As we have noted in a seriesofposts on Just the Facts, there is a trend throughout Latin America of increasingly using militaries to carry out law enforcement duties.
In the case of Brazil, the government is using established Military Police to carry out these duties instead of directly sending in the Army. And politicians, citizens and analysts have begun calling for demilitarization of the country’s law enforcement.
Each state in Brazil has two distinct police units – the Civil Police and the Miltiary Police (PM). The PM is responsible for maintaining public order and immediately responding to crimes, while the Civil Police carry out investigations, detective work and forensics. Although the PMs are military-trained and also army reserve troops, they report to their state governments, not the Ministry of Defense. There are about 400,000 active PM members and 123,400 active members of the Civil Police.
The debate on the demilitarization of the military police in the country is not new. Part of the legacy of Brazil's dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, the military police emerged as a solution through the extinction of the Public Force and Civil Guard. After the 1964 coup, the new government abandoned the idea of creating a single, civilian police and implemented a military model.
Today, almost all urban policing in Brazil is done by military police attached to the governments of each state, and the country remains the only one in the world to have a police force that operates out of the military barracks.
The issue of demilitarizing the police has reentered the debate in Brazil after several recent episodes of PM violence against demonstrators and journalists during the massive protests that swept the country in June.
Analysts polled by BBC Brasil claim that one of the main problems of having two separate police forces is that neither carries out all responsibilities in any criminal occurrence - The PM holds a suspect who has just committed a crime and turns them over to the Civil Police, which starts investigating and reports the crime to the justice sector. However, this division of responsibility and sometimes overlap of tasks inhibits coordination and cooperation.
In addition, both police forces have units with similar responsibilities – investigation and patrol. In most states, the division of responsibility is blurred, creating competition and lack of cooperation between the two bodies, according to the researchers.
For Coronel Ibis Pereira, head of the sub-directorate of teaching for Rio de Janeiro’s military police, “militarization” is defined more by how a force views its target and less by a military structure: “It’s to see a favela and identify it as a territory that has to be conquered. To see the criminal faction as an enemy that needs to be confronted with bullets,” he says. “But we are facing criminals that have rights and guarantees.”
“The military is prepared to defend the country. It is a different methodology than is necessary to deal with the Brazilian people,” according to lawmaker Chico Lopes. “Some military police treat people as if they were enemies. The police have to have a social role, more humane and civilian.”
A survey by BBC Brasil on police killings in 2011 indicated that São Paulo’s PM killed six times more people than the Civil Police.
Any change to this structure would need a constitutional amendment. At least three Constitutional Amendment Proposals (PEC) related to demilitarization are being considered in the Brazilian Congress. The majority of them propose unifying the civil and military police.
According to legal experts, a constitutional amendment would have to be approved in two rounds by three-fifths of both the House and the Senate before moving on to be signed by the president.
Wilson Moraes, president of the Association of Chiefs and Soldiers PM from São Paulo, Brazil told the BBC that associations of PMs are favorable to the unification of the police - among other things because it would allow for the political participation of the military in society and make it possible for them to receive overtime.
In 2012, the UN Council on Human Rights asked the Brazilian government to work towards abolishing the PM, as they have been accused of numerous extrajudicial killings and abuses. Other global organizations have also spoken out about the PM for their involvement in death squads. Last year Amnesty International reported PM and Civil Police had been, “engaged in social cleansing, extortion, as well as in trafficking in arms and drugs,” as well as in enforced disappearance. The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights have also recognized these abuses.
CIP intern Victor Salcedo contributed to translations in the post
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States policy
The United States suspended all police assistance to St. Lucia over 12 unlawful killings by police in 2010 and 2011, the country's prime minister, Kenny Anthony, announced Wednesday. Anthony said he planned to introduce legislation to investigate extrajudicial police killings.
The United States is reportedly considering creating a three-tier security system with Mexico, along the country’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize, the Washington Free Beacon reported. The plan called for U.S. funding and technical support for sensors and intelligence gathering. The funding would come in part through the Mérida Initiative. Both the Obama and Peña Nieto administrations have been secretive about the proposal.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told a Congressional committee on Thursday that the recently revealed NSA surveillance practices of the United States could create a “cloud of mistrust between countries.” This comes following remarks of a similar tone that Minister Patriota made during Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to the country.
Honduras announced plans to establish two new police forces this week:
The first a military police force of 5,000 members, was approved Thursday by the Honduran Congress. The military says the force will trained, vetted and ready to patrol by October, just one month before presidential elections. Congressman and presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez was the architect of the bill had told Congress, “We need to make use of the military, and they should be in the streets until the day we establish peace.”
As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, Liberal party congressman Jose Simon Azcona said the idea for the militarized force came from the U.S. Embassy and that “the government of the United States had offered assistance and were converting four battalions into military police under the previous administration.” The blog also provides a good historical overview of militarized police in the country. More from El Heraldo, Reuters and this week's Just the Facts podcast.
The other was a community police force of 4500 new civilian police scheduled to begin in September. Secretary of Defense and Security Arturo Corrales (in charge of both the military and police) created the initiative, which was pushed forward by decree instead of law. More from InSight Crime and El Nuevo Diario. Honduras Politics and Culture blog looks at the economics behind the decision.
FARC accept responsibility for victims
For the first time in history, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has acknowledged that its forces share blame for atrocities committed during the country's armed conflict. At a press conference on Tuesday in Havana, FARC spokesman Pablo Catatumbo read aloud a statement that admitted, “without a doubt, there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces.” More from the Pan-American Post, El Tiempo, Reuters and La Silla Vacía.
Massive labor demonstrations involving over 30,000 workers broke out across Colombia starting Monday. The demonstrators include workers from various sectors that are making an assortment of demands from cheaper gas and fertilizer to greater government subsidies and investment in rural areas. President Santos has said he will not negotiate until the widespread road blockades are lifted. So far police have arrested at least 61 protestors.
Colombia Reports provided a clear rundown of who is striking and why, while the Economist noted that the protests have garnered support from two extreme sides of the political spectrum: far-right politicians loyal to former President Alvaro Uribe and the leftist FARC rebels.
Referendum on peace agreement
President Santos announced plans to submit a bill to Congress that would allow for a popular vote on the terms of an eventual peace agreement with the FARC. The referendum would be tied to the upcoming legislative elections in March or presidential elections in May. The bill is likely to pass, as the National Unity coalition, of which President Santo’s party is a member, supported the bill.
Over the weekend the Mexican armed forces reported the capture of Mario Ramirez Trevino, alias "X20," head of the Gulf Cartel. This is the second major drug capo the security forces have caught in just over a month. While the Associated Press,New York Times and other analysts claimed the arrest amount to a continuation of the former President Felipe Calderón’s much-criticized U.S.-backed “kingpin strategy,” InSight Crime's Steven Dudley arugued the high-profile arrests of the country’s most violence actors are aligned with President Peña Nieto’s security strategy to prioritize violence reduction.
As El Comercio noted, it is likely that the northeastern region where both leaders were captured and the principal corridor for trafficking drugs into the United States, will see an increase in violence as members within gangs vie for power and rival organizations fight for territorial control. The United States has reportedly named three new possible leaders for the Gulf Cartel.
The Venezuelan government announced plans to install about 30,000 surveillance cameras across the country in an effort to target the high levels of crime and violence, the AFP reported.
Venezuelan human rights group Provea released a report this week on abuses by the country’s armed forces. The assessment painted a bleak picture. More from Provea and El Universal in English.
Paraguay’s Congress approved President Horacio Cartes’ request to unilaterally send the military to carry out police duties and internal security operations in cases of terrorism threats. President Cartes, who was sworn in just last week, made the request to target the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a small leftist guerrilla group that allegedly killed five private security guards at a cattle ranch over the weekend. More from InSight Crime, Associated Press, Paraguayan newspaperABC Color and this week's Just the Facts podcast.
The Pan American Post highlighted remarks from the top drug official in new President Horacio Cartes’ government. In an interview with Spanish news agency EFE, Paraguay’s new drug czar, Luis Rojas, said he does not think legislation to regulate marijuana will have much of an effect on the illicit trade of the drug between the two countries. As the post notes, Paraguay is the biggest producer of cannabis in South America and produces as much as 80 percent of the marijuana that reaches the Uruguayan market.
Brazil’s congress approved a new law this week that will reserve 100 percent of the country’s oil royalties: 75 percent will be invested in education, while 25 percent will go towards healthcare. The country expects next year’s royalties to reach about $800 million. More from the AFP and O Globo.
Brazil’s Army blocked the country’s Truth Commission’s access to a facility used as a torture center during the country’s dictatorship from 1964- 1985. The commission is trying to raze the building and construct a historical center of memory.
Militaries are getting involved in policing throughout Latin America. Adam talks to Sarah Kinosian of the Center for International Policy, who wrote a series of posts to the Just the Facts blog documenting this trend in Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela.
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Arturo Corrales, the Minister of Security of Honduras, announced plans to create a new force of 4,500 community police. He plans to supply the force with 175 new vehicles equipped with GPS, 300 motorcycles and 5,000 bulletproof vests. Although the government has not yet specified what will differentiate the community police from the National Police, Corrales maintains that the deployment of this force, which is set to take place by September 1, will lead to a “rapid decrease” in levels of criminal violence.
The Congress of Honduras also approved the creation of a new military police force that will consist of 5,000 officers from the Honduran armed forces. Minister of Security Corrales assured that the military police initiative is not at odds with the community police, but rather the two new forces will complement each other. Both proposals have emerged just months before Honduras, the country with the world’s highest homicide rate, holds its next presidential elections.
An audit carried out by the Minister of Security in Honduras uncovered the existence of 2,151 “ghost officers” in the National Police Force. Although the government had been paying salaries for 12,800 police agents, only 9,350 actually reported to a post. With a monthly salary of 7,500 lempiras for a basic police agent (roughly US$368, per current exchange rate), multiplied by 2,151 ghost officers, the government has been paying over 16 million lempiras (US$784,697) each month to officers that either did not exist, or who did not do their jobs.
Of the 498 weapons that the “mara” gangs had relinquished to the government as part of the El Salvador gang truce, the vast majority do not work. ATF (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) Special Agent Harry Penate said that in his opinion, these are not the weapons that organized crime participants are actually using.
A Brazilian government research institute reports that Brazil has 8,600 more homicides per year than officially reported, which puts the number at 60,000 homicides per year—nearly 18 percent above official statistics. The institution explains that this difference is due to the fact that roughly 10 percent of violent deaths are mistakenly classified as having “undetermined causes.”
In Nicaragua, the military’s commander in chief, General Julio Cesar Aviles, said the Navy (which is part of the Army) needs at least 8 more patrol boats to effectively intercept drug shipments in its territorial waters. The extent of these territorial waters is the subject of ongoing disputes with Colombia and Costa Rica.
Approximately 160 military personnel from 19 countries went to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTCHCOM) headquarters in Miami for part of PANAMAX 2013, an annual exercise designed to train in a scenario involving defense of the Panama Canal. The latest PANAMAX exercise lasted from August 4 to 16, and involved a component in Panama.
Colombia registered a 7 percent increase in homicides from the first half of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. According to the Center for Security and Democracy at the Sergio Arboleda University, which is critical of the current government’s security policies, the homicide rate for the first half of 2013 was 34.4 homicides per 100 inhabitants, the first time this rate has increased in seven years.
According to documents from the Mexican government, Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel controls more than 40 land, sea and air marijuana trafficking routes that run throughout Mexico and to U.S. states, such as California, Montana and Texas, as well as to European countries like Spain and the Netherlands. 90 percent of the marijuana is moved by land, with major routes moving south to north, inland to the coast, and from Guerrero and Oaxaca to Mexico’s capital.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Haiti travel warning
The U.S. Department of State issued a new Haiti travel advisory on August 13 that warned visitors of “violent crimes and lack of emergency response infrastructure.” This Travel Warning uses less strong language than the previous one issued in December 2012, which read, "No one is safe from kidnapping regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age,” and that "Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts or prosecute perpetrators."
Secretary of State Kerry's trip to Brazil and Colombia
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Colombia and Brazil Sunday to Tuesday. Kerry's meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials seemed to go fairly smoothly, while in Brazil, the NSA surveillance scandal overshadowed the visit as Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota took a hardline approach against the United States' surveillance practices. See a previous Just the Facts post and podcast for more details.
U.S. aid to Mexico
Last Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy froze $95 million dollars in funding for the Mérida Initiative, the United States' aid package to Mexico, because of an inadequate planning. In an opinion piece in Truth-Out, the Center for International Policy's Laura Carlsen wrote, "Thursday’s announcement confirms the hold on the funds and obliges both governments to define a joint strategy that shows some signs of viability. Contacted shortly after the hold, a top Leahy aide summed up the reason behind suspension of the aid,:'We received less than three pages of explanation. Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that.'"
At the behest of the United States, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, a former drug kingpin who was unexpectedly released last week while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kike" Camarena. The Dallas News has an interesting article by journalist Alfredo Corchado looking at the case in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations and U.S. security assistance to Mexico. According to Corchado, officials say money for Mérida "may be returned to Washington in the weeks to come." This week’s Just the Facts podcast has more details on the case
Last Friday, the Justice Department said it would not be prosecuting the Border Patrol agents who shot and killed two teens in separate incidents along the Arizona border, due to lack of evidence.
On Monday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos replaced his entire military and police leadership, including naming a new director for the National Police. According to analysts the decision to do so could be an attempt to bolster the peace talks, as former Army chief, General Sergio Mantilla was considered a hindrance to the peace process. The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Colombia Reports has more details on the new commanders while El Tiempo and Semana magazine have insight into the motives for the decision and its significance. A Just the Facts podcast also examined President Santo’s unexpected decision
Colombian news analysis website La SIlla Vacía published a report on the 15 biggest defense contractors in Colombia. In the lead was Elbit, an Israeli drone maker with an over $267 billion contract.
Peru's military dealt a blow to the Shining Path, killing two of the group's top leaders and another rebel in a military operation on Sunday. Analysts say that while the attack will hurt the group, it does not signal its demise. As Peru's armed forces chief, Admiral Jose Cueto said, the group "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance." Peru's IDL-Reporteros detailed the operation in Spanish and in another article revealed that the United States and other foreign actors played a role in the multi-agency operation. More from the Associated Press in English.
Amnesty International, along with several other activists and NGOs denounced reports that "Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since."
Proceso reported that the security in Michoacán is worsening, "cheapening the official rhetoric of Enrique Peña Nieto's government that the social-political situation in the state is under control," as Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong had stated on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that a vocal group of farmers and businessmen from the state demanded the government stop sending federal police to fight the drug cartels who have allegedly abused citizens and are corrupt.
InSight Crime examined the Knights Templar, the drug cartel with the strongest presence in Michoacán that recent government reports named as the third most powerful cartel in the country, after the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels. The article includes a video interview with the group's leader that was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
The Andean Information Network posted an analysis on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) estimates of potential cocaine production in the Andes. The report found there to be a significant decrease in the region between 2011 and 2012, the largest in Bolivia, which dropped 18 percent. The article pointed to several statistical irregularities in the report, noting, "Although they failed to provide any explanation, the same ONDCP press release reported Bolivia's potential cocaine production for 2011 at 190 metric tons—instead of the whopping 265 metric tons for 2011 reported by the same office a year earlier."
Conservative business mogul Horacio Cartes was sworn in yesterday as Paraguay’s first democratically-elected president since the controversial June 2012 ouster of Fernando Lugo. The Associated Press reports that in 2008-2009 the DEA targeted him in a mission called "Operation Heart of Stone," over alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade. The Pan-American Post examined the domestic and regional implications of Cartes' presidency.
On Wednesday there were several protests all over Brazil targeting a host of issues from corruption, police brutality, and disappearances, to education and low wages. Brazilians have been protesting Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral since the mass wave of protests that overtook the country in June have subsided. Cabral's critics claim he is corrupt and want an investigation into spending on projects for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. More from the Associated Press. America’s Quarterly had an assessment of the Brazilian government's response to the protests.
The Huffington Post blog had a post this week on security in Rio de Janeiro, specifically looking at the pacification police units (UPP), which the author claims are improving the situation. According to the piece, however, "The social protests that started in June and July 2013 are taking a sinister turn," and "with the changing of the leadership of the military police last week, there are fears that the UPP enterprise will unravel."
According to technology website, Phys Org, Brazil is "moving to secure its communications through its own satellite and digital networks to end its dependence on the United States, which is accused of electronically spying on the region." The outlet reported that French-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced on Tuesday that it had won a contract worth about $400 million to build a satellite for Brazil's developing space program.
On Thursday Ecuador was the first Latin American country to recall its ambassador, Edwin Johnson, from Egypt after security forces massacred about 600 supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. So far, no other Latin American country appears to have followed suit.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a video of interviews with gang leaders in El Salvador's prisons talking about the gang truce. According to CDA, "Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process... We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: 'We want a better life for our kids and families,' and 'the truce is working.'"
On Thursday Honduras' Congress approved the creation of a 5,000-strong military police unit charged with maintaining "public order." Mario Pérez, president of the Congress' security commission. said the group will “reclaim territory and capture criminals... We do not oppose the police, but it is not the model for the moment.” The chief of the armed forces presented the structure of the new unit. Critics of the decision say it is another step forward in the increasingly militarized policing of the country.
This announcement follows Monday's declaration that 4,500 community police units will be deployed by September 1. Proponents of the military police however say that this is a longer-term solution and will not produce immediate results. More from Honduras' El Heraldo newspaper and InSight Crime.
Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.
Adam looks at the Secretary of State's visit to Colombia and Brazil, the early release of a Mexican drug-trafficker who killed a U.S. agent, and some recent episodes pointing to worsening political polarization in Venezuela.
Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took a quick trip to Brazil and Colombia from Sunday night until Tuesday. This was Secretary Kerry’s second trip to the region, following his attendance at the Organization of American States’ general assembly meeting in Guatemala in June.
The Obama Administration has been fairly engaged with the region, mostly with regards to trade. As the New York Times noted, the increased focus on strengthening ties comes at a time when the “United States’ influence has faded as China has surged as a crucial trading partner for an array of Latin American countries and as Brazil has sought to raise its economic and diplomatic profile.”
Secretary Kerry’s trip also came on the heels of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations that massive global surveillance programs had targeted several Latin American countries -- including several allies like Mexico, Colombia and Brazil – and that the agency had established a data collection center in Brasília, Brazil’s capital city. The leaked documents drew tremendous regional criticism and have roiled relations with several governments, particularly the Rousseff administration in Brazil.
All reports of Secretary Kerry’s meetings in Colombia, the United States’ strongest ally in the region, indicate that the visit went fairly smoothly with no surprises. In his discussions with Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos and Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, Kerry reportedly discussed the ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC rebels, trade, energy, counternarcotics, and briefly, the NSA leaks. (For a list of links to articles see Just the Facts' U.S. policy news section for Colombia)
Support for peace process
As expected, Kerry reiterated the United States’ support for the peace process, calling it “courageous,” “imaginative” and “necessary.” Although the Obama Administration has already voice its approval of the talks, Kerry’s words come at a time when, according to a recent Ipsos poll, 54 percent has criticized the process at every opportunity.
As was also expected, Secretary Kerry spoke about the high-value the United States places on its relationship with Colombia and lauded its U.S.-backed efforts in the war on drugs, calling the country “one of the very few success stories anywhere.”
Ahead of the meeting, there were concerns that the disclosures about NSA surveillance practices would tarnish the visit. Last Thursday President Santos called for further clarification from Washington about U.S. intelligence practices in Colombia. However, it seemed the Colombian government was satisfied with the explanation provided, as both parties downplayed the revelations following Secretary Kerry’s visit. Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín said Colombia had “received the necessary assurances to continue work on this,” while Kerry noted the issue played only a “small part” in the overall discussion.
U.S. security assistance
Before heading to Brazil, Secretary Kerry went to the Colombian National Police Counter-Narcotics Directorate for a briefing on U.S.-Colombia collaboration in the drug war and an update on Colombia’s training of third party foreign forces. Between 2010 and 2012, Colombia trained 9,983 military and police personnel from 45 countries – the top recipients being Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Ecuador and Peru. (See here for more on Colombian training of foreign forces.)
As a recent Just the Facts podcast noted, Kerry spent 28 years as a United States senator and was a big supporter of U.S. military aid packages to Colombia, but did however condemn human rights abuses in the country, even calling for the U.S. not to certify Colombia to receive aid in 2005 over such concerns.
For a previous post on Secretary Kerry’s record on Colombia see here and to read about what topics Secretary Kerry should have touched on when discussing a lasting peace in Colombia, see here. These include ongoing assassinations of human rights defenders, impunity for military members alleged to have committed human rights abuses and the passage of a military justice system reform that will likely allow that impunity to continue.
NSA revelations fallout
Secretary Kerry’s trip to Brazil was more contentious, with the NSA leaks eclipsing the rest of the visit. Brazil, an important ally with whom the United States has a warm relationship (albeit nowhere near as close as with Colombia), has been much more vocal in its condemnation of U.S. intelligence programs. As the New Yorker explained last month, Brazil was the regional center for the NSA spying programs as it is where “all transatlantic cables come ashore,” making it an important telecommunication hub linking South America to Europe and Africa.
Last week, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, along with the foreign ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela and Uruguay, met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week to protest the NSA programs.
Minister Patriota continued his condemnation in a joint press conference with his U.S. counterpart following an hour-long meeting, sending a clear message: “We need to stop practices that violate sovereignty.” Minister Patriota was unsatisfied with the details Secretary Kerry had shared with him about NSA surveillance programs, which he said presented a “new type of challenge in our bilateral relationship … And if those challenges are not resolved in a satisfactory way, we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust over our work."
Kerry responded with vague, appeasing remarks, saying, “Brazil is owed answers with respect to those questions, and they will get them.” He then defended the NSA surveillance program as something “we think we must do to provide security not just for Americans but for Brazilians and for people in the world.”
That “shadow of distrust” could have big financial implications for the United States. Ahead of the meeting, the Brazilian government took an anticipated discussion over a coveted $4 billion dollar deal (with expected increases) to purchase 36 fighter jets from the U.S. off the table. Before the NSA leaks, Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jet had been favored over competing French and Swedish warplanes. However Reuters reported the NSA scandal has "set back" the United States' chances to land the deal, recording one Brazilian official as saying, “We cannot talk about the fighters now.… You cannot give such a contract to a country that you do not trust.”
Aside from the NSA issue, the New York Times reported, “it was clear at the end of Mr. Kerry’s visit that solutions to certain problems remain unresolved, like Washington’s requirement that Brazilians traveling to the United States have visas, even though Brazilians rank among the highest-spending foreign tourists and Brazilian companies are increasingly investing in the United States.”
Reuters reported Brazilian officials were optimistic that the two countries will be able to move past the scandal, while the New York Times and Wall Street Journal pointed out that President Roussett’s state visit to Washington – the first from a Latin American leader since 2010 when then-Mexican President Calderón came – is still on for October.
The Obama Administration has been trying to deepen relations with Brazil, a key ally in the region for energy cooperation, security and environmental policy, and economic integration. Relations have improved under President Rousseff, after a chilling during former President Lula da Silva’s tenure.
This post first appeared as an op-ed in Colombian newspaper El Espectador on August 11, 2013, as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. It was written by Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has a lot of thorny matters on his mind: who the United States should support in Egypt, should a reluctant United States get involved to any degree in Syria, how to address Russia, where relations are so frayed that the United States actually cancelled a presidential summit.
So Colombia, which is such a reliable partner of the United States, and where President Juan Manuel Santos has shown inspirational leadership in opening peace talks, may seem like an easy stop.
But Colombia is never easy.
Secretary of State Kerry comes bearing strong diplomatic support for the Colombian peace process. That’s good and important. As long as both sides are at the negotiating table, the Obama Administration stands strongly behind this process. Within the U.S. Congress, the voices raised concerning the peace process are in support, as an April letter from 62 members of Congress made clear. John Kerry is a man who believes in peace; now trying again the impossible task of moving forward a Middle East peace process, he also was involved in ending Central American wars and supporting Central American peace accords.
The United States can be counted on to provide substantial support for peace accord implementation.
We hope Secretary Kerry will also contribute to a just and lasting peace in Colombia by encouraging the negotiating teams to include the voice of victims of violence, especially as the discussion on victims approaches. If this peace is to be sustainable, victims of violence must help to build it.
If this peace is to be sustainable, it must have strong pillars of truth and justice. An independent truth commission is an essential step.
We know Secretary Kerry’s message will start with support for peace negotiations, but we hope his message does not end there. Even if an accord is signed, and on the long road to peace, Secretary Kerry would be a good friend to Colombia by talking about and helping address the still grim human rights situation on the ground.
This means talking frankly about the constitutional reform of its military justice system that leaves loopholes so that false positive cases could return to military courts. There must be justice for the over 3,500 ejecuciones extrajudiciales. U.S. security assistance is conditioned on respect for human rights, with the law stating that Colombia must effectively investigate and prosecute in civilian courts members of the security forces credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights violations. Secretary Kerry, as a U.S. senator, called on the State Department not to certify Colombia due to army abuses and lack of progress in prosecuting these crimes.
For the Obama administration, relying on the Colombian armed forces to "export" safety lessons to other countries seems a cost-effective solution to US budget woes. This is certainly a topic of discussion during the visit. But the fact that so many abuses by the armed forces remain in impunity makes it deeply concerning that the United States is encouraging the Colombian armed forces’ role in training other nation’s military forces.
Supporting a just and lasting peace also means Secretary Kerry should talk frankly about the ongoing assassinations of human rights defenders. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were assassinated in the first half of 2013. To stop the violence, threats and murders of defenders must be investigated and prosecuted. To stop the violence, the Santos Administration must do more to dismantle illegal armed groups, including paramilitary, BACRIM and guerrillas, and to prosecute the members of the armed forces, companies, politicians y public officials who finance and support them.
It also means talking frankly about the Labor Action Plan that both governments signed in order to achieve passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. There’s still far to go to carry out this plan. The Colombian government can highlight the fall in the murder of trade unionists as an important and positive change. Unfortunately, this has been the only positive change for a trade union movement that continues to struggle against illegal third-party subcontracting, constant harassment, and arbitrary dismissals for any degree of union activity. The Colombian government must act in favor of workers against these labor violations, implement effective inspection and sanction mechanisms to discourage the use of labor practices that restrict labor rights.
To pave the way for a just and lasting peace, the United States should encourage as well as fund the creation of meaningful protection for returned and returning communities, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Effective protection plans can only be designed in careful consultation with the communities they are intended to benefit. The United States should continue to fund the innovative Victims’ Law. But it must be done with real protection.
So no, it’s not an easy stop. But the right words and actions from Secretary Kerry could mean a lot for a just and lasting peace in Colombia.
Adam looks at the Secretary of State's upcoming lightning-fast visit to Colombia and Brazil, new UN estimates of coca-growing in Bolivia and Colombia, and new violence amid struggling police reform in Honduras.
Shifts in Cultivation, Usage Put Bolivia's Coca Policy at the Crossroads Coletta A. Youngers, World Politics Review
Caribbean Regional -
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns To Deliver Remarks at the Fourth Annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue
Office Of The Spokesperson, U.S. State Department
Libre, segunda fuerza parlamentaria de Honduras, Confidencial
Deteriorating democracy, The Economist
Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet Hugo Perez Hernaiz, Washington Office On Latin America
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)