The United States has welcomed Paraguay’s decision to designate Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organisations, describing it as an important step to cut funding and support for such groups in the western hemisphere.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington commended Paraguay "for designating Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Hamas as terrorist organisations”.
“This important step will help cut off the ability of these groups to plot terrorist attacks and to raise money around the world, including in the Western Hemisphere,” Mr Pompeo said.
He said the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah was “not a defender of Lebanon as it purports to be, but a terrorist organisation dedicated to advancing Iran’s malicious agenda” and compared it to Al Qaeda and ISIS in its global reach and ability to plot attacks in the Americas, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The Iran-backed group is accused of involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering operations in South America to fund its activities in the Middle East, such as its military support for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, Hezbollah has established business links with South American drug cartels that supply cocaine to the European and the US and then launder the earnings.
Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez is of Lebanese descent. His decision on Monday to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation put his country alongside others that have taken similar action including Argentina, Kosovo, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.
The European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation in 2013 but has so far refrained from adding the political wing to that list.
Paraguay has for years been a key hub of Hezbollah’s illicit finance operations, according to Emanuel Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies. Over the course of four decades, the terrorist organisation built extensive infrastructure in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay," Mr Ottolenghi wrote in a briefing on the Paraguayan decision.
Meanwhile, Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, decried Paraguay’s decision on Thursday.
It described itself as a “a resistance Palestinian movement fighting for the freedom and independence of its people”.