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Column 111113 Brewer

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Crime, Security Concerns, and Iran's Presence in the Americas

By Jerry Brewer

Effective regional security policies, especially through the southern tier nations of South America, appear to be critically lacking and digressing in the face of the fluid encroachment of transnational organized criminals.  

There must be considerable conflicting discernment as to this phenomenon that appears to be stymieing those tasked to proactively engage, investigate and enforce the rule of law in the pursuit of flagrant transnational violent actors. There could also be a case made against some nation's leaders who have hindered or altogether halted strategic initiatives by some neighboring nations, strategically designed and implemented to interdict the criminals.    

Mexico and the northern cone nations of Central America became much like a petri dish, in which this culture of organized narcoterrorism was bred and nurtured through the inability and lack of necessary resources to initially, as well as effectively, engage the "narcotraffickers."

There was a major failure by both the US and Mexico to accurately assess the shootout that occurred just across the border from Laredo, Texas on July 28, 2005 in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, between "armed criminal groups" that "included unusually advanced weapons" and exhibited espionage and terrorist-like skills and abilities. The violence and weapons used only received knee-jerk reactions from officials, who simply labeled the violence as a random incident between rival drug dealers, saying too that efforts "to stop the violence in Nuevo Laredo have been successful."

Since that time, the death toll has risen significantly as police and governmental officials, journalists, and members of the armed forces have been ambushed, attacked and counterattacked, and murdered.

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) took office on December 1, 2006 and quickly learned that there was essentially no effective policing infrastructure that could be utilized to confront these violent attacks on the homeland. Consequently he deployed the military; and today the armed forces remain as the faint line in the sand.

And with this, much of the military power, although sporadic and essentially reactive in nature, pushed many of the criminal groups into Central America's northern cone region. However, the Central American nations were not prepared with effective policing infrastructures to combat the insurgents moving into their jurisdictions.

Many of the affected governments, along with some citizens and other pundits, denounced the military and the violence as a useless "drug war," with no discernible impact on the drug trade and spread of organized crime. Yet labeling the tactical enforcement efforts as simply failed drug interdiction is a critically dangerous and misguided fallacy.   

While the voracious demand for drugs significantly affects an immense spectrum of security concerns throughout the Americas, hemispheric nations far and wide are witnessing a growing intrusion of these transnational organized crime insurgents, who are acquiring massive revenues from drugs as well as human and sex trafficking, kidnapping and extortion, murder for hire, robbery, and other villainous acts.

As an example, Honduras alone is suffering with a murder rate nearly ten times above the world average.

Chile has become a transshipment country for cocaine destined for Europe, plus it has become attractive to organized criminals seeking to launder profits, especially through the Iquique Free Trade Zone. Officials in Chile have reported a 33 percent increase in suspicious financial transactions for the first half of 2013.

The Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay tri-border region, especially the porous areas along the boundary with Argentina, allows for human and sex trafficking, plus contraband smuggling, as very lucrative revenue sources.

As well, there are popular drug routes between Chile and Argentina, through the port of Iquique and on to Bolivia and then the city of Pedro Juan Caballero in Paraguay. Uruguay has been significantly impacted by drug trafficking in the city of Chuy, near Montevideo. And Argentina is now a key source of precursor chemicals, and an important production and transit point for drugs linked to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.  

Through extortion, smuggling, money laundering and other corruption schemes, Brazil's "underground" economic worth was estimated at $350 billion in 2012 - much believed to be generated by organized criminal groups.

There have also been reports suggesting that African extremists are criminally associating in Bolivia. Reports link West African groups from Guinea-Bissau and Ghana with the Andean cocaine drug trade. The U.S. State Department has reported multi-tons of cocaine seized in West Africa having originated from Venezuela, and that Venezuela is the "premier transit zone in Latin America for cocaine bound for Europe."

Bolivia's descent into rogue state status, and a hub for organized crime and safe haven for terrorists, has been led by President Evo Morales, who followed the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador in kicking the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) out of their homelands. This unity paved the way for security failures throughout the hemisphere. 

An Iranian presence is increasing both in Venezuela and Bolivia, and with this another challenge necessitating cooperative awareness and security measures throughout the Americas, where nations are already under siege by organized crime. A situation that seems exacerbated considering that the Iranian Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia is "reported to (have) at least 145 registered Iranian officials."

But doing what?

Iran is one of three countries holding Observer status in the nine member "Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas," ALBA, that was created by Venezuela's anti-US caudillo Hugo Chavez.

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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 www.cjiausa.org.

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