Photo: Courtesy of El Blog Del Narco
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Guatemala today for a regional security summit to help Central American governments come up with a plan to fight the growing presence of Mexico’s brutal drug cartels.As we have noted, Mexico’s five-year war on drugs has pushed the traffickers – and violence – across the country’s southern border into the Central American isthmus.
The cartels have moved easily into Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, taking advantage of minimal border security and local gangs that provide a ready-made criminal infrastructure. More than two-thirds of U.S.-bound cocaine shipments traveled through the region last year, up from just one quarter in 2006, according to U.S. data.
The region is now among the world’s deadliest, with an average homicide rate of 33 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to UN figures. The Central American Integration System – which is hosting this week’s summit – reports that drug violence has been responsible for 79,000 homicides over the past six years.
The problem is particularly acute in Guatemala, where last month authorities found 27 bodies decapitated and brutalized by Mexico’s Los Zetas cartel. The prosecutor investigating the crime was also murdered. Last week, Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom extended the state of emergency in the northern border province Peten, which is now almost completely controlled by Los Zetas.
The Washington Post gives this account of the situation along the Mexico-Guatemala border:
“Two reporters traveled 500 miles over the border’s roads and rivers last week. To call this boundary “porous” would be to suggest that parts of it are not. For the indigenous peoples, ranch hands and smugglers who traverse it freely, there is no border at all. It is a line on a map.
On the Suchiate River near the Pacific Coast, boatmen pole makeshift rafts through the currents like gondoliers, ferrying beans, gasoline, beer and diapers into Mexico or Guatemala in plain view of authorities. The trafficking is so well established that ferrymen from Mexico and Guatemala alternate work days on the river.”
At the security summit this week, Colom and his fellow Central American presidents are expected to ask the U.S. for $1 billion to help push back the cartels, in addition to the $200 million in aid President Barack Obama promised earlier this year.
U.S. officials told the AP Monday that more aid is unlikely. Instead, the U.S. is focused on coming up with an approach that avoids simply repeating the hardline military strategy that has been the pillar of the U.S. drug wars in Colombia and Mexico. This time, they said, the discussion will also look at economic and institutional development issues, as well as ways the Central American governments can help themselves.
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