Across Mexico, the lawlessness and carnage of the drug wars have given rise to scores of local self-defense forces aiming to defend their communities. The federal government may be tempted to disband and disarm these armed vigilantes, but until it can shape up its security sector, the local groups offer an imperfect but acceptable alternative.
Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo has been chosen over Mexican candidate Herminio Blanco as the newest director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on May 7. El Palenque, AnimalPolitico’s debate forum for experts, discusses the effects this win will have on Mexican diplomacy, Brazil’s role in trade liberalization, and the prominence of the BRICS on the world stage. Azevêdo will be the first Latin American to head the WTO.
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Live in Mexico’s largest city or plan on visiting sometime soon? The city’s police force has created an app that tracks your location, and lets you contact local beat cops at the press of a button. But if you’re concerned about giving the cops access to your data, keep it off your phone.
Called Mi Policia (or My Police), the app for iOS and Android was released last week by the Ministry of Public Security (SSP), the agency overseeing Mexico City’s thousands-strong police force. If it’s a success, the hope is that police in the Western Hemisphere’s largest city will be able to react faster to emergencies, while building connections between citizens and police — a tactic known as community policing — at a more local level. It may help prevent drug violence from making inroads.
When the app opens, there are two buttons beneath the shield of the SSP. Click the first button, and a Google Maps overlay will appear with your location, the name of the police quadrant and its commanders, and a button to immediately call the quadrant headquarters. The second button is similar, but includes the option to manually input an address or the name of a neighborhood. The whole time, the “user requesting assistance may be located by GPS geolocation,” reported Mexico City newspaper El Universal.
There’s two problems. First, you’ll need a data plan to use it, which could be trouble for tourists and travelers. Second, if the quadrant police don’t pick up the phone or are otherwise busy, the app won’t automatically redirect the caller to emergency number 066 (which is used in place of 911). That could cost precious seconds in an emergency. Jesus Rodriguez Almeida, Mexico City’s most senior police commander, told newspaper La Jornada that the SSP is working on an update that will include both fixes.
Downloading the app also means giving away sensitive data. The version for Android can determine “approximately where you are” — which is the point. But in addition, the app can “read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, orcommunicated in other ways with specific individuals,” according to its permissions description. This doesn’t mean the cops will read your emails while visiting the city, but they could.
But the theory of community policing has some merit to it. Over time, the idea goes, crime rates will go down, or at least spare Mexico City from the war-like drug violence experienced in other regions. (The homicide rate in the city is relatively low for Mexico and comparable to Houston, Texas.) And since 2003, Mexico City has been undergoing a gradual shift to community policing. The SSP in recent years created police buddy-teams assigned to specific neighborhoods, and trained cops in how to communicate with local citizens councils (.pdf). This was augmented in 2009 when Mexico City spent $460 million on control centers and 8,000 security cameras across the city.
Number-wise, the city police force also counts a ginormous 76,000 officers (.pdf) among its ranks, double the size of the NYPD. The downside, as Mexico City’s leaders discovered in the last decade, is that giant police forces are impersonal. Citizens often don’t know who their local police officers are, and are not prone to particularly trust them. Mexico as a whole also has one of the lowest rates of people who trust the police in Latin America: 2.8 percent, according to watchdog group Mexico Evalua.
Now, an app. But it’s not clear how many people will use it. The SSP estimates three million residents in Mexico City use smartphones, according to La Jornada, out of a population of nine million and excluding the larger metropolitan area. It stands to reason most residents with smartphones are wealthier and do not live in areas with the highest crime rates. Replicating the app for Mexico’s more violent regions also runs into the question whether people will even want to contact police forces facing widespread allegations of corruption.
There’s the tension. In order to build trust with the police, the Security Ministry comes up with an app that tracks users and reads their data. It builds closer bonds — with a community that may not want to give that data away.
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Mexican Assistant Interior Secretary Roberto Campa says only about 2 percent of the current $1.9 billion in American aid under the Merida Initiative is earmarked for social programs. Most goes for intelligence, transport and the training for Mexican law enforcement agencies.
Campa said Thursday the previous administration’s social programs were poorly organized and late.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has pledged to focus less on armed conflict and more on addressing the underlying social issues that fuel the drug violence that has cost more than 70,000 lives since 2006.
That plan includes a $9.2 billion program to provide greater employment and educational opportunities for youths who otherwise might join cartels.
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- Written by Elyssa Pachico
- Tuesday, 29 January 2013
A new report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) examines migration and security trends in the easternmost sector of the US-Mexicoborder, noting that the Zetas‘ traditional hold in this area may be weakening.
The six-page report, written by senior associates Adam Isacson and Maureen Meyer, is based on an approximately week-long trip to the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo sectors of the US-Mexico border in November 2011. The authors visited three cities in Texas — Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville — and one city in Mexico, Matamoros.
Among the report’s findings is that US law enforcement authorities say that the Zetas’ power in the area is ebbing slightly. The Zetas’ traditional stronghold is in three Mexican states that border Texas: Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas. The report states that part of the group’s decline is due to internal divisions, an apparent reference tofactions that have reportedly turned against the group’s surviving top leader, Miguel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40.” The report also notes that increased drug seizures along the border may also be a sign that the Zetas’ control over drug smuggling routes has been weakened, and that “different groups” may now be attempting to move drug shipments into the US via these routes.
These increased drug seizures are one indication that drug trafficking has increased in both the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo sectors, with US agents noting increased seizures of heroin, marijuana, and a new substance: liquid methamphetamine.
While the continued weakening of the Zetas would likely lead to increased violence in this region, should a power vacuum in the criminal underworld emerge, so far there is no sign of any “spillover” violence in the US, the report adds.
InSight Crime Analysis
One reason for the Zetas’ weakening hold in this region of the US-Mexico border is likely the group’s drawn-out war with the Sinaloa Cartel. The two organizations are fighting for control of Nuevo Laredo, which as WOLA points out is the busiest land port in the US, with some 7,000 trucks crossing daily in and out of Mexico. This commercial activity has made the “plaza” extremely valuable to drug trafficking organizations. Not only are the Zetas fighting the Sinaloans in Laredo, they are also clashing in the central state of Durango. This conflict, along with the aftermath of the death of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3,” in October, has put the Zetas in a much more vulnerable position.
The WOLA report also raises the question of how the Zetas’ decline in this border region will affect migration dynamics. The Zetas are known for charging a tax, or a “piso,” on smugglers who move migrants through their territory, killing, kidnapping and even forcibly recruiting the migrants who do not pay up. The WOLA report notes that greater numbers of Central American migrants are attempting to move through Zetas’ territory, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, into the Rio Grande Valley in the US. While Tamaulipas has witnessed brutal acts of violence against migrants, including the slaughter of 72 migrants in August 2010, the state remains a popular crossing point as it is the shortest distance between the US-Mexico border and Central America.
As dangerous as the Zetas made Tamaulipas for migrants, it’s possible that the Zetas’ decline could make migrants even more vulnerable. As InSight Crime previously documented in a three-part report on the dangers facing migrants, the Zetas are not the only organization who pose a threat to those moving northwards from Central America. The Zetas typically contract street gangs to harass, rob, and even kidnap migrants as they move along their route. With the Zetas weakening, this could possibly empower street gangs to prey on migrants even more aggressively, in order to keep the money extorted from migrants for themselves. If the Zetas continue to lose power and influence along the US-Mexico border, it will likely make migrants’ journey even more dangerous and unpredictable.
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By James Cudmore, CBC News
Posted: Feb 2, 2013 6:00 AM ET
The Harper government’s new focus on the Americas means a dramatic change of effort for the Canadian Forces and an overt participation in the U.S. war on drugs.
The commander of Canada’s operational forces, Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, says Canada is now focusing new efforts on Central America and the Caribbean.
In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Beare said Canada was active in attempts to sever the Central American drug artery pumping narcotics northwards into the United States and Canada.
“We’re partnered with our U.S. partners in the counter-narcotic effort on the southern flank, in Central and South America, as the flow goes north,” Beare revealed.
For years, Canada has participated in naval operations in the Caribbean Sea designed to thwart narcotics-smuggling efforts. Canada has also provided specialized radar and reconnaissance patrol aircraft to that fight.
But Beare suggests much more is being done in the region now than ever before.
Canadian troops are working and training with troops from Chile, Brazil, even Colombia, Beare said. But the effort is sharpest in Central America.
“We’re staying connected in the hemisphere, in particular, in capacity-building partners in the Caribbean Basin, sustaining a great effort with Jamaica, reaching into Belize and Guatemala, helping them to build their own capacity, to manage their own security forces and security conditions.”
Troops from the Petawawa, Ont.,-based Canadian Special Operations Regiment assisted in the training of a special Jamaican force, called the Counter Terrorism Operations Group.
Those Jamaican troops put their Canadian-taught skills to use in 2009 to free six Canadian crew aboard a CanJet 737 hijacked at Montego Bay. (Negotiators had previously convinced the hijacker to release roughly 150 passengers.)
Jamaica in turn has allowed Canada to construct and staff a forward-deployed operational staging centre, to help Canadian troops leap more quickly into action in the event of natural disasters or security threats in the region.
Increasing military co-operation
In Belize, Canada has engaged for several years trying to build both police and military capability through the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, run by the Foreign Affairs department. So far, more than $2 million has been spent to help improve Belize’s national forensic centre and its defence force.
Training provided to Jamaican security forces by Canadian special forces proved valuable in resolving the hijacking of a Canadian passenger jet in 2009. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
But the military aspect of Canada’s engagement is increasing.
Last June, Canada donated 2,000 surplus military load-carrying vests to the Belize Defence Force. Belize is also a participant in the Canadian-run Military Training Co-operation Program — a program that provides military education and skills training to poor and developing countries.
More significantly, Canada has helped construct a modern military operations centre and lent support to a top-to-bottom Belizean strategic defence review.
And Belize has reciprocated, allowing Canadian soldiers to train in its dense jungles. Going back as far as 2008, teams of Canadian Civil Military Co-operation teams — essentially aid and engineering teams — headed to Belize for several weeks of hands-on assistance training in rural villages before deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Belize and Guatemala are strategic territory in the war on drugs. The two countries span the entire Central American isthmus, from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, bordering Mexico. They are literally pressed up against North America and are staging areas for drug runners looking to move their illicit product north.
It’s estimated that about 80 per cent of South American cocaine headed into North America somehow transits Guatemalan territory.
Complicating any response to the instability posed by narco-traffickers in the region is the relatively small size of defence forces in both countries.
The Belize Defence Force, for example, has fewer than 1,500 troops, while the Guatemalan military has 15,000.
Canada has supported the training of Guatemalan troops in peace support operations, but it’s not clear how else the military is involved there.
Despite Beare’s mention of Guatemala as an area of military focus, the Defence Department has not provided any information in response to CBC News questions about Canadian efforts there.
But it’s clear the area matters to the military. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Walt Natynczyk, visited Guatemala City to meet senior defence officials there in 2011.
Beare says Canada’s contributions to the region are significant, though still small.
“You’re not seeing battalions and fleets and squadrons of aircraft,” he said. “What we’re doing there is persistent engagement, co-operation and collaboration with our partners in the hemisphere, to help raise their capacities, improve our network in the region, so we can respond to contingencies there.”
In January, The Canadian Press reported government documents it obtained showed the situation in Belize was deteriorating because of drug violence.
It also reported Defence Minister Peter MacKay was briefed that Belize was of increasing importance to Canada, “due to the increasingly precarious security situation in Central America, particularly along the Belize-Mexico border.”
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