Following a series of social-media postings commemorating the recent death of a Hizballah operative in Syria, Emanuele Ottolenghi finds evidence of its activities in South America’s tri-border area where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. This region, with its weak border control and law enforcement, has a sizable population of south Lebanese origin, among whom are many Hizballah operatives involved in money laundering, drug running, and other activities that finance the terrorist group. Ottolenghi explains why the Hizballah favors the area:
Countries like Brazil and Paraguay . . . do not seem interested in acting on U.S. terror-finance designations. . . . The lack of interest in enforcement is aggravated by the unusually low threshold for acquiring citizenship in both countries. . . . [H]aving multiple passports facilitates the efforts of these operatives to move seamlessly across borders in pursuit of their goals. And their unfettered presence, as citizens, in countries with weak law enforcement, corrupt political elites, and rampant organized crime enhances their ability to conduct business and raise money for their cause. . . .
[T]he Paraguay-Brazil boundary is largely fictional. Of the numerous individuals whose business activities the United States targeted with terror-finance designations in 2004 and 2006, most have residences on both sides of the border, hold both citizenships, bank in both countries, and play each jurisdiction’s weaknesses to their own advantage.
Unlike the United States, neither Brazil nor Paraguay has designated Hizballah as a terrorist organization, although both have antiterrorist legislation in place which would allow them to do so. If Brasília and Asunción chose to designate Hizballah, they could revoke citizenships, seize assets, and preemptively detain the group’s operatives. The United States would not be the only beneficiary of such moves, since Hizballah operatives were arrested in 2014 and 2017 for scouting high-value targets in Latin America. Clearly the region remains vulnerable to attacks, despite a long period of quiet since the 1994 bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, which bore Hizballah’s fingerprints. . . . Yet not even Buenos Aires has designated Hizballah a terror entity.
While encouraging greater vigilance from its South American partners, the United States cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the shortcomings of its own enforcement efforts. . . . As part of its efforts to target global terror finance, over a decade ago, . . . the Drug Enforcement Agency launched . . . Project Cassandra to dismantle Hizballah drug-trafficking networks across the globe, many of which emanated from Latin America. Project Cassandra initially scored some important victories but its success was short-lived. . . . [W]ith the Obama administration aggressively pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran, many investigations were downgraded, slowed down, put on ice, or simply nixed so as not to upset the Iranians.
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