Categories
Terrorism

This is Your Jihad on Drugs

Cache of weapons and drugs in Daykundi province, courtesy ResoluteSupportMedia/flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 7 March 2016.

Santa Claus is commonly imagined as a jolly, benevolent figure who delivers presents to deserving children all over the world. However, another version of Santa Claus exists in the organized crime underworld of Belgium where a Moroccan named Khalid Zerkani is commonly known as “Papa Noel.” Before his arrest, Zerkani would routinely handout money and presents to at-risk youth in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, luring them into his organization. Unlike ordinary organized crime groups that engage in illegal activities for personal enrichment, Zerkani’s group used its criminal proceeds to finance trips of recruits from Europe to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). One notorious recruit of Zerkani’s was Abdelhamid Abaaoud — the ringleader of the Paris terrorist attacks.

The link between crime, radicalism, and ISIL has only recently come into greater focus. Oil smuggling, extortion, and sex trafficking in ISIL-controlled territory are well-known, yet other crimes like drug production, trafficking, and consumption are not. It is important to better understand drug use and the drugs trade because both are helping ISIL commit atrocities and wage its campaign of terror. Viewing ISIL and other jihadist groups as mere collections of drug-crazed fanatics, however, would be a caricature. Organizations like ISIL use drugs for tactical, operational, and strategic reasons that are historically consistent with the behavior of other violent groups in the past. It is worth considering drug consumption within ISIL and other jihadist groups as we consider how to fight them.

Categories
Security Foreign policy Regional Stability Politics

The Big Question

Boys protest on the street in Honduras

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute in its World Policy Journal in the Winter 2015/16 Issue.

What are the challenges determining your country’s position within Latin America?

The balance of power in Latin America is shifting. Large, recently thriving countries like Brazil are struggling, hampered by domestic scandals. The economies of oil-dependent countries like Venezuela and Ecuador are stagnant, while other nations, such as Chile and Mexico, seem poised for growth. Amid this turbulence, countries are striving to reposition themselves. World Policy Journal consulted a panel of experts to help understand what issues are defining their countries’ changing roles in the region.

ARGENTINA: NARCO STATE

MARIANO TURZI

The most pressing problem Latin America faces today is narcotrafficking. As Pope Francis mentioned in his U.N. speech in September, narcotrafficking is accompanied by human trafficking, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation, and other forms of corruption. This trade increases violence, with Latin America’s poorest people caught in the middle as the state tries to eliminate drug rings or stop rivalries between cartels.

Moreover, the narco state destroys economies. Illegal networks arise, concentrating on trafficking in substances, arms, and persons. But then they “diversify” into general smuggling and kidnapping. Narco-economies generate enclaves that displace other productive endeavors. Financial and human capital are chased away by the prospect of escalating violence.

Categories
Security Conflict Regional Stability

A Review of Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and The New Politics of Latin America

A man full of tattoos, courtesy Alejandro De La Cruz/flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 15 January 2016.

Ioan Grillo has served as an international media reporter in Latin America since 2001 and is fluent in Spanish. Most of his experience comes from his in-depth coverage of the Mexican narco wars, from which he authored El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Bloomsbury 2012). His new book, unlike his earlier one, takes a much broader perspective on the crime wars that have broken out in many areas within the Americas. In many ways, it can be considered an evolution of his thinking concerning this broadening Western Hemispheric security concern.

To be quite truthful, the reviewer is both amazed and at times abhorred by the situations Grillo—‘a crazy Brit’— placed himself in while working on this book. His hanging out with heavily armed and drugged Shower Posse members in Tivoli Gardens (essentially a garrison or fortified ghetto) is just one illustrative example. This is very much reminiscent of the work Gary ‘Rusty’ Flemming and Robert Young Pelton have done in the past related to Mexican cartels/gangs and global combat reporting, respectively. It signifies the important investigative role independent journalists and filmmakers can make via their ability to safely gain interviews with violent non-state actors on their own turf while the rest of us—and in particular police and military officers and governmental agents—would likely not survive such ‘snake pit’ encounters.

Categories
Development Justice Politics

Dirty Money, Damaged Democracy: What to Do?

Corruption complaint box in Leh, India. Image: watchsmart/Flickr

This article was originally published by Open Democracy on 4 September, 2015.

This summer in Pakistan, a massive corruption scandal erupted involving collusion between between political parties and public officials over illegal land-grabbing in the city of Karachi, capital of the country’s most populous province, Sindh. A report published in June 2015 by the Pakistani Rangers, a legal paramilitary force under the direct control of the interior ministry, provided hard evidence of the so-called “evil nexus”.

The role of political parties is important, for in Pakistan they are perceived – along with the national police force and civil servants – as among the most unreliable and corrupt institutions. Data from Transparency International confirms this distrust, which this most recent scandal did nothing to rebuild. Instead it stands as yet another example of how dirty money, when it seeps into politics, can seriously damage democratic institutions.

Categories
International Relations Security

El Salvador’s Gang Truce: A Lost Opportunity?

A graffiti of the street gang “Mara Salvatrucha”, also known as “MS 13”. Image: Walking the Tracks/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by openSecurity on 18 May 2015.

Violence is escalating again in El Salvador. March 2015 was the most violent month in over a decade, and the government is preparing army and police battalions to fight the gangs. These trends mark the definitive end of a process which started in 2012 with a truce between the two main gangs—MS-13 and Barrio 18—and evolved into a more complex and multidimensional approach to reducing violence, with a degree of international support.

The process was complicated, imperfect and subject to public controversy but it stands as one of the most significant examples worldwide of an effort to reduce violence through negotiation with criminal groups. With an annual homicide rate of 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world. It is also a notable example of the trend towards non-conventional, hybrid and criminal violence.