Hola Hezbollah: Islamic Terrorists in the Americas

hezbollah lat am 2

What are Hezbollah’s regional activities and allies are essential questions toward understanding what their Lat Am presence means for US foreign policy. Photo (cc) AC Democracy 2013

The events of September 11, 2001 stimulated foreign policy changes that affected the entire planet. The United States’ post-World War II global influence has not only held strong into the 21st century, but expanded through additional means – including the War on Terror. Since 9/11, US forces have established overwhelming concentration on the Middle East and occasionally East Asia. This has involved certain compromises of attention on other geopolitical areas. Not only has Latin America – a region once dominated by Western-supported autocracies – transitioned into democracies – but several of its populist leaning, less Western-compliant states have eased Middle Eastern terrorist’s entrance into the Western Hemisphere. Lebanese-origin Hezbollah is among the entities aided by these more rebellious regimes and the ambient of insecurity found south of the US border.

Being that Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America is not as popular a news topic as others does not mean that it is a new one. For decades, numerous US governmental documents have stressed concern for the presence and / or support of terrorist groups in certain Latin states, including Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, Cuba and the Triple Frontier between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Therefore, what are Hezbollah’s activities in the region and who are their allies are essential questions toward further understanding what Islamic terrorism in the Americas means for American foreign policy.

Open for Business

Photo (c) Sandiglored 2012

Hezbollah is not just ideology. Like any effective cause, business must back it. In Latin America, this organization has this golden rule done to an art. According to NATO intelligence reports, fund transfers from Latin America to Hezbollah are estimated between 60 and 100 million dollars annually. From 2006 to date, it was mainly drug trafficking that contributed to financing. Now, contraband, money laundering and influence trafficking have also become bread winners. As the Islamic militia’s coffers expand, their desire to diversify their activities further north grows as well.

One promoter of this growth was identified as Hassan Barakat. His military commander, Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad was a former professional Hezbollah operative who liaises in Venezuela between Iran and the terrorist group. They were also responsible for triangulations of money in Lebanon, by the facade of charities and with the assistance of offshore bank accounts permitted by local governments.

Regional Alliances: Venezuela and Cuba

Hezbollah’s illegal activities in the Americas are growing every day, bringing along with them agendas and individuals of potential security threat to the United States and its regional allies. But not all Latin governments share the same counter-terrorist agenda. Several states – whether actively or passively – have become strategic partners and  gateways to  not only financing, but hosting Hezbollah member.

In Venezuela, right-wing opposition thanks the Bolivarian governments for aiding Islamic extremists’ spread. Margarita Island – a romantic paradise for many  – is a tax haven for others. The ideal triangulations fall for money, central to the money laundering needed by the Shi’ite militia. It also acts as a base dedicated to counterfeit dollars. The US Dollar is otherwise prohibited in the country.

In addition, there are claims that the administrations of late Presidents Hugo Chavez and current Nicolas Maduro have allowed the fraudulent printings of passports and visas for Iranians and other Islamic extremists. Between 2009 and 2011, Venezuela was the leading South American country where undocumented Iranians arrived and then moved to Cuba or North America. “Canada is particularly vulnerable to these plans, due to its high level of acceptance (86 percent) of Iranian asylum requests,” states a recent report by Argentine research firm Infobae. In 2006, Canadian security forces arrested 18 terrorists planning a series of attacks, including the beheading of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and bombing Parliament.

Regional Alliances: Beyond

Ciudad del Este – city on the Triple Border. Photo (c) Iguazu Hotels Brazil 2015

With Caracas and Havana’s complicity, Hezbollah’s further expansion into Latin America has been enabled. The Triple Border, Chile, Mexico and Colombia are ideal states for financing the organization, and the Iranian delegations in them have been suspected by US authorities to be essential for their prosperity. These diplomatic missions are often alleged to be the main spokesmen for the group’s needs.

According to a US Naval War College security analysis, the Triple Border (comprised of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina) is a regional “capital” of Hezbollah. As a Free Trade Zone, it is where much of the group’s  illegal activity can be seen. Perhaps one reason that the Triple Border has become a crime nest is its easy accessibility,  high degree of permeability, and the presence of a wide ethnic and commercial diversity. According to French intelligence sources, about $ 10 million leaves the Triple Border for Beirut.

Hezbollah also enjoys the opportunities of another Free Trade Zone. In northern Chile, the Iquique area was selected by Hezbollah to achieve their dirty money to send to Islamic extremists. Companies that serve these triangulations are Kalmiar Ltd., Bahamas Ltd., Las Vegas Nevada Ltd., San Francisco Ltd., Saleh Trading Ltd., Frankfurter Ltd., Guanary Ltd., Teen Lucky Child Ltd. and Crown Ltd.

In Mexico, Hezbollah associates itself with another type of business – that of major drug cartels, including Los Zetas. Entering the US illegally to distribute merchandise, money flows well for both partners. But again, it’s not just money and drugs. It is suspected that the Shiite terrorist group uses this link to try to introduce extremists onto American soil.

In Colombia, Hezbollah has also become involved in the narco and destabilized scene there. In October 2008, at least 36 Hezbollah-suspects were arrested upon being accused of drug trafficking in the country. Chekry Harb, accused of being a member of Hezbollah, has been responsible for laundering money from this activity. Suspects as Harb are allegedly commissioned to triangulate from Panama via Hong Kong: Beirut was his final destination.

Conclusions

Therefore, local economic and political alliances are undoubtedly beneficial to Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America. Yet the social level also must not be disregarded. One, all activities of Hezbollah are based on comparative advantage with other terrorist groups. Being of Lebanese descent, the group collects and refers to immigrants living outside borders of Lebanon. This nation’s descendants, which is estimated at 12 million people around the world remain deeply rooted in their homeland.  Mosques, Islamic cultural centers, businesses and other organizations without political appearance together hundreds of faithful followers who. According to US intelligence reports – many of these followers are “used” by the extremist group unwittingly.

The fact is that Hezbollah is not only present but hosted in the Americas is worth of note. Especially if we consider messages hammering into the minds of youths and anti-Western supports that: “The brief enjoyment of life on earth it is selfish. The other life is better for those who serve Allah “. It’s the same phrase found in the pamphlets that were inferred to children and adolescents who participate in suicide missions in Palestine and other Middle Eastern trouble spots. While the United States has been concentrating across the Atlantic for over a decade, have we missed the opportunity to make our country and hemisphere more safe by not looking more south?

About the Author

Ailana Navarez
Ailana Navarez is Pulsamerica’s Editor-in-Chief, Owner, Digital Marketing Manager and Contributor; and Deputy Editor of partner-magazine International Policy Digest. She is former Contributor of Uruguay and Venezuela. She has published over 80 international relations-related articles as a political analyst / journalist with a concentration in Latin American leadership analysis, economy, history, international relations, and her research passions, politics and narco-trafficking. As a photographer, she has covered international summits – including of MERCOSUR and the UN. She holds a BA in Government and Psychology at Harvard, pursuing an MA in Homeland Security at Penn State, and is certified in Competitive Counter Intelligence, Technical Surveillance Countermeasures and Countering Terrorism & the Asset Threat Spectrum. She has volunteered for environmental, educational and law enforcement entities - domestically and abroad. She maintains permanent residency status in Panama, the United States and Uruguay. She speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and Hawaiian Creole.