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The Possible Threat from Latin America
Earlier this year I wrote a paper for the International Assessment and Strategy Center on the Islamist threat from Latin America. What I found, after spending decades in Latin America, was startling, because of the clear focus both Hezbollah and Sunni groups funded by Saudi Arabia have placed on the continent.

There are now mosques and multiple web sites in countries with virtually no Muslim population (Bolivia, Peru), and extremely active sites in countries with small populations (Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana). These are somewhat separate from the Sunni websites that operate in Brazil and Argentina, where there are significant Muslim populations.

Not only is there an extensive network of websites linking to Hezbollah-related groups around the continent for communication and reinforcement of the message, there are pockets of radicalization with members frequently linked to organized criminal structures that reach deep into the United States, Europe and Africa.

To me, the primary concern is a combination of factors, in part facilitated by the close ties of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua:

Plots such as that of bombing JFK airport can come to fruition because of the mixture of Hezbollah training and intelligence guidance under the protection of states; access to sophisticated weaponry from the FARC and other rebel groups in the northern tier of South America, again with the protection of states, primarily Venezuela; clear, easy access to our borders through the normal _coyote_ routes through Central America; the ability to move people and materiel by the Central American _maras_, or gangs, that now have franchise operations in more than 30 states in the United States.

These gangs are particularly troublesome because they control the primary commodity Central America has to offer criminal and terrorist networks-the pipeline to move things (people, stolen cars, cocaine, weapons etc.). The pipeline is efficient and moves both ways, offering those who can pay entry and egress from the United States with ease.

Nicaragua and Venezuela can offer legitimate travel documents to whomever the government wants. If for some reason that is more difficult, Guyana, Surinam and many other countries offer their passports for a song. Guyana is especially notorious for this, and it is interesting to note that several of the West African criminal organizations I studied also did business in Guyana.

Some countries, like Liberia and Sierra Leone, offered criminal and terrorist organizations lucrative commodities such as diamonds and timber. Central American gangs, in alliance with drug traffickers, control an equally-lucrative but harder to quantify commodity, which is the route itself.

We are largely unused to looking at criminal and terrorist structures in this light. But to me the over-riding threat from Latin America is not just the few radicalized individuals or groups that may grow up. It is the possible alliance with the commodity brokers-the gangs and drug traffickers that control the movement of illicit goods-with radical groups to penetrate our borders.

Another part of this is the FARC's widespread and easy access to the most sophisticated weaponry available. With hundreds of millions of dollars a year to spend on upgrading their arsenals in recent years-supplemented by the $4.3 billion Chavez has publicly acknowledged spending on weapons in the past two years (yes, that is a correct figure, more than China or India has spent), it is not hard to see where the capability of carrying out lethal attacks can come from.

We tend to look at numbers of potential radicalized Muslims as our favorite metric for judging a threat. I would argue that this is likely to leave us looking too long in the wrong places.

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