Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Week in Review

This week the Associated Press uncovered that USAID tried to "trigger a Cuban Spring" through a secretly-established social media platform, the DEA said Mexican cartels were setting up shop in Colorado and Washington to cash in on black market marijuana, and the United States stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduras. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The Associated Press published an incendiary investigation this week revealing that USAID used front companies to secretly establish a now defunct Twitter-like social media platform in Cuba in 2010, with the intended purpose of stirring social unrest that might "trigger a Cuban Spring." The platform was also used to collect private data from its 40,000 users.

    On Thursday USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that while the program was not covert, "parts of it were done discreetly." The White House echoed those claims, saying the program was debated in Congress and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

    The Pan-American Post posted an excellent piece outlining the key points of the length AP report, while political analysts Greg Weeks, James Bosworth and Marc Hanson of the Washington Office on Latin America also provided helpful commentary.

  • During a hearing on U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation on Tuesday, James Dinkins, executive associate director for homeland security at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Committee on Homeland Security that "We have the best relationship with our Mexican counterparts that we've ever had." He pointed to the coordination between U.S. and Mexican agencies involved in the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera as evidence of the strengthening relationship.

    The head of U.S. Northern Command, General Charles Jacoby, emphasized this same point several weeks ago in the wake of reports claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation had suffered since Mexican President Peña Nieto mandated all contact with U.S. law enforcement go through the Ministry of the Interior.

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Friday, March 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Honduras made plans to double the number of military police in its most violent city, federal troops were deployed to one of Rio's largest slums and the Venezuelan military reaffirmed its support for the government after three air force officers were arrested for allegedly planning a coup. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration “is in diplomatic talks” to reschedule her official visit to meet with President Obama after canceling her previous visit in September following revelations of NSA espionage. According to Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, it is unlikely that this visit would occur before October’s presidential elections in Brazil.
  • Today marks the conclusion of the week long 150th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which cases relating to a range of issues – from freedom of speech in Ecuador, to the ousting of Bogotá’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, to the justice system in Peru or indigenous rights in Nicaragua – were heard. On Tuesday, the commission held its first-ever hearing on drug policy and human rights abuses in the Americas at the request of 17 human rights organizations, which argued that the fight against drug trafficking justifies repression and abuse in the region. Animal Politico laid out several of the presenters’ arguments and has a video of the hearing.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas to first-time applicants. The embassy said it did not have enough staff to process the paperwork after three consular officers were kicked out of the country by the Venezuelan government, which has also delayed authorizing new personnel.
  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three air force generals had been arrested for allegedly planning a coup after supposedly meeting with members of the opposition. Hours after the announcement the military issued a statement pledging its “monolithic” support, saying it would continue "protecting our people, guarding our homeland's sovereignty and supporting the constitutionally elected president and commander in chief." Also on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Marina Corina Machado to one year in jail for “inciting violence.”
  • President Maduro has agreed to enter talks with the opposition with the help of an outside facilitator, a move proposed by a visiting delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to the Pan-American Post, it has been suggested foreign ministers from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador would take the lead on creating conditions for the talks, while the Associated Press noted Maduro has agreed to create a human rights commission to investigate abuses committed by the security forces.
  • Honduras’ military police chief, Coronel German Alfaro, announced plans to double the number of officers on the streets of San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the country, from 1,000 to 2,000. According to Alfaro, the military police force has been a success in the country’s most violent city and the government will continue to roll out its plan to deploy 5,000 officers throughout the country. In an update on the national police reform process, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported 536 police were fired after failing vetting tests and another 221 resigned.
  • On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing, “newspaper U.S. disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” While much of the discussion focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Russia, Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter did note that the U.S. is not disengaged and, on the contrary, has been positively and heavily engaged in the region.
  • In addition to Uruguay, the United States also askedBrazil and Colombia to take in inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the government was analyzing the request, while Uruguay agreed to take five inmates earlier this week.
  • Federal troops were sent to one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums and will stay there until the kickoff of the World Cup in 76 days. The military deployment comes after a serious of bombing, murders and attacks on police bases. InSight Crime published an on-the-ground perspective of one of these pacification operations in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vila Kennedy.
  • Locals in a major coca-producing region in Bolivia clashedwith police over the construction of a military base. According to the Associated Press, the counterdrug base is being built with $1.3 million in European Union funding.
  • On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announcedthat FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Céren would officially be the country’s next president, after the body formally rejected the ARENA party’s petition for a ballot-by-ballot recount on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) releaseda statement Tuesday congratulating Sanchez Céren that noted a “calm and orderly” election but recognized there were “pending legal matters.”
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarapé, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, launched an impressive interactive online database of citizen security programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As Spanish news agency EFE noted, 66 percent of security policies in Latin America have been concentrated in Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Also of note this week: an article by Ander Izagirre in El Pais on Colombia’s false positives, a piece on the massacre of 260 Central American migrants in 2010 and 2011 by Oscar Martinez in El Faro, in Vice on violence against local communities involved in mining conflicts in Guatemala, and an investigation published by El Faro, in Inside Costa Rica on the effectiveness of panic buttons in busses in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Friday, March 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Mexico's national security commissioner resigned, U.S. Southern Command deployed more ships to help Honduras' Navy interdict drugs and Colombian security forces were deployed to the country's primary cocaine port, where neo-paramilitary groups are terrorizing residents. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to divert U.S. security assistance away from aerial coca fumigation and towards preventative, development programs like alternative crop incentives. According to Gomez, doing so would free up resources to "attack the causes" of the illicit drug trade, which he asserted needed to be viewed as "an economic and social problem."
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a report on Colombia’s training of foreign forces throughout the region. The United States strongly supports this practice, as the use of Colombian facilities and trainers can be up to four times cheaper than using U.S. assets. The creation of an International Cooperation Division to help coordinate trainings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, allocated $15 million in the 2014 budget, suggests this is no passing trend.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said his country would receive five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, although U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso said the two countries are still "in consultations and dialogue." As the Pan-American Post noted, if an agreement is reached, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to accept Guantanamo detainees, after El Salvador accepted two prisoners in 2012.
  • Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes announced U.S. Southern Command would be ramping up its activities off the coast of Honduras to work with the Honduran Navy on counternarcotics operations. SOUTHCOM’s new deployment includes four armed vessels, two cutters and two frigates, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific.
  • On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report on the security crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura. The report highlighted the violence, torture and extortion committed by the two predominant paramilitary successor groups in the area, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which caused the displacement of 19,000 people from the city in 2013 alone. El Espectador also profiled the security situation, while freelance journalist James Bargent noted the relatively recent U.S-Colombia free trade agreement has exacerbated the problem.
  • El Tiempo reported that almost 600 soldiers and marines have been deployed to Buenaventura in hopes of wrangling control from the Empresa and the Urabeños, which is said to be Colombia's most powerful criminal group. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "the Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city over the past decade."
  • A sobering but excellent interactive feature (and phone app) from Colombian investigative news organization Verdad Abierta and Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory chronicles 700 massacres that have taken place in the country from 1982-present.
  • Military budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by three percent in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The study found Nicaragua increased its budget by 27 percent, while Honduras and Guatemala increased their budgets by about 18 percent.
  • Honduran authorities discovered opium poppies for the first time during a greenhouse raid in the western part of the country, IPS News reported Monday.
  • On Sunday, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) named left-wing FMLN candidate and former guerrilla Salvador Sanchez Céren as the country's next president, following a contentious post-election standoff with the conservative ARENA party. Sanchez Céren and his vice-president Oscar Ortíz will begin their terms on June 1. As Central American Politics noted, Sanchez Céren, has appointed six other former leftist rebels to his transition team.
  • As Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva highlighted in an op-ed for El Faro, while the U.S. government historically "does not like to dance" with the country's political left, there are a number of issues, like drug trafficking and immigration, that inextricably link the two nations. There were a number of other helpful articles examining the challenges Sanchez Céren now faces given his razor-thin victory, including these from Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, and Americas Quarterly
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew traveled to Brazil this week in hopes of repairing relations with the country, which were strained following revelations of NSA espionage earlier this year. Lew also met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited the region this week as well to meet with government officials from Brazil and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. Following her meeting with Cartes, Jacobson said the United States was looking to increase cooperation with the South American nation in the fight against organized crime.
  • On Thursday, five members of the U.S. Congress met with Bolivian President Evo Morales to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • The head of Mexico's National Security Commission and federal police, Manuel Mondragon, stepped down on Monday. President Enrique Peña Nieto nominated lawyer Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia to be his replacement, profiled by El Universal here. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this is the second high-level Mexican security official to step down in less than two months, noting the resignation of Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo in late January.
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute released a report, "Changes in the Neighborhood:Reviewing Citizen Security Cooperation in Latin America," which examined a shift in security strategies towards “softer” policies focused on regional cooperation and citizen participation. InSight Crime published an analysis of the report, including an examination of the United States’ role in citizen security throughout the region.
  • Peruvian investigative news website IDL-Reporteros critiqued the Peruvian government’s militarized forced eradication strategy in the VRAE region, which now produces more coca than any other place in the world.
  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the violence in Venezuela continued to escalate, Colombia's military became embroiled in the second major scandal this month and Argentina's top security officials grappled with the rise in narcotrafficking. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Wednesday the Washington Post ran an article on reduced U.S.-Mexico security cooperation since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office. The article found “Americans are still kept more at arms’ length than before,” noting the Mexican government delayed State Department-funded programs that train and equip Mexican security forces until as recently as November. It also highlighted a significant drop in extraditions to the United States. During the White House press gaggle before Obama's visit to Mexico, Ben Rhodes insisted the U.S. government is pleased with the level of security cooperation between the two governments.
  • On Wednesday President Obama traveled to Toluca, Mexico to meet with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to several media reports, the leaders agreed to improve their economic and security relationships, and as the New York Times noted, "continue" with existing cooperation without announcing any new developments. The focus was largely on the economy and the Trans-Atlantic Trade partnership, with little focus on security or immigration. McClatchy reported on the tensions between the three leaders, claiming it overshadowed the summit.
  • On Sunday, Semana magazine reported members of the Colombian military had been receiving kickbacks from military contracts while diverting money from base budgets. It also found that jailed lower-ranking officers been paid to remain silent about the involvement of higher-ranking officers in the so-called "false positives" scandal, in which innocent civilians were slain and presented as guerrillas killed in combat.

    On Tuesday, President Santos announced the dismissal of four top generals for corruption and the head of the military, General Barrera. Barrera was not fired over corruption but for calling "false positive" investigations "a bunch of crap" and suggesting officers band together, "like a mafia" against prosecutors investigating the cases. Over 4,000 members of the military are being investigated for their roles in extrajudicial killings and there are estimated to have been between 3,000 and 4,000 victims. President Santos has called for further investigation and said officers should be tried in civilian courts. This scandal comes after another just a few weeks ago, when Semana reported the military had been wiretapping both negotiating teams in Havana, opposition lawmakers and journalists.

  • The Colombian government resumed aerial coca fumigation this past Saturday. It had been suspended after two planes had been shot down in U.S.-sponsored missions. Rodrigo Uprimny, a researcher for Colombian organization Dejusticia, criticized the practice in an op-ed in El Espectador, noting its harmful affect on health, the environment and licit crops, while it has also largely been found ineffective.
  • Although murders in Guatemala have dropped to the lowest in a decade, an article in Plaza Pública found the trend started before current President Otto Perez Mólina took office, challenging his claim that his militarized security policies have been effective. The news site reported that the rate of reduction has slowed under President Perez Mólina. InSight Crime translated the article into English.
  • Argentina's Security Minister, Sergio Berni, said this week that he would support decriminalizing not just the consumption of marijuana but production as well. Berni said there was "no chance police could beat narcotrafficking" and that “The [United States] has the most protected borders and everything gets inside." The comments came after Berni rejected claims by Defense Minister Agustin Rossi that Argentina is no longer just a drug consumption and transit hub, but is also now a drug producer, due to the increased presence of Mexican cartels.
  • In Brazil, police officers kill an average of five people per day. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara offers insight on how to improve the current cycle of abuse. She makes the case for demilitarization, arguing that doing so would not only do away with "training infused with a war mentality," but also give the officers more rights and better work conditions, in turn leading to improved law enforcement.
  • Honduras' controversial law allowing officials to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics will go into effect next week next week. On his recent visit to Honduras, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, expressed the United States' disapproval of the law.
  • The Congressional Research Service published "Latin American and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress"
  • The International Drug Policy Consortium published a paper on compulsory drug addiction treatment in Latin America, which has been increasingly labeled as inefficient and inhumane by human rights organizations. Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico all practice forced rehabilitation or are considering implementing the method.
  • The violent demonstrations that began last week across Venezuela in protest of rampant insecurity, surging inflation and shortages, escalated this week. So far eight people have been killed, over 100 injured and several more detained as clashes between protestors, security forces and pro-government militias intensify. Protests turned particularly violent Wednesday night and it appears the violence is increasing. President Maduro accused the United States of inciting the violence and expelled three U.S. consular officers Sunday. He has also blamed former President Uribe and sent paratroopers to a western border state claiming Colombians were crossing the border "to carry out paramilitary missions" in Venezuela. While in Mexico, President Obama commented that instead of "making up false accusations" against U.S. diplomats, President Maduro should focus on the "legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan government."
  • Opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself over to security forces on Tuesday. He has since had the charges of murder and terrorism dropped and is awaiting trial for lesser crimes like arson and criminal incitement. Another big opposition march is scheduled for Saturday.

    See Venezuela Politics and Human Rights for sound analysis on the situation, including a helpful Q& A, and Just the Facts' Venezuela news page for information on the violence, how the protests are playing out on social media, the Venezuelan government's censorship of T.V. coverage, the rising tensions with the United States, and more.

  • Friday, February 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the United States reaffirmed its commitment to fighting narcotrafficking in Central America, a majority of U.S. citizens indicated they wanted a change in U.S. policy to Cuba and Venezuelans took to the streets. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was in Guatemala and Honduras this week with the head of U.S. Southern Command, General Kelly. In Guatemala, Brownfield met with President Otto Perez Mólina, after which he announced
    an additional $5 million dollars for counternarcotics operations in the country. He also met with Prosecutor General Claudia Paz y Paz and Iván Velásquez Gómez, the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), announcing $4.8 million for that initiative.
  • In Honduras Brownfield reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting counternarcotics initiatives in the country but expressed the State Department’s disapproval of a new law that allows officials to shoot down civilian aircraft suspected of carrying drugs. In a lengthy interview with Honduran newspaper La Prensa, Brownfield said the State Department had found drug flights were down 80 percent in the country and that sea trafficking was on the rise. The visit comes after Honduras’ new president criticized U.S. drug policy in his inauguration speech, calling it a “double standard” and inviting the Obama Administration to have greater cooperation.La Prensa also published a Southcom map showing various illicit trafficking networks across the globe.
  • Mexico's military hosted a competition with cadets and Special Forces from several Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the United States.
  • A new poll released by the Atlantic Council this week found not only that the majority of Americans, but an even higher percentage of Floridians, favor a shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba. This may suggest a shifting tide in relations as a strong anti-Cuba contingent in Florida has been seen as the major political obstacle in thawing relations. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) published a bi-partisan op-ed on why the United States needs to change its policy towards the island.
  • Human Rights Watch published a report Wednesday on impunity for murders tied to land disputes in Honduras’ contested Bajo Aguán region. U.S. security assistance to Honduras for 2014 has been conditioned on the protection of human rights in this region due to ongoing attacks against activists.
  • The New York Times reported on the links between drug trafficking and deforestation and illegal logging in Honduras. According to the article, “as Honduras has become a central transfer point for drug shipments to the United States, there is more money to pay - and arm - land invaders, who strip the forest and transform the land into businesses like cattle ranching that can be used to launder drug money.”
  • The Associated Press profiled a kidnapping epidemic in Morelos, Mexico and the population’s mistrust of security forces sent to fight it. Locals doubt whether weak government institutions will investigate those responsible and have a long-term impact on the problem.
  • The Christian Science Monitor published a post by Rio Gringa on vigilante justice in Brazil’s biggest cities.
  • Thousands took to the streets in protest of Venezuela Preisdent Nicolás Maduro’s government this week. Student protests in Caracas turned especially violent, leaving three dead: two from the opposition and one government supporter. Each side is blaming the other for the violence. The government is seeking the arrest of opposition leader Leopold Lopez, drawing a wave of criticism, including from the U.S. State Department. Caracas-based journalist Girish Gupta posted a video from protests Wednesday night and Venezuela Politics and Human Rights has an excellent analysis and overview. Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported that the protests have subsided but that citizens were surprised by the heavy military presence. Brazil also experienced some violent protests this week.
  • A California court revoked the U.S. citizenship of a former Guatemalan special forces officer for covering up his role as an army lieutenant in the massacre of 182 villagers in Guatemala. He received the maximum 10 years in prison for deceiving U.S. immigration officials.
  • In an excellent op-ed in the New York Times, Medellín-born author Héctor Abad writes Colombia’s damaging experience with paramilitarism should serve as a warning to Mexico. Abad also notes that the United States has played a significant role in perpetuating a fight against drugs that forces “obedient governments to ignore real solutions.” InSight Crime analyzed the difference in the Mexican government’s approach to these groups in various places, noting its cooperation with the groups in Michoacán but its attempts to halt them in Guerrero.
  • On Thursday the FARC and the Colombian government closed the latest round of the peace talks and said they have made progress towards reaching an agreement on combating the illegal drug trade. The two sides issued a joint statement noting they’ve reached a consensus on several points. More analysis from United States Institute for Peace’s Ginny Bouvier and WOLA.
  • Friday, January 31, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week, the presidential race heated up in Costa Rica and El Salvador, Honduras's new president criticized U.S. drug policies and Nicaragua expanded the military's role in the country. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Monday, Honduras swore in its new president, Juan Orlando Hernández. During his ceremony he criticized U.S. drug policy and invited the Obama administration to "work for real" in the fight against drugs. According to Hernandez, ""It strikes us as a double standard that while our people die and bleed, and we're forced to fight the gangs with our own scarce resources, in North America drugs are just a public health issue, for Honduras and the rest of our Central American brothers it's a case of life and death."

    The same day Hernandez also deployed the controversial military police to the streets as part of "Operation Morazan ," the latest joint military and police effort to target soaring crime, violence and drug trafficking. The plan includes increasing security force presence on the streets and public transportation.

  • La Silla Vacía found Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' rhetoric about changing drug policy does not match with the number of actual changes implemented. The tough critique, which examined seven aspects of President Santos' drug policy, including several U.S.-backed initiatives like fumigation and development plans, finds that little change has been made and that he has also been fairly absent from the country's Drug Policy Advisory Commission. WOLA dealt with some of these policy issues in a post this week, "Eleven Ways Colombian and FARC Negotiators can Reform Drug Policy and Build a Lasting Peace."
  • The U.S. Border Patrol posted its 2013 apprehension statistics , which also include information on the location of apprehensions and the amount and type of narcotics seized. In "What New Border Patrol Statistics Reveal about Changing Migration to the United States," WOLA's Adam Isacson provides useful graphics highlighting a variety of trends, such as an increase in non-Mexican migrants, a drop in apprehensions to 1970s levels, and a shift in the location of the highest apprehension rates from Arizona to South Texas. More from the Washington Post on Border Patrol shootings and InSight Crime on the regional implications of a U.S. drone crash on the border.
  • Roberta Jacobson was interviewed on CNN Thursday night to discuss the United States' priorities in the region.
  • In an article in Science Daily , researchers at Ohio State University looked at the link between rapidly disappearing rainforests in Central America and the acceleration and shifts of the drug war.
  • The Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, submitted to Congress the annual "World Threat Assessment. " The report briefly discussed instability in Haiti, economic and security threats in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and made one reference to the spread of Mexican drug cartels influence into Central America and role in the country's high levels of violence.
  • Defense, law enforcement and civilian leaders from 20 countries met in Santo Domingo from Tuesday to Thursday for a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored conference on countering transnational organized crime in the Caribbean. As Francisco Palmieri, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central America and Caribbean Affairs said, "As the regional security initiatives in Colombia, Mexico and Central America produce successes, we know transnational crime and violence will inherently become a greater challenge in the Caribbean." The article goes on to describe several ongoing U.S. security initiatives in the region.
  • Naval Forces Southern Command hosted a conference for U.S. Navy officials working at embassies across Latin America and the Caribbean to coordinate engagements for 2014.
  • Nicaragua’s Congress approved constitutional reforms that eliminate presidential term limits and expand the role of the military. The Associated Press has a useful rundown of the reforms in the bill, including allowing active members of the military and police to run for political office and allowing the military to provide security for private companies. Confidencial also documented changes to the military code that allow the military chief of staff to indefinitely keep his post as well as create a reserve force.
  • There are two key presidential elections happening in El Salvador and Costa Rica this weekend:

  • In El Salvador, the elections will be a close race between the FMLN's Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Norman Quijano from the ARENA party. The outcome will have security implications as Sánchez Cerén promotes strengthening the role of the National Civil Police and scaling back the military, while Quijano is pushing for a more mano duro, or iron fist approach.

    The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a helpful guide to the Salvadoran elections, highlighting the major candidates and parties in the running and obstacles facing them. The Pan-American Post published a useful summary Thursday and WOLA's Geoff Thale discussed the stakes of the election on Adam Isacson's podcast and published a written overview, noting the United States' crucial role as a remaining powerful force in El Salvador.

  • While the Obama Administration has remained neutral, the elections in El Salvador have become politicized in the United States, with several Bush-era officials (Elliot Abrams and Jose R. Cardenas) calling for the ruling FMLN party to be voted out, accusing it of links to the drug trade. Salvadoran journalist and political analyst Hector Ávilos posted an article examining U.S. involvement in the drug war, arguing the drug trade has been tied to many Salvadoran governments, several of which were backed by the United States during the Reagan and Bush eras.

    Other helpful articles on the election: analysis on Central American Politics blog, "Don't Fear El Salvador's Leftists" from former U.S. ambassador William Walker, this from El Faro, and a reading list from Tim's El Salvador Blog, which includes this useful Reuters article.

  • As for Costa Rica's presidential election, the Tico Times published poll numbers and the Pan-American Post provided a short guide to those running and the political landscape.
  • Friday, January 17, 2014

    The Year in Review: U.S. Policy in 2013

    In 2013, there were some subtle changes in U.S. policy towards Latin America. However, many events in the region have set the stage for the United States to possibly make some difficult policy choices in 2014, from Uruguay legalizing marijuana, to Colombia’s possible peace accords, to new shifts in the drug trade and increased militarization of law enforcement.

    As we move into the New Year and start to think about U.S.-Latin America relations going forward, we wanted to take a step back and look at some trends and highlights that will guide decisions going forward. Here is a roundup of events that in some way influenced U.S. security policy towards the region in 2013 and will affect U.S. policy in 2014.

    United States’ Security Relationship
    In 2013, the Obama administration engaged more with Latin America than it had in the past four years, with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama traveling to the region and meeting with various leaders.

    While the United States continued to devote military assistance for the drug war in Latin America, Mexico and Colombia shifted the focus of their conversations with the United States from security to economics. Despite this shift, the two countries held their spot as the top two U.S. military and police aid recipients in the region and will continue to do so, although the big-ticket aid packages to both, Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, are in decline.

    There were a few developments over the past year to keep an eye on going forward:

  • Although Plan Colombia will be scaled back over the next few years, Colombia's training of foreign forces with U.S. funds will increase. In 2013, there 39 training events in four Central American countries with U.S. funding. (Read more here). In 2014, this cooperation will triple to 152 trainings in six countries, according to the White House. (The total number of trainees is unknown.) This excludes other U.S.-backed trainings within Colombia.
  • Increasing assistance to Central America and Peru. This year the United States continued with Operation Martillo, its counternarcotics surge operation along Central America’s coasts, and funded numerous other military counternarcotics initiatives in Central America, many of which were laid out in our September Just the Facts Military trends report. Although murder rates in Central America were either the same or slightly lower in 2013, heavy violence continued as Mexican cartels spread operations into the region. In the 2014 budget request, funds for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) increased by $26 million over 2013.

    This year, anti-drug assistance to Peru reached $100 million, almost double 2012's $55 million, due to the country’s increase in coca cultivation and the Peruvian government’s stated commitment to eradicating crops and targeting narcotraffickers and Shining Path rebels.

  • Shifts to the Caribbean: Top U.S. officials said over the course of this year that drug traffickers are shifting their routes back to the Caribbean, a trend that is likely to develop further in 2014, due to increased counternarcotics efforts in Central America.
  • Assistance to Honduras: This year activists and several lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of U.S. security assistance to Honduras, following several reports linking military and police officers to extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. The United States had held up several millions over concerns that the (now) former police chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” had been linked to death squads, claiming it did not directly fund Bonilla and would only fund those “two steps below” him. However, the Associated Press later reported that all units, regardless of rank, were under Bonilla’s control and quoted Bonilla saying the United States had been his “best ally and support.”

    In March, the United States stopped funding a failing police reform altogether after reports that hundreds of officers that had failed confidence tests had remained on the force. Since then, the country has only become more militarized as a newly created military police force started patrolling in October and the corruption, massive fiscal troubles and spiraling crime and violence that racked the country going into 2013 has continued into 2014. It was recently announced that Juan Carlos Bonilla has been fired, but the amount of U.S. assistance released to Honduras remains to be seen in light of all other police and military abuse reports.

  • Militarization of law enforcement

  • In 2013, governments throughout the region increased their use of militaries to carry out law enforcement duties. We documented this trend in Brazil, Guatmala, Honduras and Venezuela. However it is also true in Paraguay, Mexico, and even Argentina (which, after years of excluding the military from internal security, has recently sought more U.S. assistance for Army counternarcotics operations.) Although human rights activists and analysts criticized this trend, the pattern appears to be deepening in the first weeks of 2014.

    In most of these countries, much-needed police reform efforts are flailing, due to lack of funding and political will as violence soars. Much of this has happened with tacit U.S. approval.

  • Elections

    In 2013, a few countries in Latin America voted in new leaders that will affect the region’s security landscape.

    New leadership in 2013:

  • Honduras: Conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez won November’s controversial presidential election amid allegations of fraud. In 2014, he will likely take a hardline approach to security as he has said he wanted to put a “soldier on every street corner.” U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern over the country’s militarized security strategy.
  • Venezuela: On March 5, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died. The 10-month rule of Chávez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, whose election was hotly contested, has been marked by runaway inflation, political gaffes, increasing censorship of the opposition, an uptick in homicides and increasing militarization. Corruption and drug trafficking in the military remain central issues. Like Chávez, Maduro blamed the United States and the opposition for many of the country’s afflictions, despite initial signs of warming relations with Washington.
  • Paraguay: Horacio Cartes, of the country’s Colorado party, was the first elected leader since the country’s “Golpeachment” in June 2012, despite his ties to corruption and the drug trade. Within a week of Cartes taking his oath, the country’s Congress awarded him the power to deploy the military domestically, in response to a renewed push by a small guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army.
  • Drug Policy

    In 2013, there was a notable push throughout Latin America to move away from U.S.-promoted prohibition and eradication and towards a drug policy based on a public health approach. This momentum to find alternatives to the drug war can be seen in June’s Organization of American States meeting, themed “Alternative Strategies for Combating Drugs.” So far however the United States has said it will not support marijuana legalization at the national level.

  • Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production and sale of marijuana. The president of neighboring Paraguay, the largest producer of marijuana in the region, claimed it would encourage cross-border trafficking and drive production in his country. In 2014, it will not only be important to see if these predictions come true, but also if violence associated with other drugs drops, which the Uruguayan government claims will happen as police become more available to focus on heavier narcotics.
  • On January 1, 2014 Colorado became the first U.S. state to regulate commercial production and sale of recreational marijuana. Washington State will soon follow. In 2014 it will be interesting to see whether this leads to a drop in Mexican marijuana trafficking and/or violence on the border. As the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica reaffirmed, it will unlikely lead to change in drug policy towards Latin America.
  • Domestic drugs markets in Latin America increased in 2013, most notably in Argentina and Brazil, which are supplied by coca production in Bolivia and Peru, the latter of which overtook Colombia this year as the world’s biggest producer of cocaine.
  • Although Colombia made no legal changes in 2013, President Santos has indicated on numerous occasions that he is ready for a change if others go in that direction. It could be that in 2014 the country will undergo some changes to its drug policy as a result of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group. The two are currently discussing the issue of drug trafficking at peace negotiations taking place in Havana..
  • One year for Mexican President Peña Nieto

  • During his campaign, President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed a change in Mexico’s war against the drug cartels. He pledged to focus more on violence against citizens rather than on the militarized, U.S.-backed “kingpin” strategy so aggressively pursued by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, which drew criticism for splintering the cartels and causing violence to spike.

    However, this year Peña Nieto’s security strategy showed little departure from years past, sending federal troops to hotbeds of crime and violence and working closely with the U.S. to bring down top traffickers. Unlike Calderón however, he did not publicly promote his war on the cartels, instead choosing to put the spotlight on economy and reform. He also limited U.S. agencies’ access to Mexican security forces, channeling all bilateral law enforcement contact through the Ministry of the Interior, the effects of which remain to be seen.

    Murders did drop slightly in 2013, however the number of kidnappings and extortion skyrocketed and armed citizen self-defense groups surged, citing the government’s inability to protect them from the cartels.

    One year in, Peña Nieto has yet to articulate a clear plan or timeline for his overall security strategy. Heading into 2014, several security problems remain, but two major ones include: ongoing impunity for abuses and corruption committed by security officials, and the rise of vigilante groups that are clashing with the drug cartels and federal troops, particularly in the western part of the country. Many worry the groups will follow the path taken by paramilitary groups in Colombia, widening the criminal landscape.

  • El Salvador gang truce

  • Going into 2013, there was hope the truce between El Salvador’s two rival gangs, the MS-13 and Barrio 18, that had initially caused the murder rate to halve in 2012, would yield even more security gains as neighboring Guatemala and Honduras continued to be plagued by drug trafficking and high homicide rates due to gang violence.

    But going into 2014, the truce is eroding and few believe it will become a viable security solution, no matter the outcome of February’s presidential elections. Although an El Faro report this year revealed the government’s undeniable role in facilitating the truce, the administration of President Mauricio Funes has refused to admit its role, due to an ever-increasing lack of political and public support. The United States did not come out for or against the deal, allotting funding to several other security-focused initiatives over the year, but none specifically aligned with the truce.

    El Salvador ended 2013 with a lower homicide rate than 2012, but disappearances doubled, murders steadily crept up in the last six months of the year – a trend that has continued into 2014 – and mass graves possibly linked to gang violence were found, increasing skepticism about the agreement’s actual gains. If the truce falls apart, El Salvador could see a spike in violence.

  • Colombia peace process

  • In 2013, advances in peace negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signaled both sides’ commitment to finding a resolution to end the country’s fifty-year internal conflict. However the talks continue to be met with cautious optimism. The negotiating teams have made more progress than in any previous peace talks, hammering out deals on two of the root causes of the conflict: land reform and the guerrillas’ political participation. The Obama administration expressed strong support for talks throughout the year, which will be crucial in to ensure a post-conflict transition, given Colombia is the U.S.’ main security partner in Latin America.

    Although the talks closed 2013 without much movement on the third agenda point – the drug trade--there remains the sense that both sides are committed to reaching an agreement. President Santos has all but staked his re-election on the negotiations. In 2014, it is likely that the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s smaller—but also nearly 50-year-old—guerrilla group, will begin negotiations with the government.

  • Friday, January 17, 2014

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    U.S. Policy

  • House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    The Houses’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing, “NAFTA at Twenty: Accomplishments, Challenges and the Way Forward.” The list of testifying witnesses was a mix of leaders of nonprofit and for profit organizations.
  • Obama to Mexico
    President Obama had a call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday, in which he congratulated Peña Nieto for the “important reforms” he pushed through in his first year in office. President Obama will travel to Mexico for a North American summit on February 19.
  • SOUTHCOM in Guatemala
    The head of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly, was in Guatemala this week to evaluate the progress of a counternarcotics task force the U.S. helped set up along the country’s northern border with Mexico. The United States and Guatemala are in negotiations to set up a similar task force along the country’s border with Honduras, Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported.
  • SOUTHCOM in Honduras
    The United States has offered
    to help Honduras build an international airport at the Soto Cano military airbase, from which U.S. military troops have operated since the early 1980s. Currently Joint Task Force Bravo is stationed there, the main U.S. force used to carry out counternarcotics operations in the country.
  • Help from the Vatican with Cuba
    Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Vatican, which has relatively good relations with the Cuba, to help with the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island since 2009.
  • U.S. policies on sending migrants to Mexico
    Mexicali, Mexico has become the “world’s biggest landing pad for sent-back immigrants,” the Washington Post reported. Larger cities like Tijuana and Juarez used to be the main “drop-off” points but due to shifting U.S. immigration policies and the strong influence of the drug cartels, U.S. officials are now deporting immigrants to smaller border cities.
  • Omnibus spending bill
    The United States Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill (PDF)for Fiscal Year 2014. Two of the bill’s provisions are the Defense Appropriations and State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations, which fund many of the aid programs tracked by Just the Facts.
  • Mexico

  • Self-defense and army clash in Michoacán
    The biggest story this week was the vigilante movement in Mexico’s western Michoacán state, particularly around the city of Apatzingan, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang. On Monday the Interior Minister Osorio Chong announced the government would be sending more troops to the region. Until now, federal troops had been reluctant to get involved, or had even worked with the groups, but this week ramped up their engagement to disarm them. By Saturday security forces will control all 27 municipalities in the Tierra Caliente region where Michoacán is located. So far Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has remained fairly silent on the issue, but has appointed a special commissioner to oversee the federal government’s response.

    The New York Times deftly explained the Mexican government’s “Catch 22:”

    Should it disarm the loosely organized gunmen who have risen up to fight the drug cartels, risking deadly clashes with some of the very citizens it has been accused of failing to protect in the first place?

    Or should it back down and let these nebulous outfits — with little or no police training, uncertain loyalties and possible ties to another criminal gang — continue to fight against the region’s narcotics rings, possibly leading to a bloody showdown?

    Reporting from the New York Times and other outlets indicated that many residents in fact support the vigilante groups and are disillusioned with security force involvement, particularly after the shooting of three civilians Wednesday. For a list of links to coverage in both English and Spanish, see the Just the Facts Mexico news page and the Pan-American Post.

  • Mexico’s police reform
    In the first six months of 2013, Mexico’s 31 states along with the Federal District did not use 88 percent of the available funds the government slated for vetting police. Initially, states were required to complete the vetting programs by December 29, 2013, but because of the delay, will now have until October 2014. More from Milenio and InSight Crime.
  • Colombia

  • Colombian cocaine labs
    Vocativ featured a video special on shifts in the Colombian cocaine trade that highlighted two of the latest trends to shake security forces’ counternarcotics efforts: the move from using huge processing labs in the jungle to small and disposable urban labs and the rise of trafficking the drug in liquid form, which is less detectable. The video also featured an anonymous trafficker who claimed, “legalization would be devastating, it would end the business.”
  • FARC ceasefire ends
    On Wednesday, the FARC ended its 30-day unilateral ceasefire. Colombian think tank CERAC documented the group’s deviation from the ceasefire and found that while the FARC decreased activity by 65 percent, there were 12 violations. Varying sources place the number of violations between four and twelve. Semana magazine wrote that despite these incidents, many analysts said the guerrilla group was largely able to hold the ceasefire, demonstrating the central Secretariat’s control over (almost) all of its fronts, a point that would be key to implementing any eventual peace deal. More analysis from InSight Crime ’s Jeremy McDermott who says while this is true, it also shows the risk of FARC fragmentation is a real possibility.

    On Thursday the government attributed a bombing in western Colombia that wounded 56 people to the FARC. The group said it was “surprised” by the attack and that if one of its fronts had in fact carried it out, it was an error.

  • FARC’s proposed drug reform
    On Tuesday, as the Colombian government and the FARC began their latest round of talks on drug trafficking, the guerrilla group released its proposed drug policy plan to regulate the production and sale of coca, poppy and marijuana. The plan also promoted demilitarization of drug- producing regions and an end to aerial crop fumigations, (See the proposal in its entirety in Spanish here and a summary in here here). Colombian newspaper El Tiempo highlighted various experts saying demilitarizing drug-producing regions is not realistic for the government, given the presence of drug labs and trafficking routes in these same areas.
  • Peru’s “license to kill” law

  • A new law in Peru exempts police officers and soldiers who shoot civilians “in compliance with their duty” from prosecution. The measure drew heavy criticism from civil society organizations who said it was a “license to kill” and will only further existing impunity for abuses. Supporters of the bill said it would allow police to protect civilians more effectively. More from El País.
  • Panama fines North Korea

  • North Korea has agreed to pay Panama a $670,000 fine to reclaim the ship that was found carrying Cuban missile equipment through the Panama Canal last year.
  • Friday, January 10, 2014

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    Argentina

  • On Tuesday Argentina's La Nación newspaper reported the country's military would be sent to the border for their first anti-drug mission, part of a new strategy increasing the armed forces' role in domestic counternarcotics operations. According to the paper, Argentina plans to seek U.S. military assistance for those operations. As Adam Isacson noted, the news marked some big policy shifts in that the U.S. has given virtually no military assistance to Argentina for years and the country has historically maintained civilian control over internal policing duties.

    Argentina's defense minister, Agustín Rossi, confirmed the country purchased 35 hummers from the United States military, but said the vehicles would not be used for counternarcotics missions.

  • Honduras

  • A fantastic read in the New Yorker gives a history of the United States' war on drugs at home and in Latin America, underscoring its failures and highlighting why the U.S. strategy remains "on autopilot" despite the spate of shortcomings. It noted, "What is remarkable is how many times the U.S. has tried such militarized counter-narcotics programs and how long it has been apparent how little they amount to."
  • Other interesting articles this week concerning U.S. involvement in Honduras came from Al Jazeera's “US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown” and the Guardian's “Honduras and the dirty war fueled by the west’s drive for clean energy.”
  • Honduras' outgoing Congress approved for the country's newly established military police to be added to the constitution. The next step is for the legislature to approve the addition. President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández, the architect of the unit, is pushing for this as he has said it would not only be involved in citizen security, but in fiscal crimes as well.
  • Cuba

  • On Thursday Cuban and U.S. officials met in Havana for migration talks. The talks, which are the highest public contact between the two governments, are the latest development in a series of events indicating a thaw in relations. The delegations discussed the status of the 1990s migratory accords, which allowed for the U.S. to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, as well as the issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking. The Cuban government continues to object to U.S. special exemptions for Cuban immigrants, such as the "wet foot, dry-foot" policy, which the Cubans claim encourages illegal immigration. More from the Associated Press. See here for the full text in English of the Cuban press release on the migration talks.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday Mexico's Federal Police, Marine Corps and Army were deployed to the coast and Michoacán, where clashes between armed vigilante groups and drug cartels is causing violence to spike and main transportation thoroughfares to close.

    On Saturday, some 100 members of a self-defense group took over the Michoacán village of Paracuaro, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang, and detained 15 local police officers accused of colluding with the cartel. Reuters published a vivid photo feature on the incident. El Universal has a helpful interactive feature on the security situation in the state with maps, profiles, a timeline and videos.

  • The government has since sent federal troops to protect the high-profile leader of the group that took over Paracuaro, Jose Manuel Mireles, who was injured in a plane crash Saturday. The Associated Press, noted the decision to do so illustrated the "tricky position in which Mexico's government finds itself with regard to the rebel movement." The government has denounced these groups as outside the law, but hailed Mireles Wednesday for "wounding the cartels, particularly the Templars." More analysis from El País on the federal government’s role in the conflict.

    Local townspeople are now protesting the vigilante's takeover of Paracuaro,while the mayor has requested the federal government's assistance in removing the armed vigilante group. Self-defense groups now control 13 cities and a community in Michoacan.

  • Vice Mexico published a feature on Mireles, "With the moral leader of Michoacan's self-defense groups," documenting his life with the vigilante movement over the course of five days as they planned the takeover and executed it, up through the plane crash that landed Mireles in the hospital.
  • Human Rights Watch researcher Nik Steinberg published a harrowing story in Foreign Policy about ongoing impunity for forced disappearances in Mexico, many committed by members of the country's police and military. He noted a lack of government will to prosecute cases or set up a functioning database of missing individuals.
  • InSight Crime translated Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope’s “5 Predications for Mexico Security in 2014.”
  • Venezuela

  • The high-profile murder of a former Miss Venezuela on Monday has shocked the country and sparked a nation-wide debate about the dire public security situation. On Twitter, the hashtag #NoMasViolenciaVenezuela (No more violence Venezuela) was trending while the statistic was spread that Venezuela's 2013 homicide rate (24,763) was over 2.5 times that of Iraq (9.472), which has about the same population. On Thursday all governors and mayors from the country's 79 municipalities convened in Caracas to review the government's security plan. So far seven arrests have been made for the murders.

    At the meeting, a much-publicized handshake took place between President Maduro and Henrique Capriles, Maduro's rival in April's hotly contested presidential elections. It was the first time the two had been in the same room since Maduro defeated Capriles. President Maduro has since announced the creation of a center for victims of violence as well as a major cabinet reshuffle, including the heads of seven civilian ministries and several military agencies.

  • Colombia

  • The Los Angeles Times published an article on the status of Colombia’s 2011 land restitution statute, which one farmer said was “a beautiful law that gave us hope we might recover our land. But we’re still in limbo and under constant threat.” The piece goes on to describe obstacles to the law's implementation such as protection for those reclaiming their land from paramilitary groups and lack of local development.
  • Following a recent Washington Post article detailing the CIA’s covert involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency missions, the FARC issued a communiqué questioning the government’s commitment to the peace talks, saying the article, “raises doubts about the true role of the fatherland-betraying Colombian oligarchy.” In a post published Friday in English, “The Army of Colombia: A Pawn in the CIA’s Chess Game,” the group blasted the government, asserting that “To hand over the command of your military operations to a foreign army and hide it from the country for years is a crime of the offended country; it is an outrage that stains our sovereignty and independence; a crime of treason.”
  • An editorial in Colombia’s most circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, strongly praised Colorado’s marijuana legalization measure, calling it an “urgent and necessary framing of the war on drugs.”
  • Although Colombia seized more marijuana in 2013 than in any year in the past two decades, cocaine seizures fell dramatically to 70 tons, which would mean a 170-ton drop using some 2012 numbers. According to InSight Crime, this shift indicates cocaine traffickers have adapted their strategies, as the United Nations has reported cocaine production in the country remains stable, despite drops in coca cultivation.
  • El Salvador

  • A joint study by the Salvadoran Government and the United States’ Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, found that although criminals’ weapons used to be left overs from the civil war, now 60% of weapons traced come from the United States today.
  • Friday, December 20, 2013

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    Note: This will be the last blog post until January 8th. Happy Holidays!

    U.S. Policy

    Aerial fumigation of coca crops in Colombia halted

  • U.S.- funded aerial fumigation of coca in Colombia has been indefinitely suspended after two planes were shot down in late September and early October, allegedly by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which resulted in the death of one U.S. pilot.

    La Silla Vacía reported the United States has begun a security review of the plane crashes and that Colombia has not carried out any fumigation missions since late September. As InSight Crime reported, Colombia is going to miss its coca eradication target considerably this year, which could mean an increase in the reported amount of coca produced.

  • USAID to leave Ecuador

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced last Thursday it would be leaving Ecuador “as a result of the Government of Ecuador’s decision to prohibit approval of new USAID assistance programs.” Although the agency had reportedly allocated $32 million for programs in the country for the coming years, it will close its doors by September 2014. The news comes just six months after Bolivia expelled USAID for allegedly conspiring against the government.
  • Edward Snowden’s open letter to Brazilians

  • On Tuesday, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden wrote an open letter to Brazilians offering to help the Brazilian government investigate U.S. espionage practices in exchange for permanent asylum. Government officials said it had no plans to offer Snowden asylum.
  • Defense Purchases

  • Honduras purchased $30 million worth of radars from Israel, which are set to arrive in January for counternarcotics operations.
  • Brazil announced it awarded Sweden’s Saab (different than the car company) with a $4.5 billion deal for 36 fighter jets, over U.S.- based Boeing or the French company Dassault. The deal will likely be even more valuable for the Swedish company as it will get contracts for future supply, parts and maintenance for the jets.

    Most headlines attributed the Brazilian government’s decision to forgo Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, which had been considered the front runner for the bid earlier this year, to the diplomatic fallout with United States following revelations of the National Security Agency's espionage programs in the country. “The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans,”according to an anonymous government official. However, the Brazilian government’s official line has been that the decision was based on “performance, the effective transfer of technology and costs, not only of acquisition, but also of maintenance.” As the New York Times noted, the Saab model would be a significantly less-costly investment.

  • Bolivia announced it would be purchasing six Superpuma helicopters for $221.2 million in efforts to ramp up its fight against drug trafficking. This week the government announced that while coca eradication has increased in the country, cocaine seizures are down. More from InSight Crime.
  • Peru has made several defense purchases recently. This week the government announced it would purchase 24 helicopters from Russia intended for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism missions in the Apurimac and Ene Valley (VRAE) region, which produces more coca than any other region in the world. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the announcement followings the purchase of two Italian-made military transport airplanes for around $122 million and 20 training airplanes from Korea Aerospace Industries.

    On Tuesday Peruvian special forces destroyed 20 clandestine airstrips in the VRAE region. The mission was carried our by 224 security agents, 10 helicopters and five hovercrafts, according to the Associated Press.

  • Uruguay ‘Country of the Year’

  • The Economist named “modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving” Uruguay ‘The Country of the Year,’ lauding the nation’s most recent legislation legalizing the production and sale of marijuana. “If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced,” praised the publication.
  • Guatemala contemplating legalizing poppy cultivation

  • Guatemala is going to debate legalizing the cultivation of poppy, a principal component in heroin, for medical purposes. According to the country’s interior minister, the government is considering both regulated legal cultivation and alternative development, International Business Times reported. More from La Tercera.
  • Mexico’s list of the top 69 arrested or killed drug traffickers this year

  • The Mexican government released a list of 69 drug cartel capos captured or killed out of the 122 most wanted drug traffickers in the country. A look at the list reveals the Zeta drug gang has been the most affected of the cartels. More from the Associated Press and Animal Politico.
  • Report on the rise of vigilante groups in Mexico

  • On Tuesday Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) released a report on the rise of vigilante groups in the country. The body said the government should not allow the groups to form as they undermine the rule of law and could lead to more violence, noting however that lack of security in several areas was fomenting their growth. As Animal Politico reported, the Guerrero state government has funded some of these groups. In that state alone, CNDH documented 7,000 members of self-defense groups, which have expanded their reach to 56 percent of the state’s territory.
  • New report examining the FARC’s strategy during peace talks

  • A new report (pdf, summary here) by Colombian think tank Fundación Paz y Reconciliación examined how the FARC’s military strategy has changed during the peace talks. According to the report, the FARC have maintained similar levels of activity since 2010, but have been able to adapt their tactics to the rhythm of the peace talks, planning offensives or declaring truces, depending on the status of the negotiations in Havana. Some interesting findings included:
    • The FARC have 11,000 fighters, as opposed to the 8,000 alleged by the Colombian government, and have a presence in 11 regions and 242 municipalities, or about 20 percent of the country.
    • In the last two months the FARC have allied with the National Liberation Army, the country’s second-largest insurgency. This has lead to an increase in attacks on oil, mining and gas infrastructure in the country.
    • The FARC have increased their influence in social movements and protests, including the recent coca growers strike.

    The report reveals a great deal about the guerrilla group’s sustained capacity. More from InSight Crime and Colombia Reports about the report in English and from Semana and El Espectador in Spanish.

  • Honduras new police and military leadership

  • On Thursday, Honduran President Porifirio Lobo fired the country’s national police chief, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who had been linked to death squads and forced disappearances as a lower-ranking officer. The move came at the behest of President-elect, Juan Orlando Hernández, who has “expressed skepticism” about police reform efforts. Under Bonilla, Honduras’ police have been accused of abuse and extrajudicial killings. More from the Associated Press.

    As Honduras Culture and Politics also noted, there were other major shake-ups in the high command of the country’s security forces: the military is getting a new commander, Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelayaya, who was fundamental in creating the new military police. The Air Force and Navy will also be under new leadership as will the joint military and police task force. See the post for a full run-down of the new positions. As El Heraldo noted, under Hernández, Honduras’ military will continue to play a key role in domestic security.

  • Chile’s new president

  • As of last Sunday, Michelle Bachelet is set to be Chile’s new president. As several outlets have noted, Bachelet made significant promises during her campaign, with increased taxes and education reform as her hallmark initiatives. Many analysts have noted she will need serious momentum to overcome a slowing economy and congressional opposition to push through major proposed reforms, like changing the Pinochet-era electoral system and constitution. More from the Time, Americas Quarterly, the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor.