Sunday, April 9, 2017

Latin America: Terrorism Issues

Compared to other parts of the world, the potential threat emanating from terrorism is low in most countries in Latin America. Most terrorist acts occur in the Andean region of South America, committed by two Colombian guerrilla groups—the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN)—and one Peruvian guerrilla group, the Shining Path (SL). All three of these groups have been designated by the U.S. State Department as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). The FARC, however, has been engaged in peace negotiations with the Colombian government since 2012, culminating in a peace accord signed in September 2016. Although the accord was narrowly rejected by a national plebiscite in early October, both sides hammered out a new peace accord in November 2016, which was ratified by Colombia’s Congress at the end of that month. Negotiations between the Colombian government and the smaller ELN had several false starts in 2016, although to date formal talks with the government have not started. The Shining Path has been significantly diminished because of Peruvian military operations.

For a number of years, there has also been U.S. concern about Iran’s increasing activities in the region as well as those of Hezbollah, the radical Lebanon-based Islamic group with close ties to Iran. Both are reported to be linked to the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) that killed 85 people in Buenos Aires. More recently, U.S. concerns have included financial and ideological support in South America and the Caribbean for the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL/ISIS), including the issue of individuals from the region leaving to fight with the Islamic State.

The United States employs various policy tools to counter terrorism in the region, including sanctions, antiterrorism assistance and training, law enforcement cooperation, and multilateral cooperation through the Organization of American States (OAS). In addition to sanctions against U.S.-designated FTOs in the region, the United States has imposed an arms embargo on Venezuela since 2006 because the Department of State has determined that Venezuela is not fully cooperating with U.S. antiterrorism efforts. The United States has also imposed sanctions on several current and former Venezuelan officials for assisting the FARC and on numerous individuals and companies in Latin America for providing support to Hezbollah. Cuba had been on the State Department’s so-called list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982, but in May 2015, the Obama Administration rescinded Cuba’s designation as part of its overall policy shift on Cuba.

The 114th Congress continued oversight of terrorism concerns in the Western Hemisphere, with House hearings on the activities of Iran and Hezbollah, the peace agreement in Colombia, border security management and concerns, and terrorist financing in South America. Several legislative initiatives were introduced in the 114th Congress but ultimately not approved.

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