From July 11 to 15, 2015, I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar in Bogota, Colombia, on the topic of transnational organized crime that brought together security sector professionals from 10 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, co-sponsored by U.S. Army South and the Colombian military. The activity occurred on the heels of the June 23rd announcement by the Colombian Government that a final agreement was in sight with the country’s largest terrorist organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), just days after leaders of the 1st and 7th fronts of the FARC announced that they would not participate in the deal.
Since his election in 2013, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has made significant changes in the strategy and institutions of the country in combating the interrelated scourges of organized crime and violent gangs, which have prejudiced Honduras as well as its neighbors. Principal among these are the creation of a new inter-agency structure, de la Fuerza de Seguridad Interinstitucional Nacional (the National Inter-Agency Security Force [FUSINA]), integrating the military, police, prosecutors, special judges, and other state resources to combat organized crime and delinquency in the country. More controversially, he has created a new police force within the military, the Policía Militar del Orden Público (Military Police of Public Order [PMOP]), which has been deployed both to provide security to the nation’s principal urban areas, Tegucigalpa, Comayagüela and San Pedro Sula, and to participate in operations against organized crime groups. In the fight against narcotrafficking, he has advanced a concept of three interdependent “shields”:
1). An air shield to better control Honduran airspace, enabled by January 2014 enabling the shoot-down of suspected drug flights and the acquisition of three radars from Israel to support intercepts by the Honduran air force;
2). A maritime shield, with new naval bases on the country’s eastern coast, and new shallow-water and riverine assets for intercepting smugglers; and,
3). A land shield, including enhanced control of the border with Guatemala through the Task Force “Maya Chorti.”
Beyond FUSINA, the Hernandez administration has also sought to reform the nation’s national police, albeit with slow progress. It is also reforming the penitentiary system, dominated by the criminal gangs MS-13 and B-18.
The new security policies of the Hernandez administration against transnational organized crime and the gang threat, set forth in its Inter-Agency Security Plan and “OPERATION MORAZÁN,” have produced notable successes. With U.S. assistance, FUSINA and the Honduran government dismantled the leadership of the nation’s two principal family-based drug smuggling organizations, the Cachiros and the Los Valles, and significantly reduced the use of the national territory as a drug transit zone, particularly narco flights. Murders in the country have fallen from 86.5 per 100,000 in 2011, to 64 per 100,000 in 2014.
This monograph focuses on the evolution of the transnational organized crime and gang challenges in Honduras, the strategy and structures of the Hernandez administration in combating them, associated challenges, and provides recommendations for the U.S. military and policymakers to support the country in such efforts.
From February 15-23, 2016, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to conduct interviews with Mexican security experts about the evolution of transnational organized crime in the country and the work of Mexico's current government to combat it. My trip to Mexico coincided with the February 12-17 visit to Mexico by Pope Francis. The Pope also focused on issues related to organized crime during stops in Michoacán2 and Ciudad Juarez.3 This focus briefly highlighted to the world the gravity of Mexico’s struggle, and the importance of prevailing for the future of the country and the region. While I did not have the good fortune to see Pope Francis, the following are some of my preliminary insights regarding Mexico’s struggle against organized crime, based on my interviews and supporting research. In comparing the perspectives of Mexican government officials, the Armed Forces and police to those of academics, journalists, teachers and taxi drivers, the range of perceptions regarding what is happening in the country is stunning. At the popular level, cynicism is profound regarding President Enrique Peña Nieto and his government, the principal political parties, and security and justice institutions at the national, state, and local levels. In the tradition of surreal drama reflected in Mexico’s television art form, the telenovela, allegations abound of criminal connections involving President Peña Nieto, senior government, Army, and intelligence figures, and even the media outlet Televisa, and senior Mexican Clergy.
While the rest of the world is concerned about the refugee crisis in Europe, the conflict in Syria, and the potential contenders in the U.S. presidential elections of 2016, there is a brewing dispute between Guyana and Venezuela in Latin America. As a result of this diverted attention, there are few reports regarding the instability of an already fragile region. The dispute between the two nations centers on the lands west of the Essequibo River of Guyana. This stretch of land covers 40 percent of Guyana’s sovereign territory and, according to experts, is rich in gold, bauxite, diamonds, and other natural resources.
Brazil is a developing nation well situated in time and place. Unlike other areas of the world, it has no bloody religious or ethnic conflicts, and its last border conflict took place in the early 19th century. However, Brazil is the most populous Latin American nation, with nearly 200 million inhabitants, and thousands of miles of land and sea borders. These borders, together with large natural gas and oil reserves and the “Green” Amazon (land and river areas within the Amazon Basin) and “Blue” Amazon (coastal areas of Brazil where major hydro-carbon and other resources are located), are strategic strengths, as well as concerns for the Armed Forces and the nation. Brazil’s new national defense strategy consists of three principal elements that it hopes to develop. They are: 1) advanced technologies; 2) a space program; and 3) a peaceful nuclear capacity.
This Strategic Studies Institute book provides a comprehensive research guide to radical Islamist English-language online magazines, eBooks, and assorted radical Islamist news magazines, reports, and pocketbooks published between April-May 2007 and November 2016, and generates strategic insights and policy response options.
The much-anticipated National Security Strategy of the United States of America was released in December 2017 by President Donald J. Trump. The National Security Strategy is composed of four pillars and is applied in a regional context. How does the National Security Strategy view the Western Hemisphere? What are the U.S. priorities within the realm?
This monograph comparatively examines the content and country focus of high-level diplomacy for each of the two actors, as well as the volume and patterns of trade, the activities of Indian and Chinese companies in the region, and their relationship to their respective governments in eight sectors: (1) petroleum and mining; (2) agriculture; (3) construction; (4) manufacturing and retail; (5) banking and finance; (6) logistics and port operations; (7) technology such as telecommunications, space, and high technology; and, (8) military sales and activities. This monograph finds that Indian engagement with the region is significantly less than that of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and concentrated on a more limited subset of countries and sectors. In the commercial and military sector, it finds that the efforts by the Indian government to support their companies in the region are generally more modest and less coordinated than those of the PRC. Nonetheless, despite such limitations, the nature of Indian companies and their engagement with the region create opportunities for significant advances in the future, in a manner that is relatively well received by Latin American governments and societies.
In many ways, Russia’s expanded engagement in Latin America as a response to escalating tension over the Ukraine was a repetition of its answer to U.S. involvement in the 2008 conflict in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. In the latter conflict, the U.S. deployed naval forces to the Black Sea in response to Russian support for the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia countered with a series of actions in Latin America, including sending nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela, from where they conducted symbolically-charged flights around the Caribbean. A month later, a four-ship Russian naval flotilla deployed to the area to conduct military exercises with the Venezuelan navy before making port calls in Cuba and Nicaragua. In November 2008, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev traveled to Latin America to participate in the leadership summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, then subsequently hosted both Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in Moscow. Three months later, Bolivian President Evo Morales also traveled to Russia, followed in November 2009 by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Very little beyond journalistic accounts have been written to examine contemporary Russian activities in Latin America and the Caribbean. As Russia’s reassertion of its global position and associated tensions with the United States proceed, a broad understanding of Russia in the Americas becomes ever more important, both as a question of U.S. national security and as an important dynamic shaping the global geopolitical environment. This monograph focuses on the character of the ongoing Russian re-engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean and its implications for the U.S.
This monograph examines Chinese military engagement with Latin America in five areas: (1) meetings between senior military officials; (2) lower-level military-to-military interactions; (3) military sales; (4) military-relevant commercial interactions; and, (5) Chinese physical presence within Latin America, all of which have military-strategic implications. This monograph finds that the level of PRC military engagement with the region is higher than is generally recognized, and has expanded in important ways in recent years: High-level trips by Latin American defense and security personnel to the PRC and visits by their Chinese counterparts to Latin America have become commonplace. The volume and sophistication of Chinese arms sold to the region has increased. Officer exchange programs, institutional visits, and other lower-level ties have also expanded. Chinese military personnel have begun participating in operations in the region in a modest, yet symbolically important manner. The monograph also argues that in the short term, PRC military engagement with Latin America does not focus on establishing alliances or base access to the United States, but rather, supporting objectives of national development and regime survival, such as building understanding and political leverage among important commercial partners, creating the tools to protect PRC interests in the countries where it does business, and selling Chinese products and moving up the value-added chain in strategically important sectors. It concludes that Chinese military engagement may both contribute to legitimate regional security needs, and foster misunderstanding. It argues that the U.S. should work for greater transparency with the PRC in regard to those activities, as well as to analyze how the Chinese presence will impact the calculation of the region’s actors in the context of specific future scenarios.