Authorities continue to discover bodies around the town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas. In recent weeks, gunmen believed to be Zetas seized and then killed at least 145 people, almost all Mexican men, traveling aboard buses on a highway leading to the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros. It is not known why the Zetas targeted passenger buses. An extortion attempt — which likely lead to the deaths of 72 Central American migrants near the town last year — makes little sense, according to Steven Dudley at InSight. Instead, it could have been an attempt to deny recruits to rival cartels or to distract authorities away from another part of the country. Or, Dudley argues, it could be a sign armed groups like the Zetas are fracturing:
It could be a step in a process in which increasingly independent or semi-independent wings of larger organizations like the Zetas take their own decisions, however poorly thought-out or devastating they may be. By this theory, over time, as they grow and become more independent, their interests become centered on their own survival, not that of their bosses. …
In part this is because it speaks to the chaos in places like Tamaulipas — a chaos that comes when an organization like the Zetas grows rapidly and loosely, and does not have control over all its factions. These sub-groups branch into other criminal activities, with or without their bosses’ approval.
The atomization of drug gangs has led to similarly devastating consequences in places like Juarez, where smaller groups battle for ever-smaller pieces of the criminal pie.
Sixteen police officers accused of protecting the gunmen were arrested.
South America is the fastest-growing military spender, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The data shows an increase in defense spending by 5.8 percent in 2010. The second-fastest-growing continent, Africa, grew by 5.1 percent. However, as a percentage of global spending, Latin America only comprises four percent — or $63.3 billion, slightly more than the United Kingdom. “This continuing increase in South America is surprising given the lack of real military threats to most states and the existence of more pressing social needs,” Carina Solmirano, Latin America specialist at the SIPRI Military Expenditure Project, said.
The report notes the relatively minor impact of a global financial recession, the rapid growth of Latin American economies and ongoing internal security threats in Colombia and Peru. Brazil, for instance, sees the development of a military-industrial complex as essential to power projection and a strong economy. But the rise in spending is not universal. Venezuela decreased defense spending by 27.3 percent. Bolivia and Uruguay also decreased spending. However, Venezuelan military spending is less transparent and funded heavily by Russian loans. Defense spending in Central America and the Caribbean increased by 1.9 percent. Rising salaries and benefits also make up a large proportion of the increase.
“None of SIPRI’s reports, however, cover the increasing expenditures by non-state groups on what are essentially military-grade weapons,” James Bosworth writes. “I wonder how their numbers would look if you factored that spending into the issue.”