Friday, July 12, 2013
The Week in Review
This post was written by CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Brazilian newspaper O Globo released three reports this week detailing documents released by Snowden asserting that the United States has been collecting data on telephone calls and e-mails from several countries in Latin America, such as Brazil and Mexico.
The reports indicate that the United States has not only been amassing military and security data, but also collecting inside commercial information on the oil industry in Venezuela and the energy sector in Mexico, which are state-run and essentially closed to foreign investment.
The reports also showed that Colombia, the strongest U.S. military ally in South America, along with Mexico and Brazil, were the countries where the U.S. program intercepted the biggest chunks of information on emails and telephone calls during the last five years. Similar activities took place in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is demanding an explanation for the United States’s spying and plans to involve the United Nations in an investigation of the NSA’s actions. Brazil also said that it might contact Snowden as it investigates the matter. "Mr. Snowden's participation in an investigation is absolutely relevant and pertinent," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Argentina are also demanding official explanations and the MercoSur trading bloc held a special session on Friday to discuss the U.S.’ espionage programs. More from the Pan-American Post.
Bolivia is accusing Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal of violating the norms and regulations of international law by impeding Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane while it was passing through European airspace, based on a suspicion that Edward Snowden was on the plane. The OAS expressed the discontent of a large part of Latin America regarding the incident via a firm resolution condemning the European nations’ actions and demanding an apology.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) found there was a drop in cocaine production in the Andean region. The estimates indicate a 41 percent drop in potential pure cocaine production since 2001, from an estimated 1,055 metric tons to 620 metric tons in 2012. The largest reduction was in Bolivia, which dropped from 190 metric tons of potential pure cocaine production capacity to 150 metric tons. Unlike Colombia and Peru, Bolivia receives very little counternarcotics aid from the United States.
Mexico and Argentina topped the list in Latin America on Transparency International’s recently released list for the most corrupt countries in the world. The report also pointed out the most corrupt institutions in each country. While politicians and political parties held the top spot in Mexico and Argentina, the police was named the most corrupt entity in Bolivia, Venezuela, and El Salvador. More from ABC News.
The New York Times featured an article on U.S. attempts to to prevent Snowden from receiving asylum in Latin America, citing a State Department official who warned that helping Snowden "would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come." However, according to the piece, "Washington is finding that its leverage in Latin America is limited just when it needs it most."
On Tuesday, Colombia’s highest administrative court annulled a 2002 electoral court ruling preventing the Union Partiotica (UP), a left-wing Colombina party formed in 1985 during peace talks between the Farc and the government, from political participation. Although the UP’s regained legal status will allow the party to participate in the upcoming March 14th elections, changes in the political landscape since its barring mean the UP may no longer be the Farc’s main political party as it was in the 1980’s and 90’s. More from the
InSight Crime looks at how intra-urban displacement in the country’s second-largest city, Medellin, is used as an "instrument of war" between two of the main groups vying for control over the city’s underworld: the narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado, which has largely held control of the city since the fall of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.
Uruguay’s legislature met on Monday and agreed to postpone the vote on legalizing marijuana for a period between 10 and 30 days. Dario Perez, the deputy, proposed postponing the vote based on concern that "it’s not the time" to vote on the initiative; a "period of reflection" will take place before the vote, which will be on Wednesday, the 31st of July.
Nearly half of Mexico’s 31 states held elections for a mix of local parliaments and municipal governments on Sunday. Focus was on the tight race in the election for governor of the key Mexican border state of Baja California. According to Huffington Post, both the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were claiming victory following preliminary results. Sixty percent of voters abstained from the elections, reported El Proceso magazine.
Fears of violence accompanying the elections are on the rise in the border state of Baja California. Experts say it is more effective and less risky for cartels to control or intimidate local governments, leading gangs to target and intimidate local officials to yield tangible results. "Their thinking is that ‘we are going to support the candidates who sympathize with us or whom we can negotiate with, and if there is a candidate who might win who won’t make a deal with us, we’ll tell him not to run or attack them, or even kill them."
Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda announced the reinstallation of five generals who were released from prison last Friday. They had been incarcerated under former President Felipé Calderón over accusations of alleged ties to drug traffickers. A judge dropped the charges citing insufficient evidence. According to El Proceso, this was the first time in the history of the military that high ranking military officers who had been accused of having ties to the drug trade have been given back their positions after being exonerated.
In a prominent speech before legislators at one of parliament’s twice-annual sessions on Sunday, Cuba’s President Raul Castro scolded his countrymen for all kinds of bad behavior, including corruption, loud music, theft, public swearing, illicit logging, unauthorized home construction, and the acceptance of bribes. "When I meditate on these regrettable displays, it makes me think that despite the undeniable educational achievements made by the Revolution... we have taken a step back in citizens’ culture and public spirit." More from the Washington Post.
In response to continuing protests and discontent in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a package of political reforms which she says would reduce corruption and make politicians more accountable. However, as the Economist noted, whether the reforms pass hinges on Brazil’s Congress, in which 191 of Brazil’s 594 senators and deputies are currently under investigation for offenses ranging from minor administrative offences to drug trafficking and murder. Rousseff also announced Wednesday that an additional $1.3 billion would be spent on healthcare and education.
On Thursday there was a one-day nationwide general labor strike. Mass protests resumed in several major cities by workers calling for better labor conditions and improved social services. According to the New York Times, the mobilization had mixed success "with some cities and states disrupted severely and others largely unaffected."
Henrique Eduardo Alves, the leader of Brazil’s House of Representatives, said Tuesday the proposed plebiscite that is among President Dilma Rouseff’s key responses to waves of mass protests is unfeasible. Top politicians and congressional party leaders who have also cast doubt on the feasibility of the plebiscite favor drafting political reform legislation and submitting it for a popular referendum instead, which would allow citizens to vote yes or no to a series of proposals, with legislation to be drafted based on the results.
Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics both look at a spike in violence in El Salvador. This week there were over 100 homicides, prompting questioning of the stability of a year-long truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and rival gang Barrio 18. Truce mediator Raul Mijango asserts that the surge in killings is a response to changes in government policy, such as new restrictions on imprisoned gang members. However, there has been little analysis of the murders or the victims, and many questions are left open as to whether the end of the truce is really nearing and why.
InSight Crime has a post outlining the five biggest differences between the troubled Salvadoran truce and the emerging Honduran truce. The article asserts that "The one area where Honduras may have an advantage is on the mediation front," as the agreement is being brokered by a unified Catholic Church as opposed to a divided one.
A report (PDF) by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights the political connections of two drug trafficking organizations confirmed to be operating in El Salvador, according to an article in La Prensa Grafica and translated by InSight Crime. The report found that the effectiveness of the cocaine trafficking and organized criminal operations of the Perrones and the Texis Cartel is owing to protection and lack of investigation from the state.
The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue published a new report entitled "Mediating Criminal Violence: Lessons from the gang truce in El Salvador." (PDF) More from Armed Groups and International Law.