Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed
Friday, June 14, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visited the White House Tuesday to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as part of his three-day trip to the United States. The two presidents agreed to deepen cooperation on trade and counterdrug strategies. During a joint press conference following their meeting President Humala said to President Obama, “I am convinced that under your administration we will substantively and qualitatively fight against the scourge of drugs.”
New York Times reported on U.S. border agents excessive use of force. The article notes that of 15 people killed by Border Patrol since 2010, 6 were shot in Mexico, mostly for throwing rocks. According to the Times, "In a statement, the Mexican Embassy in Washington criticized the shootings as “disproportionate deadly force,” saying, “In recent years, the results of investigations have unfortunately not even resulted in the prosecution of the agents” who have engaged in fatal shootings “or even fired into Mexican territory." WOLA has an infographic set of slides regarding migration and border security.
Voz de America reported that a Venezuelan official in Washington confirmed she would meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs next week to discuss re-establishing bilateral relations. The State Department has yet to confirm the statement.
United States Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has been accused of blocking an investigation into a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department in Honduras that resulted in the deaths of four Hondurans. Foreign Policy's The Cable reported Brownfield denied the charges and said the investigation was delayed because it was unclear if the case fell under the purview of the DEA or the Department of State. According to Brownfield, "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas started a tenth round of peace talks this week, after reaching a breakthrough agreement on land reform on May 26. The negotiating teams began to tackle the issue of the rebel group's political participation. Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle emphasized that the discussion would focus on participation of the entire group and not individual leaders, many of whom could face criminal charges.
In a press statement Tuesday the FARC proposed the government postpone presidential elections scheduled for November 2014 by a year. The government rejected the proposal with President Santos saying, “There is not the slightest chance that can happen. We have an electoral calendar. It will be followed.” More from the Pan-American Post.
Juan Forero had two interesting articles in the Washington Post this week. The first looked at harrowing tales of rape and gender-based violence against women committed by paramilitaries in the Putamayo department of southern Colombia. The second article examined security in Medellin, noting that, “In 2007, the city recorded 771 killings for a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. But by 2011, it was back up to 1,649 homicides. The number has since fallen fast once more, but gang expert Luis Fernando Quijano said the sharp rise and fall suggest that gang leaders may be fighting less, not that the state has control.“ The Guardian also had an informative article on security, politics and society in Colombia’s second-largest city.
The Colombian Senate passed an amended bill that would transfer many human rights cases against security force members, currently tried in civilian courts, to military tribunals. As Semana magazine noted, even though the legislation was altered to address human rights concerns, the risk of impunity persists. This week the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all denounced the measure. More from Pan-American Post.
Former Guatemalan dictator Efaín Rios Montt was released from a military hospital and is now under house arrest. Last month Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. However Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the ruling on account of a procedural technicality and ordered the trial to resume to where it was on April 19. The re-trial is reportedly set for April 2014.
The Guatemalan government has identified over 54 drug trafficking organizations and 70 gang cells operating in the country. It found some 40 cells of Barrio-18 and 30 cells of Mara Salvatrucha street gangs. These reports give weight to accounts that the violence in Guatemala is being fueled by infighting between small local gangs. These smaller groups have either splintered from larger cartels or are contracted by rivaling Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and the Zetas), noted by InSight Crimes. As Central American Politics blog notes, the country's murder rate has increased this year, after a steady decline from 2009 to 2012. May 2013 was the only month which saw less murders than the previous year: 409 murders compared to 426 in May 2012. Prensa Libre has a map detailing the country's criminal groups' areas of operation.
There were a number of reports this week on Brazil’s ramped up security initiatives ahead of numerous major public events, including the World Cup, a visit from the pope, and the 2016 Olympics. In the Guardian, Jon Watts reported on police operation to regain favelas from the powerful 'Red Command' -- Rio's biggest gang-- ahead of the World Cup. He lays out the government's three-step process for securing a neighborhood. "First, a military police battalion, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), which specialises in urban warfare, increases searches for drugs and guns. Next the area is surrounded and occupied by BOPE forces. Finally when it is secure, BOPE move out and a resident police unit — known as a UPP — is established." The Associated Press also has more on persisting violence in Brazil and security measures as the Confederation's Cup gets underway while Americas Quarterly looks at a new safety system, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that President Rousseff inaugurated yesterday.
Violent protests broke out Thursday night in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro over a 20-cent increase in bus fares. As the New York Times' Simon Romero pointed out, they "come at time of high inflation, sluggish growth & sharp fall in currency." The RioGringa blog contended that they “have more to do with the evolution of Brazil's middle class amid a stagnation in quality in life.”
A Datafolha survey shows President Rousseff ‘s approval ratings have dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent. As analyst James Bosworth notes, “Brazil's economic growth is too slow, but citizens and government officials appear more concerned about inflation. The poll shows voters, particularly women, concerned about rising prices and believing that inflation will get worse.”
World Politics Review had an interesting article on Brazil's drone program, which has received more attention since the government announced it would be using UAVs to bolster security during ceremonies for the Confederation Cup soccer tournament. The article highlights how increasing drone use is affecting its foreign policy, noting that the country has an agreement with Bolivia to fly UAVs in its airspace for counternarcotic operations and it has been quietly deploying drones to the Uruguayan and Paraguayan borders.
There are clashes going on between the Bolivian government and coca growers in the country. According to Southern Pulse: "On 29 May 2013, the government offered the municipality of Apolo, La Paz almost US$1.5 million for local development in an effort to persuade illegal coca growers to turn to alternative crops. Eradication forces and efforts clashed with coca growers on 26 May 2013, resulting in 19 injured. The government plans to use this strategy of development grants coupled with eradication efforts on other regions, as they expect US$3 million more to be funded to these programs later this year by the European Union (EU)." More from InSight Crime.
"Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights" blog had a helpful analysis of recent Colombia-Venezuela relations. Analyst David Smilde notes, “Colombia’s meetings with Capriles and announcement that it was seeking to strengthen ties to NATO essentially represented a move towards the U.S. Venezuela turned around and themselves strengthened ties to the US.”
Smilde’s other post on the blog counters a recent Washington Post editorial, which criticized Secretary Kerry for meeting with Venezeula’s Foreign Minister while in Guatemala. The op-ed argued the U.S. was in effect, "extending a lifeline to Maduro." While the Post said that the U.S. meeting gave Maduro legitimacy while other countries and UNASUR have questioned his legitimacy, Smilde asserts, "The only government in the hemisphere that has not recognized Maduro’s election is the United States. All other countries including the US’s close ally and Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia recognized the election result quickly. Furthermore, Unasur did not call for an audit of the results, it endorsed an audit of the result after the National Electoral Council announced it."
The Venezuelan government says it is targeting corruption. President Maduro announced this week that more public officials had been arrested. Venezuela Analysis blog has a run-down of the arrests. President Maduro also announced he is creating a new anti-corruption unit, which will be under his direct control.
Former Argentine President and current Senator Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for smuggling arms to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995, while both countries were under an arms embargo. As a senator, Menem has diplomatic immunity and will not serve prison time at the moment. However, legislators may vote to strip him of the privilege. He will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
Cherokee Gothic, a blog run by professors at the University of Oklahoma, provides a short run-down and links to four informative articles suggested by Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst.
In a post published on InSight Crime, Hope examined the similarities between the current security surge in Michoacan, where the government deployed the military in hopes of regaining control from drug cartels, most notably the Knights Templar, and the one launched in 2006 under Felipe Calderon, which effectively ushered in a more militarized drug war. According to Hope, there are three main similarities: 1. The operation does not have a fixed time limit, 2.There is no transparency regarding the operation, and 3.The participation of the armed forces in public security tasks continues to be unregulated.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the increasing emergence of local vigilante groups throughout the country, particularly noting their positive influence in violent parts of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan in western Mexico. Yet despite the vigilante groups' efforts, drug cartels still control the region.
The Economist reported on a new police force in Monterrey, called the "Fuerza Civil." The force is made up of people who have never worked in law enforcement that then receive a starting salary of $1,175 a month, double that of a normal police officer. According to the Economist, "The private sector has helped the government, with both money and technical expertise, to recruit and run a new police force."
The Associated Press featured an article on the failures of police reform in Honduras. According to a U.S. document provided to the AP, four out of every ten officers failed a vetting process. By April of this year only seven members from the over- 11,000 member police had been fired, demonstrating how slow the process has been. The report follows last week's announcement that the U.S. had suspended funding for police reform in March.
This week the Honduran Congress approved a $4.4 million initiative that will add 1,000 more troops to the country's military to help combat organized crime. The measure highlights concerns that Honduras is increasingly militarizing the fight against organized crime. More from InSight Crime.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a helpful chronology of the gang truce in El Salvador from March 2012-March2013
WOLA latest "Latin America Today" podcast focused on the 43rd annual Organization of American States meeting and shifts in drug policy in the region. Americas Quarterly also offers an overview of other topics besides drug policy that were discussed at the meeting.
WOLA had an event with Ariel Ávila -- Former Coordinator, Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a security think-tank in Bogota. Ávila discussed several current topics in Colombia from the peace talks to organized crime and illicit profits. Adam Isacson has a video of the event (in spanish) on his blog.
The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2013 Global Peace Index.Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica were ranked as the most peaceful in Latin America, although Uruguay was the only country to come in above 30 for the global rankings.
Friday, June 7, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Delegations from Latin American countries and the United States gathered in Antigua, Guatemala from June 4-June 6 for the Organization of the American States' 43rd annual General Assembly meeting. Drug policy topped the agenda of the meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas." The group's final declaration mentioned nothing on legalization or decriminalization of marijuana or any other drug, despite calls in the region to do so, and called for a drug policy with "full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that fully incorporates public health, education, and social inclusion." The New York Times notes that the ambiguous declaration reflects the divided views of governments in the hemisphere on the issue. The paper reported Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Nicaragua all oppose legalization, while Secretary of State John Kerry upheld the U.S.' position against such a measure. More from Pan-American Post, Reuters, and Prensa Libre.
The group also voted in two new members to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- American James Cavallaro and Brazilian Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi -- while Mexican Jose de Jesus Orozco was re-elected as president of the IACHR. More from Americas Quarterly.
While in Guatemala leading the U.S. delegation for the OAS meeting, Secretary of State Kerry met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. This was the first meeting in eight years between foreign ministers from the two countries. The meeting was cordial and afterwords Secretary Kerry said, "We agreed today, both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship." The meeting came as the Venezuelan government freed U.S. filmmaker Tim Tracy who had been detained since April over accusations that he was trying to undermine the government. Kerry also met with the Foreign Ministers from Colombia and Peru.
Brazil is reportedly getting closer to signing a $4 billion contract with Boeing for 36 F-18 fighter planes. While in Brazil, Vice President Biden told President Rousseff that Congress will likely allow a technology transfer, said to be the most important part of the deal as it will help build up Brazil's own defense industry. "If it's Boeing, Biden will deserve much of the credit," one senior Brazilian official said, Reuters reported. Other finalists for the deal are France's Dassault Aviation SA (AVMD.PA) and Sweden's Saab AB (SAABb.ST).
Today the new U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Liliana Ayalde, who is currently Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs will be named to the post, Brazil's Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper reported Thursday.
The State Department put up its "World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 2012." It covers the years 1999 through 2009.
Ex-dictator Efraín Rios Montt will be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in April 2014, a year after his original conviction was controversially overturned.
Rice University's Baker Institute Blog ran a weeklong series about the Mexican military's involvement in law enforcement which includes articles from a range of experts, including Just the Fact's project staff member, Adam Isacson, writing on the use of Mexico's military to perform police functions.
Amnesty International published a report, "Confronting a nightmare: Disappearances in Mexico," highlighting the continued trend of disappearances, many of them forced and involving public officials or security forces. According to the report, between December 2006 and December 2012, 26,121 people were reported missing or disappeared. In those six years, there were only two convictions for enforced disappearances and no convictions at the state level. So far, 12 investigators have been assigned to a new federal Attorney General's office unit on disappearances.
Animal Politico had an article on the issue of forced disappearances as well this week, noting that of the 24,800 forced disappearances that Mexico's Human Rights Commission had documented in the past five years, 2,443 involved public officials.
Mexico's Navy will now be in charge of a new border security program at its southern border with Guatemala and Belize, the AFP reported.
A member of Mexico's Zeta Cartel told a U.S. court in Texas the organization spends all of its profits from trafficking cocaine into the United States -- estimated to be over $350 million a year -- on fighting the Gulf Cartel, a rival drug gang. According to Insight Crime, during his testimony, Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, alias "El Mamito," also "implied that the Zetas enjoyed the backing of Mexican police and military during its struggle against the Gulf Cartel, stating that the authorities would take bribes in exchange for information and other services, among them kidnapping."
A state in western Venezuela announced plans to implement a ration system for basic items like toilet paper, chicken, flour and sugar. The system, which issues smart cards that will limit customers' purchases, will apply to 65 supermarkets in the state's two-biggest cities, Maracaibo and San Francisco. The government says it will not be expanded. The Maduro administration claims the initiative is designed to combat smuggling of price-controlled foods into Colombia, however the reports follow several of basic good shortages throughout the country. Venezuela's El Universal newspaper reported that in the month of May, inflation was up ten percent for all food and drink items.
Time has an interesting photo essay on southern Venezuela's Vista Hermosa prison, where "Outside its walls, the Venezuelan national guard patrols; inside, the inmates live and die in a world of their own making." The prison generates a profit of about $3 million a year from illegal activities and weekly taxes, and according to Time, "could not function without the complicity of corrupt officials who allow drugs and weapons inside."
On Monday, the United States suspended all aid to the Honduran Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit responsible for carrying out police evaluation and reform. On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress approved the creation of a special high-technology police unit targeting organized crime, known as the "Tigers."
On Wednesday, all 1,400 officers from Honduras' Criminal Investigation Unit were suspended indefinitely over reports of links to organized crime. On Thursday, after 100 members of the DNIC protested, the government agreed to permit them to return to work and just take two days off to take polygraph tests. Also on Thursday a Honduran court issued arrest warrants for five National Police officers accused of killing seven gang members in 2011.
InSight Crime published an article last week examining the recently-announced gang truce between the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 street gangs in Honduras. "5 Questions About Honduras' Gang Pact" looks at what the agreement is, who is running it, what the gangs want, what to expect and if "gang truces" are a sustainable policy to be replicated in the region.
Negotiations between the FARC and the government are scheduled to restart Tuesday, June 11. As they have reached a deal on land reform, they will move on to political participation, the second issue on the talks' five-point agenda.
There were two informative specials on Colombia this week: One from Colombian magazine Semana, "5.5 Million Victims and Counting," which features several infographics showing the extent of displacement, homicide and other crimes in the armed conflict and offers various views on challenges to implementing the country's victims' reparation law. The other comes from the Financial Times and presents infographics on biodiversity and oil distribution as well as articles, including one about Colombia's export of security training.
Colombia announced plans to form a closer partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance. In response to the subsequent buzz,(even the U.S. responded that it might support Colombia in a membership bid), the government released a statement acknowledging it was not eligible to join the regional alliance and that it did not intend to do so, but rather intended to to collaborate on issues of security. Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador all expressed concern over Colombia's discussions with the organization.According to Al Jazeera, "Using the hashtag #SiAUnasurNoAOtan (Yes to UNASUR, No to NATO), Venezuelans highlighted what they believe to be atrocities committed by NATO forces and urged Colombia to show solidarity with its Latin American neighbours."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refuses to accept the legitimacy of President Maduro's government after a dispute of the results of the April 14 elections. In response, the Venezuelan government threatened to withdraw Venezuela's support for the Colombian government's peace talks with the FARC. Since then, Venezuela has softened its approach and tensions have subsided. More from Adam Isacson's Latin America blog.
The Miami Herald published an article on 10 female members of Haiti's National Police Force that are undergoing months of training in Colombia. According to the article, "Women now represent just 7 percent of the estimated 10,000 officers in the Haitian National Police. Haiti is hoping that programs like this and others with Chile, Canada and the U.S. will help increase the force to 15,000." The cost of the program reportedly runs at $17,000 per cadet and is partially funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.
China in Latin America
Chinese President Xi Jinping wraps up his Western Hemisphere visit today and tomorrow with a meeting in California with President Obama. During his trip he also went to Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico. More from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, CNN Mexico, the Economist, and McClatchy.
Foreign Policy had an article on Chinese involvement in Latin America that notes, "Since 2007, China has loaned $50 billion to Ecuador and Venezuela." This week Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the country is set to receive $4 billion in credit from China for oil field development. Also this week Nicaragua announced it granted China a 100-year concession, with share declining each decade, to build a canal through Lake Nicaragua. The new waterway will provide an alternative to the Panama Canal, a key shipping route for the U.S. The project will run at around $40 billion dollars. Nicaragua's Congress began debating two bills to authorize the project today. More from the Guardian and the Associated Press.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
Friday, May 24, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on Tuesday, “Advocating for American Jacob Ostreicher’s Freedom after Two Years in Bolivian Detention.” Jacob Ostreicher is an American businessman being held under house arrest on allegations of links to criminal groups and money laundering. Actor/Activist Sean Penn testified and urged the U.S. government to pressure Bolivia to free Ostreicher. A video of the hearing, along with Mr. Penn’s testimony, can be found here.
The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing yesterday, “U.S.-Mexico Cooperation: An Overview of the Mérida Initiative 2008-Present.” There were several notable testimonies from government officials, including William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics Affairs, and non-government experts, like Steven Dudley, director of InSight Crime. John D. Feeley of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs within the State Department testified, "At the federal level, Mérida has delivered training to nearly 19,000 federal law enforcement officers." View the webcast and find all testimonies here.
In his testimony, Dudley provided eight recommendations for Congress on the Mérida Initiative, including continuing to support the cooperation between officials in both countries on the mid to lower levels and pushing to continue judicial and police reform. InSight Crime has an excerpt from the testimony and the recommendations.
Tradewinds 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training exercise focused on security cooperation is being held from May 20 – June 6 in St. Lucia. The training will bring together over 260 law enforcement officers and military personnel and government representatives from 14 countries, the majority in the Caribbean Basin.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said 38 more metric tons of cocaine are entering the United States as a result of sequestration spending cuts. “It breaks my heart to see multi-metric-ton cocaine shipments go by that we know are there and we don’t have a ship to target it,” he told the Defense Writers Group.
The U.S. Southern Command reported that during an exercise in Honduras, U.S. Marines and Seabees tested an inflatable aerostat and a small Puma drone. According to Southcom, “The Aerostat and Puma UAV are equipped with state-of-the-art radars, cameras and sensors that could prove to be useful in detecting Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) organizations attempting to smuggle drugs and other illicit materials (guns, people, drug money) in the maritime and littoral environments. The Aerostat and Puma UAV were testing in actual counter drug operations.”
Today Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was sworn in for his third term as president. Correa has pledged this term will be his last. In the coming weeks his administration is expected to pass major reforms to the mining sector, communications regulations, social security and land redistribution. More from MercoPress and the Pan-American Post.
Yesterday the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia. The heads of the member countries – Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru—met with aspiring members Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica, along with several other observing countries. Analyst James Bosworth provides a short overview of what was accomplished, including a 90 percent tariff drop on goods traded between the countries and proposal to create a joint visa system.
The U.S.announced Thursday it is closing the Narcotics Affairs Section at the Embassy in La Paz and suspending funding for counternarcotics operations until 2015. Speaking at the hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said it is “time for us to go.”
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed a law on Monday that will permitEvo Morales to run for a third term. The Bolivian Constitution says that a president can only serve for two terms, but in a ruling last month, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Morales’ first term did not count because the constitution was changed in during his first term.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared the appointment of two retired generals, General David Mungia Payes and General Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera, to Minister of Public Security and Director of the Police unconstitutional. The pair were given their posts a few months before a truce began rival gangs and Mungia was a key orchestrator of the agreement. Gang leaders have since held a press conference conference saying the announcement put their ceasefire at risk. As several analysts note, the truce and the associated drop in violence has given the gangs political power and the ability to make demands. More from James Bosworth, InSight Crime, WOLA and Tim’s El Salvador blog.
According to the World Bank, El Salvador spends 2.8% of its GDP on security and justice, more than any other Central American country. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama reportedly invest 2.3% into the same sectors, while Honduras and Guatemala spend 2% and 1.7% respectively.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced plans to create a “Bolivarian Workers’ Militia” of armed and organized workers. According to Maduro, “The working class is increasingly respected. It will be respected even more if the workers’ militias have 300,000, 500,00, one or two million working men and women in uniform, ready and armed for the defense of the Fatherland.”
Seventy-five percent of the audit of elections results is complete and President Maduro has claimed a “heroic victory.”
In a 3-2 decision on Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the ruling that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was guilty of genocide and said the trial would go back to April 19 on account of a procedural irregularity. According to the New York Times, however, lawyers from both sides of the case say that the trial will have to go back to square one and begin with a new panel of judges. The Times’ Editorial Board featured an op-ed this week calling for the United States to push for the case to be “pursued through an independent process.”
There were protests in Guatemala and throughout Latin America today targeting the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Central American Politics has an interesting post on Israel’s role in the Guatemalan genocide.
The Colombian government and the FARC are still deliberating on land redistribution- the first point on the talks’ five-point agenda. The Colombian government has indicated that it would like to go faster, while FARC lead negotiator asked for more time for a deal, saying "We have to approach these issues with serenity, with depth if we really want to form the solid basis to build a stable and long-lasting peace." In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Marisol Gomez Giraldo said if the sides have not reached a land accord by Sunday, “the peace process will be left without oxygen.”
A special government commission published a new drug policy report that suggested drug consumption be treated as a public health problem and legalization should be considered.
InSight Crime released a new report on the possible criminalization of the FARC. The report looks at the FARC fragmenting and turning to crime in three scenarios: during the talks, after an agreement has been reached, or following the demobilization. According to InSight Crime, “The risk of FARC elements criminalizing in scenario three, once an agreement has been signed and demobilization has occurred, is very high, even almost inevitable.”
The Los Angeles Times published an interview with a former FARC commander who deserted the guerilla organization. One of the reasons he cited for leaving the group was the “comfort” of the leaders negotiating in Havana. According to the article, 500 FARC fighters have deserted so far this year, a 6% increase on the say period last year.
The biggest story out of Mexico this week was the Mexican government’s decision to deploy troops to the embattled western Michoacán to fight local militias and the Knights Templar drug gang, which has taken control of the state and is on “a medieval-like reign of terror,” reported the Associated Press. As the Washington Post notes, President Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón launched his militarized drug war by sending soldiers into the same state in 2006 to fight another syndicate, La Familia. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told reporters, “Our fundamental goal is simple: to come to Michoacán and not leave until peace and security have been provided for every Michoacán resident.” More from the Global Post, Animal Politico and El Universal.
In an interview in Cali, Colombia, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his opposition to legalizing drugs as a means of combating crime.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Brazil is planning to build a 10,000-mile virtual border fence. According to NPR, "The system will use a combination of satellite technology, electromagnetic signaling, tactical communications, drones, and an increased army presence to monitor the border areas." The project is expected to cost $13 billion and require 10 years to complete.
Brazil is expanding naval operations off the coast of Africa to protect their financial and oil interests from piracy and to thwart increased drug trafficking.
Venezuela's national election authority, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE), concluded its audit of last month's presidential election results and confirmed President Nicolas Maduro as the victor. According to the CNE, there was only a margin of error of 0.02 percent. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called the audit "a farse" on Twitter.
As noted in Monday's round-up, the Venezuelan government has sent 3,000 troops to the streets in some areas of Caracas. According to the Associated Press, "Human rights activists worry that sending soldiers trained for warfare on policing missions will only make things worse for the residents they are meant to protect." WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog and the Guardian have more on the "Secure Homeland" initiative.
International Crisis Group published a report, "A House Divided," that examines the political environment in Venezuela and looks at how the country can avoid political violence and polarization.
The Washington Post published an article on Mexico's new security protocol that prohibits U.S. officials from working inside any of its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Post, all U.S. ties to Mexico, including interactions with the country's army and navy, will go through the civilian Ministry of the Interior.
Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla was engulfed in a scandal this week after it was reported that she had used the jet of a Colombian linked to drug trafficking. The affair caused a media storm which was followed by the resignation of three high-level government officials. Communications Minister Francisco Chacon stepped down on Wednesday. Mauricio Boraschi, head of intelligence and security, and presidential aide Irene Pacheco both resigned Thursday. President Chinchilla is also being investigated as Costa Rican law prohibits officials from accepting undisclosed gifts. Reuters, BBC, Bloomberg, and the AFP all have coverage.
The ninth round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government began this Wednesday. The round will end May 25. Both sides are still working to reach an agreement on land, the first topic of the talks' five-point agenda. The next point will be the FARC's political participation. WOLA's Adam Isacson posted six weeks of updates to his Colombia Peace Dialogues Timeline on his blog. Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía has an informative article examining the three stages of the peace process, the government's preparation, the negotiations and policy implementation, and looks at what the FARC's involvement in formal politics might look like.
The Washington Post featured an article about the FARC's "recruitment of children to boost its weakened fighting units even as it talks peace with the government." The article provides one harrowing tale after another about what child soldiers in the group have endured: "Angel Vivas, who served in the FARC from age 13 to 16, recalled how one 10-year-old fighter was executed for having thrown away his rifle. “The commander shot him right then and there and told the others to throw him in the same hole where he slept,” Vivas said."
Colombia's El País also looked at the issue of child recruitment not just by the FARC but by criminal gangs in the southwestern city of Calí. As far as the information that has been made available to the public, the issue of child combatants has yet to be discussed in the peace talks.
According to sources within Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture, a government body responsible for land redistribution and restitution to victim's of the armed conflict has been illegally granting land to criminal actors and wealthy landowners since 2006. So far 13 people have been charged in the investigation. More coverage from Colombia Reports, El Tiempo and La Opinion.
The Associated Press published a new investigation providing further evidence that units within the U.S.- backed Honduran national police are operating as death squads by killing alleged gang members extrajudicially. The AP looked at U.S. involvement and found:
In the last two years, the United States has given an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduran law enforcement. The U.S. State Department says, it faces a dilemma: The police are essential to fighting crime in a country that has become a haven for drug-runners. It estimates that 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. - and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America - pass through Honduras.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield responded to reports by saying, funding the police was the "lesser evil.":
"The option is that if we don't work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of ... taking matters in their own hands," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told the AP via live chat on March 28. "Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil."
In another interview with EFE this week, Brownfield praised National Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who has previously been accused of participating in death squads. Brownfield said that he "respects" and "admires" the "effective work" that Bonilla has done. "I want to make it very clear that I am working with the Honduran police, and supplying aid through programs, because everyone in Honduras agrees that they are suffering a problem of violence, homicides, and drug trafficking. And to solve them we have to work with the police,” Brownfield told EFE.
Dan Beeton at Center for Economic Policy Research and LatinNews.com have more coverage of the issue.
Honduras has added a new 'SWAT-like' unit made up of 150-200 members designed to fight crime with military tactics in San Pedro de Sula and Tegucigalpa, the country's capital.
The Organization of American States presented a 400-page report on drug policy to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday. The first part of the document examined the results of existing drug policies in the region. The second part explored four possible scenarios for how drug policies could develop between now and 2025.
Ahead of the report's release, U.S. officials underscored the United States' position on drug policy: the U.S. will continue to oppose legalization. In an article in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske reiterated that for the United States, legalization is not a viable solution to the problem. He argued the drug trade was not the only illegal market fueling organized crime, pointing to other sources of income: kidnappings, human trafficking, extortion and corruption.
Earlier in the week, in an interview with El Tiempo, William Brownfield Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs sent a similar message: the legalization of "cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, synthetic drugs” was a red line no country wants to cross." According to Brownfield, if security policies increase costs for drug traffickers 10 to 15 percent, this will prompt drug traffickers to move routes, which "would be good for the hemisphere."
Uruguayan President Mujica gave an interview to EFE in which he defended his government's steps towards marijuana legalization, saying that while he considers the drug a "plague," regulating the market is much better than letting the drug traffickers continue to profit.
Drug legalization will be the main topic at the OAS' upcoming general assembly meeting, June 4 to 6 in Guatemala.
Monday, May 13, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The White House announced last week that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden will be traveling to Brazil, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago during the week of May 26. It was also announced that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Sebastion Piñera will visit Washington in June to meet with President Obama.
The Congressional Research Service released a new report, “Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress.”According to the report, “From FY2008- FY2012, Congress appropriated $496.5 million under what is now known as the Central America Regional Security Initiative to support security efforts in the region. While there are some signs of progress, security conditions remain poor in several Central American nations.”
This week there will be two hearings in the Senate that pertain to Latin America. The first will be held by the Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday and will discuss S.793, the Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act of 2013. The second will be held by the Committee on Armed Services and will look at Oversight of the Law of Armed Conflict, the Use of Military Force and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Today, the Venezuelan government deployed 3,000 military troops to the streets of Caracas to battle rising insecurity in the country’s capital. According to EFE, the units will be deployed to six neighborhoods in and around the capital, including the Sucre and Baruta municipalities, which have both been described by President Maduro as “the two most dangerous in the country.” President Maduro said, "We are putting the Armed Forces on the street because it is a necessity, and they will stay on the streets for the time that we need them to stabilize security.” As InSight Crime noted, putting more troops on the streets will not fix several factors that fuel the endemic violence, such as widespread corruption within security forces, a weak and corrupt judicial system and lenient firearm controls.
EFE also reported on Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez’s announcement that a special police unit was being created for “the search and capture of citizens involved in homicides.”
The Economist published an article over the weekend looking at the political and economic aftermath of Venezuela’s election. The piece runs through a series of post-election events, from President Maduro backing out of a full audit of the election results to violence breaking out in the country’s National Assembly, that have been compounded by rising inflation, falling oil prices and food shortages. The article notes, “For the first time, analysts are speaking of a split in the armed forces.” As one analyst contends, using the army to tackle rising violence “could oblige the armed forces to take a [political] position.”
On Friday, former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sentenced to eighty years in prison after a court convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity. The historic case marks the first time a domestic court has tried a former leader for genocide and war crimes. He was convicted of ordering the murder of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya while running the country between 1982-1983. Rios Montts' intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, also on trial for the same charges, was acquitted. During the closing trial Judge Yasmin Barrios acknowledged the forced displacement, hunger and systematic rape of the Ixil people and noted, "Merely being a member of (Ixil) indigenous group amounted to a mortal offense."
However it seems there are still many legal proceedings in the case’s future. Ríos Montt’s lawyers have said he plans to appeal the decision and several injunctions that were filed during the trial have yet to be ruled on. President Perez Molina has released a statement saying he respects the ruling, but many believe that his role in the civil war should be questioned. Under Guatemalan law, Perez Molina is immune from prosecution until he is out of office. President Perez Molina has denied there was genocide and in an interview Friday he reiterated the fact that “the ruling is not yet firm.” In the same interview, Perez Molina was asked about statements he made to a journalist in which he said, “all families are with the guerrillas.”
There has been a lot of coverage from both Spanish and English language news resources, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Pan-American Post, and the New Yorker, among others, while the Open Society Justice Initiative has posted daily updates of the case and its aftermath.
InSight Crime reported on the steady increase of homicides in Guatemala in 2013. According to the article, “police numbers show that Guatemala registered a 20 percent rise in homicides during the first third of 2013, compared to the same time period in 2012.” The numbers have returned to where they were in 2011. The article looks at several theories that could account for the jump in homicides, including spillover violence from Guatemala’s southeastern neighbor, Honduras, where the security situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly following a 2009 coup.
American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and InSight Crime published a report as part of a series on religion and violence in Latin America. The paper, “The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What was the role of the Catholic Church?” looks at “the widely held belief that the Catholic Church ‘brokered’ that truce in light of the wider set of actors actually responsible and considers the various ways that religion may have an impact on contemporary violence in the region.”
The Colombian government presented the country’s first domestically produced flight simulator for drone operators. EFE reported that using the new equipment, “Aspiring drone pilots carry out a simulated mission with a Boeing-made Scan Eagle, tracking moving vehicles or people or locating rebel camps.” Of Colombia’s total budget of $102.93 billion for 2013, it plans to spend more than $14 billion on defense.
The Colombian government reiterated it would not enter peace talks with the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, until it releases all its hostages, including a Canadian citizen, Jernoc Wobert held captive since January. The day before, the ELN said it would not release Wobert until his employer, the Canadian mining company Braeval Mining, gave mining rights to those living close to the company’s installments in northern Colombia. Although the group’s forces have been greatly diminished over the years, its attacks against oil and mining sites continue to impact these key industries.
Colombian political analysis website Verdad Abierta has an interactive special report with videos, maps and infographics on large-scale land theft in Colombia’s eastern plains.
Rio Real blog reported on a video aired on a Brazilian news program that showed police opening fire into a highly populated favela from a low-flying helicopter while in pursuit of a heavily armed drug trafficker. According to blog-creator Julia Michaels, “U.S. security personnel, closely watching Brazil as mega-events quickly approach, weren’t pleased by what they saw.” The post also provides a short overview of Rio’s public security chain of command. It concludes by looking at the bigger issue of institutions historically not being held accountable in Brazil and notes that while the overall system is reforming, issues of neglect remain.
Last week the New York Times profiled the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center in the Brazilian Amazon that trains elite Brazilian commando units. The school is now training troops from across the developing world, including Guatemala, Ecuador and Senegal. According to the report, “The program focuses on the challenges posed by cocaine trafficking, illegal deforestation, the unauthorized mining of gold and diamonds, and the threat of incursions by guerrillas from Colombia briefly seeking a haven.”
Monday, May 6, 2013
This weekend President Obama completed his much-anticipated visits to Mexico and Costa Rica.
In both countries Obama promoted economic growth as the key to fighting organized crime and combating drug-related violence. "The stronger the economies and the institutions for individuals seeking legitimate careers, the less powerful those narco-trafficking organizations are going to be," President Obama said at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla on Friday.
In Mexico, President Obama met with President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. As several analysts predicted ahead of the meeting, much of the public discussion centered on the two countries’ economic relationship. The leaders’ joint statement discussed commercial and economic initiatives at length, while giving security cooperation a limited mention at the end of the document.
In a press conference, both leaders skirted around the two key issues of immigration and security, while announcing new economic initiatives, including a set of dialogues between top economy officials from both countries planned for this fall.
On security, President Obama kept the discussion limited, saying, “We will interact with them in ways that are appropriate.” Obama’s visit followed a Washington Post report that Mexico’s new government will no longer allow U.S. officials at its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Associated Press, all U.S.-Mexico law enforcement contact will now go through a “single door,” the federal Interior Ministry. During his visit Obama brushed aside questions of decreased security cooperation by responding, “it is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with other nations, including the United States."
Peña Nieto has been trying play up Mexico’s economic growth and shift the conversation away from the violence. As the New York Times noted, Obama’s new approach runs the risk of being seen as supportive of presidents more concerned with cosmetic changes than implementing any real change. Human rights advocates also worry that the U.S. taking a step back on security would mean less pressure on the Mexican government to investigate disappearances and other abuses by the police and military. The new approach “suggests that the Obama administration either doesn’t object to these abusive practices or is only willing to raise such concerns when it’s politically convenient,” according to José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division.
“On security, the fact that there were no new announcements underscores the fact that the Peña Nieto government does not have a detailed security strategy,” Maureen Meyer an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America told the New York Times.
Before the trip, the America’s Society/Council of the Americas provided a guide to Obama’s trip which included good analysis of potential discussion topics: trade, immigration, security and energy.
America’s Quarterly interview with the President before his trip to the region can be found here.
The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute provides several links to what the English-language press and what Mexican columnists had to say about the meeting.
Friday afternoon Obama arrived in Costa Rica, where he met privately with President Laura Chinchilla, had dinner with leaders from the eight-nation Central American Integration System and participated in an investment forum with nearly 200 MBA students and Central American business leaders.
Economic growth continued to be the overriding theme of President Obama’s visit, with particular attention given to trade, energy, and democratic reforms. He called on leaders to reduce energy costs and integrate their economies. As the Associated Press noted, issues such as immigration and education that top the United States’ domestic agenda also played a large role in the regional talks.
Although the summit ended without a joint statement, any agreements or resolutions, or plans going forward, the Los Angeles Times noted Obama’s focus on infrastructure and economic ties marked a shift in U.S. rhetoric away from “tough talk” on plans to crack down on narcotraffickers. However Costa Rica’s La Nación said, the meetings “offered no fruits for the near future.” Christian Science Monitor called Costa Rica the ‘safe choice’ for a “smooth- if uneventful- trip this weekend” and noted that “Few details were made public about the presidents’ private meeting on Friday night, but by Saturday morning the presidents of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras had already left the country.”
Ahead of the talks, several leaders, such as El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes, said they would use the meeting to request more funding for security programs from the U.S., who they say should take more responsibility for combating drug trafficking.
The president announced no new initiatives or funding for security and instead promoted better coordination and use of existing aid. “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking. This is a law enforcement problem. And if we have effective law enforcement cooperation and coordination, and if we build up capacity for countries in Central America, then we can continue to make progress.” Obama said in the press conference on Friday.
The change in tone was seemingly well received by the Central American leaders. "That was what most presidents said in this meeting, that is not only about sharing through the suppression of crime, but through prevention, investment in social policy and economic growth policies," said President Funes.
Several leaders such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and President Chinchilla continued their calls to rethink drug prohibition in the hemisphere. While Obama said he would maintain the U.S. federal policy prohibiting any drugs, he said he was open to the debate. Central American Politics blog discusses these two opposing viewpoints on how to increase security: one that looks to regulate the drug trade which will thereby improve economic development, and the other, which promotes economic development to regulate the drug trade.
Since 2008 the U.S. has given nearly $500 million in security assistance to the region through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). In 2012, the Obama administration slated $136 million through CARSI to fight drug trafficking. The State Department requested $107.5 million for CARSI for this year, but expected that number to increase to between $150 and $160 million after a review of all current projects, according to Brookings Fellow Diana Villiers Negroponte. While the White House’s 2014 budget request cut aid to Mexico and Colombia, it asked for more money for CARSI and allocated $162 million to combat the drug trade in Central America.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Since our previous post on the new vigilante movement in Mexico, "community police" groups in the rural southwestern state of Guerrero have gained formal recognition, but other groups in neighboring Michoacán have sparked conflict with security forces.
Mexican authorities are divided on how to handle the self-defense groups. Some, like Monte Alejandro Rubido García, head of the National System of Public Security, have rejected any possibility of legalizing the groups under federal law. Others have been more sympathetic to the movement, most notably Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero, who passed a law to regulate the groups in his state through a "Community Security System."
President Enrique Peña Nieto recently spoke out against the self-defense groups, saying that "the practice of taking justice into your own hands is outside the law and my government will combat it."
Here is a run-down of the latest developments and media coverage of the autodefensa movement:
In an interview on March 22, Michoacán Governor Fausto Vallejo said that he thinks the vigilante problem has been overblown in the media. He claimed that the solution is not "more bullets, more soldiers, more police" but rather increased sources of employment and social development.
On Sunday, April 28, confrontations broke out in three neighboring towns in Michoacán between self-defense groups, suspected criminals, and law enforcement, killing at least 14 people. The leader of the Knights Templar drug gang released a video blaming the vigilante groups for the violence. He said his organization would "lower their weapons" if state and federal governments took "action in regard to law enforcement."
On April 24, the Guerrero government signed a pact with the state's vigilante umbrella organization, the Union of People and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), to legally recognize and regulate the self-defense groups. It also set out plans to have the Mexican Army train the vigilantes.
Guerrero is the first state to formally recognize the local defense groups. In other states, such as Michoacán, the vigilante groups have clashed with security forces and been accused by local governments of becoming involved in the drug trade.
In early April, the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities (CRAC), a coalition of self-defense groups in Guerrero, joined forces with the State Coordinating Committee of Guerrero Education Workers, a state teacher's union that has been loudly and sometimes violently protesting President Peña Nieto's education reform law.
Although the members were unarmed at the first protest, Francisco Arroyo, president of Mexico's lower house of congress, called the link-up an "unpleasant Molotov cocktail," given the union's reputation for violent protest.
While Governor Aguirre Rivero is sympathetic to the groups and has said that they "contribute to the security of their towns and indigenous communities," he has made it clear that he will not allow them to become involved in politics. When the CRAC, which rivals the UPOEG, threatened to launch violent demonstrations if the government did not hold talks with the teacher's union, Aguirre Rivero rejected the move and said the groups "will not bring us to our knees and much less will make us give into threatening behavior."
On April 14, in response to the vigilantes' involvement in political activity, a group of municipal, state, and federal government authorities in Guerrero announced "community police" found to be carrying arms outside of their jurisdiction would be detained by authorities.
On Wednesday, May 1, Mexican soldiers detained over 50 members of self-defense groups in Guerrero. The vigilantes were in the process of transporting suspected criminals to the community of El Paraíso in Ayutla de los Libres when they were apprehended. Leaders of the CRAC condemned the acts as hostage-taking that interfered with the security system in a largely indigenous community.
The PAN recently signaled that they were planning to propose a resolution in the federal legislature that would dissolve all self-defense groups. Speaking to Milenio on April 11, Senator Laura Rojas said that the groups are a threat to citizen security because "you have to question where they are getting these weapons from...they are very expensive. So the first question is, who is truly arming them? What interests do they serve?"
TIME recently profiled a new vigilante squad in the town of Tierra Colorada, Guerrero, which was on the streets by early April. One militia member interviewed said the security situation in the town had dramatically improved since the group moved in, claiming they "have achieved in weeks what police and soldiers could not do in years." One resident said she "used to be scared to go out on the street because of criminals," but now feels "much safer."
BBC revisited the situation in Ayutla, the Guerrero town that sparked the new self-defense movement in January. Some community members claim the force has made the streets safer and that organized crime "has begun to disappear." Ayutla mayor Severo Castro Gomez is grateful for what they have done, calling it "a beautiful thing." However, community police members have also been accused of torturing detainees. One lawyer spoke of cases in which "electric shocks were applied to genitals, there were beatings, plastic bags put over detainees."
Analysts are becoming increasingly worried about the implications of the movement for the broader security situation in Mexico. Some observers have made comparisons to paramilitaries in Colombia, which formed in response to violence caused by the FARC with the purported aim of "protecting" civilians from guerrillas. The paramilitaries went on to become one of the main perpetrators of violence in the country. Their criminal successor groups now run the country's drug trafficking operations and recently were estimated to be responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses.
This post was written by CIP Intern Marissa Esthimer.
Friday, April 26, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Ahead of President Obama's visit to Mexico next week, 24 lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge the administration to make human rights in Mexico "a central part" of the agenda. The legislators voiced concern about Mexico's human rights record, including "the widespread use of torture in Mexico to obtain confessions" and a fivefold increase in reported abuses by security personnel under former President Felipe Calderón.
As the Pan-American Post reports, President Obama "has not been particularly vocal" about the abuses, and if he does speak up during this trip, "he will likely do so in the context of applauding the Peña Nieto government's response to victims of the violence" with the passage of a law for victims' compensation.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published an illuminating report on disappearances in Mexico, prompting the government to release an official database of over 26 thousand disappeared between 2006 and 2012.
On Monday a federal district ruled the U.S. government must release the names of all graduates of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). According to The Hill, "Plaintiffs say releasing the names of attendees at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning - formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas - will help Congress ensure that U.S. funds aren't used to train human-rights violators." The judge found no evidence to support Defense Department claims that the release of such information would violate attendees' personal privacy or create a security risk.
The U.S. State Department released its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2012. The report was particularly critical of Venezuela for its repression on freedom of expression. It also indicated that police and soldiers were involved in 392 extrajudicial killings in Venezuela last year compared to 173 in 2011.
This week the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Appropriations Committee held hearings on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget request. During the Senate hearing, several congressional members criticized some cuts to humanitarian assistance in the region. Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Robert Menendez (D-NJ) complained about the decline in humanitarian assistance to Latin America, saying the reduction comes as there is a move away from democracy to dictatorship in the region. According to Menendez, the one bright spot in the agency's request was the Central American Regional Security Initiative, which USAID administrator Rajiv Shah testified would receive a 29 percent increase under the requested budget.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to budget cuts to Cuba as "a terrible precedent, a terrible idea." The planned reduction would cut aid to the island by 25 percent -- from $15 million to about $11.25 million. Senator Menendez also questioned the reduction, asking, "why are we cutting democracy assistance to Cuba? Will cost us when there will be a major political or environmental crisis in the region."
The video of the Senate hearing can be viewed here and the video of the House hearing here.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón arrived in Washington, DC on Wednesday to start his week-long visit to the United States. Minister Pinzón planned to meet with members of Congress and high-level government officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to discuss Colombia's strategies to combat the drug trade and illegal armed groups, according to El Colombiano. "It must be remembered that with all the fiscal cuts the U.S. is applying, there is always the possibility that it will cut funds beyond what was originally agreed upon. For this reason, its important to ensure that these resources are maintained and serve to strengthen capacities that help us to be effective in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes," Pinzón said.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC restarted this week. On Wednesday the FARC delegation submitted the last of its land reform proposals, calling for tax reform, a rewritten constitution, and the participation of rural residents in policy-making. The government delegation did not immediately respond, but negotiator Humberto de la Calle had previously said that changes to economic policy would not be on the table. During this round of talks, both sides will be pushing for an agreement on the land reform issue, which will allow the negotiators to move on to the remaining four topics up for discussion.
On Thursday a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia released its 2012 activity report. While it applauded the Colombian government's victims law, which looks to compensate victims of guerrilla groups and security forces, it expressed concern that the victims of other criminal groups known as Bandas Criminales or BACRIMs are not receiving compensation because they are not covered by the law. Last week a report released by Colombia's national Ombudsman reported that BACRIMs are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country.
The FARC thanked 62 members of the U.S. Congress in a statement read in Havana yesterday. The group reiterated the congressional group's calls for U.S. support of the peace process. "We share ... your consideration that the United States is able to support the process, offering an assistance package designed to support a just and lasting peace," the group wrote. Last week the 62 members signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. Read the complete letter with signatories here.
Guerrero state governor Angel Aguirre Rivero signed a pact with local vigilante groups to legalize such groups. As InSight Crime reports, "the agreement aims to legally define the self-defense groups' responsibilities, obligations and powers, the governor said. It also sets out plans for the groups to receive training from the Mexican Army in human rights and security strategies."
Also in Guerrero, striking teachers from the radical Education Workers Union (CETEG) went on a rampage Wednesday to protest an education reform law. The teachers destroyed the offices of four major political parties in the town of Chilpancingo, setting fire to the state headquarters of the ruling PRI. The law, signed by President Peña Nieto two months ago, prohibits the traditional practice of buying and selling teaching positions and establishes teacher evaluations. Union members argue that the reform will lead to mass layoffs and privatization of education. The Associated Press has more details and photos of the attacks.
Opposition party PAN released videos that show government officials allegedly planning to use funds from social programs to support the PRI's campaigns ahead of local elections this July. The scandal upset party leaders and put Peña Nieto's "Pact for Mexico" in jeopardy, until the president held an emergency meeting to smooth over relations. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, the main parties have settled their differences and agreed that "the reform agenda laid out in the Pact comes before party interests."
The Congressional Research Service released a report, "Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Violence." The report "provides background on drug trafficking in Mexico: it identifies the major DTOs; examines how the organized crime 'landscape' has been altered by fragmentation; and analyzes the context, scope, and scale of the violence. It examines current trends of the violence, analyzes prospects for curbing violence in the future, and compares it with violence in Colombia."
United States Attorney General Eric Holder visited Mexico on Tuesday to discuss ways to "deepen" cooperation between the two countries on justice and security. His visit comes ahead of President Obama's trip to Mexico on May 2-3.
InSight Crime published an interesting article examining why the Zetas have been so effective at expanding their influence. It argues that the key to the group's success was that "the Zetas understood something the other groups did not: they did not need to run criminal activities in order to be profitable; they simply needed to control the territory in which these criminal activities were taking place."
Since President Nicolás Maduro's narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14, the Venezuelan government has increasingly cracked down on those critical of the government. Last week both parties agreed to an audit of the vote -- which will take about another three weeks. Since then Capriles has called for the process to include an examination of who voted and if fingerprint scanners meant to prevent double voting functioned. For its part, the government has placed much of its focus on implicating Capriles in the post-election violence that broke out during protests surging with opposition supporters calling for a recount.
On Monday the country's minister of prisons, Iris Varela, called Capriles the "intellectual author" of the violence and said she was "preparing a cell for him," while National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello has launched an investigation into Capriles' role in the violence that killed nine and injured at least 60.
As James Bosworth points out, some media and citizens have provided evidence showing the government has lied about the violence. He writes, "Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured 'chavistas' have turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs." It was also reported this week that the government is threatening to "throw out" any workers suspected of being Capriles supporters -- over 300 government employees have said to be fired over such claims already. The Associated Press reported that Capriles supporters are being arrested, beaten and threatened by the hundreds. Capriles has reportedly warned that the audit process risks becoming a joke and that he will challenge the election results in court.
On Sunday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named a new head of the country's diplomatic mission in the United States. Calixto Ortega, a member of Venezuela’s delegation to the Latin American parliament, was appointed as the new chargé d'affaires in Washington. "We hope one day to have respectful relations with the United States, a dialogue between equals, state-to-state," Maduro said. "Sooner rather than later, the elites running the United States will have to realize there is a new, independent, sovereign and dignified Latin America."
In Honduras a recent poll ahead of the presidential elections in the country showed that 1) at this point no candidate is ensured a win and 2) that many voters are dissatisfied with their choices, as the choice "None of the above" received the highest ranking of all five candidate and 3) that former president Manuel Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro is narrowly ahead of all others, while National Party (currently in power) candidate Juan Orlando Hernández's popularity is much lower than many had expected it to be at this point.
Here are the poll numbers:
19%: Xiomara Castro
1,800 police went on strike this week in the country's capital Tegucigalpa, protesting for better wages and working conditions. According to the Associated Press, officers make around $150 a month and are required to pay for their own uniform and bullets. The same officer also noted that police stations lack equipment and do not even have toilets. On Friday InSight Crime reported that residents in the capital say police are working with gangs to extort a fee of almost $80 a month.
17%: Salvador Nasralla
16%: Juan Orlando Hernández
10%: Mauricio Villeda
22%: None of the above
15%: Don't know/Not responding
The fate of the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt remains unclear. This week Guatemala's Constitutional Court passed the case over to a judge who last week called for all testimonies to be annulled -- a move which would put the trial back to square one.
Despite Flores' rulings, the Constitutional Court will decide if the proceedings were legal. So far the court has voted on six of twelve petitions in the case, but has yet to rule if the testimonies will be annulled.
The United States, in a show of support for the proceedings, sent its Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to the country to meet with officials and civil society groups about the trial.
For a more complete run-down of events, check the Pan-American Post, Open Society's Justice Initiative's blogs and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.
On Wednesday Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the judicial reform proposals made by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The statement argues that the reforms would "give Argentina's ruling party an automatic majority on the council that oversees the judiciary, which seriously compromises judicial independence." Included in the package is a bill that would require most members of the Council of the Judiciary, the body that selects judges, to be nominated by political parties and chosen by popular vote during the general election. The reforms, which have already been approved by the Senate, are now being considered in the Chamber of Deputies.
Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino caused a stir on Argentine social media when a video surfaced of him telling an aide "I want to leave" during an interview with a Greek reporter who questioned him about the country’s true inflation rate. The Twitter hashtag "#mequieroir" was retweeted by many and one person made a video remix of the interview mashed with the Peronist March.
This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer.
Friday, April 19, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Secretary of State John Kerry testified on the 2014 foreign aid budget request at three hearings this week, one in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. In the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, "Securing U.S. Interests Abroad," there was discussion on the Venezuelan elections and Cuba.
U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) reported that eleven members of the Salvadoran air force returned from Afghanistan on February 28th. According to SOCSOUTH, El Salvador’s upcoming deployment “will replace U.S. troops in a role that will take them outside the wire as they directly partner with Afghan police." El Salvador is the only country in U.S. Southern Command's purview contributing forces to Afghanistan.
El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes was in Washington, D.C. this week and met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. According to the website Voices from El Salvador, the agenda included "discussions about regional security issues, the gang truce and reduction of the murder-rate in El Salvador, as well as the temporary protective status (TPS) for Salvadorans." The AFP reported that Funes said Friday he will ask for a face-to-face meeting with Obama in Costa Rica in May to press for more money to fight organized crime in Central America.
The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Guinea-Bissau's top military official, General Antonio Indjai, of plotting to traffic drugs into the U.S. and sell weapons to Colombian rebels. According to Reuters, "The charges said Indjai planned to store FARC-owned cocaine in Guinea Bissau and sell weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to the organization, to be used to protect its cocaine processing operations in Colombia against U.S. military forces."
Ahead of President Barack Obama's May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said the meeting is an opportunity for Central America to ask President Obama to rethink the United States' antidrug policies.”If we continue doing the exact same thing, we will never be able to claim victory,” she said.
This Sunday, April 21, Paraguay will hold its first presidential election since last year's impeachment of President Fernando Lugo. The two major candidates are wealthy businessman Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party, which lost power for the first time in 60 years when Lugo was removed from office, and lawyer Efraín Alegre of the ruling Authentic Radical Liberty Party.
As noted by AS/COA, the two candidates have both pledged to tackle poverty, create jobs, and enact Chilean-style economic reforms. Both have also been accused of corruption: Cartes owns a bank found to have tax-haven ties and supposedly heads a money-laundering organization, and Alegre's party allegedly used public funds to buy an alliance between electoral factions. Cartes also set off a media firestorm with statements comparing gay people to "monkeys." Despite the mudslinging, many Paraguayans say their votes will follow old allegiances, with landowners and the elite class supporting the Colorado party.
The election could impact regional politics as Paraguay's government is hoping to regain admittance to Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), having been suspended from both following the impeachment. The two organizations have already sent election observers to Paraguay.
As reported in last week's post, the country's attorney general, Luis Alberto Rubí, testified that only 20 percent of all murder cases have been investigated and even fewer tried since President Porfirio Lobo took office. (Several other hearings with top-level officials have been held in the Congress in recent weeks to monitor their progress with regards to security).
Since that time, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla was removed and replaced by Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales. On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress effectively took control of the Public Prosecutor's office by suspending Rubí and replacing him and his subordinates with a five-member commission that will take over the prosecutor's office for the next 60 days to make decision about to make the organization more effective.
Honduras Politics and Culture Blog has the best description on what is happening in the Honduran government.
There has been a lot of coverage on social media and in the press this week on the aftermath of the Venezuelan presidential elections that were held on Sunday. On Monday, it was reported that interim President Nicolas Maduro beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin of 1.6 percent (50.6 percent to 49.1 percent). Capriles and his supporters claimed there were election irregularities, and launched mass demonstrations, calling for a recount. After two days of protests and confrontational interchanges with Maduro, Capriles submitted an official request for a full recount of the vote to Venezuela's election authorities, the National Electoral Council (CNE). On Thursday night, the CNE agreed to a full audit of the electronic votes and both candidates accepted. The process will reportedly take about a month. In the meantime, Maduro was sworn in as Venezuela's new president Friday morning with representatives from 47 countries present, including 17 heads of state.
Despite Capriles' calls for protesters to remain peaceful, several of the demonstrations turned violent, resulting in the death of at least seven people while around 60 were injured. The Union of South American Nations held an emergency meeting in Lima, Peru on Wednesday and released a statement recognizing Maduro as Venezuela's legitimately-elected leader and congratulating CNE for finding a solution (i.e. the recount). The statement also created a special commission that would aid the Venezuelan government's investigation into the post-election violence.
President Maduro responded to the mounting public dissent by not only claiming that Capriles was attempting a coup, but that the U.S. Embassy had been "financing and leading all the violent acts." Amid all the accusations, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said the U.S. would maintain a "turning of cheek approach to Maduro,” stating, "It still doesn’t make sense to get in, you’ll excuse me, a pissing match with Nicolas Maduro any more than it did with Chávez.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House have repeatedly endorsed a recount. In an official statement, the White House "notes the acceptance by both candidates for an audit of the ballots and supports calls for a credible and transparent process to reassure the Venezuelan people regarding the results."
The Pan American Post had good coverage of the happenings in Venezuela this week while WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog offers good analysis.
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting opinion piece on the "winners and losers" in the wake of the election.
On Thursday, a judge in Guatemala suspended the landmark trial of former dictator Rios Montt, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Carol Patricia Flores nullified the testimony of several victims of the Rios Montt government's scorched-earth campaign between 1982 and 1983. According to CNN, Flores "ruled that because all of the issues at the lower courts had not been settled, the current proceedings are invalid, the state-run AGN news agency reported. The ruling in effect rewinds the legal process against Rios Montt to where it was in November of 2011, in a pre-trial phase."
Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said that the ruling was illegal and that her office would be challenging it. Amnesty International published a press release today denouncing the move to annul the trial. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) also said it would be investigating Flores. The CICIG announcement made reference to a paid advertisement written by former government officials that appeared in El Periódico newspaper that said a genocide trial was a threat to peace and stability. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina supported the statement.
The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala has a comprehensive summary of each days' events as does the Open Society Justice Initiative and Central American Politics blog. Independent photojournalist James Rodríguez has a good photo essay of the trial on his blog, MiMundo.org.
U.S. Army South commanding general, Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, visited Guatemala to discuss the formation of the new U.S.-backed Guatemalan Interagency Border Unit that will be established by the Mexican border.
Sixty-two members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that calls for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. According to the letter, "The United States can help support the peace process by offering an aid package designed for peace, reorienting aid that for the last dozen years has supported a government at war." The Washington Office on Latin America and the Latin American Working Group issued a joint statement and Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper has coverage in Spanish.
According to Colombia's national ombudsman, hybrid criminal organizations, known as BACRIM (Spanish acronym for criminal gangs) are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country. Last year, 12,165 people claimed to be victims of the groups. As InSight Crime pointed out, while the Colombian government has recently made comments claiming that 90 percent of the country is BACRIM-free, a Bogotá think-tank in March cited them as the greatest threat to the country's security, claiming the government has not taken adequate measures against them. The BACRIM are not counted as actors in the country's armed conflict and therefore victims of their abuses are not covered under the government's victims' law.
On Monday, officials unveiled a new police force dedicated to fighting drug dealing in Mexico City. The 150-member division includes 50 new graduates of the police academy with plans to add 50 more, and will focus on combatting micro-trafficking operations through intelligence gathering, video surveillance, and follow-ups to emergency calls. Animal Político has more details on the make-up of the force, which went into operation on Monday, following the academy's graduation ceremony.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Viridiana Rios argues that instead of spending billions of dollars fighting drug cartels in Mexico, the U.S. should support reforms to the justice system because "the right way to fight a drug war in Mexico is not to aim at eliminating criminal organizations, as many have assumed, but rather to create conditions in which war does not pay. This will not be achieved with the strategy Washington has embraced. Even if all criminal organizations were eliminated, new ones would emerge as long as profits could be made from cocaine."
This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer