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Thursday, December 12, 2013

U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Colombia on Aerial Fumigation

A matter which has come up with respect to counternarcotics is the FARC's insistence- this is a publice insistence, we don't know what they're saying at the table- but publicly, they're insisting on the elimination of the aerial eradication program, which in our view would be a great mistake.

This is from the testimony yesterday of U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, at his nomination hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, starting at about 2:27:00 in the video.

We’ve discussed elsewhere recently why it makes sense to abandon the 20-year-old “aerial eradication” program, to which the U.S. government still devotes over US$40 million each year to spray herbicides from aircraft over Colombia’s coca-growing areas.

What’s interesting about what Kevin Whitaker said yesterday is what it portends. The fumigation program threatens to be the first issue on which the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas clash with official U.S. policy. The two sides in the Havana talks may be closer to each other on the fumigation issue than either is to the United States.

There is some probability that the negotiators will agree to end the aerial herbicide spraying program. The FARC, in a December 3 statement, included “the immediate suspension of aerial spraying with glyphosate” among its ten proposals for drug policy, the topic currently on the negotiators’ agenda.

In its coverage of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s visit to Washington last week, Colombia’s principal newsmagazine, Semana, didn’t seem to think the “banning fumigation” demand would be controversial at the peace talks.

"The guerrillas presented their ten points. Among them stand out some that probably will be agreed without much discussion: crop substitution, non-criminalization of consumers, and suspension of fumigation. [My emphasis.]”

This is the first time I’d heard that ending the fumigation program would be something on which the two sides might quickly agree. I asked a reporter who writes about security for Semana. While that reporter did not write this particular story, the reply I received noted, “Truly, the sensation here after the [World Court] settlement with Ecuador is that something has to change with the fumigations.”

If that’s correct, then the negotiators may be about to do something that the incoming U.S. ambassador views as a “mistake.” Still, if they choose to stop fumigation, the Obama administration will need to be flexible and respect that outcome.

This blog was written by Adam Isacson and first appeared here, on his personal blog

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Colombia's new ambassador to the U.S. on security, the peace process and U.S.-Colombia relations

Over the weekend, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo published an interview with Colombia’s new Ambassador to the United States, Luis Carlos Villegas. Prior to his new post, Ambassador Villegas was a member of the Colombian government’s team carrying out negotiations with the Farc in Havana.

Below are some excerpts from the El Tiempo interview (translated from Spanish), which touch on his views on security, the peace process and Colombia’s relationship with the United States:

On the issue of Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA espionage on Colombian officials:

I think that it should be clear that such close security cooperation between the United States and Colombia should have limits with regards to the depth of that security cooperation, especially with private conversations of public officials or political personalities.

Security actions, such as interceptions, should be part of a common agreement and used for purposes previously agreed upon between countries. They cannot be unilateral actions. That is what I call limits and I think that this has become sufficiently clear in the continuing conversations.

When asked what were his projected priority areas in dealing with the U.S., Villegas gave a lengthy answer about hydrocarbons, science and technology. He then added,

And, as an offshoot of our agenda, Colombia has changed in the area of security, even though we still have some problems. We are different than we were 15 years ago in this respect. And now we give security cooperation to third parties, which before was unthinkable. So, there is a new agenda with [the U.S.]: science, technology, water, environment, and security to third parties.

As Just the Facts has previously noted, the exportation of Colombia's security model is an accelerating trend in the region. Several countries' military and police forces, particularly in Central America, have received training from Colombia's security forces, despite continued concerns about unaddressed human rights abuses committed by the Colombian military. The United States hails this strategy as a cheaper alternative to direct U.S. military involvement. This training is sometimes carried out with U.S. assistance, but there is little transparency with regard to the topics covered in the courses and the forces that are trained with U.S. funding.

Villegas noted that the peace talks would be on the top of the agenda when Colombian President Santos, meets with President Obama on December 3rd in Washington. "All the solidarity that can be generated in the international community is welcome."

According to Villegas, peace in Colombia is peace in the region.

It has to do with money laundering, illicit crop clearing; the struggle against criminal gangs, and peace in Colombia has to do with our international role to be a valid interlocutor of the United States and developed countries in Europe and Asia. We need to solve this conflict by political means. My job is to present the benefits of the peace process, present President Santos' domestic agenda, which is a progressive agenda that attacks the problems the rebels’ have always used in their rhetoric to justify their uprising and that solves this country's greater historical problems related to the countryside.

Look, if we could, as one of the byproducts of the peace process, make it so the FARC have an active role in coca eradication and crop substitution, this alone would justify the peace process.

To the extent that Colombia can eradicate this raw material, which is the coca plant, it would notably advance the elimination of violence.

On the fragility of the peace process and what can be done to maintain it:

This process has a six-point agenda: the first two are things that the state has to do and they are already agreed upon. The following four are things that the FARC have to do, and they decide the speed and what conditions... What will they do about narcotrafficking? What will they do with the victims? What will they do with their weapons? What will they do about their fighters and reintegration?

From here on out, the responsibility on the FARC is immense. The pace of negotiations is going to depend on the FARC because the questions are already drawn up.

On if the FARC are divided:

No. In Havana what appears is a cohesive organization. Remember that the unilateral ceasefire last year was almost fully adhered to.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Week in Review

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.


  • Argentina’s government has uncovered secret documents from the military dictatorship era (1976-1983) that shed light on human rights abuses. The documents, found in the basement of the Air Force headquarters, contain a blacklist of public figures, such as famed folk singer Mercedes Sosa, as well as secret transcripts of the junta meetings. The Open Society Foundations Justice Initiative published an interesting piece exploring the potential implications of the find.
  • Mexico

  • The Mexican government deployed the Army, Navy and Federal Police to replace local police in the port and city of Lázaro Cárdenas, in the embattled western state of Michoacán. The strategic port, which has become a hub for commerce as well as the cartels, is a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel. The group reportedly taxes products passing through and extorts businesses operating in and around it, in addition to being involved in several other lucrative activities, such as smuggling in precursor chemicals to process methamphetamines.

    Citizen vigilante “self-defense” forces have pulled back in response to the military’s deployment. Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in Animal Politico, “This seems to be a largely reactive measure, prompted more by the actions of criminals that by a well planned law enforcement strategy. It may have some immediate positive effects, but how will these be maintained in the long term?” More from Bloggings by Boz and the Los Angeles Times.

  • The U.S. Department of State announced a $5 million reward “for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Rafael Caro-Quintero, who kidnapped, tortured and murdered U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena in 1985.” Caro-Quintero was imprisoned in Mexico until earlier this year, when he was released by an appeals court. This week, Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned this appeal ruling and the Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying it was “the correct decision.”
  • VICE published an interesting article that looks at the way cartel members have been using social media to “run positive PR campaigns, post selfies with their pistols, and hunt down targets by tracking their movements on social media.” And if you were wondering, yes, cartel members post pouty “duckface” pictures to Facebook.
  • Honduras

  • The police chief of Honduras, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, sat down with the Associated Press for an extensive interview that touched on allegations of abuse from the National Police. In response to accusations against his force he stated, “I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human.” He also noted the United States was his “best ally and support” in the fight against drug traffickers in the violent country. This is contradictory to claims made by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield who said, “in accordance with its obligations under the Leahy Law, will not work with the Director General of the National Police. We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • El Faro reported the ruling party candidate in Honduras’ upcoming presidential elections, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has called for the acquisition of war planes in response to El Salvador’s recent deal to buy 12 A-37 military planes from Chile. Hernandez stated the deal was “breaking the equilibrium” of power in the region, especially as El Salvador is laying claim to Isla Conejo, a small island controlled by Honduras in the Gulf of Fonseca.
  • A new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at the economic and social state of Honduras since 2006. The report concluded “economic inequality in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2010, while poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased and underemployment has risen sharply.”
  • Brazil

  • Brazilian authorities found themselves in an “uncomfortable position” after Folha de São Paulo reported the government had spied on foreign diplomats, tracking their movements and monitoring a property leased by the United States Embassy in Brasília. However, as Americas Quarterly noted, the espionage activities “paled in comparison” to the United States’ National Security Administration’s massive data collection. Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet also stressed the legality of the program, saying it was “in absolute compliance” with national laws, and that the government will pursue prosecution of the leaker of this classified information.
  • O Globo published the first in a series of articles that explore civilians killed by police forces. According to the report, five people are killed daily in Brazil by a member of the police force, while in the United States, that number is just over one person a day. This comes weeks after multiple police officers were arrested for the murder of Rio bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, who was tortured and killed during the police pacification of the Rocinha slum.
  • Colombia

  • There was major progress in the talks between the FARC rebel group and Colombian government, with the two sides announcing an agreement on political participation. The agreement outlines a commitment to opening the political process to the rebel group and contains guarantees to ensure the safety of leaders of new political movements. The joint statement from the FARC and Colombian government stated, “We have agreed upon an integral system of security for political exercise.” Looking ahead to the next round of talks, Reuters published a good overview on the upcoming challenges for negotiators in reaching a final settlement. More from USIP’s Colombia expert Ginny Bouvier, the Washington Post, BBC, Colombia Reports, La Silla Vacía, and Semana.
  • Twelve United States Congressmen wrote a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos expressing serious concern for the security situation of Afro-Colombian communities involved in the land restitution process. More from Colombia Reports.
  • Nicaragua

  • Nicaragua’s ruling party has proposed a set of changes to the Constitution, including the abolition of term limits, which would allow President Daniel Ortega to seek a third consecutive term. Nicaragua Dispatch had a great overview of the possible changes, which include allowing current members of the police and military to hold office. The piece noted that the FSLN’s “supermajority status in the National Assembly absolves them from the need for serious consultation or compromise.” More from the Economist and the Guardian.
  • Venezuela

    A few interesting things happened in Venezuela this week:

    • Maduro declared an “early Christmas” this year in order to boost the spirits of the Venezuelan people. The early holiday season was implemented to boost morale in the country, and government workers will be receiving two-thirds of their holiday bonuses in November.
    • The President also announced a new holiday in memory of former President Hugo Chávez. The holiday will be held on December 8, the same day as important mayoral elections across the country.
    • The Associated Press reported that during a televised speech, Maduro called for the installation of anti-aircraft missiles in the slums of Caracas. The move is to repel “imperialist” attacks, while “arming civilians and putting state-of-the-art artillery in densely-populated neighborhoods is an integral part of an ongoing defense buildup.”
    • Inflation has reached above 50 percent, the highest since 1999 when Chávez took power. Here is a picture via Twitter of Venezuelan inflation from 1973-2013. More from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
    • Despite major diplomatic differences, Venezuela and the United States are participating in the CRUZEX joint air exercises being held in Brazil and run until November 15.

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    The Week in Review

    This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch

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

    U.S. Policy


  • On Wednesday, the House Appropriations committee did a full mark-up of the House’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. The committee approved a $5.8 billion cut to foreign aid, including a 10 percent cut to the State Department overall. The committee also voted to lift human rights conditions on aid to many Latin American countries. According to The Hill, "During debate, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) said they were outraged by the removal of restrictions on aid to central and South American countries over human rights violations." Read a summary of the Senate’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill highlighting the biggest differences with the House version here.
  • Venezuela

  • On Friday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement ending conversations to restore diplomatic ties with the United States. The statement came following the State Department's backing of critical remarks made by President Obama’s United Nations ambassador nominee, Samantha Power. In Thursday’s press briefing, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "We are open to having a positive relationship with Venezuela moving forward. That’s what our focus is on, and we still are leaving the door open for that."
  • Mexico

  • Despite Pena Nieto’s plans to scale back cooperation with United States intelligence and law enforcement in its fight against drug cartels, outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met on the border and announced plans for a bi-national security communications network and corresponding patrols between U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican Federal Police, the Washington Post reported.
  • Honduras

  • The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the state of human rights in Honduras. The witnesses, as well as those on the commission, lamented the United States government’s continued funding of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo’s administration, under which citizens have experienced grave human rights abuses at the hands of organized crime, the police and the military. At the close of the hearing, the commission’s co-chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) noted that the United States needs to "make it clear to the Honduran government that enough is enough" on human rights abuses. The hearing can be watched here.

    The list of witnesses: Senator Timothy M. Kaine, Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group, Dr. Dana Frank, Professor of History, University of California Santa Cruz, Tirza Flores Lanza, Lawyer, Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals for San Pedro Sula and Viviana Giacaman, Director for Latin America Programs, Freedom House.

  • Colombia

  • Carlos Urrutria, Colombia’s ambassador in Washington, resigned after being implicated in the theft of 100,000 acres of land throughout central Colombia. According to El Tiempo, President Juan Manuel Santos accepted Urrutria’s resignation on Tuesday, following the accusations made by the Polo Democratico party.
  • Brazil

  • Last weekend, United States Vice President Joe Biden called Brazilian President Roussef in an effort to ease tensions and provide explanations about surveillance practices in Brazil. According to the New York Times, Biden called to "express his regret over the negative repercussions caused by the disclosures" and to extend an invitation to Brazil to send a delegation to Washington to receive "technical and political details" about the case.
  • The New Yorker found the N.S.A. holds a strong interest in Brazil because "That’s where the transatlantic cables come ashore." Last week at the Aspen Institute, N.S.A. Director General Keith Alexander emphasized that rather than collecting e-mails and phone numbers, the agency is interested in collecting "metadata around the world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit." Brazil’s geography, which bulges out eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, makes Brazil one of the most important telecommunication hubs in the world.
  • Brazil

  • On his first international trip as pontiff, Pope Francis arrived back to his home continent on Monday, first visiting Brazil, which has faced more than a month of often violent protests against government corruption and public spending priorities. Foreign Policy reported on the approximate costs of the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day, including the mobilization of 14,000 troops and more than 7,000 police, bringing security costs to over $52 million dollars. Estimates for the total costs of the trip and the weeklong festival range from $145 million to $159 million. More from Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, and the Associated Press.
  • In a speech given while inaugurating a drug rehabilitation clinic in a favela (Brazilian slum) on Wednesday, Pope Francis assailed narcotics trafficking and criticized calls to legalize drugs in Latin America. "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug laws," Francis said. "Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people." More from Folha de Sao Paulo and the Pan-American Post.
  • According to the New York Times, the Pope’s visit has been marred by "missteps" that characterize the challenging day-to-day life of Rio residents. To name a few, the Pope’s motorcade got stuck on a crowded thoroughfare, the subway system carrying thousands gathering for a conference of Catholic youth broke down, and violence, possibly incited by undercover intelligence agents, continues to erupt in protests that have ended in water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. More from BBC News.
  • On Thursday, Pope Francis delivered some his most politically provocative remarks since his papacy began this year, criticizing the "culture of selfishness and individualism," urging youth to fight against corruption, and praising the Brazilian government’s antipoverty programs. According to the New York Times, although he never directly mentioned the anti-establishment protests, Francis did critique Rio’s pacification project in the city’s slums. "No amount of pacification will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," the pope said in Varginha.
  • Mexico

  • On Tuesday, gang gunman believed to be working for the Knights Templar cartel staged a series of attacks on the federal police, leaving 20 assailants and four federal police dead. This outbreak of violence in Michoacán follows the recent arrest of the Zeta gang leader Miguel Angel Treviño. Although President Peña Nieto sent thousands of troops into the state two months ago, as the AP noted, "The cartel’s deep local roots and proven capacity for violence could make Michoacan the graveyard of Peña Nieto’s pledge to reduce drug violence."
  • An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times said President Peña Nieto’s approach to the drug war is starting to look a lot like the much-criticized strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. As an example, the piece looked at the arrest of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, which "had all the familiar hallmarks: Treviño Morales' moves were tracked in real time by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone, while American intelligence monitored his communications and shared what was learned with Mexican authorities."
  • Writing for Forbes, Nathaniel Parish Flannery examined the history of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatistas, Mexico’s masked guerrilla group in the Chiapas state. According to the article, Chiapas has not fared well in modern Mexico. "Of all of the states the most agricultural, least electrified, least schooled, least literate, & poorest state has been Chiapas." The piece also provides an overview of different analysis of the movement.
  • Animal Politico detailed the top 45 criminals that the Mexican government has set as priority targets in its security strategy. The list includes nearly all of the leaders of the country’s main drug cartels.
  • Cuba

  • Upon reflecting on Raul Castro’s lengthy public lecture criticizing Cubans’ culture and conduct, islanders agreed that moral decay is prevalent in today’s Cuban society. However, Cubans point to an unworkable economic system and the crumbling of Cuba’s infrastructure and social services as the roots of the uncouth behavior Castro bemoaned in his speech. The article does note, however, that despite the grievances, "Havana has avoided the rampant crime and drug violence that plague many Latin American — and American — cities." More from the New York Times.
  • Foreign Relations published an article, "Cuba after Communism," detailing economic reforms that are transforming an island that has been clinging to Communism for the past fifty years. Authors Julia E. Swieg and Michael J. Bustamante argue that because of these changes, "Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere."
  • Honduras

  • According to the Washington Post, the 18th Street gang and rival gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have taken more steps toward what their Organization of the Americas backers are calling "a peace process," carefully avoiding the term "gang truce." While bringing the region’s two most notorious transnational gangs together in El Salvador has produced a 50 percent decline in homicides, translating the model to Honduras, where there’s a weaker government, worse violence, and a more lucrative drug trade will be a challenge.
  • Panama

  • The Miami Herald reported on South Korea’s announcement of its intention to explore a free trade agreement with Panama just days before Panama’s seizure of a North Korean freighter carrying undeclared military cargo. The article highlights the differences between Panama’s relations with the two Koreas.
  • El Salvador

  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics blog both covered the poll numbers for next year’s election in El Salvador. The race is tight and breaks down three ways between the FMLN’s candidate, Salvador Ceren, ARENA’s Norman Quijano, and former President Tony Saca.
  • Central American Politics blog also has an overview and round-up of news stories about the gang truce that were published this week.
  • Colombia

  • On Monday, Colombia’s FARC rebels offered armed support to a rural protest in Catatumbo, a gesture that could increase friction as peace talks between FARC and the government continue in Havana. The Colombian government responded to a statement FARC released in support of mobilization of the farmers with a warning that guerrilla infiltration in Catatumbo will permanently endanger the inhabitants of the region.
  • On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a historic report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years. The five-year investigation presented many alarming findings, including the revelation that 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013, 80 percent, or 176,000, of which were civilians. See Reuters and Thursday’s Just the Facts post for overviews in English and El Espectador and Verdad Abierta for good Spanish coverage.
  • On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met on the border, where they agreed to improve relations, which became strained when President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Henrique Capriles in May. President Maduros also expressed full support for Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC.
  • "Megateo," the boss of a dissident faction of the officially demobilized EPL that has been heavily involved in narcotrafficking in northeast Colombia, expressed interest in joining the peace talks. "I wish that in these accords the ELN [Colombia’s second largest rebel group], and EPL were [involved] to jointly come up with proposals," stated the EPL leader in an interview published in Semana. Megateo also admitted to involvement in the drug trade, kidnapping, and extortion, revealing that he gets $200 per kilogram of cocaine in his domain. He claimed the money from his illicit activities is a "way to finance the war" against the state.
  • President Santos said he would not let the FARC get any media benefit from the capture of Kevin Scott Sutay, an American veteran who was trekking alone through eastern Colombia’s dangerous jungle when he was kidnapped. As the Daily Beast noted, "Sutay's kidnapping has heightened tensions between the rebels and the government as the two sides navigate delicate peace talks." More from Reuters.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional court held a hearing on the recently passed Legal Framework for Peace bill. The legislation permits demobilized guerrilla fighters to hold elected office, and grants Congress the power to prioritize investigating certain crimes over others. Proponents of the bill say it will allow the justice system to target systematic human rights abuses, while critics, which include former President Álvaro Uribe, the UN and various human rights groups, say it will lead to impunity for human rights abuses. As Reuters noted, supporters like President Juan Manuel Santos say the measure is necessary for a peace agreement. The Pan-American Post and Reuters provided helpful overviews of the bill in English and El Espectador has an overview of arguments presented at the hearing. The court has until August 20 to rule on the bill.
  • Friday, June 21, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    U.S. Policy

  • Twenty-one U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry requesting a detailed report to Congress on human rights abuses committed by security forces in Honduras. The letter stated the senators had “serious questions regarding the State Department’s certification” that Honduras met the human rights conditions necessary to guarantee U.S. aid for FY 2012.
  • On Monday, the State Department issued a travel warning for Honduras as "crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and the Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to address these issues."
  • On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on security cooperation with Mexico, looking at the Mérida Initiative, the U.S.' central security package to Mexico.The full testimonies and a live webcast can be found on the committee's website.
  • On Wednesday, the House's Subcommittee on Foreign Relations held a hearing examining the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the U.S.' main aid packages to Central America and the Caribbean.See the House committee's website for full testimonies of all witnesses and a webcast.
  • John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, met with top commanders from Peru and Colombia's armed forces in Lima on Wednesday. The AFP reported the commanders discussed narcotrafficking, terrorism and illegal mining. The meeting comes just after last week's announcement that the United States would be giving Peru an extra $20 million for counternarcotics operations, bringing total U.S. investment in Peru's counterdrug initiatives for the year to $60 million, a marked increase from recent years.
  • Cuba and the U.S. announced they will be resuming discussions on migration in Washington D.C. on July 17th. The announcement came as the two countries concluded talks about resuming direct mail service for the first time in fifty years.
  • The U.S. announced it has approved $91.2 million in funding as part of the bilateral Partnership for Growth agreement the U.S. signed with El Salvador in 2011. The money will go towards improving the Salvadoran justice system, improving education, and a crime prevention program called SolucionES. None of the funding will go towards supporting initiatives linked to the country's gang truce however, as the U.S. has reiterated that it will not actively support the truce. InSight Crime raised the question of whether this undermined the agreement, while Central America Politics blog looked at other U.S. support for El Salvador and concluded, "it just looks like the US is going about its business as if there were no gang truce."
  • The United States Southern Command announced this week that is has deployed a Navy Aircraft squadron that "will be operating out of El Salvador flying detection and monitoring missions along with aircraft and surface units from partner nations, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection," as part of "Operation Martillo," the United States' surge counternarcotics operation off of Central America.
  • Brazil

  • The story that has dominated the region this week were the protests in Brazil. What initially started as a protest in response to a 20-cent increase in bus fares has snowballed into a nation-wide movement that culminated with over one million Brazilians taking to the streets in at least 80 cities Thursday. There were some violent clashes between citizens demanding better services and government accountability and police dispensing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, and so far one protestor has died.

    The movement is apolitical and has no set list of demands. Observers and even the protestors themselves seem unclear about what is exactly happening on a larger scale. As Gabriel Elizondo notes on Aljazeera, "I would be lying if I said I know exactly what is happening here right now. It's complicated. Brazil isn't for beginners, and neither is this current wave of protests."

    Reuters concluded that the protest movements were more "Occupy Wall Street" than "Arab Spring" in terms of motives. Several observers have drawn parallels to the on-going protests in Turkey, such as the key role of social media and the young, educated and middle-class profile of the protestors. However there are significant differences- the main one being the Brazilian government's more conciliatory approach. So far there has been little word from President Rousseff, however she did cancel her trip to Japan to hold an emergency cabinet meeting this morning. The Pan-American Post has offered good coverage this week. See here for a list of links to coverage on Just the Facts.

  • Dominican Republic

  • Since this weekend, the government of the Dominican Republic has deployed about 3,000 troops to the country's capital, Santo Domingo. While the police said there was an immediate drop in crime, human rights groups and some government officials, like the city's district attorney, have voiced concern over human rights abuses. However, the Dominican Republic's police force is notorious for corruption and extrajudicial killings. As the Miami Herald noted, police killed 4,069 people between 1997 and mid-2012. The government justified the move by saying military deployments had worked in other countries like Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guatemala and Ecuador. The government plans to increase the number of troops patrolling the streets to 5,000.
  • El Salvador

  • InSight Crime has a four-part investigation on the truce between El Salvador’s two largest gangs – the MS- 13 and the Barrio 18. One of the pieces examines the positives and negatives of the truce while another features an interview with Barrio 18’s leader who said the gang does not “have political aspirations. We only aspire to have a dignified life.” The investigation also looks at whether the U.S. Treasury’s decision to designate the MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization was founded.
  • Mexico

  • Mexico is offering $500 million dollars to finance infrastructure projects in Central America. The proposal was announced at a meeting of foreign ministers of Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Central America.
  • Univision has a geographical breakdown of disappearances in Mexico. Unsurprisingly, most are located in areas with high levels of violence and a strong organized crime presence. More from InSight Crime.
  • Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica is experiencing a rise in drug trafficking and has become an important transshipment hub, according to a BBC Mundo profile of examined crime in the country. The article sheds further light on Costa Rica’s involvement in global drug trade as previous reports of Mexican and Colombian cartel activity have indicated. The country’s cocaine exports have been reported to reach 39 different locations across the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa.
  • Colombia

  • On Monday, Colombia’s congress passed a law that will expand the jurisdiction of the country’s military courts, allowing them to try military members for human rights abuses. The law is a huge setback for human rights, as noted by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the United Nations and countless civil society groups. While the law could have several implications for human rights justice, HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco described the central problem: “The law could result in the transfer of cold-blooded killings by the military known as ‘false positives’ from civilian authorities to the military justice system, where there is virtually no chance for accountability.” See a previous Just the Facts post for more on the bill.
  • Almost 40,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia in the past 40 years, according to a new report published Thursday by the country's Centro de Memoria Historica. Since 1970 the FARC have been responsible for more kidnappings than any of the country's other illegal armed groups. Colombia Reports highlights the report's graphs and charts.
  • The Thomas Reuters Foundation published a special report on the link between land and peace in Colombia. Journalist Anastasia Moloney examines the security situation in the Cauca department, a long-time FARC stronghold and main drug trafficking corridor that has been on the frontline of the country's conflict for 50 years. Moloney asserts that "As the Colombian government and FARC hold ongoing peace talks in Havana to end Latin America's longest-running insurgency, it will be in rebel fiefdoms like Cauca where peace will be hardest to build and hardest won."
  • Peru

  • A Peruvian court has suspend a military draft that was set to go into effect this week. The court ruled that the draft was discriminatory against poor and uneducated Peruvians as it included exceptions for those in university or for those who pay a fine. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has said the country has no money to pay for a salary for military service.
  • Ecuador

  • Ecuador passed a controversial Communications Law this week that critics say will restrict freedom of the press and proponents charge will make the country's media more pluralist. According to Reuters, the law will redistribute broadcast frequencies evenly between state media, private broadcasters and indigenous groups. It will also create a watchdog group that can sanction and fine outlets for reporting content "that is critical of government officials and for content that they fail to report that the government believes should be reported." On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State denounced the law, regarding it as a blow to freedom of the press. Analyst James Bosworth contends, "Correa has spent the last several years at war with Ecuador's media and this is a law that will strengthen the president and help silence his opponents."
  • Venezuela

  • Venezuela is implementing new regulations and investing millions of dollars into several jails in an attempt to reform its notoriously inhumane and violent prison system. Prisoners will now receive job training, participate in monitored group activities, wear uniforms, and will be granted two official visits per month as well as one phone call per week. The Venezuelan government has pledged a little bit more than $30 million to repair the Uribana jail and 10 other jails.
  • A recent anti-corruption campaign in Venezuela has resulted in the arrest of a top official from the country’s National Integrated Service of Tax Administration. In previous weeks, Maduro’s government has declared corruption is one of Venezuela's biggest problems. The arrest, along with numerous others made last week, gives credence to Maduro's pledge to target corrupt officials, marked by last week's announcement that the government will create a new anti-corruption unit.
  • Friday, June 14, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    US Policy

  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visited the White House Tuesday to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as part of his three-day trip to the United States. The two presidents agreed to deepen cooperation on trade and counterdrug strategies. During a joint press conference following their meeting President Humala said to President Obama, “I am convinced that under your administration we will substantively and qualitatively fight against the scourge of drugs.”
  • New York Times reported on U.S. border agents excessive use of force. The article notes that of 15 people killed by Border Patrol since 2010, 6 were shot in Mexico, mostly for throwing rocks. According to the Times, "In a statement, the Mexican Embassy in Washington criticized the shootings as “disproportionate deadly force,” saying, “In recent years, the results of investigations have unfortunately not even resulted in the prosecution of the agents” who have engaged in fatal shootings “or even fired into Mexican territory." WOLA has an infographic set of slides regarding migration and border security.
  • Voz de America reported that a Venezuelan official in Washington confirmed she would meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs next week to discuss re-establishing bilateral relations. The State Department has yet to confirm the statement.
  • United States Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has been accused of blocking an investigation into a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department in Honduras that resulted in the deaths of four Hondurans. Foreign Policy's The Cable reported Brownfield denied the charges and said the investigation was delayed because it was unclear if the case fell under the purview of the DEA or the Department of State. According to Brownfield, "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
  • Colombia

  • The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas started a tenth round of peace talks this week, after reaching a breakthrough agreement on land reform on May 26. The negotiating teams began to tackle the issue of the rebel group's political participation. Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle emphasized that the discussion would focus on participation of the entire group and not individual leaders, many of whom could face criminal charges.
  • In a press statement Tuesday the FARC proposed the government postpone presidential elections scheduled for November 2014 by a year. The government rejected the proposal with President Santos saying, “There is not the slightest chance that can happen. We have an electoral calendar. It will be followed.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • Juan Forero had two interesting articles in the Washington Post this week. The first looked at harrowing tales of rape and gender-based violence against women committed by paramilitaries in the Putamayo department of southern Colombia. The second article examined security in Medellin, noting that, “In 2007, the city recorded 771 killings for a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. But by 2011, it was back up to 1,649 homicides. The number has since fallen fast once more, but gang expert Luis Fernando Quijano said the sharp rise and fall suggest that gang leaders may be fighting less, not that the state has control.“ The Guardian also had an informative article on security, politics and society in Colombia’s second-largest city.
  • The Colombian Senate passed an amended bill that would transfer many human rights cases against security force members, currently tried in civilian courts, to military tribunals. As Semana magazine noted, even though the legislation was altered to address human rights concerns, the risk of impunity persists. This week the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all denounced the measure. More from Pan-American Post.
  • Guatemala

  • Former Guatemalan dictator Efaín Rios Montt was released from a military hospital and is now under house arrest. Last month Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. However Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the ruling on account of a procedural technicality and ordered the trial to resume to where it was on April 19. The re-trial is reportedly set for April 2014.
  • The Guatemalan government has identified over 54 drug trafficking organizations and 70 gang cells operating in the country. It found some 40 cells of Barrio-18 and 30 cells of Mara Salvatrucha street gangs. These reports give weight to accounts that the violence in Guatemala is being fueled by infighting between small local gangs. These smaller groups have either splintered from larger cartels or are contracted by rivaling Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and the Zetas), noted by InSight Crimes. As Central American Politics blog notes, the country's murder rate has increased this year, after a steady decline from 2009 to 2012. May 2013 was the only month which saw less murders than the previous year: 409 murders compared to 426 in May 2012. Prensa Libre has a map detailing the country's criminal groups' areas of operation.
  • Brazil

  • There were a number of reports this week on Brazil’s ramped up security initiatives ahead of numerous major public events, including the World Cup, a visit from the pope, and the 2016 Olympics. In the Guardian, Jon Watts reported on police operation to regain favelas from the powerful 'Red Command' -- Rio's biggest gang-- ahead of the World Cup. He lays out the government's three-step process for securing a neighborhood. "First, a military police battalion, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), which specialises in urban warfare, increases searches for drugs and guns. Next the area is surrounded and occupied by BOPE forces. Finally when it is secure, BOPE move out and a resident police unit — known as a UPP — is established." The Associated Press also has more on persisting violence in Brazil and security measures as the Confederation's Cup gets underway while Americas Quarterly looks at a new safety system, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that President Rousseff inaugurated yesterday.
  • Violent protests broke out Thursday night in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro over a 20-cent increase in bus fares. As the New York Times' Simon Romero pointed out, they "come at time of high inflation, sluggish growth & sharp fall in currency." The RioGringa blog contended that they “have more to do with the evolution of Brazil's middle class amid a stagnation in quality in life.”
  • A Datafolha survey shows President Rousseff ‘s approval ratings have dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent. As analyst James Bosworth notes, “Brazil's economic growth is too slow, but citizens and government officials appear more concerned about inflation. The poll shows voters, particularly women, concerned about rising prices and believing that inflation will get worse.”
  • World Politics Review had an interesting article on Brazil's drone program, which has received more attention since the government announced it would be using UAVs to bolster security during ceremonies for the Confederation Cup soccer tournament. The article highlights how increasing drone use is affecting its foreign policy, noting that the country has an agreement with Bolivia to fly UAVs in its airspace for counternarcotic operations and it has been quietly deploying drones to the Uruguayan and Paraguayan borders.
  • Bolivia

  • There are clashes going on between the Bolivian government and coca growers in the country. According to Southern Pulse: "On 29 May 2013, the government offered the municipality of Apolo, La Paz almost US$1.5 million for local development in an effort to persuade illegal coca growers to turn to alternative crops. Eradication forces and efforts clashed with coca growers on 26 May 2013, resulting in 19 injured. The government plans to use this strategy of development grants coupled with eradication efforts on other regions, as they expect US$3 million more to be funded to these programs later this year by the European Union (EU)." More from InSight Crime.
  • Venezuela

  • "Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights" blog had a helpful analysis of recent Colombia-Venezuela relations. Analyst David Smilde notes, “Colombia’s meetings with Capriles and announcement that it was seeking to strengthen ties to NATO essentially represented a move towards the U.S. Venezuela turned around and themselves strengthened ties to the US.”
  • Smilde’s other post on the blog counters a recent Washington Post editorial, which criticized Secretary Kerry for meeting with Venezeula’s Foreign Minister while in Guatemala. The op-ed argued the U.S. was in effect, "extending a lifeline to Maduro." While the Post said that the U.S. meeting gave Maduro legitimacy while other countries and UNASUR have questioned his legitimacy, Smilde asserts, "The only government in the hemisphere that has not recognized Maduro’s election is the United States. All other countries including the US’s close ally and Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia recognized the election result quickly. Furthermore, Unasur did not call for an audit of the results, it endorsed an audit of the result after the National Electoral Council announced it."
  • The Venezuelan government says it is targeting corruption. President Maduro announced this week that more public officials had been arrested. Venezuela Analysis blog has a run-down of the arrests. President Maduro also announced he is creating a new anti-corruption unit, which will be under his direct control.
  • Argentina

  • Former Argentine President and current Senator Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for smuggling arms to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995, while both countries were under an arms embargo. As a senator, Menem has diplomatic immunity and will not serve prison time at the moment. However, legislators may vote to strip him of the privilege. He will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
  • Mexico

  • Cherokee Gothic, a blog run by professors at the University of Oklahoma, provides a short run-down and links to four informative articles suggested by Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst.
  • In a post published on InSight Crime, Hope examined the similarities between the current security surge in Michoacan, where the government deployed the military in hopes of regaining control from drug cartels, most notably the Knights Templar, and the one launched in 2006 under Felipe Calderon, which effectively ushered in a more militarized drug war. According to Hope, there are three main similarities: 1. The operation does not have a fixed time limit, 2.There is no transparency regarding the operation, and 3.The participation of the armed forces in public security tasks continues to be unregulated.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported on the increasing emergence of local vigilante groups throughout the country, particularly noting their positive influence in violent parts of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan in western Mexico. Yet despite the vigilante groups' efforts, drug cartels still control the region.
  • The Economist reported on a new police force in Monterrey, called the "Fuerza Civil." The force is made up of people who have never worked in law enforcement that then receive a starting salary of $1,175 a month, double that of a normal police officer. According to the Economist, "The private sector has helped the government, with both money and technical expertise, to recruit and run a new police force."
  • Honduras

  • The Associated Press featured an article on the failures of police reform in Honduras. According to a U.S. document provided to the AP, four out of every ten officers failed a vetting process. By April of this year only seven members from the over- 11,000 member police had been fired, demonstrating how slow the process has been. The report follows last week's announcement that the U.S. had suspended funding for police reform in March.
  • This week the Honduran Congress approved a $4.4 million initiative that will add 1,000 more troops to the country's military to help combat organized crime. The measure highlights concerns that Honduras is increasingly militarizing the fight against organized crime. More from InSight Crime.
  • Resources

  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a helpful chronology of the gang truce in El Salvador from March 2012-March2013
  • WOLA latest "Latin America Today" podcast focused on the 43rd annual Organization of American States meeting and shifts in drug policy in the region. Americas Quarterly also offers an overview of other topics besides drug policy that were discussed at the meeting.
  • WOLA had an event with Ariel Ávila -- Former Coordinator, Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a security think-tank in Bogota. Ávila discussed several current topics in Colombia from the peace talks to organized crime and illicit profits. Adam Isacson has a video of the event (in spanish) on his blog.
  • The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2013 Global Peace Index.Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica were ranked as the most peaceful in Latin America, although Uruguay was the only country to come in above 30 for the global rankings.
  • Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Latin America Security by the Numbers

  • Between the two of them, President Obama and Vice President Biden have visited five countries in the region and met with or attended meetings with leaders from 25 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the month of May. In June Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala will visit the White House.
  • The $1.6 billion "Mérida Initiative" has funded the training of nearly 19,000 Mexican police since it was launched in 2008, a U.S. State Department official testified at a hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, 9,200 soldiers and police from 45 countries were trained in Colombia or by Colombians. In the past five years, 350 Costa Rican officials have been trained. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said Colombia plans to increase training in Central America and Mexico.
  • El Salvador spent 2.8 percent of its GDP on security and justice in 2011, more than any other country in Central America, according to the World Bank. A recent report showed in 2010, El Salvador spent 2.4 percent, Nicaragua and Panama spent 2.3 percent, Honduras spent 2 percent and Guatemala spent 1.7 percent. The same report also showed that El Salvador invested 22 percent of its GDP on public investment, while the regional average was 28 percent of GDP.
  • Mexico's Executive Secretary of the National System for Public Security (SESNSP) reported homicides in Mexico City dropped 70 percent in the first four months of 2013. In December 2012, the government reported 214 homicides (homocidio doloso) and in April reported just 63 homicides. The Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) has called for a government review of statistics.
  • On May 20, 2013 Mexico sent 6,000 military and police into the embattled Michoacán state. Seven years before, in December 2006, then-President Felipe Calderón sent 6,000 troops to Michoacán, which was considered the beginning of a militarized drug war.
  • So far this year, approximately 500 FARC guerrillas have deserted, a 6 percent increase on the same period last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. In all of 2012, 1,000 guerrillas defected, while in 2008 almost 3,500 guerrillas left the group.
  • Colombia's military has over 50 drone aircraft. Those used by the country's air force can fly for more than 10 hours and provide high-definition videos, even at night. Colombia has two programs underway - one led by the military and the other by a university in Bogotá- to build its own drones. The country recently rolled out its first domestically-built drone flight simulator. Colombia is still buying UAVs on the international market, as the military recently deployed nine drones made by U.S. company Aeroviroment for ISR missions and is considering buying nine more.
  • The U.S. military tested two UAVs during an exercise in Honduras, an Aerostat and Puma UAV, and is reportedly operating 10 predator drones in the Caribbean.
  • Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said sequestration spending cuts are letting 38 more metric tons of cocaine into the United States. Michel estimates that cocaine interdictions will drop between 20 and 25 percent this year. Last year, SOUTHCOM seized 152 tons of cocaine.
  • The U.S. Army wants to commission 20 radio novela episodes for its Military Information Support Operations (MISO) team based in Colombia that would be used to counter illegal armed groups recruitment efforts and promote demobilization and disarmament.
  • Friday, November 2, 2012

    Recent News Highlights

    The following links and summaries are some recent news highlights from around the region.


    • Last Tuesday, Bolivia's Constitutional Tribunal declared a long-standing law criminalizing defamation of government officials, known as the "desacato" law, unconstitutional for violating freedom of speech. Under the law, individuals can incur a three-year prison sentence for insulting a member of the government.
    • Later in the week Bolivian media was abuzz following comments from Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, who warned those who might dare to criticize the president via social media, saying "I am always going online, and I am writing down the first and last names of the people who insult him on Facebook and Twitter." Morales' Movement for Socialism party (MAS) is currently attempting to push through a law monitoring Bolivian citizens' political commentary on digital news sites and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
    • Earlier this month, reports revealed the government was harassing journalists from media outlets that reported on government corruption, causing them to flee over fears of incarceration. In a most recent example, a Bolivian journalist was set on fire by four masked men while on air at a radio station in the southern city of Yacuiba, along the Argentine border and a drug smuggling route. Fernando Vidal, 78, was a harsh critic of the local government and was reporting on trafficking in the area at the time of the attack. Vidal along with other journalists have been increasingly denouncing a rise in smuggling across the border, particularly of liquid petroleum gas.

      Amnesty International said the attack is "one of the worst instances of violence against journalists in Bolivia in recent years.” Four men have been arrested in the case. Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero along with Vidal's son-in-law, also a journalist, believe two local government officials hired the men.

    • Mexico

    • In Mexico, workers are protesting after the country's Senate passed through a version of labor reform legislation. Members from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) as well as president-elect Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) supported the bill despite differences over certain details in the law, like the election of union leaders by secret ballot, a provision opposed by the union-friendly PRI party, but was ultimately included in the draft.

      Lawmakers say the bill seeks to increase transparency of trade union finances and union leader elections-- the country's two most prominent union leaders (Elba Esther Gordillo of Mexico’s largest teachers’ union and Carlos Romero Deschamps of the Oil Workers Union) won uncontested re-election. Mexican trade unions dominate state industry and their leaders are often accused of corruption. The government says the new reforms will create thousands of new jobs, making Mexico more competitive. Some economists and politicians say the reforms could create upwards of 150,000 jobs a year.

      Workers however rose up saying that under the proposed law, it will be easier for companies to fire employees and they will be forced to accept lower wages. Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) called the reform "simplistic," saying it is not the "magic bullet" to create jobs and could harm workers' interests, particularly those in the informal sector who account for 28.8 million of the country's 50 million workers. Congressman in the lower house will now vote on the bill, however the vote has been delayed as the PRI fight to protect union interests.

    • The PAN, PRD and Citizens' Movement (MC) parties held a press conference Wednesday where they announced they would form a united legislative opposition front against PRI president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to fight "clientelistic and corrupt practices" during his six-year term.
    • A faction of the Zetas reportedly split off and formed a new group called the Legionaries, according to Insight Crime. A banner hung by the group in Nuevo Laredo in northern Mexico says the organization has a "clear mission to kill people from the Zetas and their families" and their business is "solely and exclusively drug trafficking." The formal split comes following the capture of Zetas leader Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias "El Taliban" and the recent killing of another head, Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z-3," whose death was finally confirmed by authorities who used his dead father's DNA to corroborate his demise after Z-3's body disappeared from the morgue.
    • Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, from Mexico, pleaded guilty Tuesday in the 2010 shooting of US border patrol Agent Brian Terry. He claimed to be part of a group that crossed into the US to steal from marijuana smugglers and had entered the country the week prior to the shooting to stash guns and food supplies.
    • Panama

    • There were massive protests in Colon, Panama last week in response to a government law allowing for the sale of state-owned land to private companies in Latin America's biggest duty-free zone. Three people were killed, including a 9 year-old-boy, prompting groups like Amnesty International to call for investigation into excessive use of force.

      After the bill was passed last Friday, protesters from trade unions, student groups and business associations took to the streets, claiming that the sell-off will cause layoffs and a loss of revenue. The Panamanian government has since repealed the law, with assembly president Sergio Galvez saying "An error has been corrected," after the measure passed.

    • A free-trade agreement between Panama and the US was entered into force on October 31, meaning that about 86% of US products will now enter the country tariff-free. The agreement was signed by former President George W. Bush in June 2007 and approved by Panama’s parliament the same year. The U.S. Congress did not ratify the agreement until October 12, 2011, held up with concerns over labor rights and tax laws for U.S.-based corporations in Panama. Opponents of the agreement said it would normalize Panama’s status as a the second-largest tax haven in the world and allow it to remain conducive to laundering money from criminal activity, creating vulnerability to terrorist financing, as was cited in a 2006 Wikileaked memo. President Obama signed the treaty into law on October 21, 2011.
    • United States

    • Last Monday was the final debate in the US Presidential elections, covering foreign policy. There was virtually no mention of Latin America, causing analysts, politicians and voters to express dismay with both candidates.
    • Some saw the lack of discussion about Latin America as a positive sign. In a press conference after his meeting with Hillary Clinton, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said of the debate, "it’s true that Latin America was not present, to my knowledge, and Brazil was not mentioned, but I think that the debate concentrated really on problem issues and concerns. And today, Brazil, South America in particular, is more of a region of the world that offers solutions than problems. So we interpret that in this positive light."

      Similarly in an opinion piece for Christian Science Monitor, Geoff Thale from WOLA said the scant discussion of Cuba could signal a more rational approach towards the island.

    • The Global Post profiled the relatives of US presidential candidate Mitt Romney,whose father was born in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. They are reportedly part of a Mormon community often targeted by the cartels.
    • Colombia

    • A total of 15 Colombian government security force members since formal peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government began in Oslo, Norway on October 18. Last week nine soliders were killed in combat, while six police were killed Monday in the southwestern Cauca department.
    • The FARC proposed a cease-fire during the talks, but President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly refused their request. A group of Colombian NGOs has called on the government to stop fighting for the month between December 15 and January 15. A recent Gallup poll showed 72% of Colombians support the peace process, but only 39% believe they would be successful. Another recent poll indicates President Santos' approval rating has gone up seven points to 58% since the announcement of the peace talks.
    • In an interview with W Radio, President Obama said his hope was that a "peaceful Colombia would be created and that the FARC lay down their arms and recognize that although they disagree with the government they should participate in the political process instead of using violence."
    • Last Thursday, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, criticizing a proposed constitutional amendment which would expand the jurisdiction of the military. According to the letter, the measure would, "result in serious human rights violations by the military—including extrajudicial executions, torture, and rape—being investigated and tried by the military justice system."
    • Colombia is also in the process of producing their own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or "drones." Although Colombia has been using US drones since 2006, this will be the first domestically-produced UAV used by the country's military.The drones will reportedly be used for military operations as well as for other functions such as monitoring oil pipelines.
    • Colombian drug lord Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, alias "Mi Sangre," was arrested
      in a Buenos Aires supermarket. Mi Sangre was a top leader of the Urabeños drug gang and was in charge of expanding and maintaining the group's presence and control throughout Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city.
    • Speaking at a trade-show on defense and security, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said within two years the country would be adding 25,000 members to its armed forces,which currently have about 450,000 members, making it the second-largest military in South America following Brazil.
    • Honduras

    • The Honduras Truth Commission released a report on human rights violations before and after the 2009 coup. The blog Honduras Accompaniment Project summarizes the reports findings: "In total, the Truth Commission received “1,966 reports from citizens about human rights violations by state agents and armed civilian apparatuses protected by state institutions” between June 2009 and August 2011. Based on these reports, the Commission analyzed 5,418 human rights violations and categorized 87 forms of aggression."
    • Brazil

    • In Brazil several convictions have been handed out to officials in former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government-- including his then chief of staff Jose Dirceu-- who were found guilty of using public funds to pay monthly installments to opposition congressmen in return for their support, known as the "Mensalão" case, in which about 40 officials were implicated. The case is historic in showing a strengthening of the rule of law in the country as Brazil has a long history of impunity for political corruption.
    • In another landmark legal proceeding, a federal judge in Sao Paulo agreed to charge a soldier and two officers with the kidnapping of a dissident during Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, marking the second accusation of a top military officer for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship, despite a 1979 amnesty law.
    • On October 28th, Brazil held run-off municipal elections, with President Rousseff's and former President Lula's Workers’ Party (PT) winning the majority of the mayoral races, including Sao Paulo. Analysts say this puts the party in a favorable position for the 2014 presidential elections.
    • In Sao Paulo 600 police were sent to the city's largest favela, Paraisópolis, as part of a larger initiative that was launched on Monday called "Operação Saturação," or "Operation Saturation,"intended to stifle drug trafficking and organized crime throughout the city. According to numbers from Sao Paulo's Secretary of Public Security,crime rates in Sao Paulo are on the rise, with the city registering 144 homicides in the month of September against the 71 that occurred in the same month last year and 145 homicides in October, an 86% increase from 2011 when 78 murders were registered in the same month that year.

      According to government statistics, 40 people have been killed since last Thursday, 124 in the past 23 days, with a large part of the murders being carried out by men on motorcycles or in cars. A spokesman for the Sao Paulo police force denied the operation was launched in response to the recent wave of murders, saying they "received intelligence that there were criminals, weapons and drugs" inside the favela and that "there will be more actions like this in the coming days."

    • Venezuela

    • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez replaced Defense Minister General Henry Rangel Silva, appointing Navy Admiral Diego Molero Bellavia to the post. Rangel, a close ally of Chavez, will be the candidate for Chavez' United Socialist Party (PSUV) for governor of Trujillo in state elections on December 16. The US accused Rangel in 2008 of "materially assisting" the drug trafficking operations of Colombia's Farc guerrillas.
    • President Chavez said on Thursday he will be attending the upcoming Mercosur presidential summit set for December 7 in Brasilia. Venezuela became a full Mercosur member July 31 following the group's decision to suspend Paraguay, whose Senate had barred Venezuelan participation. Brazil's foreign ministry noted the benefit of Venezuela's inclusion to the regional trade bloc saying, “With the entry of Venezuela, Mercosur has now a population of 270 million inhabitants (70% of South America population), GDP at current prices of 3.3 trillion dollars (79.6% of South American GDP) and a territory of 12.7 million km2 (72% of South American area), extending from Patagonia to the Caribbean and asserting itself as a global energy power.”

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Recent Violence in Colombia


    • The air force bombed a FARC arms factory near the border with Venezuela. Four rebels were killed in the attack and two were captured.


    • President Santos has offered a reward of up to 500 million pesos for information regarding FARC leaders in the province where Chinese oil workers and their translator were kidnapped in June 8.

    • The FARC set off a "donkey bomb" in San Vicente del Caguán. The bomb exploded near an army outpost, although the animal's intended final destination was the town square.


    • The towns of Toribio and Corinto have declared a state of emergency following multiple FARC attacks in the past few months. Along with police stations, churches, and schools, almost 500 houses have been destroyed by FARC bombings. The cost of rebuilding both towns is well over 1000 million pesos.

    • The FARC released a communique blaming the government for the death and destruction caused by the guerrilla attacks in Toribío, Corinto y Caldon. The FARC claims that the state is at fault for placing military and police buildings and personnel among the civilian population.


    • Four people, including a 13-year-old, were shot to death by unidentified gunmen during an attack on a hair salon in Cereté. The attack brings the total number of violent deaths in Cordoba for the month of July up to 28.

    • A joint operation of the Army, the National Police, and the DAS led to the capture of one leader and eight members of the criminal gang "Urabeños." The leader, known only under the alias "28," is reportedly responsible for coordinating the attacks against the "Paisas" criminal gang that led to the displacement of farmers in Tierralta y Valencia.


    • Two FARC guerrillas from the "Marquetalia" column were killed and one injured during a confrontation with the armed forces in the north of Huila. Intelligence sources have reported that the column's mission is to open a corridor for weapons and supply trafficking through Tolima, Huila y Meta.


    • One person was killed and two were injured in a bomb attack in Santa Marta. According to authorities, the attack was directed at the house of two lawyers.


    • Protestors blocked oil production in the Llanos Basin following the firing of 1,100 oil contractors by Cepcolsa. At least 10,000 oil workers went on strike in solidarity with the fired workers.


    • Two Liberal politicians were freed from captivity after being kidnapped as they traveled from Tumaco to Salahonda 5 days earlier. According to an official, the two men were abducted by mistake.


    • Authorities apprehended FARC leader Hugo Alberto Campo Moreno, known as "Diomedes" or "el Gato," in Bucaramanga.

    This blog entry was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Violence in Colombia: Update

    While there continues to be conflict-related violence throughout Colombia, much of the recent violence seems to be concentrated in the country's urban centers, most notably in Bogotá and Medellín. In both of these urban centers murder rates and gun violence attributed to emerging criminal groups, the apparent successors to the disbanded AUC paramilitary structure, have continued to surge.

    According to a report released Thursday, August 18th by the Bogotá mayor's office, there were 938 recorded murders in the Colombian capital between January and July -- 33 more than in the same seven-month span last year. The Ciudad Bolívar district in southern Bogotá had the highest murder rate out of the city's 20 districts, citing 157 murders so far this year, 141 men and 16 women.

    On August 13th, less than a week after the inauguration of Colombia's new president Juan Manuel Santos, Bogotá suffered a car bombing on a principal street, near the Caracol Radio network. The attack took place at 5:30 a.m. and injured 36, while damaging 424 homes and offices. Juan Manuel Santos has offered 500 million Colombian pesos (about $250,000) for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the bombing and the government in Cundinamarca, the department around Bogotá, has offered another 30 million pesos. Authorities have arrested three people implicated in the attack, however police are still unsure who is responsible; both right-wing paramilitary groups and the left-wing guerrilla group the FARC are being considered. The Colombian newsweekly Semana has a short overview of the case's conflicting evidence.

    Medellín, Colombia's second-largest city, has also experienced an increase in violence. This year there have been 1,322 murders, 12 percent more than the same period in 2009. Comuna 13, located in the central western part of the city with a population of 134,000, continues to be the city's most violent area, registering 12.4 percent of the city’s total death toll. According to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, there are more than 140 gangs currently operating in the city- about a dozen or so in Comuna 13 alone- fighting for territorial control and command of drug, gambling, and prostitution rings. There has also been an increase in illegal arms sales throughout the city, which authorities believe indicates the sponsorship of smaller groups by organizations like the "Office of Envigado" headed by Erick Vargas, alias "Sebastian" and Maximiliano Bonilla, alias "Valenciano", and "Los Urabenos" and "Los Rastrojos."

    In an effort to thwart the escalating violence, Medellín Mayor Alonso Salazar, police commander General Oscar Naranjo and Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera held a Security Council meeting last weekend after Salazar asked the National Government for additional help in combating the violence. After the meeting, Naranjo announced several new security measures that local authorities would be taking, including the installation of video cameras in particularly violent areas and security checkpoints at the entry points to Comuna 13. He also announced the creation of an "Integrated Intervention Center," the purpose of which will be to study the violence and devise new "preventative" plans to control it, as well as the deployment of 800 extra police to Comuna 13.

    On Wednesday August 18th, 14 members of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group were killed in an aerial attack on an encampment in Tarazá in the Bajo Cauca region of the Antioquia department, about 100 miles northeast of Medellín. In the attack, known as "Operation Alliance," the military leader of the group's "Darío de Jesús Ramírez" front, alias "Éver," was killed. "Ever" had been with the group for 18 years and was allegedly responsible for laying more than 43 landmine fields in the past year. The ELN units affected had also allegedly been coordinating narcoproduction and trafficking operations with FARC fronts in the region.

    Over the weekend in Tame, a rural region in Arauca department, FARC leader Jhon Javier Gil, alias "Milton Díaz," was killed along with two other members of the guerrilla group in a clash with the armed forces. "Milton Díaz" was allegedly second in command of the "Alfonso Castellanos" unit of the FARC and responsible for the oversight of several attacks in the region within the past three years. Soldier Abigail Tariffa Cardenas also died in the operation. Also in Arauca over the weekend, in Saravena, soldiers found an escaped Eln member, a four-month-pregnant fourteen year old.

    In response to escalating levels of gang-related violence, the Ministry of Defense held a Security Council meeting this past weekend in Montelíbano, in Córdoba department. Since January of this year there have been more than 400 murders in the region, the majority related to the narcotrafficking operations of emerging criminal groups, which have continued to grow, four years after the AUC's official demobilization. According to the People's Defense Council, Cordoba's San Jorge municipality is among the most high-risk zones in the region, as the Troncal roadway, which runs through the area, has become the territorial dividing line between three criminal groups: "Los Urabenos," "Los Paisas" and "Las Aguilas." The situation in Monteria, Córdoba's capital, is equally precarious, as at least 60 people have been killed in the past eight months due to narcotrafficking and gang-related violence.

    The council announced several measures to be implemented in the coming months as a "total offensive" against the criminal groups, including an antinarcotics post in Necoclí in Antioquia department, 14 squadrons of border police, and six intelligence bases that will be established in various municipalities throughout Córdoba, as well as in Urabá and Bajo Cauca in Antioquia department.

    On Sunday August 15th in Puerto Asís, Putumayo department, two teenage boys were killed, followed by another this past Friday, August 20th. The names of the three boys had appeared on a "death threat" list of 69 names posted on Facebook three weeks earlier and circulated on fliers throughout the town. The flier asked residents to evacuate the town in three days and threatened to continue committing acts like "those on August 15th" should they not comply.

    Initially authorities believed the incidents to be a joke, however following a town Security Council meeting on Friday, the town's Defense Council attributed the murders and threats to "Los Rastrojos," a criminal group with a strong presence in several neighborhoods in Puerto Asis. The gang has been linked to various other violent threats, attacks, and intimidation tactics.

    On Monday August 23, the Anncol website, which frequently posts FARC communications, posted a letter from the guerrilla group requesting that UNASUR mediate peace talks with the government. In the open statement the FARC Secretariat indicated, "When you deem it opportune, we are ready to explain during a UNASUR assembly our vision of the Colombian conflict." This is following an announcement by President Santos last Tuesday that "military results every day, on different fronts" was how the country is "going to finally achieve peace." He continued, "until we see clear irrefutable proof that the conditions we have given are adhered to, there is no possibility for dialogue." This is the group's second statement mentioning peace talks since President Santos was elected; the first came from leader Alfonso Cano in a video released on July 30th.

    This blog post was written by CIP intern Sarah Kinosian