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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 19927

Latin America Overview

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Although Latin America was again the leading region for international terrorist incidents, with 142 attacks reported against foreign interests, this number was far below the record 230 attacks in 1991. The bombing of Israel's Embassy in Buenos Aires was a troubling intrusion of Middle Eastern violence and the single most lethal terrorist event of the year. As in previous years, however, international incidents comprised only a small percentage of the total number of terrorist operations. In Peru and Colombia, where problems are greatest, terrorist insurgents and narcotraffickers focused their operations on domestic targets--government institutions and personnel, economic infrastructure, and security forces. The great majority of international incidents occurred in South America, with only a few isolated attacks in Central America and the Caribbean. The only two American deaths during 1992 in acts of international terrorism occurred in Latin America.

There have been notable counterterrorism successes in Latin America in 1992, particularly in Peru and Bolivia, where insurgent groups suffered major blows with the capture of top leaders. Insurgent groups have steadily become more isolated politically in Colombia, as a violence-weary public supported stronger counterterrorism measures. Virtually all Latin American terrorist groups had plans for violent protest of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the New World. Increased security and low-key commemorations in many countries, however, resulted in relatively few, mostly symbolic, incidents. Spanish-affiliated banks, businesses, and diplomatic premises were the most frequently targeted during the commemorative period.

Argentina Relatively free of terrorist problems in recent years, Argentina was the site of the single most destructive terrorist act in Latin America in 1992. On 17 March a car bomb virtually destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and injuring 242. The Islamic Jihad organization, an arm of the Lebanese Hizballah, took responsibility for the attack, claiming it was in retaliation for the Israeli attack that killed Hizballah leader Sheikh Musawi in February. When the authenticity of this claim was questioned, the group responded by releasing a videotape of the Israeli Embassy taken during surveillance before the bombing. The bombing focused attention on Hizballah activity in Latin America, where communities of recent Shiite Muslim emigres in the remote border areas of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay could provide cover for international terrorists.

Bolivia Several relatively unsophisticated terrorist groups continue to operate in Bolivia. However, the Bolivian Government's improvements in counterterrorism programs over the past two years resulted in significant successes in the effort to counter these.

Government counterterrorist forces captured the current leaders of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army (EGTK), one of Bolivia's indigenous Indian-based terrorist groups, severely affecting the organization. Also apprehended was one of the remaining perpetrators of the Zarate Willka Liberation Armed Forces (FALZW) attacks on Secretary of State Shultz's La Paz motorcade in 1988 and of the murder of two Mormon missionaries in 1989. The captured terrorist's testimony assisted government prosecutors in deflating attempts to overturn the lengthy sentences for those FALZW members already in prison. The government also moved forward with the trial of the Commission Nestor Paz Zamora (CNPZ) terrorists who attacked the US Marine House in 1990. The National Liberation Army (ELN), thought to contain elements of several Bolivian radical groups, resurfaced and claimed responsibility for several minor bombings of government buildings and power pylons. Two attacks on Mormon churches were claimed by the EGTK.

Reports of increased cooperation between Peruvian terrorists and the EGTK and ELN in the border regions raised concerns in both countries, and the Bolivian and Peruvian Governments pledged cooperation in combating terrorism. Terrorist groups have attempted to exploit public resentment at the US role in counternarcotics efforts, but there is only fragmentary evidence of cooperation between Bolivian guerrillas and narcotraffickers.

Chile While terrorist organizations have steadily lost their popular appeal as Chile solidifies its return to democracy, some old-line leftwing groups remain active and continue to present a limited terrorist threat. There were 39 international terrorist incidents in Chile in 1992, down from 52 in 1991, with the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) and the Latauro Youth Movement (MJL) the groups deemed responsible for these and the vast majority of domestic terrorist attacks. Virtually all of these attacks were minor, resulting almost exclusively in property damages only.

The Communist-affiliated FPMR generally sought to attack Chilean targets, particularly government buildings and banks, as well as politicians and members of the uniformed national police, the Carabineros. The MJL claimed responsibility for 27 attacks on Mormon churches throughout Chile, as well as bank robberies and extortions of local businesses. Virtually all the attacks on Mormon churches were small-scale bombings that caused minor property damage and no serious physical injuries. Both groups carried out low-level, largely symbolic bombings of foreign interests to protest the Columbus anniversary celebrations in October, including the bombing of the Abraham Lincoln memorial near the US Embassy.

Colombia There were 68 international terrorist incidents in Colombia in 1992, five more than in 1991. This is the largest number of terrorist incidents in any nation. Even with this large number of incidents, international terrorism was overshadowed by the marked increase in domestic political violence in the latter half of the year. Continued terrorism by the Colombian guerrilla organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the umbrella group the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinator (CGSB) was compounded by narcotraffickers seeking to prevent the recapture of Medellin narcotics kingpin Pablo Escobar, who escaped from prison in July.

The wave of terrorism began in earnest in October and showed no signs of abating as the year ended. Most disturbing was evidence that the ELN, possibly assisted by narcoterrorists, had developed sufficient urban infrastructure to carry out a sustained terrorist offensive in Bogota. In December a series of hotel bombings, including some tourist hotels frequented by foreigners, raised concerns that foreign visitors would become victims of random violence.

In addition to the largely symbolic foreign targets attacked during the Columbus anniversary in October, there were nearly 50 attacks on the oil pipeline jointly owned by Ecopetrol of Colombia and a consortium of US and West European countries, a traditional Colombian guerrilla target. There were also six reported cases of international kidnapping. Two kidnap victims, one US and one British citizen, were killed by their captors. The American, naturalized US citizen Jose Lopez, was kidnapped on 8 January by members of the National Liberation Army at his place of work. He was subsequently killed, although his kidnappers withheld this information until after the family had paid ransom.

Peace talks convened in Mexico between the guerrillas, and the government of President Cesar Gaviria foundered in May on Gaviria's demand of a universal cease-fire before negotiations could progress. After the ELN admitted that a kidnapped senior Colombian politician had died even before formal negotiations began, the government suspended peace talks indefinitely. The guerrillas, slipping drastically in public opinion, reverted to violence and economic sabotage and demanded regional cease-fires that would permit them freedom of action. President Gaviria chose to press the guerrillas militarily and ruled out an early return to negotiations without some concrete sign that the guerrillas would negotiate in good faith.

President Gaviria's task was complicated by an increase in narcotics-related violence in late 1992 as the government heightened efforts to recapture Escobar. Narcotrafficker assassinations of Colombian National Police personnel increased dramatically, especially in October and November. As the hunt continued, President Gaviria expressed concern that Escobar had attempted an alliance with the guerrillas, particularly the ELN. Although there is no evidence of a formal alliance, traffickers and guerrillas may be exchanging information and occasionally supporting one another's attacks. At a minimum, guerrillas have used government preoccupation with Escobar to expand their own operations.

President Gaviria used the public's antipathy toward violence as a strong mandate to exert force against both guerrillas and traffickers. The president has publicly insisted on unconditional surrender for Escobar and has refused any concessions to guerrillas as long as violence continues unabated. However, both Colombian military and police resources have been stretched by the requirements of the two-front war. Judicial reforms, such as the July decree establishing ``faceless judges'' for terrorist and narcotics offenses, may eventually prove effective. In September, however, one such jurist in Medellin was gunned down in broad daylight by narcotraffickers.

Panama One of two American fatalities from terrorism in Latin America in 1992 occurred in Panama just before a visit by President Bush in June. On 10 June, Sgt. Owell Hernandez was killed in Panama when the US Army vehicle he was driving was raked by automatic gunfire from a passing car. Anti-US forces associated with the former Noriega regime have attacked US interests and are believed responsible for the fatal shooting, as well as for two other low-level bombings at American military installations in Panama in 1992.

Terrorists operate under a variety of names in Panama, and it is likely that the so-called M-20 group that has claimed many of the bombings is actually made up of adherents of various terrorist groups. Although small and lacking widespread popular support, these groups contain a high proportion of trained ex-military personnel. Access to arms and explosives in Panama makes these groups potential threats to US interests.

Peru Guerrillas of the Maoist Peruvian Communist Party, commonly known as Sendero Luminoso (SL), and the Cuban-style Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) continued to make Peru the most dangerous country in South America in 1992. Peruvians suffered by far the most, with a large number of terrorist attacks of various origins claiming many civilian lives. There were 13 attacks against foreign interests in Peru, chiefly in Lima, down from 59 in 1991. Targets included embassies, banks, and international businesses. SL was responsible for most of the incidents, as the group mounted its most serious threat yet to the government. In well-planned urban campaigns in February, May, and July, Sendero used ''armed strikes`` against public transportation, assassinations, and car bombings to sap public morale and give weight to its claim of having reached a position of strategic equality with the government. In one of its boldest attacks, SL terrorists set off a massive car bomb at the American Ambassador's residence in February. The blast killed three Peruvian policemen and caused extensive damage to the residence.

During 1992 two foreign deaths were attributed to SL, an Italian priest killed in August and a Yugoslav engineer in September. These were the first terrorism-related deaths of foreigners in over a year.

President Alberto Fujimori's decision to suspend constitutional government in Peru on 5 April was in large part a result of frustration with the government's difficulty in countering terrorist successes. The President quickly proceeded with a number of stiff antiterrorism measures, including new judicial procedures and a revamping of intelligence on terrorist groups. Human rights abuses by government counterterrorist and counternarcotics forces continue, albeit less frequently. A series of government successes, including the shutting down of SL's newspaper, the recapture of terrorist-controlled Canto Grande prison in Lima, and the capture of some key Sendero urban operatives, was countered by renewed SL car-bomb onslaughts in late May and mid-July, when a bomb in the upscale Miraflores district of Lima killed at least 18 Peruvians and injured more than 100.

Peru's counterterrorist forces responded on 12 September with the stunning capture in Lima of Sendero founder and leader Abimael Guzman. Many members of SL's high command were captured with Guzman or in the wake of his arrest. Quick trials and convictions of Guzman and other terrorist leaders boosted the morale of both the security forces and the public. Throughout the last quarter of 1992, Peruvian counterterrorism forces kept the pressure on SL, netting more leaders and hundreds of rank-and-file cadres. Sendero's efforts to disrupt elections for a new constituent assembly in November were largely thwarted.

The capture of Guzman and most of the leadership dealt Sendero's prospects for victory a major blow. Although SL has lost some of its ability to intimidate and destabilize, it has continued car bombings and assassinations throughout the country. Guzman's exhortation after his capture for a renewed war against imperialism was interpreted by some as a call for SL to intensify attacks on foreign targets. In late December, Sendero attacked several foreign embassies, hitting the Chinese twice, to mark the centenary of the birth of Mao Tse-Tung. In the countryside, government counterinsurgency forces are stretched thin, and SL units continue to operate freely in many areas. Sendero has a relatively secure base area in the coca-growing region of the Huallaga River Valley and exploits the drug trade in various ways to finance group operations.

The government has had even greater success in combating MRTA, which had been weakened by internal splits and the declining appeal of Cuban-style Marxism. In June security forces recaptured MRTA leader Victor Polay, who had escaped prison in July of 1991. MRTA urban terrorists, who in the past were considered more dangerous to foreign interests than SL, operated at a greatly reduced level in 1992. In 1991 the group was suspected in the majority of the 34 attacks against US interests, but in 1992 it attempted only two low-level attacks. An October mortar attack on the US Ambassador's residence and a November attack on a US Embassy warehouse caused little damage and no casualties.

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