Category: Latin America

Terrorism in Latin America (Part One): The Infiltration of Islamic Extremists

“The threat from Islamic extremists in Latin America remains an overlooked aspect of U.S. national security strategy. And the threat is worsening – not “waning” as the Obama administration claimed about Iran in 2013. The Trump administration should shift U.S. priorities in Latin America to strategies that preemptively disrupt the financial networks of Islamists, aid allied governments with legal and law enforcement support, and increase intelligence-gathering capabilities in the region.

The Process Began Decades Ago. Islamic extremists have used Latin America as a base of political and financial support since the immediate years preceding the formation of Israel in May 1948:

  • A handful of Arab officials and Arab-Palestinian sympathizers began fundraising efforts and circulated anti-Israeli literature throughout parts of Latin America not long after the first Arab-Israeli war (1948- 1949).
  • As networks developed and diplomacy turned to violent activism, more militant groups moved in; for instance, in the 1960s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) used established networks to build their own base of support among guerrilla factions, local anti-Semitic organizations and Arab civic groups in Argentina.
  • Furthermore, the PLO and others also collaborated with rebels in Nicaragua in the 1970s and with the Cuban government in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aided by these local networks, Iran began settling its agents in Latin America in the early 1980s and operatives from Hezbollah ‒‒ a militant Islamist group based in Lebanon and proxy force of Iran ‒‒ soon followed.

Latin America Is Important for Relationships and Money. Today, international Islamists, especially Iran and Hezbollah, employ much more sophisticated fundraising and recruitment operations that reach far and wide. Former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States Roger Noriega told Congress in March 2012 that Iran now has 80 Hezbollah Islamist operatives in at least 12 Latin American nations –‒ including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. In fact, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami in February 2017 for his collaboration with drug organizations and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.

Separately, author and senior Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak describes the lawless triborder region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, 800 miles north of Buenos Aires, as the most important base for Hezbollah outside of its headquarters in Lebanon. The $6 billion-a-year illicit economy in this Hezbollah stronghold has allowed a variety of terrorist organizations to earn an estimated $10 million to $20 million a year from arms trafficking, counterfeiting and drug distribution, among other illegal activities…”

See more here.

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America Should Be Ready, Venezuela Might Become the Next Syria

This originally appeared in Townhall. “Said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Nazi buildup in Europe: “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.” The unwillingness to act when such action would have been simple and effective constitutes the “endless repetition of history,” he concluded.

Today, observers would rightly associate this statement with Syria. But Churchill did not make this proclamation so future generations would seek out examples that affirmed his logic. He made the statement so future generations would break that dreadful repetition. This is not just a quote of self reflection – it’s a call to action.

Syria is thoroughly out of hand and late remedies are now being applied. The cycle of historical inaction will not be broken in Syria. Pundits, politicians and military officials would be wise to stop reliving what could have been done there, and start looking at what can be done elsewhere. Therefore, the American government must determine the likelihood of Venezuela becoming another Syria – this time in the western hemisphere. The United States and its Latin American allies must then collectively decide whether to do anything about it.

In their quest for more and more power, Chavez and then Maduro made reliable access to basic necessities a virtual impossibility. Maduro then had the Supreme Court dissolve the Congress after the Venezuelan people stocked the legislature with opposition members through democratic elections. Although international outcry forced him to partially rescind that order, Maduro continues to issue tyrannical edicts that will have the same effect at a slower pace. Now the Maduro regime has armed loyalists to seek out and kill dissenters. Over twenty people have died in riots over the last few weeks.

This administration would rather starve its people than relinquish power. Maduro would rather dismantle government and assassinate opponents than keep the country viable. History tells us that such despotism and subsequent international inaction can lead to Assad-like levels of oppression.

Making matters worse, this regime has allowed international criminal networks and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, to thrive within the country’s borders. This permissive environment has thoroughly compromised the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government and allowed illicit behavior to permeate the economy and society.

Most important, the same actors in Russia and Iran that prevent Assad’s demise are the same players underwriting Venezuelan tyranny. Remember that Vice President Tareck El Aissami is Hezbollah’s go-to guy in the administration. Experts should not be fooled into thinking that geographic distance will dissuade Russia or Iran from intervening on Maduro’s behalf. Neither country will so easily cede such a strategic and lucrative relationship – one that each country has spent years cultivating.

President Trump must be prepared for the possibility of a Syria in the western hemisphere. The administration has already taken steps to sanction high-level Venezuelan officials for their work with cartels and known terrorist organizations. But they must also be prepared for preemptive action:

  • Anticipate and be prepared for the possibility that Russia, Iran and/or Hezbollah will help Maduro crush dissent, covertly or otherwise. Do not be caught off guard when they block U.N. resolutions, cripple Maduro’s adversaries through cyber attacks, or, in an extreme situation, deploy military assets.
  • Consider how and where to erect safe zones because a failing state may create a refugee crisis in a region already plagued by economic and social instability.
  • Work with Latin American allies to demand a democratic resolution. Don’t wait for collapse to be spurred into action.

This is not a call for military intervention. It is merely a reminder that the arc of history bends toward inaction – something we often come to regret.”

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Why Are We Ignoring Jihadists in Latin America

This originally appeared in Townhall: “Famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said Obama will go down in history as the worst foreign policy president of all time, after the U.S. chose to abstain in the U.N. Security Council vote on the resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements. Cataloging the president’s foreign policy blunders and their consequences will keep scholars busy for some time. But his inability to craft a meaningful strategy for combating Islamic terrorism in Latin America with U.S. partners may be the most significant for U.S. national security. The American public will face the deadly consequences of Obama’s failure there unless Trump changes course.

The presence of Islamic terrorists in Latin America can be traced back decades to the Iranian-sponsored bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) headquarters in 1994 – together the attacks killed and injured over 650 people. The international community was reminded of those heinous events when, on January 18, 2015, Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found murdered the day before he was to present evidence to the Argentine Congress that showed then-president Cristina Kirchner and other Argentine officials had conspired with the Iranian government to cover-up Iran’s involvement in the AMIA attack. Joseph Humire, an expert on Iran’s influence in Latin America, called it the “most important political assassination in Latin America of the 21st century.”

Eight hundred miles to the north, Hezbollah and Hamas maintain a robust presence in the virtually lawless tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. This largely ungoverned locale is considered a breeding ground for terrorism and is known as a busy transit point for the sale and smuggling of contraband, which generates billions of dollars annually for groups like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Author and senior Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak describes the area as the most important base for Hezbollah outside of Lebanon. North Carolina-based Hezbollah cells involved in cigarette smuggling during the 1990s relied on assets in the tri-border area.

Infiltration by international terrorists of a region known for transnational organized crime has resulted in marriages of convenience. A report from Spain’s Defense Ministry in December 2016 outlined how Islamic terrorists have teamed up with drug trafficking organizations like El clan Barakat in Paraguay and Joumaa in Colombia to launder cash used to support terrorist activities. In fact, law enforcement officials in the southwest United States reported a significant increase in Hezbollah tattoos and imagery among imprisoned gang members.

Immigration stories naturally dovetail. A source for the U.S. State Department revealed in 2010 that Mexican drug cartels were likely smuggling known Arab extremists across the border into Texas. A lesser known story involves Hezbollah operative Muhammad Ghaleb Hamdar, who was arrested in Peru in October 2014 for planning a terrorist attack. He used an actual “marriage of convenience” to one Carmen Carrión Vela as part of his cover. She was arrested in November 2015 for material support to terrorism. The truly frightening detail of this episode: The convicted wife was a dual-citizen of Peru and the United States, and had twice traveled to the U.S. before Hamdar was arrested in Lima.

The Islamic State is now in the mix. The aforementioned Spanish report found that rapidly expanding Muslim communities have given rise to recruitment where as many as 100 Latin Americans have joined ISIS — 70 alone allegedly came from Trinidad and Tobago. That island nation says today’s radical Islamic elements operate like the local Jamaat al Muslimeen group that tried to overthrow the government in 1990.

These stories only gloss over a much bigger problem that also involves nation-state collaboration between the likes of Venezuela and Iran, nuclear technology in Argentina and the spread of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam in Latin America.

Despite all of this, the president shies away from confronting radical Islam. Despite all of this, the president helped enrich Iran to the tune of $10 billion. “Often considered a foreign policy backwater for the United States,” Joseph Humire writes, “Latin America has become a top foreign policy priority for the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Others like ISIS and Al Qaeda are not far behind.

Trump must reverse course and team up with Latin American partners to fight this war. Failure here will pale in comparison to failures elsewhere.”

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The Military, Nation-Building and Counterterrorism in Africa

“History does not repeat itself, as the old adage goes, but it surely rhymes. What began in 2002 as an antiterrorism assistance program for a handful of impoverished African countries at risk from violent extremist groups has since expanded into the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

This expensive, Department of State-led program, which is now integrated into the military’s U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), boasts lackluster oversight and a penchant for nation-building –‒ using multiple agencies to rebuild a given country’s political, economic and social infrastructure. In fact, its shape and language resembles failed, Cold War anticommunism programs in Latin America that ended up complicating rather than solving American security problems.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) must take a more measured approach to the military’s financial commitment to the Trans-Sahara partnerships and its counterterrorism efforts in Africa, and rethink the rules of engagement within this broadly defined “capacity-building” program….” Read the full report here.

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Free Enterprise Is National Security

This originally appeared in my Townhall Column:

“I am fond of saying the president seems to work harder for our adversaries than the country that elected him. But his myopic focus on appeasing the Cuban government has reached a level that defies logic. He appears more eager than ever to give the Castro regime that which it asks for, while expecting little in return. This mystifying level of generosity comes at great expense to U.S. national security. But President Obama’s latest plans to visit Cuba with private business leaders shows how the president, to borrow from William Gladstone, completely “misunderstands the office he occupies.”

We know he remains insistent on closing Guantanamo Bay. A recruiting tool for terrorists, he still claims. However, terrorist organizations continue to plot, maim and kill with little or no interest in Gitmo’s continued existence.

He then submitted a plan for closing the facility to the same Congress that already essentially outlawed that very action. This, presumably to win favor with the Castro regime since the plan literally had no practical impact, other than spending taxpayer money to draft it.

But even that failed to change things. Report after report shows how human rights violations have only worsened since the United States resumed relations with Cuba. Secretary of State Kerry even cancelled his visit over the issue. If that was not enough, the Cuban government issued a sternly worded editorial in a local paper that essentially told the president that the communist government had “no intention of changing its policies in exchange for normal relations with the United States.”

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, the president thunders.

His determination to accommodate the Cuban government without any legitimate sense of why, how or for what, convinced a wary Congress to confirm with Loretta Lynch, yet again, that closing Guantanamo Bay would be a violation of the law. She emphatically agreed.

The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee felt so unsettled with this pattern of behavior that he actually drafted letters to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State concerned that the president may be holding “secret negotiations” with Cuba.

Let that sink in. Arguably the most important national security official in Congress believes the Commander-in-Chief might be planning to subvert the law and circumvent Congress in order to achieve something that can only be detrimental to U.S. national security.

Now CEOs from Xerox and Marriott, among others, will accompany the president on his trip to the communist nation in a few days. He is essentially facilitating private business engagement in Cuba. An Alabama-based tractor company already won approval to build a factory near the capital. The Cuban government is the only group that can afford those tractors, though. Amnesty International should probably keep an eye out for large swaths of freshly disturbed earth, since harsher treatment of dissents suggests that they will begin disappearing.

This economic outreach might not be so bad if the president was not doing the opposite stateside.

While encouraging free enterprise in closed countries, the ‘administration of regulation’ cripples economic opportunity at home. The government refuses to lift its boot off the neck of a private sector struggling to breathe.

Dodd-Frank has decimated the small banking industry; only three new banks have opened since 2010. Small town America depends on these community banks for economic growth. Less of them equates to fewer jobs. Obamacare threatens the livelihood of small-to-medium size companies. Those businesses also face insurmountable compliance costs from an ever-expanding government bureaucracy. Aside from your expertly intrusive EPA and Labor Department, job creators contend with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and an Employee Benefits Security Administration, just to name a few.

These developments should concern everyone since this sector of the economy is responsible for two-thirds of the country’s job growth.

It’s like watching the president’s own Iditarod race, where he has worked four of his last six dogs to death by replacing his sled with a London double-decker bus. “Mush! Mush!” he commands of his two remaining pups.

This is not a simple case of national security problems meets domestic economic problems. Free enterprise is our national security. Undermining one, undermines them both. Cuba is the illustration.

The president recently admitted to have, at times, “not been attentive enough to feelings and emotions and politics in communicating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.” In other words, I’m sorry for not considering the fact that you cannot comprehend the depths of my remarkable strategy. His logic is a closed loop of spectacularly failed ideas. He is an island unto himself. Perhaps that’s his attraction to Cuba.

Now mush!”

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Where is Our Strategy?

New reports surface weekly that remind readers of the Obama administration’s mind-numbing, even nonsensical approach to U.S. national security.  The president remains determined to close Gitmo and move those prisoners to U.S. soil.  He already submitted a plan to congress in late February detailing the parameters of his plan. Unfortunately for him, the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which received veto-proof majorities from both houses, contained stipulations preventing the president from using any funds for moving prisoners or closing the facility. And now the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee feels compelled to write letters to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State concerned that the president may be holding “secret negotiations” with Cuba over Gitmo.  Let that sink in.  The leading member of the committee on military issues believes the Commander-in-Chief might be planning to subvert the law and circumvent congress to achieve something that can only be detrimental to U.S. national security.

Let’s be reminded as well that the supposed payoffs from closing Gitmo have yet to materialize.  Reuters is reporting that the “number of former Guantanamo Bay prison inmates who are suspected of having returned to fighting for militants doubled to 12 in the six months through January.”  This is a trend going back to the Bush administration.  Figures from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “showed that 111 of 532 prisoners released by the Republican administration of President George W. Bush are confirmed to have returned to the battlefield, with 74 others suspected of doing so.”  It’s also worth mentioning here the Obama administration’s infamous Bergdahl swap that resulted in the release of five high-value Taliban fighters.  Susan Rice claimed that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction,” but now he is charged with desertion.  Why not just release Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance who is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for issuing orders that resulted in the deaths of two Afghans?  The logic is bewildering.

Making matters worse, rapprochement with Cuba has done nothing for U.S. national security or Cubans’ human rights.  Secretary of State Kerry recently canceled his visit to the island nation over disputes with the Castro administration concerning which dissents President Obama could meet during his March visit.  Indeed, report after report continue to show how human rights violations have only worsened since the United States resumed relations with Cuba.  But the Castro regime will undoubtedly crumble under the weight of American benevolence, right?  Nope.  The Cuban government issued a sternly worded op-ed March 9 saying the president is welcome to visit, but demanded he stop meddling in their affairs.  “The Communist government had no intention of changing its policies in exchange for normal relations with the United States,” one report surmised.

Meanwhile, terrorists organizations continue to plot, maim and kill with little or no interest in Gitmo’s continued existence.

So if you are scoring at home, that’s 17 high-value militants back in the fight, an American deserter, a Chairman worried that the president is holding secret meetings with Russia’s ally in Syria, and a Cuban government that has stepped up its oppressive tactics since U.S. rapprochement.  Hard not to feel safer.

We here at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) are addressing this policy issue, but we need your help.  Sign our petition and tell congress to “Provide for the Common Defense, Now!”

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Obama announces Gitmo appeasement plan

President Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility is ill advised and is reflective of someone who is disconnected from the realities of global Islamic jihadism. Campaign promises should not form the basis for national security policy. The conflagration against Islamic jihadism is not a law enforcement matter but rather the prosecution of warfare against unlawful enemy combatants.

Join us as we focus on the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Say “No” to further weakening America’s defense by signing the petition to Provide for the Common Defense Now!

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Obama to visit Cuba and nothing will change

I have explained before that President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba will not restore America’s credibility in the region. The president clings to a Cold War notion that Cuba represents Latin America in the 21st century, and in the same breath scolds his opponents for living in the past…see here

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