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.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Busts, Spies, Polls, and Bombs in Bogota

This is number 13/2006. We are four days from the second-round of the Brazilian presidential elections, and Lula has a 22 point lead over Alckmin. People here in Brazil are already celebrating or crying. Daniel Ortegea, the former Sandanista leader in Nicaragua, will likely be the next president of that country. In Venezuela, polls report Hugo Chavez is 35 points ahead of his opponent Manuel Rosales.

In this edition:

The Brazilian National Intelligence Service (ABIN) has begun the internal selection process to send spies to Venezuela and Bolivia. A classified order made by the president initiated this process, and a daily here made it public. The ABIN office confirmed the news. Until now, Brazil had maintained ABIN agents in Washington, Key West, and Buenos Aires. The presence of Brazilian spies in Venezuela and Bolivia may be the first of a series of geopolitical moves made by Brazil to exert its influence over her neighbors.

As Chavez sprints the campaign trail, two unexploded bombs were found outside the US Embassy in Caracas on 23 October. A moto-taxi driver alerted local police after giving a ride to a guy with a large duffle bag. Inside the bag were Hezbollah pamphlets and a student ID card. Local authorities consider the suspect "demented". And that was that. It's unclear if the story was buried or just a non-starter. Once again flimsy evidence has surfaced that Hezbollah is operating in Venezuela. US Southern Command is convinced of the terrorist organization's presence on Margarita Island, just north of Venezuela, but concrete evidence has not yet surfaced in the public domain. Stay tuned...

Meanwhile, eight tons of cocaine were found off the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean off the Ecuadorian coast. Three Costa Ricans were arrested. This is the second cocaine bust involving Costa Ricans this month. On 9 October a Costa Rican vessel was intercepted with 3.5 tons of cocaine aboard. The eight-ton bust is the largest single seizure I am aware of in Latin America.

At the United Nations, Venezuela has announced it's willing to pass the baton to Bolivia, and Evo Morales has accepted. I don't think Bolivia has a very good chance of winning a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but if it does, I imagine we will soon have more evidence of the deepening ties between Venezuela and Bolivia.

Finally, another bomb exploded in Bogota on 19 October. President Alvaro Uribe immediately blamed the FARC, but it is not clear if the FARC actually planted the bomb. Calling off hostage-exchange talks with the FARC, Uribe said the only way to free the hostages the FARC has been holding for years is with the Colombian military.

As a high-delegation of US officials hold meetings in Bogota today, 25 October, and tomorrow, Colombia's Foreign Minister is holding talks with Ecuador and Venezuela to share intelligence the Colombian government has that high-level FARC operatives are currently in the eastern jungles of Ecuador and the remote border lands between Venezuela and Colombia.

If Chavez remains in office, and Ecuadorian presidential candidate Rafael Correa - a known Chavez sympathizer - becomes Ecuador's next president, Colombia will have two neighbors that are tacit FARC supporters. The harder Uribe squeezes the FARC in Colombia, the more likely they are to displace their presence into Ecuador and Venezuela, not to mention Panama and Brazil.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Chavez's power on the downslide?

Responding to Andres Oppenheimer's recent article on Chavez's apparent downward spiral, I published the below comments on his blog.

They are recorded here:

Rosales has engineered a strong campaign, but he's still 13 points behind Chavez. I doubt Chavez will give up power easily, no matter what Venezuelans decide.

Outside Venezuela, his influence appears to have planed-out. But it's easy to arrive at this conclusion when you only ready major news papers. Talk to the people, visit the capitals, take a hard look at the realities of life down here, and you'll find there's still plenty of room for Chavez's influence to grow.

If he's an astute politician, and if he manages to get past the December elections without sparking a wave of violence in Caracas, Chavez needs to turn a corner to press what I consider to be an advantage in the region.

He needs to govern, to show some leadership, and to show some follow through. If chooses not to focus on the details of being a effective political leader, he runs the risk of wide spread disillusionment that follows in the wake of the hundreds of thousands of hopeful individuals - Latinos, Gringos, Europeos, quien sea - that are watching him, waiting for him to do more than put his money where his mouth is and make something happen. Venezuela is the first place to begin.

There's no reason to belive that Chavez can't work with Garcia, Uribe, Calderon, or other center-right leaders who have problems with poverty, hunger, sickness, etc.

But there's plenty of reason to belive that if Chavez doesn't do something soon, the disillusionment he creates will cause a fall out much worse than the most awful decisions made by the "Washington Consensus".

I'm not for or against Hugo. He has carved out a measure of regional influence for himself. It remains to be seen if he can do something with it.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Colombianization" of Guatemala?

This is number 12/2006, and has arrived a little later than expected due to the elections here in Brazil. According to the latest polls published on 12 October, Lula is ahead by 11 points over Geraldo Alckmin. In other news, I heard back from many of you who had trouble purchasing The Reality of a Mexican Mega Cartel. The e-book is now available via my website (not Also, I have installed a monthly survey on my website. The idea is to publish an e-book that reflects the interests of those who visit the website. Have a look, cast your vote, and check out the results. Finally, I will begin placing these newsletters on my blog. Please leave your comments there, thank you.

In this edition:

The first two weeks of October registered record cocaine busts in Central America. During a regional meeting of Defense Ministers in Managua, Nicaragua, authorities there seized 3.1 tones of cocaine off of Nicaragua's Pacific Coast. Days later Costa Rican authorities seized 3.5 tones of cocaine. Both seizures were record interdictions.

The Central American sub-region remains a transit zone. Larger seizures means larger amounts make it through the zone into target ports. The term "Colombianization" has been used to describe how the drug trade has begun to affect security and economy in Mexico. But some observers have begun to talk about the "Colmbianization" of Guatemala, an interesting concept.

Drug traffickers in Guatemala have planted millions of opium poppies in the country's western highlands. Guatemala is Central America's only source country. Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia are South America's source countries. Colombia has the added challenge of a decades' old civil war. Guatemala, however, has a growing problem with Mara Salvatrucha street gangs, which appear to on the road to increased organization and involvement in the drug trade.

Guatemalan president, Oscar Berger, just last week ordered hundreds of soldiers into the streets of Guatemala City to protect public buses. Strikes led by bus drivers, who were protesting the death of five of their colleagues, prompted this heavy-handed response. Street gangs extort bus divers, forcing them to pay a "war tax". Those who don't pay are shot. We're waiting to see what becomes of soldiers protecting bus drivers from street gangs. It seems to be a recipe for more violence.

Meanwhile, these gangs continue to move into the Mexican drug trade. There's little evidence to suggest they are actively linked with one of Mexico's drug smuggling organizations. I have learned, however, that the presence of Central American street gangs in Mexico has spurred a nation-wide copy cat situation. Mexican youths in cities across the country have begun to call themselves "maras", hoping to capitalize on the fear invoked by the term. Have the Mara Salvatrucha grown beyond a street gang into a brand name that represents extreme violence?

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