For the past nine years U.S. National Security Strategy has focused on Afghanistan and Irak—while keeping a close eye on a rising China—in the context of the endless “War on Terror”. Whether the internal debate centered on Counterterrorism or CounterInsurgency (COIN) as a means to defeat or mitigate enemy threats, the focus appeared to be clear. Notable efforts have also projected U.S. security interests in the Sahel through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. Yet as U.S. military forces disengage gradually from these conflicts—Afghanistan and Irak—by the end of 2011, the U.S. security establishment awakens to a crude reality unfolding right at its doorsteps in the U.S.-Mexico border, highlighting the need for a serious review of U.S. National Security Strategy 2010 at midterm and a more vigorous Hemispheric Security Policy for the next decade.
Enter the Narcos
It has been widely publicized now that in 2006 the government of Felipe Calderon in Mexico launched an all out war on the different Mexican Drug Cartels (MDC) that are challenging the state in vast swaths of territory and tearing apart Mexico’s social fabric, instilling fear and spreading corruption under the oft mentioned rule of plata o plomo (silver or lead). Traditionally, terrorism purists insist on the existence of a political connotation to qualify an act as such, but more recently the degree of violence MDC, gangs and criminal organizations are displaying in Mexico clearly qualifies as terrorism; and more emphatically narcoterrorism.
The challenge mounts a death toll since then approaching over 25,000 lives, fueled by a combination of (1) heightened internal demand for drugs; (2) control over internal and foreign routes—mainly to the U.S. market; (3) illicit cross-border arms trade; (4) militarization of policing functions; (5) insufficient money laundering controls; (6) illicit human smuggling and trafficking; (7) insufficient financing of education and public health; and a (8) deficient U.S. immigration policy. All these factors compound the problem.
The Mexican war on drugs reached its acme between 2009-2010; while it had become public knowledge MDC, gangs and criminal organizations’ modus operandi included summary beheadings, varied torture and terrorist techniques, in March gang members associated with narcos targeted employees and employees’ families associated with the U.S. Consulate in Juarez; and in October the narcos’ operations expanded to cities like Monterrey—an elitist enclave—daring to attack a military patrol directly using force-on-force with total impunity. Critics of the Mexican war on drugs, like former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda argue the Calderon administration imposed an irrational objective knowing the limited capabilities at the government’s disposal. Perhaps Mr. Castaneda raises a valid point considering the inimical challenge of reforming Mexican state and federal law enforcement systems; but shouldn’t that day have come long ago too? And what of the survival of democracy without the freedom of the press considering it has been nearly muzzled out of fear in Mexico?
The deaths of U.S. citizens in October and the fear of a spill over effect clearly got Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano and Dept. of State Secretary, Hillary Clinton’s attention. Several talks on cross-border security and cooperation ensued, though so far—and inspite of—some notable law-enforcement successes in capturing or killing relevant figures from some MDC ranks and interdicting drug supplies and access tunnels into the U.S., an inconvenient cloud of uncertainty hangs over the U.S. [and Mexican] national security establishment. In this regard, former Party of National Action (PAN) politician, Germán Martínez Cázares raises the following questions: “What if one day a group of narcoterrorists lays claim over the kidnapping of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos [a former Presidential candidate]? What will happen when some low-lives use a bomb threat to extort the liberation of an imprisoned narco? What will happen on the hypothetical date where a U.S. ambassador publicly acknowledges a terrorist operation across the Rio Bravo?” It could be added: how would the security establishment feel if a 12 year old murdered a U.S. ambassador or even a U.S. state politician?
Immigration & Prison Reform
The U.S. has traditionally been an immigrant friendly country; today we live under a different set of realities. The national debate spurred by the controversial law SB1070 in Arizona—which will likely be striken by the Supreme Court—enlightens the need for sound U.S. immigration reform that stops in one stroke the legal suppression of immigrants, often exploited by both the business and hampa worlds alike. Latinos have already become the largest minority group in the U.S., but “[t]he possibility of having a permanently alienated Latino community in the United States represents a serious strategic vulnerability that should be addressed by system reform and assimilation as rapidly as possible.” As U.S. officials eye the evolving menace the growth of the security establishment increases. According to Robert Bunker, “the levels of corruption of US public agents appear not to have significantly increased and although the active investigation of corruption is increasing so too are the number of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers now deployed. Regions of Arizona and Texas have armed cartel operatives positioned throughout the countryside with local police chiefs recently publicly stating that violence has officially crossed into the United States. Further violence and corruption potentials must be considered in the context of Mexican drug cartel and narco gang penetration into the US.”
Immigration fluctuations are often not factored by many security strategists and in a globalized interconnected world those security strategies that lack this consideration are doomed to fail. In many respects the fluctuation of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. may be qualified as internal, yet they are still trans-national, with a different set of legal implications. The Obama administration has made a righteous point in deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records to alleviate the burden on the immigration and prison systems. But what of the impact of these deported criminals on the weaker prison and law-enforcement systems in the home countries? Clearly, although some states like California or New Jersey can count on gang prevention programs, a comprehensive strategy needs implementation to mitigage gang activity at the national level across school and prison systems to protect Latino and other youth from falling prey to criminal activity.
The U.S. National Security Strategy 2010 outlined the need to strengthen national [intelligence] capacities: “Our intelligence capabilities must continuously evolve to identify and characterize conventional and asymmetric threats and provide timely insight. And we must integrate our approach to homeland security with our broader national security approach …. We are improving the integration of skills and capabilities within our military and civilian institutions, so they complement each other and operate seamlessly. We are also improving coordinated planning and policymaking and must build our capacity in key areas where we fall short.”
Military and civilian intelligence agencies must complement not only with each other, but also with private sector contractors carrying out relevant national security functions. This has prompted the expansion of law-enforcement intelligence fusion centers—led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Dept. of the Treasury—to mitigate transnational and national threats improving human intelligence (HUMINT). It is a positive effort considering transnational drug trafficking organizations (DTO) and their local subsidiaries are often involved in racketeering (i.e., money laundering, extortion, robbery, prostitution, theft, gambling and murder).
Indeed U.S. security agencies are rehashing their recruiting efforts to attract better equipped candidates for the needs identified to mitigate transnational threats. Since 2001 the focus was—and still is in great measure—on the need to grow the ranks of arabic and south Asian language speakers, today the need is placed on Spanish speakers, particularly. Surprisingly, the pool of fully bilingual English/Spanish educated candidates would be vast, but this is not so clear, as many educated Latinos are second, third and even fourth generation immigrants, having lost at times the most important bond to Latino heritage—the Spanish language—to an extent that renders their presumed multiculturalism insufficient for national security purposes unless educated in institutions of higher learning. On the other hand, since crime penetrates, blends, and mutates with cultural mores—irrespective of national origin—this claim may be disputed.
State & Non-State Criminals & the need for a Comprehensive U.S. Hemispheric Security Strategy
The rise of Hugo Chavez to the presidency in Venezuela in 1998 marked the ante in U.S. bilateral relations with some Latin American countries. Twelve years after, some critics’ suspicions on the flamboyant leader have come to the fore revealing Venezuela’s connections with international pariahs, including non-state criminals. A verbal tug-of-war with Colombia led to a brief break in bilateral relations. Notwithstanding, the government of Colombia was able to prove through its military intelligence successes that Chavez finances and harbors in Venezuelan territory, camps and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Colombian military intelligence purportedly revealed similar evidence regarding Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa. In March of 2010 Chavez suffered another hard accusation coming from Spanish investigative judge Eloy Velasco on account of harboring Eskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA) terrorist Arturo Cubillas and facilitating ETA-FARC ties; Cubillas was purportedly on government payroll performing special services. U.S. SouthCom chief Gen. Douglas Fraser verified “financial and logistical ties between the two groups were longstanding,” as Dept. of State Assistant Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs raised concerns over the allegations as did the government of Sweden.
Recently, Walid Makleb, a drug lord captured by Colombian authorities, revealed Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, a high-ranking General in Venezuela’s armed forces (FAV) possesses links to the FARC. Makleb’s material information and rvelations converge with Gen. Rangel Silva’s blistering public rejection for any democratically elected government in Venezuela other than that of Hugo Chavez. Indeed the infomation has sent schockwaves across Latin America, but the information is not new. In fact, the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had listed Gen. Rangel Silva and other Venezuelan government officials for “materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the … [FARC], a narco-terrorist organization.” Clearly, Venezuela has been identified as a focal point for the projection of transnational criminal activities, not only across the southern cone, but also across Central America. Its recent agreemens with Iran and Russia in the development of nuclear plants have raised many eyebrows in Washington, D.C..
Moreover, regional cohesion became risk prone following the forced eviction of president Zelaya by the Honduran military as ordered by this country’s Supreme Court. The removal of Zelaya was politicized by other regional leaders seeking to tailor legilative processes in their own coutries in order to perpetuate in power (i.e., Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Evo Morales in Bolivia, or Rafel Correa in Ecuador), though admittedly Honduras may have opted for a different set of protocols in such approach. The course of action also caused a crisi at the Organization of American States (OAS), which has also been accused of not reaching a consensus for enhanced hemispheric security cooperation.
According to Steven Metz, “[o]ne of the dominant characteristics of the contemporary global security environment is that it continues to give nation states responsibility for systemic maintenance and stability at the very time that they are increasingly incapable of providing acceptable levels of security, prosperity, and political identity. A variety of sub- and supra-state organizations are filling the vacuum.”
Transnational criminal activities fueled by infinate financial resources afforded by drug revenues allow DTOs to go nearly unchallenged. The current U.S. National Security Strategy indicates that: “Combating transnational criminal and trafficking networks requires a multidimensional strategy that safeguards citizens, breaks the financial strength of criminal and terrorist networks, disrupts illicit trafficking networks, defeats transnational criminal organizations, fights government corruption, strengthens the rule of law, bolsters judicial systems, and improves transparency.” These are major challenges but the U.S. has not been successful thus far in devising and executing a collective strategy with other nations facing the same threats. In fact, while the U.S. supports the Central American Integration System (SICA), many bilateral agreements have been reached with Colombia, Mexico and Peru, for example, but only with a limited dimension.
The region has seen the creation of a Security Council and Latin American militaries have surely come a long way in the past decade, but they still have a long way to go when factoring the threat they face from DTO and in terms of the balance between civil military relations. According to a Latin American Social Sciences Faculty Report on the defense sector, “one of the greatest challenges for democratic authorities in Latin America and the Caribbean is for the defense sector to be recognized as an object of state policy. This is, as a sector that demands resources and requries the administration of political and strategic definitions and decision-making, while its processes and impacts are monitored and assessed.” A sound U.S. Hemispheric strategy would concentrate its efforts on beefing up Latin American democracies through the “institutionalization of effective systems of democratic control,” In other words, increased professionalization through cooperation and training.
Unfortunately, the pursuit of comprehensive engagement sought by the current U.S. National Security Strategy falls short of projecting american power in Latin America at different levels—diplomatic; development and defense/law enforcement—to the extent that criminal activities fueled by drug trafficking have increased across the region. Thus, a serious review of the current strategy; the roles and responsibilities of its planners and officers; as well as its implementation is needed at midterm.
 “atacan a soldados en Monterrey; muere uno”, El Universal (October 22, 2010), http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/718186.html (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 Jorge Castaneda, El Narco: La Guerra Fallida (Mexico, D.F.: Punto de Lectura, 2009)
 German Martinez Cazares, “Terrorism?”, Reforma (July 26, 2010)
 Senate Bill 1070, State of Arizona Senate, Fortyninth Legislature – Second Regular Session 2010, http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1070s.pdf (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 The heirs to the Beltran Leyva Cartel aka Cartel del Pacifico Sur count in its ranks murderous youth gangs—inclusing women—that easily approach their unsuspecting victims. One member is currently on the run after being identified by Mexican military intelligence: “Militares buscan a sicario de 12 anos”, El Universal (November 6, 2010), http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/78551.html (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 Bob Killebrew & Jennifer Bernal, Crime Wars: Gangs Cartels & U.S. National Security, Center for a New American Security (September 2010), p. 59, http://www.cnas.org/files/documents/publications/CNAS_CrimeWars_KillebrewBernal.pdf (last accessed November 14, 2010)
 “The U.S. Strategic Imperative Must Shift from Irak/Afghanistan to Mexico/the Americas & the Stabilization of Europe”, Small Wars Journal (October 7, 2010), http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/10/the-us-strategic-imperative-mu/ (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 U.S. Government, “U.S. National Security Strategy 2010”, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf (last accessed November 13, 2010), p. 14
 “Eloy Velasco acusa al gobierno de Chavez de Colaborar con ETA”, Libertad Digital ( March 1, 2010), http://www.libertaddigital.com/nacional/procesan-a-seis-miembros-de-eta-y-siete-de-las-farc-por-atentar-contra-uribe-1276386006/ (last accessed November 13, 2o10); “Venezuela still aids Colombian rebels new material shows”, The New York Times (August 2, 2009), http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/world/americas/03venez.html (last accessed November 13, 2010); “Where the FARC goes to fatten up”, The Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2010), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703294904575385931672385268.html (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 “Venezuela has advantages to Makled’s extradition”, El Universal (November 8, 2010), http://english.eluniversal.com/2010/11/08/en_pol_esp_venezuela-has-advant_08A4705931.shtml (last accessed N0vember 15, 2010); “Treasury targets Venezuelan government officials supporting the FARC”, U.S. Dept of the Treasury Press Room (September 12, 2008), http://www.ustreas.gov/press/releases/hp1132.htm (last accessed November 15, 2010); see also “Foreign Narcotics KingPin Designation Act & Executive Order 1297 (1995), U.S. Dept of the Treasury (OFAC), http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/narco/drugs.pdf (last accessed November 15, 2010)
 Steven Metz, “Rethinking Insuregency”, Strategic Studies Institute (June 2007), http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub790.pdf (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 U.S. National Security Strategy, p. 49
 “Reporte delsector de seguridad en America Latina y el Caribe”, FLACSO Chile (August 2007), p. 19, http://new.flacso.cl/flacso/areas/rss/reporte_rss_flacso-1.pdf (last accessed November 13, 2010)
 John Samuel Fitch, The Armed Forces & Democracy in Latin America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 41