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Hezbollah in Latin America: an over-hyped threat?

The indictment of a Lebanese man accused of running a money-laundering and drug-trafficking ring for Hezbollah in Colombia has sparked fresh concerns about the Islamic militia group's connections to organized crime in Latin America.

By Geoffrey RamseyGuest blogger / January 13, 2012



On Dec. 13, a United States federal court in Alexandria indicted Ayman Joumaa for allegedly running a drug-trafficking and money-laundering ring linked to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. Among other things, Joumaa was charged with selling almost 100 tons of Colombian cocaine to the Zetas, the notoriously violent Mexican drug gang, from 2005 to 2007.

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Joumaa is at least the second Lebanese national in three years to be accused of using drug money in South America to fund the Shiite militia. In 2008, Colombian officials arrested Chekri Harb, alias “Taliban,” who was accused of laundering millions of dollars annually, much of which allegedly went to Hezbollah.

These incidents have added fuel to the debate in the US over the Lebanese group’s level of support in the region, which some believe poses a major security threat. Concern over this issue has been growing in recent months, likely in response to a House subcommittee hearing held in July, which saw testimony from several witnesses who claimed the group represents an immediate risk to hemispheric security.

Since then, politicians in Washington have continued to hold up Hezbollah influence as one of the biggest dangers in Latin America. In September, Michelle Bachman raised eyebrows when she spoke out against normalizing relations with Cuba due to Hezbollah “missile sites” on the island. The subject even briefly became part of the presidential campaign, when three leading Republican candidates voiced concern over Hezbollah support networks in the region in the Nov. 22 CNN GOP foreign policy debate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry even called for a “21st-century Monroe Doctrine” to be applied to the region, as a means of preventing the group from spreading their influence.

This is not just a concern among politicians. In October, the influential American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a report which argues that the Lebanese group is “using the Western Hemisphere as a staging ground, fundraising center, and operational base to wage asymmetric warfare against the United States.”

The report, entitled “The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America,” is coauthored by former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega and Foreign Policy’s Jose R. Cardena. In addition to deepening their ties to organized crime, the two claim that Hezbollah has developed friendly relationships with President Hugo Chavez and “other anti-American governments in the region.”

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