Regional Cooperation Essential to Combatting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America
By Antoni Belchi / Voice of America / edited by Diálogo staff February 14, 2020
The III Western Hemisphere Counterterrorism Ministerial Summit highlighted the need for countries of the region to work jointly to wipe out terrorist cells, especially those belonging to Lebanese movement Hezbollah and the Colombian guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish).
The countries signatories to the statement that resulted from the summit, including the United States, Colombia, and Argentina, expressed their “concern over activities that [terrorist] networks still conduct in some areas of the Western Hemisphere.”
Addressing Hezbollah in Latin America, Diego Mella, an expert in counterterrorism and military intelligence, told Voice of America that the presence of this group “isn’t anything new” in the area. He warned about the “triangle” along the borders of Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil, where “violence is the law.”
Mella, a former captain in the Miami-Dade Police Department in Miami, Florida, who is now a military analyst, believes that a coalition among Colombia, Brazil, and the United States would be the best option to put an end to “guerrillas and narcotraffickers.”
Luis Fleischman, a sociology professor at Palm Beach State College, agrees, but warns that this coalition should be of a “defensive or preventive” nature.
Fleischman advocates for “an important coalition to prevent an expansion of these groups” which, according to reports, are present in several Latin American countries.
Concern over Hezbollah in Venezuela
Fleischman, who founded the Palm Beach Center for Democracy and Policy Research, said that the January 20 document signed at the summit in Bogotá, Colombia, highlights the “bastion of terrorist groups” that have been in Venezuela for a long time.
As such, he says, it’s essential to conduct an exhaustive follow-up and to carry out joint action to achieve change in the region.
A problem since the 1990s
Hezbollah has been present in Latin America since the 1990s. Militias funded and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard began to infiltrate through the so-called tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.
Their expansion in the region had a second phase a few years later, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez took office.
Joseph Hage, a political analyst specializing in Middle Eastern studies and terrorism, told VOA that the father of Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s current Economy vice president and Industry minister, had “opened a communication line between Hugo Chávez and Syrian President Bashar al Assad,” enabling contact with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“Hezbollah took advantage of the presence of Shiite Lebanese people and had Venezuela’s help with documents, residency permits, and passports, so they could move around Latin America,” he said.
Hezbollah’s modus operandi in Latin America tends to follow the same behavioral pattern: “They establish commercial ties in Latin America, and then engage in narcotrafficking, money laundering, weapons supply […], any kind of illicit business.”
According to Fleischman, a “change of regime in Venezuela is crucial for these groups to stop proliferating” in the country.