Friday, March 30, 2012

Mexico Should Attack 'Most Violent' Cartel: Report

Mexico may make serious headway in its fight against organized crime by designating one criminal group as the “most violent,” and then focusing most of the government’s resources against them, according to a new report by the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Doing so may create more incentives among Mexico’s criminal groups to reduce violence, in order to avoid being designated as the “most violent” threat to public society, the report argues. If Mexico is able to focus its law enforcement efforts (with US support) against the “most violent” group, this could also weaken the designated group’s economic power, if those involved in the group’s criminal network seek to distance themselves.

The report’s argument appears to support Mexico’s designation of the Zetas as their top security priority, as the Zetas are frequently described as Mexico’s most aggressive criminal organization. But as the Mexico Institute points out, this approach also brings several key risks. The first is that the government would have to use some solid criteria for determining which group is truly the “most violent.” Especially considering that many of Mexico’s murders go unsolved, attributing a given amount of violence to a single group brings its difficulties. The report states that the “most violent” designation should be “clear, publicly announced, and transparent,” but it is unclear whether the government can make a strong enough case for singling one group out above the others. In Acapulco alone, there may be as many as 14 different groups fighting for control of the drug market, the report notes, “making it hard to assign blame for the violence to any specific group.”

The other risks of this approach is that it would justify criticism that Mexico is pursuing one group while “favoring” others. This carries echoes of the accusations that President Felipe Calderon’s administration took a “soft” approach to the Sinaloa Cartel, something which the government strongly denies. And considering that Mexico’s underworld is already so fractured, it is unclear whether focusing law enforcement efforts against one group would be enough to disrupt the market.

Nevertheless, the report argues, Mexico still has a fairly limited capacity to confront its organized crime problem. From a practical standpoint, it might be in the government’s best interest to prioritize one group above the rest, although the risks of such an approach may outweigh the potential gains.

News Briefs

  • During his first trip to Latin America,Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey spoke of the possibility that drug smuggling networks in Latin America could one day possibly be used to smuggle a terrorist’s bomb into the US, reports the AP. Dempsey also commented that the strategy used to defeat drug cartels could be similar to the US approach to dismantling the al-Qaida network. Dempsey made the comments in Brazil, his final stop in a four-day visit which also took him to Colombia and Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal reports that Dempsey told Colombian officials he wants to “expand” the Pentagon’s advisory role to the Colombian conflict, but that this will not include selling sensitive military technology like drones to the Colombian military.
  • The Economist calls Mexican presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto “the man to beat,” currently leading the race by about 15 percentage points. The magazine judges that his rivals have little possibility of catching up -- PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota may not be able to shake off “the PRI-style scandals that have contaminated the PAN.” Andrés Manuel López Obrador, candidate for left-wing party the PRD, may have substantial rural support that is not being accounted in the polls, but the magazine still describes his campaign as “languishing.”
  • A community leader in Honduras told the AP that four farmers and at least another 11 people were wounded in an ambush conducted by unidentified gunmen on Thursday. The ambush took place in Bajo Aguan, one of the areas most affected by disputes over land ownership, “particularly concerning thousands of acres of privately held oil palm plantations.” The AP notes that “the attack came three days after five soldiers were wounded in a confrontation with 30 armed attackers in the same area of the Aguan River Valley.” Elsewhere, 13 people died during a reported prison riot and fire in San Pedro Sula. Honduras Culture and Politics notes that Honduran media coverage avoids discussion of the policy of overcrowded prisons, which leads to such tragedies.
  • Time magazine with one photo essay on the role of religion in Cuba (and on the lighter side, another one about a traditional Mexican fashion trend). For more coverage of the aftermath of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, Foreign Policy has a sharp critique, observing, “the Pope's trip is a profound disappointment to many who were hoping for a stronger signal that the cries of the Cuban people were being heard for a better future over their dysfunctional and spiritless existence under the Castro regime.”
  • The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that Cuba’ farmland redistribution process, a reform first approved in 2008, is suffering serious delays. Under the process, more farmland is supposed to be granted to individual property owners (in handouts no larger than 13 hectares), in order to make more productive use of arable land. But while some 1.4 million hectares have already been handed out, many of the new property holders have little experience in agriculture, and the government has no “follow-up” process to ensure that the land is being worked efficiently.
  • Thursday was the 27th anniversary of the killing of two Chilean students by police while protesting the Pinochet regime; in recognition, Chilean youths typically hold a day of staged violence, reports the AP. Hundreds of protesters in Santiago clashed with police, even though some activists now say that the annual violence associated with “the day of the young combatant” drains the legitimacy of other social movements asking for change. Brazil saw another annual protest Thursday, in recognition of the anniversary of the 1964 military coup. The AP notes that in order to mark the occasion, former military officers usually gather in a Rio de Janeiro military club, “extoll[ing] the growth of Brazil during the military years,” and they are frequently joined by hundreds of protestors outside.
  • Univision reports that Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu may be in Colombia next week to oversee the FARC’s promised release of 10 kidnap hostages. Menchu made the announcement on her Twitter account, but the Colombian Defense Ministry has said that no foreigners -- other than Brazil, who will provide logistics -- will be involved in the process.

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