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Wednesday July 11, 2012

Hezbollah Goes West

Posted by Jeffrey Wright at 3:35 pm

Earlier this week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the Chair of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced H.R. 6067, titled the Western Hemisphere Security Cooperation Act of 2012. The bill provides for an American response to a favorite bugaboo of conservative foreign policy types: the supposedly growing threat of Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America. The only problem is that the threat is overblown. Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America are limited to fundraising, not operations, and the idea that these activities threaten American interests is absurd on its face.

The idea of Hezbollah operatives running loose through Venezuela is catnip for certain foreign policy figures in Washington because it combines two of their favorite boogeymen: Hezbollah (and by extension, Iran) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The claim that Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America pose a threat to the US has gotten validation from some of the Republican Party’s leading lights, including its nominee for President, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. In a debate in November during the Republican primary, Romney said, “...we have, right now, Hezbollah, which is working throughout Latin America, in Venezuela, in Mexico, throughout Latin America, which poses a very significant and imminent threat to the United States of America.” Romney’s assessment of the threat was echoed by other Republican primary contenders, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. The Hezbollah in Latin America trope has even gotten the think tank treatment, in the form of a thinly-sourced eight page report by Roger Noriega and Jose Cardenas of the American Enterprise Institute, a leading neoconservative think tank in Washington.

In reality, however, there is very little evidence to support the idea that Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America pose any threats to American interests, at home or abroad. The State Department, in its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2010 (the most recent available) reports that “There were no known operational cells of either al-Qa’ida- or Hizballah-related groups in the hemisphere...” Two federal court cases document the transfer of funds from Hezbollah sympathizers in Latin America to the group’s headquarters in Lebanon, but this type of financial support is a long way from the sort of operational activities one might assume from listening to Gov. Romney describe the “very significant and imminent threat” that the US supposedly faces from Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America. Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico all have significant Lebanese populations, and the presence of a few Hezbollah sympathizers within these populations shouldn’t be a surprise.

In short, Hezbollah probably receives a relatively small amount of money from Latin American sympathizers, and may profit from cocaine trafficking, but it has no operational abilities in Latin America. Ros-Lehtinen’s bill is a solution in search of problem, and there is no shortage of problems in Latin America nor the Middle East. It might behoove us to focus on the ones that actually exist instead of dreaming up alliances between America’s enemies. 

Tagged as Issues, State Specific, Florida, US-Arab Relations, Posted by Jeffrey Wright

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