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Column 032612 Brewer

Monday, March 26, 2012

Crime and Extraterritorial Terrorists Threaten the Americas

By Jerry Brewer

While a media frenzy continues to report the carnage of gang violence and drug trafficking throughout Mexico and the northern cone of Central America, a menace has grown into full adulthood with terror-like capabilities that can easily overshadow narcoterrorism.  The mismanagement of this rapidly nurtured specter threatens more sinister capabilities and potential intentions to harm the United States and free nations north to the U.S. border.

In July of last year, Roger F. Noriega, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security. In his testimony, Noriega warned of two parallel, collaborative terrorist networks "growing at an alarming rate" in Latin America. One network was described as being operated by "Venezuelan collaborators," and the other "managed by the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps."

With a ten year history of the southern cone tri-border area of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil festering with terrorist groups, smuggling, corrupt officials and organized criminals, it is not surprising that their movements continue north.  The U.S. Treasury Department reported in 2002 that there were "clear examples" of Islamic groups in the region that "finance terrorist activities." 

Why has this threat of escalating criminal acts, as well as the potential for terrorist expansion, gone essentially unchecked?

Hezbollah, labeled an international terrorist organization by the United States, has expanded exponentially throughout Latin America. They finance training camps, funnel large amounts of money to militia leaders in the Middle East, and have been linked to bomb attacks in South America.  The Qods Force and Venezuelan collaborator networks are estimated to encompass "around 80 operatives" in at least 12 countries, with a major focus in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

President Barack Obama made his first trip to South and Central America in 2011.  His perceived limited attention to Latin America prompted a statement accusing the government of Venezuela of threatening "basic democratic values."  Too, his remarks on Iran and Cuba were that those two countries do not "serve the interests of [their] people."

It is no secret that the threat dilemma is far worse, and demands much more attention and collaboration with U.S. allies within the hemisphere.  Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has facilitated Iran's strategic presence in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua.

There is also a growing Iranian influence in Central America and Mexico.  And there is a concern that the aforementioned leftist governments could possibly thrive in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. The Central Intelligence Agency has consistently listed the Mexican border as an "especially inviting target for Hezbollah operatives."

Iranian and Hezbollah footprints on Venezuelan soil must be a top concern for the U.S. government and the intelligence community.  Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Chavez have made their hatred for the U.S. commonly known.  What is obviously missing in interpretation of the term threat within Latin America itself is the fact that Chavez and Ahmadinejad have not been linked to statements professing hate for any other western hemisphere nation.

Ahmadinejad's visit to Venezuela in January was believed to be an intention to solidify Iran's interests in Latin America as "Chávez loses ground in his fight with cancer." Iran's relationship with Cuba, Russia and China must raise eyebrows as to Venezuela's future with or without Hugo Chavez.

Radical Islamic groups in Venezuela, and on its Margarita Island, possess unprecedented capabilities to threaten neighbors and the United States. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced recently that such fears were overblown. "People talk about Hezbollah. They talk about Iranian support for weapons and the rest. I guarantee you, Iran will not be able to pose a hemispheric threat to the United States," he said.

James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, in recent testimony stated "Iranian officials" at the highest levels "are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States."

It appears that the U.S. intelligence community and the White House could possibly be at odds on the correct assessment and transnational multifaceted nature of the problems.

Venezuela's Margarita Island is reported to currently be the principal safe haven and center of Hezbollah operations in the Americas. "Chávez's most trusted security officials -- from senior to operational levels -- have provided material support to Hezbollah."  There are secret tunnels on the island with arms deposits and used by paramilitary groups in training.  The prevalent area is located on the remote peninsula of Macanao. Reports "link the presence of originating people of the Middle East in these locations." Portions of the island have restricted fly zones.

Cuba's previous dual-use biotechnology to rogue states must also be a concern.  Reports have described Castro's biowarfare labs in detail and "believe he has moved some to Venezuela."

Neutralizing and dismantling viable threats in the Americas must remain a top priority for the U.S. and its neighbors.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at http://www.cjiausa.org/.


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