Friday, November 16, 2012

Recent News Highlights

  • The Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, part of the U.S. House of Representatives, released a Majority Staff report, entitled, "A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence and Terror at the Southwest Border." According to their website, [the report] details the "increased presence of Middle East terrorist networks in Latin America and their growing relationship with drug cartels." The report also looks at the Mexican cartels' operations in the [United States], drug trafficking operations, and the turf wars between rival organizations.
  • Amnesty International, the Center for International Policy, Latin America Working Group, and the Washington Office on Latin America sent a letter to key members of the U.S. Congress, urging them to "to retain the human rights conditions pertaining to security assistance for Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras that were included in the Senate Appropriations Committee version of the FY13 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill."

Colombia

  • On Monday, the ELN, Colombia’s second largest revolutionary guerrilla[,] published an open letter on their website saying they were willing to join the peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. In the letter, the ELN reaffirmed its commitment to a political solution in Colombia, while citing they deem the issue as a "collective construction of the nation."
  • Later this week in response to the ELN’s statement, President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview that the ELN would not be joining the peace talks. However, he expressed the possibility of including the group in future talks with the FARC. The peace talks, which were scheduled to start this week in Havana, Cuba, have been delayed until Monday.

Cuba

  • Early this week, the UN General Assembly voted for the 21st time to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. It was an overwhelming vote resulting in 188-3, with only Israel and Palau joining the U.S. in support of the embargo. While addressing the General Assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez referred to the embargo as “inhumane, failed, and anachronistic.”
  • Normalizing relations between Cuba and the U.S. continues to be a hot topic, as one week after President Obama was reelected, Cuba offered a "draft agenda" for negotiations, which largely reiterates the regime’s old positions and proposes the swap of the Cuban Five for U.S. development [contractor] Alan Gross.

Ecuador

  • In Ecuador, current President Rafael Correa announced he is running for reelection for a third term. Correa seems likely to win, with some polls showing his domestic support at around 80 percent.
  • Latin American political analyst James Bosworth cited the issues that matter in Ecuador’s elections in Christian Science Monitor, citing the economy, citizen security, and Correa’s personality as key factors. Bosworth says "Correa retains support because his style remains well liked by many voters."

Brazil

  • On Monday, the Brazilian Supreme Court sentenced former chief of staff to Luiz Inazio Lula da Silva to 10 years and 10 months in prison for charges of bribery and conspiracy. José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva was found guilty of setting up a vote-buying scheme that used public funds to pay coalition parties for political support. The scandal became known as “Mensalao” or Big Monthly Allowance. The court ruling is a testament to Brazil’s advancement in ending a long history of impunity for corruption.
  • In the past two weeks, the city of Sao Paulo has experienced an increasing wave of violence which has resulted in the deaths of at least 140 people. The victims include 90 police officers. According to the city’s Public Safety Department, the killings began increasing in the month of September. The violent spurt is likely linked to the First Capital Command, a violent prison-based gang, which likely feels the government has violated an informal six-year truce to subside prison transfers of gang leaders and limit its operations on the city’s outskirts in exchange for an end to violence. In response, state and federal police announced the creation of a new joint intelligence agency to fight organized crime last week.

Bolivia , Brazil and Peru

  • The three South American governments declared they will create a joint fund fund using money seized from criminal groups to help fight organized crime in the region. Bolivia’s interior minister, Carlos Romero, said the fund will be used to purchase necessary technology and to pay informants. In order for the project to move forward, Bolivia would have to follow Brazil and Peru and implement laws that permit the use of criminal assets by state. The initiative highlights how money from criminal groups is often an “untapped source of revenue” that can be used.

Mexico

  • Mexico's top organized crime investigator stepped down yesterday for "personal reasons." This comes just weeks after three members of his team were charged with having links to the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
  • On Thursday, the country's Democratic Revolution Party submitted a proposal for a bill that seeks to legalize the sale, distribution and use of marijuana. Reuters says the bill is unlikely to pass since a strong majority of Mexicans are against legalization, but may bring about a broader debate on the country's approach drugs, particularly after two U.S. states voted in referenda to allow recreational marijuana use last week.
  • On Tuesday, Mexico's Congress passed the controversial labor reform that has sparked protests within the country in recent weeks. The New York Times profiled the law, saying it "will make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, signaling the first major economic change in Mexico in more than a decade." Mexican President Felipe Calderón now must sign the bill into law, but he is likely to meet opposition before doing so as congressional leaders from the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) say the legislation was passed without proper debate in the Congress.

Venezuela

  • The United Nations General Assembly voted Venezuela onto the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), along with Argentina, Brazil and the United States. Ahead of the vote,
    Amnesty International published an open letter urging Venezuela to reconsider their decision to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights, while the Washington Post argued, "Venezuela under [Chávez] has no place at this table," as "Mr. Chávez has shown what he stands for, and it is not the protection of human rights." Human Rights Watch also published a letter decrying Venezuela's inclusion on the Council, saying "when it comes to promoting and protecting human rights, Venezuela currently falls far short of acceptable standards."
  • On Wednesday, Venezuela extradited one of Colombia's most notorious drug traffickers, Daniel "Loco" Barrera, to Colombia. The Colombian government is preparing to extradite him to to the United States, who reportedly offered $5M for his capture in the country. El Pais has a good graphic of the hardest hits to Colombia's drug traffickers in recent months.