There will be "hell to pay" if the United States doesn't stop the growing link between Latin American drug cartels and Iranian-sponsored terror, former Drug Enforcement Administration operations chief Michael A. Braun told a House hearing on Thursday. The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela axis is reaching out to regional terrorist groups and drug traders with networks in the United States, expanding the operational capacity of the Islamic Republic deep into our nation's cities.
Iran and Latin American pariah states support terrorists organization with training bases and territory in South America, but both are increasingly cooperating with one another and drug cartels to advance their own agendas. According to Braun, this means that Iran's al-Quds Force and its proxy Hizballah have more "opportunities to leverage the transportation, money laundering, arms trafficking, corruption, human trafficking and smuggling infrastructures of the Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking cartels."
Ultimately, Braun explained, foreign terrorist organizations and drug cartels use similar methods and have little to divide them ideologically. Both favor increasing the amount and exploitation of ungovernable territory, and the anti-American ideology of the Iran-Latin American alliance means using those resources to harm America. The best solution to fight this cooperation is breaking down the barriers between American counterterrorism forces and drug enforcement.
Other witnesses pointed out the depth of the relationship between some South American countries and Iran, and how these nations benefit from one another. José Azel, a senior researcher on the subject from the University of Miami, explained how the anti-American regimes overcome ideological differences, ultimate uniting secular, pro-communist states with Iran's theocracy.
Norman Bailey of the Institute of Global Economic Growth used his prepared remarks to delve into Iran's use of this alliance to circumvent international sanctions and build influence through investments. He recommended sanctioning Venezuelan banks doing business with Iran, and possibly blacklisting Venezuela as a terrorist sponsoring state.
Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, argued that current Western sanctions were already hitting Iran hard. Iran has broken investment promises that it is trying to leverage into influence, and its terrorist activity hurts cooperation. Also, strengthening economic cooperation between South American countries and the United States eliminates opportunities for Iran to make inroads.