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Diplomacy in Action

Latin America Overview

Patterns of Global Terrorism
Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
May 21, 2002

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell poses with Andean Foreign Ministers in Lima, Peru, on 10 September 2001. At a special session of the Organization of American States, foreign ministers and officials from North and South America met to adopt an agreement to strengthen regional democracies. (Reuters copyrighted photo)

"Individually and collectively, we will deny terrorist groups the capacity to operate in this Hemisphere. This American family stands united."

Declaration by the Organization of American States
21 September 2001

The countries of Latin America (with the exception of Cuba) joined as one in condemning the attacks of September 11 when the Organization of American States became the first international organization to express outrage at the "attack on all the democratic and free states of the world" and to voice solidarity with the United States. Ten days later, the OAS Foreign Ministers called for a series of strong measures to combat terrorism, and those members that are party to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance took the unprecedented step of invoking the principle of mutual assistance—an agreement by which an attack on any state party to the treaty is considered an attack on them all.

Kidnapping remained one of the most pernicious problems in the region. Nineteen US citizens were kidnapped in Latin America in 2001, including five each in Colombia and Haiti, and four in Mexico. Elite counterterrorism units in Colombia arrested 50 persons in connection with the abduction in October 2000 of five US oil workers in Ecuador and the subsequent murder in January 2001 of US hostage Ron Sander.

September 11 brought renewed attention to the activities of the Lebanese-based terrorist organization Hizballah, as well as other terrorist groups, in the triborder area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, where terrorists raise millions of dollars annually via criminal enterprises. There is evidence of the presence of Hizballah members or sympathizers in other areas of Latin America as well: in northern Chile, especially around Iquique; in Maicao, Colombia near the border with Venezuela; on Margarita Island in Venezuela; and in Panama's Colon Free Trade Zone. Allegations of Usama Bin Ladin or al-Qaida support cells in Latin America were investigated by US and local intelligence and law-enforcement organizations, but at year's end they remained uncorroborated.

On 10 September, Secretary of State Powell officially designated the Colombian paramilitary organization United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) due in part to their explosive growth—the AUC swelled to an estimated 9,000 fighters in 2001—and reliance on terrorist tactics. Colombia's largest terrorist organization, the 16,000-member Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), unleashed such a wave of violence and terror in 2001 and early 2002 that Colombian President Andres Pastrana decided, in February 2002, to terminate the peace talks that had been a cornerstone of his presidency and to reassert government control over the FARC's demilitarized zone, or despeje.

Three members of the Irish Republican Army—alleged explosives experts helping the FARC prepare for an urban terror campaign—were arrested as they departed the despeje in August. Allegations of similar support by the terrorist group Basque Fatherland and Liberty, or ETA, to the FARC were reported by Colombian media. Ecuador is viewed by many analysts as a strategic point in the international weapons transshipment routes for arms, ammunition, and explosives destined for Colombian terrorist groups.

In Peru, the Shining Path showed signs of making a comeback as a terrorist organization, albeit with a greater focus on narcotics than on ideological insurgency. The MRTA, largely wiped out in the late 1990s, did not take any terrorist actions in 2001.

Cuba, one of the seven state sponsors of terrorism, is discussed in the state sponsorship portion of this report.


Although no acts of international terrorism took place in Bolivia in 2001, there were numerous incidents of domestic terrorism, capped by the car-bomb explosion on 21 December near the entrance to the Bolivian National Police Department district office in Santa Cruz. The attack killed one and caused numerous injuries; nearby buildings, including one that houses US Drug Enforcement Agency offices, also sustained collateral damage. Bolivian officials suspect the bombing may have been related to recent police successes against a captured group of robbery suspects, including some Peruvians, apparently led by a former Bolivian police official.

Most other incidents were thought to be perpetrated by illegal coca growers ("cocaleros"), including using snipers against security forces and boobytrapping areas where eradication efforts take place principally in the Chapare area of Cochabamba Department.

In the months following September 11, Bolivia became a party to all 12 UN and the one OAS counterterrorism conventions. In addition, Bolivia issued blocking orders on terrorist assets.


Two apparently terrorist-related incidents occurred in Chile during 2001. In late September, the US Embassy received a functional letter bomb that local police successfully destroyed in a controlled demolition. The second incident involved an anthrax-tainted letter received at a Santiago doctor's office; the anthrax strain, however, did not match that found in US cases, and it was possible that this incident was perpetrated locally.

In the letter-bomb case, two Chilean suspects, Lenin Guardia and Humbero Lopez Candia, were taken into custody, charged with obstruction of justice and possession of illegal weapons, and manufacturing and sending the bomb, respectively. Although they both face 20-year prison sentences upon conviction under Chile's antiterrorism law, it appeared that the US Embassy was a high-profile target of opportunity for persons acting out of personal and selfish motivations.

The Chilean Government also opened an investigation into the activities in the northern port city of Iquique of Lebanese businessman Assad Ahmed Mohamed Barakat—the same Barakat wanted by Paraguayan authorities and who, at year's end, continued to reside in Brazil. In Iquique, authorities suspect Barakat, along with his Lebanese partner, established two businesses as cover operations to transfer potentially millions of dollars to Hizballah.

Chile also began taking concrete steps to improve its own counterterrorism capabilities and to comply with its international treaty obligations. Aside from becoming part to all 12 UN counterterrorism conventions, the steps include proposals for new money-laundering laws to target terrorist financing, special counterterrorism investigative units, and a new national intelligence agency.

Chile—working with Brazil and Argentina—has led efforts to coordinate hemispheric support for the United States in the aftermath of September 11 in its capacity as the 2001 head (Secretary pro Tempore) of the Rio Group. The efforts included convening the OAS Permanent Council and OAS foreign ministers in the week following the attacks, the historic invocation of the Rio Treaty, and taking part in a special session of the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism.


An increased international awareness of terrorism did nothing to stop or even slow the pace of terrorist actions by Colombia's three terrorist organizations—the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), National Liberation Army (ELN), and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)—in 2001. Some 3,500 murders were attributed to these groups.

Three suspected Irish Republican Army members captured at Bogota's airport are shown standing side-by-side in handcuffs, watched by a Military Police officer.  The three had taken a flight from San Vicente del Caguan, a demilitarized zone operated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. (AP copyrighted photo)On 10 September, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the designation of the AUC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, citing the AUC's explosive growth—to an estimated 9,000 fighters by year's end—and their increasing reliance on terrorist methods such as the use of massacres to purposefully displace segments of the population, as primary reasons for the designation. With this addition, all three of Colombia's major illegal armed groups have now been designated by the United States as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (the FARC and ELN were designated in 1997). Colombian estimates for 2001 suggested that the AUC was accountable for some 43 percent of Colombia's internally displaced persons, mostly rural peasants, while the FARC and ELN were responsible for some 35 percent.

In 2001, as in years past, there were more kidnappings in Colombia than in any other country in the world, and the financial transfer from victims to terrorists by way of ransom payments and extortion fees continued to cripple the Colombian economy. The FARC and ELN were purportedly responsible in 2001 for approximately 80 percent of the more than 2,800 kidnappings of Colombian and foreign nationals— including some whose governments or agencies (the UN, for example) were helping mediate the ongoing civil conflict. Since 1980, the FARC has murdered at least ten US citizens, and three New Tribes Missionaries abducted by the FARC in 1993 remain unaccounted for.

The FARC and the AUC continued their deadly practice of massacring one another's alleged supporters, especially in areas where they were competing for narcotics-trafficking corridors or prime coca-growing terrain. The FARC and ELN struggled with one another for dominance in the bombing of the Cano-Limon-Covenas oil pipeline—combining for an unprecedented 178 attacks which had a devastating ecological and economic impact—with the larger FARC (an estimated 16,000 fighters vs. under 5,000 for the ELN) beginning to gain the upper hand by year's end.

As in past years, the on-again, off-again peace talks between Bogot� and the FARC or the ELN did not lead to substantive breakthroughs with either group. (As of press time, President Pastrana had broken off talks with the FARC following the group's 2 February 2002 hijacking of Aires Flight 1891, the abduction of Colombian Senator Jorge Gechen, as well as the separate abduction of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt; the Colombian military also had reasserted control over the FARC's demilitarized zone, or despeje.) Talks with the ELN were ongoing. For its part, the AUC continued to press, without success, for political recognition by the Government of Colombia.

Red Cross worker holding a two-way radio stands near an oil pipeline engulfed in flames with thick black smoke rising in the background.  Authorities believe leftist rebels bombed the Colombian pipeline. (Reuters copyrighted photo)Throughout 2001, Colombia's government acted against all three terrorist groups through direct military action as well as through legal and judicial means. The Prosecutor General successfully prosecuted many FARC, ELN, and AUC members on domestic terrorism charges. Bogot� also pursued insurgent and paramilitary sources of financing with some success, capturing in a short period in late 2001, for example, four FARC finance chiefs. In May, raids on high-ranking AUC residences in Monteria netted key evidence regarding that group's financial backers. On a more disturbing note, the Government alleged links between these groups and other terrorist organizations outside Colombia. The capture in August of three Irish Republican Army members who have been charged with sharing their expertise and providing training on explosives in the FARC's demilitarized zone is perhaps the most notable example.

The Colombian Government has been very supportive of US antiterrorist efforts in international fora, particularly the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). Colombia was one of the region's leaders in the effort to impose sanctions against the Taliban in the United Nations before the events of September 11, and it continues to cooperate in enforcing UNSC and UNGA antiterrorist resolutions, including Resolutions 1267, 1333, and 1368. Colombia also signed the UN Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. In the OAS, Colombia continued to be an active member of the Inter- American Committee Against Terrorism and was selected to chair the subcommittee that deals with monitoring and interdicting terrorist financial flows. Colombia also planned to broaden its capability to combat terrorism within its borders by means of a three-part strategy unveiled in late October. The main components include strengthening the public security forces, modernizing the penitentiary system, and expanding and improving civil and criminal investigation mechanisms. Also included are provisions for the seizure and forfeiture of terrorist assets, reduction of bank secrecy rights, and measures to insulate municipal and departmental finances from corruption. At year's end, the implementation of this strategy was awaiting passage of additional legislation.


The kidnapping on 12 October 2000 of a group of eight oil workers (including five US citizens) by an armed band played out well into 2001. On 31 January, the hostage takers executed US hostage Ron Sander. The remaining seven hostages, including the four surviving US citizens, were released in March, following payment of a multimillion-dollar ransom. In June, Colombian police arrested more than 50 Colombian and Ecuadorian criminal and ex-guerrilla suspects, including the group's leaders, connected to the case. At year's end, five of the suspects were awaiting extradition to the United States.

Beyond the murder of Ron Sander, there were no significant acts of terrorism in Ecuador in 2001, although unidentified individuals or groups perpetrated some low-level bombings. Two McDonald's restaurants were firebombed in April. Over a four-day period in mid-November, four pamphlet bombs containing anti-US propaganda were detonated in downtown Quito.

American oil workers are shown getting off bus and surrounded by security personnel after being freed from captivity 2 March 2002. They were held hostage for four months in Ecuador's Amazon jungle. Four US citizens, a New Zealander, and Argentine, and a Chilean were released near the Colombian border. (Reuters copyrighted photo)As did most Latin American nations in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States, Ecuador voiced its strong support for US, OAS, and UN antiterrorism declarations and initiatives put forth in various international fora, including UNSC 1373, as well as for Coalition actions in Afghanistan. Ecuador, however, neither improved control over its porous borders nor cracked down on illegal emigration/immigration. Quito's weak financial controls and widespread document fraud remained issues of concern, as did Ecuador's reputation as a strategic corridor for arms, ammunition, and explosives destined for Colombian terrorist groups.


Although there were no international acts of terrorism in Peru in 2001, the number of domestic terrorist acts (130 by year's end) increased markedly and eclipsed the number perpetrated in the previous three years. Most incidents occurred in remote areas of Peru associated with narcotics trafficking. Sendero Luminoso (SL) was the most active terrorist group—in fact, the level of SL-related activity and its aggressive posture appeared to be on the rise through 2001. The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, although active politically, was not known to have committed any terrorist acts in 2001. US citizen Lori Berenson received a civilian re-trial and was once again convicted for terrorism based on her involvement with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Front, or MRTA. (The conviction and sentence were upheld by the Peruvian Supreme Court 18 February 2002.) Peruvian police also were investigating a series of attacks against Lima's electric power companies' infrastructure throughout the fall.

In a notable case in late November, Peruvian police thwarted a possible SL terrorist attack against a likely US target—possibly the US Embassy—when it arrested two Lima SL cell members. At the time of his arrest, one cell member possessed paper scraps with route diagrams and addresses of several US-affiliated facilities in Lima. Although they were still investigating the incident at year's end, Peruvian officials suspected that the SL had planned a car-bomb attack against US interests to coincide with the 3 December birthday of jailed SL founder Abimael Guzman. (Car bombings were a regular component of SL's modus operandi during the 1980s and early 1990s.)

Peru continued to pursue a number of individuals accused of committing terrorist acts in 2001, and notable captures included several key SL members. Among these were the arrests in October of Ruller Mazoombite (a.k.a. Camarada Cayo), chief of the protection team for SL leader Macario Ala (a.k.a. Artemio), and Evoricio Ascencios (a.k.a. Camarada Canale), the logistics chief of the Huallaga Regional Committee. By the end of November, some 259 suspected terrorists had been arrested.

Since September 11, Lima has been a regional leader in strongly supporting antiterrorism initiatives through the drafting and passage of key legislation (some still pending at year's end) against money laundering as well as adopting an even more active stance against terrorism in general. In late September, Peru introduced a draft Inter-American Convention against Terrorism at the OAS and, in October, assumed the chair of the Border Controls Working Group of the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism. Peru has remained very receptive to antiterrorism training opportunities and has participated in the US State Department Antiterrorism Training Assistance program since 1986. Peru has yet to issue blocking orders on terrorist assets, however.

Triborder (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay)

South America's triborder area (TBA)—-where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge and which hosts a large Arab population—took on a new prominence in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States. Although arms and drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and pirated goods have long been associated with this region, it also has been characterized as a hub for Hizballah and HAMAS activities, particularly for logistic and financial purposes. At year's end, press reports of al-Qaida operatives in the TBA had been disproved or remained uncorroborated by intelligence and law-enforcement officials.

All three governments, especially Paraguay took steps to rein in the individuals most strongly suspected of materially aiding terrorist groups—most prominently Hizballah—and continued to monitor the area as well as hold outstanding arrest warrants for those not yet captured. Security officials from each country, as well as a contingent from Uruguay, continued to coordinate closely on sharing information. The four nations also were trying to improve very limited joint operations in the fight against terrorism. The governments also condemned the September 11 attacks and generally stood in strong support of US counterterrorism efforts.

Argentina suffered no acts of terrorism in 2001. The oral trial for alleged Argentine accomplices to the terrorist attack in 1994 on the Argentine-Israeli Community Center (AMIA) began in late September. Twenty suspects are being tried—of whom 15 are former police officers, and include a one-time Buenos Aires police captain—and are accused of supplying the stolen vehicle that carried the car bomb. The trial is expected to last through much of 2002.

Argentine authorities also continued to investigate the bombing in 1992 of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and to seek those directly responsible for the AMIA attack. A team of FBI investigators—at Argentina's request—visited the country in June to work jointly with the legal and judicial officials involved in the AMIA bombing to review the investigation. Despite the elapsed time since the attacks, the public trial of the accessories now underway has led some to expect that new information relating to one or both of these terrorist acts will come to light.

In Brazil, one incident occurred during 2001 that could be characterized as a terrorist incident—an after-hours bombing of a McDonald's restaurant in Rio de Janeiro in October. The incident resulted in property damage but no injuries, and while Brazilian police suspect antiglobalization extremists perpetrated the attack, no arrests were made.

Following the September 11 attacks, Brasilia initiated and led a successful campaign to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (the Rio Treaty) in support of the United States. Brazil also played host to a conference in November on regional counterterrorism initiatives and participated in several other regional meetings on counterterrorist cooperation. Brazil raided several clandestine telephone centers from which calls to numerous Middle Eastern countries had been traced. Brazilian officials were still investigating possible links to terrorist activities.

Since September 11, Paraguay has been an active and prominent partner in the war on terror. It has, inter alia, arrested some 23 individuals suspected of Hizballah/HAMAS fundraising, initiated a ministerial-level dialogue with regional governments, cracked down on visa and passport fraud, and hosted, in late December, a successful regional counterterrorism seminar that included a keynote speech by the United States Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

Paraguayan officials raided a variety of businesses and detained numerous suspects believed to have materially aided either Hizballah or HAMAS, primarily in the triborder city of Ciudad del Este or in Encarnaci�n. Prominent among the raids were the arrests on 3 October of Mazen Ali Saleh and Saleh Mahmoud Fayad (on criminal association/tax evasion charges) and the arrest on 8 November of Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad (on criminal association and related charges); all three are linked to Hizballah. In addition, the businesses that were raided revealed extensive ties to Hizballah—in particular, records showed the transfers of millions of dollars to Hizballah
operatives, "charities," and entities worldwide. Several other TBA personalities, including Assad Barakat and Ali Hassan Abdallah, are considered fugitives. Barakat, who is considered Hizballah's principal TBA leader, lives in Foz do Iguazu, but owns a business ("Casa Apollo") in Ciudad del Este; Paraguay has sought an INTERPOL warrant for his arrest.

Among the others arrested were some 17 ethnic Arabs (mostly Lebanese) on charges of possessing false documents; Paraguayan officials suspect some have links to HAMAS. Three Paraguayans—an attorney, a consular officer, and an Interior Ministry employee—also were arrested in connection with fraudulently issuing immigration documents to the 17 individuals.

Asunci�n, through its money-laundering unit, also identified 46 individuals who transferred funds in a suspicious manner from accounts held by Middle Eastern customers or to Middle East organizations.

Despite the apparent successes, Paraguayan counterterrorist enforcement continued to be impeded by a lack of specific criminal legislation against terrorist activities, although such a bill was introduced before the legislature. Until its passage, Paraguay must rely on charges such as criminal association, tax evasion, money laundering, or possession of false documents to hold suspects. Pervasive corruption also continued to be a problem for Paraguay, and some suspected terrorists were able to co-opt law-enforcement or judicial officials.


Uruguay suffered no acts of international terrorism in 2001. Before September 11, Montevideo had been involved in an effort to create a permanent working group on terrorism with neighboring countries. Since September 11, Uruguay has actively supported various regional counterterrorism conventions and initiatives, paying particular attention to the triborder area as well as to its shared border with Brazil.

Egypt has asked Uruguay to extradite a suspected terrorist in a case that came before Uruguay's courts in 2001. The defendant, al-Said Hassan Mokhles, is a member of the Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group, IG)—a group with ties to al-Qa'ida. Although the Court of Appeals granted his extradition, Mokhles has appealed his case to the Uruguayan Supreme Court. Mokhles was imprisoned, charged with document fraud, as his suspected IG activities took place before he arrived in Uruguay; there is no reported IG cell presence in Uruguay.


Following the events of September 11, Venezuela joined the rest of the OAS in condemning the attacks, and Venezuelan officials worked closely with US officials to track down terrorist assets in Venezuela's financial system. Venezuela condemned terrorism but opposed using force to combat it.

It was widely reported in the press that Venezuela maintained contact with the FARC and ELN and may have helped them obtain arms and ammunition; the press reports also included turning a blind eye to occasional cross-border insurgency and extortion by FARC and ELN operatives of Venezuelan ranchers.

In December 2001, Venezuela extradited Colombian national (and accused ELN member) Jose Maria Ballestas, wanted as a suspect for his role in the hijacking of an Avianca aircraft in Colombia in April 1999.

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