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The Southern Front in the War on Terrorism By: Candie Gibson Lemaire
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 07, 2003

When your own words come back and leave you with egg on your face, it is called blowback. Senator John Kerry's recent defense of Columbia's FARC terrorists, and their "legitimate complaints" should elicit significant political blowback from the American people.

John Kerry made these remarks after a February speech in Boston, where he replied to a question about the U.S. war on drugs by saying, "It seems to be a renewal of a kind of chaos fueled partly by guerrillas who have legitimate complaints and the combination of drugs and war and the drug lord." Any red-blooded American has to ponder how Senator John "F." Kerry, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could form such solidarity with a guerrilla terrorist group - a Colombian terrorist group that took three captured Americans as "prisoners of war." We're not talking about a small terrorist uprising. This group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have a vast stronghold in the mountains and jungles of Colombia, and control a prime cocaine-producing region of the country.

Truthfully, terrorism stemming from South America looms as a force to be reckoned with. However, the U.S. cannot sleepwalk around it and still press on to wage a fight on terror. Much of the unease stems from the presence of three insurgent groups operating within Colombia. Though formally a democracy, Colombia remains a violent society, teeming with corruption, and driven by the special fuel of drug trafficking. Of the three guerilla organizations, FARC has clearly been on the forefront. Colombia's President Uribe's pledge to eradicate FARC terror  won him the presidential election; however, threats from FARC on attempts to eradicate President Uribe materialized in the southern city of Neiva, where a powerful bomb killed 18 people just one day before Uribe's planned visit to that city. Undaunted, Uribe made an appearnce in Neiva to offer condolences to relatives of those killed in the blast.

In addition to FARC, two other twin terrorist groups are gaining ground. The ELN, or National Liberation Army, and the A-U-C, or United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, are garnering their own distinctions. On September 10, 2001, one day in advance of the infamous New York attack of terror, the State Department officially added the name of A-U-C to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). The FTO is updated every two years by the State Department's Coordinator for Counterterrorism. FARC, the largest guerrilla group, controls substantial areas of Colombia’s eastern lowlands and rain forest (a cocaine processing region of the country) while the ELN has been functioning primarily within the central area of the region, (a prime opium growing district). They have also reached up to the northeastern border near Venezuela.

Unfortunately, FARC's control has not been lessened, even with the recent U.S. expansion of assistance, which has taken in the form of both U.S. deployment of military personnel and millions of U.S. dollars to combat terrorism on the southern front. President Bush's Colombian aid package, "Plan Colombia," has been deemed a failure in making much of a dent in the day-to-day operations of Colombian terrorists. The plan's strategy to use fumigation for the coca fields and plants ended up creating animosity toward the U.S. by farmers who were left with no way to make a living; and, in the end, this may have given more credence to the guerilla groups such as FARC and the A-U-C.

On the positive side of the ledger, there has been limited Colombian government cooperation. Even with limited resources, the Colombian government under President Alvaro Uribe has tried to stand tall against FARC terrorism, and remains eager to resolve the ongoing civil war in a country where terrorism is homegrown.

However, drug thugs and the trade they create do not exist in a vacuum. Thus, the  U.S. should be ever mindful of the common goals terrorists share. America must include in this war on terrorism limits on the conditions that permit this southern front to escalate, namely the conditions of "loose borders" and a huge demand in the U.S. for drugs.

The impending threat from the southern front is not only from Colombia and Venezuela, but also Paraguay and Brazil, which have long been hotbeds and havens for rampant drugs and terrorism. According to joint testimony submitted in March 2002 by State Department officials before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information, a "historic link" was noted in the Western Hemisphere between various terrorist groups and narcotics trafficking.

Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil were all citied to be of imminent and growing concern. Testimony pointed out that FARC units throughout southern Colombia continue to raise cash via extortion to support their activities. The Justice Department’s DEA Administrator indicated continued unease with regard to the role of drug profits, especifically from FARC narco-terrorism activities, and the far-reaching tentacles of global terrorism.

In 2002, debate at the UN’s 57th General Assembly meeting brought about a discussion on terrorism and illicit drug trafficking within the South American region. A Brazilian representative told the Committee about stepped-up initiatives to combat criminal activity. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil stated that the fight in opposition to transnational organized crime was one of Brazil’s top priorities.

This South American region, commonly known as the tri-border, has increasingly drawn the interest of antiterrorism experts. This area is where the countries of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina come together. Counter-terrorism police have stated that evidence indicates terrorist activity has now dispersed east from Argentina to the isolated Brazilian jungles, and even to Sao Paulo, Brazil's financial capital. Experts agree that Brazil and its surrounding area have all the ingredients for a large-scale hotspot, including the fact that the region is also known for its leaky borders. A variety of Middle Easterners have been pouring in for some time.

Additionally, problems in Venezuela with Hugo Chavez prompted the Bush White House to put aside personal distaste for the elected leader and his policies, which resulted in widespread condemnation of the U.S. to seek a more peaceful conclusion to the dilemma. It should be noted that Bill Clinton's political strategist, James Carville, was a key manager in the Chavez election in Venezuela. Once elected, Chavez began to impose a dictatorship reign, inspired in large measure by Fidel Castro. Chavez sought out countries such as Libya and the People's Republic of China for alliances. A glaring and alarming fact is that Venezuela is currently South America's largest supplier of oil, which presents a looming global terrorism labyrinth. Given these clear and present concerns, the U.S. War on Terrorism must include a tactic to include awareness of the terrorist threats from our southern flank. In other words, we must connect the terrorist dots.

Clearly, South America's narcotics industry coupling with a terrorist threat serves as a loud wakeup call. It is a bona fide menace -- a menace on the move and gaining momentum. What once was a worrisome corrupt drug trade has now become toxic terrorism, laced with political dimensions. Exhibit A was the capture of three Americans in Colombia by FARC. FARC rebels accused the three Americans of being agents of the CIA, and considered U.S. involvement in Colombia an act of war. Well, war it is, and it would be prudent for the U.S. to be more mindful of this supplying region which harbors terrorism with a narcotics panache.

Certainly, any campaign to diminish the terrorist threat from the southern front must confront our identifiable immigration problems. Our overwhelmed immigration system is the primary lure -- both to immigrants who desire to come to “the promised land” and also to those who need an accessible viaduct for illegal business. Simply put, our borders are wide open spaces.

So, how then, if America’s objective is national security, can we ignore a vigorous measure of implemented homeland border protection? The events of September 11th still speak in moving terms that the breadth of protection must include full border restraint. Without immigration control, America faces a domestic cataclysm. Some discussion may be in order regarding specific global fronts where American troops are now deployed - and whether they might be better used to protect “the land of the free and home of the brave.”

Terrorism cannot be contained without a mandate on immigration restrictions coupled with border protection, and the implementation should come immediately.

Senator Kerry's vocalized rationale for rebels with terror tactics that are now slick enough to grease their way deep into the Colombian narco-democracy, is counterproductive; and sympathies, implied or expressed, by any U.S. representative to provide justification for rebel terror -- especially following September 11, 2001 -- is untenable. It is a line of thinking which surely should leave any presidential hopeful on a slippery slope of credibility.

Democracy and the freedoms we savor every day are indeed worth this fight on terrorism. It’s a fight looming both the Middle East and our Southern Front. Rooting out terrorism is not for the faint of heart. Whether it's a shoulder-to-shoulder hunt, or simply the watchful eye of a vigilant citizen, it is a non-stop duty for all of the nation. That’s why any misguided rhetoric expressed as sanctioning rebel terrorist activities in Colombia, such as those made by Senator Kerry, is indefensible. Not only is it a disservice to our men and women in uniform, both current and former, but it is not in keeping with our basic American principles. Most of those who noticed Senator Kerry's remarks are humming out a sour note, which may become Kerry's own swan song.

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