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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Podcast: Drug Enforcement and the Rule of Law in Mexico and Colombia

A Senate hearing on aid to Mexico and Colombia coincides with Mexican President Felipe Calderón's state visit to Washington. The hearing's discussion of the human rights impact of military programs was disappointing at best. The Republican Foreign Relations Committee report mentioned in the podcast is here.

The "Just the Facts" podcast is available here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More aid to Mexico

On May 13, the Senate Appropriations Committee “marked up” (agreed upon a draft of) a bill making $58.8 billion in new, or “supplemental,” appropriations for 2010 U.S. government spending. The Senate’s version of H.R. 4899 includes $2.8 billion to support relief efforts in earthquake-devastated Haiti and $25 million to help El Salvador recover from the effects of Hurricane Ida.

It also includes something not foreseen in the Obama administration’s original March 24 supplemental funding request to Congress (PDF): $175 million in additional aid to Mexico. The assistance, which would be channeled through the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program, would support “judicial reform, institution building, anti-corruption, and rule of law activities.”

While some of this assistance would likely go to security-force units, especially police, much is likely intended to support Mexico’s judicial system. This follows discussion of a move away from overwhelmingly military support and toward civilian institution-building aid, as part of what some observers are calling “Mérida Initiative 2.0,” the next phase of an aid program begun in late 2007. This shift is among the topics on the agenda of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s two-day state visit to Washington, which begins tomorrow.

If the House accepts the Senate’s $175 million proposal, we estimate that total U.S. aid to Mexico in 2010 - both military/police and economic/social aid - would add up to $935 over $800 million: the second-largest one-year amount ever appropriated to a single Latin American country. (Colombia in 2000, the year the “Plan Colombia” appropriation was approved, still holds first place.)

Meanwhile Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), the Republican minority-party leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a detailed report evaluating U.S. aid to Mexico since the 2007 launch of the “Mérida Initiative.” The report, timed to coincide with President Calderón’s visit, advises staying the course.

The chief conclusion is that the Mérida Initiative is delivering results but must be bolstered in order to achieve its aims. While the dramatic surge in violence is an expected upshot of the aggressive campaign against DTOs, the risk is that political support for expanded cooperation may not survive daily news re- ports of brutal homicides and kidnappings. The Mérida Initiative is thus entering a critical period, with important implications for the national security of both the United States and Mexico.

Particularly notable is Appendix III of the report, a very detailed table of aid that has been delivered — or, quite frequently that still remains to be delivered — from past years’ appropriations. Though aid to Mexico totals well over a billion dollars since 2008, as of May 11, the total amount of Mérida Initiative aid to Mexico that had actually been delivered to Mexico was only $159 million.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Podcast: The Week: Calderón visit, Lula in Iran, CIDH on citizen security, Colombia Elections

Abigail and Adam discuss the May 19-20 state visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Brazilian President Lula's visit to Iran, a new Inter-American Human Rights Commission report on citizen security, and the tight race for Colombia's May 30 elections.

The "Just the Facts" podcast is available here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NGOs' open letter to Colombian presidential candidates

Four Washington, DC-based NGOs sent an open letter to Colombia's presidential and vice-presidential candidates earlier today. They ask, "How will you pledge to build a nation where rights are respected and peace is possible?" The four organizations are the Center for International Policy, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, Washington Office on Latin America, and U.S. Office on Colombia ("Just the Facts" is a joint project of three of them).

In the letter, the groups ask the candidates to address seven questions:

1. What will you do to promote progress towards a just and lasting peace?
2. What will you do to strengthen the rule of law so that those who commit grave human rights violations are brought to justice?
3. What will you do to ensure a climate in which human rights defenders can carry out their important work?
4. What will you do to support the rights of all victims of violence to truth, justice and meaningful reparations?
5. How will you address the needs of Colombia's 4 million internally displaced persons?
6. What actions will you take to protect Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities' human rights and territorial rights?
7. What steps will you take to dismantle paramilitaries and their successor organizations?

The letter ends with this: "True security can only be built on a foundation of rule of law and respect for human rights. Ultimately, it can only be permanently achieved through the construction of a just and lasting peace. These goals have been postponed for too long, at great cost in human life. Now is the time to embrace them."

The full text of the letter is available as a PDF download in English and Spanish.

Here is the press release:

US NGOs to Colombian Presidential Candidates:
What Steps Will You Take to Guarantee Human Rights?

Washington, May 12, 2010- In an open letter released to Colombia's presidential and vice-presidential candidates earlier today, the Washington Office on Latin America, US Office on Colombia, Latin America Working Group Education Fund and the Center for International Policy urged the candidates to outline their strategy for building a new Colombia that respects human rights and works towards a politically negotiated solution to the country's internal armed conflict.

"Colombia's next president has a historic opportunity to say, never again: Never again will its armed forces commit systematic abuses like the 'false positive' scandal," remarked Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group. "Those involved in ordering and carrying out these abuses must be brought to justice for once and for all."

The four US-based groups asked Colombia's candidates to outline what steps they will take to end the internal armed conflict. "Colombia's conflict has killed more than 30,000 people--both combatants and non-combatants--over the past eight years. Before the conflict claims another 30,000, Colombia's next president must seize the initiative and take steps toward a negotiated solution," said CIP Associate Abigail Poe.

According to the four signatory organizations, which have years of experience working on Colombia issues, the future President can lead the nation in building a more just and inclusive society that promotes and respects the rights of all of its citizens. They can do this by combating impunity, supporting human rights defenders, guaranteeing the rights of victims, addressing internal displacement, dismantling existent paramilitary structures, and protecting the territorial rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.

"The next President can no longer ignore the over 4 million Colombians who suffer daily due to internal displacement," said WOLA Senior Associate Gimena Sanchez. In 2009, 280,000 new persons were internally displaced. Currently, thirty four indigenous groups are at risk of physically disappearing and becoming culturally extinct due in large part to violence and internal displacement. "The next administration cannot allow 34 indigenous groups to become extinct or massacres and brazen abuses of Afro-Colombians to continue to take place."

"The new Colombian administration must make the protection of Colombia's human rights defenders a top priority and should embrace opposition voices," underscored Kelly Nicholls, executive director from the US Office on Colombia. "The systematic threats, attacks, and harassments against human rights defenders must become no more than a shameful memory from the past."

Please find the full letters in English and Spanish.

For further information please contact:

Gimena Sanchez, WOLA, (202) 797-2171 ext. 205
Lisa Haugaard, LAWG, (202) 546-7010
Kelly Nicholls, USOC, (202) 232-8090
Abigail Poe, CIP, (202) 232-3317

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Podcast and analysis: The National Drug Control Strategy

In our latest "Just the Facts" podcast, Adam talks with John Walsh, senior associate on the Washington Office on Latin America's Drug Policy Program, about the Obama administration's newly announced anti-drug strategy, made public on May 11.

The "Just the Facts" podcast is available here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


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The Obama administration released its first National Drug Control Strategy on Tuesday. According to President Obama, it presents a "balanced approach to confronting the complex challenge of drug use and its consequences." An annual report developed by the President and the Director of the White House's Office for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the National Drug Control Strategy includes the government's goals and objectives for both international and domestic drug-control activities.

The 2010 report attempts to move away from the drug war rhetoric of the past, as Gil Kerlikowske, director of the ONDCP, told reporters, "calling it a war really limits your resources. Looking at this as both a public safety problem and a public health problem seems to make a lot more sense." Even critics like John Walsh, from the Washington Office on Latin America, saw some improvement in the new strategy, which "marks a modest but real improvement over past ONDCP strategies ... [and] at least opens the door to the serious debate over drug policy that has been stifled for decades by the din of 'drug war' zealotry." Walsh warns, however, that "the new Strategy is by no means a clean break with that past," as it "continues to dedicate the lion's share of federal spending to domestic and overseas enforcement activities for which there is scant, if any, evidence of success in achieving their basic aim of suppressing illicit drug availability."

The 2010 Strategy establishes five-year goals to reduce drug use and its consequences, including reducing the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent, reducing the number of chronic drug users by 15 percent and reducing the prevalence of drugged driving by 10 percent. The White House press release notes that the new strategy is " a collaborative and balanced approach that emphasizes community-based prevention, integration of evidence-based treatment into the mainstream health care system, innovations in the criminal justice system to break the cycle of drug use and crime, and international partnerships to disrupt transnational drug trafficking organizations."

The majority of the National Drug Control Strategy focuses on domestic policies and initiatives. However, chapters 5 and 6 of the report address drug trafficking and production and international partnerships, largely focusing on initiatives in the Western Hemisphere and on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Below are excerpts from and summaries of the longer report on how the United States plans to work in and with Latin America and the Caribbean on eliminating drug-related violence, stopping production, and decreasing demand. Read the entire report here (PDF). You can also download the FY2011 budget summary for State Department's International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) program (PDF), which includes details for assistance to various countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Chapter Five: Disrupt domestic drug trafficking and production

Within this chapter, the report lays out how the United States plans to stem the two-way trade across its borders - as drugs move north from Mexico and illicit proceeds of the drug trade and weapons move south from the United States. Securing the United States' borders and developing a national plan for the southbound interdiction of currency and weapons are two of the chapter's main principles.

The Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, first released in June 2009, aims to "stem the flow of illegal drugs and their illicit proceeds across the southwest border and reduce associated crime and violence in the region. It directs Federal agencies to increase coordination and information sharing with State and local law enforcement agencies, intensifies national efforts to interdict the south-bound flow of weapons and bulk currency, and calls for continued close collaboration with the Government of Mexico in their efforts against the drug cartels."

According to the report, "the enormous amount of money generated by drug sales in the United States fuels the expansion of violent drug-trafficking organizations. Similarly, the weapons acquired by traffickers also enable them to wreak havoc within Mexico and the United States." Some actions that will be implemented include increasing inspection at the border and employing automated license plate readers to identify likely currency and weapons smugglers.

Preface to Chapter Six

The Strategy report includes a preface to chapter six, "A Colombian Success Story - Looking for and Finding a Better Life." This brief section describes a "success story" about a Colombian woman who was displaced by "violence generated by the illegal armed groups" in 2003, joined the paramilitaries as a nurse, demobilized in 2006 and then joined a USAID initiative that "employs demobilized paramilitary combatants and former coca growers to establish 1300 acres of palm plants." Due to the USAID program, this woman, according to the report, now "has a job that allows her to enjoy her big passions: life and agriculture."

Chapter Six: Strengthen International Partnerships

This chapter begins with this: "Shared responsibility for the origin of a problem implies shared responsibility to solve it" and continues to acknowledge that the United States' counternarcotics programs "must be updated to reflect a changing world."

Our counternarcotics efforts must apply all available tools to ensure improvements are permanent and sustainable by regional allies. These efforts must include complementary assistance programs, such as those focused on sustainable alternative development and strengthened prevention, treatment, and law enforcement and judicial capacities. This comprehensive approach promises to permanently wean farmers off illicit crops while eliminating the space in which cartels, criminal bands, and narcoterrorists operate and disrupting the symbiotic relationship of narcotics, insurgency, and corruption.

This section of the Obama administration's strategy focuses on:

  • Conducting joint counterdrug law enforcement operations with international partners to cause major disruptions in the flow of drugs, money, and chemicals;
  • Intensifying counterdrug engagement internationally, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, including through training and technical assistance to help our international partners build stronger judicial, civic, and health institutions;
  • Promoting alternative livelihoods for coca and opium farmers to reduce drug production;
  • Improving our understanding of the vulnerabilities of drug trafficking organizations by pooling the knowledge of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies;
  • Targeting the illicit finances of drug trafficking organizations by engaging the international community in major anti-money laundering initiatives;
  • Expanding support for international prevention and treatment initiatives in partnership with the United Nations and the Organization of American States;
  • Increasing medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest effort in history to treat a single disease.

Some excerpts from this chapter include:

  • Well-funded and violent drug-trafficking organizations pose serious threats to the security of major drug source and transit nations. Drug-trafficking organizations throughout the Western Hemisphere have garnered huge financial returns from the illicit drug trade, which they use to undermine government institutions through bribery and coercion When they cannot buy loyalty, these criminals do not hesitate to murder government officials, law enforcement officers, and military personnel who oppose them. Both Colombia and Mexico have benefited from decisive leaders who insist on bringing the traffickers to justice and regaining full control of their territory. In addition to the direct assistance that the United States must provide to these and other illicit drug-producing nations, it is important to also work with partners in every area of the world to develop a complementary regional approach to illegal drug consumption, production, and transit issues.
  • The Strategy strongly supports the continuation of the Merida Initiative—primarily a United States-Mexico partnership initiated in 2007. This intensified bilateral collaboration incorporates an array of activities and programs, including the United States-Mexico Demand Reduction Bi-National Conference held on February 23–25, 2010, in Washington DC, which fostered collaboration on prevention and treatment initiatives. As a result of the Merida Initiative, the United States and Mexico are engaged in unprecedented levels of two-way information sharing, collaboration on sensitive cases, and joint planning. Bilateral mechanisms already in place to address challenges such as weapons trafficking and bulk cash smuggling also will be used to dismantle the drug-trafficking organizations that continually exploit the border.
  • Colombia and Peru have experienced significant success (see update on Plan Colombia) due primarily to their own historic efforts, but assisted by resources and expertise provided by the United States. With the latest data showing a significant disruption of the cocaine market in the United States and a notable decrease in Andean coca and opium poppy cultivation, these successful efforts in reducing the production and trafficking of Andean cocaine must be maintained. Although United States interdiction programs with Bolivia have been largely suspended at the request of their government, the State Department is maintaining some alternative development efforts and remains open to resuming broader anti-drug cooperation at a later date.
  • Consolidate the Gains Made in Colombia: Voluntary and manual eradication will be emphasized, but aerial eradication will also remain an important tool, especially in remote and insecure areas where manual eradication is cost prohibitive or too dangerous. ...

    Ultimately, the most effective way of reducing the production of illicit drugs is through the expansion of governance into conflict areas so that all Colombians have access to government services, protection from terrorist or criminal groups,and a licit manner in which to earn a living. This expansion of governance is the natural evolution of Plan Colombia efforts.

  • Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Drug Trafficking Violence in Mexico: Implications for the United States

    This post was written by CIP Intern Cristina Salas

    On May 5th, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa) co-chaired a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing on "Drug Trafficking Violence in Mexico: Implications for the United States."

    The main topic of discussion at this hearing was the need to prevent drug trafficking-related violence from penetrating furthermore into the United States. The co-chairs insisted on getting answers about what specific measures have to be taken to make that possible. Although most panelists seemed to focus on what their organizations had already accomplished, they all agreed on the need to broaden efforts and intelligence cooperation between all levels of law enforcement.

    The caucus heard the testimony of six witnesses involved in federal and local U.S. law enforcement. The first panel included David Johnson (Assistant Secretary Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Department of State) Janice Ayala (Assistant Director, Office of Investigations Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security) Kevin Perkins (Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation) and Anthony Placido (Assistant Administrator and Chief of Intelligence, Drug Enforcement Administration). The second panel consisted of Leonard Miranda (Captain Chula Vista Police Department, Coordinator of the San Diego Regional Cross Border Violence Project) and Don Reay (Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition).

    Opening Remarks
    Sen. Feinstein gave an opening statement affirming that the increase of drug trafficking related violence in Mexico is mostly focused on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border. However, recent events have raised red flags on the American side. These include cross-border kidnappings and extortion of the victims' relatives in the United States in which often either the kidnapper or victim had links to drug trafficking organizations. Other incidents of concern are home invasions in Arizona, many of them involving "robbery crews that target drug stash houses to steal and resell the drugs they find inside." Sen. Feinstein referred to the efforts in intelligence cooperation between law enforcement in both countries through the Mérida Initiative, explaining "law enforcement is working to quell such incidents through intelligence sharing between local, state and federal agencies and through support of Mexico's campaign against drug cartels --the Mérida Initiative."

    Although projects like Gunnrunner and Operation Stonegarden have shown real results in cartel-related arrests and in money and firearms seizures, the United States still shares a great responsibility in the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico, according to Sen. Feinstein. She continued to explain that the reduction of the demand for drugs has to be a priority, as well as stopping the transfer of illicit drug money and weapons from the United States that end up in the cartels' hands.

    Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), who recently attended a briefing in El Paso, Texas, said he was "shocked," particularly about the 23,000 people killed in Mexico since 2006 from drug-related crimes. He acknowledged that violence was not only affecting Mexicans, as the recent murders of U.S. Consulate workers show. He pointed out that the burden of the fight against drug trafficking violence in the United States falls mostly on state and local authorities, and demanded an explanation from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on why technology, like Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAV) and Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) are not made available to fight crime in the border.

    Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) reiterated that El Paso police officers told her that they do not have the technology to deal with the current issues in the border, and also wanted answers about why UAVs were not in the border, since these issues affect the security of Americans as well.

    First Panel
    David Johnson said there was legitimacy in the concerns of violence in Mexico expressed by senators and their implications for the United States. In his opinion, "violence in Mexico is consequence of a more insidious crime: greed". Therefore, he suggested that the focus should be on drug trafficking as the source of the violence, since the money generated from this illegal activity is used by cartels to buy weapons. He insisted violence in Mexico would not be reduced without dealing with drug trafficking. Johnson agreed with Sen. Feinstein about the United States' shared responsibility for this problem because its demand for drugs fuels drug trafficking in Mexico. He seemed optimistic about the success of the current efforts and compared them to a cancer that will be beaten, but that has to go through chemotherapy first.

    Following this remarks, Kevin Perkins explained how the FBI continues to work with all levels of law enforcement to fight these crimes. In particular, he referred to the efforts to fight corruption with a border corruption task force and intelligence and information sharing. The FBI, he added, also fights other financial sources for gangs and cartels, such as kidnapping.

    Janice Ayala of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) noted that their presence in Mexico is the largest outside of the United States, which has led to a great success in increasing drug seizures. Operation Firewall is an example of that, achieving more than 4,000 seizures and 600 arrests since 2005. Ayala called attention to the alarming fact that 28 gangs in Mexico are classified as "extremely violent."

    Anthony Placido of the DEA discussed how drug trafficking was recognized as a threat early in President Calderón's term, and recognized his willingness to deal with these problems through the Mérida Initiative. Moreover, he praised Calderón's project "We are all Juárez" created to encourage financial alternatives to drug trafficking in the violent border-town Ciudad Juárez. The DEA, according to Placido, supports Mexico's judicial reforms and law enforcement and correctional officers training. He admits there is no single answer to ending violence in the region and that it could increase before it ends.

    Q&A period
    Sen. Feinstein's first questions for the panel were forceful: "What can we do now?" and "What do you need to end this?" However, the only explicit request came from Perkins, specifying that San Diego had requested agents to deal with kidnappings. Sen. Feinstein said she could look into the possibility of finding financial support for the squads in the region to fight kidnapping.

    Sen. Cornyn then asked the panel to rate, from 1 to 10, if the drug related crimes on the United States' side of the border were being ordered by Mexican mafia leaders held in U.S. prisons. Again, Perkins was the only to respond, giving a rating of "from 7 to 8." He also noted that California had imposed cell phone restrictions in its prison to reduce that.

    Perkins insisted that it is impossible to deal with drug trafficking if we do not deal with the profits, which is the motivation behind it. However, he complained about the lack of information sharing by ICE, who investigates the financial components of all crimes, which makes it hard to deal with the profits of drug trafficking. Ayala denied this and claimed the information is available.

    Sen. Cornyn indicated that generalized violence is not cause for granting asylum in the United States, and wondered about the number of Mexicans in the United States who have crossed the border because of violence or are seeking asylum. None of the panelists had numbers or detailed information about that.

    Next, the Senator asked about what experiences in Colombia could serve as lessons in this situation. The panel told him that part of the success in Colombia has been the rigorous background checks it conducts on all of its officers, similar to the process in the United States. Nevertheless, the panel said that intelligence cooperation has been the main lesson learned from Colombia, and there is hope that the use of judicialized wire intercepts is institutionalized in Mexico. Placido said he sees the same leadership in Calderón as in Uribe, and there has been a change in Mexico's way to deal with these problems. Mexico wants a new kind of officer: educated, with degrees and trained with the help of the United States.

    Sen. Feinstein pointed out that, according to San Diego police, only 20 to 25% of vessels carrying drugs in through the Pacific are intercepted. The explanation, as the witnesses told her, is that as it continued to get harder to traffic drugs across the border, alternate means had to be found and therefore there has been an increase in maritime transport and tunnels. Sen. Feinstein also showed concern about penetration of the "Aztecas" gang in the United States and the suspected connection it had with the recent killing of the El Paso correctional officer. This could not be confirmed by the panelists.

    Senator Cornyn expressed concern about these criminal organizations having access to bomb making materials and possible links to terrorism groups. Ayala confirmed that in 2006-2006 there was a seizure of explosive materials that was heading south towards the border.

    Second Panel
    Don Reay focused on the success of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, that has been referred to as the "Texas Star" or "Texas Model." The Coalition focuses on patrol activities and has achieved a synergy between local, state and county authorities. For Reay, sheriffs are good indicators of how the citizens are feeling when it comes to security, because they answer to their constituents. He then called attention to the opportunists who are not related to drug cartels, but are taking advantage of the chaos to commit crimes.

    Reay then explained that the border sheriffs took a stand against Mérida Initiative because the institutionalization of corruption in Mexico would prevent the money allocated from being used as planned, and because it did not provide any money to the United States for these same issues.

    Leonard Miranda spoke about the increase, since 2006, of victims in Chula Vista of crimes in Mexico, which means that relatives are targeted in Mexico and their families in Chula Vista are extorted. In this city, Miranda asserts the merging of task forces on drug trafficking, kidnapping and gang activity has been successful. In his opinion, highly visible presence of law enforcement is important to reduce crimes, but the investigatory component is even more so. According to Miranda, the Chula Vista region has not had grant funding for the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) office, an effort to fight drug trafficking coordinately between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in critical regions of the U.S., for over ten years. He made a specific request for funding which Sen. Feinstein said she would look into.

    Sen. Conryn accused the Federal Government of not complying with its responsibility of doing its job with border security, so the question is how to fill the gap. Reay agreed with Sen. Conryn allegation, but explained that once someone has entered the country and they commit a crime, it becomes responsibility of local law enforcement. Therefore, intelligence sharing is crucial. However, Senator Feinstein disagreed with Conryn, saying that the Federal Government has stepped up, but a closer liaison between local and federal law enforcement is needed.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010

    UNASUR selects its first secretary general

    On Tuesday, heads of state from South America met in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a summit meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Many topics were discussed at the summit, including the election of its first secretary general, Arizona's controversial immigration law, Argentina's right to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), and Paraguay's fight against the leftist guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP).

    Colombian President Álvaro Uribe did not attend the summit, and was represented by Foreign Minister Jamie Bermúdez, who urged UNASUR to focus on export restrictions, the movement of people, and nations meddling in internal affairs of other countries. "One can see that we are very worried about the way in which we should tackle the world from UNASUR, when one suspects, intuits, and sees that we have internal difficulties that need to be resolved among brother nations," he said.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez also urged UNASUR countries to "put aside their 'ideological positions' in order for the budding regional bloc to move forward."

    UNASUR's first secretary general
    One of the first items on the agenda at the UNASUR summit was its unanimous consent to name ex-President of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, to be UNASUR's first secretary general "in hopes that the 12-nation UNASUR group can consolidate into a regional force for unity, development and democracy-building," according to the Washington Post.

    UNASUR's founding treaty states that the secretary general must focus solely on regional matters during the two-year term, and not on national politics. However, Kirchner, who was president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007, is currently a Congressman in Argentina's lower house and has "all but declared" his intention to run in Argentina's presidential elections next year to succeed his wife, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. In order to carry out his obligations as secretary general of UNASUR, Kirchner will have to resign from or ask for a leave of absence from his position in Congress.

    Honduras
    One point of contention at the summit was Honduras. Many of the South American leaders said they would boycott the upcoming Latin American-European Union summit in Spain if Honduran President Porfirio Lobo attends. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa noted that many of UNASUR's member states, not including Colombia and Peru, are still uneasy about Lobo, who was elected to replace ousted President Manuel Zelaya. According to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, "If Spain officially invites Lobo, Brazil is not going. Lobo has not given any indication that he wants to change anything in relation to Zelaya's amnesty."

    Arizona, Falkland Islands, and Paraguay

    In various declarations, the South American leaders expressed their condemnation of Arizona's new immigration law, confirmed the rights of Argentina to the Falkland Islands, and manifested their solidarity with the government of Paraguay, stating their "total and absolute support for the constitutional government of Fernando Lugo" in its "fight against the criminal violence that affects five departments in the country," referring to the Paraguayan People's Army's (EPP) activities in northern Paraguay.

    According to the declaration, Arizona's immigration law opens the door to the "discretional detention of people based on racial, ethnic, phenotypic, language and migratory status reasons under the questionable concept of ‘reasonable doubt.'" An Argentine government press release also states that the law "constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights."

    The UNASUR bloc also reaffirmed its "firm support to the legitimate rights" of Argentina to the Falkland Islands and rejected the natural resource exploration that the United Kingdom is currently conducting "illegally" in the waters surrounding the islands.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    25 Honduran police officers in the United States

    Yesterday, Honduras' El Heraldo published an article about 25 Honduran police officers who are currently in the United States for training on prison management. According to the article, the training will help keep "improvisation, flexibility, incompetence and corruption" out of Honduras' new maximum-security prison. The seven-week long training includes topics such as the proper handling of inmates, acceptable police conduct, and measures to be taken with prisoners to avoid danger.

    Below is a translation of the article, thanks to CIP Intern Cristina Salas.

    Police officers will be trained to guard maximum-security prison

    The policemen that traveled to the United States will be entrusted of training other correctional officers.

    Improvisation, flexibility, incompetence and corruption do not seem to be a part of the new maximum-security prison to be inaugurated in the upcoming days in the Marco Aurelio Soto National Penitentiary.

    The Department of Security (Secretaría de Seguridad) and the National Authority of Preventive Special Services (Dirección Nacional de Servicios Especiales Preventivos, DNSEP) choose the staff and resources to be used in the jail that will host dangerous criminals.

    A first contingent of 25 police officers, men and women, travelled to the United States yesterday to attend a special training session on handling inmates, proper police officer-conduct, and measures to be taken with prisoners to avoid danger, among others.

    The group will remain in training for seven weeks and will come back to the country to rejoin the police force in the main penitentiary, given that the security module will be inaugurated in the beginning of July, where inmates selected by experts in the field will be hosted.

    They will serve time

    Minister [of Security Óscar] Álvarez stated that the police officers trained in prison management would help so that “those imprisoned serve their time as it should be.”

    “It is the first time in history,” he added, “that we have sent a contingent of this size to be trained on inmate management in the United States.”

    He continued saying the course will last seven weeks, which will “help us transition our prison system management from the 20th to the 21st century.”

    He declared that, in order to guarantee efficiency of the new prison, the selection process of police officers is very rigorous, they are subjected to polygraph tests and background checks to assure quality.

    What we want, he said, is that whoever does the job has a clean criminal record and no connections with organized crime or criminal gangs.

    The chief of DNSEP, Danilo Orellana, confirmed that the building could hold up to 220 inmates selected by technical teams approved by Minister Álvarez.

    In the following days, Álvarez will announce rehabilitation measurements for the general penitentiary population, including those in this unit, who will be people involved to organized crime such as drug-traffickers, kidnappers and car thieves, among others.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    General Fraser's update on Southcom

    Last week, the Pentagon submitted a report to Congress on Iran's military power. This "12-page analysis of Tehran's current and future military strategy" made little mention of Latin America. However, the few sentences that did mention Latin America have been the subject of many news stories.

    The report points to the growing presence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' elite Qods force in Latin America, especially Venezuela:

    [The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF)] is well established in the Middle East and north Africa and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela.... If US involvement in conflict in these regions deepens, contact with the IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez immediately responded on Monday, saying that the Pentagon report was "absolutely false." "Look what they are saying," President Chávez continued, "If the U.S. applies sanctions to Iran, these forces that are here -- something that is absolutely false -- could then attack U.S. territory or U.S. interests with terrorist acts. ... Tell me this isn't an open threat by the government of the United States against Venezuela once again using infamy and lies."

    General Douglas Fraser, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, responded to many reporters' questions about the Pentagon report at a breakfast meeting in Washington on Tuesday. "I don't see any arms or indications of arms coming from Iran," Fraser told the reporters. "What I see is that Iran has had, from a diplomatic and a commercial standpoint, a growing interest in Latin America. ... Our concern is their connection to Hizbollah, Hamas." He continued to note that "I haven't seen evidence of [an Iranian] military presence," however, "I'm a skeptic, and so we're watching for that. To date, we have not seen that kind of support."

    On Wednesday, General Fraser held another press briefing, where he was to give an update on U.S. Southern Command's operations. Again, reporters asked for clarification about Iran's presence in Venezuela, and General Fraser's responses were almost identical to those he made on Tuesday.

    What we see is a growing relationship between Iran and Venezuela. And it has been a diplomatic and a commercial activity, and that's what we see. ... My concern in the relationship with Iran in the region is their historic connection with Hamas and Hezbollah, which we define as terrorist organizations. ... I don't see any of that activity right now. But I'm a skeptical person. I'm paid to be skeptical. So I'll continue to watch.

    General Fraser also noted that his views and the Pentagon's views are not different positions, explaining that "there is ... a growing relationship between Iran and Venezuela. And so when you hear that report, that is a report that talks about presence: There is a growing relationship and presence of Iran in the relationship with Venezuela. And so that's what we see. So they are the same. And so I'd ask you just not to misinterpret the 'presence' word, if you will. So we see a growing relationship."

    One statement he made did seem to differ from what he was reported to say on Tuesday - and that is regarding arms. On Tuesday, as noted above, General Fraser said "I don't see any arms or indications of arms coming from Iran." However, on Wednesday General Fraser said, "There is a military connection, just from the arms sales to Venezuela. There is unmanned air vehicle capacity that Irana (sic) is supporting within Venezuela. So that is the military connection that I see between Iran and Venezuela. It's just arms -- support for arms."

    The topic of Iran's presence in Venezuela definitely made up almost 50 percent of journalists' questions to General Fraser on Wednesday. But he did talk about other topics in the region important to Southcom, such as illicit trafficking -- which is Southcom's main focus in the region -- drug interdiction, the U.S. military's efforts in Haiti, and back to Venezuela on U.S.-Venezuelan relations. Below are excerpts from his statements on those topics. The full transcript and a video of the press briefing are available on Southcom's website.

    Southcom's focus in the region

    Our focus continues to be, support the security, stability within the region, build our partnerships with our companion militaries within the region. And that effort continues as our focus throughout the year.
    ...
    That's our sole mission within this. The reason I pay as much attention to it as I do is because of the destabilizing impact that it has potentially within countries in which drug trafficking organizations and also gangs are coming into.

    And I don't want it to become a military issue. And so the way to address that is to address it now, while we still can cooperate and work between all our partner agencies.

    Next steps in Haiti

    In the June time frame, we will plan to disestablish the Joint Task Force-Haiti. And we will then have some medical readiness training opportunities there, 10 of those throughout the hurricane season.

    We will also have an exercise that provides humanitarian assistance -- roofs on schools, other medical facilities -- and just providing infrastructure support, not focused in Port-au-Prince but in the Gonaives areas where we're going to focus throughout the hurricane season.

    We'll also have a ship, an amphibious ship that will be in the region, in the Caribbean during the entire hurricane season, that will be closer in case there is a hurricane that strikes Haiti; with all the numbers of displaced people who are there now, that we have an ability to respond quickly to whatever situation is there.

    Illicit Trafficking

    We had a very successful year last year countering illicit traffic. We were able to disrupt or seize over 229 metric tons of cocaine. We estimate that's roughly about 25 percent of the cocaine that's transiting through the maritime environments.

    ...

    We estimate that there's somewhere between 1,200 to 1,400 metric tons of cocaine that are trafficked from the northern part of South America to various parts of the world. Roughly 60 percent of that is destined for the United States, but a growing number of that, 30-some percent, is headed to Europe, a lot of it through western Africa, and then to markets also in the Middle East.

    So -- it's well financed. And so as we try to stop and disrupt traffic in the maritime environments, the traffickers adjust their tactics also. We have been very successful and Colombia has been very successful at denying the air transit out of Colombia into the Caribbean, and the traffickers have just shifted to the east. And so we see more traffic emanating out of Venezuela now than we do out of Colombia.

    If you look at the maritime environment, we see it coming out of both coasts, the Caribbean coast, the north coast of Colombia, the western coast, as well as further south. But they tend to now intercept in the Central American isthmus earlier and then now traffic up through the Pan American Highway through the countries in Central America in through Mexico to the United States.

    Venezuelan-U.S. relations

    At Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Key West, there is a liaison position that remains available for Venezuela to fill. There are 13 other nations who have liaison officers there, both from a military standpoint as well as law enforcement.

    We continue to look for those opportunities. We invite the armed forces of Venezuela to conferences, to attend education opportunities. And it has been their choice not to attend those. It has not been our desire to restrict them.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Arias' request for "Pepe" the Revolutionary

    Toward the end of March, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias wrote a letter to Uruguay's President José Mujica, asking him to follow Costa Rica's example and abolish Uruguay's military (Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948). President Arias made the same plea during his remarks on channel NTN24. "Why does Uruguay need an army? Who is Uruguay's enemy now? Will it invade Argentina? Will it invade Brazil?," President Arias asked.

    Arias is the winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize and two-time president of a country that has had no army since 1948. As ex-president, Arias played an important role in convincing decisionmakers in Panama and Haiti to abolish their military forces in 1994 and 1995.

    President Mujica declined President Arias' suggestion, affirming that the military is a necessary element in the fight against poverty. Mujica continued, "My personal opinion does not matter [because] when you are president, you do not do what you want to do, you do just what you can."

    While Arias' request and Mujica's denial is not new news, the text of the letter President Arias sent to President Mujica is interesting. Arias addresses the letter not "to Don Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano, but to 'Pepe' the revolutionary." Mujica was a member of the guerrilla Tupamaros movement in Uruguay in the 1960s and spent over 14 years in prison under Uruguay's military dictatorship. The first paragraph of the letter continues to refer to Mujica's days with the Tupamaro movement, calling Mujica "that man who in the midst of the mud of horror, always kept intact the flower of justice, that dreamer who never turned off the light of utopia, not even in the darkest corner of his overlooked cell, that idealist who championed, despite insults and threats, an abiding faith in a better future for Uruguay and Latin America."

    Below are some excerpts from Arias' letter to Muijca, in which Arias refers to the many military dictatorships throughout Latin America that "trampled human rights in [the] region." The Spanish version of the letter can be found here.

    ... I just want to give an advice that I see written on the wall of the history of mankind: armies are the enemies of development, the enemies of peace, the enemies of freedom and the enemies of joy.

    In much of the world, and especially in Latin America, the armed forces have been the source of the most thankless collective memory. It was the military boot that trampled human rights in our region. It was the general's voice that issued the most violent arrest warrants for students and artists. It was the hand of the soldier who fired into the back of innocent people. In the best of scenarios, the Latin American armies have meant a prohibitive expense for our economies. And in the worst one they have been a permanent trap for our democracies.

    Uruguay does not need an army. Its internal security can be handled by the police, and its national security gains nothing from a military that will never be more powerful than its neighbors, which are also democracies. No matter how much it invests in its armed forces, Uruguay can not win an arms race against Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. In the present circumstances, helplessness is a better national security policy for your people, than a military apparatus below that of your neighbors.

    I speak from experience. Costa Rica was the first country in history to abolish its army and declare world peace. More than sixty years ago, another revolutionary Pepe, Commander José Figueres, decided to banish forever the armed forces from my country. Since then, Costa Ricans have never had to live in a war. They have not shed their blood again in a civil war. They have feared a coup, a dictatorship or a regime of political persecution. My people live in peace because they bet on life, they live in peace because they trusted the power of reason to govern the impulses of violence.

    ...

    There are so many martyrs in history against military tutelage! You who suffered under the yoke of oppression, now have the opportunity to rid forever from that yoke the children of tomorrow. ... Let us hope that future will recognize in you, my friend the President, "Pepe" the revolutionary, who declared peace to the world and decreed life to be holy in Uruguay.

    Read the full text of the letter here.