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Column 121613 Brewer

Monday, December 16, 2013

Guerrillas and Gangs Exploit their Agendas in Latin America

By Jerry Brewer

As if Mexico and much of Latin America were not mired in enough record setting murders and violent atrocities, the spectre of organized crime subversives continues to pose significant across border security threats to homelands.

And it is now clear to many that a large part of their businesses is not just about drug trafficking, but also involves influencing elections; threatening governments, the military and police officials; and drawing attention to their noms de guerre.

This rebellion of sorts has consistently been portrayed as drug cartel versus drug cartel, with prohibition-like claims that the legalization of drugs would stop the violence, plus there are constant references to poor and disadvantaged youth which have set many unrealistic goals and agendas to halt the killing.

There is a monumental failure to address the many underlying motivations and social dynamics of this violence that are not popular with governing officials. It is easy to blame voracious drug demand from the US that gives demand and supply perpetual life. As well, it is easy for many world nations mired in poverty to claim that this violent crime is fuelled by unemployment and a lack of opportunities.

However, power and greed are two terms that need to be astutely and aggressively injected into proactive and strategic dialogue regarding these transnational scourges of violence and murder.

Identity is a curious necessity for so many of these insurgents. Could their original cause or motivation for violence be a lesser need? Territorial confrontations, allegations of disrespect, as well as status and prestige are often cited as the prime rationale for the onslaught. Power struggles are a key ingredient of control within the transnational criminal network theatre.

The dynamics cited in lack of opportunities for youth and assorted economic issues are no doubt great topics of conversation. A saying from long ago was that the US border was paved with gold. This euphemism was used to cite that even the minimum wage in the US was so much more than what so many could earn in their own countries.  Drug trafficking, and extracting what has been reported to be some US$80 billion out of the US and across the border for illicit drugs, has given new perspectives to ideologues that now see minimum wage labor as a joke.

The hunger for US dollars, which has now expanded to many foreign currencies, by transnationals comes in many and competing methods of illicit markets. Human and sex trafficking have boomed, with a minimum of US$32 billion attributed to human trafficking revenue alone. Trafficking for sexual purposes is believed to far exceed those numbers.

Kidnappings and extortion have also become major sources of illicit revenue that know no boundaries due to the wealth of so many of the victims willing to pay to survive. Yet many pay and do not survive.

In Mexico, in the first half of this year alone that nation saw the highest number of reported kidnappings since at least 1997.

Peace and truce talks throughout Latin America, with governments and guerrillas and gangs, appear to be clear indications of the deception by these transnational organized criminals that seem to crave the attention and power they perceive they have. Too, their negotiating agendas often fail to address the reasons why they do what they do with impunity -- often citing their identity as a voice of the people and calling for government representation.

Preventing violence over the long-term has not been the hallmark of these talks. Some fear that the narrow focus on truces alone may actually be part of the problem. Many insurgents and gangs are linked to other transnational criminal markets, and some with allegations of political support from rogue regimes.

A recent report indicated that Jose Luis Merino, a leader of a left-wing Salvadoran political party, arranged a drug lord’s meeting with the Colombian FARC on a flight coordinated with Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.  This alleged new evidence reveals that Venezuela’s current president, Nicolas Maduro, when serving as Venezuelan Foreign Minister, “worked to improve the FMLN’s access to drug trafficking."

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, US-based social scientists held a dim view of gang truces believing that these kinds of agreements legitimized gangs, “reinforced the authority of leaders, deepened cohesion among their rank and file, and reproduced -- rather than reduced -- violence.”

In Cuba, continuing negotiations that began in November of 2012 between Colombia and its largest left-wing guerrilla insurgency of five decades, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, show little progress. The group has essentially held Colombia hostage, with an estimated figure of 220,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. 

Perceived by some as tongue-in-cheek, FARC leader Ivan Marquez characterized the talks as "an important step in the right direction to end the conflict and to achieve a real democracy in Colombia."

The truth is that FARC insurgents have taken numerous hostages and murdered many civilians, including women and children.  Their justifying rationale for the attacks and assassinations, against the armed forces, police and others, is cited in their self-seeking ideological claims of starting out as a grassroots-supported guerrilla movement in the interests of the repressed rural population.  And their spurious history of having taken advantage of previous concessions by the Colombian government to talk, disarm, and seek peace is well documented.

Duplicitous behavior and vacillation by these transnational criminals, professing peace but never laying down their arms, while demonstrating the importance they attach to image and status maintenance, negates much hope for a return to the rule of law voluntarily.

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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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