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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Ye Gon is Exhonerated in US Federal Court

Zhenli Ye Gon, the Chinese-Mexican who was arrested in Maryland in late 2007 on charges of "selling 500 grams or more" of methamphetamine in the United States, is one step closer to freedom.

On 28 August, a federal court judge dropped the drug trafficking charges, claiming there was not enough evidence to prosecute the case.

One affidavit filed with a US Disctrict Court claimed that Ye Gon had imported some 87 tons of restricted chemicals into Mexico "for the express purpose of manufacturing pseudoephedrine/ephedrine" - the precursor chemicals for methamphetamine.

In October, 2008, as federal prosecutors worked to gather evidence, they warned the judge that they "were having difficulties" gathering needed evidence from other governments (such as Mexico).

Ye Gon was the owner of a house discovered in March 2007 by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Mexican Federal Police where they found US$207 million dollars stacked like bricks in the house. At the time, the DEA noted that it was the organization's largest cash bust in history.

Further investigation revealed that Ye Gon had actually accumulated US$305 million in pseudoephedrine sales.

Ye Gon must now fight his extradition to Mexico, where he will face justice for money laundering and organized crime.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Texas Sheriff Sentenced to Five Years

Former Starr County (map)Sheriff Reymundo Guerra was sentenced to 64 months in prison and four years of supervised release yesterday (27 August). He was found guilty of disrupting justice and facilitating Gulf Cartel smuggling operations into Texas.

A few months ago, when I was in Cochise Cty., Arizona, the local sheriff there told me that taking a bribe from mexican criminals amounted to a "sin of omission." That is, men and women who protect the border can choose not to do something that they can and should do.

On the border, they can choose not to stop a car that they know is full of contraband. Border sheriffs, likewise, may choose not to focus their investigative force on specific subjects, or a specific hot spot in the county, because their criminal employers have asked him to simply look the other way. In the criminal world, there is likely no other job that is easier than looking the other way...

Kudos for the FBI on taking this guy out. He is a disgrace to all men and women who wear a badge, and, unfortunately, stands as yet another example of how our law enforcement officials here in the US are not immune to the corruptive force of Mexican drug trafficking.

One of my favorite Texas bloggers concluded a similar post with the same thought I'd like to put forward:

"How many more officers are out there on the take is anybody's guess."

Lula's UNASUR Summit

Southern Pulse Intel Brief | 27 August 2009

republished here with permission from Southern Pulse editors.

Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva generated the most interesting news this week, ahead of the 28 August UNASUR summit, to be hosted by Argentina in the ski-resort town of Bariloche.

On 22 August, Lula signed a raft of agreements with Bolivian President Evo Morales in Bolivia’s Chapare region. An agreement worth US$332 million underpins the construction of a 306-kilometer highway from Villa de Tunari in the Chapare to the eastern Bolivian department of Beni.

Brazil has also agreed to import tariff-free textiles worth some US$21 million, which is the same amount of money Bolivia lost due to Washington’s decision not to renew the US-Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) last year. The two leaders also discussed changes in the Brazil-Bolivia natural gas deal, as well as cooperation for bilateral efforts to combat the drug trade, but no solid agreements surfaced.

By many accounts, this meeting was a significant win for Morales, who has been under pressure to find alternative markets for Bolivia’s textiles. The highway construction will also please Chapare leaders, who are Morales’ closest political supporters. He will need them later this year for the run up to Bolivia’s 6 December 2009 presidential elections

For his part, Lula has assured support from Bolivia, despite Morales' anti-US stance, at the UNASUR summit, which promises to be contentious with both Venezuela and Colombia in attendance, and with Ecuador currently holding the president’s chair, which Colombia will likely view as an unfair arbiter.

While Lula has voiced some concern about Colombia’s agreement to allow the US military access to seven military bases in Colombia, he does not side with Chavez, nor can he take such a hardened position against Colombia. UNASUR is widely considered Brazil’s initiative and the strongest effort towards unifying South America under Brazil’s leadership. Lula cannot lean too far to the left in criticizing Colombia and the US at the risk of distancing himself from regional moderates and Washington.

The concern over US bases in Colombia does signal that the United States can still tilt the balance of soft-power in the region, but Lula’s deft diplomacy will likely win out. He did invite President Obama to attend the summit, and while Obama will likely not attend, Lula can at least maintain an open posture towards Washington, signaling that as the de facto regional leader, Brazil has nothing to fear from the US’ increased military presence in Colombia. He also did receive assurances from Obama’s National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, in early August that there would be a “good explanation” for the US’ presence in Colombia.

But Brazil would like a commitment: Obama will not use the Colombian bases to launch missions into other countries. This request is also one made on behalf of all of Colombia’s neighbors - a conciliatory geopolitical stroke ahead of the summit to make sure that Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela can at least agree on something.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is Venezuela's economy stronger than Mexico's?

Most of us who follow Venezuela would agree that this country's economy is in the tank, and largely reliant on oil, the one export that manages to pay the bills.

Mexico, however, is in a very similar situation. Pemex suffers, and Mexico is heavily reliant on the national oil company to maintain a robust revenue stream.

Then the so-called "global recession" hit. And somehow, Venezuela has faired better than Mexico. Here are the latest numbers:

Bloomberg reported on 20 August that Venezuela's economy shrank 2.4% during the second quarter of 2009, compared to 2Q08. This is the first time Venezuela's economy has contracted since 2003...

Mexico's National Statistics Institute reported on 20 August that the country's economy shrank 10.3% during the second quarter of 2009, compared to 2Q08.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Pressure for Results in Mexico

When corruption undercuts good police work, pressure to falsify results builds to the point where innocent men and women are tagged and persecuted for crimes they did not commit.

What's worse is when torture is involved.

On the 21st of June, 2008, 30 members of the Mexican federal police (PFP) interrupted a child's party in Tijuana and arrested 58 guests and the lead singer of the hired band. Now, over a year later, information has surfaced to suggest that every single one of these "suspects" were innocent. Beyond the horror of being falsely accused and forgotten in a Mexican prison, many of these people were tortured and forced to admit that they were members of the Arellano-Felix Organization (AFO), the drug trafficking organization that operates out of Tijuana.

One man's story is particularly disturbing. He was the godfather of the birthday child.

Cristian Jesus Sotelo Mendoza, along with the rest, found himself in the basement of a military base somewhere in Tijuana. For a period of time he cannot remember, he was tortured, threatened, and ultimately forced to admit that he was someone called "El Muletas" a wanted criminal and member of the AFO.

Sotelo Mendoza told Ricardo Ravelo of Proceso magazine in this week's latest issue that he was taken into a separate room from the others where both members of the police and soldiers punched and kicked him.

Then they placed a wet hood on his head with a second bag covering the hood. The aggressors then began hitting him in the stomach with a rod so he would inhale deeply and choke on the wet hood, shouting and threatening to kill him.

Sotelo Mendoza was handcuffed and forced to sit in a chair. The bag and hood was removed. The interrogators then took a wet shirt and stretched it across his face before throwing buckets of water in his face and kicking him in the stomach to force him to breathe in the water.

The torture didn't stop there. The forced chili peppers up his nose before taking him to another room where he was stripped naked pushed to the floor and forced to endure long secessions of physical attacks.

The next day, together with his brother-in-law, Sotelo Mendoza was forced to run to the end of a hall and into a room packed with Mexican press. When Sotelo Mendoza opened his eyes, he faced the Mexican press, standing behind a table of weapons he had never seen.

He, along with his brother-in-law, was presented as one of the lieutenants of the AFO, known as El Muletas. His brother-in-law was presented as "La Perra." The third man in the room was the vocalist from the band hired to perform at the birthday party. He was presented as "El Gordo Villarreal."

After the press conference, the three men along with another 37 of the original 59 who were arrested at the party were transferred to a separate military prison where they were held for another 40 days, without charge. When a charge did come through, all but 22 were let go.

And those 22 people, who apparently did nothing wrong more than attend a little girl's party have spent the past year in prison, apart from being tortured and presented as people they are not.

By now, most of these people have been released, except for the father of the birthday girl, who is still in prison, accused of being La Perra despite the fact that the Mexican Attorney General's office announced on 6 July 2009 that the real man, known as La Perra, had been captured.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shifting security realities in Brazil

The Brazilian military announced on 18 August that it will increase troop presence on the country's border with Colombia.

This is a conversation that has been going back and forth between the president's office and the military generals for years. Slowly but surely, the Brazilian military has begun to make a shift from its traditional focus in the southern part of the country, where the assumption is that Argentina is considered the most likely to invade and the Amazon provides the best defense from potential enemies to the north.

Closer ties with Colombia, such as the hot-pursuit fly over agreement, and generally closer cooperation on security matters, has prompted the Brazilians to think more about that border. Exactly where the troops will be concentrated remains a vague detail, but I suspect that Leticia is one destination, as well as certain areas of the infamous "Dog's Head" area.

The Dog's Head refers to the shape of a specific section of the Brazilian-Colombia border, traditionally a haven for illegal gem miners, FARC soldiers, and all sorts of ne'er-do-wells.

Overtly, the military is worried about "spillover" from Colombia's internal conflict, but I wonder to what extent that worry about Venezuela has primed the generals for spillover from that country, in the event of a political meltdown in Caracas.

Brazil would be very careful not to tip off Chavez, so where troops are placed will be very interesting. How close to the Brazilian-Venezuelan border will they go?

More here on the Brazilian-Colombian aspects of this decision. Boz explores today the "post-conflict" scenario in Colombia with the so-called emerging-groups capturing some attention as the newest threat to security in Colombia.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Iranian activity in Bolivia

My research assistant, Kelsey Price, has completed her third backgrounder for this summer. Her first detailed energy security in Russia and Turkey, and the second reviewed Sino-Brazilian relations. In her third and final piece, she reviews Iranian activity in Bolivia.


International observers have questioned Bolivia’s ability to control crime within its borders before, especially concerning the drug trade and the Maoist terrorist group Shining Path. Four provinces are looking to separate from the central government, resulting in referendums and anti-referendum marches. Now with Iran’s increasing presence in South America, Bolivia may also be susceptible to radical Islamic activity inspired (or organized) by its new ally.

President Evo Morales’ track record doesn’t help Bolivia’s case either—his links to various attacks in Peru, especially, cast doubt on his ability to control (or keep away from) terrorism in the region. Morales’ former aide was accused in 2007 of assisting terrorism in Peru, specifically with the Cuban Tupac Amaru movement of the 1980’s. Deteriorating relations with Latin American neighbors combine now with right-wing opposition of Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party. Main opposition leader Manfred Reyes Villa, former Cochabamba Prefect, has joined forces with disgruntled indigenous rights leaders in order to form a significant alternative to Morales. More importantly, four provinces began to seek independence from La Paz in 2008: Santa Cruz, Tarlja, Beni, Pando and Chuqulsaca. The two parties reached an agreement that October, but tension still lingers over relations between Morales and the opposition-led provinces.

The conflict brought about by such a strong—and influential—opposition may create the kind of instability needed for a future crime hotbed to grow. Bolivia’s ties with Iran, especially, suggest that radical Islamic activity may begin to take root in the region.

Iran’s initiative to gain support in Latin America leads it to investing in left-wing Bolivia, second only to Venezuela in winning the Middle Eastern nation’s favor and financial support. The two partners have discussed joint venture projects in the industrial and manufacturing sectors, and critics conclude that Tehran secretly has its hands in uranium mining deals as well. Iran promised in 2008 to invest 1.1 billion dollars in Bolivia in the next five years, aimed at strengthening economic and agricultural ties while also fostering the Bolivian energy sector. So far, Tehran has lived up to its promise. Iran has funded on credit the construction of two cement and six milk-processing plants, three health clinics, and suggests potential aid in oil and other energy fields.

The Iranian administration caused an uproar in the government’s own Majlis parliament when it provided Bolivia with an unapproved loan of over 280 million dollars on July 31, 2009.Over and above the material and financial support that Iran has provided, newly installed TV and radio stations may spread Tehran’s influence at a more cultural level. Iranian radio has broadcast in-depth reports and interviews about its positive relationship to Latin America, the evils of colonialism, and anti-imperialism. “This opportunity has come up for Iran,” said Dr Massah, a university lecturer on one program, “to spread the slogans of anti colonialism, prevent the international system from becoming monopolized, and spread the sense of seeking justice, which arises from Islamic standards, in [Latin America].” Bolivia’s state-run TV channel regularly shows Iranian movies, and a Muslim preacher delivered services at a state-sponsored event in June 2009.

Some of Morales’ sizable opposition questions Iran’s intentions and growing influence. “We need to ask what Iran’s real interest is in Bolivia,” said dissident presidential candidate Roman Loayza. “Evo has no business entering into agreements with foreign interests at the back of the Bolivian people which could harm our environment.” Both sides of those agreements insist that Iran’s activities are harmless.

The partnership has become more than just economic, however; Bolivia has sided with Iran in recent controversial issues, including some in which Islam influenced the decision. Bolivia joined its radical counterparts in the Israel-Palestine issue in January 2009 by breaking off relations with Israel, a move endorsed by President Ahmadinehad, Iranian MP and head of Iran-Bolivia Parliamentary Friendship Group Arsalan Farthi-Pur, and even Hamas. The support of the terrorist organization may be at least the first step in the direction of a Bolivia heavily dependant on radical Islamic groups.

Bolivia shares another political stance with these groups: its disdain for the United States. Morales even expelled the US Drug Enforcement Agency in November 2008 in a move that analysts have said was thought-out foreign policy. However, Bolivia is predicted to return for the American agency to help counter its ever-growing drug problem; the country is the third-largest producer of the coca leaf in the world.

Bolivia’s only reported brush with radical Islamic activity was a group of Shi’ite missionaries sent by Iranian fundamentalist group Hezbollah to convert indigenous Latin American tribes, according to a Bolivian journalist in 2007. At the time of the report, the group had successfully installed bases in other areas, mostly along the Venezuelan-Colombian border, and was spreading to the Quechua and Aymara Indians of Bolivia. The real threat, however, comes from Hugo Chavez’s role in the Hezbollah group’s presence. Considering the strong relationship between Iran and Venezuela, especially among its populist leaders, the possibility of Morales’ involvement in something like the Hezbollah missionary project seems likely. Bolivia, with its Iran-sponsored health clinics and TV channels, may adopt the same relationship to Tehran’s more controversial groups.


“Peru seeks extradition of terrorism-accused ex-Bolivian aide.” Global Insight. 25 October 2007.

“Bolivian candidate forms alliance with indigenous leader.” Bolivian newspaper La Razon websitre, 7 July 2009. Translated by BBC World Monitoring.

Barbel, Marion. “Andean bloc, European Union offer mediation services to tense Bolivia.” 14 April, 2008. Global Insight.

Bolivians resist Iran's search for uranium; Mountain holds mineral prospects.” Washington Times. 27 July 2009.

Kazemi, Azadeh. “Iran wants to ‘exploit’ Bolivian uranium.” Iranian newspaper Kargozaran. 22 September, 2008.

“Iran confirms plans to install television channel in Bolivia.” Bolivian newspaper La Razon website. 20 May 2009. Linked by BBC World Monitoring.

Iran MPs slam government over loan to Bolivia.” Iranian news agency Mehr. 3 August 2009.

“Iranian Esfahan TV airs programme on Iran-Latin America relationships.” 7 October 2008. Iranian Esfahan provincial TV station. Supplied by BBC World Monitoring.

Bolivians resist Iran's search for uranium; Mountain holds mineral prospects” Washington Times. 27 July 2009.

See “Bolivians resist…” Washington Times, 27 July 2009.

“Iranian President praises Venezuela, Bolivia for break with Israel.” Venezuelan newspaper El Universal website. 22 January 2009. Linked by BBC World Monitoring.

“Iranian MP thanks Bolivia for condemning Israel’s ‘war crimes.’” Iranian official government news agency IRNA website. 20 May 2009. Linked by BBC World Monitoring.

“Hamas welcomes Bolivian decision to sever ties with Israel.” Pro-Hamas Palestinian Information Centre. 15 January 2009. Linked by BBC World Monitoring.

“Expulsion of US agency ‘well thought out foreign policy.’” Bolivian newspaper Los Tiempos. 4 November 2008. Linked by BBC World Monitoring.

Volkel, Christian. “Anti-Narcotics Co-Operation to Continue between US and Bolivia.” Global Insight. 8 April 2009.

“Hezbollah Missionaries Operate in Amazonia.” Peruvian newspaper La Razon, 29 October 2007. Provided by BBC World Monitoring.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Southern Pulse Intel Brief, 13 August 2009

I have posted below the Southern Pulse Intel Brief, with permission from the Southern Pulse editors. This intel brief is normally published only for Southern Pulse members, and no longer available on Networked Intelligence, the organization's blog. I hope you find it interesting and informative.


Russia and Cuba signed agreements in August 2009 to explore oil in the Gulf of Mexico. As part of this latest effort to deepen ties between the two old friends, Russia has also extended Cuba a US$150 million credit line for construction materials and farm machinery.

Out of
India, sugar refining group Shree Renuka Sugars has made public its interest in acquiring a stake in Brazilian sugar and ethanol producer Grupo Moema. Shree Reunka has up to US$100 million available for the acquisition. Moema is also reportedly interested in other sugar refining groups, including Cosan, São Martinho Guarani, Cargill and Bunge.

Finally, we have learned that in
Mexico, Army personnel detained Roberto Gaspar Caballero, a 21 year-old resident of Reynosa, Tamaulipas on 5 August 2009 as he attempted to smuggle 20 grenades into the U.S. in his Chevy Suburban via the Reynosa-Pharr port of entry.


Russia’s new relationship with Cuba began to take shape in June 2008 when Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin made a state visit for formal talks. Sechin returned with a delegation of businessmen and diplomats on 18 September 2008. News of the development of a Russian-Cuban space center later surfaced, and in mid-March 2009, we learned that five Russian companies could begin oil exploration in several Gulf of Mexico blocks owned by Cuba. With this agreement in place, Russia has solidified its position in Cuba as an energy partner for many years to come.

Indian sugar producers have had a tough year. This explains, in part, why the international price of sugar hovers at record highs, and why Brazilian sugar producers have begun to shoulder global demand, raising their international profile. Brazilian sugar production is closely tied to ethanol as both are made from sugar cane. Grupo Moema is but one of many companies that can produce ethanol or sugar, but only a few have attracted international attention. Cosan, which has been negotiation with Shell oil over a minority stake, is another. In the short-term, Brazil’s sugar/ethanol producers will struggle to meet domestic and international demand. The price of sugar, however, will help offset losses over the depressed price of ethanol and limited export markets.

The news of a Reynosa man caught smuggling grenades into the United States reminded us of when an unidentified man threw a grenade into a bar in Pharr, Texas. From 2008 to 2009, there has been a considerable jump in the amount of seized grenades in Mexico, indicating that the use of explosives in armed confrontations will continue to be a normal occurrence. We are watching for improvised explosive devices, however, which would be a serious escalation. On 16 March 2009, Mexican soldiers seized 34 Tovex sausage explosives, 47 meters of explosive fuse, and around ten pounds of granulated explosive from a safe house just south of Sunland Park, New Mexico. Additionally, on 19 and 24 February 2009, 30 kilos and 121 kilos of explosives, were stolen in Mexico. These explosives have yet to turn up.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

First TV segment! CNN Int’l - Connect the World

Just a quick note to say that I'll be on CNN International today at 16:30 EST, talking about Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

More details on the book blog.

Tune in if you can!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Serious Extortion in Guerrero

La Jornada de Guerrero reports that a group of mayors from all political parties in the Mexican state of Guerrero reported on 26 July that they were the targets of an elaborate and expensive extortion scheme carried out by organized criminal groups in that state.

Fees as high as US$50,000 are required for family and personal "protection."

The mayors said that, together, their budget is some US$1.8 million, and if forced to pay the extortion fees, they would run out of money within four months.
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