As in other parts of the world, the United States has assisted Latin American and Caribbean nations over the years in their struggle against terrorist or insurgent groups indigenous to the region. For example, in the 1980s, the United States supported the government of El Salvador with significant economic and military assistance in its struggle against a leftist guerrilla insurgency.
In recent years, the United States has employed various policy tools to combat terrorism in the Latin America and Caribbean region, including sanctions, anti-terrorism assistance and training, law enforcement cooperation, and multilateral cooperation through the OAS.
Moreover, given the nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking, one can argue that assistance aimed at combating drug trafficking organizations in the region has also been a means of combating terrorism by cutting off a source of revenue for terrorist organizations. The same argument can be made regarding efforts to combat money laundering in the region. Although terrorism was not the main focus of U.S. policy toward the region in recent years, attention increased in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Anti-terrorism assistance has increased along with bilateral and regional cooperation against terrorism. Congress approved the Bush Administration’s request in 2002 to expand the scope of U.S. assistance to Colombia beyond a counternarcotics focus to also include counterterrorism assistance to the government in its military efforts against drug-financed leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries. Border security with Mexico also became a prominent issue in bilateral relations, with attention focused on the potential transit of terrorists through Mexico to the United States.
The United States has imposed sanctions on three groups in Colombia (ELN, FARC, and AUC) and one group in Peru (SL) designated by the Department of State as FTOs. Official designation of such groups as FTOs triggers a number of sanctions, including visa restrictions and the blocking of any funds of these groups in U.S. financial institutions. The designation also has the effect of increasing public awareness about these terrorist organizations and the concerns that the United States has about them. The United States has included Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1982, pursuant to section 6(j) of the EAA, and both Cuba and Venezuela are currently on the annual Section 40A AECA list of countries that are not cooperating fully with U.S. antiterrorism efforts, lists that trigger a number of sanctions.
The United States provides assistance to improve Latin American countries’ counterterrorism capabilities through several types of programs administered by the Department of State, including: an Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) program, an Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program, a Counterterrorism Financing (CTF) program, and a Terrorist Interdiction Program (TIP). All the programs are funded through the Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR) foreign aid funding account.
The largest of these program is the ATA program that over the years has provided training and equipment to Latin American countries to help improve their capabilities in such areas as airport security management, hostage negotiations, bomb detection and deactivation, and countering terrorism financing.
Such training was expanded to Argentina in the aftermath of the two bombings in 1992 and 1994. Assistance was also stepped up in 1997 to Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay in light of increased U.S. concern over illicit activities in the tri-border area of those countries. In recent years, ATA for Western Hemisphere countries amounted to $9.1 million in FY2008 and an estimated $9.3 million in FY2009. For FY2010, the Administration requested $16.4 million for Latin American countries, with $6 million for Mexico, $4.4 million for Colombia, and $6 million for assistance to other countries through a regional program. The FY2010 budget request states that ATA assistance for Central and South America enhances border control and provides fraudulent document training.
The EXBS program helps countries develop export and border control systems in order to prevent states and terrorist organizations from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and destabilizing conventional weapons. Latin American countries received $7.1 million in EXBS assistance in FY2008 and an estimated $2.1 million in FY2009. The FY2010 request is for $2.9 million for assistance to Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Panama, and a regional program.
CTF assistance provides support in detecting, isolating, and dismantling terrorist financial networks. No CTF assistance was provided for Latin America in FY2008, while in FY2009, an estimated $225,000 was provided. The FY2010 request is for $875,000, with assistance for Mexico, Colombia, and a regional program.
TIP assistance helps foreign immigration authorities with a computer database system that enables identification of suspected terrorists attempting to transit air, land or sea ports of entry. No assistance was provided to the region in FY2008 or FY2009, but for FY2010 the Administration requested $1.3 million for a Western Hemisphere regional program.
A number of Latin American countries participate in U.S.-government port security programs administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Energy. The Container Security Initiative (CSI) operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection of DHS uses a security regime to ensure that all containers that pose a potential risk for terrorism are identified and inspected at foreign ports before they are placed on vessels destined for the United States.
Ten Latin American ports in Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jamaica, and Panama participate in the CSI program. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration administers the Megaports Initiative, a program which involves deploying radiation detection equipment in order to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive materials. To date, the Megaports Initiative is operational in ports in the Bahamas, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, and Panama.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has partnered with several Latin American countries to establish Trade Transparency Units that facilitate exchanges of information in order to combat trade-based money laundering. To date, TTUs have been established in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, and Mexico.
The United States also works closely with the governments of the tri-border area – Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – through the “3+1 regional cooperation mechanism,” established in 2002 to serve as a forum for counterterrorism cooperation and prevention among all four countries. Argentina hosted the fifth plenary session of the 3+1 mechanism in December 2006 that focused on such issues as early warning among states, information exchange in order to prevent illegal activity, and the denial of refuge to those who finance, plan, or commit acts of terrorism.
Increased Regional Cooperation Since 9/11
Latin American nations strongly condemned the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and took action through the OAS and the Rio Treaty to strengthen hemispheric cooperation against terrorism. The OAS, which happened to be meeting in Peru at the time, swiftly condemned the attacks, reiterated the need to strengthen hemispheric cooperation to combat terrorism, and expressed full solidarity with the United States.
At a special session on September 19, 2001, OAS members invoked the 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, also known as the Rio Treaty, which obligates signatories to the treaty to come to one another’s defense in case of outside attack. Another resolution approved on September 21, 2001, called on Rio Treaty signatories to “use all legally available measures to pursue, capture, extradite, and punish those individuals” involved in the attacks and to “render additional assistance and support to the United States, as appropriate, to address the September 11 attacks, and also to prevent future terrorist acts.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, OAS members reinvigorated effort of the of the Inter-American Committee on Terrorism (CICTE) to combat terrorism in the hemisphere. The CICTE has cooperated on border security mechanisms, controls to prevent terrorist funding, and law enforcement and counterterrorism intelligence and information. At a January 2003 CICTE meeting, OAS members issued the Declaration of San Salvador, which pledged to strengthen hemispheric cooperation through a variety of border, customs, and financial control measures.
At the February 2005 CICTE session held in Trinidad and Tobago, OAS members reaffirmed their commitment to deepen cooperation against terrorism and addressed threats to aviation, seaport, and cyber security. CICTE’s seventh regular session in Panama in February/March 2007 focused on the protection of critical infrastructure in the region. In March 2008, CICTE’s eighth regular session held in Washington D.C. focused on cyber security, document security and fraud prevention, and port security. CICTE’s ninth regular session held in Washington, D.C. in March 2009 focused on the topic of strengthening border controls. CICTE’s 10th regular session is planned for March 17-19, 2010, in Washington, DC; a featured topic on the agenda is public private partnerships in the fight against terrorism.
OAS members signed the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism in June 2002. The Convention, among other measures, improves regional cooperation against terrorism, commits parties to sign and ratify U.N. anti-terrorism instruments and take actions against the financing of terrorism, and denies safe haven to suspected terrorists. President Bush submitted the Convention to the Senate on November 12, 2002, for its advice and consent, and the treaty was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Treaty Doc. 107-18). In the 109th Congress, the committee formally reported the treaty on July 28, 2005 (Senate Exec. Rept. 109-3), and on October 7, 2005, the Senate agreed to the resolution of advice and consent. The United States deposited its instruments of ratification for the Convention on November 15, 2005.
This article is an edited portion of a longer January 25, 2010 CRS report, Latin America: Terrorism Issues (PDF) prepared by Mark P. Sullivan, Specialist in Latin American Affairs for the Congressional Research Service (CRS).