Thursday, March 8, 2012

US State Department Report Paints Grim Picture of CentAm Drug Trade

The US State Department 2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report was released Wednesday, and had some of the strongest praise yet for anti-drug efforts in Colombia, calling the country “a partner in exporting security and stability throughout the Western Hemisphere.” The report does temper the praise, adding that Colombia is one of the world’s largest cocaine producers, and that “The progress is not irreversible and continued US [government] support in Colombia is needed.” This is although US aid has been steadily dropping to Colombia during the past several years. Colombia Reports has a brief summary of the report’s section on the Andean country, noting that the State Department’s estimate of 100,000 total hectares of coca is “significantly more negative... than the International Narcotics Control Board.” In its February report, the INCB estimated 62,000 hectares were used for growing coca in Colombia in 2010.


The US State Department report does take note of some new trends. It warns that the security situation will likely continue to deteriorate in Belize, which the White House added to its list of major drug producing and transit countries in 2011. It notes that the country had “no successful prosecutions related to large seizures of illicit drugs” last year. The outlook is similarly grim for countries in the Northern Triangle. 79 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights from South America now pass through Honduras, the report says. Meanwhile, 15 percent of the total cocaine exports which enter the US first pass through Guatemala. El Salvador, which along with Belize was named a major drug transit country for the first time last year, is also described as facing serious security challenges. However, the report does assert that El Salvador’s street gangs are only involved in the domestic market, and are not linked to either Mexican or Colombian drug trafficking organizations.

The report also notes rising drug-related violence in the Caribbean. In Jamaica, this is because drugs are frequently traded in exchange for guns; in the Dominican Republic, because drug traffickers pay their local distributors in drugs, rather than cash. The report does say elsewhere that only 5 percent of the total cocaine which enters the US is now thought to pass through the Caribbean.

On drug trafficking and Mexico, the report finds that drug-related murders rose 20 percent between 2010 and 2011, and that much of the fight over drug trafficking routes involves “multiple fractured organizations.” The domestic market for drugs in Mexico is growing, especially in the northern border states, where drugs are used as payment for smugglers. Other trafficking trends include the increased presence of Mexican smugglers in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Rather than maritime or air routes, land corridors through Mexico and Central America are now the most important smuggling routes for cocaine headed to the US, the report says.

In order to slow the rising violence, the Mexican government has a $12 billion security budget for 2012, about 10.7 percent higher than the amount allocated previous year. Mexico’s major drug trafficking organizations may be fracturing, but “significant challenges” still remain, the report concludes


News Briefs
  • Following the Miami Herald’s weekend report on a Haitian official set to testify about corruption in ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s administration, the man’s father has been shot and killed, the Herald reports. Former Aristride official Patrick Joseph once headed the state telecommunications company, and he had agreed to testify about millions of dollars of alleged bribes that he split with Aristride and other government authorities.
  • General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command (the body responsible for all US military activities in Latin America), testified Tuesday before Congress about military priorities in the region. His complete statement can be accessed here, while for summary and analysis, Bloggings by Boz gives a good recap, praising Fraser’s recognition that the use of militaries to combat organized crime is “unsustainable in the long term.” Boz also criticizes the US military for continuing to rely on drug interdiction statistics as a measure of effectiveness, writing: “I know the US is seizing a whole lot of cocaine; I know JIATF-South is a great model for inter-agency cooperation. But are Southcom's and JIATF-South's drug interdiction efforts improving citizen and regional security? … how do we know if we're winning?” During his testimony, Fraser also said that the US military only intercepts about one in every three drug smugglers that it tracks. Part of the problem is that crafts previously used to track drug shipments have now been diverted to Iraq or Afghanistan, the LA Times reports. But other parts of Latin America are still receiving US military resources. Aviation Week reports that a US air defense unit, consisting of as much as 500 soldiers, was “quietly deployed” to the Mexican border in Arizona and New Mexico in February.
  • Nicaragua Dispatch has a strongly worded editorial on Vice President Joseph Biden’s tour of Central America, praising Guatemala President Otto Perez’s efforts to push for a regional discussion of drug policy, despite Biden’s assertion “there is no possibility” that the US will budge from its position. “Republican saber-rattlers owe the 'American people' a full PowerPoint presentation on the costs and benefits of war with Iran, but when it comes to discussing the equally addlebrained war on drugs, stale rhetoric and political boilerplate will do just fine,” the editorial observes.
  • The New York Times with a feature on female candidates running for mayoral seats in Mexico, noting that despite PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota’s groundbreaking run for president, women serve as mayors in just 6 percent of Mexico’s cities and towns.
  • According to the hacked Stratfor e-mails allegedly stolen by Anonymous and distributed by WikiLeaks, many of Venezuela’s shortages of food and other products were deliberately orchestrated by corrupt officials, who deliberately stockpiled the goods in hopes of driving up the need for more imports, to their own financial benefit. Venezuelan ports “are operated by mafias” and “many of these situations of scarcity are deliberate,” one e-mail states, according to the Miami Herald.
  • The remains of at least 15 people, presumably killed by the Zetas, were found in a grave in Juarez municipality just outside Monterrey, Mexico, the AFP reports. Since June 2010, authorities have found 113 bodies buried in the municipality.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists has a post about the dangers of monitoring the comments section for online media in Mexico. For newspaper Noroeste, published in the embattled Sinaloa state, comment sections for some articles can turn into a “ verbal battleground between different gangs, seeking to turn the newspapers into a place where they can boast or threaten each other.”
  • Former President Bill Clinton appeared to agree with the theory that a UN peacekeeper from Nepal likely brought cholera to Haiti, the AP reports. The cholera outbreak killed more than 7,000 people when it was introduced to Haiti in 2010.
  • The US released a suspect from jail, convicted by a Mexican court of drug trafficking, but who alleges that the Mexican military tortured him while he was in custody. It is apparently the second time that the US has acknowledged that the Mexican army has tortured US citizens accused of drug trafficking, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Statistics kept by the Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) keep wildly different counts of how many people are considered disappeared, Animal Politico reports. The Attorney General lists 4,800 people as missing, compared to the 2,044 estimated by the SSP.