In the mid-1990s, a leftist resistance group which calls itself The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) made Chiapas its home. Its attempts to fight the Mexican Army repeatedly failed, but the Zapatistas are still very active in the district's rural areas.
Chiapas is considered a dangerous place, where every home has an arms arsenal of its own; and like many other places in Mexico, Chiapas' streets have become the battlefield where the government and local drug lords wrestle for dominance.
Chiapas, however, harbors an even more sinister secret: It is also a hub of radical Islamist activity.
"The Muslim missionaries are very active there," he said. "It's hard to know exactly how many people have converted to Islam over the past few years."
Follow the money
US intelligence indicates that Mexico is home to some 200,000 Syrian and Lebanese immigrants – most of them illegal – who were able to cross the border via an extensive web of contacts with drug cartels, both in Mexico and in other countries in South America.
These cartel contacts smuggle illegal immigrants – including individuals affiliated with Iran, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups – into Mexico, placing them a virtual stone's-throw away from the United States.
In December 2011, the US authorities released an indictment filed against Lebanese drug lord Ayman Juma, which exposed Hezbollah's involvement with the Los Zetas drug cartel. According to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Los Zetas is the most technologically advanced and most dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.
According to US officials, for a modest 8%-14% commission, Juma's money laundering process would take about a week. The operation involved bank accounts in dozens of countries, making it virtually impossible to track the dirty money.
According to the indictment, Hezbollah is using Juma's cartel connections to minimize its dependency on Iranian funding. The international sanctions crippling Tehran's economy have taken a serious bite out of the $200 million in annual aid given to Hezbollah, but the latter's appetite for cash has only grown. Los Zetas' Beirut-based money man has reportedly helped the Shiite terror group meet its financial needs.
The ties that bind
Iran denies any involvement in South America, but the US knows better. In 2010, a report commissioned by the House Committee on Intelligence found that the ties between Hezbollah and the Mexican drug cartels, as well as the Iranian link, were getting stronger.
Hezbollah is also training the cartels' operatives in the dubious art of explosives, helping drug lords improve their bomb-making skills.
The committee found evidence that Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials pick up fake passports in Venezuela – a close ally of Iran – prior to infiltrating the United States.
The US' concern about the smuggling tunnels increased exponentially in 2009, when a Department of Homeland Security wiretap derived a recording of Professor Abdallah Nafisi, a Kuwaiti clergyman and a known al-Qaeda recruiter, boasting about the ease by which nonconventional warfare and weapons of mass destruction can be smuggled into the US, through the Mexican drug tunnels.
"Ten pounds of anthrax in a medium-size suitcase, carried by a Jihad warrior through the tunnels can kill 300,000 Americans in one hour," he said. "It will make 9/11 look like peanuts. There's no need for plans… Just one courageous man, to spread this confetti on the White House lawn. Then we will really be able to celebrate."
Threat to national security
"Hezbollah, more than any other terror group, manages to utilize its Mexican-based cells, which it has turned into instruments of capital and terrorism, ready to be called upon once the moment serves its interests," a 2010 Department of Homeland Security report said.
Earlier this year, former DEA Chief of Operations Michael Braun told CBS News that Hezbollah "are masters in creating close relationships with criminal organizations around the world."
A recent book by Latin America expert Jon Perdue details the dangers the US and its allies face as a result of the presence of radical Islamic terror groups in South and Central America. According to Perdue, Iran's proxies have been around long enough "to pose an actual threat" to the US should Israel mount a unilateral strike on the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.
Hope for deliverance?
But why are the local communities in Mexico so eager to answer radical Islam's call? The answers to that vary.
First, most Middle Eastern migrates have been able to make a successful life for themselves in Mexico. For example, Carlos Slim Helu – one of the richest men in the world, with a personal fortune of $77 billion – immigrated to Mexico from Lebanon. Such ties make for an easier landing for Hezbollah operatives in Mexico over other places.
But mostly, Chiapas – like other places in Mexico – is plagued by poverty and a civilian sense of deprivation. The district is home to the decedents of the Mayans, who have been exploited by local governments dating back to the days of the Spanish Conquistadors. They have revolted against their discrimination repeatedly, but to no real success.
Against this bleak backdrop, a monotheistic revolution is taking place – at least according to Muslim websites – as thousand of South Americans shed the Catholic beliefs forced on their forefathers by the Spaniards hundreds of years ago, in favor of Islam.
The bottom line may prove to be a bitter pill to swallow for the US: It is very likely that in a few years, the US – much like Israel – will have to deal with its own Hezbollah presence, right across the border.