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September 22, 2011


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Deborah Yashar has research ongoing into the exceptionally low levels of violence in Nicaragua. She thinks the nature of police institutions is a big piece of the story.

Let's remember, too, that Cuba is also pretty good at keeping these bad guys out. The reference to Deb Yahsar above is helpful (Thanks "Ann on a moose").

Whatever problems the Nicaraguan government has, it is pretty serious about about cracking down on the drug guys. There actually is a fair amount of drug activity in the eastern jungles, among the indigenous folks who don't care much for the regime.

My understanding, too, is that there is lots of mil to mil cooperation between the US and Nicaragua. In other words, the US shares information to Nicaragua and they act on it on quick on their rickety ships.

Nicaragua, and Cuba, clearly are determined to keep a lid on narco influence within their borders. They are able too, moreover, better than their neighbors. Perhaps this is so because they have built better police and military institutions thanks to sustained external threats (U.S. and Contras).

Noel, have you read Ben Bowling's _Policing the Caribbean_? He's got a lot of interesting things to say about the impact of drug flows on the windward states.

"Nicaragua’s non-participation in the drug trade is striking, as is its (relative!) non-violence. But in order to predict whether it will last, we need to know more Any ideas?"

I suspect Nicaragua's lack of trafficking activity and low violence are due to 5 factors which I will outline below (hopefully without making the post too long):

1. Geography
2. Poverty/Wealth
3. Education (linked to poverty/wealth)
4. History
5. Nicaragua's security forces (linked to history)

1. Geography - If you study those images you provided and a general map of Central America you will quickly notice that Nicaragua tends not to be along the drug trafficking routes because it is literally out of the way if you are shipping drugs by boat or plane. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and a straight line run (via boat or plane) from Colombia (the production centre) to the United States (the consumer base) is usually impossible due to the efficiency of US security and so the next best bet is to get it to Mexico and then smuggle it in. Initially the drug traffickers seemed to send boats straight to Mexico and most bypassed Central America or at the very least hugged the coastline (I guess so that they could come ashore in case of trouble). Mexico's drug interdiction efforts got better, so in order to get it into Mexico they then started landing in Guatemala (and to a much lesser extent El Salvador and Honduras). Landing in Nicaragua would provide no advantage over landing in Guatemala and could be more expensive in terms of transportation (transporting the drugs over land and bribing all those officials between Nicaragua and Guatemala rather than just continuing onwards in your boat to Guatemala directly) and it could be lengthier in terms of time.

2. Poverty/Wealth - A look at the graphs and stats provided in a recent Economist article on the drug wars in Central America ( http://www.economist.com/node/18558254) showed that the wealthier countries in the region (Costa Rica and Panama and also Belize (which is both in Central America and the West Indies/Caribbean)) had lower homicide rates and had less gang violence. Nicaragua may benefit from its wealthy neighbours in that drug dealers ignore it along with Costa Rica and Panama and instead focus on the northern "triad" of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Wealthier countries in general also tend to be countries with higher drug use (the USA, Europe, Russia) while poorer countries tend to be countries of higher drug production (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Afghanistan) and the trade moves from the poorer, drug producing countries to the wealthier, drug consuming countries. This might explain why we see more drugs being smuggled to Costa Rica and Panama (wealthier and probably with more drug users) than Nicaragua even though Costa Rica and Panama no longer serve as primary transshipment routes.

3. Education - The Economist article's stats also revealed that generally the wealthier countries in the region (Costa Rica, Panama and Belize) are also those with the highest average years of schooling and the lowest homicide rates and which seem to be less impacted by gangs and gang violence. A large population of uneducated and under-educated young men who are poor provides a lot of recruits for drug gangs. They are less of these in Panama, Costa Rica and Belize and so drug gangs don't find a fertile environment for growth, even though Costa Rica doesn't even an army and has an underfunded and understaffed police force and should in theory be an ideal transshipment route! Couple with the wealth aspect though Nicaragua's population is just too poor to serve as a market for drugs, too under-educated to become a wealthy market for drugs and the country is just not conveniently located to serve as a lucrative transshipment route.

4. History - I suspect that Nicaragua's history of socialism and the resultant community policing probably helps in some way. In addition the anti-Sandinista rebels and Honduras became involved in drug-trafficking in order to counter the Sandinistas and this has probably had continuing effects on Honduras (where the drug dealers became entrenched) and Nicaragua (where at least by some people the drug dealers were associated with the violent 80s and the civil war and anyone associated with them were unlikely to gain political support.The suggestion that there is less violence and trafficking because Nicaraguan immigrants went to Florida instead of California makes sense in that it isn't that they were less exposed to organized crime, but that because of their location they aren't able to establish lucrative drug trafficking routes with gangs back home in Nicaragua. If you are a gang member in Florida and want to traffic drugs from Colombia to Florida through Nicaragua you can (a) launch from the Pacific to land in Nicaragua and then launch from the Caribbean again by sea or air and go to Florida directly after a long journey in open water and past Cuba and Mexico and risk being picked up by the Cubans, Mexicans or Americans, (b) launch from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and land in Nicaragua and then launch again from Nicaragua to Florida in the same route as (a) but this would be a waste of time and money when you could just go from Colombia to Florida directly without detouring to Nicaragua, (c) Use the most effective drug trafficking routes from Colombia into the US through Guatemala and Mexico and THEN get the drugs from the Mexican border area to Florida and in the process only concern yourself with avoiding internal security in the US.

5. Nicaragua's security forces - Nicaragua has about 14,000 military personnel and 7,000 police and has one of the lowest ratios of security personnel (military, police and paramilitary such as military reserve forces) to the general population in the region (Guatemala - 354 persons: 1 security personnel; El Salvador - 186 persons: 1 security personnel; Honduras - 289 persons: 1 security personnel; Nicaragua - 281 persons: 1 security personnel; Costa Rica - 140 persons: 1 security personnel; Panama - 8 persons: 1 security personnel; Belize - 147 persons: 1 security personnel; Mexico - 170 persons: 1 security personnel and United States - 100 persons: 1 security personnel (and for the US this does NOT include State Defence Forces which are a separate reserve component to the National Guard)). Nicaragua also has the second highest ratio of security personnel to area of the country in the region (Guatemala - 1 security personnel for every 2.9 sq.km; El Salvador - 1 security personnel for every 0.64 sq.km; Honduras - 1 security personnel for every 3.94 sq.km; Nicaragua - 1 security personnel for every 6.2 sq.km; Costa Rica - 1 security personnel for every 1.6 sq.km; Panama - 1 security personnel for every 0.17 sq.km; Belize - 1 security personnel for every 10.15 sq.km; Mexico - 1 security personnel for every 2.99 sq.km and United States - 1 security personnel for every 3.16 sq.km (and for the US this does NOT include State Defence Forces which are a separate reserve component to the National Guard)). The major difference though is that in terms of equipment Nicaragua beats her neighbours hands down. Nicaragua's neighbours usually only have Cessna and Piper aircraft and Bell helicopters to patrol their airspace and patrol their near-shore seas. Honduras comes closest with Northrop F-5s in their airforce which could shoot down drug trafficking planes or sink drug boats. Nicaragua however has Mig-17s (though no longer in service apparently), Mi-17 Hip helicopters and Mi-24 Hind helicopters in addition to the usual Cessna and Piper aircraft and Bell helicopters and they have various patrol craft from both Western and Eastern bloc nations. Nicaragua may not be able to afford to keep these aircraft aloft very often, but the fact that they have them must surely be some form of deterrent.

I think overall a political party in party that was opposed to groups allied to drug-dealers, no lucrative drug consumer market, more cost effective drug transshipment routes, no cost effective drug routes between Nicaraguan gangs in Nicaragua and the USA and Nicaragua's ability to down drug planes (and probably a greater willingness to do so considering that Ortega is from the Sandinistas) this is probably why Nicaragua has been exceptional so far.

I think however that if Guatemala and Honduras become more effective in interdicting drugs from air and sea we might see the drug dealers making use of Nicaragua's fertile gang environment (poor and under-educated and unemployed young men; not enough security forces and relatively weak state control (compared to the US for example)) to try and smuggle drugs into Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico (and onward to the US) through Nicaragua.

I´d be quite interested where you got these maps from, especially the one containing data from 2006 to 2010. Am a student and writing a thesis about security-issues in Central America, so I could use these informations. Unfortunately, the only maps I found (over the SOUTHCOM, of course) where from 2005 and 2010. So if the maps you showed are out there somewhere (I guess they are ´cause they´re unclassified), it would be great if you could post the link.
Thanks a lot for your help, Sir!

So noel, no comment on my ideas as to why Nicaragua is exceptional?

Dear Mr. Maurer,

please excuse my little lack of patience, it´s just that the deadline for my thesis is coming closer steadily. Still I could really, really use the activity-maps you show in the article. One of my main points of interests for the analysis is the transit through Honduras between 2004 and 2011. Unfortunately, until now, despite intense research I only found these maps for 2005, 2007 and 2010. Because the Coup in 2009 plays an important role in my opinion and because I also want to look at the recent developments, the data for 2008, 2009 and 2011 would be crucial, unfortunately I can´t find them nowhere apart from your blog.
So I ask you again, could you please help out a struggling student to make some actually well founded work on the region?

Lotta greetings from Europe!

Hi, M.K.! The maps are from Northcom; more specifically (but not much more so) the U.S. Air Force. They are not classified, but at the same time, I don't have "official" access to them. Thus, photographs of hardcopies of the maps, sans logos for the exact producing agencies.

I have contacted the people at the agencies that produced the data, but at this point more than that is out of my hands ... unless I violate confidences that I am not willing to do.

What data, specifically, would you like to have? I'll do my best to help, but I can't make guarantees --- apologies about that.

Dear Mr. Maurer,

thanks a lot for the quick answer, I really do appreciate your help!

Of course I understand that there are certain limits regarding the material. So don´t worry, if it might not work out in the end, I´d still be kinda satisfied it was tried and that I walked "every" way of researching possible. (Btw.: Sorry, for potential mistakes in writing, I am not a native speaker...)

As I wrote, most important for me would be the maps of maritime/air activity in the years 2008, 2009 and 2011 (as the are shown in the pics of the article). One of my main/basic arguments to build the theoretically-led analysis on is, that trafficking (at least for a short term) went up after/because of the coup. That´s why the oversights for 2008 and 2009 are so crucial. The one for 2011 (til May) would also be well fitting because the year 2011 marks the end of my "research-horizon".

Again thanks a lot for asking your sources! I am excited and hope for green light...

Dear Mr. Maurer,

a happy new year at first.

Because I am now in the writing-phase I decided, to bother you one last time, forgive me. Just wanted to ask, if your attempts regarding the maps brought any success.
If it wouldn´t be such a pity, that I exactly miss the map of 2008, where the first obvious tipping-point of transit occurs, I wouldn´t be that pushy. :)

Anyway, thank you again, I hope for an answer and yes, of course I´ll finally accept a negative one too. :D

With kind regards from the EU.

Great Graphs!! could you contact me please?

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