Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GOP Candidates Raise Specter of Islamic Terrorism in Latin America

The subject of Latin America received some rare attention from the participants in last night’s CNN Republican Security Debate, although much of it was rather off the mark. While there was some mention of more pressing security threats (like Mexico’s drug war) the candidates repeatedly brought up the issue of “radical Islamist” groups in the region, namely Hamas and Hezbollah. Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry all mentioned the issue in the debate. Perry, noting that “Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States,” even called for a “21st Century Monroe Doctrine” to be applied to the region.  In typical Perry style, however, this was in response to a simple question about border security, so the answer’s controversial nature was overshadowed by its arbitrariness.

Conservative fear-mongering using the specter of radical Muslim terrorist groups in Latin America is nothing new. Back in September, Michelle Bachman raised eyebrows when she spoke out against normalizing relations with Cuba due to Hezbollah “missile sites” on the island. In July, Republican Representative Patrick Meehan chaired a House subcommittee hearing on the influence of Hezbollah in Latin America, which saw testimony from several witnesses who claimed the group represents an immediate threat in the hemisphere.

It is true that Hezbollah’s presence in the region is a definite concern, as the organization has been linked to several terrorist attacks on Jewish communities in Argentina in the early 1990s. But the danger is often grossly exaggerated. Security analyst James Bosworth stated this quite well at the time of the hearing, arguing:
“If we're going to hold hearings on individual non-state groups that are threats in the hemisphere, lets start with Sinaloa, the FARC and the Zetas; work our way through the second tier of Los Rastrojos, PCC, Betran Leyva, etc.; and then maybe after a few days or weeks of hearings we could get to the third tier that includes Hezbollah, the Russian mafia and the Triads.”

News Briefs:

  • Surprisingly, Mexico’s drug-fueled conflict does not seem to have taken much of a toll on economic growth. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Mexico’s GDP grew by 1.34 percent during the third quarter of this year, and experts believe that the country’s economy will grow four percent in total this year. Mexico is also on track to bring in $20 billion in foreign direct investment this year, which is as much as it received last year. Still, the article notes that smaller businesses are disproportionately affected by the violence, and are losing out in drug war hotspots like Ciudad Juarez.
  • The office of Mexico’s attorney general announced on Tuesday that it would investigate reports that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) used support from drug cartels in Michoacan to win the gubernatorial race and several congressional races in the state’s recent elections. Reuters reports that local television broadcast footage of an alleged Familia Michoacana leader instructing voters to support the PRI in the municipality of Tuzantla.
  • According to Prensa Libre, the bodies of two Guatemalan men who went missing in 1984 have been located at a former military base and identified through DNA testing. The New York Times notes that this “validat[es] an exhumation process tied to the roughly 40,000 people who disappeared during Guatemala’s civil war.” The individuals were Amancio Samuel Villatoro, a union activist, and Sergio Saúl Linares Morales, an engineering professor. Reuters claims that the two are the first victims to have matched up to the military ledger which details the disappearance of 183 individuals. 
  • Yesterday Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes appointed the first former military official since the end of the country’s civil war to serve as Security Minister. Reuters notes that Funes picked retired general David Munguia despite opposition from fellow members of his FMLN party. Munguia is known as a moderate, and has previously served as Funes’ defense minister.
  • Honduras’ La Tribuna has an interesting interview with Gen. Douglas Frasier, head of United States Southern Command, in which Frasier talks about the U.S.-Honduras military relationship, joint security challenges, and the issue of corruption
  • Meanwhile, Tribuna also reports that retired Honduran general Romeo Vásquez Velásquez’s nascent political party, known as the Patriotic Alliance of Honduras, has presented the requisite number of signatures to the country’s Supreme Electoral Court in order for it to be a registered political party. Honduras Culture and Politics has more on the development, noting that the current total of new parties in Honduras has now risen to three.
  • Following yesterday’s announcement that Cuban farmers will now be able to sell their produce directly to tourist facilities without having to go through a state agency, the AP says the Cuban government has lifted restrictions on internal movement on the island. In the future, relatives of individuals in Havana will no longer need special permission to travel to the capital city. As the wire agency notes, however, the decision does not affect restrictions on travel abroad.
  • Eight members of Congress, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, sent a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last Friday in which they congratulated him for his efforts to improve labor rights in the country, the text of which is available here. The letter also announced the creation of a Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia in order to make further progress on labor issues.
  • The BBC reports that Venezuela is introducing more price controls on household goods in an attempt to rein in inflation, which has reached 27 percent this year.
  • The LA Times published an editorial which offers a scathing critique of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s security policy. The editorial calls on the Obama administration to “urge Calderon to focus on strengthening Mexico's judicial system and encourage his government to adopt reforms.”