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A dangerous liaison: terrorists and organized crime in South America

About 100 South Americans have fought alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and returned home. What’s to stop them from sneaking into the United States? In the U.S., the FBI monitors suspected terrorists. But are they effectively tracked in Choco forest in Colombia or business fronts in Bolivia?

Terrorist groups are closer to us than you might think. The most prominent and well-known in South America is Hezbollah.  It works with drug cartels and local terrorists such as the FARC in Colombia. Now that Colombian citizens rejected a peace deal between the FARC and their government, there is a fear drug-trafficking will continue and connections with Hezbollah will remain. The U.S. needs to provide its regional allies with financial assistance, limited military aid, and intelligence to help disrupt these sorts of relationships before there’s another attack on U.S. soil.

{mosads}We need a robust counter-terrorism strategy that includes counter-narcotics and anti-money-laundering assistance from the U.S. to our southern neighbors. Additionally, the U.S. should provide limited amounts of military surveillance equipment and firearms to countries such as Peru and Paraguay. And to keep databases updated, the U.S. and its allies need to share pertinent intelligence, making sure all potential terrorists are monitored within their borders.

Member States of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) need U.S. assistance. CICTE is under-funded. Currently, its programs cannot help train countries to locate and dismantle terror and organized crime cells. With appropriate funding, the organization can provide countries with the necessary training and equipment.

This plan will deter terrorists against forming new partnerships with cartels. For instance, Hezbollah has been smuggling drugs and counterfeit products throughout South America since the 1980s. If left unchecked, it will continue funding ongoing terror operations in the Middle East, with the potential of harming Americans.

Hezbollah and organized crime networks have different ideologies, but they share a similar desire: profit. If there is a cash incentive, what’s to stop cartels from sneaking an extremist into the U.S.?

The U.S. and its allies cannot afford to tackle terrorism and drug-trafficking as two separate issues. The data shows the issues are inextricably tied. If intelligence is shared among the U.S. and its allies, with priorities outlined for each country, it will provide the right kind of guidance to tackle collaborations between terrorists and illicit crime networks.

Is the plan expensive to the U.S.? No. Just $5 million re-allocated from the proposed $49.7 million to the Organization of American States budget, matched by allies, would be sufficient. With adequate funding, the U.S. and its allies can investigate, monitor, and ultimately apprehend suspects.

Is there a risk of misuse of funds? No, not if the U.S. and current-CICTE chair, Paraguay, create an accountability board that ensures funding is spent responsibly and, most importantly, produces favorable results.

Why focus on terrorism in South America if major terror groups are based in the Middle East? Because it only takes one motivated extremist in South America to sneak into the U.S. with weapons. With modest funding and willing allies, we can prevent that tragedy from happening.

The U.S. and its allies must place more attention on disrupting cooperation between cartels and terrorists. It is quite simple: dismantle terror connections, defend the hemisphere. A renewed strategy countering terror will benefit all. The U.S. will secure its interests and protect its citizens. South American countries will dismantle cooperation between cartels and terrorists, decrease drug-trafficking, and diminish illicit activities.  We and our allies, working together, will build a stronger and safer Western Hemisphere.

Alejandro Ramos is a Master’s candidate at the George Washington University, studying Security Policy Studies and concentrating on Transnational Security Issues.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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