Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed
Friday, July 12, 2013
(Compiled by WOLA intern Laura Fontaine.)
Since Enrique Peña Nieto assumed Mexico’s presidency last December, the average number of Mexican soldiers involved in combating organized crime and drug-trafficking on any given day has dropped from 50,000 to just over 32,000. But along with this drop has come an increase in the number of soldiers injured or killed on the job. During ex-President Felipe Calderón’s 2006–2012 administration, an average of 3.1 soldiers died per month. This statistic has now risen to 4.5 per month.
Mexico has at least 14 state governments where military personnel, either active or retired, are in charge of public security.
In its 2013–18 National Development Plan, Mexico has included language indicating that the armed forces will remain in the fight against organized crime.
In his first major military deployment to target drug traffickers, Mexico President Peña Nieto sent army troops to the state of Michoacán state, charging them with taking “back control of a region long besieged by a deadly drug cartel.”
Mexico’s Senate Judiciary Committee presented a first draft of a proposal to reform military justice. It would increase civilian courts’ jurisdiction over military personnel accused of violating civilians’ human rights.
Citing insufficient evidence against them, prosecutors in Mexico released five army generals who had been jailed during the Calderón administration. The five were accused of ties to drug traffickers, and were awaiting trial. All have been reinstated.
Peru is attempting to formulate new incentives to encourage more citizens to join the armed forces, rather than a proposed system of compulsory military service to fill perceived personnel gaps.
Venezuela inaugurated a new high command in July, along with the country’s first female defense minister, Adm. Carmen Meléndez.
In late April, Venezuela’s government announced that its electrical system was to become completely “militarized” in order to avoid any acts of sabotage. Officials have cited such sabotage as a reason for frequent power blackouts; the government’s critics blame poor maintenance of the electrical grid.
Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, has announced a plan, “Plan Patria Segura,” to deploy troops into the streets to help combat criminal violence.
President Maduro affirmed that deceased ex-President Hugo Chávez had succeeded in reunifying Venezuela’s armed forces before his death, and that there were no divisions among the troops.
In May, Guatemala’s national government declared a state of emergency in four regions of the country experiencing protests against mining projects. Military-run vehicle checkpoints were set up in these areas.
In Ecuador, members of the police and military have begun to patrol certain areas of the capital together in armored vehicles.
Honduras’ Congress decided to increase the size of the armed forces by 1,000 in order to carry out internal security missions.
As ordered by President Danilo Medina, Dominican Republic troops have begun patrolling the streets of the country in conjunction with police.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina announced a new plan for the country’s military, including a budget increase of 24% and a far larger role in response to natural disasters. She also said that the state armaments company will dedicate itself to engineering projects like improving roadways and building railway cars.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch
Mexican news website Animal Político published an article on Mexican drug cartel activity in Central America. The security situation has significantly worsened in the region in recent years as U.S.-backed counternarcotics operations that first pushed the drug trade and related violence from Colombia into Mexico, have now squeezed organized crime into Central America.
While the proposed U.S. security assistance to many countries in Latin America, like Colombia and Mexico, decreased in the 2014 budget request (PDF), funds for the Central America Regional Security Initiative increased by about $26 million. Many political institutions throughout the region are struggling to deal with the increase in violence and are rife with corruption, which the United States Congress has expressed concern over, in light of the increase in assistance.
According to the article, 90 percent of Mexico’s cocaine trafficking operations to the United States now pass through Guatemala, where the major Mexican drug cartels, the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, are vying for territorial control. Belize is considered Zeta territory, while in El Salvador the main drug trafficking organization works for the Pacific Cartel. Much of the violence is said to be a product of infighting among local gangs that are now working with these larger competing drug cartels.
The majority of the information used in the article came from last year’s UN report, “ Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean.” The UN report concludes that the principal motivation for violence in Central America “is not cocaine, but change: change in the negotiated power relations negotiated between and within (criminal) groups, and with the state.”
Here are some key findings of the article:
A gang linked to the Zetas known as the Lorenzanas now controls cocaine trafficking through five of the largest provinces of Guatemala: Peten, Huhuetenanago, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Zapaca, on a route that crosses the country, from the border with Honduras to the border with Mexico.
The struggle for control over specific points in Guatemala, particularly those bordering Honduras and El Salvador, has turned these two countries into the those “with the highest homicide rates in the world (82 in Honduras and 65 in El Salvador for every 100,000 in habitants in 2010),” according to the UN. “Given the competition between groups allied with the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel, it’s highly likely that these deaths are attributable to disputes over contraband and trafficking routes.“
After Guatemala, the Central American country with the highest importance to Mexican gangs is Honduras, where the nation's military coup in 2009 triggered "a kind of gold rush" of cocaine, as described by the United Nations. In fact, it is estimated that in 2010, about 15 percent of the cocaine shipped by air to the United States stopped in Honduras, where drugs also arrive by sea, and was then sent to the north of the continent in small aircraft.
Of the 330 tons of cocaine that entered Mexico from Guatemala in 2010, 267 first went through Honduras, where 62 clandestine airstrips were detected in 2012 alone.
Due to the increase in cocaine seizures in Belize, the UN report states, "it is believed that the Zetas are active (in this country)," whose border with Guatemala is controlled almost entirely by the Mexican group. And while cocaine trafficking in Belize is "secondary," notes the UN, it’s valued over $74 million, representing 5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2010.
Also in 2010, Belize was designated the country with the eighth highest murder rate in the world (42 per 100,000 inhabitants).
In El Salvador, the main narcotrafficking group, the Perrones, maintains an alliance with the Pacific Cartel, which worked to transfer cocaine from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. This group also carries money from Chapo to Panama.
Another group of carriers based in El Salvador is the Texis Cartel, which works on requests for both Mexican cartels and is noted "for its extensive network of complicity with senior politicians, security officials, judges and prosecutors."
The article can be read on the Animal Político website (in Spanish) or the InSight Crime website (in English).
Friday, June 28, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Protests: Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Venezuela
There have been many relatively large-scale protests happening in the region recently.
Chilean student are protesting for education reform. On Wednesday, over 100,000 students in Santiago marched in a demonstration, which turned violent as students clashed with police.
Venezuela has also been experiencing a series of protests involving the education sector.
In Costa Rica, people are taking to the streets to show their growing frustration with the administration of President Laura Chinchilla, one of the region’s least popular presidents.
In Nicaragua last week, senior citizens protested for greater benefits, particularly a reduced pension. The demonstrations also turned violent, but this week the government and protesters reached an agreement that addressed some demands. The agreement, however, did not include the issue of pensions.
In Brazil the nation-wide protests continue to rage on, despite President Dilma Rousseff's counter proposals to address several issues like education, health, and public transport. The New York Times reported on why Brazilians are so upset at their Congress, noting its "penchant for sheltering dozens of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes." Other articles highlight police violence, poor public services, and the lavish lifestyle of lawmakers as some of the reasons behind the movement. As BBC notes, the government has started to put some reforms in place in response to the massive demonstrations.
For a list of articles on the protest, visit Just the Facts’ Brazil News page. The Pan-American Post also has offered good coverage. Interesting note: The Rio police are running out of tear gas.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual World Drug Report on Wednesday. The report looked at a spectrum of related-issues, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are unregulated in international markets as they are often used for medical purposes and relatively new. The report also found thatMexico is the world's number two producer of opium and heroin in the world, and ties with Afghanistan as the second-largest producer of marijuana.
A U.S. Department of State report found that Iran's influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning, “As a result of diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies’ capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran’s poor management of its foreign relations," according to Bloomberg News.
Last Friday, negotiators from the FARC and Colombian government released a joint report (PDF) offering more detail about the land reform agreement that both parties signed about a month ago. More from Ginny Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace. Colombia's most powerful criminal organization, the Urabeños, has called for inclusion in the peace talks. More from InSight Crime
The Colombian government is ramping up efforts to target crime. This week the government announced plans to invest $2.3 billion into citizen security for 2013-2015. The funding accounts for 2.4% of the country's 2013 national budget, and will cover the addition of 25,000 police to the national force. Colombian media also reported this week that the country is looking to France as a model for how to target common crime. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón met with France's police director to discuss strategies such as the use of a gendarmerie, a militarized police force.
More than 12,000 peasant farms have participated in riots protesting eradication programs in the coca-producing region of Catatumbo in northeast Colombia. The violent protests have left four protestors dead and another 50 injured.
Mexico welcomed the U.S. Senate's passage of an immigration bill, but showed concern that border security measures included in the bill "move away from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness." According to theLos Angeles Times, “Fernando Belaunzaran, a congressman with Mexico's left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, tweeted this week, ‘ the U.S. is about to militarize the border with Mexico as if we were at war.’”
Mexico's Gendarmerie will now have 5,000 members and be part of the national police force, the country's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced over the weekend. In December, President Peña Nieto said the force would initially be comprised of 10,000 members, eventually reaching 30,000 or 40,000. Writing for InSight Crime, Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope has an article on the pros and cons of absorbing the Gendarmarie into the Federal Police.
The Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) on USAID reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The report criticized USAID's management of funds and projects and called for greater oversight. Several findings illuminated the reconstruction efforts shortfalls, among them -- of the 15,000 houses that were originally planned, just 2,649 are expected to be built.
Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí resigned after the country’s Congress called for his impeachment over mismanagement and corruption. Since April a congressionally-appointted oversight committee has run his office, citing a myriad of problems: impunity, failure to enact police reform, and misuse of funds.
Ecuador announced it was withdrawing from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which was the main point of leverage the United States had over it when considering the issue of granting Snowden asylum. ATPDEA is said to create hundreds of jobs in Ecuador and save exporters $23 million a year, offering U.S. trade benefits on 247 products. The deal was up for renewal in July, but members of the U.S. Congress had said they would vote against extending it if Ecuador granted Edward Snowden asylum. Ecuador then offered the United States $23 million for human rights training to help it avoid "espionage, torture, extrajudicial killings and other acts that denigrate humanity.”
BuzzFeed details Ecuador's own surveillance practices targeting journalists, including the U.S.-mediated purchase of a "GSM interceptor" in an effort to "intercept text messages, falsify and modify the text messages." Investigative magazine Vanguardia will publish its last print edition Monday. As newspaper El Comercio explained, the magazine's staff said the closure was not a product of the law, but rather a business decision made by the outlet's owners. Many have linked the closure to a controversial new media law passed last week. The law invokes harsh penalties for language deemed defamatory or libelous by a newly-created government council, but prohibits the government from shutting down media outlets. For more information on the law, check out Reporters Without Borders' description.
On Tuesday, Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixo Ortega met with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to discuss possibly renewing relations. However, a recent audiotape of a Venezuelan opposition member claiming the opposition called for a coup in a meeting with U.S. diplomats in Washington could keep relations cool between the two countries. These statements add more fuel to President Maduro’s on-going rhetoric of a conspiracy campaign by the opposition to destabilize the government.
Cuba's first privately run wholesale market in half a century will open on July 1st, according to state media. The Economist reported that many see its opening as a further step on Cuba's hesitant path towards freeing up wholesale markets and loosening the state's control of food distribution.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Interview with Ariel Ávila of Fundación Paz y Reconciliación from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.
A conversation with Ariel Ávila of Colombia's Fundación Paz y Reconciliación. Ariel, who until 2013 ran the Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris
think-tank, is one of Colombia's most cited analysts of the country's armed conflict and security situation.
Here, Ariel talks with Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), about prospects for a successful peace process between Colombia's government and the FARC guerrilla group, the challenges this process might face, the likelihood of violence in a possible "post-conflict" phase, and whether the FARC are unified.
Recorded at WOLA's offices in Washington in June 2013.
Monday, June 24, 2013
The drug trade and associated violence continues to move down from Mexico into Central America where the security situation has become dire as weak state institutions struggle to deal with an increase in violence and organized crime. As counternarcotics operations intensify in Central America, the United States expects drug traffickers to move towards the Caribbean in search of unpatrolled waters, which would have reverberating political and security consequences.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representative’s subcommittee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing, “Regional Security Cooperation: An Examination of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI),” to evaluate the United States’ security packages to both regions. Highlighted below are seven key points brought up about the U.S. security initiatives during the hearing.
A video of the hearing and all witness testimonies can be found here.
1. Top officials think the drug trade is going to shift to the Caribbean
In his testimony (PDF), Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield warned, "If Central America is today's crisis then the Caribbean is tomorrow's challenge." Although drug flows through the Caribbean are tiny compared to Central America, they are growing. According to Brownfield, nine percent of all cocaine headed to the United States passes through the Caribbean, representing an almost 100% increase from 2011, when that number was at five percent. Most of the drugs are going through the Dominican Republic. To combat this, the United States is training judges, prosecutors and police, and is setting up a regional training hub in Trinidad and Tobago, according to Brownfield.
The U.S. government sees the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) as a preventive measure to try and strengthen institutions before there is an increase in organized crime. Brownfield explained the “balloon effect” history of U.S. counternarcotics operations: Plan Colombia pushed much of the drug trade and associated violence into Mexico, the Mérida Initiative squeezed organized crime into Central America and now the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) will likely push criminals towards the Caribbean. The hope is that with the help of CBSI, organized crime will not be able to overtake the Caribbean as traffickers look for alternative routes.
2. The jury is “still out” on CBSI’s effectiveness
In a hearing in March, Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the Department of State Roberta Jacobson said the jury was “still out” on whether CBSI is effective. This appears to still be the case and Brownfield noted on at the hearing on June 19 that it would be two years before they know if CBSI is successful. One of the reasons for this that he cited is that the drug trade is not concentrated in the Caribbean at the moment. Another reason, acknowledged by Brownfield and Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Liliana Ayalde, is that the initiative has gotten off to a “slow start.” According to Brownfield, of the $200 million appropriated for CBSI between 2010 and 2012, only about 19 percent has been delivered. Brownfield said this is because CBSI works with 13 different governments, so coordination and transparency assurance has slowed the pace of the program.
3. Colombia is a key partner for U.S. efforts in Central America and Caribbean
Colombia is touted as the model in the war of drugs in nearly every congressional hearing on security in the region. The U.S. sees Colombia’s role training other countries as a return on investment. Brownfield noted, “It’s a dividend that we get for investing over $9 billion in support for Plan Colombia.”
According to Brownfield, the Colombian National Police are training more law enforcement officers in Central America than all of U.S. law enforcement put together. Some of the funding for this is from the U.S. – through a combination of CARSI, Plan Colombia, and Mérida funds. As he said, “it is cheaper for us to have Colombia do training than us do it ourselves.” Right now Colombia is training police from four out of seven countries in Central America and in the Dominican Republic, but is looking to become even more involved.
4. Central American governments have to help themselves
A main point brought up by both the members of Congress and those testifying, was that of each country’s commitment. If a government is not committed to following through on police reform and targeting corruption, then that investment should be questioned. Here, Honduras was brought up as an example of a government that has pledged to make reforms but has been slow and often negligent about doing so.
5. A change in approach
Mark Lopes, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean for USAID, Brownfield, and Ayalde all highlighted key programs focusing on crime prevention, education, development, and training that are being implemented throughout the region. However, as Michael Shifter, President of Inter-American Dialogue, noted in his testimony (PDF), money for counternarcotics operations account for most of the funding in these programs -- two-thirds of funds for CARSI between 2008-2011 and three-quarters through CBSI for 2010-2012, -- some of which he said would be better invested in institution building.
Shifter also highlighted a main issue: that cocaine seizures, the main metric used in U.S. security aid, are not directly correlated with homicide rates. He used the example of the Caribbean, where cocaine trafficking routes have been greatly reduced since their peak in the 1980s, but where the murder rate has more than doubled over the past decade. Given that the security situation has worsened in many places since when CARSI start in 2008, Shifter also suggested other programs be implemented to supplement CARSI, citing Honduras where murder rates have increased 50 percent between 2008 and 2012. All parties also noted to some degree, that state presence is rural areas is key.
Eric Olson of the Wilson Center recommended in his testimony (PDF) that instead of more training, focus should start with pressuring institutions to be more transparent and accountable to ensure funds are being effectively spent. He offered the example of Honduras, where 400 police officers were on the payroll that did not exist and vehicles being paid for could not be found.
6. The U.S. Congress is (justifiably) concerned about Honduras
Impunity rates of 90% and higher are commonplace.
At present, the Honduran Attorney General is effectively suspended.
The police’s criminal investigative unit (DGIC) of roughly 1,200 officers is in some kind of limbo category because the government cannot figure out how to legally fire them.
The United States tried to implement a $10 million prison-reform program that was stopped because the government did not implement the basic reforms necessary.
While El Salvador and Guatemala have had evidence of improvement, Olson testified that Honduras is the most troubled country in the region. Some points from his testimony:
The chairman of the committee, Matt Salmon, asked about the Department of State’s funding for Honduran security forces given concerns over security forces committing human rights abuses and what impact the holding up funds had on programs. Currently Congress is holding $10.3 million in funding to Honduras over human rights concerns and a failed police reform.
In his testimony, Brownfield warned that with the hold-up of funds, there will be less presence in isolated regions of the country, making the territory more attractive to drug traffickers. Regarding human rights abuses, he said that they are applying strict vetting measures and working with institutions to remove those that fail the process. He made no mention of the United States’ recent announcement it had stopped funding the failed Honduran police reform in March, or about police and military extrajudicial killings.
Another reason for a hold on funding is that Honduras’ police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla has been accused of extrajudicial killings. During his testimony, Brownfield emphasized that the United States does not directly fund anyone accused of human rights abuses, nor who directly works with them. However, they will fund those working “two steps below,” despite an Associated Press report finding that the Honduran Constitution mandates all units report to Bonilla.
On the same day that this hearing took place, 21 senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry asking for a detailed report to Congress on human rights abuses committed by security forces in Honduras. The letter stated that the senators had “serious questions regarding the State Department’s certification” that Honduras met the human rights conditions necessary to guarantee U.S. aid for Fiscal Year 2012. It came following reports about ineffective police reform and corruption.
Specific information about these programs is hard to come by, as there is no country-by-country breakdown of funds in official reports. Chairman Matt Salmon requested the following information:
How much funding is being given to each country and how are those allocations being made.
If any countries are not receiving any type of CARSI aid at this time and why not.
To what extent CARSI aid is tied to demonstrations of political will.
How much money the region spends on security for every dollar the United States contributes.
How the Department of Defense has supplemented CARSI assistance and what its successes have been so far.
The trifecta of weak state institutions, an uptick in drug trafficking and violence, and reports of institutional corruption, paired with an increase in U.S. security assistance to Central America, means that the answers to these questions will become increasingly important as Congress and civil society try to evaluate both aid packages.
Friday, June 21, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Twenty-one U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry requesting a detailed report to Congress on human rights abuses committed by security forces in Honduras. The letter stated the senators had “serious questions regarding the State Department’s certification” that Honduras met the human rights conditions necessary to guarantee U.S. aid for FY 2012.
On Monday, the State Department issued a travel warning for Honduras as "crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and the Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to address these issues."
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on security cooperation with Mexico, looking at the Mérida Initiative, the U.S.' central security package to Mexico.The full testimonies and a live webcast can be found on the committee's website.
On Wednesday, the House's Subcommittee on Foreign Relations held a hearing examining the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the U.S.' main aid packages to Central America and the Caribbean.See the House committee's website for full testimonies of all witnesses and a webcast.
John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, met with top commanders from Peru and Colombia's armed forces in Lima on Wednesday. The AFP reported the commanders discussed narcotrafficking, terrorism and illegal mining. The meeting comes just after last week's announcement that the United States would be giving Peru an extra $20 million for counternarcotics operations, bringing total U.S. investment in Peru's counterdrug initiatives for the year to $60 million, a marked increase from recent years.
Cuba and the U.S. announced they will be resuming discussions on migration in Washington D.C. on July 17th. The announcement came as the two countries concluded talks about resuming direct mail service for the first time in fifty years.
The U.S. announced it has approved $91.2 million in funding as part of the bilateral Partnership for Growth agreement the U.S. signed with El Salvador in 2011. The money will go towards improving the Salvadoran justice system, improving education, and a crime prevention program called SolucionES. None of the funding will go towards supporting initiatives linked to the country's gang truce however, as the U.S. has reiterated that it will not actively support the truce. InSight Crime raised the question of whether this undermined the agreement, while Central America Politics blog looked at other U.S. support for El Salvador and concluded, "it just looks like the US is going about its business as if there were no gang truce."
The United States Southern Command announced this week that is has deployed a Navy Aircraft squadron that "will be operating out of El Salvador flying detection and monitoring missions along with aircraft and surface units from partner nations, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection," as part of "Operation Martillo," the United States' surge counternarcotics operation off of Central America.
The story that has dominated the region this week were the protests in Brazil. What initially started as a protest in response to a 20-cent increase in bus fares has snowballed into a nation-wide movement that culminated with over one million Brazilians taking to the streets in at least 80 cities Thursday. There were some violent clashes between citizens demanding better services and government accountability and police dispensing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, and so far one protestor has died.
The movement is apolitical and has no set list of demands. Observers and even the protestors themselves seem unclear about what is exactly happening on a larger scale. As Gabriel Elizondo notes on Aljazeera, "I would be lying if I said I know exactly what is happening here right now. It's complicated. Brazil isn't for beginners, and neither is this current wave of protests."
Reuters concluded that the protest movements were more "Occupy Wall Street" than "Arab Spring" in terms of motives. Several observers have drawn parallels to the on-going protests in Turkey, such as the key role of social media and the young, educated and middle-class profile of the protestors. However there are significant differences- the main one being the Brazilian government's more conciliatory approach. So far there has been little word from President Rousseff, however she did cancel her trip to Japan to hold an emergency cabinet meeting this morning. The Pan-American Post has offered good coverage this week. See here for a list of links to coverage on Just the Facts.
Since this weekend, the government of the Dominican Republic has deployed about 3,000 troops to the country's capital, Santo Domingo. While the police said there was an immediate drop in crime, human rights groups and some government officials, like the city's district attorney, have voiced concern over human rights abuses. However, the Dominican Republic's police force is notorious for corruption and extrajudicial killings. As the Miami Herald noted, police killed 4,069 people between 1997 and mid-2012. The government justified the move by saying military deployments had worked in other countries like Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guatemala and Ecuador. The government plans to increase the number of troops patrolling the streets to 5,000.
InSight Crime has a four-part investigation on the truce between El Salvador’s two largest gangs – the MS- 13 and the Barrio 18. One of the pieces examines the positives and negatives of the truce while another features an interview with Barrio 18’s leader who said the gang does not “have political aspirations. We only aspire to have a dignified life.” The investigation also looks at whether the U.S. Treasury’s decision to designate the MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization was founded.
Mexico is offering $500 million dollars to finance infrastructure projects in Central America. The proposal was announced at a meeting of foreign ministers of Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Central America.
Univision has a geographical breakdown of disappearances in Mexico. Unsurprisingly, most are located in areas with high levels of violence and a strong organized crime presence. More from InSight Crime.
Costa Rica is experiencing a rise in drug trafficking and has become an important transshipment hub, according to a BBC Mundo profile of examined crime in the country. The article sheds further light on Costa Rica’s involvement in global drug trade as previous reports of Mexican and Colombian cartel activity have indicated. The country’s cocaine exports have been reported to reach 39 different locations across the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa.
On Monday, Colombia’s congress passed a law that will expand the jurisdiction of the country’s military courts, allowing them to try military members for human rights abuses. The law is a huge setback for human rights, as noted by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the United Nations and countless civil society groups. While the law could have several implications for human rights justice, HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco described the central problem: “The law could result in the transfer of cold-blooded killings by the military known as ‘false positives’ from civilian authorities to the military justice system, where there is virtually no chance for accountability.” See a previous Just the Facts post for more on the bill.
Almost 40,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia in the past 40 years, according to a new report published Thursday by the country's Centro de Memoria Historica. Since 1970 the FARC have been responsible for more kidnappings than any of the country's other illegal armed groups. Colombia Reports highlights the report's graphs and charts.
The Thomas Reuters Foundation published a special report on the link between land and peace in Colombia. Journalist Anastasia Moloney examines the security situation in the Cauca department, a long-time FARC stronghold and main drug trafficking corridor that has been on the frontline of the country's conflict for 50 years. Moloney asserts that "As the Colombian government and FARC hold ongoing peace talks in Havana to end Latin America's longest-running insurgency, it will be in rebel fiefdoms like Cauca where peace will be hardest to build and hardest won."
A Peruvian court has suspend a military draft that was set to go into effect this week. The court ruled that the draft was discriminatory against poor and uneducated Peruvians as it included exceptions for those in university or for those who pay a fine. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has said the country has no money to pay for a salary for military service.
Ecuador passed a controversial Communications Law this week that critics say will restrict freedom of the press and proponents charge will make the country's media more pluralist. According to Reuters, the law will redistribute broadcast frequencies evenly between state media, private broadcasters and indigenous groups. It will also create a watchdog group that can sanction and fine outlets for reporting content "that is critical of government officials and for content that they fail to report that the government believes should be reported." On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State denounced the law, regarding it as a blow to freedom of the press. Analyst James Bosworth contends, "Correa has spent the last several years at war with Ecuador's media and this is a law that will strengthen the president and help silence his opponents."
Venezuela is implementing new regulations and investing millions of dollars into several jails in an attempt to reform its notoriously inhumane and violent prison system. Prisoners will now receive job training, participate in monitored group activities, wear uniforms, and will be granted two official visits per month as well as one phone call per week. The Venezuelan government has pledged a little bit more than $30 million to repair the Uribana jail and 10 other jails.
A recent anti-corruption campaign in Venezuela has resulted in the arrest of a top official from the country’s National Integrated Service of Tax Administration. In previous weeks, Maduro’s government has declared corruption is one of Venezuela's biggest problems. The arrest, along with numerous others made last week, gives credence to Maduro's pledge to target corrupt officials, marked by last week's announcement that the government will create a new anti-corruption unit.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Compiled by WOLA Intern Laura Fontaine.
After meeting on June 11 with the president of Peru, Ollanta Humala, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged an extra $20 million to support the Peruvian government’s anti-narcotics efforts, in addition to the $40 million that the US already contributes to these efforts annually.
Over the past 30 years, the internal conflict in Colombia has claimed approximately 5.5 million victims. This statistic includes all of those who were murdered, kidnapped, disappeared, injured, or displaced.
The former “murder capital of the world,” Medellín, Colombia, used to experience between 19 and 25 homicides per weekend, and a total of 6,349 in 1991. But following efforts to lower these rates, the numbers have decreased dramatically. At the end of May, the numbers had decreased to 470 homicides since the beginning of this year. This is a faster pace, though, than in 2007, when the city registered 771 killings in 12 months. But the majority of cities considered the most violent and dangerous in the world continues to be in Latin America and the Caribbean. The most dangerous, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, had a homicide rate of 169 per 100,000 people in 2012. Additionally, “of the 50 cities with the highest homicide rates, 15 are in Brazil. Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, records far more homicides than any other city in the world, nearly 4,000 in 2012,” reports the Washington Post.
Due to extreme weather conditions and poor harvests, 1.5 million people in Haiti are in need of food assistance. An additional 6.7 million are said to be “struggling to meet their own food needs on a regular basis.” In preparation for the upcoming hurricane season the World Food Program (WFP) distributed enough supplies to provide ready-to-use food for 300,000 people for two days and stable food rations for four weeks. WFP estimates it will assist 1.1 million people during 2013. The WFP spokesperson said that the agency needs $17.2 million to support these needs.
“Women now represent just 7 percent of the estimated 10,000 officers in the Haitian National Police,” the Miami Herald reports. “Haiti is hoping that programs like this and others with Chile, Canada and the U.S. will help increase the force to 15,000 officers by the end of 2016, according to an HNP development plan. The program is funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office to boost the professionalism and increase the number of women in the HNP at a cost of $17,000 per cadet. The Haitian trainees will participate in 11 months of basic training to include a focus on sexual violence and protecting minors.”
The National Comission of Human Rights has reported that public officials have played a role in 2,443 of the 24,800 forced disappearances that have taken place in Mexico in the past 5 years.
At least 6,000 people are estimated to have died while trying to cross over the border between the United States and Mexico in the past 26 years, and many more have gone missing. During that period, the United States has spent $187 billion on border security and immigration enforcement. The new immigration reform bill calls for an additional $6.5 billion.
At least 1,500 students in the municipalities of Chinicuila and Coalcomán, both in Michoacán, Mexico, have been without classes and school activities for more than a week because of violence related to narcotrafficking and organized crime.
“An investigation by the Interior Ministry of Guatemala has identified over 54 drug trafficking organizations operating within the country, including independent groups and those working as “subsidiaries” of larger transnational organizations. Authorities also investigated the operations of 40 cells of the Barrio 18 gang and 30 cells of Mara Salvatrucha, reported Agénce France Presse.
The armed forces of Honduras will grow by approximately 1,000 troops at the cost of approximately $4.4 million after the Honduran Congress approved the plan.
Although still at a shocking number, the number of homicides in Honduras this year has gone down by 160 since this time last year. Between January 1st and June 9th of this year, there were 3,078 homicides in Honduras compared with 3,238 homicides during that period of time last year. The country averaged 19.23 homicides per day during this time period.
The Rio de Janeiro, Brazil police have now set up special “Pacifying Police Units” (UPPs) in 32 of the city’s most centrally located and conflictive slum neighborhoods, or favelas. The Rio state government hopes to have 40 UPPs set up by the time the World Cup tournament begins in 2014. These projects would involve 12,500 UPP officers and cover an area that 1.5 million people call home.
Brazil is nearing a deal with Boeing to purchase 36 F-18 fighter jets, which will be worth approximately $4 billion. Also in the running for Brazil’s giant purchase are fighters manufactured by France and Sweden, but the U.S. aircraft company appears to have an edge.
In early June Costa Rica and China signed 9 agreements worth a total of $1.5 billion “that will provide resources for improving Costa Rican roads and public transit fleets, purchasing solar panels and the building of a new police school,” the Associated Press reports. One of these agreements involved a $9 million line of credit that will go toward the expansion and remodeling of one of Costa Rica’s oil refineries.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Interview with Marino Cordoba of AFRODES from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.
Here is a conversation with Marino Córdoba of AFRODES, the Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians, an organization representing dozens of Afro-Colombian communities, mostly from the Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions, seeking to defend their land and rights from all actors in Colombia's armed conflict. Marino talks with Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), about the organization's struggles, its efforts to get the Colombian government to hear their demands for justice, and the urgent need to protect AFRODES leaders from threats to their security.
Recorded at WOLA's offices in Washington on June 12, 2013.
Monday, June 17, 2013
This post was written with CIP Cuba Intern, Ashley Badesch
Despite Cuba’s absence from the recent OAS meeting, where antidrug policy in the Americas topped the agenda, Cuba collaborates with Latin American and Caribbean nations, and even the United States, on counternarcotics efforts. Cuba maintains formal agreements to fight narcotrafficking with at least 35 countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Chile, UK, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Tanzania, Laos, and Jamaica. These accords allow Cuba to standardize counternarcotics operations and send real time alerts.
In 2002, the Cuban government drafted a bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. government; however, the U.S. has yet to acknowledge the accord, despite the State Department’s support of a well-structured agreement between the nations. The accord is still “under review” by the U.S. government and has gone through several iterations since it was introduced.
The most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) report, published by the U.S. State Department, states that a U.S.-Cuba bilateral anti-drug agreement and greater multilateral cooperation in the region would likely lead to improved tactics, procedures, and sharing of information, leading to an increased disruption of narcotrafficking operations.
Counternarcotics in Cuba
2013’s INCSR, praised Cuba’s policies against illicit drugs and trafficking, stating,
“Cuba’s domestic drug production and consumption remain negligible as a result of active policing, harsh sentencing for drug offenses, and very low consumer disposable income. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.”
Cuba is situated between the region’s top drug-producing countries in the Andean region and the region’s number one consumer country, the United States. It has 42,000 sq. miles of territorial waters, 3,000 miles of shoreline and 4,195 islands and small keys. Given these factors, both Cuba and the United States share a vested interest in improving tactics to close trafficking routes in the Caribbean and combat transnational crime.
In spite of Cuba’s close proximity to a number of the region’s largest exporters of illegal drugs, the State Department found, “Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) frequently attempt to avoid GOC and U.S. government counter drug patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters.”
Cuba’s effective counternarcotics efforts are largely attributed to bilateral interdiction, intensive police presence on the ground, and low levels of domestic illegal drug consumption.
One of the chief reasons for the low demand for illegal drugs in Cuba is their prohibitive cost; the cost of one cigarette of marijuana on the island is equivalent to a week’s pay for a state employee (US$5).
President Obama’s lifting of restrictions on remittances has given a number of Cubans greater purchasing power, however. According to a Brookings report, remittances entering Cuba in 2012 were estimated to total $2.6 billion, double what Cuba received in remittances five years ago.
Maritime and aerial operations like “Operation Hatchet,” Cuba’s Minister of Interior-led multi-agency counternarcotics strategy, combined with harsh sentencing (up to 15 years for drug possession), prevention education and extensive on-the-ground policing by the Cuban National Anti-Drug Directorate, have reduced supply and demand.
In the past year, maritime interdictions fell by over 50 percent and total drug seizures on land declined 60 percent while narcotrafficking attempts through Cuba’s air border rose.
According to Granma, the official government newspaper, drug trafficking operations interdicted in Cuban airports doubled to 42 over the past year, resulting in the detention of 69 persons. The majority of those detained were Cuban citizens living in the United States. Police estimate that the increase in air trafficking to the U.S. is due to President Obama’s relaxation of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.
Up from 21 kilograms in 2011, Cuban airport security seized 42 kilograms of drugs (33.6 kg of cocaine, 7.4 kg of marijuana, and one kg of the synthetic drug known as cannabimimetic) in 2012 according to figures released by Granma in February.
Bilateral Counternarcotics Cooperation
According to the INCSR, “With limited Cuban Interdiction assets and the high speed of the drug smuggling vessels, at-sea interdictions remain problematic, and the GOC’s prevalent response continues to be to pass information to neighboring countries, including the United States.” Some points on Cuban cooperation:
Although the United States does not provide any formal narcotics-related funding or assistance to Cuba, the U.S. government maintains one Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist on the island.
The INCSR indicates that in 2012, coordination between Cuban law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard on a case-by-case basis led to 31 interdictions of “go-fast” narcotics vessels. The report also notes that the real-time e-mail and phone communications with the Cuban Border Guard have increased in quantity and improved in timeliness and quality.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010 revealed U.S.-Cuban collaboration on combating drug smuggling from Jamaica, including one case in which the U.S. Coast Guard provided information that helped the Cuban Border Guard to interdict 700 kilograms of marijuana and another in which Cuban officials advised the USCG on the location of a plane that had dumped 13 bales of marijuana in a rural area in Cuba.
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control released a report on U.S.-Caribbean security cooperation in September 2012, in which Senator Feinstein (D-California) recommended a number of steps to increase U.S.-Cuba collaboration on drug policy. Her recommendations included the negotiation of a bilateral agreement and the inclusion of Cuba in the U.S.-Caribbean Security Dialogue.
Feinstein is not the only one asking for increasing dialogue with Cuba; Nicaragua, Brazil and several member states of the OAS have demanded Cuba’s inclusion in the 2015 Summit of the Americas. As a result the OAS created a special committee to address the issue.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
A very contentious debate is nearly over. Last Wednesday, Colombia’s Senate approved legislation that will allow the country’s military to try its own personnel in many more cases of human rights abuse. On Monday, Colombia’s House of Representatives is expected to do the same.
This is a triumph for Colombia’s 280,000-strong armed forces, which have been ever more vocally demanding that the civilian justice system have less jurisdiction over them. But it is a setback for human rights.
Since about 1997, Colombia’s civilian courts had steadily been gaining authority to investigate and judge military personnel believed to have committed crimes against the population. While Colombia’s civilian prosecutors and judges are no models of speed and efficiency, they proved far more likely to hold abusive soldiers accountable than the military’s own justice system, which proved exceedingly lenient in such cases. By the 2000s, civilian courts were handing down historic verdicts, especially in cases of paramilitary killings that benefited from military acquiescence or support. In the past few years, as soldiers stood accused of killing as many as 4,716 citizens – many of them so-called “false positives,” innocent people falsely presented as armed-group members killed in combat – civilian courts convicted a few hundred more, mostly low ranking, military personnel.
That momentum has now stalled. Military demands for “judicial security,” championed by a government that needed military support for its peace talks with guerrillas, have led to legislation that is likely to send many more abuse cases to military courts.
The new law “runs counter to the standards of international human rights law, and many of its provisions run openly contrary to that body of law that regulates, among other issues, the use of force and the administration of justice in any state,” notes a stern seven-page statement [PDF] issued last week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ field office in Colombia.
“This bill’s provisions seriously disagree with the state’s other international commitments, especially those regarding the duty to respect international humanitarian law,” contends the Colombian Commission of Jurists [PDF]. “So many such obligations will be transgressed if this bill is approved, that it is no exaggeration to say that since the 1991 Constitution went into effect, this is one of the legislative initiatives that has most threatened the applicability of fundamental rights in Colombia.”
The bill about to receive final passage is “implementing” legislation. It follows a constitutional amendment that Colombia’s Congress passed late last year. The earlier provision gave the military justice system “exclusive jurisdiction” over all military abuses “related to the conflict,” with the exception of a list of seven crimes: crimes against humanity, genocide, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, torture, and forced displacement. These crimes will continue to go directly to the civilian court system. Others, like assault, illegal surveillance, or homicide that does not meet the definition of “extrajudicial execution,” will go to military justice.
The current bill adds further guidelines explaining how the military courts will deal with violations of international humanitarian law (rules of war); defining the crime of “extrajudicial execution,” which doesn’t exist in Colombia’s penal code; and explaining how disputes between civilian and military jurisdiction will be resolved.
In response to outcry from Colombian and international human rights advocates, Colombia’s Congress has made important improvements to the bill’s language. But serious problems remain.
Why does Colombia need to create the charge of “extrajudicial execution”? Why shouldn’t “homicides” go to the civilian court system?
The hundreds of military personnel accused of committing “false positive” murders are currently facing charges of “homicide,” “aggravated homicide,” or “homicide of a protected person.” All of these crimes, the UN High Commissioner’s Office notes [PDF], “are under the exclusive competence of the [civilian] judicial branch. These must be investigated by the [civilian] Prosecutor-General’s Office [Fiscalía] and judged by autonomous and independent judges.”
But Article 43 of the legislation codifies a new type of crime, “extrajudicial execution,” in line with the constitutional amendment. It’s not clear why this is needed.
The reason, many experts fear, is that making “extrajudicial execution” a brand-new crime is a gambit to move the ongoing “false positives” cases out of the civilian courts, putting justice out of reach for thousands of victims and their families.
The UN High Commissioner’s office explains:
“The Office remains deeply concerned about a series of issues related to the bill and reminds Colombians that if this law is adopted, it could lead to cases of ‘false positives’ that are currently being investigated under the [civilian] criminal system being transferred for investigation and judgment by Defense Ministry authorities, instead of being investigated by an independent judicial authority, as they should. Colombian authorities have assured that the bill does not permit such transfers. In this sense, they have argued that the definitions of the crimes of extrajudicial execution and crimes against humanity are applicable to the ‘false positives’ cases and, as a result, these cases can only be considered by civilian justice. However, what is certain is that constitutional principles covering criminal law, like the principle of non-retroactivity, imply that provisions in the bill are inapplicable in practice and that, in the end, they will not impede ‘false positives’ cases from being tried by military authorities.”
In other words, because “extrajudicial executions” will only become a crime in 2013, military personnel accused of “false positives” might not be tried in civilian courts for committing this crime in previous years. Their defense lawyers will argue that they are being unjustly tried in civilian courts for a crime that did not exist when they committed it. If this argument prospers, “false positives” may go to the military courts, where guilty verdicts are far less likely, as cases of homicide. “Homicide” is not one of the seven categories of crime that the new law would send to the civilian justice system.
Investigative journalist Juanita León, director of the La Silla Vacía website, doubts that this will happen. She reports that “false positive” cases may actually remain in the civilian system – though time will tell. “Senators of different parties,” she writes, “told La Silla that it is very improbable that these crimes might leave civilian justice and pass to the military system.”
“To avoid having this happen in the constitutional reform, senators inserted a paragraph that explicitly says that false positives currently in civilian justice cannot be transferred to the military. So far, no human rights organization has denounced specific cases of false positives that, due to last year’s constitutional reform, have been transferred to the military system. In a couple of years it will be known whether human rights’ defenders’ fear was valid.”
Who is a “legitimate target”?
As the bill is currently drafted, it explains:
“It will be understood that, whenever he or she abstains from all hostile acts and does not try to escape, any person is outside of combat who:
a) Is in the power of an agent of the state;
b) Is unconscious, has collapsed or is wounded or sick, or as a result cannot defend himself or herself;
c) Has surrendered and is unarmed.”
Anyone who has not met these conditions, according to the bill, is a “legitimate target” if he or she “continues carrying out violent acts or threats.” This, to critics of the legislation, is too ambiguous, and fuzzier than the definition that already exists in international humanitarian law.
Parmenio Cuéllar, a senator and former justice minister from the leftist Polo Democrático party, argued in the congressional debate that “if a person is already in a defenseless state, but issues verbal threats, he or she might still be considered a legitimate target by the security forces.” Civilian homes and workplaces “can be attacked when a military commander presumes that a criminal action is being planned there,” contends Polo Democratico congressman Iván Cepeda.
The bill defines who is a member of an armed group, and thus a “legitimate target” for the military. The definition given (that the violence reach a certain level, that the group has a clear command structure) applies to guerrillas but also to the so-called “Criminal Bands” or BACRIM, the organized crime-linked militias whose roots go back to the pro-government paramilitaries of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Combating these groups has been primarily a police mission, with the armed forces playing only an occasional supporting role. The new bill may compel the armed forces to play a greater role in the fight against BACRIM.
Is military justice outside the chain of command?
One reason for the military justice system’s history of leniency is the status of military judges and prosecutors: they have not been independent of the armed forces’ chain of command. Military judges and prosecutors who rule against the institution risk retribution, especially when under consideration for promotions and pay raises.
The new bill takes steps to address this. Article 52 declares that the military justice system “will be administrated with autonomy with respect to institutional command through a special administrative unit.” This unit will have a “Directive Council” made up of five members, the majority of them civilians.
Our colleague at Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, told Colombia’s El Tiempo earlier this week that this was not enough, because the bill put the commander of the armed forces and the director of the National Police on the Directive Council. “This does not de-link it from the chain of command,” he said.
As if in response, in its final debate Colombia’s Senate appears to have removed the requirement that the security forces’ top leadership be members of the Directive Council. That is encouraging. Still, with a slim civilian majority, it only takes one very pro-military civilian – a likely outcome – to ensure that the military justice system is managed by a body that prioritizes the interest of the armed forces’ high command over the interest of achieving justice in human rights cases.
A strangely uninformed debate
Today, as the debate nears its end, it is remarkable how little of it was guided by good information. The military’s claims of spurious prosecutions at civilians’ hands were upheld with very little evidence. In the end, though, that didn’t seem to matter. In a recent column, former Chief Prosecutor Alfonso Gómez Méndez noted this puzzling situation.
"The public debate has gone ahead without enough relative information, for example, about how many cases exist against members of the security forces and for what crimes. The Congress should know them. For example: are there cases against soldiers for killing guerrillas in combat? Or for fighting militarily against armed subversives? Or for typical acts of service? If so, the injustice should be undone immediately.
"Or are those acts referring to events that took place outside of combat, like torture, disappearances, or human rights violations? In such situations, no constitutional reform should assign competence to military justice, as Prosecutor-General Eduardo Montealegre has said.
"It is said that soldiers are victims of a justice system that is politicized or biased by leftist ideologies. But, which are those cases? What prosecutors or judges have deviated from their mission to commit these abuses? If the charge is true, these public servants should be in jail and not administrating justice.
“Does the Congress that discusses this reform know about these cases and does it have them documented?”
We still do not know the true extent of the civilian justice system’s alleged unfair treatment of suspected military human rights abusers. We have seen few statistics or concrete examples from Colombia’s armed forces, Defense Ministry, or from the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos. Without knowing the extent of the problem, it is hard not to conclude that the real problem is that Colombia’s powerful military is angry about recent verdicts and trials, nearly all of them having to do with abuses that took place out of combat.
It is also hard not to conclude that the change in jurisdiction over human rights cases is the military’s price for its support of the Santos government’s peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. “With this, Santos gains more military support for the peace process with the FARC,” Juanita León wrote last week.
Many Colombian experts whom we’ve consulted have little doubt that there is some sort of tacit quid pro quo at work with the armed forces: less judicial pressure in exchange for a green light for the peace talks. If this is true, it would indicate that Colombia’s elected leaders’ room for maneuver is more circumscribed, and the country’s civil-military relations are in poorer condition, than is generally recognized.