There is more than one way of fighting Hezbollah. Its opponents and victims can take heart from the progress of negotiations between the U.S. and Colombia about the use of Colombian military bases by American forces for antidrug operations. Colombia announced Friday that a plan had been finalized—in spite of protests by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who warned that the “winds of war were beginning to blow across Latin America” because of Colombia’s decision. The U.S. approached Colombia after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa—a Chavez acolyte who pursued his mentor’s path to “presidency for life”—refused to renew the expiring 10-year basing agreement for U.S. forces in Ecuador.
The Latin American influence of Chavez and his presidential cronies in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Cuba offers many reasons for concern. But a closely related pattern—and one directly affected by Colombia’s agreement to offer bases to U.S. antidrug forces—is the participation of Chavez’s associate, Hezbollah, in the Latin American narcotics trade. Drug busts in the past 18 months have produced increasing evidence of this pattern, which has two especially important features. One is that Hezbollah is funding its activities in Lebanon with drug money from the Americas. The other is that Hezbollah has been using narcotics-trafficking routes to enter the U.S. covertly. (Supporting analysis of this phenomenon can be found here, here, and here.)
The basing agreement with Colombia will keep viable a U.S. antidrug effort that has already interdicted elements of the Hezbollah enterprise. Another positive development is the appointment of the former commander of U.S. forces in Latin America, Admiral James Stavridis, to head the U.S. European Command (responsible for executing our military policies with respect to Lebanon and Israel). Stavridis, who assumed the European Command on June 30, has a history of recognizing and highlighting Hezbollah’s activities as a security concern. Stavridis’s understanding of global cartel patterns—which commonly operate, as Hezbollah does, through financial threads around the Mediterranean—gives him a unique advantage in focusing EUCOM’s intelligence priorities.
Hugo Chavez’s allegations about the Colombia agreement, meanwhile, are overblown in any objective context: the agreement portends not a change of regional profile for U.S. forces but merely a change of bases. His reaction is another clue to his sympathies and intentions, however. He is probably as concerned about the impact of U.S. antidrug operations on Hezbollah’s success, and on his own ties with Iran, as he is about America retaining a strategic position in Central America. Chavez cannot be happy that we have obtained an agreement encouraging to at least two of our own security issues. But we should be, and it is good news for Israel and Lebanon as well.