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Friday, October 4, 2013

Week in Review

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

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

US Policy

  • According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the amount of cocaine passing through the Caribbean has risen considerably in the past year. The Miami Herald reported that in the first half of 2013, 14% of all U.S.-bound cocaine passed through the Caribbean, double the amount that was recorded over the same time period last year.
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted a youth scouting program in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey funded by the United States government. The program is meant to strengthen local communities and prevent youth gang involvement. It is a part of the Mérida Initiative, the United States’ main security package to Mexico.
  • On Monday, Venezuela expelled three U.S. envoys for allegedly colluding with “extreme right” opposition groups in order to destabilize the government. The United States reciprocated the move the next day, expelling three Venezuelan diplomats. Venezuelan state TV released a video showing diplomats meeting with “far right” organizations and politicians. The video, set to the ominous theme music from the popular American movie Requiem for a Dream, can be found here. For links to more stories, see the Just the Facts Venezuelan news section.
  • Paraguay has begun talks with the United States about receiving help in the fight against the EPP rebel group, ABC Color reported. While few details have been given, the Paraguayan Defense Minister noted more resources will be needed to continue military operations in the north of the country.
  • USAID officially ceased activities in Bolivia this week. The government of La Paz also voted to seize the building formerly occupied by the U.S. development organization, ending any presence of it the Andean country. On May 1 of this year, President Evo Morales expelled USAID for acting with political intent “against the Bolivian people.”
  • Colombia

  • This week, FARC negotiators committed to “advancing toward a Colombia without coca” and told press that the negotiating teams have made ”modest progress”. FARC negotiators Ivan Marquez and Pablo Catatumbo gave their first-ever interview to a Colombian news network this week. Colombian magazine Semana reported that Marquez criticized former President Uribe, who opposes the talks, for “being incapable of winning the war and now not wanting to make peace.” See WOLA’s website for an updated and detailed timeline of the talks.
  • La Silla Vacia published an interesting article on five reasons why fumigation efforts to eradicate coca are a failure. The reasons were:
    • There is only a small statistical advantage to using fumigation in coca eradication
    • Coca derivative prices have remained stable
    • The social and health care costs of fumigation outweigh the benefits
    • Glyphosate is harmful to humans and can cause skin and respiratory problems
    • Fumigated communities lose trust in the State
  • This week Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pizón traveled to Central America to discuss security issues related to narcotrafficking with leaders of the region. The Minister made a variety of agreements including a bolstering of security along the shared border with Panama, proposed naval exercises and army training with Guatemala, and commitments to increase anti-narcotrafficking cooperation with Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
  • Guatemala

    After Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina call for a global shift in drug policy at the UN General Assembly, it appears action is being taken to realize this goal on a national level. This week Prensa Libre reported that a new commission would convene in 2014 to discuss legislative reforms of the national drug policy. Changes could include the reduction or elimination of penalties for personal use possession.

    El Salvador

    On Monday, El Salvador’s Archdiocese announced the closure of the church’s human rights office, Tutela Legal. As the Salvadoran daily El Mundo noted, the office “is an institution that has 80 percent of the documentation of serious human rights abuses that occurred during the civil war.” The decision drew much criticism from local and international human rights as well as current President Funes, who criticized the closure, saying it sent a negative message to the victims of human rights abuses.

    As the Pan-American Post highlighted, the closure interestingly enough comes as the Constitutional Court will hear a challenge to the country’s 1993 Amnesty law. Should the law be overturned, the archives housed by Tutela Legal detailing abuses from the Civil War could prove invaluable. The Salvadoran government is taking steps to ensure the records are guarded, according to La Prensa Grafica. More from Tim’s El Salvador Blog, the Los Angeles Times and El Faro, the Salvadoran outlet that broke the story.

    Dominican Republic and Haiti

    Haiti recalled its ambassador from the Dominican Republic in response to a recent court ruling thats jeopardizes the citizenship of thousands of Haitian immigrants, including stripping their children of legal status. The Open Society Justice Initiative published a fact sheet on the situation and a press release urging the Dominican government to overturn the “legally flawed” ruling.


    Labor rights group Verité published a report that places Peru as the top producer and exporter of illegally mined gold in the world. The illegal gold exports are more profitable than narcotrafficking activities in the country, which was recently named the number one producer of coca in the world, and is likely the top cocaine producer.


    The Honduran government says there have been 2,629 murders in the first six months of 2013. The independent Observatoria de Violencia reported there have been 3,547 murders in that time. This week Honduras Culture and Politics blog has a post explaining the difference in the numbers and stating that Security and Defense Minister Arturo Corrales is “prepare to change the way he counts homicides so that it looks like the Lobo Sosa government is being much more effective against crime than it really is.”

    Honduras’ new military police will begin patrolling the streets in the capital of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in the 2nd half of the month, just before presidential elections in November. According to El Tiempo, 500 officials will be deployed to Tegucigalpa.

    Recent polling in the presidential election of Honduras shows a slight lead by Xiomara Castro, the wife of deposed leader Manuel Zelaya. While Castro does command a lead, Analyst James Bosworth writes that Castro and the other front runner, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the ruling Nacional Party, have about equal chances of winning the election.


    Ten police officers were arrested for the torture and killing of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer from Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rochinha. The case has become a symbol for growing anger over extrajudicial police killings in the country. Brazil's human rights minister, Maria del Rosario said, "What this investigation reveals is the necessity of changes so that the police are more focused, more accountable to citizens and not oriented towards criminal disregard for human rights," the Guardian reported. More from the Pan-American Post.

    Friday, October 4, 2013

    Arms Trafficking and Arms Transfers Update

    This post was prepared by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    • On September 25th, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, raising the number of signatories to 107. The United States’ signature of this treaty is noteworthy considering its role as the number one arms exporter in the world, with roughly a 30% share of the $90 billion dollar global industry. The treaty seeks to stymie the flow of arms to groups who would seek to violate human rights and engage in terrorism. The bill, however, still needs to be ratified by the Senate, where it faces significant opposition by both Republican members of Congress and private interest groups like the National Rifle Association.

    • A number of South American countries have expressed an interest in South Korea’s recently unveiled FA–50 light attack aircraft. The aircraft is a multi-purpose jet fighter that can carry both air-to-air missiles and precision guided bombs. The versatility and low cost of the FA–50 make it an attractive option to South American militaries seeking to upgrade their existing air force technology.

    • Brazil and Pakistan have begun talks with the intention of broadening their industrial defense ties. The goal is to strengthen ties with an emerging market for Brazil’s growing defense sector. Pakistan is part of a region that Brazil is beginning to see as strategically more important in terms of its foreign policy goals.

    • The Panamanian government has disclosed more information on the contents of the North Korean ship canal authorities seized in July. A report by Panamanian authorities and United Nations officials indicates that the quantity of illicit content on the North Korea-bound ship was much larger than initially reported. The contents included small arms, rocket propelled grenades, ammunition, night vision gear, and artillery, as well as MIG–21 fuselages and engines. Upon the ship’s seizure, Cuba initially claimed that the contents were being sent to North Korea for repair and refurbishment; reports and photographs published by the Panamanian government, however, indicate that most items were in new condition and still in factory packaging.

    • Bolivian President Evo Morales negotiated the purchase of six Super-Puma helicopters from the French government. Bolivia claims it will purchase the helicopters for use in the war against narcotics traffickers, and as a means of updating their aging fleet. French president Francois Hollande pledged that he would negotiate with Eurocopter directly on Morales’s behalf, allowing the transfer of the first two helicopters in early 2014; transfers such as these are normally delayed a requisite 18–24 months.

    • Argentina has negotiated a $230 million deal with the Spanish government to purchase sixteen decommissioned Mirage F–1 fighter jets. The arms deal comes in response to pressure from Cristina Kirchner’s military aides, who voiced concerns over the Air Force’s nearly obsolete Mirage III fighters, which were designed and manufactured in the mid-fifties. Argentina was originally considering the purchase of a number of new aircraft. Faced with mounting energy costs and rising inflation, however, a multi-billion dollar fighter jet deal similar to one Brazil is considering was not viewed as feasible.

    • A jury was selected for the trial of seven El Salvadoran soldiers charged with the sale and distribution of illegal arms, including over 1,800 grenades. The soldiers were originally tasked with the collection and destruction of captured ordnance and weapons, but instead stashed the illicit arms for resale later. Prosecutors claim that a batch of rockets that were seized in Honduras was in fact part of a cache of explosives the seven soldiers were supposed to have destroyed.

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    Civil-Military Relations Update

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    • Forty years after the 1973 coup in Chile, the nation has yet to come to grips with what happened. Chile has made strides towards reconciliation through the publishing of reports on the human rights abuses of the dictatorship, prosecution of some who committed abuses, and the apology of government officials who let it happen. One institution, however, refuses to accept its role: those searching for answers continually lobby the army for information pertaining to the rampant abuses during the seventies and eighties, only to be stonewalled by claims that that there is no more information to be provided.

    • In preparation for the 2014 Soccer World Cup, Brazil is employing an aggressive approach to ensuring security. Employing tactics akin to that of counterinsurgency strategy, Special Forces enter a neighborhood, remove gang leaders, and search for drugs and weapons. After this initial shock and awe, a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) is established. The UPPs are essentially federal police stations, manned by officers educated in community policing, whose job it is to patrol around the clock. As of present, 34 UPPs have been established with another six to be built before the World Cup next July. Thus far the areas where UUPs have been established have seen a reduction in crime, though there are some concerns. The areas where UUPs have been built are disproportionately wealthy, leading some to conclude that the new security policy is meant only to benefit a certain sector of society.

    • Honduras’ recent creation of a new 5,000 person military police force tasked with combating organized crime was met with mixed reactions. The new force will be comprised of officers with experience in fighting organized crime who have gone through psychological testing and passed a polygraph. The first two units of this force, comprised of roughly 500 men each, were deployed to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Some fear that the increased militarization of police forces will only worsen the situation in Honduras.
    • A recent op-ed piece in Excelsior described the dual role that the armed forces play in the security policy of Mexico. Íñigo Guevara noted that in an ideal world, the military would exist to defend Mexico only against external threats, but argued that present insecurity requires the military to take on both national defense and internal security. The security void the Mexican military fills is one of a counterinsurgency force, says Guevara. The author describes the recent shift of public security operations from direct action by the military, to inter-institutional operations with the goal of diminishing competition between agencies and promoting cooperation through the use of Mixed Operations Bases that coordinate interagency action.
    • In Venezuela, the government of Nicolás Maduro has reasserted the military's internal role in public security, notes WOLA's Venezuela blog. Measures include the replacement of the head of civil security with a national guardsman. Under Plan Patria Segura, Maduro has expanded the role of military forces in performing roles normally delegated to law enforcement. This new role has led to a number of abuses; in 2012, the blog notes, "164 people lost their lives at the hands of the military."
    • In an effort to address prison overcrowding, the government of Colombia has put forth a plan that will make use of army engineers in the construction of medium security prisons in rural areas. The project seeks to increase prison capacity by ten thousand, with the creation of roughly one hundred new facilities built by soldiers. The government’s goal is to ameliorate overcrowding.

    Friday, September 27, 2013

    NSA spying and a new low in U.S.-Brazil relations

    This post was written by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff formally cancelled her planned October 23 visit to Washington D.C. in response to United States spying activities in Brazil, despite attempts by high ranking U.S. officials, including President Obama himself, to convince her otherwise. Rousseff’s staunch position comes in response to revelations surrounding National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden. These leaks have profound implications for for the future of U.S.- Brazil relations with President Rousseff calling them “totally unacceptable,” and stating that “meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations.”

    The exposure of a broad reaching and intrusive NSA initiative codenamed “PRISM”, among other programs, has led to varying degrees of diplomatic backlash from nations considered friends and allies.

    PRISM is essentially a data-mining program that collects information passing through American Internet servers. Information is compiled without the permission of individuals or nations; it is then broken down and analyzed by the NSA.

    The realization that the United States government was spying on citizens of nations considered friends or allies, has put a strain on relations around the globe. Heads of state from Europe, Asia and Latin America have claimed it to be a violation of sovereignty, as well as a poor precedent for use of new technologies set by the United States, the world’s most influential democracy.

    Documents published by the Guardian have noted a three tier system of spying within Brazil, well beyond the PRISM program. Like many other nations, Brazilian citizens’ phone and Internet traffic was monitored, collected and analyzed—without government permission. This is especially disconcerting to the Brazilian people, who are still grappling with the legacy of a twenty year dictatorship defined by surveillance, repression, and a lack of transparency. Furthermore under programs like Blarney and Fairview, users social media data was scooped up and analyzed. Brazilians are avid users of social media, ranking third globally in terms of Facebook usage and second for both Youtube and Twitter.

    The second tier of the NSA spy program involved the interception of phone calls, text messages, and emails between Rousseff and members of her staff. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claimed that the program was focused on combating terrorism and did not target personal communications — but the new revelations about spying on Rousseff’s communications contradicted that assurance. Rousseff saw this breach as “unacceptable” citing violations of national sovereignty.

    As egregious an invasion of privacy as intercepting presidential text messages may have been, the revelation that the NSA hacked into the computers of Brazilian mega-company Petrobras met with the most outrage. Rousseff likened the incident to industrial espionage, arousing fears that the United States was attempting to gain an upper hand in the upcoming auction of the Libra oil field in October. Clapper refuted outright these implications, claiming that “The department does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” Clapper clarified this point by noting that:

    “We collect this information for many important reasons: for one, it could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy. It also could provide insight into other countries’ economic policy or behavior which could affect global markets.”

    Rousseff responded with skepticism, questioning the intentions of the United States government. This skepticism led Rousseff to commission an investigation into the alleged hack. In a September 18 Senate hearing, Petrobras President Maria das Graças Foster testified that “there was no breach or any sign of a hacking attempt if there was one.” In all reality, the incentive for hacking the files does not balance with the risk of being caught doing so: almost all of the information pertaining to the Libra oil field was already publicly available.

    The big question about NSA spying activities in Brazil is quite simply, why? Brazil has no history of terrorist connections and is not exactly a springboard for international terrorism. The answer inhabits the grey line between national security and national interest.

    The President’s line is one claiming ignorance of the program’s pervasiveness and making assurances that the White House will consider making changes after a review. The intelligence community has responded differently; rather than apologizing, it is offering a justification for its actions, citing the importance of combating terrorism abroad. This mixed response by the United States government is a reflection of its relationship with Brazil in general: one of stated trust amid quiet skepticism.

    Much of the NSA’s interest in Brazil owes to its location. Telecommunication lines from Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East cross the Atlantic and converge in Brazil. It is worth noting that there are very few locations like this around the globe. Hubs like these are chokepoints for international communications, consolidating the interactions of millions into a single location providing a one stop shop for all the NSA’s information needs. Furthermore, Brazil is also a hub for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a clearing house for international financial transaction communications. SWIFT provides a secure means of sending sensitive banking information between more than ten thousand financial institutions in 212 countries. Again, this provides intelligence agencies with a swath of sensitive information that has the potential to incriminate the financiers of terrorist organizations as well as the intended recipients of that money.

    Some have labeled Rousseff’s outraged response a product of political pandering, citing her desire to rally public opinion for the upcoming 2014 elections. Although her approval rating is relatively high, a September 12 poll put her at 58%, rallying public support is always on the prospectus for an incumbent politician. Had she not made a statement, Rousseff would have come across as inept or worse, weak. Brazil is attempting to establish itself in the world and in order to do so it cannot be humiliated by other nations. By standing up to the United States, Rousseff is playing off an important historical legacy with implications for the future.

    Brazil’s Cold War history is defined by a succession of brutally repressive military dictators whose lineage began with a 1964 coup, which was supported by the United States. The memories of that coup and the following two decades of military dictators are a dark period in Brazilian history and a legacy of U.S. meddling. During the military regime, Rousseff associated herself with various Marxist and left-leaning movements leading to her eventual imprisonment and torture. It stands to reason that the discovery of a clandestine surveillance program by a U.S. spy agency triggered fears of a resurgent meddling of the United States in Brazilian affairs, something alluded to in her address to the United Nations where she noted “As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country.”

    Rousseff’s cancellation is a means of asserting Brazil’s independence within the region. Her meeting with Obama was the only scheduled official state visit to the White House this year, and was a representation of Brazil’s growing importance within the hemisphere. Brazil’s willingness to voice protest against the United States may represent a paradigmatic shift in U.S.-Brazil relations; changing from one of U.S. dominance to one of greater Brazilian independence and regional relevance.

    Rousseff is now pushing for a number of reforms in an attempt to curb U.S. spying; the two main reforms would be the passage of an Internet constitution and the creation of localized servers.

    The Internet constitution itself is not a new concept. It was originally proposed in 2009. However, recent revelations have fast-tracked its consideration. The Marco Civil da Internet will spell out the expectations and rights of the government, businesses, and the population with regard to the Internet and its usage.

    The second, and potentially more contentious, response is Rousseff’s push to mandate local servers designed by Brazilian companies. The broad objective of this move would be to put the management of information in the hands of Brazilians, rather than in those of multinational corporations complicit with the U.S. intelligence community. Agencies such as the NSA work with American software developers in order to build backdoors into programs that allow eavesdropping. By designing Internet and security software in house, Rousseff is hoping to avoid this type of issue in the future. Mandating companies wishing to operate in Brazil to have local servers is also an attempt to manage the flow of private information out of Brazil and into the hands of companies that share it with various governments.

    Concerns have been raised about these types of programs, with some saying that they will create barriers in the Internet, act as anticompetitive measures boosting domestic companies, or simply won’t work. How effective or ineffective these programs will or will not be is not what is at the center of this shift, rather it is the statement being made by instituting them in the first place.

    Brazil’s actions have implications for both the U.S. economy and security sector. The importance of Brazil as a consumer economy, especially in terms of social media, will lead many companies to follow proposed Brazilian legislations, building domestic servers and ultimately rasing operating costs. Facebook, for example, operates a global network out of the United States and Sweden. Brazilian reforms like the ones proposed would require Facebook to build facilities in Brazil as well, raising costs significantly. In fact, Forrester Research, a business forecasting service, estimates that this type of reform could cost U.S. companies 180 billion dollars by 2016—constituting a 25% hit to information technology service providers.

    However, the real effects of this legislation would be felt if it spread. Brazil is setting a precedent, directly confronting the ways in which large technology firms operate. This forces them to reconsider their relationship with governments and consumers, prompting a much needed conversation about the role of private information, technology firms, and national security.

    Perhaps the more profound impact of Brazil’s push is the ways in which it will affect both current and future U.S. intelligence programs. Nations across the globe reacted by condemning the NSA program, calling it an invasion of their citizens’ privacy and a breach of national sovereignty; but their outrage was markedly reserved, for most never extending beyond verbal condemnation. Dilma Rousseff, on the other hand, has not remained silent on the issue; instead she has used what influence she has to try and influence U.S. spying policy. This is very much because Brazil is in a relatively unique position, insofar as some of the leaks coming from Snowden dealt directly with Brazil. This served as a direct affront to Rousseff and her people, forcing a more vehement response.

    By further asserting her nation’s autonomy from the United States as well as Brazil’s influence within the region and around the globe, Rousseff can encourage other nations to take similar measures. The hope is that Rousseff’s actions will force a much needed conversation on what defines sovereignty in a world that is increasingly shaped by boundless communication and an unregulated security sector that seeks to exploit it.

    Friday, September 27, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, September 27, 2013

    Adam looks at Latin American leaders' statements at the UN General Assembly, and the current state of Colombia's peace process with the FARC guerrilla group.

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


    Friday, September 27, 2013

    Week in Review

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

    U.S. Policy

    On Thursday the U.S. Congress passed the Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act of 2013, a bill that requires the Obama administration create a strategy to reform the Organization of American States (OAS). Obama will likely sign off on the bill as it was signed by unlikely parties from both sides of the political spectrum, analyst James Bosworth noted. In that event, Secretary of State Kerry will have 180 days to submit a multi-year proposal to Congress. Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “The passage of this legislation signals a rebound in the Congressional relationship with the OAS.”

    USAID released a report, ”Detailed Guidelines for Improved Tax Administration in Latin America and the Caribbean that will “enable tax administrations to assess their own performance against leading practices in a variety of areas.” A blog written by USAID economic advisor Doug Pulsar highlights the inability of several countries in the region to to collect and manage public revenues effectively.

    The United States Government Accountability Office released a report calling for improvements in the implementation of the Leahy Law. In particular, the report calls for the State Department to better guide embassies on how to implement a requirement that “directs State to inform the foreign government if funds are withheld under the law and, to the maximum extent practicable, assist the foreign government in bringing those responsible to justice.”

    U.N. General Assembly

    Several Latin American leaders spoke at the UN General Assembly meeting this week. Yesterday Just the Facts provided a round-up and summary of their statements. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff received the most media attention over her harsh criticism of U.S. surveillance practices. Also notable were statements from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala’s Otto Perez Molina calling for global drug policy reform yet again in front of the international body.


    Following Rousseff’s critical speech at the UN, there were a number of articles examining U.S.-Brazil relations. Links to them can be found here. The Miami Herald published an interview with a former U.S. ambassador who said "From Washington’s perspective, the Brazilian government is not exactly friendly," noting the country’s relatively friendly relations with Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. The Christian Science Monitor asked, “Is Brazil’s Rousseff the New Voice of Latin America?” while the New York Times’ Room for Debate blog asked contributors with differing views, “As Brazil Snubs the U.S., Who Loses?”

    Peru coca numbers

    Peru has replaced Colombia as the world's leading producer of coca, according to the United Nations. This increase has been reflected in rising U.S. funding for counternarcotics operations in the country, Fox News Latino noted.This year, anti-drug assistance to Peru reached $100 million, almost double 2012's $55 million. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “It's a shift in the map of Andean coca production, which experts say strongly resembles the landscape from the early 1990s, a time of expanding drug crop cultivation and trafficking.” According to Peru’s former drug czar, Ricardo Soberon, “The problem exists because there is a complicity and corruption at various levels that allow planting to continue,” he told EFE in an interview.


  • Two majors storms have battered Mexico and left at least 115 dead. Security analyst Alejandro Hope writing for Animal Politico deems such storms more damaging to national security than criminal groups and drug cartels, and says policymakers should begin to tackle the risk of such events.
  • InSight Crime published a piece that gives an up-to-date overview of the current state of Mexico’s Sinaloa Federation, the Zetas, and other active cartels. According to the article, “Mexico's drug trafficking organizations have increasingly splintered, and may well end up consolidated under the influence of the last cartel standing. That cartel would likely be the Sinaloa Federation.”
  • In Mexico, “Military courts suffer from a fundamental conflict of interest, because the military acts as both defendant and judge,” writes Maureen Meyer and Clay Boggs in a new post from the Washington Office on Latin America. The authors call for an overhaul of the country’s Military Code of Justice to allow human rights abuses of citizens by military personnel to be tried in civilian courts.
  • Colombia

    Talks between the FARC rebel group and the Colombian government have slowed down in recent weeks. La Silla Vacia explores the reasons behind the stalled peace process, noting that Santos’ low poll numbers and recent protests by campesinos may be emboldening the rebel group. Another blow to the peace process was an announcement by FARC leader Timochenko that the group may break the confidentiality of the talks because the Santos administration was “imposing unilateral decisions.” Soon after, Timochenko denied that the group threatened to break the secrecy of talks but that keeping the Colombian people informed of advances in the talks, “did not break the pact of confidentiality.”


    Authorities seized1.4 tons (2,900 lbs.) of cocaine from an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris. It was the largest seizure in French history. So far, 22 people have been detained in connection with the seizures, including low level Venezuelan military officers. As security analyst James Bosworth noted that it is unlikely that high level officials will be held accountable. The drug haul has substantiated U.S. officials’ concerns about the involvement of Venezuelan military and government officials in drug trafficking, particularly since the National Guard is in charge of airport security in Caracas. Reuters reported on Wednesday that Venezuelan authorities had seized another, considerably smaller, drug load (9.7 lbs) at the Caracas airport on a flight headed to Ibiza, Spain.


    International Crisis Group released a new report on the Guatemalan justice system and the trial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt.


  • Jamaican police figures indicate 860 homicides were recorded between January and September 23 this year, compared to 820 over the same period last year. Police attribute this spike to increased gang activity. As InSight Crime noted, “Much of the violence on the island is perpetuated by warring gangs involved in drug trafficking, as well as street crime and property theft.” According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy report, Jamaica is not only the biggest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States it also has a conviction rate of five percent due to its “sluggish” criminal justice system.
  • On Tuesday, Jamaican lawmakers debated a proposal to decriminalize marijuana for personal use. No bill has been drafted or vote scheduled. As the Associated Press noted, Jamaicans are growing tired of prohibitionist laws that result in “300 young men receiving criminal records each week for possessing small amounts of ‘ganja,’” hurting their employment opportunities. The article also highlighted that previous efforts have stalled over fears of U.S. reprisal, but that marijuana legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado have calmed those worries.
  • This appears to be part of a growing trend in the Caribbean as EFE reported Puerto Rico’s Senate will also begin to consider a proposal to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. It also noted that St. Lucia has been debating the issue for some time now and that the prime minister of St.Vincent and the Grenadines has proposed his counterpart from Trinidad and Tobago who currently heads the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, push debate on legalizing medical marijuana.
  • Thursday, September 26, 2013

    Latin American Security at the UN General Assembly

    This post was compiled by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan

    This week, world leaders converged in New York City for the 68th UN General Assembly. Numerous Latin American leaders were invited to address the UN body. Below are some highlighted quotes from their remarks.

    Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil

    President Rousseff garnered considerable press attention for her scathing criticism of the United States' National Security Administration spying programs that targeted both her personal email and the state owned oil company, Petrobras. A full statement and a video of her address is available here.

    “... it emerged that we were targeted by this intrusion. Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information - often of high economic and even strategic value - was at the center of the espionage activity.”

    “Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of International Law and is an affront to the principles that must guide relations among them, especially among friendly nations.”

    “The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.”

    “The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aimed at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained. Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbor terrorist groups.”

    “Brazil, Mr. President, will redouble its efforts to adopt legislation, technologies and mechanisms to protect us from the illegal interception of communications and data.”

    “Brazil will present proposals for the establishment of a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet and to ensure the effective protection of data that travels through the web.”

    Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

    President Santos’ remarks focused on violence in the country, the FARC peace process and a reevaluation of global drug policy. He addressed the guerillas directly, calling for fighters to put down their guns and join the political process. A transcript and video of his remarks are available here.

    “Right here, in this same headquarters, 52 years ago, the Convention that gave the birth certificate to the war on drugs was approved. Today, we must acknowledge, that war has not been won.”

    “If we act together on the drug problem with a comprehensive vision devoid of ideological or political biases, we will be able to prevent much harm and violence!”

    “I hope the guerilla understands that the time has come to leave this 50 year confrontation behind; that the time has come to change from bullets to votes, from weapons to argumentations; that the time has come for them to continue their struggle, but with democracy.”

    “We are tired of being afraid, we are tired of violence, we are tired of a conflict that confronts children of a same nation and delays our development.”

    Laura Chinchilla-Miranda, President of Costa Rica

    Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica, praised the United Nations and the covenants of international law in her speech. She then challenged Nicaragua to respect the International Court of JusticeJ ruling of the two nations’ border dispute. A video and transcript of her statements are available here.

    “In October of 2010, Nicaraguan forces occupied part of Costa Rica’s territory. Following out denunciation, the international Court of Justice took provisional measures which, among other things, prohibit the presence of Nicaraguan personnel in the zone under dispute.”

    “Nicaragua has continued sending contingents of political activists, funded and organized by its Government… The Nicaraguan and Costa Rican people wish and deserve to live in peace, but the Nicaraguan Government insists on preventing it.”

    José Mujica, President of Uruguay

    President Mujica was perhaps the most entertaining of the speakers, giving a 40-minute speech that was more philosophical, touching on issues of the environment, the failures of capitalism and the meaning of life. A statement and audio can be found here.

    “We rip out the true forests and replace them with anonymous concrete forests. We face a sedentary lifestyle as walkers, insomnia with pills and loneliness with electronics… Are we happy with the human experience?”

    “Today is the time to prepare for a world without borders.”

    "So long as mankind lives in a climate of war, he is in prehistory"

    “The United Nations languishes and becomes more bureaucratic because it lacks power and autonomy.”

    “Nevertheless, with talent and collective work, man can make the deserts green, bring agriculture to the seas, develop our agriculture with salt water and more.”

    Horacio Cartes, President of Paraguay

    Horacio Cartes, the newly elected President of Paraguay, immediately praised the recent presidential election process as democratic and exemplary, overseen by outside observers. His remarks largely focused on Paraguay as a “land of opportunity” for investment, growth, and social inclusion. A transcript and audio of his remarks can be found here.

    “My country asks for opportunities to achieve progress in a dignified manner, not for hand-outs; to work and study and truly become a land of opportunity.”

    “Paraguay encourages peace, dialogue and harmonious global development, along with the integration that is respectful of the Rule of Law, national dignity and asymmetries.”

    Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile

    Mr. Piñera’s remarks were largely focused on international norms and the UN as an international body. He said that UN veto power was the relic of a previous time, and that governments should not be allowed to use veto power when human rights are at stake. He then went on to list the lessons that Chile has learned from its 1973 coup. His remarks can be found here.

    “The reforms required of this body are neither based in its composition nor substance, but in the need to leave behind the logic of vetoes, which is from a world that no longer exists.”

    “... there exists a very close relationship between the health of democracy, social justice and economic progress. These factors are mutually strengthened and renewed, so much so that if any of these suffer, sooner or later the rest will deteriorate as well.”

    Ollanta Humala Tasso, President of Peru

    President Humala focused his speech on indicators of improvement in his country, touching on issues of regional integration, economic successes and progress toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals. On security issues, he noted that relations between states no longer cause the most serious threats to peace. A video and transcript of his speech can be found here.

    “It is particularly gratifying and a source of pride for Peru ato have managed, in the most constructive and cooperative way, the maritime delimitation dispute with Chile.”

    “We are referring to terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, mafias and corruption. All these crimes pose a real threat to life, progress, and development, mainly affecting the poor.”

    Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, President of Panama

    President Martinelli praised his country’s progress on the Millennium Development Goals and affirmed Panama’s commitment to sustainability in economic, social and environmental development. Martinelli also joined President Chinchilla of Costa Rica in expressing concern over recent actions by Nicaragua to delimit maritime boundaries.

    The Panamanian President also said he would respect the decision of the Security Council in regards to an investigation of the detainment of a North Korean ship carrying weapons through the Canal. A video and transcript of his address can be found here.

    “My Government finds itself in the pressing need to categorically reject the Republic of Nicaragua’s attempt to delimit its maritime boundaries, because this violates the existing treaties with the Republic of Panama, which we have honored in good faith, as well as our legitimate maritime rights, recognized and accepted by the International Community in this area.”

    “After the ship was seized, an enormous amount of war material that, by definition and destination clearly violates Security Council Sanctions Committee mandates, were discovered hidden under 200 tons of raw sugar.”

    Saturday, September 21, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, September 21, 2013

    Adam looks at Brazil's aprubtly canceled state visit to Washington amid NSA spying revelations; Vice-President Biden's visit to Mexico City; and mild controversy over a new Millennium Challenge grant to El Salvador.

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


    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Week in Review

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

    Release of new Just the Facts report!

  • We released our new report, “Time to Listen: Trends in US Military Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean.” It is available in both English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF). The report looks at U.S. defense and security trends in Latin America and the Caribbean. We found that despite calls from Latin America’s leader for an alternative to the drug war, the United States is still funding substantial military programs focused on counternarcotics operations that have little transparency or oversight.
  • US Policy

    Brazil-U.S. Relations

  • On Tuesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed her state visit to Washington, originally scheduled for next month. The Pan-American Post wrote that the decision is largely perceived as a political move ahead of elections in 2014, capitalizing on growing popularity polling after a sharp dip from widespread protests. Several analysts have said the move has negative implications for both countries. Nevertheless, the White House tried to soften the impact of the announcement, saying it would be working with the Brazilian government to reschedule the visit. More from Reuters, the Global Post, the Economist, James Bosworth, and Foreign Policy.

    The Rousseff administration also began talks about creating a domestic network to store and share data. Popular technology blog Gizmodo called the Rousseff administration plan a “bullish” move and noted that breaking from the U.S. internet could be “potentially impossible.”

  • Joe Biden in Mexico

  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Mexico on Thursday and Friday this week to discuss economic relations between the two countries. Joined by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson andAssistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, he was there to launch the High Level Economic Dialogue that President Obama announced on his trip to Mexico in May. As analyst James Bosworth noted, "All other issues that could be slightly controversial - security, spying, soccer - have been banished from the agenda." This is VP Biden's third trip to Mexico in his post and fifth trip to the region overall. More from the White House and the Los Angeles Times.

    The Guardian featured an opinion piece on the visit, "Biden's visit to Mexico: what you should know, Joe," from John Ackerman, who wrote, "The widespread image of Peña Nieto as a bold reformist struggling against the forces of nostalgic reaction is about as accurate as Vladimir Putin's presentation of Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished statesman."

  • Colombia

  • Verdad Abierta published an interesting, interactive feature about the FARC’s longstanding presence in the southern Colombian state of Caqueta. It examines the organization’s activities in narcotrafficking, intimidation tactics and more within this region, dubbed “the heart” of the FARC. There are extremely useful maps, timelines and graphics.
  • This week, Human Rights Watch released a report that documents the failures of the Colombian government to enforce the landmark Victims Law, which aimed to return millions of hectares of land to victims who had been displaced by violence. The report looked at the violence and threats against those victims trying to reclaim their land. Colombia’s Prosecutor General refuted the claims, citing an increase in convictions in cases involving forced displacement. InSight Crime provides some analysis of the report, highlighting the importance of criminal groups that are oftentimes contracted by wealthy individuals to maintain control of seized land.
  • The 14th round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government concluded yesterday. The negotiators did not report any progress on the second of five topics on the agenda, the rebels' political participation. Despite the slow pace of the talks and the fact that the most recent Gallup poll indicated in early September that 75% of Colombians disagree with how Santos has handled the peace process with the guerrillas, the Colombian leader has stood by the talks.
  • Ex-President Alvaro Uribe is planning a political comeback, announcing that he is running for a seat in the Senate. He will run on a closed list with nine other candidates from his Democratic Center Party, which Uribe and close political allies formed in 2012. The Pan-American Post explains Uribe’s closed-list candidacy means “Colombians would vote not for individual candidates but for the party as a whole.”La Silla Vacia has an online forum that includes opinions from policymakers, journalists and analysts on the political impact of Uribe’s candidacy in the nation.
  • Central American Border Disputes

  • On Monday, Nicaragua filed a second lawsuit against Colombia in the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime boundary in the Caribbean. Colombia’s President Santos has refused to recognize an earlier ruling by the ICJ that awarded Nicaragua a large portion of maritime territory.
  • Honduras and El Salvador also began a dispute over territory this week. El Faro reports that Honduran authorities announced construction of a helipad on the miniscule Conejo island in the Gulf of Fonseca, a natural harbor shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. El Salvador’s President quickly filed a complaint with the government of Honduras, claiming the island as Salvadoran territory.
  • Venezuela

  • On Thursday, President Maduro claimed the United States had banned his plane from flying over Puerto Rico on his way to China. Maduro called this an “act of aggression.” Reuters then reported Friday that the United States had granted President Maduro the right to use U.S. airspace on Thursday night, despite the fact that Venezuela had failed to follow protocol for a flyover request. Maduro also said the U.S. had refused to grant his chief of staff, General Wilmer Barrientos, a visa for the UN General Assembly in New York. More from the Pan-American Post.
  • Haiti taking steps toward a military force

  • Haitian President Michael Martelly is taking steps to reinstate the country’s army, with the help of Ecuador, the Associated Pressreported. The first batch of 41 Ecuadorian-trained recruits is being sent to the interior of the country to work on public service projects with Ecuador’s military. Haiti abolished its military in 1995, due to the military’s ongoing political influence and after dozens of military coups. The new force will not be armed, and will serve “not in the infantry but in technical service,” according to Defense Minister Jean-Rodolphe Joazile. President Martelly has been pledging to reinstate the army in recent years. Brazil is apparently also planning to train Haitian soldiers and has pledged to train 500 in Brazil and 1,000 in Haiti.
  • Photo Galleries

  • Two eye-catching photo galleries were released this week. The first one from James Rodriguez shows Guatemalans arriving back in their homeland after deportation from the United States. The other features entries from an exhibition of the best photo journalism from Central America, on display now in San Salvador.
  • Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    New Report: “Time to Listen: Trends in U.S. Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean”

    The Just the Facts project is pleased to present “Time to Listen,” our new report on U.S. defense and security trends in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report can be found in both English and Spanish here.

    The report finds that U.S. assistance has dropped near the lowest levels in more than a decade—about US$2.2 billion foreseen for 2014. But dollar amounts are deceptive. While U.S. diplomatic efforts are flagging, other less transparent forms of military-to-military cooperation are on the rise:

    • Special Operations Forces, whose budgets are not being cut and who have less role to play in Iraq and Afghanistan, are deploying more frequently to Latin America for training and other missions.

    • U.S. personnel are working alongside Central American and Caribbean security forces to patrol their coasts and jungles. Disturbingly, some of these counternarcotics operations have led to the deaths of civilians.

    • U.S. funds are sending Colombian soldiers and police to train with thousands of counterparts around the region.

    • And as new unmanned technologies begin to proliferate around the continent, the U.S. use of weaponized drones elsewhere in the world has set a dangerous precedent.

    While military-to-military relations remain robust, the U.S. diplomatic effort is flagging. That is partially due to budget cuts and a more intense focus on other parts of the world. But much of it has to do with a failure to listen to Latin American leaders’ growing calls for change. These calls are loudest in the realm of drug policy.

    However, the vast majority of U.S. security assistance continues to flow through counter-drug funding programs: eradicating the crops of the poorest, transferring weapons and lethal skills to institutions with recent records of human rights abuse, and increasingly with direct participation in interdiction operations—some of them disturbingly violent—on other countries’ soil, especially in Central America and the Caribbean. U.S. drug policy in Latin America looks much as it has since the 1980s and 1990s.

    It would not be hard to break out of the current moment of paralysis, to begin treating this hemisphere as one of opportunities instead of potential threats. But it would require the Obama administration to do something that Washington has rarely done in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations: to listen to the region’s leaders and civil societies. That is the thread woven through the report’s ten recommendations for an improved U.S. security relationship with Latin America.

    Time to Listen is a product of the “Just the Facts” project (, a collaboration between CIP, LAWGEF, and WOLA dating back to 1997.

    Soon, the project’s name will change: the Center for International Policy, in partnership with several non-governmental partners, is taking “Just the Facts” global. The resource currently hosted at will become the Latin America section of Security Assistance Monitor at, a site documenting U.S. security assistance to every region of the world.