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.
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.
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."
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
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.
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.
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 hasfomentedconcerns 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.”
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’ 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.
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.”
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"
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 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.
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.
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Inter American Court of Human Rights
Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
Last week Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón traveled to seven different Central American and Caribbean countries to discuss security cooperation: Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.
In every country Pinzón visited he discussed deals with the host governments to increase defense cooperation with Colombia. These deals included selling the countries arms and equipment, as well as having their security forces trained by Colombian police officers and military personnel to fight drug trafficking.
Colombian newspaper El Tiempo covered Pinzón’s trip, focusing on this expansion of the Colombian security model into Central America. According to the newspaper, the trip had three focuses:
Advising on the implementation of Colombian models for the police, the Armed Forces and defense sector sales;
Security cooperation so that [Colombian] national companies invest more in [Central America]
Gaining support for the government’s decision regarding the maritime dispute with Nicaragua.
There were several other key points to highlight from the article:
Security reform and cooperation
Colombia advises police reform in Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, but has agreements to reproduce a national model against drug trafficking all over Central America, from Mexico to Panama.
Colombia hopes [that cooperation], for example from the various police reforms in the region, will allow for shared protocols against crime. According to Pinzón:
“We need to be in solidarity with these countries that are facing problems similar to the ones we face. To the extent that this interrupts trafficking, it interrupts criminality and reduces the flow of resources that come to finance violence and terrorism in Colombia, so we all win.”
This idea has become popular in the region. Honduran Minister of Security Arturo Corrales said,
“The idea is that Honduras will join a concert of friends that will widen the spectrum against common enemies, and from the South to the North, and will construct a bridge free of narcotrafficking and organized crime. For this, we need Colombia.”
David Muguia Payes, the Salvadoran Defense Minister, also supported the partnership, saying: “The Colombian experience is useful for us in the head-on attack against criminals.” The Dominican Republic and Jamaica also recognize Colombia as their primary ally in the fight against narcotrafficking.
Pinzón also told the paper that it was a mistake for some Central American countries to have reduced the sizes of their militaries after signing peace accords, saying that this “opened up spaces for organized crime.”
On the issue of the country’s maritime territorial dispute with Nicaragua, Pinzón said: “I found a lot of understanding for Colombia’s position to not implement The Hague’s [November 2012] ruling.”
Colombian companies from various industries have invested all over Central America. As El Tiempo noted, Colombia and its business community have one of the highest rates of investment in the region. Some defense-focused businesses, like armored cars and bulletproof clothing, are already widely recognized.
Colombia hopes that these trainings and agreements will boost their military- industrial complex and lead to the sale of ships, boats, guns, pistols, rifles and gun sights.
Minister Pinzón is promoting Indumil and Cotecmar, two Colombian businesses that have developed weapons such as the Cordoba pistol, the Galil ACE rifle, as well as river and ocean patrol boats. The sale of one of these boats, which cost around US$60 million to construct, is being negotiated with Trinidad and Tobago, and Colombia has just closed a deal to sell river patrol boats to Brazil.
The article then goes on to discuss the expansion of Colombian banking interests in Central America.
Continuing a problematic trend
Colombian training of foreign forces is not a new trend, but it is accelerating one. As noted in our recent military trends report, an April PowerPoint slideshow from the Colombian Ministry of Defense shows there were 9,983 recipients of Colombian training from 45 different countries between 2010 and 2012. In Panama, Pinzón noted 4,000 police agents alone have already been trained in Colombia. Between 2010 and 2012, that number was just shy of 2,500.
Just the Facts’ Adam Isacson has covered concerns about the “export” of Colombia’s training model before – for one, Colombia has yet to address the widespread human rights violations committed by their own security forces, including 4,716 alleged extrajudicial killings of civilians.
Another concern is the United States’ financial and diplomatic support for this training. The United States pays for Colombia to carry out some part of these trainings with funds from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). However, it is not known what the content of the training courses covers, how much money the U.S. provides, or how many foreign forces are trained with its financial backing.
The State Department’s Foreign Military Training Report, the annual report that documents U.S. training of foreign forces, only documents recipients trained directly by United States personnel and fails to include those trained by Colombian personnel with funding from the United States.
For example, according to the report for 2012 that was just released, just 290 Honduran police and military received training from the United States. This number does not include, for example, Honduran police personnel trained by Colombian police as part of the U.S.-backed Honduran police reform. For Haiti, the U.S. government reports 20 trainees – this omits the training of ten female Haitian police that were trained in Colombian earlier this year, funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.
With a reduced defense budget, having Colombia train some of these forces with U.S. funding is a much cheaper option for the United States. As Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has said, “It’s a dividend that we get for investing over $9 billion in support for Plan Colombia.”
Going forward it is important to keep in mind what lessons are being exported. Pinzón’s comment that reducing the size of militaries was “a mistake” and linked to the rise in organized crime in Central America is a troubling message for both human rights and civil military relations, and one that the U.S. government does not necessarily share. It comes at a time when several countries like Honduras and Guatemala are already militarizing their domestic law enforcement, which is happening with some degree of U.S. funding and tacit approval.
CIP intern Ben Fagan drafted the translations included in this post
Adam looks at Brazil's aprubtly canceled state visit to Washington amid NSA spying revelations; Vice-President Biden's visit to Mexico City; and mild controversy over a new Millennium Challenge grant to El Salvador.
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The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Haiti travel warning
The U.S. Department of State issued a new Haiti travel advisory on August 13 that warned visitors of “violent crimes and lack of emergency response infrastructure.” This Travel Warning uses less strong language than the previous one issued in December 2012, which read, "No one is safe from kidnapping regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age,” and that "Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts or prosecute perpetrators."
Secretary of State Kerry's trip to Brazil and Colombia
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Colombia and Brazil Sunday to Tuesday. Kerry's meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials seemed to go fairly smoothly, while in Brazil, the NSA surveillance scandal overshadowed the visit as Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota took a hardline approach against the United States' surveillance practices. See a previous Just the Facts post and podcast for more details.
U.S. aid to Mexico
Last Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy froze $95 million dollars in funding for the Mérida Initiative, the United States' aid package to Mexico, because of an inadequate planning. In an opinion piece in Truth-Out, the Center for International Policy's Laura Carlsen wrote, "Thursday’s announcement confirms the hold on the funds and obliges both governments to define a joint strategy that shows some signs of viability. Contacted shortly after the hold, a top Leahy aide summed up the reason behind suspension of the aid,:'We received less than three pages of explanation. Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that.'"
At the behest of the United States, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, a former drug kingpin who was unexpectedly released last week while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kike" Camarena. The Dallas News has an interesting article by journalist Alfredo Corchado looking at the case in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations and U.S. security assistance to Mexico. According to Corchado, officials say money for Mérida "may be returned to Washington in the weeks to come." This week’s Just the Facts podcast has more details on the case
Last Friday, the Justice Department said it would not be prosecuting the Border Patrol agents who shot and killed two teens in separate incidents along the Arizona border, due to lack of evidence.
On Monday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos replaced his entire military and police leadership, including naming a new director for the National Police. According to analysts the decision to do so could be an attempt to bolster the peace talks, as former Army chief, General Sergio Mantilla was considered a hindrance to the peace process. The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Colombia Reports has more details on the new commanders while El Tiempo and Semana magazine have insight into the motives for the decision and its significance. A Just the Facts podcast also examined President Santo’s unexpected decision
Colombian news analysis website La SIlla Vacía published a report on the 15 biggest defense contractors in Colombia. In the lead was Elbit, an Israeli drone maker with an over $267 billion contract.
Peru's military dealt a blow to the Shining Path, killing two of the group's top leaders and another rebel in a military operation on Sunday. Analysts say that while the attack will hurt the group, it does not signal its demise. As Peru's armed forces chief, Admiral Jose Cueto said, the group "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance." Peru's IDL-Reporteros detailed the operation in Spanish and in another article revealed that the United States and other foreign actors played a role in the multi-agency operation. More from the Associated Press in English.
Amnesty International, along with several other activists and NGOs denounced reports that "Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since."
Proceso reported that the security in Michoacán is worsening, "cheapening the official rhetoric of Enrique Peña Nieto's government that the social-political situation in the state is under control," as Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong had stated on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that a vocal group of farmers and businessmen from the state demanded the government stop sending federal police to fight the drug cartels who have allegedly abused citizens and are corrupt.
InSight Crime examined the Knights Templar, the drug cartel with the strongest presence in Michoacán that recent government reports named as the third most powerful cartel in the country, after the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels. The article includes a video interview with the group's leader that was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
The Andean Information Network posted an analysis on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) estimates of potential cocaine production in the Andes. The report found there to be a significant decrease in the region between 2011 and 2012, the largest in Bolivia, which dropped 18 percent. The article pointed to several statistical irregularities in the report, noting, "Although they failed to provide any explanation, the same ONDCP press release reported Bolivia's potential cocaine production for 2011 at 190 metric tons—instead of the whopping 265 metric tons for 2011 reported by the same office a year earlier."
Conservative business mogul Horacio Cartes was sworn in yesterday as Paraguay’s first democratically-elected president since the controversial June 2012 ouster of Fernando Lugo. The Associated Press reports that in 2008-2009 the DEA targeted him in a mission called "Operation Heart of Stone," over alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade. The Pan-American Post examined the domestic and regional implications of Cartes' presidency.
On Wednesday there were several protests all over Brazil targeting a host of issues from corruption, police brutality, and disappearances, to education and low wages. Brazilians have been protesting Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral since the mass wave of protests that overtook the country in June have subsided. Cabral's critics claim he is corrupt and want an investigation into spending on projects for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. More from the Associated Press. America’s Quarterly had an assessment of the Brazilian government's response to the protests.
The Huffington Post blog had a post this week on security in Rio de Janeiro, specifically looking at the pacification police units (UPP), which the author claims are improving the situation. According to the piece, however, "The social protests that started in June and July 2013 are taking a sinister turn," and "with the changing of the leadership of the military police last week, there are fears that the UPP enterprise will unravel."
According to technology website, Phys Org, Brazil is "moving to secure its communications through its own satellite and digital networks to end its dependence on the United States, which is accused of electronically spying on the region." The outlet reported that French-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced on Tuesday that it had won a contract worth about $400 million to build a satellite for Brazil's developing space program.
On Thursday Ecuador was the first Latin American country to recall its ambassador, Edwin Johnson, from Egypt after security forces massacred about 600 supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. So far, no other Latin American country appears to have followed suit.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a video of interviews with gang leaders in El Salvador's prisons talking about the gang truce. According to CDA, "Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process... We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: 'We want a better life for our kids and families,' and 'the truce is working.'"
On Thursday Honduras' Congress approved the creation of a 5,000-strong military police unit charged with maintaining "public order." Mario Pérez, president of the Congress' security commission. said the group will “reclaim territory and capture criminals... We do not oppose the police, but it is not the model for the moment.” The chief of the armed forces presented the structure of the new unit. Critics of the decision say it is another step forward in the increasingly militarized policing of the country.
This announcement follows Monday's declaration that 4,500 community police units will be deployed by September 1. Proponents of the military police however say that this is a longer-term solution and will not produce immediate results. More from Honduras' El Heraldo newspaper and InSight Crime.
Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.
Shifts in Cultivation, Usage Put Bolivia's Coca Policy at the Crossroads Coletta A. Youngers, World Politics Review
Caribbean Regional -
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns To Deliver Remarks at the Fourth Annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue
Office Of The Spokesperson, U.S. State Department
Libre, segunda fuerza parlamentaria de Honduras, Confidencial
Deteriorating democracy, The Economist
Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet Hugo Perez Hernaiz, Washington Office On Latin America
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)