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.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Game Change in Mexico

This morning the Washington Post reports that after a two-hour shootout with the Mexican Navy, Arturo Beltran Leyva, known as the Boss of Bosses, died in a Cuernavaca apartment in the state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City.

This is a major victory for the Calderon administration in a month that has seen an uptick in violence across the country, as members of Los Zetas, working with Beltra Leyva, have gone on the offensive against the Sinaloa Federation in and around the Federation's traditional stronghold in the city of Culiacan, Sinaloa.

To date, Arturo Beltran Leyva is the highest ranking Mexican criminal to be killed by government forces during the Calderon administration.

Arturo's death will certainly destabilize the BLO, which will likely lead to more violence in Morelos, Guerrero, along the border and other pockets of Mexico where the BLO has held fast to its turf despite a year in which his organization saw a series of major arrests.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Zetas headed to the white market

On a few occasions I have been invited to talk about the evolution of the Zetas, from elite bodyguards for Osiel Cardenas to a powerful criminal organization in their own right.

Two men now control the Zetas, Miguel Triveño, and Heriberto Lazcano.

Lazcano is the undisputed head of the Zetas and known to keep a cool head and think strategically. Triveño is more like a traditional Mexican drug lord with his ostrich skin boots, big cowboy hat, gilded pistol, and country-time apparel. Both men will kill on a moment's notice, but between the two, I believe that Lazcano has a mind for business and a long-term strategy for his visions of what the Zetas are today and what they are evolving into for tomorrow.

He doesn't want to go out like his former boss Osiel, who was extradited to the United States, never to be heard from again. And he certainly doesn't need to go down like one of his captains, El Hummer, who was found unguarded in a house in Reynosa.

My argument has focused on the idea that the Zetas are moving out of the black market, into gray and while market activities. From traditional drug and human trafficking and kidnapping and extortion, the Zetas have moved into the gray market of protection. I believe that Lazcano's men will offer protection to anyone who is willing to pay for it - from criminals who work for the Beltran-Leyva or Carrillo Fuentes organizations, to well positioned businessmen. In both cases, the client needs protection from other criminals, the police, and everyone in between.

And the Zetas have long demonstrated that this protection is something that they do best.

On 6 December 2009, a Dallas Morning News article further backed up my argument for the Zetas movement into the white, or legal, side of business in Mexico and abroad. The Gulf Cartel, and the Zetas by extension, have always invested in small businesses, which help launder money. But this article takes this consideration a slight step farther, and I think their sources are right.

Here's an excerpt:

"Aside from money laundering, the Zetas are seeking legitimacy from those they have terrorized over the years…Investigators and civic leaders say the Zetas are trying to position themselves to become movers and shakers, even political players, in communities where they have a major presence."

At the head of this strategy is "La Compania" - a term the Zetas started using for themselves in mid-2009 (maybe sooner) to differentiate less violent activities from the criminal branding already well established by the Zetas brand.

Looking ahead, I would not be surprised to see clean cut, respectable looking businessmen working for the Zetas as the group moves from looking and acting like Triveño and more like Lazcano.

And if law enforcement is worried now, they've got a lot to consider looking toward a future where a group as sophisticated, organized, and ruthless as Los Zetas goes from hiring bullet slinging thugs to clean-cut business mans. The evolution will be slowly and difficult to detect, but I think it's already underway with a long road to go yet.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Colombian National Police released statistics earlier this week revealing that investigators registered 14,715 homicides between 1 January and 6 December 2009.

There were over 14,000 homicides registered in Venezuela in 2008.

By the end of November, authorities had registered 7,396 homicides in Mexico, passing 16,000 since December 1, 2006.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Chavez: Going out with a bang

During a lecture I gave yesterday on Mexican DTOs and criminal insurgencies, one of the students brought up President Chavez and the civilian militias in Venezuela.

He wondered out loud about how civilians with little training and a handgun could - over time - contribute to insecurity in the South American country. And that got me thinking...

A friend who travels to Caracas regularly has told me that even in the light of day you can't walk through the middle of town in a suit without feeling like you might be mugged at any moment. I felt the same way the last time I was there.

And as SouthernPulse has reported, there were over 14,000 murders in Venezuela during 2008 - compared to a little under 14,500 murders in Mexico between December 2006 and December 2008.

After a quick look, I found an interesting piece on Venezuela's civilian militias, recently published by Colombia's Semana Magazine.

The "Milicia Bolivariana" is a fifth fighting force made up of civilians. A presidential decree formally inaugurated this militia in October of this year, and plans to have at the least a million individuals prepared to repel any invasion of Venezuela.

Chavez tried to slip the creation of this militia in the 2007 referendum, but it was not approved. Only when the National Assembly approved the "lye organica" for Venezuela's military was his militias finally added as part of Venezuela's fighting forces.

The militias will have two components. One referred to as territorial, and the other combat. The territorial component will be made up of what amounts to domestic spies, something similar to the revolutionary defense committees in Cuba, which have had everyone in Cuba speaking in a whisper for decades.

The combat component seems to be little more than a formal expansion of the so-called "circles bolivarianos", which are made up of uber-Chavez supporters (see photo), armed to defend his policies across the country capital city, especially in the slums of Caracas, and some would argue in countries across South America such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, and Peru.

These men essentially formed street gangs that have over time become quietly marginalized by the Chavez government, some argue, because Chavez realizes that they were a mistake, one that today cannot be controlled. And here I must recall the high murder rate in Caracas, as I would suspect that homicides have a lot to do with what left of the circles bolivarianos."

Venezuelan security analysts agree that there are between nine and 15 million illegal weapons in circulation in Venezuela today. That is, there is little control over stockpiles or any efforts to remove these arms from circulation.

Add to that reality one where normal civilians are armed, waiting to be called to war by their president, and we have an extremely volatile situation, especially around election time.

As we watch Chavez's popularity slip, I'm becoming more convinced that when he goes, not if, he'll go out with a bang, or perhaps a few million "bangs."

FARC with money problems

Some interesting news out of Colombia earlier this week reported that the FARC is in financial trouble.

Former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced at the end of November 2009 that "there are certain disagreements between [FARC leaders] Mono Joyjoy and Alfonso Cano."

For many years, the FARC has suffered the effects of a two-way split between the younger members, led by Joyjoy, who want to go after the money through drug trafficking, and the older members, led by Cano, who are more ideological and presumably still set on overthrowing the Colombian government.

Since both factions are in need of money, a disagreement over the direction of the FARC has surfaced with a significant amount of tension, according to some reports.

It will be interesting to see how Cano and Joyjoy resolve their differences. If the FARC does split, I would imagine that the more militarized Joyjoy faction would continue on, while the ideological side of the FARC would either wither on the vine or somehow try to transform into a peaceful political party… Maybe events in 2010 will tell...
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