1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

"The War on Terror is Not a Genuinely Latin American Interest"

Pablo Kummetz interviewed Klaus Bodemer (tt)September 3, 2006

DW-WORLD.DE talked to Latin America expert Klaus Bodemer about the effects Sept. 11 had on the continent.

Latin America did not see its own interest in the US-lead war on terrorImage: dpa Bilderdienste

Klaus Bodemer is the director of the Institute for Ibero-American Studies in Hamburg.

DW-WORLD.DE: To what extend did Sept. 11 have an affect on domestic policies in Latin America?

Klaus Bodemer: It's been five years since Sept. 11. During those five years, some other topics were also very important. From today's perspective, one could say that an overall influence of Sept. 11 on Latin American domestic politics has not been significant. But we need to make a distinction here: What do we actually mean when we say "the influence of Sept. 11?" Sept. 11 was a catalyst for formulating a new concept of US foreign policy, which culminated with Bush's announcement several months later of a new security doctrine. One of its aspects was the war on terror. But from the perspective of Latin American states, the problem was somewhat difficult, since in the concept itself and also in Bush's practice, the war against terrorism was not sharply separated from the war on drugs, international organized crime etc. In that respect, it was always related to these topics.

It did influence the domestic policies of those countries, which had already experienced terrorism as an issue -- and there are very few of them. That is, above all, Argentina -- because of the attack on the Israeli embassy and the Jewish Community Association in 1994. The memory of those events was still alive and the country had an immediate experience of it.

What do you think about the supposed Islamic influence on the triangle between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil?

Bombenanschlag in Buenos Aires
Argentina has painful memories of the terrorist attack on the Buenos Aires Jewish Community center in 1994Image: AP

The region where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet is by all means worthy of attention. It is a center of money laundering, drug trafficking and smuggling. From the very beginning, these countries as well as the US concentrated their interest on this region. But one has to say that the empirical evidence pointing to a direct connection with terrorism and al Qaeda, above all, has been pretty weak.

There are several very strong minorities in this region, the Chinese and people from the Middle East, that's certainly true, and these people also have relatives abroad, but one could never prove a direct influence. What one could prove -- and this has been pointed out in the State Department's global report on terrorism, that one could speak here of an indirect support in terms of money laundering and drug trafficking. The money earned in this way is then used for purchasing weapons and one could therefore speak of certain support. The other thing is that there are circles there that offer something along the lines of logistic support. In the case of the terrorist attacks in Argentina, it was proven that there was logistic support. But other than that, evidence is very scant.

Are there other aspects that touch upon domestic politics?

OAS Generalversammlung
The US used OAS conferences to push for the use of the military in the war on terrorImage: AP

Yes, there is also the question of the relationship between the military and the police. At conferences of the Organization of American States (OAS) and regular meetings of defense ministers, the US said that the military should also help the police in the war on terror and organized crime. This issue has been regulated in different ways in different countries. Some countries said they didn't want to have this kind of mixing up and the military itself fought against the idea of taking over police work, for example in Argentina.

In Brazil, this discussion was rekindled again in May after the attacks in Sao Paulo. (Brazilian President) Lula suggested that the military should be engaged in the war on organized crime. But that is an accompanying effect. Overall, one keeps a low profile in relation to this. Essentially, one could say that the issue of the war on terrorism has been perceived as imposed from the outside. It is not a genuinely Latin American interest.

Did anything change for Latin America internationally after Sept. 11?

Latin America got more maneuvering space for political negotiations because the rude counter-terrorist policies of the United States have been rejected by Latin American countries. Meanwhile, these policies have been revised by the US itself. A new security strategy has been in place for several months, which has taken some things back, for instances the polarization theory and the issue of the coalition of the willing. The US slowly moved closer to the position of the "old Europe," without, however, changing its course from unipolarity to multipolarity.