Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

U.S.-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement

In July, Colombia's defense, interior and foreign relations ministers gave a press conference confirming that the United States was negotiating an agreement to establish U.S. military presence at seven military bases in Colombia. Immediately following the announcement, backlash erupted throughout the region and South American leaders voiced their concern to both the Uribe Administration in Colombia and the Obama Administration in the United States. In response to much of the criticism and concern, Colombian President Uribe said he would make the final text of the agreement public as soon as it was available.

After the agreement was signed last Friday, the Colombian State Council "found that the agreement gives the US the power to decide what operations will occur, gives immunity to US troops, allows access to bases beyond the 7 bases named in the agreement, and defers the most important questions about military operations to future 'operational agreements.'"

Yesterday, the Uribe government finally published the full text of the agreement. Below are excerpts from the text covering many of the Colombian State Council's concerns. The entire agreement can be read in English here and in Spanish here (PDF).

Article III: Goal of Cooperation and Technical Assistance in Defense and Security

1. ... the Parties agree to deepen their cooperation in areas such as interoperability, joint procedures, logistics and equipment, training and instruction, intelligence exchanges, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, combined exercises, and other mutually agreed activities, in order to address common threats to peace, stability, freedom, and democracy.

Article IV: Access, Use, and Ownership of Agreed Facilities and Locations

1. The Government of Colombia, consistent with its domestic law, shall cooperate with the United States to carry out mutually agreed activities within the framework of this Agreement by continuing to allow access to and use of its facilities at: ... (lists 7 bases); and by allowing access to and use of other facilities and locations as may be agreed by the Parties or their Executive Agents. To that end, the Executive Agents shall establish a coordinating mechanism that authorizes the number and category of the persons (United States personnel, United States contractors, United States contractor employees, and aircraft riders), and the type and quantity of equipment, so as not to exceed the capacity of the agreed facilities and locations.

2. The authorities of Colombia shall, without rental or similar costs to the United States, allow access to and use of the agreed facilities and locations, and easements and rights of way, owned by Colombia that are necessary to support activities carried out within the framework of this Agreement, including agreed construction. The United States shall cover all necessary operations and maintenance expenses associated with its use of agreed facilities and locations.

Article VII: Respect for Domestic Law

United States personnel and their dependents shall respect Colombian laws and shall abstain from any activity incompatible with such laws and this Agreement....

Article VIII: Status of Personnel

1. ... Colombia shall grant United States personnel and their dependents the privileges, exemptions, and immunities accorded to the administrative and technical staff of a diplomatic mission under the Vienna Convention.

2. With regard to Colombian military personnel present in the United States to carry out activities related to bilateral cooperation within the framework of this Agreement ... The United States shall extend to the aforementioned Colombian military personnel courtesies ordinarily available to United States military personnel of similar rank, to the maximum extent permitted by United States law.

5. The appropriate authorities of the United States shall give sympathetic consideration to a request for a waiver of immunity in cases that the authorities of Colombia consider to be of particular importance.

The description of the activities allowed within the terms of the agreement is broad - covering just about any threat or mission necessary during the ten-year span of the agreement. However, a Pentagon document released by the Colombian news magazine Semana gives more details on the motives behind the United States' desire to have a forward operating location at the Palanquero air base in Colombia, one of the seven bases included in the Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Below are some excerpts from the document, which is the budget justification for the Fiscal Year 2010 Military Construction Program submitted to Congress by the U.S. Air Force in May 2009. The entire document can be found here.

Mission of Major Functions: This Cooperative Security Location (CSL) enhances the U.S. Global Defense Posture (GDP) Strategy which directs development of a comprehensive and integrated presence and basing strategy aligned with the principles of developing nations....

...Development of this CSL provides a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in a critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters....

Current Situation: Access to Columbia will further its strategic partnership with the United States. The strong security cooperation relationship also offers an opportunity for conducting full spectrum operations throughout South America to include mitigating the Counternarcotics capability. Palanquero is unquestionably the best site for investing in infrastructure development within Columbia. its central location is within reach of Andean Ridge counter narco-terrorist operations areas; the superb runway and existing airfield facilities will reduce construction costs; its isolation maximizes Operational Security (OPSEC) and Force Protection and minimizes the U.S. military profile. The intent to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis and assure regional access and presence at a minimum cost....

Impact if not provided: ...Not funding this project will limit USSOUTHCOM to four other CSLs which are restricted to supporting aerial counter narcotics missions only and two other locations that, while not mission restricted, are too distant to accommodate mission requirements in the AOR.

...A presence will also increase our capability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), improve global reach, support logistics requirements, improve partnerships, improve theater security cooperation, and expand expeditionary warfare capability.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

U.S. response to Nicaragua's re-election ruling

On Monday, October 19th, the constitutional chamber of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court ruled to lift a ban on re-election by deeming it "unenforceable." The ruling opens the door for President Daniel Ortega to run for re-election in 2011 and was immediately condemned by Sandinista-government's opposition as an illegal political maneuvering intended to avoid having to get the vote for ending term limits approved by the national assembly and passed in a national referendum, both of which appeared unlikely, as indicated by Bloggings by Boz.

Confronted with increasing criticism about the ruling, President Ortega announced that the ruling "is unappealable" and "written in stone," and encouraged his critics to relax and prepare to run against him in the 2011 presidential elections.

Since the ruling, however, the United States Department of State, U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Robert Callahan, and Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have joined in expressing concern about the recent ruling. Their statements have led to protests outside the U.S. Embassy in Managua and calls for the U.S. ambassador to be expelled. As the Miami Herald reports, "For Sandinistas here (in Nicaragua), the comments by the U.S. ambassador are part of the United States' legacy of continual interventionist policies toward Nicaragua. During the first Sandinista government of the 1980s, the United States funneled money to the contras, who fought to overthrow the leftist regime."

The Nicaraguan government has not indicated that they will expel the U.S. ambassador, though President Ortega quickly blamed Ambassador Callahan and the State Department for instigating the attacks on the U.S. Embassy, stating that "It was not us who started this polemic that led to protests in the country. It was them (the United States) who started it with the statement in Washington and the discourse of the Ambassador in Managua."

Below are excerpts of the statements made by the the U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Callahan, and Senator Kerry.

On October 22nd, the United States Department of State issued a statement expressing concern about the situation in Nicaragua:

We share the concern of many Nicaraguans that this situation is part of a larger pattern of questionable and irregular governmental actions, beginning before the flawed municipal elections of November 2008, that threatens to undermine the foundations of Nicaraguan democracy and calls into question the Nicaraguan government's commitment to uphold the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The ruling appears to short circuit, through legal maneuverings, the open and transparent consideration by the Nicaraguan people of the possibility for presidential re-election.

As we approach the first anniversary of the November 2008 municipal elections, it is important to note that decisions that have such a profound impact on democratic governance should be taken in a manner that fosters a sense of legitimacy and ownership among those who are governed. Attempts to short circuit constitutional authority, regardless of ideology or country, threaten democratic governance and are of concern to all members of the Organization of American States.

The United States' ambassador to Nicaragua, Robert Callahan, told a group of businessmen that "From our point of view, the Supreme Court acted improperly and with unusual speed, in secret, with the participation of judges from only one political movement and without any public debate or discussion."

In response to the protests outside the U.S. Embassy, Ambassador Callahan announced that he will not leave Managua, despite calls for him to be expelled. "I am staying here to continue my functions as the U.S. Ambassador," he said. He also noted that "no one has the right to attack an embassy; an embassy is sovereign territory of another country and the protests were violent... Protest yes, but please, peacefully."

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also condemned the recent ruling by the Nicaraguan Supreme Court and compared President Ortega to the leaders of the de facto government in Honduras:

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's manipulation of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court this week to circumvent constitutional limits on his term in office reeks of the authoritarianism of the past. Coming on the heels of universally condemned municipal elections last year, his power grab deepens a crisis that Nicaragua can ill afford.

Nicaragua and Honduras are obviously different, but unconstitutional actions are unacceptable anywhere. President Ortega appears to be following the cues of the coup-plotters in Honduras, where the president of the Congress and the military have manipulated the Supreme Court to rationalize a coup d'etat, resist the restoration of democracy, and impose martial law repression.

Friday, October 30, 2009

An accord in Honduras, a very different accord in Colombia

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the acting president who deposed him in a June coup, Roberto Micheletti, arrived at an agreement last night to restore Zelaya to the presidency. Zelaya would complete his term under a power-sharing agreement, the product of a U.S. and OAS diplomatic offensive. The agreement still needs to be approved by the Honduran Congress, most of whose members supported the coup in the first place.

  • Acting President Micheletti announces the accord and lays out its main points (text / video).
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton applauds the "breakthrough." (text)
  • OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza lauds the accord as "a moment of great satisfaction." (text)
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is "encouraged." (text)

In a private ceremony this morning, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield and Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez signed the “Complementary agreement for cooperation and technical assistance in defense and security,” which formalizes a U.S. presence at seven Colombian military bases for ten years. We still do not know what else is in this agreement, which was negotiated in secret and will not require the approval of either country’s Congress, though in the United States it will be shared with both houses’ foreign relations committees before it goes into effect. (We will add a link to the agreement once we obtain a copy.)

  • Declaration from the Colombian Presidency (text - English and Spanish)
  • The U.S. embassy in Bogotá says "this Agreement is a natural part of our relationship." (text)
  • The U.S. embassy has produced a new "fact sheet" about the agreement, but it is only just over a page long. (PDF)
  • Here is a video of officials signing the accord:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New: Just the Facts' email lists

Just the Facts has added a new feature. You can now sign up for one or more of our five new lists and we'll send important, Latin-America relevant information directly to your email inbox.

When you sign up, you can subscribe to any of the following lists:

  • Top News Links: Every day, we will email you links to the day's top news stories relevant to Latin America from both English and Spanish-language sources.
  • Blog Posts: When a new blog entry is posted here, we will email you the text and a link to the post.
  • Upcoming Events: At the beginning of every week, we will email you a list of the week's events, including public events, hearings, policy events, and due dates of official U.S. government reports.
  • U.S. Government Statements and Reports: Every week, will send you an email with links to the latest official statements on Latin America and the Caribbean made by Obama Administration officials and members of the U.S. Congress. This email will also include links to official reports that were either released by the government or obtained by us during the previous week.
  • New and Updated Legislation: While Congress is in session, we will email you weekly updates on Latin-America relevant legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with links to new or changed bills and resolutions.

It is easy to sign up. Just click here, fill out the form (we only require your email address), and subscribe to any of the offered lists.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Upcoming elections in Latin America

(This post was researched and written by CIP Intern Hannah Brodlie.)

Over the next twelve months presidential elections will take place in Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Honduras, Costa Rica and Brazil.

  • In Uruguay the first round of legislative and presidential elections were held last Sunday. While the governing center-left Frente Amplio’s candidate, Jose Mujica, a former Tupamaro guerrilla, received a majority 47 percent of the vote, it was not the outright majority necessary to avoid a runnoff against former president Luis Lacalle, who received 28.5 percent. Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party got just 17 percent, and immediately endorsed Lacalle, in an effort to avoid a Mujica victory at the runnoff, which will be held on November 29. The winner will take office on March 1, 2010.
  • Chile is facing a three-way race between opposition conservative Sebastian Pinera, Eduardo Frei, the governing center-left Concertación candidate, and Marco Enriquez-Ominami, a 36 year old congressman and film producer. Enriquez-Ominami split from the governing Concertación coalition to run as an independent and is gaining in the polls. There are a total of four candidates on the ballot; the top two will end a run-off election if none wins an outright majority. The first round of voting is December 13. A poll by the Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporanea (CERC) shows Enriquez-Ominami with 20 percent of the vote, and Pinera leading with 41 percent. The results confirm the likelihood of a tie between Frei and Enriquez-Ominami in the first round of voting. Reuters offers descriptions of each candidate’s positions.
  • In Brazil, the presidential race remains steady, according to a September Sensus poll, with Jose Serra, Sao Paulo state governor and senior member of the opposition PSDB, at 40%, Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s chief of staff and chosen successor, at 19%, and everyone else under 10%, in a runoff scenario. In the hypothetical runoff, Bloggings by Boz notes, Serra would beat Rousseff 50% to 25%, with a quarter remaining undecided or not voting.
    Some analysts have suggested that the Dilma’s fall in popularity is due to recent scandals surrounding the Lula administrations. Lula has dropped a few points in the polls, but he still enjoys a high approval rating of 76.8 percent (down from 81.5 percent). In addition, Dilma underwent chemotherapy for lymphoma earlier this year, however her doctor announced in September that she has beaten the cancer and is in excellent health.
  • In Bolivia, president Evo Morales will likely be re-elected on December 6, according to a recent poll by Equipos MORI. 46 percent of respondents said they would vote for Morales, 16 percent for former Cochabamba mayor Manfred Reyes Villa of the New Republican Force (NRF), and 8 percent for Samuel Doria Medina of the National Unity Front (FUN). A quarter of respondents were undecided. Bolivia’s first indigenous President and former coca-grower, Morales was elected in December 2005 as the candidate for Movement to Socialism (MAS).
  • President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe, popular for his hardline security policies, has still yet to announce formally whether he intends to run for a third term next year. Colombia's Constitutional Court approved a referendum on whether to amend the constitution to allow Uribe to run again. However, they will not likely rule on the legality of the bid, clearing him to run, until early next year. Electoral authorities say they need at least two months to organize the re-election referendum, which means that the referendum could take place concurrently with March 2010 legislative voting, only two months before the presidential poll. The president's approval rating is 78 percent, and an Ipsos poll suggests that he would win if the election were held today. In a referendum vote, 65% say they would turn out and of those, 88% say they would vote in favor of allowing reelection.
    The Colombian newsmagazine Semana recently published a poll of candidate preferences, both with and without Uribe in the running. According the poll, in an election without Uribe, the top three candidates are (in order of popularity) Juan Manuel Santos, Andres Felipe Arias and Gustavo Petro. The first two have served in Uribe's cabinet; the third is the nominee of the country's main leftist opposition party. In a scenario in which Uribe does run - in which case Santos and Arias would not - the current president wins by a landslide; the distant runners-up are Gustavo Petro, Liberal Party nominee Rafael Pardo and Conservative Party politician Noemí Sanin.
  • In Venezuela, legislative elections are scheduled for December 2010. The opposition has tried to present a united front, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, and decided not to boycott this year’s elections as they did in 2005, resulting in a legislature almost totally controlled by President Chávez's supporters since then. They believe that due to Chavez’s recent decrease in popularity, documented by a number of polls, they can win a majority. Both the opposition and Chávez have mentioned the posssibility of moving up the election date to earlier in the year. 
  • Elections in Honduras remain uncertain. The Micheletti regime, which took power in a June 28 coup, insists it will hold presidential and legislative elections on November 29, as planned. However, the international community will not recognize the results of the elections unless deposed president Manuel Zelaya is reinstated. However, according to a CID-Gallup poll, if elections were held today, Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the National Party would be elected president with 59 percent of the vote. Lobo is 16 points ahead of his competition, Elvin Santos of the Liberal Party, and Zelaya’s former vice president. While both Zelaya and Santos are from the same party, Santos has distanced himself from the deposed president since the coup.
  • Elections will be held in Costa Rica in February. Laura Chinchilla, former vice president and candidate for the governing Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN), is indisputably in the lead with 43 percent of voter support, according to a poll published by La República in August. Otton Solis, founder of the Partido de Accion Ciudadana and known for his opposition to the free-trade agreement with the U.S. that current president Oscar Arias helped push through, is at 26 percent. According to the same La República poll, 72 percent of voters support the idea of a female president, a slight increase from April.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colombian Defense Minister Silva in Washington

Gabriel Silva just concluded his first official visit to Washington as the Colombian Minister of Defense, after assuming the post in August of this year. Defense Minister Silva replaced Juan Manuel Santos, who resigned in order to run for president in the 2010 elections if President Uribe does not run for reelection.

During his two days in Washington, Silva met with various high ranking Obama administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor James Jones, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and interim Director of the DEA Michelle Leonhart. Cooperation between the United States and Colombia on counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts was high on the agenda of the majority of Silva's meetings in Washington, though the details of his visit were not highly publicized.

After his meeting with Defense Secretary Gates, Silva reported that during the meeting "we carried out an analysis of the evolution of narcotrafficking and terrorism, as the most relevant topics for a regional security agenda. We also discussed programs and initiatives that allow us to be more efficient in the fight against these criminal manifestations."

After leaving Washington today, Defense Minister Silva will travel to Florida where he will visit the U.S. Special Operations Command, Southern Command, and the Interagency Working Group.

While Silva was in Washington, Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaime Bermúdez announced that the U.S.-Colombian military deal, which has led to concerns throughout the region, could be signed without first passing through the Colombian Congress for approval. This announcement goes against the recommendation made last week by the Colombian Council of State, which concluded that the military base deal goes beyond a simple addition to preexisting agreements and therefore must be ratified by Congress and then passed by the Constitutional Court.

However, the government came to the conclusion that the military deal is a simple agreement and therefore does not need to be ratified by Congress or the Constitutional Court. "We are convinced that it complies with all the requirements, and that there is no need to take it to Congress," said Bermúdez. This seemed to be confirmed in a press conference today in Washington, where Defense Minister Silva said the U.S. military deal could be signed in Bogotá on Friday. However, El Tiempo reports that President Uribe must ultimately decide if the agreement goes through Congress, a process which could take months, or not.

On a side note, over the weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said Defense Minister Silva must be "mentally retarded" after he accused Venezuela of failing to tackle the high traffic of drug flights taking off from Venezuelan territory.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

SALITRE II military exercises underway in Chile

This post is written by WOLA Intern Ursela Groat

The SALITRE II Chilean air force-led joint military exercises began their fifth year this week at the Cerro Moreno Air Base in Chile. Members of the Argentinean, Brazilian, French and United States air forces will also participate in the exercises. From October 17 - November 2, the coalition forces will plan and execute operations that simulate a situation where "an international coalition, under the mandate of the United Nations, carries out combined air operations to force a country that has violated international law to respect world order," according to the Salitre II website.

Over a two week period, the participating air forces will simulate multiple scenarios, as described by the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) in a press release:

During one scenario, rescue personnel will secure an airfield and tend to patients as part of a unified team. This type of response is vital to ensure countries are able to respond to situations with their own military and law enforcement resources. Simulated peacekeeping operations will prepare participants to support UN-type coalition operations, such as global peacekeeping and stability missions, enforcing no-fly zones or patrolling for pirates. Non-combatant evacuation operations simulated during SALITRE II will prepare nations to support civilian authorities after earthquakes, floods or hurricanes.

The Salitre exercises, which began in 2004, are one of the few joint military exercises in Latin America in which the United States participates that are not coordinated by the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Each year, SOUTHCOM sponsors joint training exercises with other Latin American countries to "increase the capabilities of both the U.S. military and our partner nation's security forces" in areas such as counterterrorism, disaster relief, peacekeeping and security preparedness. Two of the biggest exercises sponsored each year by SOUTHCOM are TRADEWINDS, a multinational maritime exercise in the Caribbean, and PANAMAX, a simulation focusing on the defense of the Panama Canal.

As explained by Bloggings by Boz, border tensions between Chile and Peru and a painful history between the two countries led Peru to call for Salitre II to be canceled. Tensions between the two countries go back to the late 19th century when Chile defeated Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific, but escalated recently when Peru asked the International Court of Justice to arbitrate the disputed maritime border between the states.

Shortly after Chile announced this year’s exercise, the Peruvian government denounced it, with Peruvian Vice President Luis Giampietri saying that the exercises were the Chileans way of "showing their teeth." Peru has also called for the formation of a non-aggression pact as a response to counter what it calls the arms race in Latin America. Chilean President Michele Bachtlet, for her part, responded to Garcia's call for a non-aggression pact negatively, saying it was an idea of "another time."

The SALITRE II exercises will continue through the end of the month.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Violent crime increases throughout Latin America

In the past month, reports of worsening violence throughout Latin America have almost become a daily occurrence. Last week, we wrote about the increasing violence in El Salvador and we have have reported on the increasing drug-related violence in Mexico various times. However, countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Panama and Colombia are also reporting a worrisome increase in violent crime in 2009.

Below are summaries of recent reports of increasing violence throughout the region.

  • Today, another report emerged indicating that drug-related murders in Mexico have surpassed 2,000 in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua in 2009 alone. For perspective, the article compares this violence to New York City - which has more than 5 times the population of Ciudad Juárez - where police project the murder rate to total 457 in all of 2009.
  • In Argentina, a September editorial in La Nacion wrote that crime has been escalating to a point that it has almost become a daily part of life. "An increasing criminality is slamming the whole country, especially in the big cities. In effect, day to day, crimes of distinct characteristics and intensity take place, as if the atrocities have become something normal in the community's life." Later in the week, the same editorial board wrote that new proof indicates that the police, politicians and judges had been infiltrated by narcotraffickers and corruption.

    Yesterday, an editorial in Clarín's covered the continuing problem of insecurity in the Argentina and called on the government to do more to improve public security, including addressing the problem of corruption within the police force. "In the past few weeks a series of grave crimes took place. The information about the topic is scarce and fragmented. The crimes and the lack of adequate responses generate insecurity."

  • Over the first weekend of October, 56 people were killed in Venezuela's capital, Caracas.

    The country has recently been deemed one of the most dangerous countries on the continent. A recent report by the Research Institute on Coexistence and Citizen Security (Incosec) in Caracas indicates that one person dies every 9 minutes from violence in the country, with a 29% increase in violent crime in 2009 in comparison to 2008. Another report by the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence (OVV) found Venezuela to be the second most violent country in the region, after El Salvador. While a third report by the Citizen's Council for Public Security in Mexico found Caracas to be the second most violent capital in the world, after Ciudad Juárez but before Baghdad.

    As in Argentina, a large number of criminal cases in Venezuela involved members of the police. Yesterday, Venezuela's Interior Minister, Tarek El-Aissami, admitted that "police in Venezuela are involved in 20% of all crimes committed in the country." As a result, President Hugo Chavez has announced that a national police force will be created to consolidate the 144 different police agencies that currently operate in Venezuela.

  • Prior to winning the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil rejected claims that security in the country's capital, Rio de Janeiro, would be a problem. Two weeks after the country was chosen to host the event, "14 people died in a weekend of violence in Rio de Janeiro, including two policemen who were killed when their helicopter was brought down by warring drug gangs." The violent weekend led Brazilian President Lula da Silva to promise to deploy federal police and allocate $60 million in aid to Rio de Janeiro. Since the weekend, 19 more violent deaths have occurred, and 10 buses were burned as a result of increasing gang violence.
  • Colombia's "once infamous home to the world's biggest cocaine cartel," Medellín, is also experiencing alarming increases in violent crime and murders. According to Reuters, the murder rate so far this year is more than double that of the same period in 2008 - with 1,500 murders so far in 2009.
  • In Central America, the situation is not better. A recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) finds that Central America is the most crime-ridden region in the world, with 33 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008. This rate is over three times the global average.

    The report breaks down the murder rates in each Central American country for 2008, with Honduras leading with 58 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by El Salvador with 52 and Guatemala with 48. Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica had less than 20 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, although Costa Rica, with only 11, still is 2 murders above the global average.

  • Even countries such as Panama are reporting increases in criminal activity, as drug-related violence spreads south beyond Guatemala and Honduras. Samuel Logan and John P. Sullivan wrote for ISN Security Watch that in 2009 "extreme violence is also on an upswing" in Panama as the country becomes "de facto passageways, warehouses and money laundering fronts for both Mexican and Colombian organized crime."
  • Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Foreign Military Sales in 2008

    Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists' Arms Sales Monitoring Program, we now have data about weapons and equipment that the U.S. government sold to the rest of the world through the Foreign Military Sales program in 2008.

    Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is one of two programs through which military equipment is sold from the United States to the rest of the world. FMS is the means through which the U.S. government sells items directly to other governments. U.S. corporations can sell directly to other governments as well; those sales are licensed by another program, Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). While DCS data every year is usually available before FMS data, the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs has not posted the FY 2008 information for DCS on their website yet.

    The United States sold $242,771,000 in military equipment to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2008, down 38.5% from the 2006 high, when Chile purchased multiple high-tech F-16 fighter planes. Colombia remains the highest purchaser even though its total decreased almost 46% from its 2007 purchases, with $125,639,000 in equipment purchased in 2008 (50% of the region's 2008 total) compared to $231,384,000 in 2007. Brazil is a distant second with $52,456,000 in purchases in 2008, half of that amount going to the purchase of two Black Hawk helicopters.

    Below is a graph of how FMS deliveries to the region have fluctuated between 1996 and 2008.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Update 12: Honduras

    Negotiations in Honduras have reached another standstill, as the 6th point of the San José Accord - Zelaya's return to the presidency - remains the major sticking factor. On Monday evening, both ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti said they are open to new proposals and that negotiations have not failed, yet they both have repeatedly rejected any proposal offered by the other side.

    Last week, Zelaya set a deadline for negotiations to end on October 15th, or risk a delay in the planned November 29th elections. October 15th passed with no agreement. Since then, the deadline has been extended at least three times: first to Friday October 16th at noon, then to 4:00 pm on Friday, and then to Monday evening.

    Here is an overview of the past week's events in Honduras. All of our previous updates on Honduras can be found here.

  • Last Wednesday, reports emerged claiming that negotiators had reached an agreement on wording regarding the return of Zelaya to the presidency. The only step remaining was to run the new wording by Zelaya and Micheletti for approval. Micheletti rejected the text, and restated his view that "The 29th of November, no one, absolutely no human being, will be able to stop the elections in this country. They will be free and transparent. Here the anger, we won't permit it, nothing from nobody."
  • Last Friday at 4:00 pm, which was the third deadline offered by Zelaya, the Micheletti delegation made their "final" offer to Zelaya. Micheletti's delegation proposed that the Supreme Court decide the issue of restitution, stating "As for the pretense of citizen José Manuel Zelaya Rosales to return to the Presidency of the Republic, we condition our accord on the institutional criteria of the Supreme Court of Justice, as the entity constitutionally charged with the application of the law."

    In response, Zelaya suggested that Congress, not the Supreme Court, decide on the agreement: "We respectfully solicit the National Congress that, following the opinion of the pertinent instances, including the Supreme Court of Justice, if it considers it necessary, emits the corresponding decision to this point of the proposal of the San José Accord."

    Neither delegation agreed to the other's proposal, and the deadline to reach an agreement was extended again by the Zelaya delegation, giving Micheletti the weekend to decide whether to accept his proposal. A representative of Zelaya said on Friday that if no agreement was reached by Monday, "then the dialogue is broken."

  • Late Monday, the Micheletti negotiators offered a new proposal: to wait for reports from the Congress and the Supreme Court to be published before taking up the question of Zelaya's return to the presidency. Following the trend that has emerged throughout the negotiation process, Zelaya immediately rejected this proposal, calling it "insulting". Both parties declared talks suspended once again, but stated they would remain open to new proposals.
  • Also on Monday, Micheletti repealed the decree that restricted constitutional freedoms, including curbs on protests and opposition media. As a result, Radio Globo, one of the media outlets shut down after the enactment of the decree, returned to the airwaves.
  • Former Secretary of State James Baker had an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for people to "stop looking backward" and instead to "look forward" to the November 29th elections and a compromise between Zelaya and Micheletti. He ends the op-ed, writing "The United States should embrace this realistic compromise and announce its support for the pending election in order to persuade the parties in Honduras and the countries of the Organization of American States to do the same. And as it advocates international recognition of the results of the election, the United States should, of course, do everything possible to help ensure that it is free and fair."
  • Time's Tim Padgett had an article on Friday suggesting that the United States may be changing its position on the November 29th elections. Padgett writes that "there are growing signs that the U.S. may be willing to abandon that condition. A number of well-placed sources in Honduras and the U.S. tell TIME that officials in the State Department and the U.S.'s OAS delegation have informed them that the Obama Administration is mulling ways to legitimize the election should talks fail to restore Zelaya in time."
  • At the State Department's daily press briefing today, spokesman Ian Kelly said, "We just urge the two sides to stick to it, and we urge the de facto regime in particular to help open a pathway for international support of the election by concluding the agreement. We believe that an agreement is – could lead to elections that are internationally recognized, and is ultimately the way out of this crisis."
  • At the end of last week, at the meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for Peoples of Our America (ALBA) in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the organization's members discussed the possibility of imposing an economic embargo/blockade on Honduras. However, by the end of the meeting, the organization's declaration only expressed support for democracy in Honduras and recognized ousted President Manuel Zelaya as the legitimate leader of the country.
  • A Reuters article reported last week that human rights groups have linked "at least 10 deaths to de facto rule under Roberto Micheletti." The article continued to cite reports of beatings by soldiers, police using tear gas to disperse protesters, and threats being sent via text message to pro-Zelaya activists.

    A delegation from the Organization of American States went to Honduras yesterday to look into the reports of possible human rights violations since the June 28th coup d'etat. According to AFP, the delegation will spend two weeks in the country investigating the claims and speaking with members of both the de facto government and the groups opposing the coup.