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Column 060914 Brewer

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hemispheric Crime, Risks to Mexico and Counterinsurgency Needs

By Jerry Brewer

Although there is a myriad of opinion and other pundit conjecture on the status and projected plight of Latin America as it relates to crime and violence, Mexico's apparent unabated rates of homicide, kidnappings and assassinations, with targets that include public figures and journalists, continue.

Last week alone in the resort mecca of Acapulco, another journalist was found murdered with his body bearing signs of torture, four days after he was kidnapped by unknown gunmen. The victim wrote a political column for a weekly newspaper, with one of his final reports describing “protests against violence and extortion by local and federal authorities.” Acapulco today is a battleground of lawlessness and homicide with impunity.

The US State Department recently warned that the “number of kidnappings throughout Mexico is of particular concern and appears to be on the rise. According to statistics published by the Mexican Secretaria de Gobernacion (SEGOB), during the first 11 months of 2013 kidnappings nationwide increased 32 percent over the same period in 2012.” Guerrero State (Acapulco) was listed with the highest numbers of kidnappings.

To the south of Mexico, the United Nations reports that Honduras “retains the world's highest murder rate.” Not surprisingly, El Salvador was listed as second and Venezuela third.

What is outrageous is the fact, as the UN reported, that “nearly 40 percent of the 437,000 murders committed globally in 2012 took place in the Americas, with the majority in Central and South America.”

Where is the progress that so many local nation leaders and their political cronies regurgitate in this hemisphere? Where does the US officially stand, beyond token meetings with Mexican and other Latin American government leaders and throwing mega-dollars their way for so-called "assistance"? Where is the oversight and quality control of US efforts and resources expended anywhere in Latin America at this point?

While many of the northern tier nations of Central America are facing nearly identical problems, Mexico too faces a war-like dilemma. Recently, Mexico’s army again deployed additional forces to two of the northern states, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, which border the US. This was reportedly done to reinforce police and military units in place.

However, many of these saturation strategies simply displace the organized criminal insurgents that move to areas of lesser attention and control, where there are essentially no policing infrastructures. They remain in those locations until they are swept again.

And, throughout all of this arrests and successful prosecutions are rare – while the number of deaths mount measurably.

Evidence of the “sweeping effect," from Mexico into northern cone nations of Central America, was partly reflective of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon's aggressive military response to violence and crime. However, Mexico’s southern borders, with Guatemala and Belize, are virtual revolving doors.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who pledged to build a better police infrastructure and to remove the military from enforcement venues, has had little recourse but to fight superior armed criminals head on, while he too seeks to protect his crime fighters from ruthless criminals and ambushes. Even the US Border Patrol is requesting additional training to include “cover and concealment” strategies to combat resourceful and well trained criminal insurgents.

These insurgent-like threats continue to graphically demonstrate the new organized crime-terror nexus.  Fear, intimidation, political tampering, corruption, kidnappings, murders, bombings, and torture seem to have become the norm in the Americas. The organizational similarities of organized crime and terror have definitely merged to essentially form a single merchant of violence and death. Groups have emerged as third generation gangs possessing extensive, asymmetrical warfare capabilities.

Interdiction efforts along the lines of a successful counterinsurgency campaign can neutralize insurgents, secure populations, and reestablish government legitimacy where threatened.  Without order and the rule of law the insurgents succeed by inflicting chaos and disorder everywhere they can. These governments will fail unless they can maintain order and reduce fear. Building effective policing infrastructures must eventually follow military success in stabilizing regions in which competent investigations and arrests can lead to prosecutable victories, with extended incarceration for violent offenders.

The primary goals of transnational organized criminals are to gain power, territory and control for massive profits, and to remain in place doing so. They exploit voids in leadership and rule of law in cities to gain this power and control. Corruption of police, military and government is thus a bonanza for them – if there is resistance, they simply kill, and the numbers are astronomical. Anyone helping to attain their goals is an ally until they no longer serve a need.

Much of the dilemma ahead regarding these problems is that transnational criminal organizations are flexible and adaptable; as well, they receive cooperation from guerrilla groups, and suspected rogue government military and security officials.

The South and Central American corridor into Mexico and the US is a primary conduit of criminal organizations, where evildoers flourish and kill with impunity – in both directions.  To adequately address security challenges and be effective against these enemies of the state, there must be cooperation and consistent proactive dialogue between neighboring nations. Without these critical elements of support, higher economic and social costs will continue to significantly impede development, increase crime, and further retard the quality of life for millions.

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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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