Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed
Friday, June 14, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visited the White House Tuesday to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as part of his three-day trip to the United States. The two presidents agreed to deepen cooperation on trade and counterdrug strategies. During a joint press conference following their meeting President Humala said to President Obama, “I am convinced that under your administration we will substantively and qualitatively fight against the scourge of drugs.”
New York Times reported on U.S. border agents excessive use of force. The article notes that of 15 people killed by Border Patrol since 2010, 6 were shot in Mexico, mostly for throwing rocks. According to the Times, "In a statement, the Mexican Embassy in Washington criticized the shootings as “disproportionate deadly force,” saying, “In recent years, the results of investigations have unfortunately not even resulted in the prosecution of the agents” who have engaged in fatal shootings “or even fired into Mexican territory." WOLA has an infographic set of slides regarding migration and border security.
Voz de America reported that a Venezuelan official in Washington confirmed she would meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs next week to discuss re-establishing bilateral relations. The State Department has yet to confirm the statement.
United States Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has been accused of blocking an investigation into a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department in Honduras that resulted in the deaths of four Hondurans. Foreign Policy's The Cable reported Brownfield denied the charges and said the investigation was delayed because it was unclear if the case fell under the purview of the DEA or the Department of State. According to Brownfield, "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas started a tenth round of peace talks this week, after reaching a breakthrough agreement on land reform on May 26. The negotiating teams began to tackle the issue of the rebel group's political participation. Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle emphasized that the discussion would focus on participation of the entire group and not individual leaders, many of whom could face criminal charges.
In a press statement Tuesday the FARC proposed the government postpone presidential elections scheduled for November 2014 by a year. The government rejected the proposal with President Santos saying, “There is not the slightest chance that can happen. We have an electoral calendar. It will be followed.” More from the Pan-American Post.
Juan Forero had two interesting articles in the Washington Post this week. The first looked at harrowing tales of rape and gender-based violence against women committed by paramilitaries in the Putamayo department of southern Colombia. The second article examined security in Medellin, noting that, “In 2007, the city recorded 771 killings for a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. But by 2011, it was back up to 1,649 homicides. The number has since fallen fast once more, but gang expert Luis Fernando Quijano said the sharp rise and fall suggest that gang leaders may be fighting less, not that the state has control.“ The Guardian also had an informative article on security, politics and society in Colombia’s second-largest city.
The Colombian Senate passed an amended bill that would transfer many human rights cases against security force members, currently tried in civilian courts, to military tribunals. As Semana magazine noted, even though the legislation was altered to address human rights concerns, the risk of impunity persists. This week the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all denounced the measure. More from Pan-American Post.
Former Guatemalan dictator Efaín Rios Montt was released from a military hospital and is now under house arrest. Last month Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. However Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the ruling on account of a procedural technicality and ordered the trial to resume to where it was on April 19. The re-trial is reportedly set for April 2014.
The Guatemalan government has identified over 54 drug trafficking organizations and 70 gang cells operating in the country. It found some 40 cells of Barrio-18 and 30 cells of Mara Salvatrucha street gangs. These reports give weight to accounts that the violence in Guatemala is being fueled by infighting between small local gangs. These smaller groups have either splintered from larger cartels or are contracted by rivaling Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and the Zetas), noted by InSight Crimes. As Central American Politics blog notes, the country's murder rate has increased this year, after a steady decline from 2009 to 2012. May 2013 was the only month which saw less murders than the previous year: 409 murders compared to 426 in May 2012. Prensa Libre has a map detailing the country's criminal groups' areas of operation.
There were a number of reports this week on Brazil’s ramped up security initiatives ahead of numerous major public events, including the World Cup, a visit from the pope, and the 2016 Olympics. In the Guardian, Jon Watts reported on police operation to regain favelas from the powerful 'Red Command' -- Rio's biggest gang-- ahead of the World Cup. He lays out the government's three-step process for securing a neighborhood. "First, a military police battalion, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), which specialises in urban warfare, increases searches for drugs and guns. Next the area is surrounded and occupied by BOPE forces. Finally when it is secure, BOPE move out and a resident police unit — known as a UPP — is established." The Associated Press also has more on persisting violence in Brazil and security measures as the Confederation's Cup gets underway while Americas Quarterly looks at a new safety system, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that President Rousseff inaugurated yesterday.
Violent protests broke out Thursday night in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro over a 20-cent increase in bus fares. As the New York Times' Simon Romero pointed out, they "come at time of high inflation, sluggish growth & sharp fall in currency." The RioGringa blog contended that they “have more to do with the evolution of Brazil's middle class amid a stagnation in quality in life.”
A Datafolha survey shows President Rousseff ‘s approval ratings have dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent. As analyst James Bosworth notes, “Brazil's economic growth is too slow, but citizens and government officials appear more concerned about inflation. The poll shows voters, particularly women, concerned about rising prices and believing that inflation will get worse.”
World Politics Review had an interesting article on Brazil's drone program, which has received more attention since the government announced it would be using UAVs to bolster security during ceremonies for the Confederation Cup soccer tournament. The article highlights how increasing drone use is affecting its foreign policy, noting that the country has an agreement with Bolivia to fly UAVs in its airspace for counternarcotic operations and it has been quietly deploying drones to the Uruguayan and Paraguayan borders.
There are clashes going on between the Bolivian government and coca growers in the country. According to Southern Pulse: "On 29 May 2013, the government offered the municipality of Apolo, La Paz almost US$1.5 million for local development in an effort to persuade illegal coca growers to turn to alternative crops. Eradication forces and efforts clashed with coca growers on 26 May 2013, resulting in 19 injured. The government plans to use this strategy of development grants coupled with eradication efforts on other regions, as they expect US$3 million more to be funded to these programs later this year by the European Union (EU)." More from InSight Crime.
"Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights" blog had a helpful analysis of recent Colombia-Venezuela relations. Analyst David Smilde notes, “Colombia’s meetings with Capriles and announcement that it was seeking to strengthen ties to NATO essentially represented a move towards the U.S. Venezuela turned around and themselves strengthened ties to the US.”
Smilde’s other post on the blog counters a recent Washington Post editorial, which criticized Secretary Kerry for meeting with Venezeula’s Foreign Minister while in Guatemala. The op-ed argued the U.S. was in effect, "extending a lifeline to Maduro." While the Post said that the U.S. meeting gave Maduro legitimacy while other countries and UNASUR have questioned his legitimacy, Smilde asserts, "The only government in the hemisphere that has not recognized Maduro’s election is the United States. All other countries including the US’s close ally and Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia recognized the election result quickly. Furthermore, Unasur did not call for an audit of the results, it endorsed an audit of the result after the National Electoral Council announced it."
The Venezuelan government says it is targeting corruption. President Maduro announced this week that more public officials had been arrested. Venezuela Analysis blog has a run-down of the arrests. President Maduro also announced he is creating a new anti-corruption unit, which will be under his direct control.
Former Argentine President and current Senator Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for smuggling arms to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995, while both countries were under an arms embargo. As a senator, Menem has diplomatic immunity and will not serve prison time at the moment. However, legislators may vote to strip him of the privilege. He will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
Cherokee Gothic, a blog run by professors at the University of Oklahoma, provides a short run-down and links to four informative articles suggested by Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst.
In a post published on InSight Crime, Hope examined the similarities between the current security surge in Michoacan, where the government deployed the military in hopes of regaining control from drug cartels, most notably the Knights Templar, and the one launched in 2006 under Felipe Calderon, which effectively ushered in a more militarized drug war. According to Hope, there are three main similarities: 1. The operation does not have a fixed time limit, 2.There is no transparency regarding the operation, and 3.The participation of the armed forces in public security tasks continues to be unregulated.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the increasing emergence of local vigilante groups throughout the country, particularly noting their positive influence in violent parts of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan in western Mexico. Yet despite the vigilante groups' efforts, drug cartels still control the region.
The Economist reported on a new police force in Monterrey, called the "Fuerza Civil." The force is made up of people who have never worked in law enforcement that then receive a starting salary of $1,175 a month, double that of a normal police officer. According to the Economist, "The private sector has helped the government, with both money and technical expertise, to recruit and run a new police force."
The Associated Press featured an article on the failures of police reform in Honduras. According to a U.S. document provided to the AP, four out of every ten officers failed a vetting process. By April of this year only seven members from the over- 11,000 member police had been fired, demonstrating how slow the process has been. The report follows last week's announcement that the U.S. had suspended funding for police reform in March.
This week the Honduran Congress approved a $4.4 million initiative that will add 1,000 more troops to the country's military to help combat organized crime. The measure highlights concerns that Honduras is increasingly militarizing the fight against organized crime. More from InSight Crime.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a helpful chronology of the gang truce in El Salvador from March 2012-March2013
WOLA latest "Latin America Today" podcast focused on the 43rd annual Organization of American States meeting and shifts in drug policy in the region. Americas Quarterly also offers an overview of other topics besides drug policy that were discussed at the meeting.
WOLA had an event with Ariel Ávila -- Former Coordinator, Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a security think-tank in Bogota. Ávila discussed several current topics in Colombia from the peace talks to organized crime and illicit profits. Adam Isacson has a video of the event (in spanish) on his blog.
The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2013 Global Peace Index.Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica were ranked as the most peaceful in Latin America, although Uruguay was the only country to come in above 30 for the global rankings.
Friday, June 14, 2013
- On May 15th, 24 members of the Belize National Coast Guard and 5 members of the Belizean Anti-Drug Unit (ADU) graduated from a Special Warfare Operations Course. This 5-week training course, supervised and conducted in Belize by Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen of the U.S. Navy, “covered Navigation, Small-Boat Handing, Communications, Board Search and Seizure, Vectoring, Radar and GPS Operation, Weapon-Handling Skills, and Waterborne Techniques.”
“Approximately 90 airmen deployed from Hurlburt Field, Florida, are building school structures from the ground up throughout Belize as part of an exercise known as New Horizons,” reports the U.S. 12th Air Force. “The first of the airmen assigned to the 823rd Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, commonly known as RED HORSE, began to arrive in Belize in February to begin pre-construction activities and set up logistics for the three-month training exercise that started April 1 and is scheduled to run through the end of June.”
Belize, El Salvador, Panama
- “From April through June 2013, U.S. military personnel will be in Belize, El Salvador, and Panama to conduct comprehensive humanitarian civic assistance exercises,” reports U.S. Southern Command. “As part of the Beyond the Horizon and New Horizons exercise programs, troops specializing in engineering, construction and health care are providing needed services to communities while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations.”
- On May 20-22 Brazil and the United States held their 29th annual army-to-army staff talks. These meetings “help strengthen professional partnerships and increase interaction between armies” and often result in “various events, training, exercises and exchanges together.” reports U.S. Army South, a component of U.S. Southern Command. This year, “the two delegations drafted a list of 29 Agreed to Actions (ATAs) that covered a wide range of professional exchanges designed to improve the working relationship between the two armies.”
As part of a “a test to see if the relatively low-cost drone, which runs on battery power, could be an alternative to manned aircraft such as the P-3 Orion, which requires a crew of seven and guzzles fuel,” reports the Miami Herald, naval officers practiced launching the Puma, a waterproof 13 pound drone that they hope will help in drug-smuggling detection. U.S. forces are employing at least 10 Pumas within the Central American and Caribbean waters. The exercise also involved a 321-foot helium-filled blimp, the TIF-25K Aerostat, also to be used over Caribbean waters to detect drug smuggling ships.
“Tradewinds 2013 was a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training exercise conducted in the Caribbean Basin which focused on improving cooperation and security in the region,” reports U.S. Southern Command. “The joint and interagency exercise was held in St. Lucia from May 20 – June 6. The exercise includes participants from the U.S. military and U.S. law enforcement agencies who are joined counterparts from 14 partner nations, primarily from the Caribbean Basin.” Adds another Southcom release, “Uniformed service members and maritime police officers from four partner nations bolstered their maritime enforcement capabilities in a live-fire gunnery exercise off the coast of Saint Lucia during Tradewinds 2013.”
- Civil affairs officers from U.S. Southern Command and Special Operations Command South worked “to develop a strategy to increase Guatemala’s Civil Affairs capacity to disrupt transnational organized criminal activities in minimally governed areas” during a Civil Affairs Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) that took place in Guatemala City from April 23-25 between the United States, Colombia and Guatemala. The SMEE, led by Colombia, “was designed to provide the Civil Affairs representatives with a forum for sharing best practices in Civil Military Operations (CMO) and Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) and to discuss future CA focused engagement opportunities to complement U.S. Southern Command efforts in Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC).”
Task Force Jaguar, organized by the Southern Command’s U.S. Army South, completed a mass casualty exercise in El Salvador in April. The activity took place before the launch of the Beyond the Horizon 2013 humanitarian exercise. “The mass casualty exercise is designed to simulate the stress caused during a real crisis” and “was just one step in the validation process required for the unit to maintain operations” in El Salvador. Additionally, “over the course of two days, safety, personnel recovery, and force protection inspectors from Army South evaluated the safety measures and tactics employed by the task force.”
Beyond the Horizon will operate in El Salvador until June. An Army press release describes it as “a joint and combined field training humanitarian exercise in which U.S. active duty, National Guard, and Reserve servicemembers specializing in engineering, construction and health care, working along-side partner nation personnel, provide much-needed services to communities in need while receiving valuable deployment training and building important relationships with partner nations.”
An April 16th Army release noted that since their arrival in El Salvador on the 30th of March, the Beyond the Horizon group’s work “constructing schools and latrines on three sites” is on track.
On February 28th, eleven Salvadoran airmen returned to San Salvador after being deployed to Afghanistan by the United States. During their time in Afghanistan they worked as aviation advisers and International Security Assistance Force liaison officers. “The training that the Salvadoran airmen went through is similar to what U.S. service members receive in preparation for deployment. The Salvadorans also received psychological and medical evaluations and other exams to ensure they were fit for a combat mission”
Following the completion of three weeks of “joint training and partnership building” in Guatemala, the Southern Partnership Station 2013 naval exercise moved to Honduras in April. SPS 2013 is working to train armed forces in “the areas of explosive ordnance disposal, land navigation, live-fire exercises, river operations and arrest procedures.”
Joint Task Force-Bravo, a U.S. Southern Command component based at the Soto Cano air base near Comayagua, Honduras, reports that it “partnered with four female Honduran National Police Officers, Community Engagement Section, to mentor young women aged 17-27 at the Arts for Humanity Women’s Leadership Center, as part of a commitment to assist in the development of partnership capacity in El Socorro, Honduras, April 18. Joint Task Force-Bravo’s Army Forces Battalion, Engineer Section and Medical Element taught classes on leadership and ethics, basic first aid, and conducted a technical engineering assessment of the center’s infrastructure.”
On April 23rd, Joint Task Force-Bravo’s mobile surgical team (MST) worked with a group of Honduran surgeons at the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa. This medical surgical team works with local surgeons in La Paz, Comayagua, and Tegucigalpa on a regular basis, helping to train medical students as part of Medial Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) programs. According to a Southern Command release, “the surgical MEDRETES allows the MST to exercise their surgical skills while providing relief to the saturated medical staff at Hospital Escuela.”
As part of a May 6th MEDRETE in the Cuesta de la Virgen community, members of Joint Task Force-Bravo worked with the Honduran Ministry of Health and Honduran military personnel to provide medical attention to more than 500 residents. In addition to teaching about preventative medicine, nutrition, and proper hygiene, “villagers were provided the opportunity to meet with a nurse, dentist or medical provider depending on their needs to receive assistance which ranged from routine medical checkups, basic immunizations, deworming medicine for children, tooth extractions and gynecological services.”
“Seventeen service members from Joint Task Force-Bravo were recalled and transported to Puerto Castilla to join the Honduran Comision Permanente de Contingencias (COPECO), during a Central America Survey and Assessment Team (C-SAT) exercise, May 15-16,” reports the Honduras-based U.S. Southern Command component. “The team partnered with COPECO to run through a simulated hurricane landfall disaster scenario and determine the actions each agency would accomplish during a disaster.”
- The Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) announced on May 9th that Mexico’s Army will participate in a joint training exercise with the United States and Canada. Ardent Sentry, an exercise that U.S. Northern Command holds each year in the United States, will help develop a joint action plan in case of any disaster in the area of the borders between the countries. The training, which will cover appropriate responses to any biological, chemical, radiological and natural disasters that could potentially happen, will take place in Florida, South Carolina, and Montana.
U.S. Army South marked the official start of Beyond the Horizon-Panama 2013 during an April 17 ceremony at Fort Sherman, once a U.S. Army base near Colón, Panama. “U.S. military engineers and medical professionals arrived to conduct real-world training while providing needed services to communities throughout the country,” reads a U.S. Army South release.
As part of Beyond the Horizon 2013, 28 U.S. Air Force airmen from the 203rd “Redhorse” Squadron, 192nd Fighter Wing, an Air Guard unit out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia and the 200th Squadron, 179th Fighter Wing, out of Mansfield, Ohio, are working with Panamanian personnel to build a health center in the rural area of Escobal, Panama. Upon completion of the health center, the airmen will build a dormitory for employees.
In April, as part of a three-day MEDRETE, approximately 50 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel provided medical, dental, and humanitarian, and veterinarian services to the residents of Cerro Plata, Panama. This MEDRETE is another component of the Beyond the Horizons 2013 exercise, which will take place until August. Army South reports that these programs “consist of a team of military medical and dental professionals who work in austere areas to gain valuable military experience, while also providing medical services to people in need of treatment.”
As part of Beyond the Horizon 2013, a U.S. Army officer assigned to Task Force Panama conducted a training session for some members of the National Air and Navy Service of Panama (SENAN). The session included training in “the proper use of under-carriage vehicle inspection mirrors and metal detecting wands for use on individuals” which “will add another layer of security to the force protection the SENAN already have in place.”
In Colón, Panama on April 30th members of the Rhode Island National Guard visited Hospital Colon and met with the hospital’s medical director. During the meeting, the two parties worked “to sustain a cooperative relationship with the local hospital to ensure appropriate medical treatment of U.S. and Panamanian security forces operating” in and around the area through the Beyond the Horizon-Panama 2013 program.
Research for, and some drafting of, this post was carried out by WOLA Intern Laura Fontaine.
Friday, June 7, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Delegations from Latin American countries and the United States gathered in Antigua, Guatemala from June 4-June 6 for the Organization of the American States' 43rd annual General Assembly meeting. Drug policy topped the agenda of the meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas." The group's final declaration mentioned nothing on legalization or decriminalization of marijuana or any other drug, despite calls in the region to do so, and called for a drug policy with "full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that fully incorporates public health, education, and social inclusion." The New York Times notes that the ambiguous declaration reflects the divided views of governments in the hemisphere on the issue. The paper reported Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Nicaragua all oppose legalization, while Secretary of State John Kerry upheld the U.S.' position against such a measure. More from Pan-American Post, Reuters, and Prensa Libre.
The group also voted in two new members to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- American James Cavallaro and Brazilian Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi -- while Mexican Jose de Jesus Orozco was re-elected as president of the IACHR. More from Americas Quarterly.
While in Guatemala leading the U.S. delegation for the OAS meeting, Secretary of State Kerry met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. This was the first meeting in eight years between foreign ministers from the two countries. The meeting was cordial and afterwords Secretary Kerry said, "We agreed today, both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship." The meeting came as the Venezuelan government freed U.S. filmmaker Tim Tracy who had been detained since April over accusations that he was trying to undermine the government. Kerry also met with the Foreign Ministers from Colombia and Peru.
Brazil is reportedly getting closer to signing a $4 billion contract with Boeing for 36 F-18 fighter planes. While in Brazil, Vice President Biden told President Rousseff that Congress will likely allow a technology transfer, said to be the most important part of the deal as it will help build up Brazil's own defense industry. "If it's Boeing, Biden will deserve much of the credit," one senior Brazilian official said, Reuters reported. Other finalists for the deal are France's Dassault Aviation SA (AVMD.PA) and Sweden's Saab AB (SAABb.ST).
Today the new U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Liliana Ayalde, who is currently Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs will be named to the post, Brazil's Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper reported Thursday.
The State Department put up its "World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 2012." It covers the years 1999 through 2009.
Ex-dictator Efraín Rios Montt will be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in April 2014, a year after his original conviction was controversially overturned.
Rice University's Baker Institute Blog ran a weeklong series about the Mexican military's involvement in law enforcement which includes articles from a range of experts, including Just the Fact's project staff member, Adam Isacson, writing on the use of Mexico's military to perform police functions.
Amnesty International published a report, "Confronting a nightmare: Disappearances in Mexico," highlighting the continued trend of disappearances, many of them forced and involving public officials or security forces. According to the report, between December 2006 and December 2012, 26,121 people were reported missing or disappeared. In those six years, there were only two convictions for enforced disappearances and no convictions at the state level. So far, 12 investigators have been assigned to a new federal Attorney General's office unit on disappearances.
Animal Politico had an article on the issue of forced disappearances as well this week, noting that of the 24,800 forced disappearances that Mexico's Human Rights Commission had documented in the past five years, 2,443 involved public officials.
Mexico's Navy will now be in charge of a new border security program at its southern border with Guatemala and Belize, the AFP reported.
A member of Mexico's Zeta Cartel told a U.S. court in Texas the organization spends all of its profits from trafficking cocaine into the United States -- estimated to be over $350 million a year -- on fighting the Gulf Cartel, a rival drug gang. According to Insight Crime, during his testimony, Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, alias "El Mamito," also "implied that the Zetas enjoyed the backing of Mexican police and military during its struggle against the Gulf Cartel, stating that the authorities would take bribes in exchange for information and other services, among them kidnapping."
A state in western Venezuela announced plans to implement a ration system for basic items like toilet paper, chicken, flour and sugar. The system, which issues smart cards that will limit customers' purchases, will apply to 65 supermarkets in the state's two-biggest cities, Maracaibo and San Francisco. The government says it will not be expanded. The Maduro administration claims the initiative is designed to combat smuggling of price-controlled foods into Colombia, however the reports follow several of basic good shortages throughout the country. Venezuela's El Universal newspaper reported that in the month of May, inflation was up ten percent for all food and drink items.
Time has an interesting photo essay on southern Venezuela's Vista Hermosa prison, where "Outside its walls, the Venezuelan national guard patrols; inside, the inmates live and die in a world of their own making." The prison generates a profit of about $3 million a year from illegal activities and weekly taxes, and according to Time, "could not function without the complicity of corrupt officials who allow drugs and weapons inside."
On Monday, the United States suspended all aid to the Honduran Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit responsible for carrying out police evaluation and reform. On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress approved the creation of a special high-technology police unit targeting organized crime, known as the "Tigers."
On Wednesday, all 1,400 officers from Honduras' Criminal Investigation Unit were suspended indefinitely over reports of links to organized crime. On Thursday, after 100 members of the DNIC protested, the government agreed to permit them to return to work and just take two days off to take polygraph tests. Also on Thursday a Honduran court issued arrest warrants for five National Police officers accused of killing seven gang members in 2011.
InSight Crime published an article last week examining the recently-announced gang truce between the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 street gangs in Honduras. "5 Questions About Honduras' Gang Pact" looks at what the agreement is, who is running it, what the gangs want, what to expect and if "gang truces" are a sustainable policy to be replicated in the region.
Negotiations between the FARC and the government are scheduled to restart Tuesday, June 11. As they have reached a deal on land reform, they will move on to political participation, the second issue on the talks' five-point agenda.
There were two informative specials on Colombia this week: One from Colombian magazine Semana, "5.5 Million Victims and Counting," which features several infographics showing the extent of displacement, homicide and other crimes in the armed conflict and offers various views on challenges to implementing the country's victims' reparation law. The other comes from the Financial Times and presents infographics on biodiversity and oil distribution as well as articles, including one about Colombia's export of security training.
Colombia announced plans to form a closer partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance. In response to the subsequent buzz,(even the U.S. responded that it might support Colombia in a membership bid), the government released a statement acknowledging it was not eligible to join the regional alliance and that it did not intend to do so, but rather intended to to collaborate on issues of security. Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador all expressed concern over Colombia's discussions with the organization.According to Al Jazeera, "Using the hashtag #SiAUnasurNoAOtan (Yes to UNASUR, No to NATO), Venezuelans highlighted what they believe to be atrocities committed by NATO forces and urged Colombia to show solidarity with its Latin American neighbours."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refuses to accept the legitimacy of President Maduro's government after a dispute of the results of the April 14 elections. In response, the Venezuelan government threatened to withdraw Venezuela's support for the Colombian government's peace talks with the FARC. Since then, Venezuela has softened its approach and tensions have subsided. More from Adam Isacson's Latin America blog.
The Miami Herald published an article on 10 female members of Haiti's National Police Force that are undergoing months of training in Colombia. According to the article, "Women now represent just 7 percent of the estimated 10,000 officers in the Haitian National Police. Haiti is hoping that programs like this and others with Chile, Canada and the U.S. will help increase the force to 15,000." The cost of the program reportedly runs at $17,000 per cadet and is partially funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.
China in Latin America
Chinese President Xi Jinping wraps up his Western Hemisphere visit today and tomorrow with a meeting in California with President Obama. During his trip he also went to Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico. More from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, CNN Mexico, the Economist, and McClatchy.
Foreign Policy had an article on Chinese involvement in Latin America that notes, "Since 2007, China has loaned $50 billion to Ecuador and Venezuela." This week Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the country is set to receive $4 billion in credit from China for oil field development. Also this week Nicaragua announced it granted China a 100-year concession, with share declining each decade, to build a canal through Lake Nicaragua. The new waterway will provide an alternative to the Panama Canal, a key shipping route for the U.S. The project will run at around $40 billion dollars. Nicaragua's Congress began debating two bills to authorize the project today. More from the Guardian and the Associated Press.
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
This week delegations from Latin American countries and the United States are gathering in Guatemala to debate drug policy and other regional issues at the Organization of American States' (OAS) 43rd annual General Assembly.
The meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas," comes just two weeks after the OAS released a 400-page report that suggested countries consider decriminalizing some drug use as one of many methods to combat the drug trade and to view consumption as a public health issue. Given continued high levels of drug use and addiction, incarceration, and violence, many Latin American leaders are looking for alternatives to the drug war and are expected to urge the U.S. to change its prohibitionist approach.
Secretary of State John Kerry is leading the U.S. delegation and plans to uphold the Obama administration's view that legalization is not the "magic solution" and reiterate the U.S.' opposition to marijuana legalization at the national level.
While leaders discuss alternatives to prohibition in the region today and tomorrow, here are some quick facts about current drug policy in the region:
U.S. funding for the drug war
Since 2000, the United States has spent approximately $12.5 billion in Latin America to stem the flow of drugs. Over the past decade, U.S. funding for counternarcotics operations has increased almost 30 percent, from $644 million in 2002 to $833 million in 2012. In 2012, about 90% of all U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region went to counternarcotics operations. For FY2013, that number is expected to drop to about $808 million.
Coca cultivation and profits
A kilo of cocaine in Colombia's interior sells for around $2000, according to InSight Crime. At the border, the same kilo increases in worth to $3000. Once it reaches Mexico, it will have increased in worth to about $12,000-$15,000. Once it reaches the U.S. mainland the same kilo will sell for at least $25,000 and in the UK for about $60,000. Experts have argued that decriminalization (particularly of marijuana) might not curb violence as cartels have diversified their income, including extortion, human trafficking and illegal mining.
Since the late 1980s, when the U.S. first started estimating coca production in the Andean region, the number of hectares of coca under cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia has decreased by only 8 percent (from 176,000 hectares in 1987 to 153,700 hectares in 2011). Yet, in 2012, the U.S. spent $48 million on eradication efforts in Colombia alone. There has been a slow decline in coca cultivation over the past few years, however, since 2003 the total number of hectares under cultivation in the Andean region has stayed right around 150,000.
According to numbers from the U.S. government, Peruvian drug producers were able to extract the most cocaine from a hectare of coca in 2010, producing 6.1 kilograms per hectare. In Bolivia, a hectare produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine, and in Colombia 2.7 kilograms of cocaine. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime however, a hectare of coca in 2010 in Colombia produced 5.4 kilograms, almost double what the U.S. reported. There were no numbers for Peru or Bolivia.
Moves toward legalization
Six countries in South America -- Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay -- have passed laws decriminalizing drug possession for personal consumption as part of a growing movement to shift away from criminalization for personal use and towards prevention and treatment programs. Last November, two U.S. states, Colorado and Washington, followed suit.
A new bill in Uruguay would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants, while national cultivation would be capped at 30,000 hectares. The bill was stalled after a poll found about 60% of Uruguayans opposed the measure. This week, however, the ruling Frente Amplio party got support for the legislation after tightening up language on education and prevention programs. It will likely pass in Congress' lower house next week, according to the Pan-American Post.
In Latin America, 48% of women in prisons are convicted of drug trafficking compared to only 15% of all incarcerated men. In Mexico, 80% of all jailed women are there for drug trafficking charges compared with 57% of men.
Incarceration rates have increased about 40 percent in Mexico and South America over the past 10 years. A recent study found that in three of seven countries surveyed -- Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador -- drug trafficking carried longer maximum and minimum penalties than murder. In all the countries studied the maximum penalty for drug trafficking was greater than or equal to the penalties for rape.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
This post first appeared as an op-ed in Colombian newspaper El Espectador. It was written by Lisa Haugaard, Director of the Latin America Working Group. It was translated by CIP intern Ashley Badesch.
Topics that the Vice President of the United States and the President of Colombia should discuss: Washington’s role in the peace process, the fuero militar, and the Labor Action Plan.
The visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago is part of a series of diplomatic events intended to tell Latin America that it has not been forgotten. The visit follows President Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, and the leaders of Peru and Chile plan to visit the White House. In spite of Secretary of State John Kerry’s clumsy reference to Latin America as the United State’s “backyard,” these diplomatic efforts are an overdue recognition of the economic and political power and independent spirit of Latin America.
In Colombia, they will discuss economics, trade, and security issues, but one hopes that Joe Biden will also emphasize that the United States fully supports the peace process. “Just as we have supported Colombia’s leaders in the battlefield, we’ll fully support their efforts to end the conflict at the negotiating table," Biden said before his visit.
The White House has supported the peace process since its beginning, but they’ve done so with a low profile. It is now time to emphasize that the U.S. government wants to see successful negotiations and is prepared to cooperatively and diplomatically support the implementation of an agreement and, even more challenging, a just and lasting peace. This will require a different form of cooperation; cooperation by means of peace rather than war.
Despite Bush’s and Obama’s support of President Uribe, at the end of Uribe’s presidency and after the revelations of the terrible reality of false positives and the DAS scandal, the U.S. government looked with relief towards the arrival of Juan Manuel Santos, with his more inclusive discourse, his openness to negotiations, and his focus on the Victims Law. The State Department remains concerned about the impact of the constitutional reform that opens the door for human rights violations committed by the military to be investigated and tried in military courts, despite the Colombian government’s promises that this will not be the case. Paradoxically, Washington still looks at Colombia as a great security success and a model that should be “exported” to Central America and Africa.
If there is to be frankness in the discussions between Santos and Biden, it would be good that they share with each other some truths. Biden should tell Santos that it is extremely important to ensure that the soldiers and officers who have committed serious human rights violations should be investigated and tried in ordinary court proceedings. Biden should also remind him that the two governments signed a Labor Action Plan for the passage of the Free Trade Agreement, and that the commitments of this plan meant to protect the labor rights of Colombians are very far from being met.
And Santos should tell Biden that the United States needs to listen carefully to the criticism of the war on drugs. As several presidents expressed, including Santos, this war is not going to be won, and the producer and transit countries pay enormous costs in violence and lost lives. After decades of the same failed policy, it’s time to listen.
Among close friends, the truth can be told.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is on a six-day trip to Colombia, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago. His trip comes just a few weeks after President Obama's trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, and just a few days after the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia.
During remarks in a press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Biden applauded Colombia's security improvements, pleased that trade and economic issues are now front and center in the relationship. He praised Colombia for "reclaiming your nation from civil war," noting that it is a "remarkable milestone that today when we meet the main topic is not security, it is economic prosperity."
Vice President Biden said the United States is willing to join the Pacific Alliance as an observer country. President Santos indicated that Colombia "will certainly support that request" and submit it to the other member nations.
At the same press conference, Biden put more weight behind U.S. support for the peace talks. "Just as we support Colombia's leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table" he said. "We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve.
Despite the overall positive tone of the meeting, Biden did voice concern over possible impunity for human rights abuses as a result of a law that allows certain crimes by security forces to be tried in military courts. According to the Associated Press, "Biden did note Washington's insistence that human rights violators be tried in Colombia's civilian courts."
On Sunday, the FARC and the Colombian government announced a preliminary agreement on the first of five agenda items in the talks: land tenure and rural development. Ginny Bouvier a senior program officer for Latin America in the Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of has a summary of some of the key points of their statement on the agreement and Adam Isacson has the entire English translation.
Today Vice President Biden was in Trinidad and Tobago and tonight he will be traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil before heading to Brasilia late Thursday.
Friday, May 24, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on Tuesday, “Advocating for American Jacob Ostreicher’s Freedom after Two Years in Bolivian Detention.” Jacob Ostreicher is an American businessman being held under house arrest on allegations of links to criminal groups and money laundering. Actor/Activist Sean Penn testified and urged the U.S. government to pressure Bolivia to free Ostreicher. A video of the hearing, along with Mr. Penn’s testimony, can be found here.
The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing yesterday, “U.S.-Mexico Cooperation: An Overview of the Mérida Initiative 2008-Present.” There were several notable testimonies from government officials, including William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics Affairs, and non-government experts, like Steven Dudley, director of InSight Crime. John D. Feeley of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs within the State Department testified, "At the federal level, Mérida has delivered training to nearly 19,000 federal law enforcement officers." View the webcast and find all testimonies here.
In his testimony, Dudley provided eight recommendations for Congress on the Mérida Initiative, including continuing to support the cooperation between officials in both countries on the mid to lower levels and pushing to continue judicial and police reform. InSight Crime has an excerpt from the testimony and the recommendations.
Tradewinds 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training exercise focused on security cooperation is being held from May 20 – June 6 in St. Lucia. The training will bring together over 260 law enforcement officers and military personnel and government representatives from 14 countries, the majority in the Caribbean Basin.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said 38 more metric tons of cocaine are entering the United States as a result of sequestration spending cuts. “It breaks my heart to see multi-metric-ton cocaine shipments go by that we know are there and we don’t have a ship to target it,” he told the Defense Writers Group.
The U.S. Southern Command reported that during an exercise in Honduras, U.S. Marines and Seabees tested an inflatable aerostat and a small Puma drone. According to Southcom, “The Aerostat and Puma UAV are equipped with state-of-the-art radars, cameras and sensors that could prove to be useful in detecting Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) organizations attempting to smuggle drugs and other illicit materials (guns, people, drug money) in the maritime and littoral environments. The Aerostat and Puma UAV were testing in actual counter drug operations.”
Today Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was sworn in for his third term as president. Correa has pledged this term will be his last. In the coming weeks his administration is expected to pass major reforms to the mining sector, communications regulations, social security and land redistribution. More from MercoPress and the Pan-American Post.
Yesterday the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia. The heads of the member countries – Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru—met with aspiring members Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica, along with several other observing countries. Analyst James Bosworth provides a short overview of what was accomplished, including a 90 percent tariff drop on goods traded between the countries and proposal to create a joint visa system.
The U.S.announced Thursday it is closing the Narcotics Affairs Section at the Embassy in La Paz and suspending funding for counternarcotics operations until 2015. Speaking at the hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said it is “time for us to go.”
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed a law on Monday that will permitEvo Morales to run for a third term. The Bolivian Constitution says that a president can only serve for two terms, but in a ruling last month, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Morales’ first term did not count because the constitution was changed in during his first term.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared the appointment of two retired generals, General David Mungia Payes and General Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera, to Minister of Public Security and Director of the Police unconstitutional. The pair were given their posts a few months before a truce began rival gangs and Mungia was a key orchestrator of the agreement. Gang leaders have since held a press conference conference saying the announcement put their ceasefire at risk. As several analysts note, the truce and the associated drop in violence has given the gangs political power and the ability to make demands. More from James Bosworth, InSight Crime, WOLA and Tim’s El Salvador blog.
According to the World Bank, El Salvador spends 2.8% of its GDP on security and justice, more than any other Central American country. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama reportedly invest 2.3% into the same sectors, while Honduras and Guatemala spend 2% and 1.7% respectively.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced plans to create a “Bolivarian Workers’ Militia” of armed and organized workers. According to Maduro, “The working class is increasingly respected. It will be respected even more if the workers’ militias have 300,000, 500,00, one or two million working men and women in uniform, ready and armed for the defense of the Fatherland.”
Seventy-five percent of the audit of elections results is complete and President Maduro has claimed a “heroic victory.”
In a 3-2 decision on Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the ruling that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was guilty of genocide and said the trial would go back to April 19 on account of a procedural irregularity. According to the New York Times, however, lawyers from both sides of the case say that the trial will have to go back to square one and begin with a new panel of judges. The Times’ Editorial Board featured an op-ed this week calling for the United States to push for the case to be “pursued through an independent process.”
There were protests in Guatemala and throughout Latin America today targeting the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Central American Politics has an interesting post on Israel’s role in the Guatemalan genocide.
The Colombian government and the FARC are still deliberating on land redistribution- the first point on the talks’ five-point agenda. The Colombian government has indicated that it would like to go faster, while FARC lead negotiator asked for more time for a deal, saying "We have to approach these issues with serenity, with depth if we really want to form the solid basis to build a stable and long-lasting peace." In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Marisol Gomez Giraldo said if the sides have not reached a land accord by Sunday, “the peace process will be left without oxygen.”
A special government commission published a new drug policy report that suggested drug consumption be treated as a public health problem and legalization should be considered.
InSight Crime released a new report on the possible criminalization of the FARC. The report looks at the FARC fragmenting and turning to crime in three scenarios: during the talks, after an agreement has been reached, or following the demobilization. According to InSight Crime, “The risk of FARC elements criminalizing in scenario three, once an agreement has been signed and demobilization has occurred, is very high, even almost inevitable.”
The Los Angeles Times published an interview with a former FARC commander who deserted the guerilla organization. One of the reasons he cited for leaving the group was the “comfort” of the leaders negotiating in Havana. According to the article, 500 FARC fighters have deserted so far this year, a 6% increase on the say period last year.
The biggest story out of Mexico this week was the Mexican government’s decision to deploy troops to the embattled western Michoacán to fight local militias and the Knights Templar drug gang, which has taken control of the state and is on “a medieval-like reign of terror,” reported the Associated Press. As the Washington Post notes, President Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón launched his militarized drug war by sending soldiers into the same state in 2006 to fight another syndicate, La Familia. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told reporters, “Our fundamental goal is simple: to come to Michoacán and not leave until peace and security have been provided for every Michoacán resident.” More from the Global Post, Animal Politico and El Universal.
In an interview in Cali, Colombia, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his opposition to legalizing drugs as a means of combating crime.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
This post was written by the Washington Office on Latin America and is cross-posted with their
The first bit of news to emerge after our last Colombia Peace Process Update (March 27) gave cause for concern. The seventh round of talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas had ended with no agreement on the first of five agenda points, land and rural development. The eighth round, originally scheduled to begin April 2 in Havana, Cuba, was then delayed for three weeks. The reason given was a need for “separate work on sub-points” of the agenda, while negotiators’ support teams “continue joint work.”
In fact, the “break” between April 2 and the next round’s April 23 launch turned out to be a period of intense activity.
One reason for the delay soon became apparent: the FARC chose to add new representatives to its negotiating team. This required complicated logistical arrangements to extract them from remote areas of Colombia and bring them to Havana. The most prominent addition was Pablo Catatumbo, chief of the FARC’s Alfonso Cano (or Western) Bloc. With Catatumbo’s arrival, the guerrillas now have two members of their seven-member Secretariat in Havana. Lead guerrilla negotiator Iván Márquez has been there since November; he replaced Mauricio Jaramillo, head of the Eastern Bloc, who was present during the talks’ preparatory phase.
Analysts speculated that the addition of Catatumbo, a “heavyweight” within the guerrilla leadership, might speed the pace of talks by simplifying the FARC’s decision-making. Some also speculated that adding Catatumbo, a battle-hardened military leader, might give more voice to the FARC’s field commanders, who had been less represented among the negotiators. The FARC’s powerful Southern Bloc, which has not been represented in Havana, issued a communiqué denying persistent rumors that the guerrillas are divided about the handling of the talks, with the more militarily active units being most reticent.
Other members of the guerrilla negotiators’ support team (Victoria Sandino Palmera, Freddy González, Lucas Carvajal, and others) traveled to Cuba as part of the same operation, which required a temporary suspension of military activities in parts of Cauca and Tolima departments. In a separate operation, two more FARC negotiators (Laura Villa and Sergio Ibáñez) were extracted from a zone in Meta department.
Before this latter operation occurred, former President Álvaro Uribe, a constant critic of the peace talks, posted the coordinates of the pickup zone to his Twitter account. It is believed that a member of Colombia’s armed forces leaked this information, known only to a small number of officials, to Uribe. This individual remains unidentified.
The “coordinates” episode raised alarm that Colombia’s military – or elements within it – might be quietly opposing the peace process. Citing anonymous military sources, Colombian journalists reported that active members of the armed forces have two chief concerns about the possible aftermath of a peace accord. First, that the armed forces may be forced to cut their numbers and budget during a post-conflict phase. And second, that human rights violators from the military might serve prison sentences while guerrilla human rights violators are amnestied.
FARC negotiator Andrés Paris sharpened the first concerns when he told reporters in mid-April that a peace accord could bring “an eventual drastic reduction of the official military forces of Colombia,” adding that this is an issue “that we will surely bring up” in the Havana talks.
On several occasions, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sought to reassure the military on this subject. On May 9, for example, he told a military audience, “On the [negotiating] agenda there is no topic that has to do with the Colombian armed forces, this topic is not on the agenda and as a result it will not be discussed, period. It is not negotiable.” In his speech to a military audience before the April 9 peace march discussed below, Santos promised, “We are not going to diminish the presence of our forces in any corner of our territory” after a peace accord, adding, “to the contrary, we will need more presence.”
On the second topic of military concern, Santos and other government officials have pledged that any arrangement that offers leniency to FARC human rights violators will also apply to the military. A “peace framework” constitutional amendment, passed in June 2012, already holds out this possibility. A scenario frequently mentioned is a transitional justice model that requires judicial trials, followed by suspended sentences and reparations to victims, for guerrillas and officers allegedly involved in crimes against humanity.
This proposal (or something similar) is favored by Colombia’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal), Eduardo Montealegre, a vocal defender of the “peace framework” constitutional amendment. Montealegre proposes that those accused of crimes against humanity be banned from politics, though they may receive suspended sentences. Colombia’s more conservative Inspector-General (Procurador), Alejandro Ordóñez, challenges the validity of the framework law, opposing an arrangement that allows FARC rights violators to stay out of prison. Ordóñez has also held out the possibility that extrajudicial executions committed by the armed forces might not count as “crimes against humanity” and might thus be eligible for amnesty.
The FARC, meanwhile, remains defiant on the issue. In a May 3 statement, the guerrillas rejected the idea of facing Colombia’s justice system after a peace process concludes: “The assassins and their tribunals have no moral authority to judge us.” FARC negotiators have repeatedly weakened public support for the talks with statements that minimize and even deny that the group has abused human rights or must make amends to victims.
The FARC’s post-conflict future as a political movement was a principal topic of an April 28-30 forum, hosted in Bogotá by Colombia’s National University and the UN Development Program. At this event, 1,265 participants presented about 400 proposals on “political participation,” the second item on the FARC talks’ agenda. As occurred after a December forum on the first agenda item, these proposals will be presented to both negotiating teams. Topics include electoral reforms, guarantees for opposition parties’ security, women’s participation in politics, and similar issues. “Everything is possible once peace is signed,” said a former guerrilla who is now president of Uruguay, José Mujica, in a recorded video message to the forum participants.
An even greater show of public participation took place on April 9, the 65th anniversary of the assassination of populist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which triggered an outbreak of nationwide violence that has never fully abated. Pro-peace and victims’ groups, the “Marcha Patriótica” political movement, and the Bogotá mayor’s office convened a large march in Bogotá in support of the peace process. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 200,000 to over a million. After giving a speech before the armed forces, President Santos joined the marchers for several blocks.
The April 9 march was part of a general shift in public opinion in support of the talks. A mid-April Ipsos Napoleón Franco poll commissioned by several prominent Colombian news outlets found 63 percent of Colombians favoring the peace process, up from 57 percent in November. 37 percent disapproved. 52 percent still believed that the process won’t successfully reach an accord and a guerrilla demobilization, while 45 believed that it will. 69 percent opposed an arrangement in which FARC rights violators do not go to prison. 67 percent opposed allowing FARC members to participate in politics after a peace accord.
Colombia’s Catholic Church, which had been largely quiet about the talks, voiced support with a statement from the Episcopal Peace Council of the Colombian Catholic Church Episcopal Conference (PDF).
Some important expressions of support came from the United States. 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing support for the government-FARC dialogues, urging a greater role for victims, and encouraging the U.S. government to take steps to support the talks and a possible post-conflict transition. The FARC wrote a letter back to the members of Congress on April 25. This letter was the first time that the FARC clearly mentioned the possibility of a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses, including their own “kidnapping, forced disappearance, recruitment, use of explosives of all kinds.”
Fifty-six U.S. and Colombian faith leaders signed two letters to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and President Santos supporting the peace process and “calling for a U.S. policy that prioritizes peace and human rights in Colombia.”
On a late April visit to Colombia, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah, said, “On behalf of the United States and of President Obama, we want to reaffirm our commitment for economic support, and to be one of the principal allies for Colombia in its peace process. … As we discussed with the President [Santos], in the government of the United States we are very optimistic that the process is going to be very fruitful, and we are going to continue lending our support. … We are going to respond to all requests that President Santos makes to help and develop this process.” (This is a translation of the Colombian Presidency’s Spanish transcription of Shah’s remarks.)
At the conclusion of a lengthy visit to the United States, meanwhile, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said, “In my Washington meetings I have found a desire to support President Santos’s process and a will to strengthen the armed forces to accelerate it.”
With new guerrilla negotiators in place, the eighth round of talks began on April 23. “We want results,” said chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle. “That is the instruction that we have received from President Santos. This is a process that cannot be prolonged indefinitely.” When the round of talks ended ten days later, De la Calle told reporters, “The pace of the conversations has been insufficient, inconstant. We could have progressed much more.”
FARC negotiators disagreed. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said, “We’re advancing. The peace delegation of the FARC feels satisfied with the gains we are making.” FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich dismissed De la Calle as a “picturesque” figure “who speaks to the gallery.”
The joint communiqué released at the end of the talks’ eighth round indicated that the government and guerrillas have a draft agreement on the first agenda item, land tenure and rural development. This document is still under revision and will not be made public. “Partial accords can easily be manipulated or wrongly interpreted to poison the process,” President Santos told reporters, repeating the oft-used phrase, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Colombia meanwhile continued to see indications that talks between the government and a smaller guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), may be near. On April 22, Colombia’s La FM radio network reported that the Colombian government might launch dialogues with the ELN guerrillas during the second week of May. That timeframe has passed because of the ELN’s January kidnapping of a Canadian mining company employee in Bolívar department. If the ELN wishes to begin talks, President Santos said on May 9, it “has to free its kidnap victims, above all the Canadian [Jernoc Wobert] it is holding.” A day earlier, the ELN had said it would not release Wobert until his company cedes mining rights to local communities.
While visiting the Vatican, where he heard words of support for the talks from Pope Francis on May 13, President Santos said that Colombians are not “totally optimistic” about the FARC talks, but that “a moderate optimism exists.” In a speech (English PDF) (Spanish) at Bogotá’s Universidad Externado, by far his lengthiest public statement, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo portrayed an eventual peace accord not as the end of a peace process, but as the beginning of a larger, rather ambitious transition to governance in Colombia’s historically conflictive territories. A FARC statement at the outset of the ninth round of talks, meanwhile, indicated the group’s “full expectation and desire to take up the second [agenda] point very soon,” but went on to voice concerns about land tenure and rural development, the first topic.
As they pass their six-month anniversary, the talks are proceeding in an atmosphere of increased, though still moderate, optimism. This will grow dramatically if the ninth round makes clear that the agenda has moved beyond the first item, and if the FARC, in its public statements, more explicitly addresses its responsibilities to its victims.
Other Colombia Peace Process Updates:
March 27, 2013
March 8, 2013
January 26, 2013
Hope for Peace in Colombia: Reasons for Optimism, Awareness of Obstacles (September 6, 2012)
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Brazil is planning to build a 10,000-mile virtual border fence. According to NPR, "The system will use a combination of satellite technology, electromagnetic signaling, tactical communications, drones, and an increased army presence to monitor the border areas." The project is expected to cost $13 billion and require 10 years to complete.
Brazil is expanding naval operations off the coast of Africa to protect their financial and oil interests from piracy and to thwart increased drug trafficking.
Venezuela's national election authority, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE), concluded its audit of last month's presidential election results and confirmed President Nicolas Maduro as the victor. According to the CNE, there was only a margin of error of 0.02 percent. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called the audit "a farse" on Twitter.
As noted in Monday's round-up, the Venezuelan government has sent 3,000 troops to the streets in some areas of Caracas. According to the Associated Press, "Human rights activists worry that sending soldiers trained for warfare on policing missions will only make things worse for the residents they are meant to protect." WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog and the Guardian have more on the "Secure Homeland" initiative.
International Crisis Group published a report, "A House Divided," that examines the political environment in Venezuela and looks at how the country can avoid political violence and polarization.
The Washington Post published an article on Mexico's new security protocol that prohibits U.S. officials from working inside any of its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Post, all U.S. ties to Mexico, including interactions with the country's army and navy, will go through the civilian Ministry of the Interior.
Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla was engulfed in a scandal this week after it was reported that she had used the jet of a Colombian linked to drug trafficking. The affair caused a media storm which was followed by the resignation of three high-level government officials. Communications Minister Francisco Chacon stepped down on Wednesday. Mauricio Boraschi, head of intelligence and security, and presidential aide Irene Pacheco both resigned Thursday. President Chinchilla is also being investigated as Costa Rican law prohibits officials from accepting undisclosed gifts. Reuters, BBC, Bloomberg, and the AFP all have coverage.
The ninth round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government began this Wednesday. The round will end May 25. Both sides are still working to reach an agreement on land, the first topic of the talks' five-point agenda. The next point will be the FARC's political participation. WOLA's Adam Isacson posted six weeks of updates to his Colombia Peace Dialogues Timeline on his blog. Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía has an informative article examining the three stages of the peace process, the government's preparation, the negotiations and policy implementation, and looks at what the FARC's involvement in formal politics might look like.
The Washington Post featured an article about the FARC's "recruitment of children to boost its weakened fighting units even as it talks peace with the government." The article provides one harrowing tale after another about what child soldiers in the group have endured: "Angel Vivas, who served in the FARC from age 13 to 16, recalled how one 10-year-old fighter was executed for having thrown away his rifle. “The commander shot him right then and there and told the others to throw him in the same hole where he slept,” Vivas said."
Colombia's El País also looked at the issue of child recruitment not just by the FARC but by criminal gangs in the southwestern city of Calí. As far as the information that has been made available to the public, the issue of child combatants has yet to be discussed in the peace talks.
According to sources within Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture, a government body responsible for land redistribution and restitution to victim's of the armed conflict has been illegally granting land to criminal actors and wealthy landowners since 2006. So far 13 people have been charged in the investigation. More coverage from Colombia Reports, El Tiempo and La Opinion.
The Associated Press published a new investigation providing further evidence that units within the U.S.- backed Honduran national police are operating as death squads by killing alleged gang members extrajudicially. The AP looked at U.S. involvement and found:
In the last two years, the United States has given an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduran law enforcement. The U.S. State Department says, it faces a dilemma: The police are essential to fighting crime in a country that has become a haven for drug-runners. It estimates that 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. - and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America - pass through Honduras.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield responded to reports by saying, funding the police was the "lesser evil.":
"The option is that if we don't work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of ... taking matters in their own hands," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told the AP via live chat on March 28. "Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil."
In another interview with EFE this week, Brownfield praised National Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who has previously been accused of participating in death squads. Brownfield said that he "respects" and "admires" the "effective work" that Bonilla has done. "I want to make it very clear that I am working with the Honduran police, and supplying aid through programs, because everyone in Honduras agrees that they are suffering a problem of violence, homicides, and drug trafficking. And to solve them we have to work with the police,” Brownfield told EFE.
Dan Beeton at Center for Economic Policy Research and LatinNews.com have more coverage of the issue.
Honduras has added a new 'SWAT-like' unit made up of 150-200 members designed to fight crime with military tactics in San Pedro de Sula and Tegucigalpa, the country's capital.
The Organization of American States presented a 400-page report on drug policy to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday. The first part of the document examined the results of existing drug policies in the region. The second part explored four possible scenarios for how drug policies could develop between now and 2025.
Ahead of the report's release, U.S. officials underscored the United States' position on drug policy: the U.S. will continue to oppose legalization. In an article in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske reiterated that for the United States, legalization is not a viable solution to the problem. He argued the drug trade was not the only illegal market fueling organized crime, pointing to other sources of income: kidnappings, human trafficking, extortion and corruption.
Earlier in the week, in an interview with El Tiempo, William Brownfield Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs sent a similar message: the legalization of "cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, synthetic drugs” was a red line no country wants to cross." According to Brownfield, if security policies increase costs for drug traffickers 10 to 15 percent, this will prompt drug traffickers to move routes, which "would be good for the hemisphere."
Uruguayan President Mujica gave an interview to EFE in which he defended his government's steps towards marijuana legalization, saying that while he considers the drug a "plague," regulating the market is much better than letting the drug traffickers continue to profit.
Drug legalization will be the main topic at the OAS' upcoming general assembly meeting, June 4 to 6 in Guatemala.