Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cambodia PM rejects wider Khmer Rouge trials

Ek Madra


March 31

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Tuesday that putting more Khmer Rouge cadres on trial for crimes committed during Pol Pot's 1975-79 reign of terror could plunge the country back into civil war.

"I would prefer to see this tribunal fail instead of seeing war return to my country," Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, said a day after the joint U.N.-Cambodian court resumed its trial of Pol Pot's chief torturer.

Duch, former head of the S-21 prison where more than 14,000 "enemies" of the ultra-Maoist revolution died, is the first of five aging senior cadres to face trial 30 years after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia.

Human rights groups have used this week's trial to push for investigations of more suspects, arguing that would ensure justice is delivered to millions of victims and survivors.

But Hun Sen, speaking at the opening of an industrial zone in the port of Sihanoukville, said the trials should not go beyond the five charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"If as many as 20 Khmer Rouge are indicted to stand trial and war returns to Cambodia, who will be responsible for that?," he told the audience.

After Duch, the others awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, the regime's ex-president Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife.

They have denied any wrongdoing. Duch has expressed remorse for his victims, but said he was following orders.

The court admitted in January that a bid to go after more suspects was brushed aside by the Cambodian co-prosecutor, who argued it would not be good for national reconciliation.

A final ruling on the additional cases -- details of which the court has not disclosed but the number of which has been put at six in media reports -- is still pending.

"The issue regarding the jurisdiction of the court and whether or not to have further suspects is complicated," said Helen Jarvis, an Australian working for the tribunal.

The government has denied meddling in the court, but rights activists have long suspected Hun Sen does not want it to dig too deep for fear it will unearth secrets about senior Khmer Rouge figures inside his administration.

Hun Sen, 58, joined the Khmer Rouge during their 1970-75 guerilla war against the U.S.-backed government of General Lon Nol. He rose to be a junior commander and lost an eye in fighting just before the rebels took the capital, Phnom Penh.

He has said he defected to Vietnam in mid-1977 and played no part in Pol Pot's bloody agrarian revolution, in which an estimated 1.7 million people, or a third of the population, died.

Vietnamese troops invaded in late 1978 and installed a communist government made up mostly of former Khmer Rouge cadres including Hun Sen, who became premier in 1985.

Analysts said Hun Sen's opposition to expanding the tribunal's work may reflect his concerns former Khmer Rouge commanders will flee back to the jungle and fight any move to arrest them.

Pol Pot's death in 1998 was followed by a formal Khmer Rouge surrender that helped usher in a decade of peace and stability, threatened now by the global economic downturn.

American journalists face up to 10 years in labour camps

Reporters Without Borders
Press Release
March 31

Reporters Without Borders urges the North Korean authorities not to go ahead with their announced intention to try two American journalists of Asian origin, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, on charges of entering the country illegally and carrying out “hostile” activities.

The two journalists, who work for San Francisco-based online television station Current TV, were arrested by the North Korean authorities on 17 March after travelling through northern China to the North Korean border to do a story on trafficking in North Korean women. According to an email which one of them sent to a Reporters Without Borders contact, they wanted to investigate the networks organising the smuggling of women out of North Korea and their sale in China.

The state-owned North Korean news agency KCNA announced on 30 March that they have been charged with “illegal” entry. “The illegal entry of US reporters into the DPRK [North Korea] and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements,” the news agency said. If convicted, they could be sentenced to between five and 10 years of forced labour.

A Swedish diplomat has been allowed to visit them in Pyongyang.

It is by no means clear that Ling and Lee were arrested on North Korean territory. Several sources on the Chinese side of the frontier told Reporters Without Borders that the North Korean border guards probably crossed the Tumen (the river that forms the border) while Ling and Lee were filming on the Chinese bank. In a documentary made by South Korean journalists called “On the border,” North Korean border guards can be seen crossing the river and landing on the Chinese side without running into any problems.

“There is an urgent need for North Korea’s neighbours, especially China, to apply diplomatic pressure to obtain the release of Ling and Lee as soon as possible,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It would be unacceptable if North Korea used the two journalists for diplomatic blackmail at a time when it has stepped up tension in the peninsula by announcing a missile launch.”

The press freedom organisation added: “South Korean journalists and foreign journalists have been briefly arrested in the past while doing reports in North Korea, but this is the first time that foreign journalists have been held for any length of time since Japanese reporter Takashi Sugishima’s detention from December 1999 to February 2002.”

North Korea is one of the hardest countries in the world for the foreign media to cover. The North Korean authorities occasionally issue press visas for cultural or sports events or for visits by foreign officials. Once inside North Korea, journalists are closely watched by the North Korean authorities, who prevent them from interviewing members of the public. Entire regions of the country are completely closed to the international media.

It is also very difficult for the foreign press to operate freely in the Chinese provinces adjoining the North Korean border. South Korean and North Korean journalists who often work in the border region say trying to cover refugees and trafficking there is still very risky. “Chinese police raids and the presence of many undercover North Korean agents make working on the border very complicated,” Reporters Without Borders was told by a journalist working for an independent North Korean radio station based in Seoul.

North Koreans take an enormous risk if they provide information to the news media. Reporters Without Borders has documented the case of Kim Sung Chul, a member of the armed forces who has been held since October 2006 after the Kukka Anjon Bowibu (state security) identified him as the person who clandestinely filmed the video of a public execution that was broadcast on the Japanese television station Asahi TV. He is now in a concentration camp.

A North Korean TV journalist, Song Keum Chul, has been detained in a camp since 1996 for questioning the official version of certain historic events.

International human rights organisations estimate that at least 200,000 people are detained in North Korea’s concentration camps and reeducation camps.

Reporters Without Borders and the International Women’s Media Foundation (http://www.blogger.com/www.iwmf.org) have launched a petition for the immediate release of Ling and Lee. Their guide, an ethnic Korean with Chinese citizenship, is reportedly being held by the Chinese authorities. A third American journalist, cameraman Mitch Koss, was deported after being held by the Chinese police. Sign the petition: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30691

We urge Koss to lose no time in clarifying the circumstances in which Ling and Lee were arrested.

U.S. to Pledge $40 Million for Afghanistan Elections

The United States will commit $40 million to underwrite the cost of holding elections in Afghanistan this summer, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday, as she began selling the Obama administration’s new Afghanistan policy to friends and foes.

“We do not support or oppose any candidate,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters on her way to an international conference on Afghanistan that begins on Tuesday in the Netherlands. “We want to ensure the elections themselves are going to have legitimacy and credibility.”

The American pledge, aimed at closing a $100 million shortfall in the United Nations’ fund-raising for the August elections, is part of what she hopes will be a raft of proposals on a variety of issues, including restoring Afghanistan’s security and stemming its corrosive drug trade, she said.

But the administration will face war-weary allies that are reluctant to commit more troops to Afghanistan as well as suspicious neighbors like Iran, which will attend the conference but has rebuffed President Obama’s recent attempts at dialogue.

Mrs. Clinton said the United States would present a pragmatic strategy built on defeating Al Qaeda rather than trying to transform Afghanistan into a Western-style democracy.

“We’re entering this with a very clear-eyed, realistic view of what is possible,” she said of the new policy, which Mr. Obama announced last Friday and will discuss with NATO allies in Europe later this week.

In a sign of its determination to break from the Bush administration, the Obama administration no longer uses a signature Bush phrase, the “war on terror,” Mrs. Clinton confirmed. “The administration has stopped using the phrase,” she said, “and I think that speaks for itself.”

Mrs. Clinton said she had no plans to meet with the Iranian representative, though she suggested that she would not avoid an informal encounter. Iran has a constructive role, she said, especially in counternarcotics, because heroin made from Afghan poppies fuels a rising drug habit in Iran. The drug flow had become an “internal security” problem for Tehran, she added.

“The fact that they accepted the invitation to come suggests they believe there is a role for them to play,” Mrs. Clinton said.

With the NATO allies generally unwilling to deploy additional combat troops to Afghanistan, the United States is emphasizing economic and development issues. Mrs. Clinton said she would stress the need to help the Afghans improve their governance and jump-start aid projects, which have been bogged down by waste and rampant corruption.

Less than a quarter of the aid pledged to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2008 has been delivered. Forty percent of it has gone back to the donors because of poor coordination with the Afghans.

Underscoring the administration’s promise to scrutinize the use of aid money, Mrs. Clinton brought along Jacob J. Lew, the deputy secretary who oversees the State Department’s budget. Mr. Lew will travel to Afghanistan from the conference.

“We are looking at every single dollar, as to how it’s spent and where it’s going, and trying to track the outcomes,” she said. “There is very little credibility for what was invested; it’s heartbreaking.”

The pledge of $40 million for the election will help pay for the distribution of ballot boxes and the counting of ballots. It is separate from the costs of providing security for the election.

The conference, though led by the United Nations, is largely Mrs. Clinton’s initiative. She pushed for it to be held and for Iran to be included on the list of invited countries. She will be accompanied by Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The regional focus, she said, is a change from how the Bush White House viewed Afghanistan policy. Mr. Obama is to discuss the policy with the leaders of China and Russia at an economic summit meeting in London this week, and later at a NATO meeting in France and Germany.

While American allies have already welcomed the new focus, the United States is not ready to discuss one delicate issue: those suspected of being insurgents held at the American military prison on the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

In a report to be issued this week, the Asia Society calls for the United States to close the Bagram detention center and to turn its prisoners over to the Afghan police. The treatment of those Afghans, the report says, has blackened the image of the United States in Afghanistan.

Israel's swollen cabinet too big for table

March 31

Israel's new government was under attack Tuesday even before it was sworn in for being so bloated with ministers at a time of global belt-tightening that it needs an extra cabinet table.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, now leader of a right-leaning coalition, will preside over a cabinet of 30 ministers and eight deputy ministers after the government is inaugurated later in the day.

The swollen administration, say critics, is the result of too many job promises to sweeten coalition allies. The outgoing center-left coalition of Ehud Olmert had 27 ministers.

An opposition bill submitted to the 120-member Knesset on Monday proposed setting a limit on the size of the government.

The left-leaning daily Ha'aretz reminded readers that a member of Netanyahu's own right-wing Likud party in the last parliament asserted that anything more than 18 ministers would be a "waste of public money."

Seven days of intensive diplomatic activity

The next seven days are the most important of the year, setting the new international agenda for the months to come. G20 meeting in London is followed by the NATO Summit in Germany and France and the European tour of the new leader in Washington, ending in Turkey. The agenda is covering almost everything: the war in Afganistan, the situation in Iraq - including the post-withdrawal, the Middle East peace process, the relations between Europe and United States and the chances of a new NATO expansion to East - or, if not, the perspectives of a new Cold War. And, the common topic - how to answer the current economic crisis. If you don't have money, you cannot support democracy, the reform of the military or the investment in human resources.

See also:

CBS News - Obama faces Major Test Overseas

BBC - What Americans want from G20

BBC - What is G20?

Reuters - Germany's expectations from G20

Wall Street Journal - G24 to G20

Reuters - Who would be the next NATO secretary general?

Bloomberg - Germany asks for a new strategic concept

NY Times - Delays and disputes regarding the European military plans

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hungary's Ruling Party Picks Premier

Edith Balasz, Charles Forelle

The Wall Street Journal

March 30

Hungary's ruling Socialist Party nominated economy minister Gordon Bajnai to become the country's next prime minister, a step that would put him in charge of pressing tough spending cuts to pull Hungary from the brink of fiscal crisis.

[Hungary] Reuters

Gordon Bajnai was picked by the ruling Socialists to replace Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Mr. Bajnai, a close associate of outgoing Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, said at a news conference on Monday that the reforms needed would "have an impact on all Hungarian families and every Hungarian."

The economy "has no extra months to waste before implementing measures that radically change the way the government works," said the 41-year-old former businessman.

The main task for the prime minister-designate, who would take office April 14, will be to cut public spending, particularly on state employees and on social programs such as pensions. Crisis struck in October when Hungary was unable to sell bonds to finance those deficits.

An emergency lifeline from the International Monetary Fund and other bodies has helped the country pay its bills for the time being. But those failures eventually felled Mr. Gyurcsány.

On Monday, rating agency Standard & Poor's cut Hungary's debt to triple-B-minus, its lowest investment-grade rating, saying that the IMF support was "significant yet finite" and that Hungary still faced deeply entrenched problems. The agency predicted a 6% decline in Hungary's gross domestic product this year.

After S&P's move, buyers fled the government-bond market and the forint weakened against the euro, to 311.25 forint to the euro in afternoon trading, up 2.15% on the day.

Mr. Bajnai's nomination ends a week of scrambling to find a new prime minister and avoid early elections. The ruling Socialist Party and the liberal SZDSZ party had trouble agreeing on a successor after Mr. Gyurcsány offered his resignation March 21. Under Hungarian law, Mr. Bajnai would become prime minister if a no-confidence vote against Mr. Gyurcsány succeeds in Parliament.

Write to Edith Balazs at edith.balazs@dowjones.com and Charles Forelle at charles.forelle@wsj.com

See also:

Gordon Bajnai's CV

The United States, Germany and Beyond

George Friedman
March 30

Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

Three major meetings will take place in Europe over the next nine days: a meeting of the G-20, a NATO summit and a meeting of the European Union with U.S. President Barack Obama. The week will define the relationship between the United States and Europe and reveal some intra-European relationships. If not a defining moment, the week will certainly be a critical moment in dealing with economic, political and military questions. To be more precise, the meeting will be about U.S.-German relations. Not only is Germany the engine of continental Europe, its policies diverge the most sharply from those of the United States. In some ways, U.S.-German relations have been the core of the U.S.-European relationship, so this marathon of summits will focus on the United States and Germany.

Although the meetings deal with a range of issues — the economy and Afghanistan chief among them — the core question on the table will be the relationship between Europe and the United States following the departure of George W. Bush and the arrival of Barack Obama. This is not a trivial question. The European Union and the United States together account for more than half of global gross domestic product. How the two interact and cooperate is thus a matter of global significance. Of particular importance will be the U.S. relationship with Germany, since the German economy drives the Continental dynamic. This will be the first significant opportunity to measure the state of that relationship along the entire range of issues requiring cooperation.

Relations under Bush between the United States and the two major European countries, Germany and France, were unpleasant to say the least. There was tremendous enthusiasm throughout most of Europe surrounding Obama’s election. Obama ran a campaign partly based on the assertion that one of Bush’s greatest mistakes was his failure to align the United States more closely with its European allies, and he said he would change the dynamic of that relationship.

There is no question that Obama and the major European powers want to have a closer relationship. But there is a serious question about expectations. From the European point of view, the problem with Bush was that he did not consult them enough and demanded too much from them. They are looking forward to a relationship with Obama that contains more consultation and fewer demands. But while Obama wants more consultation with the Europeans, this does not mean he will demand less. In fact, one of his campaign themes was that with greater consultation with Europe, the Europeans would be prepared to provide more assistance to the United States. Europe and Obama loved each other, but for very different reasons. The Europeans thought that the United States under Obama would ask less, while Obama thought the Europeans would give more.

The G-20 and Divergent Economic Expectations

Begin with the G-20 summit of 20 of the world’s largest economies, which, along with the Americans and Europeans, include the Russians, Chinese and Japanese. The issue is, of course, the handling of the international financial crisis. In contrast to the G-20 meetings held in November 2008, the economic situation has clarified itself substantially — itself an improvement — and there are the first faint signs in the United States of what might be the beginning of recovery. There is still tremendous economic pain, but not nearly the panic seen in October.

There is, however, still discord. The most important disagreement is between the United States and United Kingdom on one side and France and Germany on the other. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have selected a strategy that calls for strong economic stimulus at home. The Anglo-American side wants Europe to match it (though the United Kingdom has begun tempering its demands). It fears that the heavily export-oriented Germans in particular will use the demand created by U.S. and British stimulus on their economies to surge German exports into these countries as demand rises. Germany and France would thus get the benefit of the stimulus without footing the bill, enjoying a free ride as the United States builds domestic debt. We must focus here on Germany and the United States because Germany is the center of gravity of the European economy just as the United States is of the Anglo-American bloc. Others are involved, but in the end this comes down to a U.S.-German showdown.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued that Germany could not afford the kind of stimulus promoted by the Anglo-Americans because German demographic problems are such that the proposed stimulus would impose long-term debt on a shrinking population, an untenable situation. Germany and France’s position makes perfect sense, whether it is viewed as Merkel has framed it, or more cynically, as Germany taking advantage of actions Obama already has taken. Either way, the fact remains that German and U.S. national interest are not at all the same. As Merkel put it in an interview with The New York Times, “International policy is, for all the friendship and commonality, always also about representing the interests of one’s own country.”

Paralleling this is the issue of how to deal with the Central European financial crisis. Toxic U.S. assets did not create this problem, internal European practices did. Western European banks took dominant positions in Eastern Europe in the past decade. They began to offer mortgages and other loans at low interest rates denominated in euros, Swiss francs and yen. This was an outstanding deal unless the Polish zloty and the Hungarian forint were to plunge in value, which they have over the past six months. Loan payments soared, massive defaults happened, and Italian, Austrian and Swedish banks were left holding the bag.

The United States viewed this as an internal EU matter, leaving it to European countries to save their own banks. Meanwhile, the Germans — who had somewhat less exposure than other countries — helped block a European bailout, arguing that the Central European countries should be dealt with through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which was being configured to solve such problems in second-tier countries. From the German point of view, the IMF was simply going to be used for the purpose for which it was created. But Washington saw this as the Germans trying to secure U.S. (and Chinese and Japanese) money to deal with a European problem.

Add to this the complexity of Opel, a German carmaker owned by GM, which Germany wants the United States to bailout but which the United States wants nothing to do with, and the fundamental problem is clear: While both Germany and the United States have a common interest in moving past the crisis, Germany and the United States have very different approaches to the problem. Embedded in this is the hard fact that the United States is much larger than any other national economy, and it will be the U.S. recovery (when it comes) pulling the rest of the world — particularly the export-oriented economies — out of the ditch. Given that nothing can change this, the Germans see no reason to put themselves in a more difficult position than they are already in.

The Germans will not yield on the stimulus issue and Obama will not press, since this is not an issue that will resonate politically. But what could be perceived as a massive U.S. donation to the IMF would resonate politically in the United States. The American political system has become increasingly sensitive to the size of the debt being incurred by the Obama administration. A loan at this time to bail out other countries would not sit well, especially when critics would point out that some of the money will be going to bail out European banks in Central Europe.

European Fragmentation

Obama will need something in return from the Europeans, and the two-day NATO summit will be the place to get it. The Obama administration laid out the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan last Friday in preparation for this trip. Having given on the economic issue, Obama might hope that the Europeans would be forthcoming in increasing their commitment to Afghanistan by sending troops.

But there is almost no chance of Germany or France sending more troops, as public opinion in those countries is set against it and they have vastly limited military resources. During the U.S. presidential debates, Obama emphasized that he would be looking to the Europeans to increase aid in Afghanistan (the “good” war) while Iraq (the “bad” war) ends. The Germans will make some symbolic gestures — aid to Pakistan, reconstruction workers — but they will not be sending troops.

This will put Obama in a difficult position. If he donates money to the IMF, some of it earmarked for Europe, while the Europeans not only refuse to join the United States in a stimulus package but refuse to send troops to Afghanistan, the entire foundation of Obama’s foreign policy will start becoming a public issue. Obama argued that he would be more effective in building cooperation with European allies than Bush was or U.S. Sen. John McCain would have been. If he comes home empty-handed, which is likely, the status of that claim becomes uncertain.

Which brings us to the third meeting: the Obama-EU summit. We have been speaking of Germany as if it were Europe. In one sense, it is, as its economic weight drives the system. But politically and militarily, Europe is highly fragmented. Indeed, one of the consequences of German nationalism in dealing with Europe’s economy is that Europe’s economy is fragmented as well. Many smaller EU members, which had great expectations of what EU membership would mean, are disappointed and alienated from Germany and even the European Union itself largely due to the lack of German willingness to help them in their time of need.

More Fertile Ground for Obama

These are the waters Obama can go fishing in. Clearly, NATO is no longer functioning as it was a generation ago. Reality has shifted, and so have national interests. The international economic crisis has heightened — not reduced — nationalism as each nation looks out for itself. The weaker nations, particularly in Central Europe, have been left to fend for themselves.

The Central European countries have an additional concern: Russia. As Russia gets bolder, and as Germany remains unwilling to stand in Moscow’s way due to its energy dependence on Russia, countries on the EU periphery will be shopping for new relationships, particularly with the United States.

Obama’s strategy of coming closer to the Franco-German bloc appears to be ending in the same kind of train wreck in which Bush’s attempts ended. That is reasonable since these are not questions of atmospherics but of national interest on all sides. It therefore follows that the United States must consider new strategic relationships. The countries bordering Russia and Ukraine are certainly of interest to the United States, and share less interests with Germany and France than they thought they did. New bilateral relations — or even multilateral relations excluding some former partners like Germany — might be a topic to think about at the EU summit, even if it is too early to talk about it.

But let’s remember that Obama’s trip doesn’t end in Europe, it ends in Turkey. Turkey is a NATO member but has been effectively blocked from entry into the EU. It is doing relatively well in the economic crisis, and has a substantial military capability as well. The United States needs Turkey to extend its influence in Iraq to block Iranian ambitions, and north in the Caucasus to block Russian ambitions. Turkey is thus a prime candidate for an enhanced relationship with the United States. Excluded from Europe out of fears of Turkish immigration, economically able to stand on its own two feet, and able to use its military force in its own interest, it doesn’t take a contortionist to align U.S. and Turkish policies — they flow naturally.

However planned, Obama’s visit to Turkey will represent a warning to the Germans and others in its orbit that their relationship with the United States is based, as Merkel put it, on national interest, and that Germany’s interests and American interests are diverging somewhat. It also drives home that the United States has options in how to configure its alliance system, and that in many ways, Turkey is more important to the United States than Germany is.

Obama has made the case for multilateralism. Whatever that means, it does not have to mean continued alignment with all the traditional allies the United States had. There are potential new relationships and potential new arrangements. The inability of the Europeans to support key aspects of U.S. policy is understandable. But it will inevitably create a counter pressure on Obama to transfer the concept of multilateralism away from the post-World War II system of alliances toward a new system more appropriate to American national interests.

From our point of view, the talks in Europe are locked into place. A fine gloss will be put on the failure to collaborate. The talks in Turkey, on the other hand, have a very different sense about them.

Montenegro's elections met almost all international standards, but further democratic development is needed, observers say

OSCE Press Release

PODGORICA, 30 March 2009 - Yesterday's parliamentary elections in Montenegro met almost all international commitments and standards, but the process again underscored the need for further democratic development, the international election observation mission concluded in a statement issued today.

Overall, the elections were organized professionally, and political parties were able to present their programmes to voters freely. The voting and counting process was evaluated highly positively by the observers, with very few incidents reported.

The observers noted, however, that lack of public confidence remained a key challenge, as frequent allegations of electoral fraud and a blurring of state and party structures created a negative atmosphere among many voters. Other challenges include the need to harmonize and reform the electoral framework, lack of adequate legal redress, and insufficient critical reporting by most broadcast media.

"I have long watched Montenegro's political and economic development, both before and after its independence. In those years, the country has made steady democratic progress and election day yesterday was truly impressive. There is no doubt in my mind that these elections further strengthened Montenegro's democracy", said Roberto Battelli, Head of the delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE short-term observer mission.

"The organization of the elections was remarkably efficient. But to gain legitimacy and build confidence among the entire electorate, especially among voters supporting those who lost the elections, the winners have to be more inclusive, pluralistic and fair", said Andreas Gross, Head of the delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

"These elections were very well organized. But democracy also needs high public trust in its institutions. It is therefore important to strengthen confidence in the electoral process, in particular by investigating in a serious way persisting allegations of fraud and implementing long-standing recommendations. This is particularly important in the context of Montenegro's further democratic development and the process of European integration", said Artis Pabriks, Head of the long-term election observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR).

For further information contact:

Klas Bergman, OSCE PA, mobile: +45 60 10 83 80, klas@oscepa.dk

Jens-Hagen Eschenbächer, OSCE/ODIHR, mobile: + 382 67 554 366 or +48 603 683 122, jens.eschenbaecher@odihr.pl

Bogdan Torcatoriu, PACE, mobile: +33 662 27 65 23, bogdan.torcatoriu@coe.int

For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit: http://www.osce.org/item/37036.html

On Useful Idiots and Terrorism

A 2004 analysis of Michael Radu. Radu, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, died the last week.

China accused over global computer spy ring

Dan Glaister in Los Angeles

The Guardian

March 30

An enormous electronic espionage programme run from servers in China has been used to spy on computers in more than 100 countries, according to two reports published at the weekend.

The reports, published by the universities of Cambridge and Toronto, detail a "murky realm" where cyber spooks infiltrate email, take over humble desktop computers and use them to spy on organisations, individuals and governments.

The reports name the system GhostNet, and claim that it has been used to attack governments in south and south-east Asia as well as the offices of the Dalai Lama. In two years, the reports suggest, the operation infiltrated 1,295 computers in 103 countries.

While one of the reports remains mute on the identity of the perpetrators, the other has no such qualms, warning that the Chinese government ran a series of cyber attacks on Tibetan exile groups. The Chinese foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.

"What Chinese spooks did in 2008, Russian crooks will do in 2010 and even low-budget criminals from less developed countries will follow in due course," conclude the Cambridge authors of The Snooping Dragon: Social Malware Surveillance of the Tibetan Movement.

But the authors of Tracking GhostNet argue that things may not be as they seem in the world of electronic espionage. "We're a bit more careful about it, knowing the nuance of what happens in the subterranean realms," said Ronald Deibert from the University of Toronto. "This could well be the CIA or the Russians. It's a murky realm that we're lifting the lid on."

The attacks were simple and direct. Infected emails bearing attachments or links to websites were sent to organisations including the private office of the Dalai Lama. Once opened, the virus allowed hackers to operate the host computer, including moving files and sending and receiving data. Their potential control was such that they could turn on an infected computer's camera and microphone, creating a surveillance bug.

The investigations began after Toronto researchers were asked by the Dalai Lama's offices to examine their computers. Officials had become concerned that communications were being intercepted. The researchers found that computers had been infected by a virus created by malicious software - or malware. That discovery led them to a group of servers on Hainan Island, off China. Other servers they tracked were based in China's Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, where intelligence units dealing with Tibetan independence groups are based.

"We uncovered real-time evidence of malware that had penetrated Tibetan computer systems, extracting sensitive documents from the private office of the Dalai Lama," researcher Greg Walton said.

The 10-month investigation also detected bugged computers in the foreign ministries of several countries, including Iran and Indonesia, and in the embassies of India, South Korea, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Pakistan.

The reports come in the wake of the annual report of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, published in November, which found the computer systems of US government agencies and defence companies had been compromised by Chinese hackers.

The Snooping Dragon, produced by two researchers at Cambridge University's computer laboratory, warns that what they term "social malware surveillance" are likely to spread. Defence, they suggest, is almost impossible.

"Although the attack we describe came from a major government, the techniques their agents used are available even to private individuals and are quite shockingly effective," they write.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The War Over Gaza Continues Online

INSERT DESCRIPTIONA screenshot of an image of Cpl. Adi Rodnitzki, recently crowned Miss Israel 2009, used on the Web site of the Israel Defense Forces.

As we noted in January, the English and Hebrew versions of the Israeli military’s official Web site seem to present slightly different messages about the Israel Defense Forces to domestic and foreign audiences.

A look at the two versions of the site today shows that the series of rotating images across the top of the site’s English home page still starts with seven straight images of female soldiers, while the parallel Hebrew version starts with images of male soldiers, with only one photograph of female soldiers among the first seven. The only significant change that seems to have been made to this part of the site since January, when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz followed up on our post, is that the banner slide show for Hebrew readers no longer begins with an image of a male soldier wearing a prayer shawl and phylacteries.

On Monday, the Danger Room blog at Wired suggested that the I.D.F.’s Web team may have chosen to feature a profile of Cpl. Adi Rodnitzki — headlined “Israel Navy’s Beauty Queen” — on the site this week in order to deflect some attention away from a raft of recent reports in the domestic and foreign press that have raised questions about the actions of Israeli soldiers during the recent offensive in Gaza.

In fact, since Ms. Rodnitzki was named Miss Israel just last week, it is hardly surprising that the military’s Web site would report on her success — especially given that, as the site notes, she “serves as the secretary of the head of Foreign Relations, whose job it is to present the Navy to the world.”

The site also gives greater play to two other articles that seem intended to rebut the recent criticism of the Gaza war. A report on remarks by the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, is headlined “The IDF is one of the world’s most moral militaries.” Another, on the results of an internal study of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, is headlined “99 Percent of Aerial Attacks Hit Target Precisely.”

Elsewhere on the Web, activists and human rights groups are linking to an article and three video reports published by the British newspaper The Guardian on Tuesday. The paper’s report, which it says is the product of a month of reporting, tells the stories of Palestinians in Gaza who claim to have witnessed war crimes being committed during the Israeli offensive. Julian Borger and Clancy Chassay write that the charge made in the first video report, that the Israeli military used Palestinian civilians as human shields, is sure to be controversial, given the heated condemnations leveled by some supporters of Israel at Hamas fighters for doing exactly that during the fighting. As Mr. Borger and Mr. Chassay write:

Some of the most dramatic testimony gathered by The Guardian came from three teenage brothers in the al-Attar family. They describe how they were taken from home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of Israeli tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing, and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them. “They would make us go first so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us, not them,” 14-year-old Al’a al-Attar said.

In the other two video reports, The Guardian claims to have documented “the targeting of medics and hospitals,” and “obtained evidence of civilians being hit by fire from unmanned drone aircraft said to be so accurate that their operators can tell the color of the clothes worn by a target.”

Meanwhile, activists on the Israeli left continue to press their campaign online to end the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Earlier this month, an Israeli human rights group called Gisha, whose goal, according to a statement on its Web site, “is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians,” released an animated Web video intended to raise consciousness about the difficulties facing Gazans who remain confined to the territory.

The Web video, “Closed Zone”, was made for a Web site, ClosedZone.com, that explains the difficulties of the blockade in English, Arabic and Hebrew. In a discussion of the making of the film posted on YouTube, Mr. Goodman said that his goal was to create a human figure “everyone can connect to,” so he came up with a character who is “a bit Arab and a bit Jewish.”

Gisha's website

The resort to animation is perhaps a sign, after so many years of television images showing the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians — like those who appear in The Guardian’s videos — that viewers in the region and in the rest of the world have perhaps lost some of their capacity to be shocked by those now-familiar scenes. Whether a short animated clip posted on the Web can really succeed in changing the way anyone sees the situation is an open question.

Hillary Clinton, e-diplomat, embraces new media

Matthew Lee
The Associated Press, The Washington Post
March 23

Her videos aren't quite viral yet and she's not tweeting, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is embracing new media, using the Web to promote the agency and her role as the nation's top envoy.

In less than three months, Clinton's State Department has embarked on a digital diplomacy drive aimed at spreading the word about American foreign policy and restoring Washington's image. Part of a broader Internet outreach by President Barack Obama's administration, Clinton's Web efforts already have outpaced those of her predecessors.

Since taking over at Foggy Bottom, Clinton's team has built on e-diplomacy innovations developed during George W. Bush's presidency:

_They have revamped the department's Web site (http://www.state.gov) and the Dipnote blog (http://blogs.state.govandhttp://twitter.com/dipnote) with a fresh array of features, graphics and colorful posts.

_Users can track her foreign travel on an interactive map (http://www.state.gov/secretary/trvl/map).

_They can keep up virtually with her every move through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/statevideo).

_They can pose questions through an "ask-the-secretary" column (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/ask/secretary/117297.htm) that recently was revised to "text the secretary." (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/ask/secretary/120236.htm)

"New media is critical in this new era of diplomacy, where smart power and expanded dialogues are essential to achieving our foreign policy goals," said Cheryl Mills, Clinton's longtime confidante and chief of staff.

Even for a government Web site, early indications show a surge in interest, according to internal State Department statistics provided to The Associated Press.

Daily views of the Dipnote have doubled from 10,000 a year ago to 20,000 today, with 700 subscribers to its RSS feed, twice as many as in March 2008. The number of followers of the department on Twitter has tripled since Jan. 20, when Obama took office, while the department's Facebook friends have increased by 2 1/2 times in the same period.

"What they are bringing in is more willingness to experiment," said Peter Daou, who was Clinton's Web guru during her 2008 presidential run. "They are starting to push the envelope."

What remains unclear, though, is whether the spike in interest reflects the revamped Web site or the public's fascination with Clinton's latest career shift.

"The personality behind it can't be dismissed," said Daou, who now blogs on human rights and other issues for U.N. Dispatch (http://www.undispatch.com).

Like Obama, Clinton carries a Blackberry, but she is not allowed to use it on the department's secure seventh floor where her office is. Aides say she takes an active role in answering questions from the Web, responding to bloggers and pushing her agency's new media agenda.

"The United States Government is behind nearly everybody, except in certain discrete areas, in terms of technology," she told department employees at a town hall meeting in February. "We are, in my view, wasting time, wasting money, wasting opportunities, because we are not prepared to communicate effectively with what is out there in the business world and the private world."

Clinton was quick to embrace new media at the start of her presidential campaign. She announced her entry into the race in February 2007 on the Web and followed with regular Internet chats and Internet fundraising appeals.

Nonetheless, Clinton was surpassed by the Obama campaign's mastery of the Internet and social networking sites. Obama used the Web to raise record donations and identify and orchestrate an army of volunteers.

Clinton was first lady when the first White House Web site debuted in 1994. It was a bare-bones operation compared with what is available now. Three years later, the State Department went online during Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's tenure.

But it wasn't until 2007, under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's spokesman, Sean McCormack, that the department's public affairs shop began exploring new media in earnest. McCormack started the Dipnote blog, which some foreign service veterans predicted would fail, given the private and stuffy nature of diplomacy.

The site endured under Rice. Clinton has retooled Dipnote with a Twitter feed and a broader range of posts from diplomats.

It's more than just window dressing. This past week, diplomats used Twitter to "tweet" down false rumors they feared might lead to a siege on the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar.

On her first two foreign trips, to Asia and then the Middle East and Europe, local bloggers were "embedded" with the traveling press corps, broadening the audience for Clinton's official meetings and public appearances, which often produce more personal than policy questions.

On her question site, Clinton has responded to a varied questions, from "Should the U.S. engage in direct dialogue with Hamas?" to "How did you like meeting the Japanese students?"

By the end of Clinton's trip to the Mideast, her "text the secretary" feature had received nearly 2,000 text messages. On both trips, Clinton also participated in Webcasts. One in Beijing on climate change generated more than 10.2 million page views, more than 50,000 comments and 7,000 questions, according to the statistics.

Clinton's staff say they plan to venture further into the realm of social networking, an animated online world called Second Life, and cell phone technology. The department hopes to follow through on a Bush administration organized project that brought together Facebook, Google, Howcast, YouTube, AT&T, MTV, Columbia Law School, Access360Media and Gen-Next for an Alliance of Youth Movements summit.

It also wants to expand on X-Life, a mobile phone game launched in February that is aimed at helping youth in the Middle East learn English and teaching them about American history, culture and values.

Digital Democracy

Dr. Tabaré Vázquez

Americas Quarterly

Winter 2009

Ensuring that students have access to computers and the skills to use them will make Uruguay the most wired country in the world.

There is no development without innovation. This is as true today as it was during the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Our challenge in the Americas is that, while some countries are leaders in science, technology, innovation, and development, the majority are constantly struggling to catch up.

In Uruguay, we have chosen to stand with the innovators. Our goal is clear: by increasing connectivity and reducing the digital divide, we intend to take our place as one of the hemisphere’s information technology (IT) leaders.

We are already well ahead of our neighbors. According to surveys conducted in 2002 and 2003 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) Observatory for the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean (OSILAC), Uruguay has some of the highest rates of household access to telephones and cellular phones, cable TV, computers, and the Internet. But these figures obscure the continuing gap between those who have access and those who remain outside the digital revolution and the potential that it presents. When I took office in March 2005, only 29 percent of Uruguayan households had a computer. Of those, just half had Internet access.

This gap may seem strange in a country that has always boasted high levels of social cohesion and education. But appearances can mask reality. The truth is that previous governments have allowed these levels to decline. Although it has been a while since Uruguay suffered under a dictatorship, subsequent democratic governments until now have lacked a national development strategy based on economic growth and social justice.

Illustration by Andrea Wicklund

As a citizen and a politician, but also as a medical doctor and university professor, I have argued that development is a right, not a privilege. That is why I have focused on creating a twenty-first century educational system. Since I took office, public school funding has tripled, and at the end of my term in 2009 it will reach 4.5 percent of GDP—above the regional average. Establishing high-quality schools accessible to all is a development priority. Our children must have the opportunity to succeed and to learn how to compete in the IT-based economies of the new century. Their futures and our national competitiveness depend on it.

But funding must be accompanied by innovation. In May 2007, Uruguay launched an ambitious plan: the Basic Information Educational Program for Online Learning (CEIBAL). (Its Spanish-language acronym is also the name of a tree native to Uruguay.) The project’s immediate objective is to provide all public primary school students and teachers with free laptop access. As a small country of 3.5 million inhabitants, Uruguay can become the first Latin American country to achieve this remarkable goal.

Promoting Social Justice

But CEIBAL’s longer-term objective is to promote social justice by promoting equal access to information and communication tools for all our people. The school plan lays the groundwork by encouraging active participation by both students and teachers in the Internet world. It does more than just distribute laptops: multiple government agencies and volunteers work together to provide teachers with the resources and training necessary to adapt instruction to a digitized classroom. This allows for a more dynamic learning environment that encourages innovation and creates a culture of lifetime learning.

This makes CEIBAL different from previous efforts to bridge the digital divide in Uruguay. It combines the distribution of computers with a program to train teachers in the cognitive skills needed to use IT for maximum benefit. It is not oriented toward creating an IT-friendly environment merely inside the classroom, but also outside: students are expected to take laptops home so that the computer can then be shared among family members.

That in turn provides the foundation for the next phase of our strategy: to bring Internet access to all Uruguayan homes. In order to accomplish this, CEIBAL will use the latest innovations in connectivity—asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) and 3G/Edge cellular technology—and take advantage of engineering advancements such as point-to-point links. If we are successful, Uruguay will be the most connected country in the world.

We are implementing the plan one step at a time. To date, we have delivered 151,918 XO computers—low-power laptops that operate with flash memory and a Linux operating system—to students in public schools in Uruguay. By the end of 2009 one laptop will be delivered to each of the 301,143 students and 12,879 teachers in Uruguay’s 2,064 public schools. Students with mental, visual, hearing, or motor disabilities—as well as their schools—will also receive computers specifically tailored to meet their needs. CEIBAL’s total initial cost, financed entirely by the Uruguayan state, is $100 million (each computer costs $220). In addition to that, the government will spend $15 million annually for the program’s maintenance and continuity.

The next step is to extend the distribution of computers and training of teachers to the almost 6,000 rural, public secondary education centers. The teachers will be able to acquire laptops at subsidized prices and on easy payment terms. We anticipate that approximately 8,000 out of almost 15,000 teachers will participate.

Private schools are also taking part. Since their students come from a higher socioeconomic background, computers are not free but can be acquired at a very low price. Still, we anticipate that around 25,000 of the almost 47,000 private school students will receive computers next year.

Beyond its ambitious scope and multiple efforts in the classroom, CEIBAL also seeks to broaden society’s access to information and knowledge. Its website (www.ceibal.edu.uy) provides educational and other important materials for students, teachers and the community at large, with the goal of allowing Uruguayans to interact and share knowledge on line. The website will coordinate with other areas of government to provide information on health care, preventative health, transit safety, environmental protection, and other programs.

Can CEIBAL be replicated elsewhere in the hemisphere? Not without major adjustments.

CEIBAL was created to respond to the particular dynamics of Uruguayan society and its educational system. But it can still serve as a reference point for others. With this in mind, the CEIBAL Plan Research Center—with the support of national and foreign universities and research institutions— will begin operations by mid-2009. Its mission is to share the plan and to build on it while supporting the adoption of similar models in other countries.

Applying Technology to Democracy

Linked to the implementation of CEIBAL is another landmark government initiative: the 2008–2010 Uruguayan Digital Agenda for an Information Society. This is a development strategy based on combining innovation, technology and knowledge with social inclusiveness. Similar to e-government initiatives in other places, a key objective is to increase the access of citizens —including the most marginalized—to government services and public institutions through the use of the Internet.

At the same time, technology will enable Uruguayans to participate in the design, discussion and evaluation of public policies at the national and municipal levels. Citizens will have a more direct voice in government; and in turn, government is expected to be more responsive to citizen demands. This new dynamic is imperative in today’s society, where government actions must have institutional and technical legitimacy along with social support.

Overcoming the digital divide is more than just a matter of technology, budgets or infrastructure. It is also about creating a culture of citizenship with clearly defined rights and responsibilities.

Recognizing individual rights is the foundation of a truly democratic society that fosters long-term economic and social development. In order to accomplish this, governments must equip their citizens with the tools, knowledge and capacity to benefit from the opportunities presented by technology and the global economy. They must, in other words, look to the future.

That is why ensuring that our economic growth is tied to technological innovation is a central goal of my government. Since 2005, the Uruguayan economy has grown 23 percent. But investment has especially jumped in sectors that benefit from technology advances, such as agro-industry, biotechnology, port services, real estate, and tourism. More than 150,000 jobs have been created and, at the end of 2008, our unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent—the lowest in decades. In less than four years, our poverty rate has decreased from 31 percent to 21 percent.

But we still have work to do. We have yet to achieve our goal of greater social equality and cohesion, both critical factors for reducing poverty. But building bridges across the technological divide is an important step in helping to get us there.

With eye against Iran, Arabs wooing Syria

When the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt last had Syria's president alone in a room, earlier this month, it was classic "good cop-bad cop."

From Egypt came angry ultimatums — from the Saudi king, soothing and lucrative promises, according to an Egyptian official and a Saudi royal adviser. All with the goal of peeling Syria away from Iran.

The Arab world's top powers are eager to block regional rival Iran's influence in the Middle East. Their key for doing so is to woo Iran's Arab ally Syria, so they have begun engaging Damascus after years of shunning it in anger over what they see as its role in fueling turmoil around the Mideast.

The administration of President Barack Obama is also starting to open up to Damascus, which Washington treated as a pariah for the past eight years because of its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has been enjoying the new attention. But Damascus has its own agenda, hoping in particular for an economic boost and a peace deal with Israel. It is also reluctant to give up its ties to Iran and Arab militants, because those alliances give it the power to influence events in the region — from Lebanon and the Israeli-Arab conflict, to Iraq.

A gauge of Arab countries' headway with Syria will come on Monday, when Arab leaders gather for their annual summit in the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar. "Arab reconciliation" will top the agenda at the Doha gathering, Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Heli said this week. The venue is notable because Qatar has also been at odds with Egypt and Saudi Arabia for its close ties with Syria, Iran and Hamas.

The Saudis and the Egyptians are deeply worried that Shiite-dominated Iran is seeking to fuel Islamic radicalism and establish itself as regional superpower. They blame Syria for helping Iran.

Egypt has been particularly angry because it has been trying to mediate a series of interlocking deals after Israel's assault on Gaza this year — for a truce and prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, and for a unity government between Hamas and U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. An agreement could open the door for negotiations on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

But weeks of painstaking mediation have gone nowhere, and Cairo has accused Syria and Iran of encouraging Hamas to dig in.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have an ulterior motive. With Obama also pursuing dialogue directly with Iran, Washington's Arab allies want to make sure their interests are not left out if the United States and Iran reach any reconciliation.

In early March, Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Syria's Assad in a mini-summit in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, hoping to patch up the rift.

During the meeting, oil-rich Saudi Arabia offered Assad a financial package to offset Iranian aid to Syria, if it breaks with Tehran, a Saudi royal adviser told The Associated Press. Abdullah also promised Assad that the kingdom will mobilize Arab support to back Syria in negotiations for a peace deal with Israel, aimed at winning back the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.

"What we said was, 'Come back to the Arab fold, and after that everything you need can come,'" said the Saudi official, who was briefed on the March 11 meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks.

Assad had a further condition: Arab help to ensure than an international tribunal does not name Assad or his close associates in the case of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Saudi adviser said. A U.N.-mandated court in the Netherlands is due to conduct trials over the assassination, though it has not yet named suspects. Many in Lebanon accuse Syria of being behind Hariri's slaying, a charge Damascus denies.

Holding out, Assad proposed that the sides find a way to "manage their differences" — basically, agree to disagree civilly.

But Egypt's Mubarak took a tough tone, pressing for Assad to commit immediately to Egyptian and Saudi demands. He bluntly warned Assad that there would be no generous Arab overtures until Syria shows a real change of behavior, an Egyptian official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks.

The mini-summit appeared on the verge of collapsing. But the emir of Kuwait, who was also attending, stepped in and persuaded the two sides to continue talks in the coming weeks, said the Egyptian official, who was also briefed on the meeting.

So far, there has been no sign of a breakthrough. On Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem visited Iran and proclaimed that ties between Damascus and Tehran were "excellent."

Furthermore, the Egyptian-mediated talks with Hamas have since broken up without an agreement.

"It's very difficult for the Palestinian reconciliation to succeed with the ongoing Arab conflicts," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said last week, in a veiled criticism of Syria's and Iran's support for Hamas.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, took a tough tone when Iran's foreign minister visted Riyadh on March 15, implicitly telling Iran not to meddle in Arab affairs. "Although we appreciate the Iranian concern in Arab issues, from our point of view, this should be conducted through the legitimate Arab doorways," Saud said.

Many Arab countries share Egypt and Saudi Arabia's worries that Obama's outreach to Iran could end up boosting Tehran's influence. The Saudis are urging Obama to be cautious — and to keep Arab nations in mind.

"You can have a bargain with Iran, but you do not have a grand bargain without us. So you can talk as much as you can (with Iran) but can't be sure how useful it is going to be. They (the Americans) need a lot of help," said the Saudi adviser.

"They (Iranians) will milk you for everything until they start behaving in a way which is positive," he said.

See also:

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: The Obama Administration Reaches Out to Syria: Implications for Israel

Central America: An Emerging Role in the Drug Trade

Stephen Meiners
March 26

Global Security and Intelligence Report

As part of STRATFOR’s coverage of the security situation in Mexico, we have observed some significant developments in the drug trade in the Western Hemisphere over the past year. While the United States remains the top destination for South American-produced cocaine, and Mexico continues to serve as the primary transshipment route, the path between Mexico and South America is clearly changing.

These changes have been most pronounced in Central America, where Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have begun to rely increasingly on land-based smuggling routes as several countries in the region have stepped up monitoring and interdiction of airborne and maritime shipments transiting from South America to Mexico.

The results of these changes have been extraordinary. According to a December 2008 report from the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center, less than 1 percent of the estimated 600 to 700 tons of cocaine that departed South America for the United States in 2007 transited Central America. The rest, for the most part, passed through the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Ocean en route to Mexico. Since then, land-based shipment of cocaine through Central America appears to have ballooned. Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland estimated in an interview with a Guatemalan newspaper that cocaine now passes through that country at a rate of approximately 300 to 400 tons per year.

Notwithstanding the difficulty associated with estimating drug flows, it is clear that Central America has evolved into a significant transshipment route for drugs, and that the changes have taken place rapidly. These developments warrant a closer look at the mechanics of the drug trade in the region, the actors involved, and the implications for Central American governments — for whom drug-trafficking organizations represent a much more daunting threat than they do for Mexico.

Some Background

While the drug trade in the Western Hemisphere is multifaceted, it fundamentally revolves around the trafficking of South American-produced cocaine to the United States, the world’s largest market for the drug. Drug shipment routes between Peru and Colombia — where the vast majority of cocaine is cultivated and produced — and the United States historically have been flexible, evolving in response to interdiction efforts or changing markets. For example, Colombian drug traffickers used to control the bulk of the cocaine trade by managing shipping routes along the Caribbean smuggling corridor directly to the United States. By the 1990s, however, as the United States and other countries began to focus surveillance and interdiction efforts along this corridor, the flow of U.S.-bound drugs was forced into Mexico, which remains the main transshipment route for the overwhelming majority of cocaine entering the United States.

A similar situation has been occurring over the last two years in Central America. From the 1990s until as recently as 2007, traffickers in Mexico received multiton shipments of cocaine from South America. There was ample evidence of this, including occasional discoveries of bulk cocaine on everything from small propeller aircraft and Gulfstream jets to self-propelled semisubmersible vessels, fishing trawlers and cargo ships. These smuggling platforms had sufficient range and capacity to bypass Central America and ship bulk drugs directly to Mexico.

By early 2008, however, a series of developments in several Central American countries suggested that drug-trafficking organizations — Mexican cartels in particular — were increasingly trying to establish new land-based smuggling routes through Central America for cocaine shipments from South America to Mexico and eventual delivery to the United States. While small quantities of drugs had certainly transited the region in the past, the routes used presented an assortment of risks. A combination of poorly maintained highways, frequent border crossings, volatile security conditions and unpredictable local criminal organizations apparently presented such great logistical challenges that traffickers opted to send the majority of their shipments through well-established maritime and airborne platforms.

In response to this relatively unchecked international smuggling, several countries in the region began taking steps to increase the monitoring and interdiction of such shipments. The Colombian government, for one, stepped up monitoring of aircraft operating in its airspace. The Mexican government installed updated radar systems and reduced the number of airports authorized to receive flights originating in Central and South America. The Colombian government estimates that the aerial trafficking of cocaine from Colombia has decreased by as much as 90 percent since 2003.

Maritime trafficking also appears to have suffered over the past few years, most likely due to greater cooperation and information-sharing between Mexico and the United States. The United States has an immense capability to collect maritime technical intelligence, and an increasing degree of awareness regarding drug trafficking at sea. Two examples of this progress include the Mexican navy’s July 2008 capture — acting on intelligence provided by the United States — of a self-propelled semisubmersible vessel loaded with more than five tons of cocaine, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s February 2009 interdiction of a Mexico-flagged fishing boat loaded with some seven tons of cocaine about 700 miles off Mexico’s Pacific coast. Presumably as a result of successes such as these, the Mexican navy reported in 2008 that maritime trafficking had decreased by an estimated 60 percent over the last two years.

While it is impossible to independently corroborate the Mexican and Colombian governments’ estimates on the degree to which air- and seaborne drug trafficking has decreased over the last few years, developments in Central America over the past year certainly support their assessments. In particular, STRATFOR has observed that in order to make up for losses in maritime and aerial trafficking, land-based smuggling routes are increasingly being used — not by Colombian cocaine producers or even Central American drug gangs, but by the now much more powerful Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

Mechanics of Central American Drug Trafficking

It is important to clarify that what we are defining as land-based trafficking is not limited to overland smuggling. The methods associated with land-based trafficking can be divided into three categories: overland smuggling, littoral maritime trafficking and short-range aerial trafficking.

The most straightforward of these is simple overland smuggling. As a series of investigations in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua demonstrated last year, overland smuggling operations use a wide variety of approaches. In one case, authorities pieced together a portion of a route being used by Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel in which small quantities of drugs entered Costa Rica from Panama via the international point of entry on the Pan-American Highway. The cocaine was often held for several days in a storage facility before being loaded onto another vehicle to be driven across the country on major highways. Upon approaching the Nicaraguan border, however, the traffickers opted to avoid the official port of entry and instead transferred the shipments into Nicaragua on foot or on horseback along a remote part of the border. Once across, the shipments were taken to the shores of the large inland Lake Nicaragua, where they were transferred onto boats to be taken north, at which point they would be loaded onto vehicles to be driven toward the Honduran border. In one case in Nicaragua, authorities uncovered another Sinaloa-linked route that passed through Managua and is believed to have followed the Pan-American Highway through Honduras and into El Salvador.

The second method associated with land-based trafficking involves littoral maritime operations. Whereas long-range maritime trafficking involves large cargo ships and self-propelled semisubmersible vessels capable of delivering multiton shipments of drugs from South America to Mexico without having to refuel, littoral trafficking tends to involve so-called “go-fast boats” that are used to carry smaller quantities of drugs at higher speeds over shorter distances. This method is useful to traffickers who might want to avoid, for whatever reason, a certain stretch of highway or perhaps even an entire country. According to Nicaraguan military officials, several go-fast boats are suspected of operating off the country’s coasts and of sailing outside Nicaraguan territorial waters in order to avoid authorities. While it is possible to make the entire trip from South America to Mexico using only this method — and making frequent refueling stops — it is believed that littoral trafficking is often combined with an overland network.

The third method associated with land-based drug smuggling involves short-range aerial operations. In these cases, clandestine planes make stops in Central America before either transferring their cargo to a land vehicle or making another short flight toward Mexico. Over the past year, several small planes loaded with drugs or cash have crashed or been seized in Honduras, Mexico and other countries in the region. In addition, authorities in Guatemala have uncovered several clandestine airstrips allegedly managed by the Mexican drug-trafficking organization Los Zetas. These examples suggest that even as overall aerial trafficking appears to have decreased dramatically, the practice continues in Central America. Indeed, there is little reason to expect that it would not continue, considering that many countries in the region lack the resources to adequately monitor their airspace.

While each of these three methods involves a different approach to drug smuggling, the methods share two important similarities. For one, the vehicles involved — be they speedboats, small aircraft or private vehicles — have limited cargo capacities, which means land-based trafficking generally involves cocaine shipments in quantities no greater than a few hundred pounds. While smaller quantities in more frequent shipments mean more handling, they also mean that less product is lost if a shipment is seized. More importantly, each of these land-based methods requires that a drug-trafficking organization maintain a presence inside Central America.

Actors Involved

There are a variety of drug-trafficking organizations operating inside Central America. In addition to some of the notorious local gangs — such as Calle 18 and MS-13 — there is also a healthy presence of foreign criminal organizations. Colombian drug traffickers, for example, historically have been no strangers to the region. However, as STRATFOR has observed over the past year, it is the more powerful Mexico-based drug-trafficking organizations that appear to be overwhelmingly responsible for the recent upticks in land-based narcotics smuggling in Central America.

Based on reports of arrests and drug seizures in the region over the past year, it is clear that no single Mexican cartel maintains a monopoly on land-based drug trafficking in Central America. Los Zetas, for example, are extremely active in several parts of Guatemala, where they engage in overland and short-range aerial trafficking. The Sinaloa cartel, which STRATFOR believes is the most capable Mexican trafficker of cocaine, has been detected operating a fairly extensive overland smuggling route from Panama to El Salvador. Some intelligence gaps remain regarding, for example, the precise route Sinaloa follows from El Salvador to Mexico or the route Los Zetas use between South America and Guatemala. It is certainly possible that these two Mexican cartels do not rely exclusively on any single route or method in the region. But the logistical challenges associated with establishing even one route across Central America make it likely that existing routes are maintained even after they have been detected — and are defended if necessary.

The operators of the Mexican cartel-managed routes also do not match a single profile. At times, Mexican cartel members themselves have been found to be operating in Central America. More common is the involvement of locals in various phases of smuggling operations. Nicaraguan and Salvadoran nationals, for example, have been arrested in northwestern Nicaragua for operating a Sinaloa-linked overland and littoral route into El Salvador. Authorities in Costa Rica have arrested Costa Rican nationals for their involvement in overland routes through that country. In that case, a related investigation in Panama led to the arrest of several Mexican nationals who reportedly had recently arrived in the area to more closely monitor the operation of their route.

One exception is Guatemala, where Mexican drug traffickers appear to operate much more extensively than in any other Central American country; this may be due, at least in part, to the relationship between Los Zetas and the Guatemalan Kaibiles. Beyond the apparently more-established Zeta smuggling operations there, several recent drug seizures — including an enormous 1,800-acre poppy plantation attributed to the Sinaloa cartel — make it clear that other Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are currently active inside Guatemala. Sinaloa was first suspected of increasing its presence in Guatemala in early 2008, when rumors surfaced that the cartel was attempting to recruit local criminal organizations to support its own drug-trafficking operations there. The ongoing Zeta-Sinaloa rivalry at that time triggered a series of deadly firefights in Guatemala, prompting fears that the bloody turf battles that had led to record levels of organized crime-related violence inside Mexico would extend into Central America.

Security Implications in Central America

Despite these concerns and the growing presence of Mexican traffickers in the region, there apparently have been no significant spikes in drug-related violence in Central America outside of Guatemala. Several factors may explain this relative lack of violence.

First, most governments in Central America have yet to launch large-scale counternarcotics campaigns. The seizures and arrests that have been reported so far have generally been the result of regular police work, as opposed to broad changes in policies or a significant commitment of resources to address the problem. More significantly, though, the quantities of drugs seized probably amount to just a drop in the bucket compared to the quantity of drugs that moves through the region on a regular basis. Because seizures have remained low, Mexican drug traffickers have yet to launch any significant reprisal attacks against government officials in any country outside Guatemala. In that country, even the president has received death threats and had his office bugged, allegedly by drug traffickers.

The second factor, which is related to the first, is that drug traffickers operating in Central America likely rely more heavily on bribes than on intimidation to secure the transit of drug shipments. This assessment follows from the region’s reputation for official corruption (especially in countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and Guatemala) and the economic disadvantage that many of these countries face compared to the Mexican cartels. For example, the gross domestic product of Honduras is $12 billion, while the estimated share of the drug trade controlled by the Mexican cartels is estimated to be $20 billion.

Finally, Mexican cartels currently have their hands full at home. Although Central America has undeniably become more strategically important for the flow of drugs from South America, the cartels in Mexico have simultaneously been engaged in a two-front war at home against the Mexican government and against rival criminal organizations. As long as this war continues at its present level, Mexican drug traffickers may be reluctant to divert significant resources too far from their home turf, which remains crucial in delivering drug shipments to the United States.

Looking Ahead

That said, there is no guarantee that Central America will continue to escape the wrath of Mexican drug traffickers. On the contrary, there is reason for concern that the region will increasingly become a battleground in the Mexican cartel war.

For one thing, the Merida Initiative, a U.S. anti-drug aid program that will put some $300 million into Mexico and about $100 million into Central America over the next year, could be perceived as a meaningful threat to drug-trafficking operations. If Central American governments choose to step up counternarcotics operations, either at the request of the United States or in order to qualify for more Merida money, they risk disrupting existing smuggling operations to the extent that cartels begin to retaliate.

Also, even though Mexican cartels may be reluctant to divert major resources from the more important war at home, it is important to recognize that a large-scale reassignment of cartel operatives or resources from Mexico to Central America might not be necessary to have a significant impact on the security situation in any given Central American country. Given the rampant corruption and relatively poor protective security programs in place for political leaders in the region, very few cartel operatives or resources would actually be needed if a Mexican drug-trafficking organization chose to, for example, conduct an assassination campaign against high-ranking government officials.

Governments are not the only potential threat to drug traffickers in Central America. The increases in land-based drug trafficking in the region could trigger intensified competition over trafficking routes. Such turf battles could occur either among the Mexican cartels or between the Mexicans and local criminal organizations, which might try to muscle their way into the lucrative smuggling routes or attempt to grab a larger percentage of the profits.

If the example of Mexico is any guide, the drug-related violence that could be unleashed in Central America would easily overwhelm the capabilities of the region’s governments. Last year, STRATFOR considered the possibility of Mexico becoming a failed state. But Mexico is a far stronger and richer country than its fragile southern neighbors, who simply do not have the resources to deal with the cartels on their own.