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Column 090312 Brewer

Monday, September 3, 2012

Organized Crime and Gangs in the Americas pose National Threats

By Jerry Brewer

Highly adaptive criminal networks in the Americas are not going away. In El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the United States, these organized criminal networks continue to strongly and violently emerge, and quickly adapt to new strategies to persevere. 

Those countries, as well as Jamaica and Venezuela, now exceed the global average for the numbers of homicides committed with firearms according to a recent report, "European Research Project Small Arms Survey." In fact, it was reported that "21 out of 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean also exceed those averages."

The survey also reveals that countries with the highest homicide rates had more murders committed with guns. In Latin America, this relationship is most visible in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Venezuela -- all of which have over 30 murders committed for every 100,000 inhabitants. The proportion of firearm homicides is over 70 percent in these countries, all of which have murder rates that have been increasing since 1995.

The amorphous nature of the criminal networks share in common the unquenchable appetite for controlling ground that is conducive to their specific criminal operations. Whether trafficking in humans or drugs, and/or involvement in traditional crimes of robbery, extortion, kidnapping and related violent acts, their ability to corrupt and control is a main focus of their modus operandi.

The manipulative nature of these narcoterrorists is graphically illustrated in El Salvador, a country that has become known as one of the most violent within the hemisphere. Those active in violent criminal enterprises are estimated from 30,000 to 50,000 strong, and their sophisticated weaponry includes grenades and other paramilitary assaultive armaments.

Five months ago, Salvadoran government officials, along with Organization of America States (OAS) Secretary of Security Adam Blackwell, negotiated a controversial "gang truce" with various ringleaders. The stronger groups of Maras are the Salvatrucha and the Dieciocho, or M-18. And there was a dip in crime.

However, statistics from various sources now report that while there had been reductions in violence, El Salvador is experiencing a resurge of crime and savagery.

Last week Justice and Public Security Minister David Munguia Payes reported that gangs have not given up their violent criminal activities, as new killings, extortion, robbery and drug trafficking are taking place. The extortion aspect of this violence is widespread with "all types of businesses," and business owners report major fears in reporting acts against them. Even bus drivers echo the tremendous fear they have in working, and many have thus quit.

Violence in Honduras has resulted in assistance through the deployment of United States Marines to the area. Reported as the "second phase of the US-led counter-narcotics strategies in Central America, codenamed 'Operacion Martillo' (Operation Hammer), 171 US Marines were deployed to Guatemala." The first phase of Operacion Martillo began in January. The main focus was "drug trafficking through the Gulf of Honduras in the Atlantic." According to U.S. officials, the "Marines will only be involved in surveillance, and they are not permitted to use their weapons except when they are fired upon."

Far to the north, in the U.S., violence is exploding in Chicago where transnational criminal cartels are involved in a "turf war" with rival gangs, and reports indicate that this violence is spreading to Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit. Federal officials report that these organized crime cartels "operate in more than 2,500 cities across the country."

Since 2011, federal agents have made arrests and conducted investigations of multimillion-dollar shipments of drugs and drug money between the Chicago area and Mexico's Zetas criminal organization. The influence of the Zeta's organization in the wholesale Chicago drug market and beyond is clearly apparent.

So far in 2012 there have been more than 350 shooting deaths in the Chicago area, numbers that are reportedly up 30 percent from the same period last year. This while three major Mexican groups, at least, fight for control of the "billions of dollars from marijuana, cocaine and heroin."

Within the U.S, multifaceted approaches are necessary with strategic operational planning of enforcement options. All this must also include comprehensive intelligence gathering and strike forces that are capable of interdicting critical routes and corridors that allow the shipment of contraband and weapons, as well as the massive profits in currency that must in turn go south back to the organized criminal hierarchies.

The key to enforcement strategies in this ever escalating environment of crime and violence is in understanding transnational organized crime, and thus understanding how the majority of these criminal groups and gangs actually rely on multiple illicit networks as they cooperate with a common artifice for massive profits.

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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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