs to Khamenei, and its Spanish-language Colombia branch, El Faro Internacional, is run by alumni of Al-Mustafa International University in Qom, Iran, which is widely known to be one of the Iranian regime's main tools for indoctrinating foreign clerics. El Faro Internacional is also part of Islam Oriente, a website run by Al-Mustafa University and headed by Mohsen Rabbani. Rabbani is one of the Iranian nationals implicated in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Other works published by El Faro Internacional include the book Mi Tío Soleimani ("My Uncle Soleimani"), which glorifies the late IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani as a role model worthy of imitation. Both Celda No. 14 and Mi Tío Soleimani can be purchased from Amazon, and the Spanish audio of Celda No. 14 is available through the Centro de Intercambio Cultural Latinoamericano website.
The International Fair Of Iranian-Venezuelan Culture And Friendship, Caracas, March 4-12, 2023
The launch of Celda No. 14 was held as part of the first International Fair of Iranian-Venezuelan Culture and Friendship (#FICA2023), in the Plaza de los Museos de Bellas Artes in Caracas March 4-12, 2023. The fair comprised multiple booths featuring a wide range of activities, including an exhibit of Iranian handicrafts, an Iranian gastronomic experience, free medical attention, and a hijab workshop for women.
Pictures of the fair tweeted by The Centro de Intercambio Cultural Latinoamericano, which hosted the fair.
Attended by thousands of Venezuelans, the fair also presented and promoted Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and the late Qods Force commander Soleimani as peaceful, justice-seeking leaders comparable to Malcom X, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela.
(Left):A billboard at the fair promotes Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei and the late Qods Force commander Soleimani as peaceful, justice-seeking leaders comparable to Malcom X, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. (Right): A flyer promotes Soleimani as "commander of hearts."
The Centro de Intercambio Cultural Latinoamericano, which hosted the fair, belongs to the Iranian Embassy in Venezuela and is dedicated to spreading Islamic knowledge in Venezuela and Latin America. The center is directed by José Nassar, in conjunction with Sheikh Ahmad Saleh, a Lebanese sheikh who studied at Mustafa University in Qom and who was also the fair's director. The fair was also cohosted by the Iranian propaganda news channel Segundo Paso and by the Editorial Internacional El Faro and El color de la Resistencia, which are other pro-Iran organizations. According to the Iranian Cultural Center, the fair was the "first edition" of many to come.
(Left): Photos of Venezuelan children at the fair tweeted by The Centro de Intercambio Cultural Latinoamericano. (Right): Video of Sheikh Ahmad Saleh promoting the Fair. Saleh is one of the directors of the Cultural Center Centro de Intercambio Cultural Latinoamericano, and also served as director of the Iranian-Venezuelan Culture and Friendship Fair.
Senior Officials Attend Launch Of Celda No. 14
The launch of Celda No. 14 at the fair was presided over by Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela Hojjat Soltani, Iranian Culture Minister Mahdi Esmaili, and Venezuelan Culture Minister Ernesto Villegas Poljak. Other senior officials present at the launch ceremony included Venezuelan National Assembly Vice President Pedro Infante, Mexican Ambassador to Venezuela Polo de Gyves, and other Iranian officials.
Left: Ministers Esmaili (center front) and Poljak (right front) entering the Plaza de los Museos with other Iranian and Venezuelan officials prior to launch ceremony (Source: Twitter.com/VillegasPoljak/status/1634345177337741317/photo/1). Right: Ministers Poljak (left) and Esmaili presenting the book; behind them is Iranian Ambassador to Venezuela Hojjat Soltani. (Source: Twitter.com/Khamenei_m/status/1634668035003801600?s=20, English.khamenei.ir/photo/9580/Ceremony-for-release-of-Leader-s-book-in-Spanish, March 11, 2023)
Also at the book launch, Poljak and Esmaili drew attention to a message from Supreme Leader Khamenei to "all Spanish-speaking people of the world." The message, in Farsi in Khamenei's handwriting, was included in Spanish translation in the introduction of the book. It reads: "In the name of God, the most gracious and most merciful, I will be very pleased if through this book a bridge is established with my dear Spanish-speaking readers. This text is but a small part of my anecdotes. How beautiful is the fact that we, you and all the nations that seek justice, can get to know each other better and join forces! I pray to God that you succeed and have a prosperous life."
Left to right: Ministers Poljak and Esmaili show Khamenei's original dedication in Farsi, translated (right) into Spanish; the dedication; the Spanish version in the introduction of the published book.
Notably, in an interview with Khamenei's website Khamenei.ir, Venezuelan Culture Minister Poljak called Celda No. 14 an "atomic book." Asked why, he said: "Today I remembered that when [the late Venezuelan president] Commander [Hugo] Chavez first read that Iran and Venezuela were being accused of hiding an atomic [nuclear power] plant in a bicycle factory in Venezuela for military purposes, he decided to ridicule that imperialist campaign by dubbing the bicycles 'atomic bicycles.' This book is thus also an 'atomic book,' because what can be more dangerous to imperialism and the global arrogance [i.e. the U.S.] than a nation that reads, and [whose] people are increasingly aware of the cultural diversity and complexity of the history of our humanity? In this [particular] case, the Venezuelan people, armed with the knowledge of the Iranian reality... are now better informed and less susceptible to manipulation. In this way, it [the book] has an atomic effect on the conscience of our people." The minister's reference to the book as "atomic" was later widely quoted on Twitter.
Minister Poljak was also asked by in the interview about his opinion on the impact the book could have on the people of Venezuela and on the rest of the Latin American countries. To this, Poljak replied: "It should have a multiplier effect... This book will, in all certainty, draw the attention of other Latin American countries, who will demand access to this work – [a work] that brings us closer to a fundamental universal culture of humanity [i.e. Iranian culture]. So we are very happy to be able to host the global launch of this work in Venezuela; I am sure [it] will be widely requested, read, and discussed, and will enter the mind and heart of Spanish-speaking readers."
In turn, Iranian Culture Minister Esmaili stressed "resistance against arrogance" as "one of the cultural fields between the two countries which can pave the way for holding cultural and resistance festivals," including the translation and publication of books. In this way, Esmaili expressed his hope that the reopening of Iran's cultural attaché office in Venezuela would help advance the establishment and celebration of such important "joint cultural days and weeks" in the two countries.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil Pinto also met with Esmaili. Minister Gil Pinto said that in the meeting both had reiterated "the need to build a joint agenda to make culture and history a safe way to combat campaigns that threaten the truth of our peoples." Additionally, Minister Esmaili tweeted about the meeting: "The government and people of this country, despite the vast plots of American colonialism, are moving forward with resistance. In Venezuela, the love for and interest in Iranian culture and the leader of the revolution is exemplary..."
Minister Gil Pinto also said that Khamenei's memoir "will be used as a guide to fight against the enemy and a symbol of resistance." He then tweeted about the work meeting that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was holding at the time with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
The day before the book launch, on March 9, 2023, Venezuelan Minister of Communication and Information Alfred Nazareth (Freddy Náñez) also met with Iranian Culture Minister Esmaili. According to the Venezuelan and Iranian governments, at the meeting the ministers highlighted the need to develop greater media ties between the two countries in order to fight "fake news" and "media terrorism," and also emphasized the need for "disseminating, through a common agenda, the culture and history of both nations, as an antidote to biased propaganda that seeks to stigmatize their peoples."
Two days later, in an interview with Khamenei.ir, Náñez called Khamenei's fight "an inspiration to stand up and defend the homeland." The interview was tweeted by Jameneí Multimedia, one of Supreme Leader Khamenei's official Spanish-language news outlets.
Left: Venezuelan Communications and Information Minister Alfred Nazareth (Náñez, on left) and Iranian Culture Minister Esmaili at Iranian Ambassador Hojjat's residence, tweeted by Venezuelan Foreign Minister @ yvangil and the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry. Right: Minister Nazareth's interview with Khamenei.ir.
Under Minister Náñez’s leadership, the Venezuelan Communications and Information Ministry is notorious for celebrating the late Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. On March 11, 2023, the ministry marked Soleimani's birthday, tweeting a quote by him: "We are not like the Americans, we do not abandon our friends." The ministry added: "[Celebrating the] birth of a fighter against imperialism. Hero!" The tweet was tweeted twice more by the ministry, and each was retweeted an average of 2,000 times by the account's followers.
In "Salaam Ya Mahdi" Song At The Fair, Children Ask The Mahdi – The Shi'ite Messianic Figure – To Choose Them As "His Soldiers," Vow To "Fulfill His Promise"
Another important activity held at the fair was a performance of the Spanish version of the song "Salaam Ya Mahdi," by children belonging to Venezuela's Lebanese community. In Shi'a Islam, the Mahdi, a messianic figure in the form of a political and spiritual leader, will come during the end times to fight the Shi'ites' enemies – i.e. the West and the Sunnis – and establish peace and justice with his Islamic governance of the world. According to scholars, these Shi'ite messianic expectations are the true driving force behind Iran's Islamic regime, because the power of the ayatollahs in Iran resides in the popular belief that they can "contact the Mahdi."
Singing "Salaam Yah Mahdi" at the fair (Source: Twitter.com/islamenvzla/status/1634978166350712832?s=20, March 12, 2023)
A video of the song "Salaam Ya Mahdi" was first released in October 2022, by Sheikh Ahmad Saleh, the Lebanese sheikh who studied at Mustafa University in Qom and who was the director of the fair, on his Facebook page. In that video, the children sing in Spanish and Arabic, asking the Mahdi to choose them as "his soldiers" and vowing to "fulfill his promise."
They sing: "I am small but I follow the path of Karbala Mahulai, I am small, but I carry the blood of Ashura Mahulai. I'm small, but I have overcome, like no one else will. Labayka ya Mahdi [I am here, oh Mahdi!] – I am a soldier and I come out of loyalty to fight. I am here, oh Mahdi – for you [I have] suffered with my tears, my Lord. I am here, oh Mahdi – I swear by my parents that my soul is for you. When you see us and we see you, I promise not to disappoint my religion; I promise to follow your guidance, Maulahi; I promise to love God in my prayer. Defend the... Quran, it is my oath."
Children singing in the video (Source: Youtube.com/watch?v=rupIpiSBfJw, October 21, 2022)
According to the video's credits, the children are members of the Children's and Youth Choir of the Iranian Cultural Center, and Sheikh Ahmad Saleh was in charge of the Spanish adaptation of the song as well as the general direction of the music video.
The song is the Spanish adaptation of the Iranian revolutionary song "Salam Farmande," a Shi'ite ode to the Mahdi, in which children call for his return and ask him to make them his soldiers. A number of videos of the song in different languages were released in the Western hemisphere – in Canada (in Arabic, French, and English), Venezuela (Spanish and Arabic), and Brazil (Portuguese and Arabic). In almost every version, the children are in military formation, as though ready for battle.
Children singing “Salam Farmande”, the Farsi version of the song “Ya Mahdi.” (Source: Youtube.com/watch?v=unE5md_Euk8, Apr 15, 2022)
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Celda No. 14 In Colombia
The Iranian Embassy in Bogota, Colombia also held a similar book launch, at the International Book Fair of Bogota, April 18-May 2, 2023. The Bogota fair is one of the world's leading book fairs. Celda No. 14 was promoted for the entire duration of the fair, at the booth of the Iranian Embassy in the international pavilion. The official launch, held in one of the fair's grand halls, was held April 23.
Left: The Iranian booth at the International Pavilion of the International Book Fair of Bogota, posted on Instagram by the Iranian Embassy in Bogota. (Instagram.com/p/CrOpOk6O4mA/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==, April 19, 2023) Right: The book launch at the Bogota fair, also posted by the embassy. (Instagram.com/p/CrZz2QeOPCc/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==, April 23, 2023)
A few days later, on April 28, a similar launch was held in Colombia's Congress, before over 200 prominent Colombian politicians and cultural figures. The event was broadcast live by various Iranian state-owned propaganda media outlets, such as IRNA Español, HispanTV, and PressTV.
Book launch in the Colombian Congress (Source: Twitter.com/irna_es/status/1651916031785422849?s=20, April 28, 2023)
Other launch ceremonies took place April 30 at the National Library of Colombia in Bogota; May 4 at the National Library in the city of Cali; and May 6 in the meeting hall of the Bucaramanga Trade Federation in Bucaramanga. This last was attended by the president and students of the University of Santander, the special representative of Santander's governor, and the representative of the Mercosur trade organization.
The massive support for the book achieved by Iran by means of its aggressive publicity campaign at international book fairs, universities, and even the Colombian Congress is a reason for great concern, as it is evidence of Latin America's continued openness to revolutionary ideology.
* Emmanuel Cadieux is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1517, The Organization For The Liberation Of Argentina (OLA) – Building Support For The Iranian Regime And Hizbullah, July 1, 2020 and MEMRI JTTM report Brazilian Shi'ite Cleric Rodrigo Jalloul Supports Iranian Regime, Disseminates Its Ideology In Brazil – And Recently Announced Intention To Run For São Paulo City Councilor, September 1, 2020. Another example of an aspiring political leader Iran hopes to use to gradually infiltrate local politics and garner countrywide support for anti-U.S. positions is Marlon Cantillo, former director of the Iranian cultural center Casa Cultural Islámica Ahlul Bayt in Bogota, who ran for the Colombian senate in 2022. Cantillo, aka "Ibrahim Hussein," studied at Al-Mustafa International University in Qom, Iran, an institution widely known to be one of the regime's main instruments for the indoctrination of foreign clerics.
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 According to Tehran Times, the Arabic version was unveiled by Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah at a February 2019 ceremony in Beirut marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Tehrantimes.com/news/484085/Spanish-edition-of-Leader-s-autobiography-Cell-No-14-introduced, April 28, 2023.
 The cultural center was previously known as the Centro de Intercambio Cultural Iraní Latinoamericano, (Iranian-Latinoamerican Cultural Exchange Center). The "Iranian" was later omitted, apparently to ease concerns. @islamenvzla, Twitter.com/islamenvzla; @ islamenvenezuela, Instagram.com/islamenvenezuela?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==; Facebook.com/islamenvzla/,
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 The Shahid Soleimani nonprofit organization was established in December 2020 as an initiative to "resume the path opened by Qassem Soleimani and many other martyrs of the Islamic Revolution in Iran." It describes Soleimani as having participated in "important social and humanitarian projects" and as having played a "key role in strengthening peace in the Middle East." It states that it holds activities including intercultural and interfaith dialogue, and provides food and school supplies to children and young adults impacted by "poverty and inequality."
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 Youtube.com/watch?v=vAbES7lWZP0, September 10, 2022.
 Instagram.com/p/CrZz2QeOPCc/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==, April 23, 2023; Instagram.com/p/CrcjhcIO5fH/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==, April 24, 2023, Instagram.com/reel/CrUdW-PNVwa/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==, April 21, 2023, Instagram.com/p/CrOpOk6O4mA/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==, April 19, 2023, Instagram.com/p/CrL-pdsuxf-/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==, April 18, 2023, Instagram.com/p/CrrxKZjOFGY/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==, April 30, 2023.
Irna.ir/news/85094910, Twitter.com/PressTV/status/1651879108786151424?s=20, April 28, 2023, Twitter.com/FanoosDaryaei/status/1651850712865812480?s=20, April 28, 2023.
 Twitter.com/irna_es/status/1651916031785422849?s=20, April 28, 2023.
 Twitter.com/Nexo_Latino/status/1652141254048620551?s=20, Apr 28, 2023.
 Twitter.com/PressTV/status/1651879108786151424?s=20, Apr 28, 2023.
 Twitter.com/FanoosDaryaei/status/1652658747460780037?s=20, Apr 30, 2023.
 Twitter.com/FanoosDaryaei/status/1652330432124313601?s=20, Apr 29, 2023, Twitter.com/FanoosDaryaei/status/1654134933512650752?s=20, May 4, 2023.
 Twitter.com/FanoosDaryaei/status/1654913951325356032?s=20, May 6, 2023.
 Twitter.com/FanoosDaryaei/status/1654908942655291392?s=20, May 6, 2023.