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Column 042114 Brewer

Monday, April 21, 2014

Central American Criminal and Terrorism Nexuses are Maturing

By Jerry Brewer

As Central America's northern cone nations set records for willful deaths, Honduras leads the world with a murder rate of 90.4 per 100,000. El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize’s homicide rates are averaging, collectively, 42 percent per 100,000, as people literally fight for their lives.

These seemingly unabated rates of murder, plus the kidnappings and assassinations of public figures, police, members of the armed forces and journalists, are the continuing and expanding product -- and chosen role -- of transnational organized criminals (TOC). And much of their achieved movement would not have been possible without facilitation and nurturing by rogue leftist political regimes, and paramilitary and guerilla-like forces, within this hemisphere.

Each of the countries in the northern cone of Central America, as well as Mexico and the United States, have shared borders within the regions of hostile operational activities that witness fluid and seemingly unstoppable encroachment by the criminal insurgent-like actors. These TOCs, for the most part, use advanced military-type weaponry, superior firepower and more advantageous military tactics, including seen before elements of intelligence tradecraft employed by world terrorist organizations.

Mexico's military has forced many gangs south into Guatemala and El Salvador. Quick to follow were the Zetas, albeit the Zeta movement south has been described as a proactive movement and not a reactive strategy of retreat.  Their reach into Central America has corrupted police, while they have recruited talent and trained recruits in Guatemalan camps. Movements into Honduras graphically mark the Zeta's area of influence as a clear indicator of turf superiority, as they have expanded their territorial range from the Gulf of Mexico coastal states to Central America.

The transnational influence and power of the Zetas paved the way for an upswing in the long distance shipping of cocaine from South America, much of this through the risky Central America drug pipeline into lucrative North American markets.  Other violent criminal activities, including human and sex trafficking, have matured into lucrative markets of incredible revenue. These awesome endeavors required a power that had to prevail against all obstacles designed to interdict.

In El Salvador alone, the strong and violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang became a fertile recruiting ground for the Zetas.  Law enforcement and government concerns and fears that powerful Zeta alliances would lead to jail breaks, to free previously captured gang members, became realities.

This insurgent-like equation became the new organized crime-terror nexus.  Fear, intimidation, political tampering, kidnappings, murders, bombings, and torture became the norm. The organizational similarities of organized crime and terror merged to essentially form a single merchant of violence and death, available to the highest or most powerful bidder or survivor. Groups emerged as third generation gangs possessing extensive, asymmetrical warfare capabilities.

The critical question that must be asked, again -- and much more vociferously: where are all of these affected nation’s priorities, strategies and proactive solutions to protect against TOCs using asymmetric tactics against the States and further threatening their nations' security and economy?

Many ask, “Just how real and serious is this?” As far back as 2009, the previous director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, stated: ‘‘Escalating violence along the U.S.-Mexico border will pose the second greatest threat to U.S. security this year, second only to al Qaeda. ”

In framing the discussion of the realities of the nexus of many heavily armed nefarious groups and organizations within the hemisphere, and their desired and actual agendas, we must look at the issues of not only corruption but too covert support and facilitation by other powerful entities above “soldier” levels.

Last February 14 security consultant Douglas Farah gave testimony before the U.S.  House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade regarding, “Terrorist Groups in Latin America: The Changing Landscape.”

Farah stated that hybrid groups like Colombia's FARC, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and many others “thrive in the seams of the world’s illicit trade pipelines.”  He described FARC as a prototype of the coming hybrid terrorist-criminal insurgency, which “remains at the center of a multitude of criminal enterprises and terrorist activities that stretch from Colombia south to Argentina, and northward to Central America and into direct ties to Mexican drug cartels.”

According to Farah, the U.S. DEA has shown direct and growing criminal drug ties between the FARC and Hezbollah. Too, his testimony revealed that “FARC is a central part of the revolutionary project of bringing together armed groups and terrorist organizations under the umbrella of the (Venezuelan) Bolivarian Revolution.”  He cited known and reported links to the late Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, and current president-elect Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador, as “Giving significant logistical, financial, and political support to the FARC, allowing FARC to expand its international networks and increase its resources.” 

Documents and computers, including hundreds of gigabytes of data retrieved from computers during a Colombian raid into Ecuador against FARC in 2008, revealed what was described as graphic evidence of these rogue political associations and relationships.


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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