Latin American authorities cautioned against the presence of Iran’s proxy Hezbollah in South America’s volatile Tri-Border Area (TBA), noting that the group is using tens of millions of dollars in drug trafficking and money laundering proceeds to fund its jihadi activities, Infobae reported Friday.
Referring to Hezbollah and other drug traffickers in the TBA, Fabiano Bordignon, federal police chief of Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, told Infobae, “There is a great concern for the criminal organizations that exist in Brazil and are establishing very firm foundations throughout the border and within Paraguay and Argentina.”
The TBA region covers Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
Juan Felix Marteau, the former head of the anti-money laundering office in Argentina, also told Infobae, “It is proven that there are alliances between Lebanese families that handle a good part of the illicit trade and that obviously have begun to participate in the care and protection of the money that comes from drug trafficking.”
The Infobae report ties Hezbollah, through prosecutorial investigations seeking concrete proof of the connections, to Brazil’s two largest gangs: the Red Command (CV) and the First Capital Command (PCC). Following a long and bloody year of feuding, the two gangs agreed this month to unite to combat the policies of newly minted President Jair Bolsonaro, who pledged to eradicate the gangs from Brazil.
In December, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State John Sullivan warned that several Latin American countries are facing Hezbollah-linked terrorist plots on a “regular basis.”
U.S. authorities believe Latin America’s TBA region is a haven for transnational crime and terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.
Nathan Sales, the top counterterrorism official at State, cautioned late last year that Hezbollah has established “large caches of military equipment and explosives” in Bolivia and deployed jihadis to Peru.
Last year, Forbes deemed Hezbollah the wealthiest terrorist group in the world with an annual income of $1.1 billion, generated primarily by “aid funding from Iran, drug manufacture and trade.”
Iran is reportedly operating at least 100 so-called cultural centers across Latin America manned by recruiters from Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.
The U.S. military and several American lawmakers have long warned that Iran’s footprint and influence exerted through Hezbollah and other proxies pose a threat to Latin America and the Western Hemisphere as a whole.
American authorities and various experts have linked Hezbollah to drug trafficking, mainly cocaine, and money laundering in the Western Hemisphere.
On Thursday, Fox News reported that Hezbollah is bringing the anti-America countries of Venezuela and Iran closer.
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has long accused Venezuela of facilitating Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America.
Citing analysts like Johan Obdola, the president of the Canada-based Global Organization for Intelligence (IOSI) and former counter-narcotics chief in Venezuela, Fox News noted that Venezuela is helping the terrorist group expand its presence in Latin America.
Obdola told Fox News:
Training between Iran and Venezuela has increased in the past few years as part of a larger plan between the Venezuelan regime, consisting of increasing the number of Hezbollah operatives and their supporters across Latin America. [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani and [his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas] Maduro have established a very firm and close relationship, which was of course initiated by [the late Hugo] Chavez.”
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is considering officially listing Venezuela as a state-sponsor of terrorism along the likes of Iran and Syria.
Antonio Ledezma, a former political prisoner and mayor of Caracas, told Fox News:
It has been proven that the Venezuelan government has ties to international terrorist groups. Therefore, what it is being requested is that the Venezuelan government be recognized as such; a regime that has brought the Venezuelan State to a failed status. It is a rogue state. This is due to its ties with the drug traffic, due to its engagement in human rights violations, and because of its ties to international terrorism.
“Hezbollah enjoys a kind of impunity in Venezuela too. They get Venezuelan documents and passports. And they can live and operate freely on the East side of the country,” Julio Borges, a Venezuelan opposition leader who has been living in exile in Colombia, added.
Politico reported in late 2017 that former President Barack Obama’s administration “derailed” a DEA operation targeting Hezbollah’s multi-million-dollar drug trafficking activities in Latin America to secure approval of the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
In 2016, the U.S. military in Latin America conceded, Hezbollah “maintains an infrastructure with the capability to conduct or support terrorist attacks. As with every aspect of our counterterrorism efforts, the U.S. Government remains vigilant against these threats, working closely with our partners to protect the southern approaches to the United States.”