INL Assistant Secretary Brownfield’s trip to Honduras and Costa Rica

Last week Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William R. Brownfield traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to discuss the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and collaborative counternarcotics and security strategies. While there he announced funding for upcoming initiatives in both countries.

Honduras

In Honduras, Assistant Secretary Brownfield met withVice President María Antonieta Guillen de Bográn, Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla, and Defense Minister Marlon Pascua.

Brownfield announced the U.S. would be providing $16.3 million to combat crime in the country: $6 million to create a special police unit to combat large-scale crimes (to be called the Major Crimes Task Force), and another $10.3 million to equip and train police and prosecutors.

Recently, two troubling Associated Press reports have linked U.S. funding to Honduran police units carrying out “death-squad style” killings. In August the United States froze about $30 million in aid to Honduras over concerns that its police director, Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, had been involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The United States has since released some of the money under strict conditions, saying it only would go to specially vetted units not under Bonilla’s control, in accordance with the Leahy Law.

The AP investigation revealed that under Honduran law, all police units are in fact, under Bonilla’s control. Some of the aid announced by Brownfield “will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla,” according to the AP.

In an interview with the AFP, Brownfield insisted that the U.S. does not have relations with Bonilla and would not offer him “neither a dollar nor a cent.” He recognized that as director Bonilla is responsable for all units, but that not all “15,000 or 16,000 members of the Honduran National Police report directly to the director.” To give “two degrees of separation” between U.S. funding and individuals and units accused of human rights abuses, Brownfield said the U.S. would also give no support to the 20 officials directly below Bonilla.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, has also refuted the claims, saying the U.S. is monitoring individuals and institutions receiving the funds and that aid will continue to flow into Honduras.

For 2013, the U.S. Congress approved around $36 million for programs in Honduras, $26 million of which was marked for police and security initiatives, according to Brownfield. Of this funding, Congress is reportedly withholding $11 million over human rights concerns.

Brownfield estimated police reform in the Central American country could take five to ten years. He noted the U.S.’ current strategy “is to support the process over the years and at the same time work with small, specialized units” of vetted officers that would be monitored. He also added that the U.S. was looking to create specialized anti-gang and anti-drug units that would work with the FBI and DEA.

These reports follow last year’s revelations that Honduran citizens had been killed during U.S.-funded counternarcotics operations by specially vetted security force units.

Speaking at a recent event at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Washington on Central American security, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said, “We do not need to create law enforcement ‘paradise’ in Central America. What we need to do is improve capabilities by 10 or 15 percent. That will drive up the cost for the trafficking organizations of doing business in and through Central America.”

Costa Rica

While in Costa Rica Assistant Secretary Brownfield met with Anti-Drug Commissioner Mauricio Boraschi and Public Security Minister Mario Zamora. He announced the U.S. government would provide $6-$7 million to fight drug trafficking. The funds, he said, would provide for “training of prosecutors and investigators, the professionalization of police corps, for border control tasks, and for supporting anti-drug police units during land and sea operations.”

Brownfield also revealed another $1.6 million would be provided to government institutions and NGOs to fight domestic violence.

A recent Associated Press article notes that in 2012 the U.S. spent more than $18.4 million in direct security in Costa Rica. The article discusses increased U.S. involvement in the country and is definitely worth a read. It cited risk-analysis firm Southern Pulse director Sam Logan as saying Costa Rica was “the closest the U.S. has to a protectorate in Central America.”

In the past few years, Costa Rica has been threatened by rising domestic drug consumption, increasing levels of violence and expanding presence of Mexican drug cartels.

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Organized crime is also on the rise. As President Laura Chinchilla and Brownfield have both noted, Costa Rica is a “victim of its geography,” located between cocaine producing countries in South America and the region’s number one consumer – the United States. The country has become a more attractivetransit country for traffickers as counternarcotics operations targeting more traditional routes have shifted smugglers’ tactics.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Strategy Report, law enforcement agencies in the army-less country are under-resourced and have limited capacity. In 2012, Costa Rica increased its police budget by 11% to $351.5 million, which the Wall Street Journal pointed out was slightly less than the Baltimore police force’s budget.

In a radio interview while in Costa Rica, Brownfield warned the situation is likely to worsen. He said tackling crime would “require more force, more collaboration between the United States and Costa Rica during the next two to three years” and that more focus on maritime interdiction and border and port security would be required. He underscored the importance of creating opportunity but also the need for the threat of legal consequences for those involved in drug trafficking.

During the interview, Brownfield said that the argument that the United States’ role as the main consumer in the region creates the problem is “up to a certain point, stuck in the 1990s,” citing that cocaine and methamphetamine consumption has dropped considerably in the past seven years.

The White House just announced that President Obama will be traveling to Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade, and immigration, among other topics. In Costa Rica he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of countries part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), also to discuss trade and security.

Six observations about last week’s Southern Command “Posture Statement”

Marine Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command since November, gave his first testimonies last week in the U.S. Congress. Before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, he presented the annual “Posture Statement” for Southcom the “regional combatant command” that manages all U.S. military activity in the Western Hemisphere (excluding Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas).

Gen. Kelly took command just in time for “sequestration,” the deep cuts in federal spending, including Defense spending, that went into effect on March 1. As Latin America is clearly a lower U.S. national security priority than other regions of the world (Middle East, Pacific Rim, Europe), these cuts are hitting Southern Command disproportionately. Its Miami headquarters is trimming 26 percent from its budget, Gen. Kelly testified. These cuts’ effect, in fact, was the central theme of his testimonies last week.

  • 1. Reduced drug interdiction. Due to budget cuts, Gen. Kelly foresees a sharp drop in the number of planes and boats available to look for drug-smuggling and other trafficking activity along Central America’s coasts and in the Caribbean. He raised the possibility that the U.S. Navy may resort to “stopping all naval deployments to the Caribbean and South America,” something that would leave Southcom’s naval component, the 4th Fleet, with little to do.

As a result, Gen. Kelly foresees a drop in the number of tons of cocaine that Southcom will seize in Central America and the Caribbean, from 152 last year to 90 this year. (See the chart below, which is also interesting because it contends that U.S. interdiction dropped after Ecuador refused to renew a U.S. presence at its Manta airbase in 2009.).

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The cuts will spell the end of “Operation Martillo” (“Hammer”), a surge of U.S. interdiction boats and planes that began last year along Central America’s coastlines. Two Navy frigates currently participating in the operation will return to port soon. The 90 tons of expected seizures this year, however, represent only a modest drop from the non-Martillo level of 117 tons measured in 2011.

  • 2. Trafficking appears to be moving westward, to the Pacific. The Posture Statement offers these estimates of how trafficking activity has shifted as a result of “Martillo.”
    • 21% drop in aircraft smuggling to Central America (mainly Honduras).
    • 57% drop in aircraft smuggling to Hispaniola island (mainly Haiti).
    • 36% drop in boats smuggling near Central America’s Caribbean coast.
    • 38% drop in boats smuggling on Caribbean high seas near Central America.
    • 71% increase in 2012, but 43% drop so far in 2013, in boats smuggling near Central America’s Pacific coast.
    • 12% increase in 2012, and 51% increase so far in 2013, in boats smuggling on Pacific high seas near Central America.

The “balloon effect,” it would appear, continues to illustrate illicit trafficking activity in the region.

  • 3. Southcom is cutting back on exercises, military-to-military contacts, and Special Forces training deployments in 2013 as a result of “sequestration.” The command, Gen. Kelly says, has been forced to “scale back deployments of Civil Affairs and Special Operations Forces teams to the region.” Southcom has chosen to scale back the annual “Panamax” canal-defense exercise, and to cancel the following exercises:

The Posture Statement also says that the National Guard’s “State Partnership Program,” a series of smaller deployments, has canceled more than 90 events. In 2012, this program alone carried out 223.

Exercises that appear to have survived the cut include the “Beyond the Horizon” series of humanitarian exercises, UNITAS, the Southern Partnership Station series of naval events, and the Caribbean exercise Tradewinds.

  • 4. Iran’s efforts aren’t getting traction in the region. “I share the Congress’ concerns over Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region,” General Kelly says. However,

“The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning. In an attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment, the Iranian regime has increased its diplomatic and economic outreach across the region with nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. This outreach has only been marginally successful, however, and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.”

Southcom nonetheless remains vigilant, Gen. Kelly says, even though its “limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region.”

  • 5. China is now being explicitly cited as a competitor. Gen. Kelly notes “an unprecedented three naval deployments to Latin America since 2008, including a hospital ship visit in 2011” from China. Whether three deployments in five years should be cause for concern is unclear, but the Commander, mindful of his congressional audience, contrasts them with the current budget cuts:

“China is attempting to directly compete with U.S. military activities in the region. I believe it is important to note that sequestration will likely result in the cancellation of this year’s deployment of the USNS Comfort [a U.S. Navy hospital ship] to the region, an absence that would stand in stark contrast to China’s recent efforts.”

  • 6. The document’s annex provides a glimpse of current assistance to Colombian forces fighting in that country’s armed conflict. Note these fragments from the section on Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), the Southern Command’s Special Forces component.
    • “SOCSOUTH elements provided assistance to the Colombian Special Operations Command, the new joint interagency task forces that are conducting operations against key FARC concentrations. SOCSOUTH also provided counternarcotics, small unit tactics, and riverine training to Colombian National Police and military forces.”
    • SOCSOUTH supported Colombian War Plan ‘SWORD OF HONOR’ by helping build intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capacity in newly established joint interagency task forces fighting the FARC.”
    • “In 2012, SOCSOUTH provided subject matter expertise to enable key Colombia partner units to establish a sustainable weapons-repair capability and initiate the development of an aerial delivery capability.”
    • “By partnering with academia, SOCSOUTH seeks to build critical thinking skills of key partner unit leadership, helping them to better confront complex irregular warfare challenges. In 2012, SOCSOUTH sponsored a “Counter FARC Ideological Activities” seminar in Colombia, and a “Counterterrorist Operations Planning” seminar in Peru in support of counter narco-terrorist operations.”

Vigilante justice in Mexico: A state-by-state guide

Citizens’ self-defense groups, or vigilantes calling themselves “community police,” are now active in 13 states and 68 municipalities across Mexico.

Although many rural parts of Mexico have a tradition of self-policing that dates back a decade or longer, there has been a surge in the formation of new groups in recent months due to the spread of organized crime into these areas, including increases in extortion and kidnappings.

The spike in violence in places like the state of Guerrero, combined with the minimal presence and weakness of police in rural areas, as well as the low level of public confidence in state institutions, are all contributing factors to the rise
of self-defense groups. “We want to escape the yoke of organized crime,” said one vigilante leaderabout the movement’s motivations. “They were charging us protection payments, extortion.”

While supporters of the groups say they are providing much-needed security, there are growing concerns they may turn into paramilitary groups or become involved with criminal groups. Raúl Plascencia, head of Mexicos Human Rights Commission, has warned, “there is a very thin line between these self-defense organizations and paramilitary groups.”

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of vigilante activity:

Michoacán

 

  • The recent self-policing phenomenon first began in Cherán, Michoacán in April 2011, when a group of residents took up arms to defend their forests against loggers with ties to drug cartels. Vigilantes set up roadblocks and night watches to fight back against unauthorized logging.
  • Self-policing groups also exist in Tepalcatepec and Buenavista Tomatlán, towns in the western part of the state that have been overrun by organized crime. According to official reports, about 400 masked men, some armed with AK-47s and dressed in matching printed T-shirts, set up checkpoints at the entrances to Tepalcatepec.
  • Authorities recently arrested 31 members of the Buenavista Tomatlán “community police” force in northern Michoacán and 34 members of a similar group in La Ruana. A few days later, another 17 vigilantes were arrested in La Ruana. The groups were accused of being fronts for drug trafficking. “The intelligence we are working with, the type of arms confiscated and other elements, indicates that these are people armed by organized crime groups that operate in Jalisco, Michoacán, and Colima,” explained Eduardo Sánchez, Assistant Interior Secretary, regarding the La Ruana arrests.
  • Four new self-defense groups emerged in the municipalities of Cherato, Cheratillo, 18 de Marzo, and Orúscato, all in central Michoacán.

 

Guerrero

 

  • The new vigilante movement that took off in January has grown most prominently in Guerrero recently. According to the New York Times, this spike builds on a long-standing tradition of citizen police forces in the rural regions of the state. Before the outbreak, vigilante groups already claimed to be patrolling the streets of 77 towns and villages in Guerrero.
  • The Regional Coordination of Community Authorities (CRAC), which began as the Community Police in 1995, has a deep history in the region. CRAC works in 60 communities in 10 municipalities to “stop common crime through surveillance by community police and the reeducation of those detained.”
  • On January 5, the Union of Towns and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), originally formed to protest high electricity prices, emerged as a self-policing group in Ayutla de los Libres. It is now present in 41 towns across Guerrero.
  • There have been two recorded killings thus far by the groups: the first on January 22, in the
    town of Tixtla, where a suspected criminal was shot to death when he refused to stop for inspections at a roadblock. The second took place on February 20 in the community of Refugio, in Ayutla de los Libres, when vigilantes opened fire on a group of five armed suspects, killing one.
  • Following a popular trial that began on January 31 in the town of Ayutla de los Libres, vigilante groups turned over 20 of the suspected criminals to state authorities. The vigilantes freed over 20 others following a “re-education process.” They now claim they have either freed or turned in all of the 54 detained criminals.
  • On February 24, vigilante leaders announced that 20 self-policing groups from villages around Acapulco and Coyuca de Benítez will unite into one front. Spokesman Carlos García Jiménez said that the “community police force” would be setting up checkpoints the following week, and claimed the group was working toward official recognition from the government.

According to an investigative report by the Toward Freedom website, Marines were unofficially deployed to Guatemala for Martillo in July, just two days after a SOUTHCOM-led military interaction/humanitarian exercise known as “Beyond the Horizon” ended in Guatemala.

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Chiapas

    • At the request of rural farmers and ranchers, some 60 residents of Mapastepec, on the southern coast of Chiapas,

banded together

     to form a Rural Forces Squad (PFR) to work in collaboration with local authorities.

  • With only 60 municipal police serving a population of 50,000 in the town and 200 surrounding communities, the town was previously ill-equipped to fight crime, particularly cattle theft, according to La Jornada. The Rural Forces Squad has been sworn in and armed by the government, but apart from thefts, they are required to refer any crime to authorities.

Morelos

    • Self-defense groups are

now patrolling

     in two communities in the eastern part of Morelos: Tetelcingo, in the municipality of Cuautla, and Tenextepango, in Ciudad Ayala. The groups formed in response to a surge in criminal acts, including vehicle theft, homicides, and attacks on storekeepers and credit holders at banks.

  • In the indigenous community of Tetelcingo, the group has hung banners over streets and bridges to advise residents to remain vigilant for crime, and to warn criminals that they will be “put to death by the people” if they are apprehended in the area. State Secretary Jorge Messeguer Guillén said that the government is aware of the situation and that it “rejects any public use of force by one’s own hand.”
  • In Tenextepango, a recent attack on an elderly woman in her own store riled up the anger of the community, which then began to organize to put an end to such crimes themselves.

Oaxaca

 

  • Residents of Santos Reyes Nopala formed their own self-policing group and declared themselves in rebellion against abuses of the army and members of the state police. After being sworn in by Mayor Fredy Gil Pineda Gopar, a member of the PRI, the 500 vigilantes took up rifles, shotguns, and machetes and set up the first roadblock at the entrance to the community. The governor of Oaxaca has vowed to dissolve the group.

 

Chihuahua

 

  • In two municipalities, Ascención and Galeana, members of the Mennonite and Mormon communities have taken up arms to end the kidnappings, murders, and acts of extortion that members of their families have experienced at the hands of organized crime groups.
  • In the community of Obrera, in the capital city, residents have set up guards and taken up
    homemade arms to stop thieves, though the local police intervened.

 

Estado de Mexico

 

  • The Secretary General of the State of Mexico, Efrén Rojas Dávila, acknowledged that self-policing groups operate in the towns of Amatepec and Tlatlaya, in the southern part of the state.

 

Tabasco

 

  • The only known self-defense group in Tabasco is People United Against Crime (PUCD), which emerged in Villahermosa in order to “clean” the city of organized criminal groups like Los Zetas. Governor Arturo Núñez Jiménez has denied the existence of PUCD, and claims to have “no evidence” that the group exists.

 

Jalisco

 

  • On February 11, municipal leaders met with representatives of the state government, the military, and several indigenous groups, including 150 members of the indigenous Nahua group, in Cuautitlán de García Barragán to announce their decision to create a self-defense group. Town leaders have been faced with an increase in illegal mineral extraction and logging as well as organized crime.

 

Veracruz

 

  • The vigilante movement has also spread to Veracruz, where there are self-policing groups in three different regions of the state, including Ciudad Mendoza, Acultzingo, and the northern region. The communications coordinator for the state of Veracruz, Gina Domínguez Colío, has denied that such groups exist in the state and claimed that the reports mistook protesting peasants in Acultzingo for vigilantes.

 

Today, the Mexican news website Animal Político reported the results of a public opinion surveyconducted by Parametría. The study found that approximately 6 out of 10 Mexicans approve of the self-defense groups. About 50% of those surveyed believe that the groups are “a way of helping authorities solve the problem of crime,” as opposed to 25% who responded that they constitute “taking justice into one’s own hands.”

Click the map below for an interactive version with more details. Animal Político also has a thorough map of self-defense groups across the country.

Selected Self-Defense Groups in Mexico

Operation Martillo: What is it?

Since January 2012, the United States, in partnership with various European and Latin American nations, has been conducting Operation Martillo (Martillo = Hammer), a multi-national, interagency and joint military operation to combat aerial and maritime drug trafficking off Central America’s coasts. It began in January 2012 and has no end date, though its end is believed to be a few months away.

Who are the key actors?

 

  • Operation Martillo is led by U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S), with strong support from the Departments of Homeland Security (particularly the Coast Guard), Treasury, State, Justice and Defense.
  • Headed by a Coast Guard rear admiral and based in Key West, FL, JIATF-S is a 600-person multiagency task force that monitors air and sea traffic headed toward the United States across Central America and the Caribbean. In addition to JIATF-S, Southcom provides the ships, sailors and aircraft of the U.S. Navy’s 4th Fleet.
  • Fourteen partner nations in Europe and Latin America work with JIATF-S on the mission: Belize, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama and Spain.
  • Martillo is run from JIATF-S’ intelligence fusion center in Key West, where intelligence agencies and officers from partner nations join U.S. government officials and officers. From the fusion center, JIATF-S cues engagement for the 4th Fleet (US Naval forces southern command), Coast Guard and partner nations.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection contributes to the mission with long-range patrol aircraft that operate from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.

 

How is it funded?

  • Most of the costs of the United States’ military contribution to the operation are largely funded by the Department of Defense, with some covered by Homeland Security. Central American countries’ participation in Operation Martillo is funded through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), managed by the U.S. State Department.
  • CARSI, funded under the State Department’s Western Regional program, provides equipment, training, and technical assistance to seven Central American nations: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras. For 2013 President Obama requested $107.5 million for CARSI.
  • Assistance goes to civilian and judicial institutions as well as military and police forces. CARSI supports anti-corruption, judicial reform, anti-gang, community policing, crime prevention, law enforcement and counternarcotics programs in Central America.

What does it do?

 

  • The operation targets drug boats before they land in Central America where the cargo is then divided and sent to the U.S. As part of Operation Martillo, four frigates patrol in two zones off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America, and two transshipment points in Guatemala and Honduras. Partner nations also contribute dozens of smaller boats. Numbers from the State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report indicate that about 80% of drugs headed to the U.S. initially travel through Central America.
  • For 2013, the mission plans to focus on targeting types of transport vessels beyond go-fast boats and semi-submersible submarines, like container ships. In an interview with the Southern Command-sponsored InfoSurHoy website, JIATF-S director Rear Admiral Charles D. Michel said the mission has recently stood up a container intelligence cell at its Florida headquarters.
  • Operation Martillo directly seized or assisted in the capture of 127 metric tons (279,987 pounds) of cocaine in 2012, according to InfoSur Hoy. After seizing a large cocaine shipment, Joint Interagency Task Force-South headquarters raises a flag with a large image of a cocaine snowflake with a larger red “X” across the center.

 

How will U.S. federal budget cuts affect it?

On March 1, $85 billion in automatic federal government budget cuts went into effect. This year the Navy’s budget for operations was cut by $9 billion. In response, the Navy has announced it is suspending some deployments supporting the drug war in Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

  • The Navy will not be replacing two frigates (USS Gary and USS Thach) once they return in the end of April. Instead they will focus with even greater intensity on the departure points for most drug shipments in the region: the coasts off of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, the Associated Press reported.
  • According to a recent article in Wired Magazine, SOUTHCOM’s director of operations, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Vincent Atkins, has told his troops, “The fight we were in yesterday is not the fight we are in today, and we have to go and figure out how we are going to do this job.” According to JIATF-S, the mission will have to depend on partner nations.
  • The Wired article also described how the Navy has been testing much of its new technology in fighting drug traffickers in Latin America before deploying it to other parts of the world, like Afghanistan and Africa. According to the report, this will likely no longer be the case.

 

Critiques and concerns

U.S. involvement in counternarcotics operations

Operation Martillo is part of a growing trend of U.S. involvement and investment in counternarcotics military missions in Central America and the Caribbean.

Although no participant in Martillo has been involved in civilian deaths, citizens in places like Guatemala, where armies have recent histories of gross human rights abuses, are wary of U.S. military training their home country’s troops for internal missions.

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The overall increased U.S. military presence, particularly around Central America, has drawn attention to the region.

Notable Operation Martillo activity in Central America:

According to an investigative report by the Toward Freedom website, Marines were unofficially deployed to Guatemala for Martillo in July, just two days after a SOUTHCOM-led military interaction/humanitarian exercise known as “Beyond the Horizon” ended in Guatemala. The same article reported that two days after Operation Martillo soldiers left, members of the U.S. Navy construction battalions came to Coban, Alta Verapaz for a security cooperation mission with local troops.

  • The first phase of Martillo focused on the Honduran Gulf before it shifted to Guatemala, where 171 Marines and four helicopters were sent last August, making it the largest Marine operation since the United States first stopped giving the country U.S. military aid in 1978. Although aid to the army is still suspended (this suspension goes back to 1990) to Guatemala, the ban does not apply to the country’s navy or air force or Department of Defense assistance, which is why the U.S. can still fund Operation Martillo (and other operations) there.
  • The deployment came just two months after four civilians were killed in a U.S-backed counterdrug operation in Ahuas, Honduras by DEA agents.
  • “This is the first Marine deployment that directly supports countering transnational crime in this area, and it’s certainly the largest footprint we’ve had in that area in quite some time,” Marine Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes told the Associated Press of the deployment.
  • Of note: SOUTHCOM signed two contracts in September for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the training base for Guatemala’s elite Kaibil Special Forces unit in Petén. The Kaibiles have a violent reputation marked by human rights abuses and brutal training.

Operation Martillo has changed drug traffickers’ approach and apparently pushed drug trafficking routes towards the eastern Caribbean:

 

  • A map from a testimony at a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing last June showed a decrease in cocaine flows in most areas, particularly the Caribbean. It also showed a significant uptick in cocaine trafficking in the eastern Pacific, with most of the boats leaving Colombia’s Pacific Coast.
  • Since that time however, SOUTHCOM intelligence in September showed drug traffickers shifting back to using Caribbean sea routes in response to the increased pressure on trafficking in Central America. A U.S. Congressional report released in September found the amount of drugs passing through the Caribbean is against on the rise.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard testimony at a February 26 House hearing included a mapshowing the sites of major 2010-2012 drug seizures. According to the image, Puerto Rico has had the highest density of major seizures in the region recently.
  • According to InSight Crime, in 2009 many drug flights “flew directly from South America to Honduras. In the last two years, however, flights have increasingly gone via Caribbean islands with shipments later sent to the isthmus.”
  • This all supports a December 2011 testimony by William R. Brownfield Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs that predicated the Combination of Merida (U.S. assistance initiative in Mexico and CARSI would push the flow of drugs back towards the Caribbean:

    “In the 2000s, the Merida Initiative has, in turn, pushed the cartels increasingly into Central America. Although 90-95 percent of the cocaine from South America now transits the Central America/Mexico corridor, it is likely that the combined efforts of Merida and CARSI will force the traffickers to once again use the Caribbean as a conduit to the U.S. market.”

 

Recent activity

SOUTHCOM’s Operation Martillo page can be found here, but the mission’s most recent reported activity is as follows:

 

  • On January 24, 2013, the Coast Guard intercepted 1,400 pounds of cocaine, an estimated wholesale value of more than $17 million from a go-fast vessel in the southwest Caribbean Sea, Jan. 24, 2013.
  • On January 20, 2013, a frigate, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Thach (FFG 43), with a crew of 220 sailors was deployed for 6 months to conduct Counter Transnational Organized Crime (C-TOC) operations. The deployment consisted of the ship’s Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team, U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and is being supported by an embarked helicopter detachment, HSL-49, Det. 2 based at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, CA.