Archive for October 6, 2010

LATIN AMERICA: Seeing Drug Wars as Insurgencies

Not Just a Gringo Problem

Customs and Border Protection photo

In the Sept. 24 Friday Foto we we wrote U.S. Marines doing some exchange training with the Kaibiles, tough-as-nails, jungle warfare experts in the Guatemalan Army.

At the time we mentioned the Kaibiles were no strangers to controversy – with unorthodox (some would say borderline sadistic) training methods and a brutal past in Guatemala’s decades-long civil war.

Now a recent study by a Washington think tank notes that some former members of the Kaibiles have been working as enforcers (read: killers) for a Mexican drug gang, Los Zetas. The report, issued by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) also notes that Guatemala “has become a haven for various drug trafficking organizations” including the Zetas, who set up a training camp in the untamed part of northern Guatemala that borders Mexico.

Zetas increasingly recruit ex-Kaibiles, the special operations division of the Guatemalan army,” says the report: Crime Wars: Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security, which likens the narcotics-fueled violence and corruption in Latin America to a “criminal insurgency.”

In addition to Guatemala, Mexican drug gangs – like the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa Federation and the Beltran Leyva Organization – are dealing directly with cocaine producers in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Meanwhile, the Colombian leftist rebels, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), are financing their 40-year war against the government in Bogota with drug money and using Venezuela as a narcotics shipping point, the report says.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese-based terror group, have both made business inroads – legal and illegal – into Latin America, according to experts cited in the report.

Written by Robert Killebrew, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and Jennifer Bernal, a CNAS researcher, the report says interlocking narcotics cartels operate within 14 sovereign nations in the Americas and pose a threat to civil society in those countries.“It’s not just a Gringo problem,” says Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings institution fellow and expert on military conflict and illegal economies. She spoke at a panel discussion of the report’s findings last week.

But the report says the insurgency should not be viewed as an attempt to take over any government – but rather a drive to destabilize it and destroy its credibility with its citizens – making it easier to do business.Since the cartels’ survival depends on controlling regions where governmental control is non-existent and populations may be impoverished and alienated,” the report says successful strategies “are fundamentally counterinsurgency strategies developed by the concerned states themselves and supported by the U.S.”

The risk to the U.S. doesn’t stop at the Mexican border, the reports says, noting Mexican drug cartels operate “branch offices” in more than 230 U.S. and Canadian cities. The Salvadoran gang, MS-13, operates in 30 U.S. States.


Mexican Drug Gang operations in the U.S. (Center for a New American Security)


Whatever national strategy is developed to counter the cartel insurgency, the focus must ultimately include supporting local police departments and the cop on the beat, who confronts the gangs every day,” the report declared.

Unlike Mexico or Colombia, where thousands have been killed in open warfare between drug gangs and the government, there is no counter insurgency role within U.S. borders for the U.S. military, says Killebrew, a former Special Forces officer and Airborne commander.

He says the U.S. Defense Department can support and train militaries and law enforcement agencies in other countries – but must maintain a small footprint. It’s better for the U.S. to train locals in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance than to do it for them, he adds.

We have to help people help themselves … the further in the background we can be, the better off we all are going to be,” Killebrew says.

October 6, 2010 at 11:28 pm 1 comment


October 2010


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