Friday, December 7, 2012

News links from the past week

Below is a compilation of news highlights and happenings from around the region this past week.

  • A U.S. delegation traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for the Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue, marking the third year of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative(CBSI). At the meeting the U.S. announced a $3.43 million assistance program to combat illicit trafficking in firearms as part of CBSI.
  • On November 30 the U.S. Congress passed the "Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force Act," also known as H.R.915, a bill which seeks to create a new border security task force within the Department of Homeland Security. The new entity, the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, to be known as BEST, will be comprised of personnel from several U.S. security agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard, and FBI, as well as agents from Mexico's public security entity, the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP).
  • Cuba

  • The case of development worker Alan Gross continues to be a sore note between U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations as this Tuesday marked the third year of his imprisonment. The Department of State released a statement Monday asking the Cuban Government to allow Gross to visit his ailing mother, while the Senate submitted a resolution calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Members of the U.S government have expressed concerns about his health, which the Cuban government claims are false, saying that Gross has received medical care and does not have cancer.

    State Department officials asserted it is unlikely that the U.S will trade Gross for the release of five Cuban intelligence agents -- known as the Cuban Five -- who are currently serving treason and espionage charges in a Florida prison, saying the two cases are unrelated.

  • Mexico

  • On Saturday Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico's new president, amid a mass protesting against the return of the once autocratic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Several analysts have weighed in on how his presidency will impact U.S.-Mexican relations, with many focusing on enhanced economic cooperation between the two nations.

    Much of the media attention in Mexico has focused on the violence that took place during the inaugural event. At least 100 protesters were injured during the protest. Police in Mexico City are now being questioned about their role in the violence. The Federal District’s human rights commission (CDHDF) reports that officers dressed in civilian clothes were responsible for the arrest of many protesters. So far the CDHDF has documented the arrest of 22 people who were not involved in the violence and four more who maybe have been tortured. Mexico City's new mayor was also sworn in this week amid the capital's controversy. Amnesty International has set up a support page for victims of the police violence.

  • Analyst James Bosworth offers a concise, interesting comparison on his blog between the security policies of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Colombian President Alvaró Uribe and the implications for the countries' current leadership with regards to security.
  • Colombia

  • Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC resumed in Havana on Wednesday after negotiators took a break last week and following an air strike over the weekend near the Ecuadorian border in which Colombian forces killed at least 20 FARC guerrillas, the largest blow to the group since the talks began. President Santos set a deadline for November of 2013 for the talks saying, "This has to be a process of months, rather than years."

    The guerrilla group made comments earlier this week that is was still holding "prisoners of war," causing backlash from the government, and particularly its lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle, saying, "The FARC has to respond to the victims, it has to clarify this issue of kidnapping, the way to deal with the issue of kidnapping is not with ambiguities." Two other FARC negotiators denied the claims.

  • Entire Region

  • Mercosur is meeting today in Brazil. It is the first time that Venezuela will be participating as a full member while Bolivia and Ecuador's incorporation as full members will be discussed. Brazil anticipates that Paraguay's suspension from the group following the June impeachment/ousting of its president will stand until August 2013. Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, who has returned home following 10 days of cancer treatments in Cuba, will not be attending the trade bloc summit, causing concern over his health status, which some analysts say might affect the outcome of the December 16 gubernatorial elections.
  • Central America

  • A Los Angeles Times article offers a picture of the U.S.' expanding security role in Central America as the region faces increasing levels of gang violence, where homicide rates in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras significantly top those of Mexico and where government corruption hinders security initiatives. Gangs in Guatemala and other Latin American countries have begun to demand Christmas bonuses from bus drivers, asking for twice as much in monthly extortion fees.
  • In a feature on shifting illegal immigration trends, ProPublica notes that the rising number of Central American migrants making their way into the United States to flee violence and poverty means security on Mexico's southern border is becoming a priority for officials in Washington as well as Mexico City.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a US$45 million loan to El Salvador to implement the Central American nation’s new social youth violence prevention project. “According to several studies, more than one in every ten dollars generated by the Salvadoran economy is absorbed by the cost of crime and violence,” the ISDB's project leader said.
  • In Honduras, a recent Supreme Court ruling deeming the cleaning up of corrupt police force unconstitutional adds another barrier to the country’s law enforcement reform. In response, President Lobo called the Supreme court the "enemy of the state" and that the police cleanup will continue."

    A report released Monday, which shows 149 people have died at the hands of the Honduran Police in the last 23 months, was used to denounce the ruling.