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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday news highlights

COLOMBIA

  • President Álvaro Uribe proposed to fight gang violence in Medellín by paying the city's students to serve as informants passing intelligence to the authorities.
  • Three U.S. senators on committees with jurisdiction over U.S. aid to Colombia sent a letter (PDF) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter calls for the United States to "reevaluate U.S. assistance to Colombia."
  • A mass grave containing an estimated 2,000 bodies was recently discovered outside of La Macarena, about 200 miles south of Bogotá. According to the Center for International Policy's Plan Colombia and Beyond blog, "Residents say that after it entered the strongly guerrilla-controlled zone in the mid-2000s, Colombia's Army began dumping unidentified bodies in a mass grave near a local cemetery."
  • In President Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday, strengthening trade relations with both Colombia and Panama was mentioned as a goal. However, last week U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield warned that trade agreements never win approval in legislative election years. Colombian Ambassador to the United States Carolina Barco told El Tiempo that Obama's mention of Colombia "is very positive.... We are optimistic that this backing will help us continue on the road to approval of the FTA. However, we must be patient."

HAITI

  • A USA Today/Gallup poll finds 63% of Americans favoring a longer-term U.S. military presence in Haiti, going beyond the emergency phase until "basic services are restored." Meanwhile the Pentagon estimates that most U.S. troops will pull out of Haiti within three to six months.

HONDURAS

  • Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya left the Brazilian Embassy on Wednesday, where he had been holed up since sneaking back into Honduras in September. Zelaya flew to the Dominican Republic as Pepe Lobo was sworn in as the country's new president. The inauguration ceremony was attended by a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela.
  • On Thursday, the new administration announced that the nation is bankrupt and has only about $50 million in government coffers after months of isolation and cutoffs of international aid. U.S. assistance to Honduras, frozen after the coup d'etat in June, will not start flowing until all of the points in the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord are met, including the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission. Honduras' return to the Organization of American States is also contingent on compliance with the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord. According to Assistant Secretary Valenzuela, Lobo "has put together a broad Cabinet, including even candidates who ran against him. What is pending is the last step, which is the truth commission."

COLOMBIA-VENEZUELA

  • The Colombian government has accused a Venezuelan military helicopter of violating their airspace for 20 minutes, as it flew over a Colombian army base on Wednesday. The Venezuelan government denies this charge, and has accused the Colombian government of lying. According to Venezuelan Minister of Defense Nicolás Maduro, the accusation is part of a "dirty, brutal and hateful campaign against the Venezuelan people and the President to incite disdainful feelings against our country, framed in a policy that attempts to start events to justify violent acts, to make our peaceful border more violent."

VENEZUELA

  • Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez removed the television station RCTV from cable television. The government said that RCTV was not abiding by government regulations that require broadcasters to televise the President Chávez's speeches in their entirety. Critics, including the Washington Office on Latin America, claim the "suspension of RCTV-International in particular gives every appearance of being the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of the government to use the regulatory system to stifle an especially outspoken critic."

ENTIRE REGION

  • "Bloggings by Boz" excerpts all references to Latin America in the draft Quadrennial Defense Review that leaked this week.
  • New America Media reports on the increasing use of unmanned drone aircraft in drug surveillance missions over Latin America.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Honduras: We can't pretend it never happened

This is cross-posted from the Latin America Working Group's blog, the LAWG Blog. It was written by Lisa Haugaard.

As National Party leader Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo is inaugurated president of Honduras, we can’t just pretend the June 28th coup and its bitter aftermath never occurred.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights just released a devastating 147-page catalogue of the violations of human rights and civil liberties that have occurred since the coup in Honduras.

The Commission writes, “Along with the loss of institutional legitimacy brought about by the coup d’état, during its visit the Commission confirmed that serious human rights violations had been committed, including killings, an arbitrary declaration of a state of emergency, disproportionate use of force against public demonstrations, criminalization of public protest, arbitrary detention of thousands of persons, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, poor detention conditions, militarization of Honduran territory, an increase in incidents of racial discrimination, violations of women’s rights, severe and arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, and serious violations of political rights.  The Commission also established that judicial remedies were ineffective in protecting human rights.”

As the new government takes office, we should look back at these extensive series of abuses to get a feel for the ground that must be covered by the new administration in restoring human rights and civil liberties and repairing and improving the institutions of democracy, including judicial agencies and law enforcement, that so notably failed in their mission to protect the citizens’ rights.  Joe Eldridge and Vicki Gass spell out in the Huffington Post some of the steps that are needed to rebuild democracy in Honduras.

And the U.S. government, which condemned the coup but failed in the end to strongly defend democracy and human rights, has an absolute obligation to press the new government to fully restore the democratic rights that have been so severely eroded.  This includes restoring human rights protections and civil liberties, establishing a truth commission, investigating and prosecuting the abuses that occurred, and launching a meaningful national dialogue involving broad sectors of Honduran society.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Three senators ask Clinton to "reevaluate U.S. assistance to Colombia"

On January 21, three U.S. senators on committees with jurisdiction over U.S. aid to Colombia sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter calls for the United States to "reevaluate U.S. assistance to Colombia," and notes that despite allocating nearly $7 billion in aid to Colombia from fiscal year 2000 to 2009, "the amount of cocaine entering the United States ... has not changed appreciably... Moreover, progress in other priority areas - human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions - is lacking."

Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chairs the Senate Appropriations/Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

The letter expresses concern over various trends in Colombia, including:

  • The "false positives" scandal, "in which Colombian soldiers killed hundreds of civilians and dressed them in guerrilla clothing in order to inflate body counts;"
  • Colombian military leaders' continued denial of "the scope of the executions" and opposition to "civilian court jurisdiction in many cases involving abuses of human rights;" and
  • The "particularly troubling" abuses of the presidential intelligence agency, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), in which the "DAS was systematically conducting illegal surveillance of human rights groups, journalists, opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, trade unionists, and international human rights organizations."

Senators Feingold, Dodd, and Leahy add that "a possible third term for the current president threatens to further erode the checks and balances that help protect Colombia's fragile democracy."

The three senators call for President Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget request to Congress to reflect new priorities and a new approach toward Colombia. This new approach would include:

  • Reducing coca cultivation and cocaine production through "greater emphasis on farmer-led programs with voluntary eradication coupled with effective alternative development programs;"
  • Strengthening judicial and law enforcement programs "to dismantle criminal networks, combat the money laundering that enables the narcotics trade, and reduce impunity for corruption and human rights abuses;"
  • Reducing "military aid while continuing judicial and law enforcement, development and humanitarian assistance; and
  • "Explor[ing] more vigorously the possibilities for peace in Colombia."

The 3-page letter can be downloaded here as a PDF file.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An update on U.S.-Bolivia relations

Last Friday, the Brookings Institution and the Inter-American Dialogue co-sponsored "A Conversation with U.S. Ambassadors to the Andean Region." As the title suggests, the panel included U.S. ambassadors to the Andean countries, and the United States' new ambassador to the Organization of American States. However, a perspective on U.S. relations with one Andean country was noticeably absent.

The United States has not had an ambassador in Bolivia since September 2008, when Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled Philip Goldberg and declared him "persona non grata" for meeting with the opposition and allegedly conspiring against the Bolivian government. The United States responded by expelling Bolivian Ambassador to the United States Gustavo Guzmán.

In May 2009, the United States and Bolivia began a dialogue to review and improve bilateral relations, with the goal of exchanging new ambassadors. The assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time, Thomas Shannon, traveled to La Paz to begin this process. However, the next step in the process was not taken until October 2009 - five months later. During this five month hiatus, the United States decertified Bolivia as a partner in the fight against drugs and refused to extend Andean Trade Preference (ATPDEA) benefits to Bolivia for a second consecutive year - a move which the Andean Information Network said "contrasted sharply with the diplomatic tone of previous negotiations."

The attempt at dialogue resumed in Washington on October 27th, with Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca leading the Bolivian delegation. A State Department press release prior to the meeting read, "The dialogue reflects both countries' commitment to review and improve relations on the basis of mutual respect and shared interests. Key areas of discussion will include cooperation on development, social inclusion and our shared responsibility to combat drug trafficking."

After the meeting, it looked as if Bolivia and the United States were on the fast track to renewed diplomatic relations. The United States and Bolivia announced that they were on the verge of reaching an agreement of "mutual respect." Foreign Minister Choquehuanca said the meeting had resulted in "excellent advances on all subjects" and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs María Otero said "we hope to finalize and implement this agreement in the near future." At the culmination of the talks in October, it was suggested that the agreement would be signed at the third round of meetings scheduled for November in La Paz, which would be followed by the repositioning of ambassadors to both countries.

November - a month that saw Bolivia in the runup to presidential elections - came and went without a third round of meetings, a signed agreement of mutual respect, or new ambassadors, and it is unclear when or whether the bilateral dialogue between the two countries will restart. Since October, both countries have expressed a desire to continue a dialogue, though the condition of "mutual respect" for each country's sovereignty seems to be causing a roadblock in negotiations, with Bolivia calling for a change in the United States' attitude toward Bolivian political affairs.

One week after Foreign Minister Choquehuanca traveled to Washington in October, President Morales accused the United States of "fomenting terrorism and narcotrafficking in Colombia in order to justify the military bases," in allusion to the U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement, which grants the United States use of seven Colombian military bases. Later in the month, Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García accused the United States of "political interference," explaining that the United States "continues a policy under the rug, it continues moving political pieces. While it maintains this attitude of political interference (...), while it doesn't change its attitude, this healthy and sovereign distance is the minimum that we can do as a country that respects itself."

President Evo Morales was re-elected in December and the United States congratulated him, declaring that the Obama administration "look(s) forward to working with President Morales and his administration to continue advancing the bilateral dialogue started by our governments earlier this year." Days later, Bolivian Vice President García, in reaction to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks about Iran's interest in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia as being "really a bad idea," sustained that until the United States changes its "colonial attitude in times that there are no longer colonies," the bilateral negotiations would not advance:

When the United States abandons its pretension to impose, to meddle, to tell us what to do and what not to do, when it abandons the patron-like and colonial attitude, and its interference in Bolivian political affairs, in that second that everything is perfect, we are going to sign (the agreeement).

Again in early January, U.S. charge d'affairs John Creamer reiterated the United States' desire to restart the dialogue with Bolivia after Evo Morales' inauguration to a second term on January 22nd. And again, Vice President García said that the dialogue and agreement is contingent on a change in the United States' attitude: "We also are hoping for better relations, but this hoping will not change on the 22nd, the 15th, or the 31st of January. Better relations depend on a change in the attitude of that (the U.S.) government."

President Morales was re-inaugurated on Friday, at a ceremony attended by a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Under Secretary of State María Otero. According to the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia, the delegation "brought a message of friendship from President Barack Obama to President Morales and the Bolivian people" and Under Secretary Otero expressed that "relations between Bolivia and the United States are based on an effort from both countries to work together, to dialogue, to discuss everything with mutual respect and carry us to a broader relationship than we have now."

Though it appears that the United States is eager to continue the bilateral dialogue, Bolivia's call for an improved U.S. attitude toward its policies is not out of line. President Obama promised a new type of partnership - an "equal partnership" based on "mutual respect" - between Latin America and the United States at the Summit of the Americas in April 2009. As Doug Hertzler put it today on the Andean Information Network's blog, "it's time to allow Bolivia to try its own ideas. As Evo Morales begins his second term in office, the U.S. should move forward to reach agreement with Bolivia on respectful relations, transparent aid and a new exchange of ambassadors."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Pentagon's military aid role grows

Since we began the "Just the Facts" project in the 1990s, a constant theme has been the Defense Department's steadily growing role in assigning military aid. First for the "war on drugs," later for the "war on terror," the Pentagon has accrued ever greater authorities to use part of its $664 billion annual budget to aid foreign military forces.

This is undesirable for several reasons.

  • It weakens the State Department's role in determining which militaries get how much aid. Because is designed to consider and protect all U.S. interests in a country — not just security but development, diplomatic relations, democracy, human rights, environmental protection and others — the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act placed the State Department in charge of foreign aid, including security assistance. Routing such aid through the Defense budget reduces the State Department's authority.
  • It weakens congressional oversight, including human rights protections. The congressional committees that authorize and fund State Department-managed military assistance oversee a $50 billion annual budget that gets significant scrutiny, since foreign aid is not politically popular in the United States. Aid that goes through the regular foreign aid budget channel is subject to conditions — including important human rights protections — and must be reported to Congress and the public. This website's database depends heavily on these reports. By contrast, aid that goes through the enormous defense budget is an almost invisible fraction of the total, and receives little scrutiny from the relevant committees.
  • It gives the Pentagon a greater diplomatic role. Giving the Defense Department significant autonomy over aid to foreign militaries can bring about situations in which military-to-military ties with a country are stronger than diplomatic ties.

The biggest leap forward in Defense budget military aid came in 2006, when Section 1206 of that year's National Defense Authorization Act created a new program authorizing the Pentagon to use $200 million of its budget to "train and equip" foreign militaries and police. This program, known simply as "Section 1206," closely resembled the State Department-run Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, and was supposed to expire at the end of 2007. It was extended through 2008 and raised to $300 million, then extended again through 2011 and raised to $350 million. The 2011 Defense budget request will reportedly include a proposal to increase the 1206 program budget to $500 million in 2011. Between 2006 and 2008 — the years for which we currently have data — Section 1206 was the fifth-largest source of U.S. military assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Now, as the Obama administration prepares to send Congress its 2011 budget request, the future of the Section 1206 program, which would expire at the end of that year, is a topic of much internal debate. 

This is evidenced by a letter (PDF) Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on December 15. The letter proposes that the two departments pool their funds for military and police aid — but also economic development assistance — in three areas: security capacity-building, stabilization and conflict prevention. These pools, which Gates calls "Shared Responsibility, Pooled Resources" or SRPR, would require "dual-key" approval for expenditure of funds. (The analogy refers to a door or vehicle that requires two people to turn keys in order to unlock or start it.)

Each pool would operate with joint formulation requirements in the field and dual-key concurrence in Washington, DC. Legislation would endow these funds with inherent authority to achieve their purposes. Each department would be able to add funds to the pool to meet a departmental imperative, although the use of these funds would be subject to the dual-key approval requirements.

A "dual key" process is preferable to the Pentagon having autonomy to carry out its own security assistance policy. However, if made permanent this proposal would be a defeat for the State Department, which until recently was the only "keyholder." Since at least the 1990s, though, the State Department has not been assigned the resources needed to do the job on its own, while the Defense Department has. This proposal would make that reality permanent, irreversibly solidifying the Defense Department's foreign assistance role.

The Bush administration's secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, consistently yielded to the Defense Department on the Section 1206 jurisdiction issue. Secretary Clinton's department, on the other hand, has sought to re-take some of the lost turf. However, a January 20 post to Foreign Policy magazine's diplomacy blog, "The Cable," indicates that the State Department already gave in to the Defense Department's request to increase the Section 1206 budget to $500 million in 2011.

"That literally is the result of vigorous arm wrestling within the administration," one source familiar with the discussions said. The battle had been waged primarily between the shops of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, but finally Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew got involved.

"Eventually State backed off," the source said. "They're not sure they have the capacity to actually run the 1206 programs." …

Insiders working on the issue also suggested that State didn't match up bureaucratically inside the fight. The Pentagon just has so many more people and resources to bring to bear, and besides, the State Department's strategy review, the QDDR, isn't complete.

Meanwhile, "The Cable" says, the Gates proposal for a jointly administered SRPR pool does not, for now, appear to be going anywhere.

[Capitol] Hill staffers, who would be the ones appropriating the money, said there was no follow-through. Many saw the memo as a decoy and not really operative in any sense.

The security-assistance turf battle is heating up in ways that will affect future assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. And it is taking place while the congressional foreign affairs committees consider a rewrite of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act that could change the picture still further. We can expect more flare-ups over the coming year. But given the Defense Department's larger budget, political capital and bargaining power, it will be difficult - not impossible, but difficult - to forestall an outcome that doesn't involve a greater U.S. military role in foreign aid.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday News Highlights

BOLIVIA / ARGENTINA

  • Leaders from all over Latin America traveled to La Paz today for the inauguration of Bolivian President Evo Morales to his second term. Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, however, was not able to travel to Bolivia due to domestic troubles, including worsening relations with Vice President Julio César Cleto Cobos. Last week, President Fernández said Vice President Cobos "wants to become President before 2011" and is part of a "conspiracy" to overthrow the government.
  • CHILE

  • Chile held its second round presidential elections over the weekend. Conservative businessman Sebastian Piñera of the center-right party Coalition for Change beat Eduardo Frei with 51.6% of the vote. Piñera's win led to many stories about the implications of the return of the right in Chile and the end of the 20-year rule of the Concertación party.
  • President-Elect Piñera promised that his government will "collaborate" with judicial investigations of past human rights abuses, and said he will seek to do away with the Pinochet-era provision that gives the armed forces 10 percent of the state copper company’s revenues.
  • COLOMBIA

  • Only four months remain until Colombia is scheduled to hold presidential elections, though it is still unclear whether President Álvaro Uribe will run for a third straight term. On the Center for International Policy's "Plan Colombia and Beyond" blog, Adam Isacson explains the tight timetable for the reelection referendum that would determine whether Uribe can run in May's election.
  • Colombia's Army found a cache of brand-new weapons in southeastern Córdoba department, which it believes to be part of an arms-for-cocaine barter arrangement between the FARC and "new" paramilitary groups in the region.
  • HAITI

  • Attempts to rescue Haitians stuck under the debris left behind by last week's earthquake continued throughout the week, while humanitarian relief organizations worked hard to deliver as much food, water and medical supplies to those in need. News stories centered around the difficulties experienced by these agencies in distributing the aid. With the opening of three additional air strips in Haiti and the Dominican Republic this week, aid is being delivered at a much faster pace and attention is turning to the long process of recovery and reconstruction.
  • The large U.S. military presence in Haiti (with 13,000 troops currently in Haiti and roughly 7,000 additional troops arriving over the weekend) has led to fears of a U.S. military occupation of Haiti by Presidents Chávez, Morales, and Ortega.
  • HONDURAS

  • The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission released an extensive report on the human rights situation in Honduras since the June 28 coup d’état.

    The report states that along with the loss of institutional legitimacy caused by the coup d’état, serious human rights violations have occurred. These include deaths; the arbitrary declaration of a state of exception; the repression of public demonstrations through the disproportionate use of force; the criminalization of social protest; the arbitrary detention of thousands of individuals; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and poor detention conditions; the militarization of the territory; an increase in situations of racial discrimination; violations of women’s rights, arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression; and serious infringements of political rights.

  • Ousted President Manuel Zelaya has accepted an agreement signed Wednesday by Honduran President-Elect Porfirio Lobo and President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic. The agreement grants Zelaya safe passage to the Dominican Republic after Lobo's inauguration next week, and "would guarantee Mr. Zelaya full rights, which would allow him to travel and speak publicly."
  • MEXICO

  • Another prison uprising in the northern Mexican state of Durango left at least 23 inmates dead. These uprisings have been exacerbate by overcrowded prisons combined with the "incendiary mix" of rival gang and drug cartel members.

    Mexican prisons have grown more crowded and dangerous as the government carries out a war against cartels, with more than 67,000 drug arrests in three years. The increased incarcerations have often created an incendiary mix by jamming members of rival gangs inside the same walls.

  • UNASUR

  • According to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who is also the president of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent him a letter in which she thanked him for UNASUR's invitation to begin a dialogue with the United States about security and defense and expressed "interest to begin working with this organization." President Correa said that the subject of U.S. military bases "obviously" should be on the agenda.
  • VENEZUELA

  • The Venezuelan government began expropriating Exito stores "after President Hugo Chávez said the French-Colombian owned retailer broke the law by raising prices." Reuters published a list of "Venezuela's state takeovers under Chávez."
  • ENTIRE REGION

  • Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2010, which "summarizes human rights conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide."
  • Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    U.S. military's role in Haiti faces criticism

    One week has passed since a devastating earthquake brought one of the world's worst-ever humanitarian emergencies to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and its surrounding areas. Over the past seven days, search-and-rescue operations have pulled over 121 people from the rubble left behind by the earthquake. The chance of finding survivors diminishes as every day passes; as of yesterday, however, 36 international search-and-rescue teams remained in Haiti in an effort to continue rescue operations. Despite heroic attempts, the death toll estimate now exceeds 200,000 people, with over 70,000 cadavers already buried by the Haitian government.

    In addition to those who lost their lives during the earthquake, over 3 million Haitians were estimated to be adversely affected, and the need to distribute humanitarian relief and provide medical assistance is urgent. Medical care, handling of the dead, shelter, water, food and sanitation remain the priorities for international relief operations, but getting supplies into Haiti and distributed to the most affected populations has proven to be logistically difficult.

    One factor contributing to slow delivery of aid, according to some humanitarian relief organizations, was the United States' control of air traffic operations at the overcrowded airport in Port-au-Prince. According to an article by the Inter-Press Service, the French Cooperation Minister, the World Food Programme (WFP), and Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders issued complaints over the U.S. military's alleged favoritism of giving priority to U.S. military flights over planes carrying humanitarian assistance, including food and needed medical supplies. A Doctors without Borders cargo plane with 12 tons of medical supplies was turned away three times on Sunday, delaying the delivery of supplies to field hospitals. The French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet was quoted saying that, "This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti." An air logistics official with the WFP said, "Their [The U.S. military's] priorities are to secure to country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync."

    U.S. Southern Command disputed this accusation, stating that "On a typical day, the Port-au-Prince airport lands about three aircraft. Since we landed Wednesday, over 600 aircraft have landed and taken off." Though in an attempt to better coordinate the balance of humanitarian and military flights landing in Port-au-Prince, an agreement was made between the U.S. military and the United Nations to give humanitarian flights guaranteed landing slots at the Port-au-Prince airport. As a result, "the flow of aid to the people of Haiti will increase dramatically in the coming days," according to the executive director of the WFP, Josette Sheeran.

    In addition to controlling air traffic at the Port-au-Prince airport, the U.S. military has deployed various aircraft, ships, and thousands of military personnel to the region to provide humanitarian assistance and security. According to U.S. Southern Command, "approximately 11,000 U.S. military personnel are currently supporting task force operations within Haiti and from U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels off shore." The website for the U.S. military effort, dubbed "Operation Unified Response," includes a "force tracker" listing all U.S. military vessels, aircraft and personnel both en route to, and in, Haiti.

    According to the Pan American Health Organization "Situation Report #7," issued on Tuesday evening, the U.S. military is not the sole military presence currently in Haiti:

    Twenty-six countries, including Argentina, Canada, France, Russia and the USA have provided significant military assets for the emergency response. These assets include field hospitals, troops, military aircraft, hospital ships, cargo ships and helicopters. MINUSTAH currently has 3,400 troops and police on the ground. Civil military coordinators are working directly with the US military.

    In addition to the criticism leveled at the U.S. military's air traffic control priorities, some Latin American governments have also spoken out against the United States' role in Haiti in general, with statements alluding to a U.S. military occupation of Haiti.

    On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said on his weekly television show, "Aló, Presidente," that the United States was "occupying Haiti undercover.... Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals - that's what the United States should send."

    "This drama is being manipulated to install U.S. troops in Haiti, who have been taking military control of the Port-au-Prince airport, and this is worrisome," added Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

    On Monday, Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera criticized the United States' militarized response, stating that "what Haiti needs is humanitarian assistance and not the geopolitical and geostrategic interests of the United States.... What we need here in Haiti is not so many armed troops, like those that the United States has brought, what we need here are resources: money, food, and infrastructure." Today, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that he will ask the United Nations to hold an emergency meeting to "reject the military occupation of the United States" in Haiti. According to news source EFE, President Morales continued, "It is not possible that the United States uses a natural disaster to invade and militarily occupy Haiti."

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Friday News Highlights

    This is cross-posted from the Center for International Policy's "Plan Colombia and Beyond" blog.

    A small sampling of some of the Haiti coverage we’ve found worth linking to is here. There is much we’ve missed. The New York Times Haiti Twitter list is worth a follow as well.

    • Twenty-nine Colombian soldiers and officers standing trial for the 2008 Soacha “false positives” murders have been freed from preventive detention in the past week. Meanwhile the mother of one of the victims tells El Espectador’s Cecilia Orozco about the threats, and the lack of government support, that she and other mothers are receiving.
    • “My admiration is personal and institutional for the Honduran people, who stoically withstood international pressures, foreign meddling and every kind of assault against their sovereignty in order to keep an anachronistic model from implanting itself in their country.” – Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos
    • Colombian President Álvaro Uribe received two delegations of U.S. visitors to his ranch in Córdoba department: a congressional delegation led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and James Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state and number-two official in the State Department.
    • “I have received information about an extremely worrying situation of violence and other crimes against indigenous peoples.” – James Anaya, UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, who issued a new report this week.
    • The Associated Press published a long, gripping story about a bend in the Cauca river where the bodies of the murdered tend to wash up, and about a woman who for years has tried to retrieve them.
    • The La Silla Vacía website presents an excellent list of twelve changes Colombia has gone through during the 16 months that the country’s political class has been distracted by the debate over whether President Uribe can run for reelection.
    • Chileans vote in a presidential runoff election on Sunday. Polls give a razor-thin advantage to conservative businessman Sebastián Piñera over center-left former President Eduardo Frei.
    • Chile is eliminating a constitutional provision, inherited from the Pinochet regime, that gave the armed forces a fixed percentage of copper profits to use for weapons purchases. Bolivia, on the other hand, is considering adding such a provision.
    • Last May, days before he was murdered, Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg recorded a video stating that if he were to be killed, it would be the fault of Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom. This week, UN investigators announced a bizarre finding: Rosenberg in fact planned his own assassination. (See this PDF presentation.)
    • Reuters published a lengthy piece about the aerial narcotrafficking route between South America and Africa, alleging that it is being plied by a rogue air fleet with links to Al Qaeda.
    • The U.S. NGO Freedom House released its annual “Freedom in the World” report, contending that several countries in Latin America – Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic – were less free in 2009 than they were in 2008.
    • Bolivian President Evo Morales, on his third-ever visit to a movie theater, saw Avatar and declared it to be “a profound example of resistance against capitalism and the struggle to defend nature.”

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    The United States' efforts in Haiti

    Shortly before 5:00 pm on Tuesday, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, leaving behind a major humanitarian emergency on the small island nation.

    As images and first-hand accounts from Haiti make it into the news today, the incredible level of destruction and immense loss of human life left by this natural disaster is still difficult to grasp, though the need for immediate emergency response and humanitarian assistance is obvious.

    Throughout the day, the Obama Administration has been outlining the steps that are being taken by the U.S. government to launch a multiagency effort to provide disaster relief to the Haitian government and people and the 45,000 U.S. citizens who live in Haiti.

    Here are some links to relevant news stories, links to how to help, and official U.S. government documents or statements on the USG's response.

  • The U.S. Department of State held a special briefing on the situation in Haiti, at which administration officials outlined the steps being taken by various government agencies, including USAID and U.S. Southern Command. These steps include the deployment of two 72-person search-and-rescue units to help drill through the debris in order to try to identify individuals that can be saved, and the deployment of U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson to Haiti.
  • U.S. Southern Command issued a press release listing some immediate response activities, which include the deployment of:
    • U.S. Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing to the Port-au-Prince airport to provide air traffic control capability and airfield operations;
    • A U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft from the Forward Operating Location at Comalapa, El Salvador to conduct an aerial reconnaissance of the area affected by the earthquake;
    • A team of 30 people, including U.S. military engineers, operational planners, and a command and control group and communication specialists, who will arrive on two C-130 Hercules aircraft; and
    • U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, in addition to other U.S. Navy ships.
  • U.S. Southern Command also issued a fact sheet on the details of its mission to Haiti, which, in addition to the deployments cited above, notes that hospital ship USNS Comfort has been ordered to support Haiti relief operations.
  • Southcom's Commander, General Douglas Fraser, held a news briefing at the Pentagon, in addition to the one at the State Department. The transcript can be found here.
  • Some relevant news stories and links to videos and images of the current situation in Haiti can be found on here.
  • The Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC), put together a list of sources for news and reports from Haiti, and links to relief organizations with operations in Haiti.
  • The U.S. Navy created a list on Twitter to compile all official U.S. Government twitter accounts following Haiti relief, which can be read @NavyNews/haiti-relief
  • Monday, January 11, 2010

    Trends in INL funding to Colombia

    Every year, the U.S. Department of State submits a report to Congress with its detailed budget request for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) assistance. This program is the largest source of military and police assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, and during the past decade has funded programs like Plan Colombia, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, the Mérida Initiative for both Mexico and Central America, and the recently approved Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which is an extension of the Mérida Initiative programs in the Caribbean region.

    This report, known as the "Program and Budget Guide," is usually made public around September. It provides Congress with more detail about its INCLE budget request for the next fiscal year, and gives detail about how the assistance was spent during the past two years. It was only recently uploaded to the State Department website. (Download the FY2010 Program and Budget Guide)

    Information from the FY2010 INCLE Program and Budget Guide relevant to Latin America is now on the Just the Facts database (see country totals here, click on a country for more details on how the assistance was allocated) and a few trends are worth noting, especially with regard to Colombia. As seen in the graph below, INCLE military and police assistance to Colombia has decreased significantly since 2007, when assistance reached almost $400 million, to $209 million budgeted for Fiscal Year 2010, of which Congress approved just under $200 million when it passed the foreign aid budget bill last month.

    The decline in INCLE military assistance to Colombia owes mainly to the Democratic Party's takeover of the majority in Congress after the November 2006 legislative elections. Beginning in early 2007, as it considered the 2008 budget, the new leadership sought to reduce the overwhelmingly military emphasis of the program in Colombia, which relied heavily on forced aerial eradication of coca, and to place a greater priority on economic development, humanitarian aid and judicial reform.

    The decline in INCLE military aid to Colombia can especially be seen in the decline in funding for both coca eradication and aviation support. INCLE's aviation support for the Colombian Army and National Police includes aviation maintenance and logistics support for the dozens of helicopters and planes used by the Colombian Army and Police. In 2005, INCLE allocated over $195 million to the Colombian Army and National Police for aviation support, while in 2010 the amount budgeted for both programs is $91 million, of which Congress approved $85 million.

    Similarly, the funding for coca eradication for the Colombian National Police in 2005 was $82.5 million, compared to $60 million requested for 2010, of which Congress approved $53 million.