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March 22 2018 image description
by: jmhumire 0 Comments

The Crime-Terror Convergence: Countering Hezbollah’s Growing Empire in Latin America

In recent years, Hezbollah has developed a significant presence in Latin America. Its continued terrorist activity and expanding financial empire, built on drug trafficking and money laundering, is becoming a growing U.S. security concern, as demonstrated by the creation of a new Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT) at the Department of Justice in January. On March 22nd, the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) hosted a panel of U.S. national security experts to discuss how the United States can successfully address the growing convergence of international terrorism and transnational organized crime from which Hezbollah benefits.

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The panel was moderated by SFS Senior Fellow JD Gordon and consisted of SFS Executive Director Joseph Humire, Vanessa Neumann, author of Blood Profits and president of Asymmetrica; Charles “Sam” Faddis, retired CIA Operations Officer and former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center’s WMD Unit; and Derek Maltz, former director of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division.

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Humire initiated the dialogue by emphasizing that U.S. sanctions have been ineffective in curbing Hezbollah’s activity, and collaboration with regional partners is necessary to enforce this kind of unilateral action and ultimately dismantle Hezbollah’s networks in South America. Neumann, who had just returned from the Tri-Border Area, explained that Brazil faces a variety of complicated issues, primarily that the Lebanese population in Brazil make up the primary merchant class and facilitate the majority of smuggling and money-laundering into the country. Further, she added while there is not a direct link between Hezbollah and BCC, the Brazilian mafia, these groups often take advantage of their mutual interests and the gray areas between their operations. She ended by saying that Venezuela is the heartland of Hezbollah in Latin America, and it is difficult for Brazil to differentiate between genuine Venezuelans entering Brazil and Hezbollah members with legitimate Venezuelan passports.

Faddis and Maltz discussed at length the need for inter-agency cooperation and a “unity of effort” between the DEA and intelligence community in order to successfully combat this security threat. Both panelists acknowledged the lack of communication between different agencies had hurt efforts in this area and emphasized the need for strong leadership in order to align intelligence and law enforcement priorities and keep members accountable. Project Cassandra, an effort led by the DEA to undercut Hezbollah funding from illicit drug sources, served as a small-scale example of the kind of cooperation necessary.IMG_3742-min

Drawing on his experience as an expert witness in a variety of Latin American trials, Humire provided insight on the perspective of Latin Americans, highlighting that Latin Americans do not necessarily understand jihadist groups, but they are fully aware of transnational organized crime. The convergence between the two is often not recognized and this connection is intentionally veiled by the skillful compartmentalization that Iran achieves in its operations there. He highlighted the groundwork of Ghazi Nassereddine, a Venezuelan diplomat in Syria who builds and isolates networks that ultimately prevent significant leaders such as Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El-Aissami from being linked to Hezbollah. Neumann added that the infiltration of people deeply positioned in the Venezuelan financial and political system has led the state to become a part of the crime-terror pipeline. She further maintained that terrorism is not endemic, and Venezuela needs U.S. assistance to combat it.


Ultimately, the conversation shed light on the relationship between terror and crime in Latin America and encouraged U.S. security agencies to collaborate in order to prioritize action in the region.

February 28 2018 image description
by: jmhumire 0 Comments

Hidden Dragon: China’s Stealthy Rise in Latin America

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On Tuesday, February 27, the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) hosted an expert panel to discuss Chinese activity in Latin America, titled Hidden Dragon: China’s Stealthy Rise in Latin America. The event coincided with the release of our latest Global Dispatch, “The Dragon and the Condor: Beyond China’s Economic Activity in Latin America.” Guests gathered in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing Room in the Rayburn House Office Building for an early lunch and an all-star panel.

The panel featured SFS Senior Fellow Fernando Menéndez, Author Gordon G. Chang, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Margaret Myers, and Deputy Executive Director of the Prague Security Studies Institute Andrew Davenport, and was moderated by Associate Editor at The Daily Caller, Julia Nista.

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To start, Florida Congressman Ted Yoho took the stage to discuss the importance of SFS’s message and the urgency of meeting Chinese imperialists’ efforts with decisive action. JD Gordon then came to the podium to introduce the panelists and moderator before handing the reins over to Julia Nista to begin moderating the discussion.

Following the panelists’ opening statements, Nista began by asking the panel as to the capacity that China has expanded its presence in Latin America and what that expansion means for American interests in the region. Menéndez explained that, while on the surface, the Chinese appear to only be entering the region economically, it would be a grave mistake to look at China’s growing presence in Latin America as purely an economic phenomenon. Chang contributed to this sentiment by positing that experts base their expectations of China’s plans in Latin America on what the country has done in Africa, where China has established a significant presence on what Chang considers its “second continent.”

Nista transitioned the panel by stating that China is by no means just a financial threat and that its investments in infrastructure, optics, and cyber all pose significant sharp power problems and opened it up to the panel to discuss what this could mean for United States interests. Menéndez led by saying that a cable to Chile will allow Chinese state-run telecommunications giant Huawei to control the cyber access in that region and how China has had a less-than-stellar record with enabling connectivity to an open-access internet. Myers added her concern that China has appropriated more than 150 billion dollars in financing to Latin America, and also speculated as to the possibility that these investments in the Belt and Road Initiative could backfire in a big way. This concern was further addressed by Davenport when he added that China is having problems with how liberally they are granting their loans. He noted that Venezuela, one of the three major Latin American countries to get involved with Chinese development, is starting to look a lot like Tanzania, where the return on investment made by China has been nonexistent following severe economic turmoil. 

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A later topic of discussion was centered on whether or not China has the follow-through necessary to complete the Belt and Road Initiative and if it will in the future. Chang explained that China is increasing its GDP every year by 10%, which means that after 7 years that the economy doubles and this demonstrates the country’s capability to carry out the elaborate project. Davenport responded that the Silk Road had been overly romanticized and that China sees the Belt and Road Initiative as a way to market itself internationally. Myers explained that for every deal that becomes operational within the Belt and Road Initiative, that there are two or three more plans that have made the list that will never enter production. Menéndez elaborated further, saying that China will gain more and more soft power as more countries show themselves willing to work with Beijing. 

These are just a couple of the points reviewed in the February 2018 issue of the Global Dispatch, titled: The Dragon and the Condor: Beyond China’s Economic Influence in the Americas. A link to the full publication may be found here.