General Cites Southcom Regional Challenges

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — There have been sev­er­al “good news” trends observed across the Caribbean and Cen­tral and South Amer­i­can regions over the past decade, yet nar­co-ter­ror­ism and cor­rup­tion remain seri­ous secu­ri­ty con­cerns, U.S. South­ern Command’s chief said here yes­ter­day.

Trade has increased in the region, while unem­ploy­ment and pover­ty are down, Air Force Gen. Dou­glas M. Fras­er told an audi­ence at the Air Force Association’s 2011 Air and Space Con­fer­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Expo­si­tion.

Col­lege enroll­ment and lit­er­a­cy rates increased in the region over the past 10 years, Fras­er said. And, he added, more than 60 per­cent of the peo­ple sup­port democ­ra­cy.

“A lot of times we don’t real­ize just how much [good] progress has been made,” the gen­er­al said.

Yet, pover­ty remains a seri­ous issue in Southcom’s area of respon­si­bil­i­ty, which includes Latin Amer­i­ca south of Mex­i­co, the waters off Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean Sea, the com­man­der said.

“Over a third of the pop­u­la­tion still lives below the pover­ty lev­el — $2 a day — in some coun­tries, specif­i­cal­ly in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca,” Fras­er said. “In some cas­es, 50 to 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is liv­ing below the pover­ty line.”

Twelve per­cent of the region­al pop­u­la­tion lives in extreme pover­ty, the gen­er­al said, earn­ing just $1 dol­lar a day.

Cor­rup­tion remains an issue, Fras­er said, and jus­tice is a relat­ed con­cern.

“In many cas­es, there’s only a 2 to 3 per­cent con­vic­tion rate for those who are detained,” he added.

Fras­er said the Unit­ed States’ secu­ri­ty con­cerns in the region encom­pass transna­tion­al orga­nized crime, illic­it traf­fick­ing, vio­lent extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions, nar­co-ter­ror­ism, crim­i­nal gangs and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters.

The two pri­ma­ry nar­co-ter­ror­ist groups in South Amer­i­ca are the FARC in Colom­bia and Sendero Lumi­nosa, or Shin­ing Path, in Peru, the gen­er­al said.

While the FARC — Fuerzas Armadas Rev­olu­cionar­ios de Colom­bia, or Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia — has been a con­cern in Colom­bia for more than 40 years, he said, the last decade has seen a decline in the group’s size and pow­er.

“With sup­port from the Unit­ed States, Colom­bians have made a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the abil­i­ty of the FARC to oper­ate — but they’re still there, and [the Colom­bians] are still engaged with address­ing that con­cern,” Fras­er said.

Sendero Lumi­nosa is a much small­er group, reduced in num­ber from the 1990s but is start­ing to grow again, Fras­er said.

“It’s still … a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem for Peru, and we con­tin­ue to sup­port their efforts,” he added.

These groups and the car­tels rep­re­sent a com­plex prob­lem, com­bin­ing ille­gal traf­fick­ing in drugs, bulk cash, weapons and peo­ple with activ­i­ties includ­ing mon­ey laun­der­ing, vio­lence, bribery and cor­rup­tion, the gen­er­al said.

“It is all lev­els and all dif­fer­ent types of illic­it activ­i­ty,” Fras­er added.

Mex­i­can drug car­tels includ­ing Sinaloa and Los Zetas are mov­ing south into Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca, and expand­ing beyond the region into Africa and oth­er places, Fras­er said.

“Cocaine is still pro­duced large­ly in Colom­bia, Peru and Bolivia,” he said.

Cocaine traf­fick­ing is an $85 bil­lion indus­try world­wide and the mar­ket is expand­ing, Fras­er said. The Unit­ed States is the largest con­sumer, with Brazil the sec­ond largest and the Unit­ed King­dom the great­est per capi­ta con­sumer, he added.

Crim­i­nal net­works find their great­est cocaine prof­its across the Atlantic, he said.

In South Amer­i­ca, a kilo­gram of cocaine sells for $2,000 to $5,000; the price increas­es to $20,000 to $40,000 in the Unit­ed States, $80,000 to $100,000 in Europe, and $100,000 to $140,000 in the Mid­dle East, the gen­er­al explained.

Ille­gal drug trade in the region also moves metham­phet­a­mine pre­cur­sors, mar­i­jua­na and hero­in into U.S. and oth­er mar­kets, Fras­er said, while com­mer­cial-grade weapons and bil­lions of dol­lars flow back to crim­i­nal groups in Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca from the Unit­ed States.

Com­pe­ti­tion relat­ed to this traf­fic has con­tributed to an alarm­ing homi­cide rate in some coun­tries, he not­ed.

From 2007 through 2010, there were 67,000 homi­cides in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, twice as many among half the pop­u­la­tion as in Mex­i­co dur­ing the same time, Fras­er said.

Southcom’s efforts com­bat­ing crim­i­nal activ­i­ties in Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca are large­ly focused on build­ing part­ner nation capa­bil­i­ties, the gen­er­al said.

The com­mand sup­ports ground, air, and sea and fresh­wa­ter inter­dic­tion and appre­hen­sion efforts with train­ing, ves­sels, and detec­tion and mon­i­tor­ing tech­nolo­gies, Fras­er said.

South­com inte­grates joint capa­bil­i­ties and inter­a­gency efforts through­out the region to aid local gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance of and access to crim­i­nal oper­a­tions, he said.

Some of the same capa­bil­i­ties — intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance plat­forms; light and rotary lift air­craft — also assist dis­as­ter response force access, emer­gency evac­u­a­tion and med­ical evac­u­a­tion, Fras­er not­ed.

“It is a great mis­sion; it is a unique mis­sion,” the gen­er­al said. “It is one that stress­es us, if you will, to think dif­fer­ent­ly.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)