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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.”
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.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
This post is cross-posted with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund's LAWGBlog. It was written by LAWG-EF Program Assistant Ruth Isabel Robles.
As President Obama prepares to sit down for meetings with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and other fellow elected leaders from the Americas at the Summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Costa Rica, over 145 civil society organizations from 10 countries throughout the Americas, including the Latin America Working Group, sent a letter to their respective presidents urging them to address their concerns regarding the dire human rights crisis in the region.
Citing an increase in violence and human rights violations, the letter calls for a shift away from the failed militarized security policies which have exacerbated violence and human rights concerns in the region towards policies that address the root causes of violence...
A common practice throughout Latin America has been the use of the armed forces for citizen security tasks, a practice justified as necessary to combat organized crime and drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). However, the undersigned organizations call for a shift away from such policies that promote an inappropriate role for the military in the region, including those supported by the U.S., noting that these policies have played a harmful role and contributed to an increase in human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces.
In Mexico, this militarized response and lack of accountability for security forces has led to the deaths of over 80,000 people in the past six years with more than 26,000 disappeared. While in Guatemala, rates of violence are similar to those seen during the internal armed conflict, which, according to the letter, jeopardizes the peace process and fragile democracy built on the 1996 Peace Accords. But, "the starkest example of a breakdown of democratic institutions" can be found in Honduras where "the rule of law has disintegrated while violence and impunity have soared."
The imposition of large-scale extractive projects on marginalized communities is also a point of concern discussed in the letter. Free Trade Agreements have exacerbated poverty and inequality throughout the region resulting "in forced displacement, especially of indigenous, peasant, and Afro-descendant communities."
These civil society groups urge leaders to come together and generate policies to address the root causes of migration. Flawed regional security policies and the imposition of mega development projects have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, leaving countless in the Americas with few options other than to migrate. As the debate for immigration reform gets underway in the U.S. Congress, civil society groups from across the Americas call for humane and sensible immigration reform to address the policies that force individuals to migrate in the first place.
To address the human rights situation discussed above, the organizations urge their respective officials to make concrete progress on the following measures:
An executive action taken on behalf of the United States to stop the flow of assault weapons and other firearms across the U.S.-Mexico Border
Recognize and protect human rights defenders
Propose a new model for security cooperation that provides alternatives to the ongoing war on drugs, such as regulation rather than prohibition, strong regional anti-money laundering efforts, and withdrawal of the armed forces from domestic law enforcement. They call on the U.S. government to end military aid and instead direct resources towards strengthening the institutionalization of the rule of law in these countries.
Promote development through democratic dialogue with respect for human and environmental rights
Address the root causes of migration and stop the criminalization and deportation of migrants; investigate and prosecute crimes against migrants as they travel through Mexico, as well as human rights violations at the border and within the United States
Although media reports and early statements indicate that many of the discussions will focus on economic cooperation, this letter is a clear statement from civil society that human rights priorities must be squarely on the table as well.
To read the letter in English, click here.
To read the letter in Spanish, click here.
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
Friday, April 12, 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 U.S. State Department posted its 2014 budget request for foreign aid. According to WOLA's Adam Isacson, this budget offered the lowest U.S. aid to Latin America in a decade without adjusting for inflation. Another post on Just the Facts has charts illustrating the breakdown of the $40.9 billion in aid the U.S. has given to Latin America since 1996.
There were four hearings this week that in some fashion pertained to Latin America. On Tuesday the Senate held a hearing on border security, while the House of Representative’s Oversight Committee held another, "U.S. Foreign Assistance: What Oversight Mechanism are in Place to Ensure Accountability?" On Thursday the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on energy opportunities in the region and on Friday the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration's budget.
The New York Times featured an interesting discussion on the alleged benefits and risks of U.S. military training. Of particular note is a short but pungent article by Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. Doyle examines the history of U.S. aid in Latin America and contends, “U.S. aid left countries with a legacy of repression and violence."
The Wilson Center held an event this week, “The Transnational Nature of Organized Crime in the Americas.” The two-hour event can be watched on its website, where papers from many of the presenters can also be found.
One of the reports, written by Daniel Rico, argues that Colombia's new criminal groups, known as bandas criminales, or BACRIMS, are bound to become extinct. As Wired Magazine highlights, his report also explains that as these groups become weaker and more fragmented, cocaine is becoming cheaper for Mexican cartels. InSight Crime's Jeremy McDermott posted an article that unpacks the report and is worth a read.
On Tuesday tens of thousands of Colombians gathered for a mass demonstration in support of the current peace process. Among them were Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and former leftist Senator Piedad Córdoba. The Marcha Patriótica, a new and far-left political movement accused of having ties to the FARC, organized the marches. Critics of the march say it was funded by guerillas. In response, President Santos said, "I don't see any guerillas here, I see Colombians." Historically, participating in the political left in Colombia can be dangerous. In an interview with a Chicago radio station, Adam Isacson noted, Santos' appearance signaled to the FARC that, "there is space for you if you lay down your arms."
Over the weekend the FARC added two top leaders to its negotiating team: Victoria Sandino and Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo.” Catatumbo is the third member of the FARC’s ruling body, known as the Secretariat, to participate in the talks. He is also the commander of the group’s most active unit in southwestern Colombia. To allow both leaders to join, the Colombian military suspended operations in the region.
On Sunday former President Álvaro Uribe, who has been a strong critic of the talks, tweeted the coordinates where military operations had been suspended to allow for the FARC leaders' transport. This marked a change from him being an outspoken critic of the talks to actively spoiling them.
La Silla Vacía has an excellent interactive map that traces the routes of displaced victims of the conflict that have since become leaders and advocates for other victims. A report by the United Nations says internal displacement in the country continues to increase. According to the document, 130,000 Colombians were displaced in 2010 and another 143,000 were forced from their homes in 2011.
This week the Mexican government announced a drop in drug-related killings. Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced Wednesday that 1,101 people were killed in March, bringing the official murder number to 4,249 since December. The government compared this to the 5,127 killed during the same time under former President Felipe Calderón, claiming a 17% drop. However, the Associated Press put the number killed during Calderón’s last four months at 4,934, which would mean only a 14% reduction. In an article in Animal Politico, analyst Alejando Hope shows that murders have been on the decline since May, making it "hard to argue that policies applied in December have had a significant effect on the number of homicides."
On the same day of the announcement, 14 people were killed in the western Michoacán state.
The AP noted that there is reason to question the Mexican government's numbers because “much of that data originally comes from the 31 states and federal district, with inconsistent or misreporting of cases and subjective criteria on what constitutes a cartel-related crime.”
As Mexican President Peña Nieto has focused much of his discourse on the economy and other non-drug war related issues, his administration has “asked the media... to change the narrative with respect to numbers and figures,” according to Osorio Chong. As an extension of this trend, on Monday Proceso magazine reported that the Mexican government had sealed information about organized crime in the country – the number of cartels in existence, their names, leaders and areas of influence – for the next 12 years. As InSight Crime notes, this is just a continuance of “a broader strategy of the Peña Nieto administration to deny access to information to non-governmental and governmental entities alike.”
An organization that monitors the press in the country, The Observatory of Coverage of Violence, found that in the first three months of the Peña Nieto administration, the appearance of the words “homicide,” “organized crime” and “drug-trafficking” had fallen 50 percent.
According to Honduras’s chief prosecutor, Luis Rubí, 80% of homicides in the country go unpunished. “The country is not prepared for this wave of crime, it has overwhelmed us” Rubí said. There was also significant discrepancy in reported police reform numbers this week. The Ministry of Security reported that 652 agents had been fired from the force, while the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit charged with evaluating officers, reported that only seven of 230 that had failed polygraphs had been removed.
Venezuela’s presidential elections will take place this Sunday. The candidates officially ended their campaigns on Thursday with dueling rallies. Encapsulating the themes of their campaigns, former vice president and interim President Nicolas Maduro said, “I am the son of Chávez, I am ready to be your president,” while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles played up the rampant insecurity in the country and said, "If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government." Maduro is the expected victor.
There has been a lot of coverage of the race as it comes to a close. Venezuela Analysis has posted daily updates while WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog offers good analysis of the election. The AP has an interesting article on Maduro’s outlandish campaign tactics while the Atlantic discusses Maduro’s advantages in what it dubs an unfair election. Reuters reported that Capriles denied Maduro’s claims that he would do away with the government’s welfare programs and Caracas Chronicles criticized his campaign tactics. Reuters also has a very useful “Factbox” with information about both candidates.
Analyst James Bosworth posted an infographic map depicting violence in Venezuela that shows every state in the country having a higher murder rate than the national average of Colombia, Guatemala or Mexico.
This week Maduro claimed right-wing Salvadoran politician Roberto D’Aubuisson was plotting to kill him. The Venezuelan government released alleged recordings of D’Aubuisson hiring someone to carry out the assassination. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said, “the least [his government] could do” would be to investigate the case. D’Aubuisson denies the voice on the recording is his.
On Tuesday a couple accused of kidnapping their two sons from protective custody in the United States fled to Cuba on a fishing boat, but was promptly handed over to U.S. authorities by their Cuban counterparts. Afterwards, the AP published an article that said the incident showed "the Cold War enemies are capable of remarkable cooperation on many issues,” and went on to highlight the undocumented cooperation that goes on between the two ideologically-warring nations.
In an article in Foreign Policy, Bill Leogrande asserted, "The moss powerful lobby in Washington isn't the NRA. It's the Castro-hating right wing that has Obama's bureaucrats terrified and inert."
This week it was reported that Guatemala’s air fleet got a boost for counternarcotics operations. Reuters reported that Brazil’s state development bank helped finance Embraer’s recent sale of Super Tucano planes to Guatemala. It was also reported by the website InfoDefensa that the U.S. would be giving six helicopters to the Guatemalan air force.
Today is day number 16 of former dictator Rios Montt trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. This week both the prosecution and defense presented experts in various fields from military to international law to forensics. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has live coverage of the trial as does the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Friday, April 5, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region since Monday.
The Economist had a couple good articles this week, one on the issue of peasant land reserves in Colombia and another on how Brazil is attempting to deal with crack addicts. According to the latter article, Brazil is the world's largest market for crack, with recent studies indicating 1.1 to 1.2 million people in the country are users.
Reuters takes a look at support for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the country's 2014 elections. Recent opinion polls placed her popularity at an all-time high of 79 percent. According to Reuters, however, she "could fail to win re-election" as "the threat of rising inflation and unemployment, a trio of attractive opposition candidates, and the possibility of an embarrassing logistical debacle at the World Cup mean that Rousseff is less of a shoo-in than many observers think." Analyst James Bosworth offers a quick look back to the 2006 and 2010 elections, which both went to the second round, despite the popularity of a single candidate.
Blog del Narco
The Guardian and Texas Observer released a report about Blog del Narco, a website that has been reporting on drug-related violence and deaths since March 2010. With the media being silenced in Mexico, Blog del Narco has emerged as one of the few mediums covering the full extent to which drug-related violence plagues the country. The article revealed that the author, whose identity has been a complete secret until now, is a woman in her mid-20s. On Wednesday, her book, "Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War" was released. The book is said to provide, "the most gruesome, explicit account yet of the mayhem that the cartel wars have brought to Mexico." Another Guardian/ Texas Observer article explains the significance of Blog del Narco and why it "has become the most important website in Mexico." An excerpt can be read here.
Uruguay Marijuana Bill
Uruguay's Congress will vote next month on a controversial marijuana legalization bill. In the upcoming month before the vote, the government will be hosting educational presentations and panels throughout the country on the benefits of regulating the marijuana market. Public opinion polls in December 2012 showed that 64% of Uruguayans oppose the measure, although it has support in Congress. The new law would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants. Marijuana growth and consumption clubs are provided for under the law, however no more than 30,000 hectares of cannabis may be grown nationwide.
Rios Montt trial
The historic Rios Montt trial re-started this week. A testimony of a former soldier implicated current President Otto Perez Molina in several violent atrocities against the Guatemalan population during the country’s civil war in the 1980s. According to the Associated Press, Hugo Reyes, a soldier who was a mechanic in an engineering brigade, told the court that Perez Molina ordered soldiers to “burn and pillage" during the war. Reyes said that Perez Molina coordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people." The Pan American Post links to several good articles about the case, and points out that Reyes also implicated another general who is a key witness for the defense, possibly tarnishing his testimony. On Wednesday, the court heard many testimonies about sexual violence that took place during the civil war. According to Mike Allison's Central American Politics Blog, an estimated 100,000 women of all ages were sexually assaulted during the conflict.
For more information on the trial, check out The Open Society Justice Initiative's blog, which provides a daily account of the case. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala has good coverage of the case, as do Mary Jo McConahay and Sonia Perez-Diaz of the Associated Press.
Mexico's 2014 security budget
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed a $4.4 billion security budget for 2014. Of that amount, $1.6 billion will go towards crime prevention; $1.4 billion will go to the penal system, $122 million to the new gendarmerie police force and $231 to intelligence. About $382 million is slated for smaller public security initiatives and will be dispersed to states, municipalities and Mexico City. As InSight Crime pointed out, should this new budget be approved, the gendarmerie, the details of which have yet to be announced, will receive around $384.
Presidents of Peru and Mexico to China
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala traveled to China, Peru's largest trading partner, to discuss trade opportunities in an effort to increase the country's exports. The AFP reported that "Bilateral trade between Peru and China has more than doubled since their free trade deal took effect in 2010, surging from about seven billion dollars to $15 billion in 2012." Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will also travel to China this weekend to discuss trade relations as he kicks off his Asia tour.
Armed groups and illegal gold mining in Colombia
On Monday, Colombian magazine Semana published an excellent series about armed groups' deep involvement in illegal gold mining. A map shows that in the 20 municipalities with the most gold, there is a heavy presence of armed groups and extortion and abuse of mine workers is constant. A letter between FARC leaders, published by Caracol Radio, revealed details about the group's extortion of the mining industry. Illegal gold mining is now reportedly the group's top source of income in several departments throughout the country. According to InSight Crime, "miners are forced to pay 5 percent of their total income to the FARC, 5 percent to guerrilla group ELN, as well as 7 million pesos ($3,800) to the FARC for the entrance of each mechanical digger to a mining site."
Colombia's "emerald czar" dies
Victor Carranza, known as Colombia's "Emerald Czar," died Thursday, theAssociated Press reported. Carranza allegedly financed paramilitary groups, but was never tried, supposedly because of his relationship with top political elites. Colombia accounts for 60% of the world's emerald trade, and Carranza was believed to control about half of all mining operations in the country. On Monday, news website Colombia Reports reported that as Carranza's health was deteriorating he, along with other top players in the industry, requested an "active presence" from the government to prevent a possibly violent war between groups looking to control his assets. InSight Crime has a profile of Carranza that is worth a read.
El Salvador is reportedly planning to request funding assistance from the United States for the country's gang truce. According to InSight Crime, Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes said the government only has $18 million of the $150 million that will be needed to fully implement the truce.
El Faro had a long but informative article on off-record cash payments to government officials in El Salvador.
Monday, April 1, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Peace talks between the FARC and Colombian government, scheduled to restart April 2, have been postponed until the end of the month. Both sides are reportedly working on their respective proposals for land reform, the first agenda item of the six points that the talks will address.
President Santos President Santos said the Urabeños drug gang was the only neoparamilitary criminal organization (known in Colombia as BACRIMS, for “bandas criminales”) with a national presence. According to Santos, other such groups like the Rastrojos are losing traction. In March, Colombian think-tank Nuevo Arco Iris published a report citing BACRIMS as the central threat to Colombian security, recording their presence in 209 of the country’s 337 municipalities. While President Santos attributed the diminished presence of several groups to security forces, it may more likely be the result of consolidation of smaller groups into stronger organizations, as pointed out by InSight Crime.
The U.S. Department of Defense reported that the FARC had shoulder-fired air-to-surface missiles. According to the article, “Defense experts say the FARC has long sought to acquire such weapons to counter a key strategic advantage of Colombia's military -- air superiority.” The Colombian government has had the most success against the FARC with its air strikes. As noted in the above-mentioned Nuevo Arco Iris report, in 2012, 15 aerial operations by the government killed 200 guerillas.
Several analysts said that should the group acquire enough missiles, it could change the war. "If they had a few dozen, it would make a difference: It could limit what the Colombians could do against them from the air," said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "My guess is they don't have that many." The article also notes that U.S. military assistance to Colombia for 2013 is slated to be $266 million.
The FARC issued a statement saying they would reject any proposal for peace that includes jail time for guerilla leaders. The Colombian government already has legislation in place that limits the prosecution of FARC members, but does not provide for total amnesty.
Peru and the United States have agreed to enhance political-military cooperation.
The State Department’s press release can be read here, but notes the two countries will collaborate on various security issues like terrorism and drug trafficking. A good article in El País touches on how the agreement to share information, technology and training benefits both sides, and particularly Peru, which has seen an uptick in drug trafficking and coca production in its VRAEM region (the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, and the Mantaro Valley).
In May, Peru will begin drafting men between the ages of 18 and 25 for military service to help fill the reported 30,000-member deficit in the armed forces. Parents and university students will be exempt while draftees can pay a fine of $700 to get out of service. The measure has drawn much criticism, as opponents say it favors the wealthy. CNN pointed out that “Nearly a third of Peru's population lives below the poverty line, according to government statistics. A minimum wage salary is 750 soles ($290) per month."
As InSight Crime notes, Peru has begun to more heavily “militarize the fight against drug traffickers and Shining Path guerillas,” particularly in the country’s largest coca-producing region, the VRAEM. In October, the government announced it would increase military and police budgets by 20 percent and double its police force.
Peru is reportedly purchasing 24 Russian Mi-171 helicopters for $407 million for counternarcotics operations in the country. According to reports, the deal could rise to a value of $485.5 million as Peru has supposedly signaled it wants to buy additional onboard weapons and Russia has offered to train Peruvian pilots.
Mexico and the border
A group of four U.S. senators working on the immigration bill toured the U.S.- Mexico border last Wednesday. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) concluded his visit by saying, “What I learned was that we have adequate manpower, but we don’t have adequate technology.” The senators are part of the “gang of eight,” the bipartisan group developing legislation to reform U.S. immigration laws.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), four out of five drug busts made by Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexico border involve U.S. citizens. The report’s authors recognize that Mexican cartels are controlling the smuggling trade but note, “the public message that the Border Patrol has trumpeted for much of the last decade, mainly through press releases about its seizures, has emphasized Mexican drug couriers, or mules, as those largely responsible for transporting drugs.”
The Associated Press has since come out with a report which claims Mexican drug cartels are running drug distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast.
The White House announced President Obama will visit Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico, he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade and immigration, among other topics like education. In Costa Rica, he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of the Central American Integration System (SICA) to discuss trade and security.
Mexican news website Animal Politico outlines five key components of Mexico’s revised draft of its victims law. The new language includes a definition for “indirect victims” as well as punishment for negligence by authorities. The law has been approved by the Mexican Senate, but still awaits full congressional approval.
Russia in Nicaragua
William Brownfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement says the United States welcomes Russia’s recent involvement in Central America’s drug war and collaboration with Nicaraguan forces to combat narcotics trafficking. The Nicaragua Dispatch reported Brownfield as saying, “I welcome any contribution, any donation and any support that the Russian government wants to give in this hemisphere.” According to the paper, Russia's drug czar Victor Ivanov says his plan is to convert Nicaragua into a regional stronghold for Central America’s drug war.
In the interview Brownfield also discussed U.S. counternarcotics strategies in Central America, noting he hopes to shift routes away from the region within two to three years.
United States officials claims that no security assistance is given to police units under the control of the country’s national police director, Juan Carlos Bonilla, over concerns that he was involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The Associated Press published a must-read article last week challenging this, alleging that all police units are under Bonilla’s control. The U.S. has denied these claims saying that while it does support Honduran police, it does not support its director and gives no assistance to Bonilla or those directly under him. For more information, see a Just the Facts post published Friday.
The campaign ahead of Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election continues to be mired in personal and fiery insults between the two candidates, interim President Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles. According to Reuters, over the weekend Maduro “called the country's opposition ‘heirs of Hitler,’ accusing them of persecuting Cuban doctors working in the South American country the way Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany.” This comes after he accused Capriles of trying to “provoke” violence when plans were announced that he would be campaigning in the same western Venezuela state as Maduro this week. Capriles has since announced that he will start his campaign in the state of Monagas state on Tuesday, and move into Barinas on Wednesday.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile and announced she will be running for president in the country’s November elections. The Pan-American Post has a good overview of her announcement and links to several articles outlining the challenges facing her despite being the favored candidate. The post highlights Bachelet’s speech in which she said, “the main goal of her administration would be addressing income inequality in Chile, which in 2011 had the most uneven distribution of wealth of any Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country.”
Friday, March 22, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Today the Organization of American States (OAS) voted on controversial proposals to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador is leading the charge on making the changes that many analysts say aim to limit the court’s power and will likely have a negative effect on human rights in the hemisphere. Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) has a guide to the reform vote. As AS/COA notes, one of the reforms calls for funding to only come from within the region, despite the fact that one-third of its current budget comes from Europe. The budget for the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, which protects press freedoms in the Americas, could also be completely cut.
In a congressional meeting, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) denounced these reforms as well as made sure an article in the Washington Post by Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, former President of Colombia and Secretary General of the OAS, was printed in the formal Senate record.
The AS/COA guide, along with several sources can be found here.
Live blog posts can be found here at Americas Quarterly.
The OAS schedule can be accessed here.
El País has an overview of the reforms’ supporters.
On Tuesday the trialbegan for former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his head of military intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, both accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The New York Times featured an article last weekend on the recent judicial changes in Guatemala that made the trial possible.
Daily updates on the trial can be found at this blog, a project from the Open Society Justice Initiative.
The trial can be watched live here
Susana Villarán, Lima’s first leftist (and first female) mayor got to keep her job this week after the city voted to keep her in power in a referendum held Sunday. 51.7 percent of voters supported Villarán staying in office, while 48.3 percent chose to have her removed. Villarán’s more conservative critics say she is inept and inefficient, while her supporters say the elite is trying to remove her for her progressive policies. According to the Guardian, the former human rights activist has “battled to organize Lima's chaotic transit system and reform other corruption-ridden institutions.”
The New York Times also featured a good article today on the inequality of income distribution in Peru. It describes the economic and political divide between Lima and the rest of the country.
It was also announced this week that Peru is creating a new police “special operative intelligence group” to “identify, locate and capture” paid hitmen, known as ‘sicarios.’
It was reported by some Colombian media that the government and the FARC would reach an agrarian reform this week. However, the two parties did not reach a final agreement. Negotiations are set to begin in Havana again on April 2.
According to the Associated Press, FARC commander Iván Márquez, “said at least five areas of disagreement remain on agrarian matters: rules limiting the size of agricultural holdings; foreign ownership of prime farmland; limits on the extent of cattle ranching; the widespread cultivation for products used for energy purposes rather than food; and mining.”
La Silla Vacía takes a look at “Campesino Reserve Zones,” or collective land reserves that the FARC propose would have political autonomy and their own “administrative justice.”
The UN insisted Colombia not grant amnesty to the FARC in a report (PDF) presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. According to news website Colombia Reports, the report also notes the “serious human rights issues” that have yet to be addressed in the country. Specifically referencing the 4,716 civilians reportedly killed by state agents, while only 294 cases have been brought before the justice system.
This week the commanders of U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command testified before Congress. Much of the discussion centered on the effects budget cuts will have on both commands’ operations. A Just the Facts post from Thursday overviews what happened in hearings in both the House and the Senate. Southcom commander General John Kelly said, “Navy ops in my area of operations will essentially stop -- go to zero, I believe," Kelly said of the sequestration cuts. "With a little luck we might see a Coast Guard cutter down there, but we're gonna lose airborne ISR (aircraft surveillance) in the counter-drug fight, we'll lose the Navy assets," he said.
There was a lot of media attention this week surrounding Mexican security. For a collection of articles on Mexico, please see the Just the Facts database. Here are some highlights:
A study published this week found 253,000 guns are smuggled from the United States into Mexico each year. This number represents 2.2% of all guns sales in the United States. The value of the annual smuggling trade is $127.2 million. The study in its entirety can be found here.
The International Crisis Group released its first report on Mexico this week, “Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico.” According to the report,
Mexico must build an effective police and justice system, as well as implement comprehensive social programs, if it is to escape the extraordinary violence triggered by the country’s destructive cartels in extortion, kidnapping and control of transnational crime.
Read the full report here
Insight Crime has a good article this week on President Peña Nieto’s security strategy, which says,
After just over 100 days in office, two story lines are emerging about Enrique Peña Nieto: one says that the new Mexican president is subtly continuing his predecessor’s "war on drugs;" the other that he is backing off, creating the conditions for a more "peaceful" underworld.
The article concludes by noting that should the Mexican government turn to “capitulation to large drug trafficking interests” relations could become much more tense.
Facing growing criticism over his security strategy and a recent wave of violence, which included a recent death toll of 29 people in one day, Mexican President Peña Nieto has asked for a year before judgment is passed on his anti-violence strategy. “That doesn’t mean that in a year, we’ll achieve the objectives laid out by this administration,” he said, reported the Los Angeles Times. “But I think that yes, in one year is the moment to take stock of how this strategy is going.”
Mexico’s Guerrero state will create a legal framework for local self-defense groups that have gained momentum around the country, but particularly there.
Animal Politico features the eight-point document.
The Venezuelan government suspended a “channel of communications” with Washington on Wednesday. It claimed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson violated the country’s sovereignty by making statements about the country’s electoral system, as reported by Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper. MercoPress said it was because Assistant Secretary Jacobson called for “open, fair and transparent elections.”
On Tuesday the U.S. “categorically” rejected Interim President Maduro’s accusations that former U.S. diplomats Roger Noriega and Otto Reich were trying to assassinate opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The U.S. statement said it was not trying to “destabilize or hurt anyone in Venezuela.”
Friday, March 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
This week was the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. An article co-authored by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former president of Switzerland, Ruth Dreifuss, in the New York Times says, "Delegates will debate multiple resolutions while ignoring a truth that goes to the core of current drug policy: human rights abuses in the war on drugs are widespread and systematic." Cardoso and Dreifuss call for the human rights movement to take the lead on “calling for an end to the war on drugs and the development of drug policies that advance rather than degrade human rights.
The latest "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community" cites "economic stagnation, high rates of violent crime and impunity, ruling party efforts to manipulate democratic institutions to consolidate power, and slow recovery from natural disasters" as challenges to many positive trends throughout Latin America.
This week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held hearings on human rights issues throughout South America. The issues discussed range from unjust judicial reforms -- such as a recent judicial reform in Colombia that will allow military courts to try soldiers accused of human rights abuses -- to LGBTI rights, preventative detention, indigenous rights, and statelessness to sexual abuses and disappearance in Mexico. Read several articles (mostly in Spanish) that cover some of the hearings here and here. A webcast of the hearings can be viewed on the OAS' website
As noted in last week's round up, on March 22, all participating members of the OAS will vote on proposed reforms to the IACHR, which many say will limit the commission's power and have a negative effect on human rights in the region.
According to the news website Colombia Reports, "The homicide rate in Medellin has increased by 21.2% over the first two months of 2013, in respect to the same period last year." To help curb the violence, 700 mobile police were sent to the most violent neighborhoods in and around Medellín. On Wednesday, President Santos ordered National Police Director Jose Roberto Leno Riaño to transfer to the city. He will be stationed there to “take direct charge of the situation until the city becomes calm again.”
An article in the Miami Herald highlights that even children have become targets in ongoing gang wars in Medellín. The report depicts the murder of an 11-year-old who crossed an "invisible border" between territories owned by rival gangs on the border of Comuna 13, one of the the city's most violence-ridden neighborhoods.
The seventh round of peace talks began this week, which continue to focus on the issue of land. The FARC released a list of eight proposals for land restitution on Tuesday. These proposals look to include Afro-Colombian and other minority groups in the land reform and redistribution process.
This week both sides of the negotiating table put forth positive sentiments about the peace talks. President Juan Manuel Santos said that the talks were going well and that peace accords may be reached within a few months if the pace continues at the same rate. Iván Márquez, the head of the FARC’s negotiating team, said the group will do "everything possible" to reach an agreement before the end of the year. This is the first time the group has indicated as much to date.El Espectador reported earlier this week that the ELN might be getting closer to peace talks with the government following the release of two German hostages Friday.
As WOLA's Adam Isacson noted in a post on Just the Facts earlier this week, "Colombia manually eradicated 30,000 hectares of coca bushes in 2012. That is 5,000 hectares less manual eradication than in 2011 (as opposed to fumigation, which has been steady at about 100,000 hectares), and a steep drop from a 2008 total of 96,000 hectares. The Colombian government’s budget for manual eradication has dropped by over half since 2010."
InSight Crime has a good rundown of various theories about why the country's coca eradication program is shrinking.
The U.S. Army reported that the Security Assistance Command delivered seven Black Hawk Helicopters to Colombia at the beginning of March. "The aircraft will provide advantages to the Colombians by enhancing their situational awareness and mission effectiveness in the war against drugs and terrorism through air operations," Col. Steve Smith, SOUTHCOM Regional Operations director, said.
Drug trafficking has been the main motive behind Colombia's previous and current paramilitary groups, according to a new report put out by the Colombian think tank, Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP). The group says fighting leftist insurgency has been a "grand facade" and is secondary to protecting coca crops and controlling trafficking routes.
- This report comes on the heels of another report (which was highlighted in last week's post) from Nuevo Arco Iris that, in addition to looking at changes in the FARC's on-the-ground tactics, looks at the consolidation of neo-paramilitary cartels in the country. As InSight Crime notes, "'From Caguan to Havana' charts how the remaining factions of demobilized paramilitary groups and dismantled drug cartels have converged around two criminal structures: the Rastrojos and the Urabeños."
France is helping Mexico set up its new 10,000-member gendarmerie mobile police force, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong told reporters this week. President Peña Nieto has said that the force will be ready for deployment by the end of the year. WOLA's Maureen Meyer echoes an ongoing concern of several analysts that, “By establishing another federal security force made up of elements with primarily military training, Peña is following in the footsteps of his predecessors to militarize public security in Mexico." She also highlights that while the United States has promoted a different model in Latin America, "U.S. law strongly restricts our military" from taking on the role of police.
Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope also offers a good critique of President Peña Nieto's security model, which he concludes by saying, "here is a respectful request to the Interior Ministry: get organized now. We want to talk about you with reference to something other than disorder and improvisation."
A new report in Mexico says that there were 207 attacks against journalists in the country in 2012, a 20 percent increase from 2011.
A court in Guatemala upheld a Supreme Court ruling to allow former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to be tried for genocide.
InSight Crime founder Steven Dudley released a good article on "5 Things the El Salvador Gang Truce Has Taught Us."
The United States expelled two Venezuelans diplomats, a second secretary at the embassy in DC & a consular officer in NY, in response to the Venezuelan government's ouster of two U.S. attachés on March 5, the same day Hugo Chávez died.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's interim president, accused "far right" figures in the United States of trying to kill opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. According to the Associate Press, "The odds are so stacked against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles that he has compared his run to being 'led to a slaughterhouse and dropped into a meat grinder.'" Caracas Chronicles looks at the other six candidates in the presidential race.