This week, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, joined key Republicans on Capitol Hill when it comes to foreign policy in asking the Trump administration to crack down on Hezbollah’s activities in the Western Hemisphere. 

Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee sent President Donald Trump a letter calling on tougher actions against Hezbollah’s drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. The three congressional Republicans called on the White House to designate Hezbollah as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) and as a Designated Kingpin Entity (SDNTK). They also called on an investigation into Hezbollah’s criminal activities  under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

“We are concerned over press reports that the Obama Administration may have inhibited efforts by the U.S. Departments of Justice, Treasury, and State to target and prosecute key Hezbollah operatives engaged in terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime,” they wrote Trump.  “Addressing Hezbollah’s illicit activities in the Western Hemisphere has been a top U.S. Congressional priority for many years as demonstrated by multiple oversight hearings and visits to the region. These efforts, along with findings by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, have uncovered direct ties between Hezbollah and criminal groups in the region that have reportedly allowed Hezbollah to amass nearly $1 billion annually to support its global terrorist operations.”

They also pointed to Hezbollah’s activities in Latin America.  

“In June 2017, an individual with alleged ties to Hezbollah was indicted in Miami after being extradited to the U.S. by Paraguay, and one individual was arrested for attempting to provide support to Hezbollah in targeting U.S. and Israeli embassies in Panama,” the three congressional Republicans wrote. “These events follow the 2014 arrest of a Hezbollah operative in Peru, the Iranian-linked assassination attempt on the Saudi Ambassador in 2011, and the terrorist attacks against two Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s as well as the assassination of former Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2015, who uncovered evidence of Iran and Hezbollah’s role in these attacks.”

“It’s no secret that, in its pursuit of the weak and dangerous nuclear deal, the Obama administration ignored Iran’s illicit activity and the threat the state sponsor of terror-regime posed to our national security and the security and stability of our allies,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Wednesday. “If recent reports of the size and scope of Hezbollah’s operations in Latin America are true, we should all be alarmed as it puts the terror group right in our own hemisphere. We have no time to waste in addressing this threat and that is why I have joined Ted and Paul in writing to the administration and urging it to take immediate steps to disrupt Hezbollah’s financial networks and to attempt to reverse the damaged already caused.”

“For far too long we have ignored the growing convergence of Iran-backed Hezbollah with transnational criminal networks in Latin America,” Cook said. “While I applaud the Trump Administration for prioritizing the need to deter and disrupt Hezbollah in the Middle East and elsewhere, we need to do more to address Hezbollah’s illicit activities closer to home in the Western Hemisphere. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that also runs a criminal enterprise and traffics drugs from South America to fund its global terrorist operations. The U.S. and our regional partners have a vital interest in using every possible tool to prevent Hezbollah’s ability to conduct terrorism, particularly given past attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina in the 1990s and an attempted attack in Washington, D.C. in 2011. President Trump has a huge opportunity now to strike a major blow to Hezbollah’s ability to carry out its terror operations, and I look forward to supporting the President’s efforts on this critical issue.”

“The U.S. government must use all resources at our disposal to go after Iran’s number one terrorist proxy: Hezbollah,” Poe said. “Hezbollah leverages both traditional fundraising methods as well as illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and money laundering, to fund their murderous plots.  Hezbollah is the poster-child for what has been called the “terrorist-criminal nexus.” There is absolutely no reason why they should not be designated by the United States as a Transnational Criminal Organization and a Designated Kingpin Entity. The decades-old terrorist designations on Hezbollah only go so far to address the size and scope of Hezbollah’s global illicit activities. I call upon the Trump Administration to not repeat the mistakes of the past administration and make targeting Hezbollah’s illicit activities a first order priority.”

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