17-Oct-2012 - Cuba: Spanish Political Activist Sentenced to Prison in Cuba
Bottom Line: Despite Raul Castro’s determination to make democratic overtures, the island of Cuba remains perilous for opponents of the Castro regime.
10-Oct-2012 - Brazil: Google Executive Arrested in Brazil Over Complaint About Youtube Content
Background: On 15 October 2012 the Criminal Court in Cuba’s Granma province sentenced Ángel Carromero Barrios to four years in prison for causing the death of dissident Oswaldo Payá in a car accident on 22 July 2012. Carromero, a Spanish citizen and member of the conservative ruling party Partido Popular, was visiting Cuba to show solidarity with Payá, a human rights advocate. Carromero was driving Payá and two others when he ran off a road on the outskirts of Bayamo, and struck a tree. Along with Payá, fellow anti-Castro activist Harold Cepero was killed, though Swedish citizen Jens Aron Modig survived the accident. Payá’s family, who did not press charges, has publicly supported Carromero though they were not permitted to attend the trial. The Cuban government charged Carromero with vehicular manslaughter, alleging that he was responsible for the deaths of Payá and Cepero because he was speeding. Carromero’s attorneys averred that the road where the accident occurred was in poor condition, which could have contributed to the accident, and that no proof was ever presented about the vehicle’s speed. Yoani Sanchez, a dissident blogger in Cuba, was arrested in Bayamo on 4 October 2012, the day prior to Carromero’s trial which she planned to cover for international media. Police detained Sanchez for 30 hours before releasing her.
Analysis: On the one hand Raul Castro has made self-employment legal, opened the market for homeownership, and stated that he would like sit down with American leaders. On the other hand, in addition to Carromero, Cuban authorities have arrested a handful of foreign executives doing business in Cuba and continue to incarcerate prisoners of conscience for extended periods without charges. On 20 January 2012 anti-Castro demonstrator Wilmar Villar Mendoza died in jail following a hunger strike to protest his four-year sentence for participating in an anti-government rally.
The day after Carromero’s sentencing, the official gazette published by the Communist Party in Cuba printed a notice that arduous exit visa procedures will be abolished for ordinary Cubans by January 2013. While the exit visa repeal will affect many more people, news of that popular change also conveniently eclipsed headlines charging the Castro administration with clamping down further on political agitators. Arbitrary detentions in 2012 are more common than they were in 2010, and the new-found freedom to leave the island will still not extend to citizens that the government deems a risk to national security – a clause the government is bound to interpret broadly. For the majority of Cubans, the island economy may be slowly evolving to a freer state, but for those who express opposition to Castro’s rule, freedom is still fleeting.
Bottom Line: Antiquated electoral and internet laws permit complainants to use Brazilian courts to muzzle online controversies that are protected as free speech in other nations.
06-Oct-2012 - Venezuela: Venezuela Preliminary Elections
Background: Brazil’s electoral laws limit what media outlets can air about candidates leading up to elections, and regulation of online providers hold platforms like Google responsible for content they host. Penalties for violations range from stiff fines to arrests and jail time.
On 25 September 2012 an electoral court judge in the state of Mato Grosso Do Sul ordered the arrest of Fabio Jose Silva Coelho, the head of operations for Google in Brazil, after Google failed to remove a controversial video from YouTube. The court found that the video, which references a paternity suit against Alcides Bernal, a mayoral candidate in Campo Grande, amounted to defamation and unfairly undermined the candidate’s bid for election. Coelho was arrested in São Paolo on 27 September and detained only a short time. Google agreed to remove the video after it exhausted its appeals in the Brazilian judiciary.
A court in Cascavel, Paraná levied a fine of US$492,000 per day against Google on 11 September 2012, for videos about incumbent mayoral candidate Edgar Bueno, but a higher court overturned the decision. There are currently lawsuits pending in more than 20 of Brazil’s 26 states petitioning for Google to delete material. Brazilian government agencies submitted 194 content-removal requests to Google during the last six months of 2011.
Commentary: With 83 million Brazilians online, Brazil is a major web market. Given Brazil’s reputation as a relatively free emerging democracy and a regional technology hub, it is surprising that laws penalizing intermediaries like Google are on the books and enforced. Google, which actively lobbies against censorship in the Chinese market, has not yet reacted to the arrest beyond removing the video at issue. Coelho’s arrest highlights a tension between maintaining parameters to protect the electoral process in Brazil and freedom of expression, which bolsters democracy. Brazil’s Congress was scheduled to vote on the Marco Civil, a law on Internet civil rights that would clarify much of this debate, on 8 August 2012, but the vote has been repeatedly postponed. As the budding Internet market gathers economic steam, Brazilian legislators must ascertain whether to extend freedom of speech to protect Internet platforms that may contain offensive third-party material. They will also have to address whether it is in the best interest of democracy to permit free expression and vibrant debate or to maintain electoral laws many perceive as shielding politicians from criticism.
Introduction: Occasionally, Southern Pulse publishes reports to provide a deeper assessment of a significant event or trend occurring in Latin America. Since early 2004, we have been students and observers of the democratic process in Venezuela. With this report, we join our colleagues in London, Washington DC, New York, Mexico City, Bogotá, and Caracas by stating that the 7 October 2012 presidential elections in Venezuela will be historic.
24-Sep-2012 - Mexico: Peña Nieto's first proposal: A National Anti-Corruption Commission
Independent of the actual results, we are most interested in how and why the elections mark a turning point for Venezuela. It is likely that President Chavez will win, as we discuss below, but it is even more likely that his legacy, that chavismo, will remain long after Chavez’s death.
It is within this context, that the legacy of chavismo will outlive the man, that we present this preliminary report on the Venezuelan elections. Our abbreviated addition to the substantial body of analysis that already exists in the public space on the elections and the future of Venezuela is the beginning of a series of in-depth reports we will present in 2013. These reports, as planned, will dig deep into what we consider the four cornerstones of chavismo: politics, society, the military, and PDVSA. Each topic arena, independent of the country’s next leader, will remain subject to the political inertia established and accelerated during President Chavez’s time in office, long after the elections.
Below, we outline important background information before discussing our outcome scenarios. Looking forward, we expect to have our first in-depth report ready by the end of 1Q13. As always, we look forward to your questions and comments.
This Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect the next president of Venezuela. The incumbent candidate, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, has been in power for the last 13 years, and for the first time since he came to power the main opposition parties have all backed a single challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, by holding primary elections.
In those thirteen years, there have been 13 federal-level elections: three presidential elections, four legislative assembly elections, and six referendums. Due in part to the sheer number of elections in this short span of time, analysts, academics and regional politicians have in the past touted Venezuela as a regional example of participatory democracy at work. However, as is often quipped of hybrid regimes “elections do not a democracy make.”
In those 13 years and elections, the Chavez administration has been accused of fraud multiple times, won every presidential election, survived a recall referendum, deemed fraudulent by at least 7 scientific peer-reviewed statistical studies, and won a majority in every National Assembly election since 1999: albeit not maintained a two-thirds majority—and won all but one of the six referendums.
Furthermore, in the case of the lost referendum, Chavez subsequently pressured the Legislative Assembly to grant him the power to decree laws through an Enabling Act, Ley Habilitante—which he then used to enact several of the changes that had been proposed in the rejected referendum. Likewise, in the last elections for the National Assembly in 2010, Chavez’s party received a disproportionally larger number of seats despite receiving almost the same amount of votes as the opposition. This was thanks to a change in electoral laws benefiting Chavez’s party—especially through creative redistricting of first-past-the-post seats.
In every electoral campaign, including the current one, the Chavez administration has maintained an electoral advantage in the inherent unequal nature of the playing field—electoral laws aside. For example media coverage favorable to Chavez is drastically higher than opposition candidates due to the greater control the government exerts over media outlets—as of 2007 the government controlled 7 national TV stations and 35 local ones as well as countess radio and newsprint outlets.
The usage of nationwide addresses, cadenas, has been another important tool in the dissemination of information favorable to the president. A recent study placed the number of nationwide addresses in Chavez’s 13 years in power at a staggering 2,334. This roughly works out to a nationwide address every other day, averaging 45 minutes each. Furthermore, daily mandatory public service announcements have been denounced as yet another way in which the government unofficially campaigns and gains an advantage over the opposition.
Additionally, an increasing lack of independent institutions also “stacks the deck” against fairness—a necessary condition for any opposition to have a serious chance. For example, four out of the five officials heading the National Electoral Council, Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), who are ultimately responsible for the integrity of the elections, are partial to the Chavez government.
The Likely Scenarios:
Although several scenarios fall within the realm of possibility, here we have restricted ourselves to the three scenarios we believe are the most likely. Southern Pulse has based the estimation of likelihood on previous knowledge of elections in Venezuela, the current electoral climate according to sources on the ground, and a reading of poll data—which has been met with a fair degree of skepticism by analysts.
In terms of the available data, our analysis of the polls and the situation on the ground shows a small Chavez lead with a very high margin of error. The final result could be a near tie; Chavez could win by over ten points or Capriles Radonski could win by ten. We do not say this as a way to cover all potential outcomes, but as an honest analysis of the high level of uncertainty in the final weeks of the campaign. We believe those pollsters who claim to measure trends within a tenth of a percent in Venezuela are misleading their audience about the non-response rate and the sampling difficulties they have faced in this election cycle.
The difficulty for Capriles Radonski is that he cannot just win by a narrow margin. While the voting system in Venezuela is strong enough to prevent fraud on a massive scale, the Chavez government is still able to shave away 3-5 points, if necessary, thanks to its full control over the CNE, his ability to use government funds to mobilize supporters to the polls, and other dirty tricks. This gives Chavez an advantage over what may otherwise be a near even race. Therefore, if the race is tight, as we suspect it will be, localized small-scale fraud would be difficult to detect and would have a large impact.
In our first scenario, Chavez wins and no significant violence ensues as a result of the elections. While the opposition would most likely contest the results, by the time the CNE addressed them and the dispute reached any sort of conclusion, Chavez would have again taken office.
In a second scenario, which we find to be less likely than the first, Chavez wins and there is an escalation of tensions leading to an outbreak of violence including the use of the military and the small-scale community-based militias loyal to Chavez, Circulos Bolivarianos, against opposition civilians and politicians. In this case, we imagine an outbreak of violence as one that would be serious and disruptive enough to elicit the deployment of the National Guard, Guardia Nacional (GN), and would probably feature prolonged and mass protests from part of the opposition. We find this scenario unlikely because while the opposition might have found some higher degree of unity in Capriles Radonski, any protests or escalations would be short lived if the government decides to quickly escalate. However, significant turmoil could result from a contested Chavez victory where the CNE refuses to release all the results and simply names Chavez the victor.
The third scenario, which we believe to be the least likely within the limited set that we are entertaining here, is a Capriles Radonski victory where Chavez refuses to accept the results. This would probably lead to an outbreak of violence, as elements loyal to Chavez would quickly mobilize at the street level. We find this scenario the least likely of the three because though Capriles Radonski has managed to run a very strong campaign, it has been an uphill battle on an inherently unequal playing field. Curiously, Chavez has been largely absent during this campaign—stoking rumors about his health—but has remained more popular and stable if polls are to be believed. On the other hand, Capriles Radonski has gained a fair amount of momentum in the past few weeks culminating with a massive rally in the capital to mark the end of his campaign.
Distrust in both the transparency and legitimacy of the elections could also play a minor role against Capriles Radonski, especially among government employees partial to the opposition who might be dissuaded to vote on fears that their votes might not actually be secret, or that the usage of fingerprinting solely as a way to ensure one vote per person might not actually be true. Although independent studies have concluded that this is unlikely, the lack of information on the auditing of the voting machines and the legacy of the Tascón List affair, La Lista Tascón, in 2004 could be enough to dissuade potential voters. Though the enthusiasm and momentum of Capriles Radonski’s campaign has been palpable according to our sources on the ground, it remains to be seen if this will be enough for a victory.
Our analysis does not believe that a Capriles Radonski victory would be met peacefully. This would be especially true if it were to be a narrow victory, which we believe unlikely, given the aforementioned explanations.
A final factor to consider has been the constant speculation over Chavez’ health. The president’s absence from the campaign trail has been cited as evidence that his health has recently deteriorated; however, this would not be the first time in the past year where claims that his health has rapidly deteriorated have been wrong. Our analysis of the situation leads us to believe that the rapid deterioration of his health would have a bigger impact in the post election period, especially in the case of a Chavez victory, than on the Sunday elections themselves. This is partially due to the fact that rumors about his health have been circulating for a long time, and are at this point unlikely to change voting behavior in any significant way. Ultimately, if his health were to deteriorate after he was elected, he would likely seek to change the current laws in case of his death or prolonged absence.
Bottom Line: The Anti-Corruption Commission in Mexico proposed by Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) could mark a turning point in the PRI’s tarnished history and the country’s declining transparency.
17-Sep-2012 - Peru: Government faces challenge in the rise of the Shining Path's political aspirations
Background: Fulfilling a promise made in his first speech as President-Elect, legislators from Enrique Peña Nieto’s party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) drafted a bill in September 2012 to create a National Anti-Corruption Commission. The proposition envisions a commission with powers to investigate both private and public corruption cases at federal, state, and municipal levels. The National Anticorruption Commission, which would replace the current Secretariat of Auditor General, would be composed of five members, nominated by the president and approved by the senate; each would serve one seven-year term with no possibility of re-appointment. Like the Attorney General’s office, the Anti-Corruption Commission would have the legal authority to investigate and sentence parties found guilty. Peña Nieto has also proposed nine related constitutional reforms, including one that would enlarge the jurisdiction of the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection to include state and local agencies, and not just federal offices.
Commentary: Strategies to stymie corruption have special resonance in Mexico in 2012, when the country dropped to 100th place out of 183 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Index. An April 2012 New York Times report exposed widespread bribery in Wal-Mart’s Mexico division, and highlighted the urgent need for reform. While federal authorities were quick to condemn the corruption and promised to investigate, little appears to have been accomplished since the news first hit.
Moreover, with Peña Nieto’s inauguration on 1 December 2012, the PRI, infamous for institutionalizing corruption during its 71 years of dominance from 1929 to 2000, will return to power. Peña Nieto’s victory did not erase memories of the party’s history. Allegations of vote-buying, bribery, and money laundering cast a shadow on the election. The runner-up in the election, leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, challenged the result before an electoral tribunal, drawing further attention to the PRI’s past reputation that Peña Nieto would like to leave behind.
While some see the National Anti Corruption Commission Act as a savvy political move to polish the PRI’s image and exculpate Peña Nieto, the proposed legislation translates to some political traction toward addressing one of the country’s most dire concerns. Peña Nieto himself recognizes that such a commission would need to be autonomous and to “have teeth,” a fact that is causing uncertainty across the political spectrum, including within his own party. But there is broad support among ordinary citizens for anti-corruption measures. If Peña Nieto is successful in actually implementing reforms to improve transparency and deal with corruption, its augurs well for his presidency.
Bottom Line: The government of Peru faces a challenge with the rise of Movadef, the Shining Path’s political arm, insofar as they must balance upholding civil rights while addressing the potential for a resurgence of violence.
30-Aug-2012 - Mexico: Supreme Court Favors Civilian Court for Military Abuse Cases
Background: More than two decades after Peru suffered a gruesome civil war, the Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path, the Maoist rebel group responsible for much of the internal conflict, has cultivated a new political wing. That group, Movimiento por Amnistia y Derechos Fundamentales (Movadef), calls for amnesty for former members of the Shining Path, advocates for Shining Path Leader Abimael Guzman’s release from prison, and condemns capitalism and globalization.
In January 2012, Guzman’s lawyers began a campaign to classify Movadef as a political party, and collected 360,000 signatures endorsing their petition. The National Electoral Board rejected the bid, denouncing the group for promoting terrorism, despite Movadef’s explicit denunciation of armed violence.
In spite of the political setback, support for Movadef has continued to grow, gaining traction in trade unions and galvanizing support among rural communities. Movadef aims to capitalize on those disillusioned by Humala’s pursuit of foreign investment and promotion of private enterprise, after running a campaign grounded in leftist populism.
Movadef, like Guzman himself, has distanced itself from violent, drug trafficking rebel groups currently active in the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley (VRAE). Nevertheless, many of these groups claim ties to the Shining Path and its fundamentalist ideology, raising alarm that Movadef’s growth could fuel violence and destabilize rural areas.
Commentary: In just months, Movadef has garnered substantial backing for its bid for party status, demonstrating a real threat to Humala’s political mandate. Against the backdrop of increased violence in the VRAE and clashes over mining disputes, the government of Peru faces a clear challenge: to maintain political stability without undermining civil liberties. Some disgruntled groups already accuse Humala of disregarding such freedoms, citing a law proposed by Humala’s party in August 2012 that would make denying the Shining Path's role as a terrorist group an imprisonable offense. The law’s defenders see it a peremptory way to prevent new fighting, while critics worry it could curtail free expression. Addressing Movadef’s rise poses a similar challenge: too harsh a reaction would erode civil liberties and elicit a backlash from the group’s supporters, while too soft an approach might embolden radical dissidents and shake Peruvians’ sense of security.
Bottom Line: Unless the civilian justice system improves, the Supreme Court’s ruling will not have any significant affect on military human rights abuses or trial outcomes.
20-Jun-2012 - Peru: Social Conflict Over Mining in Peru
Background: In 2009, a Mexican soldier shot and killed Bonfilio Rubio Villegas without cause at a transit checkpoint. In 2011, Villegas’ family filed a case requesting that the soldier’s trial take place in a civilian court rather than a military tribunal. The Mexican military code asserts jurisdiction over all crimes committed by military personnel, including rape, murder, and torture. Such military courts have a poor conviction record, with just 38 soldiers sentenced out of more than 5,000 criminal complaints filed in the five years from 2007 to 2012. In an 8-2 decision on 21 August 2012, the Supreme Court found the military’s assertion of unbounded jurisdiction unconstitutional. In the Mexican legal system such a ruling is not yet binding precedent, though the ruling is a step in that direction. Non-government organizations in Mexico and abroad lauded the decision as progress in preventing and punishing military human rights violations.
Commentary: While it is important to address military rights violations, the forum in which soldiers face judgment is less important than the integrity of legal mechanisms. Non-military police already face civil judgment, yet struggle with criminal misconduct in their ranks. In both the civil and military judiciaries pervasive corruption and impunity are the main obstacles to justice. Despite the paltry conviction rate in cases heard by military tribunals, civilian courts in Mexico suffer from many of the same maladies: corruption, back-logged case calendars, long lists of fugitives, overworked lawyers, and political pressure. Overall criminal conviction rates for reported crimes in civilian courts are less than 2 percent, and many of those convictions are questionable. In most large cities, the majority of crimes are never reported at all because of this failure in the legal system. Mexican courts transitioned from a presumption of guilt to a presumption of innocence under a major judicial reform that began in 2008, but the Calderón administration has not supplied new data to assess the efficacy of those changes. Yet the Supreme Court’s finding that portions of the military are unconstitutional is a clear signal that civilian courts are empowered to serve as an external check on military operations.
BLUF: Without government intervention, protests are likely to intensify in mining regions in Peru, but high commodity prices will outweigh associated risks for foreign investors, who will continue to advance new mining projects.
15-Mar-2012 - Region: Monterrey Street Gangs, March 2012
Background: As Peru has become a top metal exporter, social conflict over mining projects has heated up. Hundreds of protests, including some deadly riots, have taken place over the past year, mostly aimed at stopping or slowing new mining projects that could bring US$50 billion to Peru in the next five years. Opponents argue that mines, many of which are open-pit mines requiring toxic chemicals, contaminate local water supplies and cause pollution. A $4.8 billion expansion of Yanacocha gold mine to a nearby site at Minas Conga in Cajamarca caused such turmoil in the region that President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency and temporarily suspended the right to free assembly there in December 2011. Then, in late May 2012, conflict over Xstrata’s $1.5 billion project to increase production at the Tintaya/Antapaccay mines in the state of Espinar lead to one fatality and a second declared state of emergency.
Comments: As President Ollanta Humala is well aware, Peru’s economy relies heavily on mining revenue and metal exports. Part of his campaign platform was to encourage mediation between pro- and anti-mining elements, and he came into office with the support of many anti-mining activists. Yet he has largely remained silent about the conflicts, and is squandering an opportunity to lead a national discussion on the use of Peru’s natural resources. Such protests are not new, and are unlikely to ever completely stop, but Humala should appoint an Environmental Assessment Commission, like those in Chile and New Zealand, to mediate disputes and approve or reject mining plans based on actual evidence rather than political grandstanding. Some Peruvians have marched in support of mining interests, mostly because of the business potential. While many of the companies who own the mines are foreign, the Peruvian company Buenaventura has a nearly 50 percent stake in the Yanacocha/Minas Conga project. Mining companies must capitalize on communities’ desire for economic growth and governments’ need for additional revenue. They should hire locally and offer realistic plans to invest in local communities while making an effort to operate in an environmentally conscious manner. They must also cooperate with third-party environmental audits. If Humala does not make an effort to lead debate on the issue, regional officials and mining executives should. Still, if the current trend continues it is likely that investors will stay, though they should be prepared to face occasional costly stoppages. Most of the companies there have already weathered significant protests over the past decade, and Peru remains a much lower-risk investment other mining destinations like Congo, Jamaica or Guyana.
The greater Monterrey metropolitan area (MMA) presents a compelling story of how transnational organized crime can from one moment to the next bring a city to a halt, snap from the picture of serenity to a “narco terror” attack, or evolve from an island of security to a significant cause for concern. As Mexico’s industrial powerhouse in the north, Monterrey is a case of resiliency within a strong business community to protect its city. It is also a case of how street gangs evolve, adapt, and ultimately present a public security challenge that neither the Mexican government nor many international businesses are prepared to confront.
15-Mar-2012 - Region: Beyond 2012
To contribute to the conversation about the direction of public security in Mexico, Southern Pulse published in January 2012 its first ebook, Beyond 2012, which presented a chapter on public security in Mexico. This chapter concluded with a consideration of a future when “super-empowered” street gangs will eclipse groups such as Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation:
As we theorized in 2005, the devolution of Los Zetas, of the Gulf Cartel, and the predictable dissolution of the Sinaloa Federation points to the formation of several criminal organizations, not a Mega Cartel. Whereas Mexico under the guise of six large, national-level criminal enterprises in 2006 could have been considered a sea of tranquility punctuated by islands of violence (less than 100 municipalities out of 2,000-plus with violence) the opposite may be proven true by early 2014, as the number of well-armed criminal groups jumps from the six significant groups we counted in 2006 - Sinaloa Federation, La Familia, Gulf Cartel, Beltra-Leyva Organization, Arellano-Felix Organization, Carrillo-Fuentes Organization - to over 10 in 2012 with a steady growth of new groups to bring the total number to possibly over 20 by the end of 2014.
By the end of 2014, the men organized by El Chapo and his principal rival Heriberto Lazcano will no longer be the principal drivers of violence across Mexico. At the hyper-local level, super-powered street gangs, armed with Twitter, You Tube, the weapon of fear, and an enviable armory will man-handle local politicians and municipal police.
We believe that while the above process continues forward beyond March 2012, there are certain cities in Mexico today that present an advanced case of how the criminal system in Mexico will evolve as street gangs become more powerful.
Monterrey lists among the top five.
Within this brief report, Monterrey Street Gangs, we would like to present our assessment of street gang activity in Monterrey from both a strategic and tactical viewpoint to support an understanding of how the evolving criminal system in Monterrey could impact the daily lives of those who live there, as well as the business operations of the dozens of companies that rely on the MMA as a crucial element of a global enterprise.
We would like to add that in the best interest of time and space, this primer on street gangs in the MMA makes some general assumptions:
- The top-tier transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are the primary drivers behind violence in Mexico in 2012;
- The Mexican government will not significantly alter its current strategy in 2012 or beyond, into the next administration;
- TCOs in Mexico are in constant communication with leadership elements of street gangs;
- TCOs do not solely rely on drug trafficking as a source of illicit revenue; and,
- The line between TCOs and street gangs is so blurred that many in Mexico still consider the two to be one single unit of criminality.
Though outside the scope of this report, the above issues hold value and are certainly open to conversation and argument. We would welcome any opportunity to discuss with you the above topics, and how they play into the overall criminal system in Mexico.
Founder & Director
I am excited and pleased to share with you Beyond 2012, our debut e-book publication presenting in-depth analysis of the future of Latin America across six important themes.
02-Dec-2011 - Mexico: Zetas Cross December 2011 update
As many of you know, Southern Pulse is a decentralized, field-based organization focused on conducting investigations for private clients interested in security, politics, energy, and business in Latin America. Over the course of 2011, we concluded over 20 separate investigations, interviewing well over 100 sources during a collection process that produced far more material than necessary to fulfill our commitments to any one particular client. We’ve combined the resulting “clippings” with a year-end round of interviews to frame and present the six chapters of this book, capsulated with this introduction and an afterword.
We open the book with Mexico, where our first two essays look at politics and public security, respectively. We place a particular focus on the further destabilization of the Mexican public security situation in 2013 and possible scenarios for how the country’s next presidential administration will carry forward with recently initiated reforms that will require several more years of political will and financial resources to complete.
We would be remiss to consider the future of Central America without exploring the sub-region’s public security challenges. In 2011, our investigations focusing on the Central American criminal system in many ways revealed how challenges and successes in Washington, Mexico City, and Bogotá have played out as significant citizen security problems in the sub-region’s northern triangle countries. In our third essay, we explore where the trends are headed with a close look at how the black market of drug trafficking will deeply affect the region’s most vulnerable country - and it’s not Guatemala.
We explored another vulnerability in 2011, though in one man, not his country. Since Hugo Chavez announced his fight with cancer, his image as the region’s next Castro has seen a paradigm shift. Chavez could die sooner than anyone expected; and no one, least of all el presidente himself, is prepared. Our fourth essay explores the reality of several political scenarios in Venezuela, revolving around the October 2012 elections and extending into considerations for the future of the country’s economy, national security, and energy output.
Resource security is an important goal for every country, though few are as focused on this goal as China, whose engagement with Latin America since 2004 has been a constant arena of interest for some and concern for others. Our fifth essay explores the next phase of the China-Brazil engagement, one where the rubber meets the road in a way that will likely force China to abandon its former disengaged posture - an entirely new way for the Asian power to relate to Brazil and other Latin American partners.
With our sixth essay, we have saved the best for last. Cybersecurity in Latin America is perhaps the most important, unreported trend in the region. From flash-in-the-pan events such as the Anonymous confrontation with Los Zetas, we push you forward into an eventual future where cybersecurity is a reality that extends well beyond identity theft or email hacking. The nexus between organized criminals and local hacker cells is only the beginning of this phenomenon in a region where for every single company or government body with an organized, secure approach to cybersecurity, there are several dozen without.
These six essays together represent trends that we believe are worth following for any professional, academic, student, journalist, or sophisticated reader interested in Latin America. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it does represent a core of themes important to our clients and contacts in region for many years to come. We hope that this book will contribute to a better understanding of the emerging trends and will change the way you think about security, politics, or energy in the region.
Founder & Director
The Zetas Cross Theory, presented via our blog (see map) on 19 September 2011, is an internal discussion we use to frame a high-level understanding of the drivers behind the current violence in Mexico - largely perpetuated by three groups, Los Zetas, the Sinaloa Federation, and the Mexican government. After two months of field work and extensive interviews with sources across Mexico, we present today the December 2011 update.
Via the north-south line, which stretches from Nuevo Laredo through Zacatecas to Manzanillo, Colima, the city of Monterrey throbs as an important asset. After a week-long series of interviews on the ground there, information from various sources indicated that Los Zetas operators are still active in the city but at a significantly reduced level compared to late 2009. Though it is unclear if Los Zetas remain at a disadvantage due to the work of the Gulf Cartel and their allies, or due to the increased presence of the Mexican federal government in municipalities such as Guadalupe and Apodaca, their extortion and drug trafficking activities in the city have likely been displaced, promoting the cities of Saltillo and Monclova - also along the north-south Zetas Cross axis - as more important assets to the organization. Any forced entry into these cities by rivals or the government would likely be met with strong resistance. A separate but related increase in anonymous tips in Monterrey, if sustained, will government efforts to track and dismantled Los Zetas cells in the greater Monterrey metropolitan municipalities of Monterrey, Apodaca, and Guadalupe further complicating the targeted organization’s operations in Monterrey.
Farther south into Zacatecas, we have not registered any significant changes, nor have we received any information that would suggest that the state of Zacatecas has been wrested from Los Zetas control. The arrest of the Los Zetas plaza boss, “El Comandante Caramuela” in Jerez, Zacatecas made headlines in late November, but he is just one of several leaks in the organization’s command and control structure. While damaging, these leaks appear not to have the culmulative effect of slowing down the organizations’ national-level strategy, and it’s current focus on targets farther southwest. The fight for the state of Jalisco remains constant and, though less reported by national and international media, significantly heated.
In a separate report (see Why Guadalajara is the next hotspot, part II), we will discuss our thoughts on the Los Zetas strategy for Jalisco, though within the Zetas Cross theory, this city and state remain a highly placed goal for capture within the organization.
Broadening from the fight on the Zacatecas-Jalisco border, the region encompassed by the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, and Colima will all likely see sustained high levels of violence as Los Zetas continue to probe for weaknesses within the Sinaloa Federation’s backyard - though not necessarily in the cities. Their push for this area of Mexico and the potential gain in a Pacific port and a piece of the methamphetamine trade will continue to drive a gradual shift of violence south from the border states into the Pacific-West region of the country - though the states of Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, and Tamaulipas do not present signs of significant cooling.
As mentioned above, Los Zetas operational capabilities have been severely diminished over the past two years during the “War in the North,” conflict, initiated in January 2010 in the state of Tamaulipas where Los Zetas took on the United Cartels - Sinaloa Federation, Gulf Cartel, and the Familia Michoacana. While Los Zetas have weathered losses that would have crippled other groups, the organization’s command and control structure remains fractured; communications are strained after a string of busts that have dismantled their networks in northern Veracruz and across northeastern Mexico (see El Universal graphic here), and training is less likely a top-down organized affair than a city-level or local-level rush job managed by mid-level leaders in an attempt to keep guns in the hands of warm bodies. The net result produces young, poorly trained individuals thrown at Los Zetas’ enemies as a form of constant harassment and a deadly process of on the job training. Survivors rise quickly in rank but are lucky to make it past the level of a small plaza boss.
While the organization is able to keep the pressure on its enemies, Los Zetas' current lack of operational capability translates into a focus on softer targets; though the organization’s strategic vision, likely led by Heriberto Lazcano, appears to make up for tactical sloppiness. In Jalisco, this combination of superior strategy and below-average tactics will translate into attacks in and around smaller cities along Federal Highway 54, which connects the cities of Zacatecas and Guadalajara. In Colima, smaller cities along Federal Highway 200, outside of Manzanillo, or along Federal Highway 110, which connects Manzanillo with the city of Colima could become targets. In Nayarit, we’ve seen some of the country’s most brutal acts of violence in Tepic, though the fight for control of this state will likely play out more like an afterthought than a central strategy compared to the importance of Jalisco and Colima.
Meanwhile, the east-west line of the Zetas Cross theory, which stretches from Durango east by southeast to Tampico has remained mostly quiet. The Zetas continue to hold the line at the Coahuila-Durango border, in the twin cities of Torreon-Gomez Palacio, though it is unlikely that the organization has the strength to push deeper into Durango in a “clear and hold” fashion. Nor is the group likely to push north from Zacatecas into Durango. We plan on revisiting
this particular piece of the theory in late January 2012 during the next field trip to Coahuila and Durango.
The loss of a mid-level boss in Zacatecas and a possibly higher-ranking plaza boss, “El Comandante Aleman,” in San Luis Potosí weakens the Zacatecas-Tampico link, though there is so far little indication that Los Zetas have lost any control over this trafficking corridor. Nor is there an indication, however, that Los Zetas have made a significant push north from Veracruz into Tamaulipas. If that happens, violence in Tampico could serve as an early warning sign.
Through the holiday season and into the new year, we will continue to monitor events as they unfold along the north-south and east-west axis of the Zetas Cross. We expect to produce the next update by the end of February 2012, focused more on the east-west axis with any significant updates for the current fight for Jalisco.