It can be difficult to summarize cartel violence in Mexico. It’s constant, senseless and extremely grotesque. Mexican newspapers often refrain from publishing daily briefs so as to not give cartels publicity, or because they’re simply afraid. Border newspapers on the U.S. side are not much better — often choosing to ignore violence happening in their sister cities in favor of neighborhood fluff. But when something big happens, like the death of a prominent drug boss, or a particularly severe few days of fighting, observers take notice.
“This is the worst violence we’ve seen this year,” Arturo Sandoval, spokesman for the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office said. It could possibly be one of the deadliest several-day periods since the war began. At least 53 people in Juarez alone were killed over the course of Thursday through Saturday, including four police officers. Thirteen taxi drivers in Acapulco were killed. Earlier in the week, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were ambushed on a highway in San Luis Potosi by a squad of Zetas gunmen armed with AK-47s. One died: the first U.S. cop killed in Mexico since 1985.
“We must remember that while we lost an ICE agent this week, our Mexican partners have lost nearly 2,000 security forces agents and more than 30,000 civilians in the last four years,” U.S. Northern Command chief Admiral James Winnefeld wrote on his personal blog. “Many of these security forces’ family members live in the same towns where [cartel] violence is highest, and are often themselves targets, only heightening the respect in which we hold our counterparts.”
A clearer picture is emerging behind Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim’s recent visit to Argentina. Jobim met with his Argentinian counterpart to sign a defense cooperation agreement directed at creating a regional defense market; in theory, and perhaps soon, the two countries will share technology and manufacturing assets, like shipyards. For starters, the two countries will continue to co-develop the light multi-role VLEGA Gaucho (or “cowboy”) transport. Argentina also expressed interest in replacing its aging fleet of C-130 cargo planes with the in-development Brazilian KC-390. “It’s important that Argentina participate in building the KC-390, because Brazil’s strategic policy in Latin America is one of collaboration,” Jobim said.
The United States is also insisting that Brazil will receive adequate technology transfer for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a precondition for Brazil’s domestic defense manufacturing goals. “I would argue that the technology transfer that we are offering of this magnitude would put Brazil at par with our close partners,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemispheric Affairs Frank Mora told Congress last week. However, it’s unlikely Brazil will make a decision to buy the plane soon. Expect a decision later this year or next.
Relations between Venezuela and Colombia continue to improve. Colombian delegates visited Caracas last week to shore up a counter-narcotics initiative before an expected March resolution. Years of vendetta between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s former president, meant that until recently cross-border cooperation against organized crime was minimal at best. In particular, money laundering is a serious problem, and swaths of the border region are rife with drug smuggling and paramilitary gangs, including the FARC.
In other news, a joint statement released by the Bolvarian Alliance for the Americas urged Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Manuel Insulza to refrain from meddling in Venezuelan affairs. The conflict between the two competing regional organizations returned this month after dozens of student hunger strikers demanding an investigation into human rights abuses camped in front of OAS offices and several embassies in Caracas and elsewhere.
Also, Venezuelan officials were forced to squash rumors Monday morning that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was headed — in exile — to Caracas. Venezuela has been repeatedly mentioned in news reports as a possible retirement home for Gaddafi if the country’s pro-democracy uprising successfully forces him from power. Gaddafi and Chavez have close ties. Chavez even once planned to sleep inside a donated Bedouin tent (one of Gaddafi’s signature protocols) during severe rain storms in December. The presidential palace was converted into a temporary shelter.