Friday, February 15, 2013

Week in Review

The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.

Colombia

  • On Wednesday, the FARC killed seven soldiers and injured five others in the worst violence against security forces since the peace talks began. The group also agreed to hand over two police officers being held to delegates from the Red Cross and the NGO Colombians for Peace on Thursday. The release was canceled at the last minute, however, because the heightened media presence made it difficult to carry out the mission. To facilitate the release, the government extended a temporary military ceasefire until midnight in two southwestern states, however both officers were released this afternoon.

    A third hostage, a Colombian soldier, is scheduled to be released on Saturday. Since the unilateral ceasefire was lifted on January 20, fighting has intensified and the FARC “have increased attacks on civilian and military targets, taken hostages and blown up oil and energy infrastructure in a bid to force the government to suspend hostilities,” reports The Guardian.

  • Mexico

  • On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced details about his new security strategy. According to the Associated Press, the government will spend $9.2 billion in 2013 on social programs for youth in the country's 251 most violent towns. The plan focuses on crime prevention more than punishment, marking a clear change in tone from Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who primarily focused on targeting cartel leaders. Security analyst Alejandro Hope said, "They're going to throw a lot of money at a lot of programs. That is ground for skepticism, the level of specificity is not there yet. I find this disconcerting."

    On Thursday the Associated Press reported that Mexico will ask the United States to focus counternarcotics aid on social programs and prevention. About 2 perent of the current $1.9 billion under the Mérida Initiative is intended for social programs, with the majority of the funds going to intelligence transport and training for Mexican law enforcement, according to Mexican Assistant Interior Secretary Roberto Campa.

  • Alejandro Hope wrote a piece on murder rates in Mexico, concluding that it is too early to know if the security situation is getting better or worse.
  • On Thursday, the Chicago Crime Commission announced that it designated the head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, as the city's new "Public Enemy Number One." This is the first time the term has been used since it was created for Al Capone in 1930. The Sinaloa cartel supplies the majority of drugs sold in Chicago. According to Reuters, Jack Riley, head of the DEA in Chicago, said the cartel is so deeply embedded in Chicago that law enforcement officers have to operate as if Chicago were on the border with Mexico instead of 1,500 miles away.
  • InSight Crime released a special report on Ciudad Juarez, looking at the causes behind the drop in violence in the past two years.
  • Peru

  • Peru has plans to construct a 476-hectare airfield and military base for counternarcotics operations. The base will be built on the eastern edge of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, an area known as the VRAE, where authorities say Shining Path guerrillas are increasing their drug trafficking operations. The base is intended to improve "logistical operations ... in the face of the increase in terrorist activity in the CE-VRAE (VRAE Special Command)," according to a Ministry of Defense report. United States military aid advisors helped the Peruvian air force develop plans for the base, reported La República, but made no mention if the U.S. helped fund the initiative.

    According to InSight Crime, "the VRAE is the site of an estimated third of Peru's drug crops and home to the biggest remaining faction of Maoist guerrilla group the Shining Path, which is deeply involved in the drug trade and uses the region to mount attacks against security forces." The plan is causing outrage among locals, who say the government said a civilian airfield meant to increase tourism and export produce. The land will be expropriated from 100 families.

  • The Peruvian government also announced that it will start to eradicate coca crops in the VRAE for the first time. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there are about 20,000 hectares of coca in the region. The Peruvian government has budgeted $30 million this year for eradication efforts, planning to reduce coca crops by 6% with the eradication of 22,000 hectares.
  • The U.S. embassy in Peru has issued a warning for U.S. citizens, saying that Shining Path guerillas "may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area."
  • Ecuador

  • On Sunday, current Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will very likely be re-elected for a third term. Several articles have come out this week around the election. An Economist article gives a good overview of the positive initiatives Correa has put in place, such as investment in infrastructure, as well as the negative aspects, including his abuses of power and clamp down on freedom of expression. Another article in the Economist's Intelligence Unit noted that while there exists the potential for fraudulence during the elections, it is not likely given Correa's public popularity, as opinion polls show 62 percent of the country back him. BBC Mundo profiled the other seven candidates, while the BBC examined what his victory will mean for the country.
  • Venezuela

  • The U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan Military Industry Company (Cavim), a state-owned Venezuelan weapons company. According to a State Department press release, the company was sanctioned after it traded with Iran, North Korea or Syria.
  • On Friday, the Venezuelan government released photos of ailing President Hugo Chávez for the first time in over two months. The pictures show him with his daughters in Cuba, and some show him reading Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma. On Wednesday, Vice President Nicholas Maduro said President Chávez is undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments.
  • The Congressional Research Service released a new report (.pdf) outlining the key issues for U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean.