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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Latin America: Terrorism Issues

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

U.S. attention to terrorism in Latin America intensified in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, with an increase in bilateral and regional cooperation. In its 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism (issued in August 2011), the State Department maintained that terrorism in the region was primarily perpetrated by terrorist organizations in Colombia and by the remnants of radical leftist Andean groups. Overall, however, the report maintained that the threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the hemisphere. With regard to concerns about drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico, the State Department terrorism report asserted that “there was no evidence of ties between Mexican criminal organizations and terrorist groups, nor that the criminal organizations had aims of political or territorial control, aside from seeking to protect and expand the impunity with which they conduct their criminal activity.” Cuba has remained on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982 pursuant to Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, which triggers a number of economic sanctions. Both Cuba and Venezuela are on the State Department’s annual list of countries determined to be not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts pursuant to Section 40A of the Arms Export Control Act. U.S. officials have expressed concerns over the past several years about Venezuela’s lack of cooperation on antiterrorism efforts, its relations with Iran, and potential support for Colombian terrorist groups.

Concerns about Iran’s increasing activities in Latin America center on Iran’s attempts to circumvent U.N. and U.S. sanctions, as well as on its ties to the radical Lebanon-based Islamic group Hezbollah. Allegations have linked Hezbollah to two bombings in Argentina: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 30 people and the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. The State Department terrorism report maintains that there are no known operational cells of either Al Qaeda or Hezbollah-related groups in the hemisphere, but noted that “ideological sympathizers in South America and the Caribbean continued to provide financial and moral support to these and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia.”

In the 112th Congress, several legislative initiatives have been introduced related to terrorism issues in the Western Hemisphere regarding Mexico, Venezuela, and the activities of Iran and Hezbollah, and several oversight hearings have been held related to these topics. H.R. 3401 (Mack), marked up by the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on December 15, 2011, would require the Secretary of State to submit a detailed counterinsurgency strategy “to combat the terrorist insurgency in Mexico waged by transnational criminal organizations.” Supporters of the bill argue that terrorist tactics are being employed by Mexican drug trafficking organizations, and that the United States needs to use appropriate counterinsurgency tactics to combat these groups. Opponents argue that Mexico is not facing a “terrorist insurgency” by groups with political goals, and contend that pushing for a counterinsurgency strategy could undermine the strong U.S. security relationship developed with Mexico. Among other introduced initiatives, H.R. 1270 (McCaul) would direct the Secretary of State to designate as foreign terrorist organizations six Mexican drug cartels; H.Res. 247 (Mack) would call for the designation of Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism; and H.Res. 429 (Duncan) would call on the Administration to develop “a comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-radicalization strategy to defend United States geostrategic interests and defeat Iranian interests in the Western Hemisphere.”

Date of Report: January 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RS21049
Price: $29.95

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