Friday, August 5, 2011

Drug Traffickers Capitalize On Permissive and Weak Governments of Central America

Costa Rica's security ministry is alarmed as traffickers come to store drugs, converting the country from a "bridge" to a "warehouse" for the drug cartels

Last year, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica were labeled for the first time as "major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries", joining Panama and Guatemala, as the narco-war moves south.

Currently the majority of small, economically challenges Central American countries are seeing rising drug related violence and corruption.

Recent press articles describe authorities' concern. According to the New York Times, American radar data shows a steep rise in cocaine shipments from South America cross through Central America.

In 2006, when Mexico began a nationwide crackdown under President Calderon, only 23% of shipments passed through Central America. In 2008, it was 44%. Last year, it was up to 84%.

Across the already troubled region, drug trafficking organizations are capitalizing on the more permissive environments resulting from weaker governments and essentially uncontrolled borders.

Reportedly, increasing violence was noted in 2008 when the infamous Zetas (founded by rogue Mexican law enforcement personnel) started taking over routes in various countries. To make matters worse, the Zetas and other cartels started paying their local accomplices "in kind" instead of cash. This has contributed to quickly rising rates of drug addiction, and accompanying crime.

The growing narco-scourge manifests itself in several ways:

Costa Rica's security ministry is alarmed as traffickers come to store drugs, converting the country from a "bridge" to a "warehouse" for the drug cartels. Colombians leave the drugs and Mexicans come and pick them up. Statistics show that since 2006, Costa Rica has uncovered 36 different smuggling rings and captured more than 90 tons of cocaine.

In El Salvador, cartels are gathering weapons for their private armies by stealing them from military arsenals or bribing poorly paid soldiers to turn them over. According to Salvadoran Gen. Munguia, "Mexican cartels are trying to supply themselves with weapons in the Central American area." Recently, several soldiers were arrested trying to sell almost 2,000 grenades to traffickers.

The mountains along Nicaragua's border with Guatemala and the sparsely unpopulated Caribbean coast provide perfect terrain for smugglers. In the capital of Managua, leaders of a drug ring were recently arrested, and police announced they were using trucks to transport drugs across poorly-controlled mountain roads into Guatemala.

wo recent seizures in Honduras represent unsettling first-time events. In March, a complete and well-equipped cocaine lab was discovered, designed along Colombian lines. This month, a drug-laden submersible vessel was discovered in Honduran waters, loaded with 7 tons of dope. Both show that Honduras is now more than just a transit route, but has a larger role in cartel operations.

These and many other data points show both the pervasive destructive power of the world's most powerful criminal organizations and the regional dimensions of the narco-wars in both Mexico and Colombia.

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