Colombian officials announced last week that they had arrested suspected Hezbollah operatives in Colombia. The capture of the three potential terrorists was part of an international anti-drug and anti-money laundering operation that had been ongoing for about two years called Operation Titan. According to various news sources it was the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that made the Hezbollah connection.
While its primary source of funds and support is the terror state of Iran, Hezbollah delves in arms trafficking, money laundering, and drug smuggling to finance and support its terror network. It also receives millions of dollars of year from Iran. It also has extensive financial and political connections to the tri-border area of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. According to Colombian authorities, the alleged Hezbollah operatives were using the profits from the sale of illegal drugs to finance Hezbollah.
These arrests should serve as yet another reminder about how what is taking place in the Middle East, impacts the Americas and the U.S. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that supporters of radical Islamic terrorism will be nabbed in Latin America or the Caribbean. Bear in mind that it has been suspected by U.S. authorities that radical Islamic terrorists have been operating in the Americas since at least the 1980s. And before World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the struck twice in South America.
In the early 1990s, radical Islamic terrorists claimed their first victims in South America. In 1992, the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed, killing 29 people and injuring hundreds more. Then another bomb was set off in 1994 at the AMIA Jewish community center killing close to 90 people and injuring more than 100. Although Argentina has been criticized for its handling of the matter, the investigations of both bombings continue, with Iran, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah topping the list of suspected supporters of the operations.
Colombia has its own problems with terrorist organizations and criminal enterprises. Colombia is home to the largest terrorist group in Latin America, the FARC. Colombia has made some progress in staving FARC’s destabilizing influence, especially in the last two years. Colombia should take a firmer stand against the FARC and not seek accommodation with FARC terrorist leaders. However, actions like Operation Titan, and likely others unknown, do work to weaken these groups and should be applauded.
Colombia needs our support in this multi-prong struggle. And as far as allies go, Colombia is one of the staunchest. To this end, if there is a lame duck session after the elections, the U.S. Congress should approve the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
Many Democrats oppose the U.S.-Colombia FTA because they feel that President Alvaro Uribe has not made sufficient progress to address labor rights and environmental issues. They are wrong. Prosecutions of labor leader assassinations and anti-labor crimes are up, labor leader deaths are down. Sufficient environmental protections have been secured. To keep Colombia’s economy growing, they need this FTA.
Blocking the U.S.-Colombia FTA will hurt, in the long run, our efforts to combat illegal drugs and terrorists in the Andean region and throughout South America. Operation Titan demonstrates how high the stakes have become and why the U.S. needs to support our friends. The Democrat leadership in the Congress should cease playing partisan politics with this issue and approve the U.S.-Colombia FTA.
Finally, in order to succeed in the long war, South American democracies need to work together, with U.S. assistance if necessary, to combat not only illegal drugs, but the growing menace of radical Islam. Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia need to be held accountable for providing safe haven and support to the FARC or welcoming state sponsor of terror Iran to the Western Hemisphere. Rather than coddle de facto dictators such as Hugo Chavez, Argentina should use its experiences and leadership in the region to get Chavez to stop supporting Iran and the FARC.
Whether it is the FARC or Hezbollah, narco-trafficking and money laundering remains primary sources of funding for terrorist states and operations. Operation Titan shows how U.S. taxpayer dollars are put to good use to catch the bad guys in Colombia’s battle against the FARC. The “collateral damage” to Hezbollah is a good thing. It is a win in the war against radical Islam. We need more such wins and we need to increase our related and other efforts throughout the Americas.