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Monday, March 25, 2013

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.). 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.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tradewinds 2012: A week of military exercises

Between June 14th and 24th, U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), led by U.S. Marine Forces South, sponsored ten days of military exercises in Barbados aimed at "improving cooperation and security" in the Caribbean basin. This was the 28th annual Tradewinds exercise and featured U.S. military personnel and law enforcement officers working with 16 other nations from the region. These nations are: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados (host nation), Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

This is a smaller group of countries than last year's exercise, which included 21 nations. This year, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama did not participate

The objective [PDF] of the exercise, according to Southcom, is to "enhance the collective abilities of the Partner Nations' Defense Forces and constabularies to Counter Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) and conduct Humanitarian Aid/ Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations." This translates into the following exercises:

  • Conduct joint, combined and interagency training,
  • Focus on increasing regional cooperation in countering transnational organized crime,
  • Support humanitarian assistance/disaster responses,
  • Conduct interoperability training for multinational staffs,
  • Build capability to plan and execute complex multinational security operations.

Skills Demonstrated:
The above skills were tested later on in the exercise through a five-day command post exercise in which,

Barbados was just hit by a simulated tsunami in the midst of dealing with a virtual terrorist hostage situation, a collapsed stadium and a bombing that damaged an oil tanker causing an oil leak into the bay, all while preparing for the impending threat of a hurricane.

Alongside the exercise, a meeting was held between upwards of 40 diplomats, ministers of national security, chiefs of defense, ministers of defense, agency directors and senior military officials from the region to discuss the areas the combatants were being trained in through the Distinguished Visitor Program. Larry Palmer, U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said, "There is a tremendous value to the region for all of these representatives to get this kind of experience - they get to create the kinds of relationships they will need in order to do their jobs when called upon."

U.S. Southern Command has also been in Peru in recent weeks as part of the ongoing New Horizons 2012 exercise which, paired with the Beyond the Horizon exercises, is taking place between April and October 2012. Both of the exercises are taking place in Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras and are being executed by U.S. Army South and U.S. Air Forces Southern.

This blog was written by CIP Intern Anna Moses.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Operation Martillo" and Colombia's Pacific

This map comes from testimony [PDF] given today in a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing by Coast Guard Rear Adm. Charles Michel, who heads the U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S). Based in Key West, Florida, Adm. Michel’s agency monitors all suspicious air and sea traffic headed toward the United States from the Andes and across Central America and the Caribbean.

The map shows the effect that JIATF-S is measuring from “Operation Martillo” (Martillo = Hammer), a “surge” operation to increase surveillance and patrolling in waters near Central America. Operation Martillo began in January, and Southcom (especially the Navy’s 4th Fleet) and the Coast Guard are coordinating it with several Latin American and European security forces.

The map shows an apparent decrease in cocaine flows in most areas, especially the Caribbean, with one very big exception. In response to Operation Martillo, cocaine trafficking appears to be spiking in the eastern Pacific, with a dense concentration of boats leaving Colombia’s Pacific Coast.

The Colombian Pacific is a flashpoint of the country’s armed conflict right now. Often in cooperation with the FARC guerrillas, paramilitary successor groups, especially the “Rastrojos” and the “Urabeños,” are moving many tons of illegal drugs out of port cities like Buenaventura and Tumaco, and using long-neglected afro-Colombian communities in Chocó, Valle, Cauca and Nariño as staging areas. Nariño continues to be Colombia’s number-one coca-producing department. (See our report about Tumaco, Nariño’s main Pacific port, from last year.)

In his written testimony, meanwhile, Adm. Michel estimates that “go-fast” surface boats carried “490 metric tons of cocaine from South America toward the United States.” Approximately another 330 metric tons per year, he added, come to the United States in semi-submersible craft or crude submarines.

That is a total of 820 tons of cocaine coming to the United States, to which much be added cocaine which comes via aircraft, which according to Michel’s testimony is 20 percent of the total.

From that, we get a JIATF estimate of roughly 1,000 metric tons of cocaine headed each year from South America towed the United States.

(Update as of 4:45PM: There was no need to extrapolate an estimate here. Southcom Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser's March 2012 Posture Statement (PDF), on page 6, already provides an estimate of 1,086 tons of cocaine headed toward the United States in 2011, and an expected 775-930 tons in 2012.)

This figure clashes with the estimate from the State Department, which prefers to extrapolate from the amount of coca-leaf cultivation detected and eradicated. The State Department’s latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report speaks of “700 metric tons of cocaine shipped annually from Colombia and other producing nations intended for the U.S. markets.”

One agency says 700 tons, another says about 1,000 tons. Estimating cocaine trafficking is admittedly a very inexact science, but this is a 43% discrepancy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Week in Review

  • This week there were multiple reports in the press about the spreading influence of Mexico's drug cartels:

    • Guy Lawson writes in Rolling Stone about the new ways Mexican drug cartels are operating inside the United States.
    • Reporting from South Carolina, the Los Angeles Times documents Mexican cartels' inroads in the United States.
    • Revista Proceso writes about the impact of Mexican cartels' in Costa Rica.
    • McClatchy's Tim Johnson writes about the growing presence of cartels in Central America.
    • The Economist reports on the spread of Mexico's organized crime in "The drug war hits Central America."
  • Carnegie's Moises Naim and LAWG's Lisa Haugaard both have good pieces about Mexico in The Huffington Post this week. Also, CIP's Laura Carlsen wrote about Mexico and the United States' failed "Operation Fast and Furious" in Foreign Policy in Focus.
  • As Mexican forces continue to find more bodies in mass graves in the Taumalipas state (now totaling 177), The Washington Post published an article and video on "Mexico's Highway of Death." According to William Booth and Nick Miroff, "The highway is so forbidding that even the news these past few weeks of the largest mass grave found in Mexico’s four-year drug war cannot lure TV trucks or journalists onto the road."
  • Victor Oscar Martínez, a key witness against a former Argentine military officer in the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de Leon, who tried to intervene on behalf of victims of the dictatorship, disappeared on Monday. After President Cristina Fernandez ordered all federal forces to search for Martínez, he was freed and found early Thursday, though he was warned by his kidnappers to back down from testifying in the trial. Argetina's Pagina 12 published the first interview with Martínez after his abduction here.
  • On Tuesday, Haiti's electoral commission officially declared Michel Martelly as the country's president-elect. This announcement came on the same day that Martelly met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of a three-day visit to Washington. "The people of Haiti may have a long road ahead of them, but as they walk it, the United States will be with you all the way," Secretary Clinton told Martelly. The two held a press conference after their meeting, the transcript of which can be found here.

    Prior to President-elect Martelly's meeting with Secretary Clinton, 53 members of Congress sent a a letter (PDF) to Clinton calling on the U.S. to "dedicate significant attention to the critical and urgent task of improving the appalling conditions in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps."

    The International Crisis Group's Bernice Robertson and Kimberly Abbott list five tasks for Haiti's new president in this Christian Science Monitor article. The list includes: ensure economic stability; rebuild communities; find Haitians jobs; restore law and order; and put the country before politics.

  • The Center for International Policy released a new report last week. "Stabilization and Development: Lessons of Colombia's 'Consolidation' Model" summarizes the discussion that took place at CIP's December 2010 conference and outlines the past successes and future challenges of Colombia's Consolidation, of "Integrated Action," program. The report is available in HTML, as a PDF in English, and a PDF in Spanish.
  • According to Nacha Cattan and Taylor Barnes, in the Christian Science Monitor, at least nine Latin American nations are developing drone programs as a way to tackle drugs, gang vilence, and activities such as illegal logging throughout the region. This increase in use of drones has led to calls for a code of conduct that will assuage concerns over potential misuse.
  • A new ECLAC review finds that Latin America is rapidly becoming a middle-class continent. According to the report, Brazil experienced the greatest expansion of the middle class, with 38 million people climbing above the poverty line in the last ten years. Argentina and Colombia, however, were the two countries in the region that experienced a decline in their middle class populations.
  • The latest issue of ReVista, the Harvard Review on Latin America, focuses on media and press freedom in the region.
  • The Air Force Times published an article about the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, the Air Force's version of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (previously the School of the Americas). According to the article, the IAAFA graduated 42,000 officers and enlisted service members from 22 Central and South American countries in the last 68 years.
  • Bolivia's Vice Minister of Social Defense, Felipe Cáceres, announced that the United States and Brazil will contribute to Bolivia's efforts to combat narcotrafficking. Apparently, Washington will contribute $250,000 for the purchase of GPS systems to help modernize the monitoring system currently in place. Brazil will contribute $100,000 to provide courses for Bolivian technicians who specialize in collecting data on the number of coca plantations in cultivation and the number eradicated.
  • On Tuesday, Brazilian police swept through Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha favela, hoping to capture one of the city's most wanted drug kingpins. Instead, they only came away with 11 suspected foot soldiers for the "Amigos dos Amigos" drug gang, 3 tons of marijuana and 60 stolen cars. According to the Associated Press, questions of whether word of the raid had been leaked were raised after officers met no resistance from gang members.
  • Last week, Ecuador named U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges persona non grata, prompting the United States to retaliate and name Ecuador's Ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos, the same. This week, Ecuador's Minister of Exterior Relations announced that he would call Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, to ask if the United States is interested in naming a new Ambassador. It is unlikely that the U.S. will take Ecuador up on this offer so soon after Ambassador Hodges' expulsion. During a hearing on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela called Hodges' expulsion "scandalous" and "counterproductive."
  • This week's Southcom update:
    • A new, high-tech countertrafficking command center that serves Joint Interagency Task Force South opened in Key West, Florida.
    • Three U.S. Navy ships and one U.S. Coast Guard Cutter arrived in Salvador, Brazil late last week for the start of UNITAS Atlantic phase 52. The three-week long exercise includes navies from Brazil, the United States, Argentina and Mexico. According to Southcom, "the partner countries will operate and train together in scenario-based environments, which include theater security operations, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotic operations, live-fire exercises, humanitarian assistance and disaster response."
    • Continuing Promise 2011 is currently in Jamaica, and has set up two locations with "60 pallets of medical, dental and other supplies, which several practitioners will use to examine, diagnose and treat hundreds of patients."
  • On Monday, a bipartisan group of six members of Congress traveled to Colombia to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement with President Juan Manuel Santos, his Cabinet, and labor leaders and employers. Upon their return, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) issued statements on their fact-finding mission to Colombia, which can be read here.
  • The White House announced that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and President Obama will meet for the first time in Washington on April 28th. The pending free trade agreement is likely to be high on their list of things to talk about.
  • The second-in-command of Colombia's armed forces, General Gustavo Matamoros, resigned this week. According to El Colombiano, there are two versions that explain this abrupt departure: 1) General Matamoros himself decided to resign, or 2) Admiral Edgar Cely, first-in-command of the armed forces, requested the departure to President Juan Manual Santos. General Matamoros' resignation comes in the middle of rumors that there exists a division within the armed forces between members of the Army and the Navy - a rumor which Admiral Cely denies.

Friday, August 20, 2010


This Monday marked the beginning of the annual Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX 2010 training exercise. Co-sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command and the Panamanian government, the 12-day exercise brings together land, air and sea forces from 18 nations in a joint, combined operation focused on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal.

This year, the exercise will run from August 16-27 and will carry out live and simulated training scenarios in the vicinity of the Panama Canal, Colombia and various U.S. locations (Norfolk, Virginia and Miami and Mayport, Florida). According to the U.S. Department of Defense, PANAMAX is "one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world," involving more than 30 vessels, a dozen aircraft, and 4,500 personnel.

The first PANAMAX was held in 2003 and included only Chile, Panama and the United States. Over the past seven years, the exercise has expanded to include 20 nations at its peak last year. This year, 18 nations are participating, including Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay. Costa Rica, the Netherlands and France participated in PANAMAX 2009, but did not return this year, and Honduras is participating again after withdrawing last year due to controversy surrounding the military's involvement with the coup d'etat, which ousted President Manuel Zelaya in August 2009.

Here are some more details about this year's Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX exercise:

The purpose of PANAMAX 2010 is "to enhance regional cooperation and exercise participating nations' ground, naval, air and special operators' ability to respond to threats to the Panama Canal and plan for a major humanitarian assistance and disaster relief event in the region."

This year's exercise simulates the following scenario: A terrorist organization attacks the Panama Canal. In response to a request from Panama, the United Nations Security Council instructs the United States to lead a multinational force to protect the Canal and ensure shipping traffic and free maritime access.

According to Panamanian coordinator for PANAMAX 2010 Jesus Rodriguez, the increase in drug cartel activity in the region and along the Panamanian coastline is "closely connected to terrorism and the weapons trade. Drugs have become synonymous of terrorism."

Skills practiced:
Southcom's factsheet on PANAMAX 2010 explains that the training involved will address the spectrum of maritime operations, including: visit, board, search and seizure; entry control point training; riverine patrols; and open water diving operations.

The factsheet also points out that PANAMAX provides training to "ensure civil, naval, air, and ground security forces can operate as an effective team, coordinating assets and sharing information to respond quickly to crises and protect the security of the region."

Friday, April 30, 2010

General Fraser's update on Southcom

Last week, the Pentagon submitted a report to Congress on Iran's military power. This "12-page analysis of Tehran's current and future military strategy" made little mention of Latin America. However, the few sentences that did mention Latin America have been the subject of many news stories.

The report points to the growing presence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Qods force in Latin America, especially Venezuela:

[The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF)] is well established in the Middle East and north Africa and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.... If US involvement in conflict in these regions deepens, contact with the IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez immediately responded on Monday, saying that the Pentagon report was "absolutely false." "Look what they are saying," President Chávez continued, "If the U.S. applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here -- something that is absolutely false -- could then attack U.S. territory or U.S. interests with terrorist acts. ... Tell me this isn't an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies."

General Douglas Fraser, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, responded to many reporters' questions about the Pentagon report at a breakfast meeting in Washington on Tuesday. "I don't see any arms or indications of arms coming from Iran," Fraser told the reporters. "What I see is that Iran has had, from a diplomatic and a commercial standpoint, a growing interest in Latin America. ... Our concern is their connection to Hizbollah, Hamas." He continued to note that "I haven't seen evidence of [an Iranian] military presence," however, "I'm a skeptic, and so we're watching for that. To date, we have not seen that kind of support."

On Wednesday, General Fraser held another press briefing, where he was to give an update on U.S. Southern Command's operations. Again, reporters asked for clarification about Iran's presence in Venezuela, and General Fraser's responses were almost identical to those he made on Tuesday.

What we see is a growing relationship between Iran and Venezuela. And it has been a diplomatic and a commercial activity, and that's what we see. ... My concern in the relationship with Iran in the region is their historic connection with Hamas and Hezbollah, which we define as terrorist organizations. ... I don't see any of that activity right now. But I'm a skeptical person. I'm paid to be skeptical. So I'll continue to watch.

General Fraser also noted that his views and the Pentagon's views are not different positions, explaining that "there is ... a growing relationship between Iran and Venezuela. And so when you hear that report, that is a report that talks about presence: There is a growing relationship and presence of Iran in the relationship with Venezuela. And so that's what we see. So they are the same. And so I'd ask you just not to misinterpret the 'presence' word, if you will. So we see a growing relationship."

One statement he made did seem to differ from what he was reported to say on Tuesday - and that is regarding arms. On Tuesday, as noted above, General Fraser said "I don't see any arms or indications of arms coming from Iran." However, on Wednesday General Fraser said, "There is a military connection, just from the arms sales to Venezuela. There is unmanned air vehicle capacity that Irana (sic) is supporting within Venezuela. So that is the military connection that I see between Iran and Venezuela. It's just arms -- support for arms."

The topic of Iran's presence in Venezuela definitely made up almost 50 percent of journalists' questions to General Fraser on Wednesday. But he did talk about other topics in the region important to Southcom, such as illicit trafficking -- which is Southcom's main focus in the region -- drug interdiction, the U.S. military's efforts in Haiti, and back to Venezuela on U.S.-Venezuelan relations. Below are excerpts from his statements on those topics. The full transcript and a video of the press briefing are available on Southcom's website.

Southcom's focus in the region

Our focus continues to be, support the security, stability within the region, build our partnerships with our companion militaries within the region. And that effort continues as our focus throughout the year.
That's our sole mission within this. The reason I pay as much attention to it as I do is because of the destabilizing impact that it has potentially within countries in which drug trafficking organizations and also gangs are coming into.

And I don't want it to become a military issue. And so the way to address that is to address it now, while we still can cooperate and work between all our partner agencies.

Next steps in Haiti

In the June time frame, we will plan to disestablish the Joint Task Force-Haiti. And we will then have some medical readiness training opportunities there, 10 of those throughout the hurricane season.

We will also have an exercise that provides humanitarian assistance -- roofs on schools, other medical facilities -- and just providing infrastructure support, not focused in Port-au-Prince but in the Gonaives areas where we're going to focus throughout the hurricane season.

We'll also have a ship, an amphibious ship that will be in the region, in the Caribbean during the entire hurricane season, that will be closer in case there is a hurricane that strikes Haiti; with all the numbers of displaced people who are there now, that we have an ability to respond quickly to whatever situation is there.

Illicit Trafficking

We had a very successful year last year countering illicit traffic. We were able to disrupt or seize over 229 metric tons of cocaine. We estimate that's roughly about 25 percent of the cocaine that's transiting through the maritime environments.


We estimate that there's somewhere between 1,200 to 1,400 metric tons of cocaine that are trafficked from the northern part of South America to various parts of the world. Roughly 60 percent of that is destined for the United States, but a growing number of that, 30-some percent, is headed to Europe, a lot of it through western Africa, and then to markets also in the Middle East.

So -- it's well financed. And so as we try to stop and disrupt traffic in the maritime environments, the traffickers adjust their tactics also. We have been very successful and Colombia has been very successful at denying the air transit out of Colombia into the Caribbean, and the traffickers have just shifted to the east. And so we see more traffic emanating out of Venezuela now than we do out of Colombia.

If you look at the maritime environment, we see it coming out of both coasts, the Caribbean coast, the north coast of Colombia, the western coast, as well as further south. But they tend to now intercept in the Central American isthmus earlier and then now traffic up through the Pan American Highway through the countries in Central America in through Mexico to the United States.

Venezuelan-U.S. relations

At Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Key West, there is a liaison position that remains available for Venezuela to fill. There are 13 other nations who have liaison officers there, both from a military standpoint as well as law enforcement.

We continue to look for those opportunities. We invite the armed forces of Venezuela to conferences, to attend education opportunities. And it has been their choice not to attend those. It has not been our desire to restrict them.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Podcast: Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia: Consultative Groups and Posture Statements

Abigail and Adam discuss Secretary of State Clinton's visit to Mexico, rethinking the Mérida Initiative, Southcom testimony in Congress, and allegations of Venezuelan ties to Colombia's FARC.

The "Just the Facts" podcast is available here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Mexico is focus of Armed Service Committee Hearing

On March 17, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to receive testimony on U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Transportation Command. Although it was a general hearing about all of the Commands, Committee members expressed their growing concern about the alarming violence on the Mexican border and had specific questions for Admiral Jim Stavridis [PDF] , U.S. Southern Command, and General Victor E. Renuart, Jr., U.S. Northern Command. The following are some of them, paraphrased, from Committee members:

  • How are Northern Command and Southern Command working together to address the issue of violence on the border? –Chairman Carl Levin (D)
  • Where do we need additional troops on the border? Is Calderón’s government “winning”? What are they doing about the widespread corruption among officials, law enforcement, etc., up to the highest level? Although the price of cocaine has dropped, the amount of drug-related violence has spiked; can someone please explain this to me? – Ranking Member John McCain (R)
  • Should we have troops on the border? What is Northern Command doing to deter the violence? How much of a threat to homeland security is drug-related violence? - Joseph Lieberman (D)
  • Have there been complaints from the Mexican government regarding the flow of arms originating from the United States into Mexico? - Jack Reed (D)