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Column 041612 Brewer

Monday, April 16, 2012

Crime, Violence and Anemic Diplomacy Plague the Americas

By Jerry Brewer

As political aspirants within the Americas continue to seek higher office in elections this year, they must be careful to not have a platform that ignores neighboring allies and nations engulfed in violence, death and consistent turmoil.  Too, it is morally wrong to turn one's head as leftist governments continue to excessively violate human rights and fail to police their own homelands, enforce the rule of law, and apply justice.

Of course each nation must be concerned about its own homeland and the significant challenges ahead with limited resources.  But Latin America's democracies must not acquiesce to cross-border strong-arm tactics, whether the border is contiguous or not.

The Americas is an incredible stretch, from the southern tip of Argentina north to Canada, with deteriorating security from border to border. And many nations therein have been forced into militarized policing due to war-like confrontations. Consequently, there is an urgent need for all nations along the route to unite as a whole to save their homelands from terror and facilitation by inaction, as well as deliberate acts of government subterfuge in complicity.

The caveat that violent drug gangs are the primary prolific nemesis of democratic governments within the hemisphere is also misleading. Logistically speaking, these organized criminal insurgents need weapons, as well as the means to launder money, facilitate movement, a market to corrupt officials, and regimes that will overlook their actions for unspecified remuneration.

The U.S. obviously can't solve the region's problems by itself, nor should it be expected to. A nation's people and leaders should bear the bur­den of making their own choices, reaping the benefits of good ones and learning from the bad. But the U.S. can be more consistent in cultivating rela­tions that serve our own interests as well as those of our neighbors. To crush or break off potential future problems, the U.S. should have a comprehensive strategic plan of engagement, practice hands-on diplomacy, and nur­ture enduring partnerships.

Critical elections this year in Mexico and Venezuela, as well as the U.S., are undoubtedly going to take on greater importance within this hemisphere for the next decade or so, and short-term thinking alone will only lead to continued festering problems.  There must be a close watch for attacks on democratic elections, restrictions on political expression and debate, as well as voter intimidation and outright election fraud.   Dictatorial and socialist agendas have already shown alterations of term limits and regimes seeking indefinite rule.

The uneven pledge by the U.S., to employ and nurture solutions to critical issues within Latin America, has been guided less by strategy than by tactical response. Contributing to that dilemma were Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador as they ceased cooperation with the U.S. military and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Since 1991, Bolivia and Paraguay had signed at least seven border security pacts, but "the treaties have yet to translate into noticeable security improvements."

Clearly, and to a great extent in Latin America, insurgent-like guerrilla/paramilitary groups remain -- many also involved in drug trafficking and/or its facilitation, plus they seek operating territory while overpowering law enforcement and political efforts to combat them.

In Central America criminal gangs are entrenched in armed robbery, kidnappings for ransom and extortion, murder for hire, human/sex trafficking and other crimes, contributing significantly to the massive death rates. As well, many of these gangs are being recruited and trained by drug cartels to commit heinous acts or serve as diversionary pawns, thus taking some of the pursuit heat off the cartels.  In consequence, Central America now has the highest homicide rate in the world, along with Venezuela much further south. And there are thousands of people still missing throughout the Americas.

Mexico is still in the crossfire, with its police and military having suffered head-on confrontations with narco-terrorists, and the killings of mayors, journalists, politicians and other officials, since 2005. As well, the Mexico-based criminals have boldly crossed the southern border and they now operate in Central America, virtually controlling "the entire extension of the Mexico-Guatemala border."

Regarding South America, a DEA official reported to the US Senate that "both Mexican and Colombian traffickers have increased their presence in Bolivia." Bolivia's top drug official said that some Bolivian groups have made contact with Mexico's Los Zetas.  A Bolivian representative to the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime has stated "that traffickers trying to ship cocaine from Bolivia into Brazil or Argentina frequently travel first through Paraguay." Most of the drug planes discovered so far this year were found in Bolivia's eastern department of Santa Cruz.

Effective U.S. policy and Latin American diplomatic engagement in the Americas must rise quickly from the smoldering ashes of their own complacency.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at http://www.cjiausa.org/.


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