GSPIA’s Ridgway Center presents a Roundtable on Security Challenges in Central America, Part 2

GSPIA’s Matthew B. Ridgway Center presents a scholar discussion on current and past security challenges in Central America. Five esteemed experts present their field experience and research on topics ranging from transnational criminal organizations to local gangs in the region. Following the individual presentations, the experts come together for a panel discussion that draws on their wide-ranging knowledge. Join us for this thought provoking and engaging set of discussions.

Guest Speakers: Douglas Farah, President, IBI Consultants and Senior Associate, Americas Program — CSIS; Steven Dudley, Co-Director of InSight Crime; Thomas Bruneau, Vice President of Global Academic Professionals; Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, Professor and Advisor of Public Security at the College of High Strategic Studies of El Salvador Armed Forces; Juan Carlos Garón, Global Fellow at Woodrow Wilson Center and a researcher for the United Nations Development Program.

This event is sponsored by the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh and by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

GSPIA’s Ridgway Center presents a Roundtable on Security Challenges in Central America, Part 1

GSPIA’s Matthew B. Ridgway Center presents a scholar discussion on current and past security challenges in Central America. Five esteemed experts present their field experience and research on topics ranging from transnational criminal organizations to local gangs in the region. Following the individual presentations, the experts come together for a panel discussion that draws on their wide-ranging knowledge. Join us for this thought provoking and engaging set of discussions.

Guest Speakers: Douglas Farah, President, IBI Consultants and Senior Associate, Americas Program — CSIS; Steven Dudley, Co-Director of InSight Crime; Thomas Bruneau, Vice President of Global Academic Professionals; Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, Professor and Advisor of Public Security at the College of High Strategic Studies of El Salvador Armed Forces; Juan Carlos Garón, Global Fellow at Woodrow Wilson Center and a researcher for the United Nations Development Program.

This event is sponsored by the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh and by the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS), University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

April 5, 2013

Mexico’s Drug War Continues to Claim Lives

Contributor: Kimberly Bennett

Following a scathing February 2013 report from Human Rights Watch criticizing Mexico’s military and law enforcement for former President Felipe Calderon’s actions that exacerbated the violence stemming from the Drug War, an outburst of drug cartel violence claimed numerous lives in the border city of Reynosa, Mexico. Because cartel members retrieved and buried their own members’ bodies, officials were unable to determine an official body count—though estimates range from 12 to over 50 dead. Calderon’s government stopped counting deaths resulting from drug violence in September 2011—proof that even the government cannot keep track of the death toll. Civilians have responded to the violence by arming themselves against cartels—heightening violence and the increasing the chances of violent clashes. Human Rights Watch is urging the Mexican government to implement reforms to its law enforcement policies that will reduce the number of victims disappeared and killed as a result of the Drug War.

Sources and further reading:

Yahoo! News- Drug War Death Tolls Guess Without Bodies
Panoramas- HRW Criticizes Mexican Government Disappearances
USA Today- Monterrey Mexico Bodies
Human Rights Watch- Mexico’s Disappeared
New York Times- HRW Faults Mexico Over Disappearances

Other news stories of interest:

Christian Today- Deep Concern Over Violence in Latin America
The Huffington Post- Border Drug Busts Citizens -Americans and Mexicans

Trial begins for Guatemala’s ex-dictator, Efraín Rios Montt

 

Contributor: Jessica Hredzak

Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war has been over since 1996 but justice has yet been given to all those who committed war crimes during this brutal battle for power. On March 19, in the world’s first-ever national prosecution of an ex-head-of-state for crimes against humanity, Efraín Rios Montt, Guatemalan dictator from 1982-1983, faces charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity in Guatemala’s national court. His rule saw some of the most brutal atrocities of the civil war. According to the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission in 1999, Montt is accused of sending soldiers into hundreds of Mayan villages to rape, torture, and kill more than 1,700 Mayans in an effort to quell opposition forces through elimination of the indigenous population. Montt evaded these charges for years, because he served in Guatemala’s Congress, where public officials are granted immunity by law. Montt denies the charges, and in his favor, prosecutors cannot directly prove that Montt commanded these atrocities. With time, hundreds of witnesses, and mounting evidence, prosecutors aim to prove that there was an established chain of command for such orders.

 

Sources and Further Reading:

§  PBS – Timeline: Guatemala’s Brutal Civil War

§  New York Times – Ex-Dictator Is Ordered to Trial in Guatemalan War Crimes Case

§  Panoramas, University of Pittsburgh – Guatemalan ex-leader trial begins

§  BBC – Guatemala ex-ruler Rios Montt on trial for genocide

§  Reuters – Guatemala tries ex-dictator Rios Montt in landmark case

Other News Stories of Interest: (Links to other important issues from the past week)

§  Aljazeera – ‘Executed’ Mexicans displayed on chairs

§  CNN – Venezuela cutting off contact with U.S. diplomat, foreign minister says

 

 

Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America

Edited by Thomas Bruneau, Lucía Dammert, and Elizabeth Skinner; (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011); 319 pages; $24.95. Amazon.com

Reviewed by Hai H. Do

In Maras, researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds explore the problem of gangs in Central America.  The book aims to balance the overwhelmingly sensationalist reporting on gangs in English-language media with an objective assessment of the mara issue.  In Thomas Bruneau’s introduction, maras are distinguished from local street gangs or pandillas, in their hierarchal organizations and extensive use of violence, both physical and sexual.  The group’s transnational activities across North and Central America offer a further point of distinction.  The maras are increasingly involved in the illicit drug trade as well as cross-border human and arms trafficking.

The book is divided into two sections.  The first consists of case studies on the four major Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, plus Los Angeles, California, where the main contemporary gangs in Central America originated.  In Nicaragua, unlike the other three countries, the pandillas have yet to evolve into maras, a development attributed to several factors, including the nature of the state’s security forces and the way they have dealt with at-risk youth and criminal activity.

The second section contains comparisons of different gang dynamics and responses to the mano dura policies of Central American governments.  Of particular note is Florina Christiana Matei’s essay on the deportation policies of the United States and their seemingly negligible impact on the gang problem in Central America. Christiana Matei’s position challenges critics who contend U.S. deportations have perpetuated a revolving cycle of gang members moving back and forth between the United States and Central America, inexorably strengthening the maras.  Overall, the essays within this volume set a standard for research and analysis that will serve as a basis for further study of the maras, as well as for innovative and enlightened policy making.

 

Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro: Trafficking, Social Networks, & Public Security

By Enrique Desmond Arias; (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); 304 pages; $21.00. Amazon.com

Reviewed by Hai H. Do

In Drugs and Democracy in Rio de Janeiro, Enrique Arias sets out to explore two related questions: why is there so much violence in Rio and what can be done to improve the situation?  In the favelas (shantytowns) surrounding Rio, Arias seeks to answer these questions by showing how the ongoing impacts of crime and violence are closely connected to the ways in which criminal gangs, state officials, and civic actors interact with each other in pursuit of shared goals.  Among these goals are the delivery of services to neighborhood residents and the pursuit of political support and legitimacy among both politicians and drug traffickers throughout the favelas.  The network structures utilized to achieve these broader goals enhance the ability of criminal actors to engage in ongoing illegal activities with minimal external opposition.  These networks have transformed state power at the local level in such a way that many government policies actually reinforce criminal activities.

Drugs and Democracy provides a conceptual framework for discussing problems of violence in developing societies.  In Chapter 1, Arias traces the political history of Rio’s favelas.  Chapter 2 then details the book’s theoretical contributions, examining the place of criminals in a changing society and the ways in which they interact with other political actors. It also analyzes possible ways to control the violence.  Chapters 3, 4, and 5 examine the main political organizations of the three favelas in which Arias conducted his research (Tubarao, Santa Ana, and Vigario Geral) to explain how criminal networking creates the conditions for organizing violence and disrupts democratic governance.  In Chapter 6, Arias provides a comparative analysis of other illegal networks in Latin America.  He concludes that an alternative form of networked organization between local state and civic actors dedicated to the reduction of violence in the favelas would help mitigate crime over the medium term.  To this end, the author calls for more micro-level research into the operations of criminal organizations and their impacts on state institutions and social groups to advance the search for solutions to social violence in the developing world.

 

Violent Non-State Actors Database

Belize

Belize Human Smuggling Ring

Rogue Law Enforcement DTO

Brazil

Fernandinho Beira Mar Gang-Red Command

First Command of the Capital

Guaruja Trafficking Ring

IJL Trafficking Network

Jose Maria Figueiro Gomes Gang

Pedro Goncalves da Silva Gang

Caribbean

Bloods

Bourne Organization

Crips

Curacao DTO

G-Unit Gang

Jamaatal Muslimeen

San Fernando Sex Trafficking Ring

Dominican Republic

Dominicans Don’t Play

DRPR Airport Group 1

DRPR Airport Group 2

Trinitarios

El Salvador

M-18

MS-13

Los Perrones

Salvadoran Trafficking Network led by Nelson Castrillon Ospina

Salvadoran Trafficking Network led by Rómulo Antonio Portillo Colato

The Texis Cartel

External Influences

Albanian DT Group

America Group (Serbia-Montenegro)

Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); aka the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)

Berane-Coastal Gang

Bulgarian-Nigerian DTO

La Camorra (Operations and Ties to Latin America)

Sicilian Cosa Nostra (Operations in Latin America)

Cuban-American Mafia

ETA Network in Venezuela

Hell’s Angels

Hezbollah

Izmailovskaya

Mazukinskaya

Mogilevich Group

Mun Korean DT Group

‘Ndrangheta (Operations in Latin America)

Podolskaya

Red Dragon Mafia

Darko Saric Group

Solntsevskaya Bratva (Solntsevo Brotherhood)

Sreten Jocic Group

Tambovskaya (AKA: Tambov Gang, AKA: Tambovskaya-Malyshevskaya)

Tatar Group-Unnamed Balkan DTO

Unnamed Korean Mafia Group

Unnamed Latvian/CIS Organization

Unnamed Russian Caucasus Organization

Unnamed Russian DTO in Cancun

Unnamed Russian Human Trafficking Organization

West End Gang

Guatemala

Byron Berganza

El Tacquero

Former Kaibiles

Latin Kings

Los Lorenzana

Los Caradura

Los Leones

Luciano Cartel

Los Mendozas

Paredes Group

Petén-Coban Cartel

San Marcos DTO

The Sarceno Family

Three Franciscos (AKA the Francisco Smuggling Organization)

Guyana

Agricola Gang

Buxton-Agricola Gang

Phantom Squad

Rodrigues Cocaine Trafficking Group

Shaheed “Roger” Khan Trafficking Network

Trafficking through Cheddi Jagan International Airport

 Honduras

Los Cachiros

Catacamas Drug Cartel

Juticalpa Drug Cartel

Los Olanchanos

Los Tercerenos

Jamaica

Bling Bling Gang

Klansman Gang

One Order Gang

Shower Posse

Stone Crusher Gang

Mexico

Arellano Felix Organization AFO aka Tijuana Cartel

Artistic Assassins

Barrio Azteca

Gulf Cartel

Independent Acapulco Cartel

Juarez DTO (Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization)

La Familia-Knights Templar

La Linea and Los Linces

La Resistencia

Los Gueros

Los Mexicles

Los Negros

Los Pelones

Los Zetas

Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion

Sinaloa Organization aka Sinaloa Federation

South Pacific Cartel

The Hand with Eyes

Zhenli YeGon Group

Nicaragua

American Airlines Smuggling Ring

Asociacion Netas (AKA ÑETAS AKA ASOCIACIÓN PRO-DERECHOS de CONFINADOS)

Figueroa Agosto Network

Reñazcos Family

“Roloand” and “Topo” Organization

USPS Drug Trafficking Group

Suriname

Adnan G. el-Shukrijumah

Air Holland Money Laundering Ring

Ayoko Gangs

Lobato Gang

Port of Santos Gang

Suri-Cartel

Trade Minister Laundering Ring

Venezuela

Cartel del Sol (AKA: Los Soles)

Los Catalanes

Los Guajiros

Los Indios

Los Paz

“The Organization”

Walid Makled Organization

Recommendations

1. Improve Prison Conditions

Though problems like poverty and underdevelopment are often considered to be the root causes of crime, the formation of gangs after criminals have been arrested can be curbed with the improvement of living conditions inside detention facilities.  Currently, prisoners justify their rioting, brutality against guards, and general violence as retaliation against, and protection from, states that violate their basic rights.  Whether from a lack of prisons or stringent arrest policies, overcrowding plagues the prison systems of the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America.  Prisoners from the latter three regions complain they are denied basic necessities like blankets and soap, and international human rights organizations validate their claims.  If authorities address inadequate living conditions, prison gangs will be denied the foundations of their moral claims, and possibly, the subsequent support from sympathetic and often impoverished populations outside the prisons (i.e. in Central and South America).

2. Inmate Labor for Underdeveloped Neighborhoods

If infrastructure deficiencies and underdevelopment are contributing to poverty-based crime in place like Central and South America, then development projects aimed specifically at these higher-risk neighborhoods may help prevent young people from joining gangs out of economic desperation.  Additional manual labor programs for prisoners would reduce the costs of development and contribute to long-term solutions to the gang problem.  By partnering with non-government, non-profit, or charitable development organizations, law enforcement officials could bring economic stability to the impoverished populations that contribute to and often support the illegal operations of gang members.  Using inmate labor would also remove prisoners from the overcrowded conditions of their cells.

Risks, of course, exist.  The chances of prisoner escape during projects increase, so programs would have to be accompanied by an increase in the number of prison guards.  Communication between prisoners and non-inmate gang members may also be facilitated by the travel.  Cell phones inside prisons, however, already allow inmates to communicate with their colleagues; adding “community service” to prisoners’ daily activities may serve more as a distraction than as an added benefit for them.

3. Separate Housing Facilities Based on the Nature of the Crime

Prisoners should be housed in separate facilities based on the crime committed.  For example, inmates convicted of less serious crimes (i.e. vandalism and petty theft) would be placed in one detention block, while those guilty of serious crimes (i.e. murder and drug trafficking) would be placed in separate blocks.  This policy goes beyond isolating gang leaders and members from the general prison population, although the intended aims are the same: the prevention of gang “contamination” of unaffiliated prisoners.  The majority of individuals are incarcerated for a variety of petty crimes and often have little interest in gang culture.  But when these inmates are mixed with prisoners from other criminal professions, there is a high probability they will encounter individuals who proselytize the economic and personal merits of gang membership.  By recruiting inmates with diverse backgrounds, prison gangs gain new contacts to diversify their criminal networks (acquiring the skills of counterfeiters, marijuana growers, etc.), making them harder to disrupt and dismantle.  By isolating gang members from regular prison populations, and further separating prisoners according to the nature of the crime committed, the pool of criminal knowledge available to the prison gangs will be restricted and gang membership will decrease.

4. Increase Funding for Prison Guards

Most prison officers in the United States and Latin America are paid wages lower than other professions, tempting them facilitate the activities of prison gangs to supplement their incomes.  An increase in funding for prison personnel will not only provide higher salaries to stave off corruption, but also lead to more guards per prisoner strengthening state authority and the ability monitor illicit gang activity.  However, the opportunity costs may include less funding for food, training, and rehabilitation programs, etc.  In times of economic stress, intelligent retrenchment strategies (i.e. targeted cuts) from the various prison systems in the United States and Latin America can locate funding for guards to offset the opportunity costs in a satisfactory manner.

5. Build More Supermax Prison Facilities

To successfully alter the effectiveness of prison gangs, there is a strong need to build more exclusive maximum security prison facilities.  There are numerous maximum security prisons throughout the United States and other nations, but the majority rely only on a designated area in which the most dangerous inmates are housed.  The ADX supermax prison facility in Florence, Colorado, is entirely designated for the most dangerous offenders and has largely been a success story in keeping these offenders in complete isolation, essentially cutting off their influence in the outside world.  Gang leaders thrive off the ability to reach prison populations with their ideology and recruit more members.  Therefore, there is a need to keep leaders in total isolation in these maximum security prisons where such communication is an impossibility.  Supermax facilities like the one in Florence, Colorado should be replicated throughout the United States and Latin America to meet the challenges of housing prison gang leaders separately from their soldiers.  This approach is very costly, yet it is the most effective strategy for crippling the capabilities of prison gangs by diminishing the influence of the men who dominate the decision-making of gangs.

6. Gang Prevention Programs

Increased opportunities for education and gang prevention are two policy options that may further decrease gang activity.  The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice, and Delinquency Prevention recommends a number of prevention strategies such as parent training, after school activities, truancy and dropout prevention, re-entry programs, tracking former offenders, and job programs for youth in high-risk neighborhoods.  The Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program places uniformed police officers as instructors in middle schools to teach students about the negative consequences of gang participation.  Non-profit groups like the Boys and Girls Club of America provide after-school activities that may keep children from joining gangs.  Some Central American countries have also enacted programs designed to prevent youths from turning to gangs, such as the Open Schools program to keep schools in high-risk neighborhoods, or “red zones,” open on the weekends and various vocational training efforts.  In Guatemala, for example, an alliance of human rights organizations provides schooling and social development activities to help at-risk youths raise their self-esteem.  These programs form an important starting point for Central America, Mexico and Brazil, but they should be expanded further, drawing on successful U.S. programs.  A scaled-up effort to change youth attitudes toward gang involvement could drastically reduce gang membership in the long run.

7. International Action to Address the Root Causes of Poverty and Interrupt the Drug Trade

National legislation is an important step in combating the prison gang problem.  However, most Central American countries lack strong government structures, resources, and incentives to enforce national laws.  International efforts are needed to strengthen the rule of law, address poverty, and expand educational opportunities.  National governments must continue their efforts to strengthen internal governance, increase stability, and create fair legal procedures, but Central American nations have thus far been unsuccessful at solving the problems posed by gangs alone. The only way to address these problems is with assistance from other countries in the form of an international initiative to address the root causes of gang activity.

8. Inmate Therapy

Rehabilitative programs offer another way to combat the root causes of gang membership.  Expanded rehabilitation efforts would serve to reintegrate gang members back into society.  As Juan Fogelbach has argued, “Gang members should be provided with alternatives to gang life, including education, music, art, youth sports, and trades that may allow them to survive in society.”[1]  Rehabilitation programs that assist gang members in developing a sense of self-esteem and acquiring skills to gain legal income will further deter gang activities.

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[1] Fogelbach, Juan J. “Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13) and Ley Anti Mara: El Salvador’s Struggle to Reclaim Social Order.” San Diego International Law Journal 7 (Fall 2005): 209-210.