The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
Human Rights Watch released a report, "Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored," documenting Mexican security forces' participation in forced disappearances. The report's findings were alarming and highlighted Mexico's police problem. As analyst James Bosworth notes, "The number of police abuses listed in this report - including illegal detentions, corruption and collusion with organized crime - is incredibly high and much worse than the military abuses." It also underscores the failures of country's judicial system, noting that prosecutors delay or avoid investigations. Some of the reports findings include:
Security forces were involved in 149 of the 249 cases of forced disappearances investigated.
None of the 249 cases investigated by HRW have led to a conviction in a court of law.
In 54 cases of force disappearance, the Mexican Army, Navy or Federal Police were involved. Local police were involved in about 40 percent of the 249 cases.
The number of those disappeared under former President Felipe Calderón, previously thought to be 25,000, is actually 27,000.
The HRW report comes on the heels of a civil society group identifying Acapulco in the Guerrero state as Mexico's most violent municipality in 2012. Of those included on the list of the most violent municipalities in the country, five out of the top twenty were located in Guerrero.
The Guerrero state has also seen a growth in the widely debated "self-defense" vigilante groups. This week the Associated Press reported the first killing of a suspect by one such group, while El Universal claims it was the second. Animal Politico offers a good interactive map of the vigilante groups.
El Chapo Guzman, head of Sinaloa Cartel
Authorities are investigating whether a shootout occurred in the Guatemalan department of Petén last night that resulted in the death of El Chapo Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Latin America's biggest drug trafficker. According to Insight Crime, the country’s Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez confirmed that there had been two confrontations, while a Guatemalan army spokesman said there was no sign that a shootout had occurred at one of the sites. Lopez said one of the dead allegedly "looked like" El Chapo, however reports of what happened remain confused. The Insight Crime article provides good analysis of what the news-- albeit likely false, according to the website-- would mean for Mexico.
Colombian NGO Somos Defensores reported that 2012 was the deadliest year in the past decade for human rights activists in Colombia. According to the group, one human rights advocate was attacked every 20 hours and one was killed every five days, reported news website Colombia Reports. Semana magazine has an infographic on the data.
A good article in Christian Science Monitor looks at the recent wave of FARC attacks and its impact on peace talks between the government and the rebel group, which began a new round on Monday. According to the article, "the fact that negotiations have withstood the strain is a promising sign of the strength of the process, analysts say."
Colombia's ELN rebel group announced that it was working with the FARC to fight natural resource-mining mega projects together in the Antioquia department. The announcement, posted on the ELN's website, says that leaders of the two groups met in early February and decided "to keep fighting against mega projects including mining exploitation, large dams for hydropower and monocultivation of woods and agro fuels that impoverish people and the environment."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual Human Rights report on Colombia today. The document highlights continued concerns about attacks on human rights defenders, military jurisdiction over crimes committed against civilians by soldiers, impunity for human rights violations and the ongoing threat of neo-paramilitaries. It praises the current peace process in Havana and the passage and beginning steps of implementation of the Victims Law.
The former head of Honduran police, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, accused police and military officers for his son's murder last Sunday. Officials said the teenager was killed by gang members, however, Ramirez claimed corrupt security force members killed his son in a failed kidnap attempt.
Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reported an alarming statistic that more than 60,000 murders committed over the past ten years in the country have yet to be investigated.
Given reports of a recent increase in revenge killings between rival gangs, there are concerns that the gang truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs could be breaking down. According to Insight Crime, "recent killings had seen the murder rate creep up to an average of 6.6 a day since the start of this year, up from 5.3 at the end of 2012. However, the rate still remains far below the average of 14 murders a day registered before the truce."
The Associated Press put out an article on Monday looking at U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Costa Rica. Although the country's crime levels remain the second-lowest in Central America (after Nicaragua), in recent years the country has seen a spike in crime due to its increasing involvement in the drug trade. To counter this trend, "Costa Rica's conservative government has proposed looser wiretapping laws, easier confiscation of suspect assets and quicker approval of U.S. warships docking in Costa Rican ports," reports the AP.
The article notes that the U.S. spent over $18.4 million in direct security aid to Costa Rica in 2012. It also continues to equip the army-less country with gear such as night vision goggles, provides law enforcement with training and invested in a $2m satellite and radio communications station on the Pacific Coast linked to the U.S. anti-drug command in Key West.
On Wednesday, a seven-member delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Cuba and met with imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and with Cuban President Raúl Castro to discuss improving bilateral relations.
A senior official in the Obama administration said there is "a pretty clear case" for Cuba to be removed from the State Department's "state sponsors of terrorism" list (which includes Syria, Sudan and Iran), according to the Boston Globe. The article mentions that while Congress must vote on whether or not to lift the embargo, the Obama administration can act unilaterally to remove Cuba from the terrorist list, which has been a key obstacle to negotiations with the Castro government. Both the White House and State Department have denied they are considering removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.
Caricom meeting in Haiti
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attended a summit in Haiti of the 15-member Caribbean Community, known as Caricom. The discussion centered on crime and security concerns, but the main point of media coverage surrounded gun control. The group asked for the United States’ help in ensuring an international arms treaty included provisions dealing with small arms. "It is the small arms and ammunition which do the most damage in the Caricom region," said Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which is in charge of security issues within the bloc.
U.S. in the region
United States Southern Command leader John Kelly visited Panama this week and met with President Ricardo Martinelli, Minister of Public Security Jose Mulino, and the directors of Panama's National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the Panamanian National Police. He then spent two days in Guatemala to meet with senior government and security officials. This was General Kelly's second trip to Central America this year.
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
On Wednesday, the FARC killed seven soldiers and injured five others in the worst violence against security forces since the peace talks began. The group also agreed to hand over two police officers being held to delegates from the Red Cross and the NGO Colombians for Peace on Thursday. The release was canceled at the last minute, however, because the heightened media presence made it difficult to carry out the mission. To facilitate the release, the government extended a temporary military ceasefire until midnight in two southwestern states, however both officers were released this afternoon.
A third hostage, a Colombian soldier, is scheduled to be released on Saturday. Since the unilateral ceasefire was lifted on January 20, fighting has intensified and the FARC “have increased attacks on civilian and military targets, taken hostages and blown up oil and energy infrastructure in a bid to force the government to suspend hostilities,” reports The Guardian.
On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced details about his new security strategy. According to the Associated Press, the government will spend $9.2 billion in 2013 on social programs for youth in the country's 251 most violent towns. The plan focuses on crime prevention more than punishment, marking a clear change in tone from Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who primarily focused on targeting cartel leaders. Security analyst Alejandro Hope said, "They're going to throw a lot of money at a lot of programs. That is ground for skepticism, the level of specificity is not there yet. I find this disconcerting."
On Thursday the Associated Press reported that Mexico will ask the United States to focus counternarcotics aid on social programs and prevention. About 2 perent of the current $1.9 billion under the Mérida Initiative is intended for social programs, with the majority of the funds going to intelligence transport and training for Mexican law enforcement, according to Mexican Assistant Interior Secretary Roberto Campa.
Alejandro Hope wrote a piece on murder rates in Mexico, concluding that it is too early to know if the security situation is getting better or worse.
On Thursday, the Chicago Crime Commission announced that it designated the head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, as the city's new "Public Enemy Number One." This is the first time the term has been used since it was created for Al Capone in 1930. The Sinaloa cartel supplies the majority of drugs sold in Chicago. According to Reuters, Jack Riley, head of the DEA in Chicago, said the cartel is so deeply embedded in Chicago that law enforcement officers have to operate as if Chicago were on the border with Mexico instead of 1,500 miles away.
InSight Crime released a special report on Ciudad Juarez, looking at the causes behind the drop in violence in the past two years.
Peru has plans to construct a 476-hectare airfield and military base for counternarcotics operations. The base will be built on the eastern edge of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, an area known as the VRAE, where authorities say Shining Path guerrillas are increasing their drug trafficking operations. The base is intended to improve "logistical operations ... in the face of the increase in terrorist activity in the CE-VRAE (VRAE Special Command)," according to a Ministry of Defense report. United States military aid advisors helped the Peruvian air force develop plans for the base, reported La República, but made no mention if the U.S. helped fund the initiative.
According to InSight Crime, "the VRAE is the site of an estimated third of Peru's drug crops and home to the biggest remaining faction of Maoist guerrilla group the Shining Path, which is deeply involved in the drug trade and uses the region to mount attacks against security forces." The plan is causing outrage among locals, who say the government said a civilian airfield meant to increase tourism and export produce. The land will be expropriated from 100 families.
The Peruvian government also announced that it will start to eradicate coca crops in the VRAE for the first time. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there are about 20,000 hectares of coca in the region. The Peruvian government has budgeted $30 million this year for eradication efforts, planning to reduce coca crops by 6% with the eradication of 22,000 hectares.
The U.S. embassy in Peru has issued a warning for U.S. citizens, saying that Shining Path guerillas "may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area."
On Sunday, current Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will very likely be re-elected for a third term. Several articles have come out this week around the election. An Economist article gives a good overview of the positive initiatives Correa has put in place, such as investment in infrastructure, as well as the negative aspects, including his abuses of power and clamp down on freedom of expression. Another article in the Economist's Intelligence Unit noted that while there exists the potential for fraudulence during the elections, it is not likely given Correa's public popularity, as opinion polls show 62 percent of the country back him. BBC Mundo profiled the other seven candidates, while the BBC examined what his victory will mean for the country.
The U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan Military Industry Company (Cavim), a state-owned Venezuelan weapons company. According to a State Department press release, the company was sanctioned after it traded with Iran, North Korea or Syria.
On Friday, the Venezuelan government released photos of ailing President Hugo Chávez for the first time in over two months. The pictures show him with his daughters in Cuba, and some show him reading Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma. On Wednesday, Vice President Nicholas Maduro said President Chávez is undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments.
The Congressional Research Service released a new report (.pdf) outlining the key issues for U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean.
“In the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War, the U.S. has militarized the battle against the traffickers, spending more than $20 billion in the past decade,” reports the Associated Press. “At any given moment, 4,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Latin America and as many as four U.S. Navy ships are plying the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines of Central America. U.S. pilots clocked more than 46,400 hours in 2011 flying anti-drug missions.”
The Colombian government reported that landmines and unexploded munitions killed25 civilians and injured 94 more between January and June 2012.
As of August 2012, the Human Rights Unit of Colombia’s attorney general’s office had obtained convictions for less than 10% of 1,727 cases of extrajudicial killings, most committed between 2004 and 2008, involving more than 3,000 victims.
Although murders of trade unionists are down in Colombia from a decade ago, threats against unionists continue to be widespread, with 539 cases in 2011 and 255 between January and September 15, 2012.
Bogotá, Colombia’s homicide rate hit its lowest point in 30 years, with 16.92 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2012.
The number of homicides in Mexico in 2012 fell to “somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000,” down from a record high of 27,000 in 2011, according to a new report by the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
At the same time, the number of drug-related homicides in Mexico has remained essentially the same, at more than 12,000 people according to the latest Mexican media tallies, which is roughly the same number as 2010 and 2011.
In 2012, 591 inmatesdied and 1,132 were injured in violent incidents in Venezuelan prisons.
Every year since 2010, Venezuela has had at least one prison tragedy in which 50 or more people have been killed or seriously injured. The most recent riot left over 60 people dead and 120 injured from the Uribana prison.
Two Brazilian companies share a 60 percent stake in Harpia, a company that will develop drones in Brazil. The third company, with 40 percent ownership, is Israel’s Elbit Systems, which has sold drones to Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and perhaps other Latin American countries.
“Some economists think the annual inflation rate could rise as high as 30% this year” in Argentina, the BBC reports.
An 84-year-old priest in Caldas became the third Catholic priestmurdered in a three-week period in Colombia.
U.S. Defense Department “contracts have more than doubled since 2010 in Guatemala, where there is a ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army. However, the ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance,” reports the Fellowship of Reconciliation. “The contracts for nearly $14 million in 2012 amount to more than seven times what it was in 2009.”
Before Venezuela’s February 8 currency devaluation, a Big Mac at McDonalds costUS$16.27 at the official exchange rate.
Since 1999, Colombia’s child-welfare agency has assisted5,092 former guerrilla and paramilitary fighters under the age of 18.
Of 109 alleged human rights abuse cases for which the Mexican government’s ombudsman has recommended action, Mexico’s Defense Secretariat (Ministry) has closed 63 cases – but arrived at only two convictions.
“For Brazil to keep up with [electricity] demand, two giant dams, just like this one, must go up every year,” said the director of a project to build the 14th-largest dam in the world on an Amazon River tributary.
Gallup asked Central Americans whether street crime or narcotrafficking should be their government’s priority. A majority said “street crime” in El Salvador (by a 79%-18% margin), Guatemala (64-30), Honduras (57-40), and Panama (43-42). A majority said “narcotrafficking” in Costa Rica (51-41) and Nicaragua (55-35).
The Western Hemisphere country with the most military personnel per capita is, surprisingly, Uruguay with 744 soldiers, sailors or airmen per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Colombia (633 per 100,000), the United States (505) and Venezuela (416). Brazil (157), Honduras (147) and Guatemala (110) are at the bottom of the list of nations with militaries in the region.
Written with research assistance from WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman.
U.S. military personnel carry out a very regular schedule of exercises and training deployments throughout Latin America. Here, based on official releases and press reports, is a glimpse of these activities in December and January, in alphabetical order by country.
The Southern Command’s Honduras-based “Joint Task Force-Bravo” component and the Belize Ministry of Health carried out a joint Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) on January 15, 2013, at the Copper Bank Primary School in Copper Bank, Belize.
On a January visit to Rio de Janeiro, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert met with the commander of the Brazilian Navy and toured multiple Brazilian naval facilities, including the Aramar Nuclear Facility. Greenert stated that the “U.S. Navy will assist Brazil with lessons learned from the development of the U.S. nuclear submarine program to help foster Brazil’s subsurface capabilities.” The Brazilian navy and Marine Corps carried out a live amphibious assault exercise and performed a simulated pilot rescue mission in honor of Greenert’s visit.
In December the USNS PATHFINDER, part of the U.S. Southern Command Oceanographic Southern Partnership Station, assisted the Chilean Navy’s Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service to re-survey the seafloor in and around the Bay of Concepción and Golfo de Arauco. In addition to the survey, reads a U.S. embassy release, “Chilean Navy and U.S. Navy hydrographers and oceanographers will also use this time to share their expertise and learn from one another.”
Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, commander of Southcom’s U.S. Army South component, met in December with “key” leaders of the Salvadoran army and traveled to remote areas where “Beyond the Horizon 2013,” a U.S. Army South exercise deploying military engineers and medical professionals, will take place.
In January “The Message Program,” a U.S.-based non-profit, worked with the Military Group at the American Embassy in Guatemala and the Guatemalan Army’s 6th Brigade to supply and equip two clinics and one school in Alta Verapaz department. The clinics and schools are part of the Southern Command’s “Beyond the Horizon” series of construction and humanitarian aid exercises.
Servicemen from Joint Task Force-Bravo completed a four-day Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) in Chiquimula, Guatemala from December 11-15, 2012.
Members of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Unit 4, including 10 members of SEAL Team 18, recently completed six months in Honduras. There, they train a newly created naval Special Forces unit, Fuerzas Especiales Naval (FEN). In total, 45 Honduran personnel completed training over the course of two eight-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL style training courses.
In December, U.S. Northern Command completed the first phase of training for more than 400 Mexican firefighters in seven cities as part of its Humanitarian Assistance Program. Phase One focused on fire chiefs, Phase Two will focus on lieutenants and captains, and Phase Three will focus on frontline firefighters. Training was conducted by Chemonics, a U.S. company contracted by Northcom.
As U.S. Northern Command pursues closer engagement with Mexico, Army Major General Francis G. Mahon, Northcom’s director for strategy, plans and policy, said in January that he hopes to begin bilateral exercises with Mexico. U.S. and Mexican military officials will begin to plan their first bilateral air defense exercise this month. which is expected to take place later this year.
Last year, Mexican military leaders participated in several “tabletop” simulation exercises, and sent observers to Northcom’s “Ardent Sentry” exercise last spring.
“It’s all about getting comfortable with each other and hopefully, advancing in the relationship,” Gen. Mahon said. “It would be wonderful, someday, to take a Mexican company [about 200 soldiers] to the National Training Center to train with an American battalion or brigade.”
Mexico’s constitution explicitly prohibits foreign forces from operating on Mexican soil. But as SEDENA and SEMAR, Mexico’s army and navy, respectively, shed their internal focus, they are becoming increasingly open to combined training and subject matter expert exchanges, Mahon said.
Research for, and some drafting of, this post was carried out by WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman.
The news coming out of Honduras continues to reveal a flailing economy, political instability, and endemic corruption of the security forces and judicial system. A previous post gave an overview of the country's institutional, financial and security troubles at the outset of 2013. Here's a new update.
As explained in the prior post, Congress removed four Supreme Court justices at the behest of current President Lobo following several decisions that went against his administration, most notably blocking a police reform law he had been championing. Congress did so without an impeachment trial, prompting the dismissed justices to file an appeal questioning the constitutionality of the decision. Until recently the case had not been tried because there were no sitting justices to rule on the appeal.
Last week, a special Supreme Court of justices hand-picked by the only judge not to get fired - Chief Justice Jorge Rivera Aviles - voted 13-2 not to admit the justices' appeal. While it should be noted that the removed justices were seen as corrupt, the move has elicited a clear message of disapproval from the opposition. In response to the decision, Salvador Nasralla, the Anti-Corruption party candidate for president, said, "They think it's a soccer match, but internationally, if today the justices are not returned, Honduras will be considered a dictatorship and that is serious because it removes the rule of law we've boasted about."
Since removing the justices, the National Congress has passed several new laws, some of which were previously blocked by removed justices:
A new telecommunications law, which will provide little security protection for users online and increase the government's regulation of traditional and social media. President Lobo also accused local media of damaging Honduras' image internationally, saying the violence in the country receives too much coverage and that the justice ministry should sue media outlets before the UN. The government has recently proposed a bill which would create a council intended to monitor all media coverage.
A much-criticized mining law and a "Charter Cities" law authorizing the creation of privatized territories bolstered by foreign investment governed autonomously in which the constitution itself doesn't apply.
A law allowing lawmakers to impeach any elected official as well as one removing Honduran citizens' rights to challenge the constitutionality of a law. Now citizens may only challenge regulations adopted to enforce the law.
A police purification law that the previous court claimed did not give officers due process, as well as a bill creating a security agency fusing military defense and internal security. According to Inter-Press Service, this new National Directorate of Investigation and Intelligence (DNII) "does not appear to be accountable to any other body, and does not appear to be under democratic civilian control."
Crime and Security
The security situation in the country seems to be getting worse as 1,400 soldiers have been deployed to the country's two largest cities.
According to Insight Crime, "Thanks to political instability, rampant corruption in the security forces and judicial system, Honduras has become that path of least resistance [for smuggling].Added to this is the fact that Honduras is the principal air bridge for cocaine from South America, with the departure point being Venezuela." The State Department has reported that some 40% of all cocaine destined to U.S. initially lands in Honduras.
Honduras' Defense Minister Marlon Pascua noted the increased presence of transnational crime in the country, saying, "There are various organizations, not only Honduran, but also with people infiltrated from other countries, Mexican cartels which have relationships with Honduran criminals and Colombian cartels, which also have relationships with criminals here."
Last month Honduran authorities found cars and weapons allegedly belonging to the Zetas, including a gold-plated AK-47. "Honduras has become the principal handover point for cocaine between Colombian and Mexican cartels. Transnational organized crime follows the path of least resistance," reported Insight.
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report on U.S.- Honduran relations, over 78% of Hondurans report having little or no confidence in the police force while 68% have little or no confidence in the armed forces. The same report noted that about 80% of crimes are never investigated according to the Honduran government's National Commissioner for Human Rights.
CRS also noted that in 2012, Honduras had roughly 10,600 military personnel, a defense budget of $189 million (1% of GDP) with less than 2% invested in maintenance and procurement, meaning the country depended on international donors for the majority of its equipment/technology.
Footage of hit men carrying out killings last November in Comayagüela, a city just outside the capital, Tegucigalpa, was released last week. The rather graphic video from a surveillance camera shows eight men get out of two vehicles and shoot two men dead and injure another. The video has deepened existing public outrage at endemic impunity and the government's inability to keep citizens safe.
Last week, gangs imposed a curfew in parts of the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa, posting signs that said: "At 7 p.m. we want to see businesses closed and people in their houses." According to Insight Crime and La Prensa, gang wars are escalating between Barrio 18, one of the region's largest street gangs, and the Chirizos, a newer local gang. Two police stations formerly located in the area have been closed for years according to residents.
In response to news of the gang curfew, last Friday Honduran President Porfirio Lobo deployed the military to the two largest cities in the country in order to crack down on rising crime. 800 soldiers were sent to Tegucigalpa and 600 to San Pedro Sula, as part of "Operation Freedom" (Operación Libertad). Over the weekend 13 people were killed in the country's capital.
A Mexican NGO, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal), released a list of the world's most dangerous cities. Honduras' second largest city, San Pedro Sula, topped the list, registering 169 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, while Tegucigalpa, the country's capital came in at number 4.
Over 60 subsistence farmers and indigenous leaders have been assassinated by paramilitary units hired by large land owners since the 2009 ouster. According to an article in Upside Down World, a quarter of the country's arable land is monopolized by less than 1% of the farmers. However, due in part to increasing global demand for palm oil, there is a continuing land conflict in the Aguán Valley.
The general elections scheduled for November 2013 will be the first since the 2009 vote following the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted ex-president Manuel Zelaya, is ahead in the polls as the candidate for the newly-created leftist LIBRE party, over Juan Orlando Hernandez, the National Party candidate and current head of Congress. The assassination of at least five opposition party activists and candidates in the last year draws attention to fair campaign play in the coming months.
The Honduran government is struggling to pay both its domestic and foreign bills. Public employees have gone unpaid and basic government services suspended.
The government is unable to access $500 million worth of assets seized from criminals over the past three years due to inefficiency and corruption with the country's judicial system, according to Insight Crime. Operations by anti-narcotics officers, special investigators, police and prosecutors seized 153 properties, 266 cars and more than $5 million during 2010, 2011 and 2012, however until a judge authorizes the transfers, the Honduran government cannot access it.
Tax collection is Honduras' main fiscal problem. On January 31, President Porfirio Lobo announced the creation of a commission consisting of 14 representatives from the public and private sectors to investigate tax exemptions and exonerations. According to Southern Pulse, the commission will propose a budget and submit recommendations after 60 days. According to President Lobo, these benefits extended to businesses and private institutions have not helped stimulate the country's economy.
US involvement in counternarcotics operations
An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times this week notes, "The United States is expanding its military presence in Honduras on a spectacular scale," despite human rights abuses and unconstitutional government actions. As was indicated in a previous post, several articles have come out recently about U.S. military presence and investment in the region, but here are some Honduras- specific numbers and news.
The commander of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) specifically mentioned Honduras in an interview last week as an area of concern, because "constrained resources limit its special operators’ ability to reach ungoverned sections of the country that offer traffickers safe havens." He noted that traffickers return to these rural areas after trainings and operations end, saying, "The problem is that the activity is not persistent." No specific operation plans for Honduras have been revealed by the U.S. government following the end of a joint State Department and DEA mission, Operation Anvil, that resulted in the shootings of suspects and innocent civilians, however it was reported that U.S. Navy SEALs spent 6 months training a 45-man Special Forces anti-trafficking unit within the Honduran Navy. The new unit is called the Honduran Fuerza Especiales Naval or (FEN).
58 members of the House, led by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Atty. Gen. Eric Holder demanding an investigation into the DEA over its role the murder of four civilians in May 2012.
An Associated Press article noted the National Guard's presence in Honduras and highlighted more numbers:
In 2012, the U.S. Defense Department spent a record $67.4 million on military contracts in Honduras, triple the 2002 defense contracts there and well above the $45.6 million spent in neighboring Guatemala in 2012.
Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon could provide details explaining a 2011 $1.3 billion authorization for exports of military electronics to Honduras — although that would amount to almost half of all U.S. arms exports for the entire Western Hemisphere.
A report by John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (reposted on Just the Facts) examined Pentagon contracts in Latin America for 2012. According to Poland, “Honduras, which has become a hub for Pentagon operations in Central America, is the site for more than $43 million in non-fuel contracts signed last year.” He also found that the Pentagon contracted $24 million in Honduras for fuel purchases.
Chinese Army participants in a marksmanship course pose with their Colombian instructors last August (source).
In its publicstatementsabout Colombia lately, the Obama administration has praised the South American country as a “security exporter.” As a June 2012 Defense Department release put it, “Colombia now serves as a regional training base to help other nations in their counterdrug efforts.”
Colombia is now not only the Western Hemisphere’s largest recipient of U.S. military and police assistance. Its security forces are also training, advising and otherwise assisting those of third countries. “Colombia, for example, offers capacity-building assistance in 16 countries inside and outside the region, including Africa,” according to an April 2012 Defense Department news release. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón told the Miami Herald recently that his forces have trained more than 13,000 individuals from 40 countries since 2005.
This trend is accelerating. As part of an ongoing “High Level Strategic Security Dialogue,” in early 2012 the U.S. and Colombian governments developed an “Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation,” through which they intend to coordinate aid to third countries. According to a joint press release:
“Both countries will develop complementary security assistance programs and operational efforts to support hemispheric and international partner nations afflicted by effects of transnational organized crime. Increased coordination of U.S. and Colombia defense and security support activities, which are aligned with efforts by both countries to strengthen civilian law enforcement capacity and capabilities, will support whole-of-government strategies and produce a greater effect throughout the hemisphere and West Africa.”
We don’t know the extent of these “defense and security support activities,” or what portion of them are funded by the United States (probably the majority). However, a combination of primary and secondary sources yields the following examples of what has been happening.
With funding from the State Department-managed Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), Colombia’s National Police participate in a Central America Regional Police Reform Project. “[T]he Colombian National Police provides training and assistance in such topics as community policing, police academy instructor training, and curriculum development in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama,” reads an April 2012 joint press release. “To complement this police training by Colombia, the United States trains prosecutors in these countries.”
“Colombia sends mobile training teams to El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica,” the commander of U.S. Army South, a component of U.S. Southern Command, noted in June 2012. Colombia trains police in Honduras and Guatemala, a senior U.S. defense official said in April 2012.
That month, members of the Colombian Navy’s new Coast Guard Mobile Training Group traveled to Honduras for its first foreign training mission, with 47 Honduran military students. In July 2012, this unit gave an 11-day course to 37 members of Panama’s National Police, National Border Service, and Institutional Protection Service. According to a July 2012 release from Colombia’s armed forces, the Navy Training Group planned to offer similar courses to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and again Honduras during the second half of 2012.
In November 2012, 12 enlisted men from Panama’s security forces were receiving training alongside fifty counterparts from Colombia’s army in Tolemaida, Tolima, the Bogotá daily El Tiemporeported. The Panamanian government paid the training costs for some, while others received grants, El Tiempo indicated, without indicating these grants’ origin. “The militaries of Ecuador, Argentina, and Central American nations have requested spaces [in this course],” the director of the Colombian Army’s Non-Commissioned Officers School (Escuela Militar de Suboficiales), Col. Juan Felipe Yepes, said. “We’ve now had more than 100 [students] from other countries, and more requests keep coming.”
In May 2012, the Tolemaida army base graduated 22 members of Panama’s National Border Service who took part in “International 81-Millimeter Mortars Course No. 02.”
Colombia is also offering training to some neighbors in South America. In August 2012, Peru sent two naval officers to Coveñas, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, for an explosives technician course. “The Navy of Colombia has invited the Navy of Peru to send Navy personnel to participate in several courses, among them the Marines course, during the 2012 academic year,” reads a Peruvian government resolution [PDF]. That month, seven Colombian Special Forces and Army helicopter pilots paid a visit to Junín, Peru for a 15-day “exchange of experiences” with about 90 representatives of that country’s security forces. In October 2012, the commander of Peru’s army paid a visit to the Colombian Army’s Tolemaida base, where he “highlighted the training, capacities and skills that his men acquire” there, according to a Colombian Army release.
The U.S. government has encouraged Peru to work more closely with Colombia. “The United States stands ready to work with Peru on joint planning, on information sharing, trilateral cooperation with Colombia to address our shared security concerns,” said outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during an October 2012 visit to Lima.
In January 2013, the director of Ecuador’s military academy paid a visit to the Colombian Army’s Tolemaida base “to learn about the academic procedures the Colombian Military uses to educate and train its own soldiers.” In October 2012, the commanding officers of the Marine Corps of Ecuador visited Colombia’s Marine Training Base, where they viewed a demonstration of some of the training that the facility offers. The release from Colombia’s Navy did not indicate whether Ecuadorian personnel have received, or will receive, training at this base.
Training of forces from the Caribbean has included the Colombian Naval Academy’s December 2012 graduation of two cadets from the Dominican Republic.
Colombia’s training relationship with Mexico is quite extensive. It has included the instruction of “thousands of Mexican policemen,” as the Washington Postreported back in January 2011.
“Early one morning shortly before dawn, Colombian police commandos barked orders like drill sergeants at six Mexican policemen and two Mexican soldiers during a mock attack here outside Cajica, a town on a frigid mountain in central Colombia. The target in the training exercise: a heavily defended rebel camp.
It was the tail end of four months of training that included lessons on how to carry out operations in the jungle, jump from helicopters, defuse bombs and conduct raids on urban strongholds.”
“Colombian service members have trained more than two dozen Mexican helicopter pilots” as of April 2012, a U.S. Defense official said in a Pentagon news release.
Sixteen Mexican students — 15 federal police and one army soldier — participated in the grueling 19-week course given by the Colombian National Police’s (CNP) elite Jungla commando unit between July and December 2011. Also taking part in the course, at the Jungla base in Tolima department, were about 58 students from ten other Latin American countries: Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay. (Not all of them graduated.) “This Colombian initiative is supported by the U.S. Embassy through its Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS) and the DEA,” reads a U.S. embassy press release. “Since 2007, the NAS-financed CNP National Training Center in Pijaos has trained nearly 300 international students. NAS has allotted nearly 8 million dollars in the construction of the training center’s initial phase, inaugurated in 2008.”
Sources reveal several other multi-country training events. The Colombian Army’s Lancero Special Forces unit, similar to the U.S. Army’s Rangers, now offers an international course at the Tolemaida base. Colombia’s armed forces report that 581 trainees from 18 countries have taken the Lancero course including, in December 2012, 15 graduates from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, and Peru.
The Colombian Armed Forces’ Superior War College hosted the April 2012 Inter-American Naval War Games, in which representatives from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Mexico, Peru, and the Dominican Republic participated in threat simulations to coordinate joint action.
In June 2012, Colombia hostedFuerzas Comando, an annual competition between Latin America’s Special Forces sponsored by U.S. Southern Command. Those competing at the Colombian National Training Center in Tolemaida included the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Uruguay.
Another multi-nation event took place in Cartagena in June-August 2012, where Colombia’s Navy trained officers from Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panamá, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States. They received coast guard instruction, according to a Notimex article: “maritime interdiction procedures, maneuvers, exercises with interceptor craft, defense and survival techniques.” Since this course’s inauguration in 2012, Notimex notes, Colombia has given it to 114 students from 24 Western Hemisphere countries. A new session of this two-month Coast Guard course began in September 2012 with the participation of 14 trainees from Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.
In October 2012, Colombia’s Army hosted a “First International Doctrine Symposium” in Bogotá, with the presence of representatives from Brazil, Chile, China, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Colombia is also training some personnel from outside Latin America. “People’s Republic of China Colonel Deng Yubo said that [Chinese personnel] have been in Tolemaida for a month receiving marksmanship training,” reported Colombia’s Colprensa wire service in August 2012. The ten-week course took place at the Colombian Army’s Lancero School.
Police from ten African countries were in Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, in January 2013 to take part in a Colombian National Police-hosted port and airport security seminar. According to an April 2012 Pentagon news release, “[T]he Defense Department is looking to Colombia and Brazil, both of which already have deep ties to Africa and now provide assistance there, to help U.S. Africa Command with peacekeeping and other efforts there.”
Even as they face their country’s own unresolved armed conflict and organized crime challenges, Colombia’s security forces will be increasing their training of other countries’ militaries and police. This will often happen with U.S. support. This was a chief topic when top officials from both countries met in Bogotá last November to continue the U.S.-Colombia “High Level Strategic Security Dialogue.” An unnamed Defense Department official said in October, “we’re building a detailed action plan where we and the Colombians will coordinate who does what … so we leverage … the resources and capabilities we have to effectively do capacity building and training and other things in Central America and in other places.”
While Colombia has a lot of experience with the type of operations that police around Latin America must carry out today — organized crime investigations, drug interdiction, efforts to arrest kingpins — the expansion of its training raises concerns, especially when the U.S. government is paying the bill.
What human rights messages are Colombian trainers conveying, both inside and outside the classroom? Colombia’s armed forces continue to confront allegations, including judicial cases, of thousands of abuses in the past 10-20 years. Some of the most prominent are a wave of extrajudicial executions during the mid-2000s and widespread collaboration with murderous paramilitary groups in the 1990s and early 2000s. Colombian military officials frequently express disdain for, or outright anger at, the country’s judicial system and non-governmental human rights defenders, and their institution recently pressed successfully to reduce civilian courts’ jurisdiction over them in human rights cases.
Especially when the U.S. government is paying, what assurances do we have about the quality and rigor of the training and education being provided? Colombian officers have long experience in combat and fighting organized crime, but their ability as trainers and the quality of their instructor courses is unknown.
When the U.S. government is paying, how can citizens and congressional oversight personnel get information about courses given, recipient countries and units, the identities of trainers, the number of trainees, and the overall cost? Training by U.S. officials generally shows up in the State Department’s annual Foreign Military Training Reports, but the work of U.S.-funded Colombian trainers rarely, if ever, appears in these reports. This raises a critical transparency issue.
When the U.S. government is paying, and information about training events is unavailable or difficult to obtain, how can we verify that human rights conditions in foreign aid law are being respected? How can we be sure that the units and individuals giving and receiving the training are clear of credible allegations of past abuse?
(WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman contributed much research to this post.)
Recently there have been several reports and articles about the increasing militarization of the drug war, particularly in Central America. U.S. government investment and involvement in security throughout Latin America and the Caribbean has also been given much attention in the media. Below is a compilation of articles describing recent U.S. security-related activity in the region.
U.S. security spending and investment in the region
The Associated Press put out a great article Monday, "U.S. military expands its drug war in Latin America," reporting that "as the drug war in Latin America continues to gain momentum, the United States continues to do everything possible to try and combat it." The article provides a good overview of "the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War." Some key findings from the article include:
The U.S. authorized sale of "$2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar
equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011”
Over the past decade, defense contracts jumped from $119 million to $629
In 2012, “almost $9 out of every $10 of U.S. law enforcement and military aid
spent in the region went toward countering narcotics."
At all times, 4,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Latin America.
A short article in Wired magazine, "Here’s What Your $97 Million Drug War in Central America Actually Bought" examines the nearly $100 million over four years that the U.S. has spent on advanced gear and training for Central American forces. The article concludes, "So, for $97 million, the U.S. has gotten drug smugglers to shift their routes and lined the pockets of a human rights abuser. Don’t you feel safer?"
A report by John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation ( reposted on Just the Facts) examined Pentagon contracts in Latin America for 2012. Lindsay-Poland found that the Defense Department issued $444 million in non-fuel contracts and made $130 million in fuel purchased to companies in Latin America. He found "Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefited from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts."
The North American Congress on Latin America published an interesting article today, titled "The Drug Trade and the Increasing Militarization of the Caribbean." The piece looks at U.S. military involvement in the Caribbean, including its increasing use of drones and the Department of Homeland Security's "border security training" for the region's armies.
This week Puerto Rico's Resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to invest millions of dollars to combat drugs and arms trafficking on the island. According to EFE and InsightCrime, DHS plans to "send reinforcements to boost stretched law enforcement agencies, namely the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard." According to El Nuevo Dia newspaper, advisors to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the department is close to announcing new "concrete and substantial steps" to combat drug trafficking in the territory. Puerto Rico has seen an increase in smuggling and crime as it is more and more becoming an important transit country for cocaine smugglers.
This week it was also announced that Carlos Cases will be the FBI's new director for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Cases was previously the director of criminal investigations for Latin America and the Southwest border for the organization.
On Tuesday, the New York Times published an in-depth piece on the United States' influence on Mexican security, reporting that it played a key role in Mexican President Peña Nieto's defense minister selection. According to the article, the Obama administration prevented a general it believed was skimming money off defense contracts and had ties to drug traffickers from becoming the country's defense minister. The Mexican government denied the allegation, while State Department spokesman William Ostick said, "Decisions on the selection of Mexican officials belong only to the government of Mexico."
According to the BBC, a post-mortem report showed that a Mexican teenager was shot dead last year by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The agents apparently opened fired when suspected drug smugglers began throwing rocks at them.
In early January, the director of the Trans-border Institute at the University of San Diego briefed U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) on Mexican security for 2013 at the command's base in Colorado. The briefing, "The Drug War in Mexico: U.S.- Mexico Security Challenges in 2013 and Beyond," looked at the changing security context given Mexico's new government and reviewed the findings of a report released this week by the Justice in Mexico Project on drug violence in Mexico. The report found that killings related to the drug war in the country were waning.
It was reported earlier this year that the recently-created Special Operations Command North would be training elite military units in Mexico to track drug cartels much like U.S. teams have tracked Al Qaeda. Fox News has a good article on concerns that "that U.S. training could fuel human rights abuses -- and even be exploited by the cartels themselves."
Last week House Democrats called on the State and Justice Departments to investigate the DEA's role in the murder of four civilians in Honduras last May.
U.S.Navy SEALs spent 6 months setting up a 45-man Special Forces anti- trafficking unit within the Honduran Navy. The new unit is called the Honduran Fuerza Especiales Naval or FEN.
The United States Southern Command
Last week, the American Forces Press Services published an interview with Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOUTHSOC). Mulholland noted that he is pushing for increased U.S. military engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean and that “On any given day, I have over 300 people deployed downrange to Central and South America, including members of every service’s special operations force and their civil affairs and military information support teams.”
U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Commander Gen. John F. Kelly visited Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Haiti to address continued military cooperation and common security issues. The general’s discussions with each nations’ leaders focused on cooperation in combating transnational threats like organized crime and drug trafficking, support responses to natural disasters, and training engagements.
In a statement following meetings in Trinidad and Tobago, Kelly said, “Security challenges have also changed and today we need to confront or counter threats ranging from stateless actors engaged in illicit trafficking of drugs, arms, money and people, to natural disasters.” In Jamaica, following his meeting with senior defense and government leaders, Kelly met with the U.S. Ambassador to the country, Pamela Bridgewater to "discuss U.S. military support to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative and U.S.-Jamaica bilateral relations." In Haiti, Kelly met with U.S. Ambassador Pamela White and discussed U.S. government assistance efforts in Haiti and security cooperation focus areas with the UN's MINUSTAH mission and the Haitian National Police.
U.S. Army South hosted the Central American Regional Leaders' Conference at its headquarters in Texas from Jan. 28th - Feb. 1st. Senior military and security force leaders from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador, along with Panama's border guard, gathered to give presentations on the security situation in
each country and "build upon the relationships" the region shares with the U.S. The leaders were also given a presentation on the Texas Military Forces and U.S. Border Patrol's joint counternarcotic operations.
Infosur Hoy published an article describing how Colombian government agencies are targeting cybersecurity in the country. The article highlights the U.S. military's cooperation with Colombia through SOUTHCOM's Joint Cyber Center.Analyst James Bosworth provides a larger analysis of the piece, looking at how cybersecurity is handled in the United States.
A few reports on U.S. policy and spending in the region were put out this week, including:
The Congressional Research Service released a report on US-Honduran Relations.
as well as one on Argentina's debt.
The Government Accountability Office released a report on U.S. aid to Central America
Cynthia J. Arnson of the Wilson Center put out a policy brief, "Setting Priorities for U.S. Policy in Latin America"
The Pentagon signed $444 million in non-fuel contracts for purchases and services in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 2012 fiscal year, an overall decrease of nearly 15% from the previous year. But US military spending in the region is still considerably higher than during the George W. Bush administration, when the equivalent Pentagon spending in Latin America averaged $301 million a year.
FOR conducted an analysis of Defense Department contracts listed on usaspending.gov for Fiscal Year 2012, building on the review we did last year.
More than a third of funds for these contracts in the region are being carried out in Cuba, with $158 million for housing upgrades, intelligence analysis, port operations and other services. The United States maintains the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, site of the 11-year-old detention center that holds 171 prisoners without trial, many of whom have been cleared for release.
An additional $130 million in Pentagon contracts was for fuel purchases, including more than $44 million in Brazil, $35 million in Costa Rica, and $24 million in Honduras. Such fuel purchases supply the Fourth Fleet of the Navy, as well as military aircraft and land vehicles used in exercises, operations, and training.
Colombia remained the country with the largest amount of Pentagon contracts in continental Latin America, with $77 million. A multi-year contract shared by Raytheon and Lockheed for training, equipment and other drug war activities accounted for more than a third of Pentagon contract spending in Colombia. Honduras, which has become a hub for Pentagon operations in Central America, is the site for more than $43 million in non-fuel contracts signed last year.
The US Southern Command (SouthCom), responsible for US military activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, is assisting the Panamanian border police, known as SENAFRONT, by upgrading a building in the SENAFRONT compound. The force was implicated in killings of indigenous protesters (PDF) in Bocas del Toro in 2011, and fired indiscriminately with live ammunition (PDF) on Afro-Caribbean protesters last October.
Many countries that host US military activities hope to receive economic benefits and jobs as a result. But more than five of every six Pentagon dollars contracted for services and goods in the region went to US-based companies. Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefitted from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts.
A few corporations dominated Pentagon contracts in the region. CSC Applied Technologies, based in Fort Worth, Texas, received more than $53 million in contracts to operate the Navy’s underwater military testing facility in the Bahamas. Lockheed Martin received more than $40 million in contracts, almost entirely for drug war training, equipment and services in Colombia and Mexico.
Pentagon Focus on Guatemala
Although the Pentagon spent less in most Latin American countries in 2012 than the year before, DOD contracts have more than doubled since 2010 in Guatemala, where there is a ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army. However, the ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance. The contracts for nearly $14 million in 2012 amount to more than seven times what it was in 2009. In addition, the US military spent another $8.1 million on fuel in Guatemala last year, probably for “Beyond the Horizon” military exercises held there and in Honduras from April to July, and perhaps to support the deployment of 200 Marines to Guatemala in August.
The contracts included new assistance to the Guatemalan special forces, known as Kaibiles, former members of which have been implicated in giving training to the Zetas drug cartel, as well as the worst atrocities during the genocide period of the 1980s. Two contracts, funded by SouthCom and signed in September, were for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the Kaibiles training base in Poptun, Petén.
The expenditures included equipment. For the last two years, SouthCom has been providing Boston whaler boats, radios, and tactical vehicles (Jeeps) to Central American militaries. Guatemala is receiving more of the equipment than other countries in the region – 47 Jeeps and 8 Boston whalers, according to a SouthCom document. SouthCom signed a $2.5 million contract in September for Jeeps for Guatemala, and it has purchased more than $2.8 million of Harris military radios for Guatemala since September 2011.
Department of Defense contracts, summaries of which are posted on usaspending.gov, only represent a portion of Pentagon spending. A report to Congress last April (PDF) of Defense Department assistance worldwide showed more than $15 million in military aid to Guatemala in 2010, including $9 million for intelligence analysis, training, boats, trucks, night vision devices, and a “base of operations.” These funds also included more than $6 million of unspecified support for Guatemalan police operations in Cobán, in the Guatemalan highland department of Alta Verapaz. The report didn’t include data after 2010.
On December 7, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency signed a $1.4 million contract with a Guatemalan firm to manage a 10,000-barrel supply of turbine fuel for the next five years in Puerto Quetzal, on Guatemala’s southern coast. This followed a July 2012 solicitation to deliver 63,000 gallons of jet fuel to another southern Guatemalan site, in Retalhuleu.
FOR compiled data on the “country of performance” for contracts. For Guatemala, we also examined data on additional contracts that reference the country, which included a $2.5 million contract signed in late September with a Chrysler distributor to deliver tactical vehicles – some of the Jeeps slated for the country. The US Army also purchased $7.6 million worth of trousers from a producer in Guatemala in 2012.
Some legislation for DOD drug war construction of bases and other infrastructure limits projects to $2 million, and the Southern Command continues to employ this authority frequently to construct a variety of facilities all over the Americas. Here are some of the facilities the US military is constructing around Latin America.
This blog first appeared on the LAWG Blog. To read the original version, click here.
That was the title of the January 30th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider how Congress should move forward to address gun violence. Emotions ran high as the hearing began with a statement from Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who survived a gunshot wound to the head two years ago. She still struggles with speech, but as she faced the Senate members, she spoke with a determination and force belying the gravity and urgency of her message. “Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
President Obama, Democrats, and Republicans alike have expressed the desire to enact “common sense legislation” around guns in the wake of what Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) refers to as the “wake up call,” the horrific shooting of twenty children and six adults in Newtown, CT on December 14th. Although the Senate hearing reflected agreement that such tragedies must be prevented in the future, there is a lack of consensus on what constitutes a “common sense” solution. From our vantage point, five policy proposals withstood questioning in the four-hour hearing and should be key components of upcoming legislation. Here is a snapshot of these measures:
1. Make background checks a universal practice, and close the gun show and private vendor loopholes.
Background checks are required at gun stores but not necessarily at gun shows or in a private sale, which, according to hearing witness James Johnson, Chief of Police in Baltimore County, MD, allows forty percent of guns to be purchased without a background check. When Wayne La Pierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA), argued that universal background checks will not be effective because criminals will not submit to them, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) emphatically exclaimed, “That’s the point!” LaPierre said that improved prosecution of gun-wielding criminals is the solution. Yes, prosecution is important, but Johnson responded, “The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check.”
2. Improve the background check system by ensuring relevant (mental health) data is available.
Hearing witness Captain Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords and co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, described how Jared Loughner, his wife’s shooter who was acknowledged to be mentally ill, was able to buy a gun despite having been submitted to a background check because no record of his illness existed in the background check system. His illness was not on any official record, but even if it was, the state of Arizona, as confirmed by Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, has over 120,000 disqualifying mental health records that are not accessible in the current background check system. Mr. LaPierre agreed that mental health records must be made accessible in a national background check system.
3. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
LaPierre and the other anti-gun control witnesses, Lawyer Gayle Trotter and Professor David Kopel, argued that banning specific weapons or limiting gun magazines is by definition arbitrary, ineffective, unnecessary, or against the freedoms of the Second Amendment. However, Chief Johnson maintained that high capacity magazines are not necessary for hunting and the law should limit them to provide a “window of escape” while a shooter reloads. The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which he chairs, fully supports the proposed bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
4. Address the “matrix of failure” and adopt a holistic approach to improve our mental health system.
Captain Kelly was the first to acknowledge that “behind every victim lays a matrix of failure and inadequacy.” Everyone agreed upon the need to improve the mental health system. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) announced he will propose the Mental Health in Schools Act, while warning to be “careful here that we don’t stigmatize mental illness.” Kelly agreed with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and President Obama’s stated plan that funding for counselors and psychological providers in schools be increased.
5. Enact a gun trafficking bill.
Senator Leahy has proposed a trafficking bill to cut down on straw purchasing. This measure received the least air time and no one in the hearing discussed trafficking in terms of Mexico. Please see previous LAWG blog on how new legislation could affect the gun flow and violence in Mexico. As Gabby Giffords said, “too many children are dying.” Children are disappearing and dying in Mexico by the thousands. Combating gun trafficking makes sense across international as well as state borders.
Tensions ran high, as usual, over the interpretation of the Second Amendment in terms of gun legislation, but Senator Leahy concluded that in upcoming sessions there should be “some areas of agreement.” Prior to the hearing, Mark and Jackie Barden published the article in the Washington Post “Make the Debate over Guns Worthy of Our Son.” Their son Daniel, a bright and considerate seven-year-old, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Their family member created the Facebook page “What Would Daniel Do?” to celebrate his life and inspire others to act as Daniel did, listening and making room for dialogue. Congress should continue discussion of gun control legislation with that philosophy in mind, remembering the tragedies that have brought it to the table, always keeping in mind that the impact of lax U.S. gun policies reach far beyond the U.S. border.
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)