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Friday, December 6, 2013
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.
The Latin Americanist and Pan American Post had roundups of Latin American leaders' reactions to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday. As both noted, Venezuela and Nicaragua have called for three national days of mourning.
President Santos met with President Obama in the Oval Office for two and a half hours Tuesday morning. After the meeting, Santos described relations between the two countries as “at their best moment ever.” See this Just the Facts post for a summary of news and analysis on the visit.
Despite the optimistic tones of the meeting with President Obama, President Santos criticized the United States’ Cuba policy while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Congress. “I think Cuba would be willing to change, and both sides have to give in some way,” saying that the moment is “now” for diplomacy to change. At the Organization of American States, President Santos reiterated his stance on creating alternative policies to the drug war and asked members to promote an open discussion on drug policy.
Monday December 2nd was the 20th anniversary of Pablo Escobar’s death. There was coverage in both English and Spanish on the infamous drug lord’s divisive legacy including pieces from the BBC, El Tiempo (multimedia feature), and BBC Mundo. Longtime Medellín journalist Jeremy McDermott noted that while Medellín remains the epicenter of narcotrafficking in Colombia, the nature of the drug trade and landscape of the criminal underworld has changed significantly since the downfall of Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
On Monday, lead FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo read out a ten-point anti-narcotics plan in Havana. Some of the changes in drug policy listed in the communiqué are not too different from what many leaders in Latin America, including Colombia’s President Santos, have been calling for, which include: demilitarization of drug policy, immediate suspension of (U.S.-backed) coca fumigation programs, and the treatment of psychoactive drug use as a public health problem along with the decriminalization of drug consumption.
The group also proposed the state recognize the “food, medicinal, therapeutic, industrial and cultural uses of cultivating coca leaves, marijuana and poppy” as part of an illicit crop substitution program. The Colombian government rejected this. As a recommended read from InSight Crime analyzing the obstacles and opportunities in the talks regarding the drug trade noted, “The chance of striking an agreement with such a key member of the drug trafficking underworld offers the Colombian authorities an unprecedented opportunity.” More from the AFP.
Colombia's Defense Minister in D.C.
On Monday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón spoke at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. He discussed Colombia’s currently military strategy as well as defense plans going forward. The transcript can be read here.
December 1st marked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office. There were several analysis, including from: Alfredo Corchado, James Bosworth, the Washington Office on Latin America, David Agren for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, analyst Alejandro Hope, the Pan-American Post and InSight Crime, which included an overview of Mexico’s current criminal setting.
Most of the analysis touched on the fact that while President Peña Nieto is distinct from former President Calderón in that fighting the cartels has not been the public focus of his government, the policy of deploying the military and federal police to criminal hotspots has continued. As a result, human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have blasted Peña Nieto for the justice system’s ongoing impunity for murder and abuses committed by security officials. Although homicides have dropped in some areas, kidnapping has skyrocketed. As analyst James Bosworth asserted, “the two key issues, security and economic growth, have not seen the improvements Peña Nieto promised during his campaign.”
Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero sent President Peña Nieto a letter urging him to resist U.S. “pressure” to capture and extradite him for the 1985 killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Quintero had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence when a Mexican court allowed his release, drawing heavy criticism from the United States. Mexico’s Supreme Court has since overturned the ruling and Mexican and U.S. authorities have issued warrants for Quintero’s arrest. More from the Los Angeles Times and Fox News Latino.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a new report on security and migration along the United States-Mexico border on Thursday.
Transparency International report
Transparency International released its 2013 Corruption Index Tuesday and found there has been little improvement in the region’s most corrupt countries. Venezuela, Paraguay and Honduras had the highest indexes of corruption, while Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica ranked as the least corrupt. Central America in general was found to be more corrupt than last year, with an uptick in drug trafficking cited as the main cause. More from InSight Crime and International Business Times.
In an effort to reduce the size of Ecuador’s armed forces, President Rafael Correa proposed creating financial incentives for officers to retire from the military and law civilian law enforcement bodies.
The U.S. Department of Defense said there were no plans for toxin-filled munitions abandoned by the U.S. Army on San Jose Island in 1947 to be returned and destroyed. Despite a statement by Panama’s foreign minister last month that the aging chemical weapons would be returned, the Pentagon has said it would be sending experts to the Central American country. This has been a contentious issue between the two countries for some time.
On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 365 mayors and 2,389 municipal representatives. Some analysts have described this vote as a “referendum” on President Maduro’s first eight months in office. As Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has campaigned hard for his MUD party, visiting 117 municipalities compared to Maduro’s 21. Americas Society/Council of the Americas has an explainer on the elections and analyst Luis Vincente León looks at possible outcomes from the elections, noting that some of Maduro’s most recent political tricks, such as lowering the prices of electronics and other goods, could tip the scale in his favor. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog has a useful cheat sheet.
Most of the firearms in El Salvador come from the United States, according to the country’s national police (PNC). With training from the U.S. Office on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the PNC has tracked nearly 34,000 weapons, the majority of which came from the United States. While some are left over from Central America’s civil wars, modern weapon discoveries suggest new arms trafficking networks. More from InSight Crime and La Prensa Grafica.
Last week, Honduras’ electoral court announced conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez winner of the country's presidential elections. On Monday, Hernández’s closest competitor and wife of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party, filed a formal complaint claiming fraud in the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) agreed to count the tally sheets on Wednesday, however officials delayed doing so after claiming members of the LIBRE failed to appear. The LIBRE leadership claimed the TSE's procedures were insufficient and had suggested other mechanisms. As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, LIBRE and the TSE had never agreed to specifics in the procedure and therefore had no official start date to begin vote counting. See this Just the Facts post post by Latin America Working group for more on foul play in the electoral process.
Friday, December 6, 2013
By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund
The November 24, 2013 elections in Honduras and their aftermath are a critical moment for the direction of the country. In June 2009 a coup overthrew the elected president, Liberal Party member Manuel Zelaya. In this month´s election, Zelaya´s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya under the new Libre party banner ran against the National Party´s Juan Orlando Hernandez, the traditional Liberal Party, a new Anti-Corruption Party and several others.
The Supreme Electoral Council declared the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner, followed by Libre, with the Liberals, and the Anti-Corruption Party also receiving a significant share of votes. The newer parties’ significant vote count has altered the traditional two-party (National, Liberal) Honduran political scene.
But it is far from time to celebrate a free and fair election.
The International Human Rights Federation observation team in which Latin America Working Group participated, observing the human rights context as well as electoral mechanics, congratulated the Honduran people for a strong turnout, but observed the following serious problems:
Incentives for voting, provided by one party. The National Party had booths outside voting places where voters could pick up an envelope with their name on it with a card with discounts for telephone, food, medical care and pharmacy products. This was widespread and open, with the party having run ads promoting it.
Live people declared dead. Our small team met at least 20 people who had been declared dead and were unable to vote, as well as others whose voting places had been changed, making it difficult for them to vote. “They have not yet managed to kill me yet,” said one very angry “dead” woman we met at a Libre party booth outside a polling place. Many of these people told us that they had voted at the same voting place in last year´s primary.
Oppressive presence of the military. Honduran law unfortunately confers upon the armed forces the role of transporting and guarding electoral material and filled ballots. This law needs to be changed. The presence of the military on this election day was oppressive. Soldiers with automatic weapons had a prominent presence at voting centers, and in one case we observed soldiers frisking voters as they entered the polling place. Soldiers surrounded the transmission towers of progressive radio and television stations on election day.
Among the other problems we observed or which were reported to us were a complete lack of transparency in campaign financing, allegations that smaller parties were selling their pollwatcher credentials, immigration agents harassing some international observers, and the fact that the Supreme Electoral Council was formed by four of the nine parties running, rather than being strictly nonpartisan.
However, the allegations of fraudulent acts with the most impact would be in the transmission of votes between the polling places and the Supreme Electoral Council. Our mission noted with concern before the elections that this system appeared vulnerable to fraud. Two parties, Libre and the Anti-Corruption Party, are contesting the results of the elections and demanding to see the results from the individual polling places and a complete recount of ballots.
The Supreme Electoral Council must satisfy the legitimate demands of these parties for complete and transparent scrutiny of contested ballots. International observers should audit the vote transmission system, and the Honduran Attorney General’s office for Electoral Crimes should investigate carefully all claims of fraudulent activity.
In the long term, Honduran election law could be improved by removing the military from a role in administering elections, ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Council is nonpartisan, improving the voter rolls and ensuring transparency in campaign financing.
On the day after the elections, a small, peaceful protest by frustrated Libre voters approached the plaza where the Supreme Electoral Council had set up operations in a hotel. Some 150 heavily-armed police, including the anti-riot police with their tear gas and shields, and the black-clad military police, blocked their entrance. There was no violence, not with international electoral observers in their jackets and the international press in the nearby hotels. But what will happen now that the observers and the press have packed up and left?
The enormous frustration of voters who feel that once again the faith that they have placed in the electoral system has been violated needs to be heard and needs a solution. It must not meet teargas and batons.
The international community should be concerned about these elections and their aftermath.
We must also be concerned about the overall human rights context in Honduras. Yes, there is an extremely high murder rate due to organized crime and street crime. But there are also targeted killings of and threats against human rights defenders, including those who denounce human rights abuses, protect women´s rights and protest environmentally damaging projects such as mining and dams. Journalists and members of the LGBTI community are targeted. Police and other state actors are implicated in many cases, and the vast majority of these crimes remain in total impunity. The human rights unit of the Attorney General’s office that should investigate many of these crimes has been weakened by the recent transfer of dedicated prosecutors.
Nothing to celebrate yet.
Friday, November 22, 2013
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.
Vice President Biden in Panama
On Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Panama to discuss security and trade with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and tour the expansion of the Panama Canal. He praised Panama for “contributing to global security” in its detection and seizure of weapons found heading from Cuba to North Korea. As security analyst James Bosworth noted, the United States has been relatively quiet on the issue. This is likely due, in part, to the “surprise warming in recent months” of relations between the two countries.
Attorney General Holder in Colombia
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss narcotrafficking and bilateral cooperation ahead of the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, held in Medellín. During his remarks, Holder called for a change in security strategy saying, "we must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach,” and "the path we are currently on is not sustainable."
As La Silla Vacía notes, Holder’s trip comes just as the Colombian government and Farc guerrillas start to address the third point on the agenda, narcotrafficking. For a detailed analysis and update on the peace process, see WOLA’s ColombiaPeace.org.
Secretary of State Kerry addresses OAS
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech at the Organization of American States in which he touched on climate change and endorsed the Obama administration’s current Cuba policy, lauding restrictions on travel but calling for broader political reform. The Washington Office on Latin America said the speech offered nothing new and “ignored things that Latin American nations have been asking of the United States,” such as an alternative drug policy, immigration reform, violence, and organized crime. More from the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal.
Elections in Honduras
On Sunday, Hondurans will vote for a new president. The election is in a dead-heat between Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, and conservative ruling party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández. The outcome of the elections will greatly impact security strategy as Hernández has said he would “put a soldier on every corner,” while Castro has promoted community policing. An Organization of American States election observer said there was no indication of fraud, however, international and national observers will be watching to ensure Sunday’s polls are not manipulated. More analysis from the Wilson Center (video), which held an event on the elections last Friday, from El Faro and from Reuters, which has a useful "Factbox" on the candidates.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems had a helpful FAQ on the elections, while Honduras Politics and Culture blog had an overview of the country’s voting system as well as an overview of an OAS report (pdf) on the vote counting system, which offered some praise but highlighted significant shortcomings.
Venezuela president gets decree powers
On Tuesday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicholas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. He claims he needs the powers to fix the economy and target corruption. More from the Latin Americanist, Reuters, El País and Christian Science Monitor.
On Sunday, in the first round of Chilean presidential elections, former President Michelle Bachelet received 47 percent of the vote, just shy of the 51 percent needed to win. Her closest competitor, Evelyn Matthei, received 25 percent. A run-off will be held December 15. More from the Economist and New York Times.
Protests in Haiti
Protestors in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, clashed with police and government supporters as they called for President Michel Martelly to resign, highlighting several concerns that range from high living costs to unabated corruption. The police and UN peacekeeping forces broke up the violent confrontations. More from the BBC and Pan-American Post.
El Salvador gang truce on the rocks?
According to El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo, gangs in the country “are at war, in a process of vengeance and territorial control." An uptick in murders suggests the truce is abating. As InSight Crime noted, murders have been “steadily approaching the pre-truce average of 12 a day.” On Wednesday, gang leaders denied their involvement in the murder increase as well as an alleged plan to increase homicides in December.
Colombian President Santos running for re-election
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday night that he would run for re-election in 2014. His announcement speech focused on finishing the peace process. Santos’ main opposition candidate, Oscar Iván Zulaga, is backed by former President Álvaro Uribe and is a critic of the talks. For this reason, some observers, like analyst Laura Gil and former Senator Piedad Córdoba, have said the vote will be a referendum for the peace process. President Santos is still seeking a vice-president for his bid. More from Reuters and James Bosworth on the challenges President Santos faces in the election. La Silla Vacía has the full text of his announcement speech.
Mexican "self-defense" groups in Michoácan
Last weekend, "self-defense" groups seized another town in the violence-ridden Michoácan state in a clash with the Knights Templar cartel. As the AFP reported, these vigilante groups now provide security in six towns throughout the state, with plans to take over another 40,000 resident town. The Mexican government has pledged to prevent the groups from spreading.
RESDAL (Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina – Latin American Security and Defense Network) published a comprehensive, graphical, and extremely informative Public Security Index (pdf) of Central America this week.
InSight Crime provided a breakdown and analysis of Brazil's Forum of Public Security and Open Society Foundation’s study on police killings, looking at why police in Brazil kill. The report found that police in São Paulo were responsible for 20 percent of all homicides last year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration published its National Drug Threat Assessment (pdf) Monday. It found that while the availability of cocaine in the United States has dropped, the availability of methamphetamine is on the rise, reportedly due to Mexican drug traffickers increasing production and control over the U.S. market.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a two-part documentary by independent journalist Tracey Eaton that "sheds light on the origins, failures, and future of the United States’ policy toward Cuba’s government."
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
On Tuesday, the United Nation Development Program released a report that found Latin America continues to be the most unequal and the most insecure region in the world. As the UN noted, “ ‘Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America,’ revealed a paradox: in the past decade, the region experienced both economic growth and increased crime rates.”
The report, assessed citizen insecurity in 18 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. It examined a myriad of ongoing problems in the region such as high levels of violence, weak judicial and penal systems, and high rates of economic inequality.
Some of the statistics revealed:
Homicides have reached “epidemic levels” with over 100,000 murders recorded each year. From 2000-2010 the number of homicides rose above one million and grew 11%.
In Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador more respondents said the police were involved in crime than those who believed they protected the population.
In the majority of the countries surveyed, common criminals were perceived to be the biggest threat to public security. Only in Mexico and Brazil were organized crime and narcotraffickers perceived to be the biggest threat, while in El Salvador and Honduras gangs were chosen as posing the greatest danger.
Latin America has about 50% more private security guards (3,811,302) than police officers (2,616,753) and Latin American private security guards have rates of gun possession per employee ten times larger than Europe. Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil had disproportionately high numbers of private security guards.
The perception of insecurity has also risen. Interestingly enough, the perception of insecurity is higher in Chile, which has the lowest murder rate in the region (2 per 100,000), than in Honduras, which has the highest homicide rate (86.5 per 100,000).
In the past 25 years robberies have tripled. In 2012, one in three Latin Americans was a victim of a violent crime. This high level of crime had affected people's daily lives: between 45% and 65% of respondents said they no longer leave their houses at night, while 13% said they had felt the need to move to avoid crime.
The findings in the report underscore the importance of calls that have been growing throughout the region for a change in security strategies and for alternative approaches in the fight against the drug cartels. The report put forth several recommendations that have been voiced by analysts, officials and advocates: public institutions must be strengthened; efforts must be coordinated between governments and civil society, as well as between countries; opportunities for human development and growth ought to be increased, while “crime triggers” like alcohol, drugs, arms and weapons should be regulated and reduced through a public health perspective. More from Terra, Animal Politico and the Miami Herald. The report can be downloaded in Spanish here (pdf).
Friday, November 8, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Argentina’s government has uncovered secret documents from the military dictatorship era (1976-1983) that shed light on human rights abuses. The documents, found in the basement of the Air Force headquarters, contain a blacklist of public figures, such as famed folk singer Mercedes Sosa, as well as secret transcripts of the junta meetings. The Open Society Foundations Justice Initiative published an interesting piece exploring the potential implications of the find.
The Mexican government deployed the Army, Navy and Federal Police to replace local police in the port and city of Lázaro Cárdenas, in the embattled western state of Michoacán. The strategic port, which has become a hub for commerce as well as the cartels, is a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel. The group reportedly taxes products passing through and extorts businesses operating in and around it, in addition to being involved in several other lucrative activities, such as smuggling in precursor chemicals to process methamphetamines.
Citizen vigilante “self-defense” forces have pulled back in response to the military’s deployment. Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in Animal Politico, “This seems to be a largely reactive measure, prompted more by the actions of criminals that by a well planned law enforcement strategy. It may have some immediate positive effects, but how will these be maintained in the long term?” More from Bloggings by Boz and the Los Angeles Times.
The U.S. Department of State announced a $5 million reward “for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Rafael Caro-Quintero, who kidnapped, tortured and murdered U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena in 1985.” Caro-Quintero was imprisoned in Mexico until earlier this year, when he was released by an appeals court. This week, Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned this appeal ruling and the Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying it was “the correct decision.”
VICE published an interesting article that looks at the way cartel members have been using social media to “run positive PR campaigns, post selfies with their pistols, and hunt down targets by tracking their movements on social media.” And if you were wondering, yes, cartel members post pouty “duckface” pictures to Facebook.
The police chief of Honduras, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, sat down with the Associated Press for an extensive interview that touched on allegations of abuse from the National Police. In response to accusations against his force he stated, “I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human.” He also noted the United States was his “best ally and support” in the fight against drug traffickers in the violent country. This is contradictory to claims made by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield who said, “in accordance with its obligations under the Leahy Law, will not work with the Director General of the National Police. We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent.” More from the Pan-American Post.
El Faro reported the ruling party candidate in Honduras’ upcoming presidential elections, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has called for the acquisition of war planes in response to El Salvador’s recent deal to buy 12 A-37 military planes from Chile. Hernandez stated the deal was “breaking the equilibrium” of power in the region, especially as El Salvador is laying claim to Isla Conejo, a small island controlled by Honduras in the Gulf of Fonseca.
A new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at the economic and social state of Honduras since 2006. The report concluded “economic inequality in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2010, while poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased and underemployment has risen sharply.”
Brazilian authorities found themselves in an “uncomfortable position” after Folha de São Paulo reported the government had spied on foreign diplomats, tracking their movements and monitoring a property leased by the United States Embassy in Brasília. However, as Americas Quarterly noted, the espionage activities “paled in comparison” to the United States’ National Security Administration’s massive data collection. Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet also stressed the legality of the program, saying it was “in absolute compliance” with national laws, and that the government will pursue prosecution of the leaker of this classified information.
O Globo published the first in a series of articles that explore civilians killed by police forces. According to the report, five people are killed daily in Brazil by a member of the police force, while in the United States, that number is just over one person a day. This comes weeks after multiple police officers were arrested for the murder of Rio bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, who was tortured and killed during the police pacification of the Rocinha slum.
There was major progress in the talks between the FARC rebel group and Colombian government, with the two sides announcing an agreement on political participation. The agreement outlines a commitment to opening the political process to the rebel group and contains guarantees to ensure the safety of leaders of new political movements. The joint statement from the FARC and Colombian government stated, “We have agreed upon an integral system of security for political exercise.” Looking ahead to the next round of talks, Reuters published a good overview on the upcoming challenges for negotiators in reaching a final settlement. More from USIP’s Colombia expert Ginny Bouvier, the Washington Post, BBC, Colombia Reports, La Silla Vacía, and Semana.
Twelve United States Congressmen wrote a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos expressing serious concern for the security situation of Afro-Colombian communities involved in the land restitution process. More from Colombia Reports.
Nicaragua’s ruling party has proposed a set of changes to the Constitution, including the abolition of term limits, which would allow President Daniel Ortega to seek a third consecutive term. Nicaragua Dispatch had a great overview of the possible changes, which include allowing current members of the police and military to hold office. The piece noted that the FSLN’s “supermajority status in the National Assembly absolves them from the need for serious consultation or compromise.” More from the Economist and the Guardian.
A few interesting things happened in Venezuela this week:
- Maduro declared an “early Christmas” this year in order to boost the spirits of the Venezuelan people. The early holiday season was implemented to boost morale in the country, and government workers will be receiving two-thirds of their holiday bonuses in November.
- The President also announced a new holiday in memory of former President Hugo Chávez. The holiday will be held on December 8, the same day as important mayoral elections across the country.
- The Associated Press reported that during a televised speech, Maduro called for the installation of anti-aircraft missiles in the slums of Caracas. The move is to repel “imperialist” attacks, while “arming civilians and putting state-of-the-art artillery in densely-populated neighborhoods is an integral part of an ongoing defense buildup.”
- Inflation has reached above 50 percent, the highest since 1999 when Chávez took power. Here is a picture via Twitter of Venezuelan inflation from 1973-2013. More from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
- Despite major diplomatic differences, Venezuela and the United States are participating in the CRUZEX joint air exercises being held in Brazil and run until November 15.
Friday, October 25, 2013
This post was written by Sarah Kinosian and CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States Policy
On Thursday, the United States Congress held a hearing, “Creating Peace and Finding Justice in Colombia.” It was held before the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. WOLA’s Adam Isacson testified, as did Ginny Bouvier from USIP and Max Shoening from Human Rights Watch, among others. The topics discussed included the peace process, the role of the United States should a peace agreement be reached, and labor rights and land rights. See the commision’s website and Colombia Reports for more information.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched an official investigation looking into the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, including any accounts of Mexican cooperation in the U.S. spying programs. The decision comes after this week’s revelation that the NSA hacked former President Felipe Calderon’s public email account. While Mexico’s response to disclosures of U.S. spying has been more measured than that of other targeted governments, the country’s foreign minister said he would be seeking an explanation from the U.S. ambassador. More from The Christian Science Monitor, Latin Americanist blog, BBC Mundo, Der Speigel, CNN, Los Angeles Times, and Excelsior.
Brazil and Germany teamed up this week to cosponsor a U.N. resolution on internet privacy. Although the draft resolution did not directly mention the recent disclosures of the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying practices, it most certainly was the prompt.
President Obama postponed his meeting with President Mujica due to the government shutdown. The meeting is planned to take place next year.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have increased military jurisdiction over human rights crimes. As of right now, all human rights cases involving members of the military are to be tried in civilian court. Members of the U.S. Congress had withheld at least $10 million in military aid over human rights concerns implicit in the measure.
As the Associated Press noted, Defense Minister Juan Pinzon called the ruling “a blow to the morale of the military forces that without doubt will affect Colombians’ security.” The measure was seen as President Santos’ concession to the armed forces for their backing in peace negotiations with the FARC. As La Silla Vacia noted, the law would have acted as a “protective shield that would give them legal guarantees.” The decision to throw out the “fuero militar” could have a negative impact on the armed forces support for the peace process. More from the Pan-American Post, Amnesty International, Semana, and El Espectador. For more context on the law in English, see last week’s AP article profiling the measure.
Amnesty International reported right-wing paramilitary group Los Rastrojos has threatened “social cleansing” of indigenous leaders and groups involved in protests throughout the country.The threats come amid reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.
A court ruling in Guatemala this week could open the door for amnesty for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the First Chamber of Appeals to rule on whether a 1986 amnesty law applies to Rios Montt, despite several prior rulings that it did not, given the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. If the chamber finds the law applies, his case will be thrown out. Judge Jorge Mario Valenzuela, president of the chamber, says they will announce their decision today or tomorrow. As Central American Politics blog noted, “The Constitutional Court seems intent on ensuring that Rios Montt and other human rights violators are never held accountable.” More from the Pan-American Post.
Human rights organization FIDH released a report (PDF) on the Rios Montt trial, asking for members of the European Union (EU) not to ratify the EU-Central America Association Agreement in protest of the annulment of Rios Montt’s genocide conviction.
A report published by the National Economic Research Center (CIEN) found the rate of murders linked to firearms has doubled over the past ten years to 82 percent. This is nearly twice the global average of 42 percent and over Central America’s average of 70 percent. More from InSight Crime.
There is one month before presidential elections take place in Honduras on November 24 and the race is in a dead heat between Xiomara Castro for the center-left LIBRE party and Juan Orlando Hernández for the ruling National Party. Honduras Culture and Politics blog has a helpful overview and breakdown of polling numbers, while Hermano Juancito published two informative posts ahead of elections -- one outlining the political landscape and the other looking at corruption, violence and mudsling ahead of elections. More from Just the Facts, Reuters and World Politics Review.
The United Nations Human Right Council began its review of human rights in Mexico on Wednesday in Geneva. Members called on Mexico to investigate several of the severe citizen security issues going on in the country, such as deadly attacks on journalists, violence against women, and forced disappearances by security forces. Swiss representative Michael Meier said, "Despite Mexico's will to improve the training of relevant authorities, the number of officials suspected of being involved in enforced disappearances is very alarming." Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio insisted progress had been made and cited the creation of a new victims law and an alleged drop in complaints filed against the military. More from Animal Politico, El Universal and Reuters.
This week the Cuban government announced it would be doing away with its dual currency system. The measure was put in place in 1994 and has been unpopular with the island's residents. No timetable has been given for when the new single currency system will go into effect. The Economist had an overview of the current system and laid out some challenges that lie ahead of the changeover.
Al Jazeera reported on the creation of a “Special Economic Zone” on the island where, “One-hundred percent foreign ownership will be allowed for firms operating in the zone, and contracts will be extended to 50 years, up from the current 25.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, once head of the coca growers union, defended eradication efforts in the northern region of Apolo, citing strong evidence of narcotrafficking in the area. The statement comes after coca growers attacked security forces involved in an eradication operation, killing four and taking six hostage, all of whom were later released. Morales pointed to the capture of four Peruvians in the area as evidence that foreigners were trafficking in the region. President Morales has called for an increased military presence on the border to stem the illegal flow of coca, EFE reported.
IDL Reporteros published an interesting piece on the growing use of small planes to transport cocaine out of the remote Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRA) region, where more coca is grown than anywhere else in the world. These “narcoflights” land on some 40 clandestine runways that are scattered throughout the harsh geography of the region.
The Secretary of Uruguay’s National Board of Drugs Julio Calzada traveled to the U.S. this week to look at the legal cannabis market and regulation in Colorado. Calzada told the Associated Press, “We see the hypocrisy of U.S. politics towards Latin America. We have thousands of deaths that are the simple result of (drug) prohibition.” On the visit the delegation toured growhouses with digital marking systems and learned about video monitoring systems. This trip comes as the drug regulation body announced earlier this week that the initial regulated pricing of marijuana cigarettes would be around $1 a gram. More from the Pan-American Post about legal debates surrounding the law.
President Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of a vice-ministry for the “Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People.” The new cabinet position will be charged with overseeing the social missions, known as “Bolivarian Missions,” that were a hallmark of former President Hugo Chávez’s presidency. More from BBC Mundo.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
Between now and February 2014, El Salvador, Honduras and Chile will hold presidential, elections. Below, we take a look at some of the top security issues each country faces and what the front-runner candidates are saying about them.
El Salvador saw an initial 45% drop in its murder rate in the months following the implementation of a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs. Current FMLN President Mauricio Funes purportedly facilitated the truce, yet his administration refuses to acknowledge its involvement in the agreement.
This is largely due to the fact that most Salvadorans see the truce as beneficial to these criminal groups, as Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez noted in The New York Times. While the murder rate has gone down, other criminal activities have continued, primarily drug trafficking and extortions. These security problems, along with a recent rise in murders and isolated incidents of gang violence, have led to increased scrutiny on the sustainability of the truce.
The United States government has neither publicly supported nor condemned the truce, yet there are indications the State Department does not approve of the process. As Miriam Wells of InSight Crime noted, the designation of MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization coupled with the denial of visas to Salvadoran government officials who planned to come to DC to request funding for the gang truce, “hardly amount to an endorsement.”
Salvadorans will vote for their next president on February 2, 2014. The three frontrunners are:
Current Vice-President from the ruling leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, Salvador Sanchez Ceren.
Norman Quijano from the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party and current mayor of the country’s capital, San Salvador.
Former President Antonio “Tony” Saca, who was in office from 2004-2009. This time around Saca is running with the conservative Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA) party. During his presidency he was affiliated with the ARENA party, however he was kicked out in 2009 for attempting to woo ARENA politicians to the GANA party while still a member of ARENA.
Sanchez Ceren: In line with the current FMLN administration, he supports the truce as an “opportunity for dialogue … we have learned that the main problems are resolved through the path of dialogue and understanding.” Sanchez Ceren has placed emphasis on the implementation of social programs to stem criminal activity, which he plans to finance through Petrocaribe, an oil alliance of several Central American and Caribbean with Venezuela that allows them to buy oil with low-interest payments. El Salvador joined the bloc last year.
Quijano is vehemently opposed to the truce, noting it is “an opportunity for the gangs to implement a criminal tax such as extortion” and that “the authority should always be on the side of the people, never on the side of the criminals.” Quijano advocates prison reform as an instrumental part of promoting long-term security. Under his plan, prisoners would be classified by seriousness of offenses and social programs would be implemented to focus on reintegration into society. Quijano also noted the United States will be an important ally in the fight against drug trafficking.
Tony Saca is largely opposed to the truce, blaming it as a tool to “deceive” the Salvadoran people so criminal organizations can take territory. Saca’s security plan focuses on employment and continued law enforcement measures to curb crime. He stated it is necessary “to multiply employment so that we have the necessary funds to augment the number of police in our territory.”
Another interesting element of this election is the reach of these campaigns into the United States. Recent legislation has given citizens abroad the right to vote. All three candidates have made campaign trips to the United States to convince the 1.8 million Salvadorans living in the country that their policies will move El Salvador forward.
Honduras’ security situation has been a central issue on the campaign trail. The country has the highest homicide rate in the world, with an average of 20 murders a day. In response, the government has been increasingly militarizing its fight against the soaring crime and violence. Most recently, 1,000 members of a new military policing unit were deployed throughout Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the most violent cities in the country, in an effort to curb violence ahead of the presidential election.
This militarization of law enforcement has sparked concern from members of the U.S. Congress. Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Michael Honda (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, citing their “great concern” over the “promotion of increasing militarization of the police.” The AFP later quoted a State Department official who echoed the representatives’ concerns and said, “In our view, the creation of a military police force distracts attention from civilian police reform efforts and strains limited resources."
Some believe that the United States is not doing enough to counter human rights abuses ahead of elections. In the Miami Herald, Professor and expert Dana Frank wrote, “The United States, meanwhile, is pouring funds into both Honduran security forces, countenancing a militarization of the Honduran police that has long been illegal here at home, while dismissing Congressional pushback about human rights issues in Honduras.”
The congressmen’s letter also urged the State Department to monitor the election process, and to “speak forcefully against” attacks targeting the opposition and human rights defenders. Since June 2012, at least sixteen members of the opposition LIBRE party have been killed -- Rights Action has a list of LIBRE candidates and activists killed since May 2012. The first paragraph of the letter read:
We are writing to express our concern about U.S. policy and the approaching November 24 elections in Honduras. The evidence so far indicates that the freedom and fairness of this election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election.
The presidential election will be held on November 24, 2013. There are two frontrunners in the race that are proposing radically different approaches to the fight against the crime and transnational drug trafficking that plagues the Central American nation.
Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed leader Manuel Zelaya and candidate of the center-left LIBRE party.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate from the highly conservative ruling National Party and current head of the country’s congress.
Juan Orlando Hernandez is advocating an expansion of military policing, pledging to put a “soldier on every corner.” He was the main architect of the new Military Police of Public Order unit. Some key remarks made while on the trail included:
“Peace in needed, because in these times, humble people must resort to asking permission from criminals to enter into their own homes.”
“I will not rest until we have the Military Police in every neighborhood.”
“LIBRE and liberals have achieved nothing in the realm of security and now they attack me for calling for the Military Police.”
Sources: 1, 2, 3
In the U.S. Congressional letter mentioned above, the authors expressed concern over Hernandez’s and the National Party’s heavy influence in Honduran politics:
We are particularly alarmed to learn that the ruling party, and its presidential candidate Mr. Juan Orlando Hernandez, now dominates all the key institutions of the government, including the country's electoral authority and the military, which distributes the ballots.
Xiomara Castro is on the other end of the security spectrum. She said the military police “have failed” to ensure security and a change of strategy is needed. Castro has promoted establishing community police forces and said the military should be deployed to prevent drug trafficking at the borders. Below are some of her remarks on the security situation:
“LIBRE proposes a community police, near to the people, so that the police know us, so they know who we are, and celebrate the security of the Honduran people.”
“More than 24,000 people have been assassinated. We are the most violent country in the world and we are not even at war. This can only mean that the current strategy is not the correct one.”
"If we manage to stop drugs coming into our country, it will be much easier to ensure internal security for the people"
Sources: 1, 2, 3
There has been some good coverage recently ahead of elections. The Christian Science Monitor looked at challenges for the LIBRE party, while Reuters provided a solid summary of the political landscape in the country. More from Hermano Juancito, CEPR and Honduras Culture and Politics blog.
While the race has been close between Castro and Hernandez, for some time, Castro was leading in the polls. However, the latest October survey numbers show Hernandez has pulled ahead, 25.7 percent to 22.2 percent. It is important to note that in the same poll, 30.8% of respondents refused to state a preference or said they would not vote for any of the candidates.
Chile is slated for elections on November 17, 2013 in a race between former President Michele Bachelet of the Socialist Party, Evelyn Matthei of the Independent Democratic Union and seven other candidates. The most recent polls indicate that Bachelet will garner 32% of the vote and easily win a second round runoff against Matthei, who is currently polling at 20%. The two candidates’ family narratives reflect the turbulent history of Chile. Matthei is the daughter of a key member of the Pinochet regime and Bachelet is the daughter of a Brigadier General who was tortured under the Pinochet government.
Evelyn Matthei has proposed a security plan that focuses on four main factors: crime prevention, criminal control, rehabilitation and reintegration and the fight against drug trafficking. She also noted that current programs on crime “have gone too far in the protection of criminals” and believes they should receive more jail time.
Michele Bachelet has proposed a plan to reduce crime in the country with an added focus to prevention. She has also fiercely criticized the Piñera administration’s approach toward security, stating, “obviously the plan to ‘Colombianize’ is not appropriate … the option used in other countries to incorporate the Armed Forces in citizen security is not necessary nor valid.” Bachelet is likely referring to security forces’ heavy-handed response to indigenous and student protest movements, including the use of water cannons and tear gas.
Bachelet noted a key part of her citizen security plan is to “make sure that the Public Ministry has the resources and ability to tend to victims, giving both protection and clear information.” Her proposal also includes an expansion of law enforcement with thousands new investigators and police officers throughout the country.
Friday, October 18, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Tuesday was Teachers Day in Brazil, and protests erupted in multiple cities with marchers demanding educational reforms and free university tuition. The protests were the largest in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where violence broke out with firebombs thrown by protesters and the use of tear gas by police. Folha de S. Paulo reported police were using lethal weapons, mainly shooting warning shots around protesters.
The New York Times featured gripping photos by FotoProtestoSP, a group of photographers that have documented various protests throughout the country.
The Igarape Institute released a new report about the future of Brazil’s security. The report notes that Brazil has a two-pronged approach to dealing with transnational crime: deepening its involvement in the larger international community while focusing on smaller bilateral agreements with its close neighbors to tackle the region’s issues. The study looks ahead and asks: “What direction will Brazil take in the coming decade?”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has been promoting arms sales in Latin America with trips to Peru and Brazil this week. UPI noted Moscow media outlets are reporting that Russia is now the largest arms supplier to the region and the sales of weapons could potentially net $1.7 billion. On Wednesday Brazil’s Defense Ministry announced it would be going ahead with a $1 billion deal to buy anti-aircraft missile batteries from Russia.
The Associated Press published an excellent article that outlined growing criticism of Colombia’s Military Justice Law, which “would broaden the military justice system's jurisdiction and narrow the definition of extrajudicial killings.”This law would likely see an increase in impunity for military members accused of human rights abuses, as their cases could be transferred from civilian to military courts. These concerns have led U.S. Congress members to withhold $10 million in aid.
The fifteenth round of peace talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group have ended without an agreement on political participation. Reuters reported on growing tensions between the two sides and noting as well that “Polls in Colombia show the population is tiring of the talks,” which have been lagging on for 11 months. The FARC delegation noted that public opinion should not affect the pace of the talks. More from El Espectador and El Tiempo.
Mexico City lawmakers are set to propose legislation to decriminalize and regulate the marijuana market through the implementation of cannabis clubs. Mexico City Assemblyman Vidal Llerenas stated, “We cannot hope for a drug-free world. But we can hope to limit the damage and take the profits away from organized crime.”
Ecuadorian officials showed signs of openness to a change in drug policy during a binational meeting in Uruguay. Rodrigo Velez, head of Ecuador’s national drug office, stated, “Ecuador looks with interest at Uruguay’s experience with the new regulated marijuana market.” However, Velez noted Ecuador’s proximity to the world’s largest coca-producing nations, Colombia and Peru, warranted a cautious and democratic response to drug policy.
The Global Post published a two-part series on coca production in Peru’s valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (VRAE), where more coca is grown than any other region in the world. The first piece looked at a possibly violent backlash from farmers should U.S-backed counternarcotics operations in the region eradicate their crops. The article noted that U.S. assistance is increasing, as “the US Embassy in Lima said it was this year handing Peru $68 million for counternarcotics operations and $32 million for alternative development, including support for testing new crops and increasing their yields. Combined that is almost double the 2012 total of $55 million.”
The second article focuses on the VRAE’s small-scale rural farmers’ financial dependence on coca. One quoted farmer highlighted a major problem in the country: “When we grow cassava or bananas no one wants to buy them. But they come almost every day to buy our coca.”
One thousand members of Honduras’ controversial new military police unit were deployed Monday to San Pedro Sula and parts of Tegucigalpa, the most violent cities in the country. The new force, known as the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), is the government’s latest measure using militarized tactics to combat rampant crime and violence. The continued use of this tactic has become the primary issue in the ongoing presidential race, with the ruling National party’s candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, supporting the use of military policing to fight crime. Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE party candidate, is advocating a community police force that interacts with local communities. More from the Pan-American Post.
This move toward militarization has caught the attention of the US Congress. On Wednesday congressmen Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Mike Honda (D-CA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry airing a number of concerns, including “that the Embassy has not spoken forcefully about the militarization of the police under the impetus of one of the candidates.” More from Honduras Culture and Politics blog.
Mexico is going to delay its deadline to vet local and federal police throughout the country, the Los Angeles Times reported. As the paper noted, “As part of a program created in 2008, Mexico’s half a million police officers are to be tested and vetted based on numerous criteria including financial information, trustworthiness, family connections and skills.”
This testing is tied to part of the United States’ $2 billion aid package, which has invested in overhauling the police. Analyst James Bosworth has a rundown of the challenges the vetting program has faced on his blog. Continued reports of serious criminal offenses by officers has highlighted the need to effectively implement police reform, however the process has been extended for one year, InSight Crime reported.
A piece in The Economist noted that analysts “agree that the government has yet to do anything to improve the quality of the police” and that although President Peña Nieto has decided to downplay the fight against drug kingpins, he “has yet to come up with a serious alternative.”
The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center released a report that found there has been a dramatic increase in citizen security interventions in the region since the late 1990s. Citizen security interventions are described as preventative measures “intended to support social cohesion.”
Friday, October 11, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Inter American Court of Human Rights
Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Last week Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón traveled to seven different Central American and Caribbean countries to discuss security cooperation: Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.
In every country Pinzón visited he discussed deals with the host governments to increase defense cooperation with Colombia. These deals included selling the countries arms and equipment, as well as having their security forces trained by Colombian police officers and military personnel to fight drug trafficking.
Colombian newspaper El Tiempo covered Pinzón’s trip, focusing on this expansion of the Colombian security model into Central America. According to the newspaper, the trip had three focuses:
Advising on the implementation of Colombian models for the police, the Armed Forces and defense sector sales;
Security cooperation so that [Colombian] national companies invest more in [Central America]
Gaining support for the government’s decision regarding the maritime dispute with Nicaragua.
There were several other key points to highlight from the article:
Security reform and cooperation
Colombia advises police reform in Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, but has agreements to reproduce a national model against drug trafficking all over Central America, from Mexico to Panama.
Colombia hopes [that cooperation], for example from the various police reforms in the region, will allow for shared protocols against crime. According to Pinzón:
“We need to be in solidarity with these countries that are facing problems similar to the ones we face. To the extent that this interrupts trafficking, it interrupts criminality and reduces the flow of resources that come to finance violence and terrorism in Colombia, so we all win.”
This idea has become popular in the region. Honduran Minister of Security Arturo Corrales said,
“The idea is that Honduras will join a concert of friends that will widen the spectrum against common enemies, and from the South to the North, and will construct a bridge free of narcotrafficking and organized crime. For this, we need Colombia.”
David Muguia Payes, the Salvadoran Defense Minister, also supported the partnership, saying: “The Colombian experience is useful for us in the head-on attack against criminals.” The Dominican Republic and Jamaica also recognize Colombia as their primary ally in the fight against narcotrafficking.
Pinzón also told the paper that it was a mistake for some Central American countries to have reduced the sizes of their militaries after signing peace accords, saying that this “opened up spaces for organized crime.”
On the issue of the country’s maritime territorial dispute with Nicaragua, Pinzón said: “I found a lot of understanding for Colombia’s position to not implement The Hague’s [November 2012] ruling.”
Colombian companies from various industries have invested all over Central America. As El Tiempo noted, Colombia and its business community have one of the highest rates of investment in the region. Some defense-focused businesses, like armored cars and bulletproof clothing, are already widely recognized.
Colombia hopes that these trainings and agreements will boost their military- industrial complex and lead to the sale of ships, boats, guns, pistols, rifles and gun sights.
Minister Pinzón is promoting Indumil and Cotecmar, two Colombian businesses that have developed weapons such as the Cordoba pistol, the Galil ACE rifle, as well as river and ocean patrol boats. The sale of one of these boats, which cost around US$60 million to construct, is being negotiated with Trinidad and Tobago, and Colombia has just closed a deal to sell river patrol boats to Brazil.
The article then goes on to discuss the expansion of Colombian banking interests in Central America.
Continuing a problematic trend
Colombian training of foreign forces is not a new trend, but it is accelerating one. As noted in our recent military trends report, an April PowerPoint slideshow from the Colombian Ministry of Defense shows there were 9,983 recipients of Colombian training from 45 different countries between 2010 and 2012. In Panama, Pinzón noted 4,000 police agents alone have already been trained in Colombia. Between 2010 and 2012, that number was just shy of 2,500.
Just the Facts’ Adam Isacson has covered concerns about the “export” of Colombia’s training model before – for one, Colombia has yet to address the widespread human rights violations committed by their own security forces, including 4,716 alleged extrajudicial killings of civilians.
Another concern is the United States’ financial and diplomatic support for this training. The United States pays for Colombia to carry out some part of these trainings with funds from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). However, it is not known what the content of the training courses covers, how much money the U.S. provides, or how many foreign forces are trained with its financial backing.
The State Department’s Foreign Military Training Report, the annual report that documents U.S. training of foreign forces, only documents recipients trained directly by United States personnel and fails to include those trained by Colombian personnel with funding from the United States.
For example, according to the report for 2012 that was just released, just 290 Honduran police and military received training from the United States. This number does not include, for example, Honduran police personnel trained by Colombian police as part of the U.S.-backed Honduran police reform. For Haiti, the U.S. government reports 20 trainees – this omits the training of ten female Haitian police that were trained in Colombian earlier this year, funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.
With a reduced defense budget, having Colombia train some of these forces with U.S. funding is a much cheaper option for the United States. As Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has said, “It’s a dividend that we get for investing over $9 billion in support for Plan Colombia.”
Going forward it is important to keep in mind what lessons are being exported. Pinzón’s comment that reducing the size of militaries was “a mistake” and linked to the rise in organized crime in Central America is a troubling message for both human rights and civil military relations, and one that the U.S. government does not necessarily share. It comes at a time when several countries like Honduras and Guatemala are already militarizing their domestic law enforcement, which is happening with some degree of U.S. funding and tacit approval.
CIP intern Ben Fagan drafted the translations included in this post