Military watching Iran, Russia, China in Americas
By Scott Blake
Activities by Iran and affiliated organizations into Latin American are among the concerning trends being spotted by the Doral-based US Southern Command.
Iran's "activities in our region are focused in economic and political dimensions to try to circumvent the international sanctions that have been put on them," Gen. Douglas Fraser, the command's leader, said last week in an interview with Miami Today. "They have efforts to come and work within Latin America to circumvent these sanctions so we monitor them here.
"In addition to that," Gen. Fraser said, "there are known — at least designated by the US government — terrorist organizations who have affiliations in South America. We're talking about Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas. They have been here a long time."
Based in the Middle East, Hezbollah and Hamas are militant political groups steeped in the Islamic resistance movement.
"We see that what they do is conduct both licit, legal activity and illicit activity and through a combination of these, they raise funds to support Lebanese Hezbollah and other organizations," the general said.
"Because there is a connection between Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah and other organizations like that," he added, "we also monitor to see if it's anything that's more than just fundraising. We haven't seen any evidence of that, but because of worldwide connections, it's something — I'm paid to be skeptical, so I'm skeptical of these relationships."
In March, Gen. Fraser told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran has established 11 embassies in Latin America and 40 cultural centers in 17 countries in the region. He said Iran has "traditional connections" to Hezbollah and Hamas.
"We see their activity very much as trying to build cultural awareness and awareness for Iran," he said. "And they are seeing an opportunity with some of the anti-US focused countries within the region as a method on being able to do that."
The Southern Command, which covers an area that includes Central and South America, also has picked up on Russian activity.
"Russia has been active in the region, primarily looking to sell weapons," Gen. Fraser told Miami Today. "Their purchaser has been Venezuela.
"And China has been very active in the region," he continued, "and that's a two-way street. It's primarily political and economic like they are across the world, and this region is no different."
Despite such concerns, Gen. Fraser said he doesn't see a major conflict erupting in Latin America.
"I don't see a conventional military threat to any country in this hemisphere. I don't see any in the next five years. I really don't see a conventional state-on-state military conflict," he said. "The region, I would argue, is fairly stable and secure and therefore is a good place to invest."
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