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Column 032315 Brewer

Monday, March 23, 2015

Continuing Crime and Insecurity in Northern Central America

By Jerry Brewer

A continuing campaign of unspeakable brutality is morphing through Central America’s northern tier of nations, with a myriad of violent crimes and death.  

The stability of democracies within the northern triangle, especially El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, could continue at great risk. As well, this instability within the poorly defined borders of the triangle region continues to pose significant threats to Mexico, the southern border of the United States, and beyond.

This certainly is much more than what some government officials refer to as a “disturbing trend.” It must be an urgent national security priority.

After all, this area of the Western Hemisphere is among the most violent and highly dangerous regions in the entire world. The enemies are a diverse mix of irregular, terrorist-like, conventional, and organized criminal capabilities that continue to be employed asymmetrically with increase and domination.

What is preventing a sound methodology or strategy for effectively disrupting and denying these local and transnational organized criminals operating flexibility?

To impact and boldly mitigate these threats universally through this named theater of illicit and savage criminal movement, aggressively enforced and unified national strategies must be deployed proactively and strategically for maximum impact and results.

Some will say that this is precisely what Mexico did under former president Felipe Calderon for six years. Calderon aggressively fought what was described as a drug war, with a primary focus on drug cartel hierarches and drug seizures.

It was a valiant effort. But did the successes result in sustainable achievement?

More importantly, Calderon’s use of Mexico’s military was a must as terror was instilled with traditional terrorist-style modus operandi of beheadings, bombings (IEDs), war-like weapons, and the propaganda by the drug insurgents routinely murdering scores of journalists, local and state government officials, police chiefs, military and others. These narcoterrorists boldly ambushed Mexico’s military at every opportunity. Police were no match and poorly trained and organized to engage paramilitary-like attackers.

It may be that the true focus of Mexico’s long tenured and perplexing dilemma was its failure to define the problem as a criminal insurgency rather than a drug war. Drugs have been an issue for decades, moving through Mexico as a pipeline from South America to a voracious multi-billion dollars U.S. illicit drug demand.

President Enrique Peña Nieto started his term, in contrast to Calderon, by stating he wanted to fight crime rather than track down drug lords.

President Peña Nieto’s administration found a necessity in continuing to use the power of the military and federal police. Last week, in Jalisco, a gendarmerie commander said officers were checking on reports of an attack on municipal police when they were ambushed. Five gendarmerie division officers were killed.

Peña Nieto has learned that the increasing toll of death and violence is not simply being conducted by the so-called drug traffickers.

As throughout the northern triangle, murder for hire, kidnappings/extortion, human/sex trafficking, robbery and similar terror inflicted on innocents, as well as rivals, is a highly lucrative multi-million dollar business inflicted by a variety of criminals.

Many people are being killed simply as victims of violent street crime, or migrants robbed and killed and dumped in landfills, plus the phenomena of femicide.

The rates of femicide differ depending on the specific country, “but of the countries with the top 25 highest femicide rates, 50% are in Latin America,” with the number one being El Salvador.

According to Rashida Manjoo, who was appointed to the position of Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women for the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2009, “Many of these young femicide victims were raped, tortured, and mutilated. Women in many Latin American countries are exposed to a heightened level of vulnerability due to unsafe environments, poverty, narcotraffic, and organized crime.”

How do these regions match up to world homicide rates? “The isthmus connecting North and South America continues to lead the world in murder rates, with four of the top five rates in the world in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize.”

Latin America continues to lead the world, with 31 percent of the world’s murders despite having approximately 9 percent of the world’s population. Honduras remains the deadliest country in the world. Venezuela now holds the title of second-deadliest country in the world, but its murder rate is almost half of the rate in Honduras. Belize’s homicide rate is third; and El Salvador — previously second in the world — is now fourth.

There is an estimated minimum cache of 2 million military weapons in Central America. These weapons include AK-47 assault rifles, M-16s, RPG projectiles, rocket launchers, hand grenades, and others.

Governments must apply coherent and cognitive capabilities and strategic approaches to properly understand, assess and meet these criminal insurgent threats.   

The common agenda in these areas must concentrate on the value of human life, and on the safety and security of citizens.  The rule of law must prevail. The fluid movement of the flexible and adaptable transnational criminals must be aggressively confronted and contained.

In the history of traditional policing, it is hard to fathom that the need to evolve into paramilitary strategies and war-like engagement would become as necessary as it has in Mexico and Central America.


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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