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Photos, video and publications from the website by Photo Reports is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.Based on a work at https://photoreport.info/.Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://photoreport.info/contact/. Wikipedia text Continue reading Germany CeBIT 2017- First day
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by Evan Ellis – Assistant Professor of National Security
From February 19-28, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City to speak with academics and officials in the Mexican defense sector, regarding the evolution of challenges of transnational organized crime and insecurity in the country, and the work of the Mexican government to combat it. My trip also gave me the opportunity to gain insights into the political environment surrounding July 2018 elections, in which Mexico will chose its next President, Congress and eight state governors, with enormous implications for the U.S. and the region.
In a forthcoming academic publication, I detail the work of the Mexican government against transnational organized crime and other security challenges in a forthcoming academic publication. Here I set out my insights from my trip regarding the Mexican security situation and the political environment.
During my interactions in Mexico, I found the country to be at a critical moment, owing to the expansion of violence and criminality associated with the fragmentation of the criminal groups plaguing the country. At the same time, the possible election of left-of-center populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and his Morena party in Mexico’s elections threaten to lead the country away from its close economic and security cooperation relationship with the United States at a time when the relationship is most important for both countries. Such a path would have dangerous implications, not only for Mexico, but also for the U.S. and its strategic position in the Western Hemisphere and globally.
To be fair, both cartel-related criminal violence in Mexico and the risk that the country will take a destructive step towards populism are problems for which the U.S. is substantially to blame. There’s also room, however, for the U.S. to contribute to the solution, both in its own interest and in that of Mexico.
Trends in Mexico’s Evolving Criminal Landscape
The Mexican government’s campaign against transnational criminal cartels, conducted with particular intensity during the governments of Felipe Calderon and Enrique Peña Nieto with the active participation of the Mexican Army and Navy has followed a reasonable strategy that includes drug interdiction, and the targeting of criminal leaders and their organizational structures across the Mexican government, in collaboration with the U.S. and other international partners. Unfortunately—if almost inevitably—these activities have had the undesirable side effect of fragmenting the criminal groups operating in the country, helping to expand violence. One Mexican security expert estimates that as many as 245 interacting criminal groups currently operate in Mexico, counting cartel factions, affiliated gangs and other entities.
The fragmentation of the criminal landscape in Mexico drives violence in multiple ways. The replacement of larger groups with a greater number of smaller ones creates incentives for the groups to fight for key drug routes and “plazas” (strategic geographies along those routes), as well as territory to extort and other areas of criminal interest. It gives such struggles an atmosphere of uncertainty, in which the new leaders are often less experienced, and more disposed to prove themselves or gain attention by committing murders in a particularly gruesome fashion.
Compounding this problem, the breakup of groups that once had the faculty to move drugs from South America, through Central America the Caribbean, and/or Mexico, to the United States and Europe, have left some of the remaining factions without the ability or connections to complete such feats of logistics and coordination on their own. As a result, those groups have been driven to other criminal activities or forced to specialize in a certain part of the supply chain. Thus whereas a single entity such as the Guadalajara Cartel could once work with local criminal associates to move drugs and other contraband all the way through Mexico, many illicit goods now must pass through the hands of multiple groups to arrive in the United States, multiplying the opportunities for competition and violence.
Nor is this phenomenon of fragmentation of the criminal supply chain limited to Mexico. Indeed, with the work of the U.S. and governments in the region against transnational organized crime, the entire hemispheric supply chain has atomized, from the demobilization of the Colombian terrorist group the FARCand government successes in the campaign against powerful criminal bands there such as the Gulf Clan to the decapitation of virtually all of the principal smuggling groups in Central America such as the Cachiros and Valle Valles in Honduras, the Lorenzanas, Mendozas, and Lopez Ortiz families in Guatemala, and the Texis Cartel and Perrones in El Salvador. Such fragmentation also includes the range of Mexican, Dominican, and other groups distributing drugs at the retail level in the United States.
The violence produced by the fragmentation of the Mexican criminal landscape has been compounded by the impact on Mexico of the restructuring of the drug market in the United States, as the principal consuming country drawing narcotics and other illicit goods (as well as people) through Mexico. Such restructuring includes legalization of marijuana in multiple U.S. states, which has caused an important, if partial shift in production to support the U.S. market from Mexico to the U.S. itself. Complicating this factor, the crisis of opioid consumption in the U.S. has significantly increased demand from traditional Mexican heroin producing areas, including Guerrero, Sinaloa and Michoacán (as well as the Guatemalan province of San Marcos). The result on the ground in Mexico has been the intensification of fights for control of poppy production areas and associated transport routes. Third, the expanding consumption of synthetic drugs in the United States, and the changing nature of the synthetic drug market, has not only expanded production of synthetics in Mexico (largely using precursor chemicals imported from China), but has also placed new emphasis on production sites in urban areas. This is due, in part, to the fact that, by contrast to the production of opioids, the production of synthetic drugs is relatively more reliant on urban infrastructure, such as electricity and water. Finally, thanks in part to the explosion of cocaine production in Colombia (with the suspension of aerial spraying of coca crops with glyphosate), an expanded wave of cocaine is entering Mexico’s Pacific coast, principally in Oaxaca and Guerrero, where smugglers often transition from maritime to land routes to evade U.S. and Mexican detection efforts.
Beyond drugs, a number of other criminal enterprises have become a significant factor in Mexico’s criminal economy, including illegal mining (particularly in Michoacán), the extortion of producers of export-oriented agricultural products (including avocados and lemons), and the robbery of gasoline and oil. Not only have criminal factions and associated gangs begun to “specialize” in various types of crime, but a dangerous complementarity has emerged between groups. Those with significant levels of pseudo-military capabilities, such as the Zetas and to a lesser extent Jalisco Nuevo Generation, have incorporated local gangs and common criminals into their organizations, taxing their illicit activities, while in return, arming and training them, and helping them to expand into a broader array of criminal activities. This evolution, in turn, has helped to fuel the expansion of violence and criminality in Mexico.
With respect to fuel theft, the activity by groups known as huachicoleros has become a far more extensive problem in Mexico than is widely recognized, generating estimated losses to the state of more than $1 billion per year, according to experts consulted for this study. The struggles for criminal turf associated with those thefts has also significantly contributing to violence in several areas that were previously relatively secure, including current difficulties the southeast of the state of Puebla. The huachicoleros phenomenon also highlights the extensive involvement of local communities, and the guilt of both companies and state enterprises in criminal activities. It is widely presumed, for example, that the tapping of pipelines requires technical knowledge obtained from compromised workers of the Mexican oil company Pemex (whose employees are generally not subject to regular confidence testing) regarding when, where, and how to penetrate the pipes (improper techniques or drilling into a pipe when gasoline is flowing can produce catastrophic results). The activities of the huachicoleros also often requires the hired security personnel of PEMEX “looking the other way” regarding a range of conspicuous criminal activities, including cutting access holes in fences, or allowing the construction of homes and other structures on top of pipeline rights-of-way. Such overlooked activities also include selling discounted stolen gasoline along roadsides or to commercial entities.
Moreover, in the often remote and economically depressed areas where such illicit activities take place, the criminals share part of the benefit (including both revenues from the theft and discounted gasoline) with the local communities. Such shared interest in the criminal activities, in turn, helps to motivate the communities to defend the huachicoleros against government forces when they attempt to act to stop such theft or recover stolen products. Further complicating the situation, and illustrating the dangerous “complementarities” emerging in Mexico’s criminal economy, powerful criminal groups such as the Zetas, in recent years, have involved themselves in the activity, taxing the illicit revenues, while increasing the huachicoleros’ level of armament and associated training, with the result that federal forces on various occasions have encountered armed resistance when they have attempted to intervene against those robbing fuel, or recover stolen stockpiles.
The Question of the Zetas
With respect to major criminal entities operating in Mexico, the Cartel Jalisco Nuevo Generación (CJNG) is the group that has expanded most significantly during the presidency of Enrique Pena Nieto, taking advantage of government actions against rivals such as the dominant Sinaloa Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, and Los Zetas (among others) to expand into spaces that they previously occupied. CJNG attracted international attention for its violent orientation and military capabilities with its April 2015 ambush of federal police forces in Jalisco, and its subsequent downing of a Mexican Army helicopter in May of that year. The illicit connections that CJNG has inherited through its common origins with the internationally-well-connected Sinaloa cartel have given it access to precursor chemicals in Asia, logistics networks in central America and Africa, and affiliated distributors in the United States and Europe. The resulting criminal flows generate earnings for Sinaloa that may be as high as $10 billion per year, and contribute to the group’s ability to acquire military grade arms, and build networks to expand across Mexico and beyond. In addition to CJNG’s paramilitary capabilities and orientation to violence, it has also adopted an approach previously used with some success by groups such as La Familia Michoacana and Caballeros Templares, entering an area in alliance with opportunistic local allies, using extreme albeit selective violence, announcing to would-be rivals and the local population that it seeks to establish order.
Despite such advantages, while CJNG is clearly one of the most significant criminal groups in Mexico, it is not clear whether it has supplanted the Sinaloa cartel as the largest, or whether it is as capable or menacing as some media accounts suggest. While the organization has demonstrated its ability to acquire military-grade weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and large-caliber machine guns, and to conduct ambushes against federal forces, the sophistication with which it has actually used the expensive arms that its illicit earnings have funded has been uneven. Moreover, while much has been written about the territorial expansion of the group, its role in many of the most ongoing struggles for territory are limited at best, including fights over plazas in Tijuana, Juarez, and Baja California Sur. While the group is one actor among many in Guerrero, and is involved in fights for opium poppy fields in northern Michoacán, it is a marginal player at best in the ongoing contest between factions of the Zetas and Gulf Cartels in Tamaulipas, or in Zeta-dominated Puebla and Veracruz.
While a detailed discussion of the previously mentioned 245 estimated criminal groups in Mexico is beyond the scope of this work, the variety and international character is impressive. In addition to Mexican groups, experts consulted for this story also mentioned Korean, Russian, and Chinese mafias operating in areas such as Mexico City, as well as the integration of Venezuelans, Colombians, and Argentine immigrants into existing criminal structures. One concern, in this respect, has been the possible contribution of knowledge about particular military and criminal capabilities by former members of Colombia’s FARC guerillas and other criminal bands.
Some Mexican States of Concern
With respect to the geography of Mexican crime, the experts consulted for this work responded almost universally that the state of greatest concern is Guerrero. There, a confluence of factors has created a “perfect storm” that has left the state (albeit certainly not the Mexican nation) in a crisis of governance. Contributing challenge include the previously mentioned expanded U.S. demand for heroin (which has fed a struggle for poppy production in Guerrero’s highlands), the flood of cocaine arriving from Colombia on the state’s pacific coast, the role of Acapulco as a center of tourism and other revenue to be coopted or taxed by criminal groups, a social culture in the state accepting of criminality and violence (and long resistant to state authority), and the fragmentation of groups fighting over criminal territory and routes there. With respect to the tolerance of criminality and disposition toward violence among an important segment of Guerrero’s residents, one of the few non-trivial guerrilla groups to emerge in Mexico in modern times, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), was born in the state. With the confluence of such mutually reinforcing dynamics, the penetration of criminality and associate violence has reached almost inconceivable proportions. According to one expert from the state, as much as 80% of Guerrero’s population is involved directly or indirectly in the criminal economy.
Beyond Guerrero, another Mexican state of significant concern is Tamaulipas. There, criminal groups continue to fight over the same three principal points of entry into the United States that have been used since the 1940s when their predecessors supplied heroin to the U.S. market during and after World War II: Laredo (today dominated by the Zetas), Matamoros (today dominated by the Gulf Cartel), and Reynosa (also dominated by the Gulf Cartel). With respect to Reynosa, the takedown of the criminal boss “El Toro” in the fall of 2017 unleashed a struggle between two would-be successors, Los Metros and Gente Nuevo, that unleashed such violence that Mexican President Pena Nieto cancelled a scheduled trip to the city (officially citing complications of his agenda).
Another area of concern has been Veracruz, dominated by the Zetas, previously contested without success by CJNG. In a fashion also seen elsewhere in Mexico, the presence of the Zetas has prompted the emergence of a secretive group, La Sombra, engaged in the assassination of the former.
In Mexico City, an increase in violence, in combination with banners (narcomantas) announcing the arrival of CJNG in the city have raised concerns. Yet while persons consulted for this study believe that CJNG may exercise influence as a supplier or coordinator of criminal enterprises in parts of the city, working with local groups such as the Mafia de la Union (Tepito) and the Cartel of Tlahuac, they were generally skeptical that CJNG had the manpower or the intention to directly participate in Mexico City’s massive criminal economy, which involves complex linkages between street vendors, small businesses, drug sellers and other local criminal groups, unions, and politically-affiliated organizations.
Mexico’s Political Landscape
If the picture painted by Mexico’s criminal landscape is worrisome, the challenge is compounded by upcoming national elections, which raise prospects of both political instability, and a harmful turn away from the close economic and security relationship with the United States, painstakingly built over the past three decades over a difficult historical legacy.
Make no mistake. If Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is elected President of Mexico, the rhetoric coming from Washington about the moral character of Mexican immigrants, building a wall, and the damage done by a U.S. withdraw from NAFTA will be substantially to blame, insofar as it has seems to vindicate AMLO’s populist rhetoric about the bad character and unreliability of the “pinches gringos” to the north. Yet the question of who is to blame does not make the prospect of an AMLO presidency any the less real, nor mitigate the potential consequences it would have for both Mexico and the United States.
Arguably, AMLO is currently near the ceiling of his demographic support base among the Mexican electorate, polling 33% versus 25% for Anaya and a disappointing 14% for Meade, according to a February 2018 poll by the respected newspaper Reforma. Many in the country having strong feelings either for or against him. Yet in the wake of multiple and bitter divisions among the Mexican political center and right, the country’s one-round presidential election means that AMLO could be elected President, even though receiving less than a third of the vote.
The candidate currently polling second in the presidential race, Ricardo Anaya, reflects a coalition of Mexico’s second largest party, the National Action Party (PAN), and the remnants of the third largest party, the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Nonetheless, the policy differences between the two parties, and the perceived authoritarian manner in which Anaya circumvented the PAN’s conventional electoral process to take the nomination from rival Margarita Zavala (wife of Mexico’s still influential former President Felipe Calderon) has spawned disillusionment that has fueled the defection of key politicians from the coalition to both the PRI, and to Morena. These include Javier Lozano, who left the PAN to work for the Meade campaign in the PRI, and Gabriela Cuevas, who defected to AMLO’s Morena party. In addition, the alienation of Zavala and her followers over Anaya taking the nomination from her in a way that was perceived as improper, prompted her to successfully get on ballot as a third-party candidate, where her conservative platform will likely draw voters away from both Anaya (PAN/PRD coalition) and its historic rival the PRI.
Although Mexico’s traditionally dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has a powerful electoral machine for mobilizing the resources of state governors and the manpower of social organizations such as Mexico’s two teacher’s unions, its candidate, the highly qualified technocrat Jose Antonio Meade, has thus far proved to be better regarded in international circles and the Mexican elite, than among average voters. Meade is currently third in the polls, handicapped by a perceived lack of charisma, and having failed thus far to energize traditional PRIistas leaders such as Fabio Beltrones and Osorio Chong, who view Meade as somewhat of an outsider for having served as a technocrat by leading ministries in both PAN and PRI governments, rather than having worked his way up through the PRI party apparatus.
While Meade has officially incorporated Beltrones (as campaign coordinator for the northern states), and Chong (as PRI coordinator for the Senate), among other old-guard PRIistas, his imperative to the old guard to “make me yours” has receive a lukewarm response from the apparatus which must mobilize to put him in office.
Despite popular beliefs, the core political base of AMLO as the former mayor of Mexico City is not the rural poor (for which the PRI has a well-developed political machine with extensive resources, manpower and nationwide logistics capabilities to capture their votes), but rather the urban middle class, many of whom are not comfortable with either his social conservativism or often irrational policy proposals. These include proposed amnesty for criminal cartel leaders and restructuring the widely respected Mexican Army and Navy into a national guard. The ability of AMLO to win will depend in part on whether such reservations among the urban middle class are outweighed by their frustration with the perceived widespread corruption in Mexico’s government and party system, and the failure of either the PAN or PRI (who collectively had the presidency during the past 12 years) to meaningfully reduce problems of public insecurity, corruption, impunity, or other problems.
Many experts in Mexico consulted for this study believe that, despite AMLO’s consistent and significant lead in the polls, when the presidential campaign officially begins at the end of March, the PRI political machine will succeed in turning the numbers around, employing a combination of direct and indirect attacks that inculcate fear or undermine confidence in AMLO (and the leftist coalition that would accompany him to power) while simultaneously undermining confidence in Anaya as an alternative, in order that those currently identifying with the PAN-PRD coalition shift to Meade as the alternative who can best prevent the election of AMLO. To do so, the PRI will also have to mobilize the support of its (currently reduced) number of governors, and its “on-the-ground” political infrastructure, such as the teachers and other nationwide unions and social groups.
Numerous conspiracy theories abound in Mexico regarding the techniques the PRI will employ to win. Some have speculated the conservative religiously-oriented Social Encounter party (PES), currently aligned with AMLO due to the latter’s evangelical orientation, will turn on its ally and back the PRI. They note that the founder of the PES is actually old-guard PRI leader Osorio Chong, and its current president, Hugo Flores, is a close friend of Chong’s.
Expectations that the PRI electoral machine will, through whatever combination of resources and trickery, overcome AMLO’s demonstrated lead in the polls may be overly optimistic in the face of divisions in the PRI base. Moreover, a true test of the mobilization potential of the PRI electoral machine has not occurred for many years, considering that in 2006, divisions over the party’s then presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo impeded a full mobilization, while in 2012, a strong showing by Enrique Peña Nieto minimized the degree to which the PRI needed to use its political machine.
Beyond the question of whether AMLO can win the presidency, there is considerable debate regarding his disposition, and whether he could actually significantly change the direction of Mexico and its relationship with the United States.
AMLO has thus far maintained a relatively disciplined message regarding his fight against corruption, while seeking to reassure Mexico’s business groups and other power brokers that he will not turn Mexico into a Venezuela-style populist failed state. He has also signaled that he will not excessively target PRIistas for possible wrongdoing stemming from their activities while in government (as the PAN is perceived to have done in states where it won governorships from the PRI in 2016). AMLO has even astutely mocked accusations of his complicity with Russia, which would arguably strategically benefit from an anti-U.S. populist and expanded instability on the US southern frontier.
Despite such effective positioning, AMLO’s specific proposals and cabinet nominees (particularly in the security sector) cause grave concern for those who take them seriously. He has not only (as noted previously) suggested amnesty for Mexico’s criminal bosses, but has proposed abolishing Mexico’s intelligence service CISEN and its presidential guard/secret service (the Estado Mayor Presidencial) and folding the federal police and well-respected Army and Navy into a national guard (which is authorized under the constitution but does not currently exist). His designated top security advisor, Alfonso Durazo, is almost universally regarded as lacking experience in the sector, while his nominee for the interior ministry, Olga Sánchez Cordero, widely respected for her ability as a jurist on the Supreme Court, is questioned as having the disposition to manage what is arguably the most politically demanding cabinet post in Mexico. In the defense sector, AMLO’s designated liaison’s to Mexico’s Army and Navy, LTG Audomaro Martinez Zapata and VADM Jose Manuel Solano Ochoa, however capable, would have to overcome the legally questionable hurdle of returning to active service, as a President Lopez Obrador wishes to appoint them as the Secretary of the Army and Navy respectively, under the current Armed Services enabling law.
In the face of AMLO’s questionable proposals and leadership nominees, many Mexican analysts reassure themselves (in a style eerily parallel to the discourse during the U.S. presidential election regarding Donald Trump), that AMLO would not be able to implement his more radical policy proposals. They note that AMLO’s Morena movement is, at best, expected to win 40% of the lower house of Mexico’s Congress and perhaps 1/3 of its Senate, denying him the legislative basis for implementing his proposals. In addition, his party is expected to win at most three to five of Mexico’s governorships (Mexico City, Tabasco, Morelos, and possibly Veracruz and Puebla) up for grabs in the election. This small minority of governorships, in combination with his minority in the legislature, would arguably prevent him from either changing the constitution, or mobilizing significant resources among Mexico’s states to implement his policies (long a tactic of the PRI, with its historic control over virtually all of Mexico’s governorships). Indeed, colleagues to whom I spoke even made half-joking references to the Mexican “deep state” which would theoretically prevent AMLO from causing too much damage through his policy initiatives if he is elected to power.
AMLO’s difficulty in implementing his agenda through traditional legislative channels is not entirely reassuring. On one hand, such weakness may drive him to use a tactic that he has repeatedly employed in the past, seeking to pressure opposition politicians by mobilizing his followers in the street (a tactic whose impact would be multiplied by AMLO’s position as president, but which would significantly add to political tensions in the country).
Beyond mass mobilizations, although the Mexican presidency is a notably weak institution, AMLO could still effect significant change through his control over ministries, not least in the foreign policy direction of the country with respect to the United States, the rest of the region, and extra-hemispheric actors such as Russia and China. Indeed, one of the most visible ways in which a legislatively and constitutionally frustrated President Lopez Obrador could rally his base and generate symbolic “achievements” would be to adopt a hostile posture toward the Trump administration, symbolically demonstrating a reassertion of Mexican national pride in the context of the U.S. president’s perceived insults against the Mexican people. Such a posture could include the shutting down of currently very close U.S.-Mexican defense cooperation, a return to Mexican Army cooperation with Russia in terms of training and equipment purchases, and an opening of the doors to expanded cooperation with the PRC, including the expansion of current Chinese commercial projects in Mexico (such as those in the manufacturing, petroleum and telecommunications sector), as well as a green light to Huawei and ZTE participation in Mexico’s strategically critical 5thGeneration telecommunications infrastructure, expanded Chinese professional military education exchanges, and an open door to state-financed sales of major weapons systems by major PRC-based companies such as NORINCO, CEIEC, and AVIC, beyond the marginal quality artillery pieces that NORINCO previously sold to the Mexican Army.
Even if AMLO pursues a more moderate political course, either due to his personal inclination or the institutional limits placed on him, the people who come into power with AMLO are a legitimate source of concern, both for leaders in Mexico and in the United States. Indeed, those associated with AMLO to date, such as Nestora Salgado Garcia, a leader of a self-defense militia who was jailed for kidnapping and believed to previously have ties to the EPR guerrilla movement in Guerrero, do not inspire confidence.
While the advance of China and Russia in the hemisphere in recent years has been noted as an item of concern (most prominently by U.S. Secretary Rex Tillerson), it is difficult to understate the grave damage to the U.S. strategic position in the region that would be caused by a Mexico, spurned by a U.S. border wall, insults and the economic harm from the abandonment of NAFTA, all focused by a charismatic, anti-U.S. populist leader who would be more receptive to economic, military and political cooperation with China, Russia and other anti-U.S. actors.
Indeed, the damage caused to the U.S. interests in Latin America by Hugo Chavez would be nothing compared to the impact that AMLO could have. AMLO could link the wrongs that many Mexicans feel that they have suffered from the U.S. in the current context, to the nation’s history of wars and military intervention by the United States, in a narrative that would resonate throughout Central America and the Caribbean, where Mexico has traditional leverage and economic influence, as well as throughout the rest of the Americas. Beyond the increased security challenges for the United States from drugs, immigration and illicit threat networks if Mexico cut off its security cooperation, an anti-U.S. Mexican narrative from a President Lopez Obrador, combined with expanded relationships with Russia and China, would gravely undermine the U.S. pursuit of policy objectives throughout the Americas, and possibly force the U.S. to rethink its strategic posture globally.
As I have argued in numerous other publications, with its ties of geography, commerce, and people, there is no other region which more directly affects U.S. security and prosperity than Latin America and the Caribbean. In this context, if Latin Americans are our neighbors, whose security and prosperity intimately affects us, Mexico is our family.
Ironically, despite the difficulties generated by President Trump’s harsh tone toward Mexico, his national security and foreign policy team have arguably recognized the importance of Mexico and treated it with the attention and respect it deserves. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ three visits to Mexico include his first trip abroad, as well as the first-ever visit by a U.S. Secretary of Defense to Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his own multiple visits, has openly recognized U.S. co-responsibility for the scourge of drug cartels in Mexico. The U.S. has set up a bilateral working group on transnational organized crime generating monthly interactions between senior U.S. and Mexican officials. Even during the sexenioof Felipe Calderon, the U.S. and Mexican military have never conducted as many joint activities, or worked as closely together as they do today. Ironically, seldom in U.S. history has an administration had a policy establishment with as many people with personal and professional experience working with Mexico than does the current administration.
In a future article, I will detail the extensive work of the Mexican government in coordination with the U.S. and other partners, to confront the very serious security challenges it faces. Yet just as occurred with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998, all of that cooperation could evaporate (albeit not necessarily immediately), depending on the direction that Mexico chooses to take in its upcoming presidential election. There could not be a time in which the United States and Mexico need each other more, or when words of friendship and respect from President Trump to our Mexican family could be more beneficial, and more consistent with putting our collective America first.
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist En cuanto de Derechos Humanos, “siempre tenés que jugar en línea recta.” – Patt Derian, héroe y profeta de la Administración de Jimmy Carter. El libro de Gaby Levinas , Doble agente. La biografía inesperada de Horacio Verbitsky , llega en un momento delicado. En las Naciones Unidas, el confidente de Verbitsky, Juan E. Méndez (son … Continue reading ARGENTINA. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist “Mr. Deare had been selected for the role by Michael Flynn, who resigned less than a month after taking office over revelations he had spoken to a Russian diplomat about US sanctions before Mr Trump took office.” https://lnkd.in/dXi4KnB Why important: 1) The DIA person who brought him into the National Security Council was none other than General Michael … Continue reading USA. Should Special Counsel Mueller see this?
Опубликованы новые санкции против России. Теперь США будет составлять список санкций, основываясь на информации ФБР о частных лицах государства. Этот список станет известен через пару недель. Новые санкции против России будут объявлены в течение нескольких следующих недель. Об этом в пятницу, 23 февраля, на брифинге в Белом доме заявил глава Минфина Стивен Мнучин, сообщает Европейская правда. “Мы работаем над санкциями против России. Могу заверить – работа … Continue reading RUSSIA. Against Russia, new sanctions have been imposed. (Против России установлены новые санкции)
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist Torture Tales, whistleblower reprisal, and the Lil Putins of U.S. Southern Command and their fellow travelers (Band OfBros) .. From an e-mail received on June 13, 2017 and forwarded to the DoD Inspector General Office: “______ stated as known fact that (Ken) LaPlante called ‘various places” advising them to not hire you. Did you know that? … Continue reading US: Whistleblower reprisal and the #LilPutins of U.S. Southern Command
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist Patt Derian, Jimmy Carter’s human rights defender, has her heralded her records rather than turn them over to the Reagan Administration … WASHINGTON — The real and imagined plots that color discussions of the relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin recall an earlier age when the expectation of a rapid change in policy direction … Continue reading US. Vladimir Putin, Trump and Latin America
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist Martin Edwin Andersen, a former assistant professor at the National Defense University, is a national security and human rights whistleblower in the Departments of Justice and Defense. Re: Anti-corruption mission denounces legal reforms in Honduras Supposed “reforms”–seen as mask for wrongdoing–reflect measures already in effect at United States Southern Command. In the U.S., the Lloyd-LaFollette Act … Continue reading HONDURAS. Anti-corruption mission denounces legal reforms in Honduras
Evan Ellis – Assistant Professor of National Security In Ecuador, largely unnoticed in the United States, a quiet revitalization of civil society and democratic institutions is taking place. The nation’s new President Lenin Moreno, once viewed as the “handpicked successor” of anti-U.S. populist leader Rafael Correa, has taken a path so different that his predecessor has branded him a “traitor.” While Moreno has hardly embraced the … Continue reading ECUADOR. Moreno Reviving Ecuador’s Participatory Democracy
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist Martin Edwin Andersen, a former assistant professor at the National Defense University, is a national security and human rights whistleblower in the Departments of Justice and Defense. Michael Flynn’s firing as Donald Trump’s national security adviser after just 24 days in the job should raise among good-government advocates the question of who else on the National Security … Continue reading US. Human Rights. Craig Deare’s ‘ethical and moral flaws’ make him unfit for NSC job.
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist On this day of reflection on the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., @ADMKurtWTidd should be asked how U.S. Southern Command squares respect for Dr. King’s work with a continued preference for certain “older (much older) white males.” (Please read to the end … ) Racist comments about Native Americans was what was said most openly; … Continue reading USA. On this day of reflection on the life of Martin Luther King
Martin Edwin Andersen – Writer. Historian. Strategic Communications Specialist The Hill story continues to be a crucial example of the importance of those willing to tell truth to power and who see human rights and human dignity as something that necessarily extends to foes as well as to friends, no matter what, or how personal, the threat. Today, September 30th, 2017, is the centennial of the … Continue reading USA. Centennial of the Birth of Conservative Human Rights Hero Amb. Robert C. Hill
By Evan Ellis – Assistant Professor of National Security
The title was inspired by the PhD thesis of LTC Oscar Medeiros Filho of the Brazilian Army Strategic Studies Center, and used with his permission.
From October 12-14, 2017, I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, as part of a delegation from the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institutes, to Brazil’s own Army Strategic Studies Center, CEEEx. My interactions while there highlighted the strategic challenges Brazil faces in the southern hemisphere, and reinforced my perception of the opportunities for the U.S. and Brazil to strengtheninstitutional-level relationships and collaborate on shared interests in
Brazil shares a land border with every country in South America except Ecuador and Chile, which means it’s profoundly interested in state and non-state security dynamics throughout the continent. Its 17,000 kilometers of land border create security challenges not unlike, but far more complex than those of the U.S.-Mexican border. Not only is
Brazil’s frontier some of the nation’s most remote and inaccessible territory, but the division of that boundary between 10 neighboring states magnifies the associated international security challenge. Finally, Brazil’s borders include nine separate “triple frontiers,” where the intersection of three national borders magnifies the problems of control and the associated op portunities for organized crime.
Brazil is adversely affected by illegal mining and timber both from the interior of Suriname and Guyana and from Colombia’s remote eastern plains, with Brazil’s Amazon river system frequently used to smuggle such illicit goods to the coast. The economic crisis in Venezuela has displaced at least 40,000 refugees into the remote Brazilian state of Roraima, some of whom have migrated to Manaus, Belem, and to the southeast of the country. The expansion of coca production in Colombia following the cessation of glyphosate spraying has spilled over the border with narco-trafficking activities on the Brazilian side of the border and expanded drug flows into Brazil. In addition, the end to
the conflict has displaced some former FARC combatants into Brazil, who are possibly training and selling weapons to powerful Brazilian gangs in the area such as the First Capital Command (PCC).
As on Brazil’s northern borders, the country’s western frontier is coping with the products of illegal mining and coca growing from Peru and Bolivia, which also travels through Brazil. This includes one drug route going northward through Peru’s river system past Iquitos, into the Brazilian amazon at the tri-border area Tabatinga (Brazil)-Leticia (Colombia)-Cabalococha (Peru). Drugs are also flown out of Peruvian river valleys such as those of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers (known as the VRAEM) short distances into Brazil, where they are air-dropped to accomplices on the Brazilian side. The aircraft then return to Peru before Brazilian air defense aircraft can respond. Cocaine, coca paste and illegal mining products are also produced in the southeast of Peru (eg. Puno), and in Bolivia, before being smuggled into Brazil. Paraguay, specifically the northeast provinces of Amambay and Concepcion, are the source of an estimated half of the marijuana grown in the region. The marijuana crop, along with other drugs, often flows into the country across the land border near the Paraguayan city of Pedro Juan Caballero, which has become a focus of struggle for control by Brazilian drug gangs such as the PCC.
In 2017, Brazilian authorities seized a record quantity of drugs, including 45 tons of cocaine, and 324 tons of marijuana.
Given such illicit flows across Brazil’s borders, many of the Brazilian analysts with whom I spoke see a connection between the gang-related violence in the slums of the country’s major cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo and criminal flows at the borders, making transnational organized crime one of Brazil’s principal security concerns.
Complementing such illicit flows, Brazil’s economic connectivity to the rest of the content, and to Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa, creates a complex array of strategic interests in its neighbors and the surrounding region. The soy and iron exported to the PRC and elsewhere in Asia must traverse overland routes from Brazil’s interior to its coast, or alternatively, via rivers that pass through Argentine and Uruguayan territory to reach major ports.
The import and export of higher value-added products over the Andes to ports on the Latin American Pacific Coast occupies a modest but growing role in Brazil’s external commerce that increases the importance of Brazil’s economic relationships and infrastructure connections with Pacific-facing neighbors such as Peru and, indirectly, Chile. Brazil’s commercial relationships with Europe and the East Coast of the United States similarly contribute to its interest in the Caribbean, along with from Brazil’s shared border with the continent’s Caribbean facing countries: Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana. The 13 years that Brazil spent leading the
MINUSTAH peacekeeping operation in Haiti (2004-2017) reflect, and contribute to, that interest.
The manner in which Brazil defines its security environment is arguably influenced by the way that it sees itself, with some of the contradictions in that self-conception reflected in tensions between its policy goals. On one hand, many of the Brazilians with whom I spoke emphasized the nation’s identity as a large, substantially developed
country dominated by a conservative, Western, Christian culture; others emphasize its cultural diversity and status as part of the developing world. As a Western nation with a diverse economy, sophisticated military, and supporting military-industrial base, Brazil’smore conservative elements see the country as a nConclusionatural partner of the United States in working toward a secure democratic region. Brazil’s support of the United States against Axis submarines in World War II, and the Army division that it sent to Italy as part of the Allied campaign in Europe are key elements in this narrative.
On the other hand, Brazil’s sense of specialness stemming from its history as South America’s only independent European-born empire, and as a culturally diverse nation which has achieved substantial economic, technological and cultural development through its own unique path, means many Brazilians have adverse reactions to
subordinating themselves to a U.S.-led security or economic framework in the hemisphere as “junior partner.” Indeed, as a regional power, Brazil looks to the South American continent, the Caribbean, the South Atlantic, and to the West Coast of Africa as areas of its own “strategic interest.” Its sense of pride has, on occasion, led it to conclude that a weaker U.S. presence in these areas, plus options provided by multiple extra-hemispheric actors, such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), could ultimately best serve its national interests and its strategic influence.
With respect to its broader global posture, Brazil takes pride in its identity as a global actor, in forums such as the BRICS and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). Brazilian officials with whom I spoke highlighted their role in helping the United States to defend the security of the hemisphere and its maritime approaches against hostile external actors during World War II, yet are more hesitant to discuss a shared U.S. – Brazil interest in following and managing the advances of potentially threatening external actors in the hemisphere today.Brazilians also argue that the conservative nature of the military,
including its support for the struggle against communist advances in the region during the Cold War (including Brazil’s support for intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965), have historically limited Brazil-Russia military cooperation. While Brazil has purchased 12 Mi-35 attack helicopters and several hundred Sa-24 (IGLA-S) man-portable air defense munitions, major initiatives such as the consideration of the Su-35 in Brazil’s fighter modernization effort, or the purchase of the Pantsir S-1 air defense system have not gone forward, nor have significant numbers of Brazilian military personnel studied in Russian schools.
In recent years, Brazil has, however, expanded its security relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to include sending its officers to Chinese schools, and receiving PLA students in its internationally renowned jungle warfare school in Manaus. While the Brazilians also sent a delegation to the PRC to discuss helping it to set up its own jungle warfare school in the south of China, the initiative has reportedly not yet gone forward. The Chinese have also been very interested in Brazil’s expertise in peacekeeping, sending a delegation to Brazil’s Peace Operations Joint Training Center (CCOPAB), and receiving a group from the institute in the PRC’s own Peacekeeping Institute in November 2017.
The role of Iran and Islamic extremists in the region is a topic in which Brazil has shown less concern than the U.S. The nation has Latin America’s largest population of Lebanese and Syrian migrants, including its current president, Michel Temer, and a significant Lebanese community in São Paulo (although only a minority are practicing Muslims). Brazil has also committed to accept more Syrianrefugees than any other nation in Latin America (although the government has not accepted as many as it initially suggested it would). The terrorist group Hezbollah has been identified as operating in Brazil, and is reported to have ties to the powerful First Capital Command street gang. Threats from Islamic groups were identified and diffused during the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Yet whereas the U.S. gives significant attention to the role of such actors as part of illicit threat networks in the region, the security implications of Islamic radicalism were generally “not on the radar screen” of the Brazilians with whom I spoke.
The challenge of transnational organized crime has given added impetus to defense of Brazil’s borders. In responding to this challenge, Brazil has focused on a combination of security cooperation with its neighbors (e.g. sharing of border-area radar data with Colombia and Venezuela, among others) and the deployment of additional forces and technology to the border region. Brazil’s military has legal authority to act in a law enforcement capacity in the zone within 150 kilometers of the nation’s borders, yet in practice, the inaccessibility of much of Brazil’s borderlands means that forces that can’t be used there in an effective manner. In the Amazon region alone, Brazil’s11,000 kilometers of border are normally covered by 28 units, mostly platoon size (60-70 men), meaning that such small groups of soldiers are on average separated by almost 400 kilometers of difficult-to-traverse terrain. The Army is developing a sensor and communication architecture, SISFRON, that will greatly multiply the effectiveness of those units and others in controlling the border region, yet due to budget limitations, implementation of the system thus far is limited to a pilot project along the frontier with Paraguay, and even that is two years behind chedule.
Supplementing such forces and systems, the Brazilian military regularly conducts exercises in the region with a law enforcement orientation. The armed forces recently restructured Operation Agata, first launched in 2011, to permit greater latitude regarding when its activities would take place, the scale, and the duration, making it more difficult for criminals to anticipate whether the Brazilian military might conduct an exercise in an area where they were operating.
In addition to Agata, Brazil recently completed the multinational exercise Amazon Log, near the triple frontier of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, in order to practice the ability of the military to coordinatelogistical support with international partners in an operation conducted in such a remote area.
Beyond border operations and exercises within the country, in recent years the military has also had to deploy not only in the favelas such as Maré, Alemão and Rocinha, but also in response to police strikes in Vitoria, threatened strikes in Rio de Janeiro state, and on other occasions where the situation exceeded the capabilities of state and other law enforcement. Such operations are referred to in Brazil as “GLO,” Guarantee of Law and Order operations, emphasizing their legal basis within the framework of the 1988 constitution. The Brazilians with whom I spoke were quick to emphasize that such
engagement must be (in the words of the Constitution) “episodic.” Although some operations such as the occupation of the Maré favela lasted more than a year, the military cannot permanently or continually replace the police in providing security to troubled areas within the country.In general, GLO operations are not popular within the Brazilian military. They are seen as a diversion of attention and resources away from other missions, from deploying forces to the border, to engaging in peacekeeping operations, to preparing for the traditional mission of defending the nation’s sovereignty against external threats. Indeed, in contrast to external deployments such as Haiti, the Brazilian military generally does not recognize “GLO” operations with service ribbons or other decorations.
To some extent, Brazil’s official (and seemingly sincere) posture of friendship toward its neighbors and the region makes it difficult for the military to obtain resources to execute its responsibilities and prepare for the future, particularly during times of economic crisis and political uncertainty such as the present. Brazilian diplomacy emphasizes that the country maintains good relations with all of its neighbors, and does not view any as an enemy. It may express concern about the spillover effects of its neighbor’s policies, but it is careful to avoid suggesting that it regards them as a threat, or wishes to tell them how to run their country. Yet while well received as diplomacy, the posture leads to a strange juxtaposition in which the military is forced to ask for resources for combat systems such as combat aircraft or vehicle-mounted artillery systems while its diplomats maintain that it does not view any of its neighbors as threats.
Brazil is not a country that needs U.S. help. Instead, both countries benefit from a partnership that works toward a safe, secure region and supports shared strategic interests. There are a number of ways in which the United States can continue to strengthen its partnership withBrazil, particularly with respect to defense cooperation, while harvesting the security and other benefits that come from greater cooperation.
The United States should continue to leverage the U.S.-Brazil military-to-military relationship to serve as a vehicle to strengthen cooperation between the two nations more broadly. Annual U.S.-Brazil Army-to-Army staff talks, for example, have been going on for 33 years. They are an important channel, both for senior level coordination and for identifying and advancing specific cooperation activities between both institutions. Where relationships have already been established between U.S. military organizations and their Brazilian counterparts, and with the coordination of the U.S. Security Cooperation Organization in Brasilia, those U.S. and Brazilian organizations should coordinate to identify innovative forms of cooperation to be discussed during the staff talks.
In general, Brazil’s large, sophisticated military means that many of the challenges faced by the U.S., such as conducting military transformation in times of shrinking budgets and a changing strategic environment, is an opportunity for the armed forces of both nations to learn from the errors and best practices of the other. Similarly, Brazil’s experience in working with civilian populations in urban areas, during both peacekeeping operations and Guarantee of Law and Order operations in its territory, present important lessons for the U.S., insofar as we must work with civilian populations in our own global engagements.
The U.S. should also consider expanding billets for officials placed in Brazilian military institutions, and vice versa. Such personnelassignments should include, but also go beyond, “liaison” officers, to include positions directly within each other’s organization, such as the professor that the Brazilian Army is sending to the U.S. Army War College Peacekeeping Institute.
The U.S. and Brazil should also continue to look for opportunities to participate in each other’s military activities, such as the successfully conducted Amazon Log exercises, in order to gain from each other’s experiences. This does not mean, however, that the Brazilian military needs the U.S. to train it, or supplement its capabilities, but rather, to aid it in its development and application of resources.
Finally, while respecting Brazil’s sovereign choice to associate with partners of its choosing, the United States similarly has the right to tell Brazil, as a member of the American family, that the U.S. ability to help it build advanced capabilities, and cooperate with it in sensitive areas such as intelligence, will be affected by the other defense relationships it, in its own right, choses to pursue.
I left Brasilia with a reinforced sense of the capabilities and professionalism of the Brazilian military, and the importance of treating Brazil with respect for the maturity of its institutions and its sovereign autonomy. The United States has an extraordinary moment of opportunity with Brazil’s current government of Michael Temer; it is in the U.S. strategic interest to work together with Brazil, where our interests coincide, to strengthen democracy, good governance, and hemispheric security. A prosperous, secure, well-governed Brazil is inthe U.S. interest, even if our goals and political style do not always coincide.
As we strengthen our relationship with Brazil, it is also important for our Brazilian partners to understand that the partnership does not mean ceding a “sphere of influence” to Brazil with respect to South America or the Caribbean. For our part, the U.S. should not be shocked if future Brazilian governments may take decisions regarding their relationship with extra-hemispheric actors, multilateral institutions, and political movements in the region that do not coincide with U.S. interests. Brazil’s support for the São Paulo forum, the initiatives of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, flirtation with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and promotion of UNASUR (which excludes the U.S.) over the Organization of American States for addressing regional security issues serve as recent reminders of this fact. Nevertheless, a strong relationship with Brazil, combined with frank and respectful interaction, is the best vehicle for ensuring that both nations can work together to advance security, democracy, and good governance in the region, even when our political paths diverge. Continue reading “LATIN AMERICA. Brazil – Between Cooperation and Deterrence”
The former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has long thought that getting the two countries to better understand one another could ease international tensions—a belief he’s held since the early 1980s, when he first visited what was then the Soviet Union. When he served as ambassador under Barack Obama from 2012 to 2014, he—unusually for a diplomat—kept a high profile, using social media to … Continue reading USA. What a Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Learned From Condoleezza Rice