Nicaraguan security forces battle organized crime in RAAN

By Dialogo
October 10, 2013

Security forces in Nicaragua are seizing large quantities of drugs and drug money in their battle against an increase of organized crime activity in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).
Army soldiers and the National Police are focusing on seizing drugs, money and weapons from the transnational criminal organizations operating in RAAN. In 2012, Army forces and the National Police in RAAN seized 4.5 tons of cocaine which were destined for Mexico and the United States.
Security forces also seized $14 million in suspected drug money, 141 vehicles, 37 firearms, five boats, two ships and 153 pieces of real estate allegedly purchased with cash from criminal enterprises.
Between 2000 and 2012, the Nicaraguan Army seized 120 tons of cocaine in the entire country, according to officials.

Police operations

With a series of arrests, Nicaraguan National Police dismantled 14 local gangs in RAAN that were linked to international drug traffickers.
There are 381 police officers assigned to RAAN, of whom 181 are full-time professionals and 137 are volunteers. The police officers work closely with the community.
Between 2000 and 2012, the Nicaraguan Army seized 120 tons of cocaine in the entire country, according to officials.

Organized crime activity

Army forces and the National Police are combatting an increase in organized crime activity in RAAN, said Ana Glenda Tager Rosado, regional director for the International Peace Building Alliance (INTERPEACE) for Latin America.
Four transnational criminal organizations from Colombia and Mexico operate in RAAN, Tager Rosado said. They are Los Urabenos and La Oficina de Envigado, from Colombia, and the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, from Mexico.
For much of the past decade, organized crime groups used RAAN as a drug trafficking corridor. In recent years, transnational criminal organizations have constructed buildings in the region to store drugs, she said. Operatives for transnational criminal organizations use these places as bases where they can fuel their vehicles and plan their operations, Tager Rosado explained. The large organized crime groups have alliances with local gangs, she said.

Violence in RAAN

Authorities have recorded 50 killings in the RAAN since Jan. 1, 2013, said Alta Hooker Blandford, dean of the Autonomous Caribbean Coast Region University of Nicaragua (URACCAN).
Local gangs which once relied primarily on machetes have received an infusion of firepower from the transnational criminal organizations, said Mónica Zalaquett, director of the Violence Prevention Center (CEPREV, for its acronym in Spanish).
“Many of the crimes have been committed with firearms. Local gangs have exchanged machetes for powerful weapons such as Kalashnikovs and AK-47s,” said Zalaquett.

Criminal enterprises

The transnational criminal organizations which are operating in RAAN are engaging not only in drug trafficking. They are also involved in other criminal enterprises, and are fighting for territory, factors which have made the region more dangerous, according to Tager Rosado.
“The increase in cocaine consumption, transport and trade, weapons and gold illegal trade, the reaction of some drug traffickers against actions by security forces and, possibly, the territorial war among small drug lords are all linked with the increase in violence in RAAN,” according to Tager Rosado.

“Miner’s Triangle”

The area known as the “Miner’s Triangle” of Raan, which is comprised of the municipalities of Siuna, Bonanza and Rosita, has been the scene of high levels of organized crime activity.
Since June 2013, at least 20 people have been killed in the Miner’s Triangle. Most were killed by gang members or organized crime operatives.
In July, gunmen killed journalist Edilberto Saavedra Olivas and two of his friends in Bonanza. Police have detained a suspect in the killings, who was identified as Jayro Hernandez Amaya, 23.

Progress and vigilance

Though security forces have made advances against the organized crime groups in RAAN, they must remain vigilant, according to Tager Rosado. “We can’t say we have won,” Tager Rosado said.
The Army and the National Police are working collaboratively to not only seize drugs and weapons, but to prevent crime, said First Commissioner Aminta Granera Sacaso.
“The Army and the police work jointly and represent a wall against drug trafficking because they don’t only seize a certain amount of cocaine but have as their goal to prevent the creation of drug trafficking cells in the country,” Granera commented during a recent appearance on the television program Revista en Vivo. The commissioner appeared on the program to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the creation of the National Police.