Western Hemisphere Overview
Terrorist attacks within the Western Hemisphere in 2009 were committed primarily by two U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations in Colombia – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) – and other radical leftist Andean groups elsewhere. The threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the Western Hemisphere.
While the United States and Canada pursued prosecutions against suspected terrorists, there were no known operational cells of either al-Qa’ida- or Hizbollah-related groups in the hemisphere.
Ideological sympathizers in South America and the Caribbean, however, continued to provide financial and moral support to these and other terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia.
Overall, regional governments took modest steps to improve their counterterrorism capabilities and tighten border security, but corruption, weak government institutions, insufficient interagency cooperation, weak or non-existent legislation, and reluctance to allocate necessary resources limited progress.
Countries like Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico undertook serious prevention and preparedness efforts. Others lacked urgency and resolve to address counterterrorism deficiencies.
Most countries began to look seriously at possible connections between transnational criminal organizations and terrorist organizations.
In May 2009, Venezuela was re-certified as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended. Cuba continued to be listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Colombia continued vigorous military, law enforcement, intelligence, and economic measures through its “Democratic Security” strategy and especially the “National Consolidation Plan” to defeat and demobilize Colombia’s terrorist groups, including the FARCand the ELN.
The FARC continued to carry out asymmetrical attacks on soft targets and carried out several high profile operations, including the kidnapping and execution of the governor of Caqueta.
While the number of demobilizations, captures, and kills of FARC members in 2009 were all below 2008 levels, Colombian security forces did capture or kill a number of mid-level FARC leaders, debriefed deserters for information, and continued to reduce the amount of territory where terrorists could freely operate.
The military and police also destroyed major caches of weapons and supplies, and reduced the group’s financial resources through counternarcotics and other security operations.
Mexico and Canada were key counterterrorism partners. Cooperation with them was broad and deep, involving all levels of government and virtually all agencies.
The Mexican government remained a committed partner in its battle against organized crime and in efforts against terrorist threats. Counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Canada occurred in a number of established fora, including the terrorism subgroup of the Cross Border Crime Forum, the Shared Border Accord Coordinating Committee, and the Bilateral Consultative Group on Counterterrorism (BCG).
The BCG brings together U.S. and Canadian counterterrorism officials from over a dozen agencies to coordinate policy on bioterrorism, information sharing, and joint counterterrorism training on an annual basis.
The political will of Caribbean nations to combat terrorism remained strong, despite limited resources and capabilities.
Primary counterterrorism objectives for the Caribbean included: preventing terrorists or terrorist organizations from entering or transiting the Caribbean en route to other countries, particularly the United States; increasing countries’ awareness of the potential threat from terrorists or terrorist organizations; preventing terrorists or terrorist organizations from operating or developing safe havens in the Caribbean; and increasing countries’ capabilities to prevent terrorists from attacking targets of opportunity.
The United States enjoyed solid cooperation on terrorism-related matters from most hemispheric partners, especially at the operational level, and maintained excellent intelligence, law enforcement, and legal assistance relations with most countries.
An important regional focus for this cooperation was the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, which is the only permanent regional multilateral organization focused exclusively on counterterrorism.
The Governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay have long been concerned with arms and drugs smuggling, document fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of contraband goods in the border region where the three countries meet.
In the early 1990s, they established a mechanism to address these illicit activities.
In 2002, at the invitation of the three countries, the United States joined them in what became the “3+1 Group on Tri-Border Area Security” to improve the capabilities of the three to address cross-border crime and thwart money laundering and terrorist financing activities.
The United States remained concerned that Hizballah and HAMAS sympathizers were raising funds in the Tri-Border Area by participating in illicit activities and soliciting donations from sympathizers in the sizable Middle Eastern communities in the region. There was no corroborated information, however, that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the region.
The Government of Brazil’s counterterrorism strategy consisted of deterring terrorists from using Brazilian territory to facilitate attacks or raise funds, along with monitoring and suppressing transnational criminal activities that could support terrorist actions. It accomplished this through actions between its law enforcement entities and through cooperation with the United States and other partners in the region.
For example, Brazilian authorities worked with other concerned nations to combat the significant and largely unchecked document fraud problem in the country. During the year, multiple regional and international joint operations with U.S. authorities successfully disrupted a number of document vendors and facilitators, as well as related human-trafficking infrastructures.
The Brazilian government investigated potential terrorist financing, document forgery networks, and other illicit activity.
Elements of the Brazilian government responsible for combating terrorism, such as the Federal Police, Customs, and the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, worked effectively with their U.S. counterparts and pursued investigative leads provided by U.S. and other intelligence services, law enforcement, and financial agencies regarding terrorist suspects.
In July, the head of the Brazilian Federal Police intelligence division stated on the record during a Brazilian Chamber of Deputies hearing, that an individual arrested in April was in fact linked to al-Qa’ida.
Brazil’s intelligence and law enforcement services were concerned that terrorists could exploit Brazilian territory to support and facilitate terrorist attacks, whether domestically or abroad, and have focused their efforts in Sao Paulo and on border areas with Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
Brazil’s intelligence and law enforcement forces also worked with regional and international partners. Brazil was actively involved in both Mercosur’s Permanent Working Group on Terrorism (with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Bolivia) and its sub-working group on financial issues, which covers terrorist financing and money laundering issues.
Bilaterally, the U.S. government provided a variety of training courses throughout Brazil in counterterrorism, combating money laundering, detection of travel document fraud, container security, and international organized crime.
The United States hosted a Major Crimes Conference that successfully brought together Brazil and neighboring countries’ federal and state law enforcement communities, as well as judges and prosecutors, to share best practices and receive practical training.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been critical of the FARC’s use of violence and publicly called on the group to end its violence against the Colombian government.
Brazil monitored domestic financial operations and effectively used its financial intelligence unit, the Financial Activities Oversight Council (COAF), to identify possible funding sources for terrorist groups. Through COAF, Brazil has carried out name checks for persons and entities on the UNSCR 1267 and 1373 terrorist finance lists, but it has so far not found any assets, accounts, or property in the names of persons or entities on the UN lists.
The Brazilian government is achieving visible results from recent investments in border and law enforcement infrastructure that were carried out to control the flow of goods through the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, the proceeds of which could be diverted to support terrorist groups.
The inspection station at the Friendship Bridge in the TBA, which was completed by the Brazilian customs agency (Receita Federal) in 2007, reduced the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and contraband goods along the border with Paraguay.
According to Receita Federal, from January to July 2009, the agency seized more than US$ 400 million in contraband goods, including drugs, weapons, and munitions, an increase of eight percent from 2007. The Federal Police had special maritime police units in Foz de Iguacu and Guaira that patrolled the maritime border areas.
Brazil’s overall commitment to combating terrorism and the illicit activities that could be exploited to facilitate terrorism was undermined by the government’s failure to strengthen its legal counterterrorism framework significantly. While Brazilian law criminalizes terrorist financing when connected to a money laundering offense, it does not criminalize terrorist financing itself as an independent crime.
Although the 2005 National Strategy against Money Laundering (ENCLA) created a working group charged with drafting legislation to criminalize terrorism and terrorist financing, the draft legislation was never forwarded from the executive branch to the Brazilian Congress. At year’s end, a long-delayed anti-money laundering bill was pending before the Brazilian Congress.