February 20, 2004

February 20, 2004 | News Releases on Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Should Strengthen Security On Its Southern Flank, Analysts Say

WASHINGTON, FEB. 20, 2004 - Pentagon officials are still debating whether to abolish the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command-despite the fact that the terrorist presence in Latin and South America is growing and may soon threaten U.S. interests, says a paper from The Heritage Foundation.

At least seven major terrorist groups, including three with ties to Islamic terrorist organizations, are active in the region. According to U.S. Ambassador Cofer Black, such groups are becoming more active in the drug trade, arms trafficking, money laundering and smuggling. And the problems they cause are exacerbated by "regional troublemakers" such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chàvez, who reportedly has been encouraging activists in Bolivia and Ecuador to rise up against elected leaders.

"Defense officials are focused, understandably, on threats from abroad, but we can't afford to ignore the security of our own neighborhood," says Heritage foreign-policy expert James Carafano, who co-authored the paper with Heritage's Stephen Johnson. "We should work closely with other governments to neutralize these threats before they get out of hand."

One way to do that, Carafano and Johnson say, is to revitalize the U.S. Southern Command. "Closing it down would throw U.S. military programs and goals in the region south of Mexico into disarray," they say. "It would be better to enhance and modernize its role in supporting U.S. military operations in Latin America, fighting both terrorism and the illegal drug trade."

They also stress the need to improve intelligence gathering in the region and make it easier for U.S. officials to train and assist the police forces of foreign democratic governments.

Their paper is online at www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/bg1727.cfm.

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