Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Downward Spiral in Latin America
Several developments over the past week add to my growing sense of pessimism over certain parts of Latin America.

The first is the decision of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to bring on board a senior Cuban official with a long time specialty in internal security and torture to act as a consultant on Venezuela's energy crisis.

What Ramiro Valdes, one of the four remaining "originals" of the 1959 revolution, can bring on the electrical side is open to question, given that Cuba is not a model of electrical efficiency and management. What he can bring is a strong sense of how to control the internal opposition and make repression more efficient, which is his specialty.

This leads to my second concern. As Chávez grows more beleaguered and under siege, the one card he holds to wreak havoc in the region is his relationship with the FARC in Colombia.

Valdes, the old guerrilla with a strong penchant for supporting armed movements, is a likely candidate to help escalate that relationship at a time when the FARC, a designated terrorist organization, has money from cocaine sales to pay for increased training and access.

Another desperate regime, that of Iran, is also scrambling to survive, and the two friends are likely to jointly seek ways to save themselves while sinking their own countries and others.

A third area of concern is increasing violence in Juarez, Mexico, where I just was. The massacre of the 16 young people has brought to the forefront the sense of despair and hopelessness people feel, and the profound disillusionment with the government and its counter-drug efforts.

When people lose all faith in a government, the situation will be very difficult to reverse. The narcos and allied gangs such as Barrio Azteca and Artistas Asesinos feel a complete sense of impunity that is well-deserved. Less than 2 percent of all homicides in Mexico are ever prosecuted and in Ciudad Juarez the numbers are even lower. The military is widely viewed as corrupt and abusive, the federal police generate little trust and the municipal police are viewed as handmaidens of the cartels.

This leads to the type of terror on the streets of a once lovely city, with 2,600 homicides last year and already on pace to surpass that by a significant amount.

A fourth issue is the eroding freedom of expression across the Bolivarian sectors of Latin America. It was driven home to me after the release of our new report on Ecuador, Ecuador at Risk. Not only has the ordered his ambassador in Washington to see if he can sue us, his government has threatened to try to find my sources.

So one can only imagine the censorship that goes on in the local media in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Chilling indeed.

As this German press report shows, we did not go into all the details on Ecuador's problems. It is about to be listed by FATF as a high-risk country for financial transactions because it has not ratified 48 of the 49 conventions on fighting money laundering and terror finance.

As the Hoy newspaper in Quito noted in an editorial defending our report,:

it is not enough to close one's eyes to the facts and consider them to be a plot to smear the government. It is urgent that we redouble our efforts against drug trafficking and revise our policies of who we allow into our country.
The FARC and the Quest for Surface to Air Missiles
New Study on Ecuador's Growing Role with the FARC and Transnational Crime
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