The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
Human Rights Watch released a report, "Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored," documenting Mexican security forces' participation in forced disappearances. The report's findings were alarming and highlighted Mexico's police problem. As analyst James Bosworth notes, "The number of police abuses listed in this report - including illegal detentions, corruption and collusion with organized crime - is incredibly high and much worse than the military abuses." It also underscores the failures of country's judicial system, noting that prosecutors delay or avoid investigations. Some of the reports findings include:
Security forces were involved in 149 of the 249 cases of forced disappearances investigated.
The HRW report comes on the heels of a civil society group identifying Acapulco in the Guerrero state as Mexico's most violent municipality in 2012. Of those included on the list of the most violent municipalities in the country, five out of the top twenty were located in Guerrero.
The Guerrero state has also seen a growth in the widely debated "self-defense" vigilante groups. This week the Associated Press reported the first killing of a suspect by one such group, while El Universal claims it was the second. Animal Politico offers a good interactive map of the vigilante groups.
- None of the 249 cases investigated by HRW have led to a conviction in a court of law.
- In 54 cases of force disappearance, the Mexican Army, Navy or Federal Police were involved. Local police were involved in about 40 percent of the 249 cases.
- The number of those disappeared under former President Felipe Calderón, previously thought to be 25,000, is actually 27,000.
El Chapo Guzman, head of Sinaloa Cartel
Authorities are investigating whether a shootout occurred in the Guatemalan department of Petén last night that resulted in the death of El Chapo Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Latin America's biggest drug trafficker. According to Insight Crime, the country’s Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez confirmed that there had been two confrontations, while a Guatemalan army spokesman said there was no sign that a shootout had occurred at one of the sites. Lopez said one of the dead allegedly "looked like" El Chapo, however reports of what happened remain confused. The Insight Crime article provides good analysis of what the news-- albeit likely false, according to the website-- would mean for Mexico.
Colombian NGO Somos Defensores reported that 2012 was the deadliest year in the past decade for human rights activists in Colombia. According to the group, one human rights advocate was attacked every 20 hours and one was killed every five days, reported news website Colombia Reports. Semana magazine has an infographic on the data.
A good article in Christian Science Monitor looks at the recent wave of FARC attacks and its impact on peace talks between the government and the rebel group, which began a new round on Monday. According to the article, "the fact that negotiations have withstood the strain is a promising sign of the strength of the process, analysts say."
Colombia's ELN rebel group announced that it was working with the FARC to fight natural resource-mining mega projects together in the Antioquia department. The announcement, posted on the ELN's website, says that leaders of the two groups met in early February and decided "to keep fighting against mega projects including mining exploitation, large dams for hydropower and monocultivation of woods and agro fuels that impoverish people and the environment."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual Human Rights report on Colombia today. The document highlights continued concerns about attacks on human rights defenders, military jurisdiction over crimes committed against civilians by soldiers, impunity for human rights violations and the ongoing threat of neo-paramilitaries. It praises the current peace process in Havana and the passage and beginning steps of implementation of the Victims Law.
The former head of Honduran police, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, accused police and military officers for his son's murder last Sunday. Officials said the teenager was killed by gang members, however, Ramirez claimed corrupt security force members killed his son in a failed kidnap attempt.
Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reported an alarming statistic that more than 60,000 murders committed over the past ten years in the country have yet to be investigated.
Given reports of a recent increase in revenge killings between rival gangs, there are concerns that the gang truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs could be breaking down. According to Insight Crime, "recent killings had seen the murder rate creep up to an average of 6.6 a day since the start of this year, up from 5.3 at the end of 2012. However, the rate still remains far below the average of 14 murders a day registered before the truce."
The Associated Press put out an article on Monday looking at U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Costa Rica. Although the country's crime levels remain the second-lowest in Central America (after Nicaragua), in recent years the country has seen a spike in crime due to its increasing involvement in the drug trade. To counter this trend, "Costa Rica's conservative government has proposed looser wiretapping laws, easier confiscation of suspect assets and quicker approval of U.S. warships docking in Costa Rican ports," reports the AP.
The article notes that the U.S. spent over $18.4 million in direct security aid to Costa Rica in 2012. It also continues to equip the army-less country with gear such as night vision goggles, provides law enforcement with training and invested in a $2m satellite and radio communications station on the Pacific Coast linked to the U.S. anti-drug command in Key West.
On Wednesday, a seven-member delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Cuba and met with imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and with Cuban President Raúl Castro to discuss improving bilateral relations.
A senior official in the Obama administration said there is "a pretty clear case" for Cuba to be removed from the State Department's "state sponsors of terrorism" list (which includes Syria, Sudan and Iran), according to the Boston Globe. The article mentions that while Congress must vote on whether or not to lift the embargo, the Obama administration can act unilaterally to remove Cuba from the terrorist list, which has been a key obstacle to negotiations with the Castro government. Both the White House and State Department have denied they are considering removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.
Caricom meeting in Haiti
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attended a summit in Haiti of the 15-member Caribbean Community, known as Caricom. The discussion centered on crime and security concerns, but the main point of media coverage surrounded gun control. The group asked for the United States’ help in ensuring an international arms treaty included provisions dealing with small arms. "It is the small arms and ammunition which do the most damage in the Caricom region," said Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which is in charge of security issues within the bloc.
U.S. in the region
United States Southern Command leader John Kelly visited Panama this week and met with President Ricardo Martinelli, Minister of Public Security Jose Mulino, and the directors of Panama's National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the Panamanian National Police. He then spent two days in Guatemala to meet with senior government and security officials. This was General Kelly's second trip to Central America this year.