The global war on terror has scored huge successes thus far. Pakistan, once an open supporter of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, has done an abrupt about face and now cooperates with the United States in tracking and capturing Al Qaeda. To date, Pakistan has arrested more than 500 terrorists. Yemen, Jordan and Morocco, not formerly known for their aggressive pursuit of terrorists, have captured a number of key figures, as have Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. Afghanistan and Iraq are no longer terror states. And no one would sell Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden a life insurance policy.
All cheering news. But this global war is far from won, and one place that presents a particular threat has received very little attention: Latin America. Most Americans are unaware that the tri-border area of South America -- the region in which Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina come together -- has become a major center for Middle Eastern terrorists, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Employing a combination of criminal activities, including counterfeiting U.S. currency, manufacturing fake software, arms running, drug trafficking and other activities, Hezbollah alone has raised an estimated $50 million from this region in the last several years. As Sebastian Junger detailed in Vanity Fair last year, "Training camps in this jungle region" comprise a "nightmare alliance of terror Hamas, Hezbollah, I.R.A., (and) Colombian rebels."
But the problem goes deeper than terror groups opportunistically settling in poorly monitored areas. As Hudson Institute scholar Constantine Menges has warned, Latin America's political drift over the past several years has reversed some of the steady progress toward democracy and the rule of law that marked the 1980s and 1990s.
Denied his Soviet sponsor, America's nemesis in the region, Fidel Castro, was supposed to dry up and blow away. It hasn't turned out that way. Like Rasputin, he is proving very difficult to kill. To the contrary, in the last five years he has scored more political victories than he enjoyed in the previous 20.
The first was the election of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela in 1998. Chavez has graciously provided Cuba with low-cost oil since 2000, but even more worrisome, Chavez has armed the FARC and ELN guerrilla armies in Colombia (both considered terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department). Rumors suggest that Chavez may even be supplying false Venezuelan documents to about 300 Al Qaeda terrorists, and defectors testify that some 6,000 Cuban "sports trainers" are actually Cuban secret police training the Venezuelans in Cuban techniques.
Another coup (almost literally) for Castro was the election of Luis Inacio Lula da Siva as president of Brazil in 2002. Though he campaigned as a moderate, Lula has been a Castro ally for 25 years and has publicly called him "an example to emulate." Lula's Workers Party formed a committee in solidarity with the FARC communist movement in Colombia, as well as a "strategic partnership" with the Chinese Communist Party. When Castro recently arrested and shot a number of dissidents and ordinary people attempting to escape his island paradise, Brazil declined to condemn Cuba and refused to cast a vote critical of this repression in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Ecuador, too, is now governed by a pro-Castro radical, Lucia Gutierrez, a good friend of Hugo Chavez's and a beneficiary of Chavez's financial support.
In El Salvador, the FMLN, the communist movement successfully thwarted by Ronald Reagan's support for the democratic center, is poised to make a comeback. Some in the U.S. government have been fooled by the FMLN's transformed rhetoric. But the communist movement is unchanged.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the FMLN sent a letter to the U.S. embassy suggesting that the terror attack was a consequence of U.S. malfeasance, and four days later FMLN leaders attended a celebrations hosted by leftists in San Salvador in which Osama bin Laden was praised and the U.S. and Israeli flags were burned.
The Forum of Sao Paulo is Castro's worldwide alliance, and its members are quite a rogue's gallery. In addition to the heads of state mentioned above, the Forum also includes the Provisional IRA, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Baath Party, and representatives from Libya, the Tupac Amaru guerrillas in Peru and assorted other terror organizations. Also represented are the communist parties of the remaining "dead-enders" of the communist world -- China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea.
This is Castro's new empire -- and it cannot be shrugged off. Even a dying scorpion still has poison in its tail.