On the eve of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the president of Argentina has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization – a move long urged by AJC.

The designation comes 25 years after the bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 and wounded 300 more. It comes 27 years after the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

In 2007, the official Argentine investigation concluded that Iran was responsible for the 1994 attack on AMIA and the suicide bomber who drove his car into the building was a member of Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah are also widely believed to be behind the attack on the embassy.

On Wednesday, President Mauricio Macri signed a decree, spelling out three criteria that Argentina would use to designate terrorist organizations. They include organizations that have pending sentences against them under Argentine law, organizations that have been declared terrorists by the United Nations Security Council, and organizations that have been convicted of financial crimes by local authorities.

Only the last criterion applies to Hezbollah, because of its money-laundering activities in a region known as the Triple Frontier – a region where the borders of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet and that serves as a hub for criminal activity by groups such as Hezbollah. The designation adds Hezbollah’s name to a new registry of terrorist organizations and freezes the group's assets.

“Given the massive tragedy Hezbollah wrought on Argentina 25 years ago, adding the Iranian-sponsored terror organization to the new registry and freezing its assets is a positive step on the long and winding path to justice for the AMIA bombing victims and their families,” said Dina Siegel Vann, AJC Director of Latino and Latin American Affairs, who is in Buenos Aires for the 25th anniversary events.

The decree is a significant gesture from the Argentine government – a long-awaited step toward holding the perpetrators responsible for the 1994 bombing, the worst attack on a Jewish target outside Israel since the Holocaust.

Before the decree, Siegel Vann said, anyone in Latin America could raise money or raise a flag for Hezbollah with no repercussions, despite the fact that Interpol has issued "red notices" for those implicated in the AMIA attack. 

"That is part of impunity," she said. "The fact that countries continue to have relations with Iran without holding it accountable for what it did, that’s also part of impunity. By declaring it a terrorist organization, you hold the responsible party accountable, but also you put some preventive measures in place so future attacks don’t happen.”

For those who lost loved ones in the AMIA attack, the last 25 years have been punctuated by disappointments. Despite the findings of the official investigation, Argentina and Iran agreed in 2013 to jointly investigate the attack, which AJC CEO David Harris likened to “asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht.”

Earlier this year, two Argentine officials, including a former federal judge in the investigation, were jailed for concealing and violating evidence.

The decree builds upon a growing awareness of terrorism and antisemitism in Latin America, said Siegel Vann.

Last month, at AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C., Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) denounced Hezbollah as a terrorist organization that has a "solid base of operations in South America" and made news by announcing his support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. 

“In addition to Almagro, it’s really creating a framework to place the dangers of antisemitism and terrorism in the rightful place,” Siegel Vann said. “They see it as not only a danger for the Jewish community but a danger against all the nations of the Americas and their societies. That’s why it’s so important. It really heightens this from being only a Jewish issue to an issue that has a much wider scope of implications.”

For nearly 25 years, AJC has been pushing Argentina to limit Hezbollah's activities in the region. In April, AJC launched a global campaign to press the international community to hold Hezbollah accountable for its terrorist activities and designate the group in its entirety a terrorist organization.

Argentina joins the U.S., Canada, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Israel, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council as countries that consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

La Nacion, one of Argentina’s leading daily newspapers, first reported that Macri was expected to sign the terrorist declaration for Hezbollah. At that time, Siegel Vann was cautiously optimistic, saying the action would set a precedent and serve as “a model for its neighbors and for the rest of Latin America.”