12 March 2003
Southern Command Chief Warns of Narco-terrorist Threat in Latin America
(James Hill says narco-terrorism fuels radical Islamic groups in
Narco-terrorism is a "pervasive force of destruction" that is
affecting every country in the Americas, says James Hill, commander of
the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom).
In a recent speech in Miami, Hill said that narco-terrorism -- that
is, terrorist activity funded by the illicit drug trade and other
organized crime -- is fueling radical Islamic groups associated with
Hamas, Hizballah, and Al Gamatt that are operating in such places as
the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, and on
Venezuela's Margarita Island. Such groups, he said, generate hundreds
of millions of dollars through drug and arms trafficking to finance
terrorist groups around the world.
"Simply put, direct drug sales and money laundering fund worldwide
terrorist operations," Hill said. "That is fact, not speculation."
The Southcom commander said the threat to countries in the region does
not come from the military force of an adjacent neighbor or from a
foreign invading power. Rather, "today's foe is the terrorist, the
narco-trafficker, the arms trafficker, the document forger, the
international crime boss, and the money launderer," Hill said. The new
threat, he added, "respects neither geographical nor moral
The hemispheric community must act in concert to prevent the
"continuing and increasingly corrosive spread of narco-terrorism and
its connections to international and transnational terrorists, arms,
drugs, and other insidious threats" throughout the region, Hill said
March 3 at the North-South Center.
The goal for regional leaders, he said, is a hemisphere where children
do not have to live in fear of being orphaned by terrorists,
kidnapped, or pressed into service by gangs, drug traffickers and
"Our children deserve to be safe -- and if we act together, we can
give them safety and security," said Hill.
Following is the text of Hill's prepared remarks:
Remarks by James Hill, Commander of the U.S. Southern Command
March 3, 2003
"Building Regional Security Cooperation in the Western Hemisphere"
Today's Western Hemisphere strategic environment is unique. In stark
contrast to many other parts of the world, countries in the Western
Hemisphere are not threatened militarily by their neighbors.
Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of the governments in Latin
America and the Caribbean were under either communist or autocratic
rule. Today, every country in the hemisphere except one is a
Democracy is the goal and the accepted model for government in the
Western Hemisphere. This is significant because democracies tend to
look out for the welfare of their people, seek positive relations with
their neighbors, and most importantly, don't make war against each
When flare-ups have occurred in the Americas in the past decade,
they've been resolved by diplomacy and regional cooperation, rather
than by force of arms. Contrary to popular myth, Latin America is the
least militarized region of the world, accounting for only 4 percent
of the world's defense spending.
The peace between our nations should have translated into greater
prosperity and more security for the people of the Americas, but for
some it has not. We know that our hemisphere, like the entire world,
has become a more volatile and unpredictable place, and we've got a
long way to go to make it safe.
Today, the threat to the countries of the region is not the military
force of the adjacent neighbor or some invading foreign power. Today's
foe is the terrorist, the narco-trafficker, the arms trafficker, the
document forger, the international crime boss, and the money
This threat is a weed that is planted, grown and nurtured in the
fertile ground of ungoverned spaces such as coastlines, rivers and
unpopulated border areas. This threat is watered and fertilized with
money from drugs, illegal arms sales, and human trafficking. This
threat respects neither geographical nor moral boundaries.
Nowhere is the threat more graphically and brutally active than
Colombia. Last month in Bogotá, a 200-kilogram car bomb planted by the
FARC exploded in a parking garage under the 11-story El Nogal social
club, killing 35 people, including six children at a piñata party, and
injuring 173 more. I never refer to these terrorists as guerillas,
insurgents, or rebels. Neither does the secretary of state - because,
in his words, those labels romanticize them. There is nothing romantic
about these narco-terrorists who wreak havoc on Colombia and its
These are the same narco-terrorists who employ home-made propane tank
mortars -- with a range of 400 yards and notorious inaccuracy. They do
what they are meant to do -- kill indiscriminately. These
narco-terrorists conduct violent, incessant attacks to undermine the
security and stability of Colombia. They are incredibly well-financed
by their involvement in every aspect of drug cultivation and
production, kidnapping and extortion. They have long since lost any
ideological motivation they once may have had. Today, they are
motivated by money and power, protecting and sustaining themselves
through drug trafficking and terror. They offer nothing of value to
the state or people, no better form of government, no liberation from
an oppressive dictatorship. They offer death and lawlessness.
Last year, over 28,000 Colombians were murdered -- 13 times the rate
of the U.S. More than 2,900 were kidnapped -- including many children.
More than 450 Colombians lost their lives last year to landmines --
the very vast majority due to the narco-terrorists, not the military.
One and a half million Colombians have been driven from their homes,
displaced by the war. There were more terrorist attacks in Colombia
alone last year than in all other nations of the world combined.
Colombia's narco-terrorists supply almost all of the cocaine and
heroin consumed in the United States. Drugs killed more than 19,000
Americans in 2001 and were indirectly responsible for another 55,000
deaths, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. By
statistical definition, this makes these drugs weapons of mass
The facts: narco-terrorists and other armed illicit groups operate in
and out of southern Panama, northern Ecuador, northern Peru, Bolivia,
portions of Venezuela and the tri-border area; they are involved in
kidnappings in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Paraguay; they smuggle weapons
and drugs in Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Mexico, and Peru. They use the
same routes and infrastructure for drugs, arms, illegal aliens, and
other illicit activities. There is a huge and growing market for
forged and illegal immigration documents; narco-terrorists and radical
Islamic groups are feeding this market.
As traffickers exchange drugs for arms and services in the transit
countries, transit nations become drug consumers as well.
Narco-terrorism fuels radical Islamic groups associated with Hamas,
Hizballah, al Gamaat, and others. These groups, operating out of the
tri-border area, and other locales, like Margarita Island off
Venezuela, generate hundreds of millions of dollars through drug and
arms trafficking with narco-terrorists. Simply put, direct drug sales
and money laundering fund worldwide terrorist operations. That is
fact, not speculation.
I say this not to point fingers at any one country; I don't have
enough fingers. The reality is that narco-terrorism is a pervasive
force of destruction that not only affects our region, but each and
every one of our countries -- big and small, rich or poor, weak or
powerful. This is a battle that must be fought together. If we don't,
I fear we risk winning the battle in Colombia, but losing the war in
the rest of the region.
Narco-terrorists and drug trafficking organizations have shown
considerable flexibility in adjusting their operations, tactics, and
locations in reaction to our combined efforts.
If we are not as flexible, if we are not as agile, or as quick to
anticipate and counter these adjustments, we'll find ourselves always
one step behind, with old or inaccurate intelligence, lunging at
shadows, and we'll come away with incomplete results. That's why I
believe we need to re-evaluate our armed forces and security forces
and collective agreements in order to bring about increased
coordination and cooperation.
I would never say that the day of traditional military capability has
passed, but it surely must evolve to remain relevant and defeat the
threats of the 21st century. We must have the courage and confidence
to honestly evaluate how our armed forces are configured, trained, and
equipped, and more importantly, how well they communicate with and
mutually support their sister services, other security forces, and
Working together in multilateral exercises and forming trust through
transparency are just some of the confidence- and security-building
measures that have formed a structure for multilateral security
cooperation in the Americas. We must continue to build upon this
edifice with even more synchronization of effort.
The U.S. government and U.S. Southern Command are currently working on
initiatives to do just that -- not only to exercise together, but also
to operate together in order to shut down transnational threats.
The 5th Defense Ministerial Conference of the Americas held in
Santiago in November emphasized the "desire to strengthen the
inter-institutional and inter-governmental coordination ... which
permits the ... preservation and stability of peace." Cooperation and
coordination are much more complex than just communicating with each
other. They must be built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust,
and they must be mutually beneficial. Without these precepts, there is
no cooperation. The most basic level of cooperation and coordination
must be between the branches of the armed services themselves. This
entails information-sharing, planning, and training. When we train,
plan and operate together, we learn each other's terminology,
doctrine, limitations and capabilities, and we forge a strong,
seamless, combined arms force. I believe we're slowly getting better
in this area.
The next level must be between the military and the other security
forces such as the police and customs, and in this area we've got a
long way to go.
Armed forces must -- operating within their constitutional and legal
constraints -- support and cooperate with law enforcement agencies in
combating drugs and other transnational threats. And where the legal
boundaries don't make sense anymore given the current threat, they
should engage in an honest dialogue with their democratically elected
leaders to determine if laws and restrictions need revision. That is
an essential discussion that takes place in a democracy, a proper role
for a military in support of a democracy.
I routinely visit military and civilian leaders throughout Latin
America and the Caribbean. I talk with them about re-addressing the
roles and missions of their armed forces to ensure they focus on
relevant 21st-century threats, not those of the past. Our ideas must
look ahead in anticipation of what can be -- and [we must] transform
ourselves to meet these new threats -- new ideas that will ensure
multi-national cooperation and coordination to fight common enemies.
We must act together to prevent the continuing and increasingly
corrosive spread of narco-terrorism and its connections to
international and transnational terrorists, arms, drugs, and other
insidious threats throughout the hemisphere. It is no mean or simple
But let me tell you what is at stake if we do not succeed -- our
children and their children. Our goal needs to be an Americas where
children do not have to live in fear of being orphaned by terrorists.
Children should not live in fear of being kidnapped. Children should
not live in fear of being pressed into service by gangs, drug
traffickers and narco-terrorists, and they should not have their lives
cut short being forced to work in a coca lab, breathing and ingesting
A child, whether he or she is growing up in Bogota, Rio, Pucallpa,
Guatemala City, Port-au-Prince, Paramaraibo or New York, deserves to
grow up, be loved, cared for, and have at least basic needs like
nutrition, education and the one thing that many of today's children
are missing -- the feeling that they are safe. Our children deserve to
be safe. And if we act together, we can give them safety and security.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you tonight, God bless you
and God bless each of your countries.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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