Tuesday, February 13, 2018

MS-13 is an international criminal gang, new report (Feb. 13, 2018)

InSight Crime and American University's Center for Latin American and Latino Studies released an in-depth study on Salvadoran street gang MS-13.

As the gang increasingly makes U.S. headlines as a focal point for the Trump administration's migration policy, the study "attempts to explain what makes the MS13 such a difficult problem for authorities to tackle. It focuses on assisting law enforcement’s understanding of the gang’s criminal activities, but it includes deep discussion on the social and political issues around the MS13."

The study outlines an organization that is now operative throughout Central America and also in parts of the U.S. and even in Europe. But the phenomenon is more complex than it might seem -- it is primarily a social organization, that works without a single leadership. The report warns that it is a transnational gang, not a transnational criminal organization, with only an adjunct role in international criminal schemes.

"The diffuse nature of the organization has widespread implications for how it operates. The gang has guidelines more than rules. These guidelines are subject to haphazard interpretations and application. In other words, this internal justice is not necessarily a strict system and often depends more on who the leader is and who is being judged, rather the actual transgression or the circumstances surrounding it. This inconsistent application of the rules leads to constant internal and external conflicts and is the cause of widespread violence wherever the gang operates."

"MS13 violence is brutal and purposeful. Violence is at the heart of the MS13 and is what has made it a target of law enforcement in the United States, Central America and beyond. It is central to the MS13’s ethos, its modus operandi, and its evaluation and discipline of its own members. Violence also builds cohesion and comradery within the gang’s cliques. This use of violence has enhanced the MS13’s brand name, allowing it to expand in size and geographic reach, but it has undermined its ability to enter more sophisticated, money-making criminal economies. Potential partners see the gang as an unreliable, highly visible target, and the gang’s violent spasms only reinforce this notion."

The Guardian coverage of the report emphasizes how the Trump policy only strengthens MS-13's hand. InSight investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos told the Guardian that the U.S.'s politicized approach mirrors decades of failed Central American policies.

Deterioration of rights in Venezuela

A new report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlights serious concerns regarding Venezuela. The commission called on the government to take urgent measures to reestablish the country's constitutional order and guarantee separation of powers, reports Efecto Cocuyo. It also called on OAS member states to activate mechanisms of the Inter-American system in response to Venezuela's crisis.

The report reviews the country's weakened institutional structure, crackdowns on social protests last year, the impact of violence on citizen security, and poverty. It marks “serious obstacles” to political participation, increased repression and censorship, rising crime and insecurity and intensifying poverty, reports the AFP.

"For several years now, the Inter-American Commission has been observing the weakness of democratic institutions and the progressive deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela, both of which became more widespread and much more marked as of 2015 and, especially, in 2017."

The report emphasizes in particular the combined effect of the deteriorated democratic structures with the economic and social crisis that is making everyday life difficult for citizens.

The commission also emphasized the issue of migration, and requested a visit to the Venezuela-Colombia border to verify conditions, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See Friday's post.)

News Briefs
  • "The international community must maintain a united, coordinated response to the situation [in Venzuela], and avoid unilateral actions that risk deepening the crisis even further," said WOLA, calling on relevant international actors to reject the upcoming presidential elections. However, the organization says U.S. sanctions on crude exports or imports of refined oil -- an option touted by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week -- would be  counter-productive and "would inevitably worsen the already tragic toll of the country’s ongoing economic collapse." (See last Wednesday's post.)
  • The situation in Venezuela is so bad that some parents are leaving their children in orphanages in order to ensure they get fed, reports the Washington Post.
  • There are reports that the ELN is distributing government food rations in some Venezuelan border states. It could be an attempt by the Colombian guerrilla group to consolidate a presence in Venezuela and links with the Maduro administration, reports InSight Crime. The report comes amid the collapse of the ELN's peace negotiations with the Colombian government. And a week after the Venezuelan government named a key official with links to illegal Colombian groups the "protector" of Táchira. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said it would be very difficult to imagine in the wake of attacks carried out by the guerrilla group after a cease-fire expired, reports EFE.
  • The Igarapé Institute's Forced Migration Observatory found that 8.8 million Brazilians – out of a population of 208 million – have been forced to flee their homes since 2000, writes Robert Muggah in the Conversation. Most migration is caused by natural disasters, though homicides and land disputes also play a critical role. Muggah notes that the country lacks a unified resettlement program to respond to the crisis.
  • Guardian editorial warns against letting the Oxfam prostitution scandal overshadow the valuable work carried out by aid agencies in Haiti. "What this crisis must not be allowed to do is undermine the case for generous aid spending as both a moral obligation and as pragmatic policy. The Oxfam case involves fewer men than can be counted on two hands. The courageous and dedicated efforts of thousands of its employees have saved millions of lives in the most gruelling and dangerous circumstances. They and their peers in other charities deserve the best defence. That means honesty and transparency, and a conspicuous determination to root out anyone who threatens their reputation for it."
  • A video released by a Mexican criminal group appears to show two kidnapped federal agents. One of the pair reads from an apparently prepared script in which he claims agents and military personnel committed rape, torture and theft, reports the Associated Press.
  • A book by Mexican journalist Guadalupe Lizárraga tells of the double disappearance of women in Mexico -- first when they are kidnapped and killed, and then a second time when their bodies are stolen from morgues, reports El País.
  • The U.S. may fall short of its promise to issue 20,000 visas to Cubans due to staffing shortfalls in Havana after a fall out between the two countries over alleged "sonic attacks" on U.S. diplomats, reports the Miami Herald
  • Narco novela: Colombian authorities arrested Sebastián Murillo Echeverry, son of a prominent member of the Medellín Cartel, and charged him with holding a leadership role in Escobar's successor organization, the the Oficina de Envigado crime group, reports InSight Crime. According to an account in Semana, the gravity of the situation did not deter Murillo from thinking of his reputation, and he apparently asked officials to "reshoot" his arrest scene.

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