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Column 062314 Brewer

Monday, June 23, 2014

USA, Mexico and Central American Cross-Border Security Threats

By Jerry Brewer

From the borders of the northern tier nations of Central American in this hemisphere, and further north to Mexico and the U.S. border, a diverse mix of irregular, terrorist-like, conventional, and organized criminal capabilities continue to be employed asymmetrically with increase and domination.

The escalating threats to human life and property now know no boundaries within these regions, as well as an aggressive disregard for even the slimmest elements of the rule of law or any respect for neighboring nation’s borders.

Governments appear to have lost any ability to apply coherent and cognitive capabilities or strategic approaches to properly understand, assess and meet these criminal insurgent threats, and the violent and bloody conflicts.

Proactive approaches require agility, speed, and an acute focus towards stopping the ritual slaughter throughout these regions of the Americas. Murder with impunity has claimed the lives thousands of innocents; policemen, senior police and other government officials, as well as media representatives and journalists.

Targets in Mexico have included the acting head of the Mexican federal police, one of the highest-ranking federal law enforcement officers in Mexico, who had been in charge of antidrug operations nationwide prior to his promotion to acting chief. The director of investigations against organized crime, in Mexico's former Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), was also shot and killed by several assailants when he returned to his house.

How difficult is it for government policy makers and administrators to understand the difference between crime and an insurgency of terror and murder with impunity?

It should be clear that this is so much more than moving illicit drugs for a voracious demand. The threats posed to homelands and borders are those where local, transnational, and organized criminals scan the environment before them for opportunities and apply the level of violence necessary to affect the will and psyche of others so these enemies of the state can achieve a myriad of objectives. And they are doing it effectively.

Their calculated use of violence (or threats of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals is essentially done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear. Just how do they accomplish this when so many public officials with required oversight duties to assess and monitor threats to the homeland describe them as common criminals or drug dealers?

The answer is overwhelmingly simple. They do it with AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, rocket launchers, hand grenades, and much more.

There is an estimated cache of 2 million military weapons in Central America alone. Much of that terrain is a violent corridor of insurgent activity, with points of transit for contraband via more than 3,000 clandestine airstrips. Too, the Colombian guerrilla army FARC has been routinely linked to this violence, and the transportation of drugs and weapons to Costa Rica via Panama. The skills of these transnational criminal insurgents include sophisticated surveillance, counter surveillance and other reconnaissance activities that are adaptive in organizational design and for capabilities development and execution.

Many uninformed pundits have shown tendencies to water down the skills of these violent groups. In the earlier days, Mexican “drug cartels” found the incredible value of recruiting armed enforcers, trained soldiers and contract assassins that have tactical expertise to defend and facilitate their operational acts. Quite a number of well-trained Mexican Army conscript soldiers deserted the military to form the "Zetas,” that also attracted Guatemalan "Kaibiles," Special Forces that are stark examples of these elite trained groups of hired killers.

Via this original mindset of power and massive financial acquisition through illegal activities, and subsequent criminal and political agendas backed by military and paramilitary trained gangsters armed with military grade explosives and assault weapons, recruitment and training have continued and extended to gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. As well, MS-13 gang members in El Salvador have recently used a façade of peace talks to acquire power that now rivals any competing insurgent competitor. This, much like the FARC guerrillas.

Those fighting these ruthless enemies, who have superior weapons and sophisticated tactical and intelligence-led maneuvers, such as Mexico’s Navy and Marines, know well of their opponents strengths and skills, having been routinely targeted and ambushed by this capable enemy.

The failure of the U.S. and Mexico, to assess threats that were growing along the shared border in the early 2000's, with both sides claiming the incidents were little more than "a few drug deals gone bad," allowed a bold and aggressive criminal movement to continue to arm, maneuver and organize fluidly across Mexico and into the northern cone of Central America rapidly. And those nations have paid the price and lost the ability for routine law enforcement capabilities to police many criminal activities.  Furthermore, those Central American nations now have the highest homicide rates in the world.

The common agenda for these regions must now concentrate on the value of human life, and the safety and security of citizens.  The rule of law must prevail regardless. The fluid movement of transnational criminals must be aggressively confronted and contained, and governments in the path that are part of the solution must be supported.

Demobilizing or disarming the criminal insurgents will require a united international model, with a goal and methodology to disrupt and deny the insurgent networks operating flexibility. As well, a limited criminal counterinsurgency doctrine to cripple infrastructure should include a major focus on interdicting and decreasing cartel revenues and related finances. 

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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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