Latin America: Terrorism Issues

Posted on November 25, 2012 • Filed under: Latin America News, Terrorism

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.
Over the past several years, policymakers have been concerned about Iran’s increasing activities
in Latin America, particularly its relations with Venezuela, although there has been disagreement
over the extent and significance of Iran’s relations with the region. Concerns center on Iran’s
attempts to circumvent U.N. and U.S. sanctions, as well as on its ties to the radical Lebanonbased
Islamic group Hezbollah. Both Iran and Hezbollah are reported to be linked to two
bombings against Jewish targets in Argentina in the early 1990s. 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 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. 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.” H.R. 3783 (Duncan), amended and
approved on March 1, 2012, by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on
Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade would require the Administration to develop “a strategy to
address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” Among other
introduced initiatives, H.R. 1270 (McCaul) would direct the Secretary of State to designate as
foreign terrorist organizations six Mexican drug cartels, and H.Res. 247 (Mack) would call for
the designation of Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. (For further discussion of these bills, see “112th Congress” below.) Read Report PDF

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