Syndicate content Link to our RSS feed / Link to our podcast feed

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, January 31, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • As for Costa Rica's presidential election, the Tico Times published poll numbers and the Pan-American Post provided a short guide to those running and the political landscape.
  • Friday, January 10, 2014

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    Argentina

  • On Tuesday Argentina's La Nación newspaper reported the country's military would be sent to the border for their first anti-drug mission, part of a new strategy increasing the armed forces' role in domestic counternarcotics operations. According to the paper, Argentina plans to seek U.S. military assistance for those operations. As Adam Isacson noted, the news marked some big policy shifts in that the U.S. has given virtually no military assistance to Argentina for years and the country has historically maintained civilian control over internal policing duties.

    Argentina's defense minister, Agustín Rossi, confirmed the country purchased 35 hummers from the United States military, but said the vehicles would not be used for counternarcotics missions.

  • Honduras

  • A fantastic read in the New Yorker gives a history of the United States' war on drugs at home and in Latin America, underscoring its failures and highlighting why the U.S. strategy remains "on autopilot" despite the spate of shortcomings. It noted, "What is remarkable is how many times the U.S. has tried such militarized counter-narcotics programs and how long it has been apparent how little they amount to."
  • Other interesting articles this week concerning U.S. involvement in Honduras came from Al Jazeera's “US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown” and the Guardian's “Honduras and the dirty war fueled by the west’s drive for clean energy.”
  • Honduras' outgoing Congress approved for the country's newly established military police to be added to the constitution. The next step is for the legislature to approve the addition. President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández, the architect of the unit, is pushing for this as he has said it would not only be involved in citizen security, but in fiscal crimes as well.
  • Cuba

  • On Thursday Cuban and U.S. officials met in Havana for migration talks. The talks, which are the highest public contact between the two governments, are the latest development in a series of events indicating a thaw in relations. The delegations discussed the status of the 1990s migratory accords, which allowed for the U.S. to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, as well as the issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking. The Cuban government continues to object to U.S. special exemptions for Cuban immigrants, such as the "wet foot, dry-foot" policy, which the Cubans claim encourages illegal immigration. More from the Associated Press. See here for the full text in English of the Cuban press release on the migration talks.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday Mexico's Federal Police, Marine Corps and Army were deployed to the coast and Michoacán, where clashes between armed vigilante groups and drug cartels is causing violence to spike and main transportation thoroughfares to close.

    On Saturday, some 100 members of a self-defense group took over the Michoacán village of Paracuaro, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang, and detained 15 local police officers accused of colluding with the cartel. Reuters published a vivid photo feature on the incident. El Universal has a helpful interactive feature on the security situation in the state with maps, profiles, a timeline and videos.

  • The government has since sent federal troops to protect the high-profile leader of the group that took over Paracuaro, Jose Manuel Mireles, who was injured in a plane crash Saturday. The Associated Press, noted the decision to do so illustrated the "tricky position in which Mexico's government finds itself with regard to the rebel movement." The government has denounced these groups as outside the law, but hailed Mireles Wednesday for "wounding the cartels, particularly the Templars." More analysis from El País on the federal government’s role in the conflict.

    Local townspeople are now protesting the vigilante's takeover of Paracuaro,while the mayor has requested the federal government's assistance in removing the armed vigilante group. Self-defense groups now control 13 cities and a community in Michoacan.

  • Vice Mexico published a feature on Mireles, "With the moral leader of Michoacan's self-defense groups," documenting his life with the vigilante movement over the course of five days as they planned the takeover and executed it, up through the plane crash that landed Mireles in the hospital.
  • Human Rights Watch researcher Nik Steinberg published a harrowing story in Foreign Policy about ongoing impunity for forced disappearances in Mexico, many committed by members of the country's police and military. He noted a lack of government will to prosecute cases or set up a functioning database of missing individuals.
  • InSight Crime translated Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope’s “5 Predications for Mexico Security in 2014.”
  • Venezuela

  • The high-profile murder of a former Miss Venezuela on Monday has shocked the country and sparked a nation-wide debate about the dire public security situation. On Twitter, the hashtag #NoMasViolenciaVenezuela (No more violence Venezuela) was trending while the statistic was spread that Venezuela's 2013 homicide rate (24,763) was over 2.5 times that of Iraq (9.472), which has about the same population. On Thursday all governors and mayors from the country's 79 municipalities convened in Caracas to review the government's security plan. So far seven arrests have been made for the murders.

    At the meeting, a much-publicized handshake took place between President Maduro and Henrique Capriles, Maduro's rival in April's hotly contested presidential elections. It was the first time the two had been in the same room since Maduro defeated Capriles. President Maduro has since announced the creation of a center for victims of violence as well as a major cabinet reshuffle, including the heads of seven civilian ministries and several military agencies.

  • Colombia

  • The Los Angeles Times published an article on the status of Colombia’s 2011 land restitution statute, which one farmer said was “a beautiful law that gave us hope we might recover our land. But we’re still in limbo and under constant threat.” The piece goes on to describe obstacles to the law's implementation such as protection for those reclaiming their land from paramilitary groups and lack of local development.
  • Following a recent Washington Post article detailing the CIA’s covert involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency missions, the FARC issued a communiqué questioning the government’s commitment to the peace talks, saying the article, “raises doubts about the true role of the fatherland-betraying Colombian oligarchy.” In a post published Friday in English, “The Army of Colombia: A Pawn in the CIA’s Chess Game,” the group blasted the government, asserting that “To hand over the command of your military operations to a foreign army and hide it from the country for years is a crime of the offended country; it is an outrage that stains our sovereignty and independence; a crime of treason.”
  • An editorial in Colombia’s most circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, strongly praised Colorado’s marijuana legalization measure, calling it an “urgent and necessary framing of the war on drugs.”
  • Although Colombia seized more marijuana in 2013 than in any year in the past two decades, cocaine seizures fell dramatically to 70 tons, which would mean a 170-ton drop using some 2012 numbers. According to InSight Crime, this shift indicates cocaine traffickers have adapted their strategies, as the United Nations has reported cocaine production in the country remains stable, despite drops in coca cultivation.
  • El Salvador

  • A joint study by the Salvadoran Government and the United States’ Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, found that although criminals’ weapons used to be left overs from the civil war, now 60% of weapons traced come from the United States today.
  • Friday, November 22, 2013

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    Vice President Biden in Panama

  • On Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Panama to discuss security and trade with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and tour the expansion of the Panama Canal. He praised Panama for “contributing to global security” in its detection and seizure of weapons found heading from Cuba to North Korea. As security analyst James Bosworth noted, the United States has been relatively quiet on the issue. This is likely due, in part, to the “surprise warming in recent months” of relations between the two countries.
  • Attorney General Holder in Colombia

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss narcotrafficking and bilateral cooperation ahead of the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, held in Medellín. During his remarks, Holder called for a change in security strategy saying, "we must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach,” and "the path we are currently on is not sustainable."

    As La Silla Vacía notes, Holder’s trip comes just as the Colombian government and Farc guerrillas start to address the third point on the agenda, narcotrafficking. For a detailed analysis and update on the peace process, see WOLA’s ColombiaPeace.org.

  • Secretary of State Kerry addresses OAS

  • On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech at the Organization of American States in which he touched on climate change and endorsed the Obama administration’s current Cuba policy, lauding restrictions on travel but calling for broader political reform. The Washington Office on Latin America said the speech offered nothing new and “ignored things that Latin American nations have been asking of the United States,” such as an alternative drug policy, immigration reform, violence, and organized crime. More from the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal.
  • Elections in Honduras

  • On Sunday, Hondurans will vote for a new president. The election is in a dead-heat between Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, and conservative ruling party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández. The outcome of the elections will greatly impact security strategy as Hernández has said he would “put a soldier on every corner,” while Castro has promoted community policing. An Organization of American States election observer said there was no indication of fraud, however, international and national observers will be watching to ensure Sunday’s polls are not manipulated. More analysis from the Wilson Center (video), which held an event on the elections last Friday, from El Faro and from Reuters, which has a useful "Factbox" on the candidates.

    The International Foundation for Electoral Systems had a helpful FAQ on the elections, while Honduras Politics and Culture blog had an overview of the country’s voting system as well as an overview of an OAS report (pdf) on the vote counting system, which offered some praise but highlighted significant shortcomings.

  • Venezuela president gets decree powers

  • On Tuesday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicholas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. He claims he needs the powers to fix the economy and target corruption. More from the Latin Americanist, Reuters, El País and Christian Science Monitor.
  • Chilean elections

  • On Sunday, in the first round of Chilean presidential elections, former President Michelle Bachelet received 47 percent of the vote, just shy of the 51 percent needed to win. Her closest competitor, Evelyn Matthei, received 25 percent. A run-off will be held December 15. More from the Economist and New York Times.
  • Protests in Haiti

  • Protestors in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, clashed with police and government supporters as they called for President Michel Martelly to resign, highlighting several concerns that range from high living costs to unabated corruption. The police and UN peacekeeping forces broke up the violent confrontations. More from the BBC and Pan-American Post.
  • El Salvador gang truce on the rocks?

  • According to El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo, gangs in the country “are at war, in a process of vengeance and territorial control." An uptick in murders suggests the truce is abating. As InSight Crime noted, murders have been “steadily approaching the pre-truce average of 12 a day.” On Wednesday, gang leaders denied their involvement in the murder increase as well as an alleged plan to increase homicides in December.
  • Colombian President Santos running for re-election

  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday night that he would run for re-election in 2014. His announcement speech focused on finishing the peace process. Santos’ main opposition candidate, Oscar Iván Zulaga, is backed by former President Álvaro Uribe and is a critic of the talks. For this reason, some observers, like analyst Laura Gil and former Senator Piedad Córdoba, have said the vote will be a referendum for the peace process. President Santos is still seeking a vice-president for his bid. More from Reuters and James Bosworth on the challenges President Santos faces in the election. La Silla Vacía has the full text of his announcement speech.
  • Mexican "self-defense" groups in Michoácan

  • Last weekend, "self-defense" groups seized another town in the violence-ridden Michoácan state in a clash with the Knights Templar cartel. As the AFP reported, these vigilante groups now provide security in six towns throughout the state, with plans to take over another 40,000 resident town. The Mexican government has pledged to prevent the groups from spreading.
  • Reports

  • RESDAL (Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina – Latin American Security and Defense Network) published a comprehensive, graphical, and extremely informative Public Security Index (pdf) of Central America this week.
  • InSight Crime provided a breakdown and analysis of Brazil's Forum of Public Security and Open Society Foundation’s study on police killings, looking at why police in Brazil kill. The report found that police in São Paulo were responsible for 20 percent of all homicides last year.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration published its National Drug Threat Assessment (pdf) Monday. It found that while the availability of cocaine in the United States has dropped, the availability of methamphetamine is on the rise, reportedly due to Mexican drug traffickers increasing production and control over the U.S. market.
  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a two-part documentary by independent journalist Tracey Eaton that "sheds light on the origins, failures, and future of the United States’ policy toward Cuba’s government."
  • Friday, November 15, 2013

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    U.S. policy

  • Migration Declassified, a project of the National Security Archive, published documents that offer the most detailed glimpse yet into Defense Department’s intelligence programs in Mexico in recent years. According to the group, “What emerges are the outlines of a two-track U.S. intelligence program: one, a network of joint intelligence centers staffed by personnel from both countries; the other, a secret facility located inside the U.S. Embassy to which the Mexicans are not invited.”
  • President Obama will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on December 3 and will emphasize the United States’ “continued support for efforts to achieve peace in Colombia, according to W Radio.
  • Entire region

  • The United Nations Development Program released a report on Tuesday, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America” which found Latin America continues to be the most insecure and unequal region in the world. The Economist provides a good overview and analysis of the report. More from Just the Facts, EFE, the Miami Herald and El País.
  • Chilean presidential elections this weekend

  • This Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. As analyst James Bosworth noted, it is a “near certainty” former President Michelle Bachelet, a self-declared socialist from the opposition party, will beat out conservative ruling party candidate Evelyn Matthei. In the event that Bachelet does not receive the required 51% of the vote this Sunday, run-off elections will be held in December. More from the Miami Herald and Associated Press about Bachelet’s radical proposed plans for reform. This will be the first election in which voting is voluntary rather than compulsory.
  • Colombia

  • On Monday, the Colombian government said it discovered a plot by FARC rebels to assassinate former President Álvaro Uribe and the country’s Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre. While there did not appear to be immediate fallout from the revelations, lead government negotiator Humerto de la Calle warned should such an attack take place, negotiations would be “destroyed.” The revealed plot has fomented concerns that the FARC’s central command negotiating in Havana does not have control over mid-level members of the group. More from La Silla Vacía.
  • The negotiating teams in Havana have worked out agreements on land and the FARC’s participation in politics. On Monday, both sides will begin talks on the drug trade. In a lengthy post published Tuesday, FARC’s top commander “Timochenko” said the group would debate the legalization of illicit crops in negotiations, noting the group has advocated for a shift in policy for several years. More from Colombia Reports. For further analysis on the progress on the peace talks, see this post by Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace, the Pan-American Post, and Semana.
  • The Latin America Working Group published a report, “ Far from the Promised Land”(pdf)examining land restitution along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The authors looked at the sluggish implementation of 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which set out procedures to grant reparations and land return to victims of the armed conflict. They found that “land restitution is just beginning to be implemented, but that both land restitution and victims’ reparations promised under the law are, for most victims, still a distant dream.”
  • Venezuela

  • On Thursday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. Maduro says he will use the special powers to target corruption and the country’s economic problems, while critics claim he will use the silence the opposition in upcoming local elections. On Tuesday, the Congress stripped an opposition lawmaker of her immunity to be prosecuted for corruption, and a government supporter was put in her place, giving the ruling party the 99th vote needed to pass the measure. This was the first of two votes the Congress will hold. The next will take place Tuesday. More from the BBC, Ultimas noticias and El Universal.
  • InSight Crime translated an excellent investigation about the Venezuelan military’s involvement in drug trafficking. “Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms” first appeared in Spanish in El Universal Domingo.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday, Mexico announced it would be firing or demoting 700 state police officers in Michoácan for failing to pass a vetting process. Police forces have been accused of ties to the Knights Templar drug gang. This week Mexican newspaper Milenio published a report which found that in one month, in an “important city in Michoácan,” one state police officer receives over $18,000 from the cartel, while a federal police official receives about $27,000 and an official from the Attorney General’s Office receives almost $19,000.
  • El Salvador

  • Three unidentified armed persons broke into the office of a Salvadoran non-profit agency whose mission is to track down children disappeared during the country’s civil war. They tied up the guard, stole several computers and set fire the organization’s archives. The country’s human rights prosecutor, David Morales, suggested the attack was linked to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal to a law granting amnesty for human right violations committed during the war. The group had apparently backed up all files that had been destroyed. More from the Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Office on Latin America.
  • Writing for InSight Crime, Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva examined impunity for high-level corruption within El Salvador’s Civil National Police.
  • Brazil

  • French police arrived in Brazil this week to train Rio de Janeiro’s military police in how to handle large-scale protests without using excessive force.
  • The Rio State Security Secretariat suspended the creation of new Pacifying Police Units, after reports of inappropriate use of force, forced disappearance and torture. Rio On Watch has an update on the city’s plans to target increased violence.
  • Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Citizen insecurity in Latin America has grown: UN report

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

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

    Some of the statistics revealed:

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

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Security on the campaign trail: Elections in El Salvador, Honduras and Chile

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

    Between now and February 2014, El Salvador, Honduras and Chile will hold presidential, elections. Below, we take a look at some of the top security issues each country faces and what the front-runner candidates are saying about them.

    El Salvador

    El Salvador saw an initial 45% drop in its murder rate in the months following the implementation of a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs. Current FMLN President Mauricio Funes purportedly facilitated the truce, yet his administration refuses to acknowledge its involvement in the agreement.

    This is largely due to the fact that most Salvadorans see the truce as beneficial to these criminal groups, as Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez noted in The New York Times. While the murder rate has gone down, other criminal activities have continued, primarily drug trafficking and extortions. These security problems, along with a recent rise in murders and isolated incidents of gang violence, have led to increased scrutiny on the sustainability of the truce.

    The United States government has neither publicly supported nor condemned the truce, yet there are indications the State Department does not approve of the process. As Miriam Wells of InSight Crime noted, the designation of MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization coupled with the denial of visas to Salvadoran government officials who planned to come to DC to request funding for the gang truce, “hardly amount to an endorsement.”

    Candidates

    Salvadorans will vote for their next president on February 2, 2014. The three frontrunners are:

  • Current Vice-President from the ruling leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, Salvador Sanchez Ceren.
  • Norman Quijano from the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party and current mayor of the country’s capital, San Salvador.
  • Former President Antonio “Tony” Saca, who was in office from 2004-2009. This time around Saca is running with the conservative Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA) party. During his presidency he was affiliated with the ARENA party, however he was kicked out in 2009 for attempting to woo ARENA politicians to the GANA party while still a member of ARENA.
  • Sanchez Ceren: In line with the current FMLN administration, he supports the truce as an “opportunity for dialogue … we have learned that the main problems are resolved through the path of dialogue and understanding.” Sanchez Ceren has placed emphasis on the implementation of social programs to stem criminal activity, which he plans to finance through Petrocaribe, an oil alliance of several Central American and Caribbean with Venezuela that allows them to buy oil with low-interest payments. El Salvador joined the bloc last year.

    Quijano is vehemently opposed to the truce, noting it is “an opportunity for the gangs to implement a criminal tax such as extortion” and that “the authority should always be on the side of the people, never on the side of the criminals.” Quijano advocates prison reform as an instrumental part of promoting long-term security. Under his plan, prisoners would be classified by seriousness of offenses and social programs would be implemented to focus on reintegration into society. Quijano also noted the United States will be an important ally in the fight against drug trafficking.

    Tony Saca is largely opposed to the truce, blaming it as a tool to “deceive” the Salvadoran people so criminal organizations can take territory. Saca’s security plan focuses on employment and continued law enforcement measures to curb crime. He stated it is necessary “to multiply employment so that we have the necessary funds to augment the number of police in our territory.”

    Another interesting element of this election is the reach of these campaigns into the United States. Recent legislation has given citizens abroad the right to vote. All three candidates have made campaign trips to the United States to convince the 1.8 million Salvadorans living in the country that their policies will move El Salvador forward.

    Honduras

    Honduras’ security situation has been a central issue on the campaign trail. The country has the highest homicide rate in the world, with an average of 20 murders a day. In response, the government has been increasingly militarizing its fight against the soaring crime and violence. Most recently, 1,000 members of a new military policing unit were deployed throughout Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the most violent cities in the country, in an effort to curb violence ahead of the presidential election.

    This militarization of law enforcement has sparked concern from members of the U.S. Congress. Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Michael Honda (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, citing their “great concern” over the “promotion of increasing militarization of the police.” The AFP later quoted a State Department official who echoed the representatives’ concerns and said, “In our view, the creation of a military police force distracts attention from civilian police reform efforts and strains limited resources."

    Some believe that the United States is not doing enough to counter human rights abuses ahead of elections. In the Miami Herald, Professor and expert Dana Frank wrote, “The United States, meanwhile, is pouring funds into both Honduran security forces, countenancing a militarization of the Honduran police that has long been illegal here at home, while dismissing Congressional pushback about human rights issues in Honduras.”

    The congressmen’s letter also urged the State Department to monitor the election process, and to “speak forcefully against” attacks targeting the opposition and human rights defenders. Since June 2012, at least sixteen members of the opposition LIBRE party have been killed -- Rights Action has a list of LIBRE candidates and activists killed since May 2012. The first paragraph of the letter read:

    We are writing to express our concern about U.S. policy and the approaching November 24 elections in Honduras. The evidence so far indicates that the freedom and fairness of this election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election.

    Candidates

    The presidential election will be held on November 24, 2013. There are two frontrunners in the race that are proposing radically different approaches to the fight against the crime and transnational drug trafficking that plagues the Central American nation.

  • Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed leader Manuel Zelaya and candidate of the center-left LIBRE party.
  • Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate from the highly conservative ruling National Party and current head of the country’s congress.
  • Juan Orlando Hernandez is advocating an expansion of military policing, pledging to put a “soldier on every corner.” He was the main architect of the new Military Police of Public Order unit. Some key remarks made while on the trail included:

    “Peace in needed, because in these times, humble people must resort to asking permission from criminals to enter into their own homes.”

    “I will not rest until we have the Military Police in every neighborhood.”

    “LIBRE and liberals have achieved nothing in the realm of security and now they attack me for calling for the Military Police.”

    Sources: 1, 2, 3

    In the U.S. Congressional letter mentioned above, the authors expressed concern over Hernandez’s and the National Party’s heavy influence in Honduran politics:

    We are particularly alarmed to learn that the ruling party, and its presidential candidate Mr. Juan Orlando Hernandez, now dominates all the key institutions of the government, including the country's electoral authority and the military, which distributes the ballots.

    Xiomara Castro is on the other end of the security spectrum. She said the military police “have failed” to ensure security and a change of strategy is needed. Castro has promoted establishing community police forces and said the military should be deployed to prevent drug trafficking at the borders. Below are some of her remarks on the security situation:

    “LIBRE proposes a community police, near to the people, so that the police know us, so they know who we are, and celebrate the security of the Honduran people.”

    “More than 24,000 people have been assassinated. We are the most violent country in the world and we are not even at war. This can only mean that the current strategy is not the correct one.”

    "If we manage to stop drugs coming into our country, it will be much easier to ensure internal security for the people"

    Sources: 1, 2, 3

    There has been some good coverage recently ahead of elections. The Christian Science Monitor looked at challenges for the LIBRE party, while Reuters provided a solid summary of the political landscape in the country. More from Hermano Juancito, CEPR and Honduras Culture and Politics blog.

    While the race has been close between Castro and Hernandez, for some time, Castro was leading in the polls. However, the latest October survey numbers show Hernandez has pulled ahead, 25.7 percent to 22.2 percent. It is important to note that in the same poll, 30.8% of respondents refused to state a preference or said they would not vote for any of the candidates.

    Chile

    Chile is slated for elections on November 17, 2013 in a race between former President Michele Bachelet of the Socialist Party, Evelyn Matthei of the Independent Democratic Union and seven other candidates. The most recent polls indicate that Bachelet will garner 32% of the vote and easily win a second round runoff against Matthei, who is currently polling at 20%. The two candidates’ family narratives reflect the turbulent history of Chile. Matthei is the daughter of a key member of the Pinochet regime and Bachelet is the daughter of a Brigadier General who was tortured under the Pinochet government.

    Evelyn Matthei has proposed a security plan that focuses on four main factors: crime prevention, criminal control, rehabilitation and reintegration and the fight against drug trafficking. She also noted that current programs on crime “have gone too far in the protection of criminals” and believes they should receive more jail time.

    Michele Bachelet has proposed a plan to reduce crime in the country with an added focus to prevention. She has also fiercely criticized the Piñera administration’s approach toward security, stating, “obviously the plan to ‘Colombianize’ is not appropriate … the option used in other countries to incorporate the Armed Forces in citizen security is not necessary nor valid.” Bachelet is likely referring to security forces’ heavy-handed response to indigenous and student protest movements, including the use of water cannons and tear gas.

    Bachelet noted a key part of her citizen security plan is to “make sure that the Public Ministry has the resources and ability to tend to victims, giving both protection and clear information.” Her proposal also includes an expansion of law enforcement with thousands new investigators and police officers throughout the country.

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    The Week Ahead: October 19, 2013

    Adam talks about a U.S.-backed coca eradication offensive in Peru, a delivery of U.S. helicopters and equipment to Guatemala, and a series of events affecting human rights and the judicial system in El Salvador.

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





    Download