Transnational crime threatens region
MIAMI – The head of the US Southern Command has identified transnational criminal organizations as the greatest threat to security in the region.
Speaking at a conference on security at the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy, General Douglas Fraser said besides drug trafficking, criminal gangs in the region are also involved in arms smuggling, people smuggling and bulk cash flows across borders.
“The traffickers are well-financed and very capable,” he said.
Fraser also stated that the Southern Command has been focusing on detecting and monitoring the transport of drugs in the Caribbean and also on how best to support its regional military partners who have been pulled into the fight against the drug cartels.
“This is a long fight; it will not be a two or three-year fight,” he added.
Beyond security, he said, violence also is negatively impacting the economic growth of the region.
The cost of fighting the drug traffickers and economic disruptions, he said, is essentially “a tax on society”.
While an estimated 35 000 deaths have been attributed to criminal gang-related violence in Mexico alone over the past five years, Fraser noted that there have been 67 000 homicides in Central America, which he has called the “deadliest zone in the world’’ outside Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A drug-trafficking tsunami has befallen the region,’’ said Kevin Casas-Zamora, former vice president of Costa Rica and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Arturo Sarukhan, Mexican ambassador to the United States, said Central America and the Caribbean have increasingly become the “springboards” for entry of Andean cocaine into the United States as a result of US and Mexican efforts to stem the flow of cocaine traffic through traditional Mexican land routes.
“We have to provide a holistic approach to combating drug flows in the region,” he said.
“Otherwise trafficking will simply spread from one country to another.”
Casas-Zamora said greater help is needed from the US on counter-narcotics efforts in the region, as well as more serious discussion in Washington on how to deal with narco-trafficking.
“Beneath organized crime lie very basic and unmet development challenges,” he said.
But Daniel Erikson, a senior advisor in the US Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said contrary to what may be popular perception, the US is paying a huge amount of attention to the region.”
“We’ve made [combating violence] a major focus and investment of this administration,” he said, pointing to programs such as the Mérida Initiative, which provides equipment and training to help in fighting trafficking, and similar initiatives for Central America and the Caribbean. (CMC)