This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ortega, Maras in Mexico, and Hezbollah in Venezuela

This is number 14/2006. Sandanista Daniel Ortega is likely to become the next president of Nicaragua. Mara gangs are footloose in Mexico. And some Spanish scholars are talking about Hezbollah in Venezuela.

In this edition:

As of 7 October, most major media outlets have recognized Daniel Ortega as the president of Nicaragua. Ortega, however, has remained silent, and his opponents are calling for every single ballot to be recounted. Democracy watchdog, President Jimmy Carter, said the process was cleaner than elections he's witnessed in the United States.

The possibility that Ortega will begin to orbit Venezuela, along with Bolivia, is very real. Chavez is happy to continue his offer of fertilizer, oil, and fuel, and there's little reason to believe Ortega would refuse. There's also little reason to believe Ortega would manipulate Nicaragua's FTA with the United States. Concern in DC over such a possibility is rooted in outdated beliefs of Ortega the Sandanista more than today's reality. Ortega's presidency will be more about himself and his followers than Nicaraguans or becoming another thorn for Washington. Ortega will certainly have a leftist slant, but it's unlikely his politics will hurt the US beyond the State Department's pride. Chavez called Ortega late on 6 November to congratulate him, and I suspect it is the first communication in what promises to be a close relationship between the two men.

Ortega's presidency adds more evidence to the argument that the US State Department simply has no footing in the Americas and will only lose influence and support in the Americas from today's midterm elections through the end of the current presidential term and beyond.

North of Nicaragua, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, Central America's Maras mix with illegal migration. But their influence does not stop in Chiapas. Maras apparently have built a pipeline for human and drug smuggling north from Chiapas, along Mexico's Pacific coast, to the US-Mexican border. Their presence is Mexico is "flotante" or not rooted down, but their influence is only growing. Testimonies from a racketeering case in Maryland have revealed a certain level of vertical, or what I call north-south, organization between Mara leaders in Central America and their lieutenants that run Mara gangs in US cities.

Meanwhile, two Spanish scholars have taken seriously the recently planted bombs in Caracas. They see the bombs as the first act of Venezuela's Hezbollah cell, acting alone and not part of the greater terrorist organization in the Middle East. They call the 23 October bomb attempt a "frustrated" action of Hezbollah in Venezuela. But they argue this group wants to create a South American Hezbollah movement that will build international recognition through bombings in Venezuela. Ultimately they raise the question. Does Hugo Chavez's leadership in Venezuela send the message to international jihadists that Venezuela will tolerate fund raising, recruitment, propaganda, and training for militant Islamic movements?

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