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Friday, December 6, 2013
By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund
This blog appeared in the Huffington Post
As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met this week with President Barack Obama, it’s time to say, Yes to peace.
In November 2013, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group signed an agreement, the second of five agreements which together will make up a final peace accord. With this second agreement, two of the most difficult topics, land and political participation, have been negotiated, showing that this peace process has a real chance to end a fifty-year war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, kidnapped and disappeared, and some 6 million people have been forcibly displaced.
It’s positive that the U.S. government is supporting this peace process, Colombia’s best hope for a sustainable peace in decades. The United States should support it decisively. U.S. policymakers must also consider how best to support a peace accord financially once negotiations are finalized, including by reorienting aid away from military assistance and towards demobilization and reintegration programs, support for victims of violence, and mechanisms for truth, justice and reparations.
The Colombian government should facilitate greater participation for victims of violence—including Afro-Colombian and indigenous people and women—in the peace process and its implementation. Strong measures of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition are essential if this agreement is to produce a just and lasting peace, as this letter by a wide range of U.S. faith-based organizations emphasizes.
And the Colombian government would be wise to open peace negotiations with the remaining, smaller guerrilla groups, to use this momentum to put an end to war.
But Colombia cannot achieve a sustainable peace without addressing its core human rights problems. Colombia’s human rights crisis is far from over. As noted in a statement by the Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America, US Office on Colombia, and Center for International Policy:
The Colombian government must make greater progress in dismantling paramilitary successor groups. In November 2013 alone, more than 2700 people, largely Afro-Colombian, were displaced in Buenaventura, allegedly by paramilitary successor groups. These brutal groups are also responsible for many of the threats and attacks against human rights defenders and are an obstacle to implementing the government’s land restitution program. Dismantling paramilitary successor groups—including by investigating and prosecuting the members of the military and police, local politicians, government officials, large landowners and companies that continue to finance and collude with them—is essential for human rights progress in Colombia.
Colombia must bring to justice the cases of the more than 3,000 alleged extrajudicial executions, most attributed to the armed forces, committed in the past decade. The Colombian Constitutional Court's decision to overturn the new, controversial law that would have expanded military jurisdiction affords the Santos Administration an opportunity to move forward, not backward, and ensure that human rights crimes allegedly committed by soldiers are effectively tried in civilian courts. Progress in bringing to justice cases of sexual violence committed by all armed actors is also essential.
The Colombian judicial system must make advances in prosecuting threats and attacks against human rights defenders. Those who defend human rights continue to face grave risks for their work, yet attacks against them are almost never investigated, let alone prosecuted. Though the Santos Administration has implemented important protection programs, it is essential to confront the problem at its source by ending impunity in attacks against defenders.
The Colombian government must meet its obligations to respect labor rights. To secure passage of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which faced significant public and congressional opposition, the U.S. and Colombian governments signed a Labor Action Plan (LAP) that laid out steps that the Colombian government agreed to take in order to protect labor unionists and increase respect for labor rights. It was good to hear the White House mention this, but we need action. The Colombian and U.S. governments must fulfill the pledge they made to the U.S. and Colombian publics by signing this plan.
While the number of deaths of labor union members has declined and Colombia has created institutions and passed laws, respect for labor rights has not improved on the ground. At least 11 trade unionists have been murdered in 2013 and hundreds have received death threats. As highlighted in a congressional report, “The US-Colombia Labor Action Plan: Failing on the Ground,” indirect employment is still pervasive and growing, the inspection system is ineffective, workers’ protections are weak and the right to organize is routinely denied.
Finally, the Colombian government must make progress in safe and sustainable land restitution for victims of forced displacement as well as land titling for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Santos’ Administration’s Victims’ Law represents a historic opportunity for land restitution to Colombia’s internally displaced population and reparations for victims of violence. However, land restitution has been extremely slow, and even the vast majority of those who receive restitution are not yet able to return safely to their lands, as the structures that caused displacement remain intact (see Human Rights Watch's The Risk of Returning Home and Latin America Working Group's Far from the Promised Land). Land titling of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities is also proceeding at a snail's pace.
Land restitution cannot take place safely without more decisive action by the Colombian government to address the sources of violence from all armed actors—including paramilitaries, guerrillas and the armed forces—that caused people to flee their homes in the first place. It is especially crucial to dismantle the illegal paramilitary successor groups that still wage violence in the countryside, as well as to investigate and prosecute state and private actors that aid or employ them. The Colombian government should also ramp up legal services and protection for victims, and increase protection for land judges.
Colombia is still experiencing a human rights crisis. But if a peace accord is finalized in the near future, and if the Colombian government increases its attention to these human rights and labor rights issues, there is a real chance that Colombians, including those caught for decades in one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, can live their lives in peace.
Friday, December 6, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The Latin Americanist and Pan American Post had roundups of Latin American leaders' reactions to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday. As both noted, Venezuela and Nicaragua have called for three national days of mourning.
President Santos met with President Obama in the Oval Office for two and a half hours Tuesday morning. After the meeting, Santos described relations between the two countries as “at their best moment ever.” See this Just the Facts post for a summary of news and analysis on the visit.
Despite the optimistic tones of the meeting with President Obama, President Santos criticized the United States’ Cuba policy while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Congress. “I think Cuba would be willing to change, and both sides have to give in some way,” saying that the moment is “now” for diplomacy to change. At the Organization of American States, President Santos reiterated his stance on creating alternative policies to the drug war and asked members to promote an open discussion on drug policy.
Monday December 2nd was the 20th anniversary of Pablo Escobar’s death. There was coverage in both English and Spanish on the infamous drug lord’s divisive legacy including pieces from the BBC, El Tiempo (multimedia feature), and BBC Mundo. Longtime Medellín journalist Jeremy McDermott noted that while Medellín remains the epicenter of narcotrafficking in Colombia, the nature of the drug trade and landscape of the criminal underworld has changed significantly since the downfall of Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
On Monday, lead FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo read out a ten-point anti-narcotics plan in Havana. Some of the changes in drug policy listed in the communiqué are not too different from what many leaders in Latin America, including Colombia’s President Santos, have been calling for, which include: demilitarization of drug policy, immediate suspension of (U.S.-backed) coca fumigation programs, and the treatment of psychoactive drug use as a public health problem along with the decriminalization of drug consumption.
The group also proposed the state recognize the “food, medicinal, therapeutic, industrial and cultural uses of cultivating coca leaves, marijuana and poppy” as part of an illicit crop substitution program. The Colombian government rejected this. As a recommended read from InSight Crime analyzing the obstacles and opportunities in the talks regarding the drug trade noted, “The chance of striking an agreement with such a key member of the drug trafficking underworld offers the Colombian authorities an unprecedented opportunity.” More from the AFP.
Colombia's Defense Minister in D.C.
On Monday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón spoke at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. He discussed Colombia’s currently military strategy as well as defense plans going forward. The transcript can be read here.
December 1st marked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office. There were several analysis, including from: Alfredo Corchado, James Bosworth, the Washington Office on Latin America, David Agren for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, analyst Alejandro Hope, the Pan-American Post and InSight Crime, which included an overview of Mexico’s current criminal setting.
Most of the analysis touched on the fact that while President Peña Nieto is distinct from former President Calderón in that fighting the cartels has not been the public focus of his government, the policy of deploying the military and federal police to criminal hotspots has continued. As a result, human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have blasted Peña Nieto for the justice system’s ongoing impunity for murder and abuses committed by security officials. Although homicides have dropped in some areas, kidnapping has skyrocketed. As analyst James Bosworth asserted, “the two key issues, security and economic growth, have not seen the improvements Peña Nieto promised during his campaign.”
Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero sent President Peña Nieto a letter urging him to resist U.S. “pressure” to capture and extradite him for the 1985 killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Quintero had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence when a Mexican court allowed his release, drawing heavy criticism from the United States. Mexico’s Supreme Court has since overturned the ruling and Mexican and U.S. authorities have issued warrants for Quintero’s arrest. More from the Los Angeles Times and Fox News Latino.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a new report on security and migration along the United States-Mexico border on Thursday.
Transparency International report
Transparency International released its 2013 Corruption Index Tuesday and found there has been little improvement in the region’s most corrupt countries. Venezuela, Paraguay and Honduras had the highest indexes of corruption, while Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica ranked as the least corrupt. Central America in general was found to be more corrupt than last year, with an uptick in drug trafficking cited as the main cause. More from InSight Crime and International Business Times.
In an effort to reduce the size of Ecuador’s armed forces, President Rafael Correa proposed creating financial incentives for officers to retire from the military and law civilian law enforcement bodies.
The U.S. Department of Defense said there were no plans for toxin-filled munitions abandoned by the U.S. Army on San Jose Island in 1947 to be returned and destroyed. Despite a statement by Panama’s foreign minister last month that the aging chemical weapons would be returned, the Pentagon has said it would be sending experts to the Central American country. This has been a contentious issue between the two countries for some time.
On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 365 mayors and 2,389 municipal representatives. Some analysts have described this vote as a “referendum” on President Maduro’s first eight months in office. As Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has campaigned hard for his MUD party, visiting 117 municipalities compared to Maduro’s 21. Americas Society/Council of the Americas has an explainer on the elections and analyst Luis Vincente León looks at possible outcomes from the elections, noting that some of Maduro’s most recent political tricks, such as lowering the prices of electronics and other goods, could tip the scale in his favor. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog has a useful cheat sheet.
Most of the firearms in El Salvador come from the United States, according to the country’s national police (PNC). With training from the U.S. Office on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the PNC has tracked nearly 34,000 weapons, the majority of which came from the United States. While some are left over from Central America’s civil wars, modern weapon discoveries suggest new arms trafficking networks. More from InSight Crime and La Prensa Grafica.
Last week, Honduras’ electoral court announced conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez winner of the country's presidential elections. On Monday, Hernández’s closest competitor and wife of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party, filed a formal complaint claiming fraud in the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) agreed to count the tally sheets on Wednesday, however officials delayed doing so after claiming members of the LIBRE failed to appear. The LIBRE leadership claimed the TSE's procedures were insufficient and had suggested other mechanisms. As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, LIBRE and the TSE had never agreed to specifics in the procedure and therefore had no official start date to begin vote counting. See this Just the Facts post post by Latin America Working group for more on foul play in the electoral process.
Friday, December 6, 2013
By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund
The November 24, 2013 elections in Honduras and their aftermath are a critical moment for the direction of the country. In June 2009 a coup overthrew the elected president, Liberal Party member Manuel Zelaya. In this month´s election, Zelaya´s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya under the new Libre party banner ran against the National Party´s Juan Orlando Hernandez, the traditional Liberal Party, a new Anti-Corruption Party and several others.
The Supreme Electoral Council declared the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner, followed by Libre, with the Liberals, and the Anti-Corruption Party also receiving a significant share of votes. The newer parties’ significant vote count has altered the traditional two-party (National, Liberal) Honduran political scene.
But it is far from time to celebrate a free and fair election.
The International Human Rights Federation observation team in which Latin America Working Group participated, observing the human rights context as well as electoral mechanics, congratulated the Honduran people for a strong turnout, but observed the following serious problems:
Incentives for voting, provided by one party. The National Party had booths outside voting places where voters could pick up an envelope with their name on it with a card with discounts for telephone, food, medical care and pharmacy products. This was widespread and open, with the party having run ads promoting it.
Live people declared dead. Our small team met at least 20 people who had been declared dead and were unable to vote, as well as others whose voting places had been changed, making it difficult for them to vote. “They have not yet managed to kill me yet,” said one very angry “dead” woman we met at a Libre party booth outside a polling place. Many of these people told us that they had voted at the same voting place in last year´s primary.
Oppressive presence of the military. Honduran law unfortunately confers upon the armed forces the role of transporting and guarding electoral material and filled ballots. This law needs to be changed. The presence of the military on this election day was oppressive. Soldiers with automatic weapons had a prominent presence at voting centers, and in one case we observed soldiers frisking voters as they entered the polling place. Soldiers surrounded the transmission towers of progressive radio and television stations on election day.
Among the other problems we observed or which were reported to us were a complete lack of transparency in campaign financing, allegations that smaller parties were selling their pollwatcher credentials, immigration agents harassing some international observers, and the fact that the Supreme Electoral Council was formed by four of the nine parties running, rather than being strictly nonpartisan.
However, the allegations of fraudulent acts with the most impact would be in the transmission of votes between the polling places and the Supreme Electoral Council. Our mission noted with concern before the elections that this system appeared vulnerable to fraud. Two parties, Libre and the Anti-Corruption Party, are contesting the results of the elections and demanding to see the results from the individual polling places and a complete recount of ballots.
The Supreme Electoral Council must satisfy the legitimate demands of these parties for complete and transparent scrutiny of contested ballots. International observers should audit the vote transmission system, and the Honduran Attorney General’s office for Electoral Crimes should investigate carefully all claims of fraudulent activity.
In the long term, Honduran election law could be improved by removing the military from a role in administering elections, ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Council is nonpartisan, improving the voter rolls and ensuring transparency in campaign financing.
On the day after the elections, a small, peaceful protest by frustrated Libre voters approached the plaza where the Supreme Electoral Council had set up operations in a hotel. Some 150 heavily-armed police, including the anti-riot police with their tear gas and shields, and the black-clad military police, blocked their entrance. There was no violence, not with international electoral observers in their jackets and the international press in the nearby hotels. But what will happen now that the observers and the press have packed up and left?
The enormous frustration of voters who feel that once again the faith that they have placed in the electoral system has been violated needs to be heard and needs a solution. It must not meet teargas and batons.
The international community should be concerned about these elections and their aftermath.
We must also be concerned about the overall human rights context in Honduras. Yes, there is an extremely high murder rate due to organized crime and street crime. But there are also targeted killings of and threats against human rights defenders, including those who denounce human rights abuses, protect women´s rights and protest environmentally damaging projects such as mining and dams. Journalists and members of the LGBTI community are targeted. Police and other state actors are implicated in many cases, and the vast majority of these crimes remain in total impunity. The human rights unit of the Attorney General’s office that should investigate many of these crimes has been weakened by the recent transfer of dedicated prosecutors.
Nothing to celebrate yet.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Today, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with President Obama for two and a half hours at the White House. This was the fourth meeting between the two leaders since President Santos took office in August of 2010.
There was a fair amount of media coverage ahead of the meeting, not only about what the discussion would cover, but also about the meeting’s political context. Here are five points various articles and analyses have discussed and what the White House overview of the meeting said about them:
1. This visit was different. Both Colombia and the United States stressed the meeting was more about their economic ties than their security relationship
Much of the media attention ahead of the visit focused on the fact that this visit marked a turning point in U.S.-Colombian relations away from centering on security and towards economic partnership. President Santos told Caracol Radio Monday morning this meeting would be “totally different” as Colombia is no longer “coming with the hat out, asking for money.” Now Colombia wants to be seen as a different kind of partner to the United States. “The relations of our two countries find themselves at their best moment ever,” President Santos said in his remarks after the meeting.
For the past 20 years, the U.S.-Colombia relationship has been defined by Washington’s support for Colombia’s fight against guerillas, paramilitaries and narcotrafficking. In recent years, there was also the added push to get Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA went into effect last year, increasing trade between the countries by 20 percent. While Colombia is still the top recipient of U.S. assistance to the region, aid is at the lowest levels since before 2000, at less than $300 million per year.
Moreover, EFE and Colombian newspaper El Tiempo noted this meeting was important for President Obama’s image in the region as President Santos was the first (and really only) leader in Latin America “who offered President Obama a hand to recover,” following revelations of the National Security Archive’s extensive surveillance of citizens, companies and leaders throughout the hemisphere. President Obama’s former Latin America advisor, Dan Restrepo said, “this is an important meeting for the United States as it allows it to focus on a positive agenda… it’s a relationship that has turned the page.”
2. President Obama supports the peace talks
The peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were expected to be one of the central topics of the private meeting. Also on the agenda: trade, opportunities for energy, education, technology, and Colombia’s role in training security forces in Central America and the Caribbean.
As expected, President Obama emphasized his “strong support” for the peace process and praised President Santos’ “bold and brazen efforts” in engaging in discussions with the FARC. The administration has expressed support for the peace talks over the past year, but the backing of the United States is crucial in the negotiations.
So far the negotiating teams have reached agreements on agrarian development and the FARC’s political participation, but as the talks progress and both sides tackle contentious issues such as drug policy, demobilization and reintegration, transitional justice and extradition, international cooperation will be key. As Colombia is the United States’ main security partner in the region, U.S. support, financial and otherwise, will be needed to ensure a successful post-conflict transition.
Colombian magazine Semana reported President Santos was expected to request support from the U.S. as Colombia moves towards this transition. A statement released today by Latin American Working Group, the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America and U.S. Office on Colombia emphasized this:
U.S. policymakers should also consider how best to support a peace accord financially once negotiations are finalized, including by reorienting aid away from military assistance and towards peace accord implementation, such as demobilization and reintegration programs, support for victims of violence, and mechanisms for truth, justice and reparations.
3. The United States’ security relationship with Colombia is changing
The United States is planning to decrease its role in security operations in Colombia and shift its assistance into economic arenas, according to reports from a phone call between journalists and a White House senior official. The official said U.S. security assistance was “designed to be phased out over time” and because “conditions have been improving on the ground” security assistance is likely to be scaled back.
As an article in Foreign Policy noted, elite forces from U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force have deployed to Colombia since 2000 to work closely with the Colombians and that U.S. Special Forces will continue to train Colombian security forces. (See here for information of U.S. military training of Colombian forces)
Speaking at an event yesterday in Washington, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said the Colombian military would continue to train military and police forces in Central America and the Caribbean with U.S. funding. As expected, President Obama and President Santos covered this topic and agreed to triple joint U.S.- Colombian trainings throughout the hemisphere:
In 2013, this security assistance included 39 capacity-building activities in four Central American countries focused on areas such as asset forfeiture, investigations, polygraphs, and interdiction. The United States and Colombia announced the Action Plan for 2014, which aims to increase assistance through 152 capacity-building activities in six countries in Central America and the Caribbean.
4. Human rights and Labor issues exist that must be addressed
The statement mentioned above from the four Washington-baed NGOs called for the meeting to highlight serious labor and human rights problems that persist in the country. Some of the issues discussed during the meeting:
- Land Restitution and Afro-Colombians
Colombia passed the historic Victim’s Law in 2011, which aimed to offer reparations to victims and return land to some of the more than five million Colombians displaced because of violence. This process has been extremely slow, and those that have received restitution from the government often cannot return to the land for fear of being threatened or killed by armed actors, particularly paramilitary successor groups. Land titling for Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups in Colombia, who also continue to be marginalized and targeted, has been particularly slow.
The White House underscored the $68 million slated by USAID in support of this effort and said it intended to “expand the coverage of legal protection of land rights, especially those of small farmers, by strengthening the Colombian government’s land titling efforts.”
- Labor rights
Labor rights continue to be a huge issue in Colombia. Since January at least 11 trade unionists have been killed and hundreds more threatened. Impunity for murder cases of unionists runs at about 90% and workers who try to form unions are fired en mass. When the Colombian government signed the FTA, it also signed a “Labor Action Plan,” which obligated lawmakers to take specific steps to protect unionists and increase respect for labor rights. The majority of these steps have yet to be taken.
Regarding the Labor Action Plan, the White House said the two countries planned to “hold formal meetings through at least 2014 on Action Plan commitments and recognize advances under the Action Plan ad areas where challenges remain.”
The organizations’ statement also called for greater progress to be made in dismantling paramilitary successor groups, responsible for much of the violence and drug trafficking taking place today. It highlighted the need to investigate and prosecute the politicians, military and police members and large landowners that collude with these groups as well as the need to bring the over 3,000 military members accused of extrajudicial killings to justice.
5. U.S. political divisions and the peace process
This point was not discussed at all in English media, but touched on in Colombia. So far support for the peace process has been bipartisan, although some anti-Castro lawmakers have voiced their opposition to Havana hosting the talks. As Restrepo and Georgetown Professor Erick Langer noted, the U.S Congress has elections coming up next November and Colombia must be ready to ensure this bipartisan support continues in light of the uncertain makeup of next year’s Congress.
“Santos has to ensure that the Republicans feel that they are part of this process and it is not just an Obama issue. Traditionally the United States has maintained strong support for Colombia. But with the degree of polarization that exists currently in Washington creates the worry that this could change,” Langer said.
During his visit Santos also spoke to the Organization of American States, met with Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, with Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others. On Wednesday morning, he will appear on Morning Joe followed by a breakfast with the Washington Post’s editorial board and a lunch at the Chamber of Commerce.
For a list of links to more articles in Spanish and English, please see our Just the Facts Colombia news page.
Monday, December 2, 2013
This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.
3,000 doctors from Cuba arrived in Brazil as part of the “Mas Medicos” program, which aims to boost the number of medical professionals in high-need areas. The doctors must undergo an extensive vetting process and are tested for Portuguese language proficiency. The program’s long-term objective is to bring in 12,996 doctors to service Brazil’s poorest and most remote regions.
1,890 people died in confrontations with police in Brazil in 2012. By contrast, the United States--with 60 percent more population--saw 410 people killed by police that year.
President Enrique Pena Nieto claims that his government has captured 65 of the 122 most wanted criminals in Mexico. However, following a consultation of five state institutions that should be privy to the existence of such a list, the investigative website Animal Politico concluded that this “Most Wanted” list does not, in fact, exist.
The last thirteen years in Mexico have seen the assassinations of 98 journalists and the disappearances of 23 others. Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression Laura Angelina Borbolla Moreno noted that the “state of Chihuahua tops the list with 16 cases, followed by Veracruz, 14; Tamaulipas, 13; Guerrero, 11, and Oaxaca, Sinaloa and Durango, five.”
Researcher Laura Leal testified in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that there are upwards of 170,000 internally displaced people inside Mexico. In addition, asylum rate applications to the United States have risen threefold since 2009.
A group of more than 100 people attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico prompting U.S. border patrol agents to use capsicum pellets in an attempt to stop their advance. The migrants responded by throwing rocks and bottles, and later dispersed; no injuries were reported and no one was arrested.
Violence is growing and shifting in Guatemala, with a projected 3 percent increase in the 2013 homicide rate bringing it to 35.2 per 100,000 people. Although the overall murder rate has increased, it is concentrated in certain municipalities, with the rates in most others remaining level or decreasing.
53.7% of those polled in Colombia support the ongoing peace talks with the FARC, 32.6% oppose them, and 13.7% are indifferent. Based on the survey data collected, those in areas most affected by the conflict are in opposition to allowing the FARC to form a political organization in a post-conflict Colombia.
In Colombia, defense sector spending over the past ten years totals 220 trillion pesos (just over US$100 billion).
The past decade in Colombia has seen the demobilization of almost 55,000 former fighters belonging to either leftist guerilla groups or right-wing paramilitary organizations. These demobilized fighters often enter into programs that aim to reintegrate them into society; so far more than 2,000 have successfully completed the 6–7 year program.
Military personnel from Colombia and Ecuador partnered up to assist 7,000 inhabitants living in border towns between the two countries. The exercise included a number of health specialists who assisted in providing medical care, as well as more specialized assistance like optometry, gynecology, pediatrics, and dentistry.
The navy of Colombia, with logistical support from the United States, seized over 3,200 pounds of cocaine in a single shipment. The smugglers are believed to have belonged to Los Urabeños, a criminal gang descended from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary organization. The seizure was part of Operation Martillo, a U.S.-led, multilateral counter-narcotics operation in the Caribbean.
A 200-liter drum of oil in Puerto Ayacucho, Venezuela costs less than US$2.00, but upriver it can cost 400 times the price. Price variance such as this is all too common in Venezuela, where recent incursions of FARC guerrillas and other illegal organizations from Colombia have caused a large increase in smuggling.
The government of Venezuela dispatched 536 soldiers and 129 National Police officers to Caracas to perform public security duties. The force will be deployed to six strategic locations and will have a 24 hour a day presence, patrolling by bicycle, on foot, and in cars.
In Venezuela, 1,400 soldiers took part in an exercise designed test a number of recently acquired weapons systems. The commander general of the Army, Major General Alexis Lopez Ramirez, stated that the exercise’s purpose was to demonstrate the power of these new weapons to both President Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan people, showing how well trained and equipped the Army is. Following the exercises, Maduro announced the need to expand training facilities and increase the frequency of training exercises.
“Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced partnerships with three private banks in Latin America that will make available $98.5 million in local lending exclusively for small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
In 2012, the United States trained slightly more Latin American military and police forces than in 2011, according to the U.S. State and Defense Departments’ 2012-2013 Foreign Military Training Report (FMTR), the annual report that documents U.S. training of foreign forces. This increase is largely due to increases in Defense Department (DOD) training and training through Foreign Military Sales, a program through which countries purchase training and other defense articles and services.
Top recipients of training in Latin America:
Although the large-scale security packages to Colombia and Mexico are declining, both countries are still the top recipients of assistance in the region, while aid to Peru and Central America is increasing. Not surprisingly, the FMTR reflects these trends, as both countries are the top recipients of U.S. training with 3,599 (Colombia) and 2,627 (Mexico) trainees. Peru had 1,033 trainees. The exception here is Central America with 1,270 trainees total, which will be discussed below.
Paraguay (488), Brazil (487) and Chile (428) followed Colombia, Mexico and Peru as top recipients of training in the region.
As the above chart shows, training to both Colombia and Mexico increased between 2011 and 2012.
For Colombia, this increase from 3,054 to 3,599 trainees owes to a slight rise in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) training, which includes a wide expanse of courses like training pilots how to fly UH-60 (Black Hawk) Sikorsky helicopters, human rights courses, and other “leadership programs.” The other big leaps were in the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Fellowship program, and Foreign Military Sales, which represents training Colombia purchased from the United States.
The amount of Mexican personnel trained also increased from 2,206 to 2,627, which is largely due to increases in training through two Defense Department accounts: Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance and the National Defense University-run Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (funded through the Regional Centers for Security Studies program).
Top training programs in Latin America:
Two of the three top training programs for Latin America since 1996 have been DOD’s Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance and the State Department's International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE).
While Section 1004 has consistently remained the top program providing training to the region, its State Department counterpart has only spiked in certain years, barely cracking the top five programs most years. For example in 2012, INCLE was only the eighth-largest training program, while Section 1004 remained number one.
It is important to note that there have been cases where the State Department has underreported the number of personnel trained by INCLE in the FMTR. In 2009, the FMTR reported INCLE had trained 5 personnel from Mexico, while a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Report showed INCLE had in fact trained 4,933 personnel that year.
In 2009, INCLE training spiked at the height of the Mérida Initiative, the United States’ main security package to Mexico, funded by the State Department. Most of the training funded by Mérida went through INCLE program - of the 5,732 personnel trained through the program in 2009, 4,933 were from Mexico.
The large majority of training to Mexico now goes through the DOD’s Section 1004 program. Of the 3,205 personnel trained by Section 1004 in 2012, 2,202 were from Mexico (mostly from the Mexican Navy). The next top receivers were Peru (142) and Ecuador (102). Only 11 Colombians received Section 1004 training in 2012, down from 12,603 in 2007.
Given the significant amount of trainees through Section 1004, 2012 experienced the continuation of a previous trend identified by Adam Isacson in his blog on the FMTR from 1999-2008: the Defense Department’s budget pays for more training than the State Department-managed foreign assistance budget. For 2012, this was still the case - the top five training programs were:
Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance (DOD): 3,205 trainees
International Military Education and Training (DOS): 1,688 trainees
Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (DOD): 1,231
Foreign Military Financing (DOS): 1,218
Foreign Military Sales: 1,281
Moreover, it appears the training programs that experienced a relatively significant increase in 2012 were largely Defense Department programs:
Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance (DOD) (from 2,916 to 3,205)
Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (DOD) (from 550 to 1,231)
Foreign Military Sales (from 344 to 1,281)
Global Peace Operations Initiative / Peacekeeping Operations (DOS) (from 152 to 886)
The big jump in counterterrorism training owes almost entirely to Colombia (183 trainees in 2011 to 441 trainees in 2012) and Peru (12 in 2011 to 294 in 2013), while the large increase in Global Peace Operations is due to Peru (1 in 2011 to 388 in 2013) and Paraguay (118 in 2011 to 354 in 2012).
In Central America, the top three recipients of training in 2012 were El Salvador with 320 trainees, Honduras with 290 trainees, and Panama with 230 trainees. The top five training programs were:
International Military Education Training (DOS) with 481 trainees
Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (DOD) with 283 trainees
Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance (DOD) with 211 trainees
Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (DOD) with 192 trainees
Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (DOS) with 44 trainees
Central America is the only region (other than Peru) in the hemisphere where security assistance is increasing in dollar terms. However, since 2008, U.S. training in the region has been declining. One likely reason for this is Colombia’s increasing role in training military and police forces throughout Central America.
Faced with budget cuts due to the sequester, the U.S. government touts this as a cheaper alternative to direct U.S. training. As Colombia has been branded as the “model” in the war on drugs by the United States government, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield has called Colombia’s “"third-party training"” “a dividend that we get for investing over $9 billion in support for Plan Colombia.”
The United States funds some of these trainings through the State Department-funded Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). However, the FMTR only documents trainings given by the United States directly. Looking at the breakdown of the numbers, the United States trained very few police officers in Central America in 2012:
El Salvador: 30 out of 320
Honduras: 0 out of 290
Panama: 42 out of 230
Guatemala: 1 out of 170
Costa Rica: 38 out of 131 *this number is proportionally higher because Costa Rica has no standing army.
Belize: 12 out of 91
Nicaragua: 0 out of 38
The above numbers represent rough estimates as training going to entire ministries might also include police. However, with the exception of Costa Rica this would have little effect on the proportions, as most of the trainings went to Army, Navy, or Coast Guard units.
As noted in a February U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, the Colombian National Police are training more law enforcement officers in Central America than all of U.S. law enforcement put together. According to April numbers (pdf – table on pg. 23) from the Colombian Ministry of Defense, between 2010 and 2012 Colombia trained just under 5,000 security forces: Panama (2,491), Guatemala (563), Belize (12), Honduras (1,008), Costa Rica (357), El Salvador (242), and Nicaragua (8). Since then, that number has been accelerating. According to Colombia’s defense minister, the number of Panamanian police agents trained now reaches 4,000.
There are several concerns about the proliferation of Colombian training of foreign military and police forces, which Just the Facts has previously covered. For one, Colombia’s security forces have yet to be held accountable for widespread human rights violations, including over 4,700 alleged extrajudicial killings of civilians.
Another major worry is a lack of oversight -- there is little transparency for these U.S.-funded trainings. It remains unknown what these courses cover, how much U.S. funding these receive, or how many forces are trained with those funds. The 290 Honduran forces trained by the United States, for example, does not include any Honduran police agents trained by Colombian police as part of the once U.S.-backed police reform, funding for which was suspended in March due to slow implementation and lack of political will.
This drop in U.S. training and increase in Colombian training is happening as several police forces throughout Central America are grappling with endemic corruption and alleged human rights abuses, so it is important to have oversight as to what lessons are being exported.
The FMTR details what training courses are given to trainees from which military and police units and where these trainings are taking place. Although the details are not always as extensive as we would like, they reveal a great deal about the United States’ involvement with foreign forces throughout the world. To see data on U.S. military and police trainees by country, click here. To see data on trainees by program, click here. To see a list of institutions that provide training in the United States, click here.
Friday, November 22, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Vice President Biden in Panama
On Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Panama to discuss security and trade with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and tour the expansion of the Panama Canal. He praised Panama for “contributing to global security” in its detection and seizure of weapons found heading from Cuba to North Korea. As security analyst James Bosworth noted, the United States has been relatively quiet on the issue. This is likely due, in part, to the “surprise warming in recent months” of relations between the two countries.
Attorney General Holder in Colombia
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss narcotrafficking and bilateral cooperation ahead of the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, held in Medellín. During his remarks, Holder called for a change in security strategy saying, "we must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach,” and "the path we are currently on is not sustainable."
As La Silla Vacía notes, Holder’s trip comes just as the Colombian government and Farc guerrillas start to address the third point on the agenda, narcotrafficking. For a detailed analysis and update on the peace process, see WOLA’s ColombiaPeace.org.
Secretary of State Kerry addresses OAS
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech at the Organization of American States in which he touched on climate change and endorsed the Obama administration’s current Cuba policy, lauding restrictions on travel but calling for broader political reform. The Washington Office on Latin America said the speech offered nothing new and “ignored things that Latin American nations have been asking of the United States,” such as an alternative drug policy, immigration reform, violence, and organized crime. More from the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal.
Elections in Honduras
On Sunday, Hondurans will vote for a new president. The election is in a dead-heat between Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, and conservative ruling party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández. The outcome of the elections will greatly impact security strategy as Hernández has said he would “put a soldier on every corner,” while Castro has promoted community policing. An Organization of American States election observer said there was no indication of fraud, however, international and national observers will be watching to ensure Sunday’s polls are not manipulated. More analysis from the Wilson Center (video), which held an event on the elections last Friday, from El Faro and from Reuters, which has a useful "Factbox" on the candidates.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems had a helpful FAQ on the elections, while Honduras Politics and Culture blog had an overview of the country’s voting system as well as an overview of an OAS report (pdf) on the vote counting system, which offered some praise but highlighted significant shortcomings.
Venezuela president gets decree powers
On Tuesday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicholas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. He claims he needs the powers to fix the economy and target corruption. More from the Latin Americanist, Reuters, El País and Christian Science Monitor.
On Sunday, in the first round of Chilean presidential elections, former President Michelle Bachelet received 47 percent of the vote, just shy of the 51 percent needed to win. Her closest competitor, Evelyn Matthei, received 25 percent. A run-off will be held December 15. More from the Economist and New York Times.
Protests in Haiti
Protestors in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, clashed with police and government supporters as they called for President Michel Martelly to resign, highlighting several concerns that range from high living costs to unabated corruption. The police and UN peacekeeping forces broke up the violent confrontations. More from the BBC and Pan-American Post.
El Salvador gang truce on the rocks?
According to El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo, gangs in the country “are at war, in a process of vengeance and territorial control." An uptick in murders suggests the truce is abating. As InSight Crime noted, murders have been “steadily approaching the pre-truce average of 12 a day.” On Wednesday, gang leaders denied their involvement in the murder increase as well as an alleged plan to increase homicides in December.
Colombian President Santos running for re-election
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday night that he would run for re-election in 2014. His announcement speech focused on finishing the peace process. Santos’ main opposition candidate, Oscar Iván Zulaga, is backed by former President Álvaro Uribe and is a critic of the talks. For this reason, some observers, like analyst Laura Gil and former Senator Piedad Córdoba, have said the vote will be a referendum for the peace process. President Santos is still seeking a vice-president for his bid. More from Reuters and James Bosworth on the challenges President Santos faces in the election. La Silla Vacía has the full text of his announcement speech.
Mexican "self-defense" groups in Michoácan
Last weekend, "self-defense" groups seized another town in the violence-ridden Michoácan state in a clash with the Knights Templar cartel. As the AFP reported, these vigilante groups now provide security in six towns throughout the state, with plans to take over another 40,000 resident town. The Mexican government has pledged to prevent the groups from spreading.
RESDAL (Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina – Latin American Security and Defense Network) published a comprehensive, graphical, and extremely informative Public Security Index (pdf) of Central America this week.
InSight Crime provided a breakdown and analysis of Brazil's Forum of Public Security and Open Society Foundation’s study on police killings, looking at why police in Brazil kill. The report found that police in São Paulo were responsible for 20 percent of all homicides last year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration published its National Drug Threat Assessment (pdf) Monday. It found that while the availability of cocaine in the United States has dropped, the availability of methamphetamine is on the rise, reportedly due to Mexican drug traffickers increasing production and control over the U.S. market.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a two-part documentary by independent journalist Tracey Eaton that "sheds light on the origins, failures, and future of the United States’ policy toward Cuba’s government."
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Over the weekend, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo published an interview with Colombia’s new Ambassador to the United States, Luis Carlos Villegas. Prior to his new post, Ambassador Villegas was a member of the Colombian government’s team carrying out negotiations with the Farc in Havana.
Below are some excerpts from the El Tiempo interview (translated from Spanish), which touch on his views on security, the peace process and Colombia’s relationship with the United States:
On the issue of Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA espionage on Colombian officials:
I think that it should be clear that such close security cooperation between the United States and Colombia should have limits with regards to the depth of that security cooperation, especially with private conversations of public officials or political personalities.
Security actions, such as interceptions, should be part of a common agreement and used for purposes previously agreed upon between countries. They cannot be unilateral actions. That is what I call limits and I think that this has become sufficiently clear in the continuing conversations.
When asked what were his projected priority areas in dealing with the U.S., Villegas gave a lengthy answer about hydrocarbons, science and technology. He then added,
And, as an offshoot of our agenda, Colombia has changed in the area of security, even though we still have some problems. We are different than we were 15 years ago in this respect. And now we give security cooperation to third parties, which before was unthinkable. So, there is a new agenda with [the U.S.]: science, technology, water, environment, and security to third parties.
As Just the Facts has previously noted, the exportation of Colombia's security model is an accelerating trend in the region. Several countries' military and police forces, particularly in Central America, have received training from Colombia's security forces, despite continued concerns about unaddressed human rights abuses committed by the Colombian military. The United States hails this strategy as a cheaper alternative to direct U.S. military involvement. This training is sometimes carried out with U.S. assistance, but there is little transparency with regard to the topics covered in the courses and the forces that are trained with U.S. funding.
Villegas noted that the peace talks would be on the top of the agenda when Colombian President Santos, meets with President Obama on December 3rd in Washington. "All the solidarity that can be generated in the international community is welcome."
According to Villegas, peace in Colombia is peace in the region.
It has to do with money laundering, illicit crop clearing; the struggle against criminal gangs, and peace in Colombia has to do with our international role to be a valid interlocutor of the United States and developed countries in Europe and Asia. We need to solve this conflict by political means. My job is to present the benefits of the peace process, present President Santos' domestic agenda, which is a progressive agenda that attacks the problems the rebels’ have always used in their rhetoric to justify their uprising and that solves this country's greater historical problems related to the countryside.
Look, if we could, as one of the byproducts of the peace process, make it so the FARC have an active role in coca eradication and crop substitution, this alone would justify the peace process.
To the extent that Colombia can eradicate this raw material, which is the coca plant, it would notably advance the elimination of violence.
On the fragility of the peace process and what can be done to maintain it:
This process has a six-point agenda: the first two are things that the state has to do and they are already agreed upon. The following four are things that the FARC have to do, and they decide the speed and what conditions... What will they do about narcotrafficking? What will they do with the victims? What will they do with their weapons? What will they do about their fighters and reintegration?
From here on out, the responsibility on the FARC is immense. The pace of negotiations is going to depend on the FARC because the questions are already drawn up.
On if the FARC are divided:
No. In Havana what appears is a cohesive organization. Remember that the unilateral ceasefire last year was almost fully adhered to.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.
In Honduras, officers with the recently launched Military Public Order Police (PMOP), a new branch of the armed forces, have been deployed to the del Campo slums in southwest Tegucigalpa. The officers, donning ski-masks and assault rifles, were deployed to the region after numerous requests for assistance in dealing with violent criminal gangs. Numerous human rights organizations have voiced their apprehension, fearing that the military police are not equipped to deal with civilians and viewing abuses as likely.
The Congress of Honduras is debating legislation to enshrine the PMOP in the constitution. A number of legislators and presidential contenders have expressed concerns over this militarized police force that is to have 5,000 members. The measure to add the PMOP to the constitution would require approval of two thirds of the legislature.
The Inspector General of the Armed Forces of Nicaragua dismissed allegations of espionage against soldiers. Journalists and Catholic Church figures had filed a complaint that army officers had followed and spied on them while they were covering the military’s deployment to fight criminal bands operating in northern Nicaragua. The Inspector General said that the military does not engage in espionage of any sort, noting that its role is to “defend [the] national sovereignty, security, and integrity of the country.”
The Army and National Police of Nicaragua have expressed support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would, among other things, allow active-duty officers and police to serve in non-defense roles, including heading civilian government ministries.
In order to curb what Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro has labeled “usury,” National Guard troops have occupied a number of Daka electronics stores throughout the country. Maduro claims that Venezuela’s biggest provider of electronic goods had been overcharging consumers as much as 1200 percent, and has issued a 90% discount. In order for consumers to take advantage of the government induced sales, they must first register with the National Guardsmen administering waiting lists at the five various stores.
Venezuela President Maduro has also called for the installation of artillery batteries in densely populated neighborhoods outside of Caracas. Maduro claims that such installations are integral to a strong national defense and dissuading “imperialist” foreign powers. Maduro has also justified the purchase of Russian Sukhoi fighter jets with the same logic.
President Maduro has announced plans to expand the ranks of the Bolivarian Militia to one million by 2019. Maduro claims that this armed citizen militia force, made up of those most sympathetic to late President Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution, acts as a centering force in the “economic war” being waged against the people of Venezuela. The militia is currently tasked with a number of civil roles including the monitoring of hospitals, the control of gasoline sales, the patrolling of public transport, and border protection.
Venezuela Agriculture Minister Yvan Gil announced that the military and militia groups will begin taking on an important role in agricultural policies in an effort to contend with shortages in basic foods and commodities. The armed forces are to produce much of their own food, and share surpluses with the population.
A collection of secret documents found in an Argentina air force basement provides unique insight into the culture of repression during the 1976–1983 dictatorship. Some of the files detailed “blacklists” of celebrities, politicians, and artists whom the government perceived as threatening their firm grasp on society.
Mexico military forces have seized one of the nation’s largest ports in response to complaints of wide-spread corruption and infiltration by drug cartels. The port of Lázaro Cárdenas in the western state of Michoacán had become a hub for precursor chemical shipments used by the Sinaloa and Knights Templar drug cartels to produce methamphetamine. The 156 port employees that manage customs enforcement and tax inspection are to be rotated out of their positions in an attempt to address corruption.
The secretary of national defense of Mexico, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, announced the Army’s plans to launch a new training program aimed at engaging society and the armed forces on human rights. The military intends to transform its education system in order to instill “responsibility, social consciousness, and institutional loyalty.”
On October 31st representatives from the armed forces of Central America met to discuss the creation of a multilateral quick reaction force that would be made available to the United Nations upon request. The reaction force would be under the purview of the eight-nation Latin American Association of Peacekeeping Operations Centers (ALCOPAZ), which is currently headed by Guatemala.
After nearly a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, the United Nations is taking steps to reduce its footprint. With a reduced international presence comes the necessity for the Haitian government to fill the security void. In response, President Michel Martelly has taken steps to revive the country’s coup-prone military, which was abolished in 1995. Martelly claims that the new military will serve as infrastructure support, boosting its engineer corps through multilateral training agreements.
Friday, November 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Migration Declassified, a project of the National Security Archive, published documents that offer the most detailed glimpse yet into Defense Department’s intelligence programs in Mexico in recent years. According to the group, “What emerges are the outlines of a two-track U.S. intelligence program: one, a network of joint intelligence centers staffed by personnel from both countries; the other, a secret facility located inside the U.S. Embassy to which the Mexicans are not invited.”
President Obama will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on December 3 and will emphasize the United States’ “continued support for efforts to achieve peace in Colombia, according to W Radio.
The United Nations Development Program released a report on Tuesday, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America” which found Latin America continues to be the most insecure and unequal region in the world. The Economist provides a good overview and analysis of the report. More from Just the Facts, EFE, the Miami Herald and El País.
Chilean presidential elections this weekend
This Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. As analyst James Bosworth noted, it is a “near certainty” former President Michelle Bachelet, a self-declared socialist from the opposition party, will beat out conservative ruling party candidate Evelyn Matthei. In the event that Bachelet does not receive the required 51% of the vote this Sunday, run-off elections will be held in December. More from the Miami Herald and Associated Press about Bachelet’s radical proposed plans for reform. This will be the first election in which voting is voluntary rather than compulsory.
On Monday, the Colombian government said it discovered a plot by FARC rebels to assassinate former President Álvaro Uribe and the country’s Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre. While there did not appear to be immediate fallout from the revelations, lead government negotiator Humerto de la Calle warned should such an attack take place, negotiations would be “destroyed.” The revealed plot has fomented concerns that the FARC’s central command negotiating in Havana does not have control over mid-level members of the group. More from La Silla Vacía.
The negotiating teams in Havana have worked out agreements on land and the FARC’s participation in politics. On Monday, both sides will begin talks on the drug trade. In a lengthy post published Tuesday, FARC’s top commander “Timochenko” said the group would debate the legalization of illicit crops in negotiations, noting the group has advocated for a shift in policy for several years. More from Colombia Reports. For further analysis on the progress on the peace talks, see this post by Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace, the Pan-American Post, and Semana.
The Latin America Working Group published a report, “ Far from the Promised Land”(pdf)examining land restitution along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The authors looked at the sluggish implementation of 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which set out procedures to grant reparations and land return to victims of the armed conflict. They found that “land restitution is just beginning to be implemented, but that both land restitution and victims’ reparations promised under the law are, for most victims, still a distant dream.”
On Thursday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. Maduro says he will use the special powers to target corruption and the country’s economic problems, while critics claim he will use the silence the opposition in upcoming local elections. On Tuesday, the Congress stripped an opposition lawmaker of her immunity to be prosecuted for corruption, and a government supporter was put in her place, giving the ruling party the 99th vote needed to pass the measure. This was the first of two votes the Congress will hold. The next will take place Tuesday. More from the BBC, Ultimas noticias and El Universal.
InSight Crime translated an excellent investigation about the Venezuelan military’s involvement in drug trafficking. “Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms” first appeared in Spanish in El Universal Domingo.
On Monday, Mexico announced it would be firing or demoting 700 state police officers in Michoácan for failing to pass a vetting process. Police forces have been accused of ties to the Knights Templar drug gang. This week Mexican newspaper Milenio published a report which found that in one month, in an “important city in Michoácan,” one state police officer receives over $18,000 from the cartel, while a federal police official receives about $27,000 and an official from the Attorney General’s Office receives almost $19,000.
Three unidentified armed persons broke into the office of a Salvadoran non-profit agency whose mission is to track down children disappeared during the country’s civil war. They tied up the guard, stole several computers and set fire the organization’s archives. The country’s human rights prosecutor, David Morales, suggested the attack was linked to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal to a law granting amnesty for human right violations committed during the war. The group had apparently backed up all files that had been destroyed. More from the Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Office on Latin America.
Writing for InSight Crime, Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva examined impunity for high-level corruption within El Salvador’s Civil National Police.
French police arrived in Brazil this week to train Rio de Janeiro’s military police in how to handle large-scale protests without using excessive force.
The Rio State Security Secretariat suspended the creation of new Pacifying Police Units, after reports of inappropriate use of force, forced disappearance and torture. Rio On Watch has an update on the city’s plans to target increased violence.