- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

While President Bush is busy trying to build an alliance in the Middle East for the war on global terrorism, countries in the Americas have stated their commitment to the battle. Important as this is, these countries have yet to put substance behind their supportive rhetoric.

Last Friday, the 34 members of the Organization of American States (OAS) held a meeting to reaffirm their commitment to combat terrorism. An ongoing terrorist trial in Argentina highlights the region's significance to global counterterrorism efforts. Currently, 20 persons accused of secondary roles in the 1994 suicide bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, which killed 86 persons, are on trial in that city. Authorities in Argentina won't say whether their investigation is close to finding those responsible for planning and financing the bombing, but have said the probe extends beyond the country's borders. The attack on the Jewish cultural center came two years after a bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 22 persons.

So, while the Sept. 11 attacks dwarf those bombings in scale and premeditation, terrorists have clearly found a home in South America. In fact, an area in Latin America known as the triple frontier, because it is located at the confluence of the borders of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, has long been a regional hub for arms and drug smuggling.

In a column for The Washington Times, Jack Sweeney, a senior analyst at Stratfor, a global intelligence company, warned 31 days before the Sept. 11 attack: "If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates into all-out war, these groups [in the triple frontier] could start attacks against Israeli and U.S. targets in South America." While this "all-out war" between Israelis and Palestinians doesn't seem imminent today, some kind of military confrontation in the Middle East does appear likely. Given the likelihood that there are a number of terrorists living in the triple frontier, the region's rigorous cooperation will most certainly save lives.

Latin America's support in tracing the terrorists' money trail is also key, but the commitment here has been vague. The OAS said it would urge all states to ratify the U.N. International Convention for the Suppression of Financing Terrorism, adopted on Dec. 9, 1999, in New York. For some OAS members, particularly the Caribbean countries, the inflow of capital related to money laundering is the main catalyst for economic activity. These countries will therefore have little incentive to bolster transparency, so the United States must be prepared to give some trade incentives to motivate information exchange. OAS countries will also be important partners in enforcing border control, particularly Mexico. Unfortunately, member countries haven't yet specified how they may improve their patrols. Terrorists and other evil-doers have long seen the Third World's limited law-enforcement resources as a vulnerability to exploit.

The region's cooperation will be invaluable. However, to be meaningful, the stated resolutions of the OAS must have a concrete outcome.

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