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, September 28, 2009

Iran and Venezuela: The 2009 Dosado

This Southern Pulse Intel Brief, dated 24 September 2009, is republished here with permission from the Southern Pulse editors.


In a recent interview with conservative French newspaper Le Fiargo, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez thanked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the technology transfer required to develop a nuclear energy program in Venezuela. The agreement, Chavez claims, was signed in early September, and serves as a capstone for the tightening of relations between the two countries over the course of 2009.

While visiting Ahmadinejad on his eighth trip to Iran during the week of 5 September, Chavez reportedly followed up on 186 separate agreements formed between the two countries since 2005. A 10-year strategic alliance was proposed, as well as joint plans for the construction of a oil refinery in Syria with an expected capacity of processing 150,000 barrels of oil a day.

Venezuela has also agreed to sell Iran 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day beginning in October 2009, but Chavez declined to disclose the duration of the US$800 million agreement. To further support Iran’s energy needs, PDVSA has also agreed to establish operations at Iran’s South Pars 12 gas field, with estimated reserves of some 12.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas
Iran has reciprocated with the announcement that its government will validate educational qualifications and academic titles awarded in 47 Venezuelan universities.

The September meeting comes only five months after Chavez’s last visit to Tehran in the first week of April, when he travelled with a selected group of Venezuelan businessmen. They were on hand to witness the inauguration of a joint Venezuelan-Iranian development bank, reportedly capitalized with US$200 million, with half to be provided by each government. Iranian Kourahs Parvizian will become the president of the bank, while Venezuelan Nelson Ortega will become the vice president.

While in Tehran, Chavez also called into a Venezuela Television show, Contragolpe, to describe plans for a joint Venezuelan-Iranian mining company to formalize five years of mining operations shared with Iran in Venezuela. Chavez noted that the new mining company would focus on six minerals and some precious stones, including diamonds.

Later in April, the Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Majjar landed in Caracas for a short trip to sign a series of “unspecified agreements.” Presumably, these agreements facilitated the 29 April signature of a memorandum of understanding between the Venezuelan and Iranian armed forces.

Within the remaining months of 2009, Venezuela and Iran are likely to expand on their peaceful nuclear initiative, one that France has already flagged as a violation of UN Security Council resolution 1737.

Traffic accidents as leading cause of death

With all the talk and focus on organized crime and other matters of security in Latin America, I wanted to take pause to underscore one often over-looked fact: traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in many Latin American countries.

Most of these "accidents" are due to driving under the influence of alcohol.

In Mexico, for example, a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization, and the World Health Organization, says that Mexico ranks 7th in the world for deaths caused by vehicle accidents. The total surpasses 20,000 a year, averaging about 55 a day.

Compared to the swine flu, the consultant states that for every one death caused by the swine flu, some 20 deaths are caused by automobile accidents.

Murders related to organized crime in Mexico, while by no means benign, have yet to surpass 5,000 a year.

In a city such as Rio de Janeiro, traditionally considered one of the most violent in the region, automobile accident deaths have outpaced murder for well over a decade. Last year, for example, a car full of teenagers speeding home after a long night at some of the city's most expensive dance clubs, jumped a curve and hit a pedestrian before wrapping itself around a tree. Body parts were found strewn across the accident scene.

In Peru, where many people die due to bus accidents, investigations in 2007 found that many of the bus drivers were drinking behind the wheel. One particularly nasty accident in December, 2006 sparked the accident. A bus had slipped off the side of a high Andean road and plunged well over 1,200 feet to the valley floor below, killing 45 passengers. A five-year-old boy and the bus driver were the only two survivors.

Some 4,000 people die and another 40,000 are injured in traffic accidents every year in Peru.

Buenos Aires, surprisingly, was the only city where I found that death caused by traffic accidents did not surpass other causes of death. I say surprisingly because Argentine drivers in the capital drive offensively like just about every other driver in Latin America.

Apart from that small slice of life in Latin America, across the region, from Mexico south, you will find many examples of drunk-driving deaths. With all the focus on organized crime and violent death, it's important to consider the leading, rather than the most news-worthy, cause of death in Latin America.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guatemala: An Important Source of Weapons

This Southern Pulse Intel Brief, dated 5 September 2009, is republished here with permission from the Southern Pulse editors.


The Mexican navy announced at the end of August 2009 that it had installed six new naval stations in Chiapas near the Suchiate and Usumacinta rivers that form part of Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. These two rivers have traditionally been where many illegal crossings into Mexico occur, so this focus on the Mexican-Guatemala border is reassuring, but for Mexico. As for Guatemala, we've received a significant amount of information that points toward Guatemala's increasing role as a secondary source of weapons for Mexican criminals, especially Los Zetas.

On 21 August 2009, authorities seized a cache of weapons and vehicles near the Mexico-Guatemala border in Huehuetenango, allegedly owned by members of Los Zetas. There was enough equipment and firepower to mount a swift attack patrol.

Just a week before that event, a small aircraft landed near Escuintla, located near Guatemala's Pacific coast, with 636 kilos of cocaine. Police who discovered the plane also found five assault rifles, a grenade launcher, and six containers of fuel (during the last week of July, Guatemalan authorities discovered a cache of 750 kilos of cocaine, reportedly valued at US$9.2 million, in the same area near Escuintla).

Perhaps the most significant weapons seizure so far in 2009 happened in April in the small village of Amatitlan, just south of Guatemala City and not too far from Escuintla. After a firefight with alleged members of Los Zetas, five federal agents had been killed, but those who remained standing seized 350 kilos of cocaine, 11 grenade launchers, nearly 600 fragmentation grenades, 11 M-16 rifles, over 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and 11 M-60 machine guns.

Another 500 fragmentation grenades and five AK-47 rifles were found during a routine sweep of "hot-spots" in Guatemala's Peten department in March 2009.

Sources in Guatemala have noted that fragmentation grenades can be sold for as much as US$38 a unit, while AK-47 rifles sell for around US$315 a unit if used or US$1,255 new.

When we consider that some 1,100 fragmentation grenades, 11 M-60 machine guns, around a dozen grenade-launchers, and at least 20 assault rifles have been seized in Guatemala between March and August of this year, the conclusion is disturbing. The black market for guns, and especially grenades, in Guatemala is hot. The Zetas, however, have added stealing weapons as a procurement option.

Between July 2007 and January 2008, members of Los Zetas stole an estimated 500 weapons from the Mariscal Zavala military base - a random assortment of pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and grenades are missing.

Finally, on 20 August 2009, alleged members of the Zetas stole a shipment of weapons en route from Guatemala to Mexico. Grenade launchers, rocket launchers, grenades, assault rifles, and magazines were included in the heist.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

DHS sets a goal for border interdictions in 2010

I'm on the road, but wanted to share a quick note.

According to the Gov't Accountability Office (GAO), the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) has set a goal for fiscal year 2010 to apprehend around 30 percent of all criminals and contraband that flows into the US from Mexico.

Here's an excerpt:

"At the ports of entry, Customs and Border Patrol has both increased training for agents and enhanced technology. However, the DHS Annual Performance Report for fiscal years 2008-2010 sets a goal for detecting and apprehending about 30 percent of major illegal activity at ports of entry in 2009, indicating that 70 percent of criminals and contraband may pass through the ports and continue on interstates and major roads to the interior of the United States."

More detail here.

I'll be back to more regular posting next week.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Juarez could be the most violent city in the world

Mexico's Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice has issued a report just ahead of today's presidential address in Mexico (Calderon's version of the State of the Union) that underlines insecurity in Ciudad de Juarez, Mexico.

Juarez, according to the report, is more dangerous than Caracas, Cape Town, Baghdad, and Medellin.

August killings reached 300, surpassing a record set in July, with 267.

In 2008, a homicide rate of 130 killings for every 100,000 inhabitants was recorded, and Juarez accounted for nearly half the killings in Mexico in 2008.

So far this year, a total of 1,481 murders have been recorded, compared to a total of 1,623 murders for all of 2008. There were only 320 murders in 2007...

From the Dallas Morning News:

A poll published Tuesday in Mexico City's Reforma newspaper seems to indicate continuing support for his policy.

The poll showed that 37 percent of Mexicans believe the government is winning the battle against organized crime and that 20 percent do not. Moreover, 82 percent said they approve of the use of the military against drug traffickers, although 49 percent said they believe the military is involved in human rights violations.

The nationwide poll of 1,500 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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