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Friday, January 18, 2013
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) delivered a petition, developed in cooperation with more than a dozen human rights and anti-gun violence groups, to Vice-President Biden’s gun control task force. It was signed by 55,000 people from the United States and Mexico. A copy was also delivered to the American Embassy in Mexico City. The petition called for executive actions to curtail the rampant smuggling into Mexico of weapons purchased in the United States. Speaking to reporters at a separate event in Washington, ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora said, “The Second Amendment … is not, was never and should not be designed to arm foreign criminal groups.” President Obama’s Wednesday announcement of 23 actions he plans to take to address gun violence did not include any of the actions requested in the petition.
On Christmas Eve, Mexico City’s government launched a cash-for-weapons exchange program, “Por Tu Familia Desarme Voluntario” or “For your family: Voluntary disarmament.” Officials in charge of the program decided to extend the exchange past December 31 after 900 weapons were exchanged for cash, toys and tablet computers. Mexico’s Defense Department recognizes that only one of every 300 weapons circulating in the country is legal.
An Ecuadorian general said he has seen an increase in FARC arms-trafficking activity near the Colombian border since the process started. FARC negotiator Rodrigo Granda denied it, saying the FARC are instead arming themselves with “much patience and many arguments” for the talks, and blaming “the extreme right in the continent taking shots at the peace process.”
Canada changed its Automatic Firearms Country Control List to allow the export of weapons and devices that are prohibited in Canada — such as fully automatic firearms — to Colombia. The change came after a recommendation by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed objections based on concerns about armed conflict and human rights in Colombia.
Colombia’s Air Force increased its order to Airbus Military, a European military and defense manufacturer, from five C295 transport planes to six. Colombia has already received four of the planes and now awaits the arrival of two more. The first four cost 100 million euros (US$133 million).
(Written with assistance from WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman)
Friday, January 18, 2013
For 26 years, U.S. Southern Command has had a Special Forces component, Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), headed by a general and based in Florida. It coordinates the activities of Special Operations Forces (elite “warrior-diplomats” like Army Rangers and Green Berets, or Navy SEALs and Special Boat Units) in Southcom’s area of operations, which includes all of Latin America except Mexico, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.
Mexico falls under the purview of the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom, founded in 2002), which did not have a formal Special Forces component — until now, apparently. Special Operations Command North was stood up on December 31, and its principal focus for now is to deepen training of elite military units in Mexico.
We know this not from Northcom’s website, which doesn’t even mention the existence of Special Operations Command North, but from a story reported yesterday by the Associated Press.
Based at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, Special Operations Command-North will build on a commando program that has brought Mexican military, intelligence and law enforcement officials to study U.S. counterterrorist operations, to show them how special operations troops built an interagency network to target al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden and his followers.
The special operations team within Northcom will be turned into a new headquarters, led by a general instead of a colonel. It was established in a Dec. 31 memo signed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. That move gives the group more autonomy and the number of people could eventually quintuple from 30 to 150, meaning the headquarters could expand its training missions with the Mexicans, even though no new money is being assigned to the mission.
This news brings up three points (not including persistent concerns about the human rights record of SOCNORTH’s Mexican military partners):
1. It signals a closer relationship with Mexico’s Defense Department (SEDENA) under the new leadership that came in with President Enrique Peña Nieto. SEDENA incorporates Mexico’s Army and Air Force, which during the presidency of Felipe Calderón were noticeably less enthusiastic than Mexico’s Navy (SEMAR) about cooperating with U.S. military counterparts. “Historically, suspicion of the United States has been a prime driver of a military bureaucratic culture that has kept SEDENA closed to us,” noted a leaked 2010 State Department cable. It is notable that U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta signed the order establishing SOCNORTH only a month after Peña Nieto assumed office, along with a new SEDENA secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos.
2. It appears that one of SOCNORTH’s first tasks is helping the Peña Nieto government to stand up a new intelligence unit within the Interior Ministry. “The special operations program has already helped Mexican officials set up their own intelligence center in Mexico City to target criminal networks, patterned after similar centers in war zones built to target al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the AP story reports. That unit, the National Intelligence Center or CNI, will “concentrate in one entity, like the fusion centers or offices that we have in the United States, all intelligence information that is gathered by the Army, the Navy, CISEN [the existing civilian intelligence agency], the PGR [attorney-general’s office] and all other federal and even state agencies involved in the fight against narcotrafficking,” a U.S. consultant source told Mexico’s Proceso magazine.
3. This is an emblematic indication that the Obama administration’s “light footprint” strategy is moving ahead. The administration is unlikely to commit to any large, costly new “Mérida Initiative”-style programs in Mexico. Budget realities alone determine that. But as we noted last week, as Special Forces units leave Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 drawdown, there will be many more of them available for training and other missions in Latin America. The pace of Special Forces deployments — low-profile, under the radar, mostly for training, but also serving other purposes, like intelligence-gathering — is very likely beginning to pick up throughout the hemisphere. As that happens, the establishment of SOCNORTH to guide work with Mexico is an important milestone.
Friday, January 18, 2013
“For the first time in more than 25 years, an American Soldier has graduated from the Guatemalan special operations Kaibil School, in Poptún, Guatemala,” announces a December news release from U.S. Special Operations Command South.
“The Kaibil School is considered one of the most prestigious, vigorous, arduous military courses in Central America,” the release continues. “Their motto: ‘If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.’”
Guatemala’s elite Kaibil Special Forces unit is famous for more than just rigorous training and a medieval motto. Here are some facts that don’t appear in the SOCSOUTH release.
- “[Kaibil] training included killing animals and then eating them raw and drinking their blood in order to demonstrate courage. The extreme cruelty of these training methods, according to testimony available to the CEH, was then put into practice in a range of operations carried out by these troops, confirming one point of their decalogue: ‘The Kaibil is a killing machine.’” - Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification report
- “The Kaibiles are largely responsible for introducing the ghastly drug-war practices of severing rivals’ heads, including the 10 found outside Mexico City just last weekend, dismembering their bodies or slowly suffocating them to death. That’s little surprise, given how brutal Kaibil training has been since the unit was founded in the 1970s: members are forced to kill animals, even bite the heads off chickens to prove their ferocity, and perform field surgery on themselves, such as bullet extraction. They were the principal instruments of the Guatemalan military government’s “scorched earth” campaign of the 1980s against leftist guerrillas and communities suspected of backing them. That makes it all the more troubling, as Mexico’s drug cartels push into Central America, that not just former but current Kaibiles are defecting to more lucrative service under the Zetas.” - “Guatemala’s Kaibiles: A Notorious Commando Unit Wrapped Up in Central America’s Drug War,” Tim Padgett, Time, July 14, 2011.
- “The Kaibiles entered the town of Dos Erres on the morning of December 6, 1982, and separated the men from women and children. They started torturing the men and raping the women and by the afternoon they had killed almost the entire community, including the children. Nearly the entire town was murdered, their bodies thrown into a well and left in nearby fields. Of those  killed, 113 were under the age of 14.” - Kate Doyle, Jesse Franzblau and Emily Willard, “Ex-Kaibil Officer Connected to Dos Erres Massacre Arrested in Alberta, Canada,” National Security Archive, January 20, 2011.
- “In May 1978, the Kaibiles opened fire on an unarmed crowd of over 700 Kekchi Indians in the central square of Panzos, Alta Verapaz, who were protesting land exploitation by land investors. As many as 150 people were killed including women and children, none of whom were armed.” - “Guatemala: All the truth, justice for all,” Amnesty International, May 13, 1998
- “On September 24 , five hundred soldiers descended on Chajul. … While kaibiles (an ‘elite’ unit of the Guatemalan military) poured gasoline over the prisoners, the officer threatened the audience that this would happen to them if they aided the guerrillas. After setting fire to the prisoners and shouting ‘Long live the fatherland! Long live Guatemala! Long live our president! Long live the army!’ the armed forces withdrew, leaving the villagers to put out the fires and bury the dead.” - Grant Hermans Cornwell, Eve Walsh Stoddard, Global Multiculturalism: Comparative Perspectives on Ethnicity, Race, and Nation (Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).
The U.S. military is unlikely to avoid contact with every foreign unit with a notorious human rights past. But the Guatemalan Army Kaibiles have an especially troubled reputation, and they have made no effort to reckon with, to atone for, or even really to acknowledge their past deeds. The closest the unit has come to accountability was the landmark 2011 conviction of four ex-Kaibiles for their involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre.
Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez, the U.S. soldier who completed the Kaibil training, “did not want to say too much in order to protect the integrity of the course.” Given the Kaibiles’ history, though, it’s reasonable to question what Sgt. Rodriguez learned in Poptún, and why he was sent there in the first place. And also, to question why the U.S. armed forces would report on the event without even acknowledging the cloud that hangs over the Kaibiles. That cloud is too dark to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
(Thanks to WOLA Intern Elizabeth Glusman for her research assistance.)
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Mexico City and its environs have long been a sort of haven from the country’s organized crime-related bloodshed. Unlike notoriously violent cities like Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey and Acapulco, the country’s capital has a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. Mexico City itself — with about 8.9 million people — averages about 2 homicides per day.
Analysts say that the capital’s relative peace owes to criminal groups’ unwillingness to confront the country’s economic and political power centers — as well as their desire that the city remain neutral ground. “It’s very likely that they have family and homes here. They come here for meetings, for negotiations, to make agreements,” Jorge Chabat of the Mexican think-tank CIDE told CNN last year. “But they know that committing violence in Mexico City would cost them a lot. This is like a neutral territory.”
The violence in Mexico City and its metropolitan area started to get noticeably worse last year, with organized crime or drug-related homicides, as of September, up about 15 percent over 2011. But something appears to have snapped since last weekend.
Since Saturday, the Mexico City Federal District (DF) registered its largest number of homicides in the past six years. About 20 people were killed in three days, more than three times the city’s daily average. “This is not common for the Federal District,” said Assistant Attorney General Edmundo Garrido.
The situation has been even worse in the poor suburbs on the outskirts of Mexico City, outside the Federal District in the state of Mexico, where President Enrique Peña Nieto served as governor until 2011. At least 29 people have been killed since the weekend in Mexico state.
- Sunday 13: 2 killed along the road between Temascaltepec and Toluca, the state capital (west of Mexico City). 1 killed in Ocuilan (southwest of Mexico City) and a “message intimidating the autorities” left with the body.
- Monday 14: Five bodies showing signs of torture found in Toluca (west). Six bodies, cut up and left in plastic bags, found in Zinacantepec (west). Three bodies found in Valle de Chalco (southeast). Three bodies found in Nezahualcóyotl (east). Two dead in Santiago Tianguistenco (west), two shot in Lerma (west) and Jiquipilco (west).
- Tuesday 15: Three killed in the eastern part of the state. Two more in the Valle de Chalco.
- Wednesday 16: Two killed in Valle de Chalco, one in Chalco (southeast), one in Ecatepec (north), one in Ixtapaluca (southeast).
“The capital is beginning to lose its shield against criminal violence — violence that during the last six years terrorized much of the national territory — and that according to all official reports, until a few months ago had not penetrated the Federal District,” wrote columnist Ricardo Alemán in the daily El Universal on Monday.
None of the authorities, and none of the media coverage we’ve seen, have offered any solid theories about why is this happening now, and who is behind the killing. The Prosecutor-General’s office (PGR) for Mexico state said that some of the recent murders owed to a turf war between the Familia Michoacana organization and another group called the Guerreros Unidos, but it’s not clear how many of the deaths this theory might explain, if any.
It is hard not to note, though, that violence in Mexico City has spiked so soon after a change in government. If this continues, it will be the principal challenge that new President Enrique Peña Nieto will face this year, eclipsing much else on his political agenda.
Monday, January 14, 2013
The military use of robotics, especially unmanned aerial vehicles or “drones,” is growing worldwide, and Latin America is participating fully in the trend. Countries are purchasing drones, and even developing their own, for a variety of purposes. For the most part, they are doing so without U.S. involvement.
Using secondary sources, WOLA Intern Anna Kroos put together this list of recent drone-related activity in the region.
“Brazil leads the way on global commercial drone boom,” - John Otis, GlobalPost, January 6, 2013
Brazil, which spent $350 million for 14 Israeli drones in 2010 to monitor Amazon rainforest and border regions, “is now grappling with both the benefits and the Big Brother concerns.” For now, Brazil has suspended plans to use drones to monitor crime in favelas, due to air traffic control concerns.
“Brasil utiliza aviones no tripulados en la frontera” – La Razón (Bolivia), October 19, 2012
For the first time, the Brazilian air force used drones to patrol its border with Bolivia. Brazilian police used images provided by the UAV to intercept a suspicious vehicle that tried to run an army roadblock. Part of the larger Operation Agata VI operation, the UAVs assist 7,500 soldiers deployed to reinforce Brazil’s borders with Bolivia and Peru against drug trafficking and smuggling. The troops are deployed for two weeks.
“Por Primera vez Brasil usa aviones no tripulados para vigilar frontera con Bolivia” - Xinhua (China), October 19, 2012
The Brazilian air force used drones for the first time in a training mission near the border-zone town of Cáceres. Two drones were used in a training mission implemented by the Federal Highway Police as part of Operation Agata VI, a joint army, navy, and air force mission in which fighter jets, combat helicopters, patrol boats, soldiers, and now drones are used to patrol the Brazilian borders with Peru and Bolivia.
“Brasil utilizará mas aviones no tripulados en sus fronteras” - Agence France Presse, October 21, 2012
Brazil’s Minister of Defense, Celso Amorim, announced the end to Brazil’s two-week operation in which troops and drones were deployed along the Peruvian and Bolivian borders. The Minister reported the seizure of 1.1 tons of cocaine, 14 vehicles, 221 boats, and 8 arrests.
“Brazil Tests Drones to Monitor Rio Favelas” - Victoria Rossi, InsightCrime, Sept. 11, 2012
Brazil is trying out drones that could be used to track criminal activity in favelas. Drones, manufactured using Israeli technology, would be used to clear drug gang controlled favelas before the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Brazil has also donated drones to Bolivia to help find illegal coca plantations.
“Brasil comenzara a operar aviones no tripulados desarollados en el pais” – Xinhua (China), July 25, 2012
Brazil is beginning to operate 4 drones that were developed and constructed by engineers from the Istituo Militare Ingenieria (IME). Three will be used for security, surveillance, and remote monitoring while one will be used for environmental surveillance. The drones cost Brazil 180,000 reales (US$90,000). They plan on selling the models to other countries.
“Argentina y Brasil quieren fabricar en conjunto avion no tripulado” – Associated Press, April 17, 2012
The foreign ministers of Argentina and Brazil are cooperating to produce drones to be used in the fight against drug trafficking and to protect borders. Using technology from Israel’s Elbit Systems, Brazil and Argentina will develop and sell drones.
“Chile está fabricando aviones no tripulados” - El Sol (Mendoza, Argentina), November 27, 2012
The Chilean government announced that it will begin manufacturing drones, embarking on the next “generation of drones.” It plans to have 18 unmanned aircraft operational for the Chilean Air Force by March 2014. Authorities were reluctant to release this announcement, fearing that Peru and Bolivia will become threatened by this new tool of war. The drones will be used for military objectives but also for the search and rescue of people, and a tool in aiding forest fires. Chile already has an aircraft purchased in 2010 from Israel.
“Chile se lanza a la carrera regional para fabricar aviones no tripulados” - Carlos Vergara, La Nación (Argentina), November 27, 2012
The Chilean military successfully tested the first drone developed in the country. It will be used for rescue tasks, monitoring rivers, volcanoes, and disasters. Funds are also being allocated for the development of 18 additional drones, operational by March 2014. The government has handled the news discreetly given the controversy with the United States’ use of drones in the Middle East, in addition to Bolivia’s apprehension about a stronger Chilean military. Though worry surrounds Chile’s new development, drones are becoming prominent in the region with Brazil’s purchase of 2 Hermes drones from Israel, and an expected 14 Heron to be completed before the World Cup and Olympics. Ecuador has 6 Heron, Venezuela 2 Iranian Mohajer. Possible legislation has been discussed that would force Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile to use drones only for peaceful purposes.
“Chile adquirió aviones no tripulados para vigilar frontera con Peru” - El Comercio (Peru), October 6, 2011
Chilean Minister of Defense Andrés Allamand confirmed Chile’s purchase of UAVs from Israeli company Elbit Systems. Allamand noted the drones will be used for border control, particularly on the Peruvian and Bolivian borders. They will be used to defend, but also to combat drug trafficking. Jorge Montoya, the former Chairman of the Peruvian joint chiefs, said this is important considering the drones’ ability to fly undetected and the ability to equip them with cameras and explosives.
“Colombia vende hasta aviones no tripulados” – Revista Dinero (Colombia), October 31, 2012
Brazil and some Central American and Caribbean countries have expressed interest in acquiring Colombian drones and technology. Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombia’s minister of defense, made the announcement at Expodefense, an international security exhibition in Bogota drawing 100 domestic and foreign companies. Previously drones were only used to protect economic infrastructure, like pipelines; now they will be able to adapt to military attacks as well. Colombia first acquired drones from the United States in 2006 to help find 3 U.S. citizen contractors held hostage by the FARC.
“Colombia celebra Expodefensa con ‘drones’ y radares en fase de constucion” - EFE, October 30, 2012
Expodefense, in its third year, brought in 67 international and 27 Colombian vendors in attempts to establish itself as a reference in Latin American defense technology. The exhibition provided the context for Colombia to announce its future use of drones for military. Colombia’s security budget reflects this desire for development, with $14,426,000 allocated to defense and security. Colombia wishes to develop its drone technology similar to Korea’s and Israel’s development.
“Colombia to develop its own drone program to combat drug trafficking” - Fox News Latino, October 26, 2012
Colombia announced its intention to begin developing drones for military use. Up to this point, drones were used strictly for civilian missions like monitoring pipelines often attacked by FARC, hostage rescue efforts, and general surveillance. The government was vague on whether the drones are fully equipped for combat operations.
‘Drones’ - Laura Gil, *El Tiempo (Colombia), May 1, 2012; English translation by Douglas Myles Rasmussen
Noting the use of U.S. drones in Colombia in 2006 for use in a U.S. hostage situation, the article documents the recent use of the drones to gather information on FARC and to track drug traffickers. Moving from civilian use of drones to military use, Colombia looks to the Israeli firm Elbit to purchase $50 million armed Hermes 900.
“Colombia considers purchase of Israeli unmanned drones” - Marc Hall, Colombia Reports (Colombia), April 17, 2012
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and Ehud Barak, Pinzón’s Israeli counterpart, met in April to discuss Colombia’s purchase of drones from Israel. Pinzón discussed the desire for drones as an effort to “continue strengthening the military capacity of Colombia.” The drones will be used to fight transnational crime.
“Israel estudiará la venta de aviones no tripulados a Colombia” – EFE, April 12, 2012
Pinzón and Barak are negotiating Colombia’s possible purchase of drones from Israel. Limitations and restrictions are being placed on the possible transaction. The two defense ministers are also working to create a “strategic dialogue, share information, share doctrine, and have a dialogue more permanent than a business relationship.”
“Colombia quiere aviones no tripulados en lucha contra las FARC” - Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia), March 30, 2012
U.S. and Colombian officials are negotiating Colombia’s attainment of drones and spy helicopters. Colombia justifies their need for drones as the quickest and most effective way to implement “Espada de Honor,” a strategy to combat FARC. Colombia wants 10 Black Hawk Helicopters and an uncertain number of drones. The U.S. government is reluctant, and Colombian officials must convince Washington that the drones are necessary.
“WikiLeaks: Colombia began using U.S. drones for counterterrorism in 2006” - Karen DeYoung, The Washington Post, March 23, 2011.
The United States supplied Colombia surveillance drones for counterterrorism, then-U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William B. Wood states in documents released by WikiLeaks. The drones were initially sent to support U.S. hostage rescue efforts but the document noted that they could also be used to combat terrorists and interdict drugs on rivers.
“Napolitano’s visit heralds drones over Dominican skies” – Dominican Today (Dominican Republic), July 16, 2012
Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of homeland security, visited the Dominican Republic in July to sign an agreement allowing the Dominican Republic to use drones to track drug cartels who cross Dominican territory to transport drugs to Puerto Rico.
“RD tambien usara avion no tripulado contra narco” – El Día (Dominican Republic), July 4, 2012
The Dominican Republic will be using drones to monitor and fight drug trafficking. Monitoring the maritime region between Venezuela/Colombia and the Dominican Republic, drones will promote maritime vigilance similar to technology used on the U.S.-Mexico border. Local staff will be trained by U.S. specialists.
“La nueva apuesta de la Semar: aviones no tripulados en Mexico” - Guillermo Guerrero, Milenio (Mexico), Aug 28, 2012
Mexico is building drones, similar to the ones the U.S. government uses to monitor the border. The drones will be used in floods, natural disasters and to combat organized crime. So far they have 3 aircraft with the latest technology and are designing two models, a larger model with an undercarriage and a mini model to be used in the field.
“El primer avión no tripulado de Perú” – Perú21 (Peru), December 14, 2011
Peru’s air force (FAP) has developed an unmanned aircraft with electronic warfare using 100% domestic technology. It will continue to develop drone technology in 2012 hoping to develop an autonomous aeronautics industry. The FAP hopes to develop 12 more aircraft and continue developing drone technology to strengthen its deterrent capability, allowing for civic action flights to remote villages on the Amazon and the border; the FAP also hopes to use this development in a technology transfer.
“Conozca los drones peruanos aviones no tripulados fabricados en Peru” - Peru.com, July 12, 2012
Peru has developed three different kinds of drones for use in intelligence gathering. The FAP, under Carlos Ocio, began its own research in 1999 successfully developing one prototype before unsuccessfully crashing another. The program was revived in 2004 under the name Condor Project developing a FLIR (forward-looking infrared) system, equipped with four cameras. The program lacked funding so it wasn’t until CONCYTEC and Comando Conjunto formed an association before all 3 models were successfully developed.
“Peru construirá aviones no tripulados” - TV Perú (government of Peru), Auguast 2, 2012 (video)
The Peruvian air force (FAP) will coordinate with the National Council for Science and Technology and Technological Innovation (CONCYTEC) to begin producing drones. They hope to mass produce the drones with the hope of financing the venture.
“Venezuela detecta con avion no tripulado una avion en frontera Colombia” – EFE, September 26, 2012
President Hugo Chávez announced that Venezuela had captured a plane, presumably carrying drugs, on the Colombian border; the plane was detected by a drone Venezuela developed with Iran. The government highlighted the use of the drones, saying it “helped a lot.” The drone was built in June for the “defensive power of the nation” and as Julio Morales Prieto, president of Cavim (Venezuelan military industrial corporation) noted, it is the second best in South America and will be used for reconnaissance.
“Aviones no tripulados venezolanos: Defensa, soberania, y revolucion” - Anais Lucena, Radio Mundial (government of Venezuela), June 27, 2012
In cooperation with Russia, China, and Iran, Venezuela developed 3 drones, manufactured in the country with training and technology from Iran. The drones, equipped only with cameras, are for the purpose of safeguarding national security and to monitor rivers. President Chávez and the government highlight the benefit of drones in dangerous or inaccessible places and note the necessity of modernizing the military. Venezuela joins other South American countries Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia, which have contracted to obtain drones, as well as Argentina, Mexico, and Peru which developed their own. Chávez denounces the United States’ criticism of this development, noting the double standard in American use of armed drones in Afghanistan.
“Venezuela fabrica avion no tripulado con apoyo de Iran” – Reuters/EFE, El Universo (Guayaquil, Ecuador), June 15, 2012
The announcement of Venezuela’s development of drones comes at the same time the U.S. government seeks to limit Iran’s influence in Latin America. The Venezuelan drones, developed with Iranian technology, were being investigated by the U.S. prior to Chavez’s announcement on June 13, 2012. Venezuela maintains the use of the drones is solely defensive.
“Chavez presentó el primer avión no tripulado fabricado en Venezuela” – DPA, June 14, 2012
Venezuela contracted with Russia to develop drones, among other defense projects funded with US$4 billion in credits from Russia, said Gen. Julio César Morales, head of the state defense industry corporation (CAVIM), the drones’ manufacturer. President Chávez expressed the need to consolidate defensive power in order to ensure the independence of Venezuela.
“Chávez muestra primer avión no tripulado para uso militar” - Agénce France Presse, June 14, 2012
Chavez announced that with the support of Iran, Russia, and China, Venezuela has its first drone for military and civilian use, and affirms that it will begin exportation. They have already manufactured 3 drones and will continue to manufacture for defense, reconnaissance, and to protect pipelines, forests, roads, and dams. The parts are made in Venezuela and assembled by military engineers trained in Iran.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Amid the political crisis surrounding ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s absence, a few analysts have sought to measure the mood within the country’s armed forces. Ewald Scharfenberg at Spain’s El País sees three principal factions, which he calls “ideologues,” “pragmatists,” and “institutionalists.” Alfonso Ussia of Spain’s La Razón calls them “officialists,” “unionists” and “institutionalists.” Rocío San Miguel of Caracas’s Control Ciudadano think-tank warns that Vice President Fernando Maduro is not in the chain of command, and that with Chávez out of contact the armed forces are currently “orphaned.”
The Mexican Army’s and Air Force’s involvement in fighting organized crime is an “atypical situation” that “cannot, and should not, in any way, be prolonged.” The author of that phrase is surprising: Gen. Guillermo Galván, who served as Mexico’s secretary of defense until last December. Gen. Galván wrote the preface to a book on the fight against organized crime published by Mexico’s Secretariat [Department/Ministry] of Defense.
19 officers who graduated Peru’s military academy in the same year (1984) as President Ollanta Humala, a former officer, are now generals holding key army posts. This is a record.
Former soldiers of El Salvador’s army, veterans of the country’s 1980s civil war, blocked main roads — including border crossings with Honduras and Guatemala — to demand pension payments. Last year the Salvadoran government approved a US$50 monthly stipend to former members of the FMLN guerrillas over 70 years of age.
A “serious setback in human rights” and “incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights” is how the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in a January 4 statement, characterized Colombia’s December 28 approval of a constitutional amendment that will send many more human rights cases to the military justice system, which has a strong tradition of lenience toward accused soldiers.
The infosurhoy.com website points to a regional poll by the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (FLACSO) showing strong Latin American support for involving the military in internal missions. Of 9,057 people surveyed in 28 cities of 18 countries, 84% supported giving armed forces a role in fighting narcotrafficking, and 83.2% (86% in Mexico) favored a role in fighting organized crime. 85% — 91% in Brazil and Ecuador, 73% in Paraguay — oppose abolishing the armed forces. 77% see no risk of a military coup in their country.
Argentina’s vice-president, Amado Boudou, rang in the new year in Gonaïves, Haiti, accompanying Argentine infantry troops stationed there as UN peacekeepers.
The Nicaraguan Army’s “Ecological Battalion” has set up five posts in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean coastal region, a sparsely populated zone susceptible to narcotrafficking activity. The posts, which will operate for three months, are a response to a request from 200 local farmers concerned about worsening security.
Friday, January 11, 2013
The following is a round-up of news highlights from around the region this week.
President Obama named the nominees for the his national security team, with John Kerry at Department of State, Chuck Hagel at the Department of Defense and John Brennan at the CIA. The Washington Office on Latin America's Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Adam Isacson, examined what these appointments could mean for Latin America and looked at four likely outcomes: more Special Forces deployments to the region; a greater intelligence community presence; greater use of drones and robotics; and more emphasis on cyber-security.
United States Southern Command leader General John F. Kelly visited Honduras and El Salvador this week to discuss continued military cooperation with both nation's heads of state and ministers of defense.
The Mexican Congress confirmed Eduardo Medina Mora to replace Arturo Sarukhan as the country's ambassador to the U.S. Medina Mora was President Calderón's former attorney general from 2006-2009 and the Secretary of Public Safety under President Fox from 2005-2006. Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Mexico City- based Center for Economic Research and Teaching, told BusinessWeek that Medina Mora will "prevent the U.S. perspective from dominating on this issue." The new ambassador cited security as one his top priorities. He has weighed in on U.S. policy, suggesting the United States make drug, arms and immigration reforms, as Animal Politico notes. Medina Mora also called for the United States to reform guns laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting, calling it a "window of opportunity" to make changes.
On Wednesday, new Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a bill designed to track drug war victims and compensate their families up to $70,000 per innocent victim. The fund will compensate surviving victims of drug violence as well. According to Reuters and the Los Angeles Times, the measure requires authorities to pay for victims' medical care and establish a national registry of victims. Mexico's government has yet to announce how much money is allocated for the initiative or how many victims it considers innocent.
Former President Felipe Calderón vetoed the bill last summer over apparent technical flaws, drawing much criticism from human rights groups. The removal of the veto, "is a positive sign that this government will begin to take seriously the rights of the victims of the violence," according to Amnesty International. “But for it to make a real difference, the Mexican authorities at all levels must ensure the law is complied with effectively."
As of Thursday, Mexico will be divided into five national security regions, effective immediately. News website Animal Politico published the twelve security initiatives that the Mexican government agreed to implement within the next 45 days, including the creation of a national crime prevention program, a police education program along with new operation protocols, and the creation of specialized units focused on kidnapping within the federal police force, among others.
Last Friday, a cash-for-weapons voluntary disarmament program was extended in Mexico City. Since the program began on December 24th, authorities have confiscated nearly 1,500 weapons.
A few good reports were put out on Mexican security this week:
The Inter-American Dialogue published a working paper by Alejandro Hope "Peace now? Mexican security policy after Felipe Calderón," that offers an analysis of the security challenges facing the Peña Nieto administration. He looks at former President Calderón's institutional legacy and changes in Mexico's security climate. For Hope, Peña Nieto will likely offer adjustments to Calderón's strategy, the biggest difference between the two possibly involving "more tone than substance."
In a report for the Woodrow Wilson Center titled,"In the Lurch Between Government and Chaos: Unconsolidated Democracy in Mexico," Luis Rubio of the Center of Research for Development (CIDAC) looks at how organized crime took advantage of Mexico's weak institutions and what reforms the government must implement to build "competent democratic institutions" and "restore economic growth."
"Mexico Drug Policy and Security Review 2012," by Nathan P. Jones for Small Wars Journal examines Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's new security policy and concludes that the initiative shares "more similarities than differences" with the much-criticized security agenda of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. It offers a good overview of the policy's components.
Bolivia re-entered the United Nation's 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on January 10 with an exception that allows for chewing coca leaves within the country's border. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, "this represents the successful conclusion of an arduous process in which Bolivia has sought to reconcile its international treaty obligations with its 2009 Constitution, which obliges upholding the coca leaf as part of Bolivia’s cultural patrimony." The new reservation was opposed by at least 15 countries, including the United States, Russia, Germany, Mexico, and Japan. However, for Bolivia's proposal to have been blocked, 63 countries would have needed to object.
The vote comes with recent media attention to the country's controversial coca-leaf regulating program, which a recent report from WOLA suggests is working. According to both the White House and the UN, the total acreage of coca cultivation in Bolivia dropped in 2011 between 12-13 percent. Bolivian President and former coca farmer Evo Morales has planned two celebrations for Monday.
In Brazil, ex-President Lula has been implicated in a vote-buying scandal that has rocked the country. Brazil's top prosecutor said Wednesday that he will look into allegations that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was involved in the embezzlement and vote-buying scheme, known as the "mensalão" case. Brazilian businessman Marcos Valério de Souza, who received a 40-year sentence for his role in the scandal, testified that he deposited funds for Lula da Silva's "personal spending." So far the case has brought down several top officials in the Lula administration, including his chief of staff, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Colombia's prosecutor general re-opened an investigation into former President Álvaro Uribe over his alleged involvement with paramilitary groups while he was governor of the Antioquia department in the 1990s. On his well-maintained Twitter account, he denied the charges, amounting them to "Slander from imprisoned criminals," and starting the hashtag "Criminal Revenge," (#VenganzaCriminal) for the case.
On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced that the two-month unilateral ceasefire they declared at the beginning of peace talks on November 20th will end on January 20th. The FARC's lead negotiator, Ivan Marquez, said in a news conference in Havana that "only the signing of a bilateral ceasefire would be possible," which the Santos administration has repeatedly refused. According to news website Colombia Reports, violence attributed to the FARC decreased by 80 percent during the first week of January, compared to the same period in January 2012, which NGO Nuevo Arco Iris said was the most violent month in the past eight years. Also of note in the peace talks is that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will be traveling to Colombia this Saturday to meet with President Santos and negotiators from both sides of the table.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a report today titled "Consolidating 'Consolidation,'" The new report examines Colombia's U.S.-backed counterinsurgency program, the National Territorial Consolidation Plan. According to the report, the U.S. has invested a least half a billion dollars of U.S. assistance into the five-year-old program, which "seeks to bring the government into several areas of the country with histories of illegal armed groups, violence, drug trafficking, and statelessness." The report notes that while “Consolidation” has "brought security improvements and more soldiers and police to a few territories, the governance vacuum remains far from filled."
On Tuesday the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a measure giving President Chávez, who is recovering from his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba, "as long as he needs," saying that he could be sworn in in front of the Supreme Court after the January 10th inauguration date set forth in the constitution. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) upheld the decision. On Thursday, the would-be inauguration date, thousands of Chávez supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Caracas in solidarity. Several Latin American leaders also traveled to Caracas to show their support for Chávez and the Venezuelan government's decision to keep him in power.
An interesting twist to the ruling was Supreme Court President Luisa Estela Morales' reference to an obscure 19th century U.S. vice president, William R. King, who took his oath of office 20 days after the new government came to power -- while in Cuba being treated for tuberculosis.
The news this week has been filled with debate about the constitutionality of the Venezuelan government's decision to allow Chávez to stay in power.
The opposition has argued that since the president-elect was unable to be sworn in by Jan. 10, power should be transferred to the next-in-line in succession, who would be the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello with an election to follow. Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado told CNN, "This is a decision that was clearly taken in Cuba by the Cubans."
U.S. congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who previously led the House's Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed, saying,"The delay of his swearing-in is yet another example of the trampling of the constitution by this despot. The Venezuelan constitution states that the leader of Venezuela needs to take the oath of office on January 10 in front of the National Assembly or the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice."
Some analysis examining the Venezuelan constitution contend the ruling to allow Chávez to stay in power and extend his swear-in date was constitutional. Others say it is a matter of legal interpretation, as there is no precedent for the situation and the constitution does not provide a concrete solution.
On the Washington Office on Latin America's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, David Smilde gives a clear analysis of the case. According to Smilde, the government's decision is based on an article in the constitution that allows an extension of power in the case of extended trips abroad, essentially allowing Chávez to be "indefinite leave with no mechanisms for reviewing that leave or verifying his condition." Technically the Supreme Court has the power to determine if Chávez is permanently mentally or physically unfit to rule, in which case he could be removed from power and elections would ensue. This is unlikely to happen however, as the court said he had justified his "extended trip abroad." As Smilde posits, with the National Assembly and Supreme Court's support, "Chávez could conceivably be on life-support for weeks or months, but still hold the office of president whether or not that would have been his wish."
An earlier post from Smilde provides an excellent overview and analysis of the complexity of the situation and looks at a discussion from UCV law professor José Ignacio Hernández.
Dan Beeton at the Center for Economic and Policy Research examines the Venezuelan constitution and argues that the government's decision to keep Chávez in power is in line with the constitution. According to Beeton, an article in the document says a leader can be sworn in after the inauguration date and offers no deadline for when it can take place. The only instance in which elections would be held would be if he was removed as a result of “death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.” This is the chief argument that Venezuelan officials have been making.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times commented on the lack of information about President Chávez's health, saying, "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies need to stop treating his health like a national secret."
According to the AP, Vice President Maduro, along with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchener and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, is traveling to Cuba this weekend to visit President Chavez.
Amid the debate about Venezuela's leadership and as the possibility of a power vacuum grows, crime analysis website Insight Crime reports that crime and violence have been on the upswing in the midst of the political upheaval, with more than 75 murders being registered in Caracas in the first six days of 2013.
Univision offers a useful timeline of Chávez's political career, which can be found here.
An English version of the Venezuelan constitution can be found here
The text for the Supreme Court's decision can be found here
Friday, January 11, 2013
Consolidating "Consolidation": Colombia's Plan to Govern Neglected Territories Stumbles
Colombia's government is negotiating peace with the country's largest and oldest guerrilla group, the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). If the talks succeed—a strong possibility—Colombia faces a big question: what will be different in the vast territories where the guerrillas have been in control, or operated freely, for decades?
In these areas, violence, drug trafficking, and warlordism have long been the norm, and the government’s presence has been virtually nonexistent. If the government does not establish itself in these jungles, mountains, plains, coasts, and borderlands, the FARC's negotiated end will make little difference; illegality and violence will continue to fill the vacuum. Colombia must follow a successful negotiation with getting the government into the country's ungoverned zones. And not just military occupiers: a real, civilian state whose members provide basic services, operate without impunity, and thus enjoy the population's support.
Will Colombia be able to fill the vacuum and end the cycle of violence? As WOLA’s new report Consolidating “Consolidation” describes, the record of the National Territorial Consolidation Plan—a five-year-old program with that very goal—should worry us that it might not.
Backed by at least half a billion dollars in U.S. assistance, this ambitious program seeks to bring the government into several areas of the country with histories of illegal armed groups, violence, drug trafficking, and statelessness. (It is often called the “La Macarena” program, after the southern Colombian zone where the most advanced pilot project has taken place.) Today, while “Consolidation” has brought security improvements and more soldiers and police to a few territories, the governance vacuum remains far from filled.
In the Consolidation zones, armed groups remain very active, especially outside of town centers. Soldiers are by far the most commonly seen government representatives, and the civilian parts of the government—such as health services, education, agriculture, road-builders, land-titlers, judges, and prosecutors—are lagging very far behind.
In Consolidating “Consolidation,” WOLA sought to identify the reasons why the Consolidation program's military-to-civilian transfer has stalled. Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy Adam Isacson found that while the U.S. and Colombian governments underestimated the difficulty of achieving security and the cost of “state-building,” much of the blame lies with civilian government agencies themselves, most of which have been very reluctant to set up a presence in Consolidation zones.
But we found something even more serious: the entire Consolidation model is losing momentum quickly and may have begun to deteriorate. Based on dozens of interviews and a very close read of available evidence, Consolidating “Consolidation” portrays a program lacking interest and backing at high levels of government. What was once a showcase program stagnated during a year and a half-long “rethinking,” followed by several months of infighting that culminated in the sudden exit of the program's director. Meanwhile, in places like Afghanistan, the United States is edging away from similar missions, which it calls “Stability Operations,” that sought to provide basic services to citizens in ungoverned areas. Instead, U.S. forces are relying more on Special Forces operations and drone strikes.
Programs continue in Consolidation zones in Colombia, thanks in great part to US$227 million in USAID contracts awarded since 2010. But Consolidation, which once promised to bring a functioning government to areas that never had one, may be on its way to becoming a politically driven handout program attached to an open-ended military occupation.
If Consolidation fades away, the report warns, it is not clear what will replace it in Colombia's neglected territories. As Colombia faces the possibility of peace in zones of historic guerrilla control, it is crucial that a plan be in place to prevent a re-emergence of violence. If the peace talks succeed, for a brief period Colombia will have a window of opportunity to bring the government to areas that have long generated violence, bringing their citizens into national civic and economic life for the first time.
The National Territorial Consolidation Plan could offer a way to do this, but only if it returns to its initial vision of a phased, coordinated entry of civilian government. If this scheme, or something like it, is to succeed, it will require political will from the highest levels to ensure that the civilians take over as quickly as security conditions allow. And it will require a renewed—but far more civilian-centered—commitment from the United States.
Please click here to read Consolidating "Consolidation."
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Venezuela gave Nicaragua US$2.56 billion in assistance, much of it oil or energy related, between 2007 and the first half of 2012.
“In 2010, Brazil spent more than US$350 million on 14 Israeli-made Heron UAVs for surveillance of the Amazon rainforest and border regions,” reports John Otis in GlobalPost.
Mexico’s Milenio newspaper, which keeps a count of organized crime-related homicides, counted 12,394 such murders in 2012. This is up slightly from 12,284 in 2011 and down from 12,658 in 2010. The newspaper counted 54,069 organized crime-related homicides during the six years when recently departed President Felipe Calderón intensified Mexico’s fight against trafficking organizations.
In a six-day span between January 3 and January 8, Colombian guerrillas, probably the ELN, bombed the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline twice in Norte de Santander department.
El Salvador’s coroner’s office recorded 2,641 homicides in 2012, 39% lower than the 4,360 homicides it counted in 2011. The office also recorded a drop in forced disappearances after a March 2012 pact between the country’s principal street gangs (maras).
Guatemala counted 5,174 homicides in 2012, down 8.9 percent from 2011. It was the third straight year in which homicides fell.
Colombia’s police counted 14,670 homicides in 2012, the lowest number in 27 years, for a homicide rate of 31 per 100,000 people, down from 70 per 100,000 ten years ago.
Colombia’s Defense Ministry estimated that the FARC guerrillas now have less than 8,000 members, and the ELN guerrillas have less than 1,500 members.
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, recorded 750 homicides in 2012, down from 2,086 in 2011 and 3,116 in 2010.
Demobilized paramilitary members participating in Colombia’s “Justice and Peace” process have confessed to committing 1,064 massacres, over 25,000 homicides and 3,599 forced disappearances.
Mexican military courts have convicted 16,460 soldiers for the crime of desertion since 2006.
Peru’s Interior Ministry has set aside US$32.5 million to improve police presence in the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Valley (VRAEM) region in Ayacucho department, which is dominated by remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Once Congress gives the green light, the national security team for Barack Obama’s second term will have three new names at the top: John Kerry at State, Chuck Hagel at Defense, and John Brennan at CIA.
Kerry and Hagel are both Vietnam veterans turned Senators, both supportive of a strong, modern military but skeptical of large, open-ended military missions, sort of in the Colin Powell mode. Brennan is a career spy whose focus since the 1990s has been counterterrorism.
Only Kerry has much of a record on Latin America. In the 1980s, he was a leading opponent of the Reagan administration’s aid to abusive militaries, and to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, in Central America. He has also been a frequent critic of U.S. policy toward Cuba. In 2000, Senator Kerry shifted gears and supported a military aid package, President Clinton’s initial appropriation for Plan Colombia, though he later signed at least one letter criticizing Colombia’s human rights performance.
As David Sanger notes in today’s New York Times, all three nominees share a preference for a “light footprint” in the U.S. military’s activities abroad. Brennan, Sanger notes,
devised the “light footprint” strategy of limiting American interventions, whenever possible, to drones, cyberattacks and Special Operations forces. All are advocates of those low-cost, low-American-casualty tools, and all have sounded dismissive of attempts to send thousands of troops to rewire foreign nations as wasteful and ill-conceived.
With the notable exception of the 2009 Afghan “surge,” frequent but low-profile military and intelligence operations have been a hallmark of the Obama administration so far. With the ongoing drawdown from Afghanistan ahead of a planned 2014 pullout, the “light footprint” approach is going to accelerate.
How will this affect Latin America? Probably four ways, in declining order of importance:
- More Special Forces deployments to the region. President Obama and his new appointees share a fondness for Special Operations Forces: elite, highly trained, mobile military units used for non-traditional, often clandestine missions ranging from hostage rescues to hunting down wanted individuals to intelligence-gathering and “defense diplomacy.” Special Forces are likely to see their numbers increase despite upcoming defense budget cuts, and as the Afghanistan drawdown proceeds, there will be even more of them available to carry out missions in Latin America. Last year, the New York Times noted, Adm. William McRaven of the Special Operations Command was “pushing hard” to “expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, and other JSOC units will be carrying out clandestine mayhem in places like Venezuela and Cuba. (And if it does, we’re unlikely to find out about it.) But a recent conversation with a Defense Department official confirms that, in the next few years, we are likely to witness an increase in Special Forces training missions in the region. More teams will be in countries throughout the Americas teaching courses as part of Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), and organizing exercises, some of them through the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program.
Such deployments fulfill more than just training missions, though. They allow Special Forces units to familiarize themselves with the terrain, culture, and key officers in countries where they might someday have to operate. And they allow U.S. personnel to gather intelligence on their host countries, whether through active snooping or passive observation.
A greater intelligence community presence is another likely consequence of a “light footprint” in Latin America. We can only speculate, but it is reasonable to expect fewer CIA assets in Afghanistan to mean more personnel focused elsewhere, including Latin America. Even more significant may be an increase in the presence of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Defense Department’s spy agency. As the Washington Post reported in December, the DIA expects to roughly double the number of clandestine operatives it deploys worldwide over the next few years.
Greater use of drones and robotics. The Obama administration has expanded the CIA and Defense Department use of armed unmanned aircraft to hunt down suspected terrorist targets. Brennan, the new CIA director, is known for being intimately involved this practice, which is extremely controversial because of reports that the drone program may have killed hundreds of innocent people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.
In Latin America, a few U.S. defense officials have confirmed to us recently, the U.S. military is not using weaponized drones, though it is employing some surveillance drones to detect suspect trafficking activity, particularly (but not only) above international waters. All officials have insisted that U.S. drones are not used extensively in the region, as they are costly to operate. However, as assets are drawn down from Afghanistan and as costs continue to drop rapidly, it is reasonable to expect the Obama administration to use them more frequently in the Americas.
The U.S. effort, however, may pale in comparison to Latin American countries’ own drone programs. Several countries — Colombia, Venezuela, and especially Brazil — are developing their own programs, and several more are buying drones, especially from Israel. While none of these drones are reportedly weaponized and there have been no reports of unauthorized cross-border drone flights, the increased affordability of drones, and the lack of norms governing their use, promises to pose a big challenge for Latin America within the next 5-10 years. (We will have a post on this topic shortly.)
- More emphasis on cyber-security. As today’s New York Times piece noted, cyber-warfare is an interest of all three of the Obama administration’s nominees. While it is unclear how this will play out in U.S. national security policy toward the Americas, it is reasonable to expect more resources devoted to cracking open, and even sabotaging, the computer networks of countries or organizations that the U.S. government views as a threat. (For more on cyber-security in the hemisphere, see the work of James Bosworth at Bloggings by Boz.)