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Friday, August 2, 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 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism (issued in May 2013), 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 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). With regard to Mexico, the State Department maintained that “international terrorist organizations do not have a known operational presence in Mexico and no terrorist group targeted U.S. citizens in or from Mexican territory.”

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 counternarcotics 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. A June 2013 State Department report to Congress on Iran’s activities in Latin America asserted that Iran’s influence in the region is waning. Critics maintain that the State Department is playing down the threat posed by Iran in the region, while others contend that while Iran’s involvement in the region is a concern, its level and significance are being exaggerated. As in past years, the State Department 2012 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 ideological support to those 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 required 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 113
th Congress is already continuing its oversight of terrorism concerns in the Western Hemisphere, especially the activities of Iran and Hezbollah. The State Department assessment of Iranian activities in the region and the U.S. strategy to address them already has been the subject of one oversight hearing. In terms of legislative initiatives, two have been introduced so far in the 113th Congress related to Cuba: H.R. 1917 (Rush), introduced May 9, 2013, would among its provisions rescind any determination of the Secretary of State in effect on the date of enactment of the Act that Cuba has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism; H.Res. 262 (King), introduced June 14, 2013, would call for the immediate extradition or rendering to the United States of all fugitives from justice who are receiving safe harbor in Cuba in order to escape prosecution or confinement for criminal offenses in the United States.

Date of Report: July 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RS21049
Price: $29.95

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