In its National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (Feb. 2003) the White House outlined a policy that calls for "direct and continuous actions against terrorist groups, the cumulative effect of which will initially disrupt, over time degrade, and ultimately destroy the terrorist organizations." The plan also recognizes that "the more frequently and relentlessly we strike the terrorists across all fronts, using all the tools of statecraft, the more effective we will be."
If this is to be the measure of an effective counter-terror policy, then the Bush Administration must begin to apply its tenets more aggressively against the increasing number of terrorist organizations—either indigenous groups with global reach or international entities such as Hizballah, Islamic Jihad, or al-Qaeda – that have begun to operate in the Western Hemisphere with the acquiescence of various anti-U.S. regimes.
The current governments of Brazil (da Silva), Cuba (Castro), and Venezuela (Chavez) are each home to the sort of anti-American fervor that forms the foundation for most terrorist safehavens. Even more worrisome, they stand poised to remake South America in their image through a well-organized strategy that brings to power -- via legitimate means (i.e. elections) -- other leftist leaders whose political agendas and support for terrorist organizations will undermine U.S. interests and the overall security of the Western Hemisphere. There will be serious long-term implications if the U.S. does not develop a more efficacious strategic policy to deal with the growing influence of these communist devotees.
On 7 August 2002 Former National Security Council member and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, Dr. Constantine Menges wrote in the Washington Times that a "Castro-Chavez- da Silva" axis could directly threaten the security of the United States. Among other points, he argued that this axis would link "43 years of Fidel Castro’s political warfare against the [U.S.] with the oil wealth of Venezuela and the nuclear weapons/ballistic missile and economic potential of Brazil."
Dr. Menges has identified the Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva as a key player in the axis and he has warned that Lula’s stewardship of the Forum of Sao Paolo – the progeny of Castro’s "Tricontinental Congress" which helped transnational terrorist organizations synchronize their efforts during the late 1960’s to undermine U.S. national security– will help pro-Castro candidates mount strong political campaigns throughout South America. Furthermore, he notes in a 10 December 2002 Washington Times article that the Forum of Sao Paulo includes "all the communist and radical political parties and armed communist terrorist organizations of Latin America together with terrorist groups from Europe (IRA, ETA) and the Middle East (PFLP-GC), as well as participants from Iraq, Libya, Cuba and other state sponsors of terrorism."
Similarly, the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee Henry Hyde, in a letter to President Bush dated 24 October 2002, described Lula da Silva as a "pro-Castro radical" and cautioned that a new "axis of evil in the Americas" could be afoot. Congressman Hyde also detailed Brazil’s experiment with a nuclear weapons program (1965-1994) and its success in creating a "30 kiloton nuclear bomb, which could be quickly tested if the program were revived." In all likelihood this will occur if Lula’s stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is not contravened sharply by the United States.
President da Silva’s involvement with the Forum of Sao Paolo may also explain his refusal to classify the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) – a communist insurgency whose goal it is to destroy the democratically elected government of President Alvaro Uribe – a terrorist organization. Instead, on 4 March 2003 the Latin American Weekly Report noted that Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim felt that labeling the FARC a terrorist organization was more about "semantics" than terrorism. Not so for Colombia’s embattled President, who could not disagree more with the Brazilian government’s position. He told United Press International on 7 March 2003 that it is more than appropriate to designate as "terrorists" those groups that detonate car bombs. "It is not a value judgment," he argued, "it is terrorism."
As for Fidel Castro, it is important to mention his trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran in May 2001 where, according to Agence France Presse, he declared that "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees." Could this portend the formation of a terrorist-WMD nexus in the Western Hemisphere?
It is a well established fact that Iran funds, trains, and provides safehaven for notorious terrorist organizations Hizballah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – an entity that Attorney General John Ashcroft has described separately as "one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world." It is also recognized that Iran is trying to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. The Washington Post reported on 10 March 2003 that by 2005 Iran could "be capable of producing enough enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs each year." Therefore, any affiliation between Cuba and Iran should be treated as a direct threat to the security of the United States. It may also forewarn of the likelihood that pro-Castro leaders – some of whom already show a tolerance for terrorist organizations and a penchant for nuclear weaponry – will join with other state sponsors of terrorism around the world to threaten the security of the United States.
Finally, the rule of Venezuela’s current President Hugo Chavez is even more problematic now that he has, for all intents and purposes, an ally in ‘Lula’ da Silva. In the same aforesaid October 2002 letter to President Bush, Congressman Henry Hyde also warned that Chavez’s rule threatens "the well-being and security of people in neighboring democratic countries as well as to the United States." He charged that Hugo Chavez "forged public alliances with states sponsors of terrorism including Cuba, Iraq, and Iran…" and "supported terrorist organizations" including the FARC in Colombia.
There is a larger point to make regarding the subject of state-sponsorship of terrorism. Many Western Hemispheric states employ condemnatory language to distance themselves from specific acts of terror while the groups that are responsible for such ignoble behavior escape serious rebuke. It has become an internationally accepted practice to exploit vacuous rhetoric in such a manner that a state can appear "with" the United States while acting "against" its struggle to root out terrorists. The United States must insist that opposition to terrorism begin with a denouncement of those who carry out such acts. Without taking this basic first step any subsequent action to combat international terrorism will be disingenuous.
For instance, the Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of American States met on 21 September 2001 to reaffirm "the absolute rejection by the people and governments of the Americas of terrorists acts and activities, which endanger democracy and the security of the states of the Hemisphere."
Almost one month later, on 15 October 2001, the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) promulgated a declaration that expressed its "most vigorous condemnation of the terrorist acts that occurred on the United States territory" on 11 September 2001.
The Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism (adopted on 3 June 2002) reaffirms two interesting points. It says that the parties (including Brazil and Venezuela) recognize "the need to adopt effective steps in the inter-American system to prevent, punish, and eliminate terrorism through the broadest cooperation." Furthermore, its expresses the "commitment of the states to prevent, combat, punish and eliminate terrorism."
The aforementioned examples constitute a counter-terror paradigm that is weak and illusory. No state can be permitted to focus the majority of its attention and resources on the symptoms rather than the sources of the terrorist problem. Moreover, there is a dearth of anti-terror phraseology to address the problem of regimes that support terrorist groups in other countries. The Convention only exhorts each state to deny sanction to terrorist groups "within their territories" (read: "within their [respective] territories").
The United States is now at a crossroads.
First, the United States must buck what is becoming a trend in the Western Hemisphere; namely, that democratic means are being manipulated by leftist leaders to preclude the United States from affecting or supporting "regime change," lest it appear to subvert the democratic process. To this end, the removal of Fidel Castro from power could provide a benchmark against which all pro-Castro leaders can judge their future behavior.
Moreover, a congressionally approved regime change in Cuba could at this moment accomplish three other important tasks: One, Fidel Castro’s absence would have a detumescent effect on those leftists who exhibit a penchant for Castro-ism. Two, a positive regime change would eliminate Fidel Castro’s ideational inspiration, which serves as the greatest source of intellectual, ideological, and political anti-Americanism in the region. Three, the United States would destroy one of the most powerful logistical infrastructures for supporting terrorist movements. Cuba’s military and intelligence advisors would no longer be able to assist anti-U.S. regimes or terrorist organizations.
Second, The United States must demand that Brazil abandon any material attempt to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Any evidence to the contrary should result in devastating consequences. On the terror front, the United States can test the veracity of Brazil’s numerous pledges to fight terrorism by requesting an unequivocal denunciation of the FARC and an exhibition of the appropriate legal measures to support this rhetorical decision.
Third, without Fidel Castro’s intellectual, ideological, and political influence, Hugo Chavez would assume the status of an unimpressive despot akin to Saddam Hussein’s Yasser Arafat. At that point he might be more easily contained until a future date when the people of Venezuela can be encouraged to elect someone more competent to lead that great country.
Unless the United States government adopts a coherent Western Hemispheric strategy to counter the influence of the Castro- da Silva-Chavez tripartite, one can expect to witness the growth of this "axis" and a concomitant rise in terrorist related activity in the region. As an example of things to come the Washington Times reported on 7 April 2003 that Al Qaeda terrorists had plans to enter the United States illegally through Mexico to carry our attacks against various targets. It is wholly conceivable that these terrorists could one day commence operations from secure locations in the Western Hemisphere and given enough time they may even attain a nuclear weapons capability courtesy of an anti-U.S. regime.
To borrow a phrase from the Bush Doctrine: "…the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather."