Last week, a bill was introduced in the House that could give the president sweeping powers to sanction areas deemed under the “control” of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Latin America. The bill was introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and currently has 12 Republican cosponsors.
Wilson said the bill, called the Hezbollah Money Laundering Prevention Act of 2020, is meant to “stop the Iranian backed terrorist organization Hezbollah’s money laundering activities across the world.” Wilson called it the “toughest sanctions on Hezbollah ever proposed by Congress.”
The bill would give the president the ability to “make a determination that areas under the terrorist organization’s control” are a “primary money laundering concern.” If areas are found to be a “primary laundering concern,” the US can take special measures under section 311 of the Patriot Act.
While US officials label Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, the reality in Lebanon is much different. Hezbollah is one of the many political parties that has power in Lebanon’s government, and was voted into office. Critiques of the legislation in Lebanon say the bill would be a form of collective punishment for people living in areas of south Lebanon with a Hezbollah presence.
Lebanon is facing an economic crisis that was exacerbated by a recent ammonium nitrate explosion at the port of Beirut that killed hundreds of people. The US already has sanctions on Hezbollah that strain Lebanon’s financial sector. US sanctions on Syria also hurt Lebanon’s economy by discouraging trade between the neighboring countries.