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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Week in Review

This week Mexico's national security commissioner resigned, U.S. Southern Command deployed more ships to help Honduras' Navy interdict drugs and Colombian security forces were deployed to the country's primary cocaine port, where neo-paramilitary groups are terrorizing residents. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to divert U.S. security assistance away from aerial coca fumigation and towards preventative, development programs like alternative crop incentives. According to Gomez, doing so would free up resources to "attack the causes" of the illicit drug trade, which he asserted needed to be viewed as "an economic and social problem."
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a report on Colombia’s training of foreign forces throughout the region. The United States strongly supports this practice, as the use of Colombian facilities and trainers can be up to four times cheaper than using U.S. assets. The creation of an International Cooperation Division to help coordinate trainings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, allocated $15 million in the 2014 budget, suggests this is no passing trend.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said his country would receive five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, although U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso said the two countries are still "in consultations and dialogue." As the Pan-American Post noted, if an agreement is reached, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to accept Guantanamo detainees, after El Salvador accepted two prisoners in 2012.
  • Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes announced U.S. Southern Command would be ramping up its activities off the coast of Honduras to work with the Honduran Navy on counternarcotics operations. SOUTHCOM’s new deployment includes four armed vessels, two cutters and two frigates, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific.
  • On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report on the security crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura. The report highlighted the violence, torture and extortion committed by the two predominant paramilitary successor groups in the area, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which caused the displacement of 19,000 people from the city in 2013 alone. El Espectador also profiled the security situation, while freelance journalist James Bargent noted the relatively recent U.S-Colombia free trade agreement has exacerbated the problem.
  • El Tiempo reported that almost 600 soldiers and marines have been deployed to Buenaventura in hopes of wrangling control from the Empresa and the Urabeños, which is said to be Colombia's most powerful criminal group. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "the Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city over the past decade."
  • A sobering but excellent interactive feature (and phone app) from Colombian investigative news organization Verdad Abierta and Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory chronicles 700 massacres that have taken place in the country from 1982-present.
  • Military budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by three percent in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The study found Nicaragua increased its budget by 27 percent, while Honduras and Guatemala increased their budgets by about 18 percent.
  • Honduran authorities discovered opium poppies for the first time during a greenhouse raid in the western part of the country, IPS News reported Monday.
  • On Sunday, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) named left-wing FMLN candidate and former guerrilla Salvador Sanchez Céren as the country's next president, following a contentious post-election standoff with the conservative ARENA party. Sanchez Céren and his vice-president Oscar Ortíz will begin their terms on June 1. As Central American Politics noted, Sanchez Céren, has appointed six other former leftist rebels to his transition team.
  • As Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva highlighted in an op-ed for El Faro, while the U.S. government historically "does not like to dance" with the country's political left, there are a number of issues, like drug trafficking and immigration, that inextricably link the two nations. There were a number of other helpful articles examining the challenges Sanchez Céren now faces given his razor-thin victory, including these from Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, and Americas Quarterly
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew traveled to Brazil this week in hopes of repairing relations with the country, which were strained following revelations of NSA espionage earlier this year. Lew also met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited the region this week as well to meet with government officials from Brazil and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. Following her meeting with Cartes, Jacobson said the United States was looking to increase cooperation with the South American nation in the fight against organized crime.
  • On Thursday, five members of the U.S. Congress met with Bolivian President Evo Morales to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • The head of Mexico's National Security Commission and federal police, Manuel Mondragon, stepped down on Monday. President Enrique Peña Nieto nominated lawyer Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia to be his replacement, profiled by El Universal here. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this is the second high-level Mexican security official to step down in less than two months, noting the resignation of Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo in late January.
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute released a report, "Changes in the Neighborhood:Reviewing Citizen Security Cooperation in Latin America," which examined a shift in security strategies towards “softer” policies focused on regional cooperation and citizen participation. InSight Crime published an analysis of the report, including an examination of the United States’ role in citizen security throughout the region.
  • Peruvian investigative news website IDL-Reporteros critiqued the Peruvian government’s militarized forced eradication strategy in the VRAE region, which now produces more coca than any other place in the world.
  • Friday, March 21, 2014

    U.S. Southern Command's 2014 Posture Statement

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Matt LaLime

    General John Kelly of U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) and General Charles Jacoby Jr. of U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) released their annual posture statements on February 26th. Both commanders testified before the House and Senate Armed Service Committees on February 26th and March 13th, respectively.

    The main concerns echoed last year’s posture statements as both Northcom’s General Jacoby and Southcom’s General Kelly expressed concern with military budget cuts, reiterating that the decrease in funds would limit both homeland defense strategy and constructive engagement with regional allies.

    They highlighted a few noteworthy developments regarding joint U.S.-Latin American security cooperation:

    Mexico

    Despite media reports citing public officials claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation has slowed since President Peña Nieto took office in December of 2012, Gen. Jacoby said joint U.S.-Mexico military activities and exercises have increased, noting the United States helped train over 5000 Mexican soldiers this past year.

    Drug Trafficking

    As multiple media outlets highlighted, Gen. Kelly estimated Southcom failed to intercept 80 percent of the drugs flowing out of Colombia, and around 74 percent of all maritime drug trafficking. He linked the drop in interdictions to a lack of equipment, intelligence resources and overall funding.

    Gen. Kelly asserted the goals of Operation Martillo, the United States’ counternarcotics surge operation in Central America’s coastal waters, “might no longer be achievable,” and that Southcom “will seek to employ non-traditional solutions within our current authorities, to partially mitigate detection and monitoring shortfalls” in the year ahead.

    Southcom interagency cooperation

    As a way to maximize the effectiveness of funding, Southcom deepened its interagency counternarcotic partnerships. General Kelly noted:

  • Southcom currently works with both the Department of Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security to map and combat the flow of illicit proceeds and is likely to deepen these partnerships following the success that financial sanctions have had on weakening the Los Cachiros drug cartel in Honduras.
  • Southcom would “rely heavily” on the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection (which now provide the majority of the ships and aircraft used for interdiction) and continue to work with DEA Foreign Deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST), along with nine DEA Special investigative Units (SIUs)
  • In cooperation with the State Department, Southcom is planning to extend its program working with Colombia’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization to assist the military “in countering the threat of improvised explosive devices” to the rest of the region.
  • Plans for 2014

    Gen. Kelly also pointed to other engagement activities Southcom is planning on continuing or creating this coming year:

  • Gen. Kelly said Southcom would continue to support Colombia in its newfound role as a “regional security exporter.”
  • In Peru, Southcom will continue to aid security forces in their fight against the Shining Path, through further assistance and military training.
  • In 2014, Southcom will begin working with Northcom, Guatemala and Belize to support Mexico’s new southern border strategy. Gen. Kelly emphasized that current restrictions on foreign military financing, particularly to Guatemala, limit the extent of this engagement.
  • Although “broader bilateral challenges” have adversely affected U.S.-Brazilian defense relations, Gen. Kelly maintained military-to-military cooperation has remained strong, and said Southcom is planning to cooperate with Brazil and other Latin American on strengthening their cyber security institutions. This includes working with Brazilian security forces in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
  • In 2014, Southcom plans to continue existing multinational exercises and humanitarian assistance to countries across the region. For Kelly, these humanitarian missions help to safeguard national security, reduce perceptions of U.S. “militarization,” and help promote respect for human rights in the region. Kelly noted that last year Southcom canceled over 200 engagements in the region.
  • Gen. Kelly voiced his concern over the tenfold increase in Haitian migrants passing through the Mona Passage and urged Washington to pay closer attention to this and other immigration issues in the Caribbean in 2014. He also underscored his concern about an uptick in narcotrafficking in the Caribbean and mentioned the lack of U.S. funding for engagement in the region.
  • Southcom’s posture statement’s annex details information about operations and trainings that took place in the previous year. These can be useful in identifying trends and Southcom priorities in the region. For example, in 2012, Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) continued to be most active in Colombia and very present in Peru. It also reported on the results of Operation Martillo and various Southcom units like JTF-Bravo, stationed in Honduras.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Civil-Military Relations Update

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Mia Fasano.

    • As massive protests in Venezuela continue, President Nicolás Maduro has ordered paratroopers to patrol the streets of San Cristobal, Táchira, in an attempt to stop protests.
    • In Peru, Humberto Rosas Bonuccelli, the former director of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), testified in the “diarios chichas” corruption case that former dictator Alberto Fujimori authorized the transfer of US$750,000 per month from the armed forces to the National Intelligence Service during his 2000 election campaign. Vladimiro Montesinos, the currently imprisoned director of SIN, used the money to pay television channels and media forums.
    • Human rights organizations in El Salvador are demanding public access to military documents containing information about massacres that occurred during the height of state repression between 1981 and 1983. Journalists and human rights organizations have denounced a lack of accountability and transparency within the Ministry of Defense, which they claim violates the Law of Public Access to Information.
    • Authorities in Jamaica have created a truth-telling panel to investigate the use of excessive force during a military operation in which 70 people were killed in May of 2010. The operation was carried out to capture drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke and reestablish control of Tivoli Gardens, a low-income area. Citizens and activists have demanded a formal investigation into the operation.
    • Around 100 protesters in Mexico gathered to protest a weeks-long military exhibition in the Zócalo, Mexico City's central square. They held up signs that read “Zócalo is not a barracks.” The protestors held a symbolic moment of silence to commemorate the assassination of Mexican journalist Gregorio Jiménez.
    • Paraguay has proposed several changes to the organization of the armed forces in order to increase effectiveness between the separate branches. The three major branches of the armed forces will be converted into two in order to increase intelligence sharing capability and improve cooperation. In the reformed structure, the Navy and the Air Force will be under the same command.
    • President Otto Pérez Molina defended the army's continued use for policing duties in Guatemala, in response to calls from Foro Guatemala, a civil-society group, for a separation of military and police roles. Pérez Molina said that due to the current security situation, “the role of the army cannot be separated from citizen security.”

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    DoD security aid to Latin America and the Caribbean: 2008-2012

    We recently obtained reports from the Defense Department that detail the department’s allocations and spending on foreign-assistance related programs in Latin America in 2011 and 2012. The programs included in the report were Section 1033 Counter-Drug Assistance, Section 1004 Counter-Drug Assistance and the Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (also known as Counter-Terrorism Fellowship Program). The DoD funds a couple other security assistance programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the majority goes to counternarcotics assistance through these programs.

    Based on these new numbers and other available DoD data, here's some of what we know about DoD security assistance to the region:

    The top five recipients of Department of Defense military and police aid to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2012:

    1. Mexico: $71,608,748
    2. Colombia: $60,353,979
    3. Western Hemisphere Regional: $16,425,000
    4. Guatemala: $12,525,080
    5. Honduras: $ 8,473,271
    Everywhere else: $54,146,129

    Total:$223,674,189, or about 31 percent of total U.S. military assistance to the region in 2011 ($719,903,342)

    The top five recipients in 2011:

    1. Colombia: $112,436,613
    2. Caribbean Regional: $93,022,000
    3. Mexico:$85,543,892
    4. Western Hemisphere Regional: $66,844,000
    5. Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao): $22,603,000
    Everywhere else: $101,331,939

    Total:$481,781,444, or about 46 percent of total U.S. military assistance to the region in 2011 ($1,041,075,954)

    In 2012, Pentagon foreign-assistance spending in the region was cut in half. The biggest drops were seen in assistance to Colombia, which was cut by almost half, from just over $112 million to just over $60 million, the Caribbean, which was reduced from $93 million to $7 million, and the Western Hemisphere regional account, which dropped from almost $69 million to $16 million. Mexico only lost about $15 million in funding and overtook Colombia as the region’s top recipient of Pentagon foreign assistance.

    The "Netherlands Antilles" has received heightened DoD funding since about 2004 for counternarcotics assistance. The Dutch territory was dissolved in 2010 and its constituent islands -- Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, Dutch St. Martin, Saba and St. Eustatius -- now have varying legal statuses within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, however the Dutch government is still responsible for the islands' defense. In 2011, the Pentagon gave just over $20 million to the island of Curaçao, right off Venezuela's coast, where the Dutch maintain a naval base and the United States maintains an airbase. The Dutch have been a key partner to the United States in antidrug operations in the Caribbean and participate in Operation Martillo, the United States' counternarcotics surge operation in Central and South America's coastal waters. The islands received no funding in 2012.

    Because of the enormous drop in spending in the Caribbean and the Netherlands Antilles after 2011, Guatemala and Honduras slid up into the top spots for Pentagon foreign assistance in 2012, although both countries received greater sums in 2011 than in 2012.

    Guatemala received just over $20 million in assistance from the Pentagon in 2011 and just over $12 million in 2012. Much of this went to the Guatemalan Army, which until this year was banned from receiving any funds from State Department-managed programs due to human rights concerns. Because these human rights conditions do not apply to Defense Department spending, the United States was able to get around this ban. For 2014, aid to the Guatemalan Army through the State Department is technically allowed, but has strong human rights conditions attached that Secretary of State Kerry must first certify Guatemala is meeting before any funding is released.

    Among the several initiatives the Defense Department is funding in Guatemala is the Joint Task Force Tecún Umán, along the Mexican border, Joint Task Force Chortí, currently being set up along the Honduran border, a planned joint task force near the El Salvadoran border, and a Naval Special Forces unit operating in coastal areas. Guatemala is also a participant in Operation Martillo.

    The top five recipients from 2008-2012 and the total amount each country received in those five years were:

    1. Colombia: $601,529,271
    2. Caribbean Regional: $445,380,000
    3. Mexico: $310,692,603
    4. Western Hemisphere Regional: $294,199,000
    5. Netherlands Antilles: $93,290,000
    Everywhere else: $450,534,672

    Total: $2,202,225,546 or about 36 percent of total U.S. military assistance to the region over those five years ($6,043,212,995)

    As the above and below charts show, spending to the region overall is in decline. As this Mother Jones article from January of this year highlighted, although big spending in the region for the Pentagon is down, there may be no similar decline in the number of Special Operations Forces in the region performing counternarcotics operations and “building partner capacity.”

    However, according to this year’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which broadly outlines DOD strategy and priorities, “If sequestration continues, there would be fewer U.S. military forces in other regions, such as the Western Hemisphere and Africa, than there are today.”

    With the exception of 2011, the Pentagon has tended to spend a little over half of what the State Department has allocated. In 2011, the budgets for both were close, but this had more to do with a large drop in counternarcotics funding to Haiti and the large allocation of Mérida funds to Mexico in 2010 ($416,139,000) than it did with a change in Pentagon spending levels. For the most part, the State Department allocates more funding than the Defense Department, with notable exceptions in regional-specific spending and countries where, for either political reasons (Ecuador) or human rights reasons (Honduras and Guatemala), State Department funding is low.

    Friday, March 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the head of Southcom said he can't stop 80 percent of drugs coming from Colombia, the U.S. government made increasingly critical statements against Venezuela's government and El Salvador almost got a new president. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday, the heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As in his appearance before the House last week, Southcom commander General Kelly said that he is "unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," because of severe budget cuts that have pared down assets like intelligence equipment and vessels. Kelly said he needed 16 ships capable of transporting helicopters in order to reduce the flow of drugs by 40 percent. He also noted
    that he does not get to use the U.S. Air Force’s surveillance drones.
  • General Kelly also said he had to cancel more than 200 engagements due to the tightened defense spending and that some Latin American leaders are "in disbelief" over legalization in the United States given its push for the drug war. A video of the hearing can be accessed here and General Kelly’s comments from the Pentagon briefing room here.
  • While testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to "end this terror campaign against his own people,” one of his strongest statements to date about the protests in the country. Kerry said the United States was prepared “to get involved in various ways,” mentioning sanctions but noting that “the economy there is already quite fragile.” A video of the hearing can be viewed here.
  • During the hearing Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the statement from the Organization of American States, released last Friday, "shamefully weak," a sentiment shared by Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco, who said the statement “describes Venezuela as if natural disaster had struck, ignoring government censorship and abuses.” The United States and Panama added lengthy footnote objections to the statement, ultimately pushing for stronger language on demanding dialogue.
  • In an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, Biden called the situation in Venezuela “alarming,” accusing the government of backing armed militias and not respecting basic human rights. An unofficial source told the Associated Press Biden mentioned the possibility of third-party mediation.
  • The Union of South American Nations met in Chile the day after the inauguration to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. The group released a statement supporting dialogue and resolved to send a delegation to Venezuela to facilitate “dialogue between the government and all political forces and players.”
  • President Maduro announced the government would be stepping up security measures in areas where violence has spiked since the protests started one month ago. According to Reuters, the death toll has reached 28 and Venezuela State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, said 1,293 detainees had been released and 104 remained in custody. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a post tracking the deaths to date, while the Center for Economic Policy Research has a consistently updated blog feature, “Venezuela: Who Are They and How Did They Die?” See our Venezuela news page for links to several articles about the current situation.
  • Guatemala, the United States and Mexico are creating a coalition to ramp up security along their borders, Spanish news agency EFE reported.
  • For the first time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on March 25 to discuss the negative impact of the drug war on human rights in Latin America, reported the AFP. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is currently holding a review of global drug policy and for the first time has updates available to the public on its blog.
  • The State Department published its 2000-2010 estimates of world military budgets and arms transfers.
  • On Wednesday night, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared left wing FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén the winner of the country's presidential election. The final tally was 50.11 percent for Cerén to 49.89 percent for Norman Quijano. Quijano's conservative ARENA party has filed numerous petitions calling for the election to be set aside for several reasons, which are laid out by Tim Muth on his blog. ARENA has also submitted alleged proof of electoral fraud to the Attorney General's office. Before the TSE can ratify Cerén, these petitions must be addressed. According to Muth, the TSE will meet Sunday and announce on Monday whether the election will be set aside or if Cerén will be El Salvador’s next president.
  • Last weekend Colombia held congressional elections that many regarded as a referendum on the government's peace process with the FARC. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who has opposed the peace talks, won a Senate seat and his newly formed Democratic Center party won almost 15 percent of the seats in the Senate and 10 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Although President Santos's U party maintained a majority, the Democratic Center's strong showing could pose political difficulties for Santos going forward, however as Adam Isacson noted in World Politics Review, "his agenda as a whole will survive." Analyst James Bosworth has a succinct analysis of what the elections mean for Colombia's political landscape on his blog.
  • Several of the newly elected members of Colombia’s congress have been linked to paramilitary groups, including Senator Uribe. The estimates of the exact number of members with ties to paramilitaries has varied between 30, as Inter-Press Service reported, and 70, as Colombian organization Fundación Paz y Reconciliación determined. Colombian investigative news website Verdad Abierta published an excellent report and infographic on the issue, while La Silla Vacía included profiles of the members of congress linked to the paramilitary groups.
  • Friday, March 14, 2014

    Southern Command Doesn't Have Drones, Commander Says

    Here is a striking exchange from yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Northern and Southern Command. At about the 46 minute mark, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Americas (excluding Mexico) says that, “generally speaking,” he never gets to use any of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of surveillance drones.

    Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), committee chairman: Under the FY15 budget, the Air Force is going to cap the fleet of unmanned aerial systems, which are mainly the Predator and Reaper drones. They’re going to reduce the growth in that fleet from 65 to 55 combat air patrol. Is that something that would make it more difficult for you to meet your full ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] requirement?

    Gen. John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command: Right now, Senator, I don’t get any of those systems, generally speaking, right now. I was actually hoping, and only found out yesterday, about the caps. I was actually hoping that as the war in Afghanistan, Middle East, started to wind down, and those assets maybe be made available, I was hoping to get some of those. So, very disappointed yesterday when I was told that we’re going in that direction.

    We found it surprising that the Defense Department isn’t using drones at all for surveillance in Latin America, neither over the Caribbean or Pacific, nor in the airspace of countries, like Colombia, that might allow it.

    We know that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (part of the Homeland Security Department) uses drones over the Caribbean, Pacific, Mexico, and possibly parts of Central America, if not further south. And we can only guess what the intelligence community is up to. But contrary to what we’d expect, the U.S. military isn’t employing them, apparently for budget reasons.

    Southern Command still uses lots of manned aircraft, like Navy P-3s operating out of El Salvador and Aruba-Curacao (and maybe Colombia). Gen. Kelly was quite emphatic yesterday that he doesn’t have enough of those, either.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    Arms Trafficking and Arms Transfers Update

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Mia Fasano.

    • Argentina has seen an increase in thefts of lightweight assault weapons from military arsenals. In February, it is estimated that 154 lightweight assault weapons were stolen from the 603rd Arsenal Battalion in San Lorenzo. Several of these firearms have emerged in violent street crimes within Argentina, and have also been discovered by authorities in Brazil.
    • A recent study by Brazil think-tank Sou da Paz found that an estimated 35.6 percent of the illegal arms confiscated in the country can be linked to the United States, while 44 percent of seized weapons are produced domestically. Between 1980 and 2010, Brazil has experienced a 346.5 percent increase in homicides. 
    • Brazil officials announced in December their decision to purchase nearly $5 billion worth of fighter jets from Swedish company Saab, rather than U.S. owned Boeing. In its announcement, Brazil stated that the decision owed to financial and technology transfer reasons, and not to the revelation of U.S. surveillance operations, which has been a source of great controversy in Brazil.
    • The prosecutor-general of Colombia issued arrest warrants for 15 Army officers and soldiers, charging that they were running a corruption network. The network’s activities included transfers of weapons to illegal armed groups inside Colombia and, allegedly, to the armed forces of Ecuador. The defense minister of Ecuador denied receiving any such military equipment.
    • The crew of a North Korean ship that was detained near the Panama Canal in July for carrying two MiG-21 jet fighters from Cuba, along with other Soviet-era arms, was released upon the payment of a $1 million fine. The Cuban government released a statement saying that the decades-old weapons were to be sent to North Korea for repairs, then returned to Cuba.
    • In Ecuador, the army discovered a shipment of 800 mortars and grenades along the border with Colombia. Officials believe the arms were headed to illegal armed groups, including the FARC guerrillas, that operate in the border zone. The equipment was discovered by personnel during inspection operations in the north-central province of Carchi.
    • Paraguay President Horacio Cartes met with military officials to discuss proposed investments in aircraft, military training, and transport. The proposal includes the possible purchase of the following aircraft: the T-6 “Texan II” manufactured by Beechcraft, the A-29 “Super Tucano” made by Brazil’s Embraer, the F-5 from Taiwan, and the Kfir Block 60 from Israel. The Paraguayan Army is looking to purchase a three-dimensional radar system that would provide increased aerial surveillance. President Cartes is looking to secure an international loan for the military improvements, which he views as a necessity in protecting the nation from aerial attacks. 
    • The Public Ministry of Paraguay has maintained that the direct purchase of military weapons from private import company Comtecpar are within legal bounds. Opponents claim that the investigation conducted by the Public Ministry did not properly acknowledge the unfair benefits during the bidding process or identify the number of arms imported.
    • On January 22, the Armed Forces of Venezuela received a shipment of military equipment, such as ammunition and missiles, aboard a Ukrainian cargo ship. Most of the materiel is believed to be from Russia. 
    • During a press conference in Paris, the vice president for the Latin American sector of Airbus Helicopters, Mesrob Karalekian, stated that his company’s sales to the region grew 15 percent in 2013, and that he expects growth to rise to 20 percent in the next three to five years. The Armed Forces of Bolivia recently signed a contract with Airbus Helicopters for six Super Puma AS332, which are capable of adapting to the difficult Andean terrain and will be utilized during counter-drug operations. In the entire hemisphere, Airbus is currently processing 50 to 60 requests and inbound deliveries. According to a Brazilian representative, the corporation is looking to further increase sales in Peru and Mexico, which remain key clients.

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the Obama administration cut aid to Colombia and Mexico in its proposed budget for FY2015, El Salvador's police chief said the gang truce was technically done and Colombia's military was rocked by more scandals. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Tuesday, the White House released its budget proposal for FY2015, which included considerable cuts in State Department counternarcotics assistance to Mexico. A drop from $195 million spent in 2013 for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement fund to a potential $80 million in 2015 indicates the Mérida Initiative is on the way out, according to WOLA's Adam Isacson. The proposal also reduced aid to Colombia, for both military and economic assistance, by about 12 percent. Overall the administration is planning to cut antidrug assistance to the region by $285 million in 2015.
  • Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) criticized the sizable drop in economic aid, saying, "After spending billions on counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency, we must not walk away from Colombia’s development and human rights needs, just when they might have the most positive impact." See here for more detailed State Department numbers and other international programs and here for the Congressional Budget Justification, which includes the actual amount spent in 2013 and the request for 2015.
  • Salvadoran journalist Héctor Silva Ávalos published a working paper for the Inter-American Dialogue, “The United States and Central America’s Northern Tier: The Ongoing Disconnect” The paper reviews U.S. security policy in the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Silva noted U.S. assistance has done little to curb the soaring crime and murder rates that have plagued the region since the end of their civil wars in the 1990s.
  • Silva also published a series on corruption in El Salvador for InSight Crime, including an excellent article on the country's police force and another detailing the logistics of a smuggling ring moving cocaine from El Salvador to New York and Washington, D.C.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense released the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, which broadly outlines DOD strategy and priorities. The document said very little about Latin America and the Caribbean. Analyst James Bosworth put together a roundup of all mentions of the region. The report cited transnational organized crime as the greatest threat to security in the region and said it would be "focusing limited resources on working with countries that want to partner with the United States and demonstrate a commitment to investing the time and resources required to develop and sustain an effective, civilian-led enterprise."
  • The State Department also released the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that provides country and region profiles. All seven Central American countries were listed as major drug transit countries, as were Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Bahamas, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico. The report estimated that 86 percent of the cocaine smuggled to the United States in the first part of 2013 passed through Central America before moving on to Mexico and across the border, up from 80 percent in 2012, as InSight Crime noted.. MercoPress highlighted that several Caribbean countries were now listed as major money laundering countries.
  • Sunday, voters will go to the polls for the second round of El Salvador's presidential election to chose between Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist FMLN party and Norman Quijano of the conservative ARENA party. The polls indicate Sánchez Cerén will likely be the candidate taking office June 1, according to Tim's El Salvador blog, which offers helpful information and analysis on the election.
  • In Costa Rica it looks likely that Luis Guillermo Solis of the center-left Citizens' Action Party (PAC) will take office following the second round presidential vote in April. Solis' main opponent, Johnny Araya of the Liberal Party, withdrew his name from the vote on Wednesday.
  • El Salvador's police chief, Rigoberto Pleites, told local media this week that the truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 street gangs, "technically no longer exists, given the increase in homicides in the past months." Pleites attributed about 70 percent of the 484 murders that took place between January 1 and March 1 of 2014, to the gangs. According to police numbers, this is about 100 more murders than were registered over the same period last year.
  • Fifteen members Colombia's military, including a colonel embroiled in the military's other recent scandals, were arrested for trafficking weapons to criminal gangs, like the narco-paramilitary group Los Urabeños. El Tiempo also reported that an Army liaison to civilian human rights prosecutors in Colombia might have been illegally passing information on “false positive” cases to commanders. A recent Gallup poll indicated the military’s favorability has fallen 16 points in two months (down from 80 percent in December), following the onslaught on corruption reports.
  • The violent protests in Venezuela continue and to date have left 20 dead and over 300 hundred injured. Countries in the Western Hemisphere have begun to voice their increasing concern over the events unfolding. On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution, nearly unanimously, condemning the "inexcusable violence perpetuated against opposition leaders and protesters in Venezuela." Despite calls for sanctions on Venezuelan leaders from lawmakers, the resolution was even-keeled, calling for an end to violence and promoting dialogue between both sides and support from the region. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the Miami Herald that President Obama is "looking at" the sanctions.
  • As today's Pan-American Post noted, the Organization of American States is meeting again today to discuss Venezuela, after members failed to reach a consensus during an eight-hour meeting yesterday. The United Nations issued a statement asking the Venezuelan government to provide information on alleged cases of torture, arbitrary detention and use of force as well as the 65 reported attacks against journalists. The country's national prosecutor Luisa Ortega said "1,322 people have been arrested and received court appearances during the protests and 92 are still in custody, including 15 members of the security forces suspected of human rights abuses,” according to the New York Times.Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a helpful Q&A on the protests, including a section on what the United States’ best likely course of action would be.
  • Friday, March 7, 2014

    For Colombia's Military, a Tough Month

    Colombia’s armed forces have had a remarkably rough 30 days. The institution has been rocked by a series of scandals.

    • February 3: An investigative report from Colombia’s principal newsmagazine, Semana, alleged that a military intelligence operation had been spying on political leaders, human rights defenders, and even some members of the government team negotiating with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, Cuba.
    • February 15: The same magazine revealed audio recordings indicating “an impressive network of corruption” in the armed forces. Allegations include contracts obtained through bribery, arms trafficking, illegal mining investments, and access to cars and fuel for officers presumably jailed for human rights and other crimes.

      A central figure is former Col. Robinson González del Río, who is currently in a military prison in Bogotá. Col. del Río is awaiting trial for one of thousands of cases of so-called “false positives”: soldiers murdering civilians, then falsely claiming them as combat kills in order to reap rewards for high body counts. (Most “false positive” killings took place between 2004 and 2008.) Col. del Río claims to be the nephew of Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, who is also jailed for abetting the bloody mid–1990s takeover of the Urabá region in northwestern Colombia.

    • February 18: President Santos dismissed the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, who had been on the job for only six months. Among the leaked phone recordings in Semana is a conversation between Gen. Barrero and Col. del Río. Referring to the colonel’s imprisonment on “false positives” charges, the armed-forces chief encourages him to join with other accused officers to “make up a mafia to denounce the [civilian human rights] prosecutors and all of this crap.”
    • February 26: As Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón prepared to visit Washington, his office mistakenly leaked to the media a detailed agenda and set of talking points. They reveal some sensitive topics that Pinzón planned to take up in his visits with U.S. government officials. Pinzón was to ask Washington not to cut military assistance in the post-conflict phase. He planned to push to maintain the aerial herbicide spraying (fumigation) program, which could be bargained away in ongoing peace talks. The minister also planned to warn U.S. counterparts about “Nicaragua, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and foreign terrorist organizations” as “perceived/potential challenges to regional security.” The memo raises eyebrows, as some of the Defense Ministry recommendations seem to be out of step with Colombia’s on-the-record foreign policy.
    • March 3: Colombia’s Prosecutor-General issued an arrest warrant for Col. Del Río and 14 other military officials, charging them with trafficking weapons to drug-trafficking “criminal groups” like the Urabeños and ERPAC, bands formed by mid-level leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network that disbanded in the mid–2000s.
    • March 6: Press reports revealed that the Army officer who served in 2013 as liaison to the Human Rights Unit of the civilian Prosecutor-General’s Office, Col. Anstrong Polanía Ducuara, is under investigation for illegally passing to his military superiors sensitive information about human rights cases, including “false positives.”

    Colombian opinion polls frequently show the armed forces to have one of the highest favorability ratings of all the country’s institutions, usually more than 75 percent. The Gallup poll released this week, however, found the military at 64 percent favorability, down from 80 percent in December and the lowest level recorded since 2000.

    Friday, February 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week, the world's most wanted drug trafficker was captured in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation, U.S. Southern Command said it didn't have enough money to interdict the majority of drugs at sea, robots started patrolling drug tunnels at the border and Venezuela announced a new ambassador to the United States. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday the State Department released its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013” The Colombian government was particularly upset by the report, which cited impunity and inefficiency in the justice system as principle human rights infractions in the country. Vice President Angelino Garzón responded by saying the report was an “intrusion” into Colombia’s internal politics and that the United States had no place to preach about human rights given its maintenance of the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

    Some other topics touched on in the report include Mexico’s negligence in accounting for thousands of “disappeared” citizens, extrajudicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, and rampant corruption in government institutions and security forces in Honduras and Guatemala. For Politico, Dana Frank examined the United States’ continued to security relationship with Honduras despite these abuses and current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s own shady past.

  • The heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) gave their posture statements at a hearing before the House’s Armed Services Committee. Northcom commander General Jacoby underscored that the U.S.-Mexico security relationship remains closer than ever despite recent grumblings suggesting a distancing, pointing to the recent capture of Mexican drug trafficker “El Chapo” Guzmán in a joint military operation as evidence. General Jacoby’s posture statement can be read here (PDF).
  • Among several other topics, Southcom commander General Kelly discussed the effect of budget cuts, claiming he now watches 74 percent of cocaine passing through Honduras’ maritime corridor go by due to insufficient vessels and equipment. He touched on human rights vetting and noted his ever-growing concern over shifts in the drug trade towards the Caribbean. The video can be watched here and General Kelly’s posture statement can be read here(PDF).
  • The Associated Press reported on budget cuts to the Coast Guard, despite an increase in maritime trafficking routes. The article noted, “While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.” InSight Crime argued this indicates a politicization in funding for the drug war. An example of this increased border funding can be seen in the recent deployment of remote control robots to patrol tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In another hearing this week, “The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” Colombia was heralded as a military and human rights success story, particularly given that it is now training other countries’ security forces.
  • Colombia's military will soon send "senior officials from the Army specialized in education, training and protocols” to help train national police officers in Guatemala, reported U.S.-Southern Command-sponsored news site InfoSur Hoy.
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón was in Washington D.C. this week for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, including “High-Level Partnership DialogueSemana published part of a leaked copy of his agenda, noting that he would ask for continued U.S. support in programs like aerial fumigation and other counternarcotics operations.

    While in town Pinzón gave a talk at Center for American Progress where he “laid out an extremely expansive vision of the role of the armed forces post-peace accord, ranging from border security to confronting drug trafficking, transnational crime and continued armed violence in an accord’s aftermath; and from addressing climate change to expanding the military’s role in development,” according to Lisa Haugaard, director of Latin America Working Group. He also strongly emphasized increasing Colombia’s role in security training particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, some of which is done with U.S.-funding. See here for concerns about Colombia’s exportation of training.

  • There were two informative English-language explainers this week about the amassing corruption scandals rocking the Colombian military, one from Reuters and the other from the Latin American Working Group. The latter noted that the Army's new commander, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, oversaw a unit implicated in the false positive scandal.
  • Brazil and the European Union approved an undersea communication cable with the stated purpose of reducing dependency on U.S. fiber optic cables and to “guarantee the neutrality of the internet,” protecting Brazil Internet users from U.S. surveillance.
  • An article in Foreign Policy questioned the Pentagon’s support for Suriname’s government, given President Desi Bouterse has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands and is accused of maintaining links to traffickers currently. His son, Dino Bouterse, was arrested by the DEA and extradited to the United States after he stuck a deal with “Mexican smugglers” (undercover DEA agents) to allow “Hezbollah militants” to train in Suriname. See Just the Facts’ Suriname country page for more information on security assistance to the country.
  • The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it had given three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to exit the country in response to last week’s expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Venezuela. That same day, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he would be appointing an ambassador the United States. Though Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 they have maintained embassies. See here for more detailed information on Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, the new Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.
  • As the protests continue to rage throughout Venezuela, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution “asking the administration to study and consider putting in place strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S.”
  • The Congressional Research Service published a new report: “Gangs in Central America.”
  • “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, was captured this weekend in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation. While Guzmán’s capture was a huge win for the Mexican and United States governments, the general consensus is that it will have little impact on the drug trade while another leader in the Sinaloa cartel will step up to fill his role. Several analysts weighed in on what comes next for narcotrafficking in Mexico -- particularly InSight Crime, which posted a series of good analysis on what his capture means. See our Mexico news page for links to these articles.

    According to reports, the United States’ main contribution was providing intelligence and technology leading up to the capture, while the Mexican Navy, the United States’ main security partner in Mexico, carried out the final capture. Although several indictments have been filed in cities throughout the United States, it is unlikely that Guzmán will get extradited any time soon as lawmakers want him to first face justice in Mexico. President Peña Nieto said he extradition would be possible later. On Thursday the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kingpin Act sanctions against the financial networks of several of Guzmán’s associates. Prensa Libre published a timeline of OFAC sanctions on the Sinaloa Cartel from 2007-2014.