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U.S. Working to Shore up Allies, Take on 'Narcoterror'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2003 – The United States is working diligently with neighbors to the south to shore up democratic states and take on terrorist organizations, said Army Gen. James E. Hill at the Association of the U.S. Army meeting here.

Hill, the commander of U.S. Southern Command based in Miami, said drug trafficking is fueling assaults on legitimate governments in Central and South America, and foreign terrorists are joining the local varieties.

"Narcoterrorism" is the largest threat emanating from the U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility, and Colombia is the flashpoint, he said. Hill called the three main rebel groups in Colombia -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army, and the United Self-Defense Forces -- "common thugs." He cited the example of the FARC sending a 10-year- old boy to a police station with a bomb-laden bicycle as an example of the types of attacks these narcoterrorists launch.

"These common thugs operate outside the rule of law to profit at the expense of Colombia and its people, and also at the expense of the United States and our people," Hill said. "While some members of these groups may retain fragments of a founding ideology, their actions betray motives driven by greed."

Groups such as these, and others in the region, are deeply entrenched in the drug trade, Hill said.

"These groups operate across all of Colombia's borders and in and out of her neighboring countries," he said. "Their black market is expanding globally, invariably at the expense of the legitimate market."

Drugs are fueling a rise in gangs throughout the region and drug-related crime is increasing, the general said.

"In Bolivia, narcoterrorists and a radical political party have combined efforts to undermine the elected government," he said. "In Peru, the Shining Path is undergoing a resurgence based on the FARC model by protecting cocaine smuggling and collecting taxes on the coca trade. No longer do these groups have to go to the old Soviet Union or to Havana for money. They create their own."

While narcoterrorism is bad enough, Hill said, Middle Eastern terrorists are taking advantage of power vacuums in the area. "Islamic radical groups that support Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamiya Al Gamat, are all active in Latin America," he said. "Support cells extending from Trinidad and Tobago to Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela, to the triborder area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, consist of logistics and support personnel."

Terrorists who have planned or participated in attacks in the Middle East have spent time in the region. The groups generate funds through money laundering, drug trafficking, arms deals, and make millions of dollars every year via their multiple illicit activities, Hill said.

"These logistic cells reach back to the Middle East and extend to this hemisphere the sophisticated global support structure of international terrorism," he said. "Not surprisingly, Islamic radical groups and narcoterrorists in Colombia all practice the same business methods."

U.S. Southern Command helps area governments attack narcoterrorism through a variety of means.

"Attacking narcoterrorism at its source and improving the capabilities of Latin American militaries and security forces are inseparable parts of an overall security strategy, and also a key component of promoting a better and friendlier business environment," Hill said.

"Governments that face direct challenges to their legitimacy, but cannot effectively police their full sovereign territory, can neither attract capital nor promote free trade and open trade," he continued. "If your company has to buy kidnapping insurance for employees, then you lose valuable capital that could be used to improve products, hire new people or become more efficient.

"If you, as an entrepreneur, can start up a company that specializes in bullet- proof vests for children and expect to make a profit, then the normal marketplace is, obviously, out of whack," he said.

An unfettered marketplace is important, Hill added, but it cannot function under the threat of unpredictable violence.

While there are many challenges in the area, there is reason to hope, he said.

"We are working to build a community of military and security forces which are committed to democratic values and human rights," the general said. "We are committed to have each nation's forces in this community capable of securing their national homelands and borders."

Key to this commitment is well-trained, professional security forces, Hill said, noting that disciplined forces are able to resist corruption, promote freedom, and set the conditions for economic opportunity without interfering in the government process itself.

"Professional forces also respect the human and civil rights of their citizens," he said. "This is a dramatic change in philosophy and practice for most of the region's armed forces."

In the 1980s, military dictators ruled most of Latin America. "Save for Cuba, democracy has taken root," he said. "I believe much of this positive trend can be attributed to Southern Command's steady, patient promotion of military professionalism and human rights with the militaries of the region."

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