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Friday, December 6, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The Latin Americanist and Pan American Post had roundups of Latin American leaders' reactions to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday. As both noted, Venezuela and Nicaragua have called for three national days of mourning.
President Santos met with President Obama in the Oval Office for two and a half hours Tuesday morning. After the meeting, Santos described relations between the two countries as “at their best moment ever.” See this Just the Facts post for a summary of news and analysis on the visit.
Despite the optimistic tones of the meeting with President Obama, President Santos criticized the United States’ Cuba policy while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Congress. “I think Cuba would be willing to change, and both sides have to give in some way,” saying that the moment is “now” for diplomacy to change. At the Organization of American States, President Santos reiterated his stance on creating alternative policies to the drug war and asked members to promote an open discussion on drug policy.
Monday December 2nd was the 20th anniversary of Pablo Escobar’s death. There was coverage in both English and Spanish on the infamous drug lord’s divisive legacy including pieces from the BBC, El Tiempo (multimedia feature), and BBC Mundo. Longtime Medellín journalist Jeremy McDermott noted that while Medellín remains the epicenter of narcotrafficking in Colombia, the nature of the drug trade and landscape of the criminal underworld has changed significantly since the downfall of Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
On Monday, lead FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo read out a ten-point anti-narcotics plan in Havana. Some of the changes in drug policy listed in the communiqué are not too different from what many leaders in Latin America, including Colombia’s President Santos, have been calling for, which include: demilitarization of drug policy, immediate suspension of (U.S.-backed) coca fumigation programs, and the treatment of psychoactive drug use as a public health problem along with the decriminalization of drug consumption.
The group also proposed the state recognize the “food, medicinal, therapeutic, industrial and cultural uses of cultivating coca leaves, marijuana and poppy” as part of an illicit crop substitution program. The Colombian government rejected this. As a recommended read from InSight Crime analyzing the obstacles and opportunities in the talks regarding the drug trade noted, “The chance of striking an agreement with such a key member of the drug trafficking underworld offers the Colombian authorities an unprecedented opportunity.” More from the AFP.
Colombia's Defense Minister in D.C.
On Monday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón spoke at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. He discussed Colombia’s currently military strategy as well as defense plans going forward. The transcript can be read here.
December 1st marked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office. There were several analysis, including from: Alfredo Corchado, James Bosworth, the Washington Office on Latin America, David Agren for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, analyst Alejandro Hope, the Pan-American Post and InSight Crime, which included an overview of Mexico’s current criminal setting.
Most of the analysis touched on the fact that while President Peña Nieto is distinct from former President Calderón in that fighting the cartels has not been the public focus of his government, the policy of deploying the military and federal police to criminal hotspots has continued. As a result, human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have blasted Peña Nieto for the justice system’s ongoing impunity for murder and abuses committed by security officials. Although homicides have dropped in some areas, kidnapping has skyrocketed. As analyst James Bosworth asserted, “the two key issues, security and economic growth, have not seen the improvements Peña Nieto promised during his campaign.”
Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero sent President Peña Nieto a letter urging him to resist U.S. “pressure” to capture and extradite him for the 1985 killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Quintero had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence when a Mexican court allowed his release, drawing heavy criticism from the United States. Mexico’s Supreme Court has since overturned the ruling and Mexican and U.S. authorities have issued warrants for Quintero’s arrest. More from the Los Angeles Times and Fox News Latino.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a new report on security and migration along the United States-Mexico border on Thursday.
Transparency International report
Transparency International released its 2013 Corruption Index Tuesday and found there has been little improvement in the region’s most corrupt countries. Venezuela, Paraguay and Honduras had the highest indexes of corruption, while Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica ranked as the least corrupt. Central America in general was found to be more corrupt than last year, with an uptick in drug trafficking cited as the main cause. More from InSight Crime and International Business Times.
In an effort to reduce the size of Ecuador’s armed forces, President Rafael Correa proposed creating financial incentives for officers to retire from the military and law civilian law enforcement bodies.
The U.S. Department of Defense said there were no plans for toxin-filled munitions abandoned by the U.S. Army on San Jose Island in 1947 to be returned and destroyed. Despite a statement by Panama’s foreign minister last month that the aging chemical weapons would be returned, the Pentagon has said it would be sending experts to the Central American country. This has been a contentious issue between the two countries for some time.
On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 365 mayors and 2,389 municipal representatives. Some analysts have described this vote as a “referendum” on President Maduro’s first eight months in office. As Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has campaigned hard for his MUD party, visiting 117 municipalities compared to Maduro’s 21. Americas Society/Council of the Americas has an explainer on the elections and analyst Luis Vincente León looks at possible outcomes from the elections, noting that some of Maduro’s most recent political tricks, such as lowering the prices of electronics and other goods, could tip the scale in his favor. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog has a useful cheat sheet.
Most of the firearms in El Salvador come from the United States, according to the country’s national police (PNC). With training from the U.S. Office on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the PNC has tracked nearly 34,000 weapons, the majority of which came from the United States. While some are left over from Central America’s civil wars, modern weapon discoveries suggest new arms trafficking networks. More from InSight Crime and La Prensa Grafica.
Last week, Honduras’ electoral court announced conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez winner of the country's presidential elections. On Monday, Hernández’s closest competitor and wife of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party, filed a formal complaint claiming fraud in the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) agreed to count the tally sheets on Wednesday, however officials delayed doing so after claiming members of the LIBRE failed to appear. The LIBRE leadership claimed the TSE's procedures were insufficient and had suggested other mechanisms. As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, LIBRE and the TSE had never agreed to specifics in the procedure and therefore had no official start date to begin vote counting. See this Just the Facts post post by Latin America Working group for more on foul play in the electoral process.
Friday, December 6, 2013
By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund
The November 24, 2013 elections in Honduras and their aftermath are a critical moment for the direction of the country. In June 2009 a coup overthrew the elected president, Liberal Party member Manuel Zelaya. In this month´s election, Zelaya´s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya under the new Libre party banner ran against the National Party´s Juan Orlando Hernandez, the traditional Liberal Party, a new Anti-Corruption Party and several others.
The Supreme Electoral Council declared the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner, followed by Libre, with the Liberals, and the Anti-Corruption Party also receiving a significant share of votes. The newer parties’ significant vote count has altered the traditional two-party (National, Liberal) Honduran political scene.
But it is far from time to celebrate a free and fair election.
The International Human Rights Federation observation team in which Latin America Working Group participated, observing the human rights context as well as electoral mechanics, congratulated the Honduran people for a strong turnout, but observed the following serious problems:
Incentives for voting, provided by one party. The National Party had booths outside voting places where voters could pick up an envelope with their name on it with a card with discounts for telephone, food, medical care and pharmacy products. This was widespread and open, with the party having run ads promoting it.
Live people declared dead. Our small team met at least 20 people who had been declared dead and were unable to vote, as well as others whose voting places had been changed, making it difficult for them to vote. “They have not yet managed to kill me yet,” said one very angry “dead” woman we met at a Libre party booth outside a polling place. Many of these people told us that they had voted at the same voting place in last year´s primary.
Oppressive presence of the military. Honduran law unfortunately confers upon the armed forces the role of transporting and guarding electoral material and filled ballots. This law needs to be changed. The presence of the military on this election day was oppressive. Soldiers with automatic weapons had a prominent presence at voting centers, and in one case we observed soldiers frisking voters as they entered the polling place. Soldiers surrounded the transmission towers of progressive radio and television stations on election day.
Among the other problems we observed or which were reported to us were a complete lack of transparency in campaign financing, allegations that smaller parties were selling their pollwatcher credentials, immigration agents harassing some international observers, and the fact that the Supreme Electoral Council was formed by four of the nine parties running, rather than being strictly nonpartisan.
However, the allegations of fraudulent acts with the most impact would be in the transmission of votes between the polling places and the Supreme Electoral Council. Our mission noted with concern before the elections that this system appeared vulnerable to fraud. Two parties, Libre and the Anti-Corruption Party, are contesting the results of the elections and demanding to see the results from the individual polling places and a complete recount of ballots.
The Supreme Electoral Council must satisfy the legitimate demands of these parties for complete and transparent scrutiny of contested ballots. International observers should audit the vote transmission system, and the Honduran Attorney General’s office for Electoral Crimes should investigate carefully all claims of fraudulent activity.
In the long term, Honduran election law could be improved by removing the military from a role in administering elections, ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Council is nonpartisan, improving the voter rolls and ensuring transparency in campaign financing.
On the day after the elections, a small, peaceful protest by frustrated Libre voters approached the plaza where the Supreme Electoral Council had set up operations in a hotel. Some 150 heavily-armed police, including the anti-riot police with their tear gas and shields, and the black-clad military police, blocked their entrance. There was no violence, not with international electoral observers in their jackets and the international press in the nearby hotels. But what will happen now that the observers and the press have packed up and left?
The enormous frustration of voters who feel that once again the faith that they have placed in the electoral system has been violated needs to be heard and needs a solution. It must not meet teargas and batons.
The international community should be concerned about these elections and their aftermath.
We must also be concerned about the overall human rights context in Honduras. Yes, there is an extremely high murder rate due to organized crime and street crime. But there are also targeted killings of and threats against human rights defenders, including those who denounce human rights abuses, protect women´s rights and protest environmentally damaging projects such as mining and dams. Journalists and members of the LGBTI community are targeted. Police and other state actors are implicated in many cases, and the vast majority of these crimes remain in total impunity. The human rights unit of the Attorney General’s office that should investigate many of these crimes has been weakened by the recent transfer of dedicated prosecutors.
Nothing to celebrate yet.
Friday, November 22, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Vice President Biden in Panama
On Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Panama to discuss security and trade with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and tour the expansion of the Panama Canal. He praised Panama for “contributing to global security” in its detection and seizure of weapons found heading from Cuba to North Korea. As security analyst James Bosworth noted, the United States has been relatively quiet on the issue. This is likely due, in part, to the “surprise warming in recent months” of relations between the two countries.
Attorney General Holder in Colombia
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss narcotrafficking and bilateral cooperation ahead of the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, held in Medellín. During his remarks, Holder called for a change in security strategy saying, "we must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach,” and "the path we are currently on is not sustainable."
As La Silla Vacía notes, Holder’s trip comes just as the Colombian government and Farc guerrillas start to address the third point on the agenda, narcotrafficking. For a detailed analysis and update on the peace process, see WOLA’s ColombiaPeace.org.
Secretary of State Kerry addresses OAS
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech at the Organization of American States in which he touched on climate change and endorsed the Obama administration’s current Cuba policy, lauding restrictions on travel but calling for broader political reform. The Washington Office on Latin America said the speech offered nothing new and “ignored things that Latin American nations have been asking of the United States,” such as an alternative drug policy, immigration reform, violence, and organized crime. More from the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal.
Elections in Honduras
On Sunday, Hondurans will vote for a new president. The election is in a dead-heat between Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, and conservative ruling party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández. The outcome of the elections will greatly impact security strategy as Hernández has said he would “put a soldier on every corner,” while Castro has promoted community policing. An Organization of American States election observer said there was no indication of fraud, however, international and national observers will be watching to ensure Sunday’s polls are not manipulated. More analysis from the Wilson Center (video), which held an event on the elections last Friday, from El Faro and from Reuters, which has a useful "Factbox" on the candidates.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems had a helpful FAQ on the elections, while Honduras Politics and Culture blog had an overview of the country’s voting system as well as an overview of an OAS report (pdf) on the vote counting system, which offered some praise but highlighted significant shortcomings.
Venezuela president gets decree powers
On Tuesday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicholas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. He claims he needs the powers to fix the economy and target corruption. More from the Latin Americanist, Reuters, El País and Christian Science Monitor.
On Sunday, in the first round of Chilean presidential elections, former President Michelle Bachelet received 47 percent of the vote, just shy of the 51 percent needed to win. Her closest competitor, Evelyn Matthei, received 25 percent. A run-off will be held December 15. More from the Economist and New York Times.
Protests in Haiti
Protestors in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, clashed with police and government supporters as they called for President Michel Martelly to resign, highlighting several concerns that range from high living costs to unabated corruption. The police and UN peacekeeping forces broke up the violent confrontations. More from the BBC and Pan-American Post.
El Salvador gang truce on the rocks?
According to El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo, gangs in the country “are at war, in a process of vengeance and territorial control." An uptick in murders suggests the truce is abating. As InSight Crime noted, murders have been “steadily approaching the pre-truce average of 12 a day.” On Wednesday, gang leaders denied their involvement in the murder increase as well as an alleged plan to increase homicides in December.
Colombian President Santos running for re-election
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday night that he would run for re-election in 2014. His announcement speech focused on finishing the peace process. Santos’ main opposition candidate, Oscar Iván Zulaga, is backed by former President Álvaro Uribe and is a critic of the talks. For this reason, some observers, like analyst Laura Gil and former Senator Piedad Córdoba, have said the vote will be a referendum for the peace process. President Santos is still seeking a vice-president for his bid. More from Reuters and James Bosworth on the challenges President Santos faces in the election. La Silla Vacía has the full text of his announcement speech.
Mexican "self-defense" groups in Michoácan
Last weekend, "self-defense" groups seized another town in the violence-ridden Michoácan state in a clash with the Knights Templar cartel. As the AFP reported, these vigilante groups now provide security in six towns throughout the state, with plans to take over another 40,000 resident town. The Mexican government has pledged to prevent the groups from spreading.
RESDAL (Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina – Latin American Security and Defense Network) published a comprehensive, graphical, and extremely informative Public Security Index (pdf) of Central America this week.
InSight Crime provided a breakdown and analysis of Brazil's Forum of Public Security and Open Society Foundation’s study on police killings, looking at why police in Brazil kill. The report found that police in São Paulo were responsible for 20 percent of all homicides last year.
The Drug Enforcement Administration published its National Drug Threat Assessment (pdf) Monday. It found that while the availability of cocaine in the United States has dropped, the availability of methamphetamine is on the rise, reportedly due to Mexican drug traffickers increasing production and control over the U.S. market.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a two-part documentary by independent journalist Tracey Eaton that "sheds light on the origins, failures, and future of the United States’ policy toward Cuba’s government."
Friday, November 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Migration Declassified, a project of the National Security Archive, published documents that offer the most detailed glimpse yet into Defense Department’s intelligence programs in Mexico in recent years. According to the group, “What emerges are the outlines of a two-track U.S. intelligence program: one, a network of joint intelligence centers staffed by personnel from both countries; the other, a secret facility located inside the U.S. Embassy to which the Mexicans are not invited.”
President Obama will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on December 3 and will emphasize the United States’ “continued support for efforts to achieve peace in Colombia, according to W Radio.
The United Nations Development Program released a report on Tuesday, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America” which found Latin America continues to be the most insecure and unequal region in the world. The Economist provides a good overview and analysis of the report. More from Just the Facts, EFE, the Miami Herald and El País.
Chilean presidential elections this weekend
This Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. As analyst James Bosworth noted, it is a “near certainty” former President Michelle Bachelet, a self-declared socialist from the opposition party, will beat out conservative ruling party candidate Evelyn Matthei. In the event that Bachelet does not receive the required 51% of the vote this Sunday, run-off elections will be held in December. More from the Miami Herald and Associated Press about Bachelet’s radical proposed plans for reform. This will be the first election in which voting is voluntary rather than compulsory.
On Monday, the Colombian government said it discovered a plot by FARC rebels to assassinate former President Álvaro Uribe and the country’s Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre. While there did not appear to be immediate fallout from the revelations, lead government negotiator Humerto de la Calle warned should such an attack take place, negotiations would be “destroyed.” The revealed plot has fomented concerns that the FARC’s central command negotiating in Havana does not have control over mid-level members of the group. More from La Silla Vacía.
The negotiating teams in Havana have worked out agreements on land and the FARC’s participation in politics. On Monday, both sides will begin talks on the drug trade. In a lengthy post published Tuesday, FARC’s top commander “Timochenko” said the group would debate the legalization of illicit crops in negotiations, noting the group has advocated for a shift in policy for several years. More from Colombia Reports. For further analysis on the progress on the peace talks, see this post by Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace, the Pan-American Post, and Semana.
The Latin America Working Group published a report, “ Far from the Promised Land”(pdf)examining land restitution along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The authors looked at the sluggish implementation of 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which set out procedures to grant reparations and land return to victims of the armed conflict. They found that “land restitution is just beginning to be implemented, but that both land restitution and victims’ reparations promised under the law are, for most victims, still a distant dream.”
On Thursday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. Maduro says he will use the special powers to target corruption and the country’s economic problems, while critics claim he will use the silence the opposition in upcoming local elections. On Tuesday, the Congress stripped an opposition lawmaker of her immunity to be prosecuted for corruption, and a government supporter was put in her place, giving the ruling party the 99th vote needed to pass the measure. This was the first of two votes the Congress will hold. The next will take place Tuesday. More from the BBC, Ultimas noticias and El Universal.
InSight Crime translated an excellent investigation about the Venezuelan military’s involvement in drug trafficking. “Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms” first appeared in Spanish in El Universal Domingo.
On Monday, Mexico announced it would be firing or demoting 700 state police officers in Michoácan for failing to pass a vetting process. Police forces have been accused of ties to the Knights Templar drug gang. This week Mexican newspaper Milenio published a report which found that in one month, in an “important city in Michoácan,” one state police officer receives over $18,000 from the cartel, while a federal police official receives about $27,000 and an official from the Attorney General’s Office receives almost $19,000.
Three unidentified armed persons broke into the office of a Salvadoran non-profit agency whose mission is to track down children disappeared during the country’s civil war. They tied up the guard, stole several computers and set fire the organization’s archives. The country’s human rights prosecutor, David Morales, suggested the attack was linked to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal to a law granting amnesty for human right violations committed during the war. The group had apparently backed up all files that had been destroyed. More from the Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Office on Latin America.
Writing for InSight Crime, Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva examined impunity for high-level corruption within El Salvador’s Civil National Police.
French police arrived in Brazil this week to train Rio de Janeiro’s military police in how to handle large-scale protests without using excessive force.
The Rio State Security Secretariat suspended the creation of new Pacifying Police Units, after reports of inappropriate use of force, forced disappearance and torture. Rio On Watch has an update on the city’s plans to target increased violence.
Friday, October 25, 2013
This post was written by Sarah Kinosian and CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States Policy
On Thursday, the United States Congress held a hearing, “Creating Peace and Finding Justice in Colombia.” It was held before the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. WOLA’s Adam Isacson testified, as did Ginny Bouvier from USIP and Max Shoening from Human Rights Watch, among others. The topics discussed included the peace process, the role of the United States should a peace agreement be reached, and labor rights and land rights. See the commision’s website and Colombia Reports for more information.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched an official investigation looking into the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, including any accounts of Mexican cooperation in the U.S. spying programs. The decision comes after this week’s revelation that the NSA hacked former President Felipe Calderon’s public email account. While Mexico’s response to disclosures of U.S. spying has been more measured than that of other targeted governments, the country’s foreign minister said he would be seeking an explanation from the U.S. ambassador. More from The Christian Science Monitor, Latin Americanist blog, BBC Mundo, Der Speigel, CNN, Los Angeles Times, and Excelsior.
Brazil and Germany teamed up this week to cosponsor a U.N. resolution on internet privacy. Although the draft resolution did not directly mention the recent disclosures of the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying practices, it most certainly was the prompt.
President Obama postponed his meeting with President Mujica due to the government shutdown. The meeting is planned to take place next year.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have increased military jurisdiction over human rights crimes. As of right now, all human rights cases involving members of the military are to be tried in civilian court. Members of the U.S. Congress had withheld at least $10 million in military aid over human rights concerns implicit in the measure.
As the Associated Press noted, Defense Minister Juan Pinzon called the ruling “a blow to the morale of the military forces that without doubt will affect Colombians’ security.” The measure was seen as President Santos’ concession to the armed forces for their backing in peace negotiations with the FARC. As La Silla Vacia noted, the law would have acted as a “protective shield that would give them legal guarantees.” The decision to throw out the “fuero militar” could have a negative impact on the armed forces support for the peace process. More from the Pan-American Post, Amnesty International, Semana, and El Espectador. For more context on the law in English, see last week’s AP article profiling the measure.
Amnesty International reported right-wing paramilitary group Los Rastrojos has threatened “social cleansing” of indigenous leaders and groups involved in protests throughout the country.The threats come amid reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.
A court ruling in Guatemala this week could open the door for amnesty for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the First Chamber of Appeals to rule on whether a 1986 amnesty law applies to Rios Montt, despite several prior rulings that it did not, given the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. If the chamber finds the law applies, his case will be thrown out. Judge Jorge Mario Valenzuela, president of the chamber, says they will announce their decision today or tomorrow. As Central American Politics blog noted, “The Constitutional Court seems intent on ensuring that Rios Montt and other human rights violators are never held accountable.” More from the Pan-American Post.
Human rights organization FIDH released a report (PDF) on the Rios Montt trial, asking for members of the European Union (EU) not to ratify the EU-Central America Association Agreement in protest of the annulment of Rios Montt’s genocide conviction.
A report published by the National Economic Research Center (CIEN) found the rate of murders linked to firearms has doubled over the past ten years to 82 percent. This is nearly twice the global average of 42 percent and over Central America’s average of 70 percent. More from InSight Crime.
There is one month before presidential elections take place in Honduras on November 24 and the race is in a dead heat between Xiomara Castro for the center-left LIBRE party and Juan Orlando Hernández for the ruling National Party. Honduras Culture and Politics blog has a helpful overview and breakdown of polling numbers, while Hermano Juancito published two informative posts ahead of elections -- one outlining the political landscape and the other looking at corruption, violence and mudsling ahead of elections. More from Just the Facts, Reuters and World Politics Review.
The United Nations Human Right Council began its review of human rights in Mexico on Wednesday in Geneva. Members called on Mexico to investigate several of the severe citizen security issues going on in the country, such as deadly attacks on journalists, violence against women, and forced disappearances by security forces. Swiss representative Michael Meier said, "Despite Mexico's will to improve the training of relevant authorities, the number of officials suspected of being involved in enforced disappearances is very alarming." Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio insisted progress had been made and cited the creation of a new victims law and an alleged drop in complaints filed against the military. More from Animal Politico, El Universal and Reuters.
This week the Cuban government announced it would be doing away with its dual currency system. The measure was put in place in 1994 and has been unpopular with the island's residents. No timetable has been given for when the new single currency system will go into effect. The Economist had an overview of the current system and laid out some challenges that lie ahead of the changeover.
Al Jazeera reported on the creation of a “Special Economic Zone” on the island where, “One-hundred percent foreign ownership will be allowed for firms operating in the zone, and contracts will be extended to 50 years, up from the current 25.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, once head of the coca growers union, defended eradication efforts in the northern region of Apolo, citing strong evidence of narcotrafficking in the area. The statement comes after coca growers attacked security forces involved in an eradication operation, killing four and taking six hostage, all of whom were later released. Morales pointed to the capture of four Peruvians in the area as evidence that foreigners were trafficking in the region. President Morales has called for an increased military presence on the border to stem the illegal flow of coca, EFE reported.
IDL Reporteros published an interesting piece on the growing use of small planes to transport cocaine out of the remote Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRA) region, where more coca is grown than anywhere else in the world. These “narcoflights” land on some 40 clandestine runways that are scattered throughout the harsh geography of the region.
The Secretary of Uruguay’s National Board of Drugs Julio Calzada traveled to the U.S. this week to look at the legal cannabis market and regulation in Colorado. Calzada told the Associated Press, “We see the hypocrisy of U.S. politics towards Latin America. We have thousands of deaths that are the simple result of (drug) prohibition.” On the visit the delegation toured growhouses with digital marking systems and learned about video monitoring systems. This trip comes as the drug regulation body announced earlier this week that the initial regulated pricing of marijuana cigarettes would be around $1 a gram. More from the Pan-American Post about legal debates surrounding the law.
President Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of a vice-ministry for the “Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People.” The new cabinet position will be charged with overseeing the social missions, known as “Bolivarian Missions,” that were a hallmark of former President Hugo Chávez’s presidency. More from BBC Mundo.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
Between now and February 2014, El Salvador, Honduras and Chile will hold presidential, elections. Below, we take a look at some of the top security issues each country faces and what the front-runner candidates are saying about them.
El Salvador saw an initial 45% drop in its murder rate in the months following the implementation of a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs. Current FMLN President Mauricio Funes purportedly facilitated the truce, yet his administration refuses to acknowledge its involvement in the agreement.
This is largely due to the fact that most Salvadorans see the truce as beneficial to these criminal groups, as Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez noted in The New York Times. While the murder rate has gone down, other criminal activities have continued, primarily drug trafficking and extortions. These security problems, along with a recent rise in murders and isolated incidents of gang violence, have led to increased scrutiny on the sustainability of the truce.
The United States government has neither publicly supported nor condemned the truce, yet there are indications the State Department does not approve of the process. As Miriam Wells of InSight Crime noted, the designation of MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization coupled with the denial of visas to Salvadoran government officials who planned to come to DC to request funding for the gang truce, “hardly amount to an endorsement.”
Salvadorans will vote for their next president on February 2, 2014. The three frontrunners are:
Current Vice-President from the ruling leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, Salvador Sanchez Ceren.
Norman Quijano from the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party and current mayor of the country’s capital, San Salvador.
Former President Antonio “Tony” Saca, who was in office from 2004-2009. This time around Saca is running with the conservative Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA) party. During his presidency he was affiliated with the ARENA party, however he was kicked out in 2009 for attempting to woo ARENA politicians to the GANA party while still a member of ARENA.
Sanchez Ceren: In line with the current FMLN administration, he supports the truce as an “opportunity for dialogue … we have learned that the main problems are resolved through the path of dialogue and understanding.” Sanchez Ceren has placed emphasis on the implementation of social programs to stem criminal activity, which he plans to finance through Petrocaribe, an oil alliance of several Central American and Caribbean with Venezuela that allows them to buy oil with low-interest payments. El Salvador joined the bloc last year.
Quijano is vehemently opposed to the truce, noting it is “an opportunity for the gangs to implement a criminal tax such as extortion” and that “the authority should always be on the side of the people, never on the side of the criminals.” Quijano advocates prison reform as an instrumental part of promoting long-term security. Under his plan, prisoners would be classified by seriousness of offenses and social programs would be implemented to focus on reintegration into society. Quijano also noted the United States will be an important ally in the fight against drug trafficking.
Tony Saca is largely opposed to the truce, blaming it as a tool to “deceive” the Salvadoran people so criminal organizations can take territory. Saca’s security plan focuses on employment and continued law enforcement measures to curb crime. He stated it is necessary “to multiply employment so that we have the necessary funds to augment the number of police in our territory.”
Another interesting element of this election is the reach of these campaigns into the United States. Recent legislation has given citizens abroad the right to vote. All three candidates have made campaign trips to the United States to convince the 1.8 million Salvadorans living in the country that their policies will move El Salvador forward.
Honduras’ security situation has been a central issue on the campaign trail. The country has the highest homicide rate in the world, with an average of 20 murders a day. In response, the government has been increasingly militarizing its fight against the soaring crime and violence. Most recently, 1,000 members of a new military policing unit were deployed throughout Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the most violent cities in the country, in an effort to curb violence ahead of the presidential election.
This militarization of law enforcement has sparked concern from members of the U.S. Congress. Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Michael Honda (D-CA) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, citing their “great concern” over the “promotion of increasing militarization of the police.” The AFP later quoted a State Department official who echoed the representatives’ concerns and said, “In our view, the creation of a military police force distracts attention from civilian police reform efforts and strains limited resources."
Some believe that the United States is not doing enough to counter human rights abuses ahead of elections. In the Miami Herald, Professor and expert Dana Frank wrote, “The United States, meanwhile, is pouring funds into both Honduran security forces, countenancing a militarization of the Honduran police that has long been illegal here at home, while dismissing Congressional pushback about human rights issues in Honduras.”
The congressmen’s letter also urged the State Department to monitor the election process, and to “speak forcefully against” attacks targeting the opposition and human rights defenders. Since June 2012, at least sixteen members of the opposition LIBRE party have been killed -- Rights Action has a list of LIBRE candidates and activists killed since May 2012. The first paragraph of the letter read:
We are writing to express our concern about U.S. policy and the approaching November 24 elections in Honduras. The evidence so far indicates that the freedom and fairness of this election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election.
The presidential election will be held on November 24, 2013. There are two frontrunners in the race that are proposing radically different approaches to the fight against the crime and transnational drug trafficking that plagues the Central American nation.
Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed leader Manuel Zelaya and candidate of the center-left LIBRE party.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate from the highly conservative ruling National Party and current head of the country’s congress.
Juan Orlando Hernandez is advocating an expansion of military policing, pledging to put a “soldier on every corner.” He was the main architect of the new Military Police of Public Order unit. Some key remarks made while on the trail included:
“Peace in needed, because in these times, humble people must resort to asking permission from criminals to enter into their own homes.”
“I will not rest until we have the Military Police in every neighborhood.”
“LIBRE and liberals have achieved nothing in the realm of security and now they attack me for calling for the Military Police.”
Sources: 1, 2, 3
In the U.S. Congressional letter mentioned above, the authors expressed concern over Hernandez’s and the National Party’s heavy influence in Honduran politics:
We are particularly alarmed to learn that the ruling party, and its presidential candidate Mr. Juan Orlando Hernandez, now dominates all the key institutions of the government, including the country's electoral authority and the military, which distributes the ballots.
Xiomara Castro is on the other end of the security spectrum. She said the military police “have failed” to ensure security and a change of strategy is needed. Castro has promoted establishing community police forces and said the military should be deployed to prevent drug trafficking at the borders. Below are some of her remarks on the security situation:
“LIBRE proposes a community police, near to the people, so that the police know us, so they know who we are, and celebrate the security of the Honduran people.”
“More than 24,000 people have been assassinated. We are the most violent country in the world and we are not even at war. This can only mean that the current strategy is not the correct one.”
"If we manage to stop drugs coming into our country, it will be much easier to ensure internal security for the people"
Sources: 1, 2, 3
There has been some good coverage recently ahead of elections. The Christian Science Monitor looked at challenges for the LIBRE party, while Reuters provided a solid summary of the political landscape in the country. More from Hermano Juancito, CEPR and Honduras Culture and Politics blog.
While the race has been close between Castro and Hernandez, for some time, Castro was leading in the polls. However, the latest October survey numbers show Hernandez has pulled ahead, 25.7 percent to 22.2 percent. It is important to note that in the same poll, 30.8% of respondents refused to state a preference or said they would not vote for any of the candidates.
Chile is slated for elections on November 17, 2013 in a race between former President Michele Bachelet of the Socialist Party, Evelyn Matthei of the Independent Democratic Union and seven other candidates. The most recent polls indicate that Bachelet will garner 32% of the vote and easily win a second round runoff against Matthei, who is currently polling at 20%. The two candidates’ family narratives reflect the turbulent history of Chile. Matthei is the daughter of a key member of the Pinochet regime and Bachelet is the daughter of a Brigadier General who was tortured under the Pinochet government.
Evelyn Matthei has proposed a security plan that focuses on four main factors: crime prevention, criminal control, rehabilitation and reintegration and the fight against drug trafficking. She also noted that current programs on crime “have gone too far in the protection of criminals” and believes they should receive more jail time.
Michele Bachelet has proposed a plan to reduce crime in the country with an added focus to prevention. She has also fiercely criticized the Piñera administration’s approach toward security, stating, “obviously the plan to ‘Colombianize’ is not appropriate … the option used in other countries to incorporate the Armed Forces in citizen security is not necessary nor valid.” Bachelet is likely referring to security forces’ heavy-handed response to indigenous and student protest movements, including the use of water cannons and tear gas.
Bachelet noted a key part of her citizen security plan is to “make sure that the Public Ministry has the resources and ability to tend to victims, giving both protection and clear information.” Her proposal also includes an expansion of law enforcement with thousands new investigators and police officers throughout the country.
Friday, October 11, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Inter American Court of Human Rights
Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
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