South and Central America fight cartels fleeing Mexico

By Dialogo
March 31, 2011

Leaders throughout the Americas are mobilizing to counter the movement of
drug cartels from Mexico into South and Central America.
Presidents and representatives from seven countries met at a Guatemala City
summit March 16 with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to discuss the penetration of
Mexican cartels into southern countries.
Presidents Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), Porfirio Lobo (Honduras), Álvaro
Colom (Guatemala), along with Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow and
representatives from El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Panama attended the
And US President Barack Obama pledged US $200 million to fight drug
trafficking and gang violence during his March 22 visit to El Salvador.
Latin American countries already have seen a jump in violence, corruption and
drug use after the Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels expanded its organized crime
activities to countries like Nicaragua.
For Roberto Orozco of Nicaragua's Institute for Strategic Studies and Public
Policies told IPS News that the “insecurity created by organized crime in our
countries” is mostly “due to the effects of the Mexican war on drugs.”
Others, including some frustrated Latin American leaders, have said that drug
syndicates are targeting other countries due to the intensity of President Felipe
Calderon fight against trafficking - a trend highlighted in the this year’s annual
report of the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board.
The summit prompted new regional security initiatives including El Salvador
President Maurico Funes setting up a new Central American Citizen’s Security
Partnership. The initiative helps strengthen courts and the rule of law with
cooperation from Colombia, Chile, and Mexico.
Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has been pushing hard for his fellow
leaders to agree on a regional plan to combat drug trafficking and organized crime,
with particular emphasis on the Northern Triangle of Central America.
President Colom told reporters he is confident that by early June when the
First International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy
gathers (again in Guatemala) a serious regional plan will be produced.
What has prompted the new realism of Latin American leaders and their
readiness to work far more cooperatively than in the past? Cynics would argue the
fear of the Mexican drug syndicates is the cause.
But challenges bring new opportunities. For all of the gloom and doom in the
media coverage of the recent INCB global report, for instance, and the focus on
increased drug use in Latin America and the spread of organized crime from Mexico,
more thoughtful analysis would suggest hopeful news and possibilities.
It is not their strength that is encouraging Mexican traffickers to set up
operations outside Mexico. The move stems from their increasing weakness – it is
testimony to the Mexican government’s onslaught on the major cartels and evidence
that President Calderon’s efforts are succeeding and forcing the cartels to activate
escape plans.
In short, a significant shift is underway in the dynamics and structure of
the drug trade in the Western Hemisphere and one that can be exploited by Latin
American governments with US support. They are starting to realize it. If the Latin
American leaders can make life difficult for the Mexican interlopers, then the
cartels could find themselves boxed. It all comes down to political willpower and
The INCB report highlighted other trends suggestive of the serious
difficulties the major cartels are now facing. Expanding their trafficking
operations to Latin America is forcing them in the new territory to form alliances
with street crime gangs. That in itself is dangerous for the cartels – the street
gangs are less disciplined than the cartels and difficult to control. Also,
alliances are easier for law enforcement to penetrate than cohesive organizations
that have little need to seek deals or partnerships with others.
And while occupied with that, the Mexican cartels are finding it much harder
than in the past to move cocaine north of the US-Mexican border – the consequence of
the squeeze they have been put under from the Mexican and US authorities. The
evidence for that is to be found in reports such as the INCB’s, which noted that
cocaine availability in the US has decreased and prices for low-purity cocaine there
have jumped.
The Mexican cartels are not only looking to Latin American markets to make up
for the shortfall but further afield. They are pushing more drugs to Europe via
Africa. Venezuela figures prominently in that trade. The INCB report says that
Venezuela is “one of the principal countries of origin of cocaine shipments seized
in Western Europe.” As any businessmen will tell you, the most vulnerable moment for
a business is when it undergoes change in operations and markets. The vulnerability
of the big Mexican cartels develops apace.