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Column 110512 Brewer

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Southbound Assault on South America by Organized Crime

By Jerry Brewer

It is abundantly clear that national borders are of little hindrance to the diabolical financial pursuits of organized criminal's.  Leaving death and destruction along their path, the relentless push to complete their mission as the messiahs of contraband is the main motivating factor.

Transnational organized criminals are not new, and narcotrafficking has proliferated for decades.  What is changing is the directional flow of the criminal movements that too are meeting head-on confrontations throughout Latin America, by increasingly powerful military enforcers, as well as the militaries' federal counterparts and sophisticated technical interdiction, which includes aerial and signal applications.

After the Medellin and Cali cartels of Colombia were essentially dismantled and eliminated, fragmentation occurred as old and new actors scrambled to find successful niches in their quest to capitalize on the past successes of drug kingpins who had reigned in long tenure.  This, in part, by compartmentalizing operations into smaller and more manageable numbers.

This proved successful until competing Mexican drug cartels grew stronger, in numbers that eventually forced Mexico's Gulf Cartel to employ enforcers -- trained military deserters that became known as Los Zetas. And the Zetas would become a virtual army that confronted and killed scores of Mexican police and soldiers that stood in their way.

With eventual U.S. police and military training for Mexican law enforcement officials, as well as intelligence sharing and other logistical support, the tide has turned to a helter-skelter-like scramble to avoid apprehension, this as a significant number of cartel kingpins have been captured or killed by authorities.

Moreover, this has resulted in a swinging door border with Mexico, and south into and beyond the nations in Central America.

There is a perceived enforcement line-in-the-sand that is gaining visibility, while placing a stranglehold throughout Mexico (including near the U.S. border).  Some continue to challenge the more sophisticated interdiction efforts to protect old smuggling and trafficking routes that are slowly shutting down, compared with the previous fluidity that allowed much success.

The so-called Southern Cone of South America includes Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and parts of Brazil.  Since at least 2001, intelligence from various international sources identified Middle Eastern terrorist cells in the tri-border area (TBA) shared by Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.  Moreover, U.S. federal officials linked some activities to narcotrafficking, plus a myriad of other organized crime actions as well as cooperation between drug traffickers and a diverse group of terrorists. Yet much of this remained low key and low in profile.

As well, according to the "World Drug Report 2011," of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime: "The three Southern Cone countries, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, together account for more than two thirds of all cocaine users of South America, Central America and the Caribbean."

Argentina may have misread TBA activity in 2010 when its president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, announced her concern about the TBA and Argentina's "rising rate" of drug trafficking.  Oddly, officials appear to have had a lack of recall of early intelligence that warned of significant money laundering in Argentina by drug traffickers, as well as Mexican cartel money estimated to be at around US $25 million. In the late 1990s, an Argentina federal court "was (also) asked to investigate the 'Juarez cartel,' a Mexican drug ring that, according to Mexican Interpol officials, laundered about $25 million in Argentina...."

The last terrorist-related events in Argentina linked to the TBA and Middle Eastern terrorism were the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in the same city.

Geographically and politically speaking, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are part of the problem that is seriously impacting the Southern Cone nations. These three leftist-led countries refuse to cooperate with highly technical and sophisticated US involved anti-drug enforcement activities.  This insulated layer of cover allows transnational organized crime insurgents, from Mexico and Central America, to flow further south into new markets of drug trafficking, kidnapping/extortion for ransom, robbery, murder for hire, and human/sex trafficking.

Getting back to Argentina, officials have confirmed that Mexico's Sinaloa cartel "established a network of bases in the country's north." And at this late stage, Argentina too has placed armed forces on their front lines, deploying "6,000 Gendarmerie and Coast Guard personnel, plus 800 Army Special Forces, in Argentina's northwest."

Argentina is also becoming a major producer of chemical precursors for cocaine production, a growing drug money laundering haven, and a significant drug transit country.  Its drug consumption rates have exploded, and it has become a destination for drug synthesis, with a new role as a producer of chemical precursors.

Furthermore, Argentina's leadership may have blundered once again insofar as, "earlier this year Argentina's Ministry of Security ordered the U.S. DEA to suspend its activities in the country until further notice."

Chile, experiencing some of the same problems, "is quietly increasing its counter-narcotics efforts."  Chile's unfortunate situation is that it too shares a border with top cocaine producers, namely Bolivia and Peru.  As well, lucrative overland drug routes and Chilean seaports make it a major transit point for drugs within the Southern Cone.

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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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