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TBA Tri State Border Area
TBA Triple State Border Area
Zona Franca de Ciudad del Este

Special Economic Zones (SEZs) throughout Latin America represent the delicate seesaw game that globalization and security play. Although SEZs attract foreign direct investment, fuel jobs, and grow linkages in local economies, they are also extremely vulnerable to crime and corruption. The entrenched permissive environment for criminal activity and links to transnational terrorism is a serious issue for regional and global security.

The Triple-State Border Area (TBA) between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay is home to one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world: the Iguaçu Falls, portrayed in several Hollywood productions and Hong Kong kung-fu movies. Curiously, Iguaçu Falls was also the subject of a poster found hanging in the abandoned home of an alleged top Al Qaeda operative in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2002.

At this frontier where Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina meet, young men on motorcycles cross the “friendship bridge” several times a day, ferrying shoppers looking to score a deal on everything from cheap electronics to illicit “Paraguayan brown” (the local marijuana). Although easily smuggling an AK-47 purchased for $375103 in Ciudad del Este across the border to a hotel room in Brazil certainly raises concerns, as the poster in Kabul suggests, there are even more serious problems found in the TBA.

The TBA has one of the most important Arab communities in South America. Of the Arab population in Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu, an estimated 90 percent is of Lebanese origin. Estimates of the size of the Arab community of immigrants in the TBA (mainly in Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu) range from 20,000 to 30,000, with most residing in Foz do Iguaçu. Of these general figures, Foz do Iguaçu’s Arab population accounts for 10,000 to 21,000 Arabs of Palestinian and Lebanese descent

The cities of Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu provide a thriving black market that fuel transnational organized crime and terror networks. These criminals and terrorists represent a serious security issue because their ability to smuggle goods across borders has surpassed current law enforcement measures and challenged the legitimacy of state and regional institutions. Additionally, evidence shows that the TBA is a major hub for weapons trafficking, drug smuggling, terror financing, and potentially an avenue for WMD proliferation.

Ciudad del Este is an oasis for informants and spies; peddlers of contraband (largely cheap East Asian goods) and counterfeit products; traffickers in drugs, weapons, and humans (prostitutes, including women and children forced into prostitution); common criminals; mafia organizations; and undocumented Islamic terrorists.

During the nineteenth century all three TBA countries fought wars to defend or expand their borders. The War of The Triple Alliance (1864-1870) was the bloodiest of these, devastating Paraguay’s population by as much as 60 percent and nearly wiping out the entire male population. Thus, the most important aspect of the TBA for most of the twentieth century were the military bases established by the governments of the three nations to secure national territory and protect natural resources. The TBA was a desolate outpost for many decades, mostly populated on the Brazilian side of the border.

In 1957, Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner changed the dynamics of the TBA when he established a trade frontier along the border with Brazil’s Foz do Iguacu and named it after himself, Puerto Presidente Stroessner. His mission was arguably what he termed, “marcha al este” (“march to the east”) in an effort to establish a buffer against expansionist Brazil. By offering economic incentives as well as constructing a road to link the new town to the capital in Asuncion he hoped to introduce a Paraguayan population to the TBA, ensuring the nation’s sovereignty. However, his plan lacked proper planning and technical assistance necessary to establish education systems, health care, and any basic infrastructure. From its inception, the city was founded on a basis of smuggling and exportation of contraband materials into Brazil.

Stroessner established over 200 clandestine airfields in the surrounding area of the TBA and along the porous borders with Brazil in order to smuggle cheap goods into the Brazilian economy, fields that are still used to today by narcotics smugglers. During the 1999 to 2003 period various Islamic terrorist groups have used the TBA—where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet—as a haven for fund-raising, recruiting, plotting terrorist attacks elsewhere in the TBA countries or the Americas in general, and other such activities. Islamic terrorist groups with a presence in the TBA reportedly include Egypt’s Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group) and Al-Jihad (Islamic Jihad), al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizballah, and al-Muqawamah (the Resistance; also spelled al-Moqawama), which is a pro-Iran wing of the Lebanon-based Hizballah.

It is estimated that Islamic fundamentalist groups in the TBA and similar areas in Latin America were sending between US$300 million and US$500 million a year in profits from drug trafficking, arms dealing, and other illegal activities, including money laundering, contraband, and product piracy, to radical Islamic groups in the Middle East.

Argentina Bolivia/Paraguay Wall

Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke out 02 February 2017 against a proposed wall by Argentina's Mauricio Macri government alongside its shared northern border with Bolivia and Paraguay. “Discriminatory policies that condemn and criminalize migration are a shameful retreat to rights conquered by our peoples,” Morales stated. “We are countries of the Patria Grande (Latin America) and we cannot follow the North and its policies, building walls to divide us,” Morales stated.

Earlier, right-wing Argentine congressman Alfredo Olmedo proposed legislation promoting the construction of a wall in an effort to curb immigration. "I agree 100% with Trump,” Olmedo said, according to The Guardian. “I know that border very well, and a wall is the solution. We have to build a wall." Olmedo was born and raised in Argentina’s northern Rosario de la Frontera province, which shares a border with both Bolivia and Paraguay.

He argued that there is currently no surveillance along the land border between both countries and “that is why drug and human trafficking are endemic along the border.”

Morales also criticized President Macri’s recent executive order on immigration. On 27 January 2017, the right-wing head of state signed a decree amending the country's immigration laws in order to speed up the deportation of foreigners who have committed crimes. The decree also prohibits the entry of foreign citizens into the South American country if they have prior criminal convictions. “Discriminatory policies that condemn and criminalize migration are a shameful retreat to rights conquered by our peoples,” Morales stated 03 February 2017, adding that the Bolivian government is urging the international community to take action.

Argentina’s millionaire president Mauricio Macri triggered a diplomatic spat with regional neighbours after he signed a controversial order to rein in migration. Macri’s centre-right government has said that the immigration order is intended to fight the rising wave of drug-related crime, which it claims is partly due to an influx of migrants from Argentina’s northern neighbours. Macri claims there was an increase in the country’s population of foreigners in prison, topping 21 percent in 2014. Argentina’s Center for Legal and Social Studies, however, reports the figure to be no more than 5 percent.

Immigration from Argentina’s northern neighbours – where the vast majority of the population is either mestizo or indigenous – has always been a source of racial tension in a country where around 79% of the population is descended from European immigrants. As in the US, migrants in Argentina tend to work in construction or other low-paying jobs; activists say that they often take jobs that Argentinians are unwilling to take.

With Macri’s decree in place, undocumented immigrants will be prohibited from returning to Argentina for at least eight years. Previous immigration laws banned them from returning for up to five years.

Olmedo has repeatedly staked out controversial positions. While Olmedo is a longtime political ally of Macri, the Argentine president has not yet signaled plans to move forward with the proposed border wall. None of Argentina’s major political parties have endorsed its construction, including Macri’s Cambiemos party. Olmedo continues to publicly support the immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, who is trying to force the Mexican government into paying for a wall alongside both countries’ shared border.





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