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February 12 2019 image description
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Central American Caravans: Are these a threat to US border security?

On Tuesday, February 12, 2019, the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) hosted an expert panel to discuss the recent caravan phenomenon, titled Central American Caravans: Are these a threat to US border security? The event coincided with the release of our Situation Report and Route Survey of the same topic. Guests gathered at the National Press Club for coffee and an all-star panel.

The event featured opening remarks from the Hon. Mario Duarte, Secretary of Strategic Intelligence, Republic of Guatemala, followed by a panel including Todd Bensman, Senior National Security Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies; and former Intelligence Manager for the Texas Department of Public Safety Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division; David Grantham, PhD, Director of Intelligence, Tarrant County (TX) Sheriff’s Office and Senior Fellow; and Joseph Humire, SFS Executive Director. The panel was moderated by Chief Editor at El Tiempo Latino, Ana Julia Jatar.


Hon. Secretary Mario Duarte took to the podium, first, to break news on a 3,000-person caravan that is amassing in Panama, which has a goal of reaching 30,000 members by the time it hits Mexico. Secretary Duarte then reiterated that the caravans are not spontaneous- they are coordinated, organized, and well-funded, with political objectives. Hon. Duarte stated the main NGOs,  Familia Latina Unidas and Pueblos Sin Fronteras, that provided funding for the caravan are based out of Chicago and used mainly Whatsapp and Facebook to communicate with and move the migrants.

Secretary Duarte went on to detail the Guatemalan response and some statistics on migrant and SIA apprehensions. He ended by calling the caravans a “weaponization of those in need,” and that the migrants are being used as “weapons of invasion and political invasion.”

Following Hon. Mario Duarte’s opening statement, Ana Julia Jatar began by asking the panel if the caravans were a political issue. Panelist David Grantham, PhD, responded that it is important to look at the size, intensity, and organization of the caravans. He mentioned, “from a Texas-perspective there is a destabilization effort on the border.” He goes on to note that the numbers from the caravan went from 10,000 to 30,000 people and the sole purpose of the increase is to disrupt/destabilize the security of the states they enter.

Jatar transitioned the panel by asking who is financing the caravans, who is behind the NGOs, and how is their purpose political? Humire answered the concept of the caravans is designed to challenge the concept of borders and the sovereign state system, to “blur the lines between borders.” He went on to state partial planning of caravans occurred in August 2018 in Bolivia, while Secretary Duarte added there was some financing from Venezuela.

Hon. Secretary Mario Duarte gives opening remarks

Ana Julia then asked Todd Bensman, who has experience on-the-ground, at the borders, to talk about the migrants he has seen in the caravans. Bensman stated there are hundreds of SIA migrants who are routinely moving through Latin America. He remarked the issue becomes how are SIA moving across the border and how should Homeland Security deal with it rather than whether or not this travel constitutes a threat. Mr. Bensman stated at least 250 of the migrants he saw had origins from Pakistan, Iran, the Middle East, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bangladesh. He added, “if they aren’t with the migrant caravans directly, they are moving with them [either in front of them or behind them].

A later topic of discussion was centered on whether drug trafficking activities can explain the caravans. Humire remarked that cartel members initially frowned on the caravans, as it drew attention to their trafficking routes. David Grantham, PhD predicted that “conflict will either erupt between the caravans and the cartels, or they will begin working together because cartels don’t like to share their space.” Secretary Duarte added a Guatemalan example and said that cartels are trying to get the caravans to provoke violence with Guatemalan police forces in an effort to move to violent protest and/or push the police further away from the migration/narco-trafficking route.

The event was closed with a discussion on strategies for the caravans. David Grantham, PhD began with a timeline of action starting with the short term, which is marked by the U.S. enhancing security and working with allies to share information and coordinate effort. He then described the medium term, which entailed building greater cooperation with Latin American partners and taking advantage of new allies as governments change in the region. Long term practices to handle the caravan phenomena include, building economic freedom with allies to deter socialist practices. Humire continued and elaborated on David Grantham’s point to increase information sharing and cooperation. He proposed a Latin American-centric Five Eyes agreement for information sharing between the following governments: Brazil (Bolsonaro), Colombia (Duque), Chile  (Pinera), Argentina (Macri), Guatemala (Morales).

From left to right: Moderator Ana Julia Jatar- Chief Editor, El Tiempo Latino; and panelists Todd Bensman- Senior National Security Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies; former Intelligence Manager for the Texas Department of Public Safety Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division; David Grantham- Director of Intelligence, Tarrant County (TX) Sheriff’s Office and Senior Fellow, Center for a Secure Free Society; and Joseph M. Humire- Executive Director, Center for a Secure Free Society

While the event shed light on the serious security concerns posed by the caravans it is important to remember that actors are “weaponizing those in need” and using the caravans as a means to their own ends. Joseph Humire stated that a majority of the migrants are seeking a better life and a small percentage are violent, but the caravans as a whole, are a tool of asymmetric war. Asymmetric war eliminates military force as a center of gravity and creates a war of legitimacy and popular opinion. Asymmetric warriors need populations to manipulate popular opinion, which is the reason why the caravans are targeted. The enemy’s strategy is to delegitimize the U.S. in Latin America.

This was just a brief overview of the topics discussed during the event. For more information or to watch the event, follow links to our YouTube page for full event video coverage, our SFS Situation Report on the caravans, or a detailed route survey following the caravan’s movements.

June 27 2018 image description
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Venezuela’s Mounting Refugee Crisis

Most recently on Capitol Hill, the Center for a Secure Free Society held a panel discussion on the mounting refugee crisis in Venezuela on Wednesday, June 27th. Our panel speakers included, Col. Preston McLaughlin, USMC Ret.; Dr. R. Evan Ellis; Ambassador Roger Noriega; and the Executive Director of Center for a Secure Free Society, Mr. Joseph Humire with our moderator from NTN24, Emiliana Molina. The event opened with commentary from the Dean of the Daniel Morgan Graduate School, Dr. Stephen Meyer, who called the SFSVZ6:27growing human tragedy in Venezuela, “the eruption of humanitarian crises a new phenomenon that we have not seen before, nor caught up with.” The social and economic situation in Venezuela has caused 1.5 million people to flee the nation and now the monthly income in Venezuela is equivalent to 2 USD a month. There has been nearly $31 million of humanitarian aid given to the region by the United States alone this year. One of our panel speakers, Dr. R. Evan Ellis stated, “You can not pay debt and import the goods needed.” He said that there is still more room for escalation of violence and believes that the least likely scenario is a transition to democracy. “This is not the failure of the regime, it is the success,” as Ambassador Roger Noriega stated. Institutions have been destroyed, as well as the criminal justice system, so there is no balance of power. The regime will have looted at least $5 billion for their personal gain and this is all being micromanaged by Cuba. All grief, insecurity, and instability is part of the ruination by Cuba. Ambassador Noriega stated, “How long can we treat the symptoms before going to the source?” The people are being driven out because institutions have been systematically destroyed. The entire situation is being carried out by transnational crime and the United States cannot simply treat the symptoms. Mr. Joseph Humire remarks, “We have to be smart about how we provide humanitarian assistance, we have to ensure that the routes used through Venezuela are not contaminated and that SIAs (Special Interest Aliens) do not cover the movement of potential terrorists throughout the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela has provided such movement by legitimizing SIAs. Optimized-2VZSFS627

Venezuela legitimized SIAs by providing them with complete identification records so that they can move across the world and claim that they are Venezuelans. Along with the humanitarian issues, we must also provide counterintelligence support in order to verify refugees. It takes very little to do a lot of damage. The United States has a responsibility to prevent this from furthering. Representative Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania’s 12th District made the following statements, “the current leader of Venezuela continues to restrict human rights and for anyone who believes socialism is the answer, Venezuela is a great example of why it fails.” He continued to state Venezuela has restricted freedom of speech and corrupted its judiciary and we have a solemn duty to protect our own citizens, we need time to ensure refugees are properly vetted. Mr. Humire believes that we need a more cohesive strategy, it is undeniable that there is Cuban involvement in Venezuela, but Hugo Chavez used a democratic insurgency, which is not what we see in Venezuela. If the regime wants power, we must remove power, however, what if their goal is not to gain power but to incite conflict? Regimes come and go but revolutions last, and the regime in place wants to destabilize all of Latin America in order to illegitimate the United States. The people of Venezuela have left due to sheer economic instability, simply to feed their families and across the region there has been a huge increase in crime. Dr. Ellis said it is crucial that the United States does not encourage military crime if they are not ready to take military action. With refugees, it is important to have international coordination and to keep pressure on the nation for a transition to democracy.

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The United States must de-escalate the situation so that it becomes simply a drug trafficking regime as Mr. Humire remarked. In regards to sanctions, Dr. Ellis made the following points that targeted sanctions prolong the issue. We need more aggressive sanctioning that goes after the financial systems and we can help partnered nations by highlighting SIA migration. Ambassador Noriega responded back with Russians have interest in Venezuela, but it is completely different and this is transnational organized crime that generates an average $850 billion, so what are they doing to optimize supply chain? Dr. Ellis again asserted that it is crucial the United States does not encourage military action if they can not support it. He asserted this discussion point because Venezuela has an influx of Russian supplied gear and the United States has commitments other places, it would be a strategic failure to commit ourselves with another long ground force. If things get out of control, we could see another collapse in Venezuela. We must coordinate with other Latin American countries, such as the situation in Nicaragua and how it plays out has a huge affect. Before leaders from Venezuela could flee to Nicaragua but now we must see if that will change. The United States must gently lean on Dominican Republic to ensure they are part of the solution and not the problem. The discussion on military conflict is the most important question, and it is a monumentally bad idea. The situation in Venezuela is described as Cuban managed, Russian armed and China funded.

Systematically, the increase in social pressure as seen by no food or medicine with a Constitutional Crisis as they dissolved their National Assembly, led to unite territorial disputes that have been going on for over 100 years and established a counter revolution. As well as a counter narrative to control the opposition to ensure success. Even through humanitarian assistance it will be spun that the United States is aiding in escalating the situation. Because of this we must first de-escalate the situation so that Venezuela can be treated as only a narco-state and stop believing that there is a fracture in the regime.

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The event ended with a thorough discussion on strategy. Dr. Ellis noted that the situation is a strategic trap for the United States. While President Trump firmly believes that a military intervention with Venezuela is not a good idea, a strategy is an absolute must, something that is more creative, with gross production that causes people to act. While the situations are similar, this is not Syria we are dealing with, this is a country dealing with a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, Mr. Humire added that doing nothing is not a strategy and that the policy needs to be containment. Ambassador Noriega stated that it makes sense to have a strategy for Latin America as a whole, claiming that Venezuela is not the only issue, but the biggest blister. “We may have to eventually go to the source,” which he believes is Cuba and then from there we need a broader strategy to span out in all of Latin America. It is absolutely crucial to understand and recognize the threat that Venezuela poses to the United States and the region as a whole. This is not a natural disaster, it is a human made disaster remarked Ambassador Noriega, so the public law has to be changed. We need an equal amount of counterintelligence support to where refugees are going and this situation is the magnitude of Syria. 

Read our Event Fact Sheet, here.