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Column 051312 Brewer

Monday, May 13, 2013

Central America's Security Challenges must be a Wake-Up Call

By Jerry Brewer

Escalating homicides and violence in the northern cone nations of Central America continue to pose misery and despair for all those in the path. This scourge, perceived to be simply nestled within the narrow chokepoint that is Central America, continues to resonate in a myriad of new adversities and challenges in all directions.  

As many governments and their security forces within the affected areas appear to be dysfunctional in terms of having answers or the necessary resources to be proactive in meeting the challenges, some other nations remain stymied by indecision and mental paralysis due to the threats.

"Not in my backyard" is a popular saying by many when their pronounced line in the sand has not been crossed in a manner that panics and instinctively breeds fear. Many confuse that line with the analogy of a swinging gate or revolving door that filters a somewhat perceived methodical transition of tolerance.

The border regions between Mexico and the U.S., and Mexico with Guatemala and Belize, are areas where virtual criminal insurgency wars are being waged. Honduras and El Salvador are the next layer to the south facing this transnational insurgency.  Moving south, most other Central and South American nations report lesser urgency, but spikes in violence, crime and drug use escalation are being reported. 

As it should be clear by now to the masses, the popular phrase of "securing the border" is a feel good statement that is meant well, but "the border" will always be for a line that will be crossed due to the inherent nature of those seeking to flee to a new or better place, illicit supply and demand trafficking, and by those seeking to do harm to others. It can only be hoped that borders will not be ignored, and that officials will be given the needed resources to control the flow of all illegal entry to the best of the governing bodies' abilities.

Starting with Mexico and Central America, the dynamics of their own border failures progressively resonates from nation to nation. This ultimately fuels the U.S. border security dilemma, and the urgency to properly assess threats and deploy adequate resources and methods to achieve an acceptable level of national security. We are not even speaking of the monumental measures necessary to maintain and interdict maritime and aviation security threats.     

South of the U.S. there are nations with weak governance, lawless zones, corruption, impunity, criminal threats, weak judicial systems and poverty, all of which contribute to the widespread insecurity of the region.

How can multifaceted security conditions in these countries be addressed and improved? Many of these nations instantly claim that the voracious U.S. drug demand is the problem and is responsible for the record-setting homicide rates and violence throughout the Americas.

There is no doubt that well-financed drug trafficking organizations, gangs and other transnational organized criminals overwhelm governments' resources, but the rule of law must be enforced in civilized societies; human life must be respected, and human rights prevail. 

Criminal death and violence far exceed the simple boundaries of drug trafficking. The criminal organizations are thriving on robbery; kidnapping and extortion; murder for hire; human, sex and arms trafficking; and other acts of threat and intimidation. Some nations have expressed fear of becoming failed states due to the armies of crime that carry no flag or political allegiance.

Many list the underlying social conditions and structural weaknesses of persistent poverty, inequality, and unemployment as primary reasons for not being able to recover from the violence. Others claim that the easy and immediate lure to vast amounts of wealth achievable through crimes and not through years of intense labor is a preferable choice. After all, the claim of an estimated US$60 billion a year drug addiction that must be supplied is real, and the necessary tools such as land vehicles, aircraft, maritime vessels, and related properties, wealth, and lifestyles must be maintained. Hard to convince those used to a more lavish lifestyle to return to the factories or farms.

Murder in Guatemala is continuing to climb at a steady rate.  Guatemala's National Institute of Forensic Sciences recently reported that an analysis revealed MS-13 gangs there used 32 different guns "to allegedly commit 238 murders."  Prosecutors say the MS members used the weapons to kill rival gang members, prison guards, and victims of robbery and extortion.

The on-going threats to the Americas are clearly indicated by the continuously shifting roles of military to policing duties.  Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala "have deployed thousands of troops to help their often underpaid and poorly equipped police forces to carry out public security functions, without clearly defining when those deployments might end."


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

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