Great Seal logo Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998

Latin America Overview

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Colombia's principal insurgent groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), stepped up attacks against security forces and civilians in 1998, despite a budding peace process with the Colombian Government. They continued to conduct kidnapping, bombing, and extortion campaigns against civilians and commercial interests.

Bogota pursued peace negotiations while guerrillas launched a concerted offensive against police and military bases throughout the country. By yearend, the government had completed the demilitarization of five municipalities as an incentive for talks, which began in January 1999.

In March, FARC commanders announced they would target US military personnel assisting Colombian security forces, but insurgent attacks--including intensified operations against police and military bases--did not harm US forces. Colombian terrorists continued to target private US interests, however. Guerrillas kidnapped US citizens in Colombia and northern Ecuador, and the FARC refused to account for the whereabouts of three missionaries it kidnapped in January 1993. Guerrillas also continued to bomb US commercial interests, such as oil pipelines and small businesses.

Arrests in Peru contributed to the steady decline in Sendero Luminoso (SL) and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) terrorist capabilities. Peruvian officials arrested two of the four original members of SL's Central Emergency Committee, which comprises the SL's top leaders. The SL failed uncharacteristically to commemorate Peru's Independence Day in July with even a low-level attack or to disrupt municipal elections in October. The MRTA did not launch a terrorist attack in 1998, continuing a trend of relative inactivity since the hostage crisis at the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima ended in April 1997.

Switzerland denied Chile's request for the extradition of a terrorist from the dissident wing of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, who escaped from a maximum security prison in Santiago in December 1996.

In the triborder area, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay consolidated efforts to stem the illicit activities of individuals linked to Islamic terrorist groups. The three countries consulted closely on enforcement efforts and actively promoted regional counterterrorist cooperation.

The Government of Argentina hosted an Organization of American States conference on terrorism and gained the participants' commitment to form a regional commission on counterterrorist initiatives.

Investigations continued into the two devastating bombings against Jewish and Israeli targets in Buenos Aires: the attack in March 1992 against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 persons died, and the bombing in July 1994 of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building that killed 86 persons and injured hundreds more. Islamic Jihad, Hizballah's terrorist arm, claimed responsibility for the attack in 1992. No clear claim for the AMIA bombing has been made, although the two attacks had many similarities. At yearend, Argentine authorities questioned two possible key informants in the attacks.

The Iranian Government expelled the Argentine commercial attache from Tehran in early 1998 in response to growing criticism in Argentina about a possible official Iranian role in the attacks. The Argentine Government responded by asking Tehran to reduce the number of diplomats in its mission in Buenos Aires to one, the number of official Argentines left in Iran. The judge responsible for the AMIA investigation interviewed Iranian defectors in Western Europe and the United States who claimed to have knowledge about the bombing. He also charged an Argentine citizen with providing the stolen vehicle used in the bombing. Several former Buenos Aires provincial police officials remain in custody for their role in supplying the vehicle.

In August, Argentine authorities arrested two SL members living in Argentina. At yearend, they were awaiting extradition to Peru.

Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay cooperated actively in the triborder region against terrorism and continued their work to counter criminal activities of individuals linked to Islamic terrorist groups. In March the three countries signed a plan to improve security in the triborder area and created a commission to oversee implementation of the plan.

In late November, Argentina hosted the second Inter-American Specialized Conference on Terrorism in Mar del Plata. Conference participants agreed to recommend that the Organization of American States' General Assembly form an Inter-American Committee on Terrorism to coordinate regional cooperation against terrorism.

The Swiss Government denied Chile's extradition request for Patricio Ortiz Montenegro, a member of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front dissident wing who escaped from prison in Santiago on 30 December 1996, because it was concerned that Chile would not safeguard Ortiz's physical and psychological well-being. Chilean authorities continued to pursue the whereabouts of the three other terrorists who escaped with Ortiz.

The incipient peace process in Colombia did not inhibit the guerrillas' use of terrorist tactics. The FARC and ELN continued to fund their insurgencies by protecting narcotics traffickers, conducting kidnap-for-ransom operations, and extorting money from oil and mining companies operating in the Colombian countryside.

Colombian insurgents began an offensive against security forces in the summer and retained their military momentum at yearend. The Colombian Government demilitarized five municipalities to meet FARC conditions for peace negotiations, and in mid-December the FARC leader agreed to meet Colombia's President on 7 January 1999 to set the agenda for talks.


New Tribes Missionaries, kidnapped in 1993, remain unaccounted for

FARC commanders announced in March that they would target US military personnel assisting Colombian security forces. The guerrillas did not act on these threats, and their heightened attacks against Colombian police and military bases did not target or incidentally kill or injure US forces.

Colombian terrorists continued to target private US interests, kidnapping seven US citizens in 1998. The FARC abducted four US birdwatchers in March at a FARC roadblock; one escaped and the terrorists released the three others in April. Also in March, the FARC kidnapped one retired US oil worker and released him in September. ELN terrorists in September released one US citizen held since February 1997. The ELN kidnapped two other US citizens in northern Ecuador in October; one hostage escaped, and the kidnappers released the other in late November. The FARC has not accounted for the whereabouts of three missionaries it kidnapped in January 1993.

Terrorists also continued to bomb US commercial interests, such as oil pipelines and small businesses, raising costs to US companies operating in Colombia. There were 77 pipeline bombings during the year. In October the ELN bombed Colombia's central oil pipeline--used by US companies--causing a massive explosion that killed 71 persons, including 28 children. An ELN commander subsequently announced that, despite the unanticipated death toll, the guerrillas would continue to target the nation's oil infrastructure to prevent the foreign "looting" of Colombia's wealth.

Alleged terrorist Pedro Miguel Gonzalez won the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidacy for a seat in the National Assembly. Gonzalez, whose father heads the ruling PRD, was acquitted of the murder in 1992 of US serviceman Zak Hernandez in a Panamanian trial characterized by irregularities and political manipulation. The US case against Gonzalez and one other suspect remains open, and the US Embassy in Panama continues to raise the issue with senior Panamanian authorities.

Panamanian authorities made no arrests in connection with the bombing in 1994 of a commuter airline that killed 21 persons, including three US citizens. US law enforcement agencies continued to investigate the case actively but still had not determined whether the bombing was politically motivated or tied to drug traffickers.

Peruvian law enforcement and judicial authorities continued to arrest and prosecute members of the SL and MRTA terrorist groups. In 1998 they arrested Pedro Quinteros Ayylon and Jenny Maria Rodriguez Neyra, two of the four original members of SL's 25-person Central Emergency Committee who still were at large. The Peruvian Government also captured Andres Remigio Huarnan Ore, leader of the MRTA military detachment in the Chanchanmayo Valley, and most of that unit's members.

Peru extradited Peruvian citizen Cecilia Nunez Chipana, a Sendero Luminoso militant, from Venezuela. The Peruvian Government also requested the extradition from Argentina of Peruvian nationals Julio Cesar Mera Collazo and Maria del Rosano Silva, two SL members accused of murder. At yearend the extradition request was pending in Buenos Aires.

Both groups failed to launch a significant terrorist operation in Lima in 1998 and generally limited their activities to low-level attacks and propaganda campaigns in rural areas. The SL continued to attack police stations and other government targets in the Peruvian countryside and in August conducted a particularly brutal attack in Sapasoa, killing the mayor and three of his supporters at a rally. The SL did not commemorate Peru's Independence Day or disrupt municipal elections in October with its characteristic terrorist violence. The MRTA had not engaged in major terrorist activities since the end of the hostage crisis at the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima in April 1997.

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