This report outlines a series of actions by the U.S. government in order to face violence in Central America. Mexican drug trafficking organizations, local drug traffickers, transnational youth gangs, and other illegal criminal networks are the main focus. As the report notes, the work is the result of staff visits to Guatemala and Honduras, briefings, interviews, and a review of documents from both government and non-government subject matter experts.
An excerpt of the Executive Summary:
Violence in Central America – particularly in the northern triangle countriesof Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – has grown out of control. In Honduras, there were 77 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. El Salvador and Guatemala were not far behind with 66 and 50 murders per 100,000 people. As apoint of comparison, just to the north in Mexico, there were 18 murders per 100,000 people in 2010.(1) While reports of drug-related violence in Mexico continue to be front and center in the press, Central America does not receive adequate attention.
Like Mexico, Central America’s location between the world’s largest producers of illicit drugs in South America and the world’s largest drug consuming nation in the United States makes it particularly vulnerable to drug traffickers. As Mexican President Felipe Calderón has cracked down on drug trafficking organizations in his country, these groups have increased their presence in Central America. Mexican drug trafficking organizations – particularly the Zetas and the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels – have moved into Central America because it is a“business friendly” environment with weak governance and virtual freedom from prosecution. In fact, General Douglas Fraser, the Commander of U.S. Southern Command, stated at a March 30, 2011 Department of Defense news conference that “the northern triangle of Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras– has become probably the deadliest zone in the world outside of …active warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan and others around the world.”(2)
Unfortunately, violence in Central America is not only carried out by drugtrafficking organizations. Transnational youth gang members in Central America –numbering around 70,000 – are particularly active in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Other illegal criminal networks – including mafia-like groups – are active throughout Central America and are sometimes linked closely to elites, including current and former military and government officials.
(1) Homicide rates for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are drawn from U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Regional Gang Initiative: Progress Status Report – CY2010, February 8, 2011. Data for Mexico is from Mexico’s National System of Public Security.
(2) News Transcript, U.S. Dep’t of Defense, DOD News Briefing with Gen. Fraser from the Pentagon on U.S. Southern Command Operations (March 30, 2011) available at http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4804 (last visted 9/8/2011).
For the full report in pdf click here.