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.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gang Busters, Unmanned aircraft, and Ruling by Decree

This is number 1/2007. Our Mara Salvatrucha report is nearly complete. We are waiting on a court reporter in Maryland to send over the transcripts of witness testimony that, so far, have not been released to the public. The results for January's monthly survey are in. Once we publish the Mara Salvatrucha report, we will begin work on Mexico's drug wars. You can still find our December report on the FARC's international network here.

In this edition:

The Mara Salvatrucha, the United States' most violent street gang according to the FBI, has received much attention from the press this year. A trend towards greater organization suggests the gang may soon become much more than thugs. And the government's use of racketeering charges to prove organization has for the first time etched in public records evidence of the gang's increased levels of sophistication.

Meanwhile, a continuing resolution passed by the outgoing Congress late last year has catalyzed a hiring freeze at the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA has suffered budget cuts, and its operations on the US/Mexico border appear to be on the road towards friction, not cooperation, with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the FBI. These are trying times for the DEA because Washington has put the drug war on hold while it chases after terrorists and democracy in the Middle East.

Mexico, however, has raced forward with its war on drugs. President Felipe Calderon has taken the fight to Mexican organized crime. He's sent troops to Michoacan, Baja California (Tijuana), and other states. Calderon has also begun using extradition to the United States as a tool. Already he's extradited the leader of the Gulf Cartel and as of the last week of January has some 9,000 troops hunting for El Chapo, the leader of the Sinaloa Federation. I'm waiting to see how the criminals fight back...

...Iran will soon open an embassy in Nicaragua. After a three day tour, guided by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, extended his Latin American contact network to Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia through meeting the presidents of all three nations. As Iran's presence in Latin America grows, so does unease in Washington.

Chavez will continue to push Washington with rhetoric all year, but an interesting bit of news - beyond the usual Bush-bashing - surfaced recently. The Venezuelan military has quietly said it will work with Iran to develop unmanned aircraft. This announcement could be misinformation; it could also be a test balloon to gauge US response. Either way, closer military ties between Iran and Venezuela do not bode well for Washington. Nor do Venezuela's plans to purchase anti-aircraft missiles from Russia.

We'll certainly hear more from Chavez, who as of 31 January is in position to rule by decree. The region's response to Chavez's constant tinkering (to put it nicely) with Venezuelan democracy is deplorable and indicative of the fact that it is unlikely anyone in the region or Washington can stop him.

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