U.S. Faces Threats to Peace in Latin America,
By Rudi Williams
many pressing demands on the nation and its resources, the United
States must pay more attention to traditional and emerging threats
in the Latin American and Caribbean region of the world, Army
Gen. James T. Hill said in March 24 testimony before the House
Armed Services Committee.
he said, Colombia’s considerable progress in the battle against
narcoterrorism is offset by negative developments elsewhere in
the region, particularly in Haiti, Bolivia and Venezuela.
developments represent an increasing threat to U.S. interests,"
said Hill, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, with headquarters
the landmass of Latin America south of Mexico; the waters adjacent
to Central and South America; the Caribbean Sea, its 12 island
nations and European territories; the Gulf of Mexico; and a portion
of the Atlantic Ocean. It encompasses 32 countries – 19
in Central and South America and 12 in the Caribbean – and
covers about 15.6 million square miles.
the United States faces two primary types of threats in the region:
traditional and emerging threats. On the traditional front are
threats from narcoterrorists and their ilk, a growing threat to
law and order in partner nations from urban gangs and other illegal
armed groups, Hill said, generally tied to the narcotics trade.
Islamic radical groups pose a lesser, but sophisticated threat,
traditional threats are now complemented by an emerging threat
best described as radical populism, in which the democratic process
is undermined to decrease rather than protect individual rights,"
the general said. "Some leaders in the region are tapping
into deep-seated frustrations of the failure of democratic reforms
to deliver expected goods and services."
into these frustrations, coupled with frustrations caused by social
and economic inequality, the leaders are able to reinforce their
radical positions by inflaming anti-U.S. sentiment, the general
said. Others are seeking to undermine U.S. interests in the region
by supporting these movements, he noted.
in Colombia remain the largest and most well-known threat in the
region, he said. The three narcoterrorist groups, he noted, never
have paid a price for their illicit activities. They are the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC; the National Liberation Army,
or ELN; and the United Self-Defense Forces, or AUC.
observers now understand that these groups are narcoterrorists
rather than romantic guerrillas crusading for the downtrodden,"
Hill said. "While a few might retain some of their founding
ideology, by and large these groups consist of terrorists and
criminals who operate outside the rule of law in pursuit of illicit
profits rather than political revolution."
threat comes from FARC, the largest group with 13,000 to 15,000
members, which still holds three Americans hostage. Hill said
ELN, a smaller organization with an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 members,
is declining in importance.
has been some progress in encouraging the ELN to demobilize via
peace talks, although those who refuse may merge with the FARC,"
the general said.
is a threat and still is heavily involved in narcotics trafficking,
but the organization is in peace negotiations with the Colombian
government, Hill noted.
10,000 to 12,000 members of the illegal self-defense groups are
estimated to be involved in the peace process, though another
2,000 to 4,000 remain outside the process," Hill said.
dangerous emerging threat is that the narcoterrorist influence
is bleeding over into the growingly sophisticated criminal gangs,
Hall said. While not all gangs are fueled by illicit narcotics,
most bolster their criminality by drawing substantial support
from the drug trade, he noted.
the World Health Organization describes Latin America as the world’s
most violent region, based on the numbers of homicides per capita,
surpassing even war-torn Africa.
crime causes capital flight from within the country and stifles
investment from outside the country," he pointed out. "It
literally takes money out of the pockets of those who need it
most and hurts those who have the least.
narcoterrorist and gang violence, branches of Middle Eastern terrorist
organizations conduct support activities in the Southern Command
area of responsibility," Hill told the lawmakers. "Islamic
radical group supporters extending from the Caribbean basin to
the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil conduct
said supporters generate illicit funds through money laundering,
drug trafficking, arms deals, human smuggling, piracy and document
forgery. "They funnel tens of millions of dollars every year
back to their parent organizations in the Middle East, thus extending
the global support structure of international terrorism to this
hemisphere," he said. "Islamic radical groups, narcoterrorists
in Colombia and urban gangs across Latin America all practice
many of the same illicit business methods."
is another emerging concern in the region, Hill noted. "Populism
in and of itself is not a threat," he emphasized. "The
threat emerges when it becomes radicalized by a leader who increasingly
uses his position and support from a segment of the population
to infringe gradually upon the rights of all citizens. This trend
degrades democracy and promises to concentrate power in the hands
of a few rather than guaranteeing the individual rights of the
sentiment also troubles our partner nations as well, as elected
leaders must take into account the sometime very vocal views of
their constituents," Hill said.
noted that Colombia is where the most is at stake, because the
United States made an enormous investment in the Colombia government
more than three years ago.
investment is beginning to pay dividends," he continued.
"Under President (Alvaro) Uribe, the government of Colombia,
with robust popular support, is making impressive progress in
defeating the narcoterrorists and rejoining the ranks of peaceful,
safe and secure states."