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Bolívar and Chávez: A Worthy Comparison?

August 11, 2011

This is the second issue in a series that will explore the concept of the New Latin America by focusing on recent developments that highlight how the region contrasts with its past.

Chávez and his Biggest Hero

In South America, Simón Bolívar is the equivalent of George Washington on steroids; every single Founding Father conglomerated into the Great Liberator. The country Bolivia, Venezuelan bolívares, countless street names, and a myriad of statues are understandably named for this independence hero. Therefore, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s choice to name his particular brand of socialism as Bolivarian is not surprising. Gratuitous references to Bolívar’s legacy are used as a tool by Chávez to gain the popular support necessary to ensure the continuation of his agenda.

The recent move by Chávez to exhume Bolívar’s 200 year-old body seems to be in character for the Venezuelan leader, especially given the recent exhumations of Allende and Neruda. Chávez does not hold the general belief that Bolívar succumbed to tuberculosis. Instead, he conjectures that Bolívar was murdered by Colombians, who he accuses of historically selling out to the Spanish empire. Although official texts confirm that Bolívar died of tuberculosis before he could sail to Europe in exile, Chávez has dismissed this evidence as a cover up.  Venezuela and Colombia are already not on the best of terms, especially given Colombia’s close ties to the U.S. Chávez’s accusatory rhetoric serves only to highlight the tensions in their relationship.

In July, Venezuelan scientists concluded their inquiry into the cause of death. After a careful and thorough investigation, the results were inconclusive. Yet, Chávez remained undeterred, expressing that even though the mystery may never be resolved, he still stands by his belief that Bolivar was killed by Colombian “traitors.” The ambiguity stems in part from the high levels of arsenic found in Bolívar’s body. While doctors see the presence of this toxin as a treatment for tuberculosis, Chávez alleges it was used instead as a poisoning agent. Much of Chávez’s reasoning stems from a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, Paul Auwaerter, who claimed that Bolivar did not display all the symptoms of TB. Chávez has put a lot of stake into this observation, but Auwaerter contests that Chávez is misconstruing his statements to signify murder, rather than some form of primitive medicine.

As the Northern Andean region moves forward, it has not forgotten its fiery independence. Unfortunately, Bolívar’s legacy has at times been used as a political tool to muster support for social movements that the revolutionary would not have necessarily supported. Bolívar himself traveled with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations by his side, whereas Chávez supports state-run industries and decries free market capitalism as almost a matter of religious faith. Also, the Venezuelan president’s anti-American rhetoric does not readily play into Bolívar’s historical and ideological legacy as much as Chávez would have it appear. Although Bolívar disagreed with the practice of slavery and sought a uniquely Spanish American brand of democratic governance, he was a great admirer of the American Revolution and its founding fathers.  

Chávez has not been exactly subtle about his agenda. Regardless of Bolívar’s actual political ideology, Chávez presents himself as a natural successor to the anti-colonial leader. He views himself as this generation’s chosen force to unite South America against a common external enemy. Flanked by allies such as Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega, and Rafael Correa, Chávez aspires to become the commander of a different version of Gran Colombia. For Bolívar, the Spanish Empire was the primary threat to Latin America’s independence, for Húgo Chávez it is the imperial ambitions of the United States. By invoking Bolívar, Chávez can foment nationalist sentiment to secure political support for his ideas. 

Chavez often construes Bolivar in such a way that makes him appear as his karmic reincarnation.  By resurrecting this immensely respected champion of Latin American independence, Chavez is attempting to mobilize electoral support that has waned in recent years. Weakened by cancer, his reverence for Bolivar may also be a means of reinvigorating the public’s perception of his strength. With his popularity hanging at an anemic 50%, Chávez will need immense fortitude in the coming year, as Venezuela’s presidential elections approach. Using Bolívar as a larger than life inspiration, Chávez tries to maintain his role as 21st Century Socialism’s irreplaceable leader.

Written by COHA Research Associate Amy Bratzel

The Dos Erres Trial: Justice and Politics in Guatemala

August 9, 2011

This is the first issue in a series that will explore the concept of the New Latin America by focusing on recent developments that highlight how the region contrasts with its past.

 Guatemalans Celebrate Ruling

On August 3, 2011, red rose petals outside a criminal court in Guatemala City spelled out “justice.” In a landmark ruling, four former military officers were each sentenced to jail terms of over 6,000 years for the massacre of 201 villagers during the Guatemalan Civil War. Despite hope for a new era that boldly confronts the former routine application of military impunity, the convictions are besmirched by a political agenda. 

Late Justice

Before dawn on December 6, 1982, a contingent of Kaibiles—a special operations unit notorious for making recruits bite off the heads of live chickens—descended upon the community of Dos Erres in the northern Petén Department. The commandos accused the inhabitants of collaborating with leftist guerilla insurgents, but produced no evidence. As soldiers guarded the perimeter, the Kaibiles bashed infants against trees, raped and murdered the women, and shot the men before dumping their corpses into a local well.          

Nearly thirty years later, three former Kaibiles and a regular were finally sentenced for carrying out this brutal massacre. Manuel Pop Sun, Reyes Collin Gualip, and Daniel Martínez were slammed with thirty years for every death, and an additional thirty years for crimes against humanity, summing up to 6,060 years each. Carlos Antonio Carías, a second lieutenant when the massacre took place, received an extra six years for robbing the victims of their belongings. Guatemala has also requested the extradition of four additional former Kaibiles living abroad; U.S. authorities had detained three of the Kaibiles and deported a certain Pedro Pimentel Ríos, while Canada has one such suspect in custody.

A History of Impunity

The conviction could be a watershed moment for the recognition of heinous atrocities sanctioned and carried out by the state during Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war. Guatemala’s Truth Commission, sponsored by the United Nations (UN), concluded that the conflict had claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced up to one million. Furthermore, the commission blamed right-wing government forces for over 90 percent of the human rights violations, affirming that their selective slaughter of Mayan Indians, who made up 83 percent of the victims, was genocidal.

This ruling was possible because Guatemala’s wartime perpetrators are not protected under a blanket amnesty. Guatemala’s amnesty law, part of the hastily approved National Reconciliation Law passed in 1996 as part of the Peace Accords, ostensibly allows persecution for atrocities such as torture, genocide, and forced disappearance. Yet the vaguely worded law leaves much room for debate and impunity; the Dos Erres conviction was only the second of 669 civil war massacres successfully prosecuted in Guatemalan courts.

The consistent failure to prosecute wartime offenders is part of a prevailing culture of impunity in Guatemala that led the UN to create the International Commission (CICIG) against Impunity in Guatemala in 2006.  Guatemala remains one of the most violent countries in the world, compounded by a jarring 98 percent impunity rate, with only 2 out of every 100 cases actually appearing in court.

Kaibiles: Guatemalan Special Forces

A New Era?

Hopefully, the Dos Erres conviction will represent a crucial turning point in addressing military impunity. In fact, the guilty verdict is part of a recent series of high-profile arrests, part of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom’s attempts to redress past neglect of such abuses. On July 25, the same day that the Dos Erres trial began, a former Guatemalan police chief, Pedro García Arredondo, was dispatched to a military prison in Guatemala City on charges of disappearing a university student during the civil war. The Archbishop’s Human Rights Office had identified the former police chief as a top human rights violator; he has also been implicated in the infamous 1980 burning of the Spanish Embassy that had been occupied by indigenous peasants and their allies.

A month earlier, on June 17, Guatemalan authorities arrested and charged a former general and head of the presidential guard, Héctor Mario López Fuentes, with being the intellectual author of massacres that led to the death of over 300 Mayan Indians from the Ixil region in 1982 and 1983. López Fuentes is the highest-ranking military official to be arraigned for crimes against humanity, genocide and forced disappearances. As a further example, on June 9, a former national police chief, Héctor Bol de la Cruz, was also arrested on charges of disappearing a student leader. Two of his former agents had previously been sentenced on the same grounds to forty years in prison in October 2010.

In addition to these high-profile arrests, President Colom’s strategy for justice included the inauguration, on June 20, of a new archive of official military files from 1954 to 1996, providing public access to 99.3 percent of the documents. This is a crucial step for providing transparency and enabling analysis of the truth from a period of unprecedented brutality.  

Or Just Politics?

Despite its benefit to national justice and reconciliation, a renewed focus on civil war crimes by the center-left Colom government may not be entirely noble and altruistic. Former Army General Otto Pérez Molina, an opposition candidate of dubious moral standing, claims that the timing of the charges and resulting proceedings is politically motivated by the upcoming presidential elections in September 2011. Pérez Molina, as a former head of military intelligence, has been accused of deep involvement in war atrocities. In July 2011, human rights defenders appearing before the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture pointed out that half of all the massacres under scrutiny took place during his command in the Quiché Department, between 1982 and 1983. Moreover, their letter accuses Pérez Molina of direct responsibility for the torture and disappearance of prisoner of war Efraín Bámaca Velásquez.

Evidence of guilt not withstanding, Pérez Molina’s counter-accusations may hold some legal weight. President Colom filed to divorce his wife on March 11, to enable her to run for the presidency. However, the Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that the divorce did not evade a constitutional prohibition on relatives of incumbent presidents from pursuing the highest office. First Lady Sandra Torres made a final appeal to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, which was unanimously rejected on August 8.  

It is clear that Colom is attempting to manipulate public opinion as well as the political fate of Pérez Molina by providing a precedent for the trial of war crimes. It is a sadder truth that despite recently enhanced attention on the Guatemalan Civil War, polls reveal that Pérez Molina continues as the clear frontrunner for the presidency. Nevertheless, whatever may come this September, political motivations mustn’t be allowed to undermine the benefits the Dos Erres trial provide to Guatemala in its prolonged, if doomed, search for justice.

Written by COHA Research Associate William Moore

One-way Ticket or Circular Flow: Changing Stream of Remittances to Latin America

August 4, 2011

This is the fourth part in a series that covers immigration throughout the hemisphere from a variety of different perspectives.

Collecting Remittances

Inside houses held together by a collection of sticks, mud brick and plastic table cloths one can hear the hum of a stainless-steel refrigerator and the shrill buzz of a flickering thirty-inch color television set.  These appliances of modern convenience mix casually with poverty, a contrast almost obscenely commonplace throughout many parts of Latin America and especially Central America. Small towns in the campo, where unemployment seems to run close to  90 percent and the only males remaining are either below the age of sixteen or above the age of sixty, receive a steady stream of cash sent by former residents living more than a thousand miles away. 

Remittances from family members working in the U.S. constitute a significant portion of the GDP in many Latin American countries.  In Haiti, remittances compose a record 30 percent of GDP, followed by Honduras (25.6%), Guyana (24.5%), Jamaica (18.5%), and El Salvador (18.2%).   As a whole, Latin America receives USD 58.9 billion every year, dwarfing both U.S. FDI (USD 19.2 billion, 17% of total) and foreign aid (USD 448 million) to the region combined.  While remittances do not ultimately solve economic deficiencies in these countries, many families rely on them to survive.  These payments also help families send their children to school, obtain better healthcare, and improve their homes.  Complementing direct cash payments to family members, cross border organizations, known as Home Town Associations (HTA), link immigrants to their home communities by creating communal funds to improve local infrastructure and undertake development projects.  Moreover, remittances create an even larger economic and social community throughout the Americas, held together by a circular flow of people and money. 

To the north, some reports conclude that had it not been for an influx in immigrants, many of them undocumented, the workforce in all sectors of the U.S. economy would have shrunk by nearly one third throughout the 1990s. Concurrently, these immigrants spend 90 percent of their combined income of half a trillion dollars in the U.S., fostering growth in their new country of residence.  The remaining 10 percent of their earnings is sent back to their home countries, helping to sustain their own families. However, amid changing economic factors in the U.S., heightened border security, and development in certain parts of Latin America, this circular flow may be in an ongoing state of decline.

Two main economic factors in the U.S., the recession and currency devaluation, are largely responsible for the decline in remittances to Latin America.  At its highest point in 2008, USD 69.2 billion in remittances flowed into Latin America.  But in 2009, amid economic uncertainty in the U.S. following the global recession, the volume of remittances dropped by 15 percent to USD 58.8 billion.  While 2010 experienced a modest rise of USD 10 million, these gains, as well as those projected for 2011, are stunted by a weaker dollar.  The 2010 growth of 1.7 percent was in reality a 2.9 percent decline in local currency terms, meaning the value of earnings made in the U.S. relative to Latin America is waning.  When compared with the 3.9 percent world average recovery in local currency terms, the purchasing power of remittances to Latin America is trailing far behind.

In recent years, increased border security in the U.S has disrupted the cyclical flow of physical migration that facilitates the circular flow of money between the U.S. and Latin America.  In 1996, there were only 5,878 agents along the U.S.-Mexico border; by 2009 there were more than 16,000, a rise of 277 percent.  As a result, fees charged by coyotes, smugglers who help migrants bypass security checkpoints, have risen astronomically by nearly 715 percent, from USD 978 in 1995 to as high as USD 7,000 in 2010.  Crossing the border is now almost three times as expensive; coupled with insecurity from the drug war, the journey is significantly more dangerous than fifteen years ago.   These factors have changed how immigrants assess the risk of migrating to the U.S.  According to Wayne A. Cornelius, a scholar of comparative migration and professor of political science at University of California San Diego:

In the traditional pattern of Mexican migration to the U.S., most migrants were unaccompanied males who engaged in circular migration. Every 6-12 months they would rotate between working in the United States and returning to their hometown for extended stays.

Now, he states, “what used to be a two-way migration flow between Mexico and the United States…[is today] largely one-way, south-to-north flow.”  Migrants have been “bottled up” in the U.S. and as a result, those who leave are less firmly tied to supporting their families back home.  They are more concerned with starting a new life in the U.S. and enhancing their personal prosperity.  Consequently, these immigrants are less focused on sending their earnings back to Latin America.

Coyote fees discourage cyclical migration 

A recent slowdown in remittances to Mexico and decline to Brazil can be attributed to strong economic growth relative to the U.S.  Mexico is the largest regional recipient of remittances at around USD 21 billion per annum.  However, at its peak in 2008, the nation received USD 25 billion and has been slow to recover, rising just slightly to USD 21.3 billion in 2010.  More economic opportunity in Mexico, especially for farmers, coupled with the risk associated with crossing the U.S. border has greatly reduced the tide of Mexican emigration and hence the stream of remittances.  In Brazil, strong performance during the global recession encouraged many of its citizens to return home and as a result, in 2009 remittances dropped by 34 percent.  Even in 2010, as the flow rebounded slightly in many other Latin American countries, remittances continued to fall by 15 percent, alluding to dynamism in Brazil and stagnation in the U.S. 

Remittances have always provided a strong link between families separated by thousands of miles and a restrictive border.  They empower communities with little economic opportunity to prosper.  However, the circular nature of remittances and investment may be in jeopardy as factors within both the U.S. and Latin America begin to change. The circular system could become increasingly one-directional, excluding those still living in acute poverty from the benefits accrued by migrants working in the U.S.  This development could signify a transformation; as the allure and accessibility of economic opportunity in the U.S. begins to wane, Latin Americans stay within their home countries, fostering a growth independent of the North.

Written by COHA Research Associate Trevor Cohen

Home, Sweet Home: Migration between Latin American Countries

August 2, 2011

This is the third part in a series that covers immigration throughout the hemisphere from a variety of different perspectives.

Nicaraguan Immigrants Disembark in Costa Rica

In the final decades of the twentieth century, Latin America – once a prominent destination for migrants – slowly transitioned to become the largest migrant source, mainly as a result of the economic crises that took place in the 1980s. As the number of European and Asian immigrants to countries like Argentina and Brazil dramatically decreased, Latin American emigrants accounted for an astonishing nine percent of all emigrants worldwide.

Today, migration patterns in Latin America are changing once again.  More potential emigrants now stay within the region as new education and work-related opportunities expand their reach to a larger segment of the population. Yet, there still exist vast economic and social disparities between neighboring countries throughout the region.  As a result of these disparities, as well as difficulties associated with emigrating to the U.S., those who leave their homes in search of better opportunities often do not travel as far: Guatemalans emigrate to Mexico, Nicaraguans to Costa Rica, Colombians to Ecuador and Venezuela, and Bolivians and Paraguayans to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.

While many Latin Americans previously migrated in response to political violence, today migration is mostly motivated by economic reasons. Mexico and Costa Rica are just a few migrant-receiving countries whose per capita GDP is significantly higher than that of their neighbors. For example, Mexico’s GDP of USD 13,900 is almost three times that of Guatemala’s USD 5,200; Costa Rica’s GDP of USD 11,300 is almost four times that of Nicaragua’s USD 3,000. Migrants from Nicaragua quickly fill domestic service and construction jobs in neighboring Costa Rica.  These migrant workers usually take the least desirable jobs, and as a result, inflows of Nicaraguan workers do not affect either average earnings or unemployment rates.

Latin American countries understand the influence that the free flow of people and goods can have on the economic development of the region. Argentina, which receives a great number of immigrants, signed a bilateral agreement in the early 2000s with Bolivia and Peru to facilitate circular migration. As a result of the agreement, some two million Bolivians now live and work in Argentina. Regional governments encourage migrants to invest in their home economies by establishing programs like the Program for Mexican Communities Living Abroad, which support remittances in order to stimulate development projects. Also in Mexico, land ownership rights were changed to allow migrants to acquire land immediately, bypassing long waiting lists and often rigorous requirements. Recently, many local and migrant farmers in the Mexican state of Jalisco,  who otherwise would have travelled north to the United States for work, were encouraged  to stay by the recent burst of economic expansion resulting from a tequila boom . Many Latin American countries recognize the importance of increased human mobility and reflect it in their policies.

Agave Farming in the state of Jalisco

However, Panama, the Central American country with the highest GDP, maintains lower levels of labor migration than the rest of the region. In order to protect local workers, Panama’s Ministry of Labor limits employers to hiring a maximum of 10 to 15 percent foreign workers. While the expansion of the Panama Canal created over 7,000 new jobs, few foreign workers were able to find employment in the project, and those who did, had to obtain work visas to come to Panama as trained professionals.

Despite increasing domestic development and incentives issued by some Latin American countries, many migrants choose to immigrate permanently, often to countries outside of Latin America. A 2008 Gallup Poll reports that 13 percent of Venezuelans, 18 percent of Brazilians, and 21 percent of Mexicans and Panamanians said they would leave their country forever if possible; many of those surveyed stated they would choose to immigrate to the U.S. In the case of Haiti, where the desperately poor population continues to depend on citizens who travel to the migrant communities of the Dominican Republic, permanent migration remains a sad reality. According to Evans Jadotte, an Economics Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in 2005, Haiti received USD 1 billion in remittances, accounting for about 35 percent of the country’s total GDP. Unable to maintain any lasting shred of stable economic development, the country loses almost 83 percent of its college graduates each year.

The old adage that the “grass is greener on the other side” continues to inspire many migrants to travel abroad in search of employment and education opportunities. However, in countries like Mexico and Panama, emigration has notably slowed as more youth prefer to enroll in tertiary education rather than face uncertain employment and low wages. Recently, some of those who immigrated previously are finding that there may be more opportunities in their home country than abroad, and bilateral migration agreements and common market spaces have deregulated human flows, allowing migrants to travel back and forth more freely. A greater proportion of the Latinos who chose to migrate, willingly do so among neighboring countries, abandoning the traditional ideal of reaching the colossus to the North.

Written by COHA Research Associate Alena Hontarava

Mexico’s Improving Education and Declining Emigration

July 28, 2011
by COHA Staff

This is the second part in a series that will cover immigration throughout the hemisphere from a variety of different perspectives.

In the upcoming election season, the American public must disregard the inevitable sensationalist claim that Mexican immigrants continue to threaten domestic job security. In recent months, the U.S. has seen the tidal wave of both legal and illegal immigration from Mexico reduced to a mere ripple. While there are several push and pull factors behind this drastic reduction, including high U.S. unemployment, enhanced border enforcement and falling Mexican birth rates, chief among them are real improvements in Mexico’s notoriously deficient education system. A 2006 study by Harvard University researchers reported that higher levels of education generate “better employment prospects, higher salaries, and a greater ability to save and invest.”  As Mexico expands enrollment in schools and universities, its citizens are less likely to cross the border in search of employment. A more highly educated population, in turn, permits tangible benefits for the public sector, including greater tax revenue, improved technology, and stronger government. .

In 1982, Mexico’s financial crisis prompted massive cuts in education, which fueled an exodus across the northern border. Indeed, U.S. Border Patrol statistics reveal a 32 percent jump in apprehensions from 1982 to 1983. As Mexico’s economy continued to struggle, various administrations anticipated an increased need for education reform. A plethora of attempts throughout the 1990s to revise the education system included a 1993 amendment to the Federal Commercial Law of Education that would assign individual Mexican states theresponsibility to provide schooling for Mexican citizens.

The multi-pronged stabs at educational reform proved generally successful, as 90 percent of children were enrolled in primary school (grades 1-6) by the year 2000. Additionally, the number of students at the secondary level of Mexico’s education system (grades 7-9) has increased by 2 million since 1994. Yet, education in the world’s 11th most populous country is ever expanding. Between 1990 and 2009, Mexico’s adult literacy rate increased by almost 6 percentage points; adult female and youth literacy rates increased by 7 and 3.1 percentage points, respectively, over the same period.

 While U.S. politicians and immigration experts prefer to link the reduction in both legal and undocumented immigration with beefed up border security and restrictions on the rights of illegal aliens, a more genuine determinant is more likely to be Mexico’s improved education and literacy rates. In Jalisco, one of the top three Mexican states for emigration over the last century, preparatory schools for students aged 15 to 18 doubled between 2000 and 2009 from 360 to 724. Likewise, professionals in the state with a bachelor’s degree or higher rose from 405,415 in 2000 to 821,983 a decade later. The poverty of southern states like Chiapas and Oaxaca has not deterred a similar doubling in the number of professional degree holders since 2000.

Meanwhile, since the beginning of the 21st century, illegal immigration has been in steady decline; the number of U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions peaked in 2000. After a decade of tumbling immigration rates, the Mexican Migration Project, a Princeton University based research group, reported that the desire to emigrate to the U.S. declined to its lowest level since at least the 1950s. According to Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project, “For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero.” This surprising statistic accompanies a trend of falling general migration that began in 2008 following 2006 legislation that made the acquisition of a visa easier for the average Mexican citizen.

The relationship between increased education in Mexico and decreasing immigration to the U.S. introduces new options for future U.S. immigration policy. If the trend continues, future surges in immigration to the U.S. from Mexico could be curtailed through more manageable social policy and result in far less hostility than would develop from a physical partition of the border. The U.S. would no longer waste time and money on a formidable wall stretching 2000 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border. These resources could be better spent investing in improving education, thus decreasing the number of uneducated Mexican youth, which was estimated at about 1 million in 2010. Furthermore, as unschooled children are exceptionally vulnerable to recruitment by drug-trafficking cartels, a reduction in their numbers could deny illicit organizations a large portion of their recruitment base and weaken their power in society.

A variety of factors such as economic uncertainty in the U.S., increasing Drug War violence along the border, and a surge in discriminatory immigration policies enacted in states like Alabama and Arizona are curbing the flow of foreigners. However, Mexico’s expanding education system is largely responsible for the decline in its emigration rates. If education continues to flourish, the U.S. may continue to see the tide of immigration reverse its course.

Written by COHA Research Associate Ben Lamport

Chinese Argentines and the Pace of Cultural Integration

July 26, 2011

This is the first part in a series that will cover immigration throughout the hemisphere from a variety of different perspectives.

 Barrio Chino Argentino

Amid the sea of Argentines of European descent dwelling in Buenos Aires, one may occasionally notice a few Chinese-Argentines — an immigrant community that has been growing rapidly throughout the years. Attracted by Argentina’s open immigration policy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, immigrants from Spain and Italy flocked to the country en masse. Soon thereafter, in the twentieth century, Latin America as a whole experienced an influx of Chinese immigrants that provided manpower in the agricultural and fishing industries.

Like most immigrants, the Chinese sought new land where they could establish their roots. In Argentina, they capitalized on educational and economic opportunities while enjoying “easy access to nature and large open spaces,” non-existent in crowded Chinese cities.  As of 2009, approximately 120,000 Chinese people lived in Argentina. After World War II and the Korean War, Asian-Argentines migrated in three waves, consisting of the Japanese, followed by the Koreans, and lastly, the Chinese.  Chinese immigrants in Buenos Aires soon established a tight-knit community, creating a “Chinatown” in the neighborhood of Belgrano.

With the number of Chinese natives growing steadily in Argentina’s large cities, it is no surprise that their culture has become a part of modern Argentine society. The Chinatown in Buenos Aires, though relatively small in size, is a true indication of the increased presence of Chinese-Argentines.  Shops peddling delightful collectibles and trinkets, and streets filled with the aroma of as-authentic-as-you-can-get Chinese food have become an integral part of the greater Argentine community. 

Aside from generating local business, the Chinese have made their mark in the country in many other ways. Mandarin Chinese has become increasingly prominent in Argentina, as it is considered an appealing language to learn and master in business, given the expanding Chinese market and its rising clout in international diplomacy, trade and finance. Interviews conducted by the Xinhua News Agency reveal that the academic relevance of China’s rise to power “has been so impressive” that experts expect a continued increase of students studying Chinese in Argentina; in 2005, there were only 100 students, now there are more than 900.

Yet despite a certain level of social integration, the presence of Chinese-Argentines has sparked controversy. In June 2006, a misunderstanding between an Argentine delivery truck driver and Chinese supermarket owner in the province of Lomas de Zamora exploded into a six-day boycott of Chinese supermarkets throughout the Greater Buenos Aires area. Other than miscommunication arising from the language barrier, the origin of the fight remains obscure. According to authorities, the altercation allegedly ended with the owner shooting the driver and eventually spawned protests that culminated in a supermarket boycott led by the truckers’ union. While the boycott lasted only six days, the resulting discrimination against the Chinese population continues to linger.

Even if the owner were guilty, the xenophobia that transpired against Chinese-Argentines was not warranted. The owner carried a gun to protect himself, a common practice among the Chinese following Argentina’s disastrous economic breakdown in 2001.  During the crisis, they were unfairly and outrageously made into the scapegoats of society, accused of “taking advantage of the ailing economy.”  They were helplessly attacked by looters who rummaged through their supermarkets stealing countless goods, while the police turned a blind eye and blamed the Chinese mafia for the crimes. 

Chinese Supermarket (Chino)

The discrimination against Chinese immigrants is partially due to the perception that Chinese supermarkets are undercutting other businesses by selling their products at lower prices. Since Chinos account for approximately 35% of the country’s supermarkets, other business-owners face fierce competition. While no discrimination can be justified, Julia Reagan, director of a documentary entitled, “ArgenChinos,” explains that Argentines are concerned that the Chinese immigrated to the country with the sole intention of reaping profits from their businesses. To Argentines, economic integration is not enough to achieve full social integration. They are offended by the Chinese who, in their opinion, are unwilling to fully embrace Argentine culture. However, while many Chinese-Argentines passionately hold on to their own cultural particularities, it cannot be generalized that they refuse cultural integration. It is unfair to expect earlier generations to abandon their heritage and merge completely with the predominantly European culture in Argentina.

Despite points of contention, there is still hope that social relations will improve. Most of recent Chinese immigrants are students who recognize the importance of Spanish and help bridge the communication gap between Argentines of European and Chinese descent.  Pablo Chu, a Chinese student interviewed about the subject, asserts that there is much to be gained from learning Spanish, adding that “When I go back [to China], I will be one of the few who can speak Spanish.” For the Chinese, selling and producing goods requires efficient communication with their Spanish-speaking Argentine partners. By achieving proficiency in both languages, the two groups are more likely to overcome the cultural barriers that trigger unnecessary disputes like the events of June 2006.

It is unjust to victimize the entire Argentine-Chinese population and to expect them to fully adopt a national identity that does not closely resemble their own. In time, Chinese-Argentines could assimilate into mainstream Argentine culture, perhaps forging an even richer national identity. The desire among Argentines and Chinese-Argentines to learn each other’s native language is an important step in eliminating the language barrier. Though Chinese immigrants are not always socially accepted in a sometimes xenophobic society, there is no denying that their significant presence provides economic and cultural promises for the country’s future.

Written by COHA Research Associate PoLin So

Déjà Vu: Peru’s Cocaine Resurgence

July 21, 2011

This is the final issue in a four part series on the narcotics trade that discusses the industry from a variety of different angles.

 Harvesting Coca in Peru

Colombia has long occupied our imagination as the Mecca of cocaine production. Mention Colombia and most people conjure up mental images of jungle dwelling rebels, massive shipments of cocaine smuggled cleverly over thousands of miles, and crop dusters spraying vast expanses of coca leaf fields from the sky. Despite the compelling nature of these images, there is some evidence that the War on Drugs has contributed to an overall decline in the area of Colombian land dedicated to coca production.

What the War on Drugs may have also brought about is an associated “balloon effect,” whereby severe coca eradication and counter-trafficking measures in one area lead to an increase in unwanted production and trafficking elsewhere: when a balloon is squeezed in one spot, it swells in another. Decades of “squeezing” in Colombia have inevitably brought about the associated swelling in its Andean neighbor, Peru.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) just released its annual World Drug Report in June 2011. Its findings confirm the existence of a phenomenon that has become increasingly apparent over the last two years, but is only beginning to receive attention among leaders in the Western Hemisphere. While the area of Colombia’s coca cultivation stood at 57,000-62,000 hectares in 2010, down from 160,100 hectares in 1999, Peru’s area of cultivation has come to match Colombia’s at 61,200 hectares, 1.5 times the 1999 measure of 38,700 hectares.

Each country’s relative share of total coca cultivation equals what one might expect, given the changes in the areas of cultivation. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, Colombia’s share of cultivation dropped from 49 percent to 43 percent, while Peru’s increased from 33 percent to 38 percent. Amid this shift, Bolivia’s share of cultivation remained fairly constant, increasing only from 18 to 19 percent.

Given variations in purity and methods of production, the UNODC states that it is more difficult to estimate to what extent increased coca cultivation in Peru corresponds to increased production of the actual cocaine drug. But antinarcotics specialists in Lima estimate that regardless of how much cocaine each country actually produces, Peru may have already surpassed Colombia in the illicit export of cocaine. Since interdiction efforts are significantly weaker in Peru than in Colombia, a much greater percentage of cocaine is seized as it tries to leave Colombia. In 2008, authorities seized an estimated 198 tons of cocaine leaving Colombia, compared to just 20 tons leaving Peru. As a result, Peruvian traffickers freely smuggled an estimated 282 tons of cocaine—about 50 tons more than Colombia’s estimated cocaine-shipment capacity.

As a whole, the Andean region’s coca cultivation and cocaine production has decreased over the last decade, but the steady shift in cultivation and production toward new territory creates fresh challenges for South American governments.

On the other hand, it is not entirely correct to state that this shift to Peru is “new” or “fresh.” In the early 1990s, before Colombia assumed its reign as the leading cultivator and producer of cocaine, Peru held that same position. The original shift to Colombia was the result of successful eradication efforts in Peru and Bolivia. This shift back to Peru indicates that coca cultivation and cocaine production have reverted back to their territorial origins in South America.

The Original Cocaine Source

Still, Peru should be wary. At the zenith of its production, the country was plagued by terrorist attacks from the infamous revolutionary guerrilla organization, Shining Path. While the Shining Path carried out attacks to gain traction and attention for its Maoist cause, the group also focused on protecting Peruvian coca farmers from the military and helped funnel coca to cocaine laboratories in Colombia. In return, Shining Path funded the majority of its operations by extorting individuals and small businesses in their territory.

In response to the growing narco-terror threat of the early 1990s, then-President Alberto Fujimori militarized the most prominent regions of coca production in Peru in an attempt to crush the Shining Path. For the most part, despite accusations of severe human rights abuses, his measures were effective at reducing the influence of these dangerous sub-state actors. Peru pushed coca cultivation, cocaine production, and associated guerrilla-terrorist movements into Colombia. Now, it appears that Colombia has managed to squeeze the problem back into Peru. Along with the steady increase in cultivation and production, attacks associated with the Shining Path have increased drastically over the past couple of years. This time around, the Shining Path may become even more involved with narco-trafficking than it was decades ago. Increasing evidence suggests that the Shining Path has quickly reestablished a financial relationship with Peru’s coca growers and is coordinating more and more with Colombian narco-terrorist groups. Peruvian President Alán García and other members of his cabinet have blamed the growing drug trade in their nation on the United States’ continued obsession with Colombia and are asking for increased U.S. aid.

Peru’s President-elect Ollanta Humala has already suggested addressing the problem by decriminalizing coca farming and low-level cocaine production and smuggling.  While such a measure would reduce the injustice imposed upon those who are only minimally responsible for the increase in production, it would likely do little to address the issue of widespread organized crime. What is clear, however, is that Andean and U.S. counter-narcotics strategies employed up until now have done almost nothing but divert the stream of cocaine trafficking back to its source, rather than allow it to dry up entirely.

Written by COHA Research Associate Elizabeth Rust

Low Taxation Perpetuates Insecurity in Central America

July 19, 2011

This is the third issue in a four part series on the narcotics trade that discusses the industry from a variety of different angles.



Homocide Rates in Central America

Taxation – who pays, how much they spend, and where this revenue goes – is a contentious issue in Latin America. Governments collect imposts from their citizens, and in return, the state is expected to invest prudently in education, health, and security programs that benefit society. In Central America, the taxation-governance nexus between the people and the state chronically falls short of implied expectations. Tax revenue comes in at a notoriously low level. Consequentially, Central American states routinely have limited funds to combat the security threat posed by the rapidly expanding Mexican drug wars.

Indisputably, Central American tax policies are highly ineffective at harvesting revenue. In the “Northern Triangle,” comprised of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was a mere 13.53 percent in 2010. Conversely, Chile and the U.S. respectively had tax takes of 18.6 percent and 26.9 percent in the same year. Tax evasion throughout Central America is predictable and further compounds this dilemma. In the words of ombudsman Ofelia Taitelbaum, “tax evasion is the national sport” in Costa Rica. Even more troubling is the regressive nature of Central American tax code, which favors wealthier citizens over the less fortunate. Most taxes are indirect Valued Added Taxes (VAT) on goods purchased rather direct taxes on income, property, and capital. In Nicaragua, “a Miskito Indian who buys rubber boots on the Río Coco in the Atlantic Coast pays the same 15% [VAT as] a professional who buys stylish shoes in a fashionable Managua store.”




Comparative Tax Rates of Latin Americ as a Whole

As Mexican drug wars radiate southward, Central American nations do not have the financial resources necessary to combat the resultant security crisis. The Northern Triangle is a particularly grisly place; Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have respective homicide rates of approximately 46, 61 and 68 murders per 100,000 people. In contrast, while the U.S.’s 2009 homicide rate was 5 murders per 100,000 people, that same year Central America had an average homicide rate of 45, rendering the region the most violent place on the planet.

The combination of inadequate tax revenues and escalating violence in Central America produces a deadly brew that causes the state to become largely irrelevant for the wealthy and the indigent alike. The upper classes of Central America are increasingly turning to the private sector to meet their security needs. For example, in Honduras and Guatemala, there are four to five times as many private security guards as there are policemen or soldiers. Conversely, impoverished Central Americans must often mix with dubious sub-state actors to gain access to basic social services. The inhabitants of the San Salvadoran neighborhood La Victoria, for example, must pay the street gang Mara Salvatrucha to gain access to water lines or refurbish their community hall.

Certainly, tax reform will not prove to be a panacea for the security crisis afflicting the Central American isthmus – but it will be a necessary step in the right direction. According to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Central America, “There are still too few people of means paying their fair share of taxes to their government in order to support services for those who will otherwise be mired in generational poverty.” Popular or not, reasonable taxation rates can cement the bond between conscientious citizens and legitimate governments, and protect the most defenseless members of society. For Central American governments to have even the slightest chance of mitigating drug-related violence, they must find a way to raise tax revenue – this would be one way of augmenting state security programs in order to protect society from lawless factions.

Written by COHA Research Associate Christina Curtin

Canada: The Drug Trade’s Northern Frontier

July 14, 2011

This is the second issue in a four part series on the narcotics trade that will discuss the industry from a variety of different angles.

With public attention focused on narco-trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border, relatively little attention has been given to the illicit activities transpiring along the United States’ border with its larger and less infamous North American neighbor, Canada.  The U.S.-Canada border is immense and quite rugged geographically, which makes it problematic to patrol.  Smuggling drugs southward past law enforcement officials is not exceedingly difficult, and as a consequence, large quantities of Canadian marijuana and, more recently, ecstasy are entering the American drug market.

In 2008, Canada seized 899 kilograms of cannabis resin, accounting for almost half of resin seizures in the Americas; in 2009, this figure soared to 9.7 metric tons.  According to a United Nations report, greenhouse cultivation of marijuana is limited to the U.S. and Canada, highlighting the productive capabilities of the two countries.  The highly profitable Canadian marijuana industry is almost completely dependent on U.S. demand for the drug—60-90 percent of Canadian-grown cannabis is smuggled into the U.S.  The bulk of production occurs in British Columbia, where highly-potent “B.C. bud” is cultivated in an extensive greenhouse network with a labor force that numbers in the hundreds of thousands.  The industry is so lucrative that some calculations estimate marijuana contributes over USD 20 billion to the Canadian economy, which would make the herb Canada’s single largest agricultural product.  Canada has also quickly become a large supplier of ecstasy, and the United Nations report claims that a “significant share” of the drug produced in Canada is destined for the U.S.  The Canadian boom in ecstasy production has followed a decrease in Western European production; from 2004-2006, seizures of the drug being smuggled from Canada to the U.S. increased fivefold, from 1.1 million dosage units to 5.2 million.

To move Canadian-produced narcotics into the U.S., traffickers utilize a myriad of vehicular means, including private airplanes, helicopters, boats, floatplanes, cattle trucks, and even snowmobiles.  The U.S.-Canada border spans an immense 4,000 miles, twice the length of its U.S.-Mexico counterpart.  Yet, as recently as 2009 it was patrolled by only one-tenth the number of border agents.  A particularly high-volume smuggling route transects the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian reservation, which is private, unpatrolled land.  However, in a June sting, the reservation was raided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in response to concerns from the Aboriginal community.  While not as severe as the situation in Mexico, Canada’s gang-related violence over smuggling routes is still a serious problem; gangs such as the Red Scorpions have been responsible for dozens of killings in Canada over the last few years.

To combat the trafficking, American and Canadian officials have increased the number of agents along the U.S.-Canada border in the past three years.  The Border Patrol is now equipped with a variety of vehicles, including boats, aircraft and ATVs designed to intercept U.S.-bound drugs.  Additionally, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement formed an agreement that will allow the latter to assign more agents to drug investigations along both U.S. borders. 

Adding fuel to the incendiary debate over marijuana legalization in Canada, an Ottawa court in April determined that the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations program was unconstitutional.  Judge Donald Taliano determined that the program, aimed at providing medical marijuana to the ill, was undermined by the unwillingness of doctors to prescribe the drug.  In November, Ontario’s highest court will review the case.  While marijuana legalization has support in Canada, it is unclear whether legalizing the drug will alleviate gang-related violence, as Canadian gangs would still battle for smuggling routes into the U.S., where marijuana remains illegal in most states.

The essential truth remains that as long as there is high drug demand in the U.S., illicit drug trafficking across both of the country’s borders will continue unabated.  Current policies to combat narco-trafficking have proven ineffective, and as the War on Drugs debacle drags on toward an uncertain outcome, hope for mitigation creeps further and further out of reach. 

Written by COHA Research Associate Tristan Mohabir

The Spider and the Rhino: The Transformative process of Mexican Cartels in the U.S.

July 12, 2011
by COHA Staff

This is the first of a four part series on the narcotics trade that will discuss the industry from a variety of different angles.

Military Road Block, Reysona

Last February 17th, a mail bomb sent to residents of the northeastern Mexican city of Reynosa promised that the next day would be “a brutal day of violence.” Panic quickly consumed the town of half a million, as citizens braced for the coming terror. In the days that followed, rumors surfaced of “downed helicopters, hundreds of casualties, and military shootouts around school campuses.”  These events marked the end of a tentative peace agreement between the Gulf Cartel and their former enforcement wing, the Zetas.  The resulting chaos that engulfed Reynosa was reminiscent of a civil war.  Similar to Juarez and other Mexican border towns where violence has paralyzed everyday life, drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in Reynosa are locked in a battle over a coveted point of entry (POE) into the U.S. 

As violence mounts in Reynosa, crime is falling just a few miles away in McAllen, Texas.  According to the 2010 McAllen Crime Report, the incidence of violent crime in this city has decreased by 14.3% since 2009.  While any incidence of cartel-related violence in the U.S. ignites fears that the crime wave will spillover across the border, security has not deteriorated to the same extent on U.S. soil.  It is safe to walk around McAllen in the evening without an armed convoy, whereas residents of Reynosa seldom leave the house after 6 p.m.  But, the calm we are witnessing in the U.S. is an eerie silence.  DTOs do not disappear once they cross the border, they transform.

Rather than utilizing explosive tactics as they do in Mexico, DTOs maintain a low profile once they cross the border into the U.S., lurking in the shadows as they spread their tendrils across almost every state.  Based on U.S. drug seizure statistics, most smuggling occurs at only 25 POEs along the border, yet cartels are active in more than 200 U.S. cities. Evading interdiction by law enforcement, especially throughout such an extensive distribution network, requires an incredible amount of effort and coordination on the part of the DTOs.  To accomplish this task, cartels employ a wide range of strategies: they form contracts with local gangs for distribution and enforcement, bribe law enforcement officials to escape incarceration, and establish “legitimate” enterprises to launder their profits.

Cartels keep their vendettas on their home turf.  In Mexico, clashes between rival DTOs erupt every day, leaving many individuals dead and entire communities wracked by fear.  But once across the border, cartels become neutral entities, abstaining from interference in conflicts between competing U.S. gangs.  It is in their best interest to ensure that the distribution chains for illicit narcotics run smoothly, yielding the highest profits.  They dirty the kitchen, yet behave cordially in the dining hall.

That is not to say Mexican DTOs have become passive observers in the transportation of narcotics throughout hundreds of U.S. cities. In fact, these organizations continue to indirectly exert their influence north of the border, through the infiltration of the U.S. border patrol, the cooptation of politicians and police, and the selective abduction of those caught in their paths. 

The U.S. government admits that over the past five years, more than 80 border patrol officers have been arrested for alleged ties to DTOs.  In one extreme case, former El Paso customs inspector Margarita Crispin received USD 5 million from the cartels in the three years she worked for the agency, allowing thousands of pounds marijuana to cross the border freely. 

Cartels will buy up entire strip malls and restaurants, inviting members of city councils and the police for free meals and discounts.  According to Vlademar, a former El Paso sheriff, “they could give an entire city council a million dollars, and fire police chiefs, city managers, city attorneys, and anyone else who opposes them. They got local laws changed so they could run nightclubs, liquor stores and other businesses without interference.” 

But arguably the most frightening manifestation of cartels on U.S. soil is their role as kidnappers.  In Phoenix Arizona, between 2007 and 2009, there were 826 reported kidnappings, a figure that has risen parallel to the death toll in Mexico.  In the U.S., DTOs prefer to snatch their victim in silence, avoiding flagrant displays of force that would reveal the true extent of their presence. 

These organizations have the ability to morph from one beast to another, adapting to meet the prudence that each circumstance requires. In Mexico they are territorial rhinos, stomping heavily, leaving once peaceful cities in a state of disarray. Like a spider creeping silently on a web spanning the lower 48 states, the cartels wait patiently before unleashing their venom with systematic precision.

Art by Wallasaurus

Waging war on a beast with the ability to transform dramatically is a monumentally difficult task, even for two well-equipped and technologically advanced nations.  Often it is easier and more attractive to focus on fighting the visible manifestation of the cartels.  The Mexican government has increasingly relied on the military as a response to the immediate threat that cartels present to Mexican sovereignty.  This strategy may have shaken up cartel leadership, but it escalates violence and has left more than 30,000 dead since 2006. Additionally, Cartels take advantage of the military by provoking sweeps in rival territory in order to temporarily shut down their competitors. No single solution will slay a morphing monster; it needs to be struck from all sides. We must sever its networks among civil society, reduce the profits that sustain it, and prosecute it judiciously.  Moreover, we must better coordinate our efforts along both sides of the border in a way that focuses on technological collaboration and institutional reform rather than ostentatious displays of military might.  Though they are invisible, we simply cannot operate with the mentality that cartels do not exist in the U.S. and must do all we can to unravel the threads that snake along our highways and into our communities.

Written by COHA Research Associate Trevor Cohen