Saturday, September 29, 2012

Los Zetas are "dominant force" in Central America and have foothold in Belize, says United Nations analysis

Calderón drug war strategy has had demonstrable results in Mexico, U.N. report concludes

*Updated Apr. 2, 2013*
Guadalajara -
This week the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued a report which says that a powerful storm is brewing on Mexico's southern border, in a triangle of death which is increasingly run not by elected governments, but by narcotics traffickers. On Mexico's southern border is the most violent zone on the planet, says U.N. agency. The report suggests that Mexico's drug war is now being replayed in Central America, especially in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which have weak internal institutions leaving them particularly vulnerable to organized crime groups. Skyrocketing homicide rates are partial proof of the problem.

A strategic paradox is evident. Mexico's gain has been its neighbors' loss, and the successes of Mexican armed forces in the 70 month old drug war launched by president Felipe Calderón in December 2006 portend difficulties for much poorer and far less prepared Latin nations which lay just beyond Chiapas state, on the country's southern frontier (More evidence Mexican drug war strategy is working, as violence shifts southward). UNODC noted this week that Mexican traffickers have relocated their businesses under pressure from the ejército mexicano. Calderón's National Security Strategy "had a profound impact on Central America," it said.

In the words of UNODC, "it is undeniable that these days (the drug cartels) are much weaker than before the new Mexican security strategy was launched."

Far less cocaine is being warehoused in Mexico since its military forces were turned loose on the transnational cartels, UNODC reports. "In 2006 Mexico redoubled its efforts against drug traffickers, making it more difficult to move their products north and thereby reducing the availability of cocaine." The agency claims that demand for cocaine in the United States dropped at the same time, reflecting difficulties encountered by traffickers in getting the product to their customers. But the U.S. remains the world's largest consumer of the drug, albeit the warehouses are now located in Central America.

The U.N. report,"Organized Transnational Crime in Central American and the Caribbean," concluded that Los Zetas, one of Mexico's deadliest cartels, dominates narcotics and other criminal enterprises in the region. (MGRR has filed many reports on Los Zetas; use the search engine to locate them). According to UNODC, Los Zetas work closely with local Guatemalan gangs, shipping cocaine north and operating kidnapping, extortion, auto theft, gun running and human trafficking businesses as well. In economic terms, Los Zetas control both vertical and horizontal crime markets in Central America.

UNODC noted in its report that Guatemala is particularly under the thumb of Los Zetas, since that beleaguered country constitutes the "neck of the bottle" through which 90% of the cocaine destined for the United States passes (sometimes even mini submarines are used in the smuggling process).

But according to the United Nations the "Zs" have a presence in Belize as well, a nation strategically located in the lower right quadrant of the Yucatán peninsuala, bordering Mexico's Quintana Roo state. For readers who have followed MGRR's reporting on cartel violence along the Caribbean Riviera Maya, that will come as no surprise (Routine traffic stop in Mérida yields "Boss of the Plaza" in Cozumel). And it raises tantalizing questions about a Lebanese-American parole violator who was arrested in the Yucatecan capital of Mérida three weeks ago, carrying a fraudulent Belize passport (Arab-American citizen with alleged terrorist ties raises new concerns about Hezbollah cells in Mexico and Central America - and Yucatán). Are terrorists or fellow travelers lurking in Mexico, as some have alleged, and if so, are they collaborating with Los Zetas or other transnational cartels?

Whatever the answer to that question, the drug trafficking epicenter is plainly shifting south, and will likely remain there if Mexico's incoming president follows through with his post-election promises (Enrique Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican armed forces will remain on the streets).

Oct. 12 - In an unusual public statement today, an official of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Mexico is confronting a true "emergency" in its war against cartels and organized crime, and urged that military forces remain on the street until circumstances permit a "return to quarters."

Apr. 2, 2013 - The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that Mexican drug cartels continue to expand their sphere of influence throughout Central America. The Sinaloa Cartel of El Chapo Guzmán and Los Zetas are the most powerful, UNODC says, although the Gulf Cartel and Familia Michocana are also present. Cartel bosses have threatened elected political leaders in Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to intimidate them. UNDOC once again says that aggressive pursuit by the Mexican (and Colombian) armies have forced traffickers to relocate key operations to Central America. In the case of Mexico, that strategy was implemented by former president Felipe Calderón in 2006, and is being closely adhered to by new president Enrique Peña Nieto.

Oct. 16 - Los Zetas strike Puerto Vallarta
Sept. 18 - Case of alleged Hezbollah loyalist arrested in Yucatán leaves many questions unanswered

Dec. 30, 2011 - Calderón drug war strategy has been the right one
Oct. 13, 2011 - Drug cartels present greater threat to U.S. security than Iran, says State Department

Guatemalan toddler kidnapping illustrates ancient maxim, "hard cases make bad law"
"Almost bankrupt" Guatemala calls for U.S. help in fighting drug cartels, forced labor, sex trafficking
Guatemalan army joins drug war - "We have to neutralize organized crime," says new president
Honduras "invaded by drug traffickers" - tons of cocaine shipped to U.S., "where the customers are"

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