Why Declaring ‘War’ on Mexican Drug Cartels Is a Bad Idea

Some analysts are pushing for armed U.S. intervention in Mexico’s battle with drug traffickers to curb the opioid epidemic. But a security expert warns it would undercut more sensible strategies of decriminalization and treatment—and cost more lives.

In a recent opinion piece for U.S. News & World Report, Matt Mayer proposed that Congress “declare war” on Mexican cartels in order to curb the growing number of fatal opiate overdoses of Americans.

It’s an incendiary proposal—and a dangerous one.

Not only would it be ineffective in countering cartels or reducing fatal overdoses in the U.S.; it would lead to lead to the murders of thousands more Mexican civilians, not to mention endanger the lives of American soldiers.

The drug war in Mexico has already taken a deadly toll. Between 2006 and 2015, more than 100,000 people have died as a result of narcocrime-related incidents in Mexico—many of them innocent casualties not only of turf battles among trafficking cartels but of Mexican military operations against those cartels.

This year, Mexico is on track to record its highest number of homicides since official record keeping began in 1997. The first six months of 2017 have seen a total of 12,155 homicide cases opened.

Also of concern: Violence is spreading throughout Mexico. Where previously it was concentrated in a few areas, 27 of 32 Mexican states now report an increase in homicides.

The Mexican government’s increased reliance on the military to counter the spreading power of the cartels dates from 2007, when then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón more than doubled the number of personnel assigned to domestic security and counternarcotic operations from 20,000 to 50,000.

Although a parallel investment in local economic development, neighborhood revitalization and violence-prevention helped to reduce homicides in some Mexican states, several studies suggest that localities with joint military operations actually saw an increase in homicides.

The carnage continues. Current President Enrique Peña Nieto has continued the domestic military deployment even while conceding that military measures alone have done little to curb production or consumption of illicit drugs. Yet some of his military tactics have made things even worse. His strategy of targeting top cartel leaders may have led to even more widely dispersed violence by fueling internecine battles for leadership among the groups.

Mark Krupanski

A U.S. “hot war” in Mexico would not only double-down on such an ineffective and disastrous strategy, but put it on steroids.

Even leaving aside the challenge to international jurisprudence such a military intervention would present, it would add yet another point of conflict between the current U.S. administration and Mexican civil society, which is already incensed by Washington proposals to build a border wall and back out of the North American Free Trade Agreement .

And it’s a new military commitment that Americans hardly need. US military personnel are already engaged in intensive combat operations in at least five countries.

Mayer may not be concerned with the cost to Mexican society and civilians of a U.S. military intervention. His primary concern is curbing the high rate of fatal opiate overdoses in the United States. Nonetheless, U.S. military intervention in Mexico will not significantly reduce illegal drug consumption or overdose rates in the United States.

For proof, we need only look at the sustained U.S. military involvement, through “advisors” and equipment, in counternarcotic operations during the war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s—an involvement that has had no substantial impact on demand and use reduction in our country.

There are better solutions. Anyone concerned about the opioid epidemic in the U.S., should support evidence-based harm reduction approaches. That includes greater distribution of naloxone to peers, opening drug consumption rooms, and addressing the underlying social and political factors, such as poverty, alienation and personal trauma, that drive addictive behavior.

Mexicans and other Latin American countries, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Uruguay have grown weary of the ineffective violence from the drug war and have supported public health-based approaches as well as drug decriminalization. In fact, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico united in bringing about a renewed debate on drug policy at the United Nations.

Medically supervised drug consumption rooms, for instance, exist in Canada, Europe and Australia. There are 74 in Europe alone. Such a facility in Vancouver, Canada, has had no fatal overdoses in its entire history.

Legal prescription of medical heroin has also proved useful for longtime users when other treatments have failed. Increasing access and distribution to naloxone, which is still opposed by some U.S. policymakers despite conclusive evidence that it reverses the effect of overdoses, can also have a more positive impact.

Decades of austerity measures and divestment from social safety net, economic opportunities, and health services have contributed to our current national opioid crisis.

Providing people with opportunities to earn incomes, and live in affordable housing can positively impact their health choices, including drug consumption. Reducing social and economic alienation and providing client-specific trauma-response may also help reduce drug demand.

The Mexican government is supportive of such measures. Policymakers who might be tempted by Mayer’s call to war should consider the evidence-based public policy recommendations issued under the newly launched “Instinto de Vida” (Instinct for Life) campaign, which seek to cut homicide rates in Latin America by 50%.

Our drug war has gone on for over 50 years. It hasn’t prevented the current crisis.

Opening a new, violent chapter in that war is unlikely to solve it.

Marc Krupanski is a program officer with the Public Health Program of the Open Society Foundations, where he leads the law enforcement and harm reduction portfolio. He has worked on law enforcement and security sector reform both domestically and internationally over the past 14 years. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Violence Encroaches on Mexican Tourism Meccas

Violent crime is on the rise in the tourism hot spots of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, jeopardizing a $20 billion-a-year business that attracts millions of American visitors.

USA Today reports that violent crime is encroaching on the Mexican tourism hot spots of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, jeopardizing a $20 billion-a-year business that attracts millions of visitors lured by the white sand beaches, archaeological ruins and pulsing nightlife. Although the crime wave so far is mostly limited to areas outside the resorts where tourists stay, Cancun shows signs of following the ill-fated path of Acapulco. That city was once the granddaddy of Mexican tourist destinations, but now is one of country’s deadliest areas and no longer a mecca for international travelers.

Crime and violence between rival drug gangs has surged throughout Mexico, creeping into other popular destinations, such as Los Cabos on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. Homicides there are up 400 percent so far this year, underscored by the discovery of 14 bodies in a mass grave in June. The spike in violence comes as Mexico welcomed a record 35 million foreign visitors in 2016, up nearly 9 percent from the previous year. Tourism officials acknowledge the problems plaguing tourist towns: low wages, inadequate housing for workers and increased crime. Quintana Roo state, where Cancun is located, recorded 133 murders in the first six months of 2017, more than double the total for all of last year.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DEA Agents Pose as Guerrillas to Net Arms Trafficker

Faouzi Jaber, a 61-year-old Ivorian citizen, pleaded guilty this week in a case involving smuggling arms and drugs to Colombia’s FARC group. But the undercover tactics by U.S. agents raise questions about future drug-war strategies in Colombia.

A man from the Ivory Coast has pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to offering support to undercover DEA agents posing as members of Colombia‘s FARC guerrilla group.

The case involving Faouzi Jaber, a 61-year-old Ivorian citizen known by the alias “Excellence,” raises questions about the handling of similar operations in the future in light of the FARC‘s ongoing demobilization.

Faouzi Jaber. Photo courtesy InSight Crime

Jaber pleaded guilty on July 25 to conspiring to traffic arms and drugs in support of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) insurgency, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

According to a press release from the U.S. prosecutor’s office, Jaber met multiple times with confidential sources working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who were posing as members of the FARC.

In those meetings, Jaber introduced the confidential sources to drug and arms traffickers, and promised to help the guerrilla group obtain weapons, smuggle drugs in Africa and launder money.

Jaber was arrested in April 2014 by local authorities in the Czech Republic acting on a US request for his capture and extradition.

Jaber is not the first international arms trafficker brought down by DEA operatives pretending to be members of the FARC.

Perhaps the most infamous example is the 2008 arrest in Thailand of Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death” who was later convicted in the United States of conspiring to sell arms to DEA sources posing as FARC fighters.

More recently, a Romanian-born man named Flaviu Georgescu was convicted in the United States of participating in a weapons trafficking conspiracy following a similar set-up.

Although the tactic of posing as the FARC has helped the DEA capture a number of suspected international criminals, the agency will almost certainly have to find a new group to impersonate in these types of stings. The FARC, one of the world’s oldest and most famous guerrilla groups, signed a peace deal with the Colombian government last year and recently handed over its weapons to the United Nations.

However, the fact that the FARC is now effectively defunct as a guerrilla organization does not mean that the DEA will stop using confidential sources posing as criminals to execute sting operations.

In fact, this tactic—which has been criticized as a form of entrapment— has become a staple of the DEA’s pursuit of so-called “narco-terrorism” cases in Latin America and abroad.

Mike LaSusa is editor of InSight Crime. The Crime Report is pleased to publish this story in collaboration with InSight Crime. For the complete version, including related links, please click here. Readers’ comments are welcomed.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Colombia and Drugs: Rex Tillerson’s ‘Coca Confusion’

Despite a return to hardline drug-war rhetoric, the U.S. has weakened its partnership with other key allies in the war on drugs in the hemisphere, says a hemisphere expert. Exhibit A: the current policy muddle about how to stem Colombia’s increasing coca crop.

“We are at a challenged place with them right now,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Colombia at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing earlier this month.

This is a remarkable thing to say about a country that has been the United States’ closest ally in Latin America for nearly 20 years. But it’s probably true, and it’s mostly the U.S. government’s own doing.

Colombia is not the only “challenge.”

Despite a return to hardline drug-war rhetoric, the U.S. has weakened its partnership with other key allies in the war on drugs in the hemisphere.  Funding cuts have already depleted the State Department’s team of Latin American experts in the region, and are raising questions about the future of many regional programs aimed at combating drug trafficking into the U.S.

But Colombia should be of particular concern to Washington’s “drug warriors.”

The country came up often during Tillerson’s schedule of congressional hearings during the week of June 12. Latin America’s third most-populous country is at a critical moment. On June 20, a peace process culminated with the full disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), by far the hemisphere’s largest guerrilla group. Violence right now is near 40-year lows.

On the other hand, new organized-crime groups are popping up, while cultivation of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, is at or near all-time highs.

Instead of the challenges of implementing peace, it was the coca issue that dominated discussion during Tillerson’s congressional appearances. The Secretary told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) on June 13 that he sees “flaws” in Colombia’s November 2016 peace accord and is urging President Juan Manuel Santos to revive a U.S.-backed program, suspended in 2015, to spray herbicides from aircraft over the remote rural areas where farmers grow coca.

“We have told them, though, we’ve got to get back to the spraying; we’ve got to get back to destroying these fields,” Tillerson said. “(We’ve told them) that they’re in a very bad place now in cocaine supply to the United States, and the president talked to President Santos directly about that.”

Tillerson’s comments struck a nerve in Colombia, and were widely covered in Colombian media.  It put on the defensive officials in Santos’ administration, which suspended the spraying program after a 2015 World Health Organization literature review concluded that the chemical used in the aerial spraying—glyphosate—is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

With U.S. support, Colombia had sprayed glyphosate mixtures over 1.7 million hectares (about 4.25 million acres) of territory between 2000 and 2015. The coca-producing nations of Peru and Bolivia do not allow aerial spraying: Government representatives eradicate the crop on the ground.

The aerial fumigation program’s defenders in Colombia argued that the FARC conflict made on-the-ground conditions too unsafe.

After 20 years of spraying, the results were mixed. Especially in the early 2000s, fumigation proved capable of causing short-term drops in coca cultivation. But farmers in abandoned, neglected coca-growing zones found ways to adjust, even as they complained of health effects from the chemicals sprayed from overhead.

With no other economic options in stateless territories, they nimbly replanted, at times moving to new areas. A decade ago, when the spray program was at its height, U.S. analysts concluded that  Colombian coca cultivation had  recovered to levels last seen before the spraying intensified.

Post-2007 decreases in coca owed more to an increased on-the-ground presence of Colombian government personnel, and to manual eradication.

Tillerson’s call to revive fumigation had a consequence that the program’s backers surely didn’t intend. Top Colombian officials responded with media statements defending the 2015 decision to suspend aerial eradication, characterizing it in strong terms as a failed program.

These included President Santos, Environment Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo, eradication chief Eduardo Diaz and—most damagingly—Vice President Gen. Oscar Naranjo, a longtime former National Police chief who supervised the spraying program near its height.

“Every strategy runs its course,” Gen. Naranjo told El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper.

Later in the week, the situation became more muddled: it appears that Secretary Tillerson misspoke. On June 14, he spoke to a House committee about “being able to secure areas so people could go in and actually spray these fields; because they have to be sprayed largely from the ground, it’s difficult terrain to spray them from the air.”

Having eradicators wear herbicide sprayers on their backs is still unlikely to reduce coca significantly if it is not paired with a government presence providing basic services, like roads and land titles, in coca-growing zones.

Still, in his later remarks, Tillerson was endorsing something that Colombia is already doing. Officials report eradicating over 15,000 hectares, mostly with this on-the-ground spray method, so far in 2017.

An e-mail response from the State Department to the investigative website InsightCrime made Tillerson’s walk-back more explicit: “The Secretary never talked specifically about aerial erad[ication]. He mentioned ‘spraying’ more generally, and of course coca eradication in Colombia has included both aerial spraying as well as land-based spraying (with officers on-the-ground using backpack units).”

The coca confusion, and resulting damage to the U.S.-Colombia bilateral relationship, points to larger dysfunction in the Trump administration’s foreign policy apparatus.

The State Department has no lack of seasoned officials with years of working on Colombia, who could explain to higher-ups both the history of eradication techniques and the Colombian government’s plan, within the context of the 2016 FARC peace accord, to eradicate coca in a less confrontational manner.

Unfortunately, the State Department is badly depleted right now, with a severe lack of mid-level officials including an assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs. It’s evident that the mid-levels are not transmitting important knowledge to the upper echelons.

With greater communication and less dysfunction, it’s more likely that even the hardline Trump administration would view the current moment as an opportunity more than an emergency.

Instead of scolding and “pressing” Colombia (Secretary Tillerson’s word) to readopt an old solution whose record is mixed at best, or making the bilateral relationship all about cocaine (essentially bringing us back to the 1990s), the U.S. could be doing more to help make the plan laid out in the peace accords a reality.

Adam Isacson

Colombia needs financial and technical help to follow through on its commitments to work with tens of thousands of families in neglected rural areas, getting them to stop growing the crop. As foreseen in the peace accord, Colombia’s government has signed agreements covering about 80,000 families and over 60,000 hectares of coca—but its ability to follow through is uncertain.

For the U.S. to play a useful, forward-looking role, the State Department needs to get its act together, with responsible officials in place and more fluid internal communication so that the Secretary is able to convey a more coherent message to Congress and the Colombian government.

Adam Isacson is Senior Associate for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Most People ‘Unaware’ Climate Change Threatens Global Security

A survey conducted by the John Jay College Center on Terrorism, found that only 38% of all respondents “expressed familiarity with the general idea that climate change could multiply global threats such as political violence or mass migrations, or act as a catalyst for conflict.”

According to a survey conducted by the John Jay College Center on Terrorism, even people who believe climate change is real remain largely unaware of its connection to global security. The study found that only 38% of all respondents “expressed familiarity with the general idea that climate change could multiply global threats such as political violence or mass migrations, or act as a catalyst for conflict.”

That number was only slightly higher among people who believe climate change is real, and caused or contributed to by human actions: 42%.

Only 15% were aware of the role a deadly drought played in sparking the ongoing Syrian conflict.

Participants in the study were more willing to take action and change their behaviors when they perceived U.S. national security, rather than global security, to be at threat, say the researchers.

According to the authors, the results of this study could have significant implications for “climate change communications.”

The connection between global climate change and security is not new among the national security, intelligence and research communities. However, according to the John Jay College Center on Terrorism at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, public understanding of climate change as a security threat has been under-explored till now.

The study was conducted by Kelly A. Berkell, Research Fellow and principal author,
with Charles B. Strozier, Director of the Center on Terrorism. The original report can be found here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Puerto Rico Cocaine Seizure Points to Caribbean’s Revival as Drug Hub

The seizure earlier last month of more than a metric ton of cocaine in Puerto Rico is the latest indication of what may be the Caribbean’s revival as a major drug trans-shipment hub in the Western hemisphere.

The seizure earlier last month of more than a metric ton of cocaine in Puerto Rico is the latest indication of what may be the Caribbean’s revival as a major drug trans-shipment hub in the Western hemisphere.

The Coast Guard unloaded 1.1 metric tons of cocaine in Puerto Rico on June 2. The drugs, seized a week earlier off the island’s southern coast, are estimated to have a wholesale value of around $32 million.

According to a June 6 press release, three Dominican nationals were arrested as part of the operation. They will face US federal charges in a Puerto Rico court.

The incident is the latest in a series of large cocaine seizures in the Caribbean this year. In a single operation in February, the Coast Guard seized 4.2 metric tons of cocaine heading to Europe in international waters off the northern coast of Suriname — the largest bust in the Atlantic Ocean in nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, on June 4, the Jamaica Observer reported a small seizure of 75 kilograms of cocaine that were being shipped from Suriname and Guyana, indicating that the Caribbean is an important route for both large-scale and small-scale trafficking.

The latest seizures serve as a reminder of the Caribbean’s important role as a drug transshipment hub, but also of the variety of routes and operations established in the area.

Editor’s Note: The Caribbean was a major source of cocaine trafficking during the 1980s, but efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on the trade fueled the rise of Mexico and Central America as alternative trans-shipment points. A resurgence of traffic was noted as early as 2013, when the DEA reported some 14 percent of cocaine shipments headed for the U.S. were identified as coming from the Caribbean region, particularly Puerto Rico and neighboring Dominican Republic.

Today, Central America and Mexico continue to be the main corridor for South American drugs heading to the US market, accounting for an estimated 76 percent of cocaine smuggled north, according to the DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment report.

However, almost all of the remainder travels to the United States through the Caribbean, the report states.

US authorities have in the past argued that evidence points to growing trafficking activities through the Caribbean. In fact, the DEA has said that the region saw a three-fold increase in drug smuggling between 2009 and 2014.

Indeed, the Caribbean’s transshipment role has grown increasingly visible in recent years.

The region remains one of the two main transit points for cocaine crossing the Atlantic to feed European consumption markets.

This flow has most likely been fueled by the boom in Colombia‘s cocaine production, while the deep crisis shaking neighboring Venezuela — from where many Caribbean shipments are launched — also facilitates trafficking activities.

This story is a slightly edited version of a report published this week by InSight Crime, and is reproduced by The Crime Report under agreement.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Stop Fixating on Drugs, Colombian President Tells U.S.

Colombian President Juan Santos, who met President Trump at the White House yesterday, says the U.S. needs to change its hardline drug policy to focus on harm-reduction and the wider illicit activities conducted by transnational crime cartels.

Washington needs to widen its anti-drug efforts to focus on international crime, says Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos.

Speaking to the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC think tank,  Santos said the U.S. needed to recognize that transnational drug cartels were deeply involved in many other illegal activities that threatened international security.

“These criminal structures also benefit from human trafficking, as well as illegal mining and illegal deforestation,” said Santos, who was in Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, whom he called a “pragmatic leader.”

[Trump returned the praise during their White House meeting yesterday, citing Santos’ successful effort to end the half-century conflict between left-wing guerrillas and the state that has cost thousands of Colombian lives. “I really congratulate you,” Trump told Santos during a joint news conference, reported USA Today. “There’s nothing tougher than peace,” .]

[During their meeting, Santos pressed Trump to continue his predecessor’s commitment to support the peace agreement worked out between the militant group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) and the government earlier this year.  Congress approved President Barack Obama’s request of $450 million in aid for Colombia in 2017, but that may get slashed in the upcoming battle over the 2018 budget, says USA Today.]

The talks between the two leaders appeared to leave open whether U.S. support for “Plan Colombia,”  a linchpin in efforts to eradicate Colombia’s cocaine trafficking, would continue.  The 1999 plan, developed under then-President Bill Clinton’s administration and supported  by then-Colombian President Andres Pastrana, has achieved little, according to many observers.  Seventeen years after the plan came into force, Colombia’s cocaine production has reached record heights.

At the same time, the groups involved in drug trafficking have assumed a multitude of other criminal activity, like illegal gold mining and human trafficking.

Few countries in the region now support a hard-line approach to drug use and drug trafficking,  in stark contrast to the strategy announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this month to toughen prosecution and punishment for drug offenses.

With Santos leading the way, many Latin American countries are urging the U.S. to rethink the military-dominated approach to drug cartels.

Santos has effectively dumped Plan Colombia and — following a peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels last year — has followed Peru’s example to prioritize crop substitution and rural development to curb the cultivation of coca, the plant used for the production of cocaine.

“Colombia is at the point of inflection and will not go backwards.” Santos told the Atlantic Council.

This strategy has been explicitly endorsed by the United Nations and is currently being implemented without much U.S. intervention.

With or without Trump’s support, Colombia plans to tackle crime with a policy that transcends drug trafficking, and includes money laundering, tax evasion, extortion and illegal mining.

Most importantly, the country has begun the problem of drugs as a public health, rather than a criminal issue.

In contrast to Sessions’  counter-narcotics strategy,  Santos has done the exact opposite. His administration has decriminalized the carrying and consumption of drugs and has made drug use a public health rather than a public security issue.

This is an edited version of a story which appeared earlier in Colombia Reports, reprinted with permission. The full version is available here.  Readers comments are welcome.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

7 Things the Trump Administration Gets Wrong about MS13

One of Latin America’s most violent gangs has become a centerpiece of the Trump administration’s campaign to go after the criminal activities it says are committed by undocumented migrants—but the facts it is relying upon are open to question.

One of  Latin America’s most violent gangs has become a centerpiece of the Trump administration’s campaign to go after the criminal activities it says are committed by undocumented migrants—but the facts it is relying upon are open to question.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to New York to warn members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, known as MS-13, that “we are coming after you” in the aftermath of a series of deaths in Long Island tied to the gang.

But the verbal offensive by both the attorney general and President Trump, which ratcheted up earlier last month, as well as their statements on the origins and evolution of the gang, are for the most part false or misleading.

On April 18, Trump tweeted that the “weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama administration” allowed the MS13 to develop in several US cities. The current president also said that his administration has been expelling gang members at rates never seen before.

In addition, speaking to Fox News, the President stated that the gangs are made up of “illegal immigrants that were here that caused tremendous crime. That have murdered people, raped people — horrible things have happened. They’re getting the hell out or they’re going to prison.”

On the same day that Trump made these comments, Sessions expressed similar thoughts in a separate TV interview and in a speech he gave to an elite group of federal officials, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).

Like Trump, Attorney General Sessions also blamed so-called “sanctuary cities,” which forbid local police forces from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, for facilitating the MS13‘s expansion.

As he had promised during his presidential campaign, upon assuming office Trump began threatening to cut federal funds to these cities if they refused to cooperate with ICE. Only a few of the more than 100 sanctuary cities have given up their sanctuary status. Others that are home to large migrant communities, such as San Francisco; Hyattsville, Maryland; Houston; and Los Angeles have defied Trump.

In addition, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly spoke about the MS13 at a public event held by George Washington University, in Washington, DC.

“They are utterly without laws, conscience, or respect for human life. They take the form of drug cartels, or international gangs like MS13, who share their business dealings and violent practices. Their sophisticated networks move anything and everything across our borders, including human beings,” Kelly said.

Each of these comments comes with its flaws, and at the very least distorts the reality and obscurs the strategies that should be followed to tackle the MS13 threat. In an effort to shed more light on this complex issue, InSight Crime has listed seven aspects of these statements in which the Trump administration is plainly mistaken.

1. Barack Obama’s immigration policies allowed the MS13 to expand across the United States

Trump blames former President Obama, but he may have been more correct if he had pointed the finger at Ronald Reagan. The MS13 and Barrio 18 street gangs were established in the 1980s in Los Angeles. At the beginning, they were made up of young undocumented migrants that came to California escaping the civil war in El Salvador. They were tuned in to rock music and took part in small-scale drug dealing. Some of them had received military or guerrilla-style training.

As Salvadoran news outlet El Faro wrote about the origins of the MS13, very soon the gang began to articulate a violent ideology based by and large on opposition to rival gangs, most notably the Barrio 18.

The gangs migrated to the US East Coast towards the end of the 1990s, as part of the migration waves that saw Latino communities looking for jobs elsewhere in the country. By the beginning of the 2000s, the MS13 began to catch the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Even the fact sheet the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released on April 18 to support Sessions’s statements clearly says that the MS13 was born and began to expand before 2009. “The MS13 has been functioning since at least the 1980s,” the report states.

In 2004, under the George W. Bush administration, the FBI created a special unit targeting the MS13, after members of the gang committed some atrocious homicides.

In 2006, Brian Tuchon, then-head of the FBI’s special unit, told Salvadoran news outlet La Prensa Gráfica that the gang had settled in 42 US states, and had begun to participate in drug trafficking, chiefly as local distributors. Since that time, the FBI and the US State Department have maintained that gangs like the MS13 do not play an important role in the international drug trafficking chain.

The MS13‘s expansion is directly related to the evolution and migration of Central American communities into the United States, and also with the large-scale deportation campaigns that began towards the end of the Bill Clinton administration and intensified during George W. Bush’s two terms in office.

2. US law enforcement has done nothing against the MS13

“It is a serious problem and we never did anything about it, and now we’re doing something about it,” President Trump told Fox News during the April 18 interview.

This is false. In addition to several FBI operations, local police forces and attorneys from counties across the states of Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and California carried out several law enforcement actions against MS13 members during the previous decade.

To give a few examples, federal cases brought by attorneys under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) law in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Arlington, Virginia led to blows that decimated the MS13 cells on the US East Coast for a decade.

In 2007, Greenbelt’s federal court sentenced some 20 members of gangs based in Maryland, DC and Virginia to several years in prison as part of an organized crime case that included charges of homicide, drug possession, illegal use of weapons and rape, among others. Among the defendants was Saúl Hernández Turcios, alias “El Trece,” one of the MS13 leaders in El Salvador.

Again, the DOJ report on the MS13 appears to contradict the president’s words. The fact sheet states: “Through the combined efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement, great progress was made diminishing or severely disrupted the gang within certain targeted areas of the US by 2009 and 2010.” That is, during the Obama administration.

3. More gang members are being deported from the United States than ever before

In his tweet, Trump said that “we are removing [gang members] fast.” Yet there is no data to support this claim. The ICE deportation figures available to the public do not show data from the first three months of 2017, when Trump has been in office. Up until the end of 2016, the percentage of gang members compared to the total deported population was minimal: 0.8 percent, that is, 2,057 individuals “with confirmed or suspected connections to gangs” out of a total of 240,255 deported people that year.

Ever since 2011, when the Obama administration announced that it would prioritize deportations for undocumented migrants with criminal records or ties to illegal groups, Washington has been juggling two distinct figures: the number of people accused or convicted of a crime, and the number of people whose only crime has been violating migration laws by illegally entering the United States. This, according to many pro-immigrant organizations, has only further criminalized migrant communities.

There is no data showing that deportations carried out during the Trump administration have targeted more gang members, and Central American police sources have told InSight Crime that this is not the case.

4. The MS13 is recruiting more in the United States in an attempt to revive defunct ‘clicas,’ and to commit more violent acts

Sessions told OCDETF that “Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS13 has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors.”

This is, in part, correct. As InSight Crime recently reported, between 2014 and 2016 the FBI and local authorities detected an increase in homicides attributable to the MS13 in Virginia; Boston; and Long Island, New York.

Testimony from a RICO case opened in Boston in 2015 against various MS13 “clicas,” or cells, indicates that orders from the gang’s jailed leadership in El Salvador may have been behind some of these homicides. The court documents also mention a meeting between clica leaders in Richmond, Virginia, in which a spokesperson known as “Ricky” relayed the order to expand the MS13‘s East Coast program.

Federal investigations revealed that some of the Boston homicides could be linked to this order. It is also true that the recent homicides were brutally executed, which is characteristic of the MS13 in Central America.

But Sessions’ statement also distorts the truth. Once again, there is no information that allows the attorney general or Trump’s administration to affirm that these murders are attributable to the arrival of undocumented minors, who began coming to the United States in larger numbers in 2014. In fact, there is no study by federal agencies or academic institutions that proves that there is a significant number of gang members among these minors. On the contrary, a large portion of these undocumented youths who come seeking asylum claim that they are fleeing gangs in the Northern Triangle.

Moreover, there is no evidence that the migratory patterns of gang members are different than those of any other group of migrants, or that they are moving in accordance with a grand plan forged by the MS13‘s Salvadoran leadership to revitalize the organization.

It is nonetheless true that in 2007 the MS13 started to resume recruitment activities and indiscriminate use of violence in some US cities, according to FBI officials who have studied the gang for at least two decades. But these efforts are not directly related to Obama’s migration policies. David LeValley, who until last November was chief of the FBI’s criminal investigations unit in Washington, explains that there have been attempts by the MS13 to regain strength following the RICO prosecutions between 2006 and 2010. This has been occurring “since 2007, after real successes and after the leadership had been decimated,” the FBI agent told InSight Crime in an interview last year.

In more recent years, the MS13 has largely been following the organization’s dynamics in Central America. This includes the gang truce between the MS13Barrio 18 and the Salvadoran government during the presidency of Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), and the subsequent declaration of war by current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

5. Sanctuary cities are more hospitable to the MS13, and the gang can operate freely in them

Sessions told OCDETF that sanctuary cities “dangerously undermine [the process of fighting gangs]. Harboring criminal aliens only helps violent gangs like MS13. Sanctuary cities are aiding these cartels to refill their ranks and putting innocent life — including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants — in danger.”

This is false. There is no evidence that the “sanctuary” status of certain cities — those that refuse to allow local police to assist ICE in locating and deporting undocumented migrants — has any effect on their crime rates. Evidence indicates that, as in much of the United States, crime rates in sanctuary cities have been decreasing for years. In fact, some studies suggest that crime indicators are actually lower in migrant communities.

Furthermore, some successful models for combating gangs have been carried out in cities with a strong migrant presence, where the police established ties with such communities in order to counteract the influence of the MS13 or Barrio 18. This has been at the root of anti-gang operations in, for example, Fairfax, Virginia; Montgomery, Maryland; and Washington, DC, where InSight Crime has carried out investigations over the past two years. Between 2009 and 2014, gang-related homicides in Fairfax and Montgomery fell to nearly zero.

6. The MS13 represents a threat comparable to Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, and the Italian mafia

Attorney General Sessions compared the MS13 to Colombian cartels and the Italian “mafia.” Yet years of investigations into the MS13 and the Barrio 18 have shown that the participation of both gangs in the regional drug trade is minimal. In some cases, their activity is limited to controlling local markets.

Even the US State Department has recognized on multiple occasions that Central American gangs are not “important actors” in international drug trafficking. In contrast to the old Colombian cartels, their modern Mexican counterparts or intermediary criminal organizations, neither the MS13 nor Barrio 18 have ever had the economic or political power to obtain the protection needed to run large-scale drug trafficking activities in Central America. Nor have they been able to establish strong networks in the United States beyond small local cells.

In general, the number of big trafficking cases associated with MS13 clicas in Central America or the United States is small. And they typically involve gang units that, due to their location or leadership, have pre-existing connections to drug traffickers.

Apart from extortion, which is tightly regulated by the gang leadership, the MS13‘s remaining criminal activities depend largely on decisions made by the local clica leader.

7. A law enforcement solution alone is adequate to solve this problem

Both Trump and Sessions resorted to repeating misinformation that other officials — including Central American presidents, ministers and police chiefs — have used to justify heavy-handed anti-gang policies, which have only helped the MS13 and Barrio 18 to become more sophisticated as their members have been stuffed into prisons.

At the end of the day, the words of both officials are intended to link the recent homicides attributed to the MS13 in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia to Trump’s narrative, which he has used to criminalize migration and the Latino community in the United States.

The Crime Report is pleased to introduce a new content partner specializing in crime and security issues in  Latin America. The above is a slightly edited version of an article published last month in InsightCrime. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Does Bogotá Have Antiviolence Lessons for Chicago?

Colombian city brought down its homicide rate sharply after taking measures that included: creating family police stations to deal with domestic violence, hiring at-risk people to work for the city, improving public transportation, and making other police reforms.

Should Chicago emulate Bogotá, Colombia, whose homicide rate declined from 81 per 100,000 in 1993 (about twice as high as Baltimore) too 178.6 in 2015 (lower than Chicago in 2016? Chicago magazine reports on what Bogotá did. Among its measures: creating family police stations to deal with domestic violence, hiring at-risk people to work for  the city, improving public transportation, and police reform.

On the last issue, Bogotá invested heavily in the police department, including housing for officers, training in legal and social issues, embracing of an epidemiological approach to violence, and a attempting to strengthen community relationships with the police and decrease citizen apathy towards violence. Trust in the police went up; so did arrests for assaults and homicide. The magazine concludes: “Perhaps what’s most impressive about Bogotá and its reduction in homicide is not any one program, but the exceptional breadth of them and the city’s relatively successful commitment to their long-term impact.”

 

from http://thecrimereport.org

Amid Economic Misery, Murders Spike as Venezuela Teeters

The country’s own security forces are accused of participating in a massacre of innocents as killings reached an all-time high of nearly 30,000 this year. “It will come to a point where no one is in control,” said a Venezuelan political scientist.

The New York Times paints a bleak picture of uncontrolled crime in Venezuela, where the country’s own security forces are accused of participating in a massacre of innocents. The country has long suffered from one of the world’s highest crime rates. But the nation’s economic crisis, which has upended everything from its hospitals to its food supply, has deepened the misery and criminality. Killings have risen to 28,479 this year, the highest number ever recorded in the country, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent group that tracks violence. Armed gangs have established a tight grip over neighborhoods, with many Venezuelans turning to crime as inflation shrivels their wages and jobs become harder to find.

In a bid to restore order, the government has turned to the institution it trusts the most: the military. Throughout the country, the armed forces have become Venezuela’s law keepers, engaging in commando-style raids that sometimes take on the profile of urban warfare. “It has become more militaristic and more repressive,” Margarita López Maya, a Venezuelan political scientist, said. She López said that the victims of the crackdowns were often the impoverished civilians who needed protection the most, and that the violence was a reflection of the severity of Venezuela’s decline. “We are walking on the path to a failed state,” she said. “It will come to a point where no one is in control.”

from http://thecrimereport.org