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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Presidential Condemnation of Venezuela and Bolivia elicits strong response

This post was written by CIP Intern Benjamin Fagan

On Friday, in its statement on Major Drug Transit and Drug Producing Countries for FY 2014, the White House declared Venezuela and Bolivia had "failed demonstrably" over the past year to adhere to international counternarcotics agreements.

The determination called for increased “support for programs to aid” anti-drug policies in Venezuela, but did not mention Bolivia as a candidate for such assistance. While Venezuela has a strained relationship with the United States regarding anti-drug efforts – former President Chávez kicked the DEA out in 2005, -- with Bolivia that relationship has been particularly tenuous under President Evo Morales, who promotes legalized coca cultivation.

Although Morales rejects the legalization of drugs, he has expanded an "alternative model," first implemented in the country in 2004, intended to combat drug trafficking while allowing for the domestic cultivation of 20,000 hectares of coca. Although this measure appears to have caused potential cocaine production numbers to have dropped, even according to White House numbers, this stance runs counter to official U.S. policy and has created a rift.

The United States has been scaling back on aid to Bolivia, cutting counternarcotics funding from $15 million in 2011 to $10 million in 2012. In 2008, Bolivian President accused the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of spying on him. In April of this year, Morales ejected USAID from the country, ending U.S.-sponsored alternative development programs, and in May, the U.S. announced it would close its counternarcotics office in Bolivia.

Other countries described as "major drug transit and/or major illicit drug producing countries" in the region were: The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

Additionally, the statement notes the government’s “deep concern” over the 5% increase in cocaine trafficking from the Caribbean to the U.S. It also highlights the necessity for strengthened cooperation in Central America under programs such as the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

Both Venezuela and Bolivia were outraged over the “failed demonstrably” designation. The head of Venezuela’s anti-drug office, Alejandro Keleris, responded, “We strongly reject the accusation ... The United States is trying to ignore our government's sovereign policies.” In an official statement from the Venezuela National Anti-Drug Office, Keleris states, “Venezuela sticks to a balanced drug policy, utilizing strong efforts in both prevention and interdiction.” He noted the following indicators of commitment to anti-drug efforts: 6,400 arrests related to drug crimes in the last year, 80,000 pounds of drugs seized in the last year, the capture of 100 drug gang bosses since 2006, 75 of whom have been deported.

Bolivian Vice-Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances, Felipe Caceres, stated, “The Bolivian government does not recognize under any circumstances the US as an authority to certify or decertify the fight against drugs, the only internationally accredited body is the UN whose report was recently met.”

The U.N. report to which Caceres was referring, released in August by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, found that from 2011 to 2012 Bolivia decreased the total area of coca cultivation by 7% and had eradicated upwards of 11,000 of coca. Both countries’ anti-drug measures were given the same classification last year by the United States.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Latin America Security By the Numbers

This post was drafted by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

  • The national security minister of Jamaica, Peter Bunting, expressed worries to his nation’s lawmakers regarding a recent spike in violent crime. Between June 30th and August 31st there were a total of 251 homicides, an average of about four murders per day. This is a significant jump from the 197 homicides recorded in the same two month period in 2012. The sharp spike in violent crimes, especially that of homicide, may threaten the progress Jamaica has made in reducing its murder rate. In 2009 Jamaica had the world’s third highest homicide rate; however over the past four years, with significant foreign aid, the murder rate has been reduced nearly forty percent.

  • September 11th marked the 40th anniversary of the 1973 coup in Chile that ousted democratically elected President Salvador Allende from power, marking the beginning of a repressive authoritarian regime headed by Army General Augosto Pinochet. During Pinochet’s 17 year reign it is estimated that 40,018 Chileans were imprisoned for political reasons and tortured; of those 40,018, 3,095 were killed and 1,200 forcibly disappeared.
    Pinochet’s legacy is one of controversy, however; as many of his loyalists still view him as a fatherly figure, and a champion of economic growth. A recent poll of Chileans, however, indicates an evolving opinion, whereby 63% of respondents shared the belief that the 1973 coup destroyed Chilean democracy.

  • Mario Fabricio Ormachea, a National Police Colonel from Bolivia, was arrested in Miami, Florida after attempting to solicit a $35,000 bribe from Humberto Roca, former head of Aerosur, a private airline company. Following the creation of Boliviana de Aviacion, a nationalized airline, the Bolivian government began filing charges against individuals such as Roca. In conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Roca was able to catch Ormachea on tape promising to drop the federal charges in return for compensation.

  • Petrobras, the national oil company of Brazil, is one of the world’s 30 biggest businesses, and apparently a target of a U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spying program codenamed “Blackpearl.” Documents leaked from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicate that Blackpearl was designed to target private business networks, among them Petrobras. Brazil’s government is trying to determine whether the NSA’s actions can be interpreted as industrial espionage. Brazilian legislators have recently been authorized to visit Moscow and interview Edward Snowden to clarify some of their questions. Documents released by Snowden also expose a United States role in spying on President Dilma Rousseff and her advisors.

  • On September 9th, 15 navies from the Western Hemisphere conducted joint exercises in the Caribbean. The objective of UNITAS, a 54-year-old naval exercise sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, is to promote cooperation and “develop their capacity for unified response.”

  • 29 people were shot, 11 killed, when gunmen in a stolen car opened fire on the crowded streets of a small village in Guatemala. Twenty minutes prior to the incident an anonymous tip had brought the National Police to the town, however the officers had left prior to the gunmen’s arrival. The National Police had previously been expelled by the villagers, after which a local police force was created, fostering significant reductions in crime. The National Police has faced accusations of corruption, extortion, and links to local gangs, leading many townspeople to draw connections between the police officers’ departure and the gunmen’s arrival.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Podcast: The Week Ahead, September 13, 2013

Adam looks at Chile on the 40th anniversary of its military coup, the maritime border dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua, and Venezuela's troubles with its electric power grid.

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





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Friday, September 13, 2013

Week in Review

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

New Just the Facts Report!

We'll be releasing a big new report next Wednesday on U.S. military and police aid trends. For those in the D.C. area, please stop by our launch event that will be held Wednesday morning.

U.S. Policy

Biden's canceled trip to Panama

Vice President Joe Biden has canceled his meeting with Central American Presidents in Panama next week due to the situation in Syria, according to Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nuñez. He will, however, still be visiting Mexico on September 19 and 20 to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. This is Biden's fifth trip to the region as Vice President.

House of Representatives hearing on democracy in the region

The U.S. House of Representative's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on Tuesday, "Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere." Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe testified at the hearing and railed against countries in the Bolivarian Alliance: Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina. Uribe referred to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration as a "dictatorship in disguise" and Cuba as a "failure." Several experts also testified, including Carlos Lauria, the Senior Americas Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Dr. Cynthia J. Arnson, Director of the Americas Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, among others.

Brazil-U.S. relations

National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo on Wednesday to discuss the revelations of extensive NSA surveillance practices in the country that have rankled relations between the two countries. Rice reportedly conceded that the revelations raised "legitimate questions" for allies such as Brazil, but that the U.S. is “committed to working with Brazil to address these concerns." Adding to the already strained communications were reports that surfaced on Monday that the U.S. had been spying on the country's national oil company, Petrobras.

More from Reuters, Bloomberg, MercoPress and Bloggings by Boz, about recent proposals made by President Dilma Rousseff's administration for new policies to improve internet and telecommunication security. The most recent of which is a plan to force private international internet companies like Google and Microsoft that operate in Brazil to keep domestic data centers so that all data would remain inside the country.

U.S. origin of drug planes in Central America

Honduras Culture and Politics blog pubished an interesting post about U.S.-made planes used by drug traffickers in Central America. According to analyst Russell Sheptak, "Like the US side of narco-weapons, the US side of drug planes remains largely uninvestigated by law enforcement, and largely unreported on by the US press."

Chile

Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup in Chile that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. There was a lot of great coverage about the day that "democracy came to a violent end in Chile," as WOLA's Adam Isacson called it. Some highlights:

  • WOLA had an excellent podcast featuring co-founder Joe Eldridge, who was in Chile at the time of the coup. According to Eldridge, at the U.S. Embassy after the coup, "inference was we brought this on ourselves because of our sympathy for previous government."
  • The Associated Press featured a gripping first-hand account written by a former regional editor who was in Chile at the time of the coup, while the New York Times published an opinion piece by writer Ariel Dorfman, "9/11: The Day Everything Changed, in Chile"
  • The Economist published an article on how the coup continues to divide Chilean society today, noting, "Although three-fifths of the population was born after the coup, a survey taken by CERC, a pollster, suggested that three-quarters of Chileans believe the wounds opened in 1973 have yet to be healed."
  • The National Security Archives published the top ten declassified documents on the United States policy in Chile.
  • "How the Reagan administration broke with Chile's Pinochet in 1986," examined the often-overlooked political separation that took place between the United States and Chile in the mid-1990s.
  • Several protests were held to mark the anniversary, many of which resulted in violent clashes with police and ultimately the arrest of more than 260 people. According to the BBC, President Sebastian Piñera called on judges to punish those behind the clashes "with severity."

    Colombia

    Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón said Tuesday the government would begin peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's second largest guerrilla group, "in the coming days." Garzón said the talks would be separate from the current peace process with the FARC as to "not mix pears with apples" and that they would be "held in a different location than Havana, Cuba."

    Honduras

  • The most recent polls show that there are two clear front-runners in the Honduran presidential election. Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya and presidential candidate for the Libertad and Refundacion party, has a lead with 28%. The candidate of the ruling Partdo Nacional, Juan Orlando Hernandez, currently has 21.7% support. The Economist notes that neither candidate is expected to receive more than one third of the vote and that the Constitution does not hold a run-off clause, raising concerns about the potential for political instability. Christian Science Monitor has a profile of Castro.
  • 980 members of the Honduran army have started training to join the ranks of the country's new military police force, the creation of which was approved by the country's Congress late last month.
  • Venezuela

  • The Venezuelan government officially exited the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Tuesday. The country announced its withdrawal from the Organization of American States- affiliated court in September 2012, but as the Pan American Post noted, it takes a year before denouncements go into effect. According to WOLA's Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog, "Although Venezuela will remain subject to existing rulings, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will still be able to receive complaints from Venezuelan citizens, the IACHR will no longer be able to bring cases regarding Venezuela to the I/A Court H.R., nor will Venezuelan citizens be able to directly address it." Venezuelans can go to the United Nations with complaints as well.

    The move has been criticized by local and international human rights groups, like Amnesty International. President Nicolas Maduro tweeted, "The IACHR became a tool to protect the US geopolitical interests in America and to harass progressive governments." Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based human rights research group Dejusticia published a piece arguing that Venezuela could likely return to the body given regional politics.

  • The New York Times featured an overview of President Nicolas Maduro's ongoing list of conspiracy theories against his administration. As journalist William Neumann wrote, "Accusing unseen conspirators of subjecting the nation to a variety of ills is an art form in Venezuela."

    The latest of these schemes, according to the Maduro administration, was a power outage last week that left half the country without electricity that was the result of economic "sabotage." To target conspirators, on Thursday President Maduro announced the creation of a state council, to fight economic "sabotage." The new body will monitor private companies that produce food and basic consumption goods. As Reuters noted, Maduro claims opposition leaders are trying to limit food production, among other plots, to destabilize the country. President Maduro has also created a special hotline to call for anyone who witnesses any irregularities to file reports: 0-800- Sabotaje, or “Sabotage.”

  • Brazil

    An article by Brazilian human rights organization Observatório de Favelas, translated by English-language blog Rio On Watch, reported that police in Rio de Janeiro have killed 10,000 people in the past ten years, between 2001 and 2011. The piece called for discussion about the militarization of police in the country as well as police and judicial reform.

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, September 6, 2013

    Adam looks at protests undercutting the popularity of Colombia's president; a crusading Colombian prosecutor's appointment to a UN anti-impunity office in Guatemala; and a survey of Latin American governments' views of intervention in Syria.

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





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    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Security in Brazil: more protests to come

    This post was written by CIP interns Benjamin Fagan and Victor Salcedo

    The large-scale protests that paralyzed many Brazilian cities and captured the attention of the international press this summer have mostly fizzled out following political promises to tackle corruption and other social woes. As noted in an earlier blog post, the conduct of Brazil’s police raised serious concerns about violence against peaceful protesters and journalists. Since then, Brazilian lawmakers and the Rousseff administration have sprung into action to appease protesters demands. First, Brazil’s Congress voted to allocate 25% of the royalties from newly discovered oil fields into the health system and 75% to education.

    Yet this rapid response by Congress has not equated to across the board substantial changes. According to Globo, 60% of the government proposals in response to the protests are caught up in Congress. Some analysts note that repeat protests are likely if the government does not take the necessary measures to fulfill the demands of the Brazilian people. Shari Wejsa and Vitor de Salles Brasil write in the Americas Quarterly, “While the protest movement has waned for now, the fundamental conditions that sparked them have yet to be addressed. Without a continued push for reform, Brazilians are likely to take to the streets once again.” Thus far, some of the government’s key stopgap measures intended to address the protesters’ calls for reform have had mixed success:

  • The first failure of the Rousseff administration was a poorly planned proposal for a constituent assembly that was quickly squashed only 24 hours after being unveiled due to its unconstitutionality. LAC Press notes that the Brazilian Vice President, a constitutional lawyer, was not included in the policymaking process.
  • An anti-corruption bill, meant to classify corruption as a “heinous” crime, has been stuck in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress. Valeriano Costa, a professor at Campinas University, is quoted in DW as stating, “If it comes to mass protests against corruption on September 7, they will be targeted directly at the legislative branch.”
  • President Rousseff signed a controversial agreement, called Mais Medicos (More Doctors), with Cuba and other countries to recruit doctors to Brazil’s underserved rural regions. This measure is an immediate response to public concern over the health system; a Datafolha survey found that almost 50% of Brazilians cited healthcare as the most pressing issue in the country. Yet, this proposal has sparked more social unrest, this time among the medical community. Thousands of medical professionals and students protesting the government’s plan to import doctors from abroad have taken to the streets in a number of cities such as Brasilia, Santa Catarina, Fortaleza and Pernambuco. Doctors contest that a lack of adequate resources, not a lack of doctors, is the root of the country’s medical woes and are in opposition to new professionals that have not taken the "Revalida" medical exam and may not have the Portuguese language skills needed to treat patients.
  • As the Rousseff administration is focusing on a political solution to the crisis, other sectors of the government have begun to implement new security strategies in preparation for future protests:

  • The Government of Bahia is implementing a new strategy that prevents protesters from blocking major transportation avenues.
  • Brazil’s military police have announced a measure that will ban the use of masks during public protests to maintain order. “Anyone with a mask will be detained,” said Jooziel Freire Melo, commander of the Military Police in Brasilia.
  • Security measures also have been increased in preparation for the Independence Day celebration and a soccer match this Saturday, September 7th. The Department of Public Safety is expecting around 150,000 people in Brasilia for the festivities. Social media sites planning demonstrations, like the Anonymous Brasil Facebook account, have been monitored for the past 30 days. So far, there are major protests expected for this weekend in 135 cities around the country. 4,000 military police officers will be on duty to ensure civil security in Brasilia during the celebrations.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Guatemala sends Special Forces to D.R. Congo for UN peacekeeping mission

    This blog is cross-posted and co-authored with the Africa focused Security Assistance Monitor blogger Natalie Chwalisz.

    Last week Guatemala sent 150 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there. The soldiers were members of the Kaibiles, an elite counterinsurgency unit that has a notoriously violent reputation stemming from its brutal training. In early 2013, Adam Isacson wrote a blog
    on Just the Facts about the Kaibiles and their “notorious human rights past.” As outlined in the blog, the Kaibiles’ training included extreme cruelty such as killing animals, eating them raw and drinking their blood.

    The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is the UN’s largest peacekeeping force. In addition to Guatemala, other Latin American countries that have contributed troops include Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. This most recent deployment is the 13th mission Guatemala has sent to the central African nation since the country's contingent began operating in 2000. The Kaibiles have been part of MONUSCO since 2006.

    MONUSCO recently became the United Nations first offensive peacekeeping unit, which includes a specialized “intervention brigade,” in addition to its peacekeeping force, “to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.”

    Prior to this change, the UN forces in the DRC were traditional peacekeeping forces in that the use of force was restricted to the protection UN personnel, including foreign peacekeeping troops. The new intervention brigade’s mandate is to “neutralize” armed groups in order to allow for stabilization work.The Associated Press reported so far that Tanzanian, South African and Malawian soldiers would participate in the brigade. It is unclear whether the Kaibiles will be included in this particular brigade.

    Concerns over human rights abuses by MONUSCO recently surfaced. Over the weekend, the UN opened an investigation into
    reports that Uruguayan soldiers had open fired into a crowd, resulting in the death of two Congolese citizens. Uruguay has denied the allegations, saying its troops fired rubber bullets, and blamed the Congolese police for the deadly shots.

    In his blog, Isacson pointed out that “it is reasonable to question” why a U.S. sergeant was sent to train at the Guatemalan special operations Kaibil school and why the “U.S. armed forces would report on the event without even acknowledging the cloud that hangs over the Kaibiles.” The same logic could apply to the Kaibiles’ participation in a UN peacekeeping force.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    Brazil's Military Police: Calls for demilitarization

    As we have noted in a series of posts on Just the Facts, there is a trend throughout Latin America of increasingly using militaries to carry out law enforcement duties.

    In the case of Brazil, the government is using established Military Police to carry out these duties instead of directly sending in the Army. And politicians, citizens and analysts have begun calling for demilitarization of the country’s law enforcement.

    Each state in Brazil has two distinct police units – the Civil Police and the Miltiary Police (PM). The PM is responsible for maintaining public order and immediately responding to crimes, while the Civil Police carry out investigations, detective work and forensics. Although the PMs are military-trained and also army reserve troops, they report to their state governments, not the Ministry of Defense. There are about 400,000 active PM members and 123,400 active members of the Civil Police.

    As Global Voices explains,

    The debate on the demilitarization of the military police in the country is not new. Part of the legacy of Brazil's dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, the military police emerged as a solution through the extinction of the Public Force and Civil Guard. After the 1964 coup, the new government abandoned the idea of creating a single, civilian police and implemented a military model.

    Today, almost all urban policing in Brazil is done by military police attached to the governments of each state, and the country remains the only one in the world to have a police force that operates out of the military barracks.

    The issue of demilitarizing the police has reentered the debate in Brazil after several recent episodes of PM violence against demonstrators and journalists during the massive protests that swept the country in June.

    A recent article in BBC Brasil, Como desmiliarizar a polícia no Brasil?, examined this issue. Here are some key points and quotes in the article (translated):

    Logistical problems:

  • Analysts polled by BBC Brasil claim that one of the main problems of having two separate police forces is that neither carries out all responsibilities in any criminal occurrence - The PM holds a suspect who has just committed a crime and turns them over to the Civil Police, which starts investigating and reports the crime to the justice sector. However, this division of responsibility and sometimes overlap of tasks inhibits coordination and cooperation.
  • In addition, both police forces have units with similar responsibilities – investigation and patrol. In most states, the division of responsibility is blurred, creating competition and lack of cooperation between the two bodies, according to the researchers.
  • Ideological problems:

  • For Coronel Ibis Pereira, head of the sub-directorate of teaching for Rio de Janeiro’s military police, “militarization” is defined more by how a force views its target and less by a military structure: “It’s to see a favela and identify it as a territory that has to be conquered. To see the criminal faction as an enemy that needs to be confronted with bullets,” he says. “But we are facing criminals that have rights and guarantees.”
  • “The military is prepared to defend the country. It is a different methodology than is necessary to deal with the Brazilian people,” according to lawmaker Chico Lopes. “Some military police treat people as if they were enemies. The police have to have a social role, more humane and civilian.”
  • A survey by BBC Brasil on police killings in 2011 indicated that São Paulo’s PM killed six times more people than the Civil Police.
  • Change?

  • Any change to this structure would need a constitutional amendment. At least three Constitutional Amendment Proposals (PEC) related to demilitarization are being considered in the Brazilian Congress. The majority of them propose unifying the civil and military police.
  • According to legal experts, a constitutional amendment would have to be approved in two rounds by three-fifths of both the House and the Senate before moving on to be signed by the president.
  • Wilson Moraes, president of the Association of Chiefs and Soldiers PM from São Paulo, Brazil told the BBC that associations of PMs are favorable to the unification of the police - among other things because it would allow for the political participation of the military in society and make it possible for them to receive overtime.
  • In 2012, the UN Council on Human Rights asked the Brazilian government to work towards abolishing the PM, as they have been accused of numerous extrajudicial killings and abuses. Other global organizations have also spoken out about the PM for their involvement in death squads. Last year Amnesty International reported PM and Civil Police had been, “engaged in social cleansing, extortion, as well as in trafficking in arms and drugs,” as well as in enforced disappearance. The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights have also recognized these abuses.

    CIP intern Victor Salcedo contributed to translations in the post

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    United States policy

    St. Lucia

  • The United States suspended all police assistance to St. Lucia over 12 unlawful killings by police in 2010 and 2011, the country's prime minister, Kenny Anthony, announced Wednesday. Anthony said he planned to introduce legislation to investigate extrajudicial police killings.
  • Mexico

  • The United States is reportedly considering creating a three-tier security system with Mexico, along the country’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize, the Washington Free Beacon reported. The plan called for U.S. funding and technical support for sensors and intelligence gathering. The funding would come in part through the Mérida Initiative. Both the Obama and Peña Nieto administrations have been secretive about the proposal.
  • Brazil

  • Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told a Congressional committee on Thursday that the recently revealed NSA surveillance practices of the United States could create a “cloud of mistrust between countries.” This comes following remarks of a similar tone that Minister Patriota made during Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to the country.
  • Honduras

  • Honduras announced plans to establish two new police forces this week:

    The first a military police force of 5,000 members, was approved Thursday by the Honduran Congress. The military says the force will trained, vetted and ready to patrol by October, just one month before presidential elections. Congressman and presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez was the architect of the bill had told Congress, “We need to make use of the military, and they should be in the streets until the day we establish peace.”

    As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, Liberal party congressman Jose Simon Azcona said the idea for the militarized force came from the U.S. Embassy and that “the government of the United States had offered assistance and were converting four battalions into military police under the previous administration.” The blog also provides a good historical overview of militarized police in the country. More from El Heraldo, Reuters and this week's Just the Facts podcast.

    The other was a community police force of 4500 new civilian police scheduled to begin in September. Secretary of Defense and Security Arturo Corrales (in charge of both the military and police) created the initiative, which was pushed forward by decree instead of law. More from InSight Crime and El Nuevo Diario. Honduras Politics and Culture blog looks at the economics behind the decision.

  • Colombia

    FARC accept responsibility for victims

  • For the first time in history, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has acknowledged that its forces share blame for atrocities committed during the country's armed conflict. At a press conference on Tuesday in Havana, FARC spokesman Pablo Catatumbo read aloud a statement that admitted, “without a doubt, there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces.” More from the Pan-American Post, El Tiempo, Reuters and La Silla Vacía.
  • Labor Protests

  • Massive labor demonstrations involving over 30,000 workers broke out across Colombia starting Monday. The demonstrators include workers from various sectors that are making an assortment of demands from cheaper gas and fertilizer to greater government subsidies and investment in rural areas. President Santos has said he will not negotiate until the widespread road blockades are lifted. So far police have arrested at least 61 protestors.

    Colombia Reports provided a clear rundown of who is striking and why, while the Economist noted that the protests have garnered support from two extreme sides of the political spectrum: far-right politicians loyal to former President Alvaro Uribe and the leftist FARC rebels.

  • Referendum on peace agreement

  • President Santos announced plans to submit a bill to Congress that would allow for a popular vote on the terms of an eventual peace agreement with the FARC. The referendum would be tied to the upcoming legislative elections in March or presidential elections in May. The bill is likely to pass, as the National Unity coalition, of which President Santo’s party is a member, supported the bill.

    The FARC have previously come out against the measure and on Friday paused the peace talks in order analyze the government’s proposal. More from Reuters, Colombia Reports, El Espectador, and Semana.

  • Mexico

  • Over the weekend the Mexican armed forces reported the capture of Mario Ramirez Trevino, alias "X20," head of the Gulf Cartel. This is the second major drug capo the security forces have caught in just over a month. While the Associated Press,New York Times and other analysts claimed the arrest amount to a continuation of the former President Felipe Calderón’s much-criticized U.S.-backed “kingpin strategy,” InSight Crime's Steven Dudley arugued the high-profile arrests of the country’s most violence actors are aligned with President Peña Nieto’s security strategy to prioritize violence reduction.

    As El Comercio noted, it is likely that the northeastern region where both leaders were captured and the principal corridor for trafficking drugs into the United States, will see an increase in violence as members within gangs vie for power and rival organizations fight for territorial control. The United States has reportedly named three new possible leaders for the Gulf Cartel.

  • Venezuela

  • The Venezuelan government announced plans to install about 30,000 surveillance cameras across the country in an effort to target the high levels of crime and violence, the AFP reported.
  • Venezuelan human rights group Provea released a report this week on abuses by the country’s armed forces. The assessment painted a bleak picture. More from Provea and El Universal in English.
  • Paraguay

  • Paraguay’s Congress approved President Horacio Cartes’ request to unilaterally send the military to carry out police duties and internal security operations in cases of terrorism threats. President Cartes, who was sworn in just last week, made the request to target the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a small leftist guerrilla group that allegedly killed five private security guards at a cattle ranch over the weekend. More from InSight Crime, Associated Press, Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color and this week's Just the Facts podcast.
  • The Pan American Post highlighted remarks from the top drug official in new President Horacio Cartes’ government. In an interview with Spanish news agency EFE, Paraguay’s new drug czar, Luis Rojas, said he does not think legislation to regulate marijuana will have much of an effect on the illicit trade of the drug between the two countries. As the post notes, Paraguay is the biggest producer of cannabis in South America and produces as much as 80 percent of the marijuana that reaches the Uruguayan market.
  • Brazil

  • Brazil’s congress approved a new law this week that will reserve 100 percent of the country’s oil royalties: 75 percent will be invested in education, while 25 percent will go towards healthcare. The country expects next year’s royalties to reach about $800 million. More from the AFP and O Globo.
  • Brazil’s Army blocked the country’s Truth Commission’s access to a facility used as a torture center during the country’s dictatorship from 1964- 1985. The commission is trying to raze the building and construct a historical center of memory.
  • Friday, August 23, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, August 23, 2013

    Adam looks at new laws giving militaries dramatically greater policing roles in Honduras and in Paraguay, and at Bolivia's intention to buy surface-to-air missiles and other equipment from Russia.

    Due to staff travel, there will be no "Week Ahead" podcast on August 30.

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





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