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  1. source
    The war on drugs just got a whole lot more warlike. Two hundred US Marines have entered Guatemala, on a mission to chase local operatives of the murderous Zeta drug cartel.

    The Marines are now encamped after having deployed to Guatemala earlier this month, and have just "kicked off" their share of Operation Martillo, or Hammer. That operation began earlier in January, and is much larger than just the Marine contingent and involves the Navy, Coast Guard, and federal agents working with the Guatemalans to block drug shipment routes.

    It's a big shift for US forces in the region. For years, the Pentagon has sent troops to Guatemala, but these missions have been pretty limited to exercising "soft power" -- training local soldiers, building roads and schools. Operation Martillo is something quite different.

    The news comes as two US agents wounded in an attack in Mexico last week were discovered to be likely working for the CIA. The attack appears to be a case of mistaken identity after the agents fled from a Federal Police checkpoint, thinking the plain-clothed Mexican cops were cartel members. Police, seeing the agents' bulletproof SUV flee their checkpoint, presumably thought the same thing, followed them and shot up their car. The agents have now been discovered as likely working for the CIA, as one of the wounded agents' false identity was linked to a post office box in Virginia previously tied to CIA rendition flights.

    The Marines' share of the operation involves chasing drug traffickers with UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Marine contingent has four of the choppers, and the Marines are carrying weapons. "It's not every day that you have 200-some Marines going to a country in Central and South America aside from conducting training exercises," Earnest Barnes, the public affairs chief for Marine Corps Forces South, tells Wired.com's Danger Room. Prior to the Marines' deployment, there were only a "handful" of Marines in the country, Barnes says.

    However, the Marines can't technically use their guns except in self-defense, and Barnes wouldn't say whether they're authorised to pursue drug traffickers on the ground. The description of what they're doing, however, suggests that they probably can't. Instead, they'll be looking out for suspicious boats -- including crude narco-submarines -- and then radio the Guatemalans, who do the work seizing their drugs and arresting cartel members. That could be on rivers, or along Guatemala's two coastlines, reports the Marine Corps Times.

    "Overall the Marines are there to provide aerial detection and monitoring, and aerial surveillance, and so the appropriate authorities can do their job, whether it being Guatemalan military or some other form of law enforcement agency or authority to perform their duties," Barnes says. Among the force are pilots and communication teams, as well as combat engineers to build landing sites.

    On the other hand, just because the Marines may not be officially authorised to stop drug traffickers -- instead only spot them -- doesn't mean they won't be drawn into a conflict. The drug war is messy and involves going after criminal groups that don't for the most part wear uniforms or identify themselves as cartel members. Nor is it true to say the US isn't already involved in a shooting war in Guatemala, with potentially ill consequences.

    On the night of 11 May, Honduran troops along with Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly killed two civilians -- possibly four according to local accounts -- including a pregnant woman. According to a report released this month by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, Guatemalan troops and US agents seized a boat on a river containing cocaine near the town of Ahuas, when another boat -- containing civilians -- rammed into the first boat in the darkness. DEA agents and Guatemalan troops circling in a helicopter then fired on the second boat. The US has denied that any of its agents took part.

    The DEA isn't a military organisation, but what the Ahuas shootings represented was a military approach to the drug war gone bad. A case of mistaken identity, sure, as the mayor of Ahuas said following the shootings. But it also reflects a danger of stopping drugs at the point of a gun.

    The Ahuas shooting "demonstrates the risks of flooding foreign countries with armed representatives of the US government, to fight an enemy that is largely indistinguishable from the civilian population on unknown terrain," wrote Patrick Corcoran of InSight, a Latin America crime monitor. "The Ahuas shooting may not have been inevitable, but as Americans take a more hands-on role, such scandals are likely to be repeated," he wrote.

    On the other hand, as Mexico's drug violence worsened, cartels like the Zetas began spilling over Mexico's southern border. Guatemala is now a base for the Zetas, who use the country's remote northern region shipment route for narcotics and weapons. In February, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina said his country is "not doing what the United States says, we are doing what we have to do" -- in other words, decriminalise drugs. But Molina has also emphasised cracking down on the cartels in a mano dura, or "iron fist," approach to crime.

    Now, on the contrary, the US hasn't gone anywhere close to suggesting drugs be decriminalised. Gen. Douglas Fraser, the head of US forces in South and Central America, said last year to the House Armed Sevices Committee that "the violence continues to increase in Central America, and that's where and why we are focusing there."

    That's where the Marines come in. And as far as the Zetas go, the US hasn't directly confronted them with troops. Mexico City will absolutely not allow it. Guatemala is different, which means the distance between the gun barrels of a militarised cartel, and that of the US military, could start to get much shorter.

    30th August 2012


  1. Pain Hurts
    not to advert a movie but clear & present danger is a title y'all should check out, it is 1 of my all time best and not for the acting, the thematic depth. and this shit has been unfolding in the jungles all over our globe for as long as the first SAT took images of a coin from space.
  2. Alien Sex Fiend
    did alfa mention lately something about american soldiers in mexico like in the middle east ? seems the knight templar cartel will drive them back to usa with 10th century swords:p
  3. rawbeer
    If the USA actually wanted to end the flow of cocaine into this country we could do so with our military quite easily. 35 years ago or so we could have simply occupied Bolivia, which would have been about as hard as invading Grenada, and immediately cut the cocaine traffic by at least 80%. All the coca comes from the mountains of Peru, Bolivia and Columbia. What's stopping us from invading these countries and freeing their populace from narcoterrorism? And why do we focus so much on Columbia when they only grow maybe 15% of the world's coca?

    If you take a good look at the history of the Drug War it's clear the USA has never made an honest attempt to win it. We've had opportunities and we squandered them. The purpose is to direct the drug trade, not end it. Direct it towards right wing, US-friendly regimes (who are typically not friendly towards their own people...).

    Whenever I read a story like this I wonder what sort of bullshit is behind it. Probably the same old story - we're doing the Sinaloa cartel's (or whichever cartel we like best) dirty work for them in exchange for their cooperation (why dedicate Marine power to the Zetas only? Why did we destroy the Meddellin cartel but deny that the Cali cartel even existed back in the 80s/90s?). I see the pragmatism of this strategy but I can't accept it when it invoves innocent people dying on both sides of the border.

    Our drug war is like prohibition era G-men attacking micro-breweries and leaving InBev alone.

    And by the way, while Clear and Present Danger is a cool flick its presentation of the war on drugs is utter horseshit, propaganda. If we wanted to get those cartels we could do it with half the casulaties we sustained in Iraq, half the expense, and half of the bullshit invented excuses. We could just tell the truth for a change. To have a CIA agent fighting drug cartels in that movie is actually quite offensive when you see what those spooks have actually been up to in the jungle...
  4. swaggered
    The issue of the "war on drugs" - especially in Latin America - gets somewhat murkier, treading into cloak and dagger territory, when you look into the history of the CIA's involvement in drug trafficking, which goes back to its formation shortly after the second world war and the connections between the agency and the Burmese drug trafficking warlords. Obviously it's rare to see this angle approached in mainstream media reports - the best they can offer is "Mexican official blames CIA for drugs trade" without an in-depth analysis, usually with an emphasis on "strong denials". But there are a number of authoritative, well documented books which outline this dynamic in great detail (Alfred McCoy's Politics of Heroin, Cockburn and St. Clair's CIA Cocaine and the Press) which are essential reading for anyone who wants to explore the hidden undercurrent to US military action in places like Guatemala.

    As rawbeer quite rightly says, Hollywood's depiction of CIA activities is so far removed from reality it's almost the polar opposite of the truth (the same can be said for their depiction in movies in practically every other context...)
  5. somnitek
    Uhm... US troops conducting anti-drug operations, and in Central America (including Mexico)?

    Old news folks.

    I have an immediate family member who was in the Marine Corp, back in the 1980's, right smack during the Reagan years. Huh... Guess where his marine detachment was? Honduras, and or Panama. I think mostly Honduras, but they were on the border and conducted cross border operations best I could tell from his own telling (I don't suppose it's exactly a clear demarcation, since it's probably smack dab in triple canopy rainforest). They were supposedly down there for jungle warfare training. Guess there's no better training, circa mid to late 80's anyway, than the real thing.

    He was not particularly fond of what all he was doing down there. It's contributed to seriously fucking him up, from what he says.
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