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, February 19, 2008

Border corruption and a 73 million dollar question

In a number of recent conversations the topics of corruption and border patrol agents has surfaced. On both sides of the border, it seems, taking bribes to allow the passage of certain trucks or certain individuals has become more of an issue. As media attention continues to focus on border violence between Mexico and the United States, many are aware that border agents on the Mexican side of the border have often taken bribes. Those that do not usually take a bullet.

On the US side of the border, however, such “plata o plomo” decisions have not been forced upon Border Patrol Agents, at least not that the media is aware. Corruption remains a concern, however, and when officials along the border talk about how Mexican organized crime will initially be felt inside the United States, the first answer is not what many expect. Firefights between members of Los Zetas and US Border Patrol are less likely than the clandestine offer of a white envelope stuffed with cash.

During his congressional testimony on 14 February, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, sat before the appropriate Senate Committee and explained why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs US$50.5 billion dollars for fiscal year 2009. Within this amount, there is a request for US$442.4 million for the Border Patrol. DHS wants to hire, train and equip 2,200 new Border Patrol agents in an effort to reach President Bush’s goal of adding a total of 6,000 new Border Patrol agents by the end of 2009.

The total would surpass 20,000 Border Patrol agents, more than double the amount used in 2001, according to Chertoff.

Could it be that a handful of those new agents working on the US-Mexico border may be corrupted along the way? Could it be that as the Border Patrol has ramped up from 10,000 to over 20,000 agents, some moles have been placed by Mexican DTOs?

Meanwhile, another interesting question was raised a week earlier in early February by House Representative Eliot Engel, Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Noting that in President Bush’s 2009 fiscal year budget request, another US$73 million has been removed from money set aside for drug use prevention programs inside the United States, Rep. Engel asked his guests – leaders from the DEA, DOS, ATF, FBI, etc:

“Why are we cutting demand side spending at a time when we have promised the Mexican government to intensify our efforts on the demand side of the drug war? This is absolutely shocking to me and is no way to show our commitment to our partners in Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere who are combating narco-traffickers on a daily basis.”

None of the witnesses that day came up with an adequate answer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Drugs & Guns: Numbers in Mexico

In the past week, we have noted a surge in weapon seizures around Mexico. These numbers do not necessarily represent an increase in the movement of guns from the United States to Mexico, nor do they underline the efficiency of Mexican policing efforts. It is simply a snap shot of a particularly interesting week in a conflict with a sordid past and a long future.

On 8 February, Mexican officials captured the largest haul of weapons that according to the Mexican Attorney General’s office is the largest single weapon seizure made in the past 20 years. The ranch was located in the municipality of Miguel Alemán, where local politician Antonio Guajardo Anzaldúa was shot to death by alleged members of Los Zetas on 29 November 2007 for speaking out against the Gulf Cartel and its ties to PRI political party bosses in Tamaulipas.

Authorities were led to a ranch on the US-Mexico border where they found:

  • 89 long barrel rifles, mostly AK-47 and AR-15;
  • five pistols;
  • a .30 caliber sub-machine gun with tripod;
  • B-4 plastic explosives;
  • 83,365 rounds of ammunition;
  • nine tons of marijuana;
  • and, a large number of black and camouflage uniforms.

Given the ranch location, we can be certain this equipment belonged to Los Zetas.

Recently released numbers from the Mexican government illustrate the massive amounts of drugs moving through the country. Consider that the numbers below for 2007 and 2008 represent only a fraction of the actual amounts (thank you to the NAFBPO for some of this information).

2007 totals:


  • 50,737 kilos of cocaine
  • 312 kilos of opium paste
  • 298 kilos of heroin
  • 37.5 tons of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (precursor chemical used to make methamphetamines)


  • 4,451 handguns
  • 4,447 “shoulder” firearms – including assault rifles such as AK-47s and AR-15s
  • 663,913 rounds of ammunition
  • 484 grenades

2008 totals as of February 6, 2008.


  • 777 kilos of cocaine
  • 11.8 tons of marijuana


  • 183 handguns
  • 204 “high-powered” rifles
  • 16 rocket launchers
  • 110 fragmentation grenades
  • 80 stun grenades

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Russian Subs and Echoes of War

By now talk of Venezuelan military purchases from Russia has become a repetition of Chavez’s shopping list with the occasional mention of a new item. In light of the current situation between Venezuela and Colombia, Chavez’s interest in purchasing three Varshavianka-class submarines for an unofficial amount of one billion dollars becomes slightly more interesting.

Echoes of war between the two countries resound more in Chavez’s rhetoric and Colombian newspapers than they do in the offices of Colombia’s political and military leaders. But those who pay close attention to the matter have become more alarmed than usual. Chavez’s rhetoric appears especially fierce. Close cooperation between his government and the FARC, as well as the possible presence of Venezuelan ammunition in the hands of FARC guerrillas, underline an interesting observation made by Adam Isacson, Director of Programs with the Center for International Policy Studies in Washington.

In a recent conversation, he mentioned that when you’ve got two neighbors with one – Venezuela - that allegedly supplies arms and ammunition to the guerrilla army of the other – the FARC in Colombia – you’ve got a tense situation, one that is not present anywhere else in the world, save sections of Africa, and maybe the Middle East.

On top of that, add Chavez’s rhetoric, and the possibility of both Venezuelan and Colombian troop presence on a shared border known to be, in large swathes, FARC-controlled territory. In a dense forest, where a gun shot could come from any one of the three groups, causing an immediate reaction, it is not a far stretch to see how the current echoes of war could descend to something quite different.

Chavez’s announced trip to Russia to sign the contract for these three subs certainly does not help reduce tension. Once the contract for Russian attack subs has been signed, Chavez will likely make lightly-veiled statements to bristle the Colombian president flanked by a stoic background of Russian officials.

The Varshavianka-class submarine is a patrol submarine capable of taking out targets on land, on the surface or underwater. Along with the purchase of three submarines, Chavez will discuss his long-term plans to purchase another hundred patrol boats of various sizes.

Currently Colombian officials assert little worry over Chavez’s war-mongering. Claims that his speeches are designed to keep Venezuelans focus away from many domestic problems may be accurate for now. But the day may come when the Venezuelan military could pose a serious threat to Colombia. What’s more worrying than the possibility of war today is the likelihood of strained relations over the long-term due to Chavez’s completely understandable military upgrade.

As usual, it will be the citizens of both countries that will suffer, especially along the border where the local economy is so closely tied together that even slight interruptions of cross-border traffic is enough to cause a small violent outbreaks on a local level. Problem is, such a small spark might be all it takes to set fire to a much larger conflict.

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