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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Week in Review

This week, the presidential race heated up in Costa Rica and El Salvador, Honduras's new president criticized U.S. drug policies and Nicaragua expanded the military's role in the country. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Monday, Honduras swore in its new president, Juan Orlando Hernández. During his ceremony he criticized U.S. drug policy and invited the Obama administration to "work for real" in the fight against drugs. According to Hernandez, ""It strikes us as a double standard that while our people die and bleed, and we're forced to fight the gangs with our own scarce resources, in North America drugs are just a public health issue, for Honduras and the rest of our Central American brothers it's a case of life and death."

    The same day Hernandez also deployed the controversial military police to the streets as part of "Operation Morazan ," the latest joint military and police effort to target soaring crime, violence and drug trafficking. The plan includes increasing security force presence on the streets and public transportation.

  • La Silla Vacía found Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' rhetoric about changing drug policy does not match with the number of actual changes implemented. The tough critique, which examined seven aspects of President Santos' drug policy, including several U.S.-backed initiatives like fumigation and development plans, finds that little change has been made and that he has also been fairly absent from the country's Drug Policy Advisory Commission. WOLA dealt with some of these policy issues in a post this week, "Eleven Ways Colombian and FARC Negotiators can Reform Drug Policy and Build a Lasting Peace."
  • The U.S. Border Patrol posted its 2013 apprehension statistics , which also include information on the location of apprehensions and the amount and type of narcotics seized. In "What New Border Patrol Statistics Reveal about Changing Migration to the United States," WOLA's Adam Isacson provides useful graphics highlighting a variety of trends, such as an increase in non-Mexican migrants, a drop in apprehensions to 1970s levels, and a shift in the location of the highest apprehension rates from Arizona to South Texas. More from the Washington Post on Border Patrol shootings and InSight Crime on the regional implications of a U.S. drone crash on the border.
  • Roberta Jacobson was interviewed on CNN Thursday night to discuss the United States' priorities in the region.
  • In an article in Science Daily , researchers at Ohio State University looked at the link between rapidly disappearing rainforests in Central America and the acceleration and shifts of the drug war.
  • The Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, submitted to Congress the annual "World Threat Assessment. " The report briefly discussed instability in Haiti, economic and security threats in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and made one reference to the spread of Mexican drug cartels influence into Central America and role in the country's high levels of violence.
  • Defense, law enforcement and civilian leaders from 20 countries met in Santo Domingo from Tuesday to Thursday for a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored conference on countering transnational organized crime in the Caribbean. As Francisco Palmieri, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central America and Caribbean Affairs said, "As the regional security initiatives in Colombia, Mexico and Central America produce successes, we know transnational crime and violence will inherently become a greater challenge in the Caribbean." The article goes on to describe several ongoing U.S. security initiatives in the region.
  • Naval Forces Southern Command hosted a conference for U.S. Navy officials working at embassies across Latin America and the Caribbean to coordinate engagements for 2014.
  • Nicaragua’s Congress approved constitutional reforms that eliminate presidential term limits and expand the role of the military. The Associated Press has a useful rundown of the reforms in the bill, including allowing active members of the military and police to run for political office and allowing the military to provide security for private companies. Confidencial also documented changes to the military code that allow the military chief of staff to indefinitely keep his post as well as create a reserve force.
  • There are two key presidential elections happening in El Salvador and Costa Rica this weekend:

  • In El Salvador, the elections will be a close race between the FMLN's Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Norman Quijano from the ARENA party. The outcome will have security implications as Sánchez Cerén promotes strengthening the role of the National Civil Police and scaling back the military, while Quijano is pushing for a more mano duro, or iron fist approach.

    The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a helpful guide to the Salvadoran elections, highlighting the major candidates and parties in the running and obstacles facing them. The Pan-American Post published a useful summary Thursday and WOLA's Geoff Thale discussed the stakes of the election on Adam Isacson's podcast and published a written overview, noting the United States' crucial role as a remaining powerful force in El Salvador.

  • While the Obama Administration has remained neutral, the elections in El Salvador have become politicized in the United States, with several Bush-era officials (Elliot Abrams and Jose R. Cardenas) calling for the ruling FMLN party to be voted out, accusing it of links to the drug trade. Salvadoran journalist and political analyst Hector Ávilos posted an article examining U.S. involvement in the drug war, arguing the drug trade has been tied to many Salvadoran governments, several of which were backed by the United States during the Reagan and Bush eras.

    Other helpful articles on the election: analysis on Central American Politics blog, "Don't Fear El Salvador's Leftists" from former U.S. ambassador William Walker, this from El Faro, and a reading list from Tim's El Salvador Blog, which includes this useful Reuters article.

  • As for Costa Rica's presidential election, the Tico Times published poll numbers and the Pan-American Post provided a short guide to those running and the political landscape.
  • Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Citizen insecurity in Latin America has grown: UN report

    On Tuesday, the United Nation Development Program released a report that found Latin America continues to be the most unequal and the most insecure region in the world. As the UN noted, “ ‘Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America,’ revealed a paradox: in the past decade, the region experienced both economic growth and increased crime rates.”

    The report, assessed citizen insecurity in 18 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. It examined a myriad of ongoing problems in the region such as high levels of violence, weak judicial and penal systems, and high rates of economic inequality.

    Some of the statistics revealed:

  • Homicides have reached “epidemic levels” with over 100,000 murders recorded each year. From 2000-2010 the number of homicides rose above one million and grew 11%.
  • In Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador more respondents said the police were involved in crime than those who believed they protected the population.
  • In the majority of the countries surveyed, common criminals were perceived to be the biggest threat to public security. Only in Mexico and Brazil were organized crime and narcotraffickers perceived to be the biggest threat, while in El Salvador and Honduras gangs were chosen as posing the greatest danger.
  • Latin America has about 50% more private security guards (3,811,302) than police officers (2,616,753) and Latin American private security guards have rates of gun possession per employee ten times larger than Europe. Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil had disproportionately high numbers of private security guards.
  • The perception of insecurity has also risen. Interestingly enough, the perception of insecurity is higher in Chile, which has the lowest murder rate in the region (2 per 100,000), than in Honduras, which has the highest homicide rate (86.5 per 100,000).
  • In the past 25 years robberies have tripled. In 2012, one in three Latin Americans was a victim of a violent crime. This high level of crime had affected people's daily lives: between 45% and 65% of respondents said they no longer leave their houses at night, while 13% said they had felt the need to move to avoid crime.
  • The findings in the report underscore the importance of calls that have been growing throughout the region for a change in security strategies and for alternative approaches in the fight against the drug cartels. The report put forth several recommendations that have been voiced by analysts, officials and advocates: public institutions must be strengthened; efforts must be coordinated between governments and civil society, as well as between countries; opportunities for human development and growth ought to be increased, while “crime triggers” like alcohol, drugs, arms and weapons should be regulated and reduced through a public health perspective. More from Terra, Animal Politico and the Miami Herald. The report can be downloaded in Spanish here (pdf).

    Friday, June 28, 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.

    Protests: Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Venezuela

    There have been many relatively large-scale protests happening in the region recently.

  • Chilean student are protesting for education reform. On Wednesday, over 100,000 students in Santiago marched in a demonstration, which turned violent as students clashed with police.
  • Venezuela has also been experiencing a series of protests involving the education sector.
  • In Costa Rica, people are taking to the streets to show their growing frustration with the administration of President Laura Chinchilla, one of the region’s least popular presidents.
  • In Nicaragua last week, senior citizens protested for greater benefits, particularly a reduced pension. The demonstrations also turned violent, but this week the government and protesters reached an agreement that addressed some demands. The agreement, however, did not include the issue of pensions.
  • In Brazil the nation-wide protests continue to rage on, despite President Dilma Rousseff's counter proposals to address several issues like education, health, and public transport. The New York Times reported on why Brazilians are so upset at their Congress, noting its "penchant for sheltering dozens of generously paid legislators who have been charged — and sometimes even convicted — of crimes." Other articles highlight police violence, poor public services, and the lavish lifestyle of lawmakers as some of the reasons behind the movement. As BBC notes, the government has started to put some reforms in place in response to the massive demonstrations.

    For a list of articles on the protest, visit Just the Facts’ Brazil News page. The Pan-American Post also has offered good coverage. Interesting note: The Rio police are running out of tear gas.

  • Entire Region

  • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its annual World Drug Report on Wednesday. The report looked at a spectrum of related-issues, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are unregulated in international markets as they are often used for medical purposes and relatively new. The report also found thatMexico is the world's number two producer of opium and heroin in the world, and ties with Afghanistan as the second-largest producer of marijuana.
  • A U.S. Department of State report found that Iran's influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning, “As a result of diplomatic outreach, strengthening of allies’ capacity, international nonproliferation efforts, a strong sanctions policy, and Iran’s poor management of its foreign relations," according to Bloomberg News.
  • Colombia

  • Last Friday, negotiators from the FARC and Colombian government released a joint report (PDF) offering more detail about the land reform agreement that both parties signed about a month ago. More from Ginny Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace. Colombia's most powerful criminal organization, the Urabeños, has called for inclusion in the peace talks. More from InSight Crime
  • The Colombian government is ramping up efforts to target crime. This week the government announced plans to invest $2.3 billion into citizen security for 2013-2015. The funding accounts for 2.4% of the country's 2013 national budget, and will cover the addition of 25,000 police to the national force. Colombian media also reported this week that the country is looking to France as a model for how to target common crime. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón met with France's police director to discuss strategies such as the use of a gendarmerie, a militarized police force.
  • More than 12,000 peasant farms have participated in riots protesting eradication programs in the coca-producing region of Catatumbo in northeast Colombia. The violent protests have left four protestors dead and another 50 injured.
  • Mexico

  • Mexico welcomed the U.S. Senate's passage of an immigration bill, but showed concern that border security measures included in the bill "move away from the principles of shared responsibility and neighborliness." According to theLos Angeles Times, “Fernando Belaunzaran, a congressman with Mexico's left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, tweeted this week, ‘ the U.S. is about to militarize the border with Mexico as if we were at war.’”
  • Mexico's Gendarmerie will now have 5,000 members and be part of the national police force, the country's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced over the weekend. In December, President Peña Nieto said the force would initially be comprised of 10,000 members, eventually reaching 30,000 or 40,000. Writing for InSight Crime, Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope has an article on the pros and cons of absorbing the Gendarmarie into the Federal Police.
  • Haiti

  • The Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) on USAID reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The report criticized USAID's management of funds and projects and called for greater oversight. Several findings illuminated the reconstruction efforts shortfalls, among them -- of the 15,000 houses that were originally planned, just 2,649 are expected to be built.
  • Honduras

  • Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí resigned after the country’s Congress called for his impeachment over mismanagement and corruption. Since April a congressionally-appointted oversight committee has run his office, citing a myriad of problems: impunity, failure to enact police reform, and misuse of funds.
  • Ecuador

  • Ecuador announced it was withdrawing from the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), which was the main point of leverage the United States had over it when considering the issue of granting Snowden asylum. ATPDEA is said to create hundreds of jobs in Ecuador and save exporters $23 million a year, offering U.S. trade benefits on 247 products. The deal was up for renewal in July, but members of the U.S. Congress had said they would vote against extending it if Ecuador granted Edward Snowden asylum. Ecuador then offered the United States $23 million for human rights training to help it avoid "espionage, torture, extrajudicial killings and other acts that denigrate humanity.”

    BuzzFeed details Ecuador's own surveillance practices targeting journalists, including the U.S.-mediated purchase of a "GSM interceptor" in an effort to "intercept text messages, falsify and modify the text messages." Investigative magazine Vanguardia will publish its last print edition Monday. As newspaper El Comercio explained, the magazine's staff said the closure was not a product of the law, but rather a business decision made by the outlet's owners. Many have linked the closure to a controversial new media law passed last week. The law invokes harsh penalties for language deemed defamatory or libelous by a newly-created government council, but prohibits the government from shutting down media outlets. For more information on the law, check out Reporters Without Borders' description.

  • Venezuela

  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixo Ortega met with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to discuss possibly renewing relations. However, a recent audiotape of a Venezuelan opposition member claiming the opposition called for a coup in a meeting with U.S. diplomats in Washington could keep relations cool between the two countries. These statements add more fuel to President Maduro’s on-going rhetoric of a conspiracy campaign by the opposition to destabilize the government.
  • Cuba

  • Cuba's first privately run wholesale market in half a century will open on July 1st, according to state media. The Economist reported that many see its opening as a further step on Cuba's hesitant path towards freeing up wholesale markets and loosening the state's control of food distribution.
  • Saturday, May 18, 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.


  • 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

  • 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.
  • Mexico

  • 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

  • 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.
  • Colombia

  • 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.
  • Honduras

  • 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 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.
  • Drug Policy

    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 6, 2013

    Obama's trip to Mexico and Costa Rica

    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.

    Central America

    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.

    Friday, April 19, 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.

    U.S. policy

  • Secretary of State John Kerry testified on the 2014 foreign aid budget request at three hearings this week, one in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. In the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, "Securing U.S. Interests Abroad," there was discussion on the Venezuelan elections and Cuba.
  • U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) reported that eleven members of the Salvadoran air force returned from Afghanistan on February 28th. According to SOCSOUTH, El Salvador’s upcoming deployment “will replace U.S. troops in a role that will take them outside the wire as they directly partner with Afghan police." El Salvador is the only country in U.S. Southern Command's purview contributing forces to Afghanistan.
  • El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes was in Washington, D.C. this week and met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. According to the website Voices from El Salvador, the agenda included "discussions about regional security issues, the gang truce and reduction of the murder-rate in El Salvador, as well as the temporary protective status (TPS) for Salvadorans." The AFP reported that Funes said Friday he will ask for a face-to-face meeting with Obama in Costa Rica in May to press for more money to fight organized crime in Central America.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Guinea-Bissau's top military official, General Antonio Indjai, of plotting to traffic drugs into the U.S. and sell weapons to Colombian rebels. According to Reuters, "The charges said Indjai planned to store FARC-owned cocaine in Guinea Bissau and sell weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to the organization, to be used to protect its cocaine processing operations in Colombia against U.S. military forces."
  • Ahead of President Barack Obama's May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said the meeting is an opportunity for Central America to ask President Obama to rethink the United States' antidrug policies.”If we continue doing the exact same thing, we will never be able to claim victory,” she said.
  • Paraguay

    This Sunday, April 21, Paraguay will hold its first presidential election since last year's impeachment of President Fernando Lugo. The two major candidates are wealthy businessman Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party, which lost power for the first time in 60 years when Lugo was removed from office, and lawyer Efraín Alegre of the ruling Authentic Radical Liberty Party.

    As noted by AS/COA, the two candidates have both pledged to tackle poverty, create jobs, and enact Chilean-style economic reforms. Both have also been accused of corruption: Cartes owns a bank found to have tax-haven ties and supposedly heads a money-laundering organization, and Alegre's party allegedly used public funds to buy an alliance between electoral factions. Cartes also set off a media firestorm with statements comparing gay people to "monkeys." Despite the mudslinging, many Paraguayans say their votes will follow old allegiances, with landowners and the elite class supporting the Colorado party.

    The election could impact regional politics as Paraguay's government is hoping to regain admittance to Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), having been suspended from both following the impeachment. The two organizations have already sent election observers to Paraguay.


    As reported in last week's post, the country's attorney general, Luis Alberto Rubí, testified that only 20 percent of all murder cases have been investigated and even fewer tried since President Porfirio Lobo took office. (Several other hearings with top-level officials have been held in the Congress in recent weeks to monitor their progress with regards to security).

    Since that time, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla was removed and replaced by Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales. On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress effectively took control of the Public Prosecutor's office by suspending Rubí and replacing him and his subordinates with a five-member commission that will take over the prosecutor's office for the next 60 days to make decision about to make the organization more effective.

    Honduras Politics and Culture Blog has the best description on what is happening in the Honduran government.


    There has been a lot of coverage on social media and in the press this week on the aftermath of the Venezuelan presidential elections that were held on Sunday. On Monday, it was reported that interim President Nicolas Maduro beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin of 1.6 percent (50.6 percent to 49.1 percent). Capriles and his supporters claimed there were election irregularities, and launched mass demonstrations, calling for a recount. After two days of protests and confrontational interchanges with Maduro, Capriles submitted an official request for a full recount of the vote to Venezuela's election authorities, the National Electoral Council (CNE). On Thursday night, the CNE agreed to a full audit of the electronic votes and both candidates accepted. The process will reportedly take about a month. In the meantime, Maduro was sworn in as Venezuela's new president Friday morning with representatives from 47 countries present, including 17 heads of state.

    Despite Capriles' calls for protesters to remain peaceful, several of the demonstrations turned violent, resulting in the death of at least seven people while around 60 were injured. The Union of South American Nations held an emergency meeting in Lima, Peru on Wednesday and released a statement recognizing Maduro as Venezuela's legitimately-elected leader and congratulating CNE for finding a solution (i.e. the recount). The statement also created a special commission that would aid the Venezuelan government's investigation into the post-election violence.

    President Maduro responded to the mounting public dissent by not only claiming that Capriles was attempting a coup, but that the U.S. Embassy had been "financing and leading all the violent acts." Amid all the accusations, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said the U.S. would maintain a "turning of cheek approach to Maduro,” stating, "It still doesn’t make sense to get in, you’ll excuse me, a pissing match with Nicolas Maduro any more than it did with Chávez.”

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House have repeatedly endorsed a recount. In an official statement, the White House "notes the acceptance by both candidates for an audit of the ballots and supports calls for a credible and transparent process to reassure the Venezuelan people regarding the results."

    The Pan American Post had good coverage of the happenings in Venezuela this week while WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog offers good analysis.

    The Los Angeles Times has an interesting opinion piece on the "winners and losers" in the wake of the election.


  • On Thursday, a judge in Guatemala suspended the landmark trial of former dictator Rios Montt, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Carol Patricia Flores nullified the testimony of several victims of the Rios Montt government's scorched-earth campaign between 1982 and 1983. According to CNN, Flores "ruled that because all of the issues at the lower courts had not been settled, the current proceedings are invalid, the state-run AGN news agency reported. The ruling in effect rewinds the legal process against Rios Montt to where it was in November of 2011, in a pre-trial phase."

    Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said that the ruling was illegal and that her office would be challenging it. Amnesty International published a press release today denouncing the move to annul the trial. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) also said it would be investigating Flores. The CICIG announcement made reference to a paid advertisement written by former government officials that appeared in El Periódico newspaper that said a genocide trial was a threat to peace and stability. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina supported the statement.

  • The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala has a comprehensive summary of each days' events as does the Open Society Justice Initiative and Central American Politics blog. Independent photojournalist James Rodríguez has a good photo essay of the trial on his blog,
  • U.S. Army South commanding general, Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, visited Guatemala to discuss the formation of the new U.S.-backed Guatemalan Interagency Border Unit that will be established by the Mexican border.
  • Colombia

  • Sixty-two members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that calls for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. According to the letter, "The United States can help support the peace process by offering an aid package designed for peace, reorienting aid that for the last dozen years has supported a government at war." The Washington Office on Latin America and the Latin American Working Group issued a joint statement and Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper has coverage in Spanish.
  • According to Colombia's national ombudsman, hybrid criminal organizations, known as BACRIM (Spanish acronym for criminal gangs) are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country. Last year, 12,165 people claimed to be victims of the groups. As InSight Crime pointed out, while the Colombian government has recently made comments claiming that 90 percent of the country is BACRIM-free, a Bogotá think-tank in March cited them as the greatest threat to the country's security, claiming the government has not taken adequate measures against them. The BACRIM are not counted as actors in the country's armed conflict and therefore victims of their abuses are not covered under the government's victims' law.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday, officials unveiled a new police force dedicated to fighting drug dealing in Mexico City. The 150-member division includes 50 new graduates of the police academy with plans to add 50 more, and will focus on combatting micro-trafficking operations through intelligence gathering, video surveillance, and follow-ups to emergency calls. Animal Político has more details on the make-up of the force, which went into operation on Monday, following the academy's graduation ceremony.
  • In a Washington Post op-ed, Viridiana Rios argues that instead of spending billions of dollars fighting drug cartels in Mexico, the U.S. should support reforms to the justice system because "the right way to fight a drug war in Mexico is not to aim at eliminating criminal organizations, as many have assumed, but rather to create conditions in which war does not pay. This will not be achieved with the strategy Washington has embraced. Even if all criminal organizations were eliminated, new ones would emerge as long as profits could be made from cocaine."
  • This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer

    Friday, March 29, 2013

    INL Assistant Secretary Brownfield's trip to Honduras and Costa Rica

    Last week Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William R. Brownfield traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to discuss the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and collaborative counternarcotics and security strategies. While there he announced funding for upcoming initiatives in both countries.


    In Honduras, Assistant Secretary Brownfield met with Vice President María Antonieta Guillen de Bográn, Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla, and Defense Minister Marlon Pascua.

    Brownfield announced the U.S. would be providing $16.3 million to combat crime in the country: $6 million to create a special police unit to combat large-scale crimes (to be called the Major Crimes Task Force), and another $10.3 million to equip and train police and prosecutors.

    Recently, two troubling Associated Press reports have linked U.S. funding to Honduran police units carrying out "death-squad style" killings. In August the United States froze about $30 million in aid to Honduras over concerns that its police director, Juan Carlos 'El Tigre' Bonilla, had been involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The United States has since released some of the money under strict conditions, saying it only would go to specially vetted units not under Bonilla's control, in accordance with the Leahy Law.

    The AP investigation revealed that under Honduran law, all police units are in fact, under Bonilla's control. Some of the aid announced by Brownfield "will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla," according to the AP.

    In an interview with the AFP, Brownfield insisted that the U.S. does not have relations with Bonilla and would not offer him "neither a dollar nor a cent." He recognized that as director Bonilla is responsable for all units, but that not all "15,000 or 16,000 members of the Honduran National Police report directly to the director." To give "two degrees of separation" between U.S. funding and individuals and units accused of human rights abuses, Brownfield said the U.S. would also give no support to the 20 officials directly below Bonilla.

    Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, has also refuted the claims, saying the U.S. is monitoring individuals and institutions receiving the funds and that aid will continue to flow into Honduras.

    For 2013, the U.S. Congress approved around $36 million for programs in Honduras, $26 million of which was marked for police and security initiatives, according to Brownfield. Of this funding, Congress is reportedly withholding $11 million over human rights concerns.

    Brownfield estimated police reform in the Central American country could take five to ten years. He noted the U.S.' current strategy "is to support the process over the years and at the same time work with small, specialized units" of vetted officers that would be monitored. He also added that the U.S. was looking to create specialized anti-gang and anti-drug units that would work with the FBI and DEA.

    These reports follow last year's revelations that Honduran citizens had been killed during U.S.-funded counternarcotics operations by specially vetted security force units.

    Speaking at a recent event at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Washington on Central American security, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said, "We do not need to create law enforcement 'paradise' in Central America. What we need to do is improve capabilities by 10 or 15 percent. That will drive up the cost for the trafficking organizations of doing business in and through Central America."

    Costa Rica

    While in Costa Rica Assistant Secretary Brownfield met with Anti-Drug Commissioner Mauricio Boraschi and Public Security Minister Mario Zamora. He announced the U.S. government would provide $6-$7 million to fight drug trafficking. The funds, he said, would provide for "training of prosecutors and investigators, the professionalization of police corps, for border control tasks, and for supporting anti-drug police units during land and sea operations."

    Brownfield also revealed another $1.6 million would be provided to government institutions and NGOs to fight domestic violence.

    A recent Associated Press article notes that in 2012 the U.S. spent more than $18.4 million in direct security in Costa Rica. The article discusses increased U.S. involvement in the country and is definitely worth a read. It cited risk-analysis firm Southern Pulse director Sam Logan as saying Costa Rica was "the closest the U.S. has to a protectorate in Central America."

    In the past few years, Costa Rica has been threatened by rising domestic drug consumption, increasing levels of violence and expanding presence of Mexican drug cartels. Organized crime is also on the rise. As President Laura Chinchilla and Brownfield have both noted, Costa Rica is a “victim of its geography,” located between cocaine producing countries in South America and the region's number one consumer - the United States. The country has become a more attractive transit country for traffickers as counternarcotics operations targeting more traditional routes have shifted smugglers' tactics.

    According to the U.S. State Department's 2013 International Narcotics Strategy Report, law enforcement agencies in the army-less country are under-resourced and have limited capacity. In 2012, Costa Rica increased its police budget by 11% to $351.5 million, which the Wall Street Journal pointed out was slightly less than the Baltimore police force's budget.

    In a radio interview while in Costa Rica, Brownfield warned the situation is likely to worsen. He said tackling crime would "require more force, more collaboration between the United States and Costa Rica during the next two to three years" and that more focus on maritime interdiction and border and port security would be required. He underscored the importance of creating opportunity but also the need for the threat of legal consequences for those involved in drug trafficking.

    During the interview, Brownfield said that the argument that the United States’ role as the main consumer in the region creates the problem is "up to a certain point, stuck in the 1990s," citing that cocaine and methamphetamine consumption has dropped considerably in the past seven years.

    The White House just announced that President Obama will be traveling to Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade, and immigration, among other topics. In Costa Rica he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of countries part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), also to discuss trade and security.

    Friday, February 22, 2013

    Week in Review

    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.

    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Honduras

  • 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.
  • El Salvador

    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."

    Costa Rica

    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.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Week in Review

    • UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, was formally launched today at a meeting of Foreign Affairs ministers in Quito, Ecuador. Before the group could become effective, the charter requested that nine members subscribe to the treaty. Of UNASUR's members, Brazil and Paraguay still have to comply with the approval of treaty.

      Next on the agenda for UNASUR is to agree on a new Secretary General, a post which has been vacant since the death of Nestor Kirchner. Currently, the two main candidates are Venezuela's Electricity minister Ari Rodriguez, an energy expert, and Maria Emma Mejia, a former Colombian Deputy Foreign Affairs minister. UNASUR will convene again at a presidential summit in Venezuela in April, where some speculate the next Secretary General will be chosen.

    • On Tuesday, the International Court of Justice ordered Costa Rica and Nicaragua to withdraw all troops, police and security personnel from the 1.2 square-mile contested border region. This ruling allowed both sides to claim victory for the moment. Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla called the decision an "overwhelming victory" for her country in using law to repel aggressors, while Nicaragua's representative before The Hague was satisfied with the ruling since it blocks Costa Rica's "offensive" against Nicaraguan sovereignty. The decision does not bring the two countries any closer to a solution for their tense standoff, however, and the legal process could take another four years to reach a final verdict.
    • The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) "Operation Fast and Furious" made it into multiple news stories this week, as more details about the operation are exposed. The Operation was meant to investigate gunrunning by cartels, and allowed 1,765 guns purchased in the United States to be smuggled into Mexico over a 15-month period--of which only 797 were recovered. According to a ranking Mexican legislator, at least 150 Mexicans have been killed or wounded by guns trafficked by smugglers being tracked by U.S. ATF agents. Investigators are now trying to determine if the gun that killed ICE agent Jaime Zapata in February was one of those missing guns. Yesterday, the Mexican Senate called a hearing on Operation Fast and Furious and voted to summon U.S. Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan to discuss the issue, though a date has not been set.
    • Last week, the New York Times reported that Marisol Valles García, the 21 year old police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, a small town 60 miles southeast of Ciudad Juárez, had not been to work for three days. She had been granted a leave of absence to take her baby son, who was ill, to the United States, but failed to return as agreed. By Monday, Valles had been fired by the town's mayor for abandoning her post. It turns out, as the El Paso Times reported, that Valles fled to the United States last week to seek asylum after receiving death threats. According to the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission, Valles is staying in the United States, and keeping a low profile, until her case is heard by an immigration judge.
    • Other news from Mexico this week included the appointment of Julian Leyzaola, former Tijuana police chief and lieutenant colonel, to the post of public safety secretary of Ciudad Juárez, more arrests of suspected gang members linked to the death of ICE agent Jaime Zapata, and an in-depth piece in the Washington Post on the effects of drug violence on Monterrey. CIP Intern Erin Shea's blog on recent violence in Mexico provides more details about these news stories and more. Read it here.
    • Haiti is starting to prepare for its March 20th presidential and legislative runoff election. On Wednesday, the two presidential candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, faced off in a televised debate, trying to distinguish their policies from the other, despite their similar platforms: education, national production and the reestablishment of a Haitian military.

      According to the Los Angeles Times, personality, not politics, is the true divide between the two candidates: "With not much in the way of politics dividing the two right-of-center candidates, voters may be left to weigh backgrounds and styles, which are as different as those of a lampshade-wearing uncle and tsk-tsking grandmother."

      The Miami Herald lists several fixes that are being made to prevent the fraud and disorganization that "marred November's first round of balloting." These changes include increased education requirements for poll workers and supervisors, cleaning up the list of voters, and using color tally sheets to help deter fraud.

    • The Guardian's Rory Carroll wrote a long piece on gang violence in Caracas, Venezuela. In the article, "Drugs, murder and redemption: the gangs of Caracas" Carroll notes that gang violence played a large role in the fact that in 2010 14,000 people were murdered in Venezuela, three times more than in Iraq.
    • The largest cocaine processing lab ever, capable of producing about a ton of cocaine a month, was found in Honduras. Some say it is another sign Mexican drug trafficking organizations are spreading into Honduran territory. Steven Dudley, of InSight, called this discovery a "game changer." Dudley writes, "the presence of an HCl lab means the calculus region wide may be changing. The assumption is that so much pressure is on the traffickers in Colombia and neighboring states that they are moving their raw material north." Boz also wrote about this discovery today, and closes his blog by asking: "How many more labs are there? If this lab was found, and it's a significant lab, it's probably not the only one."
    • InSight also provides an overview of the evolution of the drug submarine.
    • Guatemala's first lady Sandra Torres announced her candidacy for president to succeed her husband, Alvaro Colom, in the presidential elections in September. Her announcement came despite a constitutional ban prohibiting close relatives of a president from standing to replace him or her. Guatemala's constitutional court will have the final decision on whether or not Torres will be able to run.
    • The Christian Science Monitor published an interview with Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, in which Correa told interviewer Abraham Lowenthal that "I have personal respect for President Obama and for the positive changes he seeks to introduce, but the U.S. system and the power of vested interests have prevented significant changes." In the interview, Correa and Lowenthal also talk about political and social change in Ecuador and the possibilities for Peru under a new leadership.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, November 15-19, 2010

    Adam gives a quick overview of the lame-duck Congress, the Costa Rica - Nicaragua border dispute, an upcoming defense ministers' meeting in Bolivia, and public events in Washington this week.

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