Chapter 2. Country Reports: Western Hemisphere Overview
"Terrorism, whatever its justification or ideological motivations, has no place in the community of values that we have forged with so much difficulty. Mexico condemns it and affirms its will to cooperate on the basis of international law in order to prevent terrorist acts and to punish its authors."
--Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, President of Mexico
UN General Assembly, New York City
September 24, 2008
Regionally based Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) in Colombia, and remnants of radical leftist Andean groups were the primary perpetrators of terrorist acts in the Western Hemisphere in 2008.
In May 2008 Venezuela was re-certified as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended. Cuba remained a state sponsor of terrorism.
The threat of a transnational terrorist attack remained low for most countries in the Western Hemisphere. Overall, governments took modest steps to improve their counterterrorism capabilities and tighten border security, but corruption, weak government institutions, ineffective or lack of interagency cooperation, weak or non-existent legislation, and reluctance to allocate sufficient resources limited progress. Some countries, like Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Paraguay, Mexico, and El Salvador, made serious prevention and preparedness efforts. Others lacked urgency and resolve to address counterterrorism deficiencies. Most countries began to look seriously at possible connections between transnational criminal organizations and terrorist organizations.
Colombia maintained and strengthened its “Democratic Security” strategy, which combines military, intelligence, police operations, efforts to demobilize combatants, and the provision of public services in rural areas previously dominated by armed groups. The Colombian military crippled the FARC’s communications, destroyed major caches of weapon and supplies, and reduced the group’s financial resources through counternarcotics and other security operations. Kidnappings in Colombia by both the FARC and other criminal groups have significantly decreased.
On July 2, a Colombian military operation rescued three U.S. Department of Defense contractors, former Colombian presidential candidate and Senator Ingrid Betancourt, and eleven Colombians held by the FARC. The three Americans, taken hostage in February 2003, were the longest-held U.S. hostages in the world at the time of their rescue.
After years of seeming invincibility, the FARC’s Secretariat suffered several key losses in 2008. A Colombian military strike on March 1 killed Secretariat member Raúl Reyes at his camp just across the Ecuadorian border, followed less than a week later by the killing of Secretariat member Iván Ríos at the hands of one of his own security guards. Secretariat member and FARC founder Manuel Marulanda (“Tirofijo”) died in late March, reportedly of natural causes. Colombian security forces also captured or killed a number of mid-level FARC leaders and reduced the amount of territory where terrorists could freely operate. At least 3,027 FARC members deserted in 2008, a record number that surpassed the previous year’s record number of 2,480.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago extradited to the United States two Guyanese and one Trinidadian indicted in the United States in 2007 and accused of plotting to destroy a fuel pipeline at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Mexico and Canada were key counterterrorism partners. Cooperation with them was broad and deep, involving all levels of government and virtually all agencies, in several initiatives. Recognizing the threat from terrorist transit, the Mexican government worked with the United States to enhance aviation, border, maritime, and transportation security; to secure critical infrastructure; and to combat terrorist financing. The United States and Mexico also worked together to mitigate the threat of violence or assassination against high level officials of the Mexican Government. United States-Canadian counterterrorism cooperation took place in a number of established forums, including the terrorism subgroup of the Cross Border Crime Forum, the Shared Border Accord Coordinating Committee, and the Bilateral Consultative Group on Counterterrorism (BCG). Each year, the BCG brings together U.S. and Canadian counterterrorism officials from over a dozen agencies to coordinate policy on bioterrorism, information sharing, and joint counterterrorism training.
The United States enjoyed solid cooperation on terrorism-related matters from most hemispheric partners, especially at the operational level, and maintained excellent intelligence, law enforcement, and legal assistance relations with most countries. The hemisphere boasts the OAS Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, which is the only permanent regional multilateral organization focused exclusively on counterterrorism.
The Governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, have long been concerned with arms and drugs smuggling, document fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of contraband goods in the border region where their three countries meet. In the early 1990s, they established a mechanism to address these illicit activities. In 2002, at their invitation, the United States joined them in what became the "3+1 Group on Tri-Border Area Security" to improve the capabilities of the three to address cross-border crime and thwart money laundering and potential terrorist financing activities.
The United States remained concerned that Hizballah and HAMAS sympathizers were raising funds in the Tri-Border Area by participating in illicit activities and soliciting donations from sympathizers in the sizable Middle Eastern communities in the region. There was no corroborated information, however, that these or other Islamic extremist groups had an operational presence in the region.
Argentina cooperated well with the United States at the operational level, and addressed many of the legal and institutional weaknesses that previously hindered its counterterrorism efforts. With U.S. support, the Government of Argentina continued to build law enforcement capacity along its eastern and its remote northern borders, dealing with challenges of drug trafficking, contraband, and other international crime. The United States government also provided equipment donations for chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear first responder operations and training to high level government officials to create more awareness about the potential threat from terrorists or terrorist organizations operating in the hemisphere. In 2007, the National Coordination Unit in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights became fully functional, managing the government's anti-money laundering and counterterrorist finance efforts and representing Argentina to the Financial Action Task Force, Financial Action Task Force of South America, and Group of Experts of the Inter-American Commission for the Control of the Abuse of Drugs (CICAD) of the Organization of American States’ CICAD Group of Experts. The Attorney General's special prosecution unit, set up to handle money laundering and terrorism finance cases, began operations in 2007. In 2008, the Argentine Central Bank's Superintendent of Banks began specific anti-money laundering and counterterrorist finance inspections of financial entities and exchange houses. The Argentine government and Central Bank remained committed to freezing assets of terrorist groups identified by the United Nations in Argentine financial institutions.
On November 9, 2006, an Argentine judge issued arrest warrants for eight current and former Iranian government officials and one member of Hizballah, who were indicted in the July 18, 1994 terrorist bombing of the Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) that killed 85 and injured over 150 people.1 Despite Iranian objections, on November 7, 2007, the INTERPOL General Assembly voted to uphold the Executive Committee's decision and the Red Notices were issued. At the 2008 UN General Assembly, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called on Iran to surrender the suspects to face charges in Argentina.
On December 16, 2008, at the AMIA Special Prosecutor's request, the presiding Argentine judge in a civil suit against the Iranian suspects and Hizballah ordered the attachment of six commercial properties in Argentina allegedly owned by former Iran Cultural Attaché and named suspect Mohsen Rabbani. The judge also requested that select European governments freeze up to USD one million in bank accounts allegedly belonging to former Iranian President Ali Hasehmi Rafsanjani and another Iranian accused of involvement in the attacks.
The government of Belize cooperated with the United States by sharing information and assistance to the extent of its limited resources. The Belize Defense Force (990 total personnel) has operated a Counterterrorism Platoon (Belize Special Assignment Group comprising 35 persons) for approximately two years to perform operations within the territory of Belize and its territorial waters in support of civil authorities. Belize's borders are extremely porous and it remained easy to change identity by purchasing stolen passports. The country is sparsely populated and has limited human and technological resources to monitor individuals and groups residing within or transiting through its borders.
The Bolivian government deepened its relationship with Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, in 2008. On September 5, during an official visit to Tehran, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that Bolivia would open a new Embassy in Iran. Morales also announced that Iran would help Bolivia develop its petrochemicals, cement fabrication, and agricultural sectors. Iranian state television agreed to provide Spanish-language programming to Bolivian state television.
On December 11, the Egmont Group announced the expulsion of Bolivia because of continued lack of adequate terrorist financing legislation. This followed Bolivia’s suspension from the group in 2007. In October a working group was formed by the Bolivian Vice Ministry for Justice, the Counternarcotics Directorate, and the Financial Investigation Unit, with support from the U.S. Embassy’s Narcotics Affairs Section and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It submitted legislation designed to control money laundering, including terrorist financing, to the National Council for Political and Social Economy and the Ministerial Counternarcotics Council for analysis and approval prior to submission to the Bolivian Congress. As of December, the legislation had not been forwarded to Congress.
The Brazilian government continued to be a cooperative partner in countering terrorism, including investigating potential terrorism financing, document forgery networks, and other illicit activity. Operationally, elements of the Brazilian Government responsible for combating terrorism, such as the Federal Police, Customs, and the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, worked effectively with their U.S. counterparts and diligently pursued investigative leads provided by U.S. intelligence, law enforcement, and financial agencies regarding terrorist suspects.
Brazil's intelligence and law enforcement services were concerned that terrorists could exploit Brazilian territory to support and facilitate terrorist attacks, whether domestically or abroad, and have focused their efforts in the areas of Sao Paulo; the tri-border areas of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay; Brazil, Peru, and Colombia; and the Colombian and Venezuelan borders. Brazil's recognition of the potential threat from terrorism prompted a reform of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) that raised the profile of the issue by upgrading the counterterrorism division to the department level. ABIN hosted a multilateral conference on counterterrorism involving the security services of several South American countries. Together with the United Nations Organization for Crime and Drugs, ABIN co-hosted an international conference on terrorist financing. Brazil participated in international counterterrorism forums such as the 3+1 Mechanism on Security in the Tri-Border Area, the Working Group on Terrorism of the Common Market of the South (Mercosul), and the Sub-working Group on Financial Issues, which discusses terrorist financing and money laundering among the Mercosul countries.
Bilaterally, the USG provided a variety of training courses throughout Brazil in counterterrorism, combating money laundering, detection of travel document fraud, container security, and international organized crime. Brazil and the United States began exchanging information on critical infrastructure protection issues.
Although Brazil has no official list of terrorist groups and does not recognize the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) as a terrorist organization, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been critical of the FARC's use of violence and has publicly called on the group to desist in the armed struggle against the Colombian government. President Lula also signaled a renewed commitment to cooperate with the Colombian government that could help curtail the FARC's activities along Brazil’s border. In July, Lula and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed bilateral accords to cooperate on combating the illicit trafficking of weapons and munitions; to enhance defense cooperation; and, together with Peru, to combat the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and munitions by increasing intelligence sharing and joint patrolling of border riverways.
Brazil was capable of monitoring domestic financial operations and effectively utilized its financial intelligence unit, the Financial Activities Oversight Council (COAF), to identify possible funding sources for terrorist groups. Through the COAF, Brazil has carried out name checks for persons and entities on the UNSCR 1267 list, but has so far not found any assets, accounts, or property in the names of persons or entities on the UNSCR 1267.
Brazil also continued to undertake steps to enhance its capabilities to combat money laundering. Since 2003, Brazil has established fifteen specialized money-laundering courts, including two in São Paulo, with each court headed by a judge who received specialized training in national money laundering legislation. In 2008, the United States and Brazil established a working group with money laundering judges to share best practices and training needs.
In 2006, Brazil adopted a national anti-money laundering strategy goal building on the success of the specialized courts by creating complementary specialized federal police financial crimes units in the same jurisdictions. In 2008, the Federal Police established such units in the Federal District (Brasilia), and the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. In addition, the Ministry of Justice funded the creation of technology centers to combat money laundering in the Federal District and Rio de Janeiro, the latter of which received two such centers, one embedded with the Public Ministry and one with the state Civil Police. In 2008, the Ministry signed accords to establish additional centers in Bahia, Goiás, and Rio Grande do Sul.
The Brazilian government’s counterterrorism strategy consisted of deterring terrorists from using Brazilian territory to facilitate attacks or raise funds by aggressively monitoring and suppressing transnational criminal activities that could support terrorist actions. It accomplished this through effective actions between its law enforcement entities and cooperation with the United States and other partners in the region.
Brazil and the United States continued to work together through the Container Security Initiative in Santos to promote secure containerized cargo to the United States and through the establishment of a Trade Transparency Unit to detect money laundering through trade transactions.
The Brazilian government achieved visible results from recent investments in border and law enforcement infrastructure that were executed with a view to gradually control the flow of goods, both legal and illegal, through the Tri-border Area (TBA). Brazilian Customs (Receita Federal) continued to take effective action to suppress the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and contraband goods along the border with Paraguay. According to Receita Federal, the agency interdicted more than $76 million in smuggled goods, including drugs, weapons, and munitions, an increase of eight percent from 2007. Because of the effective crackdown on the Friendship Bridge2, most smuggling operations took place through the Paraná River and Lago de Itaipú and some have migrated to other sections of the border such as the towns of Guaíra and Ponta Porã. The Federal Police had Special Maritime Police Units in both Foz do Iguaçu and Guaíra that aggressively patrolled the maritime border areas.
The Brazilian government’s failure to strengthen its legal counterterrorism framework significantly undermined its overall commitment to combating terrorism and the illicit activities that could be used to facilitate terrorism. Two key counterterrorism-related legislative initiatives continued to languish. A counterterrorism bill that would have established the crime of terrorism and other associated crimes was drafted but shelved before its introduction in Congress, and the Brazilian Congress had not approved a long-delayed anti-money laundering bill at year’s end. The latter bill would have facilitated greater law enforcement access to financial and banking records during investigations, criminalized illicit enrichment, allowed administrative freezing of assets, and facilitated prosecutions of money laundering cases by amending the legal definition of money laundering, making it an autonomous offense.
In 2008, United States-Canadian counterterrorism cooperation continued in a number of established fora, including the terrorism sub-group of the Cross Border Crime Forum, the Shared Border Accord Coordinating Committee, and the Bilateral Consultative Group (BCG), which meets on an annual basis. At its January meeting, U.S. and Canadian counterterrorism officials from over a dozen agencies met to coordinate policies on terrorism and share information.
In Afghanistan, Canada’s presence has grown to a 2,750-person battle group that is taking the fight to the Taliban insurgency in Kandahar province as part of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command South. Canada continued to provide a Provincial Reconstruction Team for stabilization and development efforts, and led a major initiative to improve cross border coordination between Afghan and Pakistani authorities, including police and military, and to enhance the capacities of the units that work to secure the border and prevent insurgent and terrorist crossings. As of December, Canada had lost 103 soldiers, one diplomat, and two aid workers in Afghanistan. It has suffered the highest proportion of casualties to troops deployed of any NATO member in country. During the October national election campaign, Prime Minister Harper re-affirmed that Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan would end in 2011.
Canada helped other countries address terrorism and terrorist financing with its Counterterrorism Capacity Building Program, a USD 12 million a year program to provide training, advice, and technical assistance to counterpart agencies. Through this program, Canada provided assistance to several countries in the Caribbean to draft new counterterrorism legislation and conducted intelligence training for border officials on the Afghan-Pakistani border and financial intelligence training for officials in India. Through its Cross Cultural Roundtable and Muslim Outreach program, Canada has actively engaged its citizens in a dialogue on a broad range of national security issues, including terrorism. The Muslim Communities Working Group in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade continued its efforts abroad to enhance Canada’s relationships with the countries of the Muslim world, focusing on the promotion of democratic governance, pluralism, and human rights. Canada currently has two projects under the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism: a capacity-building program on document security; and fraud prevention in El Salvador for all the countries of Central America, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Canada sponsors projects as part of the OAS’ Hemispheric Security Group. These projects have included efforts to combat identity theft, improve port security in Jamaica, and hemisphere-wide cyber-security.
In 2008, Canada secured its first convictions under the 2001 Antiterrorism Act. In September, a Toronto court convicted a 20-year-old man for conspiring in a group plot to bomb several Canadian targets, including Parliament Hill, Royal Canadian Mounted Police headquarters, and nuclear power plants. Canada’s Criminal Youth Justice Act protects his identity. The court had not set a sentencing date at year’s end. The government dropped charges against seven alleged co-conspirators; ten of the accused awaited trial at year’s end. The remaining individuals faced charges including participation in alleged terrorist training and terrorist financing.
In a separate trial in October, a Canadian judge convicted Momin Khawaja of five charges of financing and facilitating terrorism and two criminal code offenses related to building a remote-control device that could trigger bombs. Police arrested Khawaja in 2004, accusing him of conspiring with a British al-Qa’ida (AQ) cell in a thwarted London bomb plot in that same year. Khawaja faces a maximum of two life terms, plus a consecutive 58 years. In both cases, the judges upheld the constitutionality of Section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act, which allows Canada to protect sensitive foreign government information from public disclosure.
Police in Quebec arrested Said Namouh in September in connection with the arrest in Austria of three members of the Global Islamic Media Front, an AQ-linked propaganda and recruitment organization. Police charged Namouh with plotting a terrorist attack against an unspecified foreign country but found no direct threat to Canada. Namouh remained in custody pending a January bail hearing. In November, working in cooperation with French authorities, Canadian police arrested an Ottawa university instructor in connection with the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue, which killed four people. In June and October, in separate immigration cases, the Canadian Border Services Agency deported two alleged “Basque Homeland and Freedom” terrorists back to Spain to face criminal charges following a request from the Spanish government.
Two important pieces of legislation that the government introduced to Parliament in October 2007 met different fates during 2008. One was a bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow for continued application of “security certificates,” which have been in use for several decades as a way to detain, pending deportation, foreign nationals deemed to be a security threat. The bill provided for a group of cleared “special advocates” to challenge the evidence on behalf of the accused and for an initial judicial review of detainees in the first 48 hours of arrest and at six-month intervals. Parliament passed this bill, which entered into force on February 14. Five individuals are currently subject to security certificates. The government dropped one individual’s certificate. The government released four of the certificate holders from detention subject to conditions on their movement, while one individual under a certificate remained in custody. Legal challenges to the security certificate regime continued.
The second bill was part of a mandatory review of the 2001 Antiterrorism Act. Two provisions of the Act – investigative hearings permitting police to apply for an order requiring a witness to appear before a judge and answer questions; and preventive arrest, whereby police may bring an individual before a judge in the early stages of terrorist activity to disrupt a potential terrorist attack – had sunset clauses and lapsed in February. Although the Senate passed this bill, the Commons had not done so when Governor General Michaelle Jean, on advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, dissolved Parliament to hold an October 14 national election. The new government of Prime Minister Harper vowed to reintroduce this legislation in the new Parliament in 2009. Other provisions of the 2001 Act remained in effect.
On December 12, Canada and the United States renewed the bilateral agreement on emergency management cooperation, updating a 1986 accord. It established the basis for mutual assistance in sending supplies, equipment, emergency personnel, and expert support in response to natural and man-made incidents, including those related to terrorism. It provided for integrated responses and relief efforts during cross-border incidents, delineated a comprehensive and harmonized approach to emergency management, and established a framework for a joint response to emergent threats.
In December, Canada renewed formal counterterrorism research and development activities with the United States by extending a 1995 Memorandum of Understanding. The agreement, between Canada’s Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Department of Defense, allows the countries to pursue joint technical requirements for combating terrorism across a spectrum of activities, including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear countermeasures; physical security and blast mitigation; explosives detection; and countermeasures for improvised explosive devices. Canada also pursued science and technology goals with the United States through the Public Security Technical Program, which began in 2003.
Canada significantly expanded and refined its Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI). The CRTI integrates people and knowledge from the Canadian scientific, technology, law enforcement, national security, public health, policy, and first responder communities to pursue innovative approaches to counterterrorism through CBRNE science and technology. Canadian authorities base the broad program on an annual risk assessment and priority setting process that cover areas including CBRNE detection and identification, criminal and national security investigation capabilities, emergency casualty treatment for CBRNE events, food safety, public confidence, and socio-behavioral issues.
In February, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released a Mutual Evaluation on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorist Finance (AML/CFT) in Canada. According to the report, Canada has strengthened its overall AML/CFT regime since its last evaluation in 1997, but Canada’s regime was generally insufficient to meet FATF recommendations. Following the FATF report, Canada amended the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) in June to bring Canada more in line with international standards, including the FATF’s. The PCMLTFA amendments introduced a risk-based approach as a key element of the compliance regime, allowing reporting entities to assess their own vulnerabilities, identify high-risk areas, and allocate resources appropriately. In December, the Canadian government gave Canada’s financial intelligence unit the power to issue administrative fines in addition to assessing criminal penalties.
In March, Canada charged an alleged Tamil Tiger fundraiser under the country's laws against terrorist financing. Ontario resident Prapaharan Thambithurai stands accused of raising money for the World Tamil Movement. His trial is pending, and he remained free on bail at year’s end. In November, the Minister of Public Safety announced that Canada had completed the mandatory two-year review of listed terrorist entities, and decided that the forty-one entities previously on the list should remain listed.
Chilean law enforcement actively cooperated in international terrorism investigations and with U.S. efforts to monitor and combat terrorist financing. Law Enforcement officials monitored possible links between extremists in Chile's Iquique Free Trade Zone and those in the Tri-Border Area, as trade links between these two areas were increasing. Chile's National Intelligence Agency remained mostly an analytical body, relying on law enforcement and investigative agencies for the vast majority of collection and operations.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continued to support Chile’s Carabineros, the National Military Police, and Gendarmes, in a number of matters related to domestic terrorism. To promote cooperation in identifying, controlling, and more efficiently preventing violent crimes and transnational organized crime, the FBI signed memoranda of cooperation with Chile’s four principal law enforcement agencies; the National Prosecutors of the Public Ministry (Fiscalía Nacional – Ministerio Público), Chilean Customs (Aduanas), the Carabineros, and the Investigative police (Policía de Investigaciones, or PDI).
The Carabineros have become members of the FBI’s South America Fingerprint Exchange (SAFE) Initiative, a biometric exchange program wherein foreign governments provide and exchange biometric information on violent criminal offenders with the USG. The Department of State conducted a two-week Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program on Interdicting Terrorist Attack, that was attended by members of the Carabineros and the PDI.
U.S. law enforcement agencies working in the Embassy continued to monitor the Coordinadora Arauco Melleca (CAM), a violent Mapuche Indian group in southern Chile that has burned fields and attacked police while fighting for land it claims belongs to it. CAM appears to have begun to organize itself and recent incidents have demonstrated increased planning and a more professional use of weapons and tactics.
Chilean police continued monitoring for possible contacts between Mapuche groups and armed political movements in Latin America and Spain. The well trained Grupo de Operaciones Policiales Especiales, a 300-person unit of the Carabineros, served as the nation's primary counterterrorist reaction force and participates annually in Exercise Fuerzas Comando, a U.S. Special Operations Command South-sponsored special operations seminar designed to refine the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by Special Operations counterterrorism forces.
The Government of Colombia continued vigorous law enforcement, intelligence, military, and economic measures against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), along with operations against remaining elements of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Colombia increased its counterterrorism cooperation and training efforts in the region. The threat of extradition to the United States remained a strong weapon against drug traffickers and terrorists. In 2008, Colombia extradited a record 208 defendants to the United States for prosecution; most were Colombian nationals.
The administration of President Álvaro Uribe maintained its focus on defeating and demobilizing Colombia's terrorist groups through its “Democratic Security” policy, which combines military, intelligence, police operations, efforts to demobilize combatants, and the provision of public services in rural areas previously dominated by illegal armed groups.
On July 2, a Colombian military operation rescued three U.S. Department of Defense contractors, former Colombian presidential candidate and Senator Ingrid Betancourt, and eleven Colombians held by the FARC. The three Americans, kidnapped in February 2003, were the longest-held U.S. hostages in the world at the time of their rescue.
After years of seeming invincibility, the FARC’s Secretariat suffered several key losses in 2008. On March 1, a Colombian military strike killed Secretariat member Raúl Reyes at his camp just across the Ecuadorian border, followed less than a week later by the killing of Secretariat member Iván Ríos at the hands of one of his own security guards. Secretariat member and FARC founder Manuel Marulanda (“Tirofijo”) died in late March, reportedly of natural causes.
In addition to the high-profile hostage rescue and the severe blows to the FARC Secretariat, Colombian security forces captured or killed a number of mid-level FARC leaders, debriefed terrorist group deserters for detailed information on their respective units, and reduced the amount of territory where terrorists could freely operate. The Colombian military crippled the FARC’s communications network, destroyed major caches of weapon and supplies, and reduced the group’s financial resources through counternarcotics and other security operations.
Additionally, a record number of FARC members deserted in 2008, yet another sign of the organization's deteriorating power. Desertions increased among mid-level and in some cases senior FARC leaders, such as FARC commander Nelly Ávila Moreno (“Karina”), who deserted in May. FARC desertions in 2008 numbered at least 3,027, surpassing the previous year’s record number of 2,480.
Despite the ongoing campaign against the FARC, the group continued tactical-level terrorism, kidnapping for profit and maintained 28 “political” hostages including former Meta Governor Alan Jara and Valle del Cauca Assemblyman Sigifredo López. The FARC also continued narcotrafficking activities, launched several bombings against military and civilian targets in urban areas, and targeted numerous rural outposts, infrastructure targets, and political adversaries in dozens of attacks. Examples of 2008 terrorist activity attributed to the FARC included the following:
- In March, the FARC attacked electrical towers in Nariño and Cauca, cutting off power to numerous municipalities;
- In August, a bomb in Ituango, Antioquia killed seven and wounded 50;
- In August, a car bomb in front of the Justice Palace in Cali killed four and wounded 26;
- In August, two Bogota supermarkets were targeted with small incendiary devices;
- In November, guerrillas from the FARC’s 49th Front in Neiva killed Caquetá council member Edinson Javier Pérez;
- In November, FARC members killed teacher Dora Liliana Saavedra and her husband Ferney Ledesma, in front of schoolchildren, for entertaining Colombian Army members at their home;
- In December, the FARC attacked a humanitarian caravan led by the Colombian Family Welfare Institute in Caquetá department with a roadside bomb, killing two health workers.
Peace talks between the government of Colombia and the ELN remained stalled throughout the year due to ELN intransigence. International and local efforts to coax the ELN back to the negotiating table—including efforts by former ELN leader Antonio Bermúdez (“Francisco Galán”), who announced his resignation from the group to focus on peace talks in 2008—made little progress. The ELN remained in the field, but with diminished resources, a dwindling membership of approximately 2,000 fighters, and reduced offensive capability. Still, the ELN inflicted casualties on the Colombian military through increased use of land mines. It continued to fund its operations through narcotics trafficking. The ELN and FARC clashed over territory in northeastern and southern Colombia, and the ELN continued kidnapping and extortion. Numerous ELN fronts increased their drug trafficking activities in an effort to stem losses suffered by the government of Colombia and the FARC.
The Colombian government continued to process and investigate demobilized paramilitaries under the Justice and Peace Law (JPL), which offers judicial benefits and reduced prison sentences for qualifying demobilizing terrorists. The law requires all participants to confess fully to their crimes as members of a terrorist group and to return all illicit profits. More than 32,000 rank-and-file ex-AUC members who did not commit serious crimes have demobilized, and many were receiving benefits through the government’s reintegration program, including psychosocial attention, education, healthcare, and career development opportunities. Over 160,000 victims have registered under the JPL, although Colombian government efforts to create measures to provide reparations stalled. Some former paramilitaries continued to engage in criminal activities after demobilization, mostly in drug trafficking, but the AUC as a formal organization remained inactive.
In May, the Colombian government extradited 14 former top AUC leaders to the United States for prosecution for narcotrafficking offenses, and for failure to comply with their JPL obligations. Several have continued to testify about their crimes from the United States in hopes of reduced penalties in Colombia when they complete their U.S. sentences and the USG returns them to Colombia. Still, the Uribe administration suspended extraditions of several alleged AUC members who were cooperating with the paramilitary peace process under the JPL. The United States continued to seek their extraditions.
The Colombian government continued to seek the extradition of three Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. The Colombian courts first acquitted the three of charges that they trained the FARC on bomb tactics and then, following an appeal by the prosecution, sentenced them to 17 years in prison. The three fled Colombia while on bail and resurfaced in Ireland in August 2005. Colombia’s extradition request remained under review before the Irish courts and the three fugitives remained at large.
Colombia kept up its close cooperation with the United States to block terrorists' assets. Financial institutions closed drug trafficking and terrorism-related accounts on Colombian government orders or in response to designation by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Aerial and manual eradication of illicit drugs in Colombia, key to targeting terrorist group finances, covered about 225,000 hectares of illegal drug crops, thus depriving terrorist groups of potentially huge profits. OFAC carried out several designation actions against the financial assets and networks of narcotics traffickers and narcoterrorists (like the FARC) pursuant to Executive Order 12978 and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The OFAC sanctions investigations specifically targeted networks of money exchange businesses in Colombia that laundered narcotics proceeds for the FARC. The United States government continued to support the Government of Colombia in its efforts to decrease the number of kidnappings in that country and to support computer investigations and forensics units. These units were responsible for analysis of computer equipment seized during many security operations.
Colombia continued to expand its role as a regional leader in counterterrorism and provided training to several other countries, including combating terrorist financing. The Colombian government continued to seek enhanced regional counterterrorism cooperation to target terrorist safe havens in vulnerable border areas and provided counterterrorism training to officials from partner countries across the region. Colombia and Mexico significantly increased joint training and operations against narcoterrorist organizations operating in both countries, and President Uribe and Mexican President Felipe Calderón met November 10, announcing they would enhance their joint counternarcotics and counterterrorism cooperation.
In March, Ecuador suspended diplomatic relations and counterterrorism cooperation with Colombia to protest the Raúl Reyes camp attack, and the bilateral relationship remained frozen at year’s end. Venezuela followed suit, but restored diplomatic relations with Colombia at the Rio Group Summit in the Dominican Republic later in March. President Uribe has called on both governments to engage against the FARC and for Nicaragua to turn over FARC members given asylum there after the attack that killed Reyes.
The Dominican Republic is considered a transit point for suspected terrorists and extremists to Europe, Africa, and within the Western Hemisphere. Despite good intentions, the Dominican government lacked the ability to control its air, land, and sea borders fully, due in part to corruption and the mismanagement of resources. While many land border, freight, and airline hubs remained permeable, some strides were taken, such as the Container Security Initiative. The United States assisted Dominican Customs in:
- Establishing criteria to use non-intrusive inspection equipment to screen high risk
- maritime containers that could smuggle nuclear and radioactive material into U.S. ports;
- Identification of Port Caucedo as a Megaport and its certification as part of the Customs
- Trade Partnership Against Terrorism initiative; and
- Creating a counterterrorism task force to counter transnational insurgents involved in narcotics trafficking.
The United States provided training and equipment to Dominican agencies involved in counterterrorism efforts. It helped introduce biometrics equipment at the Headquarters of the Dominican National Police and other key locations, which enabled U.S. and Dominican authorities to receive timely biometric data from Dominican military, law enforcement, and judicial databases. It assisted with the training and development of an elite military hostage rescue team, and the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program helped train a nationally deployable Police Explosives Ordinance Unit.
Ecuador's greatest counterterrorism and security challenge remained the presence of Colombian narcotics and insurgent/terrorist groups in the northern border region. In order to evade Colombian military operations, these groups, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), regularly used Ecuadorian territory for rest, recuperation, resupply, and training, as well as coca processing and limited planting and production, thereby involving significant numbers of Ecuadorians in direct or indirect ways. The porous 450-mile border and the lack of adequate licit employment opportunities for Ecuadorians in the region have made the area vulnerable to narcoterrorist influence and created a contraband economy. Ecuadorian officials along the border believed the FARC’s economic impact allowed it to buy silence and compliance.
Ecuador stepped up its response to this threat, although it continued to face constraints on resources and limited capabilities. The Correa Administration, while maintaining the country's traditional neutrality with respect to the Colombian conflict, has stated it opposed armed encroachments of any kind across its borders. On March 1, a Colombian attack in Ecuadorian territory caused the destruction of a FARC camp and the death of FARC Secretariat member Raúl Reyes. Colombian analysis of documents contained within laptops recovered at the camp suggested elements within the Ecuadorian government had connections to the FARC. The Correa administration strongly denied ties to the FARC, claiming that the only Ecuadorian government contacts with the FARC were to negotiate the release of hostages. The government shifted troops to the border region and continued to promote a development agenda along its northern border in concert with international donors to spur economic development in the area.
Ecuador's security forces conducted operations against FARC training and logistical resupply camps along the northern border. The Ecuadorian military increased the number of operations in Ecuador's northern border region. The military’s operational tempo, already higher in early 2008 than in previous years, increased further after the March 1 attack. A total of over 100 battalion-level operations along the northern border led to the discovery and destruction of 11 cocaine producing laboratories, over 130 FARC facilities (bases, houses, and resupply camps), the eradication of nine hectares of coca, and the confiscation of weapons, communications equipment, and other support equipment. These operations also netted valuable information on FARC activities and infrastructure both inside and outside of Ecuador, and resulted in the detention of 20 FARC members and the killing of one FARC member during the year. Despite increasing successes in this effort, insufficient resources, the challenging border region terrain, and a terse bilateral relationship with Colombia since the March 1, 2008 raid made it difficult to thwart cross-border incursions.
Other groups present in Ecuador, although less active in the last couple of years, included the Popular Combatants Group, the Revolutionary Militia of the People, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Ecuador, and the Alfarista Liberation Army.
The Ecuadorian government continued to strengthen controls over money laundering through the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which it established under a 2005 Money Laundering Law. The FIU cooperated closely with the Anti-Narcotics Police Directorate, the Superintendent of Banks, the courts, and the private banker association to identify suspicious transactions and develop information for the prosecution of cases.
Ecuador's judicial institutions remained weak, susceptible to corruption, and heavily backlogged with pending cases. While the military and police have made numerous arrests, the judicial system had a poor record of achieving convictions.
El Salvador provided valuable assistance to regional security efforts by hosting the Comalapa Cooperative Security Location (CSL), a regional Department of Defense (DOD) narcotics detection and interdiction hub. El Salvador also hosted the USG-funded International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), which provided instruction on counterterrorism, transnational crime, alien trafficking, and money laundering. El Salvador maintained a military contingent in Iraq in support of Coalition efforts, and worked within the Central American Regional Integration System to promote effective regional responses to transnational crime and other public security threats.
The principal Salvadoran counterterrorism entity, the National Civilian Police (PNC), worked in close cooperation with the Salvadoran Immigration Service, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of State Intelligence. A 2006 statute established strict criminal liability for engaging in terrorism, while other statutes outlaw money laundering and terrorist financing.
Guatemala continued to strengthen its anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regime since its 2004 removal from the Financial Action Task Force list of Non-Cooperative Countries. With U.S. assistance, Guatemala formed an interagency money laundering task force with representation from the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Guatemalan tax authority, and the Public Ministry (prosecutor’s office). The U.S. Department of Defense continued to train the Guatemalan military’s counterterrorist unit. In addition to threats posed by transnational narcotics organizations, Guatemala is a major alien smuggling route from Central and South America, which makes it a potential transit point for terrorists seeking to gain access to the United States.
Severe resource constraints, corruption, and an ineffective criminal justice system hampered efforts to combat transnational crime threats such as drug trafficking and alien smuggling, especially in remote areas of the country. Guatemala’s borders lacked effective coverage by police or military personnel, and controls at its southern and eastern borders with El Salvador and Honduras have been relaxed as part of the Central American integration process. Nevertheless, Guatemalan civil aviation and port authorities cooperated with the United States in investigating potential terrorism leads.
The Government of Haiti cooperated with the United States on counterterrorism efforts. The Financial Investigative Unit (BAFE) within the Haitian National Police and the Financial Intelligence Unit (UCREF) within the Ministry of Justice cooperated with the United States in anti-money laundering initiatives to improve the ability to detect funds acquired through criminal activity, including funds that could be acquired through terrorist networks. The Haitian government drafted Counterterrorism legislation in 2008.
In 2008 Honduran cooperation with the United States on combating terrorist financing remained strong. The Honduran Banking and Insurance Commission, through instruction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, promptly sent prompt freeze orders to the entire regulated financial sector every time the United States amended Executive Order lists. Financial entities, particularly the commercial banks, promptly undertook the requested searches for accounts by terrorist entities. No terrorist-related funds have been found to date in the Honduran financial system. The Honduran Congress was considering a change to the criminal code that would criminalize terrorist financing. While terrorism is a crime, terrorist financing is not listed as a separate crime.
There was a trend in Honduras towards closer regional intelligence cooperation with neighboring countries; this cooperation was aimed principally at organized crime but it could potentially protect the country from terrorist threats. In September 2007, the Honduran government announced the adoption of a National Security Strategy, which included counterterrorism as an objective, and stressed regional and international cooperation.
The United States assisted the Honduran Armed Forces (HOAF) with its counterterrorism efforts by providing training and equipment. With U.S. assistance, the Honduran Armed Forces created a Joint Task Force.
There was no indication of terrorist groups using illegal immigration networks. Over the past five years, however, smuggling rings have been detected moving people from East Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia to Honduras or through its territory. In 2008, there was an increase in the number of boats arriving on the north coast, ferrying people from all over the world seeking to enter the United States illegally via Guatemala and Mexico. Nationals of countries without Honduran visa requirements, especially Ecuador and Colombia, were involved in schemes to transit Honduras, often with the United States and Europe as their final destination. Foreign nationals have successfully obtained valid Honduran identity cards and passports under their own or false identities. The Honduran government's ability to combat transnational crime was limited by sparsely populated and isolated jungle regions, limited resources, corruption, and poor control of the north coast and eastern border. However, increased U.S. and Honduran government investment and training for members of the judicial branch, law enforcement entities, and the military have begun to decrease criminal activity and reduce the potential appeal of using the criminal infrastructure in these remote areas for the movement of terrorists and their resources.
Jamaica’s proximity to the United States, well developed sea lanes and air links, and the transit of over two million travelers annually between the United States and Jamaica make the country a potential transit point for terrorists. In 2008, the United States and Jamaica continued their close cooperation in a variety of counterterrorism-related areas, which included the Container Security Initiative, provision of equipment and training to the Jamaica Defense Force and Constabulary Force, and law enforcement intelligence sharing. In 2007, following his imprisonment in the United Kingdom for inciting murder and for fomenting terrorism and racial hatred, British authorities deported the radical Jamaican-born cleric Sheik Abdullah El-Faisal. Jamaican and U.S. authorities remained concerned about El-Faisal's plans, intentions, and influence.
Although no serious terrorist incidents targeting U.S. interests/personnel have occurred on or originated from Mexican territory, violence has risen to new levels and narcotraffickers have shown a willingness to use terrorist tactics. Incidents illustrating this include the September 15 independence day grenade attack in Morelia, which claimed at least seven lives and injured scores, as well as the killing and beheading of eight military soldiers in Guerrero in mid-December. Another like incident involved a U.S. target; on October 12, unknown persons fired gunshots and tossed an undetonated grenade at the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. Although such attacks have raised the specter of domestic terrorism, Mexico primarily represents a terrorist transit threat and bilateral efforts focused squarely on minimizing that threat.
President Calderón's Administration has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to address national security concerns. U.S. law enforcement agencies enjoyed a much-improved relationship with Mexican security institutions across the board. Mexico worked with the United States to secure critical infrastructure, combat terrorist financing, and enhance aviation, border, maritime, and transportation security. In October 2007, Mexico and the United States announced the Mérida Initiative. The U.S. government has pledged $1.4 billion over three years to the Government of Mexico to aid in their fight against criminal elements in their country. In June 2008, Congress approved $400 million for Mexico in support of the Merida Initiative, which provides funding for equipment, vetting, and training to support law enforcement operations. It also provides technical assistance for reform and oversight of security agencies. In addition to active support for law enforcement, there are parallel efforts in the areas of judicial reform, anti-corruption, and programs to encourage participation of civil society. The Mexican government’s increased commitment to national security concerns has resulted in a significant increase in violence against high level Mexican government officials. The United States government has worked closely with the Mexican government to mitigate this threat.
Mexico continued to make steady progress in the area of counterterrorism with an emphasis on border security projects targeting the smuggling of aliens who raise terrorism concerns. The government worked to professionalize federal law enforcement, restructuring and strengthening institutions responsible for fighting organized crime, and developing tools under the framework of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) to better address national security threats.
The continued exploitation of smuggling channels traversing the U.S. Mexico border, and lack of enforcement along Mexico's border with Guatemala remained strategic concerns. In 2007, Mexico passed a law against human trafficking, which will aid in pursuing criminal proceedings against traffickers and smugglers operating in the country.
One setback in United States-Mexico counterterrorism cooperation was a change in detention procedures. In 2005 and 2006, Mexico's Immigration Service (INM) maintained a policy of housing all detained aliens who may raise terrorism concerns in their detention facility near Mexico City. In March 2007, however, the INM began releasing such detainees from their point of arrest, thus hindering information sharing and the USG’s ability to track the movement of these aliens. This remained a problem in 2008.
Nevertheless, cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican governments has been strong overall. The two countries exchanged information and closely cooperated in targeting alien smugglers, particularly along Mexico's northern border. The Operation Against Smugglers (and Traffickers) Initiative on Safety and Security (OASISS), which allows Mexican and U.S. law enforcement officials to share real-time information regarding ongoing alien smuggling investigations, has been particularly effective. OASISS enhances the ability of both governments to prosecute alien smugglers and human traffickers. OASISS is currently operational in the United States in all four states along the southwest border and in most of Mexico's northern border states. The program provides a model for bilateral information sharing in a variety of law enforcement and security areas. An essential next step to expand OASISS to all of Mexico's northern border states is scheduled to be completed with FY-2008 Merida Initiative funding.
The U.S.-Mexico Border Security and Public Safety Working Group, formed in March 2006, has become another important tool for bilateral cooperation, establishing protocols enabling both governments to respond cooperatively at a local level to critical incidents and emergencies. The success of the pilot sites led to the expansion and formalization of the program. These protocols are now in place along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
Mexico coordinated with the United States on the information sharing of air passenger data and the use of its Integrated System for Migratory Operations (SIOM). In addition, the Mexican and U.S. governments agreed to share, on a case-by-case basis, biometric data for comparison to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).
The United States also developed a strong working relationship with the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Attorney General's Office (PGR) and its companion unit in the Mexican Treasury (Hacienda) in combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and narcotics trafficking.
In 2007, President Calderón signed into law legislation outlawing terrorist financing and associated money laundering. The new law established international terrorism and terrorist financing as serious criminal offenses, as called for in UN resolution 1373, and provides for up to 40-year prison sentences. The measure also incorporated several non-finance related provisions including jail sentences for individuals who cover up the identities of terrorists and for those who recruit people to commit terrorist acts. While it lacked some important provisions, such as asset forfeiture measures, the law was a significant step forward. Mexico's legislature continued working on justice reform legislation, which, if enacted, will offer law enforcement officials broader authorities (including asset forfeiture) to investigate and prosecute serious criminal cases, including terrorist activity. Despite the recent legislation, money laundering remained a significant problem in Mexico.
The Mexican Navy and Army continued to expand their counterterrorism capabilities. The Mexican Navy improved control over ports of entry by deploying a newly constituted infantry force. The Navy also worked to expand its still incomplete control over Mexico's vast maritime zone by better integrating radar, patrol craft, seagoing vessels, air platforms, and land-based platforms. These enhancements to Mexico's maritime air surveillance will allow the Navy to protect key national strategic facilities, including those related to oil production in the Bay of Campeche.
In 2008 Nicaragua made no substantive progress towards establishing a Financial Intelligence Unit or on a counterterrorism bill first proposed in 2004. Nicaragua’s judiciary remained highly politicized, corrupt, and prone to manipulation. President Daniel Ortega’s 2007 decision to grant Iranian nationals visa-free entry into Nicaragua remained in effect.
President Ortega maintained close relations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On March 6, President Ortega broke diplomatic relations with Colombia for 24 hours following Colombia’s March 1 military action against a FARC base in Ecuador. Nicaragua also publicly welcomed survivors of the March 1 Colombian military operation against the FARC and granted asylum to suspected FARC operatives:
- On April 19, President Ortega personally met Lucia Andrea Morett Alvarez and her parents on their arrival in Nicaragua. Morett, a Mexican university student, suffered injuries during the March 1 Colombian military operation against FARC personnel in Ecuador. According to the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, Morett was in Nicaragua as a tourist. She was never offered, nor did she request asylum or Nicaraguan citizenship.
- On May 11, President Ortega sent a Nicaraguan Air Force plane to Ecuador to retrieve two Colombian survivors of the March 1 operation, Doris Torres Bohórquez and Martha Pérez Gutiérrez. Nicaragua granted both asylum, and on July 19, the anniversary of the Sandinista revolutionary victory, President Ortega officially welcomed them as survivors of “state-sponsored terrorism by Colombia.”
- On August 19, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos, confirmed that a third Colombian, Nubia Calderón de Trujillo, also known as “Esperanza,” had been granted “humanitarian asylum” in Nicaragua. Santos stated that Nicaragua had responded to a request for assistance sent to the Nicaraguan Embassy in Ecuador by Calderón, who was also injured in the March 1 operation. On September 30, the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) named Calderón and seven other international representatives of the FARC as significant narcotraffickers under the Kingpin Act. The OFAC press release noted that, “Nubia Calderón de Trujillo was recently granted asylum by Nicaragua, even though she is a member of an internationally recognized narcoterrorist organization.” Unlike Morett and the two other Colombians, Calderón did not appear in public after arriving in Nicaragua.
- In July, the local press discovered that, in late 2007, an official of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) issued a Nicaraguan national identity card (cédula) to a René Alberto Gutiérrez Pastrán. Gutiérrez Pastrán was actually FARC emissary Alberto Bermúdez, aka “Cojo.” Bermúdez subsequently used his false identity to transit Nicaragua.
The Panamanian government approved a reform of its security forces that touched off a controversy over whether the government intended to “re-militarize.” The government justified these security reforms by pointing to the need to protect the Canal from possible terrorist attacks. An act of terrorism that closed off the Panama Canal would severely affect the economies of Panama, the United States, and other countries that rely heavily on the Canal for commerce.
The reforms fused the National Maritime Service (SMN) and the National Air Service (SAN) into a new, coast guard-like National Aero-Naval Service (SENAN). It also created a legal framework for the country’s intelligence service, now called the National Intelligence and Security Service (SENIS). Finally, it broke off the National Frontier Directorate or the Panamanian National Police (PNP) to form a new independent security service, called the National Frontier Service (SENAFRONT). The reforms also made it possible for uniformed officers to lead all these services, something previously prohibited by law. The creation of the SENAFRONT was publicly justified by the need to keep a police force permanently deployed on the border to protect against “irregulars” and drug traffickers. Major investments will be required before these changes can be expected to have a serious improvement on operational capability. Some investments in improved equipment, such as new and refurbished helicopters, were underway at year’s end.
Panama's highly developed commercial transport sector and shared border with Colombia made it a transshipment point for arms, drugs, and smuggling of illegal aliens. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continued to be active in Panama's Darien Province and Panama's Public Forces (PPF) closely monitored its activities. The PPF captured six members of the FARC in a boat off the village of Jaque in the Darien in February, after the occupants of the boat opened fire on the PPF. There were several reports of FARC members entering villages in the Darien and stealing supplies. A shoot-out occurred between the PPF and the FARC in the village of Manene in the Darien in December. The PFF wounded and captured at least one member of the FARC. The FARC was believed to have had links to several kidnappings in Panama.
Panama provided enhanced force protection for U.S. military vessels, including submarines, during "high value transits" of the Canal. U.S. officials praised Panama's level of support and security. The Ministry of Government and Justice used classroom training, tabletop exercises, and field visits to improve coordination among PPF agencies. Panama co-hosted the annual PANAMAX exercise, a multinational security training exercise tailored to the defense of the Canal. The exercise replicated real world threats to the Canal to develop appropriate responses and guarantee safe passage to the approaches to the Canal and through the waterway. Twenty nations participated, including the United States. On the margins of PANAMAX, Panama once again hosted a tabletop exercise specifically designed to examine its ability to address asymmetric threats.
Panama continued to participate in the Container Security Initiative (CSI) at two ports. CSI activities at a third port will be operational shortly, as a third scanner has just been installed in the Colón Free Trade Zone. Additionally, the Department of Energy’s Megaports Radiation Portals became functional at the ports of Manzanillo and Balboa.
PPF Counterterrorism units in the police and frontier forces continued to benefit from the third year of counterterrorism training funded by United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and provided by U.S. Navy Special Warfare South personnel.
Panama is an international offshore banking center. While the government has taken extensive measures to combat money laundering in the banking system, the Colón Free Trade Zone served as a vehicle for illicit finance. Panama's Foreign Ministry, Council for Public Security and National Defense, Financial Analysis Unit, and the Superintendent of Banks were fully cooperative in reviewing terrorism finance lists.
A weak, politicized judicial system, a police force widely viewed as corrupt and ineffective, and a lack of strong anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation continued to hamper Paraguay’s counterterrorism efforts. On June 25, Paraguay's Congress took the final measure to pass improved anti-money laundering legislation as part of a major overhaul of the penal code. The Congress’ Legal Reform Commission also drafted a criminal procedural code reform bill that would facilitate prosecution of money laundering and terrorism and modernize Paraguay's criminal justice system. However, the procedural code reform bill has since been “mothballed” in the Commission for more than a year. Terrorist financing legislation will be critical to keep Paraguay current with its international obligations. Efforts to include a terrorist financing statute in the new penal code failed; however, several draft terrorist financing laws are pending in Congress. Paraguay's Secretariat for the Prevention of Money Laundering (SEPRELAD) is working on a revised draft of the terrorist financing bill to present to Congress. Using its experience in the development of a similar law, Brazil is providing technical assistance to SEPRELAD. The Egmont Group notified Paraguay about the need to comply with its international commitments regarding terrorist financing legislation. If Paraguay does not show reasonable progress in enacting such a law, it could face expulsion.
Paraguay did not exercise effective immigration or customs controls at its porous borders. Efforts to address illicit activity occurring in the Tri-Border Area were uneven due to a lack of resources and, more principally, corruption within Customs, the police, and the judicial sector. The United States continued to work closely with SEPRELAD, which made several in-roads into undermining money laundering in Paraguay, including December raids on illegal exchange houses. Paraguay fully paid its outstanding dues to the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (GAFISUD) in mid-2008, after many years in arrears with the organization.
In October, a Paraguayan court dismissed tax evasion and money laundering charges against Kassem Hijazi, a suspected Hizballah money launderer, after significant indications of judicial and political interference with the prosecution of what had been the largest money-laundering case in Paraguay’s history. A Paraguayan court convicted and sentenced suspected Hizballah fundraiser Hatem Ahmad Barakat on tax evasion charges in April 2006; during 2008, he continued to appeal his three-year sentence while on bail.
The United States assisted Paraguay with capacity building for law enforcement and training for judges, prosecutors, and police in counterterrorism awareness, as well as weapons of mass destruction response capabilities. Under the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Threshold Program, the United States assisted Paraguay with training for judges, prosecutors, and police in investigation techniques that are critical to money laundering and terrorist financing cases. Paraguay submitted a proposal for a second phase of the Threshold Program in November, which will focus in part on police corruption.
Peru's primary counterterrorism concern remained fighting remnants of the militant Maoist Sendero Luminoso (SL or Shining Path), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that wreaked havoc on the country in the 1980s and 1990s at a cost of more than 69,000 lives. SL remnants in the Upper Huallaga River Valley (UHV) sought to regroup and replenish their ranks following significant setbacks suffered in 2007. Separately, the SL organization in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) maintained its control over the area. Both groups continued to engage in drug trafficking, and during the year carried out 64 terrorist acts in remote coca-growing areas that killed at least 12 police, four civilians, and 15 members of the military.
Although the Fujimori government nearly eliminated SL in the 1990s, the organization, now entwined with narcotics trafficking, remained a threat in 2008. The two SL organizations combined were thought to number several hundred armed combatants. While today's SL is shorter on revolutionary zeal than in the past, analysts believed leaders continued to use Maoist philosophy to justify their illicit activities.
Involvement in drug production and trafficking provided SL with funding to conduct operations, allowing it to improve relations with local communities in remote areas and to recruit new members. While SL in the UHV worked during the year to recuperate from losses suffered in 2007, insufficient government presence in the more remote VRAE allowed the organization there to continue operating:
- On March 5, five armed attackers killed two Peruvian National Police (PNP) officers near the town of Chanchamayo in Junín department.
- On March 23, an estimated 30 SL members ambushed an anti-drug police unit near Quinua in Ayacucho department, killing one.
- On April 30, SL attackers killed two civilians who were acting as guides for military personnel, near the town of Ancoin in Ayacucho department.
- On June 27, SL members attacked troops on a counternarcotics operation near Sivia in Ayacucho department, killing one.
- On October 9, in northern Huancavelica department, SL triggered a remotely activated bomb underneath a truck returning Peruvian Army soldiers to a nearby base. The attackers then opened fire from both sides of the road, killing 14 soldiers and two civilians. Sixteen others were wounded, three of them critically. It was the deadliest SL attack since the 1992 capture of SL founder Abimael Guzmán.
- On November 16, an SL ambush killed three PNP officers in the town of Huanta in northern Ayacucho.
- On October 14, suspected SL elements attacked a PNP vehicle traveling on the highway north of Tingo María in Huánuco department, firing on it from both sides of the road. Two of the five officers inside were injured, one of whom later died.
- On November 26, suspected SL attackers ambushed a PNP convoy on the highway some 20 kilometers north of Tingo María in Huánuco department, killing five police and wounding four others.
- On December 27, SL insurgents attacked a military helicopter in Vizcatan killing one soldier and wounding two others.
In late August, the Army began an offensive called "Operation Excellence," aimed at taking control of the Vizcatán region in northern Ayacucho department. While there were unconfirmed reports of SL casualties, the military suffered losses in a number of SL attacks in response to the offensive.
Implementation of the García government's "Plan VRAE," which called for 2,000 troops and 19 counterterrorism bases operated under a central command was still evolving. Plans for new health, education, and infrastructure investment in these isolated communities where the state lacked presence were not implemented, although new Prime Minister Yehude Simon led a full cabinet delegation to the VRAE in November to evaluate the situation.
During the period June 2007 to November 2008, the "Huallaga Police Front" (an initiative begun in 2006 under then-President Toledo), prosecuted a counterterrorism campaign in the UHV and captured more than 100 alleged SL members, including one national-level leader. It also destroyed 27 SL camps, broke up an urban cell that served as an intelligence link, and seized dozens of weapons, explosives, and ammunition.
Government efforts to improve interagency cooperation, especially in intelligence, and to strengthen prosecutorial capacity were somewhat successful. Police units specializing in counterterrorism and counter-narcotics conducted some joint operations with the Peruvian Army in the UHV.
President García continued reauthorizing a 60-day state of emergency in parts of Peru's five departments where SL operates, suspending some civil liberties, and giving the armed forces additional authority to maintain public order. There was no movement on President García's 2006 proposal calling for the death penalty for those convicted of acts of terrorism.
The Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) has not conducted terrorist activities since the 1996 hostage taking at the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima. Efforts to reconstitute an organizational structure were not in evidence in 2008, though former MRTA members were working to establish a political party called the Free Fatherland Movement ("Movimiento Patria Libre") to compete in future elections.
SL founder and leader Abimael Guzmán and key accomplices remained in prison serving life sentences on charges stemming from crimes committed during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continued to use remote areas along the Colombian-Peruvian border to rest, regroup, and make arms purchases. Experts believed the FARC continued to fund coca cultivation and cocaine production among the Peruvian population in border areas.
Trinidad and Tobago
In June, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago approved the extradition of two Guyanese and one Trinidadian accused of plotting to blow up jet fuel tanks and a fuel pipeline at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. In a separate matter, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr of Jamaat al-Muslimeen (JAM) became the first person prosecuted under the 2005 Antiterrorism Act after delivering an allegedly seditious sermon in late 2005. Bakr challenged the validity of the Act, but a high court judge dismissed the constitutional motion. The JAM leader has filed an appeal challenging the judge's ruling. The special prosecutor for the State desired to sever the terrorism indictment so that the other charges could proceed in the interim. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions determined that the best chance for conviction was if all three charges were tried together.
In July, Trinidad and Tobago enacted the Immigration (Advance Passenger Information) Act, 2008. Under this Act, regional and international aircraft and vessels must submit Advance Passenger Information prior to arrival in and upon departure from Trinidad and Tobago. The Act makes permanent the Advance Passenger Information System measures utilized in Trinidad and Tobago and other West Indies host nations during the 2007 Cricket World Cup. The system utilizes a number of watch lists, including INTERPOL's Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database to check every passenger arriving in Trinidad and Tobago or traveling through by air or by sea. Furthermore, the government established the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Document Examination Laboratory at Port of Spain's Piarco International Airport. The laboratory's primary aim is to counter the fraudulent use of travel and identity documents by utilizing technical equipment and trained experts. The United States continued to support Trinidad and Tobago’s counterterrorism efforts by engaging in bomb detection training and providing equipment. For its part, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago trained 16 additional tactical and bomb-sniffing dogs through its canine academy.
Trinidad and Tobago is the United States' largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and plays an important role in Caribbean energy security. Recognizing this, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began engaging Trinidad and Tobago, under the umbrella of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism of the Organization of American States, to improve protection of infrastructure critical to LNG exports. Following bilateral preparatory meetings in 2007, a team of USG experts carried out a vulnerability assessment in January 2008 and prepared a report with recommendations to improve and prioritize critical infrastructure protection efforts.
The Government of Uruguay’s cooperation and intelligence sharing on counterterrorism-related issues greatly improved in 2008, especially at the working level, where officers in law enforcement and security services recognized the importance of actively conducting investigations, sharing intelligence with the United States, and working cooperatively with regional partners. Uruguayan authorities generally cooperated with the United States and international institutions on counterterrorism efforts and have to implement a 2004 money laundering law more robustly. Uruguayan banking and law enforcement agencies have mechanisms in place to identify financial assets, individuals, and groups with links to terrorism, but to date they have discovered neither terrorist assets in Uruguayan financial institutions nor terrorist operatives in Uruguay. In October, the parliament passed legislation to create a specialized organized crime unit to prosecute crimes including terrorism and terrorist financing. The judges and prosecutors were named in December.
Uruguay is a member of the Permanent Working Group on Terrorism of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur), together with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Bolivia. The group facilitates cooperation and information sharing among countries combating terrorism. The Working Group expanded its focus from the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil to the porous and insufficiently monitored Uruguayan-Brazilian border. Uruguay was also active in a range of international counterterrorism efforts, particularly in the Rio Group and the Organization of American States.
Uruguay provided the greatest number of UN peacekeepers per capita of any UN member state. Uruguayan officials believe that using its diplomatic and military resources to fight global instability served to address the conditions that terrorists exploit.
Uruguay significantly increased participation in joint military training. It hosted the Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) South in September, took second place in the Force’s Commando Counter Terrorism Competition in the United States in June, and participated for the second time in the multinational training exercise, PANAMAX in August. This is a significant improvement over past reluctance to engage in security cooperation, and indicates that Uruguay is moving beyond the aftermath of its thirteen-year military dictatorship, which ended in 1985.
President Chávez's ideological sympathy for the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) limited Venezuelan cooperation with Colombia in combating terrorism. In January, he called for, and the Venezuelan National Assembly approved, a resolution calling for international recognition of the FARC and ELN as belligerent forces, not terrorist groups. In March, he called FARC second-in-command Raúl Reyes, "a good revolutionary" and held a national moment of silence following the Colombian cross-border raid into Ecuador that killed Reyes. In March, Venezuelan authorities apprehended two FARC fighters seeking medical treatment in Venezuela. They took the injured man to a military hospital for treatment and his companion to a regional penitentiary. By May however, Venezuelan authorities declined to provide information on the whereabouts of either man. In June, President, Chávez publicly changed course, calling upon the FARC to unconditionally release all hostages, declaring that armed struggle is "out of place" in modern Latin America. In July, the Venezuelan National Guard detained FARC chief of borders and finance Gabriel Culma Ortiz and the Venezuelan government handed him over to Colombian authorities.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez brokered the unilateral release of six hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in January and February 2008.
In December, a Venezuelan court sentenced two self-proclaimed Islamic extremists to 10 years each for placing a pair of pipe bombs outside the U.S. Embassy in 2006. The court convicted José Miguel Rojas Espinoza of constructing and placing the devices and found Teodoro Rafael Darnott guilty of planning the attack and instigating Rojas to conduct it.
In June, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Venezuelan diplomat Ghazi Nasr al Din and travel impresario Fawzi Kan'an as Venezuelan Hizballah supporters. In September, OFAC designated two senior Venezuelan government officials, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva, and the former Justice and Interior Minister, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC. Limited amounts of weapons and ammunition, some from official Venezuelan stocks and facilities, have turned up in the hands of Colombian terrorist organizations. The Venezuelan government did not systematically police the 1,400-mile Venezuelan-Colombian border to prevent the movement of groups of armed terrorists or to interdict arms or the flow of narcotics. The FARC, ELN, and remnants of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) regularly crossed into Venezuelan territory to rest and regroup as well as to extort protection money and kidnap Venezuelans to finance their operations.
Iran and Venezuela continued weekly flights connecting Tehran and Damascus with Caracas. Passengers on these flights were reportedly subject to only cursory immigration and customs controls at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas. Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists. International authorities remained suspicious of the integrity of Venezuelan documents and their issuance process.
In May 2008, Venezuela was re-certified as "not cooperating fully" with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act, as amended (the "Act"). Pursuant to this certification, defense articles and services may not be sold or licensed for export to Venezuela from October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2009.3
1 On March 13, 2007, the INTERPOL Executive Committee decided unanimously to issue international “wanted” notices ("Red Notices") for five of the Iranians (including the former Minister of Intelligence and Security, Ali Fallahijan, and the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Qods Force) and the one Lebanese national (Imad Mugniyah, recently deceased).
2 In 2007, Receita Federal completed the inspection station at the Friendship Bridge connecting Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, and Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.
3 This certification will lapse unless renewed by the Secretary of State by May 15, 2009.