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, November 24, 2009

Human Rights and Corruption vs. Exposure in the Mx. Army

I submitted a comment on Shannon O'Neil's blog Latintelligence, and it turned out to be long enough to share here.

Her post is here.

My comment, written as the Founding Editor of SouthernPulse, is as follows:

Apart from concerns over corruption and human rights, which are both important considerations, we must also keep in mind that the Mx. military is not a sustainable option for Mexico's and indeed the sub-region' long-term security for many reasons, including the solder's exposure to the temptations of organized crime.

When you consider that there is one general for every 333 soldiers in the Mexican Army, compared to one general for every 1,720 soldiers in the US Army, we have a top-heavy scenario. These numbers coupled with the fact that generals earn US$13,000.00 a month, compared to recruits, who earn US$453 a month, spells out what we would consider a significant problem with pay for recruits.

Another consideration: the contract for a recruit is three years. But when a soldier is deployed, the Mexican Army can extend the recruit's term of service by a total of six more years. This, in part, is why we've seen a consistent number of soldiers A.W.O.L. Keep in mind that when they leave, they know that no one will hunt them down for desertion. The only real penalty, apart from foregone pay, is that their command post retains federal identification documents. These are easily forged.

Our consistent worry, apart from human rights abuses and corruption, is that the military's presence in the streets exposes soldiers to a criminal element that can pay them better, offer them better equipment, and in at least the case of the Zetas, can offer them benefits for their families and an esprit de corps that in many places has begun to falter across the Mexican Army deployments.

We don't mean to suggest that all who choose to go A.W.O.L. go rogue and join the ranks of organized crime. This is not the case. But there is an opportunity and a strong incentive. The longer the military remains in the streets, the longer soldiers will have to think about crossing to the "dark side."

Along with a discussion over human rights and corruption, we should consider this exposure, as exposure is what likely most contributes to abuses and corruption.

Brazil takes a step closer to Iran

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Brazilian president Luis Inacio "Lula" ad Silva signed a raft of 13 agreements on 24 November 2009 that encompassed just about everything except military and energy.

The most notable agreement signed detailed the loosening of visa restrictions. As those of you who have traveled from Brazil to the US know, Brazil maintains a reciprocal visa policy, which simply reciprocates for foreign nationals the procedure required for Brazilians to enter any given country.

So if Iran agrees to allow Brazilians to visit Iran and receive a three-month tourist visa upon entry, then the same would be true for Iranians visiting Brazil. I haven't seen the wording of that particular agreement, but I suspect it might be something similar to a three-month tourist visa stamp upon arrival.

Ahmadinejad also won an important position statement from Lula, who has now announced that Brazil supports Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy. This is classic Lula, who likes to talk one way and act another. Given Brazil's desire to reform the UN Security Council, such positions are not tenable in an environment where Iran is considered a "non-aligned" country.

It's also worth mention that Brazil has had its own disagreements with the IAEA, so Lula's position in support of Iran is also one that supports Brazil's long history with the IAEA, one that promotes sovereignty and peaceful nuclear development. But then again, Brazil is not Iran, nor is it a "non-aligned" country.

When push comes to shove, I don't think Brazil will choose supporting Iran over its UN goals.

And on that note, Petrobras announced on 16 November that it's conducting an evaluation of its operations in Iran to determine if the energy company should pull completely out of Iran. The excuse? Discoveries have not been commercially viable...

Monday, November 23, 2009

La Familia in Chicago

The New York Times reported today that prosecutors indicted 15 members of La Familia DTO out of Michoacan, Mexico.

Here's an excerpt:

"The investigation, officials said, uncovered a “command and control” group distributing thousands of pounds of cocaine for La Familia Michoacana, a major cartel in Mexico known for its messianic leaders and propensity to behead enemies. Last month, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced federal charges against 300 people linked to the organization in 19 states."

La Familia is one of the smallest and least established Mx. DTOs in the US. If the organization is in 19 states with some 300 people, and at least 15 operating a "command and control" post in Chicago, what does that mean for the Zetas or the Sinaloa Federation's activities in the US?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Breaking the Silence

Posts have been thin and sporadic of late - such is the life of a freelance journalist. Wells have dried up, so like most of my brethren, I'm scrambling to keep pace with the changing nature of the media industry…

Here are some updates:

With John Sullivan, I published a piece on how Costa Rica and Panama have been caught in the middle between Mexico and Colombia, where organized criminal operatives from both countries have pushed into new territory.

Since that publication, we have seen a string of murders in Panama City, and just this past week, the head of the Sinaloa Federation in Costa Rica was arrested in Puntarenas (See Southern Pulse newsletter, Networked Intelligence tomorrow afternoon for details).

Honduras continues to provide some interesting developments. Since I published a piece on Honduras and how mainstream media should be focusing on what's going on behind the so-called coup de teat, we've seen a sharp up-tick in narco-flights landing in various points across the country.

Most of the flights, according to both Honduran and Colombian officials, originate in Venezuela, where the bulk of air traffic has shifted - it was once the purview of Colombian traffickers.

And Caracas has quietly become one of the most dangerous places on earth. With over 14,000 murders last year (country wide but many in Caracas), and police as corrupt as ever, Caracas has become a nightmarish place to visit. I'm told that you can't walk on the streets in a business suit after dark, and during the day, you should stick to the main streets. I felt this tension on my last visit to the city in November 2005.

Side streets, apparently, are teeming with young thieves. Dairy products and meat are hard to come by, and soon the entire city will begin rationing water, with rolling "water cut offs," scheduled by the government in 48 hour segments.
Can you imagine being mugged for a bottle of water? Back in Mexico, we continue to watch an ever-changing situation. Many of the country's states remain in solid control of one of the many DTOs there, but the agreements between various groups form and break like ice melting and re-freezing from one day to the next.

From what I understand, the Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO) has hired Los Zetas to strengthen its fight against the Sinaloa Federation. The Carrillo-Fuentes Organization (CFO) cooperates with BLO and the Zetas, and remains very active with its own group of sicarios.

Los Zetas, meanwhile, have targeted Sinaloa and Michoacan.

The Arellano-Felix Organization continues to crumble, and now faces a very real threat from inside Tijuana.
The tit-for-tat murder and dismemberment of cops and others in the state of Michoacan indicates that the Zetas are pressuring members of La Familia, who have initiated La Familia Guerrense for the state of Guerrero. The Zetas are also pushing into Sinaloa, and the recent kidnapping if nearly two dozen ranch workers outside of Culiacan indicates that the powers that be in that area are worried about Zeta infiltration. After all, these guys - and their trainees - are well versed in training locals to act on their behalf…

I'll also add that I recently published a piece on diamond smuggling in South America, with a focus on Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil. The Panamanians will soon open the region's only diamond trading hub, and some are worried that it will become a funnel for illegal diamonds leaving the region.
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