Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

U.S. military exercises in August and September

This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

Entire Region, Colombia

  • The 54th annual edition of “UNITAS,” a U.S. - South American sponsored naval exercise, kicked off on September 9th. “Operating in the Caribbean waters off Colombia through Sept. 15,“ read a Southern Command release, ”the participants in Unitas 2013 will focus on coalition building, multilateral security cooperation, tactical interoperability and mutual understanding among the participants.” Another document explains, “During 10 days at sea, 19 ships conducted a full spectrum of maritime operations, including electronic warfare, anti-air warfare and air defense, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and maritime interdiction operations.”

Entire Region, Panama

  • PANAMAX 2013, a joint exercise between the United States and 17 other Latin American nations, spanned from August 12th to 16th. Its focus was to develop participating nations’ capacity “to plan and execute complex multilateral operations … under the support of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.”


  • On September 4th, U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, visited with Belizean military and civilian defense officials to discuss “security engagement and joint activities” between the United States and Belize. Part of the talks included the humanitarian assistance exercise “New Horizons,” which seeks to improve interoperability and joint humanitarian response techniques. A similar exercise will take place in 2014.

El Salvador

  • On August 14th high-ranking U.S. and Salvadoran military officials met to identify and discuss strategies for improving interoperability. The meeting culminated in both Major General Joseph DiSalvo of SOUTHCOM and Salvadoran Brig. Gen. William Armando Mejia signing a memorandum of understanding. The major issues guiding cooperation were identified prior to the signing in a number of steering sessions that led to the development of a “bilateral engagement plan that includes knowledge, capabilities and support for current and future peace-keeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and other combined operations.”


  • Texas National Guardsmen and Border Patrol tactical units teamed up to lead a training program for Guatemalan soldiers and federal police from the newly created Tecún Umán Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). The program addressed a number of skills including “fundamentals of marksmanship, weapons maintenance, sand table preparations, mounted and dismounted operations, and gunnery skills.” The spirit of the training course was one of building connections between the two nations’ armed forces, with U.S. and Guatemalan soldiers working side by side in on simulated missions during the day and sharing the same barracks at night.


  • Thirteen advisors from the United States’ Mobility Support Advisory Squadron led a 35 day training seminar in Honduras to train 50 partner nation personnel on aircraft maintenance, secure communications, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

  • On August 23rd, airmen from Joint Task Force Bravo engaged in a joint exercise with Honduran forces, simulating a response to a downed aircraft. The exercise took place outside of the boundaries of the Soto Cano Airbase in Comayagua, adding a greater degree of reality to the simulation. Joint Security Forces Commander Robert Shaw noted that “This is a way for our joint security force members to be tested in their individual and collective tasks."

Trinidad and Tobago

  • U.S. Green Berets and Special Forces units from Trinidad and Tobago engaged in a four week Joint Combined Exchange Training Program. The month long Special Operations Forces training activity allowed members of Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) to work on interoperability and bilateral relations, to train in an unfamiliar environment, and to improve their tactics and area knowledge. SOCSOUTH planners intend to hold similar events with several other countries in the coming months.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Week in Review

This post was written by Sarah Kinosian and CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

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


  • On Thursday, the United States Congress held a hearing, “Creating Peace and Finding Justice in Colombia.” It was held before the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. WOLA’s Adam Isacson testified, as did Ginny Bouvier from USIP and Max Shoening from Human Rights Watch, among others. The topics discussed included the peace process, the role of the United States should a peace agreement be reached, and labor rights and land rights. See the commision’s website and Colombia Reports for more information.
  • NSA fallout

  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched an official investigation looking into the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, including any accounts of Mexican cooperation in the U.S. spying programs. The decision comes after this week’s revelation that the NSA hacked former President Felipe Calderon’s public email account. While Mexico’s response to disclosures of U.S. spying has been more measured than that of other targeted governments, the country’s foreign minister said he would be seeking an explanation from the U.S. ambassador. More from The Christian Science Monitor, Latin Americanist blog, BBC Mundo, Der Speigel, CNN, Los Angeles Times, and Excelsior.
  • Brazil and Germany teamed up this week to cosponsor a U.N. resolution on internet privacy. Although the draft resolution did not directly mention the recent disclosures of the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying practices, it most certainly was the prompt.
  • Uruguay

  • President Obama postponed his meeting with President Mujica due to the government shutdown. The meeting is planned to take place next year.
  • Colombia

  • On Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have increased military jurisdiction over human rights crimes. As of right now, all human rights cases involving members of the military are to be tried in civilian court. Members of the U.S. Congress had withheld at least $10 million in military aid over human rights concerns implicit in the measure.

    As the Associated Press noted, Defense Minister Juan Pinzon called the ruling “a blow to the morale of the military forces that without doubt will affect Colombians’ security.” The measure was seen as President Santos’ concession to the armed forces for their backing in peace negotiations with the FARC. As La Silla Vacia noted, the law would have acted as a “protective shield that would give them legal guarantees.” The decision to throw out the “fuero militar” could have a negative impact on the armed forces support for the peace process. More from the Pan-American Post, Amnesty International, Semana, and El Espectador. For more context on the law in English, see last week’s AP article profiling the measure.

  • Amnesty International reported right-wing paramilitary group Los Rastrojos has threatened “social cleansing” of indigenous leaders and groups involved in protests throughout the country.The threats come amid reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.
  • Guatemala

  • A court ruling in Guatemala this week could open the door for amnesty for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the First Chamber of Appeals to rule on whether a 1986 amnesty law applies to Rios Montt, despite several prior rulings that it did not, given the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. If the chamber finds the law applies, his case will be thrown out. Judge Jorge Mario Valenzuela, president of the chamber, says they will announce their decision today or tomorrow. As Central American Politics blog noted, “The Constitutional Court seems intent on ensuring that Rios Montt and other human rights violators are never held accountable.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • Human rights organization FIDH released a report (PDF) on the Rios Montt trial, asking for members of the European Union (EU) not to ratify the EU-Central America Association Agreement in protest of the annulment of Rios Montt’s genocide conviction.
  • A report published by the National Economic Research Center (CIEN) found the rate of murders linked to firearms has doubled over the past ten years to 82 percent. This is nearly twice the global average of 42 percent and over Central America’s average of 70 percent. More from InSight Crime.
  • Honduras

  • There is one month before presidential elections take place in Honduras on November 24 and the race is in a dead heat between Xiomara Castro for the center-left LIBRE party and Juan Orlando Hernández for the ruling National Party. Honduras Culture and Politics blog has a helpful overview and breakdown of polling numbers, while Hermano Juancito published two informative posts ahead of elections -- one outlining the political landscape and the other looking at corruption, violence and mudsling ahead of elections. More from Just the Facts, Reuters and World Politics Review.
  • Mexico

  • The United Nations Human Right Council began its review of human rights in Mexico on Wednesday in Geneva. Members called on Mexico to investigate several of the severe citizen security issues going on in the country, such as deadly attacks on journalists, violence against women, and forced disappearances by security forces. Swiss representative Michael Meier said, "Despite Mexico's will to improve the training of relevant authorities, the number of officials suspected of being involved in enforced disappearances is very alarming." Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio insisted progress had been made and cited the creation of a new victims law and an alleged drop in complaints filed against the military. More from Animal Politico, El Universal and Reuters.
  • Cuba

  • This week the Cuban government announced it would be doing away with its dual currency system. The measure was put in place in 1994 and has been unpopular with the island's residents. No timetable has been given for when the new single currency system will go into effect. The Economist had an overview of the current system and laid out some challenges that lie ahead of the changeover.
  • Al Jazeera reported on the creation of a “Special Economic Zone” on the island where, “One-hundred percent foreign ownership will be allowed for firms operating in the zone, and contracts will be extended to 50 years, up from the current 25.”
  • Bolivia

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales, once head of the coca growers union, defended eradication efforts in the northern region of Apolo, citing strong evidence of narcotrafficking in the area. The statement comes after coca growers attacked security forces involved in an eradication operation, killing four and taking six hostage, all of whom were later released. Morales pointed to the capture of four Peruvians in the area as evidence that foreigners were trafficking in the region. President Morales has called for an increased military presence on the border to stem the illegal flow of coca, EFE reported.
  • Peru

  • IDL Reporteros published an interesting piece on the growing use of small planes to transport cocaine out of the remote Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRA) region, where more coca is grown than anywhere else in the world. These “narcoflights” land on some 40 clandestine runways that are scattered throughout the harsh geography of the region.
  • Uruguay

  • The Secretary of Uruguay’s National Board of Drugs Julio Calzada traveled to the U.S. this week to look at the legal cannabis market and regulation in Colorado. Calzada told the Associated Press, “We see the hypocrisy of U.S. politics towards Latin America. We have thousands of deaths that are the simple result of (drug) prohibition.” On the visit the delegation toured growhouses with digital marking systems and learned about video monitoring systems. This trip comes as the drug regulation body announced earlier this week that the initial regulated pricing of marijuana cigarettes would be around $1 a gram. More from the Pan-American Post about legal debates surrounding the law.
  • Venezuela

  • President Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of a vice-ministry for the “Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People.” The new cabinet position will be charged with overseeing the social missions, known as “Bolivarian Missions,” that were a hallmark of former President Hugo Chávez’s presidency. More from BBC Mundo.
  • Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Security on the campaign trail: Elections in El Salvador, Honduras and Chile

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

    Between now and February 2014, El Salvador, Honduras and Chile will hold presidential, elections. Below, we take a look at some of the top security issues each country faces and what the front-runner candidates are saying about them.

    El Salvador

    El Salvador saw an initial 45% drop in its murder rate in the months following the implementation of a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs. Current FMLN President Mauricio Funes purportedly facilitated the truce, yet his administration refuses to acknowledge its involvement in the agreement.

    This is largely due to the fact that most Salvadorans see the truce as beneficial to these criminal groups, as Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez noted in The New York Times. While the murder rate has gone down, other criminal activities have continued, primarily drug trafficking and extortions. These security problems, along with a recent rise in murders and isolated incidents of gang violence, have led to increased scrutiny on the sustainability of the truce.

    The United States government has neither publicly supported nor condemned the truce, yet there are indications the State Department does not approve of the process. As Miriam Wells of InSight Crime noted, the designation of MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization coupled with the denial of visas to Salvadoran government officials who planned to come to DC to request funding for the gang truce, “hardly amount to an endorsement.”


    Salvadorans will vote for their next president on February 2, 2014. The three frontrunners are:

  • Current Vice-President from the ruling leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, Salvador Sanchez Ceren.
  • Norman Quijano from the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party and current mayor of the country’s capital, San Salvador.
  • Former President Antonio “Tony” Saca, who was in office from 2004-2009. This time around Saca is running with the conservative Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA) party. During his presidency he was affiliated with the ARENA party, however he was kicked out in 2009 for attempting to woo ARENA politicians to the GANA party while still a member of ARENA.
  • Sanchez Ceren: In line with the current FMLN administration, he supports the truce as an “opportunity for dialogue … we have learned that the main problems are resolved through the path of dialogue and understanding.” Sanchez Ceren has placed emphasis on the implementation of social programs to stem criminal activity, which he plans to finance through Petrocaribe, an oil alliance of several Central American and Caribbean with Venezuela that allows them to buy oil with low-interest payments. El Salvador joined the bloc last year.

    Quijano is vehemently opposed to the truce, noting it is “an opportunity for the gangs to implement a criminal tax such as extortion” and that “the authority should always be on the side of the people, never on the side of the criminals.” Quijano advocates prison reform as an instrumental part of promoting long-term security. Under his plan, prisoners would be classified by seriousness of offenses and social programs would be implemented to focus on reintegration into society. Quijano also noted the United States will be an important ally in the fight against drug trafficking.

    Tony Saca is largely opposed to the truce, blaming it as a tool to “deceive” the Salvadoran people so criminal organizations can take territory. Saca’s security plan focuses on employment and continued law enforcement measures to curb crime. He stated it is necessary “to multiply employment so that we have the necessary funds to augment the number of police in our territory.”

    Another interesting element of this election is the reach of these campaigns into the United States. Recent legislation has given citizens abroad the right to vote. All three candidates have made campaign trips to the United States to convince the 1.8 million Salvadorans living in the country that their policies will move El Salvador forward.


    Honduras’ security situation has been a central issue on the campaign trail. The country has the highest homicide rate in the world, with an average of 20 murders a day. In response, the government has been increasingly militarizing its fight against the soaring crime and violence. Most recently, 1,000 members of a new military policing unit were deployed throughout Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the most violent cities in the country, in an effort to curb violence ahead of the presidential election.

    This militarization of law enforcement has sparked concern from members of the U.S. Congress. Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Michael Honda (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, citing their “great concern” over the “promotion of increasing militarization of the police.” The AFP later quoted a State Department official who echoed the representatives’ concerns and said, “In our view, the creation of a military police force distracts attention from civilian police reform efforts and strains limited resources."

    Some believe that the United States is not doing enough to counter human rights abuses ahead of elections. In the Miami Herald, Professor and expert Dana Frank wrote, “The United States, meanwhile, is pouring funds into both Honduran security forces, countenancing a militarization of the Honduran police that has long been illegal here at home, while dismissing Congressional pushback about human rights issues in Honduras.”

    The congressmen’s letter also urged the State Department to monitor the election process, and to “speak forcefully against” attacks targeting the opposition and human rights defenders. Since June 2012, at least sixteen members of the opposition LIBRE party have been killed -- Rights Action has a list of LIBRE candidates and activists killed since May 2012. The first paragraph of the letter read:

    We are writing to express our concern about U.S. policy and the approaching November 24 elections in Honduras. The evidence so far indicates that the freedom and fairness of this election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election.


    The presidential election will be held on November 24, 2013. There are two frontrunners in the race that are proposing radically different approaches to the fight against the crime and transnational drug trafficking that plagues the Central American nation.

  • Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed leader Manuel Zelaya and candidate of the center-left LIBRE party.
  • Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate from the highly conservative ruling National Party and current head of the country’s congress.
  • Juan Orlando Hernandez is advocating an expansion of military policing, pledging to put a “soldier on every corner.” He was the main architect of the new Military Police of Public Order unit. Some key remarks made while on the trail included:

    “Peace in needed, because in these times, humble people must resort to asking permission from criminals to enter into their own homes.”

    “I will not rest until we have the Military Police in every neighborhood.”

    “LIBRE and liberals have achieved nothing in the realm of security and now they attack me for calling for the Military Police.”

    Sources: 1, 2, 3

    In the U.S. Congressional letter mentioned above, the authors expressed concern over Hernandez’s and the National Party’s heavy influence in Honduran politics:

    We are particularly alarmed to learn that the ruling party, and its presidential candidate Mr. Juan Orlando Hernandez, now dominates all the key institutions of the government, including the country's electoral authority and the military, which distributes the ballots.

    Xiomara Castro is on the other end of the security spectrum. She said the military police “have failed” to ensure security and a change of strategy is needed. Castro has promoted establishing community police forces and said the military should be deployed to prevent drug trafficking at the borders. Below are some of her remarks on the security situation:

    “LIBRE proposes a community police, near to the people, so that the police know us, so they know who we are, and celebrate the security of the Honduran people.”

    “More than 24,000 people have been assassinated. We are the most violent country in the world and we are not even at war. This can only mean that the current strategy is not the correct one.”

    "If we manage to stop drugs coming into our country, it will be much easier to ensure internal security for the people"

    Sources: 1, 2, 3

    There has been some good coverage recently ahead of elections. The Christian Science Monitor looked at challenges for the LIBRE party, while Reuters provided a solid summary of the political landscape in the country. More from Hermano Juancito, CEPR and Honduras Culture and Politics blog.

    While the race has been close between Castro and Hernandez, for some time, Castro was leading in the polls. However, the latest October survey numbers show Hernandez has pulled ahead, 25.7 percent to 22.2 percent. It is important to note that in the same poll, 30.8% of respondents refused to state a preference or said they would not vote for any of the candidates.


    Chile is slated for elections on November 17, 2013 in a race between former President Michele Bachelet of the Socialist Party, Evelyn Matthei of the Independent Democratic Union and seven other candidates. The most recent polls indicate that Bachelet will garner 32% of the vote and easily win a second round runoff against Matthei, who is currently polling at 20%. The two candidates’ family narratives reflect the turbulent history of Chile. Matthei is the daughter of a key member of the Pinochet regime and Bachelet is the daughter of a Brigadier General who was tortured under the Pinochet government.

    Evelyn Matthei has proposed a security plan that focuses on four main factors: crime prevention, criminal control, rehabilitation and reintegration and the fight against drug trafficking. She also noted that current programs on crime “have gone too far in the protection of criminals” and believes they should receive more jail time.

    Michele Bachelet has proposed a plan to reduce crime in the country with an added focus to prevention. She has also fiercely criticized the Piñera administration’s approach toward security, stating, “obviously the plan to ‘Colombianize’ is not appropriate … the option used in other countries to incorporate the Armed Forces in citizen security is not necessary nor valid.” Bachelet is likely referring to security forces’ heavy-handed response to indigenous and student protest movements, including the use of water cannons and tear gas.

    Bachelet noted a key part of her citizen security plan is to “make sure that the Public Ministry has the resources and ability to tend to victims, giving both protection and clear information.” Her proposal also includes an expansion of law enforcement with thousands new investigators and police officers throughout the country.

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    The Week Ahead: October 19, 2013

    Adam talks about a U.S.-backed coca eradication offensive in Peru, a delivery of U.S. helicopters and equipment to Guatemala, and a series of events affecting human rights and the judicial system in El Salvador.

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


    Friday, October 18, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.


  • Tuesday was Teachers Day in Brazil, and protests erupted in multiple cities with marchers demanding educational reforms and free university tuition. The protests were the largest in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where violence broke out with firebombs thrown by protesters and the use of tear gas by police. Folha de S. Paulo reported police were using lethal weapons, mainly shooting warning shots around protesters.

    The New York Times featured gripping photos by FotoProtestoSP, a group of photographers that have documented various protests throughout the country.

  • The Igarape Institute released a new report about the future of Brazil’s security. The report notes that Brazil has a two-pronged approach to dealing with transnational crime: deepening its involvement in the larger international community while focusing on smaller bilateral agreements with its close neighbors to tackle the region’s issues. The study looks ahead and asks: “What direction will Brazil take in the coming decade?”
  • Arms sales

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has been promoting arms sales in Latin America with trips to Peru and Brazil this week. UPI noted Moscow media outlets are reporting that Russia is now the largest arms supplier to the region and the sales of weapons could potentially net $1.7 billion. On Wednesday Brazil’s Defense Ministry announced it would be going ahead with a $1 billion deal to buy anti-aircraft missile batteries from Russia.
  • Colombia

  • The Associated Press published an excellent article that outlined growing criticism of Colombia’s Military Justice Law, which “would broaden the military justice system's jurisdiction and narrow the definition of extrajudicial killings.”This law would likely see an increase in impunity for military members accused of human rights abuses, as their cases could be transferred from civilian to military courts. These concerns have led U.S. Congress members to withhold $10 million in aid.
  • The fifteenth round of peace talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group have ended without an agreement on political participation. Reuters reported on growing tensions between the two sides and noting as well that “Polls in Colombia show the population is tiring of the talks,” which have been lagging on for 11 months. The FARC delegation noted that public opinion should not affect the pace of the talks. More from El Espectador and El Tiempo.
  • Drug Policy

  • Mexico City lawmakers are set to propose legislation to decriminalize and regulate the marijuana market through the implementation of cannabis clubs. Mexico City Assemblyman Vidal Llerenas stated, “We cannot hope for a drug-free world. But we can hope to limit the damage and take the profits away from organized crime.”
  • Ecuadorian officials showed signs of openness to a change in drug policy during a binational meeting in Uruguay. Rodrigo Velez, head of Ecuador’s national drug office, stated, “Ecuador looks with interest at Uruguay’s experience with the new regulated marijuana market.” However, Velez noted Ecuador’s proximity to the world’s largest coca-producing nations, Colombia and Peru, warranted a cautious and democratic response to drug policy.
  • Peru

  • The Global Post published a two-part series on coca production in Peru’s valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (VRAE), where more coca is grown than any other region in the world. The first piece looked at a possibly violent backlash from farmers should U.S-backed counternarcotics operations in the region eradicate their crops. The article noted that U.S. assistance is increasing, as “the US Embassy in Lima said it was this year handing Peru $68 million for counternarcotics operations and $32 million for alternative development, including support for testing new crops and increasing their yields. Combined that is almost double the 2012 total of $55 million.”

    The second article focuses on the VRAE’s small-scale rural farmers’ financial dependence on coca. One quoted farmer highlighted a major problem in the country: “When we grow cassava or bananas no one wants to buy them. But they come almost every day to buy our coca.”

  • Honduras

  • One thousand members of Honduras’ controversial new military police unit were deployed Monday to San Pedro Sula and parts of Tegucigalpa, the most violent cities in the country. The new force, known as the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), is the government’s latest measure using militarized tactics to combat rampant crime and violence. The continued use of this tactic has become the primary issue in the ongoing presidential race, with the ruling National party’s candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, supporting the use of military policing to fight crime. Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE party candidate, is advocating a community police force that interacts with local communities. More from the Pan-American Post.
  • This move toward militarization has caught the attention of the US Congress. On Wednesday congressmen Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Mike Honda (D-CA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry airing a number of concerns, including “that the Embassy has not spoken forcefully about the militarization of the police under the impetus of one of the candidates.” More from Honduras Culture and Politics blog.
  • Mexico

  • Mexico is going to delay its deadline to vet local and federal police throughout the country, the Los Angeles Times reported. As the paper noted, “As part of a program created in 2008, Mexico’s half a million police officers are to be tested and vetted based on numerous criteria including financial information, trustworthiness, family connections and skills.”

    This testing is tied to part of the United States’ $2 billion aid package, which has invested in overhauling the police. Analyst James Bosworth has a rundown of the challenges the vetting program has faced on his blog. Continued reports of serious criminal offenses by officers has highlighted the need to effectively implement police reform, however the process has been extended for one year, InSight Crime reported.

  • A piece in The Economist noted that analysts “agree that the government has yet to do anything to improve the quality of the police” and that although President Peña Nieto has decided to downplay the fight against drug kingpins, he “has yet to come up with a serious alternative.”
  • Entire Region

  • The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center released a report that found there has been a dramatic increase in citizen security interventions in the region since the late 1990s. Citizen security interventions are described as preventative measures “intended to support social cohesion.”
  • Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, October 12, 2013

    Adam talks about the recent troubles of Rio de Janeiro's Favela Pacification Program, the Venezuelan President's quest for decree powers, and politics in Argentina as President Cristina Fernández undergoes brain surgery.

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    Inter American Court of Human Rights

  • Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
  • Argentina

  • A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
  • Arms transfers

  • The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
  • The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
  • Chile

  • Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
  • Brazil

  • Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
  • This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
  • The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
  • Colombia

  • A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
  • Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
  • Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
  • In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
  • The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
  • Venezuela

  • President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • El Salvador

  • In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
  • Honduras

  • In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
  • There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
  • Cuba/Panama/North Korea

  • According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
  • Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Colombia defense minister looking to export security strategy and arms to Central America

    Last week Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón traveled to seven different Central American and Caribbean countries to discuss security cooperation: Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.

    In every country Pinzón visited he discussed deals with the host governments to increase defense cooperation with Colombia. These deals included selling the countries arms and equipment, as well as having their security forces trained by Colombian police officers and military personnel to fight drug trafficking.

    Colombian newspaper El Tiempo covered Pinzón’s trip, focusing on this expansion of the Colombian security model into Central America. According to the newspaper, the trip had three focuses:

  • Advising on the implementation of Colombian models for the police, the Armed Forces and defense sector sales;
  • Security cooperation so that [Colombian] national companies invest more in [Central America]
  • Gaining support for the government’s decision regarding the maritime dispute with Nicaragua.
  • There were several other key points to highlight from the article:

    Security reform and cooperation

  • Colombia advises police reform in Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, but has agreements to reproduce a national model against drug trafficking all over Central America, from Mexico to Panama.
  • Colombia hopes [that cooperation], for example from the various police reforms in the region, will allow for shared protocols against crime. According to Pinzón:

    “We need to be in solidarity with these countries that are facing problems similar to the ones we face. To the extent that this interrupts trafficking, it interrupts criminality and reduces the flow of resources that come to finance violence and terrorism in Colombia, so we all win.”

    This idea has become popular in the region. Honduran Minister of Security Arturo Corrales said,

    “The idea is that Honduras will join a concert of friends that will widen the spectrum against common enemies, and from the South to the North, and will construct a bridge free of narcotrafficking and organized crime. For this, we need Colombia.”

    David Muguia Payes, the Salvadoran Defense Minister, also supported the partnership, saying: “The Colombian experience is useful for us in the head-on attack against criminals.” The Dominican Republic and Jamaica also recognize Colombia as their primary ally in the fight against narcotrafficking.

  • Pinzón also told the paper that it was a mistake for some Central American countries to have reduced the sizes of their militaries after signing peace accords, saying that this “opened up spaces for organized crime.”
  • On the issue of the country’s maritime territorial dispute with Nicaragua, Pinzón said: “I found a lot of understanding for Colombia’s position to not implement The Hague’s [November 2012] ruling.”
  • Business interests:

    Colombian companies from various industries have invested all over Central America. As El Tiempo noted, Colombia and its business community have one of the highest rates of investment in the region. Some defense-focused businesses, like armored cars and bulletproof clothing, are already widely recognized.

    Colombia hopes that these trainings and agreements will boost their military- industrial complex and lead to the sale of ships, boats, guns, pistols, rifles and gun sights.

    Minister Pinzón is promoting Indumil and Cotecmar, two Colombian businesses that have developed weapons such as the Cordoba pistol, the Galil ACE rifle, as well as river and ocean patrol boats. The sale of one of these boats, which cost around US$60 million to construct, is being negotiated with Trinidad and Tobago, and Colombia has just closed a deal to sell river patrol boats to Brazil.

    The article then goes on to discuss the expansion of Colombian banking interests in Central America.

    Continuing a problematic trend

    Colombian training of foreign forces is not a new trend, but it is accelerating one. As noted in our recent military trends report, an April PowerPoint slideshow from the Colombian Ministry of Defense shows there were 9,983 recipients of Colombian training from 45 different countries between 2010 and 2012. In Panama, Pinzón noted 4,000 police agents alone have already been trained in Colombia. Between 2010 and 2012, that number was just shy of 2,500.

    Just the Facts’ Adam Isacson has covered concerns about the “export” of Colombia’s training model before – for one, Colombia has yet to address the widespread human rights violations committed by their own security forces, including 4,716 alleged extrajudicial killings of civilians.

    Another concern is the United States’ financial and diplomatic support for this training. The United States pays for Colombia to carry out some part of these trainings with funds from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). However, it is not known what the content of the training courses covers, how much money the U.S. provides, or how many foreign forces are trained with its financial backing.

    The State Department’s Foreign Military Training Report, the annual report that documents U.S. training of foreign forces, only documents recipients trained directly by United States personnel and fails to include those trained by Colombian personnel with funding from the United States.

    For example, according to the report for 2012 that was just released, just 290 Honduran police and military received training from the United States. This number does not include, for example, Honduran police personnel trained by Colombian police as part of the U.S.-backed Honduran police reform. For Haiti, the U.S. government reports 20 trainees – this omits the training of ten female Haitian police that were trained in Colombian earlier this year, funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.

    With a reduced defense budget, having Colombia train some of these forces with U.S. funding is a much cheaper option for the United States. As Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has said, “It’s a dividend that we get for investing over $9 billion in support for Plan Colombia.”

    Going forward it is important to keep in mind what lessons are being exported. Pinzón’s comment that reducing the size of militaries was “a mistake” and linked to the rise in organized crime in Central America is a troubling message for both human rights and civil military relations, and one that the U.S. government does not necessarily share. It comes at a time when several countries like Honduras and Guatemala are already militarizing their domestic law enforcement, which is happening with some degree of U.S. funding and tacit approval.

    CIP intern Ben Fagan drafted the translations included in this post

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Latin America Security by the Numbers

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    • 2013 marks the 20th anniversary
      of U.S. Border Patrol’s “Operation Hold the Line,” whose objective was to reduce the number of illegal border crossings. The program called for increased physical presence at the El Paso border crossing point to serve as a “show of force” and dissuade would be crossers from Mexico. This program was initially hailed as a success, however experts cited in an extensive El Paso Times analysis claim that it forced undocumented immigrants to enter the United States in more dangerous places or to seek out those who deal in smuggling people across borders, thus feeding into organized crime.

    • The Central State of Mexico has hired hundreds of women to fill the ranks of the corruption-prone State Transit Police. Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro, a strong supporter of the initiative, claims that “women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don’t ask for or take bribes." As it stands, the female traffic officers are limited to issuing verbal warnings until certain anti-corruption standards are put in place and the officers are determined to be compliant with them.

    • Forty years too late, the government of Chile has located Raymond E. Davis, a former U.S. naval officer charged with complicity in the murder of two American journalists. The Chilean government charged Davis, the chief of the military group in the U.S. embassy at the time of Chile’s September 11, 1973 coup, with passing information to two Chilean intelligence officers working with the Pinochet regime, ultimately leading to the journalists’ execution. The Chilean government had processed orders for extradition with the United States, only to find out that Davis had died in an affluent nursing home near Santiago.

    • In Colombia, the government’s Agency for Reintegration (ACR) has stated that it is ready to receive up to 40,000 former combatants if a peace process should succeed. The US$90 million-per-year program seeks to rehabilitate former fighter, providing psychological support, education, and vocational training. ACR Director Alejandro Éder notes the difficulty of the program: “they [ex-combatants] are coming from a completely different society and you essentially have to train them about everything.” The ACR’s pronouncement comes as FARC representatives note “modest progress” being made in peace talks between the Colombian government and the former leftist turned narcotics trafficking paramilitary group.

    • Recent figures released by the government of Colombia claim that more than 3,500 guerrilla fighters have demobilized over the past three years. With mass demobilization comes the difficulty of not only rehabilitating the former fighters, many of whom have been with the FARC since they were children, but also the difficulty of ensuring their acceptance into the Colombian population as a whole.

    • In a sweep of the notorious Sabaneta prison, authorities in Venezuela discovered a weapons cache containing over one hundred firearms, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as grenades and tear gas canisters.. In addition to the weapons, 26 pounds of marijuana and cocaine were discovered in a hidden underground labyrinth of tunnels. Prison authorities have made assurances that those responsible for smuggling will be held responsible for their actions.

    • Documents discovered by the Truth Commission working in Brazil shed light on specific operations that occurred between 1964 and 1974, the first ten years of a 21-year dictatorship. The roughly 1.2 million pages of documentation were converted into microfilm by CENIMAR (service to the Navy), in order to preserve some of the dictatorship’s specific history.

    • As part of the urban pacification program in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 590 police officers and 180 soldiers entered into the Lins de Vasconcelos favela, in northern Rio, “securing” the community with the intention of installing two police stations. The addition of these Police Pacification Units (UPP) will bring the total to 36 across the city that will host next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics. Both the UPP’s and Brazil’s government have been facing mounting criticism over charges that some UPP personnel, particularly in neighborhoods most recently “pacified,” are abusing the population.

    Saturday, October 5, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, October 5, 2013

    Adam looks at new data about U.S.-Mexico border security and migration, the upcoming election in Honduras, and how Latin American media commentators are viewing the U.S. government shutdown.

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.