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Iran and Hezbollah in the Tri-Border Areas of

Latin America: A Look at the ?Old TBA? and

the ?New TBA?
By Alma Keshavarz
Journal Article | Nov 12 2015 - 3:06pm

Iran and Hezbollah in the Tri-Border Areas of Latin America: A Look at the Old TBA and the
Alma Keshavarz
This paper examines two Tri-Border areas in Latin America. The first or Old TBA is the border zone
encompassing Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, commonly referred to as the triple frontier. The New
TBA zone follows Chilean political scientist and expert on international terrorism Ivn Witkers model,
encompassing the borders of Chile, Bolivia and Peru. The criminal demographics and dynamics of the
illicit markets and related security concerns are reviewed.
The Tri-Border area (TBA) of Latin America has long lured Middle Easterners, specifically from
Lebanon. The Lebanese diaspora in Latin America goes as far back as the nineteenth century.[1] During
the 1960s and 1970s the booming economy of the TBA zone at the converging borders of Argentina,
Brazil and Paraguay, had generous tax legislation that attracted foreign merchants from Syria, Lebanon,
and Taiwan.[2] Paraguay, for instance, has low import tariffs, free trade zones where items are reexported into Argentina and Brazil, and weak enforcement of customs duties.[3] However, the TBA
benefits from the dark economy of the region, which consists of money laundering, intellectual property
crime (IPC), and narcotics trafficking.[4] Over time, the TBA became a hotbed for extremist
organizations like Hezbollah and a safe haven for post-Revolution Iranian operatives.[5] The Lebanese
population in the region grew at the height of the Civil War in Lebanon between 1975 and 1989.
Approximately 40 percent of the Lebanese population was displaced during this period, many
permanently emigrating elsewhere in regions like Latin America.
Iranians slowly poured into the area soon after the clerics took over Iran and began the spread of their
Islamic ideology. It is during this period that Hezbollah emerged as not only a dysfunctional guerilla
force primarily against Israel, but a more organized group serving as Irans proxy. Since a significant
Lebanese population was already present in the TBA, Hezbollah effortlessly established cells in the
region, recruiting out of both Lebanese and indigenous communities. Hence, Iran and Hezbollah have
been present together in the TBA since the 1980s. During this time, Iran covertly supported its proxy in
the Middle East and abroad in Latin America while targeting Latin American countries by establishing
mosques and cultural centers to spread the revolution.[6] Latin Americas unpredictable environment
became a breeding ground for extremism. Iran and Hezbollah found this volatility to be appealing.
Existing criminal organizations and corrupt governments like that of Venezuela welcomed Hezbollah, and

later Iran more openly. However, with the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chvez, it is widely
believed that Iran may not have only lost its leading partner in Latin America, but also its regional
influence. Another contention is that Irans influence in the region has generally been overhyped. It can
also be argued that the United States gradual allocation of resources elsewhere to alleviate more pressing
matters has taken away preferred intelligence capabilities to assess illicit activities executed by Hezbollah.
Nonetheless, Iran has proven to be more malleable than expected. Iran and Hezbollah have persistently
spread across Latin America to prolong their influence and power. Iran has maneuvered throughout the
region to places like Chile and Bolivia, while Hezbollah has also steadily expanded its network. Although
the TBA has been a base of operations for both Iran and Hezbollah to smuggle drugs, launder money and
recruit sympathetic operatives among other things, a new Tri-Border Area has emerged that is seemingly
more favorable. Bolivia, for instance, can potentially facilitate an even greater Iranian presence than
currently exists, as Iran exploits a new stateless Tri-Border Area between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia.[7]
Tri-Border Area: Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay
The TBA is centered on the Argentine City of Puerto Iguaz, the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguau, and the
Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este, as depicted in Figure 1 below.[8] The region is a geographical
intersection of two major rivers: Rio Parana and Rio Iguau, in which Paraguay is to the West of the Rio
Parana, Argentina is South of the Igauu and Brazil is to the North.[9] Of the Arab population living in
Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguau, an estimated 90 percent is of Lebanese origin.[10]

Arabs in the TBA essentially have their own communities and support each other. A 2003 study on the
TBA distinctly describes the geography and the economic prosperity of the area. Brazil and Paraguay
wanted to promote regional trade through tourism from the famous Iguassu Falls (Cataratas do Iguau)
and abundant energy resources. As a result, government planners established a free-trade zone in Ciudad
del Este in the early 1970s.[11] This was around the time there was a steady influx of Middle Easterners
immigrating to the area. Due to this new free-trade zone, Argentineans and Brazilians were able to
purchase cheap electronics and luxury items from Paraguay. As the study notes, the TBA, with already
more than half a million inhabitants, soon became a lawless jungle corner of Argentina, Brazil and

However, given the chaotic nature of the region, it has been difficult for the United States to fully assess
the existing security threat. United States SOUTHCOM Commander, General John Kelly explained that
this is due in part to limited intelligence capabilities. The U.S. does not entirely know the full amount of
terrorist financing generated in Latin America, or the scope of possible criminal-terrorist collaboration.
[13] A wave of violent crime continues to cast over Foz do Iguau in Brazil, while Argentine and
Paraguayan cities remain prone to smuggling and money laundering. Therefore, Hezbollahs presence is
due in large part to the interests, opportunities and benefits the region provides. Latin America is home to
the largest Lebanese population in the world with over eight million immigrants and descendants in
Argentina and Brazil alone, which is not limited to Muslims.[14] The geography of the region has
allowed for Hezbollah to establish a lucrative business headquarters. General Kelly also noted in 2014,
that the exact amount of profits generated by these illicit activities in the region is unclear, but it is likelyand at least-in the tens of millions of dollars.[15] The ports allow easy transportation as well as
smuggling routes in surrounding areas.[16] Weak anti-terrorism laws for money laundering in Argentina
and Paraguay have allowed this sort of activity to go unnoticed. Most strikingly, Brazil does not have any
kind of anti-terrorism laws that would help combat the illicit activities in the country related to Hezbollah
and Iran, nor does the country recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Organized crime groups
like cartels in the area assist Hezbollah and Iranian operatives. Regional expert Douglas Farah explains
that this emerging combination of threats comprises a hybrid of criminal-terrorist, and state-non-state
franchises, combining multiple nations acting in concert, and traditional TOCs [transnational organized
crime] and terrorist groups acting as proxies for the nation-states that sponsor them.[17] Most simply put
by one anti-drug official, this cooperation between terrorist and criminal organizations is not ideological,
its business.[18]
While Hezbollah gradually established cells in the TBA, Iranian operatives soon followed to spread their
revolution. Iran sought to cultivate the youth and inject their brand of Islam into Latin America by way of
cultural community centers while clandestinely establishing roots for intelligence networks. The existing
Arab population that was sympathetic to Hezbollah garnered the support of those Iran sought for
recruitment. Since then, the region has been serving as a Hezbollah safe haven, heavily influencing the
Arab and Muslim communities with their radical doctrine, as well as many natives. Above all, Iranian and
Hezbollah operatives travel around the region to fundraise, launder money, train and recruit prospective
sympathizers, plot against their enemies, and conduct other terrorist-related activities.[19] With the
geographical convenience of the area coupled with soft enforcement policies, the TBA was the first Latin
American region that established a considerable Iranian and Hezbollah presence.
A recent report indicates that Argentina is a source country for precursor chemicals and a transit country
for cocaine produced in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, and for marijuana produced in Paraguay.[20] Cartels
make use of Hezbollah affiliations in the country to transport narcotics out of the region into other parts of
the world. Narcotics are a major factor in Argentinas economy. The country continues to have a rampant
drug problem and the government is doing close to nothing to curb drug trafficking, which is another
factor that may attract money laundering practices in the country and help criminal organizations in the
However, Iran and Hezbollahs presence in Argentina are most notable due to the 1992 attack on the
Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires as well as the 1994 attack outside the AMIA Jewish community center.
Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman believed that Iran was the architect of the 1994 attack.
After spending the last ten years investigating Argentinas worst terrorist attack, Nisman was found dead
in his home the day before he was set to testify on Irans role. He implicated Argentinas President

Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner as covering up Irans role in the attack to protect an important trade deal.
Some in Argentina continue to believe this to be true.
Further revelations uncovered Iranian infiltrator, Hojjat al-Eslam Mohsen Rabbani, the former cultural
attach in Irans embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as playing a pivotal role in establishing firm roots
in the region. He is the alleged architect of the 1994 AMIA attacks and is wanted by Argentinean
authorities as well as Interpol. He recruited young men he believed would support his cause and trained
them to be students of Islam. Yet, his status in Argentina with an Interpol red notice, Rabbani is unable
to travel outside of Iran. However, Venezuela provides Rabbani falsified papers to travel to and around the
region undetected.
Rabbani effectively recruited Hezbollah sympathizers in Latin America, which included his own students
that would continue to spread his message in areas of Latin America that were out of his immediate reach.
Also known as the Terrorist Professor,[21] Rabbani trained Suhail Assad and Abdul Karim Paz, two of
the most influential Rabbani disciples present in the region. Abdul Karim Paz, an Argentinean convert to
Islam, established the prominent cultural center in Santiago, Chile: The Centro Chileno Islamico de
Cultura de Puerto Montt. He fled Argentina with Rabbani after the AMIA attacks to Qom, Iran, where
Rabbani continued his mentorship, only to return to Argeninta several years later to continue proselytizing
the youth in the region in Islamic centers, particularly at the At-Tahuid mosque.[22]
Suhail Assad, Pazs brother-in-law, is the director of the Center for Iranian-Latin American Cultural
Exchange in Caracas, Venezuela.[23] Of Lebanese descent and born in Argentina, Assad moved to
Lebanon to study Islam, later receiving a degree in Islamic Culture and Civilization in Qom under the
instruction of Rabbani himself. He is known to frequently travel to Qom to teach Latin American students
visiting Iran.
Ciudad del Este is conveniently located on the Pan American Highway, which runs from Asuncin,
Paraguay, to Curitiba.[24] This major city in Paraguay is known to be a center for Hezbollah activity,
which includes the famous Galeria Page Mall that the U.S. sanctioned in 2006. The shopping center is
filled with stores operated by Hezbollah members, who fundraise for the organization and send
remittances directly to Lebanon. In April 2006, Paraguayan media reported that millions of dollars were
being funneled from the TBA to the Middle East, which is due to Paraguays soft law enforcement
practices. The U.S. intelligence community estimated that Hezbollah members in the region produce tens
of millions of dollars for the organization through both licit and illicit means.[25] This discovery led the
Treasury to designate nine individuals and two entities that have provided financial and logistical support
to Hezbollah.[26] Nonetheless, the Arab population in Paraguay is vital to the economy, even their illicit
Authorities in the country have made attempts to instill order and eliminate extremist fundraising. In one
instance, as detailed in a 2006 essay covering Hezbollahs global operations, Paraguayan authorities
arrested an alleged Hezbollah member, Ali Khalil Mehri in February 2000 for selling millions of dollars
of counterfeit software and funneling the proceeds directly to Hezbollah.[27] He was suspected of being
affiliated with the pro-Iranian wing of Hezbollah, Al Mukawama, which is also known to have training
camps in the region. As the report notes, Mehri managed to break out of prison later that year and flee to
Syria. Another Hezbollah figure, Assad Ahmad Barakat, immigrated to Paraguay in 1985 with his father
from Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. Barakat established an expansive Hezbollah network in the
country, ultimately being labeled as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. His electronics
store in the Galeria Page Mall was a fundraising source for Hezbollah. He has also been linked to the

AMIA bombings, having allegedly supplied bombing materials for the attack.
In November 2001 also at the Galeria Page mall, Hezbollah operative Sobhi Mahmoud Fayad was arrested
for tax evasion and money laundering. The Paraguayan National Polices Anti-Terrorism Department
(DAT) reportedly believed that Fayad, with Assad Ahmad Barakat and Ali Hassan Abdallah organized the
massive Hezbollah fundraising network in the TBA. As the previously cited report notes, Fayads
influence within the Lebanese community in the TBA was emphasized by reports that he was seen in the
company of the new Lebanese ambassador in Paraguay, Hicham Hamdam.[28] In 2002, the DAT
detected an Al Mukawama operations center in the Tres Lagoas and Foz de Iguau areas of the TBA.[29]
The lawless border has allowed various wings of Hezbollah to infiltrate the region and continue
recruitment operations. Overall, Paraguay remains one of the most corrupt and poor states in Latin
America, which makes it all the more attractive for continual illicit activity.
In Brazil, operational support is sent to other parts of the TBA by Hezbollah members. Due to this
regional importance, Brazilian intelligence believes that Hezbollah uses Brazil as a main port for terrorist
activity. Additionally, an Insight Crime report notes that the Brazilian news outlet, O Globo, discovered a
link between Hezbollah and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital or PCC), which is
Brazils largest and most violent organized crime syndicate, operating out of the Sao Paulo with footholds
across the TBA. Specifically, as Figure 2[30] shows, the PCC operates out of Sao Paulo and has
influences across the TBA, Foz de Iguazu, Curitiba, and Porto Allegre, all of which are areas that benefit
Hezbollah activity. Hezbollah helps the PCC obtain black market weaponry while the gang helps
Hezbollah with their needs in the TBA.[31]

Most importantly, Rabbani was known to frequently travel to Brazil, which his brother, Mohammad
Baquer Rabbani Razavi, founder of the Iranian Association, was reportedly known to have resided.
Razavi recruited and converted Brazilians through the Al Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb mosque in Curitiba
with financial assistance from the Brazilian Institute on Islamic Studies operated by Rabbani.[32]
Rabbanis main objective in Brazil is to recruit students for religious formation classes taught in Iran.
[33] Brazilian students who have travelled to Qom for training revealed that they had visited Hezbollahs

premises.[34] Rabbanis courses in Iran are reportedly some sort of an entryway for terrorism,
[including] radical preaching and training in military camps.[35] One student, Rodrigo Jallou, created
his own network and leads the Mesquitado Bras, which is located in the urban, primarily immigrant
neighborhood of Bras in Sao Paulo.[36] He also inaugurated the Centro Cultural Imam Ali, in the same
city, which receives funding from the Seal of the Prophets Foundation in Curitiba.[37] Interestingly, the
Foundation is tied to the Eastern Cultural Foundation based in Qom, Iran, which is operated by Rabbani.
[38] Though the Rabbani brothers no longer live in Brazil, they are still believed to travel to Latin
America. The Rabbani network is a vast operation that is still present in Latin America, but Nismans
investigations noted that Iranian intelligence in Brazil began in 1984, including out of the Iranian embassy
in Brasilia.[39] Intelligence operations at the time were headed by Jaffar Saadat Ahmad-Nia, also known
as the fixer for regional logistical support, who was then implicated in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli
As noted earlier, Brazil lacks any anti-terrorism enforcement, nor does it consider Hezbollah to be a
terrorist organization. The Brazilian government staunchly contends that there is no terrorism activity in
their country. Foz do Iguau has a heavy Islamic presence as well as one of the largest Lebanese enclaves
in all of Latin America.[41] Its proximity to the Parana River near Ciudad del Este continues the flow of
illicit activities. Reportedly, many Arabs in Brazil maintain commercial outlets in Ciudad del Este,
further demonstrating the usefulness of the uncontrolled borders.[42] Additionally, Hamzi Assad Barakat,
Assad Ahmad Barakats brother, was arrested in Brazil in 2013 under the suspicion of operating a
fraudulent scheme in the clothing industry.[43] While the U.S. Treasury Department explained
Barakats links to Hezbollah and his illicit activities, Brazils government responded by saying there
were no signs of terrorism financing in the border region, which has long attracted large numbers of
immigrants from the Middle East.[44] The Barakats have had a foothold in Paraguay and have operated
in Brazil. There are others like them with more than one million Muslims having Brazilian citizenship.
[45] Current protests in the country against President Dilma Rousseffs government is likely to escalate,
which poses a security concern. Non-state actors like Hezbollah may seek to take advantage of areas of
unrest and due to the lack of anti-terrorism laws, it is difficult for authorities to monitor potential
threatening situations.
New TBA: Chile, Bolivia and Peru
Despite the success Iran and Hezbollah have had in the TBA, there is still far more available ground to
exploit. Witker describes the new Tri-Border Area as consisting of northern Chile (Arica and Iquique),
southern Peru (Tacna and Puno), and Bolivia (from El Alto to the Iranian Embassy in La Paz).[46]
Figure 3 shows the extent of the region, which covers more area than the original TBA. Iran and
Hezbollah are capitalizing on this new area to institute another base of operations. It is indicative of their
ability to adapt to changing security patterns and commitment to recruiting individuals for their cause
while maintaining relationships with regional organized crime groups.

Chiles ports, for instance, are an indispensable resource as Iran is regularly taking advantage by docking
its vessels. The number of Muslims in the country is also rapidly growing. Iranian cultural centers and
mosques serve as an apparatus in the country to indoctrinate the youth, convincing them to convert and
follow their message. There is similar activity in Bolivia, with an even stronger Hezbollah and Iranian
presence. The unfavorable relationship between the United States and Bolivia has made enough room for
Iran and Hezbollah to squeeze in. Peru now has an uncontrollable drug problem, especially cocaine
production, which can continue to allure not only crime groups, but facilitate criminal-terror
collaboration. Finally, in Peru, Iran can likely exploit the more poor regions, which are involved in
cocaine production to maintain a presence in the country.
Diplomatic relations between Iran and Chile have been tepid at best, but that has not interfered with Irans
desire to take advantage of the loose Chilean border with Bolivia. Chile is a sleeping giant in the broader
regional anti-terrorism effort, [and] is increasingly serving as a zone of entry/exit for Iranian agents to
move undetected in the region.[47] Irans presence is still known despite U.S. and international
sanctions. The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which has been sanctioned since 2009,
sails to Latin America and reportedly docks at Chilean seaports. The IRISL continues to sail by
reflagging its vessels. The Free Trade Zones of Iquique, Arica, and other seaports in the northern part of
Chile have been prone to Hezbollah activity, including drug smuggling and money laundering.[48] These
border areas in the country are not as easy to monitor compared to other parts of Chile, which makes them
preferable entry points. The checkpoints near Iquique are the poorest in comparison with other areas in
the country, mainly due to geographical difficulties to fully monitor the area. Moreover, due to law
enforcement monitoring the TBA, Paraguayan citizens of Lebanese descent relocated to Chile, specifically
near Iquique, to take advantage of the poorly regulated border. Iquique is also a primary city for money
laundering and smuggling narcotics and personnel.
As of the most recent statistics, there are also roughly 4,000 Muslims living in Chile, many of whom are
converts. This confirms that the recruitment process Iran and Hezbollah employ is effective. The first
mosque in Chile was constructed in 1995. Since then, other mosques have been established across the

country. People enter these mosques merely out of curiosity. If they like what they see, they convert and
practice. These mosques serve as prime recruitment centers more than places of worship. The Centro
Cultural Islamico de Las Condes in Santiago is the largest Islamic community center in the heart of
Chile. The Centro Cultural Islamico de Las Condes and the mosques in the country help spread the Shia
Islam message to the masses. It is worth mentioning that not all Chilean converts are radical Islamists or
Hezbollah sympathizers, yet the greater numbers of Muslims in the country is telling of the functionality
of the mosques and cultural centers.
According to a 2013 report, Bolivia ranks as the third largest producer of cocaine in the world, behind
Colombia in second and Peru in first.[49] Drug smuggling in the country has steadily increased, as have
Hezbollah and Iranian activity. Bolivia has proven to be the most important country to Iran and Hezbollah
in Latin America since the death of Chvez. Though Venezuela is still an important partner, Bolivia is
strategically more important. The country has quickly emerged as the premier location by which to
expand influence throughout Latin America. There are no fewer than 145 accredited Iranian diplomats
living in the Andean nation,[50] as well as a strong Iranian military presence. When President Evo
Morales ousted the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which ceased all narcotrafficking cooperation between the two countries, Iran replaced the United States in a new anti-narco
trafficking partnership. This symbolically significant deal seemingly benefits Iran and its proxy. The
government is generally still quite corrupt, which continues to attract organized crime, but also the
difficult terrain contributes to the drug trafficking problem.
However, the development of a facility located in Warnes, near Santa Cruz, Bolivia is concerning.
Warnes is considered one of the most dangerous places in the Western Hemisphere.[51] The facility,
commonly referred to as the regional defense school of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA),
merely poses as a kind of school, but there are no reports of students or people who offer logistical
support. Instead, it is a military academy for asymmetric warfare.[52] More specifically, the military
school is designed to eradicate any vestiges of U.S. military doctrine in the region.[53] The structure
could not have been established without Iranian support. Iran has successfully infiltrated Bolivia with a
steady military presence as well as its observer nation status in ALBA. Iranian defense minister, Ahmed
Vahidi, a controversial figure due to his involvement with the 1994 Buenos Aires attack, attended the
schools inauguration.[54] With the number of Iranian diplomats and a sizeable number of military
personnel, the country has been rather welcoming not surprisingly due to the more recent anti-capitalist
rhetoric. This kind of support also benefits Hezbollah. Members of the organization can freely move
around in the country with Iranian counterparts, and use Bolivia as a base of operations.
Iranian endeavors also reach into Peru. Iranians and Hezbollah have focused their attention in the
southern Andes of Peru, a region that is very poor and prone to trafficking weapons, drugs, and people.[55]
Due to the geographical location of this region, it is difficult for authorities to monitor. Specifically,
Iranian and Hezbollah activity was discovered in 2011 in the Apurmac valley region, which is described
as a poor, remote, and sparsely populated, deeply involved in cocaine production. At this time, a
connection was forming between the Islamic Republic and other activist movements in Peru controlled by
Havana, Caracas and La Paz.[56] These specific activists have been present in Peru since 2005 and
include the Casas de ALBA (House of ALBA) and the Casas de Amistad Peruano-Cubanos (PeruvianCuban Friendship House). These socio-political organizations sought to weaken the Peruvian
democratic institutions and spreading socialist ideology.[57] While there is a rather small Muslim
population in Peru, the countrys former minister of the interior, Dardo Lopez-Dolz believes that there is a

connection between that of Shia Islam, specifically that of the return of the Mahdi, and that of
traditional Inkarri myth, believed by many indigenous in the Andes to represent the return of the Inca
(God).[58] Additionally, it is believed that Suhail Assad had first visited Peru in 2011 and it is likely that
he sought to include Peru in Iranian activities.[59] Though it can be argued that the small numbers in
Muslims in the country are of no concern, especially pertaining to Dardo-Lopezs statements, it should be
noted that Iranians can manage to spread influence in some way due the probability of spillover effects
from Bolivia into Peru.
Most recently, there was the arrest of Mohammed Amadar, also known as Mohammed Galeb Hamdar, in
October 2014 in Lima, Peru. Israeli intelligence, Mossad, informed Peruvian authorities of Amadars
presence in the country and his suspected ties to Hezbollah. Amadar raised red flags when he traveled to
Peru from Brazil and married a woman, Carmen Carrion Vela, who holds dual citizenship for Peru and the
United States. When Peruvian authorities arrested Amadar, he was alone in his home while his wife was
in Florida. They found traces of TNT, detonators, and other bomb making paraphernalia. Intelligence and
other authorities believe that based on what was found in Amadars possession, he was a planner and not
an operative who would personally carry out attacks. The prosecutor on the case, Wendy Calero stated
that Amadar admitted his affiliation with Hezbollah and Carrion Vela staged the marriage with Amadar,
receiving money from Hezbollah in exchange.[60] Though this was one arrest, it is a small piece of
evidence that Hezbollah exists in the country. Most importantly, however, Peru is the number one
cocaine-producing nation. The most recent reports of cocaine ferry planes revealed the corruptness of
Perus military. One army lieutenant was arrested for collecting bribes from drug traffickers to allow
these planes to fly over the Apurmac region. The drug problem in the country is rapidly rising and has
potential to facilitate drug groups conspiring with terror groups, particularly taking advantage of the
poorest regions in Peru.
Taken separately, the original TBA is functioning from a dark economy and continual money laundering
practices. Argentina, for instance, has experienced declines in Hezbollah activity, but it is still peppered
with Rabbani followers. They are continuing to recruit members to be trained as operatives with help
from over 40 Islamic organizations that are linked to Rabbanis network throughout Latin America.[61]
These disciples have the pulse of the Islamic communities in Argentina, and maintain an influence in the
country, continuing the legacy of their mentor. The violence and unrest in Brazil is continuing to
escalate. Iran and Hezbollahs presence in Brazil is attributed to the number of cultural and religious
centers that are used for recruiting. Business fronts continue to exist in Paraguay that serves Hezbollahs
financial schemes. Overall, as Table 1 shows the development in the TBA, Argentina, Brazil and
Paraguay are still an area that should be monitored.

The timeline of Lebanese, Hezbollah and Iranian presence in the TBA details the origins of Arab arrival in
the region and how Iran followed. It is important to note, however, that not all Arabs that immigrated to
the region were Muslims or Muslims that sympathized with Hezbollah. Law enforcement agencies
monitor the region given its history and the virulent activity committed by Iranian and Hezbollah
operatives. Even though the three countries that comprise the original TBA established a Tripartite
Command of the Tri-Border in 1996 to combat terrorism, smuggling and money laundering by extremist
organizations, it has been much to the dismay of those who wanted it to succeed. Government corruption,
the lack of proper law enforcement training and resources, and an inadequate justice system have proven
the task force to be rather ineffective. A later attempt in 2002, the triple frontier states joined the U.S. in
what was called the 3+1 group, established to enforce greater security in the region, curtail illicit
activity particularly between Hezbollah and narco-traffickers, and to ultimately strengthen Paraguays
judicial system to uphold the rule of law in the country. Although the increased monitoring has helped
curb some of the illicit activity, Iranian and Hezbollah operatives have extended their network to other
parts of the region into the new TBA.
While there is still a dominant presence in the original TBA, there should be some concern over this new
expansion. The difference between the two separate regions is negligible, but the two elements that stand
them apart are border security and anti-American sentiment. Table 2 shows that not only are Iranian and
Hezbollah operatives moving out of the original TBA region due to higher levels of security, but the lack
of border security enforcement in the new TBA allows a greater influx of operatives into the region.

The aggressive anti-American surge in this new TBA region, particularly among the more poor areas, has
embraced the Iranian and Hezbollah presence. Iranian intelligence officers in embassies across the region
can also assist Hezbollah operatives with necessary logistical support. Their operatives move freely from
one country to the next, protected by corrupted governments and unregulated borders. Iran uses its more
than 80 cultural centers and mosques[62] to recruit candidates while maintaining an established covert
intelligence network on the ground. In 2012, General Douglas Fraser stated that Rabbani even established
the Fundacin Cultural Oriente in 2003, which promotes Shia Islam and continues to serve as a center for
Islamic extremist education.[63] By 2009, Iran had opened embassies in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia,
Ecuador, Nicaragua and Uruguay in addition to those that exist in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and
Iranian sponsorship of Hezbollah widens the range of possibilities that the region offers for exploitation.
Separate from monetary aid, Iran translates books and religious material into Spanish to further regional
influence, which also aids Hezbollahs recruitment process. HispanTV is one such resource Iran
established on February 1, 2012, which broadcasts in Spanish at all hours of the day. Another is
Islamoriente.com, which features links to Iranian television for Spanish speakers, anti-American
propaganda, essays on reasons to convert to Shia Islam, chat rooms and a personal message from the
Supreme Leader of Iran.[65] The Muslim population across both TBAs has steadily increased over a 50year period and it is estimated that it will continue to grow. The result of a 2010 study on the Muslim
population is detailed in Table 3:[66]

As noted in the data, Argentina has the largest Muslim population across the TBAs, followed by Brazil.
Peru, Chile and Bolivia are gradually experiencing greater numbers in the Muslim population, presumably
due to Iranian and Hezbollah operatives converting communities. Though it can be argued, however, that
not all Muslim converts in the New TBA countries are radicalized or collaborating with Hezbollah and
Iranian operatives. Nonetheless, as the study suggests, by 2020, the new TBA countries of Chile, Bolivia
and Peru are expected to see increases in their Muslim populations likely due to continued Iranian and
Hezbollah proselytization.
The original TBA served as a lucrative hub for Hezbollah and an intelligence resource for Iranian
operatives. However, this new TBA has more to offer. Illicit activity like narcotics and human smuggling
flows between the two Tri-Border Areas through the Southern Cone, which consists of Chile, Argentina,
Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Brazil.[67] Bolivias alliance with the mentioned states is to a great
advantage to both Iranians and Hezbollah. With thousands of converts to Islam and counting, Hezbollah
can generate cells in Latin America more rapidly with not only continual financial assistance from Iran,
but with a social network operation across the region. As mentioned earlier, they are not working alone.
Iranian and Hezbollah members have enlisted the assistance of cartels in the region. Drugs and terrorism
co-exist across the globe in a marriage of mutual convenience, explains a DEA agent, as state-sponsored
terrorism has declined, these dangerous organizations have looked far and wide for sources of revenue to
recruit, corrupt, train, and strengthen their regime. Many drug trafficking groups have stepped in to fill
that revenue void.[68] The Obama administrations Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
from 2011 also explains that terrorist organizations are increasingly turning to TCOs to generate funding
and acquire logistical support to carry out their violent acts.[69] This relationship is now referred to as
the crime-terror nexus, which is troubling U.S. officials over the potential security threats it poses.[70]
Iranian economic ties with Latin American countries may have slightly dwindled since President
Rouhanis administration, but Iranians and Hezbollah members remain in the region and are extending
their influence. Moreover, the recent Iranian nuclear deal puts the Western Hemisphere at risk. For
instance, regarding Bolivias defense school, though it has reportedly not been operational due to
Venezuelas sinking economy, that could change with unfrozen Iranian assets. Joseph Humire, executive
director of the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society, reported earlier this year that, If Iran

gets access to the global financial system, theyre going to double down in Latin America.[71] The
concern is not only with Hezbollahs financial schemes in Latin America, but also who will fill the void
while the United States presence is apparently thinning. With waning United States influence in the
region and rising anti-American sentiment, Iran and Hezbollah will not only maintain a strong foothold in
the region, but also broaden its network to unforeseen levels.
End Notes

[1] Taber, Paul. Lebanon: A Country of Emigration and Immigration. Institute for Migration Studies,
Lebanese American University, Beirut, 2010. Page 7.
[2] Folch, Christine. Trouble on the Triple Frontier: The Lawless Border Where Argentina, Brazil, and
Paraguay Meet. Foreign Affairs. Published by the Council on Foreign Relations. September 6, 2012.
[3] Ibid.
[4] For an early look at the Tri-Border region, see Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Cartel
Evolution: Potentials and Consequences. Transnational Organized Crime. Vol. 4, No. 2. Summer 1998:
[5] For an in depth look at Hezbollah and its Iranian connection, see Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah: The
Global Footprint of Lebanons Party of God. Georgetown University Press 2013.
[6] OGrady, Mary Anastasia. A Richer Iran Will Target the Americas; Last October police in Lima
found detonators and TNT in the home of a Hezbollah operative. Wall Street Journal. New York, NY,
July 19, 2015.
[7] Witker, Ivn. The Southern Cone: Irans Backdoor. Irans Strategic Penetration of Latin America.
Lexington Books, 2014. Page 39.
[8] Map of Political South America, Regional and World Maps. The Central Intelligence Agency World
Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/docs/refmaps.html
[9] Julum Jeffrey, and Daniel Evans. The Specter of Ungoverned Spaced and How Advances in Network
Analysis Can Assist Policymakers. Small Wars Journal. August 30, 2015.
[10] Hudson, Rex. Terrorist and Organized Crime Groups in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South
America. Library of Congress, Federal Research Division. July 2003 (Revised December 2010). Page 9.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps Commander, United States
Southern Command. 114th Cong., Senate Armed Services Committee. March 12, 2015. Page 6.

[14] A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence and Terror at the Southwest Border. A Majority
Report, U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and
Management, 112th Cong., 2nd Sess, November 2012. Page 7.
[15] Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps Commander, United States
Southern Command. 113th Cong., Senate Armed Forces Committee. March 13, 2014. Page 9.
[16] For more information on illicit networks and activities, see Convergence: Illicit Networks and
National Security in the Age of Globalization. Michael Miklancic and Jacqueline Brewer (eds). Institute
for National Strategic Studies. National Defense University Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
[17] Farah, Douglas. A Dangerous Nexus: Terrorism, Crime and Corruption. Task Force to Investigate
Terrorism Financing. House Committee on Financial Services. May 21, 2015. Page 3. For additional
information on TOCs, see Douglas Farah, Transnational Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Criminal
States in Latin America: An Emerging Tier-One National Security Priority. Strategic Studies Institute,
August 2012.
[18] Rotella, Sebastian. Government Says Hezbollah Profits From U.S. Cocaine Market Via Link to
Mexican Cartel. ProPublica, December 13, 2011. http://www.propublica.org/article/government-sayshezbollah-profits-from-us-cocaine-market-via-link-to-mexica
[19] Noriega, Roger F. and Jos R. Crdenas. The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America.
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. No. 3. October 2011.
[20] Money Laundering and Financial Crimes. Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
Affairs. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Vol. 2. March 2015.
[21] An April 2011 Veja Magazine expos on Rabbani entitled, Terror Professor detailed Rabbanis
activities in Brazil. See Noriega (2011)
[22] Witker, Ivn, The Southern Cone: Irans Backdoor. Irans Strategic Penetration of Latin America.
Edited by Joseph Humire and Ilan Berman. Lexington Books 2014. Page 40, 6n.
[23] Ibid. 8n.
[24] Hudson 2003. Page 6.
[25] Novakoff, Renee, Latin American Threats and Challenges. The Journal of International Security
Affairs. No. 24. Spring/Summer 2013. Page 43.
[26] Treasury Targets Hizballah Fundraising Network in the Triple Frontier of Argentina, Brazil, and
Paraguay. Press Center. December 6, 2006. http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/pressreleases/Pages/hp190.aspx
[27] Arena, Michael P. Hizballahs Global Criminal Operations. Global Crime. Vol. 7, No. 3-4.

August/November 2006.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Map adapted from www.mapsnworld.com
[31] Gurney, Kyra. Police Documents Reveal Hezbollah Ties to Brazils PCC. Insight Crime.
November 10, 2014. http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/police-documents-hezbollah-ties-brazil-pcc
[32] World Almanac of Islamism. American Foreign Policy. August 2013. Page 2.
[33] Yapp, Robin. Brazil latest base for Islamic extremists. The Telegraph. April 3, 2011.
[34] Mahjar-Barducci, Anna. Iranian Mullah Responsible for Terrorist Attacks in Argentina. Gatestone
Institute, International Policy Council. June 24, 2011. http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2222/iranianterrorist-attacks-argentina
[35] Ibid.
[36] World Almanac of Islamism. American Foreign Policy Council. August 2013. Page 4.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid. Page 2.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Hudson 2003. Page 10.
[43] Romero, Simon. Businessman Linked by U.S. to Hezbollah is Arrested in Brazil in a Fraud
Scheme. The New York Times. May 20, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/world/americas/manlinked-by-us-to-hezbollah-is-arrested-in-brazil.html?_r=1
[44] Ibid.
[45] Hudson 2003. Page 10

[46]Witker, Ivn, The Southern Cone: Irans Backdoor. Irans Strategic Penetration of Latin America.
Edited by Joseph Humire and Ilan Berman. Lexington Books 2014. Page 39.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid. Page 34.
[49] Prado, Alejandra. Bolivias Uncertain Future. The Journal of International Security Affairs. No. 24,
Spring/Summer 2013. Page 91.
[50] Humire, Joseph M. Joint House Subcommittee Hearing: Iran and Hezbollah in the Western
Hemisphere. March 18, 2015.
[51] Berman, Ilan. Iran Woos Bolivia for Influence in Latin America. The Daily Beast. May 20, 2012.
[52] Humire, Joseph M. Joint House Subcommittee Hearing: Iran and Hezbollah in the Western
Hemisphere. March 18, 2015.
[53] Farah, Douglas. The Advance of Radical Populist Doctrine in Latin America. How the Bolivarian
Alliance is Remaking Militaries, Dismantling Democracy and Combatting the Empire. PRISM 5, No. 3.
Page 98.
[54] Berman, Ilan. Iran Woos Bolivia for Influence in Latin America. The Daily Beast. May 20, 2012.
[55] Lopez-Dolz, Dardo. Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere, Statement before the U.S.
House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and
Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. March 18, 2015.
[56] Ibid.
[57] Ibid.
[58] Ibid.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ugarte, Rodrigo, Peru News: Hezbollah Terrorist Group Member May Have Targeted Lima Climate
Change Conference, Jorge Chavez Airport. Latin Post. December 16, 2014.
[61] Obiglio, Julian M and Diego C. Naveira. Rewriting History in Argentina. Irans Strategic
Penetration of Latin America. Lexington Books, 2014. Page 88.

[62] Posture statement, General John F. Kelly, 2015.

[63] Posture Statement of General Douglas M. Fraser, United States Air Force Commander, US Soutern
Command. 112th Cong., House Armed Services Committee. 6 March 2012.
[64] U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Armed Services, Oversight: U.S. Command and U.S. Northern
Command, Hearing, 112th Cong., 2nd Sess., March 13, 2012.
[65] Schachtel, Jordan and Edwin Mora. Iran Rising: Tehran Using Hezbollah in Latin American
Cultural Centers to Infiltrate West. Statement from Bud McFarlane. Breitbart News. May 27, 2015.
[66] Kettani, Houssain. Muslim Population in the Americas 1950-2020. International Journal of
Environmental Science and Development. Vol. 1, No. 2, June 2010. Page 129.
[67] Witker, Ivn. The Southern Cone: Irans Backdoor. Irans Strategic Penetration of Latin America.
Lexington Books 2014. Page 34.
[68] Headquarters News. DEA Investigations Lead to Treasury 311 Patriot Act Designation Against
Hizballah-Backed Financial Institutions. Drug Enforcement Administration. April 2013.
[69] Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National
Security. July 2011. Page 3.
[70] Farah, Douglas. Transnational Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Criminal States in Latin America:
An Emerging Tier-One National Security Priority. Strategic Studies Institute, August 2012.
[71] OGrady, Mary Anastasia. A Richer Iran Will Target the Americas; Last October police in Lima
found detonators and TNT in the home of a Hezbollah operative. Wall Street Journal. July 19, 2015.

About the Author

Alma Keshavarz
Alma Keshavarz is a PhD student in Political Science at Claremont Graduate
University. She received her MPP from Pepperdines School of Public Policy with a
masters thesis focused on United States interests and policy towards Russia. She
also holds a BA in Political Science and English from University of California,
Davis. She has held various research intern and associate positions and has served as
a graduate assistant at Pepperdine University. Her research interests include nonstate actors, specifically Hezbollah, cyber security and warfare, and national security
strategy with a regional focus on Middle East politics, specifically Iran, Lebanon,
Yemen, and Syria. She is fluent in Spanish and Farsi.

Available online at : http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/iran-and-hezbollah-in-the-tri-borderareas-of-latin-america-a-look-at-the-%E2%80%9Cold-tba%E2%80%9D-and-the

{1} http://smallwarsjournal.com/author/alma-keshavarz
{2} https://www.foreignaffairs.com/map-reexport-trade-triple-frontier
{3} https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/docs/refmaps.html
{4} http://www.propublica.org/article/government-says-hezbollah-profits-from-us-cocaine-market-vialink-to-mexica
{5} https://www.aei.org/publication/the-mounting-hezbollah-threat-in-latin-america/
{6} http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/hp190.aspx
{7} http://www.mapsnworld.com
{8} http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/police-documents-hezbollah-ties-brazil-pcc
{9} http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/8424929/Brazil-latest-base-forIslamic-extremists.html
{10} http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2222/iranian-terrorist-attacks-argentina
{11} http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/world/americas/man-linked-by-us-to-hezbollah-is-arrested-inbrazil.html?_r=1
{12} http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/20/iran-woos-bolivia-for-influence-in-latinamerica.html
{13} http://www.latinpost.com/articles/27909/20141216/peru-news-hezbollah-terrorist-group-membertargeted-lima-climate-change.htm
{14} http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/05/27/iran-rising-tehran-using-hezbollah-in-latinamerican-cultural-centers-to-infiltrate-west/
{15} http://www.dea.gov/divisions/hq/2013/hq042313.shtml
{16} http://smallwarsjournal.com/comment/reply/33628#comment-form
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