Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, October 31, 2014

How Nicaragua Deals With Drug Traffickers

Borderland Beat Republished from NPR

Back in the day, the city of Bluefields inspired poets. In truth, it should be paradise, because it sits in an enviable position along Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.

But as history unfolded, Bluefields became a forgotten city, cut off from the rest of the country by a vast jungle and different culture. As you walk its main street, you feel a struggle: Utility cables crisscross the streets, framing buildings, making them look like they're sagging under the weight of history. It rains so much that when paint peels off a piece of concrete, it doesn't take long for moss to set in. And no matter where you are, you're hit by the stench of open sewers.

Eight out of 10 people in this city are unemployed, yet there are stores everywhere and business seems brisk.

Roberto Campbell, a storekeeper who's hanging out on a wooden cart, says this place depends fully on the the drug trade.
"It's not no secret. Everybody knows that," he says in English. "The big businesses from here, if there are no drugs around, they cannot sell their articles. So when you see things are good, that means drugs are around."

The drug trade is this city's blessing and its curse. It's a city that's part of a country that has managed to remain relatively peaceful despite being in one of the most dangerous regions in the world. Analysts say one of the explanations for that relative peace is that Nicaragua has taken a different approach to fighting drug trafficking.

Whether by circumstance or choice, it has foregone its neighbors' military approach for a less confrontational — and some would say more opportunistic — strategy. It's an approach that has helped the country avoid the kind of violence that makes international headlines, but also suggests an uncomfortably close relationship between the people, the government and the drug dealers.

Back in 2012, the citizens of Bluefields took to the streets to protest the arrest of a notorious kingpin. News footage showed hundreds of people marching around demanding "justice" and "freedom." The government alleged that Ted Hayman was involved in the drug trade, so they confiscated his home — a huge, gaudy structure in the hills surrounding Bluefields.

Donald Byers, who runs a museum about this region's history, says Hayman was Bluefields' Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug lord who pumped his drug money into his hometown economy. There were entire neighborhoods that were on Hayman's payroll, so when he and a couple dozen of his deputies were imprisoned, the economy essentially collapsed.

"That Christmas you could feel Bluefields wasn't the Bluefields that I know," Byers says. "You could feel a big difference. You could see a lot of people with no work on the street. People were complaining, 'This damn government. It's just messing up. They don't give us work. This guy came and give us work and now they put him in jail.'"

Byers says when the clock struck midnight and Christmas Eve turned into Christmas, there were no fireworks like previous years. Instead, it was quiet; it was sad.

The Management Of Crime

On the surface, it seems like the Nicaraguan government is doing quite a bit to fight the drug war and that Bluefields is a place of perdition.....

But reality is more complicated.
Nicaragua — the largest country in Central America — has a lengthy coastline on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. With its remote location, Bluefields is well placed to serve as a pit stop along the corridor where drugs travel from the South American producers to U.S. consumers.
What's more, the cocaine moving through Nicaragua's territory represents a higher share of GDP than any other Central American country, which in the words of the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime, should give traffickers greater leverage to both sow more corruption and foment violence.

Instead, like the rest of Nicaragua, Bluefields is an outlier. For instance, its murder rate is relatively low. According to numbers compiled by the Mexican think tank The Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, San Pedro Sula in Honduras is the murder capital of the world with a homicide rate of 169 intentional homicides per 100,000 people; Belize City has a murder rate of 105. According to Nicaraguan government data, Bluefields has a homicide rate of 42 — just a touch lower than that of Detroit.

Before 2006, when Mexico's former President Felipe Calderón declared a war on drugs, none of this mattered. But as Mexico squeezed its cartels at home, the violence moved south in a big way, transforming Central America from a passive transit route to a central theater in the war on drugs.

Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize responded by fighting fire with fire, militarizing their response with funding and training from United States, under a new scheme called the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

Nicaragua, partly because of its cold relationship with the United States, was mostly shut out of that funding and chose a different path.

In private, government officials will tell you that Nicaragua does what it can. It goes after local kingpins like Hayman, because it doesn't have the navy or air force to go after the big drug dealers that are inevitably moving large amounts of drugs across Nicaraguan territory.

Roberto Orozco, an expert on Nicaraguan security, believes, however, that this is a deliberate strategy.

"Nicaragua administers, manages its organized crime," Orozco says.

He says that countries like Honduras and Guatemala have at different points tried to do the same thing, but there is one huge difference: In Nicaragua, there is no turf war.

"Because in Nicaragua, there is only one mafia," Orozco says. "And that mafia controls the entire national territory."

When asked who that mafia is, Orozco laughs nervously, delivering a roundabout answer before finally saying, "When I say that Nicaragua manages organized crime, I mean that the business deals are made with representatives from the state."

In other words, Nicaragua essentially regulates the drug trade.

Jose Miguel Cruz, a professor at Florida International University who wrote his dissertation on what he calls "Nicaraguan exceptionalism" in matters of security, explains it like this: "People in the government know that the drugs are crossing there. But as long as they don't generate too much violence and too much conflict and disrupt the social order, they can just pass."

Cruz says that explanation makes sense, but there is no smoking gun to point to that kind of relationship between Nicaragua and the cartels.

Two members of the Nicaraguan government denied those kinds of allegations in interviews. But they're also not new. The United States Embassy in Managua made much the same claims in a secret 2006 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.

The cable alleges that President Daniel Ortega and his party used money from international drug traffickers to finance political campaigns. As the U.S. cable explains, it's a relationship that dates back to the '80s, when Ortega cut a transit deal with Pablo Escobar. The Drug Enforcement Agency placed hidden cameras on one of Escobar's planes and they caught high-ranking Nicaraguan officials loading cocaine onto the aircraft.

When pressed, Jacinto Suarez, the governing party's international secretary, laughs off the allegations and points out that Nicaragua seizes tons of cocaine each year.

Then, growing angry, he says if the world wanted to fix the drug problem, the United States should look to its own people first.

"We're the ones dealing with all of the dead people and all of the fighting, yet the consumers, the ones who provoke the phenomenon, are the ones who also decide who is doing a good job combating drugs," Suarez says. "That's why, some leaders have said, 'Let's legalize this and let the drugs flow north. Because if we don't, the gringos are going to keep swallowing drugs, while we kill each other.'"

Thank you Vato!


  1. I live and work in Nicaragua, and as mentioned one of the reasons, if not the main reason, that there is not the lunacy here that is in other countries is that indeed "there is only one mafia" that is allowed and that is the ruling mafia. In no manner are they going to allow their power or influence to be usurped.

    1. Sounds more like the Mexico I used to know before it got all loco. At least it appeared that way under the old PRI.

  2. I have to agree with the last statements. Though I don't blame the US for violence in other countries, the truth is it's the US that wants to stop the drug trade and pressures the Latin countries. To me it's very simple. AS long as drug sentences and prosecution is minimal here, the demand for drugs will continue be fierce. If the US put a pot smoker in jail for 2 yrs no chance of parole and put a cocain user to do 5yrs hard labor, drug demand would plummet. Anyone with a brain knows the US can easily lower the demand for drugs.

    1. My tax dollars will not go there, it is bad enough we are supporting a whole generation lost due to the drug war, I cant imagine incarcerating people who use or possess any kind of drug. Drug sentences are Draconian not minimum, tax, regulate, and legalize or decriminalize.

  3. Wow interesting article

  4. Its the truth Americans consume vast amounts of drugs the American government pushes violence on other nations to fullfill their initiatives......why don't the united states legalize and regulate drugs.....because criminal justice is big buisness.....Texas alone uses 5 billion a year locking up drug dealers........legalize it and lawmen and prison guards lose their jobs as do everyone connected to the justice system.....US SUCKS

    1. Right...because Central America was so peaceful before the war on drugs. Learn some history.

    2. Dumbass the wars in central america was caused by the US look up oliver north , el Salvador plz don't miss lead with your bogus statements

  5. That's how mex needs to do it have just one cartel just like the old days everyone work together and less violence and who ever doesn't want it that wway they just go I thought for a min that's wat they wanted to achieve with raffa el r1 out let him take control but it's just to fuc_ed up down ther it's a mess!

  6. They're the broke drug dealers.. They don't make no money and they have crummy guns. Lol

  7. You are completely uninformed Anonymous. The US has had Draconian prison sentences since the Reagan presidency. Legalization is a big part of the solution.
    Your statement:
    "If the US put a pot smoker in jail for 2 yrs no chance of parole and put a cocain user to do 5yrs hard labor, drug demand would plummet. Anyone with a brain knows the US can easily lower the demand for drugs."

  8. The state is not your friend.

  9. Good article, thanks. This policy, whether above board or sub rosa, is totally rational to me. Simply let commerce pass and collect a cuota.

    Then control internal national drug policy as an abuse issue whether health or criminal. What the spokesman said about the transiting, should apply to national policy... "as long as they don't generate too much violence and too much conflict and disrupt the social order".

    Without it seeming silly, a more Zen approach would seem to minimize problems. Zero defects is a laudable goal for industrial production, but zero tolerance, like the drug war itself, is a losing effort with a very fucked up cost/benefit ratio.

  10. That last paragraph makes no sense. Why does drug enforcement cause you to kill each other? Why don't you pull your heads together for the sake of making money?

  11. "the gringos are going to keep swallowing drugs, while we kill each other". Sure enough, Satan is alive and well but he resides north of the Mex border.

    1. All those beheading and torture videos say otherwise, hypocrite.

    2. 11:55am

      No, actually, those beheading and torture videos don't say otherwise - they support my statement and the one I quoted. People are killing each other south of the border just like YOUR OWN post agrees but Satan resides north of the border because that's where the money comes from to fuel the fire. The U.S. addict doesn't care how many lives are destroyed they just want to continue eating Satan's shit.

    3. Satan's everywhere.

    4. It is not merely where the money comes from, it is where the machine-guns and all calibres of bullets are produced, including armour-penetrating ones, that enable any coward to terrorize anyone who is an honest (or modest) person. now any punk, forced or in need of a buck (and still forced, mostly) can terrorize anyone whilst in fact he has no muscle, no whisdom, no development and is making no sense. Place this in perspective with the fact that up to short in most provinces there was no police force to turn to, the fact that in many regions it was, and is again. next to impossible to earn a dry slice of bread, the anger that came about since the US-pushed, violent war on the drug trade came about, with all these confiscations, the billions of dollars and manyears of work the cartels lose, the incarcerations, shoot-outs the whole change of atmosphere (remember the stories of the 'old' narco generations, chummy with the cops, could go everywhere?) and the loss of a feelng of superiority qua position, fuel this with sick-arios that get mostly only dope for fuel, and you think the snorting, shooting, smoking, anyway still buying it, US is NOT the guilty party? They MUST stop illegalizing it! Even if it would only be for the fact, all these billions now flow to the hardest, most dare-devil criminal, the fact they simply CAN'T AFFORD such a nonsensical giveaway 'war' anylonger, could earn a buck, legal status means you can check quality and influence percentages of active ingredient, it is all just too damn stupid (and who gives a crap aboutvtheir neighbour in the States? so why give a damn if he or she consumes materials that probably will shorten their lives? If it aint illegal, there won't be much crime coming with it, since prices would plummit rightaway...) Now you know what everybody knows and realizes already,but some hypocrites up there in politics..

    5. No one is to blame for the actions of ourselves except ourselves. The "gringos" have their own problems with drug use and the narco's have their own problems with greed. what came first the chicken or the egg?

      Be yourself and don't judge, help if you can.

  12. I've been to Nicaragua. Beautiful country. I would love to retire there. They do have a little spill over garbage from Honduras in the north but for the most part it's relatively calm. The corruption is incredible.

  13. Operation condor , las guerras falsas, the school of the americas, the confessions of the CIA regarding the pinochetazo, operation wide receiver, iran-contra, fast and furious, hsbc and all the other US banks confessing, after getting caught, to money laundering, etc etc etc, prove that the US is deep in the shit of murdering, kidnapping for ransom, drug trafficking and extortion, and that is just the tip of the iceberg...


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