Posts tagged ‘drug smuggling’
LAT AM REVIEW: Colombian Attack; Mexican Drug Lord Seized, U.S. Coast Guard Focus on Western Hemisphere, Rio Defense Expo
U.S. Condemns Rebel Attack.
Eleven Colombian soldiers were killed in fighting with Marxist guerrillas last week (April 14), prompting Colombia’s president to resume air attacks against rebel camps.
The attack and the government’s response have many observers worried they could jeopardize peace talks seeking to end a 50-year insurgency that has cost thousands of lives in Colombia.
A spokesman for the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — which has been trying to overthrow the government since the 1960s — claimed the soldiers initiated the fighting near Cauca in western Colombia. But President Juan Manuel Santos called it a deliberate attack by the FARC and ordered the resumption of bombing raids on rebel targets. Seventeen other soldiers were wounded in the skirmish and one guerrilla was also killed.
Despite the violence, the Voice of America reported the two-year-old peace talks resumed on Thursday (April 16) in Havana, Cuba where Colombian government officials and FARC commanders are trying to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 220,000 and displaced millions since 1964.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement April 17 condemning “the brutal attack in Cauca orchestrated by the FARC.” The brief statement called the attack a “direct violation of the unilateral ceasefire FARC committed to” last December. “We support President Santos’ decision to continue negotiations but also lift his halt of aerial bombardment of FARC,” the statement added.
The State Department said it reaffirms “our continuing support to the government of Colombia in its efforts to end the nation’s 50 year conflict.”
In February, the FARC said it would stop recruiting fighters younger than 17. Then in March, the two sides announced an initiative to work together to remove land mines, the New York Times reported. Soon afterward, Santos ordered a one-month halt to the aerial bombing of FARC encampments. Just a week prior to the latest attack, the president extended the bombing respite for another month.
Since the peace talks began, there have been other clashes with the FARC that resulted in a large number of casualties. In July 2013, the military reported that 15 soldiers died when the rebels attacked an oil pipeline, the Times added.
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Mexican Drug Lord Captured.
The head of another transnational drug cartel has been captured.
On Sunday (April 19) Mexican authorities said they have captured the man who has led the Juarez drug cartel since last year’s arrest of then-leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the Associated Press reported.
National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said Jesus Salas Aguayo was caught Friday (April 17) about 130 kilometers south of the border metropolis of Ciudad Juarez. One of Salas’ bodyguards was killed and another was arrested.
Rubido said Salas Aguayo is linked to a 2010 car bombing in Ciudad Juarez, as well as a 2012 bar attack that killed 15, and the 2009 slaying of a protected witness in El Paso. The website of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says Salas Aguayo is wanted in the United States for possession and distribution of narcotics and for conspiracy.
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Coast Guard Focus.
The U.S. Coast Guard says it’s not enough to seize thousands of pounds of cocaine at sea or even arrest the people transporting illegal drugs by boat.
Instead, it’s crucial to defeat the transnational organized crime (TOC) networks behind the illicit commerce in narcotics and people, according to the Coast Guard’s Western Hemisphere Strategy.
“Last year alone. the Coast Guard took 91 metric tons of cocaine out of the [trafficking] stream,” Lieutenant Commander. Devon Brennan told a briefing on the first day of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition. He noted that seizure figure is three times the amount of drugs seized by all U.S. law enforcement agencies “including along the southwestern border.”
But going after transnational cartels is only part of the Coast Guard’s regional strategy. “In the next decade, the Coast Guard must confront significant challenges to maritime safety, efficiency and security in the Western Hemisphere,” the Strategy states, identifying three priorities over the next 10 years: combatting [criminal] networks, Securing Borders and Safeguarding Commerce.
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Brazil Defense Expo.
One of the biggest defense conferences in the Americas, Latin America Aero & Defense (LAAD 2015), just ended in Rio de Janeiro.
“Despite budgetary uncertainties, the Brazilian Army remains steadfast in the pursuit of its key strategic projects,” according to IHS Jane’s website.
The army’s seven key strategic projects include the SISFRON border-monitoring system; a cyber defense project; the Guarani Strategic Project for (PEE Guarani) for a family of wheeled amphibious armored personnel carriers (APCs); and the Attainment of Full Operational Capability (OCOP) project, which aims to equip the army at a minimum level of readiness to guarantee the homeland defense mission.
Brazil’s defense strategy includes air and naval asset acquisitions to assert Brazilian control over its deepwater offshore oil reserves and to secure the waters of the Amazon Basin, which Brasilia considers a natural resources commodity as valuable as oil.
A U.S. Army Green Beret (right) watches Honduran commandos kick in the door as the team prepares to enter and breach a room during battle training inside a “shoot house” at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Green Berets are assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, which operates primarily in Latin America.
The commandos, members of a counter narcotics and anti-trafficking force, trained for the first time with U.S. Special Forces in February. Foreign Internal Defense — teaching skills to partner militaries so they can protect their own countries from foreign troops or homegrown insurgents — is a key mission of Green Berets and other U.S. special operations forces.
To see more photos, click here.
LATIN AMERICA: Mexico Arrests Drug Kingpin; Brazil’s Navy; Brazil-Indonesia Chill; Colombia Stops Chinese Ship; Chinese Investment [UPDATE]
UPDATES WITH new stories on Brazil, Chinese investment in Latin America (in italics)
Nabbed: Zetas Cartel Chief.
Mexican police and soldiers on Wednesday (March 4) captured the man widely considered to be the most important remaining leader of the brutal Zetas drug cartel.
The Associated Press reports that Omar Trevino Morales – alias Z-42 – was arrested – without a shot fired – in a pre-dawn raid in a wealthy suburb of the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Morales is the younger brother of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales – described as the most bloodthirsty leader of Mexico’s most violent drug gang, the Zetas. The gang originally was formed by deserters from an elite army unit who provided security for another narcotics ring, the Gulf Cartel, based along the Texas border.
The elder Trevino Morales was captured in 2013. Nearly a year earlier, Mexican marines killed the Zetas’ other leader, Herberto Lazcano, known as “El Lazca.”
It was the second high-profile capture of a drug lord in the last week, Reuters reported (via the Voice of America). Servando Gomez, leader of the Knights Templar drug gang, that operates in Michoacan state. The back-to-back arrests lend a boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s efforts to battle organized crime. A wave of violence, spurred by battles between authorities and drug gangs — and in-fighting among the gangs themselves — has claimed more than 100,000 lives in Mexico since 2007.
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Brazil’s Naval Maneuvers.
The Brazilian Navy is in the midst of its biggest operation ever — including 250 vessels, 10 aircraft and 15,000 service members — to police the country’s lakes, rivers and 5,250 miles (8,500 kilometers) of Atlantic coastline.
Operation Amazonia Azul (Blue Amazonia) reflects the strategic importance Brzil’s leaders have placed on enforcing jurisdiction over the country’s territorial waters, according to EFE, the Spanish language news service. Brazil is South America’s largest country in area and population (and fifth worldwide in both categories).
Blue Amazonia is he second operation of its kind in a year, a naval spokesman told EFE, adding that it is the largest to date and includes all Brazil’s naval resources.
Brazil’s national defense strategy focuses on protection of its natural resources — both the fresh water supplies of Amazon River basin and massive undersea oil reserves. In addition to helping the navy prepare for its role as defender of Brazil’s oil reserves off the Atlantic coast, the exercise serves as a test run of security measures for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio.
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Diplomatic relations are strained between Brazil and potential arms customer Indonesia after the world’s most populous Muslim country, executed six convicts, including a Brazilian citizen, for drug trafficking in January.
Since then, Brazil has withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia (as has the Netherlands, which also saw one of its citizens executed). A second Brazilian national remains on death row in Indonesia.
But Brazil’s defense minister say the tension between the two countries will soon be overcome and are unlikely to affect their potential weapon purchase deal. Defense Minister Jacques Wagner said Tuesday (March 3) that there is no “crisis” between the two nations. Wagner added that the momentary strain in the relationship will not influence Indonesia’s purchase of rocket launchers and 16 fighter jets from Brazil, according to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua.
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China Boat Seized
Columbia authorities have detained the captain of a Chinese cargo ship bound for Cuba when investigators discovered a shipment of explosives and other arms on board.
The ship was stopped over the weekend in the Caribbean port of Cartegena, officials said Wednesday (March 4). About 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 artillery shells were found on board the Da Dan Xia, but the ship’s manifest said it was carrying grain products, the BBC reported.
Wu Hong, the ship’s captain. Would be charged with weapons trafficking, the Colombian attorney general’s office said. The Chinese foreign ministry said the captain had no violated any international rules. A ministry spokeswoman said China was “communicating with the parties on this matter.” No immediate comment from Cuban authorities.
The incident comes nearly two years after a North Korean ship was detained in Panama for illegally transporting war material from Cuba to North Korea through the Panama Canal.
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China’s Latin American Play.
China is fast overtaking the United States as a lender and investor in Latin America.
Chinese banks increased investments in Latin America by 71 percent last year, to $22 billion, and the country plans to double its trade volume with the Central and South American region over the next decade. This comes as U.S. power in the Americas is starting to erode. U.S. cash is actually fleeing the region as investors see better deals at home or elsewhere, according to CNN Money.
“What we’re looking at is not simply an economic play. It’s an economic play that also has political and strategic undertones,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington tells the CNN website. Outside of economic ties, Berman points out that China has helped fund Argentina’s nuclear power plant, launched Bolivia’s first satellite and is rumored to be helping Venezuela start its own drone program.
According to estimates published by the China-Latin America Finance Database, Chinese loans exceed the combined worth of those by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, the BBC reported.
But as China’s economic boom slows, the effects are being felt in countries around the world that have seen their economies rise on commodity sales to China. Latin America delivered iron ore and copper to build Chinese office and apartment buildings, oil to fuel trucks and cars as well as soybeans and meat to feed a growing middle class. China’s share of Latin American exports grew tenfold between 2000 and 2013, according to The Financialist website.
But as the world’s second-largest economy shifts away from manufacturing and exports and toward domestic consumption, it has helped pull the bottom out from under what was effectively a decade-long commodities supercycle. The spot price of iron ore sits at just over half what it was a year ago at $68 a ton (down from $128) while copper spot prices have plummeted from above $3.20 a pound to $2.68, reported The Financialist — a digital magazine sponsored by Credit Suisse.
As Nouriel Roubini, Chairman of Roubini Global Economics said at Credit Suisse’s recent Latin American Investment Conference in Sao Paulo, “Most of the economies in Latin America were not ready to adjust to this change in commodity prices.” GDP growth in Latin America has fallen steadily, from 6.3 in 2010 to 1.2 percent in 2014. The World Bank’s statistical models predict that if Chinese GDP growth drops 1 percentage point over the course of two years, Latin American output would shrink by 0.6 percentage point as a result, the website reported.
Cold War Frozen?
The United States and Cuba are ending more than 50 years of suspicion and hostility with both countries agreeing to resume diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday (December 17).
There are many angles to this story, good news for banks and maybe American automakers and U.S. antique car collectors and connoisseurs of fine rum and Cuban cigars — and baseball, don’t forget baseball.
But here we’re wondering what the security implications are. Will Venezuela lose another supporter in Latin America? Will Russia? And will this aid the war on drugs? Last year, at a Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, the head of U.S. Southern Command, said one of the biggest ideological opponents of the United States in the Western Hemisphere was also one of the biggest allies in the war against illegal narcotics.
Kelly noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police units of U.S.-friendly nations in the region are cooperating in the battle against drug trafficking “but of all the partners we deal with, the Nicaraguans are probably our most effective allies in Central America,” even though “we don’t like them and they don’t like us.”
Despite the political and ideological differences between the two countries, Kelly said he wanted to “give a shout out” to the Nicaraguan Coast Guard and Navy for their aggressive policing of the littoral (shallow) waters, which forces drug dealers out on to the open sea where they are more vulnerable to U.S. surveillance.
LATIN AMERICA: Brazil Election; Brazil Buying Gripens; BRICS Talk Military Products; SOUTHCOM and Ebola
Brazil Re-elects Rousseff.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has been re-elected in a tight race, defeating a challenge by a pro-business candidate of the Social Democracy Party, Aecio Neves. The left-leaning Rousseff won 51.6 percent of the vote Sunday (October 26), compared to Neves’ 48.4 percent polling, according to The Associated Press.
The AP called the bruising election contest “the tightest race the nation has seen since its return to democracy three decades ago.” Rousseff is a protégé of her immediate predecessor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who hand-picked her to take his place in 2010. Their Workers Party has held onto Brazil’s presidency since 2003. The contest came down to which candidate voters thought would be best for Brazil’s sagging economy — the world’s seventh-largest.
The majority of voters went with Rousseff’s policies which favor the poor and middle class Brazilians. But the country’s markets saw it differently. Brazilian stocks and the nation’s currency plunged in trading around the world Monday, USA Today reported. The country’s currency, the real, dropped 1.91 percent against the U.S. dollar on Monday. But Brazil’s markets rebounded Tuesday (October 28). The country’s currency and stock markets closed higher as bargain hunters stepped in after Monday’s sharp selloff, according to Reuters.
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Gripen Jets for Brazil
Just a few hours after the election results were announced, Brazil and Swedish aircraft maker, Saab, said they had reached a $5.4 billion (39.3 billion Swedish krona) for 36 new Saab Gripen NG jetfighter.
Saab will start delivering the first jets to the Brazilian Air Force in 2019 with deliveries running until 2024, according to Defense News.
The deal calls for 28 single-seat jets and eight two-seat aircraft. The two seaters will be developed with Brazilian industry, Defense News said, adding that Saab officials say negotiations are underway between Brazil and Sweden on a possible deal to lease Gripens until the first batch of Gripens are delivered.
Saab beat out Boeing’s F/A-18 and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighters last year as the winning contractor. The deal is the biggest order Saab aircraft have ever landed, Defense News said.
The full contract comes into effect once export control-related authorizations and other conditions are met, Saab said. The Gripensare replacing Brazil’s fleet of Mirage 2000 fighters, according to MarketWatch.
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Brazil, Russia, South Africa Talking
According to the Russian news agency TASS, three and maybe four members of the emerging economies group known as the BRICS are discussing the possibility of joint development of “military purpose products.”
TASS quoted the deputy director of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation Anatoly Punchuk as saying “In terms of BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], a series of major projects with India is being implemented now. South Africa shows more interest in cooperation with Russia in the joint development and production of military weaponry.”
Punchuk spoke in France where he is leading the Russian delegation at Euronaval 2014, an international naval defence and maritime exhibition and conference).
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SOUTHCOM Chief on Ebola
The head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) says the potential spread of the Ebola virus into Central and South America is a possibility that bears careful monitoring.
Speaking at the National Defense University in Washington earlier this month (October 8) Marine Corps General John Kelly said if the deadly virus that has killed 4,000 people in Africa makes its way to the Western Hemisphere, many countries, like Haiti, will have little ability to deal with an outbreak, according to DoD News.
“So, much like West Africa, it will rage for a period of time,” Kelly said. If the disease gets to countries like Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, will cause a panic “and here will be mass migration,” Kelly predicted.
He added that SOUTHCOM is in close contact with U.S. Africa Command to see what practices are working there.
On another issue, Kelly told the university audience that Central America needs a campaign plan to combat transnational crime syndicates, reinstitute the rule of law and regain sovereignty over their own territories.
Citing Colombia as a success story, Kelly said the government in Bogota shows what a country can do to throw off narcoterrorists and reassert government control. “They are a great example of what can be done so long as a government and a people — along with some help from the United States” work together towards a common goal, DoD News reported.
Colombia battled FARC leftist rebels for six decades — half of that time fighting violent narcotics cartels as well — before restoring the rule of law and re-establishing security throughout the country.
El Salvador, Guatemala and El Salvador are in the same situation Colombia was in in the mid-1980s, Kelly said.
More Eyes in the Sky.
UPDATES with links to background information, photo of Multi-role Enforcment Aircraft.
WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s aviation chief says he would like to add a ninth tethered surveillance balloon to the radar-equipped, counter narcotics warning system along the southern U.S. border.
Randolph Alles, head of Customs and Border Protection’s Air & Marine Office, says he’d like to anchor the balloon, known as a tethered aerostat, on an island off the Southern California coast near the Mexican border — but it all depends on future funding, he told a homeland security conference Tuesday (October 7).
The low band radar-equipped Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) costs about $35 million a year to operate. “That’s not enough to keep the system going at current speed,” Alles told the Homeland Security Week conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
TARS was created in the 1980s by U.S. Customs – then part of the Treasury Department – to interdict cross border narcotics traffickers using small, low-flying airplanes. The lighter-than-air aerostats, once tethered to the ground by a cable, are stationed between 12,000 and 15,000 feet above the ground. The Defense Department took over the program in the 1990s and last year it was turned over to CBP, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Six of the current eight aerostat sites are located along the Southwest Border at Yuma and Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Deming, New Mexico; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas. There are also two additional sites monitoring the Caribbean — in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. Alles said it would cost about $15 million to acquire a new site and the aerostat, sensors and support equipment – not counting annual operating costs.
Alles, an assistant CBP commissioner and retired Marine Corps major general, says TARS needs a radar upgrade. While the system on board now is fine for tracking airplanes, he wants to get a maritime radar that can track vessels approaching the United States on the water.
The radar replacement is just one of the plans Alles has for improving sensors on all of CBP’s aircraft and maritime vessels. A 10-year capitalization program draws to an end in 2016. Alles said he and Air & Marine staff are working on a new recapitalization plan.
Alles’ goal is to integrate sensors with all CBP aviation platforms, including the P-3 Orion and Dash 8 fixed wing aircraft, Blackhawk helicopters and the Predator unmanned aircraft system. But so far, only $44 million is being sought in the next federal budget for two more King Air 350 twin-engine Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft, equipped with wide area marine search radar with air search capability and a ground moving target indicator..
Honduran commandos demonstrate their sniper and camouflage skills before a graduation ceremony in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 19, 2014. Soldiers from the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group and Colombian national policemen trained the commandos to succeed at missions like capturing high value narco-trafficking and criminal targets.
Among the distinguished guests at the ceremony was Brigadier General Sean Mulholland, the head of Special Operations Command South — the command that oversees Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and other special operations forces attached to U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for all of Latin America south of Mexico.
With shrinking defense budgets and more and more crises developing around the world, Pentagon planners have said the United States will have to rely more and more on partner nations like Honduras to defend themselves against insurgencies, narco cartels and terrorists.
To see more photos of this awards ceremony and some of the skills the Honduran commandos learned, click here.