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SOUTHCOM Holds Academic Roundtable Discussion on Terrorist-Criminal Organizations

SOUTHCOM Holds Academic Roundtable Discussion on Terrorist-Criminal Organizations

By Dialogo
December 16, 2014





United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) held the second in a series of four academic roundtable discussions about terrorist-criminal organization relationships in a global context, but especially in Latin America, at the Command’s Conference Center of the Americas on December 9.

Experts discussed this and other related topics with a broad variety of different views and included Dr. Louise Shelley, Founder and Director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University; Dr. Phil Williams, Director of the Matthew B. Ridgeway Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh; Mr. Chris Dishman, South/Central Regional Director of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security; and Mr. Chip Poncy, Co-founder of the Financial Integrity Network (FIN). The moderators were Dr. Frank Mora, Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) at Florida International University (FIU) and Brian Fonseca, Deputy Director of Applied Research Center also at FIU.

Dr. Louise Shelley opened the discussions saying, “We must look at the cultural-political context in Latin America. To solve the problem of terrorism we have to treat it as a business.” In her opinion, there are areas in this region that should be paid more attention to, such as the Triple Frontier, a tri-border area
along the junction of Paraguay
, Argentina
, and Brazil
, which many consider to be a safe haven for Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups sympathizers.

Professor Shelley also pointed out that women and even terrorists from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world are trafficked into the United States through churches and language schools which provide legal entry into the country, as was the case with the flight school that provided documentation for the perpetrators of 9/11 to enter the United States legally.

Dr. Phil Williams followed by saying that even though eventually terrorist groups cooperate with one another, that does not mean terrorists around the world are working together in unity. Professor Williams prefers to call the groups that mix terrorism and other criminal activities hybrids. For him, it does not matter if you call transnational organized groups terrorists, narco-traffickers or just plain and simple criminals, but the most important issue is to find better ways to combat them.

This view was contradicted by Dr. Shelley, who thinks that there is, in fact, a big difference between these groups, but both agreed on one thing: prisons in Latin America serve as a “barn” for criminals who, after sharing experiences and ideas with better educated inmates, such as political activists, journalists or students, come out better prepared and indoctrinated with leftist ideas. A lot of them just control crime occurring outside the jails from the inside, both agreed.

Adding fuel to the fire, Chris Dishman said, “Crime and terrorism should be seen as different, not together as one. When illicit activities are combined, for example, [which is] what happened to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), these groups become more regular criminals rather than terrorists.”

Chip Poncy preferred to focus on financial sanctions imposed by the United States to companies and/or organizations with confirmed ties to terrorist groups around the globe as a strong means to weaken terrorist and other criminal groups. He mentioned that non-government organizations in various parts of the world are used as façades to support transnational organized crime, including terrorism.

According to Poncy, terrorists groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL or ISIS) are finding creative and different ways to take money in and maintain the areas they govern. “There are geographic blots in different parts of the world, such as in Africa, and the tri-border region in South America, just to name a name a few. We must use even stronger sanctions against organized crime.”

After each speaker was finished, Fonseca opened the floor for questions by the audience, not without mentioning that despite several and combined efforts in Latin America to fight terrorism and transnational organized crime, violence in the region has risen substantially in the last decade. And he is correct. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Study in Homicide (2011) between 2000 and 2010, homicide rates in Latin America increased 12 percent — the only world region that saw its rate grow.

Dr. Mora agreed and said one factor is a higher demand for more and more diversified types of drugs. But for him, the biggest problem Latin America faces today is the escalation and spread of corruption within basically all sectors of the economy and governments in the region. All members in the panel seemed to agree.

Capabilities and vulnerabilities in the relationship between the U. S. and Latin American countries in having a combined fight against terrorism/transnational organized crime were also exploited, but no firm recommendations on how to better attack this problem were presented.






United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) held the second in a series of four academic roundtable discussions about terrorist-criminal organization relationships in a global context, but especially in Latin America, at the Command’s Conference Center of the Americas on December 9.

Experts discussed this and other related topics with a broad variety of different views and included Dr. Louise Shelley, Founder and Director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University; Dr. Phil Williams, Director of the Matthew B. Ridgeway Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh; Mr. Chris Dishman, South/Central Regional Director of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security; and Mr. Chip Poncy, Co-founder of the Financial Integrity Network (FIN). The moderators were Dr. Frank Mora, Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) at Florida International University (FIU) and Brian Fonseca, Deputy Director of Applied Research Center also at FIU.

Dr. Louise Shelley opened the discussions saying, “We must look at the cultural-political context in Latin America. To solve the problem of terrorism we have to treat it as a business.” In her opinion, there are areas in this region that should be paid more attention to, such as the Triple Frontier, a tri-border area
along the junction of Paraguay
, Argentina
, and Brazil
, which many consider to be a safe haven for Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups sympathizers.

Professor Shelley also pointed out that women and even terrorists from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world are trafficked into the United States through churches and language schools which provide legal entry into the country, as was the case with the flight school that provided documentation for the perpetrators of 9/11 to enter the United States legally.

Dr. Phil Williams followed by saying that even though eventually terrorist groups cooperate with one another, that does not mean terrorists around the world are working together in unity. Professor Williams prefers to call the groups that mix terrorism and other criminal activities hybrids. For him, it does not matter if you call transnational organized groups terrorists, narco-traffickers or just plain and simple criminals, but the most important issue is to find better ways to combat them.

This view was contradicted by Dr. Shelley, who thinks that there is, in fact, a big difference between these groups, but both agreed on one thing: prisons in Latin America serve as a “barn” for criminals who, after sharing experiences and ideas with better educated inmates, such as political activists, journalists or students, come out better prepared and indoctrinated with leftist ideas. A lot of them just control crime occurring outside the jails from the inside, both agreed.

Adding fuel to the fire, Chris Dishman said, “Crime and terrorism should be seen as different, not together as one. When illicit activities are combined, for example, [which is] what happened to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), these groups become more regular criminals rather than terrorists.”

Chip Poncy preferred to focus on financial sanctions imposed by the United States to companies and/or organizations with confirmed ties to terrorist groups around the globe as a strong means to weaken terrorist and other criminal groups. He mentioned that non-government organizations in various parts of the world are used as façades to support transnational organized crime, including terrorism.

According to Poncy, terrorists groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL or ISIS) are finding creative and different ways to take money in and maintain the areas they govern. “There are geographic blots in different parts of the world, such as in Africa, and the tri-border region in South America, just to name a name a few. We must use even stronger sanctions against organized crime.”

After each speaker was finished, Fonseca opened the floor for questions by the audience, not without mentioning that despite several and combined efforts in Latin America to fight terrorism and transnational organized crime, violence in the region has risen substantially in the last decade. And he is correct. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Study in Homicide (2011) between 2000 and 2010, homicide rates in Latin America increased 12 percent — the only world region that saw its rate grow.

Dr. Mora agreed and said one factor is a higher demand for more and more diversified types of drugs. But for him, the biggest problem Latin America faces today is the escalation and spread of corruption within basically all sectors of the economy and governments in the region. All members in the panel seemed to agree.

Capabilities and vulnerabilities in the relationship between the U. S. and Latin American countries in having a combined fight against terrorism/transnational organized crime were also exploited, but no firm recommendations on how to better attack this problem were presented.


I LIKE THE EVENT ON ORGANIZED CRIME TOO BAD ONLY GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE INVITED, I MYSELF WAS A POLICE AGENT AND MEMBER OF THE ARMY CURRENTLY I TEACH A UNIVERSITY COURSE ON INTERNATIONAL CRIME IN MY COUNTRY HONDURAS
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