July 2, 2009: It's been quiet down south, too quiet. For years the U.S. has been monitoring South America for signs of Islamic terrorism. There has been a little, but most of action is non-terrorist criminality. Moslem criminal gangs down there have provided some support services for al Qaeda, but otherwise there is not a lot of support for Islamic radicalism in South America. Moslems are a very small minority down there, and they don’t want to trigger an anti-Islamic attitude because of al Qaeda terrorism in the region.
What is happening in South America is more fund raising (in the Islamic community) for Islamic radical causes, and the possibility that the continent could be used as a base and sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Like most parts of the world, South American countries are willing to overlook Islamic terrorists in their midst, as long as it's understood that there will be no terrorist attacks in the home country. The few times, in the last two decades, that this rule was violated, the reaction was very costly to Islamic radicals, and countries like Iran, that sponsored them.
A new base area for Islamic radicals is developing in Venezuela. There, leftist president Hugo Chavez has not only established close diplomatic relations with Iran (and Cuba, North Korea and radical groups throughout the region), but has allowed Iran to set up operations in South America. Regular commercial flights from Iran to Venezuela (via Syria, to accommodate Hezbollah) carry people, cash and whatever else Iran wants to move. No questions asked, no visas required. Several U.S. counter-terrorism organizations have gone to work, trying to find out what Iran is up to, and how to block any terrorist activity. For example, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control sought to block attempts by Iran and Hezbollah to get around banking restrictions placed on their terrorist activities, by opening bank branches in Venezuela. Hezbollah is using its new base in Venezuela to support its fund raising, and purely criminal activities, in South America. Iran is looking to support attacks against South American Jews, plus any other mischief it can pull off, without being blamed.
Hezbollah has long been involved in the drug business in South America. That gives these Iran backed Islamic terrorists access to the narcotics smuggling routes that Mexican gangs use to smuggle drugs and people into the United States. The Iran-backed Lebanese group has long been involved in narcotics and people smuggling in South America's tri-border (Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil) region of. This area has long been a hotbed of illicit activity, and too many politicians and police commanders are on the take from gangsters to change this.
Thus, South America makes an excellent refuge and base. Particularly worrisome is the cooperation between leftist rebel movements there, and terrorist groups. So far, the United States says little of what it is doing down there to monitor, or cope, with Islamic terrorist activity. But something is up.