Robert’s Latin America Round-Up

20.07.11

Categorie: Americas, Latin America, Latin America Round-Up, Robert Beckhusen |
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Mexican soldier at Baja California marijuana plantation. AP photo.

AP photo.

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

Mexico
A 300-acre marijuana plantation discovered in Baja California by the Mexican army last week was apparently operated by the Sinaloa Cartel, according to military sources referenced by El Universal. General Alfonso Duarte, commander of Mexico’s northwestern Second Military Region, said the plantation could have generated about 120 tons of marijuana worth about $160 million. The field is the largest ever discovered in Mexico, breaking a record made in 1984 at a Chihuahua ranch belonging to Guadalajara Cartel drug lord Rafael Caro. The army destroyed the crop over the weekend.

Also last week, a former DEA director at the agency’s El Paso Intelligence Center said the Zetas are smuggling weapons into Mexico from Texas through Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, which also houses a DEA office. The ex-official, Phil Jordan, said Zetas traffickers purchase weapons in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, fly them from Fort Worth to El Paso, and then smuggle them across the Rio Grande into Mexico.

“What’s ironic is that the DEA also uses the Alliance Airport for some of its operations,” Jordan told the El Paso Times. “The Zetas were working out of a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in the Dallas area to smuggle the weapons to the border.” A DEA spokesperson told the newspaper the agency “did not have any information about the Zetas allegedly operating in this border region.”

Cartel arms trafficking is a politically controversial topic in the United States. Two weeks ago, captured Zetas third-in-command Jesus “El Mamito” Rejon (or “Pretty Boy”) claimed all of the Zetas’ weapons are obtained through U.S. suppliers. Geoffrey Ramsey at InSight was skeptical, citing corruption in Central American militaries as a source of much of the cartel’s high-caliber weapons and explosives.

Brazil
Brazil will begin to manufacture Israeli-designed drones for use in the country’s border regions, with one condition: Brazil can’t sell them to Venezuela or Bolivia. Both countries broke relations with Israel in January 2009 in response to the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Expanding domestic manufacturing of military technology is an important priority for the Brazilian government, which sees the development of an indigenous defense industry as a key component fueling the country’s overall economic growth. The drones are reportedly to be used for drug interdiction. Meanwhile, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff presided over a ceremony marking the start of construction of the first of the Brazilian navy’s next generation of submarines. Brazil plans to build four conventional submarines over the next decade, with one nuclear-powered sub to enter service in 2023. The subs are to be built with French assistance.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s state police say arms trafficking by sea is increasing, and is now considered as serious a problem as arms trafficking across the country’s land borders. The expansion of the Brazilian economy is considered a factor in the greater difficulty police encounter when searching for contraband hidden in import cargo.

Venezuela
Hugo Chavez is back in Cuba. The Venezuelan president returned to Cuba late Saturday to begin chemotherapy treatments for an undisclosed cancer. Chavez was absent in Cuba for several weeks in June until revealing he underwent surgery for a cancerous tumor. Chavez then returned a day before the country’s bicentennial celebration earlier this month.

Opposition politicians have called for Chavez to step down, but Chavez nor the government has shown any indication abdication is likely. However, earlier Saturday Chavez did delegate some powers to Vice President Elias Jaua and the finance minister. “There’s no doubt he’s going to be there in the 2012 elections, and afterward for many more years,” the minister, Jorge Giordani, said Monday.

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