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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Latin America: Terrorism Issues

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

June S. Beittel
Analyst 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 2011 Country Reports on Terrorism (issued in July 2012), the State Department maintained that the threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the hemisphere. It reported that the majority of terrorist attacks in the hemisphere were committed by two Colombian terrorist groups—the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN)—and other radical groups in the Andean region. With regard to Mexico, the report asserted that there was no evidence of ties between Mexican drug trafficking organizations and terrorist groups, and no evidence “that these 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. 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, although improved Venezuelan-Colombian relations have resulted in closer cooperation on antiterrorism and counter-narcotics efforts and border security.

Over the past several years, policymakers have been concerned about Iran’s increasing activities in Latin America. Concerns 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. Both Iran and Hezbollah are reported to be linked to two bombings against Jewish targets in Argentina in the early 1990s. As in past years, the State Department 2011 terrorism report maintains that there are no known operational cells of either Al Qaeda or Hezbollah 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.” 

Legislative Initiatives 

In the 112
th Congress, several legislative initiatives were introduced and several oversight hearings were held related to terrorism issues in the Western Hemisphere regarding Mexico, Venezuela, and the activities of Iran and Hezbollah in the region. Most significantly, the 112th Congress enacted the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-220) in December 2012, which requires the Administration within 180 days to conduct an assessment and present “a strategy to address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” The report may be submitted in classified form, but is to include an unclassified summary of policy recommendations to address the growing Iranian threat in the hemisphere.

The 113
th Congress is already continuing its oversight of terrorism concerns in the Western Hemisphere, especially the activities of Iran and Hezbollah. The forthcoming State Department assessment of Iranian activities in the region and a strategy to address them, due to Congress by mid-2013, is likely to be the subject of congressional oversight.

Date of Report: April 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 36
Order Number: RS21049
Price: $29.95

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