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September 2015

Arrests Show Arrival of Barrio 18 Gang in Italy

Barrio 18 members arrested in Italy

Italian police arrested 15 suspected Barrio 18 members in Milan and other nearby cities in northern Italy, reported AFP.

The group — which was mostly comprised of Salvadorans but also reportedly included two Italians — is accused of crimes including extortion, drug trafficking, armed robbery and the attempted murder of a rival from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang.

An Italian judge ordered the arrests following an investigation that began in January 2014 after a female Salvadoran accused one of the group’s members of sexually assaulting her, according to AFP.

SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 News and Profile

Central American gangs like Barrio 18 and MS13, which are known as “maras,” have been operating in Italy for years, particularly in northern immigrant communities, the report added.

InSight Crime Analysis

Over the last two years, security forces in both Italy and Spain have noted the expansion of the MS13 in Europe, and these latest report confirms they are not alone — their great rivals in Barrio 18 have also crossed the ocean.

The key question surrounding this development is whether the spread is a result of Central American migrants bringing mara street gang culture with them and setting up autonomous networks, or whether these new European based factions are running criminal operations with maras in Central America, suggesting the gangs have made the leap into transnational organizations.

Both gangs are also well established in parts of the United States and the US government has already designated the MS13 a transnational criminal organization, ranking them alongside criminal groups such as the Mexican cartels. However, despite evidence of cross-border collaboration in criminal activities, the decentralized nature and highly localized and territorial focus of the maras has always cast doubts on this classification.

There have also been reports of the Spanish maras coordinating with their counterparts in the Americas, but even if this level of cooperation were to expand, it is unlikely they would have the capacity to coordinate serious transatlantic criminal operations. If they were to seek to establish control over transnational activities such as drug trafficking in Europe, they also would likely encounter formidable opposition; in Spain drug trafficking and associated activities such as contract killing is largely controlled by offshoots of Colombian cartels, while Italy is the domain of powerful and well-connected mafias such as the ‘Ndrangheta.

Terrorist Designation of Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi

The Department of State has designated Algerian citizen Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. As a result of the designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which al-Anabi has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with him or to his benefit.

Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi is an Algerian al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) member. He is the leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables and serves as AQIM’s Media Chief. In an April 25, 2013 video, al-Anabi called for armed conflict by violent extremists against French interests throughout the world, presumably in response to France’s Mali intervention.

Saudi Arabia Travel Warning

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.  There have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them. There have been multiple Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) directed and inspired attacks on mosques in the past four months. The latest, in the city of Abha on August 6, targeted members of the Saudi security forces. Furthermore, there are ongoing security concerns related to the crisis in Yemen, particularly border incursions and missile attacks across the Saudi-Yemeni border by forces within Yemen. This replaces the Travel Warning issued February 24, 2015.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from traveling within 50 miles of the Yemeni border, and to the cities of Jizan and Najran, without permission from U.S. Embassy security officials. U.S. government personnel are also prohibited from traveling to the city of Qatif in the Eastern Province and its surrounding suburbs, including Awamiyah, and to the Al Hasa Governorate due to violent episodes that have occurred there in the past.

Security threats continue and terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom. Consular services at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates were canceled March 15-19, 2015 due to heightened security concerns at our diplomatic facilities in the Kingdom.

Multiple attacks on mosques have occurred in Saudi Arabia over the past four months, resulting in significant loss of life. On May 22, 2015 a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Al-Qadeeh in Al Qatif Governorate. On August 6, 2015 a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed. Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces. On May 29, 2015 a blast occurred at another mosque in the Al Anoud district of Dammam.

U.S. citizens have been the targets of recent attacks in the Kingdom. On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

There have been several attacks on other nationalities during the past year. On November 29, 2014, a Canadian national was assaulted by a lone attacker with a cleaver at a shopping mall in Dhahran. On November 22, 2014, a Danish national was shot and injured in Riyadh by alleged ISIL supporters. On November 3, 2014, armed assailants attacked a community center in Dalwah in the Al Hasa Governorate, killing at least seven people and injuring several others. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack.

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports of violence near the border with Yemen, including reports of small arms fire, bombs, artillery, and missile impacts. Media and independent sources report armed groups crossing the border into Saudi Arabia to conduct attacks on Saudi Arabian territory, primarily near western border cities, including Najran. The rugged border area dividing Yemen and Saudi Arabia remains porous in some areas and boundaries are not clearly defined. As the conflict continues in Yemen, violence can spill across the border at unpredictable times and locations. Forces hostile to Saudi Arabia within Yemen have weapons systems including mortars, artillery, and missiles that have been launched at targets in Saudi Arabia. On June 6, 2015, a missile was shot down 50 miles inside Saudi Arabia by Saudi forces that may have been targeting the King Khalid Air Base near Khamis Mushait. On August 26, 2015, a missile was fired across the border near Jizan and was intercepted by Saudi military. There is an increased possibility of strikes within 50 miles of the border, which could result in civilian deaths.

Visitors who choose to travel to these areas despite U.S. government concerns should be aware that, in addition to the above noted border attacks, terrorist and criminal elements may be operating there, including AQAP. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to read the Department of State Travel Warning for Yemen before traveling to areas near the Yemeni frontier.

U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia are strongly encouraged to select hotels or housing compounds with careful attention to security measures and location. U.S. citizens should be aware of their surroundings at all times and are advised to keep a low profile; vary times and routes of travel; exercise caution while driving, and entering or exiting vehicles; and ensure that travel documents and visas are current and valid.

If the security threat changes or specific threats affecting U.S. citizens are discovered, this information will be made available through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and U.S. Mission websites. Emergency Messages, Security Messages, and Messages for U.S. Citizens can be found on the U.S. Embassy Riyadh website.

For further information:

  • See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Saudi Arabia Country Specific Information.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia located at Abdullah Ibn Huthafah Al-Sahmi Street, Diplomatic Quarter, at +966 11 488 3800, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +966 11 488 3800.
  • Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
  • Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Embassy Riyadh
Telephone: (966) (11) 488-3800
Fax: (966) (11) 483-0773
Emergency after-hours telephone: (966) (11) 488-3800

U.S. Consulate General Dhahran
Telephone: (966) (13) 330-3200
Fax: (966) (13) 330-0464
Emergency after-hours telephone: (966) (13) 330-3200

U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
Telephone: (966) (12) 667-0080
Fax: (966) (12) 669-3098
Emergency after-hours telephone: (966) (12) 667-0080

Europe’s Migration Crisis

Migrants and refugees streaming into Europe from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia have presented European leaders and policymakers with their greatest challenge since the debt crisis. The International Organization for Migration calls Europe the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world, and the Mediterranean the world’s most dangerous border crossing. Yet despite the escalating human toll, the European Union’s collective response to its current migrant influx has been ad hoc and, critics charge, more focused on securing the bloc’s borders than on protecting the rights of migrants and refugees. However, with nationalist parties ascendant in many member states, and concerns about Islamic terrorism looming large across the continent, it remains unclear if the bloc or its member states are capable of implementing lasting asylum and immigration reforms.

Where do these migrants and refugees come from?
Political upheaval in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is reshaping migration trends in Europe. The number of illegal border-crossing detections in the EU started to surge in 2011, as thousands of Tunisians started to arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa following the onset of the Arab Spring. Sub-Saharan Africans who had previously migrated to Libya followed in 2011–2012, fleeing unrest in the post-Qaddafi era. The most recent surge in detections along the EU’s maritime borders has been attributed to the growing numbers of Syrian, Afghan, and Eritrean migrants and refugees.

The IOM estimates that more than 464,000 migrants have crossed into Europe by sea for the first nine months of 2015. Syrians fleeing their country’s four-and-a-half-year-old civil war made up the largest group (39 percent). Afghans looking to escape the ongoing war with Taliban rebels (11 percent), and Eritreans fleeing forced labor (7 percent) made up the second and third largest groups of migrants, respectively. Deteriorating security and grinding poverty in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan have also contributed to the migrant influx.

What’s the difference between a migrant and refugee?
Distinguishing migrants from asylum seekers and refugees is not always a clear-cut process, yet it is a crucial designation because these groups are entitled to different levels of assistance and protection under international law.

An asylum seeker is defined as a person fleeing persecution or conflict, and therefore seeking international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees; a refugee is an asylum seeker whose claim has been approved. However, the UN considers migrants fleeing war or persecution to be refugees, even before they officially receive asylum. (Syrian and Eritrean nationals, for example, enjoy prima facie refugee status.) An economic migrant, by contrast, is person whose primary motivation for leaving his or her home country is economic gain. The term “migrant” is seen as an umbrella term for all three groups. (Said another way: all refugees are migrants, but not all migrants are refugees.)

Europe is currently witnessing a mixed-migration phenomenon, in which economic migrants and asylum seekers travel together. In reality, these groups can and do overlap, and this gray area is frequently exacerbated by the inconsistent methods with which asylum applications are often processed across the EU’s twenty-eight member states.

Which EU member states are on the frontlines?
EU member states hardest hit by the economic crisis, like Greece and Italy, have also served as the main points of entry for migrants and refugees due to their proximity to the Mediterranean Basin. Shifting migratory patterns over the past year have also exposed countries like Hungary, situated on the EU’s eastern border, to a sharp uptick in irregular migration.

Violence in Costa Rica Reaching ‘Pandemic’ Levels?

Costa Rica investigators at a murder scene

Authorities in Costa Rica are expecting “pandemic” levels of violence this year, even as battles between local criminal groups for control of the country’s drug trade intensify. 

According to Costa Rica‘s Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ by its Spanish initials), the country is on track to reach 533 homicides by December, reported Diario Extra. This would be a significant increase from the 471 homicides Costa Rican authorities registered in 2014 and more than a 30 percent jump from the 407 murders in 2012 and 2013.

Costa Rica’s 2015 homicide forecast pales in comparison to the skyrocketing violence facing Central America’s  Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Guatemala,Honduras). But the uptick in violence has reportedly pushed Costa Rica‘s murder rate past 10 per 100,000 inhabitants, a level the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified as reaching a “pandemic.” 

Authorities estimate that 45 percent of the roughly 400 murders so far this year are related to drugs and organized crime. OIJ Deputy Director Luis Avila identified four neighborhoods within capital San Jose where some 77 murders have been registered this year as a result of score-settling between drug gangs, reported Diario Extra. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The possibility that Costa Rica — once considered the “Switzerland of Central America” — might reach “pandemic” levels of violence is a reflection of the country’s changing criminal dynamics.

There are indications that Costa Rica has become an increasingly important transshipment point for cocaine heading northward,  to such an extent that authorities say the country has been “colonized” by Mexican drug cartels. Officials also warn Mexican cartels have begun arming local drug gangs with high-powered weapons like AK-47s. This increased firepower and contact with transnational drug trafficking organizations has likely facilitated the rise of drug-related violence in Costa Rica.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

However, authorities in Costa Rica have so far opted against the militarized policing strategies that governments in the Northern Triangle have turned to in order to combat rising violence.  According to Diario Extra, former Costa Rica Security Minister Celso Gamboa prioritizes drug education and treatment over an increased police presence. Meanwhile current Security Minister Gustavo Mata has focused on improving the country’s judicial system by calling for a special unit to investigate drug and organized crime-related murders. 

The Governor’s Son, the Knights Templar and the Impotence of Mexican Justice

Written by Jesus PerezThursday, 24 September 2015

Rodrigo Vallejo and 'La Tuta'

Rodrigo Vallejo and ‘La Tuta’

The weak sentence handed out to Rodrigo Vallejo, son of the former governor of the state of Michoacan who held office during the height of the reign of the Knights Templar, is yet another example of the impotence ofMexico‘s judicial system.

A federal judge sentenced Vallejo on September 11 on charges of concealment. The appearance of a video showing Vallejo conversing with Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta,” former head of the region’s dominant criminal group the Knights Templar, had already brought about hisfather’s resignation. Despite the controversial conversation captured in the video, the sentence, according to Vallejo’s lawyer, might not lead to actual prison time.

Nevertheless, an analysis of the case helps to show the problems and challenges that Mexican judicial and law enforcement systems face when trying to unravel criminal-political networks that have co-opted state institutions in parts of the country.

One notable example is the difficulty that the Attorney General’s Office in Mexico (PGR by its Spanish initials) has had securing a solid accusation against Vallejo. According to some sources, the PGR has numerous videos of Knights Templar members with state and municipal officials, from which it should be possible to draw out a hypothetical organizational structure showing the links between Michoacan politicians and the Knights Templar. Within this network, Vallejo is assuredly not a minor figure, as evidenced by his contact with high-level members of the criminal organization. To strengthen the case against Vallejo, it would have been helpful if investigators had used La Tuta as a witnessto explain how the support of the ex-governor’s son came about.

Vallejo’s sentence only corresponds to the concealment charges brought against him for not supplying authorities with information about La Tuta’s whereabouts, that is to say, the sentence is not for his association with La Tuta as depicted in the video, but for a crime committed after the video was shot. And even then, the charges were brought only after Vallejo made a statement in front of the PGR. This shows that even under the most charitable analysis, Mexican authorities do not have a clear image of the level of criminal penetration into the institutions they are investigating, which is only further compounded by the PGR’s poor use of witnesses.

However, this type of shoddy investigation of sophisticated criminal structures has become a habit, as clearly shown in the year-old Ayotzinapa case, where 43 students disappeared in the tumultuous state of Guerrero.

For example, the Group of Independent Interdisciplinary Experts (GIEI), which was asked by Mexican authorities to help support the Ayotzinapa investigation, called for all related parts of the investigation to be brought before a single tribunal. The petition exemplified the various problems with Mexico‘s spider web of a legal system, such as the dispersion of related investigations among several tribunals, which contributes to the type of impunity seen in the Vallejo case.

Furthermore, although the PGR has detained hundreds of people who have shed light on the disappearance of the students, the prosecution of municipal representatives and members of Guerreros Unidos — the criminal group responsible for the disappearances — has been done exclusively from a municipal perspective. There has been a lack of focus on exposing the connections between those who have been accused in the case and networks that operate on a scale that goes far beyond the local level.

Faced with the failed strategies described above, Mexico can learn from the policies of other countries. The para-politics scandal of Colombia, which exposed links between politicians and the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), took place in a different context  but the case provides examples of tools that could be used to take on complex criminal structures like the Knights Templar. For example, there are lessons to be learned from the charges brought against those implicated in the para-politics scandal regarding how meetings between politicians and criminal groups can be used to infer certain roles and relationships. Such meetings make clear the shared criminal purpose of both parties and emphasize how important support from political circles can be for those criminal purposes.

More specifically, Colombia has made advances with respect to its judicial culture thatMexico could also implement, provided that the government shows an interest in adapting policies and the law to the actual challenges presented by organized crime. One option is to focus on investigating the larger contextual framework of organized crime. In this type of process, Colombian prosecutors prioritize certain aspects of the investigation that can shed light on the leadership structures of criminal organizations. In exposing the dynamics of organized crime and its relationships to distinct elements of the public sector, the prosecution’s efforts can also serve a larger educational purpose for society at large, something that is essential for a country in the midst of a security crisis like Mexico is experiencing. This type of contextual nuance gets lost with case-by-case investigations.

Along a similar line, the Public Ministry in Guatemala has a team of 120 analysts whose job is to study and compare multiple cases at once to see if there are any connections between them. Using this strategy, prosecutors can save effort and resources. Instead of prosecuting every case at an individual level, they end up taking down entire criminal networks, as they did in a historic case against gang members in 2014.

Returning to the Vallejo case, even though the general public has long assumed it to be true, it is difficult to understand how certain members of Michoacan’s political elites and the Knights Templar are linked — something most citizens see as self-evident — and to understand the ways they co-opted much of the state government without connecting the dots between seemingly isolated cases that share characteristics and a general pattern. In this sense, it would be natural to link the Vallejo case to that of Jesus Reyna, the former interim governor of Michoacan, who is still under investigation for his alleged involvement in the Knights Templar’s political network.

Whether the case ends here or if prosecutors bring new charges, a case like Vallejo’s reveals a larger lesson about what happens when the judicial system introduces a narrative that supplants official propaganda and the conspiracy theories that feed public opinion inMexico on matters regarding security. In other words, a narrative that emphasizes how the country’s legal institutions understand the nature of organized crime and what image they are sharing with the public. In this case, the focus has been narrow and the image the legal system has projected has been one of impotence.

Uruguay an Important Weapons Source for LatAm Criminals?

The Santa Bernardina Air Base

The Santa Bernardina Air Base

An ammunition heist from an Air Force base in Uruguay points to corruption in the country’s security forces, and further indicates that the generally peaceful country serves as a prominent source of weapons for South America criminal groups.

Investigations by Uruguayan authorities found that roughly 18,000 pieces of ammunition stolen from the Santa Bernardina Air Base ended up in the hands of criminal groups in Brazil; including Rio de Janeiro’s notorious Red Command (Comando Vermelho), reported El Pais.

The munitions theft — believed to have occurred sometime between November 2014 and February 2015 — was made public on June 21 by Congressional delegate Jaime Trobo.

According to investigations, the stolen ammunition weighed between 650 and 750 kilograms, and was removed from the base through its main gate using a truck. During the months the robbery is believed to have taken place, security cameras, motion sensors, and electric fences guarding the base’s weapons depot were not functioning.

Around 20 soldiers are under investigation. Mid-ranking soldiers and officers are also expected be implicated as investigations progress, reported El Pais. It is also possiblemore ammo was stolen than initially believed.

In 2007, the Uruguayan Air Force experienced a similar weapons theft, which resulted in four soldiers, three civilians, and one prison inmate being charged for stealing and organizing the weapons’ sales to Brazilian criminal groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

The theft of such a large amount of ammunition from an active Air Force base could not have occurred without complicity on the part of corrupt soldiers and officers.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

While such instances of corruption are less common among Uruguay’s security forces, they are not without precedent. In 2012, around 20 police officers came under investigation for removing over 200 firearms from police stockpiles and selling them to Brazilian criminal groups. More recently, in April, three policemen and a businessman were arrested on suspicions they were trafficking guns to Brazil’s Red Command.

According to a 2009 report by the Small Arms Survey, while having the highest per capita civilian gun ownership in South America (one firearm for every three people), Uruguay has a relatively small collection of modern small arms (61,000). However, much of this inventory was found to be useless, owing to reductions in military personnel. The report also documented a surplus of around 80,000 outdated rifles, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns, which serve no function in Uruguay’s national strategy and whose status was unknown.

The existence of such surplus weapons stocks may prove too tempting an opportunity for some corrupt military officials. Neighboring Brazil offers a prime market, where evidence suggests groups like the Red Command have been seeking to obtain ever more powerful weapons. In 2013, 40 percent of weapons seized in Rio de Janeiro were listed as “category A” — including rifles, machine guns, and submachine guns — representing a 33 percent increase since 2009.

The Fall of Guatemala’s President

Guatemala’s 40-year civil war laid the groundwork for many criminal organizations, including several that spawned from state intelligence and military services. These organizations, collectively known as Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS), are still operational, assisting in drug trafficking and illegal adoptions, the making of false passports and contraband. They include several ex-generals and former high-ranking intelligence officers, and their connections to the private side security services in Guatemala, plus their understanding of how to penetrate and corrupt the government make them useful partners and potent individual actors in the underworld.

History

The origins of the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS) are in Guatemala‘s civil conflict. What began as a fight for land and labor rights in the 1950s became a full-scale civil war in the 1960s. Several guerrilla groups emerged, both urban and rural, some of which included former military officers. Amidst the turmoil, the Guatemalan army seized power and held it until the mid-1980s. Along the way they created an elaborate and somewhat sophisticated intelligence apparatus, the most important part of which was the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP).

CIACS Factbox

Founded
1970s

Membership
Unknown

Leadership
Decentralized

Criminal Activities
Drug trafficking, drug sales, arms dealing, falsifying documents, adoption rings, contraband

Guatemala Factbox

Homicide Rate

Criminal Activities

Drug transit, human trafficking, extortion,kidnapping, prostitution rings

Principal criminal groups

MS13, Barrio 18, CIACS, Lorenzanas, Mendozas, Leones

The government set up the EMP in the mid-1970s to protect the president and his family. But with time, it evolved into an intelligence gathering service. Staffed by military personnel, most of whom had worked in the military’s most feared intelligence services, it soon turned its attention to opposition forces and political movements who threatened its control over the government and its ability to cover up its past war crimes. The information was placed in files, or “archivos,” giving the EMP its moniker: “los archivos.”

During the 1980s, as the country shifted from military to civilian rule, the EMP worked to keep opposition in check and ensure that past abuses during the civil war went unpunished. It did this by systematically tracking, harrassing, and in some cases arresting human rights workers, union members and student activists, among others. Some faced torture. Others were simply executed or disappeared. One military intelligence document, obtained from Guatemala‘s government archives by the National Security Archives, listed 183 Guatemalans that the EMP disappeared between 1983 and 1985. The EMP was also responsible for the 1990 murder of the anthropologist Myrna Mack in 1990. And its personnel were behind the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who had led an investigation into war crimes during the country’s civil conflict.

The EMP was abolished in 2003, but it was at the heart of what many called the “hidden powers,” or CIACS, that continued to have a strong hand in running the Guatemalan government for years thereafter. Military intelligence services such as the G-2 and the D-2 were also part of these powers. They drew from their past connections to become a type of parallel government. Some of them took on names like the Cofradia or La Montaña and battled for control with each other over the lucrative businesses they managed. These businesses included providing intelligence and weapons, hitmen services and fake passports to criminal groups. They were facilitators more than operators, and their vast knowledge of the state and political connections within it, made them invaluable to other underworld operators and political parties alike. Some eventually formed their own political movements. A former EMP commander, Otto Perez Molina, is now the Guatemala‘s president.

In 2007, the government opened the door for the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been working to dismantle the CIACS. Its case against former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo is illustrative of the CICIG’s mixed results. According to the US indictment against the ex-president, retired General Francisco Ortega Menaldo orchestrated at least part of the pillaging of state resources that led to the arrest of the former president and his defense minister.

The US pulled Ortega’s visa in 2002, for his alleged contacts with drug trafficking organizations. He is also thought to have ties to an organization that sells Guatemalan passports to foreigners. However, Guatemalan authorities have never indicted Ortega, and Ortega has consistently denied any wrongdoing or connections to these “hidden powers.” Portillo and two of Ortega’s close associates, however, spent time in jail for embezzlement, and Portillo was extradited to the US where he was convicted of money laundering charges. After spending a year and a half in US prison, Portillo returned toGuatemala in February 2015.

Given his background in the EMP, many expected President Perez Molina not to renew the CICIG’s mandate on coming to power. However, after assuming the presidency, Perez extended CICIG’s mandate for a further two years until September 2015. In April 2015, after much debate and political maneuvering — and amidst a crisis in his administration due to a customs fraud scandal — Perez renewed CICIG’s mandate for another two years.

Leadership

Membership in the CIACS included active and ex-military officers, special forces operatives, and high-level government officials; many of whom operated in intelligence branches such as the EMP, the G-2 or the D-2. The “Cofradia” or “The Brotherhood,” was composed of an elite group of Guatemalan intelligence officers.

Geography

The CIACS operates throughout Guatemala, but its core groups are centered in theGuatemala City, near the halls of government power.

Allies and Enemies

Given the status of their members, the CIACS enjoyed wide support among the Guatemalan government, with considerable access to the president and other leaders.

Prospects

The Portillo case and the activities of the CICIG notwithstanding, reducing the activities of organized crime in Guatemala to the CIACS may be simplistic and outdated. The CIACS have blended with various criminal enterprises, formed their own or have tried to become legitimate political and economic actors. While their legacy is strong — witness the customs fraud scandal — the CIACS themselves are symbols of how power works inGuatemala: via a mafia-like control over the levers of government bureaucracy.

Mexican Internal Security Policy Failures

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto touted security accomplishments in his State of Union speech. Some of his claims need some serious scrutiny.

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto’s state-of-the-union address

In his third State of the Union address the President acknowledged the last 12 months have been a “difficult year” for Mexico. He spoke of the 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman’s escape from prison and accusations of corruption at many levels of government, including the Executive Branch.

“These situations are all very different from each other, but they all hurt the spirit of the Mexican people and their trust in public institutions,” Peña Nieto said.

Defending his leadership through all this, the President presented a series of figures as proof of crime and security accomplishments. They included falling homicide andkidnapping rates and some of the lowest crime statistics in 17 years.

Additionally Peña Nieto highlighted the capture of 92 figures on Mexico‘s 122 most dangerous people list along with improved coordination and intelligence sharing to combat organized crime.

“We’re not just capturing them, we’re undermining their organizations and financial capacities,” he said.

Looking to the next three years of his term, the President put forth a 10-point plan centered around improving security and the rule of law while also jump starting the economy.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to Animal Politico, Peña Nieto’s claim of the second lowest crime rates in 17 years hinges on comparing two distinct categories of crime: “high impact crime” (mostly consisting of violent crime) vs total crime.

Aside from statistical shenanigans, official crime figures may not reflect the facts on the ground, as evidenced by a recent Mexico victimization survey, known as Envipe, which pointed to large differences in the amount of crimes occurring and the number reported to authorities.

If crimes do reach authorities there’s no guarantee they’ll be handled properly, according to a separate report by Animal Politico. Two out of three Mexican states reportedly had to revise their crime statistics this year. Some of the more egregious cases coincided with Mexico‘s major crime hotspots. For example, in May Sinaloa state announced it would add more than 10,000 preliminary investigations which had somehow not been registered over the last three years. Meanwhile in Atlantic-facing Veracruz state authorities admitted to failing to register nearly 300 homicides in 2013.

Further complicating the matter are Mexico‘s issues with forced disappearances. In February the Mexican government took issue with a United Nations report which statedforced disappearances (often involving security forces) are widespread and met with near total impunity. Many of these victims ended up in mass graves in which identifying the victim, and thus recording a crime, becomes difficult.

Looking at the President’s boast of capturing 92 of Mexico‘s 122 most dangerous people, it’s worth noting that a number of those arrested were reportedly caught during the previous administration.

The list itself has also been called into question after Mexico‘s Attorney General’s Officeremoved 10 names from it. Those removed included Sinaloa cartel underboss Juan Jose Esparragoza, alias “El Azul,” and Juarez cartel leader Juan Pablo Ledezma.

With Mexico‘s economy stagnating and Peña Nieto’s approval rating at an all time low, it’s to be expected the President would try and spin crime and security statistics in his favor. What is of real concern is his plans for the next half of his presidency.

The President’s recent appointment of Renato Sales as Mexico‘s new national security commissioner raises doubts. Outlining his agenda Sales put forth prison reform and increasing trust in Mexico’s Federal Police as top priorities. This leaves open questions on how Peña Nieto’s administration plans to make gains against Mexico‘s fragmenting and evolving organized crime groups which may not be as susceptible to Mexico‘s previous strategy of targeting criminal leaders.

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