Gringo Lost

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Posts Tagged ‘Mexico

An essay on criminal drug trafficking through Central America

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Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) from Mexico and South America are aggressively expanding their operations in Central America to bypass interdiction efforts on seaborne and airborne shipping routes. These DTOs take advantage of a new U.S. funded Pan-American Highway, weak and corrupted Central American governments, and connections with armed youth gangs to ship drugs by land into Mexico from South America.

This growth in land-based trafficking through Central America has increased violence in that region, particularly in the northern section of the isthmus, bordering Mexico. There, Mexican groups such as Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel compete for territory, recruiting youth “mara” gangs as enforcers and drug couriers. The expansion into Central America is part of a deliberate strategy by Mexican DTOs trying to augment their ability to get illegal narcotics into the United States from South America. Components of this strategy include establishing and holding transshipment lanes and pickup locations. Currently, it is less likely for narcotics to travel by land all the way from South America to Mexico, instead a combination of transit methods are used, which include littoral transit, aerial delivery, and overland transport.

Indications are that DTOs have established networks of front companies, expressly to help move contraband.  “Maras” recruited into trafficking are paid with drugs or with relatively small amounts of cash, which keeps them dependent on Mexican DTOs. Meanwhile, larger Central American criminal organizations, which could potentially rival the Mexican groups, are targeted for elimination.

Implemented in 2008, the Merida Initiative is the current U.S.-led effort to counter illegal drug trafficking in the region. There is a Central American component to the Initiative which aims to re-establish rule of law and increase security by disrupting the movement of criminals through the region. However, Central American governments claim their portion of the aid is too insignificant to adequately disrupt criminal activity.

Pan-American Highway in Peru

Increased drug trafficking through Central America has had a negative impact on the region’s governing and economic institutions. Inflation is fueled by laundered drug money, which passes its way through economies that widely use the U.S. dollar and have lax banking oversight. Judicial systems already flooded with drug-related criminal cases are simultaneously corrupted through bribery and intimidation. Furthermore, police forces are frequently outgunned with national militaries called in to support law enforcement efforts, which adds the risk of exposing more national security forces to corruption by their proximity to drug trafficking operations.

As Mexican DTOs continue their expansion into Central America, they will likely continue to maintain their paternal role with local youth gangs, while posing additional security risks to the state and exposing more individuals to drug addiction. These problems are compounded by the region’s systemic unemployment, which is especially high among males, 18-25 years old; the typical drug trafficking demographic. By establishing a larger foothold in the Central American region, Mexican DTOs will likely increase the volume of narcotics trafficking from South America. In the short-run, this may lead to pitched competition between DTOs and violent clashes for new territory.


Written by gringolost

September 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm

This week in illegal narcotics

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Three former presidents from Latin America wrote “The War on Drugs Is a Failure” in a Wall Street Journal opinion column. Their counter-proposal to the war on drugs included a paradigm shift in current drug policy based on three principles: “Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education, and aggressively combat organized crime.”

The three former presidents of Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico stated:

Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.

Youth drug use grew 62% in Argentina over the past decade.  While cocaine use in Mexico doubled in six years.

Over 300 La Familia cartel members were arrested in two days as part of operation “Project Coronado.”  The operation included coordination between over 3,000 law enforcement agents from the U.S. and Mexico.  During the two-day operation, $3.4 million was seized in U.S. currency, alongside 729 pounds of methamphetamine, 62 kilograms of cocaine, 967 pounds of marijuana, 144 weapons and 109 vehicles.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the Taliban earned 90-160 million dollars a year from taxing and smuggling illegal opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009.  This amount was double what they earned while in control of Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Taliban’s diversified financial portfolio, which includes revenues from the illegal drug industry, kidnapping and extortion, and financial backing from outside financiers.

From the NY Times, reporter Eric Schmitt writes:

Counterterrorism experts say the relationship of the insurgents to drug trafficking is shifting in an ominous direction. A United Nations report issued in August said that some opium-trafficking guerrillas had secretly stockpiled more than 10,000 tons of illegal opium — worth billions of dollars and enough to satisfy at least two years of world demand. The large stockpiles could bolster the insurgency’s war chest and further undercut the ability of NATO military operations to curb the flow of drug money to the Taliban.

Back to Latin America, Competition is fierce in Rio de Janeiro’s drug trade.  According to the Economist, Rio’s three big drug dealing organizations split total annual profits of only BRL$27 million (USD $15 million).  In contrast to Brazil’s typically inequitable economy, the wage structure of Rio’s organized drug-criminal enterprises “appear to be surprisingly flat,” meaning a greater percentage of the profits is distributed more evenly throughout the production chain.  The Economist reports “far from living like characters in an MTV hip-hop video, Rio’s dealers are operating at ‘close to break-even.'”

The children who died for their country.

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This week is a tremendously historical week for Mexico.  Not only is today particularly important because it is the day that Mexicans began their long-fight for independence from Spain, but this week in 1847 also marks the anniversary of the US occupation in Mexico City.

Beginning in early September, the occupation was intended to break the Mexican people’s will to fight against US territorial acquisitions north of the Rio Grande.  But, the inherently violent and imperialistic intervention has tormented the Mexican psyche ever since.

One legend that encapsulates Mexican resentment and pride is the legend of the Niños Héroes (Children Heroes). As the story goes, young teenage cadets stationed in the presidents castle at Chapultapec Park were being overrun by American marines.   Instead of giving up, these teenagers fought to the death as the Americans stormed the castle.  When all were dead or caputured and the end had come, one child refused to surrender but instead wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leaped to his death from the castle balcony, nearly 40 feet from the ground.


To commemorate fallen marines from the battle of Chapultapec, the US marine corps has decorated their dress uniform pants with a red line along the side that signifies the loss of American marines during the battle.

Happy Independence Day, Mexico!

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Today, or more accurately midnight tonight, will mark the 199th year that Miguel Hidalgo began Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain.  A Catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo marched under the banner of the Lady of Guadalupe; leading 50,000 men into the capital Mexico City.  Unfortunately, Hidalgo was repelled back and later executed.  But his fateful march has inspired Mexicans ever since, and to this day he is still known as the “Father of Mexico.”


Written by gringolost

September 15, 2009 at 12:01 am

Posting posts from better blogs makes this blog better

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From Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong blogs about how Carrots trump sticks for fostering cooperation.  Basing his post on a study done by David Rand at Harvard, Yong posits that rewards do better to foster good behavior then punishments do to prevent bad behavior.

From Yong:

[R]esults suggest that when people repeatedly cross each other’s paths, carrots are far better than sticks at fostering behaviour for the greater good. Not only do they lead to greater payoffs for everyone concerned but they minimise the threat of antisocial punishment, where freeloaders vengefully castigate the altruists. This behaviour has the ability to derail cooperation and while fairly rare in countries like the US or the UK, it is far more common in places like Greece and Oman. In such countries, the relative merits of rewards may be even greater.

From Group Intel, Hakim Hazin does the study of Mexican drug cartels a service by touching upon the religious peculiarities of the La Familia drug trafficking organization. His conclusion is perhaps the worst threat to Mexico’s security will come from drug gangs united by radicalism.

In Mexico’s Seeds of Radicalism, Hazin writes:

Mexican cartels are utilizing the benefits of radicalized faith in their war with the state and each other. They are seeking to implement ritualized devotion to a Higher Power and create social cohesion within their networks. Currently Santa Muerte is the deity of choice for most cartels, but La Familia Michoacana is turning to the Bible and cleverly preaching a different Gospel to further its strategic and political aims.

From Kings of War, Thomas Rid writes in Washington’s Afghan Brawl 10 assumptions are universal in the Afghan debate – whether you are for or against an expansion of the war.  Later, Rid warns that “words like ‘winning’ and ‘victory’ have no place in this debate, even if the street is shouting for it.”  Rid also believes policymakers need to do a “nasty” cost-benefit analysis that doesn’t get entrapped in a calculus complicated by previous losses in blood and treasure.

Voy a salir Mexico.

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IMG_0240I’m leaving Mexico tomorrow to return to mi casa, mi tierra, the great United States.  Thus, my internship with Foundation Proacceso ECO is coming to an end. I wish ECO the best of luck and will miss the place.  Here are some other things I’ll miss:

History lessons

Good and affordable food

Odd Mexico

Things that I won’t miss:

Mescal hangovers

Written by gringolost

August 24, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Mexico, Proacceso ECO

Tagged with ,

Some substance when talking about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy

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I’m a fan of Hillary Clinton.  As well, I should be (and so should everyone else).  After all, she was a good first lady, is a good diplomat, and as far as senators go she wasn’t bad either.  I find complaints about her tend to be shallow or sexist; small-minded lambasting about her dress or attitude that obfuscates what she actually contributes to this country.

So to my relief, this morning’s Washington Post printed an article by David Rothkopf which was actually substantive and fair-minded; a look beyond the pantsuits to explain what type of American foreign policy Sec. Clinton has set in motion.

As Rothkopf notes, Sec. Clinton’s foreign policy is focused on promoting broader inclusions of international actors, both state and non-state.  There is a forward-looking dimension to it which emphasizes international institutions and multi-actor partnerships, while building on relationships with rising powers in the global system.

According to Rothkopf, “The recurring themes [of Clinton’s foreign policy] include ‘partnership’ and ‘engagement’ and ‘common interests.’ Clearly, Madeleine Albright’s ‘indispensable nation’ has recognized the indispensability of collaborating with others.”

Now there is another part of the article which I’d like to pullout, mainly because of its significance to my current capacity as a development intern with Foundation Proacceso ECO. Proacceso ECO’s goal is to reduce Mexico’s internal digital divide and make information technology more widely available, while simultaneously promoting e-learning opportunities that expand economic possibilities for Mexico’s poor.

The pullout from Rothkopf’s article:

At the center of Clinton’s brain trust is Anne-Marie Slaughter[.] Now head of policy planning at the State Department, Slaughter elaborated on the ideas in Clinton’s speech. “We envision getting not just a new group of states around a table, but also building networks, coalitions and partnerships of states and nonstate actors to tackle specific problems[.]


A new team has been brought in to make these changes real. Clinton recruited Alec Ross, one of the leaders of Obama’s technology policy team, to the seventh floor of the State Department as her senior adviser for innovation. His mission is to harness new information tools to advance U.S. interests — a task made easier as the Internet and mobile networks have played starring roles in recent incidents, from Iran to the Uighur uprising in western China to Moldova. Whether through a telecommunications program in Congo to protect women from violence or text messaging to raise money for Pakistani refugees in the Swat Valley, technology has been deployed to reach new audiences.

Before this summer, I honestly hadn’t put much thought into the power of IT to change status-quo disadvantages.  And now, not to be cliché but knowledge is power.  Promoting innovation and broader telecommunications access is rightly to be placed high on America’s foreign policy agenda.

Similarly, I think Sec. Clinton’s emphasis on women’s issues should be seen as more than a personal goal but one that furthers our greater national interest of liberty and justice. As Clinton herself said, “the social, political and economic marginalization of women across Africa has left a void in this continent that undermines progress and prosperity.”

Note: If at all interested in information technology or Mexico’s economic development please read this previous post about a World Bank report titled “No Growth Without Equity.”