Small Wars Journal

The Triple Border, a criminal haven

Fri, 11/12/2021 - 11:58pm

The Triple Border, a criminal haven

Pablo A. Baisotti

Terrorism—and criminality—have found a way to camouflage, change, and reproduce themselves much faster than legislation and actions against them. It is not a recent phenomenon; it has been cultivated for several decades in the triple border  of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay and only gains relevance when remarkable or shocking events occur. The fight against these groups—even if they are small and even one-man operations—must be carried out decisively using all available resources, otherwise they will continue to take root and mingle in the region and extend their contacts with regional criminal gangs, which will result—as can already be observed—in an increase in power and lethality. 

TBA Map

The Triple Border (Tri-Border Area) of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (CC BY)

Introduction

Regional security during the Cold War was marked by the terms of the Rio Treaty (Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance – TIAR, 1947), the OAS Charter (1948), and bilateral and multilateral protocols involving both Latin American countries among themselves and between them and the United States. An explicitly anti-communist collective security system was promoted, linking the East-West conflict with “internal enemies.”  Special attention was given to the triple frontier.[1] It is well known that for decades this area has become a stronghold of criminality related to arms and drug trafficking, smuggling and counterfeiting of goods, money laundering, among many others.[2] However, a latent terrorist threat has been hovering over the tri-border area and has long been in the sights of the United States—and its member countries—especially since the terrorist attacks of 2001. In part, these illicit activities in the tri-border area are due to the permissibility, vulnerability and lack of control of the authorities and public institutions—including cases of collusion with criminal gangs such as the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP), the two major Brazilian cartels: the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV), and even the Lebanese Hezbollah. To such an extent that this area is suspected of being a terrorist stronghold that the Argentine authorities considered that the two attacks in Buenos Aires—the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in 1994—were planned by Iran and Hezbollah in the same place.[3] In 2003 the report “Terrorist Groups and Organized Crime in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South America” listed the organizations involved in criminal activities in this area and the types of crimes committed.[4]

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the US anti-drug agency, identified a hierarchical structure within Hezbollah, operational since 2007, in charge of illicit operations. Drug cartels such as Colombia's La Oficina de Envigado, Mexico's Los Zetas and Venezuela's Los Soles supply it with cocaine. This was called the External Security Organization Business Affairs Office and was founded by then Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah. Control later passed to Abdallah Safieddine and Adham Tabaja.[5]

This paper considers that the triple border—like other areas of South America—has been transforming into a region susceptible to global terrorism—and no longer only through dictatorships and narco-guerrillas—as considered by many Latin American governments and the United States. This region is a ‘hot’ zone where the dreaded threats are being forged. The presence of a growing number of transnational actors will be analyzed, making the analysis and understanding of the national/international dimensions more complex. It will also present some of the legislation pertaining to the triple frontier, and finally particular cases to demonstrate how this zone became a hotbed of illegal activities ranging from small-scale smuggling to the promotion and financing of terrorism.[6] According to Fabio Sanchez, in an environment of globalization, many terrorist organizations changed their ways of self-financing by acting as multinational companies.[7]

Legality and illegality in conflict

In 1996, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay created the Tripartite Command for the Triple Border to coordinate police action and collect information.[8] In 1999, the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism (CICTE) was established and implemented numerous projects to support OAS member states in their efforts to prevent and combat terrorism and its financing. In the tri-border area, CICTE facilitates cooperation and coordination for the exchange of information and the adoption of international standards on money laundering and terrorist financing. In November 2019, CICTE again brought together the governments of the region to discuss strengthening operational capabilities in the tri-border area against terrorism.[9] Similarly, terrorism in that area has learned to camouflage itself in the social fabric. According to Ignacio Fuente Cobo, they take advantage of opportunities to intermingle in society, developing a social, political and economic machinery that benefits their illegality.[10] However, narco-criminal activities are no less important, just to mention that their profits—according to a 2019 newspaper article—are around $43 billion annually stated the Brazilian Institute of Competitive Ethics (ETCO).[11] The US State Department's March 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report stated that Paraguay had been transformed into a drug transit and money laundering country, especially at the triple border, with a millionaire smuggling system (laundering by criminal organizations was carried out through banks and entities of the non-banking financial sector).[12]

In terms of legislation and agreements, some that were important for the region are highlighted. In 2001 the Brazilian government signed the Convention for the Elimination of the Financing of Terrorism and issued decrees to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions 1333 (2001) and 1373 (2001).[13] The following year the 3+1 Group was formed, which included the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and the United States. This scheme was created to analyze the security problems on the triple border, including terrorism and its financing, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering and customs and immigration control. Meetings were held every six months to exchange sensitive data on the existence, structure, and dynamics of movements of assets and capital suspected of financing terrorist activities. In 2006, the Regional Intelligence Center (CRI) was established at the Brazilian Federal Police headquarters in Foz do Iguaçu.[14]

At a regional level, within the framework of Mercosur, in 2002 it was decided to set up a specialized forum for the exchange and analysis of information on terrorism, through regular meetings between political and technical officials. Within this forum, a Permanent Working Group (PWG) was set up and a Specialized Working Group on Terrorism (SWG) was created. The objective was to create an integrated system for the exchange of information, experiences and training containing available data on persons or organizations that may actually or potentially support or carry out terrorist actions.[15] In 2004, laws 2887 and 2888 were approved, agreeing on a Framework Agreement on Cooperation in Regional Security Matters between Mercosur, Bolivia, and Chile, and among Mercosur States. The purpose was none other than to improve the region’s security system through cooperation and reciprocal assistance against illicit activities, especially transnational ones such as international terrorism, among others.[16]

On 11 March 2003, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, and Panama signed an agreement aimed at combating terrorism and drug trafficking. Also noteworthy is the System for Vigilance over the Amazon (SIVAM), a surveillance system used by the Brazilian government to control part of the Amazon from drug trafficking and to stop illegal logging or burning of the forest.[17][18] That year, the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) highlighted the existence of “ungoverned spaces” in the hemisphere that could constitute safe havens for terrorists.[19] From this perspective, defense cooperation and ties between Brazil and the United States became closer. For example, Brazilian military personnel are trained through the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET), also participate in SOUTHCOM's multilateral military exercises, attend the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, the Inter-American Defense Academy (IADSA), and the International Military Academy (IMET). US troops participate in SOUTHCOM's multilateral military exercises, attend the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies and the Inter-American Air Force Academy, among others.[20] Meanwhile, Paraguay approved an agreement on 1 June 2005 allowing the entry of US troops to train officers in anti-terrorism, drug trafficking, anti-corruption, and some health programs. A month later a contingent of 500 US troops led by seven officers arrived in the country with aircraft, weapons, equipment and ammunition.[21]

Hezbollah

Hezbollah’s presence in the tri-border area dates back at least to the 1970s. Since then, its criminal ties, expansion and wealth have been growing. Just to mention a temporary period, between 2000 and 2010, this organization collected around 10 million dollars per year that were used to finance the network in activities such as surveillance or planning terrorist actions.[22] SOUTHCOM, on the other hand, estimated that its profits ranged between 300 and 500 million dollars per year in South America alone. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2015, SOUTHCOM’s then commander, General John F. Kelly, stated:

The terrorist group Lebanese Hezbollah […] has supporters and sympathizers in Lebanese diaspora communities in Latin America, some of whom are involved in lucrative illicit activities like money laundering and trafficking in counterfeit goods and drugs. These clan-based criminal networks exploit corruption and lax law enforcement in places like the Tri-Border Area […] and generate revenue […] transferred to Lebanese Hezbollah.[23]

From 2011 onwards, the terrorist organization's needs increased due to its involvement in the Syrian civil war,[24] coupled, years later in 2015, with US measures that weakened Hezbollah's finances in Lebanon. Hence the need to raise resources of its own.[25] Resources through increasingly sophisticated scams such as those involving import-export with traders from India and Hong Kong, although without disregarding small-scale businesses that together moved tens of thousands of dollars.[26] For the US Federal Research Division, there are several Latin American free trade areas with large Middle Eastern populations that allow Islamic terrorist groups, organized crime mafias and corrupt officials to thrive in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.[27]

In July 2019, Argentina became the first Latin American nation to list Hezbollah as a terrorist group, followed by Paraguay. As written in World Politics Review, from the Trump administration it was proposed that Israel provide training and equipment to regional governments to combat this organization. Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Colombia expressed their willingness to accept such assistance.[28] SOUTHCOM commander Craig Faller in May 2019 made a statement to the Congressional House Armed Services Committee taking aim at Iran for its willingness to re-boost its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean to exacerbate “anti-Americanism” at the same time as Hezbollah facilitated networks to amass weaponry and raise funds.[29] Emanuele Ottolenghi, following this reasoning, defined the triple border as Hezbollah’s “most active financial hub” since it launders money from drug cartels in the region and also provides logistical services for other illicit activities.[30]

Clans, people and terrorism

In July 2018, the Financial Information Unit of the Argentine government froze the assets of a number of individuals belonging to an organization of Lebanese origin called “Clan Barakat” led by Assad Ahmad Barakat, who possessed ties to Hezbollah. This clan carried out activities in the tri-border area related to smuggling, document and money forgery, money laundering, extortion, financing of terrorism, and drug and arms trafficking.

Assad Ahmad Barakat was considered the biggest Hezbollah collector in Latin America. He was a fugitive for almost a decade until Foz police arrested him on 21 September 2018 at the request of the Paraguayan justice system. In 2004, the US Treasury Department had included him on the list of terrorist financiers. In addition, this criminal had provided vital information to the commandos who later attacked the AMIA. One of his associates was Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad, arrested by the Paraguayan police in 1999 while he was carrying out surveillance work in front of the US embassy in Asunción. He was part of a network that was planning an attack. He agreed to cooperate with the CIA in the investigation and was released a year later. Later it was detected that Fayad had sent at least 3.5 million dollars to the Hezbollah Martyrs Organization (al-Shahid). Both characters along with Ali Hassan Abdallah were singled out by the Anti-Terrorism Department of the Paraguayan police as the three main fundraisers for Hezbollah in the region.

Also in 2018, in June, another large Barakat clan operation which intended to take over the strategic municipal airport of Capitan Bado was disrupted, in Paraguayan territory, very close to the border with Brazil. The purpose of this maneuver was to transport cocaine from Bolivia to Argentina and Brazil. The operation was facilitated by Paraguay’s National Institute for Rural and Land Development (Indert), which awarded him the land for a mere 5 million guaranies (less than US$1,000). Another member of the clan, Mahmoud Alí Barakat, was extradited by the Paraguayan justice to the United States in November 2018 under the accusation of drug money laundering and in second instance for sending part of such funds to a tax haven in the Caribbean related to Hezbollah. During the operation, Nader Mohamad Farhat, manager of those transfers through the “Unique” exchange house in Ciudad del Este, was arrested. According to prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, from Paraguay’s Unit for the Fight against Organized Crime, these criminals were one of the links in a larger network that dispatched drugs and carried out other illicit activities in Europe and the Middle East.[31] Also part of this clan was Ali Khalil Mehri, a Lebanese naturalized Paraguayan, accused by Paraguayan police of selling millions of dollars in counterfeit software and channeling the profits to Hezbollah and its parallel organizations al-Muqawama and al-Shahid. Cooperation in some cases was very effective, as for example in the case of Farouk Abdul Hay Omairi arrested in Foz de Iguaçu and accused by the US Treasury Department of links with Hezbollah and as the head of a cocaine trafficking network. In a second moment this person served as a reinforcement in the relations with the Brazilian PCC.[32]

The arrest of Lebanese Nasser Abbas Bahmad, a member of Hezbollah, is unique in that he was dedicated along with other criminals to money laundering, financing, and trafficking cocaine from Ciudad del Este to Hezbollah. His operation was dismantled through a joint investigation carried out by security agencies from Brazil, Paraguay, and the United States. The network he ran had been established in the tri-border area in 2014. Bahmad, along with Khalil Chams el-Din were linked to illicit activities alongside members of the PCC.

A woman, Hanan Hamdan, leader in a Hezbollah cell and associated with Bahmad in three companies: Garden Charcoal, dedicated to the commercialization of charcoal; Garden Shi Sha; and Knight, the latter dedicated to tobacco and cigarettes, was implicated. At the same time he owned an import-export company called Global Trading Group (GTG) created in Iraq in 2018 (although it has its headquarters in Sydney and subsidiaries in Beirut, Berlin, and London and offices in Guinea, Paraguay, and Brazil). Together with GTG (PTY LTD, created by Bahmad with Ali Fawaz), Charcoal Garden and Master Nanoking Argento were founded for charcoal, tobacco and cigarette trading. Juan Orlando Barreiro, Fawaz's father-in-law, had contacts in the port of Terport. Bahmad produced 12.7 tons of charcoal of his brand Garden Shi Sha and ordered to store it in the port of Terport, 30 kilometers from Asunción. Customs agents entered the facility on 16 January 2018 and issued an ultimatum to suspend the company's marketing license. Surprisingly in July 2018, detectives from the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Senad) arrested three Colombians, for setting up a laboratory in Ñuati Guazú, Paraguay, where cocaine was disguised as charcoal before being sent to Syria; and in October 2020 police from the Anti-Narcotics Department (DEAN) arrested two more people, after finding 2906 kilos of cocaine among bags of charcoal destined for Israel.

Bahmad's operations served as a cover for the terrorist organization’s drug and arms trafficking structure in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Another of Bahmad's close associates in the tri-border area is a citizen of Lebanese origin named Adham Tabaja (mentioned at the beginning of this work), sanctioned by the US government in 2015 for money laundering and drug trafficking for Hezbollah. Tabaja was registered as a shareholder in Al-Manar Holding Group, Hezbollah's official TV channel in Beirut and also in Al-Walaya TV, a TV production organ responsible for Hezbollah's propaganda and partisan promotion in Lebanon.[33]

In May 2018, Paraguayan authorities arrested in Ciudad del Este Nader Mohamed Farhat (also targeted above), then deported to the United States to stand trial for laundering drug money on behalf of Hezbollah for figures close to $300 million per year, while drug trafficking revenues were estimated at $500 million per year. These figures were endorsed by the investigators of the “Cassandra” project of the US Drug Enforcement Agency who considered that the terrorist organization received an amount of around 2 billion dollars per year [34] Also Kassem Tajideen was deported to the United States after his arrest in March 2017 in Morocco. Accused of being one of the most important operators of the drug trafficking network that benefited Hezbollah he was associated with Ayman Junior Joumaa, a Colombian-Lebanese who lived for many years in Medellin from where he sent cocaine to the Mexican Los Zetas cartel, triangulated shipments across the triple border, and was closely connected to Abu Abdallah, spiritual leader and regional commander of Hezbollah in Ciudad del Este. The latter was also involved in the AMIA bombing. The illegal money obtained was “laundered” through the Lebanese Canadian Bank, a former subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada Middle East.[35]

While these actions were taking place in the tri-border area, the regime of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela—later succeeded by Nicolás Maduro—promoted a strong cooperation with Iran. Along with the agreements, Iranian guards trained bodyguards of the Venezuelan ‘covert dictators’ and officers of their army. This opened the door for the Iranians to search for uranium for their nuclear program in the Roraima mine, near the Venezuelan border with Guyana, and other extraction sites in Bolivia and Ecuador. Likewise, in the vicinity of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia, a training barracks for officers of the armed forces of the Bolivarian bloc was inaugurated in May 2011 with instructors from the elite Quds Corps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. To complete the picture 36 cultural centers associated with the Iranian regime were inaugurated in Latin America, many of them connected to embassies.

This is nothing new. In 1983 Mohsen Rabbani arrived in Buenos Aires as a special envoy of Ayatollah Khomeini. Four years later he became the imam in charge of the Al Tauhid mosque in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Flores, from where he made contacts throughout the continent. According to the report of the late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, this character represented the hardest line within the Iranian regime, encouraging to support and export the revolution and to belong to Hezbollah. He was pointed as the mastermind behind the bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, and the AMIA mutual, two years later. Since then, Rabanni has been directing Latin American operations from the city of Qom.[36]

Final Discussion

Despite increasingly prolific legislation, meetings and joint intervention by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and the United States, the tri-border area is an empty or rather “liberated” space (of laws and state control, or in this particular case, state control). Criminal activity takes advantage of the lack of state presence to increase its authority. The triple border is considered—by many citizens as well—a free zone for crime and terrorism (planning, collection of resources for this purpose and others that could serve Hezbollah).[37]

The triple border is a laboratory where states and organizations (civilian and military) do not stop learning, treating, fighting and studying the chameleonic phenomenon of terrorism (or a part of it). There can be no complete standardization in dealing with this phenomenon. Everyone responds in different ways according to the situation, the place, the time and the people involved. The blows to the heart of Hezbollah in the triple border should be more swift, concise and lethal, since it has the capacity to recreate itself as a Hydra's head (it regenerated two heads for each one cut off). From traditional affiliations to the most sophisticated technology is a huge challenge.

The presence of the state should be concretized in two ways (in my opinion) to make the laws and regular controls more effective.  First, a continuous, nourished and stable intelligence network should be established.  Second, there should be a temporary, massive and surprising presence of the military of the three countries plus the United States, coordinated and ready to disrupt these cells and networks of terrorism (and of the incisive regional criminality).

An interesting idea would be a further division of the triple border: each of the cities that integrate it could be transformed into “free” cities with the presence of the four countries mentioned. Something like the Berlin of the immediate post-World War II period, which was under US, Soviet, French, and British control. As such a zone, it should also have ad hoc legislation with specific laws to deal with local issues, which are also national, regional, and global (terrorism is its maximum expression). This could be established via means such as military courts (in case of terrorism) or temporary suspension of guarantees in exceptional situations (increased violence, for example).

However, the battle must extend to technology—to prevent the dissemination of ideas of hate and crime and to cut off contacts between terrorists—and to money laundering—to interrupt the flow of criminal money—with the same rigor as an act of violent terrorism. On these points, greater coordination and inclusion of countries would be a valuable reinforcement. No one is safe from terrorists, that is a fact. That is why we must act rigorously against terrorism. Remember the phrase published in the 19th century: The road to hell is paved with good intentions, similar to an earlier one, from the 16th century: Hell is full of good meanings and wishes.

Endnotes

[1] The Triple Frontier is an enclave in South America comprising three cities in different countries: Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. Brian Loveman, “Políticas de Seguridad de Estados Unidos en América Latina y la Región Andina, 1990-2009 [U.S. Security Policies in Latin America and the Andean Region, 1990-2009]” in Brian Loveman, Ed.,  Adictos al fracaso: Políticas de Seguridad de Estados Unidos en América Latina y la Región Andina [Addicted to Failure: U.S. Security Policies in Latin America and the Andean Region]. Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 2010, p. 107.

[2] “The growing threat of organized crime groups in the Tri-Border Area of South America.” Stop Illegal. 13 December 2019, available at https://www.stopillegal.com/blog/detail/the-growing-threat-of-organized-crime-groups-in-the-tri-border-area-of-south-america; Johana Pérez Calderón, “La Triple Frontera como centro de atracción del yihadismo en América Latina: Orientación teórico-histórica [The Triple Frontier as a center of attraction of jihadism in Latin America: Theoretical-historical orientation].” Hallazgos, vol. 14, n. 27. 2017: p. 115; Sarah Nielsen, “Fighting Terror in the Tri-Border Area.” Wilson Center. 9 December 2019, available at https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/fighting-terror-the-tri-border-area.

[3] See Sarah Nielsen. Op. Cit. at Note 2.

[4] See “Stop Illegal.” Op. Cit. at Note 2.

[5] Gustavo Sierra, “Hezbollah en la Triple Frontera: cocaína para la revolución [Hezbollah in the Triple Border: cocaine for the revolution].” Infobae. 11 January 2019, available at https://www.infobae.com/america/america-docs/2019/01/11/hezbollah-en-la-triple-frontera-cocaina-para-la-revolucion/.

[6] See Mónica Herz. Brasil, la seguridad andina, y la política de seguridad regional de los Estados Unidos [Brazil, Andean security, and the regional security policy of the United States] in Brian Loveman, Ed., Adictos al fracaso: Políticas de Seguridad de Estados Unidos en América Latina y la Región Andina. Santiago: LOM Ediciones. 2010, pp. 377, 379.

[7] Fabio Sánchez, “Evolución del régimen de control y financiación del terrorismo [Developments in the regime for the control and financing of terrorism].” Revista de Relaciones Internacionales, Estrategia y Seguridad (Bogotá), vol. 6, n. 2, (pp. 21-34), 2011: p. 25.

[8] According to the US Department of Defense, the largest “ungoverned” areas are the tri-border area; the border between Brazil and Colombia (the Tabatinga and Leticia corridor); the border between Colombia and Ecuador (the Lake Agrio area); the Darien region between Colombia and Panama; and Suriname. Andrés Oppenheimer, “Terrorists, Traffickers Find Haven in Latin America’s ‘Ungoverned Spaces’.” Arizona Daily Star, 12 March 2003. See Brian Loveman. Op. Cit. at Note 1, p. 107.

[9] See Sarah Nielsen. Op. Cit. at Note 2.

[10] Ignacio Fuente Cobo, “La amenaza hibrida: yihadismo y crimen organizado en el Sahel [The hybrid threat: jihadism and organized crime in the Sahel].” Instituto Español de Estudios Estratégicos, n. 14. 2014, available at http://www.ieee.es/Galerias/fichero/docs_analisis/2014/DIEEEA57-2014_AmenazaHibrida-SAHEL_IFC.pdf.

[11] Mariano Roca, “El crimen organizado pone en jaque a la Triple Frontera [Organized crime puts the Triple Border in check].” Infobae. 20 April, 2019, available at https://www.infobae.com/def/desarrollo/2019/04/20/el-crimen-organizado-pone-en-jaque-a-la-triple-frontera/.

[12] “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Volume II: Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.” US Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  March 2017, available at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/268024.pdf.  This document is cited by Emanuele Ottolenghi, “Emerging External influences in the Western Hemisphere”, (Congressional Testimony). Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 10 May 2017, p. 11, available athttps://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/051017_Ottolenghi_Testimony.pdf.

[13] See Mónica Herz. Op. Cit. at Note 6, p. 391.

[14] Josefina Lynn, “La Triple Frontera y la amenaza terrorista ¿realidad o mito? [The Triple Border and the terrorist threat: reality or myth?]” in Fredy Rivera Vélez, Ed., Seguridad multidimensional en América Latina [Multidimensional security in Latin America]. Ecuador: Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, (pp. 57-80). 2008, p. 73.

[15] See “Declaración de Ministros del Interior del MERCOSUR sobre Terrorismo,”  (Detalle de la norma DC-9-2002-CMC.) Llave Operativa Aduanera (Argentina), https://www.loa.org.ar/legNormaDetalle.aspx?id=777.

[16] See Josefina Lynn. Op. Cit. at Note 14, p. 72.

[17] US military contractor Raytheon, Brazilian company ATECH, Canadian aerospace company MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and Embraer won the bid to build the SIVAM system. Today, the project has delivered its equipment to the government, creating SIPAM (Amazon Protection System) and enhancing the Brazilian Airspace Control System. SIPAM headquarters are located in Brasilia, Brazil. See Michel Braudeau, Le rêve amazonien [The Amazonian dream]. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2004. See also “Censipam: Centro Gestor e Operacional do Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia.” Ministério da Defesa,”  https://www.gov.br/defesa/pt-br/assuntos/censipam.

[18] See Mónica Herz. Op. Cit. at Note 6, pp. 391, 392, 405.

[19] See Andrés Oppenheimer. Op. Cit. at Note 8; and Brian Loveman. Op. Cit. at Note 1, p.  107.

[20] See Mónica Herz. Op. Cit. at Note 6, p. 392.

[21] See Brian Loveman. Op. Cit. at Note 1, p, 106.

[22] Ludmila Quirós, “¿Cómo inciden los pactos criminales en la seguridad pública brasileña? [How do criminal pacts affect public safety in Brazil?]” LSE Latin America and Caribbean Blog. 26 June 2019, available at https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/latamcaribbean/2019/06/26/como-inciden-los-pactos-criminales-en-la-seguridad-publica-brasilena/.

[23] John F. Kelly, “Posture Statement before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee.” 12 March 2015, available at https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Kelly_03-12-15.pdf. See “Emanuele Ottolenghi.” Op. Cit. at Note 7, p. 9.

[24] Matthew Levitt, “The Crackdown on Hezbollah’s Financial Network.” Wall Street Journal. 27 January 2016, available at https://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2016/01/27/the-crackdown-on-hezbollahs-financing-network/.

[25] Oren Kessler, and Rupert Sutton, “Hezbollah threatened by Iran’s Financial Woes.” World Affairs Journal. 3 June 2014, available at https://perma.cc/8DM6-9H4B. See “Emanuele Ottolenghi.” Op. Cit. at Note 7, p. 10.

[26] Cyrus Miryekta, “Hebollah in the Tri-Border Area of South America.” Small Wars Journal. 2010, pp. 5-6, available at https://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/533-miryekta.pdf. See Matthew Levitt, “Hezbollah Finances: Funding the Party of God.” The Washington Institute. 13 February 2005, available at https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/hezbollah-finances-funding-party-god.

[27] “Terrorist and Organized Crime Groups in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South America.” Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, July 2003, p. 4.

[28] See Stop Illegal. Op. Cit. at Note 2.

[29] Craig Faller, “2019 Posture Statement to Congress.” United States Southern Command. 1 May 2019, available at https://www.southcom.mil/Media/Special-Coverage/SOUTHCOMs-2019-Posture-Statement-to-Congress/.

[30] Through the link with Iran and Hezbollah, Venezuela was transformed into an operational base in the Western Hemisphere. As Venezuela is a "narco-state" that facilitates drug trafficking, it is of strategic importance in this alliance, as it allows that country and the terrorist organization to operate freely throughout the region. “Hezbollah tiene vínculos con el crimen organizado en la Triple Frontera [Hezbollah has ties to organized crime in the Tri-Border region].” Infobae. 13 April, 2019, available at https://www.infobae.com/def/defensa-y-seguridad/2019/04/13/hezbollah-tiene-vinculos-con-el-crimen-organizado-en-la-triple-frontera/.

[31] See Sarah Nielsen. Op. Cit. at Note 2. Gustavo Sierra, “Hezbollah en la Triple Frontera: el bazar de la mentira. [Hezbollah in the TBA: the bazaar of lies].” Infobae. 9 January 2019, available at https://www.infobae.com/america/america-docs/2019/01/09/hezbollah-en-la-triple-frontera-el-bazar-de-la-mentira-2/.

[32] See Ludmila Quirós. Op. Cit. at Note 22.

[33] See Sarah Nielsen. Op. Cit. at Note 2. Agustín Ceruse, “Quién es Nasser Abbas Bahmad, el narco del Hezbollah más buscado de la triple frontera” [Who is Nasser Abbas Bahmad, the most wanted Hezbollah drug trafficker in the tri-border area?]” Encripdata. 25 January 2021, available at https://encripdata.com/2021/01/25/hezbollah-en-la-triple-frontera-nasser-abbas-bahmad-el-narcotraficante-libanes-mas-buscado/.

[34] George Chaya, “Narcotráfico y terrorismo yihadista en América Latina: desmantelaron en la Triple Frontera una organización criminal estrechamente vinculada a Hezbollah [Drug trafficking and jihadist terrorism in Latin America: criminal organization closely linked to Hezbollah dismantled in the Triple Frontier].” Infobae. 23  January 2021, available at https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2021/01/23/narcotrafico-lavado-de-activos-y-terrorismo-yihadista-en-america-latina-desmantelaron-en-la-triple-frontera-una-organizacion-criminal-estrechamente-vinculada-a-hezbollah/.

[35] See Gustavo Sierra. Op. Cit. at Note 5; and Gustavo Sierra. Op. Cit. at Note 31.

[36] Gustavo Sierra, “Hezbollah en la Triple Frontera: los predicadores que llegan en el vuelo de “Aeroterror” [Hezbollah in the Tri-Border Area: preachers arriving on ‘Aeroterror’ flight].” Infobae. 10 January 2019, available at https://www.infobae.com/america/america-docs/2019/01/10/hezbollah-en-la-triple-frontera-los-predicadores-que-llegan-en-el-vuelo-de-aeroterror/

[37] For an early look at the Tri-Border region, see Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Cartel Evolution: Potentials and Consequences.” Transnational Organized Crime. Vol. 4, No. 2. Summer 1998: pp. 54-74, available at https://www.academia.edu/3173100/Cartel_Evolution_Potentials_and_Consequences. In this seminal article, Bunker and Sullivan anticipate contemporary cartel evolution and describe a third phase of cartel where networked criminal actors become criminal netwarriors. They called the Ciudad del Este model, based on the tri-border area.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Dr. Pablo A. Baisotti received his PhD in Politics, Institutions and History from the University of Bologna School of Political Science in 2015. Before that he received an M.Phil. in International Relations Europe-Latin America from the University of Bologna in 2008 and an M.A. in Law and Economic Integration from the University Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and the University del Salvador in 2007. He was Fellow Researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in China and a full-time Research Fellow at the Maria Sibylla Merian Center, University of Costa Rica. Currently he is an  Associate Researcher at the Department of Latin American Studies at the University of Brasilia, and External Lecturer at the Institute of Iberian and Ibero-American Studies, Warsaw University. As editor/author he has published more than 20 books on Latin American history, politics, literature and economic policy.

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