Brazil is considering designating Lebanese group Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as President Jair Bolsonaro increasingly aligns his government with the U.S. on foreign policy.
Officials are reviewing their options to move forward with the idea, which is being discussed at the highest levels of government but doesn’t have across-the-board support, according to Planalto sources. It wouldn’t be easily implemented due to the particularities of Brazilian law.
The idea is part of Bolsonaro’s efforts to forge stronger ties with Donald Trump, with whom he also seeks a trade deal. It also fits into the world-view of Brazil’s right-wing president and his inner-circle. During last year’s presidential campaign, his son Eduardo, who may become the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., already advocated a strong stance against Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Yet the move could strain relations with Iran, a Hezbollah ally which imports US$ 2.5 billion of Brazilian products per year, and displease Brazil’s influential Lebanese community. The government also worries it could make the country a target of terrorism, said one of the people.
A decision could be announced before Bolsonaro visits in October the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two countries strongly opposed to Hezbollah.
Officially Brazil’s foreign ministry said it doesn’t consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization and has no plans to change its status for now. The president’s office, the justice ministry and the federal police, responsible for enforcement of anti-terror laws, declined to comment.
Currently, Brazil only considers as terrorists those groups already labeled as such by the UN Security Council, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. It can bar the entry, arrest, and freeze assets of people suspected to be part of them.
President Bolosnaro is at the same time willing and under pressure from the U.S. to put Hezbollah on the terrorist list. In a November meeting with then President-elect Bolsonaro, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Trump expected to boost cooperation with Brazil on terrorism, be it against Hezbollah, Hamas or others.
The temperature rose further last month when Argentina became the first Latin American nation to label Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia Islamist group with an armed wing, as a terrorist organization. On Monday Paraguay announced its decision to follow suit and designate Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorists organizations. Paraguay has now joined a list of countries including the United States, Argentina, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and others that have recognized Hezbollah as a terror organization.
The Paraguayan move comes a month after Argentina became the first country in Latin America to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and freeze its assets. Hezbollah is accused of carrying out two attacks in the 1990s against Jewish and Israeli targets in Buenos Aires, and its announcement coincided with the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center there.
Hezbollah is believed to be very active in the porous tri-border area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet, and where funds for its operations are raised.