Robert’s Latin America Round-Up

31.03.11

Categorie: Americas, Latin America, Latin America Round-Up, Robert Beckhusen |
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Bolivarian National Police

Bolivarian National Police. Photo via Noticias 365.

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

Venezuela
Venezuelan authorities announced the disbandment of the Caracas Metropolitan Police (PMC) in a step aimed at curbing police crime and corruption on Wednesday. Police are responsible for some 20 percent of crime (yes) committed in Venezuela, according to the country’s own justice and interior minister. The PMC, in particular, is notorious for dishonesty, violence and a “habitual” taste for extra-judicial killings. The demobilization is expected to take three months, and officers who do not resign have the option to retrain with the Bolivarian National Police (PNB). The PNB is relatively new — less than two years old — and is so far seen by observers and the government as more accountable than demoralized, low-paid local cops.

Meanwhile, widespread power outages shut down train networks in Caracas during the Tuesday evening rush hour after rebels apparently blew up a pipeline in neighboring Colombia. The pipeline provides gas to a power station in western Venezuela. The power station failed, electricity demand in the west spiked, forcing the government to set rolling blackouts which are expected to persist in the capital until Friday. In defense news, the Venezuelan air force will buy eight Chinese Shaanxi Y-8 medium-range cargo planes to replace some of its aging C-130 Hercules transports. The air force cannot maintain its U.S.-built C-130s due to an arms embargo. And last Saturday, President Hugo Chavez heightened his support for Libyan and Syrian dictators Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, respectively. Chavez said al-Assad is “a man of great human sensitivity.”

U.S. Southern Command
U.S. Air Force General Douglas Fraser spoke to Pentagon reporters Thursday in what is the Southern Command chief’s first briefing since the January, 2010 Haiti earthquake. Fraser emphasized U.S. priorities in Latin America as responding to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies, but equally weighted concerns about the growing influence of criminal organizations. In Mexico and Central America, drug gangs “operate with near impunity … the direct result is unprecedented levels of violence and the erosion of citizen safety.” He added, “And I think the best example of that is the northern triangle of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras — which in — has become probably the deadliest zone in the world outside of war zones, active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and others around the world.”

Fraser also responded to a question about arms trafficking from the “triangle” into Mexico. According to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks and published by Mexico City newspaper La Jornada on Tuesday, 90 percent of heavy weapons used by Mexican cartels originate in Central America. “The numbers I see is, there are anywhere between 45 to 80 million weapons in the region, and that’s pretty broadly,” Fraser said. “And those are a holdover, if you will, from various civil wars, various conflicts that have happened throughout a number of years.” However, the cable notes conventional weapons like pistols, and also many rifles, are trafficked from the United States in large numbers.

Another (always) popular topic were narcosubs: those now fully submersible drug “supersubs” hauling $250-million loads of cocaine from the Colombian west coast to Mexico — and even around the Galapagos Islands. U.S. rules of engagement are clear. Well, actually there are none; other than to stop them, search them, arrest the crews and prosecute them. “From our standpoint, this is a law enforcement issue,” he said. The briefing closed with a question about — wait for it — Iranian military and Hezbollah-by-proxy terrorist plots launched from Latin America. Fraser was, ahem, skeptical. Indeed, Iran is improving relations with Latin American states to counter U.S.-backed sanctions, he said, but military designs by surrogates like Hezbollah are just conjecture. And he’s right. “I have not seen any evidence of that relationship translating beyond or into Latin America,” he said.

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