Semi-submersible drug trafficking vessels have been produced in clandestine shipyards in the northeast Venezuelan state of Delta Amacuro, reports El Nacional. The newspaper says that a shipyard was discovered in December 2009 in a region known to be a launch pad for drug shipments heading to both the Caribbean and Northern Africa, after an investigation was carried out by the Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigations Body (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Cientificas Penales y Criminalisticas - CICPC). Two people who were arrested were found to be the owners of the shipyard. Until this incident illicit semi-submersibles had mostly been found in Colombia and Ecuador, intended to ferry drugs from the Pacific coast towards Mexico and Central America. Venezuela has for some time been an important transshipment point, and the U.S. State Department's 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said at least 18 drug labs were found in the border state of Zulia in 2010. The products are usually transported by air or in go-fast boats. The advantage of semi-submersibles is that they are extremely difficult to detect.
- According to El Universal, the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) of the U.S. Justice Department has issued an alert over Mexican drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) moving their families and operations into U.S. border cities. Some analysts coincide that this flight is a product of increasing violence in Mexico, but with the ulterior motive of expanding the groups' penetration of U.S. cities. The report counts 1,286 cities with a presence of Mexican DTOs, of which 143 have factions run directly by the cartels. The DTO with a biggest penetration in the U.S. is Sinaloa with 75 cities, followed by the Gulf (37), Zetas (37), Juarez (33), Beltran Leyva Organization (30), La Familia (27), and Tijuana (21).
- The Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says that South America is the region that saw the biggest increase in military spending in 2010. In a press release prior to the publication of its 2011 Yearbook, the organization says that South America increased spending 5.8 percent last year, up to $63.3 billion dollars. Brazil and Colombia made up more than half of that figure, with $28 billion and $9 billion respectively. The reason for this increase, despite the region not facing any serious military confrontation, is the economic growth experienced by these countries at a time when much of the world was hard-hit by the global financial crisis.
- Meanwhile Mexican cartel the Zetas may be increasing its portfolio of illegal activities. La Jornada and Reuters report on how this criminal syndicate has stepped up its involvement in extortion and kidnaps. Apparently a highly-coveted region called “Frontera Chica,” or Narrow Border, in the northern state of Tamaulipas, has become a location for the Zetas to abduct illegal immigrants trying to cross the border into the U.S. and charge them an extra fee for passing through their territory. This region, also well-known for its increased trade with the U.S., has seen extortion of entrepreneurs who have establishments along border crossings like Nuevo Laredo.