Crime and terrorism in South America

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The recent uprising of Iranian-funded Islamic militias against US targets in Iraq, answered forcefully by the United States government, brings light to the global connections of Islamic terrorism – including in South America. Brazil must be prepared to fight these threats properly.

Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians intended to cause harm, pain, and suffering to achieve power and political goals. Its modern origins are in Robespierre’s Jacobin period of terror during the French Revolution. Terrorism has the motivating agent of ideology and political or religious fanaticism. It is present today in virtually all of South America, together with organized crime; the biggest threats in that region are drug trafficking in connection with far-left guerrillas (who produce drugs) and organized crime cartels responsible for transporting, refining and distributing drugs to users. The continent produces around 200,000 tons of hydrochloride used in cocaine production every year. Lastly, since the twentieth century, there is also another threat in South America: Islamic terrorism, especially on the triple border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

The narcoguerrillas are ideologically rooted in Marxism-Leninism (inspired by Cuba and Russia), and act to flood societies with drugs to corrupt them and enslave their wills. The ultimate goal is the communist revolution. These groups began operating in 1964 with the FARC, in Colombia, where they began to produce drugs on a large scale. As a result, the Colombian civil war left 262,000 dead.

The cartels, in turn, emerged in direct connection with drug trafficking. These groups receive, refine and transport large quantities of drugs between producing countries and the final consumers. The ultimate goal is to corrupt the state while profiting financially. The cartels began operating in the 1960s but intensified their activities in the 1980s. In Brazil, they are primarily responsible for 60,000 homicides per year, the deaths of 350 police per year on average and more than 2 million cocaine users.

Jihadist terrorist groups arrived in South America amid Islamic immigration from the Middle East and Africa from the 1960s. They act by infiltrating radical members into South American countries to establish bases of support for future action. The goal is to establish the Islamic World Caliphate with the imposition of Sharia. Operations began in the 1980s and became more intense in the 1990s. Terrorist groups are established and thriving within communities and await opportunities for action. The largest attack in the region occurred in Argentina in 1994 and left 85 dead and more than 300 injured (photo). The target was the Israeli Mutual Association Argentina.

Besides drug trafficking, those organizations are funded by bank and vault robberies (often mobilizing dozens of criminals armed with rifles and explosives, terrorizing entire cities), financial crimes and money laundering. Therefore, the fight against these groups must adopt strategies as complex as the problem they aim to address.

Solutions include greater control of immigration and border traffic (urging the creation of a military border guard such as the Guardia di Finanzia Italiana), the fight against the use and apology of drugs, the direct confrontation of cartels, the adoption of sanctions against countries that encourage or do not fight terrorism and, finally, the creation of permanent discussion forums involving the police, state agents, and experts to coordinate joint actions among countries in the region.

Major Olavo Mendonça is a Major of Brazil’s Federal District Military Police and an expert in public safety. He is an international consultant on Counterterrorism and Organized Crime. Olavo is a member of Monte Castelo Institute.

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