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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On the road again...

I'm on the road again. Last Thursday, I gave a briefing on the evolution of organized crime and street gangs for a group in Los Angeles, focusing on Los Zetas and the MS-13.

Today, Saturday, I'm working with a film crew that is working on a documentary about meth in America. We're going to talk about how the US exported meth addiction south of the border and the Mexican involvement in the regional meth trade.

Then off to NYC next week for book publicity...

I have a long list of back logged information, so I hope to upload a number of posts before the end of next week.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zetas in Belize and Texas

A contact in Mexico told me this morning that according to his 2008 research, 67 "operational Zeta bases" were located on the Mexican border with Belize.

He went back in April 2009, and counted 78 operational bases that "specialized in criminal activity".

The border between Mexico and Belize is an underreported transit zone, one more likely to be used as the Guatemalan military works with the Mexicans to seal Guatemala's northern border in the Peten department (more on the Peten here, here and here).

Moving to Texas, a San Antonio paper reported today that the FBI is circulating to local and state authorities a report that gives a vague reference to the presence of a Zetas cell in Texas, complete with a ranch, inside Texas, where Zetas train others in the art of kidnapping, such as how to run a car off the road to kidnap the driver and/or passengers, surveillance, small groups tactics, etc.

The Zetas continue to evolve, and may even have become something of a criminal brand. It will be interesting to see how this news in Texas pans out.

We already know what will happen (or already has happened) in Belize - a new transshipment route from the Caribbean into southern Mexico...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Honduras: "En route to a failed state"

Friends with NARBPO sent over a translated piece of an interesting editorial out of Honduras. The title "En route to a failed state" indicates, at least, that some people in Honduras are looking at a bleak future.

I would aruge that these spikes in violence are a combination of an ongoing street gang problem and spillover from Mexico.

Here's the translation El Heraldo (5/14/09):

The slaughter of seven workers Tuesday in the town of Arizona (no connection with state of Arizona in the U.S.) , Department (read : state) of Atlantida, on the same day that various more persons were assassinated in different events in the country, is a bloody indication of the increase in criminality to levels never before seen. One day before, on Monday, four policemen lost their lives, two in Olancho and two in Tegucigalpa, which once again manifests that insecurity affects everyone equally, even law enforcement agents. It’s unacceptable that every time more and more Hondurans of all social classes are victims of assassinations, extortions, robberies and all type of criminal acts and that the immense majority of the cases remain an absolute mystery and go unpunished. If the political and administrative chaos continues and nothing is done to combat organized crime, which each time carries out more daring activities, we shall go from being a poor and underdeveloped nation to being a failed state.

Publishers Weekly review of my book

I've posted below the Publishers Weekly review of my book. This is the kind of cookie-cutter review we've all seen on Amazon, but it's a great overview of the story (with a couple of gratuitous comments thrown in:

This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang
Samuel Logan. Hyperion, $24.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4013-2324-0

Using all of the tools of a capable police investigation, Logan, a journalist based in Latin America, connects the fortunes of Brenda Paz, a Honduran-American teenager, with the ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha gang. After family difficulties led Paz’s father to send her to Texas to live with her uncle, she witnessed a friend’s murder by her boyfriend, the leader of the local MS-13 gang, and fled to Virginia following her boyfriend’s arrest. Logan probes the secretive Mara Salvatrucha, which funds its illegal activities through extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, drugs and theft, causing the FBI to label it the most dangerous of all criminal outfits. Eventually Paz informs on the gang about the national leadership and crimes, and the Feds unwisely stash the restless teenager in the witness protection program. Placing the reader in the midst of this story with harrowing detail, Logan writes of a young life wasted and an evil crime empire. (July)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Demand (in)elasticity for cocaine in EU

I'm in Portugal this week, so I've been curious to find out more from local contacts (here and in Spain) about the demand for cocaine in the EU.

Spain, by the way, is by far at the top of the countries over here that report high levels of cocaine use.

This morning, I saw a piece from La Semana, which reported on this item from the BBC which states that the price for cocaine is higher in EU, while the quality is less pure.

According to the article, the price for a kilo of cocaine (likely not a pure kilo) in the UK was US$59,500 in 2008, and is US$68,700 in May 2009. Retail prices, the BBC article mentioned, have remained the same. So let's just focus on wholesale...

We've seen that kind of statement before in the US (here is a summary), usually from the DEA or the Drug Czar's office (both obviously biased sources). And we've seen the opposite, from the same source, but over here in Europe, I wonder about the elasticity of demand for cocaine since the EU is a relatively untapped market with a number of independent actors at the wholesale and retail level.

When considering price elasticity for anything, there are some key determinants at play, such as necessity and duration.

Necessity is probably pretty high, as addiction dictates that users will continue to "need" coke, even as the price goes up. This would point to a more inelastic demand curve.

The duration of this price hike is likely short. pure coke is always in storage somewhere, so the groups shipping the product to the EU can pump up the volume when necessary, which would drive down price (but never too low) and improve quality (never too high). If the duration is short, we again have an ineslastic demand curve.

Now, my econ 101 teacher would probably tell me that we shouldn't think about price elasticity for illegal products because the black market does not play by the rules. For me, it's an interesting exercise b/c I'm interested in seeing how long the cocaine market will continue to grow in Europe. How deep will it go? That is, how many countries, cities, etc. will begin to report on cocaine addiction and the resulting health problems.

Looking at how the EU deal with this growing social health problem will be an interesting point of comparison to the US. On one side of the Atlantic (the US) we've seen supply-side interdiction efforts and a heavy hand towards interdiction, with little effort put into prevention and harm reduction. What will the EU do?

The Guatemalan Community Defense Network

Guatemalans living in the United States have come together to blow the whistle on abusive deportation raids.

The Guatemalan Community Defense Network (GCDN) came together to avoid "by any means" the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detentions. So far, they have freed at least 60 undocumented workers.

Rhode Island, Arizona, and Chicago are the areas where this group is the most organized.
The defense network is manned by volunteers, who remain on watch for a period of a few days.
"We have an emergency number that works 24 hours. In case ICE detains an emigrant on the street, or tried to knock down the door of his house, the undocumented persons must call immediately, so that we can arrive and protect his rights," Shanna Kurland, a GCDN organizer told Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre.

In Rhode Island, a local Guatemalan radio station is part of the network. It broadcasts 24 hours, and when the network phones start ringing, one of the volunteers calls the radio station, which begins to broadcast the address of the ICE deportation raid.

Those who arrive, bring cameras, and demand that the law is followed, and that rights are protected. The 60 undocumented workers who have been released were set free because when ICE executed the raid, they did so without deportation orders, which is illegal, explained Prensa Libre.

One other item of note from the Prensa Libre article:

Maricela Garcia, Latin Politics Forum representative in Chicago, asserted that the Guatemalans and Central Americans adopted a new lobbying procedure without having to leave their homes. “Fear reigns among the migrants; they have fear of being captured or deported, for which reason now they get together in homes and invite their friends to write lobbying letters for a migratory reform and afterward they send them to the congressmen of the whole country”, said Garcia. This new method is called “congressmen’s fiestas.”

Immigration is history

As the immigration debate begins to gain traction again in US mainstream media and inside the Beltway, I thought it would be interesting to put a little perspective on the spin:

Below is a translation prepared by some friends at the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers. The original information was prepared by the Center of Investigation of Economic and Community Political Action, based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

Every day, at least 165 people in the state of Chiapas lose hope and leave for the United States. Fifteen years ago such emigration was unnoticeable, but now it has turned this southernmost Mexican state into one that most exemplifies this trend.

The main reasons that people leave are lack of employment and natural disasters such as the hurricane of 2005 that affected 41 cities in this region.

The history of Mexican migration to the US began in the 1880s when Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railway companies began to “import” cheap labor, the majority of which was indigenous Mexicans. Up to 1910, they recruited 20,000 Mexicans annually.

During the First World War, our countrymen played an important role in the economic development of the US, receiving in return from that government a wave of violence and persecution; war veterans physically attacked workers labeled as “aliens,” burned down their houses and stole their belongings.
No one stopped them.

But neither the hunters nor the fences have halted the emigration toward the so called “first world country.” As an example, of those from Chiapas who migrate to the US, 79% never return. Our countrymen have advanced significantly in their type of work, from agricultural workers to construction, manufacturing and services.

In the city of Frontera Comalapa, a travel agency popularly known as “tijuaneras” [alluding to trips to Tijuana] has changed to focus its business on one purpose: every week, 40 buses leave from this area with at least 40 people from Chiapas headed for Tijuana, Baja California, with the intention to “cross the line.”

Immigration goes back much farther than 2006.

When considering how we will change/improve/etc immigration legislation, I think it's important to note that immigration is a part of US history. Trying to "get rid of them" didn't work in the the 19th century (or before), so why should we think that deportation would work now?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Catching up on some reading

I've been on the road since last Thursday, and only today have I been able to catch up on some reading. I've added here some interesting stories with more detailed posts to follow later today.

1. Ecuador troops hunting down the FARC. This is one of the first stories I've seen that sheds some light on what Ecuador is doing to stop the spread of the FARC inside Ecuador.

2. Just over a ton of explosives found near Colombia/Venezuela border. This cache allegedly belonged to the FARC. The amount of explosives is the most alarming aspect of this news. A seizure this large certainly puts a dent in any short-term plans the FARC has for exploding anything east of Bogota.

3. Dominican and French "terrorists" busted in Venezuela. El Universal piece here. These guys had assault rifles, C-4 explosives, and other toys. Chavez is still mum on these guys, but rumors have spread in the gov't that it was a group set up to try to overthrow the Chavez regime.

4. A well-heeled lawyer killed in Guatemala City's Zona 14 - a nice part of town. This is an interesting case that authorities are still trying to unravel. The lawyer blamed the President Alvaro Colom, in a post-humusly released video, for his death. More here.

5. A former member of Los Zetas spoke with a white boy. I've seen interviews in Mexico, but this is the first English language piece I've seen out there... The information is not new.
UPDATE (May 16, 2009): a much better interview, prepared by Charles Bowden for Harper's Magazine, is on the stands. From what I heard, the other interview is a bit thin...

6. Finally, an interesting piece from the LA Times that looks at the immigration debate, again.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the road...

I've been traveling - Brazil, UK, Spain, Portugal, US - for the past week or so with no connection. When I'm settled again later this week, I'll be back to normal posting.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Brazil's Iron Lady has cancer

I have said many times now that Brazil has a bright future. And on 25 April it just got a little brighter for Lula's team.

With Obama in office, the realities of Brazil's increasing power and presence in South America, and the very real possibility that Brazil will not ask for financial help from the IMF or anyone else to help weather the global economic slow-down, President Lula will leave his hand picked successor everything she needs to carry Brazil into its new role as a regional leader and global energy provider.

Dilma Rousseff, currently serving as Lula's chief of staff, has a decent chance of winning, but now, it looks like her chances just got better because she has cancer.

On 22 April, she found out that a swollen lymph node was malignant. On 24 April, she told her boss, President Lula, and on the 25th, both stood on a stage in Manaus and brought the news to Brazil.

Lula had weighed his chances.

First, Dilma's doctor caught the cancer very early. According to one expert here, she has over 90% chance of complete recovery.

Second, right now, Dilma runs some 30 points behind Jose Serra, the "other" candidate for Brazil's presidency (elections in 2010). But she's already at 11%, well ahead of her initial polling results at 3%. And we're not even close to the campaign, which will begin around May, 2010.

Third, many here agree that Dilma's greatest political weakness is two fold. One, she's never run for political office. Two, her "iron-lady" reputation, might not resonate well with Lula's supporters who are used to his warm smile, teddy bear presence, and well practiced charisma.

By getting out in front of Brazilian media, putting out details of Dilma's cancer, her recovery prognosis, and her intentions to "nao se entrega", or not give up, Lula and his team has dealt a political master stroke.

As Dilma passes through her four month treatment, Lula's press office will release some photos of her suffering, and maybe even one of her bald. The bottom line effect is to make her more human.

Dilma is already known as a tough lady who's been through a lot. She was tortured, was an armed guerrilla fighter, has been through divorce, among other hardships. Add cancer to that list, and Dilma has a great portfolio of drama in her past - something Brazilians love.

The other important factor is that Dilma has never been out in front of a campaign. She's relying completely on various members of her party, the PT, to help her on a regional and local level.

Until the news of her cancer came out - and more importantly, the news that Lula stood behind her 100% - many members of the PT were skeptical, and didn't want to openly support her candidacy.

Now, as more and more PT members, as well as the members of other parties, begin to voice support for Dilma - support for her to get well, initially - she will be seen by Brazilian media and possibly the rest of the world as a "consolidated candidate," and Lula can enter 2010 with Dilma recovered, with a more solid backing, and ready to win over the Brazilian voting public with her cancer story.

Normally, cancer is a cause for worry, sadness, and sorrow. Not in Brazil. Dilma's cancer is (almost) cause for celebration in Lula's camp. With out it, Dilma's chances of winning were slim to none. With it, she's got a much better chance of winning, and beating out Jose Serra, a very strong candidate.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Border Patrol on the wrong side of the Law

I was on the FBI's San Antonio press releases page for 2009, and I was struck by the five stories I saw about Customs and Border Patrol officers or inspectors in Texas who have either plead guilty or have been convicted of bribery, corruption, smuggling, etc.

Doesn't that seem like a lot?

I'll also share a story I came across some time ago about another Border Patrol Agent who fell on the wrong side of the law:

BROWNSVILLE — A former Border Patrol agent was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in federal prison for helping drug smugglers move a 44-pound cocaine load.

Prosecutors showed that 30-year-old Leonel Morales, of Zapata County, took $9,000 in exchange for telling drug smugglers how to avoid sensors and drawing a map of the best routes for shepherding drugs through the county. He also bragged he could keep other Border Patrol agents out of the way.

Morales made the drug smuggling deal during the summer of 2008, unaware he was being recorded. He pleaded guilty to bribery in January.

The sentencing judge in Laredo also ordered him to pay an $11,000 fine.

FBI press release on Morales here.
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