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Hezbollah, terrorist financing, and Venezuela: Don't panic

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The New York Times and ProPublica have details on the indictment of Ayman Joumaa, a Lebanese citizen who has laundered millions of dollars for Hezbollah while assisting with cocaine-trafficking routes out of Colombia and Venezuela. It appears his focus was routes through Europe, but he has also moved drugs through Mexico in coordination with the Zetas.

The case is notable for having all the key words that people get excited about: Hezbollah! Terrorist-financing! Cocaine! Zetas! Venezuela! And all of that appears to be true.

At the same time, in spite of all the red flag key words, the details within these articles and the indictment show how the US government can deal with the issue of Hezbollah in the hemisphere without panic and over-reaction.

It's important to take down the hemisphere's Hezbollah money laundering networks because they do finance terrorism in the Middle East and violent criminal organizations like the Zetas in this hemisphere. However, in some ways, it's just one more criminal network to take down. As one official told ProPublica, "It’s not like there’s a sit-down between the leaders of Hezbollah and the Zetas." Nor is this about Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran plotting together. It should not be portrayed as such.

Hezbollah has been laundering drug money in the hemisphere for well over a decade, which is an intelligence and law enforcement issue. The US and other governments have used civilian investigators to track down the money routes and build a case to indict top personnel and seize funds. The US Congress, which has often expressed concern over Hezbollah's activities, should see this indictment as a sign of success by the US government and an argument to fully fund and support US civilian law enforcement efforts by DEA, ATF, Treasury, and others to track and halt money laundering and other criminal activity in this hemisphere.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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