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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Accounts that Pay for U.S. Drug War Aid to Latin America

This post is cross-posted with Adam Isacson's personal blog. The original can be read here.

I wrote the text below in a follow-up email to some congressional staff with whom I’d met last week. It occurred to me, though, that it might be helpful to share it more widely than that.

There are only three U.S. programs that specifically pay for counter-drug aid in Latin America. Together, though, they make up about 81% of all U.S. military/police aid to the region over the last 10 years. (And 12% of economic/civilian aid.) They are:

1. International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE): the biggest single aid program to Latin America by far. The only program I know of in the U.S. foreign aid budget that can pay for both military aid (helicopters etc.) and economic aid (alternative development programs etc.)

  • Administered by the State Department Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
  • Funded through annual State / Foreign Operations budget appropriation.
  • Authorized by Sections 481-489 of Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 USC, Chapter 32, Subchapter I, Part VIII )
  • Total aid to Latin America 2005-2014 $7.01 billion ($5.11 billion military/police, $1.90 billion economic/civilian.)
  • Best official report breaking down aid: INL Program and Budget Guide
  • 2. Section 1004 Counternarcotics: the Defense Department’s non-permanent, but regularly renewed, authorization to use its own budget for several specific kinds of military and police aid to other countries (and to US civilian law enforcement). After INCLE, the second-largest source of military/police aid to Latin America.

  • Administered by Defense Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics (under Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.)
  • Funded through annual Defense budget appropriation.
  • Authorized by Section 1004 of the 1991 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended.
  • Total aid to Latin America 2005-2014 $3.47 billion.
  • Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at http://bit.ly/QLm2GQ.
  • 3. Section 1033 Counternarcotics: another Defense Department counter-drug military aid program, which pays for a few additional kinds of aid that 1004 doesn’t. Begun in 1998 for Colombia and Peru, since expanded to 39 countries worldwide.

  • Administered by Defense Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics (under Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.)
  • Funded through annual Defense appropriation.
  • Authorized by Section 1033 of the 1998 National Defense Authorization Act, as amended.
  • Total aid to Latin America 2007-2014 $192 million. (In our estimates, some earlier years’ aid is probably included in “1004” above.)
  • Best official report breaking down aid: reporting is poor. Armed Services Committees sometimes require reports, sometimes don’t. All reports we’ve obtained are at http://bit.ly/QLm2GQ.
  • Friday, April 4, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the Associated Press uncovered that USAID tried to "trigger a Cuban Spring" through a secretly-established social media platform, the DEA said Mexican cartels were setting up shop in Colorado and Washington to cash in on black market marijuana, and the United States stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduras. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The Associated Press published an incendiary investigation this week revealing that USAID used front companies to secretly establish a now defunct Twitter-like social media platform in Cuba in 2010, with the intended purpose of stirring social unrest that might "trigger a Cuban Spring." The platform was also used to collect private data from its 40,000 users.

    On Thursday USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that while the program was not covert, "parts of it were done discreetly." The White House echoed those claims, saying the program was debated in Congress and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

    The Pan-American Post posted an excellent piece outlining the key points of the length AP report, while political analysts Greg Weeks, James Bosworth and Marc Hanson of the Washington Office on Latin America also provided helpful commentary.

  • During a hearing on U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation on Tuesday, James Dinkins, executive associate director for homeland security at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Committee on Homeland Security that "We have the best relationship with our Mexican counterparts that we've ever had." He pointed to the coordination between U.S. and Mexican agencies involved in the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera as evidence of the strengthening relationship.

    The head of U.S. Northern Command, General Charles Jacoby, emphasized this same point several weeks ago in the wake of reports claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation had suffered since Mexican President Peña Nieto mandated all contact with U.S. law enforcement go through the Ministry of the Interior.

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Thursday, April 3, 2014

    The Twilight Struggle over Fumigation in Colombia

    The U.S. government has spent billions since 1994 on a program that eradicates coca—the plant used to make cocaine—by having Colombian police and contractors fly over it spraying herbicides.

    This “fumigation” program has been controversial. The spraying destroys legal crops, and restitution is very hard to obtain. It has generated many health and environmental complaints. It sends a terrible message to people in poorly governed parts of Colombia: “we will spray you overhead, but will not provide you basic services.” And it has done little to reduce coca-growing.

    After 20 years, the fumigation program could be coming to an end. Its termination is a main demand of the FARC guerrillas, who are negotiating a peace accord with the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba. Since November, the negotiations have been discussing drug policy.

    The Colombian government appears likely to concede on fumigation. Colombian officials have begun to break to U.S. officials the news that it is preparing to end or cut back the program—a step that newly confirmed Ambassador Kevin Whitaker said would be “a great mistake” during his December confirmation hearing.

    • Two non-governmental Colombian sources who have met with President Juan Manuel Santos say that when Santos visited Washington in early December, he raised with U.S. officials the possibility that Colombia might stop the spray program.
    • On a mid-March visit to Washington, where he met with Attorney-General Eric Holder, Colombia’s minister of justice, Alfonso Gómez Méndez, proposed that funds used for the spray program be applied for other purposes. “As we need less spraying, it would be ideal if these resources could be directed toward what we call attacking the causes of illicit crops,” Gómez Méndez explained in an interview. “That proposal was accepted for review.”

    U.S. officials may be a bit confused, though, by mixed messages from the Colombian government. The country’s powerful Defense Ministry appears to be set against ending the spraying program, which it administers through the National Police Anti-Narcotics Directorate.

    • When Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón visited Washington in February, his staff accidentally leaked a briefing book to press. According to this document, among Pinzón’s talking points with U.S. officials was “State the importance of continuing the Counternarcotic programs as aerial spraying.” (The document was written in English.)
    • In an interview Sunday with Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, the chief of Colombia’s National Police, Gen. Rodolfo Palomino, emphatically opposed the Justice Minister’s proposal to curtail U.S. aid for fumigation. “Fumigation is fundamental because while there’s pressure from illegal armed groups, especially the guerrillas, to stimulate and force illicit crops, we have to keep hitting hard, counteracting it with full rigor. And that implies continuing with fumigation.”

    Meanwhile, inside the Obama administration, the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which runs the fumigation program, is planning to forge ahead with spray operations. The program was halted after guerrillas shot down two spray planes shot down, for the first time in a decade, in September and October. This resulted in a more than 50 percent reduction in spraying last year, to 47,000 hectares—the lowest spray acreage since 2000.

    (Data Table)

    The fumigations began again in February, though, and last week the long-serving assistant secretary for INL, William Brownfield, had his picture taken (above) visiting the Air Tractor, Inc. plant in Olney, Texas where the spray planes are produced and maintained. “The people who work for Air Tractor here in Olney have played an important role in forcing this repulsive, repugnant, violent, homicidal terrorist organization to come to the table,” Brownfield said, referring to the FARC.

    Friday, March 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Honduras made plans to double the number of military police in its most violent city, federal troops were deployed to one of Rio's largest slums and the Venezuelan military reaffirmed its support for the government after three air force officers were arrested for allegedly planning a coup. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration “is in diplomatic talks” to reschedule her official visit to meet with President Obama after canceling her previous visit in September following revelations of NSA espionage. According to Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, it is unlikely that this visit would occur before October’s presidential elections in Brazil.
  • Today marks the conclusion of the week long 150th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which cases relating to a range of issues – from freedom of speech in Ecuador, to the ousting of Bogotá’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, to the justice system in Peru or indigenous rights in Nicaragua – were heard. On Tuesday, the commission held its first-ever hearing on drug policy and human rights abuses in the Americas at the request of 17 human rights organizations, which argued that the fight against drug trafficking justifies repression and abuse in the region. Animal Politico laid out several of the presenters’ arguments and has a video of the hearing.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas to first-time applicants. The embassy said it did not have enough staff to process the paperwork after three consular officers were kicked out of the country by the Venezuelan government, which has also delayed authorizing new personnel.
  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three air force generals had been arrested for allegedly planning a coup after supposedly meeting with members of the opposition. Hours after the announcement the military issued a statement pledging its “monolithic” support, saying it would continue "protecting our people, guarding our homeland's sovereignty and supporting the constitutionally elected president and commander in chief." Also on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Marina Corina Machado to one year in jail for “inciting violence.”
  • President Maduro has agreed to enter talks with the opposition with the help of an outside facilitator, a move proposed by a visiting delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to the Pan-American Post, it has been suggested foreign ministers from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador would take the lead on creating conditions for the talks, while the Associated Press noted Maduro has agreed to create a human rights commission to investigate abuses committed by the security forces.
  • Honduras’ military police chief, Coronel German Alfaro, announced plans to double the number of officers on the streets of San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the country, from 1,000 to 2,000. According to Alfaro, the military police force has been a success in the country’s most violent city and the government will continue to roll out its plan to deploy 5,000 officers throughout the country. In an update on the national police reform process, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported 536 police were fired after failing vetting tests and another 221 resigned.
  • On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing, “newspaper U.S. disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” While much of the discussion focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Russia, Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter did note that the U.S. is not disengaged and, on the contrary, has been positively and heavily engaged in the region.
  • In addition to Uruguay, the United States also askedBrazil and Colombia to take in inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the government was analyzing the request, while Uruguay agreed to take five inmates earlier this week.
  • Federal troops were sent to one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums and will stay there until the kickoff of the World Cup in 76 days. The military deployment comes after a serious of bombing, murders and attacks on police bases. InSight Crime published an on-the-ground perspective of one of these pacification operations in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vila Kennedy.
  • Locals in a major coca-producing region in Bolivia clashedwith police over the construction of a military base. According to the Associated Press, the counterdrug base is being built with $1.3 million in European Union funding.
  • On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announcedthat FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Céren would officially be the country’s next president, after the body formally rejected the ARENA party’s petition for a ballot-by-ballot recount on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) releaseda statement Tuesday congratulating Sanchez Céren that noted a “calm and orderly” election but recognized there were “pending legal matters.”
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarapé, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, launched an impressive interactive online database of citizen security programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As Spanish news agency EFE noted, 66 percent of security policies in Latin America have been concentrated in Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Also of note this week: an article by Ander Izagirre in El Pais on Colombia’s false positives, a piece on the massacre of 260 Central American migrants in 2010 and 2011 by Oscar Martinez in El Faro, in Vice on violence against local communities involved in mining conflicts in Guatemala, and an investigation published by El Faro, in Inside Costa Rica on the effectiveness of panic buttons in busses in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Thursday, March 27, 2014

    United States Counternarcotics Assistance in Central America from the 2013 INCSR

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Elijah Stevens

    The U.S. State Department’s recently released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) identified all seven countries in Central America as major transit countries for drug trafficking. While there are serious efforts to combat drug trafficking in these countries, many of which are backed by various forms of U.S. assistance through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the report found that 80 percent of illegal drugs destined for the United States are still trafficked through Central America.
    Countries throughout this region are plagued, to varying degrees, by limited funds for improving capabilities and resources, problematic and weak judiciary systems, corruption at various levels of security institutions, and lack of professionalization in their security forces.

    The INCSR explains some of the initiatives the United States has supported and continues to support, the majority of them through CARSI:

    Belize

  • Trained and supported the Coast Guard to establish Belize’s first Sea, Air and Land Team (SEAL).
  • Established a Mobile Interdiction Team in December 2012 whose mission is to interdict narcotics at ports of entry throughout border regions. This is in addition to the provision of training and equipment to the country’s police force.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement, and a U.S.-sponsored Multilateral Counterdrug Summit with 11 other participants from Central and South America
  • Currently, Belize’s government is exploring the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana in small quantities as an alternative strategy in combatting narcotrafficking and crime.

    Costa Rica

  • Updated police academy curriculum and continued implemention of the COMPSTAT crime-tracking system.
  • Providing training and equipment for Costa Rica’s police to perform anti-gang law enforcement and also support for community policing with equipment, vehicles and training.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement to target offshore narcotrafficking. Although the U.S.’ antidrug surge mission in Central America’s coastal waters, Operation Martillo, has been constrained by Costa Rica’s reluctance to allow other countries’ military ships into its waters, an uptick in drug trafficking in the country has meant the government has been more open to granting permission.
  • Helped create, train and support the newly established Border Police, including building a critical checkpoint in southern Costa Rica to monitor traffic from Panama.
  • There has been an increasing presence of transnational criminal organizations in Costa Rica, which has grown hand-in-hand with continued perceptions of corruption in the police, judiciary and government. Although violence is relatively low in Costa Rica, homicide rates held steady in 2013 and assaults increased nearly 19 percent.

    El Salvador

  • Providing equipment and training for law enforcement agencies to interdict narcotics shipments, combat money laundering and public corruption, and enforce the anti-gang law.
  • Helped establish a joint Interagency Task Force “Grupo Conjunto Cuscatlán” (Cuscatlán Joint Group or GCC) in 2012 to better integrate the National Civil Police (PNC), customs and port authorities, and local military
  • Donation of three helicopters and six boats to the GCC, which is made up of the PNC, the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and the Attorney General’s Office (FGR)
  • Initiated and sponsored two large polygraph sessions in 2013 administered by U.S-trained Colombian polygraphists
  • A number of reforms were also launched in El Salvador to address issues within the legal system. The Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of National Civilian Police was organized to confront retention issues, staffing shortages and leadership problems. According to the report, “The vetted counternarcotics unit (GEAN) within the DAN is responsible for conducting sensitive counternarcotics investigations, but few operational results have been achieved since 2012.”

    Guatemala

  • The transfer of title and operational control of six UH-1H II helicopters, effectively nationalizing the aviation interdiction program
  • Collaboration with the National Police (PNC) to form a 38-man land interdiction unit for mobile check points along with additional efforts to modernize and expand the PNC force
  • Financial and technical support to three special prosecutorial units for criminal cases, and a special task force for investigation and preparation of high-impact narcotics cases.
  • The report noted that narcotics traffickers might be attempting to increase the domestic market in Guatemala by paying local couriers in drugs rather than cash. President Pérez Molina has increased cooperation between the police and military to combat crime and drug trafficking.

    Honduras

  • The United States has provided training to Honduran police, prosecutors and judges:
    • Directly trained 1,200 individuals
    • Helped establish a Criminal Investigative School
    • Funded Colombian trainers through the U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Action Plan for several trainings with government officials and security forces
    • Funded Chilean trainers to train Honduran police
  • Helped create the Inter-Institutional Task Force to improve investigative capacity, protect human rights and reduce impunity.
  • U.S. support for several counternarcotics operations, including Operation Armadillo, a mission in the major drug trafficking corridor of the Gracias a Dios region and another joint DEA-Honduran Navy interdiction operation.
  • Helped the government design several police reforms, none of which have passed into law.
  • While drug-related violence remains extremely high in Honduras, a blow was struck against narcotics trafficking with a major law enforcement operation against the Los Cachiros drug trafficking organization in September in which over $500 million in assets was seized. The country has immensely weak institutions and in 2013, several high-ranking security officials resigned or were fired. The government established a new police unit and two military police battalions in 2013 to combat the soaring crime and violence. Honduras has counternarcotics agreements with the United States, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela and Spain.

    Nicaragua

    The U.S. State Department ceased providing funds to certain Nicaraguan government agencies in 2013 due to ongoing concerns over fiscal transparency. This phased out several bilateral programs and prompted some counternarcotics funds to be redirected towards drug eradication and non-governmental drug demand reduction programs. The United States does continue to assist Nicaragua’s counternarcotic efforts in some ways:

  • Using funds from 2012, donated four Mobile Tracers narcotics detectors valued at $168,000 to the Nicaraguan National Police’s (NNP) Drug Unit, and provided associated training to 15 anti-narcotics police officers.
  • Donated interdiction equipment and two boats with the capacity to intercept offshore speedboats, constructed an anti-drugs operation center, storage warehouse and boat ramp valued at $5.4 million.
  • Also using funding from 2012, donated four drug detector units valued at $87,000 and provided interdiction training to 12 naval officers.
  • Panama

  • Established an asset-forfeiture sharing agreement that will provide $36 million from past investigations to the Panamanian government.
  • Supported prison reform and anti-corruption classes, which will continue as several security-service members were detained for narcotrafficking in 2013.
  • Provided support to modernize and maintain Panama’s Air Naval Service (SENAN), Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT), Panamanian National Police (PNP) vessels and facilities for interdiction, including funding Colombian trainers to work with SENAN and SENAFRONT. Members of SENAFRONT are now training security forces in Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras.
  • According to the INCSR, through strong U.S. support, Panama was able to achieve some successes in combating narcotrafficking, especially with the use of the Panamanian National Border Front (SENAFRONT) to end the FARC’s permanent presence in the remote Darien Gap region.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Mexico's national security commissioner resigned, U.S. Southern Command deployed more ships to help Honduras' Navy interdict drugs and Colombian security forces were deployed to the country's primary cocaine port, where neo-paramilitary groups are terrorizing residents. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to divert U.S. security assistance away from aerial coca fumigation and towards preventative, development programs like alternative crop incentives. According to Gomez, doing so would free up resources to "attack the causes" of the illicit drug trade, which he asserted needed to be viewed as "an economic and social problem."
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a report on Colombia’s training of foreign forces throughout the region. The United States strongly supports this practice, as the use of Colombian facilities and trainers can be up to four times cheaper than using U.S. assets. The creation of an International Cooperation Division to help coordinate trainings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, allocated $15 million in the 2014 budget, suggests this is no passing trend.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said his country would receive five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, although U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso said the two countries are still "in consultations and dialogue." As the Pan-American Post noted, if an agreement is reached, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to accept Guantanamo detainees, after El Salvador accepted two prisoners in 2012.
  • Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes announced U.S. Southern Command would be ramping up its activities off the coast of Honduras to work with the Honduran Navy on counternarcotics operations. SOUTHCOM’s new deployment includes four armed vessels, two cutters and two frigates, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific.
  • On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report on the security crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura. The report highlighted the violence, torture and extortion committed by the two predominant paramilitary successor groups in the area, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which caused the displacement of 19,000 people from the city in 2013 alone. El Espectador also profiled the security situation, while freelance journalist James Bargent noted the relatively recent U.S-Colombia free trade agreement has exacerbated the problem.
  • El Tiempo reported that almost 600 soldiers and marines have been deployed to Buenaventura in hopes of wrangling control from the Empresa and the Urabeños, which is said to be Colombia's most powerful criminal group. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "the Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city over the past decade."
  • A sobering but excellent interactive feature (and phone app) from Colombian investigative news organization Verdad Abierta and Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory chronicles 700 massacres that have taken place in the country from 1982-present.
  • Military budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by three percent in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The study found Nicaragua increased its budget by 27 percent, while Honduras and Guatemala increased their budgets by about 18 percent.
  • Honduran authorities discovered opium poppies for the first time during a greenhouse raid in the western part of the country, IPS News reported Monday.
  • On Sunday, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) named left-wing FMLN candidate and former guerrilla Salvador Sanchez Céren as the country's next president, following a contentious post-election standoff with the conservative ARENA party. Sanchez Céren and his vice-president Oscar Ortíz will begin their terms on June 1. As Central American Politics noted, Sanchez Céren, has appointed six other former leftist rebels to his transition team.
  • As Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva highlighted in an op-ed for El Faro, while the U.S. government historically "does not like to dance" with the country's political left, there are a number of issues, like drug trafficking and immigration, that inextricably link the two nations. There were a number of other helpful articles examining the challenges Sanchez Céren now faces given his razor-thin victory, including these from Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, and Americas Quarterly
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew traveled to Brazil this week in hopes of repairing relations with the country, which were strained following revelations of NSA espionage earlier this year. Lew also met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited the region this week as well to meet with government officials from Brazil and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. Following her meeting with Cartes, Jacobson said the United States was looking to increase cooperation with the South American nation in the fight against organized crime.
  • On Thursday, five members of the U.S. Congress met with Bolivian President Evo Morales to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • The head of Mexico's National Security Commission and federal police, Manuel Mondragon, stepped down on Monday. President Enrique Peña Nieto nominated lawyer Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia to be his replacement, profiled by El Universal here. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this is the second high-level Mexican security official to step down in less than two months, noting the resignation of Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo in late January.
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute released a report, "Changes in the Neighborhood:Reviewing Citizen Security Cooperation in Latin America," which examined a shift in security strategies towards “softer” policies focused on regional cooperation and citizen participation. InSight Crime published an analysis of the report, including an examination of the United States’ role in citizen security throughout the region.
  • Peruvian investigative news website IDL-Reporteros critiqued the Peruvian government’s militarized forced eradication strategy in the VRAE region, which now produces more coca than any other place in the world.
  • Friday, March 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the head of Southcom said he can't stop 80 percent of drugs coming from Colombia, the U.S. government made increasingly critical statements against Venezuela's government and El Salvador almost got a new president. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday, the heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As in his appearance before the House last week, Southcom commander General Kelly said that he is "unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," because of severe budget cuts that have pared down assets like intelligence equipment and vessels. Kelly said he needed 16 ships capable of transporting helicopters in order to reduce the flow of drugs by 40 percent. He also noted
    that he does not get to use the U.S. Air Force’s surveillance drones.
  • General Kelly also said he had to cancel more than 200 engagements due to the tightened defense spending and that some Latin American leaders are "in disbelief" over legalization in the United States given its push for the drug war. A video of the hearing can be accessed here and General Kelly’s comments from the Pentagon briefing room here.
  • While testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to "end this terror campaign against his own people,” one of his strongest statements to date about the protests in the country. Kerry said the United States was prepared “to get involved in various ways,” mentioning sanctions but noting that “the economy there is already quite fragile.” A video of the hearing can be viewed here.
  • During the hearing Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the statement from the Organization of American States, released last Friday, "shamefully weak," a sentiment shared by Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco, who said the statement “describes Venezuela as if natural disaster had struck, ignoring government censorship and abuses.” The United States and Panama added lengthy footnote objections to the statement, ultimately pushing for stronger language on demanding dialogue.
  • In an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, Biden called the situation in Venezuela “alarming,” accusing the government of backing armed militias and not respecting basic human rights. An unofficial source told the Associated Press Biden mentioned the possibility of third-party mediation.
  • The Union of South American Nations met in Chile the day after the inauguration to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. The group released a statement supporting dialogue and resolved to send a delegation to Venezuela to facilitate “dialogue between the government and all political forces and players.”
  • President Maduro announced the government would be stepping up security measures in areas where violence has spiked since the protests started one month ago. According to Reuters, the death toll has reached 28 and Venezuela State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, said 1,293 detainees had been released and 104 remained in custody. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a post tracking the deaths to date, while the Center for Economic Policy Research has a consistently updated blog feature, “Venezuela: Who Are They and How Did They Die?” See our Venezuela news page for links to several articles about the current situation.
  • Guatemala, the United States and Mexico are creating a coalition to ramp up security along their borders, Spanish news agency EFE reported.
  • For the first time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on March 25 to discuss the negative impact of the drug war on human rights in Latin America, reported the AFP. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is currently holding a review of global drug policy and for the first time has updates available to the public on its blog.
  • The State Department published its 2000-2010 estimates of world military budgets and arms transfers.
  • On Wednesday night, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared left wing FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén the winner of the country's presidential election. The final tally was 50.11 percent for Cerén to 49.89 percent for Norman Quijano. Quijano's conservative ARENA party has filed numerous petitions calling for the election to be set aside for several reasons, which are laid out by Tim Muth on his blog. ARENA has also submitted alleged proof of electoral fraud to the Attorney General's office. Before the TSE can ratify Cerén, these petitions must be addressed. According to Muth, the TSE will meet Sunday and announce on Monday whether the election will be set aside or if Cerén will be El Salvador’s next president.
  • Last weekend Colombia held congressional elections that many regarded as a referendum on the government's peace process with the FARC. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who has opposed the peace talks, won a Senate seat and his newly formed Democratic Center party won almost 15 percent of the seats in the Senate and 10 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Although President Santos's U party maintained a majority, the Democratic Center's strong showing could pose political difficulties for Santos going forward, however as Adam Isacson noted in World Politics Review, "his agenda as a whole will survive." Analyst James Bosworth has a succinct analysis of what the elections mean for Colombia's political landscape on his blog.
  • Several of the newly elected members of Colombia’s congress have been linked to paramilitary groups, including Senator Uribe. The estimates of the exact number of members with ties to paramilitaries has varied between 30, as Inter-Press Service reported, and 70, as Colombian organization Fundación Paz y Reconciliación determined. Colombian investigative news website Verdad Abierta published an excellent report and infographic on the issue, while La Silla Vacía included profiles of the members of congress linked to the paramilitary groups.
  • Friday, March 7, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the Obama administration cut aid to Colombia and Mexico in its proposed budget for FY2015, El Salvador's police chief said the gang truce was technically done and Colombia's military was rocked by more scandals. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Tuesday, the White House released its budget proposal for FY2015, which included considerable cuts in State Department counternarcotics assistance to Mexico. A drop from $195 million spent in 2013 for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement fund to a potential $80 million in 2015 indicates the Mérida Initiative is on the way out, according to WOLA's Adam Isacson. The proposal also reduced aid to Colombia, for both military and economic assistance, by about 12 percent. Overall the administration is planning to cut antidrug assistance to the region by $285 million in 2015.
  • Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) criticized the sizable drop in economic aid, saying, "After spending billions on counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency, we must not walk away from Colombia’s development and human rights needs, just when they might have the most positive impact." See here for more detailed State Department numbers and other international programs and here for the Congressional Budget Justification, which includes the actual amount spent in 2013 and the request for 2015.
  • Salvadoran journalist Héctor Silva Ávalos published a working paper for the Inter-American Dialogue, “The United States and Central America’s Northern Tier: The Ongoing Disconnect” The paper reviews U.S. security policy in the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Silva noted U.S. assistance has done little to curb the soaring crime and murder rates that have plagued the region since the end of their civil wars in the 1990s.
  • Silva also published a series on corruption in El Salvador for InSight Crime, including an excellent article on the country's police force and another detailing the logistics of a smuggling ring moving cocaine from El Salvador to New York and Washington, D.C.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense released the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, which broadly outlines DOD strategy and priorities. The document said very little about Latin America and the Caribbean. Analyst James Bosworth put together a roundup of all mentions of the region. The report cited transnational organized crime as the greatest threat to security in the region and said it would be "focusing limited resources on working with countries that want to partner with the United States and demonstrate a commitment to investing the time and resources required to develop and sustain an effective, civilian-led enterprise."
  • The State Department also released the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that provides country and region profiles. All seven Central American countries were listed as major drug transit countries, as were Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Bahamas, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico. The report estimated that 86 percent of the cocaine smuggled to the United States in the first part of 2013 passed through Central America before moving on to Mexico and across the border, up from 80 percent in 2012, as InSight Crime noted.. MercoPress highlighted that several Caribbean countries were now listed as major money laundering countries.
  • Sunday, voters will go to the polls for the second round of El Salvador's presidential election to chose between Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist FMLN party and Norman Quijano of the conservative ARENA party. The polls indicate Sánchez Cerén will likely be the candidate taking office June 1, according to Tim's El Salvador blog, which offers helpful information and analysis on the election.
  • In Costa Rica it looks likely that Luis Guillermo Solis of the center-left Citizens' Action Party (PAC) will take office following the second round presidential vote in April. Solis' main opponent, Johnny Araya of the Liberal Party, withdrew his name from the vote on Wednesday.
  • El Salvador's police chief, Rigoberto Pleites, told local media this week that the truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 street gangs, "technically no longer exists, given the increase in homicides in the past months." Pleites attributed about 70 percent of the 484 murders that took place between January 1 and March 1 of 2014, to the gangs. According to police numbers, this is about 100 more murders than were registered over the same period last year.
  • Fifteen members Colombia's military, including a colonel embroiled in the military's other recent scandals, were arrested for trafficking weapons to criminal gangs, like the narco-paramilitary group Los Urabeños. El Tiempo also reported that an Army liaison to civilian human rights prosecutors in Colombia might have been illegally passing information on “false positive” cases to commanders. A recent Gallup poll indicated the military’s favorability has fallen 16 points in two months (down from 80 percent in December), following the onslaught on corruption reports.
  • The violent protests in Venezuela continue and to date have left 20 dead and over 300 hundred injured. Countries in the Western Hemisphere have begun to voice their increasing concern over the events unfolding. On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution, nearly unanimously, condemning the "inexcusable violence perpetuated against opposition leaders and protesters in Venezuela." Despite calls for sanctions on Venezuelan leaders from lawmakers, the resolution was even-keeled, calling for an end to violence and promoting dialogue between both sides and support from the region. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the Miami Herald that President Obama is "looking at" the sanctions.
  • As today's Pan-American Post noted, the Organization of American States is meeting again today to discuss Venezuela, after members failed to reach a consensus during an eight-hour meeting yesterday. The United Nations issued a statement asking the Venezuelan government to provide information on alleged cases of torture, arbitrary detention and use of force as well as the 65 reported attacks against journalists. The country's national prosecutor Luisa Ortega said "1,322 people have been arrested and received court appearances during the protests and 92 are still in custody, including 15 members of the security forces suspected of human rights abuses,” according to the New York Times.Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a helpful Q&A on the protests, including a section on what the United States’ best likely course of action would be.
  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the violence in Venezuela continued to escalate, Colombia's military became embroiled in the second major scandal this month and Argentina's top security officials grappled with the rise in narcotrafficking. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Wednesday the Washington Post ran an article on reduced U.S.-Mexico security cooperation since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office. The article found “Americans are still kept more at arms’ length than before,” noting the Mexican government delayed State Department-funded programs that train and equip Mexican security forces until as recently as November. It also highlighted a significant drop in extraditions to the United States. During the White House press gaggle before Obama's visit to Mexico, Ben Rhodes insisted the U.S. government is pleased with the level of security cooperation between the two governments.
  • On Wednesday President Obama traveled to Toluca, Mexico to meet with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to several media reports, the leaders agreed to improve their economic and security relationships, and as the New York Times noted, "continue" with existing cooperation without announcing any new developments. The focus was largely on the economy and the Trans-Atlantic Trade partnership, with little focus on security or immigration. McClatchy reported on the tensions between the three leaders, claiming it overshadowed the summit.
  • On Sunday, Semana magazine reported members of the Colombian military had been receiving kickbacks from military contracts while diverting money from base budgets. It also found that jailed lower-ranking officers been paid to remain silent about the involvement of higher-ranking officers in the so-called "false positives" scandal, in which innocent civilians were slain and presented as guerrillas killed in combat.

    On Tuesday, President Santos announced the dismissal of four top generals for corruption and the head of the military, General Barrera. Barrera was not fired over corruption but for calling "false positive" investigations "a bunch of crap" and suggesting officers band together, "like a mafia" against prosecutors investigating the cases. Over 4,000 members of the military are being investigated for their roles in extrajudicial killings and there are estimated to have been between 3,000 and 4,000 victims. President Santos has called for further investigation and said officers should be tried in civilian courts. This scandal comes after another just a few weeks ago, when Semana reported the military had been wiretapping both negotiating teams in Havana, opposition lawmakers and journalists.

  • The Colombian government resumed aerial coca fumigation this past Saturday. It had been suspended after two planes had been shot down in U.S.-sponsored missions. Rodrigo Uprimny, a researcher for Colombian organization Dejusticia, criticized the practice in an op-ed in El Espectador, noting its harmful affect on health, the environment and licit crops, while it has also largely been found ineffective.
  • Although murders in Guatemala have dropped to the lowest in a decade, an article in Plaza Pública found the trend started before current President Otto Perez Mólina took office, challenging his claim that his militarized security policies have been effective. The news site reported that the rate of reduction has slowed under President Perez Mólina. InSight Crime translated the article into English.
  • Argentina's Security Minister, Sergio Berni, said this week that he would support decriminalizing not just the consumption of marijuana but production as well. Berni said there was "no chance police could beat narcotrafficking" and that “The [United States] has the most protected borders and everything gets inside." The comments came after Berni rejected claims by Defense Minister Agustin Rossi that Argentina is no longer just a drug consumption and transit hub, but is also now a drug producer, due to the increased presence of Mexican cartels.
  • In Brazil, police officers kill an average of five people per day. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara offers insight on how to improve the current cycle of abuse. She makes the case for demilitarization, arguing that doing so would not only do away with "training infused with a war mentality," but also give the officers more rights and better work conditions, in turn leading to improved law enforcement.
  • Honduras' controversial law allowing officials to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics will go into effect next week next week. On his recent visit to Honduras, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, expressed the United States' disapproval of the law.
  • The Congressional Research Service published "Latin American and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress"
  • The International Drug Policy Consortium published a paper on compulsory drug addiction treatment in Latin America, which has been increasingly labeled as inefficient and inhumane by human rights organizations. Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico all practice forced rehabilitation or are considering implementing the method.
  • The violent demonstrations that began last week across Venezuela in protest of rampant insecurity, surging inflation and shortages, escalated this week. So far eight people have been killed, over 100 injured and several more detained as clashes between protestors, security forces and pro-government militias intensify. Protests turned particularly violent Wednesday night and it appears the violence is increasing. President Maduro accused the United States of inciting the violence and expelled three U.S. consular officers Sunday. He has also blamed former President Uribe and sent paratroopers to a western border state claiming Colombians were crossing the border "to carry out paramilitary missions" in Venezuela. While in Mexico, President Obama commented that instead of "making up false accusations" against U.S. diplomats, President Maduro should focus on the "legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan government."
  • Opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself over to security forces on Tuesday. He has since had the charges of murder and terrorism dropped and is awaiting trial for lesser crimes like arson and criminal incitement. Another big opposition march is scheduled for Saturday.

    See Venezuela Politics and Human Rights for sound analysis on the situation, including a helpful Q& A, and Just the Facts' Venezuela news page for information on the violence, how the protests are playing out on social media, the Venezuelan government's censorship of T.V. coverage, the rising tensions with the United States, and more.

  • Friday, February 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the United States reaffirmed its commitment to fighting narcotrafficking in Central America, a majority of U.S. citizens indicated they wanted a change in U.S. policy to Cuba and Venezuelans took to the streets. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was in Guatemala and Honduras this week with the head of U.S. Southern Command, General Kelly. In Guatemala, Brownfield met with President Otto Perez Mólina, after which he announced
    an additional $5 million dollars for counternarcotics operations in the country. He also met with Prosecutor General Claudia Paz y Paz and Iván Velásquez Gómez, the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), announcing $4.8 million for that initiative.
  • In Honduras Brownfield reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting counternarcotics initiatives in the country but expressed the State Department’s disapproval of a new law that allows officials to shoot down civilian aircraft suspected of carrying drugs. In a lengthy interview with Honduran newspaper La Prensa, Brownfield said the State Department had found drug flights were down 80 percent in the country and that sea trafficking was on the rise. The visit comes after Honduras’ new president criticized U.S. drug policy in his inauguration speech, calling it a “double standard” and inviting the Obama Administration to have greater cooperation.La Prensa also published a Southcom map showing various illicit trafficking networks across the globe.
  • Mexico's military hosted a competition with cadets and Special Forces from several Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the United States.
  • A new poll released by the Atlantic Council this week found not only that the majority of Americans, but an even higher percentage of Floridians, favor a shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba. This may suggest a shifting tide in relations as a strong anti-Cuba contingent in Florida has been seen as the major political obstacle in thawing relations. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) published a bi-partisan op-ed on why the United States needs to change its policy towards the island.
  • Human Rights Watch published a report Wednesday on impunity for murders tied to land disputes in Honduras’ contested Bajo Aguán region. U.S. security assistance to Honduras for 2014 has been conditioned on the protection of human rights in this region due to ongoing attacks against activists.
  • The New York Times reported on the links between drug trafficking and deforestation and illegal logging in Honduras. According to the article, “as Honduras has become a central transfer point for drug shipments to the United States, there is more money to pay - and arm - land invaders, who strip the forest and transform the land into businesses like cattle ranching that can be used to launder drug money.”
  • The Associated Press profiled a kidnapping epidemic in Morelos, Mexico and the population’s mistrust of security forces sent to fight it. Locals doubt whether weak government institutions will investigate those responsible and have a long-term impact on the problem.
  • The Christian Science Monitor published a post by Rio Gringa on vigilante justice in Brazil’s biggest cities.
  • Thousands took to the streets in protest of Venezuela Preisdent Nicolás Maduro’s government this week. Student protests in Caracas turned especially violent, leaving three dead: two from the opposition and one government supporter. Each side is blaming the other for the violence. The government is seeking the arrest of opposition leader Leopold Lopez, drawing a wave of criticism, including from the U.S. State Department. Caracas-based journalist Girish Gupta posted a video from protests Wednesday night and Venezuela Politics and Human Rights has an excellent analysis and overview. Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported that the protests have subsided but that citizens were surprised by the heavy military presence. Brazil also experienced some violent protests this week.
  • A California court revoked the U.S. citizenship of a former Guatemalan special forces officer for covering up his role as an army lieutenant in the massacre of 182 villagers in Guatemala. He received the maximum 10 years in prison for deceiving U.S. immigration officials.
  • In an excellent op-ed in the New York Times, Medellín-born author Héctor Abad writes Colombia’s damaging experience with paramilitarism should serve as a warning to Mexico. Abad also notes that the United States has played a significant role in perpetuating a fight against drugs that forces “obedient governments to ignore real solutions.” InSight Crime analyzed the difference in the Mexican government’s approach to these groups in various places, noting its cooperation with the groups in Michoacán but its attempts to halt them in Guerrero.
  • On Thursday the FARC and the Colombian government closed the latest round of the peace talks and said they have made progress towards reaching an agreement on combating the illegal drug trade. The two sides issued a joint statement noting they’ve reached a consensus on several points. More analysis from United States Institute for Peace’s Ginny Bouvier and WOLA.