The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2008

On April 30, the U.S. Department of State released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2008. Of all Western Hemisphere countries, Cuba remained on the list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” while Venezuela was singled out as having been “re-certified as ‘not cooperating fully’ with U.S. antiterrorism efforts under Section 40A of the Arms Export and Control Act”. On the other side of the spectrum, the report recognizes Colombia and Mexico for their cooperation in the “fight against terrorism” last year, in addition to other countries, like Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and El Salvador, who “made serious prevention and preparedness efforts.”

Overall, according to the report, “governments [in the Western Hemisphere] took modest steps to improve their counterterrorism capabilities and tighten border security, but corruption, weak government institutions, ineffective or lack of interagency cooperation, weak or non-existent legislation, and reluctance to allocate sufficient resources limited progress.”

The main concerns in the region remained the “Regionally based Foreign Terrorists Organizations in Colombia, and remnants of radical leftist Andean groups,” such as Sendero Luminoso in Peru. Iran’s presence in the region also came up as a theme warranting attention throughout the report. Since the report’s release, both the Nicaraguan and the Venezuelan governments have spoken out against and rejected the report’s findings, as they received the harshest descriptions of the entire region.

Below are excerpts from the report which identify various “terrorist threats” or “suspicions” throughout the region.

Bolivia
“The Bolivian government deepened its relationship with Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, in 2008. On September 5, during an official visit to Tehran, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that Bolivia would open a new Embassy in Iran. Morales also announced that Iran would help Bolivia develop its petrochemicals, cement fabrication, and agricultural sectors. Iranian state television agreed to provide Spanish-language programming to Bolivian state television.”

Cuba
“Although Cuba no longer actively supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Cuban government continued to provide safe haven to several terrorists…. Cuban authorities continued to publicly defend the FARC. However, on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding without preconditions.”

“The United States has no evidence of terrorist-related money laundering or terrorist financing activities in Cuba, although Cuba has one of the world’s most secretive and non-transparent national banking systems.”

Dominican Republic
“… considered a transit point for suspected terrorists and extremists to Europe, Africa, and within the Western Hemisphere. Despite good intentions, the Dominican government lacked the ability to control its air, land, and sea borders fully, due in part to corruption and the mismanagement of resources.”

Mexico
“Although no serious terrorist incidents targeting U.S. interests/personnel have occurred on or originated from Mexican territory, violence has risen to new levels and narcotraffickers have shown a willingness to use terrorist tactics.”

“Mexico continued to make steady progress in the area of counterterrorism with an emphasis on border security projects targeting the smuggling of aliens who raise terrorism concerns.”

Nicaragua
“In 2008 Nicaragua made no substantive progress towards establishing a Financial Intelligence Unit or on a counterterrorism bill first proposed in 2004. Nicaragua’s judiciary remained highly politicized, corrupt, and prone to manipulation. President Daniel Ortega’s 2007 decision to grant Iranian nationals visa-free entry into Nicaragua remained in effect.”

“President Ortega maintained close relations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On March 6, President Ortega broke diplomatic relations with Colombia for 24 hours following Colombia’s March 1 military action against a FARC base in Ecuador. Nicaragua also publicly welcomed survivors of the March 1 Colombian military operation against the FARC and granted asylum to suspected FARC operatives.”

Peru
“Although the Fujimori government nearly eliminated [Sendero Luminoso] in the 1990s, the organization, now entwined with narcotics trafficking, remained a threat in 2008. The two SL organizations combined were thought to number several hundred armed combatants. While today’s SL is shorter on revolutionary zeal than in the past, analysts believed leaders continued to use Maoist philosophy to justify their illicit activities.”

Venezuela
“President Chávez’s ideological sympathy for the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) limited Venezuelan cooperation with Colombia in combating terrorism.”

“Iran and Venezuela continued weekly flights connecting Tehran and Damascus with Caracas. Passengers on these flights were reportedly subject to only cursory immigration and customs controls at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas. Venezuelan citizenship, identity, and travel documents remained easy to obtain, making Venezuela a potentially attractive way station for terrorists. International authorities remained suspicious of the integrity of Venezuelan documents and their issuance process.”