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.
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.
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.”
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.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
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.
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.
Therehasbeenalotofcoverage 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 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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The U.S.S. Kearsarge is among 46 naval warships given permission to enter Costa Rican territorial waters between July 1 and December 31.
On July 1, Costa Rica’s legislative assembly approved a significant expansion of the U.S. counternarcotics presence in the country’s territorial waters. Members of the 57-seat legislature voted 31-8, with many opponents absent in an attempt to avoid a quorum, to allow U.S. Navy ships to dock and enter the country’s territorial waters to assist counternarcotics operations.
The United States and Costa Rica have operated since 1999 under a maritime counternarcotics agreement, whose text in Spanish is on the site of the U.S. embassy in San José. This agreement allows U.S. Coast Guard vessels, under a series of conditions, to carry out drug interdiction missions within Costa Rica’s territorial waters.
Since armyless Costa Rica lies along a drug trafficking route that is being used with increasing frequency, and since the Costa Rican police lack the personnel and equipment to detect and monitor trafficking, the 1999 agreement is not controversial. The new U.S. request, however, is different.
In a June 2, 2010 diplomatic note to the Costa Rican government – reproduced here in Spanish, from the Costa Rican congressional debate transcript (PDF) – the U.S. embassy asks Costa Rica to approve the possible entry into its territorial waters of a total of 46 naval warships over a six-month period (July 1-December 31, 2010). Taken together, these ships carry about 7,000 naval personnel and 200 helicopters.
Not all 46 are certain to come anywhere near Costa Rica. The diplomatic note reads, “The Embassy wishes to signal that not all of the indicated boats will visit Costa Rica, only those that need to make short visits.” Among the warships listed are:
The U.S.S. Makin Island, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, 258 meters long with 102 officers, 1,449 enlisted men, 48 helicopters and 5 Harrier aircraft aboard.
The U.S.S. Kearsarge, another Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, 257 meters long with 104 officers, 1,004 enlisted men, 48 helicopters and 5 Harrier aircraft aboard.
The U.S.S. Swift, a high-speed catamaran currently paying visits to several ports of call in Central America and the Caribbean for subject-matter exchanges with local militaries.
The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, 270 meters long with 110 officers, 710 enlisted men and 73 civilians aboard.
The 1999 U.S.-Costa Rican counternarcotics cooperation agreement very specifically states that it allows the U.S. Coast Guard – defined in the agreement as “a police body” – to operate in Costa Rican waters. The U.S. government, however, is requesting the additional naval vessels “in support of” the Coast Guard’s anti-drug operations.
In order to comply with the letter of the 1999 agreement and classify their mission as “law enforcement,” these naval vessels would carry Coast Guard teams and fly the U.S. Coast Guard flag. The Navy personnel, however, “will enjoy freedom of movement and the right to carry out activities they consider necessary for the fulfilment of their mission, which includes wearing their uniforms while exercising official functions.”
While Costa Rica is concerned about the threat of narcotrafficking, whose related violence could damage its booming tourist industry, the U.S. warships’ prospective presence has generated vocal opposition. Since abolishing its armed forces in 1948, Costa Rica has prided itself on its tradition of demilitarization and peaceful conflict resolution.
“This gives a blank check to American troops,” said Costa Rican Congressman Luis Fishman, a supporter of the 1999 accord who led opposition to the new agreement. “The type of armament leads one to believe that these operations are more military in character, rather than for combatting narcotrafficking,” added opposition legislator Juan Carlos Mendoza. An online petition against the entry of U.S. naval vessels now has over 3,600 signatures.
Opposition leaders are threatening a constitutional challenge to the possible U.S. Navy deployments. They could prevail, as Costa Rican law tightly restricts the presence of foreign military personnel in the national territory. In the early 2000s, U.S.-Costa Rican negotiations to establish an International Law Enforcement Academy broke down when Costa Rica insisted that no military personnel participate as trainees or instructors. The ILEA now operates in El Salvador.
Toward the end of March, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias wrote a letter to Uruguay's President José Mujica, asking him to follow Costa Rica's example and abolish Uruguay's military (Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948). President Arias made the same plea during his remarks on channel NTN24. "Why does Uruguay need an army? Who is Uruguay's enemy now? Will it invade Argentina? Will it invade Brazil?," President Arias asked.
Arias is the winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize and two-time president of a country that has had no army since 1948. As ex-president, Arias played an important role in convincing decisionmakers in Panama and Haiti to abolish their military forces in 1994 and 1995.
President Mujica declined President Arias' suggestion, affirming that the military is a necessary element in the fight against poverty. Mujica continued, "My personal opinion does not matter [because] when you are president, you do not do what you want to do, you do just what you can."
While Arias' request and Mujica's denial is not new news, the text of the letter President Arias sent to President Mujica is interesting. Arias addresses the letter not "to Don Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano, but to 'Pepe' the revolutionary." Mujica was a member of the guerrilla Tupamaros movement in Uruguay in the 1960s and spent over 14 years in prison under Uruguay's military dictatorship. The first paragraph of the letter continues to refer to Mujica's days with the Tupamaro movement, calling Mujica "that man who in the midst of the mud of horror, always kept intact the flower of justice, that dreamer who never turned off the light of utopia, not even in the darkest corner of his overlooked cell, that idealist who championed, despite insults and threats, an abiding faith in a better future for Uruguay and Latin America."
Below are some excerpts from Arias' letter to Muijca, in which Arias refers to the many military dictatorships throughout Latin America that "trampled human rights in [the] region." The Spanish version of the letter can be found here.
... I just want to give an advice that I see written on the wall of the history of mankind: armies are the enemies of development, the enemies of peace, the enemies of freedom and the enemies of joy.
In much of the world, and especially in Latin America, the armed forces have been the source of the most thankless collective memory. It was the military boot that trampled human rights in our region. It was the general's voice that issued the most violent arrest warrants for students and artists. It was the hand of the soldier who fired into the back of innocent people. In the best of scenarios, the Latin American armies have meant a prohibitive expense for our economies. And in the worst one they have been a permanent trap for our democracies.
Uruguay does not need an army. Its internal security can be handled by the police, and its national security gains nothing from a military that will never be more powerful than its neighbors, which are also democracies. No matter how much it invests in its armed forces, Uruguay can not win an arms race against Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. In the present circumstances, helplessness is a better national security policy for your people, than a military apparatus below that of your neighbors.
I speak from experience. Costa Rica was the first country in history to abolish its army and declare world peace. More than sixty years ago, another revolutionary Pepe, Commander José Figueres, decided to banish forever the armed forces from my country. Since then, Costa Ricans have never had to live in a war. They have not shed their blood again in a civil war. They have feared a coup, a dictatorship or a regime of political persecution. My people live in peace because they bet on life, they live in peace because they trusted the power of reason to govern the impulses of violence.
There are so many martyrs in history against military tutelage! You who suffered under the yoke of oppression, now have the opportunity to rid forever from that yoke the children of tomorrow. ... Let us hope that future will recognize in you, my friend the President, "Pepe" the revolutionary, who declared peace to the world and decreed life to be holy in Uruguay.
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)