Research Notes: SOUTHCOM
September 19, 2011
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At SOUTHCOM I got to see unclassified data on flows of illicit trafficking in Central America and the Caribbean Basin. I was struck by the fact that in Central America El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica appear to suffer less from sea and air drug trafficking flows. Nicaragua has a difficult time controlling large pockets in the east but that’s about it. Guatemala cannot control a vast area in its north, where the Zetas and other Mexican cartels are settling in to conduct their business. It would seem that Guatemala is an especially likely candidate for increased drug trafficking as well as other operations as the Mexicans continue the battle against the cartels given its size, weak state, and proximity to Mexico. Trafficking flows appeared rather fluid to me from the data that I saw: as governments clamped down in one area, sea and air flows simply moved elsewhere.
The puzzle, of course, is Nicaragua. Though accounts suggest that the state is highly corrupt, the armed forces seem to take patrolling of their territory seriously and are more effective at monitoring than any other country in the region. Plus, my understanding is that military to military cooperation with the United States is good, politics notwithstanding. The same is true of Ecuador: bad political relations but mil to mil relations are healthy and will outlast the Correa presidency.
More generally, of course, the question is what explains the variation in Central American states’ abilities to monitor and control their territories? What, if anything, can we say comparatively about countries in the region? With respect to defending its political and territorial integrity, why is Nicaragua the strongest state?