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Column 120213 Brewer

Monday, December 2, 2013

Policing Crime and Transnational Assailants in the Americas

By Jerry Brewer

To say the Americas are not completely overwhelmed with dilemmas of needing to enforce the rule of law and protect citizens, while essentially choosing between military, police or a combination of the two, is perplexing to many democratic nations.

In an ironic twist, the complexities of enforcing the law and protecting an entire homeland from threat are overlapping the intricacies of perceived government legitimacy. 

Police were established for law and order regulation, to control the affairs of communities in order to maintain order, enforce the law, and prevent and detect crime.  In contrast, a military was designed to protect a nation by combating and defending against actual or perceived threats, especially its complete borders, with a powerful arsenal of advanced weaponry.

Yet much of Mexico and Latin America in general have seen the lines blurred, and nations struggle daily for answers -- some to minimize the prospects of failed state status.

Many from across Latin America criticize the lack of results produced by the militarization of law enforcement, calling instead for police forces to be stronger and regenerated.  The irony behind this criticism is that effective and competent police institutions essentially have not existed in Mexico, and the northern cone of Central America, since at least 2005 -- if ever.

Government corruption due to massive drug trafficking and many other competing vast crime revenues, set an early stage for institutional failure at government and police levels. As well, flawed judicial systems have contributed to transnational organized criminals (TOC) acquiring substantive power.

The Mexican military had to overcome the power and weaponry of Los Zetas and other transnational criminals, who confronted them head-on and in brazen ambushes, plus there have been acts of kidnapping and murder against soldiers. Traditional policing efforts were never a line of defense against such superior firepower and tactics, and may never be.

Adding to the complexity, the transnational organized criminals adopted into their campaign small, independent (self-supporting) cells engaging in violence designed to weaken the government, create disorder, and intimidate the population.

The atrocities include decapitations, dismemberments, and bodies hanging from bridges – some sans genitals, heads, and/or fingers and arms, among other organs displayed for effect. The assassinations of school teachers was an example designed to close down the education system.

In Mexico, attacks and violence were done to intimidate security forces, limiting their ability to respond to attacks. The lack of government presence created a leadership vacuum which the TOCs quickly filled.  Suffice it to say that the TOCs have emerged as third generation gangsters possessing extensive asymmetrical warfare capabilities. Their reign of terror -- torture, murder, kidnappings and bombings has led to the deaths of an estimated 80,000 people, with an unnumbered still missing. 

Like Mexico, Central and South America have faced -- and are facing -- the problems confronting military and police agencies combating potentially high intensity criminal insurgency attacks, some having included car bombs.

Last October Salvadoran security officials seized 213 M-90 grenades from Texis cartel members in El Congo, Santa Ana province, saying the grenades were intended for the Zetas cartel in Mexico and Guatemala.

Argentina is reporting rising organized crime homicides at a 10-year high among youth. In 2011 alone, 794 people aged 15 to 29 were murdered, according to La Nacion. Much of this blamed on increased drug trafficking by TOCs from Bolivia, Mexico and Colombia

Adjacent to Argentina, officials in Chile have reported a 33 percent increase in suspicious financial transactions for the first half of 2013, suggesting organized crime groups are using Chile as a base for money laundering operations.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has turned Bolivia into an international hub of organized crime and a safe haven for terrorists. United Nations data show that cocaine production is up in Bolivia since 2006, and Mexican, Russian and Colombian TOCs are reported to be operational there.

Authorities in Brazil preparing for World Cup 2014 are monitoring high-profile organized crime groups. The underground economy in Brazil was estimated to be worth $350 billion in 2012, much of which is reported to be generated by organized crime groups.

In Paraguay, the Paraguayan People’s Army, or E.P.P., “a shadowy Marxist rebel group,” is exerting influence across vast stretches of the nation with what is described as a declared war against the republic. These insurgents have been killing security force members, planting bombs under police vehicles, and kidnapping and killing wealthy Paraguayans.

In Colombia, an estimated 70,000 people fall victim to human trafficking each year according to one new report.

Violent organized crime is flourishing in the form of criminal combatants across much of Latin America. This especially due to corruption and where weak policing structures have failed.

As many leaders throughout Latin America discuss traditional police methods versus militarization enforcement efforts, transnational crime infiltration is forcing many jurisdictions to engage much more tactically and strategically due to the threats with advanced weaponry. Until capable and effective policing infrastructures are available they virtually have no other choice. 

In Latin America stopping the violence, taking control, and enforcing the rule of law will continue to be a monumental task. But is it a mandate for police, the military, or a combination of both?

Strengthening national justice systems is key.


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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