Terrorism in the Americas
October 16, 2017
By Claire Lisker
However, the issue is a priority for policymakers and merits our attention as well. The Western Hemisphere has received terrorist threats, intercepted and neutralized plots, and fallen victim to attacks, particularly by lone-wolf attackers or other sympathizers of terrorist organizations. As such, it is essential to confront the complex issues of recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and the financing of terrorism, each of which is inextricably linked to complex, deep-rooted sociopolitical problems common in the region.
Our region—defined here as the Americas and the Caribbean—is composed of countries that have historically struggled to balance the imperatives of reducing economic disparities and socioeconomic and cultural divides with a strong democracy. Today, this is perhaps most evident in the pervasiveness of corruption, marginalization of certain groups, and illegal flow of people and goods. Notably, there is a geographic correlation between these issues and the financing of terrorism. The epicenter of such financing may be the Tri-Border Area (also known as the Triple Frontier), the location where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil share a border. Called a “lawless” region by Reuters in 2016 , this area “has long been used for arms and drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of pirated goods.”  Furthermore, it reportedly has ISIS sleeper cells and is a major source of fundraising for Hezbollah.
The focal point for terrorism recruitment is in the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), a dual-island nation northeast of Venezuela, is the biggest recruitment hub in the Western Hemisphere for jihadi groups and globally ranks “14th per capita as a source of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.”  In February 2017, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said that almost 130 nationals have left T&T to pursue terrorist activities abroad.  According to the existing research, recruits tend to be Afro-Muslims who have historically felt marginalized in their country. Recently, T&T has seen an increase in crime, corruption, and violence, which—compounded with an economic recession and pre-existing ethnic tensions—feeds violent extremism.  Indeed, many recruits are former delinquents who struggle to find employment and reintegrate into society, and some “were gang members who either converted or were radicalized in prison, while others have been swayed by local imams who studied in the Middle East.”  ISIS offers various incentives to vulnerable individuals including the promise of a sense of belonging, religious purpose, education for children, and remuneration. 
One of the greatest assets to terrorists for recruitment has been the Internet, an avenue for the dissemination of propaganda. The Internet has also been a valuable medium for threats. For example, in 2015, ISIS threatened then-president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over email, also threatening Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and the chief federal police officer of Argentina, Román Di Santo.  Also, in 2016, a video from ISIS threatened that Argentina would suffer the “same fate as France”—alluding to a series of prominent terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015—for sending airstrikes to Syria.  Finally, cyberspace has become a fundamental—and at times the sole—platform for coordination between terrorists. On July 21, 2016, Brazil arrested ten individuals who were developing a terror plot prior to the Olympic games in Rio. The suspects, arrested through “Operation Hashtag”, hardly knew each other, having primarily communicated over Telegram (a mobile messaging app). Such communications must be stifled. Yet, intercepting social media activities to identify terrorist suspects requires that the government be authorized to infiltrate users’ accounts. The result has been a challenging policymaking endeavor to maximize security without undercutting privacy. While this power can result in the successful interception of dangerous plots, it can also enable unwarranted surveillance.
Unfortunately, the latter outcome was exemplified this summer in Mexico, where surveillance power was misused to harass innocent citizens. In June 2017, a spyware called Pegasus—which was sold to the Mexican government by an Israeli firm—was used to intimidate journalists, activists, and investigators working to expose government corruption. According to the New York Times, “The spying took place during what the investigators call a broad campaign of harassment and interference that prevented them from solving the haunting case of 43 students who disappeared after clashing with the police nearly three years ago.”  As such, the spyware accomplished the contrary of what it was intended for: it further silenced those combatting crime.
Government corruption in the region has also impeded anti-terrorism efforts through other means. For example, from 2008 to 2012, Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami issued Venezuelan passports to 173 individuals from the Middle East (Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians, and Iraqis) including some connected to Hezbollah.  Despite the revelation of his actions—which ostensibly facilitated the travel of terrorists—El Aissami holds his position as Vice President today.
Nonetheless, efforts to counter terrorism and extremism are growing in the region, and international cooperation has been effective. For example, Operation Hashtag in Brazil demonstrated national, international, and inter-institutional cooperation. The careful monitoring that led to the arrest involved the joint work of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), the Search International Terrorist Entities Intelligence Group (SITE Intelligence Group, in DC), Brazilian police, and “French, German, British, Israeli and U.S. intelligence agencies”. 
Furthermore, the last few decades have seen the advent of institutions committed to counter-terrorism, as well as the strengthening of pre-existing entities. In academia, students and experts are engaging in this mission. Examples include Duke University’s Counterterrorism and Public Policy Fellowship Program,  George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, and The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism And Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, which is considered a “Center of Excellence” by the Department of Homeland Security.  In the inter-governmental sphere, the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) at the Organization of American States (OAS) is a prime counter-terrorism institution in the region. CICTE was created in 1999 and since then, has provided technical, legislative, and capacity building assistance to the Member States of the OAS—which include 34 countries from the region—in order to help them counter violent extremism and terrorism. More specifically, CICTE specializes in areas such as cyber security, border controls, tourism, and the financing of terrorism.
As policymakers, governments, inter-governmental institutions, academia, and other entities continue to grapple with the complex threat posed by terrorism in the region, so too should our citizens remain informed of the issue at hand. Recruitment and the financing of terrorism may not sound as alarming as terrorist attacks, yet one cannot ignore that the former issues are the harbingers of the latter.
Student Blog Disclaimer
The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.
 Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle, “Brazil arrests 10 for ‘amateur’ terror plot against Olympics”, Reuters, July 21, 2016, https://goo.gl/hXd6Rt
 Congressional Research Service, 12/5/16, https://goo.gl/rC1fYoz
 Robert Looney, “Once a Caribbean Success Story, Trinidad and Tobago Faces an Uncertain Future”, World Politics Review, January 13, 2017, https://goo.gl/jit8AD
 “More Than 100 Trinis Linked to Terrorist Activities Overseas” Carribean360, February 1, 2017, https://goo.gl/Ol43pv
 Robert Looney, “Once a Caribbean Success Story, Trinidad and Tobago Faces an Uncertain Future”, World Politics Review, January 13, 2017, https://goo.gl/jit8A
 Frances Robles, “Trying to Stanch Trinidad’s Flow of Young Recruits to ISIS”, New York Times, February 21, 2017, https://goo.gl/XF8HjF
 John McCoy and W. Andy Knight, “Homegrown Violent Extremism in Trinidad and Tobago: Local Patterns, Global Trends”, Taylor and Francis Online, June 29, 2016, https://goo.gl/mMnXEV
 “Argentina teme al ISIS: ya habían amenazado antes con atacar al país” El Intransigente, July 27, 2016, https://goo.gl/Npcaue
 Azam Ahmed, “Spyware in Mexico Targeted Investigators Seeking Students”, New York Times, July 10, 2017, https://goo.gl/KNDqYj
 Scott Zamost, Drew Griffin, Kay Guerrero and Rafael Romo, “Venezuela may have given passports to people with ties to terrorism”, CNN, February 14, 2017, https://goo.gl/IF3Npn
 Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle, “Brazil arrests 10 for ‘amateur’ terror plot against Olympics”, Reuters, July 21, 2016, https://goo.gl/jYPXro
 “A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism” START, https://goo.gl/he1GvL
It is estimated that one individual organ, eye, and tissue donor can save up to 75 lives . Currently an average of 22 individuals die each day waiting to be matched for a transplant . Donated tissues and organs both have lifesaving potential, but unlike donated organs, donated tissue is also purchased by biotechnology and cosmetic companies for research purposes. Most donors, however, are not aware of the differences between organ and tissue donation, including how it is removed, used, and regulated . Even fewer are aware that by registering for organ donation, they have become tissue donors by default and that their tissues can be sold for up to $80,000 to profitable companies . In order to increase transparency and not lose informed consent of donors, registration for tissue donation and organ donation in the United States should be separate processes.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple — these companies have become household names, and the world today heavily relies on their services. To many, the benefits of cheap and easy connection to information are obvious, ranging from increased educational and career opportunities to an increased rate of technological innovation. However, as the pace of this progress accelerates, two distinct issues have remained concerning: the use of these technologies and access to them. The topic of this article mostly focuses on how people still lack access to the Internet. This lack of access to and of use of the Internet is known as the “digital divide.”
Leo drives a mid-2000s Acura TSX and arrives at the pickup point in front of a train station in Trenton, New Jersey. I’m headed home from New York City for the Thanksgiving holiday. Leo gives me a hand with my suitcase, and in under a minute, we’re off, driving Interstate 276 West most of the way there. The 26.66 mile trip takes 45 minutes. It costs me $34.68 on one of the most popular rideshare platforms, of which Leo receives about $25, minus the cost of gas, tolls, and vehicle mileage. Leo is a pretty talkative guy, and the subject turns to the various driving platforms, like Uber and Lyft. Leo is a young guy, and he tells me he’s one of the approximately 1 in 4 drivers who does not have health insurance.
Many young Americans leave home and never return. In particular, this trend can be seen in rural America. 1,350 counties “non-metro” counties have lost population since 2010. Since the mid 1990s, rural population growth has been significantly lower than urban areas. The movement of people has resulted in national economic growth, but there are consequences. Behind these numbers lie worrisome consequences.
Caffeine has been heralded as the world’s most popular drug. However, as more people want their coffees to go, the industry has failed to confront the waste from single-use cups. In the last two decades, the United Kingdom has seen a 400% increase in the number of coffee shops. The sheer volume of waste affects both the environment and the country’s waste management infrastructure . In the UK alone, people throw away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups a year . The scope of this problem is magnified by the difficulty of recycling wax-lined paper (the most common material for coffee cups), with only 0.25% of these cups being reprocessed . In order to combat the growing practical and environmental effects of throwing away single-use cups, UK lawmakers have stepped in, and are considering instituting a “latte levy,” a new tax to influence on-the-go coffee drinkers.
Pharmaceutical drug price hikes have now become a common feature in American news. From Martin Shkreli’s infamous Daraprim price hike that saw a $737 increase to the chemotherapy drug Cosmogen that currently sells for $1,400 in the U.S. compared to $20-30 overseas, the problem is clearly systemic . Many important cancer drugs, including Gilead’s Sovaldi, Merck’s Keytruda, and Vertex’ Kalydeco all cost over $80,000 for a course of treatment . Often prices increase are unrelated to any new research and development done. There is a clear need to address such drastic drug price increases in order to prevent these dramatic hikes and create a more stable biopharmaceutical market.
The state of American infrastructure figures prominently in current national policy discussion, prompted by poor report cards, energized political campaigns, and recent executive initiatives. Severe underfunding of needed infrastructure projects has prompted proposals from both sides of the political aisle, with public-private partnerships (P3s) featuring prominently. This article evaluates and offers perspective on different types of P3s, examining their benefits and costs and the Trump administration’s plans.
Nuclear energy has the potential to assist nations in tackling climate change and sustain a rapidly growing world population. In the first part of this series on nuclear energy, I analyzed why nuclear energy is superior to other energy sources in achieving this end but also why current market forces prevent its growth. However, even if US legislators decided to pass legislation that aggressively expanded the country’s nuclear infrastructure, there are three primary non-market challenges with current U.S. policy, or lack thereof: a hostile public, the absence of a centralized nuclear waste disposal site, and concerns with proliferation and the imperilment of U.S. national security objectives. In order to responsibly expand nuclear energy capacities and prevent proliferation to hostile states, policy-makers have an obligation to address these issues. Not doing so may bear worse consequences than wantonly enlarging the United States’ atomic sector.
In 2015, Seattle legislators signed a bill to gradually increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees will still have until January of 2024 to deal with the full ramifications of the act. However, businesses that do not provide medical benefits and employ over 500 people were forced to pay their workers $15 dollars an hour starting this past January . Since then, two major studies have been published on the effects of the act, one concluding that it has had a positive effect on economic activity and employment and the other stating that it has made the labor market far too rigid.
Today private prisons house about 126,000 federal and state inmates . Orders issued under the Obama Administration to phase out the use of private prisons are now being reversed under the Trump Administration, which has caused some debates over the efficacy of private prisons to resurface. Chiefly, this reversal has sparked controversy over the economic benefits of private prisons in America, as the most avid dissidents highlight problems with the economic argument for private prisons and even moderate objectors point to inconclusive data as a poor indicator of their advantages.