Sunday, July 2

Mexico and Central America: bad, getting worse

Given the paltry English-language reporting in the United States on Latin America, I want to highlight two great reports filed by an American journalist named Jeremy Kryt who's specializing in doing analytical/investigative reporting on the region. Here, passages from both reports:
By Jeremy Kryt
June 4, 2017
The Daily Beast
With violence at “historic levels,” and no end in sight, it’s time to ask: What’s gone wrong in Mexico?
Wars are not won by targeting the enemy’s generals and leaving their ground forces intact. That’s not a military campaign; it’s not even a serious strategy.
As Tolstoy notes in War and Peace, the French would still have gone on to invade Russia, even if someone had bumped off Napoleon.
And the same rule applies to fighting organized crime groups. You can’t defeat them by just busting top-dog mobsters, while allowing their armies of henchmen to grow and take over the countryside. Somebody always moves up, and from an historical perspective (here’s looking at you, Prohibition), such trickle-down tactics appear futile.
The powers that be in Mexico, however, would have you believe otherwise.
Our southern neighbor is now home to the second deadliest conflict zone in the world after Syria, according to a recent survey. Although there is some debate about the metrics used in that study, there’s no question that, as of now, the Mexican government is losing the fight against the cartels.
And there’s a good reason for it: The so-called “Kingpin Strategy” employed by military and police in their fight against the cartels has proven itself almost as effective as holding a pocket magnifier over a termite den under a hot sun. You might focus on and fry a few that way, to be sure, but the rest will go right on happily devouring your house.
I'll skip over several paragraphs dealing with the drug war in order to focus on the really, really bad news about Mexico: 
Failure of Democracy
Mexico is a wealthy nation, boasting major reserves of valuable minerals and oil, a booming tourist trade, and dozens of lucrative—and taxable—global companies.

And yet “40 percent of Mexicans live in poverty,” according to Duncan Wood, a security analyst with the Wilson Center. And those squalid conditions create a perfect recruiting ground for the cartels—especially in remote areas of the country.

“The Mexican government has been unwilling or unable to dedicate the resources required to solve the [security] problem in rural areas and smaller towns,” says Wood. While the Peña Nieto administration has had marginal success in going after figureheads like Chapo Guzmán, it’s done little or nothing about “the underlying conditions that facilitate crime and violence in the country.”

Wood also blames the “weakness of local and state-level institutions” for the rising tide of violence engulfing vast swaths of Mexico, and suggests that a whopping “70 percent of Mexico’s mayors are directly or indirectly involved with organized crime.”

Crime groups operating in the hinterlands like Tierra Caliente, “can operate with impunity at the local level because they know there is very little authorities are going to do to stop them,” Wood says.

Police in such regions are “completely outgunned.”

“A local organized crime group will come in and say to local authorities: ‘Either you take the bribe or we come in and kill you and your families.’ There’s no one who’s going to back them up.”

The failure of accountability isn’t limited to remote towns and villages, Wood adds. It starts at the top:
The [Peña Nieto] administration ran out of steam about a year ago,” thanks to a combination of “allegations of corruption at the highest level, [and] a damaged reputation due to Ayotzinapa,” Wood says, referring to the disappearance of 43 student teachers in troubled Guerrero state.

“The political capital of this government is very rapidly dissipating,” he says.

Journalist Gallardo puts it more bluntly:

“Corruption is the cancer that affects everything,” he says. “Law in Mexico is like a fucking circus. Nobody respects the law here.”

Now on to Central America with emphasis on Honduras and the tri-country region called the Northern Triangle.
Inside Trump’s Disastrous ‘Secret’ Drug War Plans for Central America
By Jeremy Kryt
July 1, 2017 - 12:01am EDT
The Daily Beast
At closed-door meetings in Miami, Trump and his generals plotted a muscular military response to violence in Central America. Been there. Done that. It’s a disaster.
Here I'll jump over the beginning of the report to highlight the really bad news:  
“I don’t think any aid from the U.S. to Honduras has made any changes for the majority of the population,” she says, and as evidence cites the fact that “60 percent of the country is still in poverty.”
So -- 60 percent vs 40 percent in Mexico. As you read through the report you'll see that Honduras is just like Mexico in other key respects only much worse, as these passages underscore:
The “Northern Triangle” Tangle
The corner of the Central American isthmus consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras is referred to by military strategists and policy geeks as the “Northern Triangle.” Over the last 10 years or so it’s become one of the deadliest regions on earth.
Young people are particularly impacted. The homicide rate among youths is a staggering 90 per 100,000, in part due to rampant gang violence. Based on murders per capita, the Triangle is far more dangerous than Mexico, no matter what Mr. Trump says on Twitter.
The Triangle is an important stopover on the smuggling routes that connect the cocaine breadbaskets of South America with their cartel distributors in Mexico. As such it suffers under powerful maras (gangs) with names like Barrio 18 and the Salvatruchas—both of which originated in the U.S. prison system, incidentally, and arrived in Honduras thanks to mass deportations.
[Pundita note: This doesn't cover Mexican gangs operating in Central America, several of which reportedly fled Mexico under the militarized onslaught of President Felipe Calderon's U.S.-backed war against the cartels.]
These street gangs are tangentially linked to the cartels operating out of Mexico, as well as places like Colombia. The maras are often hired to hack out small airstrips in the jungle for drug-smuggling planes, or to run overland narcotics shipments across international borders.
And they find plenty of time to torture local residents. The gangs rule entire neighborhoods, specializing in rape, forced recruitment tactics, abduction for ransom, drug dealing. Blackmail is rampant, and they often collaborate with local authorities in shaking down their victims.
What's to be done, then? 
CEPR economist Johnston believes the Trumped up approach to immigration and the Drug War will actually worsen Central America’s ongoing crisis. Nothing presented at the Miami conference will “address the problems that are actually driving people to leave these countries,” he says.
Karen Spring agrees. But she also holds that it shouldn’t be left to the Trump administration to implement ham-fisted fixes in the Triangle.
Viable solutions have already been put forth by those closest to the violence, who know the risks and realities best of all—if only the ruling junta would hear them out:
“There has never been a space in Honduras to really listen to some of the proposals that are put forward by local communities and organizations,” explains Spring, who laments what she calls a “failure of democracy” in the Northern Triangle.
Former President Zelaya tried to listen, but his modest attempts to fight economic inequality got him shanghaied by his own troops. Trouble-making crusaders like Bertha Caceres have been assassinated for daring to suggest land-ownership reforms that challenge traditional elites and transnational corporations.
“It’s the voices which have typically been excluded that are trying to promote an alternative,” Spring says, “and for doing so they’re being killed, criminalized, and silenced.”

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