Globe, Latin America

Drug violence in Latin America

The growth in the trafficking of drugs, arms and people, with frequent and lethal violent episodes, are seriously affecting most of the countries in the region. This happens despite having spent millions on security measures against organised crime.

María Julia Mayoral

A study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) classifies Central America amongst the most insecure regions of the world due to activities carried out by drug traffickers and gangs.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said the drug violence is raging in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, members of the North Central American Triangle.

According to the World Drug Report 2010, the Northern Triangle isthmus has the highest murder rate in the world with high levels of other forms of crime.

Mexican government figures confirm the existence of similar trends in the northern nation with a murder rate of over 36,000 from December 2006 to present.

There is an abundance of reports about the detention of drug lords and the seizure of drugs in the continent, however the social questions raised because of the increase of insecurity epitomised by the marches in Mexico are on the rise.

So far, most of the government’s strategies on drugs are highly militarised as well as including repressive methods, which, by themselves are unable to eliminate or counter the scourge.

The recent discoveries of dozens of bodies in mass graves, awarded to groups linked to the drug in Mexico and Guatemala, demonstrate the severity of the problem.

In the Mexico case, the 59 bodies were buried on a ranch in the municipality of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, ie in the same place where in August 2010; a drug gang massacred 72 illegal immigrants.

The Mexican Secretary of Public Security admitted that this region is a battleground between the cartels of Los Zetas and those of el Gulfo, in a dispute over control of drug smuggling routes into the United States.

INCB analysis confirms that the United States remains the biggest consumer of drugs and the main destination of remittances from international drug trafficking.

Following the massacre in Guatemala, also accredited to Los Zetas, the government said that drug trafficking has become globalised and it is necessary to adopt a regional strategy to combat it.
Shortly after the murder of 27 workers in Petén, Guatemala, Presidents Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Alvaro Colom (Guatemala), Mauricio Funes (El Salvador) and Porfirio Lobo (Honduras) asked the international community for “strong support.”

The document stresses the insecurity, the impact of organized crime are serious threats for the peoples and governments of Central America.

According to reports in the recent OAS General Assembly, governments in the area requested financial support of $ 900 million from the United States, Europe and other possible donors towards the war on drugs.

The request is based on several projects to be reviewed at the end of the month in Guatemala during the first international conference in support of regional security strategy, organized by the Secretary General of the Central American Integration System (CAIS).

The El Salvador Finance Minister, Hugo Martinez, explained that the strategy will have at least four areas of policy aimed at security: prevention, prosecution of crime, reintegration and rehabilitation.

With regard to monetary contributions, The US President Barack Obama, pledged $ 200 million during his first tour of Latin America last March, but apparently this will not be additional funds but a readjustment of previous arrangements.

Meanwhile, the Merida Initiative, considered by INCB, as a multi-year program of cooperation in security matters involving the United States, Mexico and Central American countries, has millions in salary, but their effectiveness is questionable.

In 2008 and 2009, the U.S. government contributed around one 1.3 billion dollars to fund the initiative, the INCB informed.

According to experts, the war on drugs is another one of U.S. activities outside its territory, which began 40 years ago, and intensified in the 80’s in Colombia and moved to Mexico in the 90’s, El Universal stated.

The Researcher periodical quoted Antonio Payan from University of Texas at El Paso, who described debilitation suffered by Mexico as brutal because of the attack on organized crime, that the US deems unacceptable because the U.S. is “wholly responsible” for the misfortune .

Mexico invests billions of dollars and suffers thousands of deaths in a war against drugs, which in reality is instigated by the U.S. outside its territory, the Academic informed.

The Centre for Social Research and Public Opinion of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies reported that annual net profit from organized crime as $7.5 billion , and at least a quarter of these illicit resources have infiltrated the financial system.

According to research, most of the illicit money crosses the border with the United States in cash from organizations in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte and Los Angeles.

Today the Obama Administration is in the driving seat of the CARSI (Central American Regional Security Initiative) to supposedly contain drug trafficking.

But if the Merida plan is taken as a point of reference, and more than 36 thousand deaths in Mexico as a result of organized crime, then this is not at all encouraging.

Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) William Brownfield, said that President Obama’s idea “is to create a new structure, a type of umbrella over all existing initiatives, accepting that threats are shared between Central America, Colombia and Mexico.”

He referred to CAIS’s efforts in this matter, the Plan Colombia (started in 2001 with a Washington’s contribution of $6 billion) and the Merida initiative (masterminded by the George W Bush administration in 2007, with a donation of $400).

However, the fundamental issue lies not only in the availability of money, but in the where of resources are destined.

According to President Funes, those who think that the drug problem is unique to Mexico and Central America are mistaken.

The major consumer markets are not exactly our countries and increasing investments in money laundering are not performed in our region, he said.

Central is undergoing a complex process of insecurity, poverty and lack of development, with highly dependent and frail economies, he informed.

Hence the importance of policies to encourage redistribution of income and the creation of jobs Funes stated.

State Drug Terrorism

White House’s supposed interest in the external war on drugs generates fear due to a history of military aggression, coups d’état and subversive manoeuvres that typify their relationships with the rest of the continent.

For those in favour of State autonomy such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Washington uses the alleged war on drugs to try to overthrow governments and violate the sovereignty of Latin American countries.

Both Venezuela and Bolivia were forced to end cooperation with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).

In September 2008, Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, for his ties to opposing groups who were preparing a military coup, and two months after stopped assistance from the DEA implicated in supporting dissident groups.

The Diario de Las Américas quoted General Douglas Fraser, head of US South Command, highlighted that the increase of US military presence in Latin America, is a response to “an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

Quoted in the Journal of the Americas, Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, said the increased military presence in Latin America, home to meet “an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

These include the trafficking of drugs and people, coupled with a likely mass exodus of people hit by natural phenomena.

Excluding other instruments of war, the northern power increased troop deployment in Central America and the Caribbean, along with the number of military bases in Colombia and Panama.

In assessing the issue, Cuban leader Fidel Castro predicted in November 2009 that on the rise of a more right-wing sector, the US Executive branch and of government allied with them of the same ilk in Latin America, the region will suffer negative consequences.

Then, “it would be clearly seen what these absolutely unjustifiable military bases mean that currently pose a threat to all the South American people under the pretext of the combating drug trafficking.” an article published on November 11, 2009 in Cubadebate warned.

During the recent meeting of the OAS, Bolivia Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca, and representatives of Ecuador, María Isabel Salvador, and Nicaragua, Denis Moncada, also stressed the relationship between poverty and social inequality with violence. (PL)

(Translated by Betty Poku – Email:

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