Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed
Friday, February 12, 2010
- The BBC reports on the role of women in President Evo Morales' government, writing that "Today women are involved in running the country as never before." Not only is Morales' new cabinet made up of 10 men and 10 women, but women now occupy 30% of the seats in Bolivia's new legislative branch.
- Over the weekend, Costa Rica elected Laura Chinchilla to be the country's first female president with 47% of the vote. Read news coverage on her victory, and her platform, here.
- While in Washington earlier this week, Defense Minister Gabriel Silva said that a high ranking State Department official assured him that the decrease in U.S. aid to Colombia reflected in Obama's FY2011 request was merely part of the across-the-board belt tightening of the president's new budget. Later in the week, however, President Uribe noted he was worried about the reduction in aid and said it was fortunate that Colombia had signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States this year, since it "guarantees the prolongation of the same actions of Plan Colombia."
- In the latest news on President Uribe's potential bid for a third term, a new poll was released in Colombia in which 54% of respondents said they were against the potential third term. Though not speaking directly about reelection, Uribe told the press that "eight years is little time [to govern] a country that in 200 years has only had 47 years of peace."
- In an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, President Obama said he would press for the passage of pending free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia in 2010. Though he did say that "different glitches" must be negotiated with each country first. Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) told Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva this week, however, that "this is a complex electoral year with a very heavy domestic agenda," according to Defense Minister Silva, so it could still be hard to pass the controversial agreements, despite the President's agenda.
- A large protest against Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was held in the port city of Guayaquil yesterday. The city's mayor, Jaime Nebot, spoke to the protesters, calling President Correa's government "a dictatorship" and "a repulsive copy of that failed scheme that Chávez has imposed for the misfortune of Venezuelans."
- On Wednesday, the World Bank announced it is restoring development aid to Honduras that had been frozen after the coup d'etat in June. In addition to restoring a planned loan of $270 million, the World Bank said it will add $120 million in new credit to the country, which recently announced it only had $50 million left in government coffers.
- Former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein announced that the truth commission to investigate the events that led to the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya will be officially formed on February 25th. The findings of the truth commission will then be released sometime this summer - the Associated Press says June and Honduras' Tiempo says no later than August.
- President Felipe Calderón appears to have spent the week trying to assuage anger that surfaced after 15 teens were killed at a birthday party in the violent border city of Ciudad Juárez. Though he said he would not pull the army and federal police out of Ciudad Juarez, President Calderón did say it was time to launch an overdue expansion of the drug war to include efforts aimed at tackling social issues. This new initiative would include sports centers for youths, more schools and day care centers and financial aid for 25,000 families living in poverty in Ciudad Juárez. Many people, including family members of the teens killed last week, protested Calderón's visit to Ciudad Juárez yesterday, calling for both his apology for linking the dead youth to organized crime and his resignation.
- Earlier this week, Venezuelan President Chávez announced his new radio show, "Suddenly Chávez." The name is appropriate for the new show, as it will not have a scheduled time slot, and can come on air anytime, day or night. As President Chávez put it, " When you hear the pluck of a harp on the radio, maybe Chávez is coming. It's suddenly, at any time, maybe midnight, maybe early morning."
- On the first airing of "Suddenly Chávez", the president declared an electricity emergency in Venezuela. The new declaration included the announcement of penalties for over-consumption of electricity and incentives for those that cut consumption. The recent electricity emergency also forced Chávez to cancel his plan to attend the UNASUR meeting in Quito, thereby losing the opportunity for a face-to-face between the two dueling presidents - Chávez and Colombia's Uribe.
Friday, February 5, 2010
- The Obama administration released its 2011 budget request to Congress this week, which includes its request for next year's foreign assistance. The new aid numbers for 2011 have been added to the "Just the Facts" database, and so far it looks like there will be a sharp decrease in military and police assistance to the region, especially for Mexico and Colombia, the region's two largest aid recipients. The FY2011 request also reflects the official launch of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, a new counternarcotics and citizen security program focusing on the fifteen countries of the Caribbean Basin.
- President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner formally dismissed Central Bank president Martin Perez Redrado this week, after he resigned last Friday. Mercedes Marcó del Pont was named to replace Redrado as the new head of the Central Bank.
- Constitutional Court Judge Humberto Sierra has recommended that the country's highest court reject a proposal to allow President Alvaro Uribe to seek re-election due to legal irregularities.
- Human Rights Watch released its new report on Colombia this week, "Paramilitaries' Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia." The report documents the rise of "emerging" paramilitary groups throughout the country and is critical of the Colombian government's "weak and ineffective" response to this increasing phenomenon.
- More details on the mass grave in the town of La Macarena were released this week. Initial reports indicated that the gravesite contains as many as 2,000 bodies, though the mayor of La Macarena says the cemetery contains 1,000 human remains, of which 346 are unidentified combat dead buried since 2004. The Center for International Policy's Plan Colombia and Beyond blog has more details.
- Presidential elections will be held on Sunday in Costa Rica. A recent poll by Demoscopía places Laura Chinchilla, of the governing Liberal National Party, as the frontrunner, with 45.1%. Otto Guevara, of the Libertarian Movement, follows with 30.1% of the vote. If none of the candidates win more than 40% of the vote on Sunday, a run-off election will be held.
- Ecuador's growing importance as a hub for narcotrafficking and organized crime operations made several news stories this week, after a Washington think tank, the International Assessment and Strategy Center, released a new report titled "Ecuador at Risk: Drugs, Thugs, Guerrillas and the Citizens Revolution". The country seized 63 tons of cocaine last year, twice as much as in 2008, though some experts estimate that as much as 200 tons of cocaine may be transiting through Ecuador, "four times the estimated percentage a decade ago."
- Once again, this week's news on Haiti focused on bottlenecks affecting the distribution of aid. A new food distribution system that focuses on distributing food to women has proven successful, though Reuters reports that bags of rice from the United States are already appearing on the black market.
- Ten American missionaries who tried to take 33 Haitian children out of the country last week have been charged with child abduction and criminal conspiracy by the Haitian government.
- A representative from the Organization of American States arrived in Honduras on Wednesday to help set up a truth commission. This is the final step from the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord that must be completed before the OAS will consider the country's reinsertion into the international organization. Principal deputy assistant secretary of state Craig Kelly noted that the "country has taken steps to move ahead, and that is gratifying." However, former President Manuel Zelaya said, from his place of exile in the Dominican Republic, that President Lobo has done nothing to remove those who carried out the coup and an In These Times article reports that the human rights crisis is deepening under Lobo. "Despite Lobo's rhetoric, there seems to be little peace or freedom in Honduras these days."
- Sixteen teenagers were killed at a birthday party earlier this week in the country's most violent city, Ciudad Juárez. In response to public outcry, Mexican President Felipe Calderón admitted that the deployment of the army and federal police to Ciudad Juárez has not been sufficient in stopping crime and violence. President Calderón promised to put in place new social initiatives that will help prevent crime and decrease violence.
- Miguel Angel Caro Quintero, who led the Sonora Cartel in Mexico for over a decade, has been sentenced to 17 years in prison for trafficking drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border by a U.S. court.
- South Korea announced it will donate eight A-37 light attack planes to Peru that will be used to conduct counternarcotics and counterterrorism operations.
- The Christian Science Monitor reports on a story about some Peruvian farmers' decision to replace their coca crops with cacao.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
- President Álvaro Uribe proposed to fight gang violence in Medellín by paying the city's students to serve as informants passing intelligence to the authorities.
- Three U.S. senators on committees with jurisdiction over U.S. aid to Colombia sent a letter (PDF) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter calls for the United States to "reevaluate U.S. assistance to Colombia."
- A mass grave containing an estimated 2,000 bodies was recently discovered outside of La Macarena, about 200 miles south of Bogotá. According to the Center for International Policy's Plan Colombia and Beyond blog, "Residents say that after it entered the strongly guerrilla-controlled zone in the mid-2000s, Colombia's Army began dumping unidentified bodies in a mass grave near a local cemetery."
- In President Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday, strengthening trade relations with both Colombia and Panama was mentioned as a goal. However, last week U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield warned that trade agreements never win approval in legislative election years. Colombian Ambassador to the United States Carolina Barco told El Tiempo that Obama's mention of Colombia "is very positive.... We are optimistic that this backing will help us continue on the road to approval of the FTA. However, we must be patient."
- A USA Today/Gallup poll finds 63% of Americans favoring a longer-term U.S. military presence in Haiti, going beyond the emergency phase until "basic services are restored." Meanwhile the Pentagon estimates that most U.S. troops will pull out of Haiti within three to six months.
- Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left the Brazilian Embassy on Wednesday, where he had been holed up since sneaking back into Honduras in September. Zelaya flew to the Dominican Republic as Pepe Lobo was sworn in as the country's new president. The inauguration ceremony was attended by a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela.
- On Thursday, the new administration announced that the nation is bankrupt and has only about $50 million in government coffers after months of isolation and cutoffs of international aid. U.S. assistance to Honduras, frozen after the coup d'etat in June, will not start flowing until all of the points in the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord are met, including the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission. Honduras' return to the Organization of American States is also contingent on compliance with the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord. According to Assistant Secretary Valenzuela, Lobo "has put together a broad Cabinet, including even candidates who ran against him. What is pending is the last step, which is the truth commission."
- The Colombian government has accused a Venezuelan military helicopter of violating their airspace for 20 minutes, as it flew over a Colombian army base on Wednesday. The Venezuelan government denies this charge, and has accused the Colombian government of lying. According to Venezuelan Minister of Defense Nicolás Maduro, the accusation is part of a "dirty, brutal and hateful campaign against the Venezuelan people and the President to incite disdainful feelings against our country, framed in a policy that attempts to start events to justify violent acts, to make our peaceful border more violent."
- Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez removed the television station RCTV from cable television. The government said that RCTV was not abiding by government regulations that require broadcasters to televise the President Chávez's speeches in their entirety. Critics, including the Washington Office on Latin America, claim the "suspension of RCTV-International in particular gives every appearance of being the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of the government to use the regulatory system to stifle an especially outspoken critic."
- "Bloggings by Boz" excerpts all references to Latin America in the draft Quadrennial Defense Review that leaked this week.
- New America Media reports on the increasing use of unmanned drone aircraft in drug surveillance missions over Latin America.
Friday, January 22, 2010
BOLIVIA / ARGENTINA
Leaders from all over Latin America traveled to La Paz today for the inauguration of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his second term. Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, however, was not able to travel to Bolivia due to domestic troubles, including worsening relations with Vice President Julio César Cleto Cobos. Last week, President Fernández said Vice President Cobos "wants to become President before 2011" and is part of a "conspiracy" to overthrow the government.
Chile held its second round presidential elections over the weekend. Conservative businessman Sebastian Piñera of the center-right party Coalition for Change beat Eduardo Frei with 51.6% of the vote. Piñera's win led to many stories about the implications of the return of the right in Chile and the end of the 20-year rule of the Concertación party.
President-Elect Piñera promised that his government will "collaborate" with judicial investigations of past human rights abuses, and said he will seek to do away with the Pinochet-era provision that gives the armed forces 10 percent of the state copper company’s revenues.
Only four months remain until Colombia is scheduled to hold presidential elections, though it is still unclear whether President Álvaro Uribe will run for a third straight term. On the Center for International Policy's "Plan Colombia and Beyond" blog, Adam Isacson explains the tight timetable for the reelection referendum that would determine whether Uribe can run in May's election.
Colombia's Army found a cache of brand-new weapons in southeastern Córdoba department, which it believes to be part of an arms-for-cocaine barter arrangement between the FARC and "new" paramilitary groups in the region.
Attempts to rescue Haitians stuck under the debris left behind by last week's earthquake continued throughout the week, while humanitarian relief organizations worked hard to deliver as much food, water and medical supplies to those in need. News stories centered around the difficulties experienced by these agencies in distributing the aid. With the opening of three additional air strips in Haiti and the Dominican Republic this week, aid is being delivered at a much faster pace and attention is turning to the long process of recovery and reconstruction.
The large U.S. military presence in Haiti (with 13,000 troops currently in Haiti and roughly 7,000 additional troops arriving over the weekend) has led to fears of a U.S. military occupation of Haiti by Presidents Chávez, Morales, and Ortega.
The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission released an extensive report on the human rights situation in Honduras since the June 28 coup d’état.
Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has accepted an agreement signed Wednesday by Honduran President-Elect Porfirio Lobo and President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. The agreement grants Zelaya safe passage to the Dominican Republic after Lobo's inauguration next week, and "would guarantee Mr. Zelaya full rights, which would allow him to travel and speak publicly."
The report states that along with the loss of institutional legitimacy caused by the coup d’état, serious human rights violations have occurred. These include deaths; the arbitrary declaration of a state of exception; the repression of public demonstrations through the disproportionate use of force; the criminalization of social protest; the arbitrary detention of thousands of individuals; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and poor detention conditions; the militarization of the territory; an increase in situations of racial discrimination; violations of women’s rights, arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression; and serious infringements of political rights.
Another prison uprising in the northern Mexican state of Durango left at least 23 inmates dead. These uprisings have been exacerbate by overcrowded prisons combined with the "incendiary mix" of rival gang and drug cartel members.
Mexican prisons have grown more crowded and dangerous as the government carries out a war against cartels, with more than 67,000 drug arrests in three years. The increased incarcerations have often created an incendiary mix by jamming members of rival gangs inside the same walls.
According to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who is also the president of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent him a letter in which she thanked him for UNASUR's invitation to begin a dialogue with the United States about security and defense and expressed "interest to begin working with this organization." President Correa said that the subject of U.S. military bases "obviously" should be on the agenda.
The Venezuelan government began expropriating Exito stores "after President Hugo Chávez said the French-Colombian owned retailer broke the law by raising prices." Reuters published a list of "Venezuela's state takeovers under Chávez."
Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2010, which "summarizes human rights conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide."
Friday, January 15, 2010
This is cross-posted from the Center for International Policy's "Plan Colombia and Beyond" blog.
A small sampling of some of the Haiti coverage we’ve found worth linking to is here. There is much we’ve missed. The New York Times Haiti Twitter list is worth a follow as well.
- Twenty-nine Colombian soldiers and officers standing trial for the 2008 Soacha “false positives” murders have been freed from preventive detention in the past week. Meanwhile the mother of one of the victims tells El Espectador’s Cecilia Orozco about the threats, and the lack of government support, that she and other mothers are receiving.
- “My admiration is personal and institutional for the Honduran people, who stoically withstood international pressures, foreign meddling and every kind of assault against their sovereignty in order to keep an anachronistic model from implanting itself in their country.” – Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos
- Colombian President Álvaro Uribe received two delegations of U.S. visitors to his ranch in Córdoba department: a congressional delegation led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state and number-two official in the State Department.
- “I have received information about an extremely worrying situation of violence and other crimes against indigenous peoples.” – James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, who issued a new report this week.
- The Associated Press published a long, gripping story about a bend in the Cauca river where the bodies of the murdered tend to wash up, and about a woman who for years has tried to retrieve them.
- The La Silla Vacía website presents an excellent list of twelve changes Colombia has gone through during the 16 months that the country’s political class has been distracted by the debate over whether President Uribe can run for reelection.
- Chileans vote in a presidential runoff election on Sunday. Polls give a razor-thin advantage to conservative businessman Sebastián Piñera over center-left former President Eduardo Frei.
- Chile is eliminating a constitutional provision, inherited from the Pinochet regime, that gave the armed forces a fixed percentage of copper profits to use for weapons purchases. Bolivia, on the other hand, is considering adding such a provision.
- Last May, days before he was murdered, Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded a video stating that if he were to be killed, it would be the fault of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom. This week, UN investigators announced a bizarre finding: Rosenberg in fact planned his own assassination. (See this PDF presentation.)
- Reuters published a lengthy piece about the aerial narcotrafficking route between South America and Africa, alleging that it is being plied by a rogue air fleet with links to Al Qaeda.
- The U.S. NGO Freedom House released its annual “Freedom in the World” report, contending that several countries in Latin America – Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic – were less free in 2009 than they were in 2008.
- Bolivian President Evo Morales, on his third-ever visit to a movie theater, saw Avatar and declared it to be “a profound example of resistance against capitalism and the struggle to defend nature.”
Friday, December 11, 2009
Multiple reports were released this week citing human rights violations committed by security forces in Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela.
In Honduras, plans were being made for ousted President Manuel Zelaya to leave the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has taken refuge since returning to the country in September, and fly to Mexico. However, Zelaya refused to sign a letter written by the de facto government, in which he would drop his demand to be reinstated. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Zelaya says he will leave the Brazilian Embassy by January 27th, 2010, "when his presidential term ends."
The Economist published early results from the 2009 Latinobarómetro today. Bloggings by Boz offers his initial thoughts on the results.
A report commissioned by the Ecuadorian government claims "American military personnel stationed at an air base in Manta helped with intelligence to plan the 2008 attack by Colombian forces on an encampment of Colombian rebels [FARC] in Ecuadorean territory," reports the New York Times.
Chile will hold its presidential elections on Sunday. Recent polls show Sebastián Piñera, from the conservative Alliance for Chile party, leading with 44.1% of the vote, followed by Eduardo Frei, of the ruling center-left Concertación coalition, with 31% and Marco Enríquez-Ominami, of the Coalition of Change, with 17%. If no candidate wins a majority on Sunday, the two top finishers would face each other in a January runoff.
Time magazine's Tim Padgett wrote an article on Mexico's witness-protection program. Padgett writes that the country's witness-protection program "may as well be called witness detection, since it seems the country's violent drug traffickers are having little problem locating, and assassinating, the informants whom the government is supposed to be shielding." In reference to the Mérida Initiative, Padgett argues that "A reliable witness-protection program should be on that list before more soplones get whacked."
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Mexico failed to "properly investigate the killings of three young women in 2001" in Ciudad Juárez. The court ordered the Mexican government to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to the three victims' families and to erect a monument commemorating the hundreds of women slain since 1993 in the border city.
On Monday, a judge in Santiago ruled that former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei, did not die of stomach ailments in 1982, as once thought, but was poisoned "with low doses of mustard gas and thallium." This court ruling served as a reminder of the abuses during the country's Pinochet years. A Los Angeles Times editorial read: "Chile has developed a strong democracy in the 20 years since the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended, and yet the blue-eyed strongman who died in 2006 continues to cast a pall over the country's current events in a stark demonstration of how difficult it is for a nation to recover from tyranny." And John Dinges, the author of "The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Countries," told the Washington Post's Juan Forero, "This is probably the greatest crime of the military government, to kill a former president. . . This is like discovering that Nixon was involved in the Kennedy assassination."
- A new report by Amnesty International "accuses the [Mexican] authorities of failing to fully probe allegations of abuses committed by the military, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial and unlawful killings, torture, ill treatment and arbitrary detentions." You can download a PDF of the report, "Mexico: New Reports of Human Rights Violations by the Military" here.
- Human Rights Watch released a report that accuses Brazilian police officers of "routinely resorting to lethal force, often committing extrajudicial executions and exacerbating violence in both states [São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro]." The report, "Lethal Force: Police Violence and Public Security in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo," says the two police forces kill more than 1,000 people every year, and have killed 11,000 people since 2003.
- The Miami Herald continued the trend with an article on Venezuela. According to the article, "Police death squads are active in more than half of Venezuela's 24 states, and the practice of 'extra-judicial execution' is nationwide. While more than 7,000 people were killed by uniformed members of the security forces between 2000 and 2007, ... only 3% of 6,000 suspects were actually sentenced."
Six people were charged in connection with the killing: "A doctor connected to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's army, a former intelligence agent under the general and Mr. Frei's driver were charged with murder. Two doctors who were alleged to have falsified the autopsy report were charged with covering up the killing, and a third was charged as an accomplice."
On the Center for International Policy blog, Plan Colombia and Beyond, Adam Isacson outlines five points that stood out in a new report by the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a small think-tank in Bogotá, Colombia. This report, titled "2009: The decline of 'Democratic Security?'," argues that "the Uribe government's policies are experiencing diminishing returns after a high point in mid-2008, when paramilitary leaders were extradited, hostages were freed, and top FARC leaders were killed." The five points outlined in the blog are: 1. The FARC are more active; 2. "New" paramilitary groups are far more active; 3. There is a security crisis in Medellín; 4. "New" paramilitaries are increasingly active in Bogotá; and 5. Judicial actions are being taken in cases of "false positives" or extrajudicial executions.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2134, the "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009", on Tuesday. The bill is now being considered in the Senate. If it becomes law, an independent commission will be formed to review 28 years of U.S. policies aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand in the Western Hemisphere.
On Sunday Bolivian President Evo Morales was reelected with 63% of the popular vote. His Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party also secured two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, according to the Los Angeles Times.
At the beginning of a press conference with Ukranian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a moment to comment on Honduras:
Before I turn to the issues that the minister and I discussed and the shared objectives the United States and Ukraine are working toward, I'd like to say a few words about Honduras. President-elect Lobo has been meeting this week with President Arias of Costa Rica, President Martinelli of Panama, and has been in touch with other leaders throughout the hemisphere to advance regional cooperation with respect to Honduras.
Ever since the June 28 coup, the United States has remained dedicated both to our democratic principles and our determination to help Honduras find a pragmatic path to restore democratic and constitutional order. We condemned President Zelaya's expulsion from Honduras as inconsistent with democratic principles and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and we have taken significant steps to signal our determination.
At the same time, working with OAS, President Arias and diverse sectors in Honduras, we've spared no effort to help Hondurans find a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the crisis, a resolution that restores democratic and constitutional order. We supported the San Jose process. We welcomed the negotiations among Hondurans themselves that led to the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. And we are encouraged by the work of regional leaders in support of this process. Yesterday, I spoke with President Arias and I will continue to reach out to other leaders as well.
A year-long electoral process culminated on November 29 when the Honduran people expressed their democratic will peacefully and in large numbers. And we salute the Honduran people for this achievement and we congratulate President-elect Lobo for his victory. These November 29 elections marked an important milestone in the process moving forward, but not its end. President-elect Lobo has launched a national dialogue and he has called for the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission as set forth in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. We stand with the Honduran people and we will continue to work closely with others in the region who seek to determine the democratic way forward for Honduras.