NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heritage Foundation: Terrorist Organizations in Latin America

January 18, 2002

The September 11 terrorist attacks have focused America's attention on the Middle East, but a potential source of danger exists closer to home in Latin America. For decades, the combination of corrupt government, poor infrastructure and spotty public security in many Latin American countries has made it easy for foreign and domestic terrorists to gain a foothold. As a result, one-third of the terrorist organizations operating worldwide, including one linked to Osama bin Laden, are located or operate in Latin America.

  • Colombia's insurgent rebel groups are linked to international drug and arms traffickers spread throughout the hemisphere and across the Atlantic, with a combined income exceeding the resources of Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden.
  • In Paraguay, the contraband market is larger than the formal economy, and the country hosts groups linked to the Egyptian Islamic Group, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the pro-Palestinian Hamas.
  • In Mexico, leftist insurgency groups and the Arellano-Felix drug cartel have formed alliances with Colombian rebels, and have expanded their operations along the U.S.-Mexican border and abroad.

In addition to these terrorist organizations, some governments in the region are active sponsors of terrorist causes:

  • Cuba -- a supporter of international terrorists since the 1960s -- maintains close ties to other state sponsors like Libya and Iran, and has reportedly developed the capability to manufacture biological warfare agents.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has established fraternal relations with Latin American guerrillas and maintains close ties to Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro.

So far, most of the violence committed by these groups has been directed within the region. But the region's fragile democracies and market economies are hardly able to contain threats against themselves, much less keep them from spilling across their borders.

Source: Stephen Johnson, "U.S. Coalition Against Terrorism Should Include Latin America," Backgrounder No. 1489, October 9, 2001, Heritage Foundation.


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