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, October 26, 2007

A Drop in the Bucket

I have decided to increase the publication of this newsletter into a weekly affair. I hope you do not mind. I will share with you some clips from the Internet, including my own publications, but I’d also like to share with you more of the information I receive from interviews with government officials, businessmen, analysts, and others from around the region.

In this edition:

We continue work on our third report on Mexican organized crime. Some of the information we have learned, however, I’d like to share with you here given the current media flack surrounding the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico.

Lambasted by media on both sides of the border, at a glance it would seem this plan to spend some USD 1.4 billion over three years to combat drug trafficking through Mexico is a step in the right direction. It is certainly more than the current USD 40 million that the US spends on anti-narcotic support in Mexico.

Mexican observers, however, have pointed out that USD 1.4 billion is about the same amount the US military spends on fuel over one month in Iraq. By comparison, Mexico figures relatively unimportant.

Mexican press has also pointed out that when compared to the assumed earning of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), the money for the Merida Initiative falls short. Mexican DTOs earn some USD 30 billion a year, compared to the some USD 500 million this plan intends to spend on equipment, support, and training. One Mexican daily figures Mexican DTOs have 21 times the spending power of “Plan Mexico.

Training is another issue. Some observers suggested that private military contractor, Dyncorp, had been selected to carry out much of the training of Mexican anti-narcotic police. But a recent conversation I had with a Mexican security official suggests that BlackWater might actually get the job. It will likely come down to lobbying in Washington. Either way, it seems clear the US is interested in using private contractors in Mexico.

On the Mexican side of the border, such an announcement comes across as an insult. Already sour about the Vietnam-era helicopters the US handed over for anti-narcotic recon missions that are now useless due to a lack of maintenance support from the US, Mexican officials are worried about receiving old equipment from the Colombian front of the so-called “war on drugs”. Now they are faced with the probability of US officials telling them that if they want the help, they will take it from private contractors.

Given the current media coverage of the BlackWater incident in Iraq that left many civilians dead, such a proposition is a bitter pill.

Another issue is trust. While Mexican officials from public security, defense, national police, and other areas clamor over who will get to play with what toys, US officials look across the landscape of Mexican leaders and see very few they trust. Apart from Mexican president Felipe Calderon, who seems to have a good rapport with US officials, the other is the attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, who in the past has served as the Secretary of Public Security.

Finally, and in the best interests of keeping this piece short, I would add my own worry about the US government’s commitment. Spending USD 500 million a year for three years is a drop in the bucket. Mexico will need much more support over a longer period of time to pull itself from the vice grip of organized time. I understand the limitations of Bush’s ability to move anything forward in Washington and applaud his efforts to move forward this plan, but it seems to me too little too late. I hope the next US president is wise enough to realize that Mexico and the border lands deserve much more attention than what USD 500 million dollars a year will buy.

Next week, I’d like to share with you the spy games going on behind the scenes between Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Correa is not Chavez, Hostage Talks, and a new report

I’d like to announce that we’re working on part three of our ongoing series on organized crime in Mexico. Parts I and II are available on my website here. This time around we’ll focus on the pressure cracks that have begun to form between the organized criminal factions in Mexico that so far can be divided into four large groups. Two groups, specifically the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Federation, have begun to show some signs of stress.

Fractures due to ongoing pressure from the Calderon administration may manifest themselves into smaller drug trafficking organizations. These considerations as well as organizational charts and maps, and a discussion of the reasons why organized crime may team up with insurgents in Mexico will all be included in our upcoming report. I expect to publish it via my website by the end of November.

In other news, Ecuador has moved forward with a constituent assembly that with representatives from around the country will meet and debate the governing law of the country, to be enshrined in a new constitution. The president, Rafael Correa, holds a majority position in the assembly and is likely to push through progressive changes that, like in Bolivia, many Ecuadorians hope will grant more rights and status to the country’s poor and disenfranchised parts of society.

This policy, however, has proven unpopular with the right wing parties in Ecuador as well as international press that tends to lump Correa together with Bolivian president Evo Morales and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. While all three are happy to hug and smile for the cameras, they are quite different. Correa is clearly not Chavez.

Meanwhile, Chavez continues to outpace change in Venezuela. His constant push to force Venezuela through the reformations necessary to mold Venezuela into his own vision of the ideal country has created a serious strain on institutional capacity there. Government offices are simply not well equipped to maintain the president’s rhetorical pace. As they fall behind, corruption and incompetence fill the gap. It seems that even with billions you can’t buy a revolution. Even Castro is telling Chavez to slow down and administer the administration.

Yet Chavez continues to push his agenda on the international stage. His current foray into Colombian affairs, trying to negotiate a humanitarian exchange between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Uribe administration may create some positive outcome for FARC hostages, but it’s unlikely Uribe will budge on any peace agreement. Meanwhile, Chavez continues to lose precious time at home, where many Venezuelans have begun to openly question the direction of this “revolution”.

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