CICIG and the Rule of Law

Today I read an article (the link to which is provided below) which analyzed the rule of law, and how laws apply to different countries, in Latin America. The article stated that “One of the primary causes of political violence in Central America during the second half of the 20th century was the absence of democratic rule of law…When the law was applied, it favored those in positions of authority, often to the detriment of the most vulnerable.” This illustrates the problem of impunity faced by numerous Latin American countries.The article goes on to illustrate how many countries’ judicial systems collapsed after civil wars in that country and that initial reforms were futile. However, there has been a significant shift toward more comprehensive reforms in recent years.” One such reform was a two year investigation led by CiCiG, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. “The commission has helped to solve several important crimes and remove thousands of corrupt police officers from their jobs, and many police units are better-trained and better-equipped than they were prior to CICIG’s establishment. CICIG also provided several legal reform proposals and technical assistance to Congress to strengthen the criminal justice system.”

This article highlights the issue of international intervention in a state’s governance in order to decrease the power and influence of organized crime. The topic of CICIG is a very complex one. While the sovereignty of a state should always be respected, international aid may be required if the state is impotent. Seeing as CICIG is a very useful program that has caused an increase in the rate of homicide convictions in Guatemala from an estimated 2 percent to 10 percent, and has caused impunity to fall from 95 percent to 70 percent. It is important to note that corruption has gone down significantly since CICIG intervened. Plus, CICIG does not overpower or take over the Guatemalan government, providing much needed anti-corruption efforts while still maintaining Guatemalan sovereignty. Perhaps, with further continued activity by CICIG, Guatemala may further decrease the levels of impunity and corruption.

Human Smuggling vs. Human Trafficking

I recently read an article (the link to which is provided below) which greatly relates to our class discussion on human smuggling versus human trafficking. The article essentially highlighted the differences between the two topics and provided reasons for why the difference between smuggling and trafficking is so important. The article started by claiming that there was a common misconception of the terms “human smuggling” and “human trafficking” and that this misconception results in “dangerous policy implications.” The article went on to describe how the recent increase in human smuggling has brought a lot of attention to the issue. The author quotes the U.N. by stating the human smuggling is the “procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.” On the other hand, human trafficking is defined as the “recruiting, transporting, or harboring of people by means of threat, coercion, or fraud for the purpose of exploitation.”  According to the article, the human trafficking business is a $150 billion dollar industry that involves primarily acts of “sexual exploitation, forced slavery, slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.” The article goes on to provide two reasons for why the difference between smuggling and trafficking is important. The author claims that the difference is important because of how policies are created and enacted. Specifically, the author stated that smuggling and trafficking affect each other in a manner similar to supply and demand forces. Additionally, the author claimed that “the distinction is even more important when you look at the rights and treatment of the victims of human trafficking.”

This article is interesting because I noticed that almost all of the points made in the article were points made in class. The class’ reasons for why smuggling and trafficking are different, at least in terms of policy and prosecution, were mostly addressed by the article. These differences essentially state that smuggling is generally a victimless act in which a person pays to voluntarily be transported across international borders; however, trafficking is a forced situation which exploits others for personal gain. It was also interesting to note that stealing organs is a common activity of the trafficking business, as was briefly talked about in class. What struck me about the article is that it stated that these definitions are extremely necessary as, without them, victims might be miscategorized and not given the help that they need.

End of a cartel?

Today I read an article (the link to which is provided below) which described how the Mexican cartel known as Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar) has been facing a lot of opposition from local vigilante organizations. The article described a video posted by Servando Gómez, the leader of the gang, and how he stated that he acknowledges the crimes he has committed, but he will fight to the death and never turn himself in. The article goes on to illustrate how the emergence and success of local vigilante groups pressured the police and federal forces to “step up efforts” against the gang. The combined effects of these pressures on the gang has resulted in a significant decrease in the gangs power and activity, causing the gang and its leaders to face possible defeat and imprisonment. Authorities have stated that Servando Gómez is acting like “a cornered criminal who recognizes that the state has been effective.”

This article is extremely interesting as it highlights an apparently effective strategy used to combat a powerful and violent cartel. This ties into our class discussions today about recommendations for solutions to organized crime. While hard policies are often criticized, it is compelling that such policies are working in Mexico. Although, this is most likely due to the fact that the policies are enforced by the people throughout society, rather than by international influence on corrupt or incompetent officials/institutions. It appears that the reason these hard policies are working is because, rather than the state going after drug leaders, the people have risen up to fight the cartels. This in turn increased federal forces drive to push back the cartel and pursue its leaders. The combined result is a potential end of the cartel.

However, another interesting aspect of this article is that Gómez stated that, in the effort to eliminate the Knights Templar gang, the people and the state have armed too many individuals, many of whom are criminals. This raises a few questions. Will the vigilantes form new criminal organizations to fill the power vacuum left by the Knights Templar if it is eliminated? If so, would this mirror the effects of the end of civil wars in many Latin American countries; would the new organizations form into competing paramilitary groups and/or gangs? Would this result in a further increase in violence in the area? Or perhaps, the vigilantes will shift focus from fighting the Knights Templar, to fighting any other criminal organization in the area. Although this is more of an optimistic possibility, this would be the best future state for the vigilante groups.

El Salvador and the search for the dissapeared

Today I read an article which described the profession of Israel Ticas, an engineer who self taught himself forensics and now works as the head criminologist for a department of the El Salvadorean government. Ticas dedicates his life to uncovering clandestine graves, working to find bodies of those who have disappeared and bring justice to them and their murderers. The article described Ticas’ life and work and provided numerous examples of situations he has been in, including a situation were he was held at gunpoint by gang members. The article points out that in the last 12 years, Tica has “opened about 90 common graves with more than 700 bodies.” Many people come to Tica asking him to help them find their missing loved ones. The article also points out that Tica is scared becaused everyone knows where he lives. However, Tica has said that many gang members come up to him and congratulate him, asking him to find their bodies when they die and bring them to their families.

This article is extremely interesting as it highlights numerous aspects of the state of gang violence in El Salvador and gives hints and clues as to the history of this country. The article mentioned the history of the 2012 gang truce and how “Ticas’s boss, Attorney General Luis Martinez, saw the truce as government collusion with criminals.” The article claims that critics of the 2012 truce argue that the dead “simply were dumped in clandestine graves by the country’s tens of thousands of gang members.” Apparently, the number of missing people in El Salvador each year ranges from 600 to 2,000. This bit of statistics and history of El Salvador illustrates the immense amounts of subtle violence that increased after the 2012 and has since continued to haunt the nation. Another extremely interesting fact about this article is that the gang members have congratulated and encouraged Ticas, asking him to find thier dead bodies “when they die.” The language used, and the requests by gang members highlights the fact that there is a dominant culture of violence in El Salvador and that gang members expect to die in a cruel and unpublicized manner. This fact in turn further reveals the nature of subtle violence in the area and the extensive amounts of gang activity. A final note on the article, Ticas claims that he wants justice for all the dead he finds, even if they are gang members. Ticas claims that all killers are devils. This implies that perhaps gangs aren’t the only ones committing clandestine murders and that possibly the state, or other civilian actors, are utilizing these methods as well.

The link to the article can be found here:

MS-13 Expansion and Hierarchy

I recently read an article (the link to which is provided below) which reported on a relatively recent work by Douglas Farah and Pamela Phillips Lum. The work addressed Central American gangs and transnational criminal organizations. The author of the article, Howard Koplowitz, stated that the MS-13 gang has been attempting to spread its influence into many countries such as Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Spain. The article claims that the gang is purposefully utilizing deportation to spread its existence. The article claims that MS-13 members, when arrested, falsely declare a specific country to be that member’s country of origin. The United States judicial system, having limited evidence to verify this information, often deports those individuals to the specified country. According to the article, the deported gang member starts up his own clique.” Apparently, these MS-13 operatives are “also given a stipend as compensation.”

This article is extremely interesting as it reveals some of the operations of the MS-13 gang. Specifically, this article deals with expansion efforts of the gang. It is very surprising and ingenious that the gang purposefully utilizes deportation to give certain members a free ride to other countries. Furthermore, it is compelling that these members are paid for such services. What is very interesting about this article is the fact that, if this evidence is accurate, than it reveals some of the hierarchical elements of the MS-13 gang. With purposeful and coordinated deportations of members to other countries with the intent to extend gang influence, and a paid service for such deportation operations, the hierarchically aspect of MS-13 is revealed to be much more sophisticated than many had believed. An existence of coordinated deportation and expansion operations hints at the existence of a central command group that heads the MS-13 gangs. This information further helps classify MS-13 as an organized crime group, although the purpose and mission of the gang still differentiates it from many other criminal organizations such as cartels.


Gang control of the media

In an article which I just recently read, (the link to which is attached at the bottom of the blog) the author describes a situation related to a gang’s attempt to control the media. The author of the article reported on a case where a young female doctor from Tamaulipas was murdered by a gang. The young woman was murdered because she had been contributing news stories to an organization known as Valor por Tamaulipas. This organization is “a citizen media platform that allows users to file anonymous reports on violence, particularly incidents concerning organized crime and the drug trade.” The article went on to describe that the Valor por Tamaulipas organization has been threatened by gangs since its creation in 2012. These threats have some times caused the organization to cease its activities for a time. The article claims that, due to gang violence against the press, there exists “information vacuums” in public security issues. Social media and groups such as Valor por Tamaulipas are citizen driven media sources that attempt to fill the information vacuum. However, these mediums, organizations, and individuals have become “prime targets for drug organizations.”

This article is very interesting as it illustrates many topics related to media and drug organizations. The concept of “information vacuums” is intriguing, indicating a general lack of information and knowledge among the citizens. This is due to criminal organizations’ violent actions and threats against the traditional media. As discussed in class, the gangs attempt to control the media and thus limit information, and therefore power, of the citizens. Furthermore, gangs attempt to control media to obtain the means to create their own perceived reality of situations. However, these information vacuums are quickly filled by social media and anonymous information groups such as Valor por Tamaulipas. While it is true that the gangs quickly attempt to control or eliminate these new forms of media and information sources/discussions, it is compelling that media and accurate information follows a balloon effect as well. Perhaps, no matter how organized crime changes or grows or adapts, the media will as well in order to always provide accurate information revealing the crimes of the organized crime groups and exposing them to the public.

An additional aspect of the article that was interesting is that it mentioned how a lack of freedom of expression protection from the Mexican state contributed to the creation of information vacuums. Obviously, the Tamaulipas area is, at least in some ways, a brown area. Furthermore, the state is not providing some essential roles of security and protection of rights as it ought. What makes this so interesting is that the people have attempted to provide this role themselves, by utilizing social media and anonymous news organizations. Whereas earlier in class we discussed gangs creating parallel states by providing social roles, here the people are in position to provide themselves those roles. If the people can find some way to prevent or limit gang violence against these information organizations, then perhaps they will start to create institutions and roles that could develop into a citizen run parallel state.

Drug Lord arrest as a demonstration of government competence?

I recently read an article (the link for the article I have attached below) in which the author describes how the Mexican government has captured Juarez Cartel boss Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. According to the article, the Mexican state captured him while he and a bodyguard where enacting a “discreet operation.” The arrest was nonviolent and occurred when Fuentes, attempting to use a fake driver’s license to pass a check point in the northern city of Torreon, was identified by the authorities at the check point. Fuentes, who is one of Mexico’s most wanted criminals, admitted to his identity and was arrested.

What is interesting about the article is that it goes on to refer to the recent murdering of students by cartel organizations in Mexico. The article states that the Mexican government has been ordering local police forces to lay down their arms. Apparently, the Mexican government has started using federal, rather than local, forces to police areas and investigate crimes. The article states that thirty four people, including twenty four local police officers, have been detained in an investigation concerning a mass grave of unidentified bodies.

This article is compelling because it implies that the local police forces, and possibly even government officials, are corrupted by crime and operate with criminal organizations or tolerate gruesome crimes committed by these organizations. This is highlighted in how the article discusses the recent killing of students. Furthermore, the article highlights the fact that the people are aware of the local governments’ inefficiency and incompetence. While the Mexican state surely attempts to arrest its most wanted criminals regardless of current issues in the state, it does not seem a mere coincidence that this arrest, along with a few other recent arrests of crime lords, has occurred after the murder of protesting students by drug cartels. It can be argued that the Mexican government, in an attempt to regain some trust among the people, have mobilized federal forces, temporarily suspended local police, and spent a lot of time and resources attempting to arrest high profile leaders of the drug cartel. While it is obvious that the arrest of these individuals will not result in the end of those organized crime groups, the actions by the Mexican state indicate that it is possibly acting in a public manner to display that the government is powerful and capable of defending its citizens and taking down cartels. Whether the state is attempting to solve the roots of the violence and corruption or not is not clear, but it appears that the state is utilizing its resources and efforts in a public manner in order to demonstrate government competence, and thus create a public image of effective governance.