Paraguay designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization less than a month after Argentina became the first South American country to blacklist the Iran-backed group. Paraguay made its move after authorities gathered enough evidence that confirmed the armed party’s close ties with criminal organizations that are active in its shared border region with Brazil and Argentina. The area is a hub for drug smuggling, money-laundering and human-trafficking.
Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America are a cause for mounting concern in the continent, which will likely mean that more countries will follow in Paraguay and Argentina’s lead and blacklist the party.
Are these developments connected to the ongoing clash between the United States and Iran? Most definitely so.
Tehran is the vital connection for funding all of its proxy terrorist groups, starting with Hezbollah. The party’s secretary general even admitted that the members receive all of their salaries directly from Iran. The renewed sanctions on Tehran have, however, impacted the party, forcing it to set up boxes for donations in Lebanon in order to compensate from the drop in financing. This has led to insignificant results, forcing party members to consider the illicit activity in South America as a possible replacement for Iran’s funds.
The party’s actions have not evaded US attention and many officials in Washington have started to demand that Hezbollah be uprooted from South America given its close proximity to US soil.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz had in July addressed a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to underscore Hezbollah’s growing threat in South America. "We must recommit to ensuring that Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies are denied the resources they need to escalate their campaign of global terrorism,” he said on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Hezbollah’s bombing of the Jewish community center in Argentina. The attack left 85 people dead and 200 wounded.
Cruz’ remarks highlight the major and dangerous project Iran is pursuing through Hezbollah in spreading Shiism in South America. Instilling dogmatic beliefs will pave the way to a future generation that is hostile to the US and that will fuel a major terrorist war against it. Washington has started to realize this threat.
How has Hezbollah, as an Iranian terrorist proxy, managed to reach Latin America?
This did not take place overnight. It began at the end of the Iranian-Iraqi war when Tehran saw in the huge Arab diaspora in South America a fertile ground to recruit agents who will further its revolution and propagate its terrorism. Hezbollah managed to deepen its ties with several populist governments in South America, especially Venezuela with which Iran enjoyed good relations under the rule of late President Hugo Chavez. He believed that the best way to spite the US was to bolster ties with Iran. He therefore, greatly facilitated Hezbollah’s operations in Venezuela and from there, the rest of the continent.
Its spread in South America was made easy by weak governments and border security, as well as rampant corruption.
Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, warned of Hezbollah’s drug trade, saying it would soon be able to reap more funds from it than from any other source.
Moreover, he warned of Hezbollah sleeper cells that are waiting for the signal to strike inside the US itself.
The noose is, however, tightening around Hezbollah in Latin America. Brazil, whose President Jair Bolsonaro boasts very good relations with his American counterpart Donald Trump, may very soon designate Hezbollah as terrorist. The US Congress had recently spoken of the party’s strong support in Brazil, where some 7 million people trace their roots back to Lebanon. One million of those people are Shiites who share Hezbollah’s ideology. Most alarming of all is that the party believes that it can exploit these people to infiltrate any Brazilian government or security agency.
Brazil’s general prosecution also found evidence that ties Hezbollah to two notorious criminal organizations, the Primeiro Comando da Capital and Comando Vermelho.