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Bolivia, a country of over 10.8 million people, has a Muslim population of approximately 2,000. But while the practice of the religion in Bolivia remains small and dispersed, the election of President Evo Morales in 2005 brought about a more amiable relationship with Islamic countries in the Middle East, and significantly opened Bolivia’s official policy towards Islam in the years since.1 

Bolivia’s Muslim population counts among its members’ descendants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. These communities are generally spread out between the major cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz, with a smaller presence in Sucre, Cochabamba, and Oruro and other remote cities throughout the country. There are at least fifteen different Islamic organizations, both Shia and Sunni, operating within Bolivia, funded primarily by either Saudi Arabia or the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Since opening an embassy in La Paz in 2008, Iran has been a driving force in increasing the Islamic presence in Bolivia, within both society and the state. Iran has proposed several bilateral agreements with Bolivia, ranging from economic development projects to military-to-military exchanges. Iran has also reportedly funded state-owned media networks in the country. In return, Bolivia has lifted visa restrictions for Iranian citizens, supported its efforts in the UN, and facilitated the increased presence of Iranian officials in this Andean nation.


Level of Islamist Activity: 
Islamist Activity: 

Given that Bolivia has a small Islamic population its community is susceptible to influence from Islamist elements from abroad, notably sponsored by Iran and Hezbollah. In recent years, the number of mosques and Islamic cultural centers has increased drastically in this small Andean nation. Iran’s presence and activities has grown at a commensurate rate. As in the rest of Latin America, Iran’s modus operandi in Bolivia is to establish Islamist networks through mosques and cultural centers run by Bolivian converts to Shia Islam, while Hezbollah gets involved in the illicit narcotics and arms trade in Bolivia. 

In La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, a prominent local Islamist is known to boast ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies. The leader of the Association of the Islamic Community of Bolivia (ACIB) Ahlul Bait, and of the Bolivian Shia community writ large, is Roberto Chambi Calle, a Bolivian lawyer who converted to Islam in 1996. Chambi also goes by the name of Yousef, and simultaneously runs another Shia organization—the Bolivia Islamic Cultural Foundation (FCIB in its Spanish acronym). Also based in La Paz, the FCIB was founded in August 2007 with the support of the Iranian government.

Chambi and his wife, Sdenka Saavedra Alfaro, a journalist and author, actively promote an Islamist message through seminars and small meetings that they organize in Bolivia. They have invited imams from neighboring Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Brazil, to these gatherings, and have a longstanding relationship with Shia spiritual leader Sheikh Abdul Karim Paz from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Karim Paz is a direct disciple of Iranian intelligence operative Mohsen Rabbani, and was his successor at the At Tawhid mosque in Buenos Aires after Rabbani left Argentina following his involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building.2

The Bolivian couple currently resides in Iran, studying under Karim Paz and Rabbani at the Al Mustafa University in Qom, Iran, but continues to actively help in the spread of an Islamist message to the indigenous peoples of Bolivia. The Iranian government, meanwhile, has further enhanced these efforts via its work with state-owned media. In 2008, for instance, the Iranian government attempted to build a television station in Bolivia’s coca-growing region of Chapare.3 Although that project did not materialize, Iran did succeed in launching a broader, Spanish language television network in 2011. Known as HispanTV, it is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) conglomerate and is based out of Tehran.4 HispanTV currently broadcasts Islamist-leaning programming 24 hours a day in several countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The channel’s local Bolivian correspondent was an Argentine journalist, Andrés Sal-lari, who used to work for Bolivia’s state-owned Canal 7.5 The current Bolivian correspondent for Iran’s HispanTV is Mariano Vázquez, another Argentine journalist who also works for state-owned BoliviaTV.6

Andrés Sal-lari and Mariano Vazquez also worked for another state-controlled media outlet believed to be financed by the Iranian government to the tune of approximately $3 million.7 In 2012, President Evo Morales reportedly received a monetary gift from his then-Iranian counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, to launch Abya Yala, a new multimedia television network. Initially financed through one of Morales’ foundations, the Abya Yala TV network has benefited from large amounts of government advertising and preferential contracts with various government agencies, notably the hydrocarbons agency, among other public entities. As of 2015, Abya Yala had 135 hours of national programming a week through a major telecommunications firm, and in the western cities of La Paz and El Alto broadcast 24-hour coverage through an open signal on channel 41 and on Bolivian cable on channel 91. 

According to Bolivian journalist Amalia Pando, the Abya Yala TV network’s rapid expansion raises at least some suspicion: “here are two immoralities, first that the president receives three million dollars from a foreign power to launch a TV channel, then that the channel, which does not have a significant audience, receives such large amounts of public contracts and advertising.”8 Abya Yala’s meteoric rise in Bolivia is due, in part, to its integrated programming with Venezuela’s state-owned Telesur network, AnnurTV in Argentina, Russia Today, and the Iranian-owned HispanTV. In the case of Iran, Abya Yala provides an authentic way to reach Bolivia’s largely indigenous population to propagate an Islamist message. 

For instance, in July 2015, the Abya Yala TV network broadcast the opening of a new Iranian-funded hemodialysis center, The Red Crescent Society, in the city of Cochabamba. Nevertheless, the broadcast omitted the fact that the women working at The Red Crescent Society were forced to wear hijabs, to the displeasure of many Bolivians. Lourdes Millares, the deputy for an opposition party in Bolivia, subsequently called this Iranian demand an “assault on the dignity of women…” and excoriated President Morales for, “…submission to the rules of another government.”9

Further criticism arose in 2016, when opposition Senator Arturo Murillo issued a complaint to the Bolivian Attorney General against then Minister of the Presidency and Evo Morales strongman, Juan Ramon Quintana, for “donating” three vehicles to the Abya Yala TV network. Senator Murillo claimed this was “influence peddling” on behalf of the Bolivian government and suggested that Abya Yala TV is simply used to spread Iranian propaganda in Bolivia.10

The opposition Senator hit the headlines once again in 2017, when he denounced the presence of Canadian-Venezuelan-Lebanese businessman Khaled Khalil Majzoub. Senator Murillo suggested that Majzoub is under investigation in Bolivia for alleged involvement in drug trafficking.11  The Bolivian government denied any investigation against Majzoub or his involvement in illicit activity and stated that he is in Bolivia under legal pretenses.12 Majzoub became well known to U.S. counter-narcotics authorities after the narco-sobrinos case involving the arrest of the nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores in 2015. The plane used by the nephews to traffic drugs in Haiti was registered to one of Majzoub’s companies in Venezuela.13

These accusations against Majzoub elevated a concern in Bolivia about Hezbollah’s’ involvement in the country. In March 2017, Bolivian security forces raided a warehouse in the suburbs of La Paz, seizing bomb-making materials and a four-wheel drive vehicle suspected to be used in a terrorist attack. According to several press reports, regional intelligence agencies believe the raid in La Paz thwarted potential terrorist plots by Hezbollah in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.14

Islamism and Society: 

Bolivia has a small Islamic community, numbering approximately two thousand, most of whose members are Sunni, with a smaller number of Shia followers. Altogether, Muslims in Bolivia account for less than 0.1% of the total population. However, they are increasingly active. 

Most of the established members of the Islamic community in Bolivia were born in the country and converted, or are the descendants of Palestinian or Lebanese immigrants who have lived in Bolivia for decades. The traditional Islamic community in Bolivia is primarily Sunni, and typically adheres to the local Bolivian style of dress and culture. They do not practice fundamentalist Islamic traditions, nor do they actively proselytize. Nevertheless, there has been a recent influx of Pakistanis and Iranians that follow a more fundamentalist line, and are actively recruiting and proselytizing among Bolivian youth and women, causing some friction with the established Muslim community in Bolivia.15

Islamic proselytization (da’wah) began in Bolivia in the early 1970s, during the economic boom that integrated Santa Cruz into national and international markets. Over the ensuing years, Santa Cruz became the financial hub of Bolivia and in the 1990s the department’s local economy was greatly bolstered by the capitalization of the country’s petroleum and gas industry. This spurred a mass wave of immigration that flooded Santa Cruz, of which an initial influx of Islamic immigrants was also a part. 

In 1974, Bolivia’s Islamic community began its Islamic proselytization (da’wah) after Mahmud Amer Abusharar arrived from the Palestinian territories. Almost immediately after arriving, Amer started gathering Muslims from around Bolivia and inviting them to his home for prayer. He quickly became the leader of the small but emerging Islamic community in Bolivia, particularly in Santa Cruz, and in 1986 registered the first Bolivian Islamic organization—which was officially recognized by Bolivia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office of Religion three years later, in 1989.16

This organization, the Bolivian Islamic Center (CIB is its Spanish acronym), based in the country’s commercial capital, Santa Cruz, claims to have founded Bolivia’s first fully operational mosque in 1994, serving some 300 congregants. The CIB claims to support “open-mindedness and peace,” but does appear to espouse an anti-U.S. political position closely aligned with that of the Bolivian government.17

On May 14, 2011, Mahmud Amer Abusharar died of natural causes. One of his disciples, Isa Amer Quevedo, stepped in to serve as Director of the CIB. Quevedo has a degree in Islamic jurisprudence from the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, and used to be the CIB’s administrative director and translator. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Quevedo supports his predecessor’s anti-U.S. stance, as he offered criticism of the United States on the CIB website immediately after the September 11th attacks.18

The CIB has grown over the years to become Bolivia’s largest Islamic organization, and is known to receive support from the Saudi-based Islamic Organization for Latin America and the Muslim World League. The Egyptian Embassy in Bolivia and the Gulf Cooperation Council both also have helped to fund the CIB’s first mosque. Moreover, the CIB has an affiliation with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, acting as this organization’s headquarters in Bolivia.

Also, connected with the Muslim World League is the Bolivian Muslim Cultural Association (ACBM is its Spanish acronym), located in Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia. A Palestinian doctor and lawyer, Fayez Rajab Khedeer Kannan, runs this organization. Kannan espouses an extreme worldview, and has, among other things, openly praised the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi.19 In 1998, he received a 30-year grant from the Sucre city council to use five acres of land in the Los Libertadores neighborhood to construct an educational center and clinic, with additional funding for the effort coming from the Muslim World League and the Islamic Development Bank. By 2003, ACBM had built a private Islamic school, which led to some legal disputes over a revoked title transfer (disputes which were finally resolved in 2006, in favor of ACBM). It is not clear whether this school is still active.

More recently, in 2016, an Indian couple, Ghalib Ataul and Nayara Zafar, built a new mosque in the Paititi district of Warnes, a small town outside the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The mosque adheres to the creed of the Ahmadiyya, a small sect of Islam from the late 19th century in northern India, and, according to Ghalib Ataul, will serve all faiths, both Muslim and non-Muslim. The mosque, however, has generated some negative reaction, as noted by Bolivian journalist Magali Sánchez: “As long as they respect our customs and our creed, no problem. But do not try to change us. They should not think that the women of Warnes want to wear hijabs and burkas.”20 The new mosque in Warnes is emblematic of the small but notable growth of Islamic communities within remote eastern regions of Bolivia, including in San Borja and Riberalta, Beni, where there are practicing Muslims. 

Moving north along the Andean ridge, in La Paz, is the Association of the Islamic Community of Bolivia (ACIB is its Spanish acronym). It is believed that the origin of Islam in La Paz dates to 1995, when Moumin Candia, a Bolivian trained in an Argentine mosque, brought Islam to the city. A Bolivian convert and the former president of ACIB, Gerardo Cutipa Trigo is educated as an engineer, and was an atheist through most of his college years in Bolivia, assuming leadership roles in leftist student unions. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Cutipa converted to Islam while working in Spain, where he first was exposed to the religion. The ACIB is now led by Ahmad Ali, who claims to informally represent a community of approximately 300 Muslims, of which around 70 regularly attend service at the ACIB’s mosque, called Masjidum Jbelannur.21

In 2006, a more fundamentalist mosque was opened in La Paz by a group of Pakistanis that had arrived in Bolivia three years earlier. This small Pakistani community, known as the Islamic Association of Bolivia, operates the Masjid As-Salam mosque, and has offered prayer services to other Muslims, including many Bolivian-born Muslim converts in La Paz. The imam of the Masjid As-Salam mosque was Mahmud Ali Teheran, a Peruvian-born son of Iranian immigrants who converted to Sunni Islam. Prior to this, Ali Teheran lead the Babu Ul-Islam mosque in Tacna, Peru and as of 2008 has left Bolivia to lead the Islamic community in Uruguay.22

La Paz is also a hub for a small but growing Shia community, which is much smaller than its Sunni counterparts. This small influx of Shia Muslims is primarily due to the newfound Iranian presence in Bolivia, as the more visible Shia organizations have ties to the Iranian Embassy in La Paz.

The oldest Shia organization has a name like the Sunni ACIB; however, it adds the suffix “Ahlul Bait” which literally means “family of the House.” This has an important distinction for Shia Muslims because the term refers to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and is generally where Shia Muslims derive their hadiths. It is unclear how this organization was founded, but it appears to have been operational since 2000. For at least some time, however, it seems to have operated under a different name (Shia Islamic Community of Bolivia), until resurfacing with its original name in 2006.

During the brief time that the ACIB Ahlul Bait was organized under a different name, it was run by a licensed psychologist named Tommy Nelson Salgueiro Criales, a former Jesuit who converted to Islam in the mid-1990s while living in Australia. ACIB Ahlul Bait is known for its publications and translations of Islamic text into Spanish, and was the first to introduce Islamic literature to the 15th annual international book fair in 2010, where they presented Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera with their own in-house publication, “La Revolución de la Mano de Dios,” written by resident Islamic scholar Sergio Grover Dueñas Calle.

ACIB Ahlul Bait has an associated mosque purchased with the help of the Iranian government. The first Shia mosque in Bolivia, As-Salam, is a three-story building in the heart of La Paz with a large prayer hall that was inaugurated in 2006. The mosque is meant to serve a growing Shia community in La Paz, and other smaller Islamic communities nearby. 

The Iranian-supported Abya Yala TV channel dedicates programming targeted towards the diverse indigenous peoples of the Americas. The term Abya Yala means “land in its full maturity” or “land of vital blood” in its indigenous Kuna language. The Kuna are indigenous people that used to inhabit the Darién Gap, which is today in northwest Colombia and southeast Panama. Abya Yala TV consistently propagates the message that consumerism and the exploitation of natural resources leads to the erosion of biodiversity and the loss of indigenous culture. 

Many of the organizations mentioned above have created their own websites, radio broadcasts, and/or social media outlets. Social media plays a significant part in spreading the Islamic message throughout Bolivia, as many communities have a virtual presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Roberto Chambi and his colleagues at ACIB Ahlul Bait are arguably the most active in both mainstream and social media, establishing a local radio program, “Al-Islam,” that broadcasts every weekday morning on 107.3 FM. Chambi is also a regular on HispanTV’s local broadcasts and is featured in ACIB’s web portal Islam en Bolivia ( This portal is frequently updated, largely with articles claiming Israeli atrocities against Palestinians, and recently launched an effort to proselytize in Aymara, one of Bolivia’s mayor indigenous languages and culture. It currently offers a translation of the tract “What is Islam?” in the Aymara language.23

In 2014, according to an interview with Ahmad Ali, an American student researching Islam in Bolivia discovered that Aymara and Quechua Indians had begun converting to Islam.24 This represents an important advance for the Islamic community, because Aymara indigenous groups hold important political currency with the current government and society. Establishing a footprint with this group would help advance Islam (and, potentially, Islamism) to a significant degree within Bolivian society.

Islamism and the State: 

The growing political and strategic ties between La Paz and Tehran dominate Bolivia’s contemporary relationship with Islam. Bolivian President Evo Morales first met former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the inauguration of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in mid-January 2007. At the time, the two leaders showed unprecedented interest in bringing their respective countries closer together politically, culturally, and economically. Ahmadinejad focused on agriculture, gas, and oil, referring to “academic potentials” in Iran for “improving the technical knowledge of Bolivia experts… in accordance with our Islamic teachings and duties.”25

Months later, in September 2007, Bolivia’s then-Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, visited Tehran to meet with his then-counterpart, Manuchehr Mottaki, to build upon the January meeting with firm commitments outlined in a strategic agreement to broaden political and economic relations. Later in the month, the first bilateral agreement was drafted. It provided a strategic framework for future collaborative ventures in the hydrocarbons, extractive, agriculture, oil and gas industries, as well as science, culture and technology. There were also several side agreements made to implement the importation and installation of six Iranian milk-processing plants in Bolivia. But the larger strategic agreement was the focus of the effort, and was announced on September 27, 2007 during Ahmadinejad’s first official visit to Bolivia. At the time, Morales noted: “we are interested in broadening relations with Iran, starting in the trade area with a view to continuing and consolidating relations of friendship, understanding and diplomacy.”26

The agreement, however, was not ratified by the Bolivian Congress until three years later, in 2010. Nevertheless, this did not stop the two countries from continuing to foster their diplomatic relationship, and the first Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran was inaugurated in La Paz in February 2008. Evo Morales announced later that year that Bolivia would move its only embassy in the Middle East from Cairo to Tehran (such a move, however, never happened, likely due to a lack of resources on Bolivia’s part).

By March 2008, Iran’s relationship with Bolivia had developed an economic facet as well. News sources out of Tehran reported that Iran had signed several joint projects with Bolivia worth some $1 billion in total.27

Morales finally reciprocated Ahmadinejad’s Bolivian visit when he arrived in Tehran on September 1, 2008. Brief meetings with the Iranian president and the country’s Minister of Mining and Industry punctuated his short stay in the Islamic Republic, where he focused on persuading Ahmadinejad to accelerate payments under Iran’s promise to invest $1 billion in Bolivia.

By the end of September 2008, Bolivia and Iran had exchanged technical delegations, with one Hojatollah Soltani emerging as Iran’s business attaché to Bolivia. Soltani pledged that, apart from the promised investment of $1 billion, Iran would also invest some $230 million in a cement factory and another $3 million to build dairy farms.28 A month later, Soltani announced that Iran would use Bolivia as the base for a planned Red Crescent health clinic expansion across Latin America.29 The announcement coincided with Bolivia signing a credit agreement with Venezuela and Iran for $115 million, reportedly to cooperate in mineral exploration in Coroma, a mineral rich region in southern Bolivia. This cooperation created suspicion of a dual-use effort, because—according to a retired Bolivian mining engineer—Coroma covers more than 100,000 hectares where there are uranium and other dispersed minerals.30

By February 2009, pledges from Iran to invest in economic development projects had yet to materialize, but the milk processing plants were already under construction. Some Iranian funding had found its way to Bolivia, but much of what was promised had not yet been delivered. This gap between rhetoric and action, however, did not appear to dampen relations between the two countries. In July 2009, Bolivia announced that it would receive a $280 million loan from the Islamic Republic. Iran’s top diplomat in Bolivia, Masoud Edrisi, stated at the time that the money was to be used as President Morales saw fit.31 The loan was part of the $1 billion originally promised when Ahmadinejad first met Morales in 2007. Later in 2009, a new Iranian-funded maternal care health clinic was opened in the poor municipality of El Alto, on the outskirts of La Paz. The health clinic reportedly cost $2.5 million and filled a gap in community healthcare despite some controversy over a requirement that female nurses wear hijabs, or head covering.32

In 2010, some of the original financial promises made by Iran began to materialize, albeit quite slowly and extremely inconsistently. By the middle of that year, more agreements were signed, particularly in the extractive industry, as Iran began to look at Bolivia’s strategic resource wealth. Bolivia is one of Latin America’s most resource-rich countries, and possesses some of the world’s largest reserves of lithium chloride. Knowing this, Iran made a move to become Bolivia’s co-developer of this resource, to include the production of lithium batteries. This resource exploitation project, in turn, has prompted speculation that other strategic minerals, namely uranium, would be exploited. To date, however, it has been difficult to prove that Iran has effectively received any uranium ore from Bolivia.33

This is not to say, however, that Iran is not exploring or exploiting other strategic resources from Bolivia. In 2010, the Bolivian government awarded six new oil and gas exploration blocks to Iran and later signed an agreement to train Bolivian technicians in petroleum drilling and petrochemical operations. By July 2011, 26 Bolivian technicians had completed their first petrochemical training in Iran.34 While the Islamic Republic was training Bolivian engineers, and exploring the country’s strategic mineral deposits, a more nefarious relationship began to form through military-to-military exchanges between both countries. This bilateral military relationship was highlighted when Bolivia’s Defense Ministry invited then-Iranian Minister of Defense, Ahmad Vahidi, one of the accused masterminds of the bombings of the AMIA community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, to attend the inauguration of a new regional defense school for the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA in its Spanish acronym). Iran reportedly helped finance this regional defense school to the tune of approximately $1.8 million. Argentine foreign minister Hector Timmerman immediately sent a complaint to his Bolivian counterpart, and Vahidi had to make a hasty exit from the country, leaving President Morales to do damage control by apologizing to Argentina for the fiasco.35

Vahidi’s trip sparked many questions as to what type of military relationship exists between the two countries, and it was subsequently discovered that Bolivia had bought a package of military equipment from Iran just a year earlier, in October 2010. The items procured included a FAJR-3 piston trainer, an S-68 turboprop trainer, and the Iran-140 light transport (a licensed version of the Russia Antonov An-140 light transport).36

Once the aftermath and embarrassment of Vahidi’s trip to Bolivia had subsided, the Bolivian government re-established military ties with Iran. On June 20, 2012, during Ahmadinejad’s third official visit to Bolivia, an anti-narco trafficking accord was signed to help Bolivia in its “fight” against drug trafficking. This accord created the political and legal groundwork for Iran to have a military footprint in Bolivia, and the Islamic Republic is currently rumored to be helping Bolivia set up a new unit within one of their military special operations wing.37

A few months prior to Ahaminejad’s visit, on April 2, 2012, news surfaced that a Bolivian-flagged vessel had been seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Maldives. After learning that the vessel, the MV Eglantine, belonged to Iran, it was freed by the pirates and continued its route to deliver sugar to Brazil. The incident sparked speculation that the Bolivian government maybe violating international sanctions then in effect against Iran by helping its sanctioned ships sail through strategic ports using a Bolivian flag. Later that month, Reuters reported that 15 vessels linked to IRISL, the UN-sanctioned Iranian shipping conglomerate, carried the Bolivian flag.38 The Bolivian government responded by saying that it would revoke the Bolivian flag license and remove these Iranian vessels from its shipping register, but it was never confirmed that this took place. 

Bolivia has become one of Iran’s most important strategic partners in Latin America. This relationship has fostered and enhanced a greater Islamic presence in this plurinational state—one that is unprecedented in size and scope. Growing alongside this presence is the size of Iran’s official mission in the country—which has been linked to the propagation of an increasingly active Islamist element there. The Spanish daily El Pais reported in 2012 that Bolivia has at least 145 registered Iranian diplomats in country.39 By comparison, Spain has only ten. On the surface, Bolivia appears to be the beneficiary of this relationship, but upon closer examination one can determine that for every Iranian investment or action into this Andean nation, there is a reciprocal action by Bolivia.

Some analysts speculated that this strategic relationship had been prompted by aggressive outreach of the Ahmadinejad regime, and would dissipate with Ahmadinejad’s departure from power in 2013. However, more recent Iranian activity suggests otherwise.  For example, on August 25, 2016, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia along with a delegation of at least 70 executives of Iranian state-owned firms for a series of events with prominent Bolivian businessman. Against the backdrop of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with the West, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Zarif’s visit was a clear signal that Iran is back in business in Bolivia. In a concrete demonstration of his government’s commitment to Iran, Bolivian President Evo Morales flew from La Paz to Santa Cruz to meet with Zarif and decorated him with the Order of the Condor of the Andes, a state medal awarded for exceptional merit to Bolivians or foreign nationals.40

The current Iranian ambassador to Bolivia, Reza Tabatabayee Shafiyee, has been even more active at enhancing cultural, commercial, diplomatic, technological and military ties with the Andean nation. The results have yielded a series of additional agreements, including in non-traditional areas such as space and nano-technology, and has also produced at least two high-level visits to Bolivia by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the third head-of-state bilateral visit to Tehran by President Evo Morales. Bolivia also sent its Minister of Justice, Hector Arce, to Iran for the inauguration ceremony of Rouhani’s 2017 re-election as president. 

More notably, however, has been the increased military-to-military cooperation between the two nations. This cooperation culminated in a recent visit by the Bolivian Armed Forces Joint Chief Admiral Yamil Borda Sosa to Tehran for a series of meetings with his Iranian counterparts, including Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami in May 2018. The Bolivian army has reportedly expressed an interest to Iran in providing housing projects for its armed forces and increased training for its anti-narcotic and special operations units.41 If this cooperation materializes it would mean a greater presence of Iranian (likely IRGC) military trainers in Bolivia, dispelling any suggestion that Iran’s interests in Latin America, and Bolivia are tied to previous governments. 



[1] Pew Research Center, “Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population,” October 2009.
[2] “Bolivia – Key Muslim Converts Assert Local Peril, Ally with Zealots Abroad,” Open Source Center Report, May 12, 2009,
[3] “Iran’s Bolivian TV venture to ‘interface’ with Venezuela’s Telesur,” Fars (Tehran), March 19, 2008.
[4] Adam Housley, “Iran moving in on Latin American television market,” Fox News Latino, March 20, 2012,
[5] Andrés Sal-lari has his own blog ( where he posts interviews and media appearances for both the Iranian-owned HispanTV and the Bolivian-controlled National Corporation for Bolivian Television (ENTVB), which operates the Canal 7 television station.
[6] See this abbreviated bio of Mariano Vázquez here: 
[7] Bolivian journalist Raúl Peñaranda made the initial claim that Iran provided $3 million to the Juan Evo Morales Ayma (JEMA) Foundation in his book “Remote Control” published in May 2014.
[8] Amalia Pando, “El Canal de TV de Evo Morales ganó más de Bs 2,1 milliones con la propaganda del Estado,” Cabildeo (La Paz, Bolivia), March 17, 2016,
[9] Ann “Babe” Huggett, “Iran Demands Nurses in Bolivia Wear Hijabs,” Red State, Dec. 3, 2009,
[10] Wendy Pinto, “Murillo denuncia que Gobierno donó tres vehículos a Abya Yala,” Pagina Siete (La Paz, Bolivia), August 25, 2016. Accessed:
[11] Beatriz Layme, “UD liga a empresario con drogas y dice que trabaja con el Estado,” Pagina Siete (La Paz, Bolivia), September 27, 2017. Accessed:
[12] ANF, “Gobierno a Murillo: Majzoub no tiene orden de arraigo y su situación en Bolivia es legal,” Los Tiempos (Santa Cruz, Bolivia), September 27, 2017. Accessed:
[13] Reporting of the arrest of Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas (nephews of First Lady Cilia Flores, wife of President Nicolas Maduro) cited an airplane Citation 500 with tail number YV2030 that was seized by the DEA. This plane is registered to Inversiones Sabenpe C.A. a Venezuelan company created in 1980 under the leadership of Khaled Khalil Majzoub.
[14] The Saudi Arabian daily newspaper Okaz first reported on this potential terrorist plot by Hezbollah in their March 16, 2017 edition. Subsequent media outlets, such as Aurora (in Israel) picked up on this reporting:
[15] U.S. Ambassador Phillip Goldberg, “Bolivia’s Tiny Muslim Community,” WikiLeaks cable 08LAPAZ872 dated April 16, 2008,
[16] Rinat Sueiro-Phillips, “El Centro Islámico Boliviano busca promover la realidad del Islam,” El Mundo (Santa Cruz), July 10, 2011,
[17] The CIB was reported on by the Open Source Center (OSC) of the Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the U.S., and the Federation of American Scientists released the official report in 2009. “Bolivia – Key Muslim Converts Assert Local Peril, Ally with Zealots Abroad.”
[18] “Bolivia – Key Muslim Converts Assert Local Peril, Ally with Zealots Abroad,” 3.
[19] “Bolivia – Key Muslim Converts Assert Local Peril, Ally with Zealots Abroad,” 4.
[20] Quote taken from an interview with El Deber newspaper in Santa Cruz, Bolivia published on Aug. 9, 2015. Online link is no longer active, however, the article has been reposted on
[21] Goldberg, WikiLeaks cable 08LAPAZ872.
[22] Victor Rodriguez, “La voz de Islam’ llego a Durazno,” El Pais (Uruguay), October 24, 2008,
[23] Diana Rojas, “El Islam de los Aymaras en Bolivia,”, April 12, 2012.
[24] This statement is from Ahmad Ali, when giving an interview on April 20, 2014, to Andrea Estéfany Caballero for Erbol, a digital platform in Bolivia. Ahmad Ali is the president of the Asociación de la Comunidad Islámica de Bolivia.  See here:
[25] “President of Iran, Bolivia ask for Higher Level Ties,” IRNA (Tehran), January 16, 2007.
[26] “President Makes Agreement with Iran Official,” La Razón (La Paz), September 9, 2007.
[27] At the time, Morales announced that Bolivia would remove visa restrictions for Iranian nationals traveling to Bolivia. See John Kiriakou, “Iran’s Latin America Push: As the U.S. ignores its neighbors to the south, Tehran has been making friends and influencing nations,” Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2008.
[28] Faramarz Asghari, “Iran-Bolivia Strategic Interaction,” Siyasat-e Ruz (Tehran), September 1, 2008.
[29] “Iran to open two clinics in Bolivia,” Moj News Agency (Tehran), October 11, 2008,
[30] “Detectaron uranio en la zona que controlan Irán y Venezuela en Bolivia,” Infobae, Aug. 30, 2010,
[31] “Iran Approves US$280 Million Loan for Bolivia,” Associated Press, July 29, 2009.
[32] “Iran to open two clinics in Bolivia.”
[33] Stephen Johnson, Iran’s Influence in the Americas (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies, March 2012).
[34] Johnson, Iran’s Influence in the Americas, 67.
[35] Ilan Berman, “Iran Woos Bolivia for Influence in Latin America,” Newsweek/Daily Beast, May 20, 2012,
[36] Johnson, Iran’s Influence in the Americas.
[37] Author’s interviews with retired military officials in Bolivia, October 2012.
[38] Daniel Fineren, “Exclusive: Bolivia says may de-flag Iranian ships,” Reuters, Apr. 18, 2012,
[39] Jorge Marirrodriga, “Irán se lanza a la conquista de Latinoamérica” El Pais (Spain), June 23, 2012,
[40] “Zarif recibe la medulla más prestigiosa del Gobierno de Bolivia,” HispanTV, Aug. 26, 2016,
[41] Tehran Times, “Iran says welcomes co-op with Bolivian army,” Tehran Times (Iran), May 12, 2018. Accessed: