Category Archives: Latin America

Drugs at the UN

I doubt anyone will report these as missing.

If you are a United Nations diplomat missing 30 pounds of cocaine, it is now in the hands of theNew York Police Department.

The shipment turned up last week in the mailroom of the world body, where phony diplomatic pouches into which the drug had been stuffed attracted the staff’s attention, the head of security, Gregory Starr, said Thursday.

Authentic pouches have the words “United Nations” and “Diplomatic Mail” printed on the outside, as well as the body’s logo. But these cheap cotton bags had only the logo. There was no wording, no address, no manifest, no airway bill. They had been delivered from Mexico by the courier company DHL, according to diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the seizure.

When the bags were opened, the contents appeared to be 14 notebooks wrapped in cellophane, Mr. Starr said, but on further inspection they were found to be hollowed out and each one filled with a kilogram, about 2.2 pounds, of cocaine.

The contents were handed over to the Police Department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for further investigation. The contents did not originate from United Nations offices in Mexico, Mr. Starr said, and DHL handles official mail, he said. Nor did he think it was intended for anyone at the world body.

More likely, he said, is that someone had the idea to use the counterfeit diplomatic pouches to escape inspection at the Mexican border, and the plan went awry when they were actually delivered to the United Nations.

Source.

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Filed under Drug Wars, Mexico

Wednesday smorgasbord.

An infrequent article dump to clear the tabs on my computer. Topics include: Latin America; the end of Fannie and Freddie (I can only dream); biblical misconceptions; autism; innovation and unemployment; Leon Panetta’s strategy to cut defense spending; and things happy people do. Enjoy!

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The Washington Post interrupts “the current gloom about the global economy to bring you a word about progress. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the portion of the population living in poverty fell substantially from 1990 to 2010, from 48.4 percent to 31.4 percent, according to a new United Nations report. And this occurred as the population grew from 440.7 million to 582 million.”

Meanwhile, media outlets in Mexico report that over 12,000 people were killed last year in drug-related violence. “Annual indexes of torture, beheadings and the killing of women all showed increases.”

William M. Isaac and Richard M. Kovacevich, writing for CNN Money, explain their plan for closing Fannie and Freddie.

John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, explains the three biggest bible misconceptions: “First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it… The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim… The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging. Instead, the Bible presents us with an evolutionary story, and in those evolving patterns, the permanent value of the Bible is ultimately revealed.”

The New York Times explains the romantic relationships of those with autism.

On a day early this month, before their planned trip to the animal shelter, Kirsten and Jack stood before a group of young adults with autism at the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support in Philadelphia, answering their questions while Jack’s father addressed their parents in a different room. “Did you ever think you would be alone?” one teenager wanted to know.

Kirsten answered first. “I thought I was going to be alone forever,” she said. “Kids who picked on me said I was so ugly I’m going to die alone.”

Her blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.”

Then it was Jack’s turn to answer, in classic Aspie style. “I think I sort of lucked out,” he said. “I have no doubt if I wasn’t dating Kirsten I would have a very hard time acquiring a girlfriend that was worthwhile.”

A mother who had slipped into the room put up her hand.

“Where do you guys see your relationship going in the future?” she asked. “No pressure.”

Kirsten looked at Jack. “You go first,” she said.

“I see it going along the way it is for the foreseeable future,” Jack said.

One of the teenagers hummed the Wedding March.

“So I guess you’re saying, there is hope in the future for longer relationships,” the mother pressed.

Kirsten gazed around the room. A few other adults had crowded in.

“Parents always ask, ‘Who would like to marry my kid? They’re so weird,’ ” she said. “But, like, another weird person, that’s who.”

Francisco Dao, writing for the Washington Post, explores whether innovation is leading to higher unemployment:

Instead of the normal evolutionary rise and fall of industries, our economy is now at something analogous to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event (the end of the dinosaurs). Going forward, those who will prosper will be characterized by their ability to leverage technology, while everyone else will find themselves relegated to obsolescence by exponentially more powerful machines.

What is different now is the power and scale of technology at our disposal. One hundred years ago, “leveraging technology” meant using a better plow to plant more land than your neighbor. Eventually he would go out of business and you would take over his farm.

Today, it means a handful of people at Instagram and Flickr can bankrupt Kodak and put hundreds or thousands of people out of work.

According to the NYT, “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, and with it the Obama administration’s vision of the military that the United States needs to meet 21st-century threats, according to senior officials.”

Lastly, Mark and Angel Hack Life reports on 12 things happy people do differently.

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Filed under Economy, Health & Nutrition, Latin America, Mexico, Miscellaneous, Religion

The balloon expands into Costa Rica

I previously blogged about the “balloon effect” of our war on drugs.

This is in part due to the “balloon effect.” The drugs entering America used to be trafficked from Colombia through the Caribbean. Due to a nationwide crackdown on the Cali and Medellin drug cartels and to increased control of the Caribbean waters by the U.S., the balloon was squeezed and expanded in Mexico. As crackdowns in Mexico squeeze the balloon it expands southward into Central America. Already plagued by high levels of violence, their situation worsens.

The one country to escape this was Costa Rica, who is usually acknowledged as the exception to any discussions of the various plagues in Central America. That may be changing.

Today Costa Rica draws nearly a million U.S. tourists each year to its beaches and national parks. It has traffic cops who don’t expect bribes, tap water you can drink and a national motto — “pura vida” (pure life) — that serves as a greeting, a farewell and an all-around expression of tropical beatitude.

And now, with Mexican drug cartels moving in, Costa Rican exceptionalism is being challenged by the same criminal forces dragging down the rest of Central America.

Costa Rican officials and U.S. drug agents say this country of 4.6 million is one more chess piece in the traffickers’ push for control of smuggling routes through the region, now the primary conveyance for billions’ worth of South American cocaine bound for the United States. Costa Rica’s cops, courts and politicians have never confronted a test like the one they are facing from the vast corrupting powers of the cartels, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“I don’t remember in our whole history a menace like this menace from organized crime,” said Chinchilla, who was elected Costa Rica’s first female president in February 2010 on a law-and-order campaign that tapped into voters’ growing security fears.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of ideology your government has, whether it’s left or right,” she said. “This has to do with the survival of our institutions.”

One institution they famously do not have is an army.

“This is a perfect location, and when you have a country with no army, that is extremely worried with people’s privacy rights, who is going to stop them?” the U.S. official said.

One thing that could stop them is the legalization of marijuana and cocaine in the United States, but don’t count on that anytime soon.

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Filed under Latin America, Mexico

“Argentina has not yet chosen to grow.”

As I previously blogged, Argentina has put in new controls to prevent capital flight. Those controls will make the problem worse. Walter Russell Mead sees the same problem.

Argentina has had more than its fair share of booms and busts. Even slight turmoil in the markets makes Argentines jittery and worried. Analysts worry that efforts to stop capital flight by the government have only made things worse.  They are right.

Argentina has long seen itself as Brazil’s chief rival for the leadership of South America.  In the last twenty years, the gap between the two has grown.  Brazil has made serious economic and institutional reforms that have resulted in a society that is both more just and more prosperous.  Argentina has lunged from one failed experiment to the next.  Brazil is trying to control capital influx; Argentina is fighting capital flight.  Brazilian companies are investing around the world and becoming recognized as leaders in a number of fields; Argentine companies are trapped in labyrinthine restrictions and have yet to make much impression in the world beyond. Brazil still faces many obstacles and problems but has made a decisive break with the futility of underdevelopment; Argentina is still stuck in the quagmire.

He is a little more optimistic than I am:

At some point a critical mass of Argentines will note the difference between the development trajectories of the two countries and build a political movement to put Argentina on a sustainable course.

In my opinion, they have no yet begun to exhaust their reservoir of self-defeating policies, and the Argentine populace seems impervious to that realization.

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Filed under Economics, Latin America

An Attainable Standard?

Perhaps. Paul Wolfowitz and Michael O’Hanlon make an interesting argument that the US should implement a Plan Afghanistan that is modeled not on our operations in Iraq, but on Plan Colombia, which was implemented in 1999 by the Colombian and US governments to combat Marxist-Leninist guerrilla groups, especially the FARC.

Many analysts have noted that the surge strategy in Afghanistan needs to be fundamentally different from that in Iraq. It is not an accident but rather a product of geography and the demography that Iraq has had strong central governments over the course of thousands of years, whereas Afghanistan has never had one. An Iraqi government can aspire to control all or nearly all of its territory. Indeed, any notion of success in Iraq virtually requires it. An Afghan government, on the other hand, cannot aspire to such an ambitious goal and, critically, success in Afghanistan does not require it.

Strange though it may sound, success in Afghanistan would look a lot more like the success that has been achieved in Colombia over the last 10 years, rather than the success that we are hoping for in Iraq. This is a point that was made two-and-a-half years ago by Scott Wilson, a Washington Post reporter who had spent four years in Colombia as a correspondent and a year in Iraq. Writing in April 2009, Wilson said that Obama “may want to look south rather than east in charting a new course” for Afghanistan. Though they hide in triple-canopy jungles rather than forbidding mountains, the insurgents in Colombia, like those in Afghanistan, will always enjoy the benefit of sanctuaries inside the country. And, until Pakistan withdraws its support for the Taliban, Pakistan will cause the same problems for the Afghan government that Venezuela does for Colombia.

There is a lot to be said here. The Plan Colombia had many successes. In the 1990s, violent deaths in Colombia rose to five times per capita what they are in Afghanistan today, and the FARC controlled as much as 30% of Colombia. The DIA reported then that Colombia could be lost in as few as five years.

In response to that growing danger, in 2000, the Colombian government put forward an ambitious Plan Colombia, which was warmly embraced by the Bill Clinton administration and later the George W. Bush administration. According to a recent Congressional Research Service study, the country has “made significant progress in reestablishing government control over much of its territory, combating drug trafficking and terrorist activities, and reducing poverty,” through a combination of brave actions by the Colombian military, some $7 billion in U.S. assistance, a relatively small number of U.S. military advisors and, particularly, the strong leadership of President Alvaro Uribe from 2002 to 2010. A number of senior FARC leaders have been killed, some through targeted air strikes, and thousands of FARC fighters have demobilized, partly as a result of a government amnesty program. According to Colombian government statistics and other sources, the number of FARC fighters has declined by half since 2001 (though they still number almost 8,000) and they are having difficulty recruiting new members. The International Crisis Group estimates the average age of FARC recruits today at less than 12 years old.The country remains plagued by violence, to be sure, but is no longer in danger of state collapse and no longer has the omnipresent feel of a war zone.

Uri Friedman offers this assessment:

Plan Colombia, which is now overseen by President Juan Manuel Santos, can count a number of successes. James Story, the director of the Narcotic Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, told CNN last week that since Plan Colombia’s inception, coca cultivation in Colombia has dropped 40 percent, cocaine production 60 percent, homicides 50 percent, and terrorism and kidnappings more than 90 percent. According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, FARC forces have declined by approximately half since 2001 to just under 8,000, and the percentage of Colombians living in poverty dropped from 54 percent in 2002 to 46 percent in 2009.

Wolfowitz and O’Hanlon (and Friedman) are aware of Plan Colombia’s weaknesses, among them the arming of right-wing paramilitary groups and the subsequent extrajudicial killings, and the movement of the drug trade farther north to Mexico. These are no small matters, but, they conclude, the pros outweigh the cons. This might be the best option for us to implement in Afghanistan, flawed though it is. Does this constitute defeat? Wolfowitz and O’Hanlon again:

Some might object that the articulation of such an outcome as our goal in Afghanistan would be an acknowledgement of failure. True, it is a less desirable end state than either the Bush or Obama administrations initially envisioned for Afghanistan or than the United Nations envisioned in the heady days back in Bonn. But such an outcome would in fact be substantially better than current conventional expectations after 10 years of a war that many Americans and Afghans think we are actually losing.

It is at least a realistic plan, and not some pie-in-the-sky ideal of remaking Afghanistan in our likeness. It would also be a welcome departure from our current strategy, which this morning Tom Ricks aptly described: “The strategy is to fight, talk, and build. But we’re withdrawing the fighters, the Taliban won’t talk, and the builders are corrupt.” (I actually doubt Ricks would support this plan, but the quote seemed to fit. It’s from his blogpost discussing things generals know but aren’t allowed to say.)

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Filed under AfPak, Foreign Policy, Latin America

Alfonso Cano is Dead

Good riddance.

Government forces have killed Alfonso Cano, the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC], during combat operations, the country’s defence ministry has said.

Juan Carlos Pinzon, the defence minister, said on Saturday that Cano was killed after government forces bombed a FARC jungle hideout in the southwestern Cauca region on Friday.

The death of Cano, 63, who took over leadership of the rebels after their founder died in 2008, would be a strategic victory for President Juan Manuel Santos, who came to office last year promising to keep up a hardline stance against the rebels.

The government had offered up to $5m for information that would lead to his capture.

Pictures of his dead body, with his trademark beard shaven off, have been broadcast on television.

“It is the most devastating blow that this group has suffered in its history,” Santos said in a brief televised address to the nation.

“I want to send a message to each and every member of that organisation: ‘demobilise’ … or otherwise you will end up in a prison or in a tomb. We will achieve peace.”

The sign of justice is again a shaven face.

 

 

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Filed under Latin America, Military Operations, Terrorism

Hackers vs. Drug Lords

Who will win?

An internet video has threatened to expose allies of Mexico‘s Zetas drug cartel in the local police and news media unless the gang frees a kidnapped member of the international hacker movement known asAnonymous.

The YouTube message, which claims to be from Anonymous “Veracruz, Mexico, and the world”, says it is “tired of the criminal group the Zetas, which is dedicated to kidnapping, stealing and extortion”, and threatens to fight back with information instead of weapons. It said it knows of police officers, journalists, taxi drivers and others working with the Zetas.

The video refers to an unidentified person kidnapped in the coastal city of Veracruz, and says: “You have made a great mistake by taking one of us. Free him.”

H/t Marginal Revolution

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Filed under Drug Wars, Latin America, Mexico