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Wednesday, June 5, 2013
This week delegations from Latin American countries and the United States are gathering in Guatemala to debate drug policy and other regional issues at the Organization of American States' (OAS) 43rd annual General Assembly.
The meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas," comes just two weeks after the OAS released a 400-page report that suggested countries consider decriminalizing some drug use as one of many methods to combat the drug trade and to view consumption as a public health issue. Given continued high levels of drug use and addiction, incarceration, and violence, many Latin American leaders are looking for alternatives to the drug war and are expected to urge the U.S. to change its prohibitionist approach.
Secretary of State John Kerry is leading the U.S. delegation and plans to uphold the Obama administration's view that legalization is not the "magic solution" and reiterate the U.S.' opposition to marijuana legalization at the national level.
While leaders discuss alternatives to prohibition in the region today and tomorrow, here are some quick facts about current drug policy in the region:
U.S. funding for the drug war
Since 2000, the United States has spent approximately $12.5 billion in Latin America to stem the flow of drugs. Over the past decade, U.S. funding for counternarcotics operations has increased almost 30 percent, from $644 million in 2002 to $833 million in 2012. In 2012, about 90% of all U.S. law enforcement and military aid spent in the region went to counternarcotics operations. For FY2013, that number is expected to drop to about $808 million.
Coca cultivation and profits
A kilo of cocaine in Colombia's interior sells for around $2000, according to InSight Crime. At the border, the same kilo increases in worth to $3000. Once it reaches Mexico, it will have increased in worth to about $12,000-$15,000. Once it reaches the U.S. mainland the same kilo will sell for at least $25,000 and in the UK for about $60,000. Experts have argued that decriminalization (particularly of marijuana) might not curb violence as cartels have diversified their income, including extortion, human trafficking and illegal mining.
Since the late 1980s, when the U.S. first started estimating coca production in the Andean region, the number of hectares of coca under cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia has decreased by only 8 percent (from 176,000 hectares in 1987 to 153,700 hectares in 2011). Yet, in 2012, the U.S. spent $48 million on eradication efforts in Colombia alone. There has been a slow decline in coca cultivation over the past few years, however, since 2003 the total number of hectares under cultivation in the Andean region has stayed right around 150,000.
According to numbers from the U.S. government, Peruvian drug producers were able to extract the most cocaine from a hectare of coca in 2010, producing 6.1 kilograms per hectare. In Bolivia, a hectare produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine, and in Colombia 2.7 kilograms of cocaine. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime however, a hectare of coca in 2010 in Colombia produced 5.4 kilograms, almost double what the U.S. reported. There were no numbers for Peru or Bolivia.
Moves toward legalization
Six countries in South America -- Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay -- have passed laws decriminalizing drug possession for personal consumption as part of a growing movement to shift away from criminalization for personal use and towards prevention and treatment programs. Last November, two U.S. states, Colorado and Washington, followed suit.
A new bill in Uruguay would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants, while national cultivation would be capped at 30,000 hectares. The bill was stalled after a poll found about 60% of Uruguayans opposed the measure. This week, however, the ruling Frente Amplio party got support for the legislation after tightening up language on education and prevention programs. It will likely pass in Congress' lower house next week, according to the Pan-American Post.
In Latin America, 48% of women in prisons are convicted of drug trafficking compared to only 15% of all incarcerated men. In Mexico, 80% of all jailed women are there for drug trafficking charges compared with 57% of men.
Incarceration rates have increased about 40 percent in Mexico and South America over the past 10 years. A recent study found that in three of seven countries surveyed -- Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador -- drug trafficking carried longer maximum and minimum penalties than murder. In all the countries studied the maximum penalty for drug trafficking was greater than or equal to the penalties for rape.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
This post first appeared as an op-ed in Colombian newspaper El Espectador. It was written by Lisa Haugaard, Director of the Latin America Working Group. It was translated by CIP intern Ashley Badesch.
Topics that the Vice President of the United States and the President of Colombia should discuss: Washington’s role in the peace process, the fuero militar, and the Labor Action Plan.
The visit of Vice President Joe Biden to Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago is part of a series of diplomatic events intended to tell Latin America that it has not been forgotten. The visit follows President Barack Obama’s visit to Mexico and Costa Rica, and the leaders of Peru and Chile plan to visit the White House. In spite of Secretary of State John Kerry’s clumsy reference to Latin America as the United State’s “backyard,” these diplomatic efforts are an overdue recognition of the economic and political power and independent spirit of Latin America.
In Colombia, they will discuss economics, trade, and security issues, but one hopes that Joe Biden will also emphasize that the United States fully supports the peace process. “Just as we have supported Colombia’s leaders in the battlefield, we’ll fully support their efforts to end the conflict at the negotiating table," Biden said before his visit.
The White House has supported the peace process since its beginning, but they’ve done so with a low profile. It is now time to emphasize that the U.S. government wants to see successful negotiations and is prepared to cooperatively and diplomatically support the implementation of an agreement and, even more challenging, a just and lasting peace. This will require a different form of cooperation; cooperation by means of peace rather than war.
Despite Bush’s and Obama’s support of President Uribe, at the end of Uribe’s presidency and after the revelations of the terrible reality of false positives and the DAS scandal, the U.S. government looked with relief towards the arrival of Juan Manuel Santos, with his more inclusive discourse, his openness to negotiations, and his focus on the Victims Law. The State Department remains concerned about the impact of the constitutional reform that opens the door for human rights violations committed by the military to be investigated and tried in military courts, despite the Colombian government’s promises that this will not be the case. Paradoxically, Washington still looks at Colombia as a great security success and a model that should be “exported” to Central America and Africa.
If there is to be frankness in the discussions between Santos and Biden, it would be good that they share with each other some truths. Biden should tell Santos that it is extremely important to ensure that the soldiers and officers who have committed serious human rights violations should be investigated and tried in ordinary court proceedings. Biden should also remind him that the two governments signed a Labor Action Plan for the passage of the Free Trade Agreement, and that the commitments of this plan meant to protect the labor rights of Colombians are very far from being met.
And Santos should tell Biden that the United States needs to listen carefully to the criticism of the war on drugs. As several presidents expressed, including Santos, this war is not going to be won, and the producer and transit countries pay enormous costs in violence and lost lives. After decades of the same failed policy, it’s time to listen.
Among close friends, the truth can be told.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is on a six-day trip to Colombia, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago. His trip comes just a few weeks after President Obama's trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, and just a few days after the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia.
During remarks in a press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Biden applauded Colombia's security improvements, pleased that trade and economic issues are now front and center in the relationship. He praised Colombia for "reclaiming your nation from civil war," noting that it is a "remarkable milestone that today when we meet the main topic is not security, it is economic prosperity."
Vice President Biden said the United States is willing to join the Pacific Alliance as an observer country. President Santos indicated that Colombia "will certainly support that request" and submit it to the other member nations.
At the same press conference, Biden put more weight behind U.S. support for the peace talks. "Just as we support Colombia's leaders on the battlefield, we support them fully at the negotiating table" he said. "We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve.
Despite the overall positive tone of the meeting, Biden did voice concern over possible impunity for human rights abuses as a result of a law that allows certain crimes by security forces to be tried in military courts. According to the Associated Press, "Biden did note Washington's insistence that human rights violators be tried in Colombia's civilian courts."
On Sunday, the FARC and the Colombian government announced a preliminary agreement on the first of five agenda items in the talks: land tenure and rural development. Ginny Bouvier a senior program officer for Latin America in the Center of Innovation at the U.S. Institute of has a summary of some of the key points of their statement on the agreement and Adam Isacson has the entire English translation.
Today Vice President Biden was in Trinidad and Tobago and tonight he will be traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil before heading to Brasilia late Thursday.
Friday, May 24, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on Tuesday, “Advocating for American Jacob Ostreicher’s Freedom after Two Years in Bolivian Detention.” Jacob Ostreicher is an American businessman being held under house arrest on allegations of links to criminal groups and money laundering. Actor/Activist Sean Penn testified and urged the U.S. government to pressure Bolivia to free Ostreicher. A video of the hearing, along with Mr. Penn’s testimony, can be found here.
The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing yesterday, “U.S.-Mexico Cooperation: An Overview of the Mérida Initiative 2008-Present.” There were several notable testimonies from government officials, including William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics Affairs, and non-government experts, like Steven Dudley, director of InSight Crime. John D. Feeley of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs within the State Department testified, "At the federal level, Mérida has delivered training to nearly 19,000 federal law enforcement officers." View the webcast and find all testimonies here.
In his testimony, Dudley provided eight recommendations for Congress on the Mérida Initiative, including continuing to support the cooperation between officials in both countries on the mid to lower levels and pushing to continue judicial and police reform. InSight Crime has an excerpt from the testimony and the recommendations.
Tradewinds 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training exercise focused on security cooperation is being held from May 20 – June 6 in St. Lucia. The training will bring together over 260 law enforcement officers and military personnel and government representatives from 14 countries, the majority in the Caribbean Basin.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said 38 more metric tons of cocaine are entering the United States as a result of sequestration spending cuts. “It breaks my heart to see multi-metric-ton cocaine shipments go by that we know are there and we don’t have a ship to target it,” he told the Defense Writers Group.
The U.S. Southern Command reported that during an exercise in Honduras, U.S. Marines and Seabees tested an inflatable aerostat and a small Puma drone. According to Southcom, “The Aerostat and Puma UAV are equipped with state-of-the-art radars, cameras and sensors that could prove to be useful in detecting Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) organizations attempting to smuggle drugs and other illicit materials (guns, people, drug money) in the maritime and littoral environments. The Aerostat and Puma UAV were testing in actual counter drug operations.”
Today Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was sworn in for his third term as president. Correa has pledged this term will be his last. In the coming weeks his administration is expected to pass major reforms to the mining sector, communications regulations, social security and land redistribution. More from MercoPress and the Pan-American Post.
Yesterday the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia. The heads of the member countries – Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru—met with aspiring members Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica, along with several other observing countries. Analyst James Bosworth provides a short overview of what was accomplished, including a 90 percent tariff drop on goods traded between the countries and proposal to create a joint visa system.
The U.S.announced Thursday it is closing the Narcotics Affairs Section at the Embassy in La Paz and suspending funding for counternarcotics operations until 2015. Speaking at the hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said it is “time for us to go.”
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed a law on Monday that will permitEvo Morales to run for a third term. The Bolivian Constitution says that a president can only serve for two terms, but in a ruling last month, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Morales’ first term did not count because the constitution was changed in during his first term.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared the appointment of two retired generals, General David Mungia Payes and General Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera, to Minister of Public Security and Director of the Police unconstitutional. The pair were given their posts a few months before a truce began rival gangs and Mungia was a key orchestrator of the agreement. Gang leaders have since held a press conference conference saying the announcement put their ceasefire at risk. As several analysts note, the truce and the associated drop in violence has given the gangs political power and the ability to make demands. More from James Bosworth, InSight Crime, WOLA and Tim’s El Salvador blog.
According to the World Bank, El Salvador spends 2.8% of its GDP on security and justice, more than any other Central American country. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama reportedly invest 2.3% into the same sectors, while Honduras and Guatemala spend 2% and 1.7% respectively.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced plans to create a “Bolivarian Workers’ Militia” of armed and organized workers. According to Maduro, “The working class is increasingly respected. It will be respected even more if the workers’ militias have 300,000, 500,00, one or two million working men and women in uniform, ready and armed for the defense of the Fatherland.”
Seventy-five percent of the audit of elections results is complete and President Maduro has claimed a “heroic victory.”
In a 3-2 decision on Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the ruling that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was guilty of genocide and said the trial would go back to April 19 on account of a procedural irregularity. According to the New York Times, however, lawyers from both sides of the case say that the trial will have to go back to square one and begin with a new panel of judges. The Times’ Editorial Board featured an op-ed this week calling for the United States to push for the case to be “pursued through an independent process.”
There were protests in Guatemala and throughout Latin America today targeting the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Central American Politics has an interesting post on Israel’s role in the Guatemalan genocide.
The Colombian government and the FARC are still deliberating on land redistribution- the first point on the talks’ five-point agenda. The Colombian government has indicated that it would like to go faster, while FARC lead negotiator asked for more time for a deal, saying "We have to approach these issues with serenity, with depth if we really want to form the solid basis to build a stable and long-lasting peace." In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Marisol Gomez Giraldo said if the sides have not reached a land accord by Sunday, “the peace process will be left without oxygen.”
A special government commission published a new drug policy report that suggested drug consumption be treated as a public health problem and legalization should be considered.
InSight Crime released a new report on the possible criminalization of the FARC. The report looks at the FARC fragmenting and turning to crime in three scenarios: during the talks, after an agreement has been reached, or following the demobilization. According to InSight Crime, “The risk of FARC elements criminalizing in scenario three, once an agreement has been signed and demobilization has occurred, is very high, even almost inevitable.”
The Los Angeles Times published an interview with a former FARC commander who deserted the guerilla organization. One of the reasons he cited for leaving the group was the “comfort” of the leaders negotiating in Havana. According to the article, 500 FARC fighters have deserted so far this year, a 6% increase on the say period last year.
The biggest story out of Mexico this week was the Mexican government’s decision to deploy troops to the embattled western Michoacán to fight local militias and the Knights Templar drug gang, which has taken control of the state and is on “a medieval-like reign of terror,” reported the Associated Press. As the Washington Post notes, President Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón launched his militarized drug war by sending soldiers into the same state in 2006 to fight another syndicate, La Familia. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told reporters, “Our fundamental goal is simple: to come to Michoacán and not leave until peace and security have been provided for every Michoacán resident.” More from the Global Post, Animal Politico and El Universal.
In an interview in Cali, Colombia, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his opposition to legalizing drugs as a means of combating crime.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
This post was written by the Washington Office on Latin America and is cross-posted with their
The first bit of news to emerge after our last Colombia Peace Process Update (March 27) gave cause for concern. The seventh round of talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas had ended with no agreement on the first of five agenda points, land and rural development. The eighth round, originally scheduled to begin April 2 in Havana, Cuba, was then delayed for three weeks. The reason given was a need for “separate work on sub-points” of the agenda, while negotiators’ support teams “continue joint work.”
In fact, the “break” between April 2 and the next round’s April 23 launch turned out to be a period of intense activity.
One reason for the delay soon became apparent: the FARC chose to add new representatives to its negotiating team. This required complicated logistical arrangements to extract them from remote areas of Colombia and bring them to Havana. The most prominent addition was Pablo Catatumbo, chief of the FARC’s Alfonso Cano (or Western) Bloc. With Catatumbo’s arrival, the guerrillas now have two members of their seven-member Secretariat in Havana. Lead guerrilla negotiator Iván Márquez has been there since November; he replaced Mauricio Jaramillo, head of the Eastern Bloc, who was present during the talks’ preparatory phase.
Analysts speculated that the addition of Catatumbo, a “heavyweight” within the guerrilla leadership, might speed the pace of talks by simplifying the FARC’s decision-making. Some also speculated that adding Catatumbo, a battle-hardened military leader, might give more voice to the FARC’s field commanders, who had been less represented among the negotiators. The FARC’s powerful Southern Bloc, which has not been represented in Havana, issued a communiqué denying persistent rumors that the guerrillas are divided about the handling of the talks, with the more militarily active units being most reticent.
Other members of the guerrilla negotiators’ support team (Victoria Sandino Palmera, Freddy González, Lucas Carvajal, and others) traveled to Cuba as part of the same operation, which required a temporary suspension of military activities in parts of Cauca and Tolima departments. In a separate operation, two more FARC negotiators (Laura Villa and Sergio Ibáñez) were extracted from a zone in Meta department.
Before this latter operation occurred, former President Álvaro Uribe, a constant critic of the peace talks, posted the coordinates of the pickup zone to his Twitter account. It is believed that a member of Colombia’s armed forces leaked this information, known only to a small number of officials, to Uribe. This individual remains unidentified.
The “coordinates” episode raised alarm that Colombia’s military – or elements within it – might be quietly opposing the peace process. Citing anonymous military sources, Colombian journalists reported that active members of the armed forces have two chief concerns about the possible aftermath of a peace accord. First, that the armed forces may be forced to cut their numbers and budget during a post-conflict phase. And second, that human rights violators from the military might serve prison sentences while guerrilla human rights violators are amnestied.
FARC negotiator Andrés Paris sharpened the first concerns when he told reporters in mid-April that a peace accord could bring “an eventual drastic reduction of the official military forces of Colombia,” adding that this is an issue “that we will surely bring up” in the Havana talks.
On several occasions, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has sought to reassure the military on this subject. On May 9, for example, he told a military audience, “On the [negotiating] agenda there is no topic that has to do with the Colombian armed forces, this topic is not on the agenda and as a result it will not be discussed, period. It is not negotiable.” In his speech to a military audience before the April 9 peace march discussed below, Santos promised, “We are not going to diminish the presence of our forces in any corner of our territory” after a peace accord, adding, “to the contrary, we will need more presence.”
On the second topic of military concern, Santos and other government officials have pledged that any arrangement that offers leniency to FARC human rights violators will also apply to the military. A “peace framework” constitutional amendment, passed in June 2012, already holds out this possibility. A scenario frequently mentioned is a transitional justice model that requires judicial trials, followed by suspended sentences and reparations to victims, for guerrillas and officers allegedly involved in crimes against humanity.
This proposal (or something similar) is favored by Colombia’s Prosecutor-General (Fiscal), Eduardo Montealegre, a vocal defender of the “peace framework” constitutional amendment. Montealegre proposes that those accused of crimes against humanity be banned from politics, though they may receive suspended sentences. Colombia’s more conservative Inspector-General (Procurador), Alejandro Ordóñez, challenges the validity of the framework law, opposing an arrangement that allows FARC rights violators to stay out of prison. Ordóñez has also held out the possibility that extrajudicial executions committed by the armed forces might not count as “crimes against humanity” and might thus be eligible for amnesty.
The FARC, meanwhile, remains defiant on the issue. In a May 3 statement, the guerrillas rejected the idea of facing Colombia’s justice system after a peace process concludes: “The assassins and their tribunals have no moral authority to judge us.” FARC negotiators have repeatedly weakened public support for the talks with statements that minimize and even deny that the group has abused human rights or must make amends to victims.
The FARC’s post-conflict future as a political movement was a principal topic of an April 28-30 forum, hosted in Bogotá by Colombia’s National University and the UN Development Program. At this event, 1,265 participants presented about 400 proposals on “political participation,” the second item on the FARC talks’ agenda. As occurred after a December forum on the first agenda item, these proposals will be presented to both negotiating teams. Topics include electoral reforms, guarantees for opposition parties’ security, women’s participation in politics, and similar issues. “Everything is possible once peace is signed,” said a former guerrilla who is now president of Uruguay, José Mujica, in a recorded video message to the forum participants.
An even greater show of public participation took place on April 9, the 65th anniversary of the assassination of populist politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, which triggered an outbreak of nationwide violence that has never fully abated. Pro-peace and victims’ groups, the “Marcha Patriótica” political movement, and the Bogotá mayor’s office convened a large march in Bogotá in support of the peace process. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 200,000 to over a million. After giving a speech before the armed forces, President Santos joined the marchers for several blocks.
The April 9 march was part of a general shift in public opinion in support of the talks. A mid-April Ipsos Napoleón Franco poll commissioned by several prominent Colombian news outlets found 63 percent of Colombians favoring the peace process, up from 57 percent in November. 37 percent disapproved. 52 percent still believed that the process won’t successfully reach an accord and a guerrilla demobilization, while 45 believed that it will. 69 percent opposed an arrangement in which FARC rights violators do not go to prison. 67 percent opposed allowing FARC members to participate in politics after a peace accord.
Colombia’s Catholic Church, which had been largely quiet about the talks, voiced support with a statement from the Episcopal Peace Council of the Colombian Catholic Church Episcopal Conference (PDF).
Some important expressions of support came from the United States. 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing support for the government-FARC dialogues, urging a greater role for victims, and encouraging the U.S. government to take steps to support the talks and a possible post-conflict transition. The FARC wrote a letter back to the members of Congress on April 25. This letter was the first time that the FARC clearly mentioned the possibility of a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses, including their own “kidnapping, forced disappearance, recruitment, use of explosives of all kinds.”
Fifty-six U.S. and Colombian faith leaders signed two letters to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and President Santos supporting the peace process and “calling for a U.S. policy that prioritizes peace and human rights in Colombia.”
On a late April visit to Colombia, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah, said, “On behalf of the United States and of President Obama, we want to reaffirm our commitment for economic support, and to be one of the principal allies for Colombia in its peace process. … As we discussed with the President [Santos], in the government of the United States we are very optimistic that the process is going to be very fruitful, and we are going to continue lending our support. … We are going to respond to all requests that President Santos makes to help and develop this process.” (This is a translation of the Colombian Presidency’s Spanish transcription of Shah’s remarks.)
At the conclusion of a lengthy visit to the United States, meanwhile, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said, “In my Washington meetings I have found a desire to support President Santos’s process and a will to strengthen the armed forces to accelerate it.”
With new guerrilla negotiators in place, the eighth round of talks began on April 23. “We want results,” said chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle. “That is the instruction that we have received from President Santos. This is a process that cannot be prolonged indefinitely.” When the round of talks ended ten days later, De la Calle told reporters, “The pace of the conversations has been insufficient, inconstant. We could have progressed much more.”
FARC negotiators disagreed. Lead FARC negotiator Iván Márquez said, “We’re advancing. The peace delegation of the FARC feels satisfied with the gains we are making.” FARC negotiator Jesús Santrich dismissed De la Calle as a “picturesque” figure “who speaks to the gallery.”
The joint communiqué released at the end of the talks’ eighth round indicated that the government and guerrillas have a draft agreement on the first agenda item, land tenure and rural development. This document is still under revision and will not be made public. “Partial accords can easily be manipulated or wrongly interpreted to poison the process,” President Santos told reporters, repeating the oft-used phrase, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Colombia meanwhile continued to see indications that talks between the government and a smaller guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), may be near. On April 22, Colombia’s La FM radio network reported that the Colombian government might launch dialogues with the ELN guerrillas during the second week of May. That timeframe has passed because of the ELN’s January kidnapping of a Canadian mining company employee in Bolívar department. If the ELN wishes to begin talks, President Santos said on May 9, it “has to free its kidnap victims, above all the Canadian [Jernoc Wobert] it is holding.” A day earlier, the ELN had said it would not release Wobert until his company cedes mining rights to local communities.
While visiting the Vatican, where he heard words of support for the talks from Pope Francis on May 13, President Santos said that Colombians are not “totally optimistic” about the FARC talks, but that “a moderate optimism exists.” In a speech (English PDF) (Spanish) at Bogotá’s Universidad Externado, by far his lengthiest public statement, High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo portrayed an eventual peace accord not as the end of a peace process, but as the beginning of a larger, rather ambitious transition to governance in Colombia’s historically conflictive territories. A FARC statement at the outset of the ninth round of talks, meanwhile, indicated the group’s “full expectation and desire to take up the second [agenda] point very soon,” but went on to voice concerns about land tenure and rural development, the first topic.
As they pass their six-month anniversary, the talks are proceeding in an atmosphere of increased, though still moderate, optimism. This will grow dramatically if the ninth round makes clear that the agenda has moved beyond the first item, and if the FARC, in its public statements, more explicitly addresses its responsibilities to its victims.
Other Colombia Peace Process Updates:
March 27, 2013
March 8, 2013
January 26, 2013
Hope for Peace in Colombia: Reasons for Optimism, Awareness of Obstacles (September 6, 2012)
Saturday, May 18, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Brazil is planning to build a 10,000-mile virtual border fence. According to NPR, "The system will use a combination of satellite technology, electromagnetic signaling, tactical communications, drones, and an increased army presence to monitor the border areas." The project is expected to cost $13 billion and require 10 years to complete.
Brazil is expanding naval operations off the coast of Africa to protect their financial and oil interests from piracy and to thwart increased drug trafficking.
Venezuela's national election authority, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE), concluded its audit of last month's presidential election results and confirmed President Nicolas Maduro as the victor. According to the CNE, there was only a margin of error of 0.02 percent. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called the audit "a farse" on Twitter.
As noted in Monday's round-up, the Venezuelan government has sent 3,000 troops to the streets in some areas of Caracas. According to the Associated Press, "Human rights activists worry that sending soldiers trained for warfare on policing missions will only make things worse for the residents they are meant to protect." WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog and the Guardian have more on the "Secure Homeland" initiative.
International Crisis Group published a report, "A House Divided," that examines the political environment in Venezuela and looks at how the country can avoid political violence and polarization.
The Washington Post published an article on Mexico's new security protocol that prohibits U.S. officials from working inside any of its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Post, all U.S. ties to Mexico, including interactions with the country's army and navy, will go through the civilian Ministry of the Interior.
Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla was engulfed in a scandal this week after it was reported that she had used the jet of a Colombian linked to drug trafficking. The affair caused a media storm which was followed by the resignation of three high-level government officials. Communications Minister Francisco Chacon stepped down on Wednesday. Mauricio Boraschi, head of intelligence and security, and presidential aide Irene Pacheco both resigned Thursday. President Chinchilla is also being investigated as Costa Rican law prohibits officials from accepting undisclosed gifts. Reuters, BBC, Bloomberg, and the AFP all have coverage.
The ninth round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government began this Wednesday. The round will end May 25. Both sides are still working to reach an agreement on land, the first topic of the talks' five-point agenda. The next point will be the FARC's political participation. WOLA's Adam Isacson posted six weeks of updates to his Colombia Peace Dialogues Timeline on his blog. Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía has an informative article examining the three stages of the peace process, the government's preparation, the negotiations and policy implementation, and looks at what the FARC's involvement in formal politics might look like.
The Washington Post featured an article about the FARC's "recruitment of children to boost its weakened fighting units even as it talks peace with the government." The article provides one harrowing tale after another about what child soldiers in the group have endured: "Angel Vivas, who served in the FARC from age 13 to 16, recalled how one 10-year-old fighter was executed for having thrown away his rifle. “The commander shot him right then and there and told the others to throw him in the same hole where he slept,” Vivas said."
Colombia's El País also looked at the issue of child recruitment not just by the FARC but by criminal gangs in the southwestern city of Calí. As far as the information that has been made available to the public, the issue of child combatants has yet to be discussed in the peace talks.
According to sources within Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture, a government body responsible for land redistribution and restitution to victim's of the armed conflict has been illegally granting land to criminal actors and wealthy landowners since 2006. So far 13 people have been charged in the investigation. More coverage from Colombia Reports, El Tiempo and La Opinion.
The Associated Press published a new investigation providing further evidence that units within the U.S.- backed Honduran national police are operating as death squads by killing alleged gang members extrajudicially. The AP looked at U.S. involvement and found:
In the last two years, the United States has given an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduran law enforcement. The U.S. State Department says, it faces a dilemma: The police are essential to fighting crime in a country that has become a haven for drug-runners. It estimates that 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. - and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America - pass through Honduras.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield responded to reports by saying, funding the police was the "lesser evil.":
"The option is that if we don't work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of ... taking matters in their own hands," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told the AP via live chat on March 28. "Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil."
In another interview with EFE this week, Brownfield praised National Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who has previously been accused of participating in death squads. Brownfield said that he "respects" and "admires" the "effective work" that Bonilla has done. "I want to make it very clear that I am working with the Honduran police, and supplying aid through programs, because everyone in Honduras agrees that they are suffering a problem of violence, homicides, and drug trafficking. And to solve them we have to work with the police,” Brownfield told EFE.
Dan Beeton at Center for Economic Policy Research and LatinNews.com have more coverage of the issue.
Honduras has added a new 'SWAT-like' unit made up of 150-200 members designed to fight crime with military tactics in San Pedro de Sula and Tegucigalpa, the country's capital.
The Organization of American States presented a 400-page report on drug policy to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday. The first part of the document examined the results of existing drug policies in the region. The second part explored four possible scenarios for how drug policies could develop between now and 2025.
Ahead of the report's release, U.S. officials underscored the United States' position on drug policy: the U.S. will continue to oppose legalization. In an article in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske reiterated that for the United States, legalization is not a viable solution to the problem. He argued the drug trade was not the only illegal market fueling organized crime, pointing to other sources of income: kidnappings, human trafficking, extortion and corruption.
Earlier in the week, in an interview with El Tiempo, William Brownfield Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs sent a similar message: the legalization of "cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, synthetic drugs” was a red line no country wants to cross." According to Brownfield, if security policies increase costs for drug traffickers 10 to 15 percent, this will prompt drug traffickers to move routes, which "would be good for the hemisphere."
Uruguayan President Mujica gave an interview to EFE in which he defended his government's steps towards marijuana legalization, saying that while he considers the drug a "plague," regulating the market is much better than letting the drug traffickers continue to profit.
Drug legalization will be the main topic at the OAS' upcoming general assembly meeting, June 4 to 6 in Guatemala.
Monday, May 13, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The White House announced last week that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden will be traveling to Brazil, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago during the week of May 26. It was also announced that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Sebastion Piñera will visit Washington in June to meet with President Obama.
The Congressional Research Service released a new report, “Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress.”According to the report, “From FY2008- FY2012, Congress appropriated $496.5 million under what is now known as the Central America Regional Security Initiative to support security efforts in the region. While there are some signs of progress, security conditions remain poor in several Central American nations.”
This week there will be two hearings in the Senate that pertain to Latin America. The first will be held by the Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday and will discuss S.793, the Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act of 2013. The second will be held by the Committee on Armed Services and will look at Oversight of the Law of Armed Conflict, the Use of Military Force and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Today, the Venezuelan government deployed 3,000 military troops to the streets of Caracas to battle rising insecurity in the country’s capital. According to EFE, the units will be deployed to six neighborhoods in and around the capital, including the Sucre and Baruta municipalities, which have both been described by President Maduro as “the two most dangerous in the country.” President Maduro said, "We are putting the Armed Forces on the street because it is a necessity, and they will stay on the streets for the time that we need them to stabilize security.” As InSight Crime noted, putting more troops on the streets will not fix several factors that fuel the endemic violence, such as widespread corruption within security forces, a weak and corrupt judicial system and lenient firearm controls.
EFE also reported on Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez’s announcement that a special police unit was being created for “the search and capture of citizens involved in homicides.”
The Economist published an article over the weekend looking at the political and economic aftermath of Venezuela’s election. The piece runs through a series of post-election events, from President Maduro backing out of a full audit of the election results to violence breaking out in the country’s National Assembly, that have been compounded by rising inflation, falling oil prices and food shortages. The article notes, “For the first time, analysts are speaking of a split in the armed forces.” As one analyst contends, using the army to tackle rising violence “could oblige the armed forces to take a [political] position.”
On Friday, former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sentenced to eighty years in prison after a court convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity. The historic case marks the first time a domestic court has tried a former leader for genocide and war crimes. He was convicted of ordering the murder of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya while running the country between 1982-1983. Rios Montts' intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, also on trial for the same charges, was acquitted. During the closing trial Judge Yasmin Barrios acknowledged the forced displacement, hunger and systematic rape of the Ixil people and noted, "Merely being a member of (Ixil) indigenous group amounted to a mortal offense."
However it seems there are still many legal proceedings in the case’s future. Ríos Montt’s lawyers have said he plans to appeal the decision and several injunctions that were filed during the trial have yet to be ruled on. President Perez Molina has released a statement saying he respects the ruling, but many believe that his role in the civil war should be questioned. Under Guatemalan law, Perez Molina is immune from prosecution until he is out of office. President Perez Molina has denied there was genocide and in an interview Friday he reiterated the fact that “the ruling is not yet firm.” In the same interview, Perez Molina was asked about statements he made to a journalist in which he said, “all families are with the guerrillas.”
There has been a lot of coverage from both Spanish and English language news resources, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Pan-American Post, and the New Yorker, among others, while the Open Society Justice Initiative has posted daily updates of the case and its aftermath.
InSight Crime reported on the steady increase of homicides in Guatemala in 2013. According to the article, “police numbers show that Guatemala registered a 20 percent rise in homicides during the first third of 2013, compared to the same time period in 2012.” The numbers have returned to where they were in 2011. The article looks at several theories that could account for the jump in homicides, including spillover violence from Guatemala’s southeastern neighbor, Honduras, where the security situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly following a 2009 coup.
American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and InSight Crime published a report as part of a series on religion and violence in Latin America. The paper, “The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What was the role of the Catholic Church?” looks at “the widely held belief that the Catholic Church ‘brokered’ that truce in light of the wider set of actors actually responsible and considers the various ways that religion may have an impact on contemporary violence in the region.”
The Colombian government presented the country’s first domestically produced flight simulator for drone operators. EFE reported that using the new equipment, “Aspiring drone pilots carry out a simulated mission with a Boeing-made Scan Eagle, tracking moving vehicles or people or locating rebel camps.” Of Colombia’s total budget of $102.93 billion for 2013, it plans to spend more than $14 billion on defense.
The Colombian government reiterated it would not enter peace talks with the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, until it releases all its hostages, including a Canadian citizen, Jernoc Wobert held captive since January. The day before, the ELN said it would not release Wobert until his employer, the Canadian mining company Braeval Mining, gave mining rights to those living close to the company’s installments in northern Colombia. Although the group’s forces have been greatly diminished over the years, its attacks against oil and mining sites continue to impact these key industries.
Colombian political analysis website Verdad Abierta has an interactive special report with videos, maps and infographics on large-scale land theft in Colombia’s eastern plains.
Rio Real blog reported on a video aired on a Brazilian news program that showed police opening fire into a highly populated favela from a low-flying helicopter while in pursuit of a heavily armed drug trafficker. According to blog-creator Julia Michaels, “U.S. security personnel, closely watching Brazil as mega-events quickly approach, weren’t pleased by what they saw.” The post also provides a short overview of Rio’s public security chain of command. It concludes by looking at the bigger issue of institutions historically not being held accountable in Brazil and notes that while the overall system is reforming, issues of neglect remain.
Last week the New York Times profiled the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center in the Brazilian Amazon that trains elite Brazilian commando units. The school is now training troops from across the developing world, including Guatemala, Ecuador and Senegal. According to the report, “The program focuses on the challenges posed by cocaine trafficking, illegal deforestation, the unauthorized mining of gold and diamonds, and the threat of incursions by guerrillas from Colombia briefly seeking a haven.”
Monday, May 6, 2013
This weekend President Obama completed his much-anticipated visits to Mexico and Costa Rica.
In both countries Obama promoted economic growth as the key to fighting organized crime and combating drug-related violence. "The stronger the economies and the institutions for individuals seeking legitimate careers, the less powerful those narco-trafficking organizations are going to be," President Obama said at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla on Friday.
In Mexico, President Obama met with President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. As several analysts predicted ahead of the meeting, much of the public discussion centered on the two countries’ economic relationship. The leaders’ joint statement discussed commercial and economic initiatives at length, while giving security cooperation a limited mention at the end of the document.
In a press conference, both leaders skirted around the two key issues of immigration and security, while announcing new economic initiatives, including a set of dialogues between top economy officials from both countries planned for this fall.
On security, President Obama kept the discussion limited, saying, “We will interact with them in ways that are appropriate.” Obama’s visit followed a Washington Post report that Mexico’s new government will no longer allow U.S. officials at its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Associated Press, all U.S.-Mexico law enforcement contact will now go through a “single door,” the federal Interior Ministry. During his visit Obama brushed aside questions of decreased security cooperation by responding, “it is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with other nations, including the United States."
Peña Nieto has been trying play up Mexico’s economic growth and shift the conversation away from the violence. As the New York Times noted, Obama’s new approach runs the risk of being seen as supportive of presidents more concerned with cosmetic changes than implementing any real change. Human rights advocates also worry that the U.S. taking a step back on security would mean less pressure on the Mexican government to investigate disappearances and other abuses by the police and military. The new approach “suggests that the Obama administration either doesn’t object to these abusive practices or is only willing to raise such concerns when it’s politically convenient,” according to José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division.
“On security, the fact that there were no new announcements underscores the fact that the Peña Nieto government does not have a detailed security strategy,” Maureen Meyer an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America told the New York Times.
Before the trip, the America’s Society/Council of the Americas provided a guide to Obama’s trip which included good analysis of potential discussion topics: trade, immigration, security and energy.
America’s Quarterly interview with the President before his trip to the region can be found here.
The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute provides several links to what the English-language press and what Mexican columnists had to say about the meeting.
Friday afternoon Obama arrived in Costa Rica, where he met privately with President Laura Chinchilla, had dinner with leaders from the eight-nation Central American Integration System and participated in an investment forum with nearly 200 MBA students and Central American business leaders.
Economic growth continued to be the overriding theme of President Obama’s visit, with particular attention given to trade, energy, and democratic reforms. He called on leaders to reduce energy costs and integrate their economies. As the Associated Press noted, issues such as immigration and education that top the United States’ domestic agenda also played a large role in the regional talks.
Although the summit ended without a joint statement, any agreements or resolutions, or plans going forward, the Los Angeles Times noted Obama’s focus on infrastructure and economic ties marked a shift in U.S. rhetoric away from “tough talk” on plans to crack down on narcotraffickers. However Costa Rica’s La Nación said, the meetings “offered no fruits for the near future.” Christian Science Monitor called Costa Rica the ‘safe choice’ for a “smooth- if uneventful- trip this weekend” and noted that “Few details were made public about the presidents’ private meeting on Friday night, but by Saturday morning the presidents of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras had already left the country.”
Ahead of the talks, several leaders, such as El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes, said they would use the meeting to request more funding for security programs from the U.S., who they say should take more responsibility for combating drug trafficking.
The president announced no new initiatives or funding for security and instead promoted better coordination and use of existing aid. “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking. This is a law enforcement problem. And if we have effective law enforcement cooperation and coordination, and if we build up capacity for countries in Central America, then we can continue to make progress.” Obama said in the press conference on Friday.
The change in tone was seemingly well received by the Central American leaders. "That was what most presidents said in this meeting, that is not only about sharing through the suppression of crime, but through prevention, investment in social policy and economic growth policies," said President Funes.
Several leaders such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and President Chinchilla continued their calls to rethink drug prohibition in the hemisphere. While Obama said he would maintain the U.S. federal policy prohibiting any drugs, he said he was open to the debate. Central American Politics blog discusses these two opposing viewpoints on how to increase security: one that looks to regulate the drug trade which will thereby improve economic development, and the other, which promotes economic development to regulate the drug trade.
Since 2008 the U.S. has given nearly $500 million in security assistance to the region through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). In 2012, the Obama administration slated $136 million through CARSI to fight drug trafficking. The State Department requested $107.5 million for CARSI for this year, but expected that number to increase to between $150 and $160 million after a review of all current projects, according to Brookings Fellow Diana Villiers Negroponte. While the White House’s 2014 budget request cut aid to Mexico and Colombia, it asked for more money for CARSI and allocated $162 million to combat the drug trade in Central America.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Since our previous post on the new vigilante movement in Mexico, "community police" groups in the rural southwestern state of Guerrero have gained formal recognition, but other groups in neighboring Michoacán have sparked conflict with security forces.
Mexican authorities are divided on how to handle the self-defense groups. Some, like Monte Alejandro Rubido García, head of the National System of Public Security, have rejected any possibility of legalizing the groups under federal law. Others have been more sympathetic to the movement, most notably Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre Rivero, who passed a law to regulate the groups in his state through a "Community Security System."
President Enrique Peña Nieto recently spoke out against the self-defense groups, saying that "the practice of taking justice into your own hands is outside the law and my government will combat it."
Here is a run-down of the latest developments and media coverage of the autodefensa movement:
In an interview on March 22, Michoacán Governor Fausto Vallejo said that he thinks the vigilante problem has been overblown in the media. He claimed that the solution is not "more bullets, more soldiers, more police" but rather increased sources of employment and social development.
On Sunday, April 28, confrontations broke out in three neighboring towns in Michoacán between self-defense groups, suspected criminals, and law enforcement, killing at least 14 people. The leader of the Knights Templar drug gang released a video blaming the vigilante groups for the violence. He said his organization would "lower their weapons" if state and federal governments took "action in regard to law enforcement."
On April 24, the Guerrero government signed a pact with the state's vigilante umbrella organization, the Union of People and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), to legally recognize and regulate the self-defense groups. It also set out plans to have the Mexican Army train the vigilantes.
Guerrero is the first state to formally recognize the local defense groups. In other states, such as Michoacán, the vigilante groups have clashed with security forces and been accused by local governments of becoming involved in the drug trade.
In early April, the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities (CRAC), a coalition of self-defense groups in Guerrero, joined forces with the State Coordinating Committee of Guerrero Education Workers, a state teacher's union that has been loudly and sometimes violently protesting President Peña Nieto's education reform law.
Although the members were unarmed at the first protest, Francisco Arroyo, president of Mexico's lower house of congress, called the link-up an "unpleasant Molotov cocktail," given the union's reputation for violent protest.
While Governor Aguirre Rivero is sympathetic to the groups and has said that they "contribute to the security of their towns and indigenous communities," he has made it clear that he will not allow them to become involved in politics. When the CRAC, which rivals the UPOEG, threatened to launch violent demonstrations if the government did not hold talks with the teacher's union, Aguirre Rivero rejected the move and said the groups "will not bring us to our knees and much less will make us give into threatening behavior."
On April 14, in response to the vigilantes' involvement in political activity, a group of municipal, state, and federal government authorities in Guerrero announced "community police" found to be carrying arms outside of their jurisdiction would be detained by authorities.
On Wednesday, May 1, Mexican soldiers detained over 50 members of self-defense groups in Guerrero. The vigilantes were in the process of transporting suspected criminals to the community of El Paraíso in Ayutla de los Libres when they were apprehended. Leaders of the CRAC condemned the acts as hostage-taking that interfered with the security system in a largely indigenous community.
The PAN recently signaled that they were planning to propose a resolution in the federal legislature that would dissolve all self-defense groups. Speaking to Milenio on April 11, Senator Laura Rojas said that the groups are a threat to citizen security because "you have to question where they are getting these weapons from...they are very expensive. So the first question is, who is truly arming them? What interests do they serve?"
TIME recently profiled a new vigilante squad in the town of Tierra Colorada, Guerrero, which was on the streets by early April. One militia member interviewed said the security situation in the town had dramatically improved since the group moved in, claiming they "have achieved in weeks what police and soldiers could not do in years." One resident said she "used to be scared to go out on the street because of criminals," but now feels "much safer."
BBC revisited the situation in Ayutla, the Guerrero town that sparked the new self-defense movement in January. Some community members claim the force has made the streets safer and that organized crime "has begun to disappear." Ayutla mayor Severo Castro Gomez is grateful for what they have done, calling it "a beautiful thing." However, community police members have also been accused of torturing detainees. One lawyer spoke of cases in which "electric shocks were applied to genitals, there were beatings, plastic bags put over detainees."
Analysts are becoming increasingly worried about the implications of the movement for the broader security situation in Mexico. Some observers have made comparisons to paramilitaries in Colombia, which formed in response to violence caused by the FARC with the purported aim of "protecting" civilians from guerrillas. The paramilitaries went on to become one of the main perpetrators of violence in the country. Their criminal successor groups now run the country's drug trafficking operations and recently were estimated to be responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses.
This post was written by CIP Intern Marissa Esthimer.