Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Obama Announces New Transnational Crime Strategy

Yesterday President Obama issued an executive order which imposes a number of sanctions on transnational criminal organizations, authorizing the U.S. government to freeze the assets of suspected drug traffickers and bar American citizens from engaging in any business with groups whose activities are a threat to U.S. interests or security. According to a Treasury Department press release, the move is intended to crack down on four main criminal organizations: the Brothers’ Circle of Eastern Europe, the Camorra of Italy, Japan’s Yakuzas and Mexico’s Zetas.

The order, known as the “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime,” seeks to shift organized crime from a national security threat to a “manageable public safety problem,” and lays out five strategic objectives associated with this aim:
  •  Protect Americans and our partners from the harm, violence, and exploitation of transnational criminal networks.
  • Help partner countries strengthen governance and transparency, break the corruptive power of transnational criminal networks, and sever state-crime alliances.
  • Break the economic power of transnational criminal networks and protect strategic markets and the U.S. financial system from TOC penetration and abuse.
  • Defeat transnational criminal networks that pose the greatest threat to national security by targeting their infrastructures, depriving them of their enabling means, and preventing the criminal facilitation of terrorist activities.
  • Build international consensus, multilateral cooperation, and public-private partnerships to defeat transnational organized crime.

The new strategy proposes 56 “priority actions” that the government will take to implement these goals, divided up into the following six chapters:
  • Start at Home: Taking Shared Responsibility for Transnational Organized Crime;
  • Enhance Intelligence and Information Sharing;
  • Protect the Financial System and Strategic Markets against Transnational Organized Crime;
  • Strengthen Interdiction, Investigations, and Prosecutions;
  • Disrupt Drug Trafficking and its Facilitation of Other Transnational Threats; and
  • Build International Capacity, Cooperation, and Partnerships.

The plan recognizes that the “the fluid nature”  of these groups, which take advantage of weak rule of law, false corporations and offshore bank accounts, makes addressing organized crime “increasingly difficult.” As the AP reports, the new strategy maintains the National Security Council’s role as the government’s principal investigator of transnational threats, while also stepping up reliance on the Justice Department and the FBI.  AFP says that the move comes as a counter to the increasing globalization of drug cartels, noting that the administration cited increasing cooperation between Latin American drug trafficking groups and local gangs in West Africa, Western Europe and the Middle East as a central concern.

Although the strategy seems at first glance to be quite comprehensive, regional criminal analysts will have to wait and see how it is implemented before making any judgment. As James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz points out, some of the "actions" sound rather unclear, and lack further details about how the administration plans on putting them into effect.

It is worth noting that the White House took care to mention the role of U.S. demand in fueling the drug trade.  In the strategy’s introduction, the administration recognized that "the demand for illicit drugs, both in the United States and abroad, fuels the power, impunity and violence of criminal organizations around the globe.” While this is perhaps no more than florid rhetoric, it opens up the administration to criticism from anti-prohibitionist advocates, who will likely call attention to the fact that U.S. demand for drugs has remained relatively stable since the beginning of the so-called “war on drugs.” This could potentially be used to leverage arguments for a more comprehensive strategy based on harm reduction and public health, as outlined in the recent Global Commission on Drug Policy report, which was released in early June and signed by several high-profile world leaders.

News Briefs
·         Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala has announced the appointment of several additional cabinet members. In keeping with his refurbished image, all of the picks appear to be moderates.  Just the Facts has more on the new cabinet, and points out that it is seriously lacking in female presence.  Out of the 18 nominations, only three are women.  These include Women and Social Development Minister Aída García Naranjo, Education Minister Patricia Salas, and Latino Grammy award-winning singer Susana Baca, who will head up the Ministry of Culture.  According to Infobae, Baca is the country’s first Afro-Peruvian to take a ministerial position. 

·         Humala will take office following an inauguration ceremony on Thursday, and it seems that outgoing President Alan Garcia will not be in attendance.  According to La Jornada, the unpopular leader fears he will be “mistreated” if he attends.

·         El Mundo reports that the embattled Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo, which is facing a, $80 million law suit from President Rafael Correa for “defamation,” printed a black page on Thursday, in protest of a court ruling which imposed a three-year prison sentence, in addition to the fines, on three of the publication’s owners and a former editor.

·         Colombian police are claiming that Angel de Jesus Pacheco, alias "Sebastian," leader of the feared neo-paramilitary drug gang known as the Rastrojos, was killed by his own bodyguards yesterday.  According to El Tiempo, his body was found in the northwest region of Antioquia department, and bore signs of torture. Two of his guards, aliases "Muelas" and "El Negro," are thought to be responsible for the killing. The paper compares the incident with the 2008 death of FARC leader Ivan Rios, who was reportedly killed in 2008 by his own bodyguard for reward money.

·         El Tiempo also reports that the total count of local candidates killed in the lead up to Colombia’s October elections is at 20, following the Saturday assassination of Alfredo Hernán Ríos, a Liberal Party candidate for the municipal council of Toribío, in Cauca department.

·         The L.A. Times has published the second of Richard Marosi’s four-part series on law enforcement efforts to track the Sinaloa Cartel’s distribution networks in the U.S. The latest piece highlights the group’s use of Los Angeles and Southern California in general as an operations hub, extending into Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.

·         InSight’s Patrick Corcoran takes a look at the continued public support of the military in Mexico, despite an uptick in documented abuses. According to a recent poll published in Excelsior, only 21 percent of Mexicans believe that the army does not respect human rights.

·         In an operation that began on Friday, Mexican officials have detained more than 1,000 people in a crackdown on human trafficking in Ciudad Juarez.  According to El Universal, police arrested 500 men and 530 women linked to human trafficking networks in the city, and rescued some 20 minors from sexual exploitation. Because details of the operation are sparse, their level of criminal involvement is unclear, and it is not known how many of those arrested are voluntary sex workers rather than “trafficked persons.” Citing data from an unnamed NGO, AFP says that a total of 59 women and girls disappeared last year in Juarez, and 48 more went missing throughout the state of Chihuahua.

·         The Central American Integration System met again last week to discuss regional issues, El Heraldo and EFE report. Interestingly, the group spent much of their time addressing climate change, in addition to their usual focus on transnational crime.  On Friday the group’s governments signed a joint declaration which aims to address climate change by adopting “regional positions in international forums and negotiations, promoting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities," as well as establishing a comprehensive regional strategy to address national disaster relief.

·         For the second time, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has voted to approve an amendment to the State Department appropriations bill which seeks to reverse President Obama’s easing of travel restrictions to Cuba. While the President has threatened to veto any bill which includes such language, the vote is striking because of its bipartisan support.  As the Miami Herald reports, it was approved 36-6.

·         AFP reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales has expressed fear of traveling to New York in order to attend a UN General Assembly meeting on Water as a Human Right, saying he suspects that the U.S. would use the visit as an opportunity to plant drugs on him and discredit his drug control efforts.

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