Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime
Home Blog

In El Salvador, Bukele’s CICIES Only Seems to Exist on Paper

0
El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele signs an agreement with the Organization of American States to launch an anti-corruption commission

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele is launching a commission to crack down on cases of corruption and impunity among the country’s political and economic elite, but the lack of involvement of agencies responsible for criminal investigations raises serious questions.

On September 6, Bukele, accompanied by an envoy from the Organization of American States (OAS), announced the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad de El Salvador — CICIES).

Without providing much detail, the agreement establishes that the future commission will be tasked with “supporting, strengthening and actively collaborating with institutions … responsible for preventing, investigating and sanctioning acts of corruption.”

On September 24, the OAS named Guatemalan lawyer Ronalth Ochaeta as the commission’s acting spokesperson. His mission for the next few months will be to establish relationships with members of the judicial system and El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office in order to “strengthen” the final agreement. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

The CICIES has already opened its first two cases. The first is related to alleged corruption surrounding the construction of the hydroelectric dam known as El Chaparral during the administration of former president Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), who is currently a fugitive from justice in Nicaragua. The second case is addressing the potential misappropriation of state funds during the construction of SITRAMSS, a public bus service in the capital, San Salvador. 

However, there is confusion about the CICIES’ jurisdiction in such cases. President Bukele has not clarified the role the Attorney General’s Office will have alongside the new body. The Attorney General’s Office, for example, has had an ongoing case about El Chaparral since 2016.

InSight Crime Analysis

The CICIES announcements, made within the first 100 days of the new presidency, are an attempt to check the box on one of Bukele’s main campaign promises. 

Bukele was elected in large part because of his promise to rein in endemic corruption in a country in which three of the last four presidents have been investigated for the misappropriation of public funds. 

But neither Bukele nor his officials have responded to the most important question surrounding the CICIES: how will the new commission co-exist with the Attorney General’s Office, the only agency constitutionally mandated to carry out criminal investigations and prosecutions?

While there has been at least one meeting between Bukele’s representatives and the Attorney General’s Office about the CICIES, days after the commission was set up, Attorney General Raúl Melara declared that his office “is the only entity that can investigate and prosecute crimes in the country.”

The participation of public prosecutors has been crucial in other instances of such anti-corruption commissions in Central America’s Northern Triangle, including the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala — CICIG) and the Support Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras — MACCIH).

In the case of the CICIG, an agreement between the United Nations and the presidency gave the commission independence in its investigations and accompanied Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office in prosecutions. But public prosecutors remained in charge of criminal prosecution.

The MACCIH, also supported by the OAS, can also support Honduran prosecutors with criminal litigation, but does not have the independence to decide which cases to investigate.

Therefore, a CICIES without the participation of the Attorney General’s Office does not seem to make much sense.

In addition to this lack of clarity, another factor calls the CICIES’ efficiency into doubt as long as it remains under the supervision of the executive branch. President Bukele is facing corruption allegations of his own.

While Bukele has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top, his short political resume already has several potential blemishes. The most recent was the discovery that he personally received $1.9 million from Alba Petróleos, which receives funds coming from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA). He was in turn investigated for potential money laundering in El Salvador and the United States. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele Tainted by Money Laundering Allegations

In 2018, El Salvador’s Supreme Court found indications that Bukele received illicit funds. This included close to $850,000 given as a donation by a family business that also worked as a government contractor, on which he also did not pay taxes. The Supreme Court decided not to indict him but did order an investigation into tax evasion and handed the case over to the Finance Ministry. However, it is unlikely that the case will be pursued as Bukele is the chief of the ministry.

Questions about the CICIES extend beyond El Salvador’s borders. 

In early October, a UN mission visited the country’s capital and met with the president to discuss the CICIES. Little came out of this visit and an international official with knowledge of what was discussed in that meeting told InSight Crime that it’s still unclear if the UN will participate in the creation of the future Salvadoran commission.

In Washington DC, four Democratic members of Congress, led by Norma Torres, released a statement in which they expressed support for the idea of the CICIES, but insisted on the importance of its independence from the Executive Branch. “It is critical that CICIES be politically independent but with strong oversight, preferably from multilateral institutions,” the statement read.

Cocaine Hidden in Fruit Feeds European Pipeline

0
Cocaine found in a shipment of bananas from Costa Rica to the Rotterdam port in the Netherlands

The discovery of large batches of cocaine in shipments of bananas to the Rotterdam port shows that traffickers continue to move drugs to Europe through a common Latin American export: fruit.

The latest bust occurred on September 30, when customs officials discovered 1,500 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas at the Rotterdam port in the Netherlands, according to a news release by Rotterdam prosecutors.

Drug smuggling activity at the Port of Rotterdam — Europe’s largest port and a gateway to the continent — has surged in recent years. In April, 1,600 kilograms of cocaine — also concealed in banana cargo from Costa Rica — was seized. The size of the drug shipments have also increased, according to a police expert who spoke with Dutch national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime

“Before we used to be impressed by 500-kilogram batches,” he said. “Now we seize 5,000-kilogram shipments, meaning that these quantities also enter the country.”

An estimated 60 percent of cocaine trafficked to Europe in 2018 came through the ports of Rotterdam and Belgian port city of Antwerp, according to the Dutch newspaper. Most cocaine arriving in Antwerp is brought to the Netherlands, where it is distributed farther into Europe. Fruit containers with cocaine also enter the Dutch port of Vlissingen, where 700 million kilograms of bananas a year arrive in a specialized terminal.

InSight Crime Analysis

The large amount of cocaine seized at the port of Rotterdam in the banana shipments underscores that fruit remains a favored cargo for concealing drugs. It is so for three reasons.

First, produce from Latin America, particularly fruit, is constantly moving through the busy Rotterdam port. Outside random inspections, only certain containers are flagged for search upon arrival at the port, leaving more than 99 percent unchecked, according to a report by Erasmus University Rotterdam researchers.

Second, fruit — especially bananas — spoils quickly, so shipments can’t be held by customs for long.

SEE ALSO: Colombia Cocaine Boom Likely Behind Rising European Port Seizures

Third, importing a shipping container of bananas can cost as little as 15,000 euros (about $17,000) — less than the wholesale value of a kilogram of cocaine in Europe, which sells for about 25,000 euros ($28,000).

The increasing use of produce cargo as a cover for cocaine, however, has brought crime groups to the Netherlands. For example, in June, criminals demanded 1.2 million euros (about $1.3 million)  from “De Groot Fresh Group,” threatening that they would kill one of the fruit importer’s employees if their demand was not met.

Fruit importers have also been directly involved in criminal activity. For example, a Dutch man convicted of laundering drug money owned several fruit import companies suspected of being used for cocaine smuggling. In 2014, a fruit importer was murdered after he lost 300 kilograms of cocaine to authorities.

Unable to search all or even most produce cargo containers, Dutch authorities have set their sights on dismantling these illegal fruit import companies.

For example, joint operation Piggyback in May 2019 identified more than 30 suspect fruit importers. Companies that, for instance, only had a postal address or could be linked to questionable transactions, were flagged as suspicious.

Such operations go beyond mere seizures — though authorities did capture 1,500 kilograms of cocaine during the Piggyback operation — but also provide valuable intelligence on the underlying criminal structures moving cocaine to the Netherlands.

Why Are Social Leaders Dying in Colombia’s Cauca?

0
The murders of social leaders in Colombia have only accelerated in 2019

In early 2018, Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office sounded the alarm regarding an unprecedented increase in the murders of social leaders nationwide. Over 18 months later, the situation has only gotten worse, with the southwestern department of Cauca bearing the brunt of these killings.

In February 2018, the Ombudsman’s Office published an initial alert, reporting 697 cases of violence against human rights activists and leaders of social organizations between 2016 and 2018. 

In a 2019 follow-up report, the entity documented 1,335 cases of leaders affected by threats, attacks and homicides, representing a more than 90 percent increase in just one year. 

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile

These acts of aggression have been focused on local community leaders, rural farmers and indigenous representatives who work to defend their territories.

Antioquia, Norte de Santander and Cauca have historically accounted for most such attacks, but the number of individuals affected in Cauca has dramatically increased in the last two years. The United Nations (UN) has reported 36 killings of indigenous leaders alone in Cauca in 2019, alongside eight more attempted murders and 53 death threats, reported TeleSUR.

According to an Ombudsman’s Office report, the municipalities most blighted by this violence are Miranda, Corinto and Caloto, all key transit points for drug shipments destined to leave the country via the Pacific Ocean. 

The latest killing happened on October 13 when Toribio Canas, an indigenous leader in the municipality of Toribío, was shot dead. Starting in 2000, Canas had reportedly been in charge of organizing an “indigenous guard” in the area to reclaim land. 

According to El Espectador, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has counted at least nine indigenous leaders killed in Cauca since September.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Cauca has seen the worst of the violence against local community leaders in 2019, the motives for these killings reflect the wider reasons for such targeted violence across Colombia.  

According to the organization Somos Defensores, one of the main reasons social leaders are targeted is due to their participation in the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).

Social leaders can also run afoul of criminal groups when trying to stem the tide of illegal economies within their communities. Many victims were involved in activities related to coca crop substitution, the creation of legal jobs, or land redistribution, all efforts which can curtail drug production and help rural residents find sustainable alternatives.

SEE ALSO: Why Are Political Candidates Being Assassinated in Colombia?

According to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz – INDEPAZ), other risk factors contributing to violence against social leaders include denunciations of armed actors, accusations of mismanagement of public funds by State entities, and claims to the right to use natural resources.

As reported by Colombia’s Electoral Observation Mission (Misión de Observación Electoral – MOE), many of these risk factors escalate during election season. By mid-September, seven politicians had been killed ahead of upcoming local elections in late October. 

The problems facing social leaders in Cauca are exacerbated by the department’s crucial location as a drug trafficking corridor. 

According to the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), around 17,000 hectares of coca were produced in this department alone in 2018.

Cauca’s location along the Naya River corridor, which connects the country’s central mountain range to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean through kilometers of thick jungle, makes it a necessary transit point for drug shipments.

Cauca has therefore become hotly contested by a range of criminal groups, seeking an advantage there, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) and at least five dissident fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) are reported as having a presence in this department.

Colombia Failing to Protect Venezuela Children from Sexual Exploitation

0
A band known as 'La Mona' sexually exploited Venezuelan minors in La Guajira

A ring that sexually exploited minors from Venezuela has been dismantled in Colombia, but this only further highlights the vulnerability of migrants in the country and the apparent inability of Colombian authorities to combat these networks.

On October 7, ten people from a gang known as “La Mona” were arrested, and Colombian and Venezuelan minors between the ages of 14 and 17 were rescued in raids across the Caribbean department of La Guajira, reported El Heraldo.

The group reportedly drugged the minors, dressed them up and then forced them to prostitute themselves for 60,000 pesos (about $17).

According to police, the gang lured Venezuelan children living in poverty with promises of money, lodging and food in the towns of Riohacha, Maicao, Fonseca and San Juan de Cesar, all in La Guajira. They were then driven to different hotels to meet clients.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profile

Although Colombia is known as a popular destination for sexual trafficking of minors, its conviction rate for such crimes has been weak. Of 85,000 investigations into reports of child sexual abuse between 2005 and 2018, only 6,116 ended in convictions.

InSight Crime Analysis

Hundreds of migrant children from Venezuela have fallen prey to criminal gangs in Colombia and been used for sexual exploitation. In April 2018, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar – ICBF) reported that over 400 Venezuelan minors had been sexually exploited in Colombia, including 159 of them who were are under five years old.

Cases of Venezuelan children being exploited are being registered across Colombia and are no longer confined to border areas such as La Guajira. Last July, a criminal gang was brought down after luring teenage girls from Venezuela and sexually exploiting them in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

SEE ALSO: GameChangers 2018: Venezuelan Migration, a New Gold Mine for Organized Crime

In the case of Colombia, impunity in these cases remains high, despite the fact that over 1.5 million Venezuelans have now entered the country as refugees.

And Colombian children are at risk too. One hotspot for such exploitation is the Medellín-Bogotá highway along which dozens of underage girls are forced into sexual exploitation. Although a number of victims have come forward to denounce their abusers helped by local associations, authorities have found it difficult to prosecute these cases.

More than 100 new cases of child sexual exploitation were filed with authorities every month between January 2013 and July 2018. And the situation is getting worse, with the number of reported cases having tripled in the last five years.

History of Activism Helps Mexico’s Indigenous Resist Organized Crime: Report

0
Members of the CRAC-PC, a community police force that is recognized by the indigenous communities in Mexico's eastern Guerrero.

A new report examines the factors that enable indigenous resistance to organized crime in Mexico — an interesting framework for understanding how indigenous communities counter cartel influence but one that also needs to take into account regional criminal dynamics.

The study, entitled “Indigenous Resistance to Criminal Governance: Why Regional Ethnic Autonomy Institutions Protect Communities from Narco Rule in Mexico,” compares indigenous societies in two regions hard-hit by criminal violence: Guerrero, in central Mexico, and Chihuahua, in north Mexico.

Both are important drug producing states and trafficking corridors. Yet the indigenous communities of eastern Guerrero’s Montaña/Costa Chica region have resisted violent takeover by drug cartels, whereas the Tarahumara people of Chihuahua have been devastated by them. The authors quantify this by examining the incidence of organized crime-related murders in the two regions.

In the period under study from 2007 to 2012, the rate of organized crime-related murders in 11 indigenous municipalities in Montaña/Costa Chica was only 12 per 100,000 inhabitants – despite the rate in Guerrero’s nearby Tierra Caliente region reaching 95 per 100,000.  In the Sierra Tarahumara, it was 53.63 per 100,000.

To explain this difference, the study identifies two factors which determine indigenous communities’ capacity to resist organized crime: community governance structures, and history of mobilization.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

In eastern Guerrero, indigenous communities are governed through democratic assemblies, which select leaders based on their history of voluntary service. Positions of authority are unpaid and answer directly to the community through the assemblies. This creates an honor-based governance system which, the authors argue, makes leaders less susceptible to corruption.

These communities have also participated in indigenous activist movements since the 1980s, fostering cooperation and enabling the creation of an autonomous judicial and policing system known as the CRAC-PC. The CRAC-PC is lightly armed and has the authority to investigate offences, which are then tried through the community assemblies. If found guilty, the offender is assigned a program of community service, with the aim of rehabilitation.

The authors argue that such institutions allow the communities to “scale up” their traditional honor-based systems. They also allow villages to find strength in numbers, resisting takeover by outsiders. Although some sell opium crops to the cartels, they do so on their own terms.

In the Sierra Tarahumara, although traditional governance systems are similar, indigenous communities are isolated from each other, with little history of coordinated mobilization. They have therefore been unable to replicate eastern Guerrero’s regional institutions, and have consequently seen their communities ravaged by criminal violence, narco recruitment and forced displacement.

InSight Crime Analysis

Indigenous communities are often thought to be more vulnerable to organized crime, due to their poverty and marginalization. This report provides a more nuanced framework to study indigenous responses to criminal incursion, although the theory must be put in light of complex local dynamics when considering its implications for regions where drug cartels are tightening control.

These regions include Guerrero itself, where indigenous communities have suffered under the spiral of criminal violence. Guerrero was the third most violent state in the country in 2018, with a homicide rate of 61.35 per 100,000. It also accounted for 44 percent of Mexico’s forced displacements, exacting a devastating toll on the state’s indigenous population.

The CRAC-PC region has also come under heightened threat and  on 13 April 2019, Julián Cortés, one of the three coordinators of the CRAC-PC, was assassinated.

But in interview with InSight Crime, the report’s authors expressed optimism about the CRAC-PC’s resilience. They pointed to an investigative commission created by the CRAC-PC in response to Cortés’ murder, which identified and alerted the community to an effort by the cartel Los Rojos to enter the region.

“Their internal and external control mechanisms have allowed the CRAC-PC to regroup in the face of the first murder of a high-ranking member,” they observed.

Potentially more concerning, in their view, are tensions between the CRAC-PC and the State. Since 2018, the legal framework for indigenous police institutions has come under attack, threatening to convert the CRAC-PC into an illegal force.

The authors also highlight the difficulties of extending successful models like the CRAC-PC. The CRAC-PC is one manifestation of a wider vigilante movement in Guerrero, created as rural communities have rallied to defend themselves from narco violence. But many lack the strong communal norms which underpin the CRAC-PC’s accountability. Some have been accused of mob rule, criminal operations, or even partnering with the cartels themselves.

SEE ALSO: Small Farmers Hurting in Mexico’s Poppy Growing Heartland

Neighboring Oaxaca, fast becoming one of Mexico’s latest narco battlegrounds, provides an interesting counterpoint to the report’s observations. Its indigenous communities – particularly the Triqui, in northern Oaxaca – are becoming increasingly important producers of opium and marijuana, while criminal violence has spiraled across the state.

In the Triqui region, communities have worked alongside narcos to resist the army’s eradication of their opium fields. Conversely, on a regional level, indigenous networks such as the indigenous peoples’ defence committee (Comité de Defensa de los Pueblos Indígenas – CODEDI) claim that the State has allied with criminal interests to push forward megaprojects on their lands, attacking and harassing those who resist.

As in Guerrero, Oaxaca’s indigenous have a strong history of regional mobilization, although it is complicated by multiple land conflicts between indigenous groups.

“All villages have at least one meeting a month,” Cesar Mendoza, a political analyst from Oaxaca, told InSight Crime. “Then they organize in networks of villages at regional level… They make a kind of self-defence system, which protects them from outsiders.”

Mendoza agreed that this gives Oaxaca’s indigenous communities an advantage over those of the Sierra Tarahumara, which can be easily cut off and surrounded and controlled by cartels.

However, he is wary of the word “resistance.”

“I think, rather than resistance, it gives them more capacity for negotiation,” he said. “They can negotiate with the drug cartels because they control the land. And what the drug cartels don’t want is for them to stop planting [drug crops], because that’s their primary material.”

High Insecurity, Low Reporting of Crimes: Mexico’s Toxic Combo

0
Mexico is suffering from a very high impunity rate

The reticence of victims to report a crime in Mexico, documented in a recent survey, has shone a light on historical levels of mistrust in the country’s institutions as security challenges pile up for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nearly a year after taking office.

An estimated 24.7 million people above the age of 18 are believed to have been victims of crime across Mexico in 2018 while 78 percent of that age group felt at risk of falling victim to a crime. And in 93.2 percent of criminal cases, either the victim failed to report the crime or authorities failed to open an investigation.

According to the study, street robbery or muggings was the most common crime (28.5 percent) with extortion coming at number two (17.3 percent), followed by fraud (14.3 percent) and car theft (11.5 percent).

The figures for 2017 were slightly higher with an estimated 25.4 million victims of crime and nearly 78 percent of individuals feeling insecure. But the estimated level of failure to report crimes stayed the same.

SEE ALSO: Mexico Profiles and News

The results come from the National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security (Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción de la Seguridad Pública – ENVIPE), carried out across more than 100,000 households between March and April 2019 by Mexico’s National Statistics Agency (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía – INEGI).

The study did not focus on violent crimes specifically committed at the hands of organized crime groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

High levels of crime and violence have been one of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (often referred to as AMLO) biggest challenges since taking office nearly a year ago in December 2018.

With some of the highest homicide rates in the country’s history recorded in 2018, Mexico is poised to register a new tragic rise in violence in 2019.

Although the most recent INEGI survey shows a slight improvement when compared to the previous year, the high underreporting rate should not come as a surprise.

According to the official study, 31.7 percent of crime victims said they did not report a crime because they thought it was a “waste of time” and 17.4 percent said they “did not trust the authorities.”

SEE ALSO: Why Are More People Being Killed in Mexico in 2019?

This is to be expected, particularly given Mexico’s long history of deep-seated corruption, official collusion with crime groups and systematic impunity.

Mexico was one of the worst-ranked countries in the 2017 Global Impunity Index (Índice Global de Impunidad – IGI) from the Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice (Centro de Estudios sobre Impunidad y Justicia – CESIJ) and the University of the Americas Puebla (Universidad de las Américas Puebla – UDLAP).

The report evaluates the effectiveness of the crime reporting and investigation process and how often it leads to justice for the perpetrator and/or the victim.

The factors taken into account include the functionality and capacity of the judicial system to act, the number of prosecutors, judges and police officers, and crime prevention strategies among others, all of which need work in Mexico.

One statistic, which states that Mexico’s homicide backlog would take 124 years to solve at current rates, shows just how alarming the situation is.

Brazil Govt Dismisses Prison Torture Despite Mounting Evidence

0
Prisoners in Pará have reportedly been subject to brutal torture by agents of a new task force

A damning report stating that federal agents systematically tortured prisoners in Brazil’s northern state of Pará have found little attention from President Jair Bolsonaro, who dismissed questions about the scandal as nonsense.

In early October, federal prosecutors in Pará issued a report, stating that members of a security task force, intended to stop violence within prisons, had been torturing prisoners in vicious ways, including “beatings with brooms, daily attacks with rubber bullets and pepper spray, impalement of the anus, and the piercing of feet with nails, among other atrocities,” reported El País.

When asked to comment on the report on October 8, Bolsonaro told journalists to stop “asking bullshit.”

Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who created the task force in July, has said that any agents found to have been involved in such practices would be punished but the Justice Ministry has publicly rejected claims of systematic torture.

“What was done by the task force is an example…The fact is that for a long time, in Brazil, it was common for there to be a situation of almost chaos in prisons,” he told a press conference on October 7 while visiting the state.

“Prison is discipline, prison is serving a sentence,” he continued.

Moro activated the task force in Pará after an outbreak of violence in the prison of Altamira killed 62 people in late July.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

The task force, which contained an unspecified number of agents, was supposed to “coordinate actions” by guards and other security staff at Pará’s prisons.

But the report by federal prosecutors, based on testimony from lawyers, local officials and human rights organizations who visited the prisons, is damning. Officials of Pará’s penitentiary system told prosecutors that conditions resembled “a concentration camp.”

They described federal agents arriving with “heavy weaponry,” telling local employees “they were on holiday” and that they had permission to do “whatever they wanted,” according to Exame.

A court in Pará suspended the agent leading the task force, Maycon Cesar Rottava, on October 2 from his duties. But days later, Rottava was seen at Moro’s side during the minister’s visit to the state.

Brazil’s federal penitentiary institution, DEPEN, has also defended the agents, issuing a statement saying that key prisoner testimonies within the report had been false.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the government of President Jair Bolsonaro has established a culture of virtual impunity for state security forces, the flat-out dismissal of well-sourced official reports about horrendous abuses committed by those same forces sets a worrying precedent.

This scandal ties together two crises within Brazil. Firstly, a long history of overcrowding and state abandonment has turned the country’s prisons into powder kegs, which regularly explode with shocking violence. Secondly, buoyed by improving homicide numbers, the government is doubling down on its “tough on crime” tactics, which could lead to the normalization of human rights abuses such as those seen in Pará.

There is little reason to doubt the findings of the prosecutors’ report, which came complete with photographic evidence. Torture inside Brazilian prisons is nothing new.

In 2017, videos emerged showing prisoners in the central state of Goiás being repeatedly shocked with stun guns by guards.

SEE ALSO: Red Command News

The Bolsonaro administration has defended its agents in Pará, saying that the prisons there were previously run by Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV). While violence between CV and other gangs for control of prisons has led to dozens of killings, the overcrowding of prisons, with many inmates not even having been formally charged, has been a major factor.

According to Brazil’s Violence Monitor (Monitor da Violência), Pará currently has over 17,000 inmates, a figure 79.5 percent above its official capacity.

And the state government of Pará has sided with the government, also seeking to deny or diminish the accusations laid out against the security task force. On September 19, a glowing statement from the state Attorney General’s Office lauded the task force for bringing about “clear improvements.”

Guayaquil Remains Ecuador’s Busy Cocaine Gateway to Europe

0
The Guayaquil port in Ecuador is used to transport cocaine to Europe

In an effort to move large quantities of drugs to Europe, traffickers are increasing the flow of cocaine through Ecuador’s port city of Guayaquil — long a key transshipment point for drugs coming from neighboring countries.

The latest bust occurred at the Guayaquil port on September 5, when police dogs uncovered some 300 kilograms of cocaine concealed in tuna cargo aboard a ship scheduled to stop at ports in Spain and Belgium, El Telégrafo reported. An anti-drug agent said no arrests were made, but that the smuggled cocaine was marked with “X19,” a possible indication of the trafficking group.

Authorities in Ecuador have already seized a total of 55 tons of cocaine in 2019, according to La Hora.

SEE ALSO: Ecuador News and Profiles

Guayaquil, the country’s largest city and home to its largest port, is a major exit point for cocaine, although maritime seizures of drug shipments have increased around the country. In September 2018, Plan V reported that authorities had seized nearly 40 tons of cocaine there during the past two years.

Hiding drugs within shipping cargo has become so common that the technique has been dubbed “gancho ciego,” or “blind hook,” where specific containers are targeted before they are loaded on a ship. The smugglers break the containers’ seal, conceal the drugs inside and then replace the seal with a new one. The result is that the drugs are often stashed among the legal cargo.

For example, in 2018, 270 kilograms of cocaine worth $10.7 million was discovered om canned fish destined for Belgium, 353 kilograms in bananas headed to Russia, and 700 kilograms in shellfish en route to Spain, Plan V reported.

But while “gancho ciego” has proved popular across Ecuador, it is far from the only tactic in use. Drugs are also sent abroad through front export companies, hidden within the structures of shipping containers or attached to the hulls of boats, among others.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Colombia is often the focus of the drug trade, the importance of its neighbor Ecuador as a transshipment point — especially for cocaine headed to Europe — cannot be underestimated.

During the recent Organization of American States international commission on drugs, Citizen Security Subsecretary Diego Tipán said that 500 tons of illicit substances were seized in Ecuador between 2014 and 2019. Among non-producer countries, Ecuador seizes the most drugs in the world, he said.

Wedged between Colombia and Peru — two major cocaine producers – Ecuador and its maritime industry are an attractive target for smugglers.

Nearly a third of Colombian cocaine moves through Ecuador, according to anti-drug officials who spoke with InSight Crime. Cocaine is transported by road from Colombia to Guayaquil, where it is stored in private residences or warehouses until it can be smuggled aboard shipping cargo.

SEE ALSO: More Cocaine Leaving Ecuador Shows Flaws in Anti-Drug Strategies

To improve controls at the Guayaquil port, Ecuador and the United States signed a 2018 agreement that enables US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to be posted there, according to the State Department’s 2019 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

In addition to the port of Guayaquil, Ecuador also sees drugs leave through the port of Puerto Bolivar, where a number of seizures have been made in 2018 and 2019 as well.

Due to limited monitoring capacity, only 3 percent of the shipments leaving its ports are searched, Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told Business Insider.

According to figures obtained from anti-narcotics officials, of the drugs seized in Ecuador in 2018, 22 percent were in shipments destined for Europe, where demand for cocaine continues to grow.

Women Taking On More Roles Within Colombia’s Drug Trade

0
A new report reveals the roles women play in the drug trafficking chain

A new investigation has revealed the range of roles women play in drug trafficking organizations in Colombia and the vulnerable situations that they face within these jobs.

The report, written by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with Colombia’s Ministry of Justice and published on October 3, analyzes 2,500 cases of women charged with crimes related to drug trafficking in Colombia. 

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

The report indicates that women generally work preparing food for laborers, as poppy flower and coca leaf pickers (known as raspachines), as “chemists” using chemical substances for the extraction of cocaine or the transformation of heroine, or as mules for the trafficking and distribution of illicit substances. 

Of the testimonies collected, around 86 percent of the women stated that they were unaware of the gravity of the crime committed and 96 percent say that they would not have committed the crime if they had known the punishment. 

InSight Crime Analysis

According to the UNODC, there are multiple factors leading women to participate in criminal economies such as drug trafficking, including a lack of legitimate economic opportunities, being single parents, a desire for financial independence, or facing pressures from their families.

The risks they face as a consequence are twofold – divided between the general risks inherent to drug trafficking and those specific to the particular role the women play. 

For example, women who work in the planting or picking of illegal crops are particularly at risk of falling into substance abuse. The UNODC report stated that these women and their families saw higher instances of drug and alcohol addiction as well as greater incidences of domestic violence.

Women and girls being exploited for sexual abuse and human trafficking happens more frequently in Colombian regions with high levels of coca cultivation and the processing of coca paste, the report found. According to a separate UNODC report in September, more cocaine is being produced in Colombia than ever before, especially in the departments of Nariño, Guaviare, Norte de Santander and Antioquia.

SEE ALSO: LatAm Prison System Failing Women Drug Convicts

One striking fact in this part of the chain, is that according to the report, the women that work picking and processing the coca leaf earn less than men, despite them performing the same work. In other words, they are affected by the same gender equality gaps that exist within legal industries. 

But, of all the links in the drug trafficking chain, transportation of drugs carries the greatest risk. This is due to the severe prison sentences women receive for committing crimes associated with transporting and selling drugs, according to the UNODC. The view that women can be “expendable” drug mules is not seen in Colombia alone. This situation has been seen in neighboring countries, including in Bolivia where poorer women are hired to carry drugs into Chile and left to fend for themselves if they caught.

These long sentences also carry a range of risks as women are exposed to the threat of violence and sexual abuse behind bars while their families often remain vulnerable to the influence of the very criminal networks the women worked for.

Illegal Gold Mining Operations Enter New Parts of Peru

0
Peru's Loreto department has become a new hotspot for illegal mining

Dredgers have been found in several rivers across Peru’s northern department of Loreto, confirming that illegal gold mining has been rapidly expanding into previously untapped parts of the country.

During an operation carried out along the Nanay and Napo river basins, in the Amazon department of Loreto on October 3, authorities identified and destroyed four dredgers used for illegal gold mining, according to El Comercio.

In the area of ​​Alto Nanay, authorities reported that illegal mining activities involved child labor. Two wooden boats turned into dredgers were seized alongside a range of equipment needed to extract the precious metal.

In parallel, residents near the Napo River denounced the presence of unknown groups operating dredgers along the river, with authorities destroying two such vessels on the river.

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profile

Preliminary investigations by the Attorney General’s Office indicate the groups behind the illegal mining came from the southeastern department of Madre de Dios, which is home to the largest concentration of illegal mining activity in Peru.

Loreto department’s environmental authorities have redoubled efforts to capture vessels modified to dredge the rivers, especially given the mining’s adverse impact on the environment, reported La República.

Mercury, which is used for the extraction of gold, has polluted water sources in surrounding communities, threatening to affect the health of the local population and that of residents in Iquitos, the most important city in the region.

Local authorities have stated their ability to act has been hampered by the financial and logistical limitations of traveling long distances to the affected areas.

InSight Crime Analysis

The rise of illegal gold mining in Loreto coincides with the fallout of repeated attempts to break up communities of illegal miners in Madre de Dios.

While the latter is a remote region located in the Amazon rainforest in southeast Peru, residents of Loreto have reported the arrival of boats converted into dredgers since April. Authorities suspect these miners are coming from Madre de Dios with experience in how to rapidly set up illegal mining operations in new areas where there are fewer controls by security forces.

SEE ALSO: Illegal Mining Crackdown May Push Peru’s Former Miners to Coca, Timber

More broadly, however, organized crime in Peru has been expanding geographically. Criminal economies such as drug trafficking have extended out from traditional routes along the Amazon or the country’s borders with Brazil and Bolivia.

Loreto has been at the frontline of this shift. The department contains several waterways which serve as clandestine highways to transport drug shipments from the interior of Peru to its borders with Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. Its remote location and heavy forest cover also help provide strong protection for criminal groups seeking to evade authorities.

Of all the rivers in Loreto, the Napo may be the most important for the region’s criminal dynamics. It has been affected by illegal mining activity, but it has also become a frequent drug trafficking route. In August, security forces seized a ton of cocaine on two boats near the Ecuador border.

Besides Loreto, the department of Puno, along the border with Bolivia, has seen rapid growth in coca cultivation in 2018, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Illegal Mining Crackdown in Timbiquí, Colombia Angers Residents

0
A crackdown on illegal mining in Timbiquí risks having adverse consequence for security forces

Recent raids on illegal mining operations in Timbiquí, Cauca were part of a broad crackdown on criminal economies being used by ex-FARC mafia groups, but they may only stoke anti-government resentment among the local Afro-Colombian community.

On September 17, Colombian public security forces initiated a series of raids on alleged illegal mining operations within the remote villages dispersed along the Timbiquí River.

But Timbiquí’s residents are denouncing the tactics used by security forces.

Local sources on the ground provided InSight Crime with videos of several excavators which security forces allegedly dumped into the Timbiquí River before blowing them up. “The machinery that they burned in the middle of the river, and all the oil that spilled out, harms the environment,” one local resident told InSight Crime.

The river is the only means of travel to and from the community and locals say the debris in the waterway has severely hampered their ability to move.

Additionally, they defended their local involvement in illegal mining operations, saying that there are no other job opportunities and that the state has abandoned them.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Illegal Mining

“The only source of income for people, or the majority of people, is mining,” one resident who wished to remain anonymous told InSight Crime. “We are pushing back because the right way is not to use force and burn the only work tools that these people have.”

Community members reportedly confronted security forces peacefully, trying to defend their excavators. But Colombia’s anti-riot squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios — ESMAD) was called in and several injuries were reported.

Locals of Timbiquí also told InSight Crime that authorities raided the homes of several suspected dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — FARC), and that weapons and gold were seized. However, authorities have not confirmed this and no arrests have been announced.

Initial statements by the Attorney General’s Office indicated that local mining activity was being carried out by criminal structures without permits. The government later identified those responsible as belonging to the ex-FARC mafia, dissidents of the FARC’s 29th Front.

Dissident members of the FARC’s 29th Front are not new to Timbiquí, according to General Alejandro Bustamante, director of rural security for Colombian police. He added that the group’s use of mercury in its illegal gold mining activities has caused severe environmental damage.

The leader of the 29th Front dissidents has been identified as Gonzalo Prado Paz, alias “Sabalo.”

InSight Crime Analysis

If the crackdown happened as described by residents in Timbiquí, it is clear why the government’s actions may only serve to stoke sympathy for the ex-FARC mafia while doing little to hurt their mining operations.

With former top FARC leaders having announced a return to arms in August, the Colombian government’s crackdown is likely part of a broader campaign to cut off sources of revenue for the ex-FARC mafia.

However, history has shown that isolated raids on illegal mines are unlikely to impede future mining operations and can have real long-term implications for communities if the government does not have a plan in place for displaced workers.

Faced with few economic opportunities, workers often return to the dismantled mining operations. Miners attracted by the potential profits find clandestine ways to continue operating. There is also the risk that displaced workers are enticed by other illicit activities, such as coca cultivation or illegal logging.

Locals and workers whose homes or equipment were destroyed by security forces are less likely to cooperate with authorities in the future.

SEE ALSO: Colombia’s Remote Telembí Triangle Sees Gangs Shake Down Illegal Miners

Timbiquí’s remote location is strategic for armed actors. Located on Colombia’s Pacific Coast, it is four hours by speedboat from the port city of Buenaventura, making it a perfect drug trafficking corridor. As there are no roads or bridges connecting Timbiquí’s dispersed settlements, it can take up to two hours by speedboat to travel between the communities, making it difficult for law enforcement to control coca cultivation or illegal mining.

At least two narco-submarines have been captured in the municipality in 2019, showing how it is also a departure point for cocaine shipments leaving Colombia. This remoteness has also made it difficult to develop any real economic programs there.

Back in 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office warned that mining activity conducted by armed actors would present socio-environmental challenges for Colombia’s southwest Cauca department. FARC dissidents have maintained a presence in Timbiquí since the 2016 peace agreement, and their local gold mining operations are deeply entrenched.

Will Peru’s Gold King Ever Be Held Accountable?

0
Peter Ferrari has a long rap sheet, making him one of Peru's foremost gold traffickers

Peru has agreed to send accused international gold smuggler Peter Ferrari to the United States to face trial — but it’s unclear when, or even whether, he will face justice. 

In January 2018, US prosecutors charged Pedro Pérez Miranda, alias “Peter Ferrari,” with running a multi-billion-dollar money laundering operation fueled by illicit gold. At the time of his indictment, Ferrari had already been in a Peru jail for a year. He had been arrested in January 2017 on charges that he exported 13 tons of illicit gold, worth $600 million, from the country.

In July 2019, his detention in Peru was extended for six months. But Peru’s organized crime appeals court found that the extension was unwarranted on September 20 and ordered him to be released, Peru 21 reported. 

SEE ALSO: The Companies Accused of Buying Latin America’s Illegal Gold

About a week later, Peru’s Justice Ministry agreed to his extradition but said that case against him in Peru must be resolved first, according to Peru 21.

InSight Crime Analysis     

Since the 1990s, Ferrari has been linked with illegal gold mining, drug trafficking, and money laundering — but has always managed to avoid being convicted. 

First arrested in 1999 and accused of laundering drug money for Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel, Ferrari was cleared those charges in 2002.  

In 2013, some 500 kilograms of suspect gold belonging to six export companies were seized by authorities in the port city of Callao. One of the companies was Rivero Minerales, owned by Ferrari’s nephew. Ferrari’s lawyer at the time said he only financed the company, but prosecuting documents described him as a “principal financier and trader of illegal gold, which he exports using Lima-based front companies,” InSight Crime reported

In 2014, the 300 kilograms of gold belonging to Rivero Minerales was returned after a ruling by a local judge, who was later removed from his position and arrested on corruption charges.

SEE ALSO: Authorities Suspect Mass Complicity of Peru Exporters in Illegal Gold Mining

In 2015, police seized Ferrari’s beach house, valued at $1 million, and 100 kilograms of illegal gold found in a vault belonging to his cousin.  

Two years later he was arrested, along with five other people, and accused of being behind the export of 13 tons of illegal gold valued at more than $600 million. Since then he was in preventive detention until the appeals court ordered his release last month. 

Now that Peru’s Ministry of Justice approved his extradition request to United States, it would appear that Ferrari will finally face justice. But there is no telling when or even if this extradition will take place, as it can only be carried out once all judicial processes against him in Peru have been completed.