Friday, October 22, 2010

Week in Review

  • Mexican authorities seized 134 tons of marijuana on Sunday near the Mexico-U.S. border. On Wednesday, the 15,300 bales were set ablaze. One heavily quoted excerpt from the New York Times on the "bonfire" no longer appears in the article, but is included in the slideshow of the event. It reads:

    And so up in smoke went the equivalent of a few hundred million joints in what Mexican authorities called the largest seizure of the drug in the country’s history, a dash of hype befitting the elaborate ceremony to both get rid of it and highlight a success, any success, in a bloody, lingering drug war.

  • 30 members of Congress sent a letter (PDF) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting a suspension of U.S. aid to the Honduran government. This letter argues that "assassinations, arbitrary arrests, beatings and death threats targeting political activists and the human rights workers who attempt to protect them" continue with impunity. LAWG's Lisa Haugaard provides more information about recent attacks against human rights defenders and journalists in Honduras in this Huffington Post article.

    State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question about the letter on Wednesday, stating that the State Department does not intend to cut off assistance to Honduras, as requested in the letter.

    ... I think where we disagree with our congressional colleagues is that they conditioned progress on the human rights as a precondition for the return of Honduras to the OAS. We think they go hand in hand – improving the democratic performance of the government is vitally important, but also reintegrating Honduras into the community of democratic nations in this hemisphere is also important. And in fact, the election of the Lobo government was itself a major step forward for Honduras.

  • Mexican President Felipe Calderón sent Congress a proposal that would reform Mexico's military justice code, requiring troops to be tried in civilian courts for three types of human rights abuses: torture, rape and forced disappearance. Mexican and international human rights organizations argue that the proposal "falls short of what was expected from Mexico," and "fails to hold armed forces accountable." Here are some responses to the proposed reform from LAWG, WOLA, Human Rights Watch and 13 Mexican organizations.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on September 24th on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly "to encourage the release of Alan Gross," a USAID contractor arrested in Cuba on December 3, 2009 after being accused of spying.
  • In response to the news that Russia is to build a nuclear power plant in Venezuela, President Obama said, "We have no incentive nor interest in increasing friction between Venezuela and the U.S., but we do think Venezuela needs to act responsibly."
  • A new report by the National Commission on Human Rights in Honduras says that every 88 minutes someone is murdered in Honduras.
  • In Colombia, a former high-ranking DAS official, Martha Leal, said that ex-DAS director Andres Peñate ordered her to spy on opposition figures at the "express request of former President Alvaro Uribe." Leal has been ordered to testify in the investigation into former President Uribe's involvement in the illegal wiretapping of his opponents.
  • A new report by the Third National Survey on the Verification of the Rights of the Displaced in Colombia says that, as a result of violence, 6.65 million hectares of productive lands were abandoned in Colombia between 1980 and July 2010.
  • The Houston Chronicle's Dudley Althaus writes about police reform in Mexico.
  • Assistant Secretary of State David T. Johnson traveled to Guatemala and Honduras this week. While in Guatemala, Assistant Secretary Johnson ratified the United States' support in the country's fight against organized crime. "The United States is committed to working with Central America and Guatemala to combat corruption and organized crime through security services and rule of law," he said during a press conference at the National Civilian Police headquarters. In Honduras, he met with President Porfirio Lobo and convened the U.S.-Honduras Merida-CARSI Task Force. Johnson said, "I do not think that Honduras is about to become a 'narco-state', but I do think that the country has the challenge to confront it and I think that working together they can build institutions that can confront this challenge."
  • Over the weekend, Brazilian presidential candidate José Serra promised a "great war against drugs" if elected president in the upcoming runoff election against Dilma Rousseff. A recent Vox Populi poll shows Rousseff with 51 percent of vote intention compared to 39 percent for Serra.
  • A high-level delegation of U.S. officials will arrive in Colombia on Sunday. The group will include Undersecretary of State James Steinberg, Assistant Secretary of State, Arturo Valenzuela, and Maria Otero, Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. Officials say that good governance, democracy, human rights, energy and science and technology will be the main issues discussed--notably absent from these bilateral talks is the word "drugs."