By: André Carvalho and Bianca Ferrazza.
Due to its distance from modern centres of conflict, South America is often seen as a peaceful region. This is not entirely false when taken into consideration security in a conventional way. There are very few disputes still pending in the region, and since the process of ‘redemocratization’ during the 1980s, they are much less inclined towards solutions through force. Nevertheless, the implausibility of conflicts in South America is limited to "classic" conflicts, seen through the lens of conventional warfare between nation states.
In this context, it is important to highlight that, although conventional threats no longer are a reason for incommensurate concern, the region is still affected by a considerable number of critical irregular threats, such as domestic conflicts, drug trafficking and even terrorism. These threats characterized as irregular and sub-strategic have a higher incidence in poorly controlled border regions. A good example is the borders of the Amazon Rainforest between Brazil and Colombia, where guerrilla activities are constant. However, it is in the Tri-Border Area where these problems combine into a cauldron of non-conventional threats.
The Tri-Border Area (TBA) consists of a zone situated between three cities in three different countries: Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. The area is well known because it represents a hive for the development and implementation of various illicit activities, including money laundering, drug trafficking, theft, terrorism and other illegal activities. Terrorist and Organized Crime Groups in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South America.
Geographically speaking, the area represents a key domain to conduct illicit activities, given the fact that the two rivers that mark the borders between the three states, the Paranà and the Iguazù, offer many, unsurveilled entry points.
Something worth noting about this area is its international character, which makes it a major territory in which transnational criminal organizations operate. Thus,by taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of the public institutions, these groups have been operating in the area for decades, taking root in a radical way in the territory.
Within the three countries of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, the involvement of criminal activities from non-state actors is of huge scale. The three of them, in light of the massive proportion of the illegal activities that take place there, have been developing tools to mobilize their national efforts together to fight and stop illicit activities from being carried out. Due to the small percentage of Muslim population in the region, South America ended up being further “isolated” from the regions that are the focus of action of Islamic terrorist groups. However, it would be wrong to say that terrorist groups do not operate in the region, and it is within the TBA that the presence of Islamic terrorist groups have been identified. According to U.S. documents and research papers from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, groups such as the Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah are currently operating in the region.
The Inter-American Committee against terrorism (CICTE) coordinates efforts to assist the members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) to combat, prevent and defeat terrorism, intellectual theft, drug trafficking and other issues within its boarders. The basic objectives of CICTE, stated in their statute, are, among others, establishing a database on terrorism issues, enhancing the exchange of information between states and helping member states to compose counterterrorism legislations. CICTE tries to facilitate communication between the states by bringing together governments of the region in order to proceed with the discussion of certain topics of interest for the region. During the 2019 meeting, high level officials agreed on proceeding with a strengthening of the prevention of terrorism by training personnel on distinctive investigative techniques.
In 2016, Interpol coordinated “Operation Triple Border” during which more than 600 police officers were deployed in the region’s key sites establishing checkpoints.
Besides the officers, many experts in counterterrorism were also brought in in the region to help organise the operations taking place in the area. Among these, were experts in the trafficking of drugs and human beings, drug trafficking and document security. The action, that took place between the 18th and 22nd of November, culminated with the seizing of several products that objected to the illicit economy, among which are vehicles, firearms and drugs and with the arrest of 24 people involved in the crimes.
What emerges from this operation is the strength and the ultimate efficiency of coordinated operations between local governments and the international support of Interpol. Operation Triple Border has played a key role in offering support to local officers and institutions to address the issues that have been characterizing the area in the past decades. Interpol has allowed local law enforcement to access their databases in order to monitor the connections of crimes in between the countries.