Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

DEA Arrests Connect Hezbollah Militants To South American Cartels


This week, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced that it had made significant arrests in an investigation into connections between Hezbollah and South American drug cartels. What do the Lebanese extremist group and international drug producers see in each other? Why and how would they join forces? We're joined now by Matthew Levitt from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of "Hezbollah: The Global Footprint Of Lebanon's Party Of God." Thanks so much for being with us.

MATTHEW LEVITT: Always a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So what are these links?

LEVITT: These links are links of convenience, business and profit. They're links that come about from Hezbollah happening to be fortunate enough to have people in South America. And they had people in Africa and of course in the Middle East who were there when the opportunity arose to be able to not participate in the production of narcotics but in the movement of narcotics and, more significantly, laundering the proceeds - money that they've used to purchase arms, most recently for the conflict in Syria, and, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, to fund and facilitate the activities of the External Security Organization, sometimes referred to as the Islamic Jihad Organization, which is Hezbollah's terrorist wing.

SIMON: Why would Hezbollah have anyone in Latin America except on vacation?

LEVITT: Well, historically there have been and are very large Lebanese expatriate communities in South America and Africa and, more recently now, in North America. And of course the vast, vast majority of those communities are perfectly law-abiding and wonderful people. But within those communities, over the course of the Lebanese civil war, you had some people who were providing support back home to one or another side of the civil war. And in the wake of the civil war, that continued. And as Hezbollah became the primary powerhouse on the Shia political, social and military side of the equation, support for the group continued to flow from the Shia Lebanese expatriates, some of whom were only supporting the group because it supported the Shia community back home and others because they supported the group's opposition to Israel, opposition to the West and sometimes even its axe militancy at home and abroad.

SIMON: And what do the drug cartels get out of this arrangement?

LEVITT: They get their product moved. They get the proceeds of their transactions laundered. And those are the two things, along with production in the first instance, without which they don't function. And they really don't care who they do business with. They don't care if you call yourself Hezbollah or something else. Most of the people that do this for them are not terrorists. As long as you can move product and launder product, they don't really care about the rest of it.

SIMON: Matthew Levitt from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's author of "Hezbollah: The Global Footprint Of Lebanon's Party Of God." Thanks so much for being with us.

LEVITT: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.