Many Arabs in the Tri-border openly acknowledge that they send money to Hezbollah to help their families, and the man in charge of the local mosque in Ciudad del Este, who asked not to be identified by name, declared that Shiite Muslim mosques had "an obligation to finance it."
But the U.S. government maintains that the money ends up stained with blood when it goes through Hezbollah, which is blamed for the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in the 1980s, as well as the kidnappings of Americans, two of whom were tortured and killed.
Patrick M. O'Brien, the assistant secretary of the Treasury in charge of fighting terrorist financing, acknowledged flatly that "we are worried."
"Hezbollah has penetrated the area, and part of that smuggling money is used to finance terrorist attacks," he said.
In Paraguay, looking the other way
The biggest obstacle in the U.S. campaign to counter Hezbollah close to home is Paraguay, whose "judicial system remains severely hampered by a lack of strong anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism legislation," the State Department said in a "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report.
Since 2004, a draft bill to strengthen money laundering laws has been stalled in the Paraguayan legislature, and the government of President Nicanor Duarte has introduced no draft legislation of its own.
Hampering reform efforts is an endemic reluctance in Paraguay to acknowledge the problem.
Interior Minister Rogelio Benitez Vargas, who supervises the national police, claimed that Hezbollah-linked smuggling was a relic of the 1980s. Today, he said, the Triple Frontier is a safe and regulated "commercial paradise."
But authorities from the U.S. State and Treasury departments to Interpol to the front-line Paraguayan police agencies all paint a different picture. Eduardo Arce, secretary of the Paraguayan Union of Journalists, said the government was widely considered to be under the control of drug traffickers and smugglers.
Recall information from the Sibel Edmonds case; from Former FBI Translator Sibel Edmonds Calls Current 9/11 Investigation Inadequate by Jim Hogue, May 07, 2004:
JH: Can you explain more about what money you are talking about?
SE: The most significant information that we were receiving did not come from counter-terrorism investigations, and I want to emphasize this. It came from counter-intelligence, and certain criminal investigations, and issues that have to do with money laundering operations.
You get to a point where it gets very complex, where you have money laundering activities, drug related activities, and terrorist support activities converging at certain points and becoming one. In certain points -- and they [the intelligence community] are separating those portions from just the terrorist activities. And, as I said, they are citing "foreign relations" which is not the case, because we are not talking about only governmental levels. And I keep underlining semi-legit organizations and following the money. When you do that the picture gets grim. It gets really ugly.
Edmonds spoke in the context of countries in the western half of Asia and the Middle East, as well as the United States. For example, from 'The Stakes Are Too High for Us to Stop Fighting Now' An interview with FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds by Christopher Deliso August 15, 2005:
SE: [snip] What I am telling you is that this network is visible, and it is possible to grasp what's going on. And I think to a certain extent it's obvious that some of your neocons will be involved in these criminal activities. You don't need me to tell you that. But too often, they [the media] have looked in the wrong places.
CD: An example?
SE: Well, I'm wondering why in this "war on terror" they aren't taking a look at the role of banks in Dubai, banks in Cyprus -- they've always concentrated on banks in places like, say, Switzerland. They almost never look at these two other huge areas for money-laundering.
Obviously, though, some of that money that we're supposed to be following can be followed to Paraguay and elsewhere in Latin America.
Consider what we have learned in the context of this next Sibel Edmonds quote, fromFormer FBI Translator Sibel Edmonds Calls Current 9/11 Investigation Inadequate by Jim Hogue, May 07, 2004:
JH: Here's a question that you might be able to answer: What is al-Qaeda?
SE: This is a very interesting and complex question. When you think of al-Qaeda, you are not thinking of al-Qaeda in terms of one particular country, or one particular organization. You are looking at this massive movement that stretches to tens and tens of countries. And it involves a lot of sub-organizations and sub-sub-organizations and branches and it's extremely complicated. So to just narrow it down and say al-Qaeda and the Saudis, or to say it's what they had at the camp in Afghanistan, is extremely misleading. And we don't hear the extent of the penetration that this organization and the sub-organizations have throughout the world, throughout their networks and throughout their various activities. It's extremely sophisticated. And then you involve a significant amount of money into this equation. Then things start getting a lot of overlap -- money laundering, and drugs and terrorist activities and their support networks converging in several points. That's what I'm trying to convey without being too specific. And this money travels. And you start trying to go to the root of it and it's getting into somebody's political campaign, and somebody's lobbying. And people don't want to be traced back to this money.
Now, recall the last sentence quoted in this post from the article we are reviewing: "Eduardo Arce, secretary of the Paraguayan Union of Journalists, said the government was widely considered to be under the control of drug traffickers and smugglers."
Apparently, it's not just the US that has its politicians bought off by organized crime cartels that are in bed with Islamic terrorists.
From An Interview with Sibel Edmonds, Page Two by Chris Deliso, July 1, 2004:
SE: Everything -- from drugs to money laundering to arms sales. And yes, there are certain convergences with all these activities and international terrorism.
CD: So with these organizations we're talking about a lot of money --
SE: Huge, just massive. They don't deal with 1 million or 5 million dollars, but with hundreds of millions.
So what is the illegal drug industry worth?
Hundreds of millions?
A couple hundred billion per year, like the UN Chart from 2003 shown above suggests?