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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2009 in Review

2009 marked the Obama administration's first year, and proved to be a very eventful year in Latin America. Below is a list of significant U.S. policy and security events in Latin America in 2009.

January: Barack Obama is inaugurated as the United States' first African-American president and hope for a new era of U.S.-Latin America relations is apparent throughout the region.

February: Colombia's newsweekly, Semana, revealed that the Administrative Security Department (DAS), the Colombian Presidency's internal intelligence agency, had been carrying out a campaign of wiretaps and surveillance of human rights defenders, Supreme Court justices, opposition politicians, and journalists. DAS agents also followed their targets' children, wives, and assistants. Over the course of 2009, new evidence continued to emerge.

April: Heads of state from the region came together in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. President Obama addressed his counterparts and promised a new partnership between the United States and Latin America: "I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values."

June: Mauricio Funes was sworn in as president of El Salvador, marking the historic end of the conservative ARENA party's two-decade rule and the historic beginning of the leftist Farabundo Marti Liberation Front's (FMLN) first attempt at the presidency.

June: After much speculation on where the United States planned to relocate the soon-to-be-closed Forward Operating Location at the Manta Air Base in Ecuador, the Colombian press announced the ongoing negotiation of a deal between the United States and Colombia, under which the United States would be granted use of seven Colombian military bases. The media speculation was confirmed in July when Colombia's defense, interior and foreign relations ministers gave a press conference about the military base deal with the United States. At the end of October, the final deal had been signed between the two countries, which was dubbed the "Defense Cooperation Agreement."

June: On the 28th of June, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed from his home by Honduran troops, following orders from the country's Supreme Court, and flown to Costa Rica in his pajamas. The world immediately spoke up to condemn the coup and called for the return of the democratically-elected president.

September: Ecuador officially closed the United States Forward Operating Location at the Manta Air Base.

November: Presidential elections were held in Honduras, and the National Party's Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was victorious. At the time of the elections (and still today) the Western Hemisphere was split on whether to recognize the elections even though the de facto government, led by Roberto Micheletti, remained in power.

December:
Drug-related violence in Mexico reached record levels in 2009 - with an estimated 7,300 drug-related murders by the end of November. In 2008, there were approximately 5,600 such murders.

Other stories that took place throughout the year:

  • Increased arms purchases in the region fuel fears of a South American arms race.
  • Iran's influence in Latin America received much attention within the U.S. government
  • The debate on drug policy reemerged over the course of the year, with the publication of "Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift," and the introduction of two bills in Congress aimed to reevaluate U.S. drug policy domestically and as it relates to Latin America, one of which (H.R. 2134, "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009") was passed by the House of Representatives in early December.
  • Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    FY2010 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations

    Last week, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2010 (H.R. 3288) which combines provisions for six Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations.

    One of the provisions included in the bill is the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations for FY2010 (Division F). This section funds U.S. foreign assistance programs, many of which are tracked on this website.

    We have added the Latin America-relevant text of Division F of H.R. 3288 and its Conference Report (111-366) to the Just the Facts legislation page.

    Highlights from the two documents are listed below.

  • A portion of the Development Assistance account must be used to provide "safe water for communities harmed by oil contamination in the northeastern region of Ecuador."
  • Of the funds appropriated to Colombia under the Economic Support Fund ($209,790,000), not less than $8,000,000 for Colombian refugees in neighboring countries; $45,000,000 for Colombian IDPs (internally displaced persons); and up to $15,000,000 for Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities.
  • The International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) account creates a Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), extending the Mérida Initiative to the Caribbean region. The funds allocated to the CBSI are intended to "provide equipment and training to combat drug trafficking and related violence and organized crime, and for judicial reform, institution building, education, anti-corruption, rule of law activities, and maritime security."

    While this bill allocates "not less than $37,000,000" to this new initiative, it states that "not less than $21,100,000" of this amount "should be made available for social justice and education programs to include vocational training, workforce development and juvenile justice activities."

  • The Andean Counterdrug Program account is folded into the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement account.
  • The conference report states that INCLE account funds for Colombia cannot be used for assistance for the Colombian Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), or any successor organization if the DAS is dismantled.
  • The heading of Section 7008 is changed to "Coups d'Etats." In previous appropriations bills, this section was titled "Military Coups," however, the conference committee notes in its report that "the previous title implied an unintended limitation of the provision's application."
  • Funds allocated to Colombia under Division F of Public Law 111-117 are capped at $521,880,000, while funds allocated to Mexico under the INCLE, Foreign Military Financing, and Economic Support Fund accounts are capped at $210,250,000. This allocation for Mexico for FY2010 is substantially lower than the State Department's FY2010 request ($481 million), though the difference was already covered by an earlier allocation in the FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act of $420 million.
  • The human rights conditions placed on aid to both Mexico and Central America in the Fiscal Year 2009 State Department, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act will apply to Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations.

    In reference to the Mexico human rights certification document submitted to Congress by the State Department over the summer, the Conference Committee noted in their report that

    "The conferees are concerned that the report submitted pursuant to section 1406(b) of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (Public Law 110-252) and section 7045(e)(I) of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 (Public Law 111-8) relating to human rights in Mexico did not include the requisite findings by the Secretary of State that the Government of Mexico had met the requirements in the law. The conferees remain concerned with the lack of progress on these issues, and the lack of transparency in cases involving allegations against Mexican military personnel, and direct that future reports submitted pursuant to section 7045(e)(2) of this Act include the necessary findings."

  • The FY2009 Appropriations Act does not give us specific amounts for allocations under all accounts, nor does it give us details for every country in the region. However, the Conference Report does provide us with some numbers for the Economic Support Fund, INCLE and Foreign Military Financing accounts. Below is a table comparing the FY2010 numbers as appropriated in H.R. 3288 to the number requested in the State Department's FY2010 Congressional Budget Justification. As can be seen below, the FY2010 allocation for Mexico under the INCLE account is substantially lower than that requested by the State Department ($269 million less), while the allocation under the Economic Support Fund for Mexico is $12 million more than the requested amount.
  • Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    2009 Latinobarómetro

    The Latinobarómetro, an annual public opinion survey, was recently released for 2009. Between September 21st and October 26th, 20,204 people were interviewed, who were "representative of 100% of the population" of 18 Latin American countries.

    The 2009 report begins with a fairly detailed review of opinions about Honduras' recent political crisis. Since the survey was administered during the political crisis, it reflects how many Hondurans felt at the time. Responses, however, do not reflect the failure of the negotiated agreement (the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord) or the elections on November 29th.

    The authors of the report write that the results of the 2009 Latinobarómetro indicate that "Despite the coup d'etat and despite the [economic] crisis, Latin America is more democratic after the 2009 crisis, is more tolerant, is more happy."

    Below is a summary of some of the answers that stood out.

  • 58% of Hondurans responded that they did not approve of the coup d'etat, while 28% approved. The authors point out that the more educated and older the responders, the more supportive they were toward the coup. 40% of the supporters graduated from university, and 27% had a basic education. This trend is reversed for the rest of the region. 24% of Latin American citizens surveyed agreed with the expulsion of President Manuel Zelaya from Honduras, though, in this instance, the least-educated had the least objection to the coup, while the most-educated had the highest objection to the coup.
  • In response to the question, "Do you think your country could be subjected to a coup d'etat?," the three countries with the highest percentage of "yes" responses were Ecuador (36%), Brazil (34%), and Venezuela (30%). Chile had the lowest percentage of "yes" responses, with only 6%.
  • In the introduction of the section on questions about democracy, the authors write that "new" democracies are emerging in Latin America, "such as the case of Venezuela, where important elements of democracy are not present." This led to the questions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. When asked if the media should be able to publish without fear of being closed, 75% of Latin American citizens agreed. In Ecuador, only 55% of those surveyed agreed with the statement, while 81% of Venezuelans agreed.
  • According to the authors, "attitudes toward democracy in Latin America are flooded with authoritarian confusions, where citizens combine things that cannot be combined if it is democratic." These confusions were apparent in countries such as Costa Rica, whose citizens said that they would reject a military government (91%), responded that a president should be removed if s/he violates the constitution (27%), and said that in some difficult situations it is okay to act above the law (29%). The authors use Costa Rican's responses as an example of "precisely what happened in Honduras."
  • Across the board, Venezuelans had the highest opinion of democracy. The country ranked 3rd, behind Uruguay and Costa Rica, in positive responses indicating that the country is "totally democratic." Paraguay had the lowest perception of its democracy, with only 5% saying it is totally democratic.
  • Venezuelans ranked democracy high in other questions: 85% of Venezuelans responded that a democracy is better than any other form of government, and 90% responded that while a democracy can have problems, it is still the best system of governance. In Ecuador, only 43% of its citizens said democracy is better than any other form of government, while 66% said it is the best system of governance despite its problems. This division in responses was similar in Colombia, with 49% responding that democracy is better, and 73% responding that it is the best form of governance, despite its problems.
  • In a question regarding the fairness of the country's distribution of wealth, Bolivia (34%), Venezuela (32%), and Ecuador (28%), responded most favorably, saying their country's distribution of wealth was fair. The countries with the least fair distribution of wealth, according to its citizens, are Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Argentina (Only 4% of those surveyed in Argentina responded that their wealth is fairly distributed).
  • The election of Mauricio Funes in El Salvador led to a significant increase in the president's approval rating, which rose from 51% in 2008 to 83% in 2009. This increase is also signficant in comparison to the past 7 years in El Salvador, with the highest approval rating only reaching 58% in 2005). A significant increase also occurred in Panama, where Ricardo Martinelli was inaugurated in July of this year (from 41% in 2008 to 80% approval in 2009), and in Chile (from 59% to 85%).
  • Protests also appear to be a much more acceptable way of democratic participation in 2009, with 92% of Latin Americans surveyed agreed that "marches, protests, and street protests are normal in a democracy." This increased from only 63% in 2008. Almost all of the 18 countries surveyed showed above 90% agreement with the statement, except Argentina, where only 58% of those surveyed agreed.
  • Seven countries found delinquency to be the most important problem facing the country: Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Uruguay, Chile, and Guatemala. The two countries that receive the highest amount of military and police assistance from the United States - Colombia and Mexico - viewed unemployment and the economy as the most important problems. Only 7% of Colombians and 18% of Mexicans found delinquency to be a problem.

    The authors also note the discrepancy in responses in both Mexico and Venezuela. For instance, in Mexico, 38% of those surveyed responded that they had been victims of delinquency, yet only 18% view delinquency as an important problem. In Venezuela, while the percentage of those who had been a victim of delinquency dropped substantially from 2008 to 2009 (53% to 39%), 55% of those surveyed still viewed it as an important problem in the country.

  • President Barack Obama still had a high approval rating in Latin America. 73% of the respondents knew the name of the United States' president and 71% had a favorable opinion of President Obama. The countries with the lowest opinion of President Obama were Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay, with 58% of respondents holding a favorable opinion of him. This "low" approval rating is still relatively high. The authors also call attention to "the 62% favorable opinion Venezuelans have toward Obama, despite the attacks against him by President Chávez."
  • In terms of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, only 27% of the region has a favorable opinion of him. The country with the highest approval of President Chávez is the Dominican Republic (55%), followed by Venezuela (50%). Costa Rica (11%), Colombia (12%) and Mexico (13%) have the lowest approval rating of the Venezuelan president. According to the authors, "...Chávez has been able to conquer the hearts of no more than four countries: Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua."
  • Friday, December 11, 2009

    Friday News Highlights

  • Multiple reports were released this week citing human rights violations committed by security forces in Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela.
    • A new report by Amnesty International "accuses the [Mexican] authorities of failing to fully probe allegations of abuses committed by the military, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial and unlawful killings, torture, ill treatment and arbitrary detentions." You can download a PDF of the report, "Mexico: New Reports of Human Rights Violations by the Military" here.
    • Human Rights Watch released a report that accuses Brazilian police officers of "routinely resorting to lethal force, often committing extrajudicial executions and exacerbating violence in both states [São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro]." The report, "Lethal Force: Police Violence and Public Security in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo," says the two police forces kill more than 1,000 people every year, and have killed 11,000 people since 2003.
    • The Miami Herald continued the trend with an article on Venezuela. According to the article, "Police death squads are active in more than half of Venezuela's 24 states, and the practice of 'extra-judicial execution' is nationwide. While more than 7,000 people were killed by uniformed members of the security forces between 2000 and 2007, ... only 3% of 6,000 suspects were actually sentenced."
  • In Honduras, plans were being made for ousted President Manuel Zelaya to leave the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has taken refuge since returning to the country in September, and fly to Mexico. However, Zelaya refused to sign a letter written by the de facto government, in which he would drop his demand to be reinstated. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Zelaya says he will leave the Brazilian Embassy by January 27th, 2010, "when his presidential term ends."
  • The Economist published early results from the 2009 Latinobarómetro today. Bloggings by Boz offers his initial thoughts on the results.
  • A report commissioned by the Ecuadorian government claims "American military personnel stationed at an air base in Manta helped with intelligence to plan the 2008 attack by Colombian forces on an encampment of Colombian rebels [FARC] in Ecuadorean territory," reports the New York Times.
  • Chile will hold its presidential elections on Sunday. Recent polls show Sebastián Piñera, from the conservative Alliance for Chile party, leading with 44.1% of the vote, followed by Eduardo Frei, of the ruling center-left Concertación coalition, with 31% and Marco Enríquez-Ominami, of the Coalition of Change, with 17%. If no candidate wins a majority on Sunday, the two top finishers would face each other in a January runoff.
  • Time magazine's Tim Padgett wrote an article on Mexico's witness-protection program. Padgett writes that the country's witness-protection program "may as well be called witness detection, since it seems the country's violent drug traffickers are having little problem locating, and assassinating, the informants whom the government is supposed to be shielding." In reference to the Mérida Initiative, Padgett argues that "A reliable witness-protection program should be on that list before more soplones get whacked."
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Mexico failed to "properly investigate the killings of three young women in 2001" in Ciudad Juárez. The court ordered the Mexican government to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to the three victims' families and to erect a monument commemorating the hundreds of women slain since 1993 in the border city.
  • On Monday, a judge in Santiago ruled that former Chilean president, Eduardo Frei, did not die of stomach ailments in 1982, as once thought, but was poisoned "with low doses of mustard gas and thallium." This court ruling served as a reminder of the abuses during the country's Pinochet years. A Los Angeles Times editorial read: "Chile has developed a strong democracy in the 20 years since the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended, and yet the blue-eyed strongman who died in 2006 continues to cast a pall over the country's current events in a stark demonstration of how difficult it is for a nation to recover from tyranny." And John Dinges, the author of "The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Countries," told the Washington Post's Juan Forero, "This is probably the greatest crime of the military government, to kill a former president. . . This is like discovering that Nixon was involved in the Kennedy assassination."

    Six people were charged in connection with the killing: "A doctor connected to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's army, a former intelligence agent under the general and Mr. Frei's driver were charged with murder. Two doctors who were alleged to have falsified the autopsy report were charged with covering up the killing, and a third was charged as an accomplice."

  • On the Center for International Policy blog, Plan Colombia and Beyond, Adam Isacson outlines five points that stood out in a new report by the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a small think-tank in Bogotá, Colombia. This report, titled "2009: The decline of 'Democratic Security?'," argues that "the Uribe government's policies are experiencing diminishing returns after a high point in mid-2008, when paramilitary leaders were extradited, hostages were freed, and top FARC leaders were killed." The five points outlined in the blog are: 1. The FARC are more active; 2. "New" paramilitary groups are far more active; 3. There is a security crisis in Medellín; 4. "New" paramilitaries are increasingly active in Bogotá; and 5. Judicial actions are being taken in cases of "false positives" or extrajudicial executions.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2134, the "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009", on Tuesday. The bill is now being considered in the Senate. If it becomes law, an independent commission will be formed to review 28 years of U.S. policies aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand in the Western Hemisphere.
  • On Sunday Bolivian President Evo Morales was reelected with 63% of the popular vote. His Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party also secured two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, according to the Los Angeles Times.
  • At the beginning of a press conference with Ukranian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a moment to comment on Honduras:

    Before I turn to the issues that the minister and I discussed and the shared objectives the United States and Ukraine are working toward, I'd like to say a few words about Honduras. President-elect Lobo has been meeting this week with President Arias of Costa Rica, President Martinelli of Panama, and has been in touch with other leaders throughout the hemisphere to advance regional cooperation with respect to Honduras.

    Ever since the June 28 coup, the United States has remained dedicated both to our democratic principles and our determination to help Honduras find a pragmatic path to restore democratic and constitutional order. We condemned President Zelaya's expulsion from Honduras as inconsistent with democratic principles and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and we have taken significant steps to signal our determination.

    At the same time, working with OAS, President Arias and diverse sectors in Honduras, we've spared no effort to help Hondurans find a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the crisis, a resolution that restores democratic and constitutional order. We supported the San Jose process. We welcomed the negotiations among Hondurans themselves that led to the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. And we are encouraged by the work of regional leaders in support of this process. Yesterday, I spoke with President Arias and I will continue to reach out to other leaders as well.

    A year-long electoral process culminated on November 29 when the Honduran people expressed their democratic will peacefully and in large numbers. And we salute the Honduran people for this achievement and we congratulate President-elect Lobo for his victory. These November 29 elections marked an important milestone in the process moving forward, but not its end. President-elect Lobo has launched a national dialogue and he has called for the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission as set forth in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. We stand with the Honduran people and we will continue to work closely with others in the region who seek to determine the democratic way forward for Honduras.

  • Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    House passes drug policy bill

    Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the "Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009" (H.R. 2134) by voice vote. This bill, first introduced by Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) at the end of April 2009, would create "an independent commission to evaluate U.S. policies and programs aimed at reducing illicit drug supply and demand in the Western Hemisphere," according to a press release from Rep. Engel's office.

    The version of the bill that passed yesterday was only slightly different from the original text, and the overall responsibilities of the Commission remain the same. If passed by the Senate, the 10-member Commission will "conduct a comprehensive review of United States policy regarding illicit drug supply reduction, interdiction, and demand reduction policies." Within 12 months after its first meeting, the Commission must submit a report, which will be made available to the public, that "contains a detailed statement of the recommendations, findings, and conclusions of the Commission."

    In May, we wrote a blog entry in which we compared the House's Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act to the Senate's "National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009." The Senate's bill, which is more domestically-focused, is up for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee first thing tomorrow morning.

    Whether one of these bills, or a combination of the two, will become law is still subject to multiple votes and possible revisions in both the House and the Senate. The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act is now headed to the Senate and it is unclear whether it will gain sufficient support for passage. Some analysts suggest that because the bill was treated as uncontroversial legislation and put up to a voice vote in the House, it could enjoy similar treatment in the Senate and pass easily.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    Losing ground in Latin America?

    On Sunday, the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer published an article headlined "Latin America's honeymoon with Obama may be over." This is the latest on a long list of commentaries on the year-old U.S. administration's faltering image throughout Latin America.

    In the past week, U.S. relations with Latin America have been described as "gone south," "like Bush's," and "disingenuous," to name a few. These descriptions come mostly in response to the way the United States handled both the recent political crisis in Honduras and the military base deal with Colombia. Christopher Sabatini provides an interesting timeline of the deterioration of U.S. policy toward the region on the Americas Quarterly blog.

    Oppenheimer's article starts: "Only a few months ago, Latin American leaders hailed the Obama administration as a new beginning in hemispheric relations. But now, the honeymoon is over." This high view of the United States under a new administration was evident in a Gallup poll released at the first of the month that found "regional median approval of U.S. leadership at 51%, up significantly from the previous three years." This poll, taken from July to September 2009, may have represented, unfortunately, the high point of the Obama administration's approval rating in the region, though time will tell if Latin American public opinion agrees with the various authors who have cited the demise of U.S.-Latin American relations. Obama won much approval in the region because he signaled a departure from former President George W. Bush, though as Oppenheimer writes, "not being Bush is no substitute for a proactive policy in Latin America."

    Here are excerpts from other articles:

    • William Finnegan, of The New Yorker, wrote on December 3rd that "the humiliation of the Obama Administration was complete" with the Honduran Congress's decision not to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya. In trying to understand how this all happened, Finnegan writes "Basically, though, it looks like the Administration got rolled by the Republican right. ... Latin Americans who believed that Barack Obama represented a new era in U.S. policy in their region have had an unhappy surprise."
    • Time magazine's Tim Padgett had harsh words for the Obama administration as well, writing that "when it comes to U.S. policy in Latin America - as events this week in Honduras suggest - it's often hard to tell if George W. Bush isn't still President." Padgett continues, "as he ends his first year in office, Obama seems to have ceded Latin America strategy to right-wing Cold Warriors whose thinking - including the idea that coups are still an acceptable means of regime change - is no more equipped to help bring the region into the 21st century than the ideology of left-wing Marxists is."

      In response to Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela's statement that "the status quo" in Honduras "remains unacceptable," Padgett writes "it's a status quo Obama let the Cold Warriors keep intact - and it's now up to Valenzuela to wrest Latin America policy back from them."

    • On December 2nd, the Wall Street Journal published an article by José de Córdoba and David Luhnow, titled "U.S. Faces Rising Resistance to its Latin American Policy." The authors give the United States more credit than the previous articles, writing that "the U.S. remains the dominant player in Latin America." Though, they go on to say that the United States "is having an increasingly tough time calling the shots in a region where countries like Brazil and China are vying for influence, and where even tiny Honduras stands up to the "Colossus to the North." De Córdoba and Luhnow end the article with advice from former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda to Obama: "The crisis is a lesson for Mr. Obama in the limits of cooperation. 'You can't follow the Latin Americans given how polarized the region is,' says Mr. Castañeda. 'You have to take a stance, and hope that the others will follow you.'"

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Two reports, similar story

    In 2007, President George W. Bush announced the Mérida Initiative, a 3-year, $1.4 billion program, most of it military and police assistance, to help Mexico and Central America fight organized crime and narcotrafficking. Congress first appropriated funds to the Mérida Initiative in the Fiscal Year 2008 supplemental appropriations bill, and have since appropriated nearly $1.3 billion for the initiative.

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office, a branch of the U.S. Congress that audits and evaluates government policies, released a report (pdf) Thursday finding that as of September 30, 2009, only 2% of funds ($26 million) allocated to the Mérida Initiative since 2008 had been actually delivered. The report attributes the delay to three factors: "(1) statutory conditions on the funds, (2) challenges in fulfilling administrative procedures, and (3) the need to enhance institutional capacity on the part of both recipient countries and the United States to implement the assistance."

    Interestingly, in 2003, the GAO released a similar report on the status of assistance appropriated to Colombia under Plan Colombia from 2000-2003 (pdf). The report only covered the allocation of assistance appropriated in 2000 to the Colombian Army, much of which had been delivered by June 2003, though it highlights similar financial and management challenges.

    The most clear comparison between the two reports is the delay in delivering the helicopters provided under the two U.S.-funded programs. In the report on the Mérida Initiative, the time it takes for administrative procedures to be carried out, especially for the delivery of helicopters, was an important factor in slow delivery of Mérida assistance. The report cites one State Department official, who explains that "it typically takes between 3 to 6 months to negotiate and sign a contract for the provision of aircraft." Once the contract has been signed, it then takes another 12 to 18 months for a helicopter to be built, and 18-24 months for an airplane. Therefore, it would take anywhere from 15-24 months for a helicopter to be delivered. The report does say that the State Department expects five Bell helicopters to be delivered to Mexico sometime this month as a result of an attempt to expedite the process. Though it is noted that "the time lapse between funds being appropriated and a deliverable on the ground will still be about 18 months."

    The earlier report on Plan Colombia noted an even longer lag in the delivery of helicopters. President Bill Clinton signed the Plan Colombia appropriation into law in July 2000, yet the first Black Hawk helicopters were delivered between July and December 2001 and not operational until November 2002 "because of a shortage of fully qualified Colombian Army pilots." 25 UH-II helicopters were also to be delivered between November 2001 and June 2002, however, "they were delivered between March and November 2002 instead because the Colombian military was considering whether to use a more powerful engine in the helicopters than the one usually installed." Those helicopters were not operational until June 2003, again due to a lack of qualified pilots. The Colombian Army did not have the operational helicopters promised under Plan Colombia for almost two and a half years - a long delay that makes the 18 month lag in delivering helicopters to Mexico look like an improvement, though the problem with training could arise as it did in Colombia.

    Both reports also mentioned human rights conditions and a lack of institutional capacity as factors in the delay of aid delivery under these two prominent counternarcotics initiatives.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Timeline of the Colombia-Venezuela Conflict

    July: News of a military deal between Colombia and the United States is made public. The deal will allow the U.S. access to seven Colombian military bases. At this point details of the agreement are not yet available to the public. The deal creates tension throughout Latin America, especially between Venezuela and Colombia. Like many other leaders in the region, Chávez was angered by not being consulted before the announcement of the deal. Moreover, the deal represents a threat to Venezuelan sovereignty and he fears a U.S. led invasion.

    October 2 2009: Venezuela arrests three DAS agents charged with spying for Colombia. Colombian DAS Director Felipe Munoz says "We're waiting to see what this is about because officially there are no DAS officials in Venezuela carrying out any activities."

    October 24 2009: The bodies of 11 young men are found, including nine undocumented Colombians, in the Western Venezuelan state of Táchira. The young men were kidnapped by a group of heavily armed men in pickup trucks while while playing soccer in a town four hours from the Colombian border. Venezuelan government and Colombian opposition believe that their deaths were the result of a clash between paramilitary groups from Colombia. Venezuelan opposition asserts that Chávez is only interested in rooting out the right-wing paramilitaries, and is actually aiding the guerrillas. In response to the violence, the Venezuelan government restricts trade and other economic activities with Colombia.

    November 2 2009: Two Venezuelan National Guardsmen are murdered. Colombia expels a Venezuelan National Guardsman. In response Venezuela closes two international bridges between Colombia and Venezuela, as Venezuelan authorities search for the suspects, creating mass confusion for residents.

    November 4 2009: Venezuela announces the deployment of 15,000 troops to the two countries' common (1,375-mile) border. President Chávez also shuts down several border crossings, and threatens to shut down more. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Maduro says that the violence along the border is part of a U.S. and Colombian plot to destabilize Venezuela.

    November 9 2009: President Hugo Chávez' rhetoric becomes increasingly inflammatory. He announces on Venezuelan television, "Let's not waste a day on our main aim: to prepare for war and to heLp the people prepare for war, because it is everyone's responsibility." He also orders 15,000 troops to the border, citing increased violence by Colombian paramilitary groups. In response, President Uribe states, "Colombia has not made nor will it make any bellicose move toward the international community, even less so toward fellow Latin American nations." Colombia also responds with a letter to the U.N. Security Council, "explaining in detail concerns Colombia has about remarks by President Chávez and other sensitive matters."

    November 19 2009: Venezuela blows up two pedestrian bridges on its border with Colombia. Venezuela argues that the bridges were being used by narcotraffickers and guerrillas. However, while the bridges were not major structures, they were important to the people that used them. See this video news report from Caracol showing interviews with local residents and the mayor of the town. Colombia's Defense Minister Gabriel Silva says Álvaro it will lodge a complaint with United Nations and the Organization of American States over the "aggression."

    December 1 2009: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez expels over 400 illegal Colombian and Brazilian miners, creating chaos in the small border town of Puerto Inirida, Colombia. According to the governor of Guainía, many of the miners arrived malnourished, having walked two or three days through the mountains, running from the Venezuelan Guards, and are staying with friends. Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva says "We're going to report this sort of forced displacement to international human rights authorities because it violates international humanitarian rights."

    Most recently, Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernández has agreed to serve as mediator, after Colombian President Uribe asked him to do so in a private meeting during the Ibero-American Summit, which ended last week in Estoril, Portugal. President Fernandez stated that his country "because of its geographical and friendship with its neighbors, has on other occasions mediated in regional conflicts to see solutions to these differences."

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Unasur Summit in Quito

    On Friday, November 27, defense and foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations' Unasur member nations gathered in Quito, Ecuador to address growing regional tensions. Topics on the table included continuing concerns about the Colombia-U.S. military accord, which grants the United States access to seven Colombian military bases, growing tensions between Chile and Peru after Peru accused Chile of espionage, and deteriorating relations between Colombia and Venezuela.

    One member nation was conspicuously absent from the meeting. Neither Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva nor Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermúdez were in attendance, having cancelled at the last minute. In their place, Bermúdez sent a letter explaining that the agreement with the U.S. contains the principle of "non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States." While Colombian Defense Minister Silva told Radio Caracol the same day that "the number one obligation of a defense minister is to avoid war at all costs; the second obligation is if some makes war against us, Colombia must face it and win, but we are in the first stage. ... [F]or the first time in decades, the defense ministry must study how to prepare to face a foreign threat." In response, Venezuelan Minister Maduro described Silva as a "crazy and irresponsible renegade, warmonger, who has begun to fire at Venezuela from Bogotá." and called Colombia's absence "inexcusable, a huge mistake and an act of contempt towards Unasur."

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also sent a letter to the members of Unasur, in an effort to assuage fears that the base agreement jeopardizes the sovereignty of countries in the region. The letter made it "absolutely clear" that the military deal between Bogotá and Washington would be carried out "with total respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other countries."

    Secretary Clinton's letter appeared to settle the fears of some member nations. The Brazilian minister, Celso Amorín, left the meeting at midday "optimistic. ... Above all there were advances on the issue that worried us the most, which was the formal guarantees," he said. While Ecuador's Foreign Minister Fander Falconí also expressed his satisfaction: "One of the best results of today's meeting has been to receive a text that plainly guarantees no extraterritorial intervention through this type of agreement."

    Venezuelan Foreign Minister Maduro, however, was less satisfied, and underlined the need to turn "these written guarantees into realities, so that they do not become a joke, as happened in Honduras." Maduro said that the agreements resulting from the summit were indeed "a step forward, but still not sufficient."

    Essentially no progress was made towards easing tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, or between Chile and Peru, though issues such as national sovereignty and nuclear power were discussed. Countries agreed to prohibit "the use or the threat of force, as well as any other type of military aggression or threats to the stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the other member states," according to the final document of the summit, which Ecuadoran officials are still finalizing. The Unasur members also agreed on the need to create a communications network, an "information bank," that would increase the transparency of weapons transfers; however the final declaration stipulates that "Such a mechanism, at the request of [any state], will respect the principle of confidentiality."

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    CIP Report: "After Plan Colombia"

    The Center for International Policy's Latin America Security Program is very pleased to share its new report on the Colombian government's U.S.-supported "Integrated Action" or "CCAI" programs: a combination of state-building, counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics that is being viewed as the successor to Plan Colombia.

    "After Plan Colombia" is the product of months of research, including visits to two areas where these programs are underway. With lots of graphics and context for readers less familiar with Colombia, it totals 40 pages plus footnotes. Download a PDF of the report, or read the HTML layout version here.

    Here is the summary statement CIP is sending out with the report:

    "After Plan Colombia": A new report from the Center for International Policy examines the next phase of U.S. assistance

    Beyond deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama's December 1 speech called for something that evokes the U.S. experience in Colombia: a "civilian surge." This, he said, would be "a more effective civilian strategy, so that the [Afghan] government can take advantage of improved security." Working hand-in-glove with military operations, increased U.S. economic aid would focus "in areas — such as agriculture — that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people."

    A U.S.-supported "civilian surge" has been underway for a few years now in Colombia, Latin America's third most-populous country, where an internal armed conflict has raged since the 1960s. U.S. officials say they hope to apply lessons learned from Colombia in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Misunderstanding these lessons, however, could bring disastrous results.

    The program in Colombia, "Integrated Action," aims to help the government function in zones controlled by armed groups. With U.S. support, a national agency — the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action or CCAI — is to bring civilian government institutions, and basic services, into areas very recently secured by military operations. As in Afghanistan, agricultural aid and other quick-impact projects are priorities.

    These programs are controversial, as they tread the uneasy ground between military operations, nation-building, development and human rights. Yet both the U.S. and Colombian governments view Integrated Action as the future of U.S. aid to Colombia, which since 2000 has been by far the world's largest U.S. aid recipient outside the Middle East. Integrated Action is being viewed as the successor to Plan Colombia, through which the United States has provided $6.7 billion since 2000.

    With so much at stake here, the Center for International Policy — which has worked on Colombia policy since the late 1990s — resolved to take a closer look at Integrated Action. This year, we visited the two areas where the U.S. government is most generously supporting the Integrated Action model: the La Macarena zone in southern Colombia and the Montes de María zone near the Caribbean coast. We carried out more than 50 interviews and meetings with more than 150 subjects, from government authorities and military officers to massacre victims and peasant associations.

    We found a program that is an improvement over Plan Colombia: there has been learning from the mistakes of a U.S. aid program that, from 2000 to 2007, was 80 percent military and failed to coordinate security and governance. We conclude that the "Integrated Action" model should not be abandoned, which would do more harm than good.

    But Integrated Action is not there yet. This experiment could still go badly wrong. A predominantly military program could give the armed forces dominion over all aspects of governance and development. Failure to address land tenure could concentrate landholding in fewer hands. Continued herbicide fumigations and mass arrests could undermine the population's fragile trust in the government. Poor coordination between government bureaucracies could leave promises unfulfilled.

    We recommend several changes to the U.S.-supported approach. These must be implemented before Integrated Action can be considered a model for Afghanistan or anywhere else.

    The U.S. and Colombian governments must:

    • Civilianize the Integrated Action strategy as soon as security conditions allow it.
    • Coordinate cooperation between disparate government institutions, and give political clout to the civilian coordinators so that they can compel participation.
    • Consult with communities about every decision that affects them.
    • Work carefully with, and be prepared to say "no" to, local political and economic elites.
    • Act more quickly to resolve land tenure and property rights.
    • Quickly and transparently investigate and punish any allegations of abuse, corruption or predatory behavior.
    • Commit to sustainability by making clear that this effort is for the long haul.

    The Center for International Policy is proud to present these recommendations in After Plan Colombia, a new report from our Latin America Security Program. This 40-page, richly illustrated report explains how the U.S. and Colombian governments arrived at this model, explores its design, and narrates "what we saw and heard" on our field visits to the La Macarena and Montes de María zones.

    We expect our analysis to inform the lively debate about the future of U.S. policy toward Colombia, which is at a crossroads as the Obama administration reviews its approach. We also hope that After Plan Colombia may contribute to the debate over the U.S. role in Afghanistan — or anywhere else that we may be considering "civilian surges" into ungoverned areas.