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Friday, May 24, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on Tuesday, “Advocating for American Jacob Ostreicher’s Freedom after Two Years in Bolivian Detention.” Jacob Ostreicher is an American businessman being held under house arrest on allegations of links to criminal groups and money laundering. Actor/Activist Sean Penn testified and urged the U.S. government to pressure Bolivia to free Ostreicher. A video of the hearing, along with Mr. Penn’s testimony, can be found here.
The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing yesterday, “U.S.-Mexico Cooperation: An Overview of the Mérida Initiative 2008-Present.” There were several notable testimonies from government officials, including William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics Affairs, and non-government experts, like Steven Dudley, director of InSight Crime. John D. Feeley of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs within the State Department testified, "At the federal level, Mérida has delivered training to nearly 19,000 federal law enforcement officers." View the webcast and find all testimonies here.
In his testimony, Dudley provided eight recommendations for Congress on the Mérida Initiative, including continuing to support the cooperation between officials in both countries on the mid to lower levels and pushing to continue judicial and police reform. InSight Crime has an excerpt from the testimony and the recommendations.
Tradewinds 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training exercise focused on security cooperation is being held from May 20 – June 6 in St. Lucia. The training will bring together over 260 law enforcement officers and military personnel and government representatives from 14 countries, the majority in the Caribbean Basin.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said 38 more metric tons of cocaine are entering the United States as a result of sequestration spending cuts. “It breaks my heart to see multi-metric-ton cocaine shipments go by that we know are there and we don’t have a ship to target it,” he told the Defense Writers Group.
The U.S. Southern Command reported that during an exercise in Honduras, U.S. Marines and Seabees tested an inflatable aerostat and a small Puma drone. According to Southcom, “The Aerostat and Puma UAV are equipped with state-of-the-art radars, cameras and sensors that could prove to be useful in detecting Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) organizations attempting to smuggle drugs and other illicit materials (guns, people, drug money) in the maritime and littoral environments. The Aerostat and Puma UAV were testing in actual counter drug operations.”
Today Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was sworn in for his third term as president. Correa has pledged this term will be his last. In the coming weeks his administration is expected to pass major reforms to the mining sector, communications regulations, social security and land redistribution. More from MercoPress and the Pan-American Post.
Yesterday the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia. The heads of the member countries – Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru—met with aspiring members Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica, along with several other observing countries. Analyst James Bosworth provides a short overview of what was accomplished, including a 90 percent tariff drop on goods traded between the countries and proposal to create a joint visa system.
The U.S.announced Thursday it is closing the Narcotics Affairs Section at the Embassy in La Paz and suspending funding for counternarcotics operations until 2015. Speaking at the hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said it is “time for us to go.”
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed a law on Monday that will permitEvo Morales to run for a third term. The Bolivian Constitution says that a president can only serve for two terms, but in a ruling last month, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Morales’ first term did not count because the constitution was changed in during his first term.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared the appointment of two retired generals, General David Mungia Payes and General Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera, to Minister of Public Security and Director of the Police unconstitutional. The pair were given their posts a few months before a truce began rival gangs and Mungia was a key orchestrator of the agreement. Gang leaders have since held a press conference conference saying the announcement put their ceasefire at risk. As several analysts note, the truce and the associated drop in violence has given the gangs political power and the ability to make demands. More from James Bosworth, InSight Crime, WOLA and Tim’s El Salvador blog.
According to the World Bank, El Salvador spends 2.8% of its GDP on security and justice, more than any other Central American country. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama reportedly invest 2.3% into the same sectors, while Honduras and Guatemala spend 2% and 1.7% respectively.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced plans to create a “Bolivarian Workers’ Militia” of armed and organized workers. According to Maduro, “The working class is increasingly respected. It will be respected even more if the workers’ militias have 300,000, 500,00, one or two million working men and women in uniform, ready and armed for the defense of the Fatherland.”
Seventy-five percent of the audit of elections results is complete and President Maduro has claimed a “heroic victory.”
In a 3-2 decision on Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the ruling that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was guilty of genocide and said the trial would go back to April 19 on account of a procedural irregularity. According to the New York Times, however, lawyers from both sides of the case say that the trial will have to go back to square one and begin with a new panel of judges. The Times’ Editorial Board featured an op-ed this week calling for the United States to push for the case to be “pursued through an independent process.”
There were protests in Guatemala and throughout Latin America today targeting the Constitutional Court’s decision.
Central American Politics has an interesting post on Israel’s role in the Guatemalan genocide.
The Colombian government and the FARC are still deliberating on land redistribution- the first point on the talks’ five-point agenda. The Colombian government has indicated that it would like to go faster, while FARC lead negotiator asked for more time for a deal, saying "We have to approach these issues with serenity, with depth if we really want to form the solid basis to build a stable and long-lasting peace." In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Marisol Gomez Giraldo said if the sides have not reached a land accord by Sunday, “the peace process will be left without oxygen.”
A special government commission published a new drug policy report that suggested drug consumption be treated as a public health problem and legalization should be considered.
InSight Crime released a new report on the possible criminalization of the FARC. The report looks at the FARC fragmenting and turning to crime in three scenarios: during the talks, after an agreement has been reached, or following the demobilization. According to InSight Crime, “The risk of FARC elements criminalizing in scenario three, once an agreement has been signed and demobilization has occurred, is very high, even almost inevitable.”
The Los Angeles Times published an interview with a former FARC commander who deserted the guerilla organization. One of the reasons he cited for leaving the group was the “comfort” of the leaders negotiating in Havana. According to the article, 500 FARC fighters have deserted so far this year, a 6% increase on the say period last year.
The biggest story out of Mexico this week was the Mexican government’s decision to deploy troops to the embattled western Michoacán to fight local militias and the Knights Templar drug gang, which has taken control of the state and is on “a medieval-like reign of terror,” reported the Associated Press. As the Washington Post notes, President Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón launched his militarized drug war by sending soldiers into the same state in 2006 to fight another syndicate, La Familia. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told reporters, “Our fundamental goal is simple: to come to Michoacán and not leave until peace and security have been provided for every Michoacán resident.” More from the Global Post, Animal Politico and El Universal.
In an interview in Cali, Colombia, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his opposition to legalizing drugs as a means of combating crime.
Friday, April 26, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Ahead of President Obama's visit to Mexico next week, 24 lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge the administration to make human rights in Mexico "a central part" of the agenda. The legislators voiced concern about Mexico's human rights record, including "the widespread use of torture in Mexico to obtain confessions" and a fivefold increase in reported abuses by security personnel under former President Felipe Calderón.
As the Pan-American Post reports, President Obama "has not been particularly vocal" about the abuses, and if he does speak up during this trip, "he will likely do so in the context of applauding the Peña Nieto government's response to victims of the violence" with the passage of a law for victims' compensation.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published an illuminating report on disappearances in Mexico, prompting the government to release an official database of over 26 thousand disappeared between 2006 and 2012.
On Monday a federal district ruled the U.S. government must release the names of all graduates of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). According to The Hill, "Plaintiffs say releasing the names of attendees at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning - formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas - will help Congress ensure that U.S. funds aren't used to train human-rights violators." The judge found no evidence to support Defense Department claims that the release of such information would violate attendees' personal privacy or create a security risk.
The U.S. State Department released its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2012. The report was particularly critical of Venezuela for its repression on freedom of expression. It also indicated that police and soldiers were involved in 392 extrajudicial killings in Venezuela last year compared to 173 in 2011.
This week the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Appropriations Committee held hearings on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget request. During the Senate hearing, several congressional members criticized some cuts to humanitarian assistance in the region. Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Robert Menendez (D-NJ) complained about the decline in humanitarian assistance to Latin America, saying the reduction comes as there is a move away from democracy to dictatorship in the region. According to Menendez, the one bright spot in the agency's request was the Central American Regional Security Initiative, which USAID administrator Rajiv Shah testified would receive a 29 percent increase under the requested budget.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to budget cuts to Cuba as "a terrible precedent, a terrible idea." The planned reduction would cut aid to the island by 25 percent -- from $15 million to about $11.25 million. Senator Menendez also questioned the reduction, asking, "why are we cutting democracy assistance to Cuba? Will cost us when there will be a major political or environmental crisis in the region."
The video of the Senate hearing can be viewed here and the video of the House hearing here.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón arrived in Washington, DC on Wednesday to start his week-long visit to the United States. Minister Pinzón planned to meet with members of Congress and high-level government officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to discuss Colombia's strategies to combat the drug trade and illegal armed groups, according to El Colombiano. "It must be remembered that with all the fiscal cuts the U.S. is applying, there is always the possibility that it will cut funds beyond what was originally agreed upon. For this reason, its important to ensure that these resources are maintained and serve to strengthen capacities that help us to be effective in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes," Pinzón said.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC restarted this week. On Wednesday the FARC delegation submitted the last of its land reform proposals, calling for tax reform, a rewritten constitution, and the participation of rural residents in policy-making. The government delegation did not immediately respond, but negotiator Humberto de la Calle had previously said that changes to economic policy would not be on the table. During this round of talks, both sides will be pushing for an agreement on the land reform issue, which will allow the negotiators to move on to the remaining four topics up for discussion.
On Thursday a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia released its 2012 activity report. While it applauded the Colombian government's victims law, which looks to compensate victims of guerrilla groups and security forces, it expressed concern that the victims of other criminal groups known as Bandas Criminales or BACRIMs are not receiving compensation because they are not covered by the law. Last week a report released by Colombia's national Ombudsman reported that BACRIMs are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country.
The FARC thanked 62 members of the U.S. Congress in a statement read in Havana yesterday. The group reiterated the congressional group's calls for U.S. support of the peace process. "We share ... your consideration that the United States is able to support the process, offering an assistance package designed to support a just and lasting peace," the group wrote. Last week the 62 members signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. Read the complete letter with signatories here.
Guerrero state governor Angel Aguirre Rivero signed a pact with local vigilante groups to legalize such groups. As InSight Crime reports, "the agreement aims to legally define the self-defense groups' responsibilities, obligations and powers, the governor said. It also sets out plans for the groups to receive training from the Mexican Army in human rights and security strategies."
Also in Guerrero, striking teachers from the radical Education Workers Union (CETEG) went on a rampage Wednesday to protest an education reform law. The teachers destroyed the offices of four major political parties in the town of Chilpancingo, setting fire to the state headquarters of the ruling PRI. The law, signed by President Peña Nieto two months ago, prohibits the traditional practice of buying and selling teaching positions and establishes teacher evaluations. Union members argue that the reform will lead to mass layoffs and privatization of education. The Associated Press has more details and photos of the attacks.
Opposition party PAN released videos that show government officials allegedly planning to use funds from social programs to support the PRI's campaigns ahead of local elections this July. The scandal upset party leaders and put Peña Nieto's "Pact for Mexico" in jeopardy, until the president held an emergency meeting to smooth over relations. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, the main parties have settled their differences and agreed that "the reform agenda laid out in the Pact comes before party interests."
The Congressional Research Service released a report, "Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Violence." The report "provides background on drug trafficking in Mexico: it identifies the major DTOs; examines how the organized crime 'landscape' has been altered by fragmentation; and analyzes the context, scope, and scale of the violence. It examines current trends of the violence, analyzes prospects for curbing violence in the future, and compares it with violence in Colombia."
United States Attorney General Eric Holder visited Mexico on Tuesday to discuss ways to "deepen" cooperation between the two countries on justice and security. His visit comes ahead of President Obama's trip to Mexico on May 2-3.
InSight Crime published an interesting article examining why the Zetas have been so effective at expanding their influence. It argues that the key to the group's success was that "the Zetas understood something the other groups did not: they did not need to run criminal activities in order to be profitable; they simply needed to control the territory in which these criminal activities were taking place."
Since President Nicolás Maduro's narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14, the Venezuelan government has increasingly cracked down on those critical of the government. Last week both parties agreed to an audit of the vote -- which will take about another three weeks. Since then Capriles has called for the process to include an examination of who voted and if fingerprint scanners meant to prevent double voting functioned. For its part, the government has placed much of its focus on implicating Capriles in the post-election violence that broke out during protests surging with opposition supporters calling for a recount.
On Monday the country's minister of prisons, Iris Varela, called Capriles the "intellectual author" of the violence and said she was "preparing a cell for him," while National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello has launched an investigation into Capriles' role in the violence that killed nine and injured at least 60.
As James Bosworth points out, some media and citizens have provided evidence showing the government has lied about the violence. He writes, "Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured 'chavistas' have turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs." It was also reported this week that the government is threatening to "throw out" any workers suspected of being Capriles supporters -- over 300 government employees have said to be fired over such claims already. The Associated Press reported that Capriles supporters are being arrested, beaten and threatened by the hundreds. Capriles has reportedly warned that the audit process risks becoming a joke and that he will challenge the election results in court.
On Sunday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named a new head of the country's diplomatic mission in the United States. Calixto Ortega, a member of Venezuela’s delegation to the Latin American parliament, was appointed as the new chargé d'affaires in Washington. "We hope one day to have respectful relations with the United States, a dialogue between equals, state-to-state," Maduro said. "Sooner rather than later, the elites running the United States will have to realize there is a new, independent, sovereign and dignified Latin America."
In Honduras a recent poll ahead of the presidential elections in the country showed that 1) at this point no candidate is ensured a win and 2) that many voters are dissatisfied with their choices, as the choice "None of the above" received the highest ranking of all five candidate and 3) that former president Manuel Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro is narrowly ahead of all others, while National Party (currently in power) candidate Juan Orlando Hernández's popularity is much lower than many had expected it to be at this point.
Here are the poll numbers:
19%: Xiomara Castro
1,800 police went on strike this week in the country's capital Tegucigalpa, protesting for better wages and working conditions. According to the Associated Press, officers make around $150 a month and are required to pay for their own uniform and bullets. The same officer also noted that police stations lack equipment and do not even have toilets. On Friday InSight Crime reported that residents in the capital say police are working with gangs to extort a fee of almost $80 a month.
17%: Salvador Nasralla
16%: Juan Orlando Hernández
10%: Mauricio Villeda
22%: None of the above
15%: Don't know/Not responding
The fate of the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt remains unclear. This week Guatemala's Constitutional Court passed the case over to a judge who last week called for all testimonies to be annulled -- a move which would put the trial back to square one.
Despite Flores' rulings, the Constitutional Court will decide if the proceedings were legal. So far the court has voted on six of twelve petitions in the case, but has yet to rule if the testimonies will be annulled.
The United States, in a show of support for the proceedings, sent its Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to the country to meet with officials and civil society groups about the trial.
For a more complete run-down of events, check the Pan-American Post, Open Society's Justice Initiative's blogs and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.
On Wednesday Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the judicial reform proposals made by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The statement argues that the reforms would "give Argentina's ruling party an automatic majority on the council that oversees the judiciary, which seriously compromises judicial independence." Included in the package is a bill that would require most members of the Council of the Judiciary, the body that selects judges, to be nominated by political parties and chosen by popular vote during the general election. The reforms, which have already been approved by the Senate, are now being considered in the Chamber of Deputies.
Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino caused a stir on Argentine social media when a video surfaced of him telling an aide "I want to leave" during an interview with a Greek reporter who questioned him about the country’s true inflation rate. The Twitter hashtag "#mequieroir" was retweeted by many and one person made a video remix of the interview mashed with the Peronist March.
This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer.
Friday, April 19, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Secretary of State John Kerry testified on the 2014 foreign aid budget request at three hearings this week, one in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. In the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, "Securing U.S. Interests Abroad," there was discussion on the Venezuelan elections and Cuba.
U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) reported that eleven members of the Salvadoran air force returned from Afghanistan on February 28th. According to SOCSOUTH, El Salvador’s upcoming deployment “will replace U.S. troops in a role that will take them outside the wire as they directly partner with Afghan police." El Salvador is the only country in U.S. Southern Command's purview contributing forces to Afghanistan.
El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes was in Washington, D.C. this week and met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. According to the website Voices from El Salvador, the agenda included "discussions about regional security issues, the gang truce and reduction of the murder-rate in El Salvador, as well as the temporary protective status (TPS) for Salvadorans." The AFP reported that Funes said Friday he will ask for a face-to-face meeting with Obama in Costa Rica in May to press for more money to fight organized crime in Central America.
The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Guinea-Bissau's top military official, General Antonio Indjai, of plotting to traffic drugs into the U.S. and sell weapons to Colombian rebels. According to Reuters, "The charges said Indjai planned to store FARC-owned cocaine in Guinea Bissau and sell weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to the organization, to be used to protect its cocaine processing operations in Colombia against U.S. military forces."
Ahead of President Barack Obama's May 2-4 trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said the meeting is an opportunity for Central America to ask President Obama to rethink the United States' antidrug policies.”If we continue doing the exact same thing, we will never be able to claim victory,” she said.
This Sunday, April 21, Paraguay will hold its first presidential election since last year's impeachment of President Fernando Lugo. The two major candidates are wealthy businessman Horacio Cartes of the Colorado Party, which lost power for the first time in 60 years when Lugo was removed from office, and lawyer Efraín Alegre of the ruling Authentic Radical Liberty Party.
As noted by AS/COA, the two candidates have both pledged to tackle poverty, create jobs, and enact Chilean-style economic reforms. Both have also been accused of corruption: Cartes owns a bank found to have tax-haven ties and supposedly heads a money-laundering organization, and Alegre's party allegedly used public funds to buy an alliance between electoral factions. Cartes also set off a media firestorm with statements comparing gay people to "monkeys." Despite the mudslinging, many Paraguayans say their votes will follow old allegiances, with landowners and the elite class supporting the Colorado party.
The election could impact regional politics as Paraguay's government is hoping to regain admittance to Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), having been suspended from both following the impeachment. The two organizations have already sent election observers to Paraguay.
As reported in last week's post, the country's attorney general, Luis Alberto Rubí, testified that only 20 percent of all murder cases have been investigated and even fewer tried since President Porfirio Lobo took office. (Several other hearings with top-level officials have been held in the Congress in recent weeks to monitor their progress with regards to security).
Since that time, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla was removed and replaced by Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales. On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress effectively took control of the Public Prosecutor's office by suspending Rubí and replacing him and his subordinates with a five-member commission that will take over the prosecutor's office for the next 60 days to make decision about to make the organization more effective.
Honduras Politics and Culture Blog has the best description on what is happening in the Honduran government.
There has been a lot of coverage on social media and in the press this week on the aftermath of the Venezuelan presidential elections that were held on Sunday. On Monday, it was reported that interim President Nicolas Maduro beat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin of 1.6 percent (50.6 percent to 49.1 percent). Capriles and his supporters claimed there were election irregularities, and launched mass demonstrations, calling for a recount. After two days of protests and confrontational interchanges with Maduro, Capriles submitted an official request for a full recount of the vote to Venezuela's election authorities, the National Electoral Council (CNE). On Thursday night, the CNE agreed to a full audit of the electronic votes and both candidates accepted. The process will reportedly take about a month. In the meantime, Maduro was sworn in as Venezuela's new president Friday morning with representatives from 47 countries present, including 17 heads of state.
Despite Capriles' calls for protesters to remain peaceful, several of the demonstrations turned violent, resulting in the death of at least seven people while around 60 were injured. The Union of South American Nations held an emergency meeting in Lima, Peru on Wednesday and released a statement recognizing Maduro as Venezuela's legitimately-elected leader and congratulating CNE for finding a solution (i.e. the recount). The statement also created a special commission that would aid the Venezuelan government's investigation into the post-election violence.
President Maduro responded to the mounting public dissent by not only claiming that Capriles was attempting a coup, but that the U.S. Embassy had been "financing and leading all the violent acts." Amid all the accusations, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said the U.S. would maintain a "turning of cheek approach to Maduro,” stating, "It still doesn’t make sense to get in, you’ll excuse me, a pissing match with Nicolas Maduro any more than it did with Chávez.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House have repeatedly endorsed a recount. In an official statement, the White House "notes the acceptance by both candidates for an audit of the ballots and supports calls for a credible and transparent process to reassure the Venezuelan people regarding the results."
The Pan American Post had good coverage of the happenings in Venezuela this week while WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog offers good analysis.
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting opinion piece on the "winners and losers" in the wake of the election.
On Thursday, a judge in Guatemala suspended the landmark trial of former dictator Rios Montt, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Carol Patricia Flores nullified the testimony of several victims of the Rios Montt government's scorched-earth campaign between 1982 and 1983. According to CNN, Flores "ruled that because all of the issues at the lower courts had not been settled, the current proceedings are invalid, the state-run AGN news agency reported. The ruling in effect rewinds the legal process against Rios Montt to where it was in November of 2011, in a pre-trial phase."
Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said that the ruling was illegal and that her office would be challenging it. Amnesty International published a press release today denouncing the move to annul the trial. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) also said it would be investigating Flores. The CICIG announcement made reference to a paid advertisement written by former government officials that appeared in El Periódico newspaper that said a genocide trial was a threat to peace and stability. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina supported the statement.
The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala has a comprehensive summary of each days' events as does the Open Society Justice Initiative and Central American Politics blog. Independent photojournalist James Rodríguez has a good photo essay of the trial on his blog, MiMundo.org.
U.S. Army South commanding general, Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, visited Guatemala to discuss the formation of the new U.S.-backed Guatemalan Interagency Border Unit that will be established by the Mexican border.
Sixty-two members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that calls for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. According to the letter, "The United States can help support the peace process by offering an aid package designed for peace, reorienting aid that for the last dozen years has supported a government at war." The Washington Office on Latin America and the Latin American Working Group issued a joint statement and Colombia's El Tiempo newspaper has coverage in Spanish.
According to Colombia's national ombudsman, hybrid criminal organizations, known as BACRIM (Spanish acronym for criminal gangs) are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country. Last year, 12,165 people claimed to be victims of the groups. As InSight Crime pointed out, while the Colombian government has recently made comments claiming that 90 percent of the country is BACRIM-free, a Bogotá think-tank in March cited them as the greatest threat to the country's security, claiming the government has not taken adequate measures against them. The BACRIM are not counted as actors in the country's armed conflict and therefore victims of their abuses are not covered under the government's victims' law.
On Monday, officials unveiled a new police force dedicated to fighting drug dealing in Mexico City. The 150-member division includes 50 new graduates of the police academy with plans to add 50 more, and will focus on combatting micro-trafficking operations through intelligence gathering, video surveillance, and follow-ups to emergency calls. Animal Político has more details on the make-up of the force, which went into operation on Monday, following the academy's graduation ceremony.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Viridiana Rios argues that instead of spending billions of dollars fighting drug cartels in Mexico, the U.S. should support reforms to the justice system because "the right way to fight a drug war in Mexico is not to aim at eliminating criminal organizations, as many have assumed, but rather to create conditions in which war does not pay. This will not be achieved with the strategy Washington has embraced. Even if all criminal organizations were eliminated, new ones would emerge as long as profits could be made from cocaine."
This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer
Friday, April 12, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The U.S. State Department posted its 2014 budget request for foreign aid. According to WOLA's Adam Isacson, this budget offered the lowest U.S. aid to Latin America in a decade without adjusting for inflation. Another post on Just the Facts has charts illustrating the breakdown of the $40.9 billion in aid the U.S. has given to Latin America since 1996.
There were four hearings this week that in some fashion pertained to Latin America. On Tuesday the Senate held a hearing on border security, while the House of Representative’s Oversight Committee held another, "U.S. Foreign Assistance: What Oversight Mechanism are in Place to Ensure Accountability?" On Thursday the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on energy opportunities in the region and on Friday the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration's budget.
The New York Times featured an interesting discussion on the alleged benefits and risks of U.S. military training. Of particular note is a short but pungent article by Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. Doyle examines the history of U.S. aid in Latin America and contends, “U.S. aid left countries with a legacy of repression and violence."
The Wilson Center held an event this week, “The Transnational Nature of Organized Crime in the Americas.” The two-hour event can be watched on its website, where papers from many of the presenters can also be found.
One of the reports, written by Daniel Rico, argues that Colombia's new criminal groups, known as bandas criminales, or BACRIMS, are bound to become extinct. As Wired Magazine highlights, his report also explains that as these groups become weaker and more fragmented, cocaine is becoming cheaper for Mexican cartels. InSight Crime's Jeremy McDermott posted an article that unpacks the report and is worth a read.
On Tuesday tens of thousands of Colombians gathered for a mass demonstration in support of the current peace process. Among them were Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and former leftist Senator Piedad Córdoba. The Marcha Patriótica, a new and far-left political movement accused of having ties to the FARC, organized the marches. Critics of the march say it was funded by guerillas. In response, President Santos said, "I don't see any guerillas here, I see Colombians." Historically, participating in the political left in Colombia can be dangerous. In an interview with a Chicago radio station, Adam Isacson noted, Santos' appearance signaled to the FARC that, "there is space for you if you lay down your arms."
Over the weekend the FARC added two top leaders to its negotiating team: Victoria Sandino and Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo.” Catatumbo is the third member of the FARC’s ruling body, known as the Secretariat, to participate in the talks. He is also the commander of the group’s most active unit in southwestern Colombia. To allow both leaders to join, the Colombian military suspended operations in the region.
On Sunday former President Álvaro Uribe, who has been a strong critic of the talks, tweeted the coordinates where military operations had been suspended to allow for the FARC leaders' transport. This marked a change from him being an outspoken critic of the talks to actively spoiling them.
La Silla Vacía has an excellent interactive map that traces the routes of displaced victims of the conflict that have since become leaders and advocates for other victims. A report by the United Nations says internal displacement in the country continues to increase. According to the document, 130,000 Colombians were displaced in 2010 and another 143,000 were forced from their homes in 2011.
This week the Mexican government announced a drop in drug-related killings. Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced Wednesday that 1,101 people were killed in March, bringing the official murder number to 4,249 since December. The government compared this to the 5,127 killed during the same time under former President Felipe Calderón, claiming a 17% drop. However, the Associated Press put the number killed during Calderón’s last four months at 4,934, which would mean only a 14% reduction. In an article in Animal Politico, analyst Alejando Hope shows that murders have been on the decline since May, making it "hard to argue that policies applied in December have had a significant effect on the number of homicides."
On the same day of the announcement, 14 people were killed in the western Michoacán state.
The AP noted that there is reason to question the Mexican government's numbers because “much of that data originally comes from the 31 states and federal district, with inconsistent or misreporting of cases and subjective criteria on what constitutes a cartel-related crime.”
As Mexican President Peña Nieto has focused much of his discourse on the economy and other non-drug war related issues, his administration has “asked the media... to change the narrative with respect to numbers and figures,” according to Osorio Chong. As an extension of this trend, on Monday Proceso magazine reported that the Mexican government had sealed information about organized crime in the country – the number of cartels in existence, their names, leaders and areas of influence – for the next 12 years. As InSight Crime notes, this is just a continuance of “a broader strategy of the Peña Nieto administration to deny access to information to non-governmental and governmental entities alike.”
An organization that monitors the press in the country, The Observatory of Coverage of Violence, found that in the first three months of the Peña Nieto administration, the appearance of the words “homicide,” “organized crime” and “drug-trafficking” had fallen 50 percent.
According to Honduras’s chief prosecutor, Luis Rubí, 80% of homicides in the country go unpunished. “The country is not prepared for this wave of crime, it has overwhelmed us” Rubí said. There was also significant discrepancy in reported police reform numbers this week. The Ministry of Security reported that 652 agents had been fired from the force, while the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit charged with evaluating officers, reported that only seven of 230 that had failed polygraphs had been removed.
Venezuela’s presidential elections will take place this Sunday. The candidates officially ended their campaigns on Thursday with dueling rallies. Encapsulating the themes of their campaigns, former vice president and interim President Nicolas Maduro said, “I am the son of Chávez, I am ready to be your president,” while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles played up the rampant insecurity in the country and said, "If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government." Maduro is the expected victor.
There has been a lot of coverage of the race as it comes to a close. Venezuela Analysis has posted daily updates while WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog offers good analysis of the election. The AP has an interesting article on Maduro’s outlandish campaign tactics while the Atlantic discusses Maduro’s advantages in what it dubs an unfair election. Reuters reported that Capriles denied Maduro’s claims that he would do away with the government’s welfare programs and Caracas Chronicles criticized his campaign tactics. Reuters also has a very useful “Factbox” with information about both candidates.
Analyst James Bosworth posted an infographic map depicting violence in Venezuela that shows every state in the country having a higher murder rate than the national average of Colombia, Guatemala or Mexico.
This week Maduro claimed right-wing Salvadoran politician Roberto D’Aubuisson was plotting to kill him. The Venezuelan government released alleged recordings of D’Aubuisson hiring someone to carry out the assassination. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said, “the least [his government] could do” would be to investigate the case. D’Aubuisson denies the voice on the recording is his.
On Tuesday a couple accused of kidnapping their two sons from protective custody in the United States fled to Cuba on a fishing boat, but was promptly handed over to U.S. authorities by their Cuban counterparts. Afterwards, the AP published an article that said the incident showed "the Cold War enemies are capable of remarkable cooperation on many issues,” and went on to highlight the undocumented cooperation that goes on between the two ideologically-warring nations.
In an article in Foreign Policy, Bill Leogrande asserted, "The moss powerful lobby in Washington isn't the NRA. It's the Castro-hating right wing that has Obama's bureaucrats terrified and inert."
This week it was reported that Guatemala’s air fleet got a boost for counternarcotics operations. Reuters reported that Brazil’s state development bank helped finance Embraer’s recent sale of Super Tucano planes to Guatemala. It was also reported by the website InfoDefensa that the U.S. would be giving six helicopters to the Guatemalan air force.
Today is day number 16 of former dictator Rios Montt trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. This week both the prosecution and defense presented experts in various fields from military to international law to forensics. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has live coverage of the trial as does the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Monday, April 1, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Peace talks between the FARC and Colombian government, scheduled to restart April 2, have been postponed until the end of the month. Both sides are reportedly working on their respective proposals for land reform, the first agenda item of the six points that the talks will address.
President Santos President Santos said the Urabeños drug gang was the only neoparamilitary criminal organization (known in Colombia as BACRIMS, for “bandas criminales”) with a national presence. According to Santos, other such groups like the Rastrojos are losing traction. In March, Colombian think-tank Nuevo Arco Iris published a report citing BACRIMS as the central threat to Colombian security, recording their presence in 209 of the country’s 337 municipalities. While President Santos attributed the diminished presence of several groups to security forces, it may more likely be the result of consolidation of smaller groups into stronger organizations, as pointed out by InSight Crime.
The U.S. Department of Defense reported that the FARC had shoulder-fired air-to-surface missiles. According to the article, “Defense experts say the FARC has long sought to acquire such weapons to counter a key strategic advantage of Colombia's military -- air superiority.” The Colombian government has had the most success against the FARC with its air strikes. As noted in the above-mentioned Nuevo Arco Iris report, in 2012, 15 aerial operations by the government killed 200 guerillas.
Several analysts said that should the group acquire enough missiles, it could change the war. "If they had a few dozen, it would make a difference: It could limit what the Colombians could do against them from the air," said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "My guess is they don't have that many." The article also notes that U.S. military assistance to Colombia for 2013 is slated to be $266 million.
The FARC issued a statement saying they would reject any proposal for peace that includes jail time for guerilla leaders. The Colombian government already has legislation in place that limits the prosecution of FARC members, but does not provide for total amnesty.
Peru and the United States have agreed to enhance political-military cooperation.
The State Department’s press release can be read here, but notes the two countries will collaborate on various security issues like terrorism and drug trafficking. A good article in El País touches on how the agreement to share information, technology and training benefits both sides, and particularly Peru, which has seen an uptick in drug trafficking and coca production in its VRAEM region (the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, and the Mantaro Valley).
In May, Peru will begin drafting men between the ages of 18 and 25 for military service to help fill the reported 30,000-member deficit in the armed forces. Parents and university students will be exempt while draftees can pay a fine of $700 to get out of service. The measure has drawn much criticism, as opponents say it favors the wealthy. CNN pointed out that “Nearly a third of Peru's population lives below the poverty line, according to government statistics. A minimum wage salary is 750 soles ($290) per month."
As InSight Crime notes, Peru has begun to more heavily “militarize the fight against drug traffickers and Shining Path guerillas,” particularly in the country’s largest coca-producing region, the VRAEM. In October, the government announced it would increase military and police budgets by 20 percent and double its police force.
Peru is reportedly purchasing 24 Russian Mi-171 helicopters for $407 million for counternarcotics operations in the country. According to reports, the deal could rise to a value of $485.5 million as Peru has supposedly signaled it wants to buy additional onboard weapons and Russia has offered to train Peruvian pilots.
Mexico and the border
A group of four U.S. senators working on the immigration bill toured the U.S.- Mexico border last Wednesday. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) concluded his visit by saying, “What I learned was that we have adequate manpower, but we don’t have adequate technology.” The senators are part of the “gang of eight,” the bipartisan group developing legislation to reform U.S. immigration laws.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), four out of five drug busts made by Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexico border involve U.S. citizens. The report’s authors recognize that Mexican cartels are controlling the smuggling trade but note, “the public message that the Border Patrol has trumpeted for much of the last decade, mainly through press releases about its seizures, has emphasized Mexican drug couriers, or mules, as those largely responsible for transporting drugs.”
The Associated Press has since come out with a report which claims Mexican drug cartels are running drug distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast.
The White House announced President Obama will visit Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico, he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade and immigration, among other topics like education. In Costa Rica, he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of the Central American Integration System (SICA) to discuss trade and security.
Mexican news website Animal Politico outlines five key components of Mexico’s revised draft of its victims law. The new language includes a definition for “indirect victims” as well as punishment for negligence by authorities. The law has been approved by the Mexican Senate, but still awaits full congressional approval.
Russia in Nicaragua
William Brownfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement says the United States welcomes Russia’s recent involvement in Central America’s drug war and collaboration with Nicaraguan forces to combat narcotics trafficking. The Nicaragua Dispatch reported Brownfield as saying, “I welcome any contribution, any donation and any support that the Russian government wants to give in this hemisphere.” According to the paper, Russia's drug czar Victor Ivanov says his plan is to convert Nicaragua into a regional stronghold for Central America’s drug war.
In the interview Brownfield also discussed U.S. counternarcotics strategies in Central America, noting he hopes to shift routes away from the region within two to three years.
United States officials claims that no security assistance is given to police units under the control of the country’s national police director, Juan Carlos Bonilla, over concerns that he was involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The Associated Press published a must-read article last week challenging this, alleging that all police units are under Bonilla’s control. The U.S. has denied these claims saying that while it does support Honduran police, it does not support its director and gives no assistance to Bonilla or those directly under him. For more information, see a Just the Facts post published Friday.
The campaign ahead of Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election continues to be mired in personal and fiery insults between the two candidates, interim President Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles. According to Reuters, over the weekend Maduro “called the country's opposition ‘heirs of Hitler,’ accusing them of persecuting Cuban doctors working in the South American country the way Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany.” This comes after he accused Capriles of trying to “provoke” violence when plans were announced that he would be campaigning in the same western Venezuela state as Maduro this week. Capriles has since announced that he will start his campaign in the state of Monagas state on Tuesday, and move into Barinas on Wednesday.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile and announced she will be running for president in the country’s November elections. The Pan-American Post has a good overview of her announcement and links to several articles outlining the challenges facing her despite being the favored candidate. The post highlights Bachelet’s speech in which she said, “the main goal of her administration would be addressing income inequality in Chile, which in 2011 had the most uneven distribution of wealth of any Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country.”
Friday, March 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
This week was the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. An article co-authored by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former president of Switzerland, Ruth Dreifuss, in the New York Times says, "Delegates will debate multiple resolutions while ignoring a truth that goes to the core of current drug policy: human rights abuses in the war on drugs are widespread and systematic." Cardoso and Dreifuss call for the human rights movement to take the lead on “calling for an end to the war on drugs and the development of drug policies that advance rather than degrade human rights.
The latest "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community" cites "economic stagnation, high rates of violent crime and impunity, ruling party efforts to manipulate democratic institutions to consolidate power, and slow recovery from natural disasters" as challenges to many positive trends throughout Latin America.
This week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held hearings on human rights issues throughout South America. The issues discussed range from unjust judicial reforms -- such as a recent judicial reform in Colombia that will allow military courts to try soldiers accused of human rights abuses -- to LGBTI rights, preventative detention, indigenous rights, and statelessness to sexual abuses and disappearance in Mexico. Read several articles (mostly in Spanish) that cover some of the hearings here and here. A webcast of the hearings can be viewed on the OAS' website
As noted in last week's round up, on March 22, all participating members of the OAS will vote on proposed reforms to the IACHR, which many say will limit the commission's power and have a negative effect on human rights in the region.
According to the news website Colombia Reports, "The homicide rate in Medellin has increased by 21.2% over the first two months of 2013, in respect to the same period last year." To help curb the violence, 700 mobile police were sent to the most violent neighborhoods in and around Medellín. On Wednesday, President Santos ordered National Police Director Jose Roberto Leno Riaño to transfer to the city. He will be stationed there to “take direct charge of the situation until the city becomes calm again.”
An article in the Miami Herald highlights that even children have become targets in ongoing gang wars in Medellín. The report depicts the murder of an 11-year-old who crossed an "invisible border" between territories owned by rival gangs on the border of Comuna 13, one of the the city's most violence-ridden neighborhoods.
The seventh round of peace talks began this week, which continue to focus on the issue of land. The FARC released a list of eight proposals for land restitution on Tuesday. These proposals look to include Afro-Colombian and other minority groups in the land reform and redistribution process.
This week both sides of the negotiating table put forth positive sentiments about the peace talks. President Juan Manuel Santos said that the talks were going well and that peace accords may be reached within a few months if the pace continues at the same rate. Iván Márquez, the head of the FARC’s negotiating team, said the group will do "everything possible" to reach an agreement before the end of the year. This is the first time the group has indicated as much to date.El Espectador reported earlier this week that the ELN might be getting closer to peace talks with the government following the release of two German hostages Friday.
As WOLA's Adam Isacson noted in a post on Just the Facts earlier this week, "Colombia manually eradicated 30,000 hectares of coca bushes in 2012. That is 5,000 hectares less manual eradication than in 2011 (as opposed to fumigation, which has been steady at about 100,000 hectares), and a steep drop from a 2008 total of 96,000 hectares. The Colombian government’s budget for manual eradication has dropped by over half since 2010."
InSight Crime has a good rundown of various theories about why the country's coca eradication program is shrinking.
The U.S. Army reported that the Security Assistance Command delivered seven Black Hawk Helicopters to Colombia at the beginning of March. "The aircraft will provide advantages to the Colombians by enhancing their situational awareness and mission effectiveness in the war against drugs and terrorism through air operations," Col. Steve Smith, SOUTHCOM Regional Operations director, said.
Drug trafficking has been the main motive behind Colombia's previous and current paramilitary groups, according to a new report put out by the Colombian think tank, Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP). The group says fighting leftist insurgency has been a "grand facade" and is secondary to protecting coca crops and controlling trafficking routes.
- This report comes on the heels of another report (which was highlighted in last week's post) from Nuevo Arco Iris that, in addition to looking at changes in the FARC's on-the-ground tactics, looks at the consolidation of neo-paramilitary cartels in the country. As InSight Crime notes, "'From Caguan to Havana' charts how the remaining factions of demobilized paramilitary groups and dismantled drug cartels have converged around two criminal structures: the Rastrojos and the Urabeños."
France is helping Mexico set up its new 10,000-member gendarmerie mobile police force, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong told reporters this week. President Peña Nieto has said that the force will be ready for deployment by the end of the year. WOLA's Maureen Meyer echoes an ongoing concern of several analysts that, “By establishing another federal security force made up of elements with primarily military training, Peña is following in the footsteps of his predecessors to militarize public security in Mexico." She also highlights that while the United States has promoted a different model in Latin America, "U.S. law strongly restricts our military" from taking on the role of police.
Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope also offers a good critique of President Peña Nieto's security model, which he concludes by saying, "here is a respectful request to the Interior Ministry: get organized now. We want to talk about you with reference to something other than disorder and improvisation."
A new report in Mexico says that there were 207 attacks against journalists in the country in 2012, a 20 percent increase from 2011.
A court in Guatemala upheld a Supreme Court ruling to allow former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to be tried for genocide.
InSight Crime founder Steven Dudley released a good article on "5 Things the El Salvador Gang Truce Has Taught Us."
The United States expelled two Venezuelans diplomats, a second secretary at the embassy in DC & a consular officer in NY, in response to the Venezuelan government's ouster of two U.S. attachés on March 5, the same day Hugo Chávez died.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's interim president, accused "far right" figures in the United States of trying to kill opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. According to the Associate Press, "The odds are so stacked against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles that he has compared his run to being 'led to a slaughterhouse and dropped into a meat grinder.'" Caracas Chronicles looks at the other six candidates in the presidential race.
Friday, February 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
On Wednesday, the FARC killed seven soldiers and injured five others in the worst violence against security forces since the peace talks began. The group also agreed to hand over two police officers being held to delegates from the Red Cross and the NGO Colombians for Peace on Thursday. The release was canceled at the last minute, however, because the heightened media presence made it difficult to carry out the mission. To facilitate the release, the government extended a temporary military ceasefire until midnight in two southwestern states, however both officers were released this afternoon.
A third hostage, a Colombian soldier, is scheduled to be released on Saturday. Since the unilateral ceasefire was lifted on January 20, fighting has intensified and the FARC “have increased attacks on civilian and military targets, taken hostages and blown up oil and energy infrastructure in a bid to force the government to suspend hostilities,” reports The Guardian.
On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced details about his new security strategy. According to the Associated Press, the government will spend $9.2 billion in 2013 on social programs for youth in the country's 251 most violent towns. The plan focuses on crime prevention more than punishment, marking a clear change in tone from Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who primarily focused on targeting cartel leaders. Security analyst Alejandro Hope said, "They're going to throw a lot of money at a lot of programs. That is ground for skepticism, the level of specificity is not there yet. I find this disconcerting."
On Thursday the Associated Press reported that Mexico will ask the United States to focus counternarcotics aid on social programs and prevention. About 2 perent of the current $1.9 billion under the Mérida Initiative is intended for social programs, with the majority of the funds going to intelligence transport and training for Mexican law enforcement, according to Mexican Assistant Interior Secretary Roberto Campa.
Alejandro Hope wrote a piece on murder rates in Mexico, concluding that it is too early to know if the security situation is getting better or worse.
On Thursday, the Chicago Crime Commission announced that it designated the head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, as the city's new "Public Enemy Number One." This is the first time the term has been used since it was created for Al Capone in 1930. The Sinaloa cartel supplies the majority of drugs sold in Chicago. According to Reuters, Jack Riley, head of the DEA in Chicago, said the cartel is so deeply embedded in Chicago that law enforcement officers have to operate as if Chicago were on the border with Mexico instead of 1,500 miles away.
InSight Crime released a special report on Ciudad Juarez, looking at the causes behind the drop in violence in the past two years.
Peru has plans to construct a 476-hectare airfield and military base for counternarcotics operations. The base will be built on the eastern edge of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, an area known as the VRAE, where authorities say Shining Path guerrillas are increasing their drug trafficking operations. The base is intended to improve "logistical operations ... in the face of the increase in terrorist activity in the CE-VRAE (VRAE Special Command)," according to a Ministry of Defense report. United States military aid advisors helped the Peruvian air force develop plans for the base, reported La República, but made no mention if the U.S. helped fund the initiative.
According to InSight Crime, "the VRAE is the site of an estimated third of Peru's drug crops and home to the biggest remaining faction of Maoist guerrilla group the Shining Path, which is deeply involved in the drug trade and uses the region to mount attacks against security forces." The plan is causing outrage among locals, who say the government said a civilian airfield meant to increase tourism and export produce. The land will be expropriated from 100 families.
The Peruvian government also announced that it will start to eradicate coca crops in the VRAE for the first time. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there are about 20,000 hectares of coca in the region. The Peruvian government has budgeted $30 million this year for eradication efforts, planning to reduce coca crops by 6% with the eradication of 22,000 hectares.
The U.S. embassy in Peru has issued a warning for U.S. citizens, saying that Shining Path guerillas "may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area."
On Sunday, current Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will very likely be re-elected for a third term. Several articles have come out this week around the election. An Economist article gives a good overview of the positive initiatives Correa has put in place, such as investment in infrastructure, as well as the negative aspects, including his abuses of power and clamp down on freedom of expression. Another article in the Economist's Intelligence Unit noted that while there exists the potential for fraudulence during the elections, it is not likely given Correa's public popularity, as opinion polls show 62 percent of the country back him. BBC Mundo profiled the other seven candidates, while the BBC examined what his victory will mean for the country.
The U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan Military Industry Company (Cavim), a state-owned Venezuelan weapons company. According to a State Department press release, the company was sanctioned after it traded with Iran, North Korea or Syria.
On Friday, the Venezuelan government released photos of ailing President Hugo Chávez for the first time in over two months. The pictures show him with his daughters in Cuba, and some show him reading Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma. On Wednesday, Vice President Nicholas Maduro said President Chávez is undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments.
The Congressional Research Service released a new report (.pdf) outlining the key issues for U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean.
Monday, January 7, 2013
The following is a short overview of some of the more significant events of the past year that set the political landscape for the region going into 2013.
Colombia peace talks
One of the biggest and most hopeful happenings in 2012 was the August announcement of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that began on November 19 in Havana, Cuba. Conversations between government and FARC negotiators began in Norway in mid-October, where they gave a joint press conference. (See here for a timeline of the talks)
President Santos has said that if “firm advances” are not made by April-July 2013, “the process will not continue.” As Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacia has posited, if the talks fail, the country can expect a political swing to the right, as was seen following in the 2002 failed peace talks, however if they are successful, a more leftist agenda that includes guerrilla participation in politics and increased rural development will be implemented. A December Gallup poll last month showed that while 71% of Colombians supported the peace process, only 43% believed they would end in a peace deal. The second round of talks covering land and rural development came to conclusion December 20 before the discussions broke for the holidays. Talks are set to restart January 14.
Former President Fernando Lugo’s 2008 election marked the end of the Colorado Party’s long-term control of Paraguay politics. However, in June 2012, Paraguay’s Congress (the Colorado party and their allies) hastily voted to impeach Lugo and install Vice President Federico Franco, a move that was triggered by the mishandling of a still un-resolved violent land conflict between police and landless peasants that left 11 campesinos and six police dead. While the impeachment was technically legal, many countries considered Lugo’s rapid removal a coup, resulting in the country’s suspension from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) political bloc and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). The Mercosur suspension allowed Venezuela to finally enter the bloc, comprised of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, after Paraguay’s long opposition to its inclusion.
El Salvador’s gang truce
In March 2012 a government-mediated truce was brokered between El Salvador’s two most violent gangs -- Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13, the first street gang operating in the U.S. to be labeled a transnational criminal organization) and Barrio 18. The deal lead to a 40% drop in the country's homicide rate, making 2012 the least violent year since 2003 for El Salvador, one of the world’s most violent and insecure countries. In 2011, the county’s National Civil Police (PNC) registered 4,371 homicides, putting it right behind Honduras, which holds the world’s highest murder rate. In 2012, the PNC registered 2,576 murders. Despite skeptics’ fears that the deal would be fleeting, nine months later the truce is still holding and the groups are now conducting talks about how to proceed. In December, the MS-13 and Barrio 18, along with other street gangs, agreed to end gang activity in designated “peace zones” throughout the country, however these zones have yet to be identified and the level of government involvement has also yet to be determined. It is still a very much evolving process, but one to watch in 2013. In November, the Congressional Research Service released a report about the country's political and economic conditions and its relations with the U.S.
Fuero militar in Colombia
In mid-December, the Colombian Congress passed a justice reform bill, known as ‘Fuero Militar’ (Military Jurisdiction), that would likely result in human rights violations by military members -- including extrajudicial executions, torture, and rape -- being investigated and tried by the military justice system. Human rights activists say that limiting the civilian court system’s ability to try and convict members of the armed forces will lead to further impunity and worry that the more than 1,700 cases of extrajudicial execution currently in civilian courts will be moved under military jurisdiction. Most recently the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a statement voicing its “deep concern over the serious setback in human rights” that the reform would represent.
Mexico’s new president
On December 1st, Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico’s new leader, marking the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), after a 12-year hiatus following its 71-year stronghold of the Mexican political system. Mexican police struggled to manage the thousands of protesters that took to the streets during the inauguration to denounce the PRI's return to power. Security forces arrested several people unjustly and contributed to the outbreak of violence, which led to Amnesty International setting up a support page for victims of police brutality. Peña Nieto’s security proposal for Mexico continues with a militarized approach, but he has vowed to fight violence and other crimes as opposed to targeting drug traffickers. The new Mexican leader has also reiterated his plans to increase economic ties with the U.S. However, it remains to be seen whether or not a PRI-presidential term with Peña Nieto will mark a significant change for Mexico.
President Hugo Chávez’s cancer
The biggest question mark in the region at the moment is who will be ruling Venezuela in the months to come, as there is the ever-growing possibility of a power vacuum. In October, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez publicly stated he had beaten cancer, only to announce in early December that it had returned and he would be undergoing treatment in Cuba. President Chávez, who won re-election in early October despite a strong opposition and debilitating illness, is currently in Cuba recovering from his fourth round of surgery. He was set to be inaugurated on January 10, however due to the increasing likelihood that he will be too ill to be back from Cuba in time, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Friday that President Chávez will retain power and be sworn in after the date. President Chávez called on Venezuelans to vote for Vice President Maduro to be his successor should he step down or die before being sworn in. The constitution requires that power be handed over to Diosdado Cabello, the recently re-elected speaker of Venezuela’s National Assembly, until another election is held within 30 days. While there is growing uncertainty around the county’s future leadership, some analysts say Chávez’s Socialist Party (PSUV) would most likely be re-elected given the presidential election victory and recent wins in 20 out of 23 states in mid-December’s gubernatorial elections.
Obama’s re-election, Immigration and the Latino vote
In addition to changes in U.S. drug policy, many hope immigration reform will top President Obama’s agenda in his second term, given his victory was largely helped by winning just over 70 percent of the Hispanic vote. In his election speech, Obama mentioned immigration reform as a priority just behind reducing the deficit and tax reform. The hope for 2013 is for the administration to make good on this promise for the eleven million immigrants living in the U.S., and that it scales back on increasingly harsh deportation practices.
Honduras and the DEA
The Drug Enforcement Administration's involvement in several killings in Honduras this year highlighted growing U.S. involvement in counternarcotics operations in Central America. In April, the DEA sent special teams to some of the more rural, drug-ridden areas of Honduras as part of a joint counternarcotics operation known as Operation Anvil. Three of the five joint interdiction operations during Anvil included the shootings of Hondurans by either DEA agents, or by Honduran officers trained, equipped and vetted by the U.S., causing the operation to end days ahead of schedule.
About $50 million due to be assigned to antidrug and security efforts -- amounting to about half of all U.S. aid to Honduras for 2012 and including $8.3 million in counternarcotics aid, and $38 million under the Central America Regional Security Initiative -- is being withheld by Democrats in Congress over concerns about American involvement in the killings and over accusations that the director of Honduras' national police had ties to death squads. The aid is still being withheld, but the U.S. has begun to share radar information with the Honduran air force again.
Honduras currently has the highest murder rate in the world with 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Since the 2009 coup, drug trafficking, violence and human rights violations have rapidly increased, while impunity for killings, particularly of journalists and human rights defenders, is high and corruption pervades all government institutions. The country is currently undergoing a constitutional crisis, with the executive and congress attempting to overhaul the Supreme Court. Presidential elections are set to take place this year.
Marijuana legalization and regulation
As the death toll in Mexico continues to climb over the 60,000 deaths recorded during previous Mexican President Felipe Calderón's drug war, and drugs continue to flow into the United States from below the border, as well as throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, experts and Latin American presidents are increasingly calling for alternatives to the "War on Drugs." Earlier in 2012, there was a lot of discussion surrounding drug legalization, particularly following Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s advocacy for the international legalization of drugs in March. There was more discussion about the issue before the fairly uneventful Summit of the Americas held in Colombia in April, after which it seemed to die down a bit. In September at a UN General Assembly meeting, the presidents of Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala submitted a proposal for drug reform, which Honduras and Costa Rica later backed. The UN then agreed to hold a special session on on drug prohibition by 2015.
Several former leaders, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, had already called for changes in global and U.S. drug policies in 2011, but Latin American presidents and former leaders from all political sides continued to call for reform in 2012. In June, Uruguay’s President José Mujica proposed legislation to legalize marijuana that was moving through the country’s congress until a poll in mid-December indicated that 65% of Uruguayans opposed legalization, while only 26% supported it, causing President Mujica to slow down the initiative.
Drug legalization throughout the region will continue to be widely debated, particularly following Colorado and Washington’s passage of referendums in November for legalizing recreational marijuana use. Now that there are legal markets for marijuana in the U.S., many Latin American leaders are questioning why they should continue to invest financial and human resources into enforcing drug laws. As one Mexican official responded, "we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status." Mexico is currently exploring its own legalization measures, modeled on Washington State law.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
On Saturday, Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico's new president amid massive public protests against a return of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and allegations electoral fraudulence. His election marks the party’s restitution to power after a 12-year hiatus following the PRI's 71-year stronghold over the Mexican political system.
Below is a compilation of articles and analysis from think-tanks and news outlets examining what comes next in U.S.- Mexico relations. The majority of mainstream media outlets and many analysts focus on the potential for Mexico and the United States to increase trade and deepen the economic relationship between the two countries, while touching on the importance of reforming U.S. immigration laws.
In interview on PBS News Hour -- "How U.S.-Mexico Relations May Shift Under President-Elect Enrique Pena Nieto" -- Shannon O'Neil of Council on Foreign Relations and Michael Shifter of Inter-American Dialogue cite economic relations, energy cooperation and security, particularly drug trafficking and violence as pressing agenda items for President Obama's second term and Mexico's new president.
In "Viewpoints: What Should the Top Priority Be for U.S.-Mexican Relations?" the Americas Society/Council of the Americas compiles what nine prominent Mexican and U.S. experts believe the top goals should be for U.S.-Mexican relations. Economic relations, security, and immigration top the list.
"The United States and Mexico: The Path Forward" by Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress and Eric Farnsworth of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas look at the background of Peña Nieto's election and looks at U.S.-Mexico relations going forward. The authors determine that a large part of Peña Nieto's success will rely on what happens north of the border-- particularly with regards to economic policy and immigration reform.
Americas Quarterly blog provides a good overview of the inauguration and Peña Nieto's policy-oriented speech. AQ notes that Peña Nieto's campaign promises are ambitious, with conservative estimates claiming they would require an additional $800 billion per year to enact. The article deems the new Minister of the Interior, Miguela Osorio Chong, as the most important new appointment as he will now be charged with coordinating the 36,000 strong Federal Police and military forces.
"A Few Reflections on the New Mexican Cabinet" by Andrew Selee, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, examines President Peña Nieto's choices for his next administration. He concludes that overall the team only has a few surprises and consists of three general groups: old PRI political heavyweights, newer faces of the party, and a few respected figures drawn from outside traditional PRI political circles. Selee says the security cabinet is surprisingly competent and seems to "signal an attempt to give greater weight to intelligence-based operations, promote more citizen engagement, and strengthen the prosecutor’s office."
The Economist's Americas Blog also looks at select members of Peña Nieto's new administration, as does Mexico's El Universal newspaper, which provides the entire roster list including profile's with their political history.
In an Op-ed for CNN, "Getting ready for a new era in U.S.-Mexico ties," Andrew Selee and Christopher Wilson, also of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, say that it is time for a shift in bilateral relations. Selee and Wilson lay out the three main reasons why trade and jobs should once again top the U.S. agenda with Mexico. The pair also put out a policy brief for a "New Agenda with Mexico" last month.
The discussion on the security outlook in the country given the change-over in power is more scant. In the meeting with Peña Nieto on November 27, Obama signaled that he would like to shift the relationship away from being primarily security focused. Peña Nieto has echoed this, saying he wants to emphasize issues such as investment, trade, and energy, however as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Latin American Working Group (LAWG) mention in a joint statement, a dramatic shift seems unlikely.
Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy's America's Program outlines promises made by Peña Nieto and examines the "five strategic points" he mentioned in his inauguration speech-- to put Mexico at peace, putting citizens at the center of security policy, to create an inclusive Mexico, closing the gap of inequality, to provide quality education for all, to promote economic growth, and to make Mexico a responsible global actor.
Carlsen characterizes these goals as "mostly cosmetic and devoted to appearances on the surface." She goes on to offer analysis of Peña Nieto's policies to carry out these goals, particularly with regards to security. Peña Nieto had said that there would be a "change in paradigm" in security efforts, focused more on reducing violence instead of targeting drug traffickers.
The new head of state has proposed to create a 40,000-member “gendarmerie,” or a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations, but has not laid out a specific security plan. In November he announced he planned to dismantle the Secretariat of Public Security and put Mexico's security forces once again under the control of the Interior Ministry. He also said he would replace the Secretariat of Public Function with a National Anti-Corruption Commission with the power to investigate, charge criminals, assign cases to judges, and expedite lingering cases.
On Tuesday, Peña Nieto said he would continue with Calderón's course of using the army and navy to fight drug cartels until a new security strategy was determined.
As Carlsen and others have pointed out, Peña Nieto's security plan will continue to pursue militarized counternarcotics efforts and will maintain the current state of security cooperation with the U.S. government.
As several analysts have noted, Peña Nieto has inherited a trend of reduced violence in Mexico, but as LAWG and WOLA set out in their call for Mexico to reform its justice system, security is very much front and center in U.S.-Mexican relations, noting that "Since 2008, the United States has allocated almost US$2 billion in security assistance for Mexico through the Merida Initiative, including around $800 million still in the pipeline. This funding and ongoing security concerns...make it clear that addressing security challenges will continue to be top priorities in the bilateral agenda."
Friday, November 16, 2012
Last Tuesday, Washington and Colorado passed referendums legalizing recreational marijuana use, a move which some crime analysts have predicted will curtail the Mexican cartel's profits and that many hope will mark the beginning of the end for the United States' long, much-criticized "War on Drugs."
When conservative Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, he launched a drug war that put thousands of soldiers on the streets. Since then, some 60,000 Mexicans have been killed, an estimated 10,000 have gone missing and around 250,000 have been forced from their homes. While the approved referenda will not halt an increase in these statistics, the decision signals a change in the Western Hemisphere's approach towards drugs and counternarcotics efforts.
The decision has already prompted debate on anti-drug policies in Mexico, as well as around the region, and will certainly affect the coordinated counternarcotics strategies between the United States and its southern neighbor. Mexico now is facing the possibility having to try to stop the smuggling of a product in heavy demand and considered illicit within its own borders, but legal in parts of the United States. Mexico is said to provide between 40-67 percent of the marijuana currently consumed in the U.S. Though the sale, distribution and and use of marijuana is now considered legal in Colorado and Washington, it still remains illegal under U.S. federal law.
As John Walsh from the Washington Office on Latin America notes, the U.S. government is known in Latin America for its lead role in championing the "war on drugs," and thus "the symbolic significance of the passage of the marijuana legalization proposals is already obvious, both in the United States and in Latin America."
Last week a top official in Mexican president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto's incoming administration said the legalization "changes the rules of the game" in the war on drugs and would require a joint review of policies with regard to drug trafficking and security in general, calling the decision an "unseen element."
He expressed the problem directly, saying, "Obviously, we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status."
Peña Nieto, who takes office December 1, has signaled he plans to focus his security force strategy towards curbing the endemic violence plaguing Mexico's citizens, suggesting he will move away from current President Calderón's staunch, militarized drug interdiction program and "kingpin strategy," which targets the leaders of Mexico's cartels, although he plans to continue on with Calderón's use of the military to fight crime. Peña Nieto has also said repeatedly that he opposes drug legalization, which Videgaray reiterated Wednesday.
On Monday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, along with the leaders of Belize, Costa Rica and Honduras, "issued a joint statement" calling for a hemispheric analysis of the implications of the move to legalize. Calderón went on to say that it marked a fundamental "paradigm shift" in global drug policy and required an analysis of public policy and health in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Some have said that the government is no longer in a position to continue to pressure other nations in its anti-drug crusade. On Tuesday, President Calderón said the United States now has a limited "moral authority" to ask others to champion prohibitionist policies and continue the fight against illegal drug trafficking. As drug analyst Alejandro Hope from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMOC) told Time Magazine, “Now it would be very hard for the U.S. to tell people not to legalize marijuana.”
Mexican Congressman Manlio Fabio Beltrones echoed calls for renewed reform, saying, “This obligates us to think deeply the strategy we have to have in Mexico toward fighting this criminality,” highlighting the fact that "the largest consumer in the world has liberalized its laws."
Despite recent emphasis on the IMOC study claiming the implementation of legalization would cut cartel funding by 20-30 percent, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, thinks it “may not have that big an impact on the finances of the cartels.”
Speaking at an event at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., he said anyone who thinks legalizing marijuana is the answer to ending violence in Mexico is “absolutely wrong,” and that cartels will “muscle into other illegal activities.” He also noted that the decision has had a "profound impact" on Mexicans' perceptions of their country's marijuana interdiction efforts. “It will be hard for a public official to explain to the mother of a federal police officer killed seeking to deter a shipment of marijuana coming into the United States that that was a good thing given that two states in the U.S. legalized marijuana,” he said.
Cesar Duarte, governor of the violence-ridden Chihuahua state (home to Ciudad Juarez) saw a possible positive economic outcome for Mexico, proposing the organized, legal exportation of marijuana. "We would have control over a business which today is run by criminals. And which finances criminals,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
It was reported Thursday that the United Nations deemed the legalizations a violation of international treaties that require drug enforcement. The President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Raymond Yans, voiced his concerns, saying the referenda "pose a great threat to public health and the well-being of society far beyond those states.”
However, the decision comes as other countries in Latin America set out to find their own alternative approaches to the drug issue. In August, Chile introduced a legalization bill that is still in the congress, while Uruguay is close to voting on a bill that would allow adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and have six pot plants, producing up to 480 grams (just over a pound a month). It would also allow individuals to form pot groups of up to 15 people [to] grow up 90 plants, producing 720 grams (almost 16lbs) of marijuana per year.
On the heels of Uruguay's legalization legislation progression, Mexico's leftist Democratic Revolution Party (Partido de la Revolucion Democratico or PRD) presented a bill of their own on Thursday to legalize the production, distribution and use of marijuana.
Several Latin American leaders have called for reforms, including the presidents of Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala who called for drug policy reform at the UN General Assembly meeting in September, while many former leaders, including former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, former Colombian leader Cesar Gaviria and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, have signed statements criticizing U.S. counternarcotics policies.
Organized crime analysis organization InsightCrime says that the legalization will have little effect on cartel income as the cartels can fill in the financial disparity with other illicit activities. (See InsightCrime's map from April 2012 on the drug policy positions of leaders from the region)
However, the implications of the referenda -- both in America and throughout the region -- are a long way off, as the two states have to create regulations and infrastructure in early 2013, supposing they survive any challenges in court and depending on the U.S. government's enforcement of federal drug law, which classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug along with heroin and LSD. So far the government has remained fairly silent on the matter, with the Justice Department merely saying "its enforcement policies remain unchanged" and they are reviewing the initiatives.
In the event that the referendums are ultimately overturned or delayed, their introduction at the very least signals a change in the international discussion on drugs. As Walsh points out , "it’s a safe bet that now that that Colorado and Washington have put legal marijuana on the map, fresh initiatives to legalize marijuana will be on the ballot in other states in the years ahead, and that federal marijuana law itself will eventually be revised to keep up with the times."
What seems to have emerged, particularly in recent weeks, is a more united chorus for debating drug legalization, or at least decriminalization, and finding alternatives to a failing drug war.