Over the course of the past two weeks, we’ve seen the rise of migrant caravans moving towards our southern border with Mexico. These caravans, numbering 3,000 or more, are following a long path through Central America’s Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras).
While the growth of Northern Triangle migrations has been ongoing, the challenge of the new caravans raises new threats that were previously not on our radar.
What you may ask?
The continued border threat from heroin smuggling and the new very real threat of ISIS.
At the Security and Prosperity conference, last week, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales Cabrera, speaking with Secretary of State Pompeo, noted that two major factors, opioids and ISIS, were being tackled:
“As Foreign Affairs Minister Videgaray said, one of the problems we have faced is not only the issue of production in the south for consumption in the north, we are also seeing the same production in the center and also consumption in the center. We have eradicated 417 million plants of poppy last year. Just with this eradication, this equals $1.4 billion which would have – due to heroin production which would then be taken to the markets that consume it. This has strengthened the second issue, which has to do with the strengthening of our borders, because in our borders – that used to be and continue to be highly porous – is where we are being able to find this kind of problem.
There is another issue I’d like to mention. We have arrested almost 100 people highly linked to terrorist groups, specifically ISIS. We have not only detained them in our territory, they have also been deported to their countries of origin. All of you here have information to that effect.”
The capture of ISIS insurgents in Latin America highlights a need for increased coordination and vigilance between domestic security agencies, police, and now federal police in Mexico and Guatemala.
Much of the risk factors with insurgents ties back to ISIS’s push towards decentralized warfare as evidenced in Europe and with the handfuls of thwarted attacks in the U.S. and abroad.
Latin American Muslims have historically been resistant to ISIS infiltration, providing the U.S. with a reasonable buffer to the south. The issue with changes in migratory patterns and caravans, however, now presents an opportunity for ISIS to export insurgents from Syria and North Africa.
In order to begin tackling this new risk profile, federal authorities in Mexico and the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) will need to start taking a two-pronged approach to rooting ISIS insurgents out.
Primarily, they need to engage with Latino Muslim communities, as a first line of defense — as education on ISIS’s cult recruitment methodology makes it easy to separate from Islam. Secondly, federal police forces need to open a dialogue with counterterror centers in the U.S., for both information exchange and insurgent data sharing.
In regards to opioids, tackling international trafficking will be an ongoing fight.
Migratory pattern changes due to war, poverty, and economic collapse loom large for South America — well into the 2020s. America and our neighbors to the south need to be prepared for the risks to come.
Oz Sultan is a leading Big Data and counterterrorism expert who focuses on anti-recruiting and ISIS counterterror (CT) research within crypto and social media. He also advises a number of Blockchain companies and is a Board Member of the Homeland Security Foundation of America. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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