Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Ciudad del Este

...Where all the components of
transnational lawlessness seem to converge...

Words by Mr.William W.Mendel, Military Review Apr 2002:

Paraguay is landlocked, poor, a long way from everywhere, and seldom appears in the drama of international events but is nevertheless emblematic of our global security challenge. It has suffered crippling wars where governance has always been a challenge and where smuggling and criminal organizing is a tradition. Long disregarded by the great powers' intelligence and diplomatic services, it is now a place where international crimes like money laundering, gunrunning, migration fraud, and drug trafficking recombine and metastasize. In an age of great sovereign competitors, the United States pays attention to nations according to their development-their ability to mobilize as a nation and to make war as a nation. Now we are entering an age of uncivilized behavior in which we must focus on the lost geographies, the fertile ground for piracy and terror. Ciudad del Este, a boomtown on Paraguay's eastern border facing Brazil and Argentina, is an appropriate target for new concerns. Regional security scholars have aptly called it a nest of spies and thieves.

The Larger Context

The turbulent political environment of Paraguay engendered lawlessness in Ciudad del Este. The country has suffered three coup attempts in the past 5 years. Popular army chief, General Lino Oviedo, who mounted a short-lived coup in 1998, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, then ran for president later the same year. While the supreme court declared Oviedo an illegal candidate, his running mate, Raul Cubas Grau, was elected president and quickly pardoned Oviedo. Cubas Grau resigned under pressure after the vice president was assassinated in March1999, leaving the presidency to Luis Angel González Macchi who was next in line as senate president. Adding to the political turbulence, González Macchi fired 18 generals and more than 100 other officers who had supported Oviedo. After a May 2000 coup attempt, González Macchi terminated another 13 officers. Meanwhile, the party of Oviedo-supported Vice President Julio Cesar Franco maneuvered to impeach González Macchi. The political tumult has done little to engender social and economic progress in Paraguay, and only Brazil and Argentina's influence have kept the democratic government afloat.1 Needless to say, the government in Asunción has had little time to concentrate on improving the rule of law in Ciudad del Este.

The population in the triborder area is concentrated in three interacting border cities. Ciudad del Este is the largest city, with a population of 240,000. Across the Bridge of Friendship in Brazil, the city of Foz do Iguaçu (population of 190,000) thrives on tourism and provides secure neighborhoods for foreign nationals who commute to Ciudad del Este from Brazil. Argentina's Puerto Iguazú (population of 28,100) is isolated from Ciudad del Este by the Paraná River but has access to Brazil across the Iguazú River at the Tancredo Neves International Bridge. The Arab community of immigrants that represents a slice of the urban population in the triborder area, mainly Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu, is estimated to be nearly 30,000.

Illegality of Every Kind

In Ciudad de Este, the absence of government control allows smugglers and money launderers to leverage disparity in the levels of law enforcement, import regulations, exchange rates, and tax rates between Paraguay and its neighbors. European-bound illicit drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, pass through Foz do Iguaçu for transshipment eastward to Puerto Paranaguá on Brazil's Atlantic coast. Argentina's aggressive border controls and law enforcement, and the impressive Iguazú waterfalls have nurtured a growing international tourism industry in the Argentine state of Misiones. But Argentina's high tax rate and expensive peso have made smuggling cigarettes a profitable, low-risk enterprise. Night flights of cigarettes from Paraguay to Argentina bring sizable profits with little risk. A $1 pack of cigarettes in Paraguay gets $2.50 in Argentina. Even agricultural products, such as soybeans and chickens, are involved. Since Brazil and Argentina are magnets for the marijuana grown in Paraguay, most of the illicit drug trafficking in the triborder area involves marijuana, but cocaine from Bolivia and Peru is sometimes seized at triborder checkpoints. Investment money flows from the Middle East, apparently because profits can be made quickly on illegal merchandise, including purloined intellectual property.

A large Chinese community has developed in Ciudad del Este alongside the established Arab population, adding to the international mix. It is interesting to note that over the past 3 years 30 percent of the false immigration documents seized at the Argentine Iguazu checkpoint were carried by Chinese people who were presumed to be heading to Buenos Aires.6 In September 2001, the Paraguayan consul in Miami was arrested for allegedly selling more than 300 passports, visas, and shipping documents since June 1999. The consul reportedly sold 16 passports to terrorist suspects from Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon who were planning to move to Ciudad del Este.

Illegal weapons merchandising provides another trading advantage for Paraguay. Taurus- and Rossi-produced Brazilian guns are reexported from Paraguay back into Brazil with no documentation and with great profit to gunrunners. Brazilian investigative news sources assess that most of the Brazilian weapons exported to Paraguay end up in Brazil, but there is a significant flow of weapons into Argentina as well. On the Argentine side of the Tancredo Neves International Bridge at Iguazú, the number of judicial actions taken in cases involving firearms and explosives jumped from 1 in 1999 to 51 in 2000. These cases are considered serious enough and supported by enough evidence to be processed successfully through the Argentine courts. Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2001 indicate that gun smuggling continues apace. In contrast to the increase in gunrunning, individuals passing through the Iguazú border checkpoint dropped from 3,413,876 in 1999 to 1,396,733 in 2000 and continued on a similar pace in 2001. Total vehicle passages dropped from 350,751 to 242,669, with the pace seeming to slow more in 2001.

While no one conclusion can be drawn, the dramatic rise in weapon smuggling against a decrease in total cross-border movement at least raises questions concerning regional instability. Likewise, the Ciudad del Este link to Colombia is also important. A guns-for-cocaine connection between Paraguayan gunrunners and the terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was uncovered, and one FARC operative was arrested.

HANG ON!!! - Now this is what Mr.William W.Mendel suggest to solve the problem:

What Can be Done

If we believe that the best defense against terrorism is a good offense, perhaps the Ciudad del Este triborder area requires an active presence. At a recent meeting of the OAS International Committee on Terrorism, U.S. State Department Counterter-rorism Coordinator Francis X. Taylor announced that the United States will use all elements of its national power against terrorist groups in the triborder area, and in Colombia, including using military force.21 The smugglers' haven at Ciudad del Este could find itself at the top of the target list.

Since the 11 September 2001 Arab terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the locus of U.S. counteraction has been Southwest Asia and the Middle East. The stunning attack met a prompt response in those regions, but, as U.S. leaders asserted early on, the United States' and worldwide effort to counter terrorism will be protracted, encompassing all regions of the globe, including areas out of the mainstream.

U.S. security strategists are now open to more carefully scrutinizing peripheral geographies and to respecting the dangers that may emanate from them. These are the centers of gravity of the new threat; however, regional states' strategic interests are most immediately implicated. The social and political anomalies associated with the Taliban government in Afghanistan were felt most strongly in Pakistan, a long-time U.S. ally. After Afghanistan fell under the U.S. military loupe, Pakistan's security and stability were directly stressed. While the characterization of governance and the degree of organized criminality is much different in South America, it is similarly true that their Paraguayan neighbors' lack of discipline negatively affects the states of the southern cone. Not only have they suffered more than the United States, but they are also in a far better position to gain intelligence and mount appropriate legal and physical responses. It may be through cooperation with these states that the best U.S. strategy proceeds if the Paraguayan Government proves unable to meet the challenge.

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