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

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Thursday, March 27, 2014

    United States Counternarcotics Assistance in Central America from the 2013 INCSR

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Elijah Stevens

    The U.S. State Department’s recently released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) identified all seven countries in Central America as major transit countries for drug trafficking. While there are serious efforts to combat drug trafficking in these countries, many of which are backed by various forms of U.S. assistance through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the report found that 80 percent of illegal drugs destined for the United States are still trafficked through Central America.
    Countries throughout this region are plagued, to varying degrees, by limited funds for improving capabilities and resources, problematic and weak judiciary systems, corruption at various levels of security institutions, and lack of professionalization in their security forces.

    The INCSR explains some of the initiatives the United States has supported and continues to support, the majority of them through CARSI:


  • Trained and supported the Coast Guard to establish Belize’s first Sea, Air and Land Team (SEAL).
  • Established a Mobile Interdiction Team in December 2012 whose mission is to interdict narcotics at ports of entry throughout border regions. This is in addition to the provision of training and equipment to the country’s police force.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement, and a U.S.-sponsored Multilateral Counterdrug Summit with 11 other participants from Central and South America
  • Currently, Belize’s government is exploring the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana in small quantities as an alternative strategy in combatting narcotrafficking and crime.

    Costa Rica

  • Updated police academy curriculum and continued implemention of the COMPSTAT crime-tracking system.
  • Providing training and equipment for Costa Rica’s police to perform anti-gang law enforcement and also support for community policing with equipment, vehicles and training.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement to target offshore narcotrafficking. Although the U.S.’ antidrug surge mission in Central America’s coastal waters, Operation Martillo, has been constrained by Costa Rica’s reluctance to allow other countries’ military ships into its waters, an uptick in drug trafficking in the country has meant the government has been more open to granting permission.
  • Helped create, train and support the newly established Border Police, including building a critical checkpoint in southern Costa Rica to monitor traffic from Panama.
  • There has been an increasing presence of transnational criminal organizations in Costa Rica, which has grown hand-in-hand with continued perceptions of corruption in the police, judiciary and government. Although violence is relatively low in Costa Rica, homicide rates held steady in 2013 and assaults increased nearly 19 percent.

    El Salvador

  • Providing equipment and training for law enforcement agencies to interdict narcotics shipments, combat money laundering and public corruption, and enforce the anti-gang law.
  • Helped establish a joint Interagency Task Force “Grupo Conjunto Cuscatlán” (Cuscatlán Joint Group or GCC) in 2012 to better integrate the National Civil Police (PNC), customs and port authorities, and local military
  • Donation of three helicopters and six boats to the GCC, which is made up of the PNC, the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and the Attorney General’s Office (FGR)
  • Initiated and sponsored two large polygraph sessions in 2013 administered by U.S-trained Colombian polygraphists
  • A number of reforms were also launched in El Salvador to address issues within the legal system. The Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of National Civilian Police was organized to confront retention issues, staffing shortages and leadership problems. According to the report, “The vetted counternarcotics unit (GEAN) within the DAN is responsible for conducting sensitive counternarcotics investigations, but few operational results have been achieved since 2012.”


  • The transfer of title and operational control of six UH-1H II helicopters, effectively nationalizing the aviation interdiction program
  • Collaboration with the National Police (PNC) to form a 38-man land interdiction unit for mobile check points along with additional efforts to modernize and expand the PNC force
  • Financial and technical support to three special prosecutorial units for criminal cases, and a special task force for investigation and preparation of high-impact narcotics cases.
  • The report noted that narcotics traffickers might be attempting to increase the domestic market in Guatemala by paying local couriers in drugs rather than cash. President Pérez Molina has increased cooperation between the police and military to combat crime and drug trafficking.


  • The United States has provided training to Honduran police, prosecutors and judges:
    • Directly trained 1,200 individuals
    • Helped establish a Criminal Investigative School
    • Funded Colombian trainers through the U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Action Plan for several trainings with government officials and security forces
    • Funded Chilean trainers to train Honduran police
  • Helped create the Inter-Institutional Task Force to improve investigative capacity, protect human rights and reduce impunity.
  • U.S. support for several counternarcotics operations, including Operation Armadillo, a mission in the major drug trafficking corridor of the Gracias a Dios region and another joint DEA-Honduran Navy interdiction operation.
  • Helped the government design several police reforms, none of which have passed into law.
  • While drug-related violence remains extremely high in Honduras, a blow was struck against narcotics trafficking with a major law enforcement operation against the Los Cachiros drug trafficking organization in September in which over $500 million in assets was seized. The country has immensely weak institutions and in 2013, several high-ranking security officials resigned or were fired. The government established a new police unit and two military police battalions in 2013 to combat the soaring crime and violence. Honduras has counternarcotics agreements with the United States, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela and Spain.


    The U.S. State Department ceased providing funds to certain Nicaraguan government agencies in 2013 due to ongoing concerns over fiscal transparency. This phased out several bilateral programs and prompted some counternarcotics funds to be redirected towards drug eradication and non-governmental drug demand reduction programs. The United States does continue to assist Nicaragua’s counternarcotic efforts in some ways:

  • Using funds from 2012, donated four Mobile Tracers narcotics detectors valued at $168,000 to the Nicaraguan National Police’s (NNP) Drug Unit, and provided associated training to 15 anti-narcotics police officers.
  • Donated interdiction equipment and two boats with the capacity to intercept offshore speedboats, constructed an anti-drugs operation center, storage warehouse and boat ramp valued at $5.4 million.
  • Also using funding from 2012, donated four drug detector units valued at $87,000 and provided interdiction training to 12 naval officers.
  • Panama

  • Established an asset-forfeiture sharing agreement that will provide $36 million from past investigations to the Panamanian government.
  • Supported prison reform and anti-corruption classes, which will continue as several security-service members were detained for narcotrafficking in 2013.
  • Provided support to modernize and maintain Panama’s Air Naval Service (SENAN), Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT), Panamanian National Police (PNP) vessels and facilities for interdiction, including funding Colombian trainers to work with SENAN and SENAFRONT. Members of SENAFRONT are now training security forces in Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras.
  • According to the INCSR, through strong U.S. support, Panama was able to achieve some successes in combating narcotrafficking, especially with the use of the Panamanian National Border Front (SENAFRONT) to end the FARC’s permanent presence in the remote Darien Gap region.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    U.S. Southern Command's 2014 Posture Statement

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Matt LaLime

    General John Kelly of U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) and General Charles Jacoby Jr. of U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) released their annual posture statements on February 26th. Both commanders testified before the House and Senate Armed Service Committees on February 26th and March 13th, respectively.

    The main concerns echoed last year’s posture statements as both Northcom’s General Jacoby and Southcom’s General Kelly expressed concern with military budget cuts, reiterating that the decrease in funds would limit both homeland defense strategy and constructive engagement with regional allies.

    They highlighted a few noteworthy developments regarding joint U.S.-Latin American security cooperation:


    Despite media reports citing public officials claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation has slowed since President Peña Nieto took office in December of 2012, Gen. Jacoby said joint U.S.-Mexico military activities and exercises have increased, noting the United States helped train over 5000 Mexican soldiers this past year.

    Drug Trafficking

    As multiple media outlets highlighted, Gen. Kelly estimated Southcom failed to intercept 80 percent of the drugs flowing out of Colombia, and around 74 percent of all maritime drug trafficking. He linked the drop in interdictions to a lack of equipment, intelligence resources and overall funding.

    Gen. Kelly asserted the goals of Operation Martillo, the United States’ counternarcotics surge operation in Central America’s coastal waters, “might no longer be achievable,” and that Southcom “will seek to employ non-traditional solutions within our current authorities, to partially mitigate detection and monitoring shortfalls” in the year ahead.

    Southcom interagency cooperation

    As a way to maximize the effectiveness of funding, Southcom deepened its interagency counternarcotic partnerships. General Kelly noted:

  • Southcom currently works with both the Department of Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security to map and combat the flow of illicit proceeds and is likely to deepen these partnerships following the success that financial sanctions have had on weakening the Los Cachiros drug cartel in Honduras.
  • Southcom would “rely heavily” on the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (which now provide the majority of the ships and aircraft used for interdiction) and continue to work with DEA Foreign Deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST), along with nine DEA Special investigative Units (SIUs)
  • In cooperation with the State Department, Southcom is planning to extend its program working with Colombia’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to assist the military “in countering the threat of improvised explosive devices” to the rest of the region.
  • Plans for 2014

    Gen. Kelly also pointed to other engagement activities Southcom is planning on continuing or creating this coming year:

  • Gen. Kelly said Southcom would continue to support Colombia in its newfound role as a “regional security exporter.”
  • In Peru, Southcom will continue to aid security forces in their fight against the Shining Path, through further assistance and military training.
  • In 2014, Southcom will begin working with Northcom, Guatemala and Belize to support Mexico’s new southern border strategy. Gen. Kelly emphasized that current restrictions on foreign military financing, particularly to Guatemala, limit the extent of this engagement.
  • Although “broader bilateral challenges” have adversely affected U.S.-Brazilian defense relations, Gen. Kelly maintained military-to-military cooperation has remained strong, and said Southcom is planning to cooperate with Brazil and other Latin American on strengthening their cyber security institutions. This includes working with Brazilian security forces in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
  • In 2014, Southcom plans to continue existing multinational exercises and humanitarian assistance to countries across the region. For Kelly, these humanitarian missions help to safeguard national security, reduce perceptions of U.S. “militarization,” and help promote respect for human rights in the region. Kelly noted that last year Southcom canceled over 200 engagements in the region.
  • Gen. Kelly voiced his concern over the tenfold increase in Haitian migrants passing through the Mona Passage and urged Washington to pay closer attention to this and other immigration issues in the Caribbean in 2014. He also underscored his concern about an uptick in narcotrafficking in the Caribbean and mentioned the lack of U.S. funding for engagement in the region.
  • Southcom’s posture statement’s annex details information about operations and trainings that took place in the previous year. These can be useful in identifying trends and Southcom priorities in the region. For example, in 2012, Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) continued to be most active in Colombia and very present in Peru. It also reported on the results of Operation Martillo and various Southcom units like JTF-Bravo, stationed in Honduras.

    Friday, February 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week, the world's most wanted drug trafficker was captured in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation, U.S. Southern Command said it didn't have enough money to interdict the majority of drugs at sea, robots started patrolling drug tunnels at the border and Venezuela announced a new ambassador to the United States. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday the State Department released its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013” The Colombian government was particularly upset by the report, which cited impunity and inefficiency in the justice system as principle human rights infractions in the country. Vice President Angelino Garzón responded by saying the report was an “intrusion” into Colombia’s internal politics and that the United States had no place to preach about human rights given its maintenance of the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

    Some other topics touched on in the report include Mexico’s negligence in accounting for thousands of “disappeared” citizens, extrajudicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, and rampant corruption in government institutions and security forces in Honduras and Guatemala. For Politico, Dana Frank examined the United States’ continued to security relationship with Honduras despite these abuses and current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s own shady past.

  • The heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) gave their posture statements at a hearing before the House’s Armed Services Committee. Northcom commander General Jacoby underscored that the U.S.-Mexico security relationship remains closer than ever despite recent grumblings suggesting a distancing, pointing to the recent capture of Mexican drug trafficker “El Chapo” Guzmán in a joint military operation as evidence. General Jacoby’s posture statement can be read here (PDF).
  • Among several other topics, Southcom commander General Kelly discussed the effect of budget cuts, claiming he now watches 74 percent of cocaine passing through Honduras’ maritime corridor go by due to insufficient vessels and equipment. He touched on human rights vetting and noted his ever-growing concern over shifts in the drug trade towards the Caribbean. The video can be watched here and General Kelly’s posture statement can be read here(PDF).
  • The Associated Press reported on budget cuts to the Coast Guard, despite an increase in maritime trafficking routes. The article noted, “While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.” InSight Crime argued this indicates a politicization in funding for the drug war. An example of this increased border funding can be seen in the recent deployment of remote control robots to patrol tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In another hearing this week, “The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” Colombia was heralded as a military and human rights success story, particularly given that it is now training other countries’ security forces.
  • Colombia's military will soon send "senior officials from the Army specialized in education, training and protocols” to help train national police officers in Guatemala, reported U.S.-Southern Command-sponsored news site InfoSur Hoy.
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón was in Washington D.C. this week for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, including “High-Level Partnership DialogueSemana published part of a leaked copy of his agenda, noting that he would ask for continued U.S. support in programs like aerial fumigation and other counternarcotics operations.

    While in town Pinzón gave a talk at Center for American Progress where he “laid out an extremely expansive vision of the role of the armed forces post-peace accord, ranging from border security to confronting drug trafficking, transnational crime and continued armed violence in an accord’s aftermath; and from addressing climate change to expanding the military’s role in development,” according to Lisa Haugaard, director of Latin America Working Group. He also strongly emphasized increasing Colombia’s role in security training particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, some of which is done with U.S.-funding. See here for concerns about Colombia’s exportation of training.

  • There were two informative English-language explainers this week about the amassing corruption scandals rocking the Colombian military, one from Reuters and the other from the Latin American Working Group. The latter noted that the Army's new commander, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, oversaw a unit implicated in the false positive scandal.
  • Brazil and the European Union approved an undersea communication cable with the stated purpose of reducing dependency on U.S. fiber optic cables and to “guarantee the neutrality of the internet,” protecting Brazil Internet users from U.S. surveillance.
  • An article in Foreign Policy questioned the Pentagon’s support for Suriname’s government, given President Desi Bouterse has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands and is accused of maintaining links to traffickers currently. His son, Dino Bouterse, was arrested by the DEA and extradited to the United States after he stuck a deal with “Mexican smugglers” (undercover DEA agents) to allow “Hezbollah militants” to train in Suriname. See Just the Facts’ Suriname country page for more information on security assistance to the country.
  • The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it had given three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to exit the country in response to last week’s expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Venezuela. That same day, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he would be appointing an ambassador the United States. Though Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 they have maintained embassies. See here for more detailed information on Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, the new Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.
  • As the protests continue to rage throughout Venezuela, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution “asking the administration to study and consider putting in place strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S.”
  • The Congressional Research Service published a new report: “Gangs in Central America.”
  • “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, was captured this weekend in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation. While Guzmán’s capture was a huge win for the Mexican and United States governments, the general consensus is that it will have little impact on the drug trade while another leader in the Sinaloa cartel will step up to fill his role. Several analysts weighed in on what comes next for narcotrafficking in Mexico -- particularly InSight Crime, which posted a series of good analysis on what his capture means. See our Mexico news page for links to these articles.

    According to reports, the United States’ main contribution was providing intelligence and technology leading up to the capture, while the Mexican Navy, the United States’ main security partner in Mexico, carried out the final capture. Although several indictments have been filed in cities throughout the United States, it is unlikely that Guzmán will get extradited any time soon as lawmakers want him to first face justice in Mexico. President Peña Nieto said he extradition would be possible later. On Thursday the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kingpin Act sanctions against the financial networks of several of Guzmán’s associates. Prensa Libre published a timeline of OFAC sanctions on the Sinaloa Cartel from 2007-2014.

  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

  • Friday, January 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Militarization of law enforcement

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

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

  • Elections

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

    New leadership in 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • El Salvador gang truce

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

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

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

  • Colombia peace process

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

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

  • Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    Summary: “Map of Mexican drug cartels… in Central America”

    This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch

    Mexican news website Animal Político published an article on Mexican drug cartel activity in Central America. The security situation has significantly worsened in the region in recent years as U.S.-backed counternarcotics operations that first pushed the drug trade and related violence from Colombia into Mexico, have now squeezed organized crime into Central America.

    While the proposed U.S. security assistance to many countries in Latin America, like Colombia and Mexico, decreased in the 2014 budget request (PDF), funds for the Central America Regional Security Initiative increased by about $26 million. Many political institutions throughout the region are struggling to deal with the increase in violence and are rife with corruption, which the United States Congress has expressed concern over, in light of the increase in assistance.

    According to the article, 90 percent of Mexico’s cocaine trafficking operations to the United States now pass through Guatemala, where the major Mexican drug cartels, the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, are vying for territorial control. Belize is considered Zeta territory, while in El Salvador the main drug trafficking organization works for the Pacific Cartel. Much of the violence is said to be a product of infighting among local gangs that are now working with these larger competing drug cartels.

    The majority of the information used in the article came from last year’s UN report, “ Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean.” The UN report concludes that the principal motivation for violence in Central America “is not cocaine, but change: change in the negotiated power relations negotiated between and within (criminal) groups, and with the state.”

    Here are some key findings of the article:


  • A gang linked to the Zetas known as the Lorenzanas now controls cocaine trafficking through five of the largest provinces of Guatemala: Peten, Huhuetenanago, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Zapaca, on a route that crosses the country, from the border with Honduras to the border with Mexico.
  • The struggle for control over specific points in Guatemala, particularly those bordering Honduras and El Salvador, has turned these two countries into the those “with the highest homicide rates in the world (82 in Honduras and 65 in El Salvador for every 100,000 in habitants in 2010),” according to the UN. “Given the competition between groups allied with the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, it’s highly likely that these deaths are attributable to disputes over contraband and trafficking routes.“
  • Honduras:

  • After Guatemala, the Central American country with the highest importance to Mexican gangs is Honduras, where the nation's military coup in 2009 triggered "a kind of gold rush" of cocaine, as described by the United Nations. In fact, it is estimated that in 2010, about 15 percent of the cocaine shipped by air to the United States stopped in Honduras, where drugs also arrive by sea, and was then sent to the north of the continent in small aircraft.
  • Of the 330 tons of cocaine that entered Mexico from Guatemala in 2010, 267 first went through Honduras, where 62 clandestine airstrips were detected in 2012 alone.
  • Belize:

  • Due to the increase in cocaine seizures in Belize, the UN report states, "it is believed that the Zetas are active (in this country)," whose border with Guatemala is controlled almost entirely by the Mexican group. And while cocaine trafficking in Belize is "secondary," notes the UN, it’s valued over $74 million, representing 5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2010.
  • Also in 2010, Belize was designated the country with the eighth highest murder rate in the world (42 per 100,000 inhabitants).
  • El Salvador

  • In El Salvador, the main narcotrafficking group, the Perrones, maintains an alliance with the Pacific Cartel, which worked to transfer cocaine from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. This group also carries money from Chapo to Panama.
  • Another group of carriers based in El Salvador is the Texis Cartel, which works on requests for both Mexican cartels and is noted "for its extensive network of complicity with senior politicians, security officials, judges and prosecutors."
  • The article can be read on the Animal Político website (in Spanish) or the InSight Crime website (in English).

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Cuban Drug Policy and Bilateral Counternarcotics Efforts

    This post was written with CIP Cuba Intern, Ashley Badesch

    Despite Cuba’s absence from the recent OAS meeting, where antidrug policy in the Americas topped the agenda, Cuba collaborates with Latin American and Caribbean nations, and even the United States, on counternarcotics efforts. Cuba maintains formal agreements to fight narcotrafficking with at least 35 countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Chile, UK, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Tanzania, Laos, and Jamaica. These accords allow Cuba to standardize counternarcotics operations and send real time alerts.

    In 2002, the Cuban government drafted a bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. government; however, the U.S. has yet to acknowledge the accord, despite the State Department’s support of a well-structured agreement between the nations. The accord is still “under review” by the U.S. government and has gone through several iterations since it was introduced.

    The most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) report, published by the U.S. State Department, states that a U.S.-Cuba bilateral anti-drug agreement and greater multilateral cooperation in the region would likely lead to improved tactics, procedures, and sharing of information, leading to an increased disruption of narcotrafficking operations.

    Counternarcotics in Cuba

    2013’s INCSR, praised Cuba’s policies against illicit drugs and trafficking, stating,

    “Cuba’s domestic drug production and consumption remain negligible as a result of active policing, harsh sentencing for drug offenses, and very low consumer disposable income. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.”

    Cuba is situated between the region’s top drug-producing countries in the Andean region and the region’s number one consumer country, the United States. It has 42,000 sq. miles of territorial waters, 3,000 miles of shoreline and 4,195 islands and small keys. Given these factors, both Cuba and the United States share a vested interest in improving tactics to close trafficking routes in the Caribbean and combat transnational crime.

    In spite of Cuba’s close proximity to a number of the region’s largest exporters of illegal drugs, the State Department found, “Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) frequently attempt to avoid GOC and U.S. government counter drug patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters.”

    Cuba’s effective counternarcotics efforts are largely attributed to bilateral interdiction, intensive police presence on the ground, and low levels of domestic illegal drug consumption.

    Low Demand

    One of the chief reasons for the low demand for illegal drugs in Cuba is their prohibitive cost; the cost of one cigarette of marijuana on the island is equivalent to a week’s pay for a state employee (US$5).

    President Obama’s lifting of restrictions on remittances has given a number of Cubans greater purchasing power, however. According to a Brookings report, remittances entering Cuba in 2012 were estimated to total $2.6 billion, double what Cuba received in remittances five years ago.

    Domestic Initiatives

    Maritime and aerial operations like “Operation Hatchet,” Cuba’s Minister of Interior-led multi-agency counternarcotics strategy, combined with harsh sentencing (up to 15 years for drug possession), prevention education and extensive on-the-ground policing by the Cuban National Anti-Drug Directorate, have reduced supply and demand.

  • In the past year, maritime interdictions fell by over 50 percent and total drug seizures on land declined 60 percent while narcotrafficking attempts through Cuba’s air border rose.
  • According to Granma, the official government newspaper, drug trafficking operations interdicted in Cuban airports doubled to 42 over the past year, resulting in the detention of 69 persons. The majority of those detained were Cuban citizens living in the United States. Police estimate that the increase in air trafficking to the U.S. is due to President Obama’s relaxation of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.
  • Up from 21 kilograms in 2011, Cuban airport security seized 42 kilograms of drugs (33.6 kg of cocaine, 7.4 kg of marijuana, and one kg of the synthetic drug known as cannabimimetic) in 2012 according to figures released by Granma in February.
  • Bilateral Counternarcotics Cooperation

    According to the INCSR, “With limited Cuban Interdiction assets and the high speed of the drug smuggling vessels, at-sea interdictions remain problematic, and the GOC’s prevalent response continues to be to pass information to neighboring countries, including the United States.” Some points on Cuban cooperation:

  • Although the United States does not provide any formal narcotics-related funding or assistance to Cuba, the U.S. government maintains one Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist on the island.
  • The INCSR indicates that in 2012, coordination between Cuban law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard on a case-by-case basis led to 31 interdictions of “go-fast” narcotics vessels. The report also notes that the real-time e-mail and phone communications with the Cuban Border Guard have increased in quantity and improved in timeliness and quality.
  • U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010 revealed U.S.-Cuban collaboration on combating drug smuggling from Jamaica, including one case in which the U.S. Coast Guard provided information that helped the Cuban Border Guard to interdict 700 kilograms of marijuana and another in which Cuban officials advised the USCG on the location of a plane that had dumped 13 bales of marijuana in a rural area in Cuba.
  • The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control released a report on U.S.-Caribbean security cooperation in September 2012, in which Senator Feinstein (D-California) recommended a number of steps to increase U.S.-Cuba collaboration on drug policy. Her recommendations included the negotiation of a bilateral agreement and the inclusion of Cuba in the U.S.-Caribbean Security Dialogue.

    Feinstein is not the only one asking for increasing dialogue with Cuba; Nicaragua, Brazil and several member states of the OAS have demanded Cuba’s inclusion in the 2015 Summit of the Americas. As a result the OAS created a special committee to address the issue.

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Quick Facts on Drug Policy in Latin America

    This week delegations from Latin American countries and the United States are gathering in Guatemala to debate drug policy and other regional issues at the Organization of American States' (OAS) 43rd annual General Assembly.

    The meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas," comes just two weeks after the OAS released a 400-page report that suggested countries consider decriminalizing some drug use as one of many methods to combat the drug trade and to view consumption as a public health issue. Given continued high levels of drug use and addiction, incarceration, and violence, many Latin American leaders are looking for alternatives to the drug war and are expected to urge the U.S. to change its prohibitionist approach.

    Secretary of State John Kerry is leading the U.S. delegation and plans to uphold the Obama administration's view that legalization is not the "magic solution" and reiterate the U.S.' opposition to marijuana legalization at the national level.

    While leaders discuss alternatives to prohibition in the region today and tomorrow, here are some quick facts about current drug policy in the region:

    U.S. funding for the drug war

  • Since 2000, the United States has spent approximately $12.5 billion in Latin America to stem the flow of drugs. Over the past decade, U.S. funding for counternarcotics operations has increased almost 30 percent, from $644 million in 2002 to $833 million in 2012. In 2012, about 90% of all U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region went to counternarcotics operations. For FY2013, that number is expected to drop to about $808 million.
  • Coca cultivation and profits

  • A kilo of cocaine in Colombia's interior sells for around $2000, according to InSight Crime. At the border, the same kilo increases in worth to $3000. Once it reaches Mexico, it will have increased in worth to about $12,000-$15,000. Once it reaches the U.S. mainland the same kilo will sell for at least $25,000 and in the UK for about $60,000. Experts have argued that decriminalization (particularly of marijuana) might not curb violence as cartels have diversified their income, including extortion, human trafficking and illegal mining.
  • Since the late 1980s, when the U.S. first started estimating coca production in the Andean region, the number of hectares of coca under cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia has decreased by only 8 percent (from 176,000 hectares in 1987 to 153,700 hectares in 2011). Yet, in 2012, the U.S. spent $48 million on eradication efforts in Colombia alone. There has been a slow decline in coca cultivation over the past few years, however, since 2003 the total number of hectares under cultivation in the Andean region has stayed right around 150,000.
  • According to numbers from the U.S. government, Peruvian drug producers were able to extract the most cocaine from a hectare of coca in 2010, producing 6.1 kilograms per hectare. In Bolivia, a hectare produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine, and in Colombia 2.7 kilograms of cocaine. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime however, a hectare of coca in 2010 in Colombia produced 5.4 kilograms, almost double what the U.S. reported. There were no numbers for Peru or Bolivia.
  • Moves toward legalization

  • Six countries in South America -- Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay -- have passed laws decriminalizing drug possession for personal consumption as part of a growing movement to shift away from criminalization for personal use and towards prevention and treatment programs. Last November, two U.S. states, Colorado and Washington, followed suit.
  • A new bill in Uruguay would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants, while national cultivation would be capped at 30,000 hectares. The bill was stalled after a poll found about 60% of Uruguayans opposed the measure. This week, however, the ruling Frente Amplio party got support for the legislation after tightening up language on education and prevention programs. It will likely pass in Congress' lower house next week, according to the Pan-American Post.
  • Punishment

  • In Latin America, 48% of women in prisons are convicted of drug trafficking compared to only 15% of all incarcerated men. In Mexico, 80% of all jailed women are there for drug trafficking charges compared with 57% of men.
  • Incarceration rates have increased about 40 percent in Mexico and South America over the past 10 years. A recent study found that in three of seven countries surveyed -- Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador -- drug trafficking carried longer maximum and minimum penalties than murder. In all the countries studied the maximum penalty for drug trafficking was greater than or equal to the penalties for rape.
  • Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Latin America Security by the Numbers

  • 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.