03 March 2004
U.S. Officials Outline Counterterrorism Cooperation in Western
Vast majority of countries are "firm partners" in fight
Washington -- The United States and its partners in the Western
Hemisphere are working together to curb the threat of international
terrorism in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to U.S.
There is no evidence of operational planning by international
terrorist organizations in Latin America, but there are "many,
many support activities" for such groups taking place throughout
the region, said Major General Rod Bishop, deputy commander of
the U.S. Southern Command, in March 3 remarks on Capitol Hill.
Speaking at a conference labelled "The Middle East Terrorist
Connection in Latin America and the Caribbean," Bishop indicated
that the tri-border area shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay,
in addition to Margarita Island off Venezuela, Colombia, and Trinidad & Tobago
are among the places in the hemisphere where international terrorist
groups are engaged in illicit activities.
Bishop said that international terrorist groups in these areas
are engaged in laundering money, forging documents, and transporting
drugs, arms and illegal aliens. These activities, he noted, generate
millions of dollars for terrorists around the world.
To curb these activities and to carry out its global war on terrorism,
the United States has established a Joint Inter-Agency Coordination
Group among U.S. government entities that aims to enhance cooperation
and improve information-sharing, Bishop said.
He added that the United States is also engaged with its hemispheric
partners in combating international terrorism in the region.
"Many of our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors are stepping
up to the plate and helping us in this fight," Bishop said. "They
are indicting, arresting, and in some cases extraditing those individuals
involved in terrorism."
The United States is sharing techniques and intelligence with
its hemispheric partners and working hard together to monitor the
activities of radical Islamic groups in the region, Bishop explained. "This
cooperative approach is at our frontline in the war on terrorism," he
William Pope, principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism
at the U.S. Department of State, concurred with this assessment. "The
vast majority of countries in the hemisphere have been firm partners
in the war on terrorism," he said.
Yet while the hemisphere has demonstrated political will to curb
international terrorism, the capacity to thwart terrorist activity
in the region is "sorely lacking," Pope said.
Efforts to bolster the region's ability to curb international
terrorism focus, in part, on improving the basic security of hemispheric
nations, Bishop observed. He said that terrorists seek out areas
without basic security -- ungoverned spaces where they can act
with virtual impunity.
The United States Southern Command is working closely with its
counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean to minimize the
ungoverned spaces that exist in the region, Bishop confirmed.
Another crucial component in the global campaign against terrorism,
Bishop and Pope noted, is the targeting of terrorist resources.
Pope said the United States is actively supporting several financial
task forces in the region, and suggested that efforts to address
the fundraising activities of radical Islamic groups in the region
have already yielded results.
The United States is also the largest donor to the Inter-American
Committee Against Terrorism, as Pope pointed out. The success of
this group in assisting Latin American and Caribbean nations to
curb terrorism is "critical," he said.
These and other collaborative efforts not withstanding, more needs
to be done, Pope said. "As much as we are doing already, the
need to improve counterterrorism capacity-building is enormous," he
Pope said the United States would like to do more in Latin America
and the Caribbean, in part to reinforce existing political will
in the region.
At the very least, Bishop concluded, the United States must stay
the course and commit the resources necessary to steel the nations
of the hemisphere against terrorism. "If we turn away, then
we fail the Americas and terrorists will continue to use the region," he
said. "We must not allow that to happen."