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Diplomacy in Action

Latin America Overview


Patterns of Global Terrorism
Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
2000
April 30, 2001
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Latin America witnessed an increase in terrorist attacks from the previous year, from 121 to 193. In Colombia, leftist guerilla groups abducted hostages and attacked civil infrastructure, while rightwing paramilitary groups abducted congressional representatives, killed political candidates, and massacred civilians in an attempt to thwart the guerillas. In Ecuador, organized criminal elements with possible links to terrorists and terrorist groups abducted 10 oil workers and also claimed responsibility for oil pipeline bombings that killed seven civilians. Extremist religious groups continued to pose a terrorist concern in the triborder area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Terrorist incidents continued a downward trend in Peru despite a deteriorating political situation and the abrupt resignation of hardline President Fujimori.

Colombia
Despite ongoing peace talks, Colombia's two largest guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), continued to conduct international terrorist acts, including kidnapping private US and foreign citizens and extorting money from businesses and individuals in the Colombian countryside.

A significant development during the year involved a series of FARC attacks on interests of US coal firm Drummond, Inc., in Colombia, which publicly refused to pay the group millions of dollars annually in extortion under the terms of FARC Law 002, a tax on entities valued at more than $1 million. As a result of FARC actions, Drummond did not bid on a state-owned coal company, potentially costing Bogota tens of millions of dollars in lost privatization revenue. Colombia's second-largest crude oil pipeline, the Cano Limon, was attacked 152 times in 2000--a record--which the army blames mostly on the ELN. The attacks forced Occidental Petroleum to halt exports through most of August and September.

In October, the Colombian police rescued a five-year-old US citizen who had been held six months by individuals connected with the FARC.

The FARC and the ELN continued to reach out to government and nongovernment groups throughout the world and especially in Europe and Latin America through international representatives and attendance at regional conferences and meetings, such as the Sao Paulo Forum. The FARC also continued to target security forces and other symbols of government authority to demonstrate its power and to strengthen its negotiating position. President Pastrana in December extended the FARC's demilitarized zone to 31 January 2001 and pledged to place government controls over the zone. The FARC--which said it would not return to the table until Bogota reined in the rightwing paramilitaries--unilaterally froze peace talks in November.

Meanwhile, rightwing paramilitary groups continued to grow and expanded their reach in 2000, most notably in southern Colombia's prime coca growing areas. The groups, in addition to massacring civilians in their attempts to erode FARC and ELN areas of influence, also abducted seven national congressional representatives in December, demanding negotiations with the government.

Ecuador
On 12 October, organized criminal elements with possible links to terrorists and terrorist groups abducted 10 aviation company employees and oil workers (five US citizens, two French, one Chilean, one Argentine, and one New Zealander) in the northern canton of Sucumbios. In December, the kidnappers also claimed responsibility for multiple bomb attacks on the Trans-Ecuadorian Oil pipeline, one of which killed seven Ecuadorian bystanders. At year's end, the terrorists were demanding $80 million in ransom for eight hostages (two escaped), and the situation had not been resolved. The exact identity of the terrorists remained uncertain. (The group executed one of their hostages, a US citizen, in January 2001. Following extended negotiations with representatives of the oil companies that employed the hostages, the remaining captives were released on 1 March 2001. The United States has pledged to bring those responsible to justice.)

Peru
There were no international acts of terrorism in Peru in 2000, but the Peruvian judicial system continued to prosecute vigorously individuals accused of committing domestic terrorist acts. Of the 314 persons Peruvian authorities arrested for involvement in significant acts of terrorism, 30 were sentenced to life imprisonment and 25 were sentenced to 20 to 30 years. Lima requested the extradition from Bolivia of suspected terrorist Justino Soto Vargas. La Paz granted the request, but at year's end Soto's asylum status remained unchanged, impeding his extradition.

In April, government authorities captured Shining Path (SL) commander Jose Arcela Chiroque (a.k.a. Ormeno) and as of late November 2000 continued large-scale efforts to apprehend SL leaders Macario Ala (a.k.a. Artemio) and "Comrade Alipio." Government operations targeted pockets of terrorist activity in the Upper Huallaga River Valley and the Apurimac/Ene River Valley, where SL columns continued to conduct periodic attacks.

The Peruvian Government continued to oppose strongly support to terrorists, but investigations continued into allegations that a small group of Peruvian military officers sold a substantial quantity of small arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Lima remained receptive to US Government-sponsored antiterrorism training and cooperated fully to prevent terrorist attacks by providing valuable information, including access to law enforcement files, records, and databases concerning domestic terrorist groups.

Triborder (Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay)
In 2000, the triborder region of South America--where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet--remained a focal point for Islamic extremism in Latin America, but no acts of international terrorism occurred in any of the three countries. The Governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay continued efforts to stem criminal activities of individuals linked to international Islamic terrorist groups, but limited resources, porous borders, and corruption remained obstacles.

Paraguayan authorities in February arrested Ali Khalil Mehri, a Lebanese businessman having financial links to Hizballah, for violating intellectual property rights laws and aiding a criminal enterprise involved in distributing CDs espousing Hizballah's extremist ideals. He fled the country in June after faulty judicial procedures allowed his release. In November, Paraguayan authorities arrested Salah Abdul Karim Yassine, a Palestinian who allegedly threatened to bomb the US and Israeli Embassies in Asuncion, and charged him with possession of false documents and entering the country illegally. Yassine remained in prison at year's end. Paraguayan counternarcotics police in October also arrested an individual believed to be representing the FARC for possible involvement in a guns-for-cocaine ring between Paraguay and the Colombian terrorist group. Despite these successes, an ineffective judicial system and pervasive corruption, which facilitate criminal activity supporting terrorist groups, hampered counterterrorism efforts in Paraguay.

Argentina continued investigations into the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and the Argentine-Israeli Community Center (AMIA) in 1994, both in Buenos Aires. In early February, the magistrate in the AMIA case presented his conclusions, which included charges of complicity against numerous former police officials and local civilians and a determination that a car bomb loaded with 300 kilograms of explosives was used to execute the attack. In May, INTERPOL agents also arrested a Paraguayan businessman for suspected links to the AMIA bombing. Trials were set to begin in early 2001.



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