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, August 19, 2008

The Price of Violence in Central America

The Salvadorian Public Security Council (CNSP) recently released a report that quantified violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime by placing a number on the amount Central American countries spend on security.

In an effort to curb violence, Central American governments spent some US$6.5 billion in 2006, according to the CNSP study, or nearly 7.7 percent of the sub-region’s GDP.

The highest spending rates are for Guatemala, with a bill of US$2.29 billion, followed by El Salvador with US$2.10 billion. Costa Rica and Nicaragua registered significantly less with US$ 791 million and US$529 million respectively.

When compared to the GDP of each country, these numbers represent a surprisingly high portion of GDP, with some 11 percent for El Salvador, with ten percent in Nicaragua, and 3.6 percent for Costa Rica.

Measured against this backdrop, international aid focused on increasing security seems woefully lacking. As part of Plan Merida, the US’ most recent anti-narco trafficking legislation, Central America may receive up to US$150 million in the next two years.

Yet compared to 2.29 billion spent in Guatemala on security in 2006 alone, the money slotted for Central America in the Merida Plan, if allowed to pass, will likely fall far short of making any real impact in the region.

El Salvador had one of the world's highest death rates at 150 per 100,000 in 1991 at the end of that country's civil war. Some 15 years later, in 2006, Salvador's CNSP registered a death rate of 67.8 per 100,000, still one of the region's highest death rates, measured at three times Mexico's death rate, where the drug trade ensures the death of over 2,500 annually.

How much money needs to be spent before Central American leaders realize they need to try another approach?

According to the CNSP study El Salvador spends some 11 percent of its GDP on security, yet spends only 2.7 percent on education. Something is not right.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Deportation Conveyor Belt

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM), the governmental organ responsible for investigation illegal immigration and enforcing Mexico’s immigration laws, is underfunded, poorly manned, and full of corrupt officials, according to the head of the INM, Cecilia Romero Castillo.

In a recent interview with Mexico’s Processo news magazine, Romero claims her organization simply cannot keep up with the growing number of illegal and documented migrants that enter Mexico on a yearly basis. Human trafficking, she claims, is a “juicy business” supported by INM officials that have been in place since November, 2006.

“…We are advancing a series of investigations…to identify a networks of traffickers. And when I speak of networks, I’m referring to an arrangement between foreigners and Mexicans, and within the group of Mexicans I have no doubt that some migration agents and officials with INM are involved,” Romero told Processo.

One group, called the Miami Mafia, specializes in trafficking Cubans into the United States through Mexico. According to reports from Mexico’s Attorney General’s office, this organization may earn as much as US$80 million a year. In other cases, human traffickers have charged as much as US$4,000 a person, to move them from Guatemala, through Mexico, and into specific points inside the United States.

The INM has some 4,600 employees between migration agents, investigators, and mid- to high-level officials. And for many years, the number of employees has not risen to keep pace with the growing number of people passing through Mexico’s various ports of entry via land, sea, and air.

“In 2000, the country had 23 airports and now there are close to 100,” Romero admitted, adding, “The most worrying is that INM now has less employees that it did in 2000.”

One in five or six illegal immigrants make it through and remain in the United States, Processo reports.

“In the state of Tamaulipas, which is a very complicated situation, there are only 240 employees, and they are not enough to cover 11 international bridges, five airports, two sea ports, apart from migration stations,” Romero said.

Tamaulipas has long been the stronghold of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, and a major trafficking point for any illegal product – human, drug, or otherwise – that flows into the US from Mexico.

Meanwhile, INM must document and receive all those Mexicans deported from the United States apart from preventing the passage of illegal immigrants through Mexico.

The organization’s Countryman Program oversees this process, and has two separate initiatives for children and minors who are deported from the United States, unaccompanied by adults.

Between January and May, 2008, some 300 thousand Mexican nationals were deported from the United States, nearly 2,000 a day, placing the 2008 tally at over a million.

When considering the complex situation of immigration inside the United States, and the current focus on deportation, the above facts should place a light on a larger reality: many of the people who are deported back to Mexico simply cannot be processed by the INM.

The trouble within Mexico’s INM is just one of the many reasons why a number of Mexican analysts consider the movement of people between Central America, Mexico and the United States to literally be like a human conveyor belt. Once deportees arrive, its likely they are shuffled through a haphazard layer of backed up paper work, resulting in a high probability of human error. And once repatriated, what’s to stop them from returning?

Until the INM receives better funding, reduces corruption, and increases the number of personnel required to cover the country’s various ports of entry, deportation as a tool for controlling illegal migration in Mexico or the United States is, at best, a mechanism that keeps the conveyor belt moving.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mexico's Hydra

The Mexican state of Michoacan has long been a battle ground for opposing members of organized crime. Both the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Federation have fought over this important territory in the middle of Mexico, where cocaine supply from Colombia or precursor chemical supply from Asia can be received and quickly moved north.

One criminal group, however, has emerged as the true power in Michoacan. Since its inception, believed to be in 2004, it has grown from a small, clandestine entity to one of Mexico’s rising stars in the criminal underworld – a testimony to the nature of the hydra effect in organized crime. When one head is cut off, another quickly replaces it.

Known as La Familia Michoacana, or simply La Familia, this group was an unknown group of armed thugs in Michoacan, quietly going about its perverse form of social justice until late 2006, when Mexican daily, El Universal, interviewed one of the group’s spokesman, an individual who called himself “Most Crazy.”

Most Crazy revealed that La Familia had some 4,000 members working in various parts of Michoacan. Everyone received a salary of between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, and all were born in Michoacan. The group’s focus was to rid the state of “hielo” or ice as methamphetamine was called, take out any kidnappers, and extortionists, and protect the youth.

Its enemies were members of the Milenio Cartel, a second-tier drug smuggling organization tied to the Sinaloa Federation.

Most Crazy ended his interview stating that his group did not like to kill. But by the end of 2006, the state of Michoacan had registered some 520 executions, 17 of which were decapitations. By most accounts, this “reluctant” violence worked as La Familia is now considered the reigning criminal organization in the Michoacan area, with a strong grip on the state of Mexico and the Federal District.

Since the group’s public announcement, La Familia has inched its way up the ladder, moving from a second-tier local outfit to a more powerful group with an increased amount of financial backing and human resources across at least two states and in the capitol city.

La Familia reportedly pays millions in bribe money every month, and offers protection to various business owners in Michoacan, the state of Mexico, and the Federal District. The protection, however, mostly translates to extortion, where some business owners are taxed every week, others once a month.

Now, in August, the Mexican Attorney General’s office has made an announcement, revealing what many observers have known all along. La Familia intends to control the drug smuggling market in Michoacan and open a route all the way north, passing though the traditionally held lands of the Sinaloa Federation, where many claim El Chapo Guzman has been weakened by the Mexican government’s constant focus on dismantling his organization and his ongoing battles with Los Zetas and other rival groups.

What began as a small group of armed men on the prowl to protect their kids from hielo has turned into a first rate criminal outfit that often dresses in the uniforms of elite federal police, the AFI, and is just as well armed and organized as any top-tier drug smuggling organization in Mexico.

This group’s move to the top levels of Mexican organized crime, perhaps more than any other example, shows how dismantling one group normally leads to another taking its place.
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