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“The fight against transnational crime needs to be redirected to combatting the money the crimes generate. This means shutting down the global shadow financial system that facilitates the moving and secreting of illicitly generated funds”. Raymond Baker’, President of the Global Financial Integrity (GFI), statement during a press release in March, 2017, is a confirmation of the concern of the growing problem of transnational crime. He believes the lack of attention by law enforcement on the financial characteristics of transnational crime is a contributing factor to its growth. Research shows that transnational organized crime uses cybercrime and fraudulent schemes to fund weapons and terror campaigns. Crime that is an international threat to financial systems include but not limited to extortion, identity theft, prostitution rings, human trafficking, weapon trafficking, drug trafficking, pirating of videos and software, and cybercrime. The targeted countries for these crimes are those with limited resources where people are willing to accept monetary favors in exchange for assisting with illicit trade. A 2011, Congressional Research Service Report, “Latin America and the Caribbean: Illicit Drug Trafficking and U.S. Counterdrug Programs”, explains that the illicit drug industry has created a multi-billion dollar black market whereby criminal and terrorist organizations are thriving. The governments are corrupted and terrorist groups are a challenge to authority. International terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah have formed alliances in drug activity in the South American countries of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Even though terrorism cannot be defeated, it could be weakened by targeting drug trafficking. Poor security at the South American borders, make it easy for terrorists to participate in the trafficking of illegal illicit drugs. Terrorism plays a great role in South America’s drug trafficking problem which funnels illegal drugs into the United States.
Many will recall the rage and anger after September 11, 2001 that led the United States to the war on terrorism. President George W. Bush waged war on Al Qaeda, promising that the war would not end until all terrorist groups have been found and defeated. Since the beginning of the war on terror, terror attacks around the world have become more extreme – beheadings, suicide attacks, suicide bombings, mass shootings have been carried out by individuals.
The history of the drug trade, poverty, and religious extremism present the underlying and prevailing reasons for the existence of terrorism, thus making it virtually impossible to be defeated. The Opposing Viewpoints Series, “Terrorism” explains that terrorism is caused by a combination of human rights issues and religious desires. Muslim extremists have the strong desire to form a worldwide caliphate, an Islamic state uniting all Muslim countries. After the death of the prophet Muhammad, and the subsequent appointment of the first caliph Abu Bakr, who was the father of one of Muhammad’s wives there was great division between the Sunnis and Shiites. However, Sunni caliphates mostly ruled the Arab world. By 1924, the caliphate was abolished in Turkey and Muslim countries adopted the Western way of life.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni fundamentalist movement was formed to oppose the westernization of the Islamic world. Rejection of westernized ideologies, were presented after the 9/11 attacks when Osama bin Laden said the attacks were “only a copy of what we have tasted”. In 2008, a Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament announced on Islamic television networks that Islam militants would conquer the world. The Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) noted that the Muslims view the caliphate period as the ‘golden age’ in Muslim history. At a young age, Muslims in the Middle East are educated about the caliphate through speech at schools and mosques.
In his Nobel Peace Prize speech in 2016, Muhammad Yunus said, “I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns”. There is strong belief that there is a correlation between poverty and terrorism. While poverty may not necessarily be the cause of terrorism, studies have shown that terrorists come from wealthier families that the average person in their societies. However, poverty creates opportunities for terrorists to employ the poor and take advantage of social services. (Whitehead, 2009)
In Iraq children are employed by insurgents and are paid to make and transport bombs and weapons. For many families, this is the only source of income where the unemployment rate is high. Terrorist also seek public support through the provision of social services where services that would usually be provided by the government, are underfunded. The Council of Foreign Relations reported that Hamas spends approximately $70 million a year on schools, mosques, health care, and sports. Terrorist groups are heavily involved in the social services provided to countries around the world. These groups contribute to the countries in hopes of popular support in return, and from popular support, terrorist groups gain recruits, political positions and hiding places for members and cells
Egypt recognized a relationship between poor economic conditions and violence committed by terrorists when between the years of 1991 and 1995, when they saw an increase in unemployment, and foreclosures on homes and businesses. During this time, the number of deaths due to terrorist related violence rose. When the Egyptian government stepped in and developed programs that created jobs, and expanded social services, the number of terrorist attacks began to decline. After a series of terror attacks in Egypt in recent years, Kamal Amer, the head of the Defense and National Security Committee in Egypt’s parliament, expressed his view on terrorism to The Arab Weekly. He said, “Poverty is a threat to national security and so are unemployment, disease and the failure of the state to offer quality health care and education to its citizens”. Amer further lamented that the problems could be more devastating to national security than terrorism itself, as failure to take care of the issues of poverty put the security of the country at risk.
Terrorism is costly and the expenses incurred to sustain it require funding. Money is needed for recruitment, training, equipment, travel documents, bribery to name a few. Thus, terrorists must find ways to solicit funds to maintain operations. Terrorist organizations have realized that the illegal drug trade of heroin, cocaine, and hashish is a huge form of revenue for the groups. Attorney General John Ashcroft once said, “Terrorist and drugs go together like rats and the bubonic plague”. Even though Terrorism cannot be defeated, it could be weakened by targeting drug trafficking. Poor security at the South American borders, make it easy for terrorists to participate in the production and trafficking of illegal illicit drugs.
The South American tri-border region has become a center of illegal drug trafficking for al-Qaeda. Its borders consist of Puero Iguazu in Agentina, Foz Do Iguacu in Brazil, and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The population of these countries is made up of tens of thousands of Muslims from the Middle East. Paraguay’s National Police reported in 1994 that only 273 of the Muslims residing there were legally registered. Unguarded waterways and airstrips, and infrequent passport checks have made Paraguay a haven for drug traffickers, smugglers and terrorists. (Ehrenfeld, 1168) Brazil reported that al-Qaeda developed relationships with Columbian, Peruvian, and Bolivian drug traffickers. Activities also include money laundering operations in cooperation with Chinese criminal groups and the Russian Mafia.
Afghanistan has a strong history of drug cultivation. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Mujahedin, guerilla fighters cultivated opium in order to purchase weapons. By 1999, Afghanistan had become the world’s largest opium producer. According to experts, the Columbian’s method of poppy cultivation resembled cultivation in Afghanistan. Investigations revealed that Pakistani and Afghan heroin traffickers also entered Columbia with false identification documents.
Another example that shows that poor security at the South American borders make it easy for terrorists to participate in the trafficking of illegal illicit drugs is Hezbollah’s strong presence in The Tri-Border Region. Rachel Ehrenfeld’s book, “Funding Evil, Updated: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It”, explains that The Tri-Border Region not only attracts al-Qaeda, but it is a hotspot for Hezbollah’s recruitment of new members, and a terrorists training camp. Hezbollah’s activities have reportedly increased in this area as Argentina reported the establishment of special weekend camps to train children and teenagers on weaponry and combat techniques. They are also indoctrinated on anti-American and anti-Jews ideologies. Narco-terrorists and drug trafficking organizations in Columbia, Peru, and Bolivia – including the Columbian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the Peruvian Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) have formed strong affiliations with Hezbollah. (Ehrenfeld, 2792)
The Tri-Border Region appears to be Hezbollah’s most significant sources of funding.
It has been reported that an estimated $6 billion are being laundered in Brazil each year. Paraguay estimates that Hezbollah receives millions annually. While the drug trade has proven to be a lucrative business, generating billions of dollars for terrorists, the citizens are suffering. Poverty and the desperate need to escape drug cartels are forcing South Americans to migrate north.
It is clear that although terrorism cannot be eradicated, it could be weakened by targeting drug trafficking for two main reasons. First, poor security at the South American borders make it easy for terrorists to participate in the trafficking of illegal illicit drugs. But most importantly, terrorism plays a great role in the world’s drug trafficking problem. Not only is it a problem in South America, but North America experiences the issues of being the leading customer of the drugs. North America is also forced to deal with the problem of the influx of refugees fleeing to escape the inherent dangers of weakened governments, powerful cartels and crippling poverty. Children and teenagers are being recruited to do the bidding of the cartels. Natives’ lifestyles are disrupted with social problems created by terrorism. Terrorism plays a great role in South America’s drug trafficking problem which not only funnels illegal drugs into the United States, but creates a myriad of immigration problems.
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