The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
United States: Immigration bill
On Monday, a group of U.S. senators released a proposal for immigration reform. The White House released its proposal on Tuesday. Both said more drones will be needed to secure the border. As Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America noted about each of the proposals, “The Senate barely mentions building capacity at ports of entry, but has a lot to say about Border Patrol and drones. The White House doesn’t mention furthering the buildup of Border Patrol, which has already doubled in size since 2005 and quintupled since 1993, but it does talk about ports of entry. And it mentions ‘the use of technologies’ — most likely drones. Conclusion: there will be drones.”
A Washington Post op-ed highlights three ways U.S. immigration reform might impact Mexico.
Also on the issue of the border, the Associated Press obtained Border Patrol data showing that, nationwide, arrests by the Border Patrol increased about 7 percent, from 340,252 in fiscal year 2011 to 364,768 last year. This is the first time this number has increased since 2005.
Last week we highlighted the Washington Office on Latin America’s recent report on the Mexico-Texas border. This week, analysts looked into the report: Joshua Keating on the Foreign Policy blog highlighted four points from are important to keep in mind when considering immigration reform, while Insight Crime's Elyssa Pachico analyzed the report's finding that the Zetas' control of the US-Mexico border is slipping. Pachico concluded, "If the Zetas continue to lose power and influence along the US-Mexico border, it will likely make migrants' journey even more dangerous and unpredictable."
Obama Administration Changeovers
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed President Obama's nomination of Senator John Kerry to be Secretary of State. See previous Just the Facts posts for what Kerry's appointment means for Latin America and what he said with regards to Latin America during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her final speech in the post during a forum at the Council on Foreign Relations. She underscored the need for immigration reform, but also highlighted the "need to do more on border security and internal security in Central America." The Council on Foreign Relation's website has the entire text of the speech.
Colombian Peace Process
Last weekend, the FARC captured two policemen in southwest Colombia. The rebel group declared the officers as "prisoners of war," justifying the action in a statement released Tuesday that read: "We reserve the right to capture, as prisoners, members of the security forces who have surrendered in combat. They are called PRISONERS OF WAR, and this phenomenon occurs in any conflict in the world."
The Colombian Government's lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle reiterated that the government regards the officers’ detention as a kidnapping and questioned the FARC's commitment to the peace process, saying, "We’re going to Havana to end the conflict, which is what we agreed. And if that’s not the case, then they should say so now, so as not to waste the time of the government and the Colombian people."
La Silla Vacia reported on the FARC's continued recruitment of minors, even as the peace talks are underway.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the Colombian Government would want the United States to give more aid money to the country to reintegrate FARC combatants into society in the event of a peace deal.
Adam Isacson's Latin America blog provides an updated timeline for the peace talks, while his post on Just the Facts provides a longer- form update.
The Latin American Working Group Education Fund’s Director Lisa Haugaard also published a post on the talks about the involvement of Colombian civil society's involvement in the peace process.
Newspaper El Tiempo reported that 690 Colombians were reported missing in the first 28 days of 2013. In January 2011 there were 746 reported cases.
Guatemala: Rios Montt trial
On Monday, a judge ruled that former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt will stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity for the killing and displacement of thousands of Guatemalans in 1982-1983, the majority of them Maya indigenous. The trial is a landmark for both Guatemala, where impunity for civil war crimes is high, as well as the region, as Rios Montt will be the first former head of state to be tried for genocide by a Latin American court.
An explosion Thursday afternoon at the Pemex oil company headquarters in Mexico City has killed 33 people and wounded more than 120. The cause of the blast is still unknown. The explosion comes as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto attempts to attract outside investment into the company. Peña Nieto has also said reforming the company is one of his top priorities, because, as Reuters notes, "Pemex, a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency as well as a byword in Mexico for security glitches, oil theft and frequent accidents, has been hamstrung by inefficiency, union corruption and a series of safety failures costing hundreds of lives." Mexican news website Animal Politico has a graphic timeline of events and an excellent photo gallery on the aftermath in Mexico City, as does the Guardian.
Venezuelan prison riot
Venezuela has one of the most dangerous and corrupt prison systems in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, "Overcrowding, substandard conditions, a high number of pretrial detainees, and corrupt guards who traffic weapons and drugs to inmates have been persistent problems in Venezuelan prisons for years." As David Smilde from the Washington Office on Latin America notes on his Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog, "prison mafias run lucrative crime networks and stockpile arms."
The failed state of the country's penitentiary system was highlighted this week when the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory released a report revealing that 591 inmates were killed and 1,132 injured in the country's jails in 2012. The report was released nearly a week after a prison riot in western Venezuela left at least 56 dead.Human Rights Watch released a statement February 1 calling for the Venezuelan Government to investigate the deaths. "The casualty figures raise serious concerns that the use of lethal force at Uribana prison was far out of proportion with the need," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.