On Tuesday, the United Nation Development Program released a report that found Latin America continues to be the most unequal and the most insecure region in the world. As the UN noted, “ ‘Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America,’ revealed a paradox: in the past decade, the region experienced both economic growth and increased crime rates.”
The report, assessed citizen insecurity in 18 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. It examined a myriad of ongoing problems in the region such as high levels of violence, weak judicial and penal systems, and high rates of economic inequality.
Some of the statistics revealed:
Homicides have reached “epidemic levels” with over 100,000 murders recorded each year. From 2000-2010 the number of homicides rose above one million and grew 11%.
In Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador more respondents said the police were involved in crime than those who believed they protected the population.
In the majority of the countries surveyed, common criminals were perceived to be the biggest threat to public security. Only in Mexico and Brazil were organized crime and narcotraffickers perceived to be the biggest threat, while in El Salvador and Honduras gangs were chosen as posing the greatest danger.
Latin America has about 50% more private security guards (3,811,302) than police officers (2,616,753) and Latin American private security guards have rates of gun possession per employee ten times larger than Europe. Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil had disproportionately high numbers of private security guards.
The perception of insecurity has also risen. Interestingly enough, the perception of insecurity is higher in Chile, which has the lowest murder rate in the region (2 per 100,000), than in Honduras, which has the highest homicide rate (86.5 per 100,000).
In the past 25 years robberies have tripled. In 2012, one in three Latin Americans was a victim of a violent crime. This high level of crime had affected people's daily lives: between 45% and 65% of respondents said they no longer leave their houses at night, while 13% said they had felt the need to move to avoid crime.
The findings in the report underscore the importance of calls that have been growing throughout the region for a change in security strategies and for alternative approaches in the fight against the drug cartels. The report put forth several recommendations that have been voiced by analysts, officials and advocates: public institutions must be strengthened; efforts must be coordinated between governments and civil society, as well as between countries; opportunities for human development and growth ought to be increased, while “crime triggers” like alcohol, drugs, arms and weapons should be regulated and reduced through a public health perspective. More from Terra, Animal Politico and the Miami Herald. The report can be downloaded in Spanish here (pdf).
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Argentina’s government has uncovered secret documents from the military dictatorship era (1976-1983) that shed light on human rights abuses. The documents, found in the basement of the Air Force headquarters, contain a blacklist of public figures, such as famed folk singer Mercedes Sosa, as well as secret transcripts of the junta meetings. The Open Society Foundations Justice Initiative published an interesting piece exploring the potential implications of the find.
The Mexican government deployed the Army, Navy and Federal Police to replace local police in the port and city of Lázaro Cárdenas, in the embattled western state of Michoacán. The strategic port, which has become a hub for commerce as well as the cartels, is a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel. The group reportedly taxes products passing through and extorts businesses operating in and around it, in addition to being involved in several other lucrative activities, such as smuggling in precursor chemicals to process methamphetamines.
Citizen vigilante “self-defense” forces have pulled back in response to the military’s deployment. Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in Animal Politico, “This seems to be a largely reactive measure, prompted more by the actions of criminals that by a well planned law enforcement strategy. It may have some immediate positive effects, but how will these be maintained in the long term?” More from Bloggings by Boz and the Los Angeles Times.
The U.S. Department of State announced a $5 million reward “for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Rafael Caro-Quintero, who kidnapped, tortured and murdered U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena in 1985.” Caro-Quintero was imprisoned in Mexico until earlier this year, when he was released by an appeals court. This week, Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned this appeal ruling and the Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying it was “the correct decision.”
VICE published an interesting article that looks at the way cartel members have been using social media to “run positive PR campaigns, post selfies with their pistols, and hunt down targets by tracking their movements on social media.” And if you were wondering, yes, cartel members post pouty “duckface” pictures to Facebook.
The police chief of Honduras, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, sat down with the Associated Press for an extensive interview that touched on allegations of abuse from the National Police. In response to accusations against his force he stated, “I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human.” He also noted the United States was his “best ally and support” in the fight against drug traffickers in the violent country. This is contradictory to claims made by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield who said, “in accordance with its obligations under the Leahy Law, will not work with the Director General of the National Police. We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent.” More from the Pan-American Post.
El Faro reported the ruling party candidate in Honduras’ upcoming presidential elections, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has called for the acquisition of war planes in response to El Salvador’s recent deal to buy 12 A-37 military planes from Chile. Hernandez stated the deal was “breaking the equilibrium” of power in the region, especially as El Salvador is laying claim to Isla Conejo, a small island controlled by Honduras in the Gulf of Fonseca.
A new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at the economic and social state of Honduras since 2006. The report concluded “economic inequality in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2010, while poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased and underemployment has risen sharply.”
Brazilian authorities found themselves in an “uncomfortable position” after Folha de São Paulo reported the government had spied on foreign diplomats, tracking their movements and monitoring a property leased by the United States Embassy in Brasília. However, as Americas Quarterly noted, the espionage activities “paled in comparison” to the United States’ National Security Administration’s massive data collection. Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet also stressed the legality of the program, saying it was “in absolute compliance” with national laws, and that the government will pursue prosecution of the leaker of this classified information.
O Globo published the first in a series of articles that explore civilians killed by police forces. According to the report, five people are killed daily in Brazil by a member of the police force, while in the United States, that number is just over one person a day. This comes weeks after multiple police officers were arrested for the murder of Rio bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, who was tortured and killed during the police pacification of the Rocinha slum.
There was major progress in the talks between the FARC rebel group and Colombian government, with the two sides announcing an agreement on political participation. The agreement outlines a commitment to opening the political process to the rebel group and contains guarantees to ensure the safety of leaders of new political movements. The joint statement from the FARC and Colombian government stated, “We have agreed upon an integral system of security for political exercise.” Looking ahead to the next round of talks, Reuters published a good overview on the upcoming challenges for negotiators in reaching a final settlement. More from USIP’s Colombia expert Ginny Bouvier, the Washington Post, BBC, Colombia Reports, La Silla Vacía, and Semana.
Twelve United States Congressmen wrote a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos expressing serious concern for the security situation of Afro-Colombian communities involved in the land restitution process. More from Colombia Reports.
Nicaragua’s ruling party has proposed a set of changes to the Constitution, including the abolition of term limits, which would allow President Daniel Ortega to seek a third consecutive term. Nicaragua Dispatch had a great overview of the possible changes, which include allowing current members of the police and military to hold office. The piece noted that the FSLN’s “supermajority status in the National Assembly absolves them from the need for serious consultation or compromise.” More from the Economist and the Guardian.
A few interesting things happened in Venezuela this week:
Maduro declared an “early Christmas” this year in order to boost the spirits of the Venezuelan people. The early holiday season was implemented to boost morale in the country, and government workers will be receiving two-thirds of their holiday bonuses in November.
The President also announced a new holiday in memory of former President Hugo Chávez. The holiday will be held on December 8, the same day as important mayoral elections across the country.
The Associated Press reported that during a televised speech, Maduro called for the installation of anti-aircraft missiles in the slums of Caracas. The move is to repel “imperialist” attacks, while “arming civilians and putting state-of-the-art artillery in densely-populated neighborhoods is an integral part of an ongoing defense buildup.”
Inflation has reached above 50 percent, the highest since 1999 when Chávez took power. Here is a picture via Twitter of Venezuelan inflation from 1973-2013. More from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
Despite major diplomatic differences, Venezuela and the United States are participating in the CRUZEX joint air exercises being held in Brazil and run until November 15.
Adam talks about the recent troubles of Rio de Janeiro's Favela Pacification Program, the Venezuelan President's quest for decree powers, and politics in Argentina as President Cristina Fernández undergoes brain surgery.
Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States policy
This weekend John Kerry will visit Colombia and Brazil, in his second trip to the region as Secretary of State. In his meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Kerry is expected to discuss the state of trade two years after a free trade agreement went into effect, the ongoing peace talks, overall security and Colombia’s training of foreign forces and increasing security assistance to third countries. See a previous Just the Facts post by WOLA’s Adam Isacson for more on Kerry’s trip to Colombia and record in the region.
There will also be a new United States ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, who is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere affairs. More from Semana and Colombia Reports.
On Wednesday, SOUTHCOM commander John Kelly met with the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina and the head of the armed forces to discuss deepening military cooperation between the two countries, U.S. security assistance to the region, and regional efforts to target organized crime. He also met with the president of the country’s National Directorate of Drug Control.
Colombia and Bolivia’s coca crops fell in 2012
According to the United Nations, in 2012 coca production in Colombia dropped by 25 percent. The report estimated the total amount of land in Colombia with coca in 2012 to be 120,000 acres, down from 160,000 in 2011 and the lowest figure since monitoring in the country started over 10 years ago. Some key points:
Although coca crop production fell, the amount of cocaine produced in 2012, 340 tons, was similar to the amount yielded in 2011. The AP explains this is.
Signaling Ecuador’s increasing importance in the drug trade, the two departments with the highest levels of coca were Nariño and Putumayo along the southern border.
About 80 percent of coca cultivation was concentrated in eight departments, about half of which occurred in three departments where coca cultivation increased -- Caquetá, Chocó and Norte de Santander.
The report found the amount of coca planted in Bolivia had declined by seven percent in 2012, from 27, 200 (ha) to 25,300, as part of a downward trend that began when production fell some 12 percent between 2010 and 2011. Bolivia kicked the DEA out in 2008.
Although the agency has yet to release 2012 coca or cocaine production figures for Peru, it is likely that the country has overtaken Colombia to be the top coca-producing country in the region. In 2011, Peru surpassed Colombia to become the largest producer of cocaine, according to the U.S., though there are concerns political interests can influence estimates. More from La Silla Vacía, InSight Crime, the UN News Centre, UNODC, Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.
Over the weekend, the Honduran government ordered the military and police to take control of a prison just outside Tegucilgalpa, after a fight involving AK-47s and grenades between rival gangs killed three people and injured 15 others. The security forces, which were also sent to prisons in San Pedro Sula, will be deployed for 90 days. The decision to send in the troops followed the release of an IAHCR report released last Friday which found that “structural deficiencies” had led to the “collapse” of the Honduran prison system, notorious for overcrowding and endemic violence.
On Wednesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled against opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ challenge to last April’s election results. The court then fined him $1,698 for challenging the election count and thereby “insulting government authority” and “accusing the judicial system of bias in favor of the government,” according to the Associated Press. Capriles’ chief of staff, Oscar Lopez was then arrested Thursday. Although the government’s stated reasons for the warrant have not been revealed, President Nicolás Maduro announced that the government “today captured a chief of the corruption and of the mafias of the Venezuelan right.” More from the New York Times.
WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog examined a disarmament law President Nicolás Maduro signed into law last month and in a follow-up post looked at reactions and criticism to the measure.
Rio’s military police installed a new chief following the dismissal of the previous head after he granted amnesty to 450 offices who committed ambiguously-reported low-level “administrative” infractions. The new chief, Colonel Jose Menezes is going to reverse the amnesty although he has said he thought it was a good idea. The police would revise current policy to “establish objective criteria with a view towards clarifying doubts about it,” he said.
A disconcerting report (pdf) released by Colombian NGO Somos Defensores found a jump in murders of human rights defenders in the country in recent years. In 2012, the number of killings (69) was almost 14 times what it was in 2006. So far in 2013, 37 human rights defenders have been killed, a 27 percent increase over the same period last year. The rise coincides with the implementation of the country’s historic Victims law, offering victims of the armed conflict the opportunity to reclaim stolen property and receive compensation. More from a previous Just the Facts post and El Tiempo.
Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía overviewed several proposals the FARC have made during peace talks with the government in Havana and sorted them according to their viability.
The only known tungsten mine in Colombia is controlled by the FARC, according to an in-depth investigative report by Bloomberg on the group’s illegal mining interests. Since the report’s release, Apple, BIC, BMW, Ferrari, Samsung (005930) and Volkswagen have all said they would be opening investigations.
On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took advantage of the country’s term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to criticize the veto power of its five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Fernandez and several other speakers from Latin America spoke out against the U.S. surveillance programs in the region revealed by Edward Snowden. More from the New York Times, Associated Press and the BBC.
InSight Crime and the Woodrow Wilson Center released a special series on violence in the city of Nuevo Laredo, an important drug trafficking hub on the border with the United States. The city is largely controlled by the Zetas, however the recent capture of leader Miguel Treviño (Z40) may spark turf wars that will likely cause violence to spike.
Alfredo Corchado, the journalist that first broke the story of Treviño’s arrest, profiled the capture for The Daily Beast. The piece depicts Corchado’s experiences as a journalist covering Treviño, and delves into the gang leader’s violent past. According to Corchado, Trevino’s “pep talk consisted of one line: If you don’t kill someone every day, you’re not doing your job.”
According to Peruvian news website Caretas, police detected 44 clandestine airstrips in a small town in the country’s central jungle that are used to export drugs to Bolivia. Authorities estimated that about 14 flights carrying 300 kilos of drugs took off each month between January and April of this year. As the article noted, Bolivia is becoming a more important hub for drug trafficking in the region as Brazilian, Argentine and European market demands are on the rise.
This post was written by CIP intern Victor Salcedo
In recent years, the United States Congress has been paying close attention to the presence of Iran in Latin America. While both the State Department and United States Southern Command posit that there appears to be no imminent threat of a terrorist attack, members of Congress, particularly the House Republicans, have shown consistent concern about Iran’s ties to the region. Their concern especially relates to Iran’s relationship with countries that maintain cool relationships with the United States.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency held a hearing, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere.” The witnesses were Ilan Berman,Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director, Center for a Secure Free Society, Blaise Misztal Acting Director of Foreign Policy Bipartisan Policy Center, and Douglas Farah, President, IBI Consultants.
All witness testimonies and opening remarks can be found here.
Alberto Nisman, Argentine government prosecutor, was expected to be the main witness to appear in the hearing. However, for undisclosed reasons, the Argentine government barred Nisman from testifying, drawing criticism from both Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC). In a letter to Argentina’s President Kirchner following her decision, both representatives wrote, "Considering both our countries have suffered terrorist attacks from agents affiliated with the government of Iran, we have a unique motivation for being vigilant." On July 10, members of Congress sent a Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the U.S. to sanction Argentina for its ties to Iran. "In light of Argentina’s growing cooperation with Iran and recent decision to deny Nisman to testify before the U.S. Congress, we believe that the U.S. should reconsider its legal support to Argentina,” read the letter (PDF).
Rep. Jeff Duncan was the only member present for the final 40 minutes of the hearing and made clear that he was very concerned about the refusal of the United States government to see Iran’s presence in the region as a threat to homeland security.
Iran and Argentina: Although the U.S. Department of State noted in an unclassified summary of a report released in late June that “Iranian influence in Latin American and the Caribbean is waning,” Rep. Duncan reiterated that he continues to be concerned about Iranian activities and the potential for a terrorist attack. He highlighted Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s recent study that links Iran to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed 85 people and injured over 300. The report also claimed Iran has been “infiltrating” Latin American countries to ”sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks.” In May of this year, Iran approved a memorandum of understanding with Argentina on forming a truth commission to investigate the bombing.
Given the recent thaw in relations between Argentina and Iran, Duncan asked Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants, if he believed “that Argentina wants to assist Iran in its illicit nuclear activities.” Mr. Farah responded by noting that Argentina has a history of training Iran in nuclear technologies and that it would like to restart training, but did not know what its motive to do so would be. He also said that Iran would like to “get its hands” on Argentina’s technology, as the country has a robust nuclear as well as a robust space program.
Iranian nationals in Latin American: Rep. Duncan also brought up the apparent lack of security of U.S borders, which he insisted could be penetrated by Iranian nationals that roam freely in Latin America with “fraudulent passports and other false documentation.”
Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Representative Michael McCaul, shared Rep. Duncan’s concerns about the “Iranian threat,” adding that it was “a slap in the face” that Argentina did not grant Mr. Nisman permission to attend.
Rep. McCaul said that when he traveled to Argentina to see where the AMIA bombing took place, he became aware of the discrepancies between the information given by the U.S. State Department, which has “downplayed” the threat of Iran versus other intelligence services (although did not name which ones) that assess Iran to be “a much greater existential threat to the United States in the Western Hemisphere.”
Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council
Increasing Iranian presence: Mr. Berman argued that diplomatic relations between Iran and many Latin American countries has increased over the past decade. According to Berman, “has more than doubled its diplomatic presence in the region over the past decade, increasing its embassies from five in 2005 to eleven today.”
Bypassing Sanctions:According to Mr. Berman, Iran has been able to bypass sanctions because of its economic ties to countries in the region. He highlighted its relationship with Venezuela, which dates back to 2005 when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Hugo Chávez first established partnerships. “With the active cooperation of Caracas, the Iranian government has exploited the Venezuelan financial sector -- via joint financial institutions, shell companies and lax banking practices -- to continue to access the global economy in spite of mounting Western sanctions,” he added.
Relationship with Venezuela’s new president: Rep. Duncan asked Mr. Berman if he saw “the relationship between Tehran and Caracas evolving under this new government [of President Maduro].” Mr. Berman responded that Nicolas Maduro could be expected to be sympathetic about continuing good relations with Iran. Nonetheless, he stressed that there is no guarantee the new government in Iran would continue to make Latin America a high priority.
Berman added, while “Latin America does not rank at the highest level of Iranian foreign policy,” it is certainly important enough for the Iranian government to take the region into consideration for the benefit of several Iranian programs.
Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society
Leftist Alliances: Mr. Humire expressed concern about the active role of certain ALBA nations (Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador) with Iran. He said that ALBA provided cover for the irregular activities that Iran carried out in the region, and that it was also “complicit in helping Iran propagate terrorist networks, skirt sanctions and initiate a military industrial footprint in the Hemisphere.” He also argued that Iran is using proxy non-state actors, such as Hezbollah and converted Latin American Muslims, to infiltrate Latin America.
For Humire, the creation of an alternative banking and virtual currency, the Unified System of Regional Compensation (Sistema Unico de Compensación Regional) (SUCRE), “affords Iran the ability to leverage its financials activity in Latin America through one principle entity, minimizing the risk.”
Humire recommended that the United States:
Counter ALBA’s influence in the region by supporting the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico).
Direct U.S. Homeland Security to work with countries such as Brazil to implement anti-terrorist legislation.
Work with Panamanian officials to provide better intelligence about Iranian boats passing through the Canal.
Work with Canada to strengthen screening and identifying of “Visa applications coming from ALBA countries.”
Blaise Misztal, Acting Director of Foreign Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center:
Mr. Misztal presented a more skeptical account when compared to the other witnesses and offered political and economic reasons why notions of the “Iran Threat” are debatable.
Economic ties to Latin America are not a threat: According to Misztal, the fact that Iran is seeking Latin America’s help signals the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate the country. “At the same time, Iran’s own political and economic isolation, as a result of sanctions, will drive it ever more desperately to seek friends and money wherever it can. In this way, we should understand Iran’s interest in strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with Latin America as perhaps a sign of the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate it.”
In terms of economic exchange, Misztal said the relationship between Iran and some Latin American nations is more “symbolic than substantive,” noting that the actual amount of trade occurring between Latin American countries and the Islamic nation is less than expected. He gave the example of Venezuela:
Venezuela does not even rank among Iran’s top fifty trade partners, and in 2011 Venezuela imported less than $14 million of Iranian goods, ranking below countries like Afghanistan, Georgia, and Guatemala. Additionally, Venezuela in 2011 was ranked as Iran’s 48th largest export partner at $8 million… Furthermore, trade volume between Iran and Latin America’s largest economy behind Brazil, Mexico is a dismal $50 million. Given these statistics, the perceived threat of Iran’s growing economic influence in the region is largely unsubstantiated.
No imminent threat of terrorist attack: Misztal pointed out that although Iran “is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism,” the government’s “tactical use of terror has of late tended toward retaliatory attacks.” He suggested that Iran had a “concern for not provoking a U.S. military reprisal that would disrupt its nuclear program.”
Mr. Misztal recommended the U.S. government support more intelligence sharing between nations and improvements of local police forces to detect terrorist cells.
Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants
Douglas Farah echoed Joseph Humire’s concerns about ALBA countries that oppose the U.S. supporting Iran, claiming its presence in the region was growing as a result.
Iran’s direct and indirect relationships: Mr. Farah stated in his testimony that the extent of the Iranian influence oscillates directly and indirectly in the Western Hemisphere. Direct relationships that translate to political, economic, and cultural exchanges with Iran are increasing; but indirect relations, which Mr. Farah highlighted as a type of relationship between Iran and a third governmental or non-governmental institution, are beginning to be more noticeable. Farah said that non-state actors include “NGOs tied to Hezbollah and often funded by Venezuelan oil money; Islamic cultural centers and mosques … and links to drug trafficking organizations that provide millions of dollars to support radical Islamist activities.”
Existing examples of terrorism: For Mr. Farah, the AMIA bombing showed Iran has a “long-standing, highly developed structure in Latin America whose primary purpose is to fuse state and non-state force to spread the Iranian revolution.” He went on to point to three more examples that show Iran has engaged in specific attempts to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States. This included the October 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. that was foiled when a naturalized U.S. citizen who was also a member of Iranian Qods Force (a special operations unit) contacted an alleged member of Mexico’s Zeta cartel who turned out to be an informant.
Training: Mr. Farah underscored that a handful of Latin Americans have been trained in Qom, Iran. He shared insight of Salvadorian students that had received training there, and noted that most of the recruitment is often done in mosques and cultural centers:
Most [recruits] are present with the opportunity to attend ‘revolutionary’ indoctrination courses in Venezuela dealing with revolutionary ideology. These meetings bring together several hundred students at one time from across Latin America, all with their travel fess and expenses paid by the Venezuelan government.
Farah recommended Congress get help from the Treasury Department to weaken Iran’s banking activities in the region that allow it to “move hundreds of million of dollars into the world market.” He also recommended the U.S. closely follow the deals and agreements between Argentina, Venezuela, and Iran.
For more Just the Facts posts on the U.S. Congress’s concerns about Iran’s influence in Latin America, see here and here.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visited the White House Tuesday to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as part of his three-day trip to the United States. The two presidents agreed to deepen cooperation on trade and counterdrug strategies. During a joint press conference following their meeting President Humala said to President Obama, “I am convinced that under your administration we will substantively and qualitatively fight against the scourge of drugs.”
New York Times reported on U.S. border agents excessive use of force. The article notes that of 15 people killed by Border Patrol since 2010, 6 were shot in Mexico, mostly for throwing rocks. According to the Times, "In a statement, the Mexican Embassy in Washington criticized the shootings as “disproportionate deadly force,” saying, “In recent years, the results of investigations have unfortunately not even resulted in the prosecution of the agents” who have engaged in fatal shootings “or even fired into Mexican territory." WOLA has an infographic set of slides regarding migration and border security.
Voz de America reported that a Venezuelan official in Washington confirmed she would meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs next week to discuss re-establishing bilateral relations. The State Department has yet to confirm the statement.
United States Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has been accused of blocking an investigation into a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department in Honduras that resulted in the deaths of four Hondurans. Foreign Policy's The Cable reported Brownfield denied the charges and said the investigation was delayed because it was unclear if the case fell under the purview of the DEA or the Department of State. According to Brownfield, "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas started a tenth round of peace talks this week, after reaching a breakthrough agreement on land reform on May 26. The negotiating teams began to tackle the issue of the rebel group's political participation. Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle emphasized that the discussion would focus on participation of the entire group and not individual leaders, many of whom could face criminal charges.
In a press statement Tuesday the FARC proposed the government postpone presidential elections scheduled for November 2014 by a year. The government rejected the proposal with President Santos saying, “There is not the slightest chance that can happen. We have an electoral calendar. It will be followed.” More from the Pan-American Post.
Juan Forero had two interesting articles in the Washington Post this week. The first looked at harrowing tales of rape and gender-based violence against women committed by paramilitaries in the Putamayo department of southern Colombia. The second article examined security in Medellin, noting that, “In 2007, the city recorded 771 killings for a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. But by 2011, it was back up to 1,649 homicides. The number has since fallen fast once more, but gang expert Luis Fernando Quijano said the sharp rise and fall suggest that gang leaders may be fighting less, not that the state has control.“ The Guardian also had an informative article on security, politics and society in Colombia’s second-largest city.
The Colombian Senate passed an amended bill that would transfer many human rights cases against security force members, currently tried in civilian courts, to military tribunals. As Semana magazine noted, even though the legislation was altered to address human rights concerns, the risk of impunity persists. This week the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all denounced the measure. More from Pan-American Post.
Former Guatemalan dictator Efaín Rios Montt was released from a military hospital and is now under house arrest. Last month Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. However Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the ruling on account of a procedural technicality and ordered the trial to resume to where it was on April 19. The re-trial is reportedly set for April 2014.
The Guatemalan government has identified over 54 drug trafficking organizations and 70 gang cells operating in the country. It found some 40 cells of Barrio-18 and 30 cells of Mara Salvatrucha street gangs. These reports give weight to accounts that the violence in Guatemala is being fueled by infighting between small local gangs. These smaller groups have either splintered from larger cartels or are contracted by rivaling Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and the Zetas), noted by InSight Crimes. As Central American Politics blog notes, the country's murder rate has increased this year, after a steady decline from 2009 to 2012. May 2013 was the only month which saw less murders than the previous year: 409 murders compared to 426 in May 2012. Prensa Libre has a map detailing the country's criminal groups' areas of operation.
There were a number of reports this week on Brazil’s ramped up security initiatives ahead of numerous major public events, including the World Cup, a visit from the pope, and the 2016 Olympics. In the Guardian, Jon Watts reported on police operation to regain favelas from the powerful 'Red Command' -- Rio's biggest gang-- ahead of the World Cup. He lays out the government's three-step process for securing a neighborhood. "First, a military police battalion, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), which specialises in urban warfare, increases searches for drugs and guns. Next the area is surrounded and occupied by BOPE forces. Finally when it is secure, BOPE move out and a resident police unit — known as a UPP — is established." The Associated Press also has more on persisting violence in Brazil and security measures as the Confederation's Cup gets underway while Americas Quarterly looks at a new safety system, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that President Rousseff inaugurated yesterday.
Violent protests broke out Thursday night in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro over a 20-cent increase in bus fares. As the New York Times' Simon Romero pointed out, they "come at time of high inflation, sluggish growth & sharp fall in currency." The RioGringa blog contended that they “have more to do with the evolution of Brazil's middle class amid a stagnation in quality in life.”
A Datafolha survey shows President Rousseff ‘s approval ratings have dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent. As analyst James Bosworth notes, “Brazil's economic growth is too slow, but citizens and government officials appear more concerned about inflation. The poll shows voters, particularly women, concerned about rising prices and believing that inflation will get worse.”
World Politics Review had an interesting article on Brazil's drone program, which has received more attention since the government announced it would be using UAVs to bolster security during ceremonies for the Confederation Cup soccer tournament. The article highlights how increasing drone use is affecting its foreign policy, noting that the country has an agreement with Bolivia to fly UAVs in its airspace for counternarcotic operations and it has been quietly deploying drones to the Uruguayan and Paraguayan borders.
There are clashes going on between the Bolivian government and coca growers in the country. According to Southern Pulse: "On 29 May 2013, the government offered the municipality of Apolo, La Paz almost US$1.5 million for local development in an effort to persuade illegal coca growers to turn to alternative crops. Eradication forces and efforts clashed with coca growers on 26 May 2013, resulting in 19 injured. The government plans to use this strategy of development grants coupled with eradication efforts on other regions, as they expect US$3 million more to be funded to these programs later this year by the European Union (EU)." More from InSight Crime.
"Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights" blog had a helpful analysis of recent Colombia-Venezuela relations. Analyst David Smilde notes, “Colombia’s meetings with Capriles and announcement that it was seeking to strengthen ties to NATO essentially represented a move towards the U.S. Venezuela turned around and themselves strengthened ties to the US.”
Smilde’s other post on the blog counters a recent Washington Post editorial, which criticized Secretary Kerry for meeting with Venezeula’s Foreign Minister while in Guatemala. The op-ed argued the U.S. was in effect, "extending a lifeline to Maduro." While the Post said that the U.S. meeting gave Maduro legitimacy while other countries and UNASUR have questioned his legitimacy, Smilde asserts, "The only government in the hemisphere that has not recognized Maduro’s election is the United States. All other countries including the US’s close ally and Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia recognized the election result quickly. Furthermore, Unasur did not call for an audit of the results, it endorsed an audit of the result after the National Electoral Council announced it."
The Venezuelan government says it is targeting corruption. President Maduro announced this week that more public officials had been arrested. Venezuela Analysis blog has a run-down of the arrests. President Maduro also announced he is creating a new anti-corruption unit, which will be under his direct control.
Former Argentine President and current Senator Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for smuggling arms to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995, while both countries were under an arms embargo. As a senator, Menem has diplomatic immunity and will not serve prison time at the moment. However, legislators may vote to strip him of the privilege. He will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
Cherokee Gothic, a blog run by professors at the University of Oklahoma, provides a short run-down and links to four informative articles suggested by Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst.
In a post published on InSight Crime, Hope examined the similarities between the current security surge in Michoacan, where the government deployed the military in hopes of regaining control from drug cartels, most notably the Knights Templar, and the one launched in 2006 under Felipe Calderon, which effectively ushered in a more militarized drug war. According to Hope, there are three main similarities: 1. The operation does not have a fixed time limit, 2.There is no transparency regarding the operation, and 3.The participation of the armed forces in public security tasks continues to be unregulated.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the increasing emergence of local vigilante groups throughout the country, particularly noting their positive influence in violent parts of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan in western Mexico. Yet despite the vigilante groups' efforts, drug cartels still control the region.
The Economist reported on a new police force in Monterrey, called the "Fuerza Civil." The force is made up of people who have never worked in law enforcement that then receive a starting salary of $1,175 a month, double that of a normal police officer. According to the Economist, "The private sector has helped the government, with both money and technical expertise, to recruit and run a new police force."
The Associated Press featured an article on the failures of police reform in Honduras. According to a U.S. document provided to the AP, four out of every ten officers failed a vetting process. By April of this year only seven members from the over- 11,000 member police had been fired, demonstrating how slow the process has been. The report follows last week's announcement that the U.S. had suspended funding for police reform in March.
This week the Honduran Congress approved a $4.4 million initiative that will add 1,000 more troops to the country's military to help combat organized crime. The measure highlights concerns that Honduras is increasingly militarizing the fight against organized crime. More from InSight Crime.
WOLA latest "Latin America Today" podcast focused on the 43rd annual Organization of American States meeting and shifts in drug policy in the region. Americas Quarterly also offers an overview of other topics besides drug policy that were discussed at the meeting.
WOLA had an event with Ariel Ávila -- Former Coordinator, Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a security think-tank in Bogota. Ávila discussed several current topics in Colombia from the peace talks to organized crime and illicit profits. Adam Isacson has a video of the event (in spanish) on his blog.
The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2013 Global Peace Index.Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica were ranked as the most peaceful in Latin America, although Uruguay was the only country to come in above 30 for the global rankings.
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
17%: Salvador Nasralla
16%: Juan Orlando Hernández
10%: Mauricio Villeda
22%: None of the above
15%: Don't know/Not responding
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.
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.
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.
Amid the political crisis surrounding ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s absence, a few analysts have sought to measure the mood within the country’s armed forces. Ewald Scharfenberg at Spain’s El Paíssees three principal factions, which he calls “ideologues,” “pragmatists,” and “institutionalists.” Alfonso Ussia of Spain’s La Razóncalls them “officialists,” “unionists” and “institutionalists.” Rocío San Miguel of Caracas’s Control Ciudadano think-tank warns that Vice President Fernando Maduro is not in the chain of command, and that with Chávez out of contact the armed forces are currently “orphaned.”
The Mexican Army’s and Air Force’s involvement in fighting organized crime is an “atypical situation” that “cannot, and should not, in any way, be prolonged.” The author of that phrase is surprising: Gen. Guillermo Galván, who served as Mexico’s secretary of defense until last December. Gen. Galván wrote the preface to a book on the fight against organized crime published by Mexico’s Secretariat [Department/Ministry] of Defense.
19 officers who graduated Peru’s military academy in the same year (1984) as President Ollanta Humala, a former officer, are now generals holding key army posts. This is a record.
Former soldiers of El Salvador’s army, veterans of the country’s 1980s civil war, blocked main roads — including border crossings with Honduras and Guatemala — to demand pension payments. Last year the Salvadoran government approved a US$50 monthly stipend to former members of the FMLN guerrillas over 70 years of age.
A “serious setback in human rights” and “incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights” is how the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in a January 4 statement, characterized Colombia’s December 28 approval of a constitutional amendment that will send many more human rights cases to the military justice system, which has a strong tradition of lenience toward accused soldiers.
The infosurhoy.com website points to a regional poll by the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (FLACSO) showing strong Latin American support for involving the military in internal missions. Of 9,057 people surveyed in 28 cities of 18 countries, 84% supported giving armed forces a role in fighting narcotrafficking, and 83.2% (86% in Mexico) favored a role in fighting organized crime. 85% — 91% in Brazil and Ecuador, 73% in Paraguay — oppose abolishing the armed forces. 77% see no risk of a military coup in their country.
Argentina’s vice-president, Amado Boudou, rang in the new year in Gonaïves, Haiti, accompanying Argentine infantry troops stationed there as UN peacekeepers.
The Nicaraguan Army’s “Ecological Battalion” has set up five posts in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean coastal region, a sparsely populated zone susceptible to narcotrafficking activity. The posts, which will operate for three months, are a response to a request from 200 local farmers concerned about worsening security.
President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday night, winning over 300 electoral votes and the popular vote by 2.6 million over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney led the popular vote for most of the night, until western states like California closed their polls and counted their ballots. In the end, Obama handily took the electoral college with 303 vote to Romney's 206 and the popular vote with a narrow margin of victory, winning 50% of the vote to Romney's 48%.
Tuesday's election was historic in the United States for several reasons -- marijuana was legalized in two U.S. states, same-sex marriage was passed in another three -- but also of particular note was the increase in the Hispanic electorate's importance. President Obama won just over 70% of the Latino vote, compared to Romney's 27%, ensuring his slight victory in a number of battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
Leading up to the election, many analysts, politicians and voters were disillusioned that Latin America was noticeably absent from both candidates campaigns, especially in relation to issues such as the Mexican drug war that has claimed some 60,000 lives since 2006, the re-election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the Cuban embargo and Brazil's growing economic presence.
Before the election took place, regional analysts and leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, said they expected few changes with regards to U.S. policy in the region, regardless of the outcome.
Reactions to President Obama's victory throughout the region held a similar tone. There was a general consensus that Obama was the preferred victor of the two candidates, but that the region expected more attention and cooperation from his administration in the next four years.
Aside from the usual congratulatory messages, many leaders took the opportunity to voice their concerns over a domestic problem that reverberates throughout the region -- immigration reform -- reminding Obama that he owed a large part of his victory to Latinos.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated President Obama saying his re-election was "good news for Colombia," and noting that now the two countries can "continue to work in cooperation, with the same proposals and objectives and getting results."
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón also applauded Obama's re-election as something "positive for the United States and Colombia," but said President Obama had to fulfill his obligation to the international community and the region as a whole, which "expected more" from him. Garzón highlighted the contentious immigrant situation in the U.S., saying "It's good to point out that Colombian immigrant workers have rights that must be respected, human rights, including the right to have American citizenship and residence."
Ecuador's deputy foreign minister, Marco Albuja, echoed these sentiments on Twitter, asking Obama to "always remember the transcendental latino vote." He added that he hoped the new administration would pass immigration reform to "find a definitive solution to the more than 10 million people in [the US] without a defined migrant status."
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who showed his support for President Obama during the campaign, extended his congratulations, calling Obama "an extraordinary person," but also commenting that he expected little change because "the foreign policy of the United States is inertial and they will need many years to change it.... Everything will practically be the same in Latin America."
Paraguay also weighed in on the immigration issue with Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia pressing Obama to recognize that "part of his win he owes to our Latin American compatriots," and he hoped "President Obama contributes to improving relations with [the rest of] Latin America and to solving the latino immigration problem."
For Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo's government, which enjoyed strong support by Obama in its 2011 election following a contentious 2009 coup, said it did not expect "much change in general relations with the United States," but secretary of planning, Julio Raudales, did comment that "Obama's reelection is good news." Former Honduran President Ricardo Maduro told local television he hoped Obama would focus his attention "towards the south."
Bolivian President Evo Morales had a more critical response to Obama's re-election. After condemning the U.S. electoral process, he suggested Obama settle the score with Latino voters by doing away with the Cuban embargo. He also took a jab at Obama's refusal to extradite Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former president accused of corruption and genocide in Bolivia.
"He was reelected thanks to latinos and the best thing he could do to recognize their vote is end the embargo in Cuba," Morales said. "If he wants to dignify his government, it would be important to stop protecting delinquents that escape from many countries, Bolivia included."
With respect to the country's economy, the Bolivian leader gave little clout to the U.S. election, saying "who wins in the United States does not affect the Bolivian people... We should export but [the US] market cannot define our political economy."
Cuban President Raul Castro has also yet to publicly respond, however Cuban state-run news website CubaSi reiterated the general feeling of indifference, saying "The news of Barack Obama's triumph in yesterday's general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism."
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner congratulated President Obama with a letter and also via Twitter, adding that it is "his turn" to "take his place in the history of his people and the world," and assume his "role as global leader to overcome this political and economic crisis."
In this election the Republican Party, as it is wont to do, adopted a more aggressive stance towards the region, particularly with regards to leftist governments, that signaled a possible unwelcome return to the diplomacy of Bush's presidency. Across the board, there was more a sense of relief that Romney lost than excitement that Obama won.
While in practice the policy differences might have been marginal, a Romney presidency would likely have included bellicose rhetoric towards Venezuela and Cuba and potentially cause greater political polarization in the hemisphere, as Inter-American Dialogue president Michael Shifter noted most recently in Foreign Policy magazine.
As Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas points out in the Miami Herald, there are several pending situations could force a change in the region's political and economic landscape, pulling more attention to it, such as the death of Hugo Chavez, the death of Fidel Castro or his brother Raúl, the possible success of peace talks in Colombia, and China's financial growing financial involvement.
Although the issues that shifted the rhetoric away from Latin America during the campaign are still front and center-- Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, jobs, etc-- there is hope that going forward Obama will prioritize the region, and at the very least immigrants looking for a home in the United States, in his second term.
This post was authored by WOLA Fellow Lucila Santos.
In mid-July, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner launched Operation Escudo Norte (Northern Shield), a major border-security effort. Among other items, the operation includes the installation of 20 Army land radars, patrols conducted with Pucara aircraft and the installation, in Santiago del Estero, of the first 3D radar built by INVAP (an Argentinehigh-technology company).
Escudo Norte is to support Plan Fortin II, a government strategy to protect Argentina’s borders. At the launch event, the President stated that this was an intelligent articulation of the Defense Ministry and armed forces with the new Security Ministry and its forces in the fight against drug trafficking. At least 6,000 officers from the Gendarmerie and Coast Guard and 800 men from Army Special Forces will be assigned to the Plan. Therefore, almost 7,000 members of the security forces will be working to improve controls at Argentina’s ports of entry, maritime ports and airports, and within the country, as well as to investigate crimes related to drug trafficking and organized crime.
The 3D radar is part of a prototype that has already been tried in military exercises; it is also part of a request for 6 military radars assigned to INVAP by Argentina’s Planning Ministry. The cost of the first radar was 165 million pesos (around 39 million U.S. dollars) and the contract for the total of 6 radars amounts to 460 million pesos (around 111 million dollars). The radar has an estimated reach of 400 km (248 miles). It is expected that the rest of the military radars built by INVAP will be established in the north of the country over the course of the next two years. In September of this year, another radar, a FPS113 donated by Spain, might become operative and will be located in Posadas, the capital of a province bordering Brazil. A similar radar is already in activity in Resistencia, capital of a province bordering Paraguay. These surveillance systems are replacing all mobile radars from the 1970s, which could not be employed for more than 6 hours a day. Moreover, two other TPS44 radar devices from the Army will be installed in Tartagal, Salta (over the border with Bolivia) and Las Lomitas (close to the border with Paraguay). The 20 Rasit radars from the Army won’t be used to detect illegal flights since their reach only allows them to observe an aircraft for less than four minutes; instead, they will be placed in areas used by traffickers to introduced drugs by land. These will be used by 180 military officers.
Even though the Air Force and the Army were already exercising control of air space, the use of military radars to control ports of entry is a novelty for Argentina. Different opinions have been voiced since the announcement of Operation Escudo Norte. On one hand, some debate has been ignited regarding the role of the armed forces in the fight against drug trafficking, and whether this is a proper and legal role for them to carry out. The Argentine Defense Law establishes that the military’s mission is solely the defense of the national territory against another country’s armed forces. Complementing this, the Internal Security Law mandates that internal security is the police forces’ responsibility. However, the government has argued that article 27 of the Internal Security Law allows the armed forces to provide logistical support to the police. The radars would fall under this provision. Yet for this to happen, their use should be requested by an internal security crisis committee.
In this regard, Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli explained that the Armed Forces won’t have “any role” in the fight against drug trafficking, but instead will just provide logistical support in the control and surveillance of the national aerial space to intercept potential irregular planes carrying drugs. The security scheme devised by Operation Escudo Norteestablishes that the radar signals observed by Air Force specialists that could indicate potential illegal flights have to be communicated to the Gendarmerie, the police force responsible for border security. The procedure would only require the military to detect any irregular flight, register the plane’s license or plate number and type of aircraft, its route and the landing procedure, and automatically transmit this information to the security forces, either Gendarmerie or Coast Guard, so that they may act. Military aircraft can only perform tracking tasks since they are not authorized to bring down planes.
The other debate or criticism ignited by Operation Escudo Norte regards the fight against drug trafficking in Argentina. Congressmen from center-right opposition parties have stated that the Plan is just hiding the government’s passivity in terms of security, that it is just a mere patch to a very porous border, and that the fight against drug trafficking should be centralized in a federal agency with operational capacity.
These debates aside, there have been no criticisms of the use of the radars, or their importance as tools of surveillance and monitoring over the borders. Even though the mission seems benign in terms of the military participating in a related-internal security issue, it would be good for this support mission to be regulated by existing laws and overseen by the Congress. With the right transparency, accountability and legislative devices, making use of military radars to have more control over borders would seem to be an appropriate step in the fight against drug trafficking.
Shifts in Cultivation, Usage Put Bolivia's Coca Policy at the Crossroads Coletta A. Youngers, World Politics Review
Caribbean Regional -
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns To Deliver Remarks at the Fourth Annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue
Office Of The Spokesperson, U.S. State Department
Libre, segunda fuerza parlamentaria de Honduras, Confidencial
Deteriorating democracy, The Economist
Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet Hugo Perez Hernaiz, Washington Office On Latin America
Que hay detras de la posible complicacion en la compra por Argentina de los F-1 del ejercito del aire espanol? Francia entra en escena y ofreta sus F-1 co,pitiendo con los espanoles, Defensa.com
Brazil, Cuba -
Cuban doctors tend to Brazil's poor, giving Rousseff a boost Anthony Boadle, The Chicago Tribune
Ingeniero Leon Andres Montes Ceballos fue liberado por el Eln, El Colombiano
Tables Turned Virginia Bouvier, Foreign Policy Magazine
As Colombia's presidential race heats up, peace talks take center stage Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald
La mala herencia que nos dejo el capo Alejandro Baena, El Tiempo
El homicidio se redujo un nueve por ciento en el pais, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Las claves de la cita Barack Obama y Juan Manuel Santos Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Colombia espera que Obama ratifique apoyo al proceso de paz Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Honduras Election Results Challenged Nicholas Phillips, The New York Times
Pena Nieto cambia Mexico sobre el papel en su primer ano de mandato, El Pais
The Mexico Govt's Coordination Obsession Alejandro Hope, In Sight Crime
Mexican bishop takes on cultish cartel in drug war battleground state Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post
Despues de la guerra Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez, Nexos En Linea
¿Que puede pasar el domingo? Luis Vincente Leon, El Universal
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)