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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch
Mexican news website Animal Político published an article on Mexican drug cartel activity in Central America. The security situation has significantly worsened in the region in recent years as U.S.-backed counternarcotics operations that first pushed the drug trade and related violence from Colombia into Mexico, have now squeezed organized crime into Central America.
While the proposed U.S. security assistance to many countries in Latin America, like Colombia and Mexico, decreased in the 2014 budget request (PDF), funds for the Central America Regional Security Initiative increased by about $26 million. Many political institutions throughout the region are struggling to deal with the increase in violence and are rife with corruption, which the United States Congress has expressed concern over, in light of the increase in assistance.
According to the article, 90 percent of Mexico’s cocaine trafficking operations to the United States now pass through Guatemala, where the major Mexican drug cartels, the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, are vying for territorial control. Belize is considered Zeta territory, while in El Salvador the main drug trafficking organization works for the Pacific Cartel. Much of the violence is said to be a product of infighting among local gangs that are now working with these larger competing drug cartels.
The majority of the information used in the article came from last year’s UN report, “ Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean.” The UN report concludes that the principal motivation for violence in Central America “is not cocaine, but change: change in the negotiated power relations negotiated between and within (criminal) groups, and with the state.”
Here are some key findings of the article:
A gang linked to the Zetas known as the Lorenzanas now controls cocaine trafficking through five of the largest provinces of Guatemala: Peten, Huhuetenanago, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Zapaca, on a route that crosses the country, from the border with Honduras to the border with Mexico.
The struggle for control over specific points in Guatemala, particularly those bordering Honduras and El Salvador, has turned these two countries into the those “with the highest homicide rates in the world (82 in Honduras and 65 in El Salvador for every 100,000 in habitants in 2010),” according to the UN. “Given the competition between groups allied with the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, it’s highly likely that these deaths are attributable to disputes over contraband and trafficking routes.“
After Guatemala, the Central American country with the highest importance to Mexican gangs is Honduras, where the nation's military coup in 2009 triggered "a kind of gold rush" of cocaine, as described by the United Nations. In fact, it is estimated that in 2010, about 15 percent of the cocaine shipped by air to the United States stopped in Honduras, where drugs also arrive by sea, and was then sent to the north of the continent in small aircraft.
Of the 330 tons of cocaine that entered Mexico from Guatemala in 2010, 267 first went through Honduras, where 62 clandestine airstrips were detected in 2012 alone.
Due to the increase in cocaine seizures in Belize, the UN report states, "it is believed that the Zetas are active (in this country)," whose border with Guatemala is controlled almost entirely by the Mexican group. And while cocaine trafficking in Belize is "secondary," notes the UN, it’s valued over $74 million, representing 5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2010.
Also in 2010, Belize was designated the country with the eighth highest murder rate in the world (42 per 100,000 inhabitants).
In El Salvador, the main narcotrafficking group, the Perrones, maintains an alliance with the Pacific Cartel, which worked to transfer cocaine from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. This group also carries money from Chapo to Panama.
Another group of carriers based in El Salvador is the Texis Cartel, which works on requests for both Mexican cartels and is noted "for its extensive network of complicity with senior politicians, security officials, judges and prosecutors."
The article can be read on the Animal Político website (in Spanish) or the InSight Crime website (in English).
Monday, June 17, 2013
This post was written with CIP Cuba Intern, Ashley Badesch
Despite Cuba’s absence from the recent OAS meeting, where antidrug policy in the Americas topped the agenda, Cuba collaborates with Latin American and Caribbean nations, and even the United States, on counternarcotics efforts. Cuba maintains formal agreements to fight narcotrafficking with at least 35 countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Chile, UK, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Tanzania, Laos, and Jamaica. These accords allow Cuba to standardize counternarcotics operations and send real time alerts.
In 2002, the Cuban government drafted a bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. government; however, the U.S. has yet to acknowledge the accord, despite the State Department’s support of a well-structured agreement between the nations. The accord is still “under review” by the U.S. government and has gone through several iterations since it was introduced.
The most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) report, published by the U.S. State Department, states that a U.S.-Cuba bilateral anti-drug agreement and greater multilateral cooperation in the region would likely lead to improved tactics, procedures, and sharing of information, leading to an increased disruption of narcotrafficking operations.
Counternarcotics in Cuba
2013’s INCSR, praised Cuba’s policies against illicit drugs and trafficking, stating,
“Cuba’s domestic drug production and consumption remain negligible as a result of active policing, harsh sentencing for drug offenses, and very low consumer disposable income. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.”
Cuba is situated between the region’s top drug-producing countries in the Andean region and the region’s number one consumer country, the United States. It has 42,000 sq. miles of territorial waters, 3,000 miles of shoreline and 4,195 islands and small keys. Given these factors, both Cuba and the United States share a vested interest in improving tactics to close trafficking routes in the Caribbean and combat transnational crime.
In spite of Cuba’s close proximity to a number of the region’s largest exporters of illegal drugs, the State Department found, “Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) frequently attempt to avoid GOC and U.S. government counter drug patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters.”
Cuba’s effective counternarcotics efforts are largely attributed to bilateral interdiction, intensive police presence on the ground, and low levels of domestic illegal drug consumption.
One of the chief reasons for the low demand for illegal drugs in Cuba is their prohibitive cost; the cost of one cigarette of marijuana on the island is equivalent to a week’s pay for a state employee (US$5).
President Obama’s lifting of restrictions on remittances has given a number of Cubans greater purchasing power, however. According to a Brookings report, remittances entering Cuba in 2012 were estimated to total $2.6 billion, double what Cuba received in remittances five years ago.
Maritime and aerial operations like “Operation Hatchet,” Cuba’s Minister of Interior-led multi-agency counternarcotics strategy, combined with harsh sentencing (up to 15 years for drug possession), prevention education and extensive on-the-ground policing by the Cuban National Anti-Drug Directorate, have reduced supply and demand.
In the past year, maritime interdictions fell by over 50 percent and total drug seizures on land declined 60 percent while narcotrafficking attempts through Cuba’s air border rose.
According to Granma, the official government newspaper, drug trafficking operations interdicted in Cuban airports doubled to 42 over the past year, resulting in the detention of 69 persons. The majority of those detained were Cuban citizens living in the United States. Police estimate that the increase in air trafficking to the U.S. is due to President Obama’s relaxation of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.
Up from 21 kilograms in 2011, Cuban airport security seized 42 kilograms of drugs (33.6 kg of cocaine, 7.4 kg of marijuana, and one kg of the synthetic drug known as cannabimimetic) in 2012 according to figures released by Granma in February.
Bilateral Counternarcotics Cooperation
According to the INCSR, “With limited Cuban Interdiction assets and the high speed of the drug smuggling vessels, at-sea interdictions remain problematic, and the GOC’s prevalent response continues to be to pass information to neighboring countries, including the United States.” Some points on Cuban cooperation:
Although the United States does not provide any formal narcotics-related funding or assistance to Cuba, the U.S. government maintains one Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist on the island.
The INCSR indicates that in 2012, coordination between Cuban law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard on a case-by-case basis led to 31 interdictions of “go-fast” narcotics vessels. The report also notes that the real-time e-mail and phone communications with the Cuban Border Guard have increased in quantity and improved in timeliness and quality.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010 revealed U.S.-Cuban collaboration on combating drug smuggling from Jamaica, including one case in which the U.S. Coast Guard provided information that helped the Cuban Border Guard to interdict 700 kilograms of marijuana and another in which Cuban officials advised the USCG on the location of a plane that had dumped 13 bales of marijuana in a rural area in Cuba.
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control released a report on U.S.-Caribbean security cooperation in September 2012, in which Senator Feinstein (D-California) recommended a number of steps to increase U.S.-Cuba collaboration on drug policy. Her recommendations included the negotiation of a bilateral agreement and the inclusion of Cuba in the U.S.-Caribbean Security Dialogue.
Feinstein is not the only one asking for increasing dialogue with Cuba; Nicaragua, Brazil and several member states of the OAS have demanded Cuba’s inclusion in the 2015 Summit of the Americas. As a result the OAS created a special committee to address the issue.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
This week delegations from Latin American countries and the United States are gathering in Guatemala to debate drug policy and other regional issues at the Organization of American States' (OAS) 43rd annual General Assembly.
The meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas," comes just two weeks after the OAS released a 400-page report that suggested countries consider decriminalizing some drug use as one of many methods to combat the drug trade and to view consumption as a public health issue. Given continued high levels of drug use and addiction, incarceration, and violence, many Latin American leaders are looking for alternatives to the drug war and are expected to urge the U.S. to change its prohibitionist approach.
Secretary of State John Kerry is leading the U.S. delegation and plans to uphold the Obama administration's view that legalization is not the "magic solution" and reiterate the U.S.' opposition to marijuana legalization at the national level.
While leaders discuss alternatives to prohibition in the region today and tomorrow, here are some quick facts about current drug policy in the region:
U.S. funding for the drug war
Since 2000, the United States has spent approximately $12.5 billion in Latin America to stem the flow of drugs. Over the past decade, U.S. funding for counternarcotics operations has increased almost 30 percent, from $644 million in 2002 to $833 million in 2012. In 2012, about 90% of all U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region went to counternarcotics operations. For FY2013, that number is expected to drop to about $808 million.
Coca cultivation and profits
A kilo of cocaine in Colombia's interior sells for around $2000, according to InSight Crime. At the border, the same kilo increases in worth to $3000. Once it reaches Mexico, it will have increased in worth to about $12,000-$15,000. Once it reaches the U.S. mainland the same kilo will sell for at least $25,000 and in the UK for about $60,000. Experts have argued that decriminalization (particularly of marijuana) might not curb violence as cartels have diversified their income, including extortion, human trafficking and illegal mining.
Since the late 1980s, when the U.S. first started estimating coca production in the Andean region, the number of hectares of coca under cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia has decreased by only 8 percent (from 176,000 hectares in 1987 to 153,700 hectares in 2011). Yet, in 2012, the U.S. spent $48 million on eradication efforts in Colombia alone. There has been a slow decline in coca cultivation over the past few years, however, since 2003 the total number of hectares under cultivation in the Andean region has stayed right around 150,000.
According to numbers from the U.S. government, Peruvian drug producers were able to extract the most cocaine from a hectare of coca in 2010, producing 6.1 kilograms per hectare. In Bolivia, a hectare produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine, and in Colombia 2.7 kilograms of cocaine. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime however, a hectare of coca in 2010 in Colombia produced 5.4 kilograms, almost double what the U.S. reported. There were no numbers for Peru or Bolivia.
Moves toward legalization
Six countries in South America -- Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay -- have passed laws decriminalizing drug possession for personal consumption as part of a growing movement to shift away from criminalization for personal use and towards prevention and treatment programs. Last November, two U.S. states, Colorado and Washington, followed suit.
A new bill in Uruguay would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants, while national cultivation would be capped at 30,000 hectares. The bill was stalled after a poll found about 60% of Uruguayans opposed the measure. This week, however, the ruling Frente Amplio party got support for the legislation after tightening up language on education and prevention programs. It will likely pass in Congress' lower house next week, according to the Pan-American Post.
In Latin America, 48% of women in prisons are convicted of drug trafficking compared to only 15% of all incarcerated men. In Mexico, 80% of all jailed women are there for drug trafficking charges compared with 57% of men.
Incarceration rates have increased about 40 percent in Mexico and South America over the past 10 years. A recent study found that in three of seven countries surveyed -- Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador -- drug trafficking carried longer maximum and minimum penalties than murder. In all the countries studied the maximum penalty for drug trafficking was greater than or equal to the penalties for rape.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
Friday, January 25, 2013
The following is a round-up of news highlights from around the region this week.
John Kerry, President Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, had his confirmation hearing Thursday. During the hearing he touched on issues concerning Latin America, particularly with regards to Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia. According to Kerry, Colombia is “an example for the rest of Latin America of what awaits them if we can induce people to make a better set of choices, frankly.”
Hillary Clinton also heralded Colombia this week, calling the country’s second-largest city a “model” for security when requesting that Congress allocate sufficient security funds to countries that experienced the “Arab Spring.” According to Clinton, the U.S. should “help these countries like it helped Colombia, where the advances are evident.” On his blog, Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America looks at Medellín’s security efforts in the past decade and warns, “there’s a lot in Medellín’s recent past that Arab democracies would do well not to emulate.”
Christopher Sabitini from the Americas Society/Council of the Americas published an opinion piece on Fox News Latino about what Latin America can expect from the next secretary of state. See here for a recent Just the Facts post on the topic.
There was a fair amount of official U.S. military travel to the region recently:
The U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert spent last week in Brazil "where he spoke with naval leadership, toured multiple navy and marine corps bases, and expanded maritime partnership opportunities," according to a U.S. Southern Command press release.
General John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Peru meeting with President Ollanta Humala, Vice Minister of Defense Mario Sanchez, and Peruvian Chief of Defense Admiral Jose Cueto to discuss “shared security concerns and cooperation.”
U.S. Army South’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, spent several days in Colombia to enhance security cooperation between the two armies and “strengthen personal relationships.”
The debate on drug legalization hit headlines this week as Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, a lead champion of drug reform in the region, sparked discussion Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, as he had previously pledged to do. President Molina called for alternative, more science-based approaches to regulate drugs, saying, “Prohibition, this war on drugs, has seen cartels grow, and the results are not what we looked for.” Molina also claimed drug reform would cut violence in Guatemala in half. He was joined by liberal activist/philanthropist George Soros, who echoed Molina, noting, “incarceration is hugely expensive…, the cost of alternatives is smaller than the cost of incarceration.”
On Wednesday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who also attended the World Economic Forum, told the Associated Press that Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia have opened talks with U.S. officials to prepare for the legalization of marijuana in some U.S. states. On Thursday, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia told a diplomatic corps in Bogotá that Colombia "reaffirms its commitment to fight, as we have been fighting, with more costs but also with more effort and more results than any other country in the world against drug trafficking and its ramifications." However, he continued, noting that "that commitment and these results give us the moral stature to insist on the need to evaluate the effectiveness of the so-called 'War on Drugs' which started more than four decades ago and has not achieved its objectives."
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released three proposals for land redistribution and rural development this week, all of which can be found on the group's peace process blog. The proposals included alternatives to illicit crop production as well as the development of a national fund for land redistribution. This would give land appropriated by drug traffickers and armed groups to small farmers and marginalized groups, particularly women. According to news website Colombia Reports, “The government's lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, agreed that an 'overlap' existed between the two sides in their desires to "transform" the rural countryside, but said that "significant differences remain." Round three of the talks concluded Thursday, with no major advances reported, according to Reuters. They are set to start again on January 31 in Havana.
Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacia examines the FARC’s proposal to legalize coca cultivation in the country and offers six reasons why it makes sense.
Colombian think-tank Nuevo Arco Iris posted an exclusive interview between the FARC’s supreme leader Timochenko and newspaper The Voz. It was the first time the leader has talked about the peace process since the talks began.
Colombia’s National Liberation Army, the country’s second largest rebel group, kidnapped five foreign mining employees in the Bolivar department on Tuesday, claiming they were “defending natural resources.” However, the move could be motivated by the Colombian government’s decision to exclude the ELN from the current peace talks, despite the rebels' demonstrated interest in participating. The group has made several indications they are interested in joining the process, including sending a delegation to Cuba that the government rebuffed.
As reported in The Economist, "disgruntled that it has been excluded from the negotiations, which began in November, the ELN has launched a new campaign of attacks to establish its relevance." The day of the kidnapping, the group posted a video with its leader, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, asking, “Why aren’t we at the table? That’s a question for President Santos.”
The newspaper El Heraldo profiled the contentious security situation in the Bolivar department, where the kidnapping took place, saying the region was “in the middle of a war over gold and drugs.”
A Colombian poll showed that 40% of the country would reelect current President Juan Manuel Santos in 2014, which is 30.5% over his closest rival, Antonio Navarro Wolff, who would have 9.5% of the vote.
Honduras still has the highest homicide rate in the world, according to the United Nations. The country hit a record year for murders in 2012 registering 7,172 killings, 68 more than were registered in 2011. The homicide rate of 85.5 per 100,000 in 2012 actually dropped from 86.5 in 2011 despite the increase in murders due to increases in population. As reported in newspaper La Prensa, there have been 20, 515 homicides in the past three years in the country.
Honduras continues to be in the middle of an extended institutional crisis. An article in Upside Down World this week provides a good analysis of the current situation in the country, noting that, "ever since the Honduran Congress flexed its muscles in June 2009, removing the president and demonstrating that the Supreme Court was its tool and not an independent branch of government, Honduras has been living with a legislature that appears to recognize no boundaries to its ambitions."
A piece by Southern Pulse supported this, determining that “in 2013, Honduras is headed down the same road that led to the 2009 political crisis. Crime and inflation are up, foreign investment is down, the government’s finances are in disarray, and the president is talking about polling the Honduran people to see if they want constitutional changes that could jeopardize the 2013 general elections.”
An Associated Press article published on Thursday titled,"Honduran government in chaos, can't pay its bills, neglects basic services," underscores the severity of the financial crisis facing the country. The article notes that the country's foreign debt -- $5 billion -- is equal to last year's entire government budget. "Soldiers aren't receiving their regular salaries, while the education secretary says 96 percent of schools close several days every week or month because of teacher strikes." But, as the piece highlights, "the financial problems add to a general sense that Honduras is a country in meltdown, as homicides soar, drug trafficking overruns cities and coasts and the nation’s highest court has been embattled in a constitutional fight with the Congress."
As political analyst James Bosworth surmises, “The Honduran leadership is inventing its own rules rather than following the constitution, and that mindset is linked to the previous breakdown of the institutions in the 2009 constitutional crisis and coup.”
Federal and state authorities launched a special operation in Mexico State this Friday in response to a sharp increase in violence in the region. Mexican news website Animal Político reports that in the past 24 days, 66 people have been murdered in Mexico State, which has remained relatively untouched by drug war related violence. January 14 has been the most violent day to date this month, with authorities finding 15 bodies in the towns of Toluca, Zinacantepec, Santiago Tianguistenco, Lerma y Ocuilan.
According to Insight Crime, “Officials blame a war between the Familia Michoacana and an alliance formed by two breakaway groups: Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, and a recently formed gang called Guerreros Unidos. Smaller cells of the Zetas may also be in the mix. ” The article provides excellent information and analysis on the dynamics between criminal organizations operating in the region.
The Miami Herald reports that locals in at least a dozen rural towns in Mexico have created self-defense vigilante groups to defend themselves against the drug cartels. As one rights activist stated, “the situation Mexico is experiencing, the crime, is what has given the communities the legitimacy to say, ‘We will assume the tasks that the government has not been able to fulfill.’"
In northern Mexico, 91 of the 158 police officers from the towns of Gómez Palacio and Lerdo who were detained over alleged links to criminal groups two weeks ago, have resigned, reported Mexican news website Animal Político. The military and Federal police are currently handling security in the area.
Mexico’s electoral commission decided not to fine the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) over allegations that the party bought votes in July to secure current president and PRI member Enrique Peña Nieto’s election into office.
Some reports on Mexico were released recently:
Luis Rubio, chairman of the Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, A.C. (CIDAC) in Mexico City, published a report, “Old Politics and New Government,” with the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy.
The Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center released a report,“New Ideas for a New Era: Policy Options for the Next Stage in U.S.-Mexico Relations,” highlighting “five key issues with the potential to strengthen U.S.-Mexico relations.”
The Washington Office on Latin America published a report entitled, “Border Security and Migration: A Report from South Texas.” The report finds that there was no spillover violence, but an increase in the number of drugs moving across the border, particularly of heroin and meth in 2012. It offers a good look at 2012 migration trends. Wired’s Danger Room provides a short overview of sections of the report that examine drugs and organized crime.
The Migration Policy Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Center published a report last week, "Crime and Violence in Mexico and Central America: An evolving but Incomplete US Policy Response." The report looks at the United States' response to the dramatic increase in Mexico and Central America in recent years that has been driven "in part by a shift in cocaine-trafficking routes throughout the region and, in part, by the incomplete transition from authoritarian to democratic ways of upholding the rule of law."
Earlier in January, Guatemala announced it would stop recognizing Inter-American Court of Human Rights rulings on cases of crimes against humanity and genocide that occurred before 1987, drawing much criticism from human rights organizations. Nonetheless, the trial against former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes against humanity is still moving forward. Ríos Montt is accused of having directed the murder of thousands while ruling the country as de facto president from 1982-1983, during its civil war.
It was reported in early January that Guatemala’s murder rate dropped for the the third year in a row in 2012. However several reports about high levels of violence against women have come out as of late, including a short piece by Amnesty International and a longer article by the International Business Times. The IBT article includes an interview with the Inter-American Dialogue’s Central America program associate who reports, “a lot of the violence against women that occurred during the armed conflict is being repeated today.”
The second phase of El Salvador’s government-mediated gang truce began as the the first “peace zone” was inaugurated this week in a town called Ilopango, near the capital of San Salvador. According to the agreement, all gang members in the violence-free areas will not commit any crimes and will participate in gang prevention, reinsertion and job training programs. There are expected to be 18 peace zones in total, while four mayors have already confirmed their participation in the process. The next peace zone will be established in Santa Tecla on the 25th and another in Quezaltepeque on the 31st.
Homicide rates in Nicaragua went down in 2012, with the government registering 675 violent deaths last year, 63 fewer than in 2011, which had a reported 738. That number represents an 8.5% decrease. There was also a reported 9% reduction in overall criminal activity.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is still in Cuba and undergoing physical therapy treatment, as Bolivian President Evo Morales asserted in his state of the union speech Tuesday. Venezuela Vice President Nicholas Maduro traveled to Havana on Wednesday to visit President Chávez. Newly-appoint Foreign Minister Elias Jaua also traveled
to Cuba this week and returned to Caracas on Thursday. In a call to state television, he said that during his visit with Chávez, the president "made decisions about the international agenda, the domestic agenda." He added that while "the president is in the process of recovery, the battle against the most complex and profound part of the sickness is coming." The Venezuelan government said Tuesday that there was no date planned for the president to return to Caracas.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Last Wednesday (July 25) the UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report with its latest findings about coca, the plant used to make cocaine, in Colombia.
The 112-page report explains that, from 2010 to 2011:
- the area cultivated with coca in Colombia increased, from 62,000 to 64,000 hectares (1 hectare = 2 1/2 acres).
- because traffickers were able to extract a bit less cocaine per hectare of coca, the country’s production of cocaine dropped slightly, from 350 to 345 metric tons.
The UN agency has not yet produced estimates for the world’s two other coca-growing countries, Bolivia and Peru. Its report got a lot of press in Colombia, though, because for the first time since 2007, it did not show a decrease in coca cultivation. Despite over 100,000 hectares sprayed with herbicides and 34,000 hectares of coca bushes physically uprooted by eradicators, the amount of coca left over actually increased last year.
Estimates of coca and cocaine production are only produced by two sources: the UNODC and the U.S. government. Washington had not issued any estimates for 2011 cocaine production when the UNODC released its report. However, five days later, Monday July 30, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy produced a press release.
This 600-word document explains that, from 2010 to 2011:
- the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia fell by 25 percent, from 270 to 195 metric tons.
The press release doesn’t say how much coca was grown in Colombia last year, or even whether the land area increased or decreased. Nor does it say whether growers were extracting less cocaine from the coca they harvested, and if so why or how much less. The document did tell us that Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer since the mid-1990s, has now fallen behind Peru (325 metric tons) and Bolivia (265 metric tons).
This is mysterious because in 2010, the last year for which the U.S. government and UNODC have coca-crop estimates for all three countries, Colombia and Peru show nearly the same amount of coca, and Bolivia shows about half as much as the other two. For Bolivia to be producing more cocaine than Colombia from half as much coca is difficult to fathom.
(All available coca and cocaine data from the U.S. and UN since 1999 is at the bottom of this post.)
The Bolivia result is especially surprising because the country’s coca cultivation, in both U.S. and UN estimates, had stayed about the same in 2008-2010. Why would cocaine producers be getting so much more of the drug from the same land area planted with coca?
Asked that very question by a Bolivian interviewer in mid-July, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires John Creamer explained that Bolivian cocaine producers are using “Colombian methods.” These methods, however, are apparently not at work in Colombia.
Here, using the data below, is a chart of how much cocaine the U.S. government believes that producers are deriving from each hectare of coca. It shows producers in Colombia getting less than half as much of the drug out of coca bushes than their counterparts in Bolivia and Peru. A hectare of coca in Peru produced 6.1 kilograms of cocaine in 2010. In Bolivia, it produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine. In Colombia, it produced only 2.7 kilograms. (The difference may be even greater in the 2011 estimates, but since the U.S. government has not issued coca cultivation land-area estimates for 2011, we can’t calculate it.)
This discrepancy may be a result of frequent eradication in Colombia, which may force growers to replant more often and thus harvest from smaller bushes. However, the UNODC doesn’t reach the same conclusion. The UN estimate of how much cocaine Colombian producers extracted from coca in 2011 (5.4 kilograms per hectare) is closer to the Bolivia and Peru estimates, and more than twice the U.S. figure. (The UNODC, meanwhile, has not even ventured a guess for Peru’s and Bolivia’s cocaine tonnage since 2008.)
Since the U.S. government is not at all transparent about how it gets its cocaine production numbers, this kilograms-per-hectare discrepancy leaves a strong impression that a political agenda is involved. Washington has a strong incentive to reward close ally Colombia and to show that the billions spent on forced coca eradication since 2000 are “working.” It has a strong incentive to prod Peru, whose center-left government may be tempted to take a nationalistic, independent course, to toe the line of the current strategy. And it has a strong incentive to punish Bolivia which, though controlling illicit coca cultivation far better than neighboring Peru, has a government that sharply (and sometimes unfairly) criticizes the United States and is perceived as opposing other U.S. interests.
We want to think that these numbers are not pulled from the U.S. anti-drug bureaucracy’s nether regions, and are based on a considered, reasoned process. But with no transparency at all over how these tonnage estimates are derived, the U.S. cocaine-production numbers are wide open to charges of politicization.
UN and U.S. coca and cocaine estimates (if not visible, refresh this page)
US Data: State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports
UN Data: UNODC Crop Monitoring Reports
Monday, July 30, 2012
UN Office on Drugs and Crime, last Wednesday:
“[P]otential cocaine production in 2011 remained stable at 345 tons, down 1 per cent from 350 tons in 2010.”
White House Office of National Drug Policy, today:
“[T]here has been a 72 percent drop in cocaine pure production capacity in Colombia since 2001… to 195 metric tons in 2011. The latest estimate is a 25 percent reduction from the previous year.”
The UN (working with Colombia’s National Police) and the U.S. government are the only two bodies that attempt to estimate cocaine production in the Andes. And their estimates of Colombia’s production potential, publicized within five days of each other, diverge by 77 percent.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime today released its estimate of how much coca, the plant used to make cocaine, was cultivated in Colombia last year. The report is making headlines in Colombia because, for the first time since 2007, the estimate for 2011 shows an increase in coca-growing — to 64,000 hectares from 62,000 in 2010.
The data would indicate that, twelve years after the beginning of “Plan Colombia,” the country’s rural coca economy has hit a third plateau. This graphic of UNODC coca estimates since 1999 illustrates the point. (Clicking on this or any other image in this post will enlarge it in a new window.)
The first, and highest, plateau was the period before 2002. In that year, the FARC lost control of a zone in southern Colombia from which government security forces had withdrawn to allow failed peace talks to take place. Much coca had been planted in that zone. By that year, the United States had delivered, and was using, a much larger fleet of aerial herbicide spray planes funded by “Plan Colombia” in 2000.
This pushed coca-growing down to a second plateau in the 2003-2008 period. Near the end of this period, coca growers had begun adjusting to the hercibide fumigation strategy, which was only rarely accompanied by a permanent government presence on the ground. Plots were smaller, more scattered, better hidden and quickly replanted after eradication.
Starting in 2006 and peaking in 2008, the Colombian government responded by massively increasing manual eradication: sending teams of people to coca-growing areas to pull up the crops by hand. The increase in manual eradication — which, while dangerous for the eradicators, kills the plant and requires more government presence on the ground — was accompanied by a sharp drop in herbicide fumigation. This caused coca cultivation to drop to a new plateau starting in 2009.
Despite a further drop from 2009 to 2010, the 2011 results make apparent that momentum toward reduced coca-growing has once again stalled. Colombia continues to have vast ungoverned spaces in which farmers have few choices as profitable as coca, and in which the likelihood of running afoul of an absent government is very small. Also, due to the danger of manual eradication missions — guerrillas routinely lay mines and IEDs in coca fields — and cuts to Colombia’s budget, the Colombian government manually eradicated 64 percent less coca in 2011 than it did in 2008.
The UN data show more than half of Colombia’s 2011 coca grown in three departments (provinces) in the country’s southwest: Nariño, Putumayo and Cauca. U.S. officials interviewed by WOLA in May expressed concern about a doubling of coca-growing in Putumayo between 2010 and 2011. This violent, impoverished department along the Ecuador border is where Plan Colombia’s first eradication offensive began, in 2000.
Officials blamed the increase on an agreement between Colombia and Ecuador that prohibits aerial herbicide fumigation within 10 kilometers of the Ecuadorian border. A very likely explanation for Putumayo’s increase, though, is the late 2008 collapse of DMG, a money-laundering pyramid scheme in which a significant portion of Putumayo’s population had invested. During the heyday of this criminal enterprise, participants in DMG were making so much money that they abandoned coca-growing. Its collapse, which wiped out the assets of many Putumayans, probably underlies much of their return to the coca trade.
So, of course, does the power of illegal armed groups in Putumayo, where the FARC guerrillas and Rastrojos neo-paramilitary group operate under a nonaggression pact and cooperate on the cocaine trade.
The new coca numbers make plain, once again, that mass eradication in an absence of good governance will not yield permanent, satisfying results against coca cultivation or any other illegal activity. If growers are left without basic government services — from food security to physical security — fumigating them or pulling up their plants will only achieve short-term progress in a specific territorial area.
One final note: these are the UNODC’s estimates of coca growing in Colombia, based on a joint project with Colombia’s National Police. The U.S. government, with CIA in the lead, maintains a separate — and very different — set of coca cultivation estimates. The U.S. government figure for 2011 is not yet available, but here is what its view of the 1999-2010 period looks like.
The story told here shows fewer discernible “plateaus,” and a more constant — and higher — level of coca cultivation in Colombia.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
This map comes from testimony [PDF] given today in a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing by Coast Guard Rear Adm. Charles Michel, who heads the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S). Based in Key West, Florida, Adm. Michel’s agency monitors all suspicious air and sea traffic headed toward the United States from the Andes and across Central America and the Caribbean.
The map shows the effect that JIATF-S is measuring from “Operation Martillo” (Martillo = Hammer), a “surge” operation to increase surveillance and patrolling in waters near Central America. Operation Martillo began in January, and Southcom (especially the Navy’s 4th Fleet) and the Coast Guard are coordinating it with several Latin American and European security forces.
The map shows an apparent decrease in cocaine flows in most areas, especially the Caribbean, with one very big exception. In response to Operation Martillo, cocaine trafficking appears to be spiking in the eastern Pacific, with a dense concentration of boats leaving Colombia’s Pacific Coast.
The Colombian Pacific is a flashpoint of the country’s armed conflict right now. Often in cooperation with the FARC guerrillas, paramilitary successor groups, especially the “Rastrojos” and the “Urabeños,” are moving many tons of illegal drugs out of port cities like Buenaventura and Tumaco, and using long-neglected afro-Colombian communities in Chocó, Valle, Cauca and Nariño as staging areas. Nariño continues to be Colombia’s number-one coca-producing department. (See our report about Tumaco, Nariño’s main Pacific port, from last year.)
In his written testimony, meanwhile, Adm. Michel estimates that “go-fast” surface boats carried “490 metric tons of cocaine from South America toward the United States.” Approximately another 330 metric tons per year, he added, come to the United States in semi-submersible craft or crude submarines.
That is a total of 820 tons of cocaine coming to the United States, to which much be added cocaine which comes via aircraft, which according to Michel’s testimony is 20 percent of the total.
From that, we get a JIATF estimate of roughly 1,000 metric tons of cocaine headed each year from South America towed the United States.
(Update as of 4:45PM: There was no need to extrapolate an estimate here. Southcom Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser's March 2012 Posture Statement (PDF), on page 6, already provides an estimate of 1,086 tons of cocaine headed toward the United States in 2011, and an expected 775-930 tons in 2012.)
This figure clashes with the estimate from the State Department, which prefers to extrapolate from the amount of coca-leaf cultivation detected and eradicated. The State Department’s latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report speaks of “700 metric tons of cocaine shipped annually from Colombia and other producing nations intended for the U.S. markets.”
One agency says 700 tons, another says about 1,000 tons. Estimating cocaine trafficking is admittedly a very inexact science, but this is a 43% discrepancy.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Here, we share our collection of maps, produced by the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force-South, showing the trajectories of boats and planes suspected of trafficking drugs toward the United States from South America.
Image quality varies here: we take what we can get. The maps we have obtained over the years depict trafficking patterns in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011.
The first set of maps shows the tracks of boats believed to be carrying drugs or other illegal cargo. A few changes over the years are notable:
- It is increasingly rare to see boats attempting to traverse the Caribbean. Fewer landings occur in Jamaica or the island of Hispaniola than did in the mid-2000s.
- Boats no longer attempt to reach Mexico in a single journey. In 2005, it was common for long-haul vessels to pass by the Galápagos Islands en route to Mexico's Pacific coast, or to go straight from Colombia to the Yucatán Peninsula. Today, few boats try to do that.
- Instead, boats stop overwhelmingly in Central America first. Boats leaving Colombia prefer to make a "short hop" to Panama and Costa Rica before presumably moving on elsewhere up the coast or over land. Some boats exiting Colombia go all the way to Honduras's Caribbean coast as well. Boats leaving Ecuador appear to head to Guatemala's Pacific coast.
- Boats almost entirely originate in Colombia and Ecuador. That has changed little over the years, though more volume today appears to leave Ecuador, and Colombia's Pacific coast, than before.
- Cuba is very rarely used as a destination for trafficking boats.
The second set of maps shows the tracks of aircraft, which Southern Command estimates are used to carry perhaps 20 percent of drugs entering the United States. Here, the change in patterns is stark:
Flights no longer originate in Colombia, an indication that "air bridge denial" efforts have brought results.
- Instead, since at least 2007, the vast majority of flights have originated in Venezuela's state of Apure, across the border from Arauca, Colombia.
- Landings in Haiti and the Dominican Republic have shrunk significantly. Now, most flights from South America appear to be landing in Honduras's Mosquitia region. The map for the first half of 2011 shows a virtual "air highway" between Apure, Venezuela and Colón/Gracias a Dios/Olancho, Honduras.
2005 maps are from a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff report (PDF). 2007 maps are from a presentation by the White House "Drug Czar." 2010 slides are from a Southern Command presentation available online (PDF). 2011 slides are photos taken by Noel Maurer, a blogger covering Latin America.
If you have other, better maps like these and you're able to share them, let us know at email@example.com.