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LATIN AMERICA | 17-04-2024 16:36

Bullrich sparks row with Bolivia, Chile with Hezbollah claims

Bullrich alleges the presence of Iranian-linked forces in Bolivia and Chile, along with Triple Frontier; Arce’s administration calls for “end of provocation,” while Boric demands respect.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich plunged Argentina into a diplomatic row with Bolivia and Chile this week after she claimed in an interview that combat forces linked to Iran were active in the territories of both nations.

Bolivia’s government responded by accusing Argentina of deliberately generating “confrontations” between the nations, while President Gabriel Boric’s government in Chile said he would send a note of protest to Buenos Aires.

The comments came after President Javier Milei – who has vowed his nation’s “unwavering commitment” to Israel since taking office – cut short an international tour to return to Buenos Aires and form a “crisis committee” in the wake of Iran’s attack on Israel last weekend.

With government officials raising the spectre of security threats, potentially against Milei and sites across the country, Bullrich jumped into the debate, declaring that Argentina is in a “delicate situation” because of the alleged presence of Iranian-linked forces in the region.

In interviews with local media outlets, the security minister highlighted areas in which she claimed Hezbollah – the group accused of the terrorist attack against the AMIA Argentine-Israeli Association in 1994 – were active, among others.

"Today Argentina has all alerts on," the minister said.

In addition to being present in the triple border region between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, Hezbollah militia “have also been spotted lately in Iquique, in the North of Chile, last year in São Paulo, Brazil, and a few weeks ago in Peru,” Bullrich claimed.

Bullrich also claimed that Bolivia hosts hundreds of members of the Quds Force, one of five branches of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), dedicated to foreign espionage and paramilitary arms.

Speculating about the potential of foreign agents on Argentine soil, Bullrich said that the government is assessing “whether there are people who don’t speak Spanish with Bolivian passports” on national soil. 

“We have not seen any of them get in, but it’s a possible hypothesis,” she speculated, without providing evidence to back up her claim.

Last week, Mark Wells, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean at the US State Department, said that Washington is “very concerned” about the activities of Hezbollah and Iran-linked forces in Latin America.

 

Anger in La Paz

The claims sparked anger in La Paz, with President Luis Arce’s government slamming the Argentine official’s “provocations.”

Relations with Bolivia have worsened since Javier Milei was sworn-in as Argentina's president last December.

“We deny and categorically reject that Bolivia is protecting people causing terror, insecurity and uneasiness within its border,” the Foreign Ministry in La Paz said in a statement. 

“These accusations have no evidence or documentation and no basis whatsoever” and Bolivia is watching, “with concern, a campaign seeking to cause confrontation between States, government and Latin American peoples,” it added.

The government announced that it would momentarily call Argentine diplomatic authorities for them to give an account “of the unfortunate and mistaken statements of minister Bullrich.”

“Bolivia profoundly respects and appreciates the Argentine people, which is why we demand the same respect from its rulers for the sake of this historic friendship,” said a spokesperson, which said the Arce government wanted to put the “unpleasant episode” behind them.


Chile demands respect

Chile President Boric said he would send a note of protest to Buenos Aires in the wake of Bullrich’s controversial assertions.

If the minister “has a serious claim, let her submit it to competent authorities and courts and communicate through the Foreign Ministry,” said Boric in a radio interview.

“But these half-assed statements by the press are not right, and we’ll be sending a note of protest via the Foreign Ministry. Here I demand respect for our country,” he added.

“It is extremely important for authorities to be responsible about their statements and assertions … Chile is not harbouring any terrorist group,” he added.

Chilean Interior minister Carolina Tohá said that citizens should not be spooked by the claims, given that “our police and intelligence systems are always on the lookout for this issue.”

“They’re always watching any movement, any priors. And right now Chile has no threat of an attack from Hezbollah,” said Tohá.

 

– TIMES/NA/AFP
 

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