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Friday, October 16, 2009

Insecurity in El Salvador

On this blog, we have covered the high drug-related murder rate in Mexico multiple times, yet a much smaller Central American country is currently faced with a higher murder rate than Mexico, with no slowing in sight.

In the first eleven days of October, El Salvador, with a population of 7 million, counted 178 murders - almost 16 murders per day. From January to September 27, 2009, there were 3,177 murders, just two shy of the 2008 total. This alarmingly high murder rate has created a debate in El Salvador on how to address the security problem, which largely stems from increasing urban gang violence and an overwhelmed police force. One estimate
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that there are over 25,000 gang members on the streets in El Salvador, with 5,000 more in jails.

The proposal on the table currently is to allow almost half of the Armed Forces to carry out public security duties in an effort to reinforce the overextended National Police. The Catholic Church has backed this proposal, calling for the Armed Forces to take part in the fight against the violence that is taking over El Salvador. The Armed Forces have readied 6,500 soldiers to reinforce combat against delinquency and violence, however, they can not be deployed until President Mauricio Funes accepts a proposal that will be presented to him at the beginning of next week.

Under the Salvadoran Constitution, the Armed Forces cannot carry out the duties of the National Police. However, Article 168, number 12 of the Constitution indicates that "the President can make exceptional use of the Armed Forces if all ordinary measures to maintain internal peace, tranquility and public security have been exhausted." President Mauricio Funes, whose FMLN political party was a guerrilla insurgency that fought El Salvador's armed forces in the 1980s, appears to support reinforcing the police with army troops. In reference to a Central American University proposal suggesting the need to deploy half of the Armed Forces to the police force, Funes responded that, "We would have to try it, or at least some module of it."

If President Funes does decide to deploy the Armed Forces to perform public security functions in support of the National Police, the military will be charged with training the soldiers to confront the current crime wave. Salvadoran Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés has reassured the public that the military has the capacity to submit its members to an intensive training in police duties. "We believe that with the course we offer, which can last between 15 days and 2 months, we could have our officers, superiors, subofficials, and troop personnel trained to carry out the mission in a better way," he said.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2010 Defense Authorization nears passage

Here are some notes on relevant sections of the recently enacted 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, compiled by Senior Fellow George Withers at the Washington Office on Latin America. This bill establishes or renews legal authority for programs that provide about one-quarter of all U.S. assistance to the Western Hemisphere's security forces.

A House-Senate Conference Committee finalized its report (111-288) on the 2010 Defense Autorization bill (H.R. 2647) on Wednesday, October 7th, and sent it to the House floor on the 8th, where it was adopted. The Senate is expected to approve it soon.

Items in the bill of import for Latin American security are as follows:

4 of the 10 sections in Title XII, Matters Relating to Foreign Nations, are of interest.

  • Section 1201 - Reauthorizing "Section 1207" transfers to the State Department for economic and social development assistance. Authorizes a one-year extension of authority for the security and stabilization assistance authorities originally set forth in the NDAA FY06 bill, known as "1207 authorities" or "security and stabilization assistance." Of particular interest beyond the bill language is the Statement of Managers language, which reads, in part, "[T]he conferees reaffirm that Congress has always intended for this transfer of authority to be temporary and are disappointed that the Department of State has not yet achieved the capacity to fulfill its statutory requirements. The conferees urge the administration to work toward this goal as rapidly as possible."
  • Section 1203 - Annual Report on Foreign Assistance. Makes permanent the earlier requirement that the Department of Defense provide an annual report on foreign-assistance related programs carried out by the Department of Defense. The section also added the humanitarian and civil assistance provided through the Combatant Commander's Initiative Fund as an authority subject to the reporting requirement.
  • Section 1204 - State and Defense Authorities Report. Requires a report from the President by March, 2010, on the relationship between security cooperation authorities of the Department of Defense and the security assistance authroities of the Department of State to train, equip or otherwise build the capacity of foreign nations, and to address the distinctions between the authorities. It is another "strengths and weaknesses" report very much like the 1206(f) report in the original NDAA FY06 language, asking for recommendations on whatever changes may be needed to make the authorities more efficient.

    Depending on how such a report is written and implemented, this could have a dramatic impact on either further blurring the lines between State and Defense, or it could finally begin the process of returning these foreign policy authorities to State.

  • Section 1206 - Reauthorizing the "Section 1206" program allowing use of Defense budget funds to train and equip foreign militaries. Reauthorizes the original 1206 authorities and makes a minor modification which would limit the amount that could be spent in countries in which the U.S. military is active (essentially Iraq and Afghanistan) to $75 million per year.

Also of interest in Title X, General Provisions:

  • Section 1083 - Release of Names of WHINSEC Students and Trainers. Requires the Secretary of Defense to release to the public, upon request, the names of the students and instructors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). It includes a provision under which the Secretary may waive the requirement if it is determined to be in the national interest.
  • Section 1084 - Sense of Congress Endorsing WHINSEC. The Section 1083 requirement to release names is followed by Section 1084 which is another Sense of Congress endorsement of WHINSEC, noting among other things, that it "promotes democracy, subordination to civilian authority, and respect for human rights," and that it "is an essential tool to educate future generations of Latin American leaders."

Also of interest in Title XXVIII, Military Construction General Provisions:

  • Section 2873 - Conditions on establishment of Palanquero Base in Colombia. Requires a notice-and-wait period of 15 days after the Secretary of Defense certifies to the congressional defense committees that an agreement with Colombia has been reached that allows U.S. military access to the base for the duration of the agreement "to carry out mutually agreed-upon activities." It also prohibits the establishment of a U.S. military installation or base for the permanent stationing of U.S. armed forces in Colombia.

    The Statement of Managers section describes having adopted the House bill provision which makes reference to a requirement that "[A]n agreement has been entered into with the government of Colombia that will enable the United States Southern Command to execute its Theater Posture Strategy in cooperation with the armed forces of Colombia."

    The actual $46 million authorized is found in the Air Force construction tables, in Section 2301.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Missing State and Defense Department reports from 2008

Every year, the State Department and the Defense Department are required by Congress to submit various reports on issues of relevance to specific committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Many of these reports are published as unclassified and available to the public via the Freedom of Information Act.

Just the Facts' staff have spent over a year trying to collect all of the reports due in 2008. When we acquire a specific report, we upload the document to this website, or point you to the appropriate site on the Internet where it can be found. However, our search for some required reports has led us to many dead ends, and despite the submission of multiple FOIAs and calls to relevant offices in the DOS and DOD, it is still unclear whether some of the reports were ever written, let alone submitted to the appropriate committees.

In addition to the missing 2008 reports listed below, two reports due in 2009 are already considered to be extremely late: the Foreign Military Training Report, due on March 1, 2009, and the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Program and Budget Guide for FY 2010, to be submitted to Congress for use in writing the FY 2010 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill.

Below is the list of reports due in 2008 that we are still missing, accompanied by any information regarding the dates we submitted FOIAs on each report and any additional measures we have taken.

Report: Defense Contractors in Colombia
Description: By April 1 of each year, the Secretary of State must submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report with the identities and duties of contractors hired to carry out military and police-related duties in Colombia, including providing aid. The report's requirements are detailed in section 694(b) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107-228).
FOIAs Submitted: June 17, 2008 (for FY 2007 report); July 27, 2009 (for FY 2007 and 2008 reports)
Report Due: FY 2007 report: April 1, 2008; FY 2008 report: April 1, 2009
Other Contact: On June 16, 2009 we contacted the State Department's Colombia Desk, which resulted in a response verifying that the FY 2008 report was submitted to the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees and the Appropriations Committees on May 4, 2008, but that the State Department could not share it with us, as it is up to Congress to release the report to the public. A call to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee resulted in a contradictory response that the reports are "originator controlled," meaning the State Department must release the report to the public.

Report: Counternarcotics Assistance for the Government of Haiti
Description: Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to Congress a report on counternarcotics assistance for the Government of Haiti. This report is required by Section 1023 of the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 110-181), which became law on January 28, 2008.
Report Due: May 28, 2009
FOIAs Submitted: October 15, 2008; August 3, 2009
Other Contact: Emailed the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Report: Colombia Aid Strategy
Description: The Secretary of State must submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations on the future, multiyear strategy of the United States assistance program to Colombia. The strategy should include all aspects of current and future United States assistance. This report is required by House Report 110-197: "House Appropriations Committee report in explanation of H.R. 2764, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes," a non-binding report by a House committee, June 18, 2007.
Report Due: February 26, 2008
FOIA Submitted: June 23, 2008
Other Contact: Called the USAID desk officer, who said there was a hiccup in the budget and the report was not completed yet.

Report: International Military Education and Training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Description: The Department of State must submit a report to the Appropriations Committees on how the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (a.k.a. School of the Americas) IMET program for fiscal year 2008 contributes to the promotion of human rights, respect for civilian authority and the rule of law, establishment of legitimate judicial mechanisms for the military, and the goal of right sizing military forces. This report is required by the Conference Committee Report on H.R. 2764 / Public Law 110-161: Division J - Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs appropriations," a non-binding report by a House-Senate Conference Committee, December 17, 2007.
Report Due: February 26, 2008
FOIA Submitted: June 30, 2008
Other Contact: Contacted the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department in July 2009.

Report: Interagency Interdiction Efforts
Description: the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the Department of State must report to the Committees on Appropriations on the use of aerial assets to include fixed and rotary wing aircraft in coordination with and in support of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) counternarcotics operations in Colombia and Afghanistan. This report is required by House Report 110-197: "House Appropriations Committee report in explanation of H.R. 2764, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes," a non-binding report by a House committee, June 18, 2007.
Report Due: February 11, 2008
FOIA Submitted: August 4, 2008
Other Contact: Called the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Bureau at State - they were unaware of such reporting requirement.

Report: Anti-Gang Activities in Central America
Description: The Department of State and USAID are recommended to report to the House Appropriations Committee on the steps taken by their agencies that will reduce criminal gang activity in Central America and have an immediate impact of the daily lives of those citizens, especially the poor, who are the most frequent victims of violent crime. This report is recommended by House Report 110-197: "House Appropriations Committee report in explanation of H.R. 2764, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes," a non-binding report by a House committee, June 18, 2007.
Report Due: March 25, 2008
FOIA Submitted: September 2, 2008
Other Contact: Called USAID, transferred to Merida Program division of USAID. Three voice mails left in July 2009, no response.

Report: Police Aid for Gender-Based Violence
Description: The Secretary of State must report to the Committees on Appropriations on efforts to provide United States assistance to foreign police to address gender-based violence. This report should include: (1) an overview of all the Department's efforts to develop and provide such assistance to foreign police on gender-based violence; (2) information on the curriculum/training developed to provide or incorporate into said assistance; (3) the specific types of United States assistance provided to foreign police forces; (4) the number of countries/security forces that have received training and the cost of these trainings; and (5) the challenges encountered in pursuing this policy. This report is required by House Report 110-197
Report Due: March 1, 2008
FOIA Submitted: September 15, 2008
Other Contact: Called the Office of Civilian Police and Rule of Law at the Department of State. We were told the report exists, but it has not been uploaded to the website yet.

Report: U.S. Presence in Colombia
Description: Beginning within 90 days of the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 60 days thereafter, the President shall submit a report to Congress that shall include the aggregate number, locations, activities, and lengths of assignment for all temporary and permanent United States military personnel and United States individual civilians retained as contractors involved in the antinarcotics campaign in Colombia. This report is required by Section 3204(f), Title III, Chapter 2 of the Military Construction Appropriations Act, FY 2001.
Report Due: Every 60 days
FOIA Submitted: August 25, 2008
Other Contact: Contacted staff at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; and DOD political military affairs.

Report: Semi-Annual Andean Counterdrug Initiative Report
Description: The Committee requests that USAID submit to the Committees on Appropriations a semi-annual report with respect to the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, including those funds for Colombia in ESF and INCLE. Each report shall include an accounting of all aircraft, vehicles, boats and lethal equipment (other than ammunition) transferred to the militaries or police of any nation with funds made available under this heading. This report is required by House Report 110-197 "House Appropriations Committee report in explanation of H.R. 2764, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes," a non-binding report by a House committee, June 18, 2007.
Report Due: Semi-annual report.
FOIA Submitted: September 22, 2008

We have been told the following reports were submitted as "classified" documents. While we don't expect to receive the entire report, we still have not received any sort of response from the State Department FOIA office beyond the generic "confirmation letter."

Report: Para-politics in Colombia
Description: The Secretary of State must report to the Committees on Appropriations on the veracity of allegations that the Uribe government may be implicated in links between militias and top military, police and ministry officials. Understanding the contents of such a report may include sensitive or classified information, the Department of State may submit the report to the Committee in the form of a classified report. This report is required by House Report 110-197: "House Appropriations Committee report in explanation of H.R. 2764, making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes," a non-binding report by a House committee, June 18, 2007.
Report Due: February 11, 2008
FOIA Submitted: July 7, 2008
Other Contact: The Colombia desk officer at the State Department told us this report had been submitted as "classified."

Report: Combatant Commanders' Initiative Fund
Description: The committee directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the House Committee on Armed Services on the guidance and procedures in place at the Department of Defense to implement that Combatant Commanders Initiative Fund authority. In addition to describing the bureaucratic processes, this report shall also identify the activities conducted under this authority during fiscal years 2006 and 2007, the political-military and military objectives of those activities, and any related future activities that may build upon those activities. This report is required by House Report 110-146.
Report Due: February 1, 2008
FOIA Submitted: July 8, 2008
Other Contact: Called DOD Congressional Reporting Requirements office. We were told this report has been completed and was submitted as "classified."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Update 11: Honduras

Last Wednesday, the Organization of American States led a delegation of top officials to Honduras to commence a dialogue between the de facto Micheletti government and ousted President Manuel Zelaya. One day later, the OAS top officials, including U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, left Honduras. While reports did not indicate a breakthrough in negotiations, the members of the delegation characterized their visit as "a positive step even though the rivals appeared as far apart as ever."

Over the weekend, Micheletti announced a new decree that threatens broadcasters with closure for airing reports that "attack national security," despite his announcement that he would repeal the decree suspending important civil liberties early last week.

Here is today's update on the situation in Honduras, which covers the past few days.

  • Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley commented on Assistant Secretary Thomas Shannon's trip to Honduras with the OAS delegation at a Foreign Press Center briefing:

    Tom Shannon, as the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is doing what we’d expect him to do. Today, you have a very important mission by the Organization of American States to Honduras. The United States has been very supportive of this mission, and it is appropriate that the United States should be a part of this mission.

  • Micheletti told the OAS delegation on Wednesday that "the elections will take place on November 29th, the only way they can be stopped is if they attack us or invade us."

    Micheletti also told the OAS diplomats that "We are not afraid of the United States, nor of the State Department, nor of Mexico or Brazil. But we are afraid and panicked when it comes to Zelaya."

  • Negotiators for ousted President Zelaya insisted last week that an agreement be found by October 15th, or they would risk "a delay in the late November presidential and legislative elections."
  • On Thursday, the OAS delegation in Honduras released a statement which outlined the agenda for dialogue and the necessary conditions for dialogue to take place.

    The three agenda items agreed upon were:

    a) The signing of the San José Accord;
    b) The establishment of commissions for the purpose of conducting a detailed discussion and of proposing changes and updates to points in the San José Accord on which there is agreement, and to establish a timeline for their implementation.
    c) The proposal and design of a methodological approximation of a new Political and Social Pact for Honduras.

    The three conditions for dialogue were:

    1) The reestablishment and permanency of all constitutional guarantees;
    2) The restitution of all press media whose functions were interrupted; and
    3) That normal access and consultation of President Zelaya and his representatives be allowed in the Table of Dialogue.

  • On Friday, the United Nations working group on mercenaries "voiced concern at reports that former paramilitaries from Colombia had been recruited to protect wealthy people and property in Honduras" after the coup d'etat, reports Reuters.

    The joint statement made by the working group urged "the Honduran authorities to take all practical measures to prevent the use of mercenaries within its territory and to fully investigate allegations concerning their presence and activities."

  • On Saturday, Micheletti imposed a new decree, under which "the frequencies of radio or television stations may be canceled if they transmit messages that incite national hate and the destruction of public property." The decree also allows government officials to monitor and control broadcast messages that "attack national security."
  • According to the New York Times, the de facto Micheletti government has spent at least $400,000 on a lobbying campaign in Washington. The Washington Post cites the lobbying costs at at least $600,000.
  • Two Republican members of Congress, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) continue to express their support for the de facto regime in Honduras and pressure the Obama administration to recognize the November 29th elections. On the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen spoke about her recent trip to Honduras, while Senator Jim DeMint published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend.

    Here are excerpts from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's remarks:

    I have just returned from Honduras, where I had the opportunity to see with my own eyes what is happening on the ground there. Let me tell you, Madam Speaker, it's very quiet on the streets of Tegucigalpa. Despite the efforts of the pro-Zelaya camp to create the impression that chaos is reigning in Honduras, there are no tires burning in the streets, there are no massive protests urging Manuel Zelaya's return, no collapse of democratic order or institutions.
    ...
    The people of Honduras do not want Manuel Zelaya back in office. The Honduran people do not want outside actors infringing upon and determining their democracy and their rule of law. For the Honduran people, the November 29 elections are the solution, they are the way forward, and I couldn't agree with them more.
    ...
    Madam Speaker, I'm concerned that if we in the U.S. continue along this misguided path and continue to impose this misguided Zelaya-centric policy, that the goodwill and the respect and the admiration that the U.S. currently enjoys in Honduras will now start to dissipate. We can't afford for that to happen. The United States has always been the beacon of democracy. How can we take this undemocratic way forward for Honduras?

    Excerpts from Sen. DeMint's op-ed:

    While in Honduras, I spoke to dozens of Hondurans, from nonpartisan members of civil society to former Zelaya political allies, from Supreme Court judges to presidential candidates and even personal friends of Mr. Zelaya. Each relayed stories of a man changed and corrupted by power.
    ...
    As all strong democracies do after cleansing themselves of usurpers, Honduras has moved on.
    ...
    America's Founding Fathers—like the framers of Honduras's own constitution—believed strong institutions were necessary to defend freedom and democracy from the ambitions of would-be tyrants and dictators. Faced by Mr. Zelaya's attempted usurpations, the institutions of Honduran democracy performed as designed, and as our own Founding Fathers would have hoped.

    Hondurans are therefore left scratching their heads. They know why Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega and the Castro brothers oppose free elections and the removal of would-be dictators, but they can't understand why the Obama administration does.

  • Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Police reform in Mexico

    This was originally posted on the Latin America Working Group's website

    Challenges and Opportunities to Strengthen Law Enforcement at the State and Local Level in Mexico

    On September 17, 2009 the Latin America Working Group Education Fund and the Washington Office on Latin America joined with the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center to host a discussion regarding police reform in Mexico. Researchers and public officials who have spent years exploring these issues participated in this discussion: Edgar Mohar, former Secretary of Citizen Security of the state of Querétaro; Juan Salgado, Associate Professor at the Center for Economic Research and Education (CIDE) in Mexico City; and Daniel Sabet, Visiting Professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh of Foreign Service.

    The Calderón administration has relied heavily upon the Mexican military to combat drug cartel related violence with the rationale that local police units are too corrupt and ineffective to fulfill this role. Efforts to reform and professionalize the police have been focusing on the federal police, despite the fact that local state and municipal police forces compose 72% of Mexico’s collective law enforcement.

    As noted by the speakers, the principal strategy currently used to combat drug-related violence—widespread deployment of the military—has been inappropriate and is far too blunt of an instrument for the task. Firstly, military soldiers are not trained to handle civilian policing processes. Secondly, the military is not trained to engage in domestic law enforcement, leaving it highly prone to abusing human rights. History has shown us that the military is not a substitute for effective and transparent civilian police institutions, so focusing reform efforts on these entities is essential.

    According to the panel, a lack of accountability is one of the most significant challenges facing efforts to reform civilian law enforcement in Mexico. Many state and municipal police mechanisms designed to enhance accountability are challenged by a lack of continuity. When new officials get elected and local governments turn over from one party to another, political priorities and agendas change, having major impacts on the durability of reforms and local police administration.

    However, it is important to note that encouraging advancements have been made. An important trend emerging in Mexican police recruiting procedures has been the requirements on increasing education. For example, just a few years ago one could be recruited into a police force in Querétaro with only an elementary-level education. Now, high school completion with one full year of basic police academy training is required for recruitment and a University degree is required for top-rank promotions.

    The municipality of Chihuahua has also undergone multiple reform initiatives, including implementation of internal affairs mechanisms and public citizen committees, to achieve Mexico’s first CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) accreditation. By being CALEA-accredited, the municipal police force of Chihuahua has met a long list of standards that ensure more effective training and operations for cops.

    Click here to read a story in the Christian Science Monitor that further covers this topic.

    For more information, check out the full presentations here.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    CIP fact sheet on Colombia's wiretap scandal

    The Center for International Policy's Colombia blog has a fact sheet (html, pdf) about the still-unfolding scandal involving the Colombian presidency's intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department or DAS.

    The DAS stands accused of wiretapping and carrying out surveillance on dozens of human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians, and other critics of President Álvaro Uribe's government, as well as Supreme Court judges investigating charges of government officials' serious wrongdoing.

    Here is an excerpt, the section of the fact sheet covering "The U.S. government’s response."

    • In February 2009, U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield recognized that the United States provided eavesdropping equipment to the DAS.
    • “[W]e obviously think that the steps that have already been made on issues like extrajudicial killings and illegal surveillance, that it is important that Colombia pursue a path of rule of law and transparency, and I know that that is something that President Uribe is committed to doing.” – President Barack Obama, June 29, 2009, hosting President Uribe at the White House.
    • “Allegations of illegal domestic wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS) are troubling and unacceptable. The importance that the Prosecutor General’s Office has placed on prosecuting these crimes is a positive step for Colombia, but media and NGO reports allege that illegal activity continues, so it is even more vital that the Colombian government take steps to ensure that this is not the case, and that the Prosecutor General’s Office conduct a rigorous, thorough and independent investigation in order to determine the extent of these abuses and to hold all perpetrators accountable.” – September 2009 Department of State press release announcing that Colombia, in the department’s view, meets human rights conditions in U.S. foreign aid law.

    Read more here.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    Update 10: Honduras

    The high-level mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) arrived in Honduras today to begin a dialogue, dubbed the "Guaymuras Talks," between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti. OAS representatives remain relatively positive that the new round of talks will successfully bring an end to the country's current political crisis, yet neither party has backed down on the main roadblock: whether Zelaya should return to the presidency or not. So far, Zelaya's representatives have insisted that he be restored to power unconditionally by October 15th, while Micheletti's representatives are backing a plan to hold elections before allowing Zelaya's reinstatement.

    Here is today's update on the situation in Honduras. Thanks to CIP Intern Hannah Brodlie, who contributed to today's compilation.

  • The OAS high-level delegation, led by Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, arrived in Honduras this morning, "with the purpose of promoting dialogue and the restoration of democracy in this country." In order to carry out the intended purpose, a "Dialogue Table" was installed among representatives of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government in the Clarion Hotel in Tegucigalpa at 10:30 am this morning. The OAS has dubbed this round of talks as the "Guaymuras Talks."

    The international delegation is composed of representatives from Guatemala, El Salvador, the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, Canada, Jamaica, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, and Spain. Among the members of the OAS mission is U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Thomas Shannon. A Senate vote on Assistant Secretary Shannon's appointment to be the U.S. ambassador to Brazil is currently being blocked, along with Arturo Valenzuela's nomination to take Shannon's place at the State Department. U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), disagrees with the stance the Obama Administration has taken on the current political crisis in Honduras.

  • During his opening remarks at the "Guaymuras Talks" today, OAS Secretary General Insulza explained that the restitution of Zelaya is still a main point in the negotiations, leading to a round of "boos" that did not cease until he finished his statement, according to La Prensa.
  • Army troops and police special operations officers have been heavily deployed throughout Tegucigalpa "in a bristling show of force as the talks began" in the Clarion Hotel, according to the Agence France-Presse.
  • OAS representatives have expressed strong hopes that their mission will successfully find a solution to the political crisis in Honduras, yet so far, neither party has publicly expressed a willingness to negotiate on one critical point: whether or not Zelaya should return to the Presidency. A Reuters article published today outlines the various outcomes that could result from the talks initiated today by the OAS. These outcomes include:

    1) A limited deal is reached, and talks drag on: The San José Accord "could be modified, but without movement on the key issue of Zelaya's return the result may be a limited agreement to keep talking and concessions such as easing the security cordon around the Brazilian embassy."

    2) Zelaya returns to the presidency with restrictions: "That would mean accepting the basic format of the San José accord. But the details of how to form a unity government and amnesty that would make his return possible would take longer."

    3) A third party replaces both Micheletti and Zelaya: "Micheletti has already said he is willing to step aside if it helps resolve the crisis. But Zelaya seems less willing to accept that option given the international calls for his legitimate return. Another hurdle would be finding someone or a provisional coalition acceptable to all parties."

    4) The talks fail, Honduras is further isolated and street protests grow: "Honduras, Zelaya and Micheletti would risk international condemnation and isolation if talks fail or drag on for weeks and protests or repression of them could spin out of control."

  • On Monday, Micheletti repealed the state of siege, which suspended important civil liberties. However, Zelaya dismissed the withdrawal of the emergency decree as a meaningless gesture, implemented only after arresting dozens of protestors and closing down two pro-Zelaya media outlets. "Roberto Micheletti continues to mock the people, declaring that he is completely revoking the decree after achieving the most possible harm," Zelaya said.

    The two media organizations shut down as a result of the decree say that they still cannot broadcast normally, since seized equipment has not been returned. The owner of one of the shuttered media outlets called the lifting of the decree "a lie aimed at deceiving the international community."

  • Twelve indigenous people of the Lenca population sought political asylum in the Guatemalan Embassy. The three women, four men and five children said that they had been persecuted by the Honduran police. The group currently remains inside the Guatemalan Embassy awaiting a decision. According to a representative of an indigenous rights organization, if the asylum request is denied, the group may remain inside the Embassy and wage a hunger strike.
  • Anti-Semitic remarks by Radio Globo host and staunch Zelaya supporter, David Romero, caused international furor since they were published by the Anti-Defamation League over the weekend. On September 25, Romero said, "There are times when I ask myself if Hitler was or was not correct in finishing with that race with the famous Holocaust. If there is a people that do damage in this country, they are Jewish, they are Israelis."

    Romero has since apologized for his comments, noting that his own grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Czechoslovakia. Additionally, the Anti-Defamation League noted that there are only approximately 100 Jewish families in Honduras.

  • Guatemalan indigenous leader and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú commented on the Honduran political crisis, saying that it "is ideological, political, institutional and economic, but it is also Central American." Menchú asked the United States to do more to pressure the coup government to restore Zelaya to the presidency, since the crisis affects all of Central America. "The fingerprints of past dictatorships are not dead in Latin America. The offshoots of the dictatorships have more political and economic force."
  • Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Drug-related murders in Mexico surpass 2008 numbers

    In early September, the number of people killed by drug-related violence in Mexico surpassed 5,000, prompting us to write on this blog that "it looks like 2009 is assured to be more violent than 2008 - which ended with 5,600 narcoviolence-related murders." Unfortunately, it took less than one month for the number of such murders in Mexico to surpass 2008 levels, reaching 5,874 murders by the end of September.

    The image below was posted on the Security in Latin America blog today and is from the Mexican newspaper Milenio. It breaks down the narcoviolence-related murder rate in Mexico in various ways, providing an interesting and unsettling picture of Mexico's increasing violence. Because the image is in Spanish, here are a few statistics that stand out:

  • So far in 2009, 5,874 people have been murdered as a result of narcoviolence.
  • September 2009 was the most violent month since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office, with 826 narcoviolence-related murders. The map of Mexico breaks down the September murder rate in the states with military operations ongoing, indicating Chihuahua as the state with the most murders in September (409) and Sinaloa trailing it with 101 murders. Ciudad Juárez, widely viewed as Mexico's most violent city, is in Chihuahua.
  • During the month of September, at least 10 people were killed every day, with multiple days tallying over 30 murders and one day reaching 50 murders (as indicated by the line graph).
  • Of the 826 people killed in September, 43 were police, 32 women, 15 minors, and 7 government officials.
  • In Chihuahua, the number of people killed by drug-related violence has been increasing steadily since January 2009, reaching 409 murders in September, as indicated by the bar graph at the bottom of the image. The bar graph also shows that 3,037 people were murdered as a result of narcoviolence in the state of Chihuahua alone, making up almost 52% of the nation's total narcoviolence-related murders in 2009.
  • Since President Calderón took office, 14,478 people have been killed as a result of drug-related violence.
  • Monday, October 5, 2009

    Update 9: Honduras

    The advance mission for the upcoming Organization of American States (OAS) delegation of ten foreign ministers and Secretary General José Miguel Insulza arrived in Honduras last week to begin pushing for a dialogue between both de facto President Roberto Micheletti and ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and preliminary reports show that both parties have expressed a desire to talk.

    Meanwhile, two different delegations of U.S. members of Congress traveled to Honduras on "fact-finding trips."

    Here's is today's update on the situation in Honduras:

  • Two delegations from the U.S. Congress traveled to Honduras on "fact-finding trips."

    The first delegation, led by Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), arrived in Honduras on Friday, despite an attempt to block the trip by Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts). Sen. DeMint was joined by Rep. Aaron Shock (R-Illinois), Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Illinois), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado). While in Honduras, the delegation met with de facto President Micheletti, as well as members of the Honduran Supreme Court, election officials and business and civic leaders.

    Sen. Kerry tried to prevent the fact-finding trip due to the hold Sen. DeMint has placed on the confirmations of Arturo Valenzuela as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Tom Shannon as the ambassador to Brazil. However, with the help of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the delegation received permission directly from the Defense Department to travel to Honduras.

    Today, three of Florida's members of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Mario Díaz-Balart (all R-Miami), traveled to Honduras to meet with Micheletti and to express their support for the November 29th elections. While in Honduras, the delegation also planned to meet with representatives of the opposition and of ousted President Zelaya.

  • The four OAS functionaries who were expelled from Honduras one week ago arrived in Honduras on Friday to prepare for the OAS mission of ten foreign ministers and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, due to arrive in Honduras on Wednesday.

    John Biehl, an OAS special envoy, held separate meetings with both ousted President Manuel Zelaya and de facto President Micheletti to advance the possibility of a dialogue, mediated by the OAS, between both parties. After his meetings, Biehl told reporters, "there will be a call next week for dialogue between the acting government and the other side and it will be accepted. That has already been agreed."

    Reuters reports today, however, that while both leaders say they are ready for talks, their key demands remain unchanged: "Micheletti says Zelaya must face the courts and is resisting pressure to restore him to power, while Zelaya insists he be reinstated unconditionally."

    Even though Secretary General Insulza was not due in Honduras until this Wednesday, it has been confirmed that he was in Honduras and met with de facto President Micheletti last week. An OAS press release reads:

    The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, confirmed on Saturday that in the last few days he met in Honduras with Mr. Roberto Micheletti. "The meeting was aimed at promoting a dialogue between the parties in the conflict with the goal of restoring democracy and the constitutional order in Honduras, with strict respect of the mandate given to the Secretary General by the General Assembly on July 4th", Mr. Insulza said.

  • Zelaya told reporters that "in order to begin a 'sincere' dialogue with the interim government civil liberties must be restored." Today, Micheletti announced that the Council of Ministers abolished the decree he imposed last week to suspend important civil liberties, stating that he made the decision to completely annul it since "it is no longer necessary because we have peace in the country."
  • Thirty-eight farmers who were imprisoned on Wednesday after police and soldiers removed them from the National Agrarian Institute building are now on a hunger strike "to demand a just trial, the restitution of president Zelaya, and respect for our right to the land."
  • Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Update 8: Recent events in Honduras

    Today Honduras entered the fifth day of restrictions on fundamental human rights, despite national and international condemnations of the decree issued by de facto President Roberto Micheletti on Sunday.

    Here is today's update on the situation in Honduras:

  • The UN Human Rights Council endorsed a proposal calling for an immediate end to all human rights violations in Honduras. The Council also requested an exhaustive report from UN High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay on human rights violations since the coup d'etat in Honduras.
  • A delegation of six Brazilian parliamentarians arrived in Honduras last night to verify the situation in the country as well as in the Brazilian embassy. While in Honduras, the delegation will meet with the Board of the National Congress, leaders of Honduran political parties, human rights organizations, representatives of the Supreme Court and members of the Brazilian community. They have said they do not hope to be mediators in the conflict, but hope to contribute a solution to the crisis.
  • U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) will travel to Honduras on Monday to conduct an "evaluation on the situation in the country and the state of North American interests as a result of the Administration's poorly conducted focus on Zelaya." Rep. Ros-Lehtinen plans to meet with de facto President Micheletti, members of his government, Cardinal Osacr Andres Rodriguez, representatives of Honduran community groups and American business leaders living in the country.
  • The Organization of American States has confirmed that an advance mission will arrive in Honduras on Friday, "with the goal of paving the way for the visit of a Delegation of Foreign Ministers and the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, which would arrive in Honduras next week."
  • An article by Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald suggests that the Honduran presidential candidates may play a larger role in finding a negotiated solution to the current political crisis, "because nobody would want to be president of a country that would not have diplomatic recognition from any country." A senior Obama administration official told Oppenheimer that the candidates "are a pressure point, not the solution." And OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said, "What I'm trying to do is getting representatives of Zelaya and Micheletti to sit on the same table, alongside the presidential candidates and other forces, to try to narrow down their differences along the lines of the San Jose agreements. We are trying to make that happen next Wednesday, during a scheduled visit by foreign ministers."