The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States policy
This weekend John Kerry will visit Colombia and Brazil, in his second trip to the region as Secretary of State. In his meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Kerry is expected to discuss the state of trade two years after a free trade agreement went into effect, the ongoing peace talks, overall security and Colombia’s training of foreign forces and increasing security assistance to third countries. See a previous Just the Facts post by WOLA’s Adam Isacson for more on Kerry’s trip to Colombia and record in the region.
There will also be a new United States ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, who is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere affairs. More from Semana and Colombia Reports.
On Wednesday, SOUTHCOM commander John Kelly met with the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina and the head of the armed forces to discuss deepening military cooperation between the two countries, U.S. security assistance to the region, and regional efforts to target organized crime. He also met with the president of the country’s National Directorate of Drug Control.
Colombia and Bolivia’s coca crops fell in 2012
According to the United Nations, in 2012 coca production in Colombia dropped by 25 percent. The report estimated the total amount of land in Colombia with coca in 2012 to be 120,000 acres, down from 160,000 in 2011 and the lowest figure since monitoring in the country started over 10 years ago. Some key points:
Although coca crop production fell, the amount of cocaine produced in 2012, 340 tons, was similar to the amount yielded in 2011. The AP explains this is.
Signaling Ecuador’s increasing importance in the drug trade, the two departments with the highest levels of coca were Nariño and Putumayo along the southern border.
About 80 percent of coca cultivation was concentrated in eight departments, about half of which occurred in three departments where coca cultivation increased -- Caquetá, Chocó and Norte de Santander.
The report found the amount of coca planted in Bolivia had declined by seven percent in 2012, from 27, 200 (ha) to 25,300, as part of a downward trend that began when production fell some 12 percent between 2010 and 2011. Bolivia kicked the DEA out in 2008.
Although the agency has yet to release 2012 coca or cocaine production figures for Peru, it is likely that the country has overtaken Colombia to be the top coca-producing country in the region. In 2011, Peru surpassed Colombia to become the largest producer of cocaine, according to the U.S., though there are concerns political interests can influence estimates. More from La Silla Vacía, InSight Crime, the UN News Centre, UNODC, Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.
Over the weekend, the Honduran government ordered the military and police to take control of a prison just outside Tegucilgalpa, after a fight involving AK-47s and grenades between rival gangs killed three people and injured 15 others. The security forces, which were also sent to prisons in San Pedro Sula, will be deployed for 90 days. The decision to send in the troops followed the release of an IAHCR report released last Friday which found that “structural deficiencies” had led to the “collapse” of the Honduran prison system, notorious for overcrowding and endemic violence.
On Wednesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled against opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ challenge to last April’s election results. The court then fined him $1,698 for challenging the election count and thereby “insulting government authority” and “accusing the judicial system of bias in favor of the government,” according to the Associated Press. Capriles’ chief of staff, Oscar Lopez was then arrested Thursday. Although the government’s stated reasons for the warrant have not been revealed, President Nicolás Maduro announced that the government “today captured a chief of the corruption and of the mafias of the Venezuelan right.” More from the New York Times.
WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog examined a disarmament law President Nicolás Maduro signed into law last month and in a follow-up post looked at reactions and criticism to the measure.
Rio’s military police installed a new chief following the dismissal of the previous head after he granted amnesty to 450 offices who committed ambiguously-reported low-level “administrative” infractions. The new chief, Colonel Jose Menezes is going to reverse the amnesty although he has said he thought it was a good idea. The police would revise current policy to “establish objective criteria with a view towards clarifying doubts about it,” he said.
A disconcerting report (pdf) released by Colombian NGO Somos Defensores found a jump in murders of human rights defenders in the country in recent years. In 2012, the number of killings (69) was almost 14 times what it was in 2006. So far in 2013, 37 human rights defenders have been killed, a 27 percent increase over the same period last year. The rise coincides with the implementation of the country’s historic Victims law, offering victims of the armed conflict the opportunity to reclaim stolen property and receive compensation. More from a previous Just the Facts post and El Tiempo.
Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía overviewed several proposals the FARC have made during peace talks with the government in Havana and sorted them according to their viability.
The only known tungsten mine in Colombia is controlled by the FARC, according to an in-depth investigative report by Bloomberg on the group’s illegal mining interests. Since the report’s release, Apple, BIC, BMW, Ferrari, Samsung (005930) and Volkswagen have all said they would be opening investigations.
On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took advantage of the country’s term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to criticize the veto power of its five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Fernandez and several other speakers from Latin America spoke out against the U.S. surveillance programs in the region revealed by Edward Snowden. More from the New York Times, Associated Press and the BBC.
InSight Crime and the Woodrow Wilson Center released a special series on violence in the city of Nuevo Laredo, an important drug trafficking hub on the border with the United States. The city is largely controlled by the Zetas, however the recent capture of leader Miguel Treviño (Z40) may spark turf wars that will likely cause violence to spike.
Alfredo Corchado, the journalist that first broke the story of Treviño’s arrest, profiled the capture for The Daily Beast. The piece depicts Corchado’s experiences as a journalist covering Treviño, and delves into the gang leader’s violent past. According to Corchado, Trevino’s “pep talk consisted of one line: If you don’t kill someone every day, you’re not doing your job.”
According to Peruvian news website Caretas, police detected 44 clandestine airstrips in a small town in the country’s central jungle that are used to export drugs to Bolivia. Authorities estimated that about 14 flights carrying 300 kilos of drugs took off each month between January and April of this year. As the article noted, Bolivia is becoming a more important hub for drug trafficking in the region as Brazilian, Argentine and European market demands are on the rise.
Secretary of State Kerry and Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín.
John Kerry is about to make his second trip to Latin America as secretary of state. The first was in June, when he attended the OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala. This time, he is to go to Colombia on Sunday and Monday, and then to Brazil.
In Colombia, Secretary of State Kerry is expected to discuss with President Juan Manuel Santos the ongoing peace talks with the FARC guerrillas, for which the Obama administration has expressed support; the issue of security and Colombia’s provision of security assistance to third countries; and the state of bilateral trade two years after approval of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
In his 28 years as a U.S. senator with a strong interest in foreign affairs, John Kerry has a long record of positions on U.S. policy toward Latin America. He opposed the Reagan administration’s massive aid to abusive regimes in Central America, especially aid to the Nicaraguan contras, during the civil wars of the 1980s. He has criticized the U.S. approach to Cuba as “frozen, stalemated.”
During the past 15 years, though, Senator Kerry consistently supported the aid packages that made Colombia by far the number-one recipient of U.S. military assistance in Latin America.
His support for “Plan Colombia,” however, was neither full-throated nor wholehearted. While Senator Kerry supported assistance to curtail drug trafficking, he criticized insufficient emphasis on drug treatment to reduce demand at home. He expressed concerns about the possibility that counter-drug aid could evolve into a larger counter-insurgency mission (as it did during the 2000s). He criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record, and endorsed human rights conditions that his Senate colleagues applied to U.S. military assistance. He has even at times urged the State Department not to certify improvements in the Colombian military’s human rights record, as required by foreign aid law.
Here are excerpts from Senator John Kerry’s record on Colombia, the country that Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting in a few days.
Drugs have made Colombia rich; the nation is awash in profits earned by the export of cocaine to the US and the rest of the world. But the country has been all but stolen from its people, virtually taken over by the drug cartels. … A willing army of young Colombians enlist with the cartels, dreaming of easy money, while some young Colombians join the police, army, and customs department just to make money by cooperating with drug criminals.
From the June 22, 2000 Senate debate on the “Plan Colombia” aid appropriation, where he supported the aid package as a flawed but necessary option. Here, he raised concerns about counterinsurgency entanglements, displacement, human rights, and insufficient attention to domestic drug demand. He said he expected Europe to counter-balance the U.S. aid package’s lopsided emphasis on military aid. This did not happen.
Colombia’s situation is bleak, and this may be its last chance to begin to dig its way out. If we fail to support aid to Colombia, we can only sit back and watch it deteriorate even further.
… My first concern is the fine line that exists between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, particularly since they are so intertwined in Colombia. It is impossible to attack drug trafficking in Colombia without seriously undercutting the insurgents’ operations. We must acknowledge that the more involved in Colombia’s counternarcotics efforts we become the more we will become involved in its counterinsurgency, regardless of our intentions to steer clear of it. But, because the drug trade is the most destabilizing factor in Colombia, our cooperation with the government will over the long run, advance the development and expansion of democracy, and will limit the insurgents’ ability to terrorize the civilian population. But our military involvement in Colombia should go no further than this. Efforts to limit number of personnel are designed to address this.
I appreciate the concerns expressed by my colleagues that the United States contribution to Plan Colombia is skewed in favor of the military, but we must keep in mind that our contribution is only a percentage of the total Plan. … As part of our contribution, and to balance military aid, the United States must continue to support Colombian requests for additional funding from international financial institutions and other EU donors. We must also continue to implement stringent human rights vetting and end-use monitoring agreements, and make sure that our Colombia policy does not end with the extension of aid.
Second, I am concerned that even if the Plan is successful at destroying coca production and reducing the northward flow of drugs, large numbers of coca farmers will be displaced, worsening the current crisis of internally displaced people in Colombia.
My third major concern with respect to this aid package is that it does not adequately address Colombia’s human rights problem. … I would like to commend my colleagues on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for bolstering the human rights component of this legislation.
Despite my reservations, the potential benefits of this plan are too large to ignore. In light of the changes made by the committee, I believe the plan can help advance United States interests by reducing drug trafficking and thereby promoting stability and democracy in Colombia. We must now work to ensure that our concerns do not become realities.
… Increasing funding and expanding drug treatment and prevention programs are absolutely imperative if we are to coordinate an effective counterdrug campaign, particularly if we are to expect any real improvement in the situation in Colombia.
… As we support Colombia’s efforts to attack the sources of illegal drugs, we need to make sure we are addressing our own problems. … It is clear that drug treatment works, and there is no excuse for the high numbers of addicts who have been unable to receive treatment. As we increase funding for supply reduction programs in Colombia, we must increase funding for treatment to balance and complement it.
We remain deeply concerned about the continued levels of violence directed at the civilian population. There are reports of increased violations, such as extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, attributed directly to Colombian security forces. In addition, guerrillas continued their indiscriminate use of explosive devices against civilians while paramilitary forces carried out assassinations and massacres despite the existence of a cease fire. We believe that an adherence to UNHCHR’s recommendations will help to establish the “democratic security” for all Colombians to which you are personally committed.
The most urgent of UNHCHR’s recommendations is to cut ties between the army and paramilitary forces engaged in abuses, by suspending, investigating and vigorously prosecuting officials engaged in such collaboration.
… We remain concerned about the commitment of the Attorney General’s office to investigate high-level officials implicated in human rights violations and links to paramilitary groups.
The United Nations also raises important points regarding the vulnerability of human rights defenders, journalists and union leaders. Your government’s protection program for human rights and union leaders is important. However, progress investigating and prosecuting threats and attacks against such leaders is essential.
President Uribe has achieved deserved popular support for his efforts to make Colombia more secure. I have been encouraged by declining levels of murders, massacres and kidnappings and progress in addressing the challenges of drug trafficking, guerrillas and paramilitaries. I am further encouraged that the Colombian government has agreed to use the recommendations of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as a framework for achieving the just peace that all Colombians deserve.
A persistent cycle of violence, such as that occurring in Colombia, can ultimately be broken only by combining greater security efforts with ending impunity, strengthening the rule of law and the defense of human and labor rights. For Colombians, that means condemning and putting a stop to the kidnappings, killings, and extortion practiced by outlawed guerrilla groups and by paramilitary groups who continually violate international humanitarian law. It also requires severing all links between the security forces and the paramilitaries; punishing those in uniform who have perpetrated these links and engage in extrajudicial killings and abuses; and better protecting judges, prosecutors, journalists, human rights activists and unionists from intimidation, violence and murder.
In Colombia, we must focus on the fight against narco-trafficking and counterinsurgency at the same time as we support the rule of law, alternative development, and the expansion of legitimate state authority to achieve a durable peace. As a Senator I have consistently supported Plan Colombia; and, as President, I will work with President Uribe to keep the bipartisan spirit in Washington alive in support of Plan Colombia, while insisting on progress on ending the violence against civilians.
We believe there has been insufficient progress in suspending from the armed forces, investigating and vigorously prosecuting security force members who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, or who have aided or abetted paramilitary organizations. Even some of the highest-profile cases have not advance.
… Greater progress in breaking links between the army and paramilitary forces is
imperative. The United Nations notes “continued reports… of cases in which
coordinated operations have been carried out by members of the security forces and
paramilitary groups, and cases in which the victims had been detained by members of the paramilitary forces and subsequently reported by the army as having been killed in combat.”
… We believe that it is time for the State Department to make clear to the Colombian government that further progress regarding its own security forces is necessary prior to certification. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Colombians have suffered for far too long from the violence and insecurity associated with its decades-long internal armed conflict. President Santos has taken the difficult steps toward negotiating a political solution and has indicated that lessons learned from prior peace talks will be taken into consideration. This is an important and welcome sign. Any negotiation that helps strengthen Colombia’s democracy, promote the respect for the rule of law and human rights, and bring peace to the country is a good thing and deserves support.
One of the great stories of Latin America is Colombia … President Uribe stepped up in a critical moment and began the process of rescuing that nation, President Santos is now doing an amazing job, we strengthened the relationship by passing the economic trade agreement. We have to build on that. And that is an example for the rest of Latin America of what awaits them… [Also] hope to bridge the gap with some of the other countries.
As is the case with the military in Honduras and Guatemala, both profiled in previous Just the Facts posts, it looks like troops will be on the streets in Venezuela for the next few months, if not longer. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been under pressure to reduce the high levels of crime and violence that continue to plague the country, which has the highest homicide rate in South America. In May, President Maduro deployed troops throughout the country following reports in April of a record high of 58 homicides a day. The soaring crime rate is caused by several compounded factors: a weak judicial system, a dysfunctional penal system, and rampant corruption among government officials, the police and the military, the latter of which has been accused of having entire branches that function like drug trafficking organizations.
Critics of Plan Patria Segura, or the “Safe Homeland Plan,” say the only thing it has done is militarize the country, pointing to some data that indicate June was one of the most violent months in 2013. For its part, the Venezuelan government says it is making progress and that the opposition and media are attempting to delegitimize the government by magnifying the crime rate.
However, it is difficult to obtain specific data on crime, as the Venezuelan government has admitted to keeping figures secret from the public. In an interview with InSight Crime, WOLA’s Venezuela analyst David Smilde noted that the country has a military tradition that does not promote transparency. "There is very little tradition of transparency or the people's right to know," said Smilde. "The military assumes it is the moral backbone of the country, and [Interior Minister] Rodriguez is a military person. From their perspective, the only reason you would release information is if it supports what you're doing.”
The "Safe Homeland Plan," or “Plan Patria Segura,” is part of Venezuela's "Full Life Mission," an anti-crime initiative launched under President Chávez in June of last year that had a budget of over five billion bolivars (US$ 1.16 billion) for its first year, according to the Venezuelanalysis blog. Marino Alvarado, director of human rights organization PROVEA (Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos), has noted that Plan Patria Segura goes against the philosophy of the mission, which promoted the armed forces "should only act under exceptional circumstances and not be used to for public order." According to the BBC, it is the 21st citizen security plan since 1999, when Hugo Chávez first took office.
Plan "Patria Segura"
On May 13, the Venezuelan government sent 3,000 members of the Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) to the streets of Caracas, marking the start of Plan Patria Segura. The country's minister for justice and internal affairs, Miguel Rodriguez, said the first phase of the plan was "designed to last "around six months," at which point the soldiers would be replaced with police and members of the National Bolivarian Police.
So far, according to some government numbers, about 40,000 soldiers have been deployed. In total, 80,000 troops will be deployed and the military will have a presence in every state in the country.
In early July, 1,541 troops were sent to the Guárico state in northern Venezuela and on July 1, President Maduro announced on his Twitter account that there would be a "new stage" of the plan, which included increasing the amount of troops and implementing “intelligent patrol,” which means units now assigned to territories of about a square kilometer will use GPS technology.
He also ordered more troops be sent to the Miranda state, which he claimed has double the rate of crime compared to the rest of the county.
Most recently 30,000 troops were deployed to the Amazonas, Apure, Portuguesa, and Nueva Esparta states on July 15.
WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog noted the government is using the plan to "to round up undocumented immigrants in poor barrios of Caracas and eventually deport them."
The government claims there have been significant reductions in crime, such as a 200 percent decrease in kidnappings, a 53 percent drop in homicides in Caracas, and a 30-35 percent decline in crime in areas where the plan was focused. In an interview with Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez claimed there had been a 53 percent drop in crime in the first month of the initiative and a five percent decline in murders overall. However, last month Rodriguez claimed there had been dramatic drop in murders of just over 60 percent. As WOLA’s Adam Isacson pointed out in a previous Just the Facts podcast, the government has only presented percentages and no absolute counts, giving little credence to its claims. Smilde highlighted this tendency in the InSight Crime interview, noting, "Any given year if you add up the percent reduction in crime that the government claims, you would end up with zero crime at the end of the year."
While human rights activists have opposed the measure, saying it marks a return to the country's tradition of militarized policing, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez has said, "There is no militarization here." "The National Armed Boliviarian Force is meeting with community councils. You tell people in El Valle (...) you're going to take the Army away and they will revolt, because they love their Armed Forces."
Impunity: Deploying military to the streets does nothing to address the issue of high rates of impunity for criminals. The Economist reported in January of this year that there was 96% impunity for homicides.
Human rights training: In 2008, as an attempt to move away from a militarized police force, former President Hugo Chávez created the National Bolivarian Police (PNB) to create a “preventative, professional, and non-militarized citizen security force.” Before the reform, the National Guard was responsible for training the police. The PNB officers now receive training with an emphasis on human rights and deferential force from a civilian-run policing university. As the crime rate continues to climb, citizens and other police officers have accused the PNB of being “soft” for their less aggressive tactics.
Deploying the military, which receives no such training, to high-crime areas gives weight to the notion that repression is more effective. Human rights organizations worry the military is not ready to handle law enforcement in a humane way. Such criticism arose recently after three people were killed in two states by the National Guard.
Lack of oversight: There are no mechanisms through which citizens can regulate military corruption or abuses against themselves or other citizens. The military and National Guard are not subject to the oversight bodies created by the policing university, the General Police Council and new policing laws. In some states there are citizen-run police oversight committees -- some police officers have even expressed concern that the military may commit abuses against detainees and are worried that in the event abuses occur that the police would be blamed, once the detainee is transferred.
However, this is not to say that the reform has been a success. Although there has been an ongoing police reform since 2006, the notoriously corrupt force has been consistently accused of extrajudicial executions, torture, involvement with organized crime and kidnapping. Earlier this month, Transparency International published a report on worldwide corruption, which found the police to be considered the most corrupt entity in Venezuela.
Since President Nicolas Maduro took office in April, he has criticized police forces throughout the country, calling the police in Caracas "mafiosos," alleging they were responsible for 90 percent of the kidnapping in the capital. He also has demanded several forces be investigated for corruption, and has called the force in Amazonas "a disaster," after announcing it would be investigated for criminal activity.
Taking all this into consideration, Isacson cited several “longer-term solutions” to Venezuela’s security problems, including:
Improving the capabilities of the new national police force, the PNB
Ensuring that the PNB patrol more often and in crime-ridden areas where they often have no presence
Reforming the justice system and the notoriously violent prison system.
Some aspects of the above recommendations were included in recent public security reforms, however they have yet to be implemented. It will be interesting to see if any non-governmental statistics mark improvement in the midst of Plan Patria Segura and if there will be any indication that some of the foundational flaws with security see some improvement. As Isacson noted, it is “unclear at best” if the Plan Patria Segura’s goals include targeting central problems with law enforcement in the country, such as shortening response times, giving patrols real-time crime-mapping data, improving relations with communities or improving crime investigations.
A study by Somos Defensores, a non-governmental protection program for human rights defenders, reveals shocking growth in murders of Colombian human rights defenders. The chart below illustrates that in 2012, the number of murders was nearly 14 times what it was in 2006. And 2013 is on a pace to be even worse.
The number of murders, although still high, remained relatively consistent around 30 per year between 2008 and 2011. But in 2012, the year after Colombia’s government passed a land restitution law encouraging displaced victims to come forward and claim stolen property, the number more than doubled to 69. The chart posted here, compiled by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, puts the horrifying jump in context.
The first half of this year exhibited a 27% increase over the same time period in 2012. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were killed between January and June, a rate of one every five days. Of these 37, 12 reported receiving threats prior to their murder, suggesting the “evident institutional weakness for the security and control of the implementation of public policy in human rights,” reports Somos Defensores.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Uruguay is likely legalizing marijuana
As of this week, Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. In a landmark 50-46 vote on Wednesday, the country’s lower house approved legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis. While the initial draft gave the state a monopoly in the production and distribution of marijuana, the passed version approved a private, albeit strictly regulated, market. The United Nations said the measure violated (pdf) international drug control treaties and called for Uruguay to reconsider the legislation.
According to InSight Crime's Steven Dudley, the bill is an important step as it will provide a real life experiment for legalization and provide proponents in the region with a boost, However, “Uruguay is too small to swing the pendulum in this political debate. The tendency, for the moment, appears to be keeping the status quo as evidenced by Brazil, Canada and the United States' federal governments firm positions against legalization.” The article, which complemented an excellent report written for InSight Crime by Pan-American Post author, Geoff Ramsey, noted challenges for the Uruguayan government going forward. The report, “Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of drugs,” also maps out drug policy throughout the region as well as the marijuana market in Uruguay. Ramsey also provided good coverage on the issue in the Pan-American Post throughout the week, and noted that "Because the Senate is anticipated to make minor changes and pass it back to the lower house, the bill will likely be signed into law in September or October."
Honduras: the presence of gangs expands and the investigation into DEA-backed drug operation killings continues
It has been over a year since a DEA-backed botched drug operation in Honduras killed four civilians. This week TruthOut published an article on the follow up investigation and DEA presence in the country and found, “ Honduran judicial authorities highlight a lack of cooperation from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, impeding their investigation. A leaked State Department memo suggests high-level interference in the United States' own investigation.” Read more here.
The Associated Press reported that Honduran gangs now have a presence in 40 percent of the country's territory. They are also increasingly targeting the middle class as officials estimate that the gangs obtain about $50 million from extorting small businesses, taxi drivers, teachers, and others. According to Honduran government numbers, 17,000 small businesses closed in 2012.
Mexico’s overall homicide rate dropped in 2012; Violence spikes in Michoacán
Mexico's homicide rate fell for the first time in six months, according to a report released Tuesday by Mexico's National Statistics and Geography Institute. The report found that the murder rate dropped from 24 per 100,000 people in 2011 (27,213 homicides) to 22 per 100,000. With a murder rate of 77 per 100,000, Chihuahua (2,783) and Guerrero (2,684) tied for the most deadly states in 2012. Despite the drop, as Alejandro Hope noted, the figure of 24 per 100,000 is still extremely high when compared to nine per 100,000, the rate in 2007. More from InSight Crime and Animal Politico.
In response to a government security surge, drug cartels in Mexico’s western Michoacán state have launched a wave of attacks recently in which at least eight federal police officers were killed, over 20 criminals shot dead, and several more wounded. Among those killed was a key Mexican Navy admiral. As the Associated Press noted, it is rare for cartels to target military members. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed an additional 2,000 soldiers and police to the state, following the 6000-strong military and police surge in May.
El Salvador’s government and the gang truce
It seems as though the Salvadoran government is playing a much larger role behind the scenes in the country's gang truce than it will publicly admit to. While the government claims its role has not extended beyond facilitating the ceasefire, an article in El Faro's Sala Negra reported on a meeting between former deputy minister Douglas Moreno and gang leaders at the Ministry of Justice and Security. The publication reported Security Minister David Munguia Payes and President Funes had previously approved the meeting. As to why the Salvadoran government continues to distance itself from the truce, Central American Politics blog highlighted that the agreement is not popular among Salvadorans or the U.S. government.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas posted its El Salvador update for July that provides a great overview of the current political landscape as well as the security situation and the gang truce.
Brazil is still protesting
Although the waves of social unrest in Brazil have quelled since June, there still ongoing protests in major cities like São Paulo, where hundreds of people took to the streets in protest of Governor Geraldo Alckmin in solidarity with those in Rio de Janeiro who were calling for the impeachment of Governor Sergio Cabral, accused of “corruption and arrogance.” In a poll Al Jazeera took of 544 people throughout the country, the top issues were: “Putting an end to government corruption was the most visible demand of demonstrators, followed by calls for more transparency in public service spending; an end to police violence and a more participatory political system.”
The Financial Times reported that the protests are honing in on more specific targets while the AFP noted they are becoming more radical in nature.Reuters reported on growing concerns about the country’s ability to host the World Cup and Olympics following security blunders during Pope Francis’ visit last week. Human Rights Watch had an article on extrajudicial killings by police in São Paulo and another on police violence. The Rio Real blog has an interesting post on police, the military and public security in Brazil.
Snowden leaks: XKeyscore
According to the latest leaks by Edward Snowden, a program known as “XKeyscore,” which reportedly had the ability to track ‘nearly everything a user does on the Internet,’ had servers located in several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. More from Foreign Policy and The Guardian.
Colombian peace talks re-start, but with tension
This week the Colombian Government and FARC guerrillas began a twelfth round of negotiations in Cuba. For detailed updates on the process, see the Washington Office on Latin America’s blog dedicated to the peace process. At the moment there are several issues of contention straining negotiations between the two sides, including protests in southern Colombia and the release of a former U.S. marine the group has held since June. Lead government negotiator, Vice President Humberto de la Calle reconfirmed that the army would continue to fight and that the FARC “will be held to account for everything that has happened during the conflict.” Uruguayan President Mujica, once a guerrilla himself, visited Cuba this week and reportedly met with FARC members. More from the BBC, Christian Science Monitor, EFE, Semana, and the Associated Press.
This post was written with CIP intern Victor Salcedo
United States policy
On July 26, the United States donated$5.7 million worth of speed boats, equipment and facility construction to the Nicaraguan Navy to aid the country’s fight against drug trafficking. This included two speed boats (Boston Whaler, model 370) with their respective haul trucks (Ford 450XLT) valued at $1.2 million. Five U.S.-trained Nicaraguan sailors will operate and maintain the boats, reports U.S. Southern Command.
“President Barack Obama proposed giving Colombia about $323 million in aid next year, mostly to combat drug trafficking and violence. Detroit, with an 81 percent higher homicide rate, will get $108.2 million,” Bloomberg News reported.
Over 70 percent of the 99,000 weapons recovered by Mexican law enforcement since 2007 were traced to U.S. manufacturers and importers, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations report on gun trafficking and violence in the Americas. ETrace data from 2011 for the Caribbean indicated that over 90 percent of the weapons recovered and traced in the Bahamas and over 80 percent of those in Jamaica came from the United States. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not released data from Central America.
The Colombian Air Force will be addingtwo “more advanced” drone aircraft from Israel to its fleet in October. It is also working on its own drone aircraft called “Iris” that will start to fly next week. Colombia’s Air Force currently has over 50 drones, purchased from the United Kingdom, which it disclosed would begin to be used to monitor borders and cities, combat illegal armed groups and drug trafficking, and respond to natural disasters.
Since 1986 the Colombian Army has killed3,896 civilians who were then presented as combat kills, in an attempt by military members to inflate their success rate against the guerillas, Colombia’s Prosecutor General Office confirmed Monday, according to Colombia Reports. A report released last week found that of the 220,00 Colombians killed in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, 176,000, or about 80 percent, were civilians.
According to the National Autonomous University of Honduras, there were 2,929 murders during the first five months of 2013. This represents a 3.7 percentdrop in homicides compared to the same period in 2012, when 3,043 killings were registered. The Observatory also counted16 days (not contiguous) in 2013 in which Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, had not registered a violent death. San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, has only experienced two murder-free days this year according to the Observatory, although the government registered three such days.
Honduran gangs now have a presence in 40 percent of the country's territory, the Associated Press reported. Officials estimate that the gangs obtain about $50 million from extorting small businesses, taxi drivers, teachers, and others. According to Honduran government numbers, 17,000 small businesses closed in 2012.
According to the Mexican government, a total of 244 public servants, including 14 soldiers, were murdered during the first six months of 2013. As InSight Crime notes, this high number was possibly tied to violence related to recent elections.
There has been a recent spike in violence in Mexico’s western Michoacán state as drug cartels battle themselves and security forces. The past week has seen a wave of attacks in response to the government security surge, including at least eight guerrilla-style ambushes by gunmen in which at least eight federal police officers were killed, over 20 criminals shot dead, and many more wounded. The Mexican government has reportedly deployed an additional 2,000 soldiers and police to the state, following the 6000-strong military and policesurge President Peña Nieto ordered in May.
Over the past decade, the homicide rate in the Brazilian state of São Paulo has dropped by 63 percent and fallen by 80 percent in city of São Paulo, the state’s capital. Human Rights Watch also reported that while police killings in the state decreased by about 34 percent during the first six months of 2013, there were still a registered six killings per week in the first semester of 2013.
The northeast region of Brazil has the most violent cities for the country’s youth. According to the Mapa da Violencia (pdf) 2013 published this month, youth homicide grew by 326 percent in the country.
According to the Financial Times, the Brazilian government mobilized 14,000 troops and over 7,000 police for Pope Francis’ visit. The overall cost of the trip and week-long youth festival ranged from $145 million to $159 million, the Associated Press reported.
This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Laura Fontaine.
In the final segment of the “Tradewinds 2013” exercise, the US Coast Guard and forces from six Caribbean nations, working in Port Castries, St. Lucia, simulated a takedown and boarding scenario as part of a counter-narcotics exercise.
Central American Regional
Joint Task Force-Bravo, a Honduras-based component of Southern Command, carried out multiple medical readiness training exercises (MEDRETEs) “with partner country militaries in underserved areas, as well as counter narcotics-terrorism, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and capacity building activities that promote enduring security cooperation,” reports International Health, a U.S. military website.
Chile, Colombia, El Salvador
In early June, Joint Task Force Jaguar, a Southern Command unit set up to coordinate the “Beyond the Horizon” humanitarian exercise in El Salvador, oversaw members of the U.S., Salvadoran, Chilean, Colombian and Canadian militaries as they completed construction, dental, medical, and veterinary assistance projects in a rural area of El Salvador. U.S. Army South, the Southern Command’s army component, reported that the logistical preparations that took place to get the 1,400 U.S. military personnel to El Salvador involved “the same procedures they’d follow for missions ranging from a wartime deployment to a disaster response in the homeland.”
As part of a training program, 350 Haitian female police recruits were selected to travel to Colombia to train with U.S. and Colombian police. The program is part of an effort by the Haitian government to try to increase its police force from the current 10,000 officers to 15,000 officers by 2016. Other training programs for Haitian women take place in Chile, Canada, and the United States.
A “multi-national C-TOC [counter transnational organized crime operations] mission using advanced sensors to detect allusive smugglers using littoral waterways to move illegal contraband, to include narcotics, drug money and people, across international borders” began in June in El Salvador, according to Southern Command. The Salvadoran Coast Guard worked with U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection officers to prepare for this activity, which is part of Operation Martillo, “a U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.”
During a command change ceremony on June 21, Joint Task Force-Bravo ushered in a new commander, Army Col. Thomas D. Boccard, at its headquarters at the Soto Cano airbase in Comayagua, with Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of Southern Command, officiating.
As part of a joint exercise, Joint Task Force-Bravo “simulated a two-fold scenario simultaneously, one a nonviolent demonstration and the other being an attack from a terrorist organization July 17.”
El Nuevo Diarioreports that between March and April members of the Nicaraguan Navy traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to receive training in communications and military tactics from U.S. military specialists. In June, U.S. personnel traveled to Nicaragua to continue and expand this training.
Southern Command reports that over the course of four months, U.S. military personnel along with medical professionals from Panama’s Ministry of Health, provided medical care to approximately 13,000 people as part of the “Beyond the Horizon 2013” exercise.
According to Southern Command, a June 18 ceremony marked the end of the “Beyond the Horizon 2013” humanitarian exercise during which “U.S. military engineers and medical professionals conducted real-world training while providing needed services to communities throughout the country.”
Last week, we posted a run-down of the militarization of policing in Guatemala. Today, we are looking at similar developments in Honduras, a country with a strong military tradition (pdf) that spent much of the 1990s trying to reduce the institution's power. However, recent deployments of troops to the streets have highlighted concerns that the country is increasingly militarizing its fight against organized crime – and it appears as though soldiers will remain on the streets for the foreseeable future.
Earlier this month Honduran President Porfirio Lobo announced there had been nine days in 2013 (albeit not consecutive) without a recorded murder in Tegucigalpa. He lauded the statistic as “historic,” saying, “before we were always talking about two digits; there were more than 30 murders. Today we have many days at a national level with only one digit.” He attributed this to military presence and police reform, which he claimed was “pushing out those who ought to be pushed out” of the police, despite reports that only seven members of the 11,000-member force have been fired. “How am I going to take the military off of the streets if the work they have done is extraordinary?” he asked journalists.
However, it is unclear if there has been much of a change. According to the National Autonomous University Observatory of Violence, from the start of the year through May 31 of 2013 there were an average of 20 murders per day in the country. The Honduras Culture and Politics blog used this average to calculate projected murders for the whole year and found the country could expect 7,140 murders for 2013 if the rate remains constant. This would yield a murder rate of about 85 or 86 per 100,000 (depending on population growth), about the rate that the Observatory found in 2012. For 2013, the University’s Violence Observatory predicted that the homicide rate could fall by six percent, although, as InSight Crime noted, the prediction had more to do with population growth than a decrease in violence.
Some recent uses of military for law enforcement:
In February, the Honduran government launched "Operation Liberty" with the deployment of 1,300 troops -- 800 to the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, and 500 to San Pedro Sula. The armed forces will remain on the streets until January 2014.
Two months into the operation, an official from the 105th Brigade claimed crime had dropped 60 percent, while the police department claimed crime had fallen 10 percent. Similar claims of drops in homicides and capture of gang leaders were reported again in June. However, sources failed to explain what kind of crimes they referred to and over what time period they were reporting.
In early June, Honduras’ Congress approved a $4.4 million plan to add 1,000 more troops to fight organized crime, money that some members of Honduras’ Congress thought would be better spent on police.
Also, in June Honduras’ Congress approved the creation of an elite high-technology military police force known as the Tigers - TIGRES in Spanish and an acronym for: Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad. (Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups)
On June 7, the line between military and police became even more blurred when the Congress merged the responsibilities of the Ministry of Defense, which controls the military, and the Ministry of Security, which controls the police. The vice minister of security is also a retired member of the military, as are a number of security advisors in the government.
In addition to worries of corruption and human rights abuse, analysts have expressed concern over the institutional implications of involving the military in domestic security. The Congressional Research Service's latest report on Honduras (pdf) highlighted worries that the military has started to play a larger role (again) in domestic politics. Before 1982 the armed forces repeatedly took control of the country and only in the late 1990s were they subordinated to civilian leadership.
The military has also played a central role in major recent political shuffles. It led the 2009 coup of President Zelaya and in December 2012, troops guarded the National Congress when it voted to dismiss members of the Supreme Court. The day after, military commanders appeared publicly with President Lobo. In 2011, members of the Honduran Congress approved a reform to the constitution allowing soldiers to assume police duties and be used “on a permanent basis in the fight against drug-trafficking and terrorism, weapons-trafficking and organized crime.” As noted above, several former military members now hold high office within the government.
Human rights concerns
Honduras’ military has been cited as worse than the police for its human rights violations, as it has been linked to extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, drug and arms trafficking and extortion. One such example can be seen in the Army's 15th Battalion, which receives U.S. assistance, that has control over the rural Bajo Aguán region, where over 60 people fighting for campesino land rights have been killed in the past three years.
Because of the military's history of corruption, murder, and links to organized crime, experts have warned that putting boots on the streets could increase corruption in the institution by giving soldiers greater opportunity to become even more involved in narcotrafficking. This is compounded by the fact that there is almost near-complete impunity for state security forces in a highly-politicized judicial system.
In mid-June 21, U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the State Department “conduct a thorough review to ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations,” as it questioned the release of aid to Honduras in 2012.
As with the military, there is also substantial evidence that members of Honduras' notoriously corrupt police force have participated in extortion rackets, are involved with organized crime, and have carried out several extrajudicial killings. According to a March 2013 Associated Press report, "Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula."
Despite these alarming statistics, the United States continues to fund the police (and military). William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, rationalized continued aid, saying, “Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil,” according to the Associated Press. The statement came following several Associated Press reports on Honduran police corruption that also document U.S. funding for police units, which has reached about $16 million this year.
Former U.S. Southern Command head, General Douglas Fraser, noted in his 2012 posture statement (pdf) that using the Honduran military for internal security “is a necessary initial step to help curb the rising tide of violence,” but maintain that such an approach “is unsustainable in the long term."
Currently, Congress is holding up $10.3 million in funding to Honduras because of security forces’ questionable human rights record. While there is legislation that puts some human rights conditions on military and police aid to Honduras, as Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group pointed out in an interview with Free Speech Radio News, there is a large loophole: the conditions do not apply to funding for counternarcotics assistance to fight drug trafficking and related violence. In a country like Honduras, through which 40 percent of cocaine that reaches the United States is said to be trafficked, it is difficult to classify which episodes of violence are linked to drugs and which are not.
As lawmakers in both the Senate and House debate the appropriations bill that will determine foreign aid spending for FY2014, human rights advocates can only hope that some of the above will be taken under consideration.
This post was prepared by WOLA Intern Laura Fontaine.
Much controversy has ensued after a North Korean ship traveling from Cuba through the Panama Canal was found to have missile, radar, and plane components hidden under several tons of sugar.
The development and use of drones is on the rise in Mexico, reports México Seguridad. They are used for surveillance, inspection, search, rescue, and protection of the environment. Mexican drone manufacturers include Jalisco-based Hydra Technologies and Monterey-based SOS Global. The Federal Police has the largest inventory of drones.
“Brazilian plane maker Embraer SA has sold six Super Tucano light attack planes to Guatemala to bolster its fight against drug trafficking, according to a senior executive.”
Of 6,000 confiscated firearms in a Guatemala sample, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms determined that at least 40 percent “had a nexus with the United States,” according to a Woodrow Wilson Center study.
The U.S. Army awarded Textron Marine and Land Operating Systems awarded a $5.5 million contract to provide 12 armored turrets, technical support services, vehicle repairs and spare parts for the Colombian Army’s Armored Personnel Carriers.
The Paraguayan Army developed plans to buy 20 refurbished trucks from Germany. They were bought for a “symbolic price” of $1 million.
In Paraguay, where illegal arms trafficking by military personnel has been a consistent problem in recent years, those who are accused of the crime are released before fulfilling their sentence or face a benign punishment.
As part of preparations for hosting a visit from Pope Francis, the World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics Brazil has made plans to buy 34 used anti-aircraft tanks from the German Army. The type of tanks they will be purchasing are “armed with two 35 mm guns mounted on a rotating turret atop a Leopard 1 tank chassis.”
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala participated in a ceremony of inspecting and sending 42 specially equipped trucks to a region, known as the VRAEM, where the remnants of the Shining Path armed group still remain.
The Law for Disarmament, Control of Arms and Munitions in Venezuela has granted an administrative and commercial monopoly of all arms to the Ministry of Defense.
A decree has been added to a law Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff signed into the books in March of last year regarding the Brazilian defense contractors and strengthening of the military industry. “The bill under the heading of ‘Law to promote the industrial base of defense’ is geared to incentivize Brazil’s arms industry so that it becomes the main provider of the Armed Forces; to develop technologies, produce at lesser costs, introduce the most added value to those products and increase exports.”
Shifts in Cultivation, Usage Put Bolivia's Coca Policy at the Crossroads Coletta A. Youngers, World Politics Review
Caribbean Regional -
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns To Deliver Remarks at the Fourth Annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue
Office Of The Spokesperson, U.S. State Department
Libre, segunda fuerza parlamentaria de Honduras, Confidencial
Deteriorating democracy, The Economist
Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet Hugo Perez Hernaiz, Washington Office On Latin America
Que hay detras de la posible complicacion en la compra por Argentina de los F-1 del ejercito del aire espanol? Francia entra en escena y ofreta sus F-1 co,pitiendo con los espanoles, Defensa.com
Brazil, Cuba -
Cuban doctors tend to Brazil's poor, giving Rousseff a boost Anthony Boadle, The Chicago Tribune
Ingeniero Leon Andres Montes Ceballos fue liberado por el Eln, El Colombiano
Tables Turned Virginia Bouvier, Foreign Policy Magazine
As Colombia's presidential race heats up, peace talks take center stage Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald
La mala herencia que nos dejo el capo Alejandro Baena, El Tiempo
El homicidio se redujo un nueve por ciento en el pais, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Las claves de la cita Barack Obama y Juan Manuel Santos Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Colombia espera que Obama ratifique apoyo al proceso de paz Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Honduras Election Results Challenged Nicholas Phillips, The New York Times
Pena Nieto cambia Mexico sobre el papel en su primer ano de mandato, El Pais
The Mexico Govt's Coordination Obsession Alejandro Hope, In Sight Crime
Mexican bishop takes on cultish cartel in drug war battleground state Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post
Despues de la guerra Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez, Nexos En Linea
¿Que puede pasar el domingo? Luis Vincente Leon, El Universal
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)