On February 4, Perry Center Professor Celina Realuyo appeared before the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation, and Trade to testify as a subject matter expert on the current threat from terrorist groups in Latin America. Also testifying were Dr. Gino Costa, President of Ciudad Nuestra (via teleconference); Mr. Douglas Farah, Senior Associate at the CSIS Americas Program; and Mr. Michael Shifter, President of Inter-American Dialogue. The official title of the hearing was “Terrorist Groups in Latin America: The Changing Landscape,” and the witnesses focused on the cases of Peru and Colombia and the convergence of transnational illicit networks throughout the region.
Following opening statements by Subcommittee Chairman Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Brad Sherman (R- California), Dr. Costa testified (virtually) and spoke specifically about the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) in Peru. While he explained that the Peruvian government has achieved significant victories against the group, including the killing of the top three Shining Path military leaders in strikes in 2012 and 2013, sustained pressure and support from the United States is necessary to completely defeat the group. He fielded questions from Chairman Poe, Ranking Member Sherman, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) on the specific benefits of US assistance (mainly through DEA) to Peru’s efforts against the Shining Path and also its broader counterdrug strategy. Costa affirmed that while Peru has taken over a significant portion of the responsibility and effort in this campaign, continued US assistance, in the form of training, equipment, and intelligence sharing, is instrumental in Peru’s success against the Shining Path and drug organizations more broadly.
Prof. Celina Realuyo spoke on the presence of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group designated by the United States as a foreign terror organization, in the region and the interaction between that group and indigenous organizations like the FARC and drug cartels. She explained that through money laundering, drug trafficking, and other illicit trafficking, Hezbollah has partnered with Latin American criminal organizations to fundraise and share strategy. She emphasized that these networks are sophisticated, powerful, and global, and that they can only be defeated through more effective interagency and international cooperation.
Mr. Farah provided lessons learned from US participation in Colombia’s fight against the FARC, and also pointed to evidence of a relationship between that group and Hezbollah. He offered concerns that “hybrid” organizations (that combine political or religious moral grounding with criminal or terrorist enterprises) like the FARC or Hezbollah thrive in permissive environments. He specifically called out Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia in Latin America for tacit or overt support of the FARC and its goals.
Mr. Shifter offered conclusions on the region as a whole, stating that institutional weaknesses and the drug trade contribute to criminality throughout Latin America, but also stated that because of successful campaigns in both Peru and Colombia, groups like the FARC and Shining Path no longer pose existential threats to the countries of the region.
The panel of experts fielded questions from several members of the Subcommittee, reiterating concern regarding the presence of Hezbollah in Latin America, the continuing diversification of criminality and hybridization of groups that are evolving to counteract government crackdowns, and the expansion of organized crime in Central America as a result of successful antidrug and antiterror campaigns in countries like Peru and Colombia.