Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

InReview: Mexico’s Drug War

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The Mexican drug war can be seen as a series of unfortunate consequences stemming from various apparent successes. Mexico served largely as a transport base for the South American drug route, before the successful dismantling of Colombia’s cartels in the late 1980s. Over time, Mexico’s drug-trafficking infrastructure combined with its proximity to the largest consumer of illicit drugs created an environment where Mexican cartels could thrive. Then, in 2006, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched what is currently referred to as the Mexican Drug War, involving a massive crackdown on these well-developed and powerful cartels. Though this was initially seen as a positive move, the Mexican government’s crackdown, in conjunction with an increased role on the part of the U.S., has drastically escalated the conflict, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths in drug-related violence. Today, the conflict rages on as reports of mass graves, beheadings, a culture of corruption and fear lay just at the U.S.’s doorstep.

The Council on Foreign Relations recently published an excellent background on the subject, “Mexico’s Drug War”:

Mexico’s Drug Trafficking

Weak judicial and police institutions, as well as proximity to the world’s largest consumer economy, have made Mexico the hub of one of the world’s most sophisticated drug networks. For decades, drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) used Mexico’s entrenched political system to create “a system-wide network of corruption that ensured distribution rights, market access, and even official government protection for drug traffickers in exchange for lucrative bribes,” writes David Shirk, director of the Justice in Mexico project at the University of San Diego, in a 2011 CFR report. However, it was not until the late 1980s, in the wake of the successful dismantling of Colombia’s drug cartels, that Mexican drug organizations rose to their current prominence. As the Colombian route was disrupted, Mexican gangs shifted from being couriers for Colombia to being wholesalers.

Today, Mexico is a major supplier of heroin to the U.S. market, and the largest foreign supplier of methamphetamine and marijuana. Mexican production of all three of these drugs has increased since 2005, as has the amount of drugs seized at the southwest border, according to the U.S. Department of Justice [PDF]. More than 90 percent of cocaine now travels through Mexico into the United States, up from 77 percent in 2003. Officials estimate that the drug trade makes up 3 to 4 percent of Mexico’s $1.2 trillion annual GDP—totaling as much as $30 billion—and employs at least half a million people.

Mexico’s drug cartels have splintered, forged alliances, battled one another for territory, and evolved over the decades. Some of the most prominent organizations today include the Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel, Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Beltran Leyva, and the Knights Templar. Some of these groups, like Sinaloa, are older, more established organizations, while others, like the Knights Templar, have emerged more recently.

Mexico’s War Effort Under Calderón

Corruption and weakness in Mexico’s judicial and police sectors have largely allowed the drug trade to flourish. The police are easily bought, in part because of their meager earnings (about $9,000-$10,000 a year), which fall below the average salary for public-sector employees. On the website InSight Crime, Patrick Corcoran says “an underpaid officer could double or triple his salary by simply agreeing to look the other way.” Mexico’s judicial system—with its autocratic judges and lack of transparency—is also highly susceptible to corruption.

Drug violence was on the rise by the time Calderón took office in 2006 with a pledge to eradicate trafficking organizations, says Shirk. “Moving very aggressively to promote a law-and-order agenda was a deliberate strategy to cope with this chaotic moment,” he says of the Calderón administration. Calderón attempted to counter police corruption and combat the cartels by increasing the role of the military in local security efforts, a trend that first began under President Ernesto Zedillo in 1999. Calderón dramatically intensified this effort, deploying tens of thousands of military personnel to supplement, and in many cases replace, local police forces, as well as to lead civilian law enforcement agencies. Under this strategy, the military has made several high-profile arrests and killings of cartel leaders. Through bilateral cooperation with the United States, the military under Calderón killed or captured twenty-five of the top thirty-seven most-wanted drug kingpins in Mexico.

Escalating Violence

But Calderón’s military offensive did little to diminish the cartels’ presence. The crackdown on cartel leaders splintered the organizations, creating between sixty and eighty new drug trafficking gangs, according to Mexican secretary of the interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong. Succession battles and territorial rivalries have also intensified. The violence has also branched out beyond the cartels: More than forty mayors and former mayors have been killed, along with dozens of city council members and other municipal leaders. Kidnappings and extortion are commonplace, and massacres of civilians have increased. In February 2014, the government confirmed that 26,000 people remain “disappeared.”

Analysts from the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute write that the worst cases of violence are confined to 10 percent of Mexico’s municipalities, but observers remain alarmed because of their quick escalation during Calderón’s term. According to government figures, total homicides spiked to around 120,000 over Calderón’s six-year term—double the figure under the previous president, Vicente Fox.

But because official Mexican government statistics do not differentiate between drug-related deaths and other types of homicides, quantifying the precise toll of the drug war has been a challenge for analysts. The Trans-Border Institute’s 2013 report on drug violence in Mexico estimates that during Calderón’s term, organized crime–style killings made up anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of total homicides in a given year, depending on the sources used to calculate the figures.

(…)

The militarization strategy has also resulted in accusations of serious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch reports that Mexican security officials violated human rights in the offensive against the cartels through killings, torture, and forced disappearances. “Almost none of these abuses are adequately investigated, exacerbating a climate of violence and impunity in many parts of the country,” HRW’s 2013 report states.

(…)

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Peña Nieto, upon taking office in late 2012, pledged to refocus the government’s priorities on curbing kidnappings, extortion, and other forms of violence affecting Mexican civilians on a daily basis. He began his term by centralizing Mexico’s security operations under the Interior Ministry, which analysts say improved coordination between intelligence and operations agencies, and calling for judicial reforms. This has resulted in more high-profile captures of drug lords, including Mexico’s most wanted kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán of the Sinaloa Cartel, in February 2014. Shirk writes that one major policy difference between Peña Nieto and Calderón is that Peña Nieto has focused on shifting the government’s rhetoric on the drug war: “Whereas the Calderón administration was obsessed with security, President Peña Nieto has been obsessed with not being obsessed with security. An aggressive press campaign has tried to make Mexico the new darling of international investors, as the BRIC countries have begun to lose their luster.”

(…)

U.S.-Mexico Cooperation

Security cooperation between the United States and Mexico expanded significantly with the Mérida Initiative, launched in 2007, which designated nearly $1.4 billion in U.S. funds for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The bulk of the money went to Mexico, with a mandate to “break the power of organized crime, strengthen the U.S. southern border, improve Mexican institutional capacity, and reduce the demand for drugs,” according to CFR’s Shannon O’Neil [PDF]. In March 2010, this partnership was renewed with Beyond Mérida, which placed a larger emphasis on addressing the socioeconomic factors underneath the violence.

Over the past few years, the United States has sent unarmed drones to collect intelligence on traffickers, and has also sent CIA operatives and retired military personnel to a Mexican military base, while training Mexican federal police agents to assist in wiretaps, interrogations, and running informants. The United States has also ramped up security on its own side of the border, spending approximately $3 billion annually on patrolling the border. More than twenty thousand border patrol agents have been deployed, double the number from a decade earlier. U.S.-Mexico cooperation has also been effective in targeting drug kingpins: In a 2013 Congressional testimony, O’Neil said that many of the Mexican government’s high-profile arrests or killings of top-level drug lords “resulted from bilateral intelligence and operational cooperation.”

However, O’Neil notes, the United States has not made substantial progress combating some of the domestic issues factoring into Mexico’s drug war. U.S. drug consumption and demand remain high, and firearms continue to be trafficked into Mexico from the United States. The arms component has been high-profile in recent years due to a controversial U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) gun-trafficking sting known as “Fast and Furious.” In 2009, two thousand U.S. weapons were sold to people known to be involved with the drug cartels to track down cartel leaders, but some 1,400 weapons were lost, many of which later turned up at crime scenes, including at the site of a shooting of a U.S. border-patrol agent in December 2010.

(Council on Foreign Relations, emphasis added)

Against this backdrop, many argue that the capture and arrest of the Sinaloa Cartel’s kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in February 2014 marked a new chapter in Mexico’s drug war. Of course El Chapo’s arrest did not lead to the immediate decline in drug-related violence, or even a long-term victory in the drug war. In fact, anyone paying attention will see a regular tempo of news and reports on Mexico’s successful capture of kingpins and drug lords. With a situation as complex as the War on Drugs, it is impossible to say that there is a right answer; however, it is clear that simply taking out high-profile leaders is an unsustainable and even counterproductive approach to this problem. Even Mexico’s current president Enrique Peña Nieto recognized this when he campaigned on a sharp split from his predecessor’s policies and promised a new strategy that would “take on structural roots of drug trafficking and focus institutional efforts on attending to the social causes of the criminal phenomenon.” But as Evelyn Krache Morris argues in Foreign Policy, this new strategy has yet to manifest:

And yet, on Feb. 22, it was Peña Nieto’s government that celebrated the capture of the biggest prize of them all: Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, head of the Sinaloa cartel. “The apprehension of one of the most wanted drug lords at the international level shows the effectiveness of the Mexican state,” Peña Nieto trumpeted, following the arrest. The capture came less than a year after the Peña Nieto government had nabbed another big fish: Miguel Treviño Morales, or “Z-40,” leader of Los Zetas, was captured in July 2013.

Though he came into office with the best of intentions and understands well the futility of an endless series of high-profile arrests and the resilience of the cartels, Peña Nieto can’t, it seems, resist the allure of the big get.

(…)

So why has he reverted back to what he views as an ineffective strategy? Because comprehensive reform, of the sort that could rebuild the credibility and the effectiveness of Mexico’s judicial system, is hard. These major efforts, only part of Peña Nieto’s ambitious plans for reform in Mexico, have largely stalled or, in the case of the Gendarmería, have been watered down. And because for all of his administration’s understanding of the complexities and nuance of combating drug trafficking, there are still few things that beat a big arrest for symbolic value, and for sending a message (and for taking a wanted and dangerous man off the streets — no one, of course, is arguing that El Chapo should be free). The fight against DTOs is, at least partially, about who can give the appearance of winning and being in control. The DTOs themselves understand this too. That’s why, for example, they leave mutilated bodies by the side of the highway, near a busy overpass.

(…)

And there are reasons to find hope that real progress is taking place in the fight against trafficking — even if it keeps a lower profile. While media was paying attention to the capture of an aging drug lord, and focused on the network of sewage tunnels that El Chapo used to temporarily evade capture, they missed a much bigger story: The discovery of a 481-foot-long smuggling tunnel leading from Arizona to Nogales, Sonora, which traffickers used to smuggle tons of illegal drugs and other contraband into the United States. (The tunnel has since been shut down.)

Congratulations on your big fish, Mr. President, but you would do well to remember your own advice: It’s moves like these — dismantling the logistical and financial networks of drug trafficking organizations — that will, in the end, do more damage than any high-profile arrest.

(Foreign Policy)

As Evelyn Krache Morris points out, the drug trade is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the business and impact of the DTOs. But even beyond the illicit trade business, the DTOs domino effect on the country perpetuates the system that allows them to thrive, for example the corruption and abuse in policing. In early October, the New York Times reported on “43 Missing Students, a Mass Grave and a Suspect: Mexico’s Police”:Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.21.18 PM

They were farm boys who did well in school and took one of the few options available beyond the backbreaking work in the corn and bean fields of southern Mexico: enrolling in a local teachers college with a history of radicalism but the promise of a stable classroom job.

Leonel Castro, 19, the oldest of seven siblings, vowed to use his salary to help his impoverished family. Júlio César, 19, thought he could run a school one day and ensure the best for the next generation. Adán Abraham de la Cruz, 23, wanted to put his computer skills to good use in the classroom.

“He was just preparing himself to get ahead like any young person would do,” said Mr. de la Cruz’s father, Bernabé.

Now, they are among 43 students reported missing after deadly clashes with the police on Sept. 26, when at least six student protesters and bystanders were killed in the restive, rural state of Guerrero, one of the poorest in the country and long afflicted by political, social and criminal upheaval.

The state prosecutor investigating why the police opened fire on students from their vehicles has found mass graves in Iguala — the small industrial city where the confrontations occurred — containing 28 badly burned and dismembered bodies.

The prosecutors had already arrested 22 police officers after the clashes, saying the officers secretly worked for, or were members of, a local gang. Now they are investigating whether the police apprehended the students after the confrontation and deliberately turned them over to the local gang. Two witnesses in custody told prosecutors that the gang then killed the protesters on the orders of a leader known as El Chucky.

“I saw police trucks go up and down the hill to up there, where the bodies are found,” said one man in the neighborhood near the site who declined to give his name out of fear. “Then came the news they found the grave and it may be the students. But you would be a fool around here to accuse the police and expect to live.”

Even in a country accustomed to mass killings, the case has generated alarm, both for the possible involvement of the police and for the fact that the students were not known to have criminal ties. Miguel Martínez, a representative for the families, said students at the school had fought back against extortion attempts by gangs last year, but it was not clear if that could have made them a target now.

The students, by many accounts, had been soliciting money in Iguala for an Oct. 2 demonstration rejecting cuts to their state-financed school, which opened in 1926 and has long played a role in local social justice movements. Such student demonstrations are part of a well-known militancy that goes back decades and has provoked violence in the past. It did again this time, as students got into a skirmish with the police when they tried to steal buses to take to and from the demonstration, human rights groups said.

The mayor and the police chief of Iguala are now on the run, having disappeared after being subpoenaed in the case, and the governor of the state confirmed that the local gang, known as Guerreros Unidos, had infiltrated the police force in Iguala, as well as other police departments in the state.

The specter of corrupted police has haunted Mexico for years. But these disappearances come at a time when President Enrique Peña Nieto is already confronting the prosecution of at least three soldiers charged with homicide in another recent case — the shooting death of 22 people captured in a warehouse in June.

(…)

Parents of the missing students doubt the effectiveness of state investigators. A team of forensic experts from Argentina with long experience in mass disappearance cases has arrived, and on 6 October it began interviewing family members and collecting other data as part of an independent investigation, though it was unclear if the experts would have access to the bodies found.

(…)

In a sign of defiance and concern, placards and bumper stickers are popping up here and in other cities in Guerrero on buses, storefronts and buildings. Their slogan — #HastaEncontrarlos — means: “Until they are found.”

(New York Times)

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Don’t Forget Canada and Mexico

Like the majority of his modern predecessors, President Obama has looked to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia as the regions where America’s vital interests are most often engaged. This year is no different as the United States copes with a lethal combination of challenges from the metastasizing Iraq-Syria civil war to Russian aggression in Ukraine, Chinese adventurism in Asia, and the climate and Ebola crises. While these threats won’t go away anytime soon, there is better news for Americans closer to home in the form of a strategic opportunity right in our own backyard. In an unusually far-sighted report issued in early October, two of our country’s most impressive global strategists — David Petraeus, former CIA director and head of US Central Command, and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick — make a compelling case that Americans should work with Mexico and Canada to build a new North American partnership for the future. Issued by the Council on Foreign Relations (where I serve on the board of directors), the report suggests we have the opportunity to realize a new era of growth and prosperity for the nearly 500 million people who live in our three countries. As the United States climbs out of the Great Recession and recovers from two costly and divisive Middle East wars, the return road to a more successful American foreign policy might thus run through Mexico City and Ottawa. Twenty years ago, the three countries took a leap of faith by committing to the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement. Since then, we have enjoyed significantly greater investment, trade, and economic growth in North America. To build on this success, Zoellick and Petraeus co-chaired a task force of American business, government, and academic leaders to consider how we might create an even closer, symbiotic future with Mexicans and Canadians. Their key judgment is that stronger ties with Canada and Mexico can create a “continental base for US global policy.” In other words, if we make North America, at long last, a much higher strategic priority, that might help to boost the long- term geo-strategic position of the United States itself. To get there, Washington needs to move North America from the periphery to the center of its strategic attention. Zoellick and Petraeus advocate an ambitious strategy starting with new regional infrastructure to support the extraordinary growth in oil and gas production in the United States and Canada. Reluctant Democrats should listen to their call for administration approval of the Keystone pipeline project and an end to restrictions on the sale of American oil and gas overseas. Equally reluctant Republicans should listen to their support for immigration reform as a critical step to knit the region together. (Boston Globe, emphasis added)

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Mexico Affirms Major Drop in Central American Migrants

In a report published by Mexico’s daily La Jornada, Mexico’s Interior Secretary claims that during the July-September quarter of 2014, adult migration of undocumented Hondurans — the largest group transiting through Mexico — reported a decrease of 43 percent compared to numbers recorded in June. The authorities say the trend is the same for minors. The report apparently starkly contrasts early summer numbers when there was a “humanitarian crisis” of thousands of migrant children and adolescents crossing Mexico. In June the numbers of Honduran youth was reportedly at 830,000, while the Interior Minister now says in September the number dropped to 403,000.

While the authorities do not officially explain the reasons for the drop, they unofficially point to an operation implemented in Mexico’s southern states where many migrants board the freight train, known as the bestia, or beast, to travel northward. The operation, announced in July by president Enrique Peña Nieto, has consisted of utilizing security forces to deny migrants from climbing aboard the train as well as increasing the speed of the train so as to dissuade passengers. The plan is to “protect the safety of the migrants.” The authorities announced the overall cost would amount to 6.6 billion pesos ($450 million dollars). However civil organizations and migrant rights groups criticize the operations as not a form to “rescue” undocumented migrants but rather to “criminalize and harass them.” Fraile Tomas Gonzalez of the migrantshelter, La 72, in Tenosique, Tabasco, says that the actions are “far from providing security for migrants..the increase in speed exposes migrants to potential mutilation, or even death.” Rights defenders also criticize the authorities for a growing policy of detaining migrants indefinitely. They affirm that at least 1,219 undocumented migrants have been incarcerated since 2013, many without facing any charges. Many Central American migrants flee their home countries due to growing insecurity and violence perpetrated by organized crime groups and corrupt local police officials. (TeleSur, emphasis added)

Mexico’s President Talks Reform and the Immigration Debate

You know, in the United States, when people think about Mexico, still it is immigration that dominates the way they think about it. What do you think when you hear the debate about immigration in Washington?

First of all, I think that the relationship between Mexico and the United States is a lot broader, and sometimes it would be surprising to know the many details of the relationship – the number of daily crossings, legal crossings, every day. About a million people every day, people coming and going from one country to the other, because of work and trade and the trade level that we have, which is so broad, which we will probably talk about.

But when you hear some of the anti-immigrant language, the rhetoric, do you think it’s racist?

I think it’s discriminatory, yes. And I think it’s unfortunate for a country whose formation and historic origin relies so much on the migration flows of many parts of Europe, Asia, for instance. I think this is a country whose origin, to a great extent, is one of migration. And that’s why it’s unfortunate to hear this exclusionary and discriminatory tone regarding the migration flows into the United States. (CNN, GPS with Fareed Zakaria)

Mexico August Jobless Rate Dips as Economy Rebounds

Mexico’s jobless rate fell in August, pointing to stronger domestic consumption as Latin America’s No. 2 economy picks up some speed after a weak start to the year. Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.87 percent in August, the national statistics agency said on 22 September, down from a 5.16 percent rate in July.   Economists expect Mexican economic growth to pick up to about 2.5 percent this year from a 1.4 percent rate in 2013. (Reuters)

Mexico Annual Inflations Eases but Still above Ceiling

Mexican annual inflation remained above the central bank’s tolerance ceiling in early September but cooled slightly versus late August, suggesting that policymakers will hold borrowing costs steady at a record low for some time. A separate report showed Mexico’s economy grew at its fastest pace in three months in July, in a sign that Latin America’s No. 2 economy is picking up after a weak start to the year. Inflation for the 12 months through the first half of September slowed to 4.21 percent, below the 4.23 percent rate reached in the second half of August, national statistics institute data showed on 24 September. The figure was still above expectations for a 4.15 percent rise in a Reuters poll and the 4.15 percent rate for the full month of August. (Reuters)

Massacre Wasn’t First Report of Violence in Iguala, Mexico

Long before the city of Iguala became known for one of Mexico’s most horrific mass murders, its mayor had a cloud over his head. Word on the street was that Mayor Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez was mobbed up, local police had become his enforcers and Iguala had slid into darkness. That belief has only mounted since local police under Abarca’s command opened fire on a throng of protesting student teachers Sept. 26, leading to six known deaths and 43 missing students. Mass graves discovered in early October near this city in coastal Guerrero state have yielded 28 unidentified bodies, deepening distress over the fate of the student teachers. Abarca and his chief of public security are now fugitives, and the ominous signs around them have only grown. Take the video posted to YouTube in early October. In it, a woman who identifies herself as Leonor Villa Ortuno is shown blindfolded, her hands bound. Under interrogation, she recounts how two of her sons were killed for drug trafficking. A third got out of federal prison in Tamaulipas last year on drug-related charges. “How are you related to the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez?” asks a voice off camera. “He’s my son-in-law,” Villa Ortuno answers. She then relates her family’s long-standing connections to the Beltran Leyva narcotics cartel. A breakaway faction of the cartel, known as Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), operates in the region around Iguala. Then another question comes. “What relation is there between the Iguala mayor and the United Warriors?” “My son-in-law protects them,” Villa Ortuno responds, “in exchange for a monthly fee of 2 million pesos ($149,200). He runs all city police officers and commanders at his will.” The veracity of the video couldn’t be ascertained, or whether the woman was speaking under severe coercion. It wasn’t clear whether she was subsequently released. But Rene Bejarano, a former federal legislator and prominent figure in the Party of the Democratic Revolution, known by its Spanish initials as the PRD, said he recognized Villa Ortuno from the video as the mayor’s mother-in-law and acknowledged that his leftist party’s historic grip on Guerrero state had been damaged by its dissemination. In the tape, the woman says her sons backed the successful PRD campaign of Angel Aguirre for governor of Guerrero in 2011 on behalf of the Beltran Leyva crime group. Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told Radio Formula on 8 October that he’d been aware of the tape for a year but hadn’t looked into it because it was a matter for “counterintelligence,” without elaborating. He added that a murder allegation had been lodged against the mayor last year but that proof was never gathered. (…) For some residents of Iguala, run-ins with the mayor were frightening, perhaps even lethal, and made dealings with City Hall unnerving. Abarca came to office in 2012. He immediately put a cluster of relatives into the city administration, including his wife, three cousins, a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law, nephews, a half brother and his daughter, among others. (McClatchy DC, emphasis added)

Mexico’s Explanation of Army’s Slaying of 22 Suspects Raises More Questions than Answers

For more than two months, Mexico did little to explain how a Mexican army patrol escaped practically unharmed from a gunfight that left 22 suspected criminals dead in a grain warehouse. In early October, officials changed their story to say soldiers may have committed murder, but questions about the lop-sided confrontation remain. Why did state prosecutors and the army quickly declare soldiers had behaved appropriately in killing the suspects on June 30? Why did federal prosecutors wait until September to investigate the crime scene? Why haven’t investigators interviewed a woman who witnessed the slayings? Did higher-ranking officers know about, or order, the killings? The deaths in San Pedro Limon, a mountain town about 95 miles southwest of Mexico City, have caught the attention of international human rights groups, the United Nations and Mexicans who recall previous cases of suspicious deaths and disappearances that authorities attempted to explain away. Doubts about the official version of events gained strength following an Associated Press investigation into the killings. In late September, Mexico’s Defense Department announced an officer and seven soldiers would face military discipline for their roles in the killings. Then, on 1 October, federal prosecutors said three of the soldiers, all privates, will be charged with homicide for opening fire “with no justification whatsoever.” Questions immediately arose about how the three could kill the suspects without any of them trying to run away or resist. The walls of the warehouse are marked with clusters of shots fired at chest-level. There are no signs of stray shots or sprayed gunfire that would have come if the three soldiers had mowed down the group with automatic fire. President Enrique Pena Nieto seemed eager on 2 October to assure the public that the probe isn’t over. (Fox News, Associated Press)

ISIS Threat to Canada not Imminent but Real, CSIS Director Warns

The threat of ISIS to Canada is real, but Canada’s spy agency has no information suggesting it’s one that’s imminent, CSIS director Michel Coulombe told the House public safety committee on 8 October. The comment by Coulombe, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, runs counter to repeated warnings by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other government MPs that jihadists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria could attack Canada. “It does pose a real threat, but like I mentioned, we have no information indicating an imminent attack,” Coulombe told MPs. “We don’t want to sound alarmist. We’re telling people that they should go about their daily life, but we have to be vigilant,” he said. Coulombe also provided more information about an August report detailing more than 130 Canadians who had travelled abroad to join in alleged terrorist activities and 80 individuals “who have returned to Canada after travel abroad for a variety of suspected terrorism-related purposes.” Some of those individuals could be involved in related work like fundraising or propaganda, Coulombe said. “I don’t want people to believe that we have 80 returnees who were hard fighters in Iraq and Syria, because that is not the picture we have at the moment, although we have some of them.” (…) The number of Canadians who have travelled abroad to join in alleged terrorist activities, Coulombe said, varies between 130 and 145. And while others estimate the number to be much higher, Coulombe said CSIS works with facts and has confirmed the 130 who are overseas, as well as the 80 back in Canada. “It’s a firm number that we’re aware of. And yes, we know where they are,” Coulombe said. (…) Canada and the U.S. exchange “entry” information on citizens of other countries as a form of exit control; Public Safety Canada’s website explains that entry into one country confirms exit from the other. Blaney said the government is contemplating exchanging information with the U.S., as detailed in the government’s Beyond the Border plan to co-ordinate national security efforts and ease the flow of goods and people across the border. (CBC News)

Canada to Increase Monitoring of Possible Terrorist Suspects

The Canadian government said 8 October it will use additional powers in the coming weeks to monitor those who could become terrorists and to help combat what it says is a threat to the country from the Islamic State militant group. That threat has been increased by Ottawa’s decision to send Canadian warplanes to the U.S.-led campaign against the militants, the head of Canada’s intelligence agency said. “We have no information indicating an imminent attack, but we have to remain vigilant because the threat is real,” Michel Coulombe, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told a parliamentary committee. Bob Paulson, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said there are roughly 63 national-security investigations under way, focusing on 90 individuals suspected of possible terrorist activity. The promise to beef up security measures was made at the same meeting by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and came a day after his government won parliamentary backing for a Canadian military contribution to the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS in Iraq. Other western nations have talked of beefed-up measures to address terrorist threats and the potential dangers of extremists returning home after fighting in conflict zones. The British government has, for instance, said that it would introduce legislation to make it easier to seize people’s passports to counter the security threat posed by Islamist extremists traveling to and from such areas as Syria and Iraq. The Canadian government passed a law last year that makes it a crime to leave, or attempt to leave, the country to engage in terrorist activity. (Wall Street Journal)

Keystone be Darned: Canada Finds Oil Route around Obama

So you’re the Canadian oil industry and you do what you think is a great thing by developing a mother lode of heavy crude beneath the forests and muskeg of northern Alberta. The plan is to send it clear to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast via a pipeline called Keystone XL. Just a few years back, America desperately wanted that oil. Then one day the politics get sticky. In Nebraska, farmers don’t want the pipeline running through their fields or over their water source. U.S. environmentalists invoke global warming in protesting the project. President Barack Obama keeps siding with them, delaying and delaying approval. From the Canadian perspective, Keystone has become a tractor mired in an interminably muddy field. In this period of national gloom comes an idea — a crazy-sounding notion, or maybe, actually, an epiphany. How about an all-Canadian route to liberate that oil sands crude from Alberta’s isolation and America’s fickleness? Canada’s own environmental and aboriginal politics are holding up a shorter and cheaper pipeline to the Pacific that would supply a shipping portal to oil-thirsty Asia. Instead, go east, all the way to the Atlantic. Thus was born Energy East, an improbable pipeline that its backers say has a high probability of being built. It will cost C$12 billion ($10.7 billion) and could be up and running by 2018. Its 4,600-kilometer (2,858-mile) path, taking advantage of a vast length of existing and underused natural gas pipeline, would wend through six provinces and four time zones. It would be Keystone on steroids, more than twice as long and carrying a third more crude. (Bloomberg, emphasis added)

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