Iran and its terrorist proxy groups’ influence in Latin America remains a troubling security threat to the region and world, experts said at a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist group based in Lebanon and sponsored by Iran, has established illicit networks in Latin America in the last few decades to provide millions annually for its global operations, experts on the region told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.
Those networks involve money laundering, counterfeiting, piracy, and drug trafficking in cooperation with local criminal groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Celina Realuyo, assistant professor of national security affairs at the National Defense University, said the “convergence” of terror and crime networks in Latin America presents a significant threat to regional and global security.
“These types of illicit actors, terror providers, and criminals, a lot of them are offering and brokering services but may not espouse the ideological fervor that other groups have,” she said. “But they’re offering a lot of special services—a terror pipeline—where you see this very unholy alliance between terror groups and criminal groups who have a win-win.”
The witnesses’ testimony on Tuesday appeared to contradict a State Department report issued last year that downplayed the threat of Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere and was sharply criticized by some lawmakers and terrorism experts.
Douglas Farah, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Americas Program, added that just because ties between Hezbollah and groups like FARC seem opaque does not mean they are nonexistent.
“It’s hard to get through the policy perception that [they’re] not there,” he said.
Realuyo pointed to three recent cases as evidence of the links between Hezbollah and criminal groups in Latin America.
The first was Operation Titan, a two-year joint U.S.-Colombian investigation in 2008 that revealed a multi-million dollar cocaine trafficking operation stretching from Panama to Hong Kong. Chekry Harb, a Lebanese kingpin in Colombia contributed about 12 percent of the drug trafficking ring’s profits to Hezbollah.
Full article: Experts: Iran Exerting Troubling Influence in Latin America (Washington Free Beacon)