Latin American countries have a long history of using the armed forces to carry out internal security duties. However, these militaries also have a long history of human rights abuses. While progress has been made, many countries in the region continue to deploy their troops to combat crime as they struggle with weak public institutions, pervasive impunity, and high crime rates.
Recently several governments have launched military initiatives to deal with these issues. In many cases the country is undergoing a longer-term police reform that is not yielding results, or in the case of Honduras, producing more headaches.
Although international bodies and human rights organizations have pushed for the region’s governments to allow civilian police to fight crime, leaders send their militaries into high crime zones or areas with a strong organized crime presence but poorly trained local law enforcement, in order to see results in the short term, and many times with U.S. support. There are several examples of this throughout the region and in a series of posts we will look at a few of them.
When President Otto Pérez Molina assumed the presidency in January 2012, he became the first career military official to hold that office in 25 years. Guatemalan security analysts say that now about 40 percent of security-related positions are held by former members of the armed forces. After taking office, Pérez immediately called on the army to collaborate in “neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power.” Since then, given the weakness and endemic corruption of the National Civil Police (PNC), Pérez Molina has relied heavily on the military to fight organized crime and contain social unrest.
In March 2012, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay expressed concern about “reports of an increased use of the military in law-enforcement functions.” She stressed that any such participation should only be in a “police support capacity without diverting resources from the police”; must be “subject to civilian direction and control”; and needed to be “limited in time and scope.” Since then, it appears little has improved:
Since the beginning of 2012, the government has opened at least five new military bases and outposts.
Currently there are over 21,000 troops deployed for maintaining security throughout nine states: from Huehuetenango to sectors of Quiche and Alta Verapaz,from Escuintla to sectors of Suchitepequez and Santa Rosa, and from Zacapa to sectors of Izabal and Chiquimula.
In September, the Maya Task Force was deployed to Zone 18 of Guatemala City, with 1,200 soldiers and 100 police, representing a ratio of ten to one. A similar operation began in Zone 12 in November.
On June 14, 2013 1,500 members of the military reserves were deployed to Huehuetenango in western Guatemala, Escuintla in south central Guatemala and Zapaca in the eastern part of the country as part of an initiative known as the Army “Citizen Security Squadrons.” They were split into three squadrons of 503 soldiers at a cost of $15 million (119 million quetzales), according to Guatemalan news outlet Siglo 21.
On July 1, a new military Inter-Agency Border Unit, also known as Joint Task Force Tecún Umán (Fuerza de Tarea Tecún Umán) began operating in zones along the border shared with Mexico. On June 28th the group finished two months of training. The U.S. also in part funds the unit.
Guatemala's army has a poor record of human rights violations and has yet to be held accountable for the abuses committed during the country's civil war from 1960-1996, in which 200,000 people were killed and 45,000 forcibly disappeared. According to the Historical Clarification Commission, Guatemala’s truth and reconciliation commission, the Guatemalan state (military and government paramilitaries) was responsible for over 90 percent of the human rights abuses. More recently, in October of 2012, six people were killed and another 34 injured when soldiers open fired into a crowd of indigenous protestors. The military has also been tied to drug trafficking and organized crime.
For decades, the U.S. State Department has been barred from providing aid to the Guatemalan army over concerns of human rights abuses dating back to the civil war. However, this ban does not apply to Department of Defense assistance, which accounted for $26 million in antidrug assistance 2011 and 2012.
While President Perez Molina has started a police clean-up initiative, reports indicate that the effort lacks sufficient funding and political will from much of the government. Aside from the concerns about human rights, analysts have questioned the overall strategy of military deployment, saying that it does not address the need for preventative policies, such as community policing. As one analyst questioned, “What is going to happen when the military finally withdraw?” she asked. “Won’t crime just go back up?”
CIP intern Ashley Badesch contributed to the research for this post
This post was written by CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, leader of the notoriously violent Zetas drug gang in Mexico, was captured by Mexican armed forces early Monday near the border town of Nuevo Laredo. Treviño Morales, also known as “El Z-40,” was wanted on both sides of the border for ordering the kidnapping and killing of 265 migrants, along with numerous other charges of torture, murder, money laundering, and other crimes. His arrest is the highest-profile arrest in the fight against organized crime since Enrique Pena Nieto took the presidency. More from Dalla Morning News, BBC, Vice, Insight Crime and CNN.
Many analysts have said that Treviño’s arrest may result in more violence in areas where Zetas wield control. In addition to sparking retribution from the vindictive Zeta organization, the Zetas weakening will spur rivals like the Sinaloa Cartel to make a play for control of Zetas-dominated trafficking routes. CNN Mexico reported that security measures were strengthened in Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Veracruz, and Durango for fear of a resurgence of violence in response to the capture. While most observers agree that Z-40’s arrest was a positive step towards slowing the type of hyper-violent crimes the Zetas and Treviño himself have perpetuated, it will have little effect on the drug war as a whole or do much to reduce the flow of drugs.
On Wednesday, the United States and Cuba resumed immigration talks in Washington after a two-year hiatus. In addition to discussing aviation safety, visa processing, and other cooperation on migration, the U.S. Department of State reiterated its call for the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross.
The Washington Post reported that diplomats who have previously faced strict limitations on their travel within the United States and Cuba recently have been increasingly, and more easily, moving about each country. The Post points to the travel as a part of a larger, slow-moving thaw of relations between the two countries, evidenced by Wednesday’s migration talks and last month’s talks on resuming direct mail, among other events.
Cuba confirmed that a North Korean cargo ship seized in Panama was carrying “obsolete” missiles and other armaments, including two Mig-21 jets and parts for a SA-2 anti-aircraft system from the 1960s) to be repaired in North Korea and then returned. The weaponry was found among a load of 10,000 tons of sugar, the Guardian reported. The 35 North Koreans on the boat were arrested after resisting police efforts to intercept the ship, and the captain reportedly tried to commit suicide during the operation.
The U.S. government has agreed to lend equipment and personnel to help inspect the ship, following a request from the Panamanian government. Meanwhile the UN’s sanctions committee will assess the case to determine if it violated arms sanctions against North Korea. Some analysts have suggested the incident shows the weakness and “dire straights” of the Cuban military. More from BBC,Reuters and NBC.
On Tuesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he did not think the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was needed in the country. During an address given in Bogota, he stated “Colombia has advanced enough to say: We don’t need a U.N. human rights office in our country anymore.”
The next day the government announced it would renew the UN mandate, extending it until October 31, 2014. The UN High Commissioner on this issue, Navi Pillay,said the office's work was still needed in the country, as its main objective is "to see Colombia united and all Colombians enjoying human rights." According to IPS news, Pillay travelled to the embattled Cauca department in southern Colombia to "meet for several hours with leaders of black, indigenous and rural communities who had plenty to say about the need for multilateral bodies to continue monitoring human rights in this country." Colombia's Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín echoed President Santos' remarks that the country's human rights situation had improved and did not necessarily need the office present to continue to make progress.
Next Monday, July 22, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will meet on the border to carry out a “complete revision of the bilateral relations” between the two countries. Relations, which Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Minister categorized as “a little cold” this week, have been especially strained since President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles in May.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa congratulated his administration for going nine (non-consecutive) days so far this year without a single murder in Tegucigalpa, Honduran Culture and Politics reports. “Before we were always talking about 2 digits; the were more than 30 (daily) murders... but yes its getting better, and it is because of the police cleanup and the participation of the armed forces. However, the Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University contends that despite a few murder-free days the situation is not really improving; according to its director, Migdonia Ayestas, there have been an average of 20 murders per day through May 31 of this year.
InSight Crime featured an article that looked at homicide distribution since the onset of the Salvadoran gang truce. Using police data, the article found that while it is undeniable that the truce resulted in a significant drop (nearly 50 percent) in homicides, that there was not a decrease in all municipalities and that the number of municipalities in which homicides are increasing has risen. More from Tim’s El Salvador Blog.
On Wednesday, President Rousseff reiterated her proposal for a plebiscite to address Brazilians concerns about corruption and public spending. Congress rejected her first proposal on June 24, however a Datafolha poll shows that 68 percent of Brazilians favor holding a plebiscite.
While there is variance among the numbers, all polls have President Rousseff’s approval dropping significantly in the wake of the protests, with a MDA pesquisa poll showing a drop to 33 percent, down from 54 percent in June, while CNT/MDA pollhas her rating plunging 24.4 points from 73 percent in June to 49 percent this month.
Reuters reported that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed that her Worker’s Party government will not spend beyond its means, “rejecting the temptation of increasing outlays to improve public services in the wake of an outburst of national discontent last month.” In a speech to an advisory group of ministers and business leaders on Wednesday, she stated, "Our pact for fiscal stability and inflation control limits any temptation for fiscal populism."
The Wall Street Journal reported that in Sao Paulo police killed one suspect for every 229 arrested in 2012, according to government statistics, while in 2011 in the United States, that number was one per 31,575. According to the article, "The problem is acknowledged by government officials, including São Paulo's governor, who has replaced his hard-line security chief with a mild-mannered lawyer vowing to take steps to reduce unjustified police shootings."
Pablo Longueira, the conservative coalition’s candidate in the Chilean presidential campaign, has dropped out of the race, further weakening the conservative’s chances of beating former President Michelle Bacelet of the Socialist party, the Associated Press reported. At a news conference on Wednesday, Longuiera’s son revealed that his father’s surprise resignation was due to a medically diagnosed bout of depression. According to Guillermo Holzmann, a political science professor at the Universidad de Valparaiso, the resignation “wasn’t considered under any political scenario because the campaign is on its final stretch. This is a crisis for the right-wing coalition.”
United States Policy
The United States Department of Homeland Security is sending 30 agents to Puerto Rico as part of a Operation Caribbean Resilience, which was launched last year to fight drug trafficking.
The government of Bolivia stated that restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States is “far off,” according to Terra, an Argentine news agency. Bolivia and the United States have not had diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level since September of 2008, when President Evo Morales expelled Washington’s representative, Philip Goldberg, and the American government applied a reciprocity measurement with the representative of La Paz in Washington, Gustavo Guzmán.
Brazil’s foreign minister said Monday that Washington had not sufficiently responded to Brazil’s request for an explanation of the alleged US electronic spying disclosed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, according to the Global Post.
The U.S. State Department’s updated travel warning puts Mexican states Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas as the “least secured states” in the country. The travel warning highlights kidnapping and murder rates that have been increasing. In general, just 12 out of 31 Mexican states (plus DF) are categorized as safe enough without travel warnings.
Mexican secretaries of national defense, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, and Marina Vidal Sanz Francisco Soberon, began a tour of the United States and Canada to meet with senior military in those countries and to promote military and naval cooperation between Mexico and its counterparts, Milenio reported.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro demanded that the United States apologize on Thursday for Washington’s U.N. ambassador-designate’s remarks criticizing Venezuela’s human rights record. During her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Samantha Power vowed to stand up against “repressive regimes” and contest “the crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.” Maduro replied with a demand for “immediate correction by the U.S. government” for what he called “despicable” criticism, Reuters reported.
The prosecutor for the defense of human rights in Nicaragua came out with numbers that said that the Nicaraguan National Police has faced 1,334 complaints of human rights violations, the highest of the six public institutions with recorded complaints. The judiciary system had 210 complaints, the penitentiary system had 80, the Ministry of Family, Youth and Children had 75, the Public Ministry had 64, and the Ministry of Education had 56.
Approximately 4,000 demonstrators gathered in Peru on June 17th to protest the development of a $5 billion gold mining project proposed by the Newton Mining company.
São Paulo, Brazil police killed one suspect for every 229 arrested in 2012. By contrast, in the United States in 2011, police killed one suspect for every 31,575 arrests.
Between 2005 and 2011 approximately 17 million pounds of marijuana were seized by U.S. Customs agents at ports of entry along the U.S.–Mexico border.
A survey about citizen security perceptions in Mexico found that 27% of citizens consider the country’s security situation to have improved. This was a 19% increase since the survey was last conducted in October of 2012.
A new law enforcement agency in Mexico, National Gendarmerie, will have 5,000 members. This group, which is considered a separate division of the Federal Police, will assist states “that do not have an effective, reliable police agency today,” said Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong.
A study conducted by the Center for Economic Research and Education (CIDE) of Mexico revealed that 60% of Mexicans would prefer for Mexico and the United States to form one country if it meant they would have a better quality of life.
In the first half of this year Mexico deported nearly 17,000 Salvadorans for residing illegally within the country. The United States has deported 9,072, making the statistic over 26,000 between the two countries.
In Mexico, it is estimated that 60% of workers, about 30 million people, work in the informal sector of the economy.
“The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the results of the annual U.S. Government estimate measuring cocaine production in the Andean region. According to the new estimates, there has been a 41 percent drop in potential pure cocaine production capacity in the Andes since 2001, from an estimated 1,055 metric tons potential pure cocaine production at its peak in 2001 to 620 metric tons in 2012. The latest estimate is a 10 percent reduction from the previous year. Since 2011, the potential production of pure cocaine has dropped from 305 metric tons to 290 metric tons in Peru; from 190 metric tons to 175 metric tons in Colombia; and from 190 metric tons to 155 metric tons in Bolivia.”
A report by the National Center for Historical Memory, a government institution in Colombia revealed that between 1970 and 2010, more than 39,000 people were victims of kidnappings. Of those, 301 were kidnapped more than once.
Since 1990, 10,413 people have been injured or killed by land mines in Colombia. Of these, 1,019 were children. Most of the landmines were placed across the nation’s territory by the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups.
In the past 6 months the Army of Colombia reports having found 21,155 roadside bombs throughout the country.
Armed groups in Colombia have begun moving away from selling cocaine and instead moving toward illegal mining and the sale of gold. A kilogram of gold has a value of 19 times that of a kilogram of cocaine.
Between 2012 and 2015, the government of Colombia will invest a total of $2.3 billion in programs focused on citizen security. This funding will account for 2.4% of the country’s 2013 national budget and will include creating “integrated security plans” and adding 25,000 more police.
“According to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), Honduras’ homicide rate could fall to 80 per 100,000 for 2013, from 85.5 per 100,000 (also according to UNAH numbers) in 2012, representing a 6.4 percent decrease, or 5.5 point drop, in the rate.”
Murder statistics in El Salvador are rising although the truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs is still technically in effect. In June 2013, there were 182 murders, up from 166 in June of 2012.
As part of a bilateral Association for Growth agreement signed in 2011 between the United States and El Salvador, the U.S. government announced $91.2 million in funding that “will be divided between strengthening the judicial system, improving educational opportunities inside and outside schools, community crime prevention and a program called SolucionES”. The SolucionES program will also receive an additional $20 million in funding from private organizations.
This post was written by CIP intern Victor Salcedo
In recent years, the United States Congress has been paying close attention to the presence of Iran in Latin America. While both the State Department and United States Southern Command posit that there appears to be no imminent threat of a terrorist attack, members of Congress, particularly the House Republicans, have shown consistent concern about Iran’s ties to the region. Their concern especially relates to Iran’s relationship with countries that maintain cool relationships with the United States.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency held a hearing, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere.” The witnesses were Ilan Berman,Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director, Center for a Secure Free Society, Blaise Misztal Acting Director of Foreign Policy Bipartisan Policy Center, and Douglas Farah, President, IBI Consultants.
All witness testimonies and opening remarks can be found here.
Alberto Nisman, Argentine government prosecutor, was expected to be the main witness to appear in the hearing. However, for undisclosed reasons, the Argentine government barred Nisman from testifying, drawing criticism from both Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC). In a letter to Argentina’s President Kirchner following her decision, both representatives wrote, "Considering both our countries have suffered terrorist attacks from agents affiliated with the government of Iran, we have a unique motivation for being vigilant." On July 10, members of Congress sent a Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the U.S. to sanction Argentina for its ties to Iran. "In light of Argentina’s growing cooperation with Iran and recent decision to deny Nisman to testify before the U.S. Congress, we believe that the U.S. should reconsider its legal support to Argentina,” read the letter (PDF).
Rep. Jeff Duncan was the only member present for the final 40 minutes of the hearing and made clear that he was very concerned about the refusal of the United States government to see Iran’s presence in the region as a threat to homeland security.
Iran and Argentina: Although the U.S. Department of State noted in an unclassified summary of a report released in late June that “Iranian influence in Latin American and the Caribbean is waning,” Rep. Duncan reiterated that he continues to be concerned about Iranian activities and the potential for a terrorist attack. He highlighted Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s recent study that links Iran to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed 85 people and injured over 300. The report also claimed Iran has been “infiltrating” Latin American countries to ”sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks.” In May of this year, Iran approved a memorandum of understanding with Argentina on forming a truth commission to investigate the bombing.
Given the recent thaw in relations between Argentina and Iran, Duncan asked Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants, if he believed “that Argentina wants to assist Iran in its illicit nuclear activities.” Mr. Farah responded by noting that Argentina has a history of training Iran in nuclear technologies and that it would like to restart training, but did not know what its motive to do so would be. He also said that Iran would like to “get its hands” on Argentina’s technology, as the country has a robust nuclear as well as a robust space program.
Iranian nationals in Latin American: Rep. Duncan also brought up the apparent lack of security of U.S borders, which he insisted could be penetrated by Iranian nationals that roam freely in Latin America with “fraudulent passports and other false documentation.”
Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Representative Michael McCaul, shared Rep. Duncan’s concerns about the “Iranian threat,” adding that it was “a slap in the face” that Argentina did not grant Mr. Nisman permission to attend.
Rep. McCaul said that when he traveled to Argentina to see where the AMIA bombing took place, he became aware of the discrepancies between the information given by the U.S. State Department, which has “downplayed” the threat of Iran versus other intelligence services (although did not name which ones) that assess Iran to be “a much greater existential threat to the United States in the Western Hemisphere.”
Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council
Increasing Iranian presence: Mr. Berman argued that diplomatic relations between Iran and many Latin American countries has increased over the past decade. According to Berman, “has more than doubled its diplomatic presence in the region over the past decade, increasing its embassies from five in 2005 to eleven today.”
Bypassing Sanctions:According to Mr. Berman, Iran has been able to bypass sanctions because of its economic ties to countries in the region. He highlighted its relationship with Venezuela, which dates back to 2005 when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Hugo Chávez first established partnerships. “With the active cooperation of Caracas, the Iranian government has exploited the Venezuelan financial sector -- via joint financial institutions, shell companies and lax banking practices -- to continue to access the global economy in spite of mounting Western sanctions,” he added.
Relationship with Venezuela’s new president: Rep. Duncan asked Mr. Berman if he saw “the relationship between Tehran and Caracas evolving under this new government [of President Maduro].” Mr. Berman responded that Nicolas Maduro could be expected to be sympathetic about continuing good relations with Iran. Nonetheless, he stressed that there is no guarantee the new government in Iran would continue to make Latin America a high priority.
Berman added, while “Latin America does not rank at the highest level of Iranian foreign policy,” it is certainly important enough for the Iranian government to take the region into consideration for the benefit of several Iranian programs.
Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society
Leftist Alliances: Mr. Humire expressed concern about the active role of certain ALBA nations (Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador) with Iran. He said that ALBA provided cover for the irregular activities that Iran carried out in the region, and that it was also “complicit in helping Iran propagate terrorist networks, skirt sanctions and initiate a military industrial footprint in the Hemisphere.” He also argued that Iran is using proxy non-state actors, such as Hezbollah and converted Latin American Muslims, to infiltrate Latin America.
For Humire, the creation of an alternative banking and virtual currency, the Unified System of Regional Compensation (Sistema Unico de Compensación Regional) (SUCRE), “affords Iran the ability to leverage its financials activity in Latin America through one principle entity, minimizing the risk.”
Humire recommended that the United States:
Counter ALBA’s influence in the region by supporting the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico).
Direct U.S. Homeland Security to work with countries such as Brazil to implement anti-terrorist legislation.
Work with Panamanian officials to provide better intelligence about Iranian boats passing through the Canal.
Work with Canada to strengthen screening and identifying of “Visa applications coming from ALBA countries.”
Blaise Misztal, Acting Director of Foreign Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center:
Mr. Misztal presented a more skeptical account when compared to the other witnesses and offered political and economic reasons why notions of the “Iran Threat” are debatable.
Economic ties to Latin America are not a threat: According to Misztal, the fact that Iran is seeking Latin America’s help signals the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate the country. “At the same time, Iran’s own political and economic isolation, as a result of sanctions, will drive it ever more desperately to seek friends and money wherever it can. In this way, we should understand Iran’s interest in strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with Latin America as perhaps a sign of the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate it.”
In terms of economic exchange, Misztal said the relationship between Iran and some Latin American nations is more “symbolic than substantive,” noting that the actual amount of trade occurring between Latin American countries and the Islamic nation is less than expected. He gave the example of Venezuela:
Venezuela does not even rank among Iran’s top fifty trade partners, and in 2011 Venezuela imported less than $14 million of Iranian goods, ranking below countries like Afghanistan, Georgia, and Guatemala. Additionally, Venezuela in 2011 was ranked as Iran’s 48th largest export partner at $8 million… Furthermore, trade volume between Iran and Latin America’s largest economy behind Brazil, Mexico is a dismal $50 million. Given these statistics, the perceived threat of Iran’s growing economic influence in the region is largely unsubstantiated.
No imminent threat of terrorist attack: Misztal pointed out that although Iran “is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism,” the government’s “tactical use of terror has of late tended toward retaliatory attacks.” He suggested that Iran had a “concern for not provoking a U.S. military reprisal that would disrupt its nuclear program.”
Mr. Misztal recommended the U.S. government support more intelligence sharing between nations and improvements of local police forces to detect terrorist cells.
Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants
Douglas Farah echoed Joseph Humire’s concerns about ALBA countries that oppose the U.S. supporting Iran, claiming its presence in the region was growing as a result.
Iran’s direct and indirect relationships: Mr. Farah stated in his testimony that the extent of the Iranian influence oscillates directly and indirectly in the Western Hemisphere. Direct relationships that translate to political, economic, and cultural exchanges with Iran are increasing; but indirect relations, which Mr. Farah highlighted as a type of relationship between Iran and a third governmental or non-governmental institution, are beginning to be more noticeable. Farah said that non-state actors include “NGOs tied to Hezbollah and often funded by Venezuelan oil money; Islamic cultural centers and mosques … and links to drug trafficking organizations that provide millions of dollars to support radical Islamist activities.”
Existing examples of terrorism: For Mr. Farah, the AMIA bombing showed Iran has a “long-standing, highly developed structure in Latin America whose primary purpose is to fuse state and non-state force to spread the Iranian revolution.” He went on to point to three more examples that show Iran has engaged in specific attempts to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States. This included the October 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. that was foiled when a naturalized U.S. citizen who was also a member of Iranian Qods Force (a special operations unit) contacted an alleged member of Mexico’s Zeta cartel who turned out to be an informant.
Training: Mr. Farah underscored that a handful of Latin Americans have been trained in Qom, Iran. He shared insight of Salvadorian students that had received training there, and noted that most of the recruitment is often done in mosques and cultural centers:
Most [recruits] are present with the opportunity to attend ‘revolutionary’ indoctrination courses in Venezuela dealing with revolutionary ideology. These meetings bring together several hundred students at one time from across Latin America, all with their travel fess and expenses paid by the Venezuelan government.
Farah recommended Congress get help from the Treasury Department to weaken Iran’s banking activities in the region that allow it to “move hundreds of million of dollars into the world market.” He also recommended the U.S. closely follow the deals and agreements between Argentina, Venezuela, and Iran.
For more Just the Facts posts on the U.S. Congress’s concerns about Iran’s influence in Latin America, see here and here.
This post was written by the Washington Office on Latin America and is cross-posted with their blog.
The period since our last Colombia Peace Process Update (May 20) saw a big step forward in the Havana, Cuba peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. This was followed by several weeks of reduced momentum, marked both by minor crises and encouraging developments.
Land and rural development agreement
On May 26th, at the conclusion of their ninth round of talks, the Colombian government and the FARC announced a breakthrough. After more than six months, they had reached agreement on land and rural development, the first of five points on the negotiating agenda. This is the first time the government and FARC have agreed on a substantive topic in four different negotiating attempts over 30 years.
While the agreement’s text remains secret under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the two sides’ joint statement (English – Spanish) indicates that it covers the following:
Land access and use. Unproductive lands. Formalization of property. Agricultural frontier and protection of reserve zones.
Development programs with a territorial focus.
Infrastructure and land improvements.
Social development: health, education, housing, eradication of poverty.
Stimulus for agrarian production and a solidarity-based, cooperative economy.
Technical assistance. Subsidies. Credit. Income generation. Labor formalization. Food and nutrition policies.
A bit more information about what was agreed appears in the negotiators’ first joint “report of activities” (English - Spanish), which was published on June 21st.
Foreign governments and international organizations applauded the agreement on the first agenda item. “This is a significant achievement and an important step forward,” reads a statement from the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. “This is a positive step in the process to achieve peace in Colombia,” said OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the agreement “historic” and “the best peace message that the Bolivarian peoples could receive.” The government of Chile said it “constitutes a very relevant achievement, which has required flexibility and moderation from both sides.” European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed “hopes that this crucial, albeit partial, agreement will add fresh impetus to the Havana negotiations, with a view to the rapid conclusion of a final peace agreement.”
U.S. reactions, too, were positive. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, on a May 26-27 visit to Colombia, praised the land accord and the FARC-government process, calling them “serious and well designed.” Biden added in a joint appearance with President Santos, “Just as we supported Colombia’s leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table.” U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Peter Michael McKinley called the accord “an advance that encourages the possibility that these negotiations are going to end the conflict in Colombia.” U.S. State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “The agreement on land reform is the first ever between the Colombian Government and the FARC, and as such the terms of its – and in terms of its substance it’s a highly positive step forward in the peace negotiation. So we’ve long given our strong support for President Santos and the Colombian Government as they pursue lasting peace and security that the Colombian people deserve.”
The post-accord honeymoon was brief, however, as an argument between the Colombian and Venezuelan governments dominated the period leading up to the mid-June start of talks on political participation. Relations between Bogotá and Caracas, rather hostile when Álvaro Uribe and Hugo Chávez were presidents of their respective countries, warmed in 2010 when incoming President Juan Manuel Santos sought a rapprochement with the Venezuelan government. Venezuela’s leftist government went on to play an instrumental role in getting the FARC to the negotiating table, and is officially one of two “accompanying countries” of the process (along with Chile).
The episode began on May 29, when President Santos agreed to meet in Bogotá with Henrique Capriles, the leader of Venezuela’s political opposition. Capriles narrowly lost Venezuela’s April 14 presidential vote to, and refuses to recognize the election of, President Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government responded with vehement anger. “I made efforts with the Colombian guerrillas to achieve peace in Colombia. Now they’re going to pay us like this, with betrayal,” Maduro said. “The situation … obliges us to review Venezuela’s participation as a facilitator in this peace accord,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. Venezuela recalled its envoy to the talks for “consultations” in Caracas.
FARC negotiators declared themselves to be “worried, very worried” on June 1, and wrote on June 7 that the dialogues were “in limbo” due to Venezuela’s temporary absence.
By then, however, tensions between Colombia and Venezuela were diminishing. “The Colombian armed conflict remains, and we are dedicated, beyond our differences, beyond the current conjuncture, to bring the eradication of this last focus of violence,” Jaua said on June 4. By June 12 Venezuela’s envoy to the talks, OAS Ambassador Roy Chaderton, had returned to Havana. “It would be a historic crime to deny Colombia the opportunity to reconcile,” Chaderton said on June 23.
Two rounds of talks, little agreement
The Colombian government and FARC negotiators went on to hold two ten-day rounds of talks in Havana (June 11-21 and July 1-9) on the second agenda topic, “political participation,” which includes three sub-points:
Rights and guarantees for political opposition, especially for post-peace accord political movements. Access to the media.
Democratic mechanisms for citizen participation, including direct participation.
Promoting greater participation in the political process, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
As difficult as the land and rural development agenda topic was, noted Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, “the political participation issue may be even thornier.” Indeed, there is little progress yet to report. The guerrilla-government joint communiqué issued on July 9, after the eleventh round concluded, noted simply, “Each side presented its general vision on political participation, beginning with the issue of security guarantees for the opposition, as an essential element to build a final accord.”
A central difficulty appears to be diverging views about what this agenda item’s sub-topics mean. On June 19, the FARC began issuing a series of documents laying out its “10 minimal proposals” for the political participation agenda topic. The guerrillas’ demands are ambitious. They include doing away with presidentialism; abolishing the House of Representatives and replacing it with a “Territorial Chamber”; creating a new branch of government called “Popular Power”; and restructuring the armed forces, the tax system, and the central bank.
The Colombian government has repeatedly rejected these topics as beyond the scope of the agreed-upon agenda, calling on the guerrillas to pursue them through the political process after the accord is reached.
The demand upon which the FARC has insisted most strongly is a Constituent Assembly: an elected body that would rewrite Colombia’s constitution after a peace accord is reached. Guerrilla leaders have repeated this demand, calling it “the key to peace.” On June 11, the first day of the tenth round of talks, the FARC proposed that this constitutional convention take place in 2014, thus delaying for one year Colombia’s March 2014 legislative elections and May 2014 presidential election. Lead government negotiator Humberto De la Calle rejected both proposals: “That [the election delay] won’t happen, a constitutional convention won’t happen.”
De la Calle published a column in the June 16 issue of Colombia’s most-circulated newsmagazine, Semana, laying out the government’s case against the constitutional convention. “This is neither the optimal mechanism, nor the most practical, as it is more burdensome than other tools and doesn’t produce the desired effects.” The convention, he adds, would render the peace accords irrelevant, as its elected members could go well beyond — or completely reverse — what was agreed in Havana.
It is not clear why the FARC are seeking a constitutional convention. It would be a very risky move: the guerrillas are very unpopular in densely populated areas of Colombia, and would be unlikely to win more than a tiny minority of assembly members (though they may seek a number of automatic seats). Meanwhile former President Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the peace talks, remains quite popular, and his political group would be likely to win many seats: perhaps enough to roll back any of the FARC’s gains at the negotiating table, and maybe even enough to change election rules to allow Uribe to run for another term in office.
FARC leaders may be calculating that, although they would be a minority, Colombia’s elite would be so split on key issues that the ex-guerrillas could cast decisive, tie-breaking votes. The FARC also does not want a deal that appears to be inferior to what the smaller, weaker M-19 guerrilla group got in a 1990 peace process: those ex-guerrillas played a pivotal role in the convention that wrote Colombia’s 1991 constitution.
Instead of a constitutional convention, Colombia’s government is offering a referendum: a popular vote that would cement the peace accords’ commitments into law. The FARC rejects this. In a letter to Semana responding to De la Calle’s column, the group’s negotiators argue, “To submit to referendum an agreement that even in the partial definition of its first point is already more than 20 pages long … would not be practical or technically possible.”
In statements to the press on July 7, FARC negotiator Andrés París appeared to show some heretofore unseen flexibility on the constitutional convention demand. “Neither this point nor any other has to become an unmovable obstacle that impedes the progress of the process,” said París who, according to Medellín’s El Colombiano newspaper, “said that a constitutional convention is not the only way to legalize the peace process.” However, in a July 9 statement marking the end of the eleventh round of talks, the FARC repeated its insistence on a constitutional convention. The government remains firmly against the idea.
Another issue that may prove difficult is whether the FARC will disarm after a peace accord is reached. In past peace processes, the guerrillas have indicated a desire to keep their weapons even after the conflict ends, citing concerns for their own security. At the outset of the current talks, it appeared that the FARC may have been moving away from this position. But now the guerrillas are indicating reluctance to disarm.
Interviewed in Cali’s El País newspaper on June 16th, guerrilla negotiator Andrés París said, “[We are interested in following] the Irish model because principles were established and, for example, they did not turn in weapons.” (The Irish Republican Army did not fully disarm until 2005, seven years after the Good Friday Agreement officially ended the conflict.) París added that the guerrillas have “repeatedly” told the government that “it will never have” a photo of a ceremony in which guerrillas symbolically turn in weapons.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos voiced frustration in a June 23 speech before a march of conflict victims in El Carmen, Bolívar department. “Keep your word! Negotiate over those [agreed agenda] points, play clean, don’t start asking for the impossible, don’t start asking for things that nobody is going to concede, things that aren’t in the accords.” Santos continued, “Now we see that maybe they won’t turn in their weapons. One of the agenda points is precisely that they turn in their weapons because if not, why are we talking?” The President concluded his remarks by reminding the FARC that “the Colombian people’s patience is not unlimited.”
The U.P. is restored
On July 9 the State Council, Colombia’s top administrative tribunal, issued a decision that breathed some oxygen into the “political participation” issue. The magistrates reinstated the legal status of the Patriotic Union party. Founded during a failed mid-1980s peace process and at least initially linked to the FARC, the Patriotic Union saw about 3,000 of its members, candidates, and officeholders murdered in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The party lost its legal charter when it failed to present candidates in the 2002 elections. The State Council ruled that this should not have happened because the party had been illegally forced to the margins by violence.
During June and July, the peace talks took place amid a backdrop of social protest, particularly a weeks-long series of road blockades and demonstrations carried out by small farmers in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department, in northeastern Colombia near the Venezuelan border. There, thousands of protesters have been demanding an end to aerial herbicide fumigation in coca-growing areas, the establishment of a “peasant reserve zone” to limit the size of landholdings, and more state services. Colombia’s government has met the protesters with high-level attempts to negotiate, but also with heavy force. Violent clashes with protesters (some of whom themselves have employed violence) have killed four Catatumbo protesters.
As Catatumbo is a zone with much illegal armed group presence (FARC, National Liberation Army [ELN], and a tiny remnant of the otherwise demobilized EPL guerrillas), some Colombian government officials accuse the FARC and others of instigating the protests. Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo accused the FARC of “seeking to influence the process in Havana, and that is something we are not going to permit.” In a July 8 statement, the FARC negotiators in Havana expressed support for the Catatumbo protesters and denied that they have infiltrated them. However, journalists from Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine reported that while the protesters’ grievances are real and guerrillas are certainly not in charge, “we could confirm that many campesinos have been pushed into mobilization by the guerrillas.”
“Please, listen to the campesinos of Catatumbo; don’t repress them, don’t kill them, don’t criminalize them with the same old frame-up that they’re guerrillas,” said FARC negotiator Iván Márquez. President Santos replied: “It’s a stupid move, because with those messages, what they [the FARC] are doing is proving that those demonstrations were infiltrated by the guerrillas.”
A FARC-ELN partnership?
The July 1 start of the FARC talks’ eleventh round was accompanied by a new guerrilla announcement. The FARC and Colombia’s smaller but similarly long-lived guerrilla group, the ELN, released two joint communiqués indicating that the groups’ top leaders had held a “summit” somewhere in Colombia. At this meeting, these statements report, the FARC and ELN agreed to put behind past disputes (including a late-2000s conflict that claimed hundreds of lives in Arauca department), and to work for “unity of all political and social forces working to carry out profound changes in society.” The groups say that “a political solution to the social and armed conflict” is part of their “strategic horizon.” The ELN, notes the Colombian investigative website La Silla Vacía, appears to endorse the FARC’s call for a constitutional convention. Speaking to reporters in Havana, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said, “We will do everything we can so that talks between our sister organization and the government begin.”
It remains far from clear, however, how the ELN might be incorporated into talks. Joining the ongoing FARC talks at the same table, mid-agenda, might prove unwieldy and further slow down a process that is already not moving at great speed. A separate, parallel negotiating table, however, would give the guerrillas less leverage and create pressure on the government to appear to give both groups “equal treatment” despite their unequal strength.
Even if this could be worked out, two more immediate obstacles remain: resource policy and kidnapping. The ELN’s banner issue — as land is to the FARC — is Colombia’s policy toward mining and energy investment. This is a topic of central economic importance, accounting for much of Colombia’s current export revenue. The Santos government convinced the FARC to exclude mining and energy from the agenda of the Havana dialogues. But for the ELN it is probably the most important issue, and it is difficult to imagine a political negotiation that excludes it.
On kidnapping, President Santos has stated several times that talks with the ELN — a group that pioneered kidnapping for ransom as a fundraising tactic — will not start until the group releases all of its captives. In Arauca on July 4 (the group’s 49th anniversary), the ELN released an army corporal, Carlos Fabián Huertas, whom it had captured during an attack on a military column in mid-May. President Santos called the release “a gesture in the right direction.”
But the ELN continues to hold a Canadian mining company manager whom it kidnapped in Bolívar in January. Talks with the government will not begin until Jernoc Wobert is released. On July 11, though, in letters to President Santos and the Colombians for Peace civil-society group, the guerrillas reiterated their refusal to free Wobert. The ELN continues to insist that Wobert’s company first renounce four mining titles that it claims were obtained illegally.
Other indications of foreign support
The peace talks received an outpouring of international expressions of support after the May 26th accord on land and rural development. Since then, backing has been more sporadic, but the following examples stand out.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron expressed “great support for the peace process and said that we must persevere, because it is not easy,” President Santos reported after meeting with Cameron in London on June 6. “I congratulated the President on progress in the peace talks with the FARC and looked forward to seeing more progress on this, and on human rights concerns, in the future,” read a statement from UK Foreign Minister William Hague.
“We will keep supporting [the peace talks] in any way that we can be of use,” said the foreign minister of Chile, Alfredo Moreno, during a June 27 meeting with Colombian Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “expressed his enormous respect for the peace process in Colombia and highlighted the advances of the country, the work and leadership of President Santos to achieve a much safer and prosperous country,” according to a Colombian Foreign Ministry readout of a June 7 meeting, at the OAS General Assembly in Guatemala, between Kerry and Colombian Foreign Minister Holguín.
A twelfth round of talks between the FARC and the Colombian government is to begin in Havana on July 22nd. “If there is sufficient political will, we can achieve an agreement by the end of the year … as long as there is a wish to advance,” President Santos said on July 3. The FARC may not be in as much of a hurry, however. Guerrilla leaders continue to state that they “don’t want an ‘express process.’”
“We are certain that the five-decade long Colombian armed conflict is nearing an end,” FARC negotiator Iván Márquez told Colombia’s RCN television network on July 15. “It is possible [to reach an agreement by November]. But to achieve peace you need time. A bad peace deal is worse than war.”
This post was written by CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Brazilian newspaper O Globo released three reports this week detailing documents released by Snowden asserting that the United States has been collecting data on telephone calls and e-mails from several countries in Latin America, such as Brazil and Mexico.
The reports indicate that the United States has not only been amassing military and security data, but also collecting inside commercial information on the oil industry in Venezuela and the energy sector in Mexico, which are state-run and essentially closed to foreign investment.
The reports also showed that Colombia, the strongest U.S. military ally in South America, along with Mexico and Brazil, were the countries where the U.S. program intercepted the biggest chunks of information on emails and telephone calls during the last five years. Similar activities took place in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is demanding an explanation for the United States’s spying and plans to involve the United Nations in an investigation of the NSA’s actions. Brazil also said that it might contact Snowden as it investigates the matter. "Mr. Snowden's participation in an investigation is absolutely relevant and pertinent," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Argentina are also demanding official explanations and the MercoSur trading bloc held a special session on Friday to discuss the U.S.’ espionage programs. More from the Pan-American Post.
The New York Times featured an article on U.S. attempts to to prevent Snowden from receiving asylum in Latin America, citing a State Department official who warned that helping Snowden "would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come." However, according to the piece, "Washington is finding that its leverage in Latin America is limited just when it needs it most."
Bolivia is accusing Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal of violating the norms and regulations of international law by impeding Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane while it was passing through European airspace, based on a suspicion that Edward Snowden was on the plane. The OAS expressed the discontent of a large part of Latin America regarding the incident via a firm resolution condemning the European nations’ actions and demanding an apology.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) found there was a drop in cocaine production in the Andean region. The estimates indicate a 41 percent drop in potential pure cocaine production since 2001, from an estimated 1,055 metric tons to 620 metric tons in 2012. The largest reduction was in Bolivia, which dropped from 190 metric tons of potential pure cocaine production capacity to 150 metric tons. Unlike Colombia and Peru, Bolivia receives very little counternarcotics aid from the United States.
Mexico and Argentina topped the list in Latin America on Transparency International’s recently released list for the most corrupt countries in the world. The report also pointed out the most corrupt institutions in each country. While politicians and political parties held the top spot in Mexico and Argentina, the police was named the most corrupt entity in Bolivia, Venezuela, and El Salvador. More from ABC News.
On Tuesday, Colombia’s highest administrative court annulled a 2002 electoral court ruling preventing the Union Partiotica (UP), a left-wing Colombina party formed in 1985 during peace talks between the Farc and the government, from political participation. Although the UP’s regained legal status will allow the party to participate in the upcoming March 14th elections, changes in the political landscape since its barring mean the UP may no longer be the Farc’s main political party as it was in the 1980’s and 90’s. More from the Pan-American Post.
InSight Crime looks at how intra-urban displacement in the country’s second-largest city, Medellin, is used as an "instrument of war" between two of the main groups vying for control over the city’s underworld: the narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado, which has largely held control of the city since the fall of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.
Uruguay’s legislature met on Monday and agreed to postpone the vote on legalizing marijuana for a period between 10 and 30 days. Dario Perez, the deputy, proposed postponing the vote based on concern that "it’s not the time" to vote on the initiative; a "period of reflection" will take place before the vote, which will be on Wednesday, the 31st of July.
Nearly half of Mexico’s 31 states held elections for a mix of local parliaments and municipal governments on Sunday. Focus was on the tight race in the election for governor of the key Mexican border state of Baja California. According to Huffington Post, both the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were claiming victory following preliminary results. Sixty percent of voters abstained from the elections, reported El Proceso magazine.
Fears of violence accompanying the elections are on the rise in the border state of Baja California. Experts say it is more effective and less risky for cartels to control or intimidate local governments, leading gangs to target and intimidate local officials to yield tangible results. "Their thinking is that ‘we are going to support the candidates who sympathize with us or whom we can negotiate with, and if there is a candidate who might win who won’t make a deal with us, we’ll tell him not to run or attack them, or even kill them."
Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda announced the reinstallation of five generals who were released from prison last Friday. They had been incarcerated under former President Felipé Calderón over accusations of alleged ties to drug traffickers. A judge dropped the charges citing insufficient evidence. According to El Proceso, this was the first time in the history of the military that high ranking military officers who had been accused of having ties to the drug trade have been given back their positions after being exonerated.
In a prominent speech before legislators at one of parliament’s twice-annual sessions on Sunday, Cuba’s President Raul Castro scolded his countrymen for all kinds of bad behavior, including corruption, loud music, theft, public swearing, illicit logging, unauthorized home construction, and the acceptance of bribes. "When I meditate on these regrettable displays, it makes me think that despite the undeniable educational achievements made by the Revolution... we have taken a step back in citizens’ culture and public spirit." More from the Washington Post.
In response to continuing protests and discontent in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a package of political reforms which she says would reduce corruption and make politicians more accountable. However, as the Economist noted, whether the reforms pass hinges on Brazil’s Congress, in which 191 of Brazil’s 594 senators and deputies are currently under investigation for offenses ranging from minor administrative offences to drug trafficking and murder. Rousseff also announced Wednesday that an additional $1.3 billion would be spent on healthcare and education.
On Thursday there was a one-day nationwide general labor strike. Mass protests resumed in several major cities by workers calling for better labor conditions and improved social services. According to the New York Times, the mobilization had mixed success "with some cities and states disrupted severely and others largely unaffected."
Henrique Eduardo Alves, the leader of Brazil’s House of Representatives, said Tuesday the proposed plebiscite that is among President Dilma Rouseff’s key responses to waves of mass protests is unfeasible. Top politicians and congressional party leaders who have also cast doubt on the feasibility of the plebiscite favor drafting political reform legislation and submitting it for a popular referendum instead, which would allow citizens to vote yes or no to a series of proposals, with legislation to be drafted based on the results.
Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics both look at a spike in violence in El Salvador. This week there were over 100 homicides, prompting questioning of the stability of a year-long truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and rival gang Barrio 18. Truce mediator Raul Mijango asserts that the surge in killings is a response to changes in government policy, such as new restrictions on imprisoned gang members. However, there has been little analysis of the murders or the victims, and many questions are left open as to whether the end of the truce is really nearing and why.
InSight Crime has a post outlining the five biggest differences between the troubled Salvadoran truce and the emerging Honduran truce. The article asserts that "The one area where Honduras may have an advantage is on the mediation front," as the agreement is being brokered by a unified Catholic Church as opposed to a divided one.
A report (PDF) by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights the political connections of two drug trafficking organizations confirmed to be operating in El Salvador, according to an article in La Prensa Grafica and translated by InSight Crime. The report found that the effectiveness of the cocaine trafficking and organized criminal operations of the Perrones and the Texis Cartel is owing to protection and lack of investigation from the state.
Since Enrique Peña Nieto assumed Mexico’s presidency last December, the average number of Mexican soldiers involved in combating organized crime and drug-trafficking on any given day has dropped from 50,000 to just over 32,000. But along with this drop has come an increase in the number of soldiers injured or killed on the job. During ex-President Felipe Calderón’s 2006–2012 administration, an average of 3.1 soldiers died per month. This statistic has now risen to 4.5 per month.
Mexico has at least 14 state governments where military personnel, either active or retired, are in charge of public security.
In its 2013–18 National Development Plan, Mexico has included language indicating that the armed forces will remain in the fight against organized crime.
In his first major military deployment to target drug traffickers, Mexico President Peña Nieto sent army troops to the state of Michoacán state, charging them with taking “back control of a region long besieged by a deadly drug cartel.”
Mexico’s Senate Judiciary Committee presented a first draft of a proposal to reform military justice. It would increase civilian courts’ jurisdiction over military personnel accused of violating civilians’ human rights.
Citing insufficient evidence against them, prosecutors in Mexicoreleased five army generals who had been jailed during the Calderón administration. The five were accused of ties to drug traffickers, and were awaiting trial. All have been reinstated.
Peru is attempting to formulate new incentives to encourage more citizens to join the armed forces, rather than a proposed system of compulsory military service to fill perceived personnel gaps.
Venezuelainaugurated a new high command in July, along with the country’s first female defense minister, Adm. Carmen Meléndez.
In late April, Venezuela’s government announced that its electrical system was to become completely “militarized” in order to avoid any acts of sabotage. Officials have cited such sabotage as a reason for frequent power blackouts; the government’s critics blame poor maintenance of the electrical grid.
Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, has announced a plan, “Plan Patria Segura,” to deploy troops into the streets to help combat criminal violence.
President Maduro affirmed that deceased ex-President Hugo Chávez had succeeded in reunifying Venezuela’s armed forces before his death, and that there were no divisions among the troops.
In May, Guatemala’s national government declared a state of emergency in four regions of the country experiencing protests against mining projects. Military-run vehicle checkpoints were set up in these areas.
In Ecuador, members of the police and military have begun to patrol certain areas of the capital together in armored vehicles.
Honduras’ Congress decided to increase the size of the armed forces by 1,000 in order to carry out internal security missions.
As ordered by President Danilo Medina, Dominican Republic troops have begun patrolling the streets of the country in conjunction with police.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentinaannounced a new plan for the country’s military, including a budget increase of 24% and a far larger role in response to natural disasters. She also said that the state armaments company will dedicate itself to engineering projects like improving roadways and building railway cars.
This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch
Mexican news website Animal Político published an article on Mexican drug cartel activity in Central America. The security situation has significantly worsened in the region in recent years as U.S.-backed counternarcotics operations that first pushed the drug trade and related violence from Colombia into Mexico, have now squeezed organized crime into Central America.
While the proposed U.S. security assistance to many countries in Latin America, like Colombia and Mexico, decreased in the 2014 budget request (PDF), funds for the Central America Regional Security Initiative increased by about $26 million. Many political institutions throughout the region are struggling to deal with the increase in violence and are rife with corruption, which the United States Congress has expressed concern over, in light of the increase in assistance.
According to the article, 90 percent of Mexico’s cocaine trafficking operations to the United States now pass through Guatemala, where the major Mexican drug cartels, the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, are vying for territorial control. Belize is considered Zeta territory, while in El Salvador the main drug trafficking organization works for the Pacific Cartel. Much of the violence is said to be a product of infighting among local gangs that are now working with these larger competing drug cartels.
The majority of the information used in the article came from last year’s UN report, “ Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean.” The UN report concludes that the principal motivation for violence in Central America “is not cocaine, but change: change in the negotiated power relations negotiated between and within (criminal) groups, and with the state.”
Here are some key findings of the article:
A gang linked to the Zetas known as the Lorenzanas now controls cocaine trafficking through five of the largest provinces of Guatemala: Peten, Huhuetenanago, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Zapaca, on a route that crosses the country, from the border with Honduras to the border with Mexico.
The struggle for control over specific points in Guatemala, particularly those bordering Honduras and El Salvador, has turned these two countries into the those “with the highesthomicide rates in the world (82 in Honduras and 65 in El Salvador for every 100,000 in habitants in 2010),” according to the UN. “Given the competition between groups allied with the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, it’s highly likely that these deaths are attributable to disputes over contraband and trafficking routes.“
After Guatemala, the Central American country with the highest importance to Mexican gangs is Honduras, where the nation's military coup in 2009 triggered "a kind of gold rush" of cocaine, as described by the United Nations. In fact, it is estimated that in 2010, about 15 percent of the cocaine shipped by air to the United States stopped in Honduras, where drugs also arrive by sea, and was then sent to the north of the continent in small aircraft.
Of the 330 tons of cocaine that entered Mexico from Guatemala in 2010, 267 first went through Honduras, where 62 clandestine airstrips were detected in 2012 alone.
Due to the increase in cocaine seizures in Belize, the UN report states, "it is believed that the Zetas are active (in this country)," whose border with Guatemala is controlled almost entirely by the Mexican group. And while cocaine trafficking in Belize is "secondary," notes the UN, it’s valued over $74 million, representing 5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2010.
Also in 2010, Belize was designated the country with the eighth highest murder rate in the world (42 per 100,000 inhabitants).
In El Salvador, the main narcotrafficking group, the Perrones, maintains an alliance with the Pacific Cartel, which worked to transfer cocaine from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. This group also carries money from Chapo to Panama.
Another group of carriers based in El Salvador is the Texis Cartel, which works on requests for both Mexican cartels and is noted "for its extensive network of complicity with senior politicians, security officials, judges and prosecutors."
In Costa Rica, people are taking to the streets to show their growing frustration with the administration of President Laura Chinchilla, one of the region’s least popular presidents.
In Nicaragua last week, senior citizens protested for greater benefits, particularly a reduced pension. The demonstrations also turned violent, but this week the government and protesters reached an agreement that addressed some demands. The agreement, however, did not include the issue of pensions.
In Brazil the nation-wide protests continue to rage on, despite President Dilma Rousseff's counter proposals to address several issues like education, health, and public transport. The New York Times reported on why Brazilians are so upset at their Congress, noting its "penchant for sheltering dozens of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes." Other articles highlight police violence, poor public services, and the lavish lifestyle of lawmakers as some of the reasons behind the movement. As BBC notes, the government has started to put some reforms in place in response to the massive demonstrations.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual World Drug Report on Wednesday. The report looked at a spectrum of related-issues, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are unregulated in international markets as they are often used for medical purposes and relatively new. The report also found thatMexico is the world's number two producer of opium and heroin in the world, and ties with Afghanistan as the second-largest producer of marijuana.
A U.S. Department of State report found that Iran's influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning, “As a result of diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies’ capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran’s poor management of its foreign relations," according to Bloomberg News.
Last Friday, negotiators from the FARC and Colombian government released a joint report (PDF) offering more detail about the land reform agreement that both parties signed about a month ago. More from Ginny Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace. Colombia's most powerful criminal organization, the Urabeños, has called for inclusion in the peace talks. More from InSight Crime
The Colombian government is ramping up efforts to target crime. This week the government announced plans to invest $2.3 billion into citizen security for 2013-2015. The funding accounts for 2.4% of the country's 2013 national budget, and will cover the addition of 25,000 police to the national force. Colombian media also reported this week that the country is looking to France as a model for how to target common crime. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón met with France's police director to discuss strategies such as the use of a gendarmerie, a militarized police force.
More than 12,000 peasant farms have participated in riots protesting eradication programs in the coca-producing region of Catatumbo in northeast Colombia. The violent protests have left four protestors dead and another 50 injured.
Mexico welcomed the U.S. Senate's passage of an immigration bill, but showed concern that border security measures included in the bill "move away from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness." According to theLos Angeles Times, “Fernando Belaunzaran, a congressman with Mexico's left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, tweeted this week, ‘ the U.S. is about to militarize the border with Mexico as if we were at war.’”
Mexico's Gendarmerie will now have 5,000 members and be part of the national police force, the country's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced over the weekend. In December, President Peña Nieto said the force would initially be comprised of 10,000 members, eventually reaching 30,000 or 40,000. Writing for InSight Crime, Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope has an article on the pros and cons of absorbing the Gendarmarie into the Federal Police.
The Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) on USAID reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The report criticized USAID's management of funds and projects and called for greater oversight. Several findings illuminated the reconstruction efforts shortfalls, among them -- of the 15,000 houses that were originally planned, just 2,649 are expected to be built.
Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí resigned after the country’s Congress called for his impeachment over mismanagement and corruption. Since April a congressionally-appointted oversight committee has run his office, citing a myriad of problems: impunity, failure to enact police reform, and misuse of funds.
Ecuador announced it was withdrawing from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which was the main point of leverage the United States had over it when considering the issue of granting Snowden asylum. ATPDEA is said to create hundreds of jobs in Ecuador and save exporters $23 million a year, offering U.S. trade benefits on 247 products. The deal was up for renewal in July, but members of the U.S. Congress had said they would vote against extending it if Ecuador granted Edward Snowden asylum. Ecuador then offered the United States $23 million for human rights training to help it avoid "espionage, torture, extrajudicial killings and other acts that denigrate humanity.”
BuzzFeed details Ecuador's own surveillance practices targeting journalists, including the U.S.-mediated purchase of a "GSM interceptor" in an effort to "intercept text messages, falsify and modify the text messages." Investigative magazine Vanguardia will publish its last print edition Monday. As newspaper El Comercio explained, the magazine's staff said the closure was not a product of the law, but rather a business decision made by the outlet's owners. Many have linked the closure to a controversial new media law passed last week. The law invokes harsh penalties for language deemed defamatory or libelous by a newly-created government council, but prohibits the government from shutting down media outlets. For more information on the law, check out Reporters Without Borders' description.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixo Ortega met with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to discuss possibly renewing relations. However, a recent audiotape of a Venezuelan opposition member claiming the opposition called for a coup in a meeting with U.S. diplomats in Washington could keep relations cool between the two countries. These statements add more fuel to President Maduro’s on-going rhetoric of a conspiracy campaign by the opposition to destabilize the government.
Cuba's first privately run wholesale market in half a century will open on July 1st, according to state media. The Economist reported that many see its opening as a further step on Cuba's hesitant path towards freeing up wholesale markets and loosening the state's control of food distribution.
Que hay detras de la posible complicacion en la compra por Argentina de los F-1 del ejercito del aire espanol? Francia entra en escena y ofreta sus F-1 co,pitiendo con los espanoles, Defensa.com
Brazil, Cuba -
Cuban doctors tend to Brazil's poor, giving Rousseff a boost Anthony Boadle, The Chicago Tribune
Ingeniero Leon Andres Montes Ceballos fue liberado por el Eln, El Colombiano
Tables Turned Virginia Bouvier, Foreign Policy Magazine
As Colombia's presidential race heats up, peace talks take center stage Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald
La mala herencia que nos dejo el capo Alejandro Baena, El Tiempo
El homicidio se redujo un nueve por ciento en el pais, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Las claves de la cita Barack Obama y Juan Manuel Santos Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Colombia espera que Obama ratifique apoyo al proceso de paz Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Honduras Election Results Challenged Nicholas Phillips, The New York Times
Pena Nieto cambia Mexico sobre el papel en su primer ano de mandato, El Pais
The Mexico Govt's Coordination Obsession Alejandro Hope, In Sight Crime
Mexican bishop takes on cultish cartel in drug war battleground state Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post
Despues de la guerra Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez, Nexos En Linea
¿Que puede pasar el domingo? Luis Vincente Leon, El Universal
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)