On August 21, the Southern Command confirmed what here at the Menges Hemispheric Project of the Center for Security Policy we have been warning about for a long time. The susceptibility of our southern border to the infiltration of Middle East terrorism.
Most recently we warned that ISIS can operate in Latin America.
It's true that cooperation between Iranians or Iran’s proxy groups — such as Hezbollah and elements in Latin America, such as Venezuela and other countries, as well as drug cartels — has been reported extensively.
However, this time the U.S. Southern Command reports about the infiltration of Sunni extremists from the Middle East, the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and East Africa.
These infiltrations (which are carried out with the help of professional smugglers trained in smuggling illegal immigrants from Latin America) represent a major problem, given the threat of the Islamic State.
What is more interesting is that neither the media or even Donald Trump's campaign raised public concern over this report. This is especially worrisome given the fact that the Southern Command reported the infiltration of 30,000 individuals from the Mideast, which is the equivalent of 10 percent of the total illegal smuggling coming from the southern border.
It's obvious that the problem of our southern border remains a very serious issue requiring a solution soon. The security of our borders should be resolved before any other, whether the next president is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. So far, this is a neglected issue.
But for this to happen it is also imperative to look at the Western hemisphere and Latin America, not only in economic terms but also as a region posing serious security challenges.
We have extensively covered all these challenges, but with the rise of ISIS it is important to look into why the region is a fertile area for ISIS: First, the region is in our own neighborhood. This makes us vulnerable because they have easy access to the United States. The Southern Command report confirms this.
Second, the northern states of Mexico as well as Central America constitute anarchical areas, territories without effective government. Territories without governance are fertile for terrorist activities.
Third, corruption prevails. It is extremely easy to bribe judges, police, governors, and public officials as drug cartels have widely proven. By the same token, cooperation between ISIS and drug cartels should not be ruled out. After all, such cooperation has taken place between cartels and the Shiite Hezbollah. Drug cartels provide logistics and know the territory extremely well.
By the same token, there have been countries in the region that sold passports in exchange for money. This includes the Venezuela whose embassy in Baghdad sold passports to whoever paid for it. Given the intense activity of ISIS and Sunni extremists in Iraq it should not be surprising that some of these passports were sold to ISIS members or individuals associated to ISIS.
Likewise, small Caribbean countries associated directly or indirectly with Venezuela and his ALBA coalition have been involved in the selling of passports raising eyebrows about the possibility that ISIS may have been one of the beneficiaries of such transactions.
It is also worthwhile to point out that Tareq Al Aissami, currently the governor of the Venezuelan state of Aragua and a former minister of interior, was in charge of providing visas and passports. Although he is known for his connections with Iran and Hezbollah, his father is a former secretary of the Iraqi Baath party in Venezuela.
Former members of Sadam Hussein’s Baath party today are important factors in ISIS ranks.
By the same token, it should not be ruled out that with the recent peace accord agreed upon by the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) there could be a number of guerillas that refuse to accept the binding power of the agreements. If those dissidents from the FARC join forces with ISIS, as they have done in the past with Hezbollah, it could have disastrous consequences for the security of the region.
Therefore, the next president of the United States will need to take this issue very seriously. So far, this is a neglected issue whose consequences are being felt.
Luis Fleischman has worked as adviser for the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy on issues related to Latin America
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