Monday, October 8, 2012
Dangers in Guatemala Imperil the Security of the USA and Mexico
By Jerry Brewer
December 11, 2006, in what has generally been described as the starting point of Mexico's war against drug trafficking
organizations (DTO), newly elected President Felipe Calderon sent around 6,500 federal police and troops to the state of Michoacan. And what quickly and continuously followed was to cut a violent and bloody swath that too went south and crossed into
Actually, Mexico had been sustaining escalated drug violence since the 1990s, but the government
response had been seen as a "generally passive stance." That violence escalated in 2000, when then President Vicente
Fox sent troops to Nuevo Laredo "to fight the cartels."
Former Mexican special forces deserters, in the 1990s,
first formed the Zetas that became the eventual catalyst for the escalated mass carnage inflicted upon Mexico, Guatemala and
beyond. President Calderon's relentless push against the Zetas forced a retreat into Guatemala, where the policing and
rule of law was weak, inexperienced, corrupt, and fertile ground for the Zetas to strengthen, recruit members, and generally
enjoy a safe haven.
Guatemala's northern and eastern provinces suffered the early onslaught of this expanding reach
through well planned executions, the decapitation of opponents, and the kidnapping of local government officials. Menacing
messages were written throughout the cities announcing Zeta's rule, as many walked the streets with openly displayed firearms.
by some in Washington, in 2009, prompted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to urge for action against the spreading influence
of Mexican DTOs in Guatemala, and in another weak neighbor, Honduras.
It had been clear to Guatemalan and Honduran
officials for years that their weak enforcement infrastructure and institutions were no match for the level of firepower and
paramilitary expertise of the Zetas. The cry of potential failed states rang out again in the media as it had previously with
Mexico. Seizures of some weapons in these regions prompted a police commander to say that "these are things we
have seen only in photos of Iraq and the Gulf."
Little attention was being given by Mexico, or for that matter
the U.S., in working to protect and securing Mexico's 541 mile porous border with Guatemala -- the gateway and pipeline
through Central America for massive Andean originating drug shipments. Yet, generated by the outcry against violence in and
around Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in August 2005 the U.S. sought to simply secure its southern boundary against illegal immigration
and border crossings.
It is, and has been, no secret that Mexican organized crime syndicates are increasingly expanding
their operations south due to effective action, and increasing pressure, against them by Mexico's military and federal
police, with U.S. support. These major shift patterns do in fact demonstrate the DTO's ability to continue to germinate
within the Americas. Routine policing and weak criminal justice systems are currently no match for their expertise, firepower,
and wealth to corrupt.
Zetas training camps have been located throughout Guatemala. One of the camps found yielded
"a stash of 500 grenades." With arsenals of assault rifles confiscated in Guatemala, "investigators say they
believe dozens of recruits were being taught how to ambush police patrols."
As well, the Zetas continue to strengthen
their grip on Honduras, and they are looking for stronger footholds in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and beyond. They are simply
continuing to develop a multinational operation.
Guatemala is facing much more than just the drug traffickers. There
is a proliferation of powerful youth gangs, such as the MS-13 and MS 18th Street, with many members throughout the northern
cone of Central America -- and in the U.S. Their violent crimes run the gamut from murder for hire, armed robbery, kidnapping/extortion,
and related acts.
In Guatemala there is no single solution to the deteriorating security situation. A multifaceted
and strategic approach for success must be concerned about more than the amounts of drugs intercepted and seized.
will depend on the creation of capable and durable law enforcement and criminal justice institutions that are effective in
the fight against crime and corruption. As well, they must be responsive to citizens with youth crime prevention, community-based
policing, respect for human rights, and related community and court services interventions.
The fact is, Guatemala's
stability is a critical component for the security of Mexico and the U.S., and the law enforcement challenges alone that Guatemala
faces are monumental tasks.
An international training core of collaborative nations of diverse sources is paramount
to achieve a lasting, meaningful, and much desired success story for the Guatemalan homeland and its neighbors.
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/.