Monday, January 28, 2013

[HELP-Matrix Blog] Political Risk Analysis: Guatemala and Mexico's OTHER Border ~ Nathaniel Parish Flannery, Contributor

Venceremos! We Will Win! Educate to Liberate!
Peter S. Lopez AKA @Peta_de_Aztlan
Sacramento, California


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Subject: [HELP-Matrix Blog] Political Risk Analysis: Guatemala and Mexico's OTHER Border ~ Nathaniel Parish Flannery, Contributor


As cartels increase overland shipments through Central America, Mexico's southern border has emerged as a security risk. Photo by N. Parish Flannery @LatAmLENS.

As the car wound around a tight bend, the Mexican police officer who gave me a ride pointed off towards the rugged green mountains just ahead. "That's Guatemala," he explained. In recent years, the verdant ranch country along the Mexico-Guatemala border has become a hotspot for transnational criminal organizations. "A narco used to live there," he said, nodding his head towards a ranch property on the side of the highway. Alongside the road residents took baths in irrigation canals, laying t-shirts down by the water's edge. The towns on the Mexican side of the border are some of the poorest in Mexico, but most of these communities are still much better off than their counterparts in Guatemala. We passed a large farm where the wide open land was lined with carefully trimmed cherry trees. "It's mostly Guatemalans who work here," the officer explained.

The officer chatted with me about his experience working with the border patrol. He shared a number of disturbing stories, many of which were hard to believe. As he recalled his memories from the frontera he pointed out the bullet scars on his arms and neck, telling me about skirmishes with drug smugglers, cadavers found stuffed with drugs, and gunmen guiding rafts across the river to Mexico.

In some Guatamalan towns, residents have confronted the trend of disturbing criminal incidents by lynching suspected law-breakers.  As one recent report from NPR explained, "This is the Guatemalan equivalent of the Wild West — a remote, sparsely-populated area along Mexico's southern flank."

A January 22, 2013 note from The Economist explains "murder is an everyday tragedy in Guatemala, one of the world's most violent countries. With around 15 killings a day, most violent deaths merit only a couple of paragraphs in the papers."

Drug runners from multiple Mexican drug cartels now operate in Guatemala, including los Zetas, the hemisphere's most violent drug gang. In 2011, a group of Zeta hitmen attacked a ranch, decapitating 27 people. Exactly opposite of the situation on Mexico's northern border— the border state of Chiapas, Mexico is one of the safest states in the country, while many parts of northern Guatemala are living through a disturbing new trend of cartel-linked violence.

Julie Lopez, a Guatemala researcher, explained "You have, in some areas, some policemen with 9 mm guns that maybe work, or not, having to face drug traffickers with AK-47s and grenade launchers."

Across the border in Guatemala, we pulled past a large luxury SUV with blacked-out windows and large dust-covered chrome rims.  "That's a narco," the officer explained. The vehicles plates were from Guatemala. "Fake plates are common. There are a lot of stolen cars here now," he added.

Mexico's southern border remains a porous frontier, a crossing point for drugs, money, and U.S. bound Central American immigrants. Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina claimed that "40 to 50 percent of the criminal acts [committed in Guatemala] are drug-related."

Gustavo Mohar, a former Mexican immigration and intelligence official explained, "It is becoming imperative and urgent to immediately initiate and develop in the next few years a serious and coordinated regional strategic plan in the areas of security, control and development to prevent this border from sliding out of control."

An excellent report from ProPublica explains "Central American street gangs have become formidable transnational mafias active in the United States and allied with Mexico's powerful drug cartels, which are expanding in Central America. Half the cocaine headed for the United States is off-loaded at the coast of Honduras." As air routes from Colombia to Mexico and the U.S. have declined as the result of increased law enforcement attention, the Guatemala-Mexico border has become a key crossing point in cartel operations.
Unlike other parts of Mexico that have seen rising levels of cartel violence, kidnapping and extortion, southern Mexico has remained a relative safe haven. The area's lack of development and high levels of poverty may make it an unattractive target for local market drug sellers and would-be extortionists. The heavy presence of the Mexican army may also discourage violence.

[Click here to see a map of Mexico drug cartel violence.]

The communities on the Guatemalan side of the border face a more challenging environment. In 2012 Guatemala reported a murder rate of 34.2 per 100,000 residents, a rate that is more than 50 percent higher than the level reported in Mexico during the last few years of cartel violence.

On the Mexican side of the border, drug shipments pass north, sometimes escorted by cartel gunmen, quietly heading towards northern Mexico and the U.S. border. In the land on the sides of these roads, local Mexican small-plot farmers and industrial farms produce coffee for major brands such as Nescafe and Starbucks. They carry out their work without the disturbance of the gruesome cartel violence that affects residents in more developed, industrial cities such as Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey.

[Click here to see a report I wrote about business activity and cartel violence in Ciudad Juarez.]

On the Mexican side of the border, a team of customs agents asked us to step out of the car. They looked under the seats. Next to us, a brown truck with a massive "Negra Modelo" beer logo stopped. Customs agents opened the van's sliding doors, a few cases of beer from Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona, a company now owned by global beer giant Anheuser-Busch Inbev, sat on plywood slats. The customs officers waved the delivery van through and sent us on our way. Cleared at the checkpoint, with the hot sun setting over the mountains, I stopped at a gas station to buy two Modelo Especial beers to drink in the car.

"Modelitos?" the officer said with a laugh, seeing my beverage.

As we approached the first of two military checkpoints on the Mexican side of the border I saw a massive Modelo Especial billboard.

"Everything in Moderation," it said.

Follow me on Twitter: @LatAmLENS.

Just north of the Guatemalan border, a Mexico store advertises Modelo Especial beer. Photo by N. Parish Flannery. @LatAmLENS

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Posted By Blogger to HELP-Matrix Blog at 1/28/2013 12:44:00 PM

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