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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Week in Review

This week, the world's most wanted drug trafficker was captured in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation, U.S. Southern Command said it didn't have enough money to interdict the majority of drugs at sea, robots started patrolling drug tunnels at the border and Venezuela announced a new ambassador to the United States. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday the State Department released its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013” The Colombian government was particularly upset by the report, which cited impunity and inefficiency in the justice system as principle human rights infractions in the country. Vice President Angelino Garzón responded by saying the report was an “intrusion” into Colombia’s internal politics and that the United States had no place to preach about human rights given its maintenance of the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

    Some other topics touched on in the report include Mexico’s negligence in accounting for thousands of “disappeared” citizens, extrajudicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, and rampant corruption in government institutions and security forces in Honduras and Guatemala. For Politico, Dana Frank examined the United States’ continued to security relationship with Honduras despite these abuses and current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s own shady past.

  • The heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) gave their posture statements at a hearing before the House’s Armed Services Committee. Northcom commander General Jacoby underscored that the U.S.-Mexico security relationship remains closer than ever despite recent grumblings suggesting a distancing, pointing to the recent capture of Mexican drug trafficker “El Chapo” Guzmán in a joint military operation as evidence. General Jacoby’s posture statement can be read here (PDF).
  • Among several other topics, Southcom commander General Kelly discussed the effect of budget cuts, claiming he now watches 74 percent of cocaine passing through Honduras’ maritime corridor go by due to insufficient vessels and equipment. He touched on human rights vetting and noted his ever-growing concern over shifts in the drug trade towards the Caribbean. The video can be watched here and General Kelly’s posture statement can be read here(PDF).
  • The Associated Press reported on budget cuts to the Coast Guard, despite an increase in maritime trafficking routes. The article noted, “While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.” InSight Crime argued this indicates a politicization in funding for the drug war. An example of this increased border funding can be seen in the recent deployment of remote control robots to patrol tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In another hearing this week, “The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” Colombia was heralded as a military and human rights success story, particularly given that it is now training other countries’ security forces.
  • Colombia's military will soon send "senior officials from the Army specialized in education, training and protocols” to help train national police officers in Guatemala, reported U.S.-Southern Command-sponsored news site InfoSur Hoy.
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón was in Washington D.C. this week for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, including “High-Level Partnership DialogueSemana published part of a leaked copy of his agenda, noting that he would ask for continued U.S. support in programs like aerial fumigation and other counternarcotics operations.

    While in town Pinzón gave a talk at Center for American Progress where he “laid out an extremely expansive vision of the role of the armed forces post-peace accord, ranging from border security to confronting drug trafficking, transnational crime and continued armed violence in an accord’s aftermath; and from addressing climate change to expanding the military’s role in development,” according to Lisa Haugaard, director of Latin America Working Group. He also strongly emphasized increasing Colombia’s role in security training particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, some of which is done with U.S.-funding. See here for concerns about Colombia’s exportation of training.

  • There were two informative English-language explainers this week about the amassing corruption scandals rocking the Colombian military, one from Reuters and the other from the Latin American Working Group. The latter noted that the Army's new commander, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, oversaw a unit implicated in the false positive scandal.
  • Brazil and the European Union approved an undersea communication cable with the stated purpose of reducing dependency on U.S. fiber optic cables and to “guarantee the neutrality of the internet,” protecting Brazil Internet users from U.S. surveillance.
  • An article in Foreign Policy questioned the Pentagon’s support for Suriname’s government, given President Desi Bouterse has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands and is accused of maintaining links to traffickers currently. His son, Dino Bouterse, was arrested by the DEA and extradited to the United States after he stuck a deal with “Mexican smugglers” (undercover DEA agents) to allow “Hezbollah militants” to train in Suriname. See Just the Facts’ Suriname country page for more information on security assistance to the country.
  • The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it had given three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to exit the country in response to last week’s expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Venezuela. That same day, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he would be appointing an ambassador the United States. Though Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 they have maintained embassies. See here for more detailed information on Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, the new Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.
  • As the protests continue to rage throughout Venezuela, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution “asking the administration to study and consider putting in place strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S.”
  • The Congressional Research Service published a new report: “Gangs in Central America.”
  • “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, was captured this weekend in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation. While Guzmán’s capture was a huge win for the Mexican and United States governments, the general consensus is that it will have little impact on the drug trade while another leader in the Sinaloa cartel will step up to fill his role. Several analysts weighed in on what comes next for narcotrafficking in Mexico -- particularly InSight Crime, which posted a series of good analysis on what his capture means. See our Mexico news page for links to these articles.

    According to reports, the United States’ main contribution was providing intelligence and technology leading up to the capture, while the Mexican Navy, the United States’ main security partner in Mexico, carried out the final capture. Although several indictments have been filed in cities throughout the United States, it is unlikely that Guzmán will get extradited any time soon as lawmakers want him to first face justice in Mexico. President Peña Nieto said he extradition would be possible later. On Thursday the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kingpin Act sanctions against the financial networks of several of Guzmán’s associates. Prensa Libre published a timeline of OFAC sanctions on the Sinaloa Cartel from 2007-2014.

  • Friday, February 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the United States reaffirmed its commitment to fighting narcotrafficking in Central America, a majority of U.S. citizens indicated they wanted a change in U.S. policy to Cuba and Venezuelans took to the streets. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was in Guatemala and Honduras this week with the head of U.S. Southern Command, General Kelly. In Guatemala, Brownfield met with President Otto Perez Mólina, after which he announced
    an additional $5 million dollars for counternarcotics operations in the country. He also met with Prosecutor General Claudia Paz y Paz and Iván Velásquez Gómez, the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), announcing $4.8 million for that initiative.
  • In Honduras Brownfield reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting counternarcotics initiatives in the country but expressed the State Department’s disapproval of a new law that allows officials to shoot down civilian aircraft suspected of carrying drugs. In a lengthy interview with Honduran newspaper La Prensa, Brownfield said the State Department had found drug flights were down 80 percent in the country and that sea trafficking was on the rise. The visit comes after Honduras’ new president criticized U.S. drug policy in his inauguration speech, calling it a “double standard” and inviting the Obama Administration to have greater cooperation.La Prensa also published a Southcom map showing various illicit trafficking networks across the globe.
  • Mexico's military hosted a competition with cadets and Special Forces from several Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the United States.
  • A new poll released by the Atlantic Council this week found not only that the majority of Americans, but an even higher percentage of Floridians, favor a shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba. This may suggest a shifting tide in relations as a strong anti-Cuba contingent in Florida has been seen as the major political obstacle in thawing relations. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) published a bi-partisan op-ed on why the United States needs to change its policy towards the island.
  • Human Rights Watch published a report Wednesday on impunity for murders tied to land disputes in Honduras’ contested Bajo Aguán region. U.S. security assistance to Honduras for 2014 has been conditioned on the protection of human rights in this region due to ongoing attacks against activists.
  • The New York Times reported on the links between drug trafficking and deforestation and illegal logging in Honduras. According to the article, “as Honduras has become a central transfer point for drug shipments to the United States, there is more money to pay - and arm - land invaders, who strip the forest and transform the land into businesses like cattle ranching that can be used to launder drug money.”
  • The Associated Press profiled a kidnapping epidemic in Morelos, Mexico and the population’s mistrust of security forces sent to fight it. Locals doubt whether weak government institutions will investigate those responsible and have a long-term impact on the problem.
  • The Christian Science Monitor published a post by Rio Gringa on vigilante justice in Brazil’s biggest cities.
  • Thousands took to the streets in protest of Venezuela Preisdent Nicolás Maduro’s government this week. Student protests in Caracas turned especially violent, leaving three dead: two from the opposition and one government supporter. Each side is blaming the other for the violence. The government is seeking the arrest of opposition leader Leopold Lopez, drawing a wave of criticism, including from the U.S. State Department. Caracas-based journalist Girish Gupta posted a video from protests Wednesday night and Venezuela Politics and Human Rights has an excellent analysis and overview. Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported that the protests have subsided but that citizens were surprised by the heavy military presence. Brazil also experienced some violent protests this week.
  • A California court revoked the U.S. citizenship of a former Guatemalan special forces officer for covering up his role as an army lieutenant in the massacre of 182 villagers in Guatemala. He received the maximum 10 years in prison for deceiving U.S. immigration officials.
  • In an excellent op-ed in the New York Times, Medellín-born author Héctor Abad writes Colombia’s damaging experience with paramilitarism should serve as a warning to Mexico. Abad also notes that the United States has played a significant role in perpetuating a fight against drugs that forces “obedient governments to ignore real solutions.” InSight Crime analyzed the difference in the Mexican government’s approach to these groups in various places, noting its cooperation with the groups in Michoacán but its attempts to halt them in Guerrero.
  • On Thursday the FARC and the Colombian government closed the latest round of the peace talks and said they have made progress towards reaching an agreement on combating the illegal drug trade. The two sides issued a joint statement noting they’ve reached a consensus on several points. More analysis from United States Institute for Peace’s Ginny Bouvier and WOLA.
  • Friday, February 7, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Colombia’s military was caught spying on peace negotiations in Havana, Guatemala’s President was unhappy about U.S. conditioning aid to the country, U.S. Southern Command geared up for training exercises in the region and the Knights Templar cartel made money off your Super Bowl guacamole. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, "Terrorist Groups in Latin America: The Changing Landscape."
  • Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina expressed his discontent with U.S. conditioning security assistance to the country, which place a sizeable portion of aid on hold until Guatemala has shown significant steps towards investigating corruption in its international adoption program and implementing a 2010 reparations plan for victims related to the massacres and displacement that occurred during the construction of the Chixoy dam in the 1980s. “…we are not going to be anyone’s toy, and the laws of Guatemala are going to say how they advance,” he told reporters in a press conference.
  • The Wilson Center released a report this week on violence in Mexico and Colombia. It compiles essays by leading regional exports that compare and contrast the two countries' security situations and looks at what lessons their tactics offer one another.
  • U.S. Southern Command news was active this week. Another frigate (notably the Navy's second-oldest after the USS Constitution which was launched in 1797) was deployed to the Caribbean for "Operation Martillo," the U.S.-led anti-drug surge mission along Central America's coastline, while Joint Combined Exchange Training began with Trinidad and Tobago. Joint Task Force-Bravo, the main Southcom unit in Honduras, started preparing for a joint foreign military exercise in which 1,200 U.S. military members will deploy to Guatemala for training and to provide humanitarian services.

    It was also reported that Air Forces Southern members are in Belize to prepare for an upcoming training exercise and that the USS Pathfinder arrived in Guatemala for a scientific information exchange, a key part of the naval relationship between both countries, according to a representative from the Guatemalan armed forces.

  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS) published a report that found Latin American countries’ military spending grew 15 percent between 2010 ($61.3 billion) and 2013 ($70.9 billion). ISS found Venezuela increased its defense budget more than any other country in the region over the past year, boosting it by just over 12 percent. Here's an infographic of defense spending from the AFP and another from ISS.
  • Fusion reported on Mexican immigrants in California who have been financing self-defense groups in Michoacán while the Wall Street Journal reported on the Knights Templar's control over the avocado industry in the state, the only one in Mexico certified to export avocados to the United States. According to the article, the cartel profits $150 million each year through extortion and keeping their own farms. The New York Times featured an interview with the head of the Knights Templar, Servando Gómez, and noted the group makes more from illegal mining than drug trafficking. InSight Crime translated a piece published by Animal Politico on the risks and benefits of Mexico’s recent decision to legalize the vigilante groups that have sprung up to fight the cartel’s presence.
  • Peru announced plans to launch a major coca eradication initiative in the VRAE region, which is one of the largest coca-producing regions in the world, believed to have an area of cultivation at around 20,500 hectares. The government announced a target of 16,000 hectares.
  • The United Kingdom’s deputy prime minister backed Colombian President Santos’ calls for an alternative to the drug war, saying, "nobody can say the world is winning the war against drugs."
  • Colombian magazine Semana revealed this week that the Colombian Army has been spying on peace negotiators in Havana from both sides of the table and has continued illegal surveillance of human rights defenders and opposition lawmakers. President Santos quickly removed the head of Army intelligence along with another top intelligence official and demanded the military investigate the incident and submit a report by February 15. The government has since stepped back and changed its rhetoric dramatically, asserting the taps were in fact legal, despite the claims of Semana.

    Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) issued a statement voicing his concern and calling on the U.S. government to carry out an investigation, given his worry that "U.S. intelligence or defense agencies might have unwittingly provided support . . . directly or indirectly, through funds, equipment, training, intelligence-sharing or receipt of tainted intelligence." The incident also raises questions about the military's support for the peace talks, which could have negative implications if a peace agreement in Havana is reached, given the military's size and popularity.

  • According to the Sao Paulo state's Public Safety Department, police killed 335 people in 2013, compared to 546 during the previous year. The Associated Press reported the drop has been attributed to a law enacted earlier this year that prohibits officers from offering first aid to shooting victims (including those they themselves have shot) or from removing the body, such as taking the victim to the hospital. It was also reported this week that in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's military police killed six alleged gang members who were believed to have carried out an attack on a Police Pacification Unit on Sunday that resulted in the death of one officer.
  • Friday, August 16, 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

    Haiti travel warning

  • The U.S. Department of State issued a new Haiti travel advisory on August 13 that warned visitors of “violent crimes and lack of emergency response infrastructure.” This Travel Warning uses less strong language than the previous one issued in December 2012, which read, "No one is safe from kidnapping regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age,” and that "Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts or prosecute perpetrators."
  • Secretary of State Kerry's trip to Brazil and Colombia

  • Secretary of State John Kerry visited Colombia and Brazil Sunday to Tuesday. Kerry's meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials seemed to go fairly smoothly, while in Brazil, the NSA surveillance scandal overshadowed the visit as Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota took a hardline approach against the United States' surveillance practices. See a previous Just the Facts post and podcast for more details.
  • U.S. aid to Mexico

  • Last Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy froze $95 million dollars in funding for the Mérida Initiative, the United States' aid package to Mexico, because of an inadequate planning. In an opinion piece in Truth-Out, the Center for International Policy's Laura Carlsen wrote, "Thursday’s announcement confirms the hold on the funds and obliges both governments to define a joint strategy that shows some signs of viability. Contacted shortly after the hold, a top Leahy aide summed up the reason behind suspension of the aid,:'We received less than three pages of explanation. Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that.'"
  • At the behest of the United States, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, a former drug kingpin who was unexpectedly released last week while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kike" Camarena. The Dallas News has an interesting article by journalist Alfredo Corchado looking at the case in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations and U.S. security assistance to Mexico. According to Corchado, officials say money for Mérida "may be returned to Washington in the weeks to come." This week’s Just the Facts podcast has more details on the case
  • Last Friday, the Justice Department said it would not be prosecuting the Border Patrol agents who shot and killed two teens in separate incidents along the Arizona border, due to lack of evidence.
  • This week the United States hosted about 160 military personnel from 19 nations at the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters in Florida for the PANAMAX 2013 exercise. More from Southern Command, Latin American Herald Tribune and naval-technology.com
  • Colombia

  • On Monday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos replaced his entire military and police leadership, including naming a new director for the National Police. According to analysts the decision to do so could be an attempt to bolster the peace talks, as former Army chief, General Sergio Mantilla was considered a hindrance to the peace process. The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Colombia Reports has more details on the new commanders while El Tiempo and Semana magazine have insight into the motives for the decision and its significance. A Just the Facts podcast also examined President Santo’s unexpected decision
  • Colombian news analysis website La SIlla Vacía published a report on the 15 biggest defense contractors in Colombia. In the lead was Elbit, an Israeli drone maker with an over $267 billion contract.
  • Peru

  • Peru's military dealt a blow to the Shining Path, killing two of the group's top leaders and another rebel in a military operation on Sunday. Analysts say that while the attack will hurt the group, it does not signal its demise. As Peru's armed forces chief, Admiral Jose Cueto said, the group "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance." Peru's IDL-Reporteros detailed the operation in Spanish and in another article revealed that the United States and other foreign actors played a role in the multi-agency operation. More from the Associated Press in English.
  • Mexico

  • Amnesty International, along with several other activists and NGOs denounced reports that "Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since."
  • Proceso reported that the security in Michoacán is worsening, "cheapening the official rhetoric of Enrique Peña Nieto's government that the social-political situation in the state is under control," as Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong had stated on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that a vocal group of farmers and businessmen from the state demanded the government stop sending federal police to fight the drug cartels who have allegedly abused citizens and are corrupt.
  • InSight Crime examined the Knights Templar, the drug cartel with the strongest presence in Michoacán that recent government reports named as the third most powerful cartel in the country, after the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels. The article includes a video interview with the group's leader that was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
  • Bolivia

  • The Andean Information Network posted an analysis on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) estimates of potential cocaine production in the Andes. The report found there to be a significant decrease in the region between 2011 and 2012, the largest in Bolivia, which dropped 18 percent. The article pointed to several statistical irregularities in the report, noting, "Although they failed to provide any explanation, the same ONDCP press release reported Bolivia's potential cocaine production for 2011 at 190 metric tons—instead of the whopping 265 metric tons for 2011 reported by the same office a year earlier."
  • Paraguay

  • Conservative business mogul Horacio Cartes was sworn in yesterday as Paraguay’s first democratically-elected president since the controversial June 2012 ouster of Fernando Lugo. The Associated Press reports that in 2008-2009 the DEA targeted him in a mission called "Operation Heart of Stone," over alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade. The Pan-American Post examined the domestic and regional implications of Cartes' presidency.
  • Brazil

  • On Wednesday there were several protests all over Brazil targeting a host of issues from corruption, police brutality, and disappearances, to education and low wages. Brazilians have been protesting Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral since the mass wave of protests that overtook the country in June have subsided. Cabral's critics claim he is corrupt and want an investigation into spending on projects for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. More from the Associated Press. America’s Quarterly had an assessment of the Brazilian government's response to the protests.
  • The Huffington Post blog had a post this week on security in Rio de Janeiro, specifically looking at the pacification police units (UPP), which the author claims are improving the situation. According to the piece, however, "The social protests that started in June and July 2013 are taking a sinister turn," and "with the changing of the leadership of the military police last week, there are fears that the UPP enterprise will unravel."
  • According to technology website, Phys Org, Brazil is "moving to secure its communications through its own satellite and digital networks to end its dependence on the United States, which is accused of electronically spying on the region." The outlet reported that French-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced on Tuesday that it had won a contract worth about $400 million to build a satellite for Brazil's developing space program.
  • Ecuador

  • On Thursday Ecuador was the first Latin American country to recall its ambassador, Edwin Johnson, from Egypt after security forces massacred about 600 supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. So far, no other Latin American country appears to have followed suit.
  • El Salvador

  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a video of interviews with gang leaders in El Salvador's prisons talking about the gang truce. According to CDA, "Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process... We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: 'We want a better life for our kids and families,' and 'the truce is working.'"
  • Honduras

  • On Thursday Honduras' Congress approved the creation of a 5,000-strong military police unit charged with maintaining "public order." Mario Pérez, president of the Congress' security commission. said the group will “reclaim territory and capture criminals... We do not oppose the police, but it is not the model for the moment.” The chief of the armed forces presented the structure of the new unit. Critics of the decision say it is another step forward in the increasingly militarized policing of the country.

    This announcement follows Monday's declaration that 4,500 community police units will be deployed by September 1. Proponents of the military police however say that this is a longer-term solution and will not produce immediate results. More from Honduras'
    El Heraldo newspaper and InSight Crime.

  • Uruguay

  • Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.
  • Friday, May 24, 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

  • 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.”
  • Ecuador

  • 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.
  • Regional

  • 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.
  • Bolivia

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.”
  • Guatemala

  • 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.
  • Colombia

  • 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.
  • Mexico

  • 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.

  • Monday, May 13, 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.

    United States

  • The White House announced last week that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden will be traveling to Brazil, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago during the week of May 26. It was also announced that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Sebastion Piñera will visit Washington in June to meet with President Obama.
  • The Congressional Research Service released a new report, “Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress.”According to the report, “From FY2008- FY2012, Congress appropriated $496.5 million under what is now known as the Central America Regional Security Initiative to support security efforts in the region. While there are some signs of progress, security conditions remain poor in several Central American nations.”
  • This week there will be two hearings in the Senate that pertain to Latin America. The first will be held by the Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday and will discuss S.793, the Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act of 2013. The second will be held by the Committee on Armed Services and will look at Oversight of the Law of Armed Conflict, the Use of Military Force and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
  • Venezuela

  • Today, the Venezuelan government deployed 3,000 military troops to the streets of Caracas to battle rising insecurity in the country’s capital. According to EFE, the units will be deployed to six neighborhoods in and around the capital, including the Sucre and Baruta municipalities, which have both been described by President Maduro as “the two most dangerous in the country.” President Maduro said, "We are putting the Armed Forces on the street because it is a necessity, and they will stay on the streets for the time that we need them to stabilize security.” As InSight Crime noted, putting more troops on the streets will not fix several factors that fuel the endemic violence, such as widespread corruption within security forces, a weak and corrupt judicial system and lenient firearm controls.

    EFE also reported on Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez’s announcement that a special police unit was being created for “the search and capture of citizens involved in homicides.”

  • The Economist published an article over the weekend looking at the political and economic aftermath of Venezuela’s election. The piece runs through a series of post-election events, from President Maduro backing out of a full audit of the election results to violence breaking out in the country’s National Assembly, that have been compounded by rising inflation, falling oil prices and food shortages. The article notes, “For the first time, analysts are speaking of a split in the armed forces.” As one analyst contends, using the army to tackle rising violence “could oblige the armed forces to take a [political] position.”
  • Guatemala

  • On Friday, former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sentenced to eighty years in prison after a court convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity. The historic case marks the first time a domestic court has tried a former leader for genocide and war crimes. He was convicted of ordering the murder of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya while running the country between 1982-1983. Rios Montts' intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, also on trial for the same charges, was acquitted. During the closing trial Judge Yasmin Barrios acknowledged the forced displacement, hunger and systematic rape of the Ixil people and noted, "Merely being a member of (Ixil) indigenous group amounted to a mortal offense."

    However it seems there are still many legal proceedings in the case’s future. Ríos Montt’s lawyers have said he plans to appeal the decision and several injunctions that were filed during the trial have yet to be ruled on. President Perez Molina has released a statement saying he respects the ruling, but many believe that his role in the civil war should be questioned. Under Guatemalan law, Perez Molina is immune from prosecution until he is out of office. President Perez Molina has denied there was genocide and in an interview Friday he reiterated the fact that “the ruling is not yet firm.” In the same interview, Perez Molina was asked about statements he made to a journalist in which he said, “all families are with the guerrillas.”

    There has been a lot of coverage from both Spanish and English language news resources, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Pan-American Post, and the New Yorker, among others, while the Open Society Justice Initiative has posted daily updates of the case and its aftermath.

  • InSight Crime reported on the steady increase of homicides in Guatemala in 2013. According to the article, “police numbers show that Guatemala registered a 20 percent rise in homicides during the first third of 2013, compared to the same time period in 2012.” The numbers have returned to where they were in 2011. The article looks at several theories that could account for the jump in homicides, including spillover violence from Guatemala’s southeastern neighbor, Honduras, where the security situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly following a 2009 coup.
  • El Salvador

  • American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and InSight Crime published a report as part of a series on religion and violence in Latin America. The paper, “The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What was the role of the Catholic Church?” looks at “the widely held belief that the Catholic Church ‘brokered’ that truce in light of the wider set of actors actually responsible and considers the various ways that religion may have an impact on contemporary violence in the region.”
  • Colombia

  • The Colombian government presented the country’s first domestically produced flight simulator for drone operators. EFE reported that using the new equipment, “Aspiring drone pilots carry out a simulated mission with a Boeing-made Scan Eagle, tracking moving vehicles or people or locating rebel camps.” Of Colombia’s total budget of $102.93 billion for 2013, it plans to spend more than $14 billion on defense.
  • The Colombian government reiterated it would not enter peace talks with the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, until it releases all its hostages, including a Canadian citizen, Jernoc Wobert held captive since January. The day before, the ELN said it would not release Wobert until his employer, the Canadian mining company Braeval Mining, gave mining rights to those living close to the company’s installments in northern Colombia. Although the group’s forces have been greatly diminished over the years, its attacks against oil and mining sites continue to impact these key industries.
  • Colombian political analysis website Verdad Abierta has an interactive special report with videos, maps and infographics on large-scale land theft in Colombia’s eastern plains.
  • Brazil

  • Rio Real blog reported on a video aired on a Brazilian news program that showed police opening fire into a highly populated favela from a low-flying helicopter while in pursuit of a heavily armed drug trafficker. According to blog-creator Julia Michaels, “U.S. security personnel, closely watching Brazil as mega-events quickly approach, weren’t pleased by what they saw.” The post also provides a short overview of Rio’s public security chain of command. It concludes by looking at the bigger issue of institutions historically not being held accountable in Brazil and notes that while the overall system is reforming, issues of neglect remain.
  • Last week the New York Times profiled the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center in the Brazilian Amazon that trains elite Brazilian commando units. The school is now training troops from across the developing world, including Guatemala, Ecuador and Senegal. According to the report, “The program focuses on the challenges posed by cocaine trafficking, illegal deforestation, the unauthorized mining of gold and diamonds, and the threat of incursions by guerrillas from Colombia briefly seeking a haven.”
  • Friday, April 26, 2013

    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

  • 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.

  • Colombia

  • 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.
  • Mexico

  • 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."
  • Venezuela

  • 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."
  • Honduras

  • 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
    17%: Salvador Nasralla
    16%: Juan Orlando Hernández
    10%: Mauricio Villeda
    22%: None of the above
    15%: Don't know/Not responding

  • 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.
  • Guatemala

  • 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.

  • Argentina

  • 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

    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

  • 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.
  • Paraguay

    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.

    Honduras

    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.

    Venezuela

    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.

    Guatemala

  • 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.
  • Colombia

  • 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.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday, officials unveiled a new police force dedicated to fighting drug dealing in Mexico City. The 150-member division includes 50 new graduates of the police academy with plans to add 50 more, and will focus on combatting micro-trafficking operations through intelligence gathering, video surveillance, and follow-ups to emergency calls. Animal Político has more details on the make-up of the force, which went into operation on Monday, following the academy's graduation ceremony.
  • In a Washington Post op-ed, Viridiana Rios argues that instead of spending billions of dollars fighting drug cartels in Mexico, the U.S. should support reforms to the justice system because "the right way to fight a drug war in Mexico is not to aim at eliminating criminal organizations, as many have assumed, but rather to create conditions in which war does not pay. This will not be achieved with the strategy Washington has embraced. Even if all criminal organizations were eliminated, new ones would emerge as long as profits could be made from cocaine."
  • This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    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.

  • The U.S. State Department posted its 2014 budget request for foreign aid. According to WOLA's Adam Isacson, this budget offered the lowest U.S. aid to Latin America in a decade without adjusting for inflation. Another post on Just the Facts has charts illustrating the breakdown of the $40.9 billion in aid the U.S. has given to Latin America since 1996.
  • There were four hearings this week that in some fashion pertained to Latin America. On Tuesday the Senate held a hearing on border security, while the House of Representative’s Oversight Committee held another, "U.S. Foreign Assistance: What Oversight Mechanism are in Place to Ensure Accountability?" On Thursday the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on energy opportunities in the region and on Friday the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration's budget.
  • The New York Times featured an interesting discussion on the alleged benefits and risks of U.S. military training. Of particular note is a short but pungent article by Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. Doyle examines the history of U.S. aid in Latin America and contends, “U.S. aid left countries with a legacy of repression and violence."
  • The Wilson Center held an event this week, “The Transnational Nature of Organized Crime in the Americas.” The two-hour event can be watched on its website, where papers from many of the presenters can also be found.

    One of the reports, written by Daniel Rico, argues that Colombia's new criminal groups, known as bandas criminales, or BACRIMS, are bound to become extinct. As Wired Magazine highlights, his report also explains that as these groups become weaker and more fragmented, cocaine is becoming cheaper for Mexican cartels. InSight Crime's Jeremy McDermott posted an article that unpacks the report and is worth a read.

  • Colombia

  • On Tuesday tens of thousands of Colombians gathered for a mass demonstration in support of the current peace process. Among them were Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and former leftist Senator Piedad Córdoba. The Marcha Patriótica, a new and far-left political movement accused of having ties to the FARC, organized the marches. Critics of the march say it was funded by guerillas. In response, President Santos said, "I don't see any guerillas here, I see Colombians." Historically, participating in the political left in Colombia can be dangerous. In an interview with a Chicago radio station, Adam Isacson noted, Santos' appearance signaled to the FARC that, "there is space for you if you lay down your arms."
  • Over the weekend the FARC added two top leaders to its negotiating team: Victoria Sandino and Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo.” Catatumbo is the third member of the FARC’s ruling body, known as the Secretariat, to participate in the talks. He is also the commander of the group’s most active unit in southwestern Colombia. To allow both leaders to join, the Colombian military suspended operations in the region.
  • On Sunday former President Álvaro Uribe, who has been a strong critic of the talks, tweeted the coordinates where military operations had been suspended to allow for the FARC leaders' transport. This marked a change from him being an outspoken critic of the talks to actively spoiling them.
  • La Silla Vacía has an excellent interactive map that traces the routes of displaced victims of the conflict that have since become leaders and advocates for other victims. A report by the United Nations says internal displacement in the country continues to increase. According to the document, 130,000 Colombians were displaced in 2010 and another 143,000 were forced from their homes in 2011.
  • Mexico

  • This week the Mexican government announced a drop in drug-related killings. Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced Wednesday that 1,101 people were killed in March, bringing the official murder number to 4,249 since December. The government compared this to the 5,127 killed during the same time under former President Felipe Calderón, claiming a 17% drop. However, the Associated Press put the number killed during Calderón’s last four months at 4,934, which would mean only a 14% reduction. In an article in Animal Politico, analyst Alejando Hope shows that murders have been on the decline since May, making it "hard to argue that policies applied in December have had a significant effect on the number of homicides."

    On the same day of the announcement, 14 people were killed in the western Michoacán state.

  • The AP noted that there is reason to question the Mexican government's numbers because “much of that data originally comes from the 31 states and federal district, with inconsistent or misreporting of cases and subjective criteria on what constitutes a cartel-related crime.”
  • As Mexican President Peña Nieto has focused much of his discourse on the economy and other non-drug war related issues, his administration has “asked the media... to change the narrative with respect to numbers and figures,” according to Osorio Chong. As an extension of this trend, on Monday Proceso magazine reported that the Mexican government had sealed information about organized crime in the country – the number of cartels in existence, their names, leaders and areas of influence – for the next 12 years. As InSight Crime notes, this is just a continuance of “a broader strategy of the Peña Nieto administration to deny access to information to non-governmental and governmental entities alike.”
  • An organization that monitors the press in the country, The Observatory of Coverage of Violence, found that in the first three months of the Peña Nieto administration, the appearance of the words “homicide,” “organized crime” and “drug-trafficking” had fallen 50 percent.
  • Honduras

    According to Honduras’s chief prosecutor, Luis Rubí, 80% of homicides in the country go unpunished. “The country is not prepared for this wave of crime, it has overwhelmed us” Rubí said. There was also significant discrepancy in reported police reform numbers this week. The Ministry of Security reported that 652 agents had been fired from the force, while the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit charged with evaluating officers, reported that only seven of 230 that had failed polygraphs had been removed.

    Venezuela

  • Venezuela’s presidential elections will take place this Sunday. The candidates officially ended their campaigns on Thursday with dueling rallies. Encapsulating the themes of their campaigns, former vice president and interim President Nicolas Maduro said, “I am the son of Chávez, I am ready to be your president,” while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles played up the rampant insecurity in the country and said, "If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government." Maduro is the expected victor.
  • There has been a lot of coverage of the race as it comes to a close. Venezuela Analysis has posted daily updates while WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog offers good analysis of the election. The AP has an interesting article on Maduro’s outlandish campaign tactics while the Atlantic discusses Maduro’s advantages in what it dubs an unfair election. Reuters reported that Capriles denied Maduro’s claims that he would do away with the government’s welfare programs and Caracas Chronicles criticized his campaign tactics. Reuters also has a very useful “Factbox” with information about both candidates.
  • Analyst James Bosworth posted an infographic map depicting violence in Venezuela that shows every state in the country having a higher murder rate than the national average of Colombia, Guatemala or Mexico.
  • This week Maduro claimed right-wing Salvadoran politician Roberto D’Aubuisson was plotting to kill him. The Venezuelan government released alleged recordings of D’Aubuisson hiring someone to carry out the assassination. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said, “the least [his government] could do” would be to investigate the case. D’Aubuisson denies the voice on the recording is his.
  • Cuba

  • On Tuesday a couple accused of kidnapping their two sons from protective custody in the United States fled to Cuba on a fishing boat, but was promptly handed over to U.S. authorities by their Cuban counterparts. Afterwards, the AP published an article that said the incident showed "the Cold War enemies are capable of remarkable cooperation on many issues,” and went on to highlight the undocumented cooperation that goes on between the two ideologically-warring nations.
  • In an article in Foreign Policy, Bill Leogrande asserted, "The moss powerful lobby in Washington isn't the NRA. It's the Castro-hating right wing that has Obama's bureaucrats terrified and inert."
  • Guatemala

  • This week it was reported that Guatemala’s air fleet got a boost for counternarcotics operations. Reuters reported that Brazil’s state development bank helped finance Embraer’s recent sale of Super Tucano planes to Guatemala. It was also reported by the website InfoDefensa that the U.S. would be giving six helicopters to the Guatemalan air force.
  • Today is day number 16 of former dictator Rios Montt trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. This week both the prosecution and defense presented experts in various fields from military to international law to forensics. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has live coverage of the trial as does the Open Society Justice Initiative.
  • Friday, April 5, 2013

    Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region since Monday.

  • The Economist had a couple good articles this week, one on the issue of peasant land reserves in Colombia and another on how Brazil is attempting to deal with crack addicts. According to the latter article, Brazil is the world's largest market for crack, with recent studies indicating 1.1 to 1.2 million people in the country are users.
  • Brazil

  • Reuters takes a look at support for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the country's 2014 elections. Recent opinion polls placed her popularity at an all-time high of 79 percent. According to Reuters, however, she "could fail to win re-election" as "the threat of rising inflation and unemployment, a trio of attractive opposition candidates, and the possibility of an embarrassing logistical debacle at the World Cup mean that Rousseff is less of a shoo-in than many observers think." Analyst James Bosworth offers a quick look back to the 2006 and 2010 elections, which both went to the second round, despite the popularity of a single candidate.
  • Blog del Narco

  • The Guardian and Texas Observer released a report about Blog del Narco, a website that has been reporting on drug-related violence and deaths since March 2010. With the media being silenced in Mexico, Blog del Narco has emerged as one of the few mediums covering the full extent to which drug-related violence plagues the country. The article revealed that the author, whose identity has been a complete secret until now, is a woman in her mid-20s. On Wednesday, her book, "Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War" was released. The book is said to provide, "the most gruesome, explicit account yet of the mayhem that the cartel wars have brought to Mexico." Another Guardian/ Texas Observer article explains the significance of Blog del Narco and why it "has become the most important website in Mexico." An excerpt can be read here.
  • Uruguay Marijuana Bill

  • Uruguay's Congress will vote next month on a controversial marijuana legalization bill. In the upcoming month before the vote, the government will be hosting educational presentations and panels throughout the country on the benefits of regulating the marijuana market. Public opinion polls in December 2012 showed that 64% of Uruguayans oppose the measure, although it has support in Congress. The new law would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants. Marijuana growth and consumption clubs are provided for under the law, however no more than 30,000 hectares of cannabis may be grown nationwide.
  • Rios Montt trial

  • The historic Rios Montt trial re-started this week. A testimony of a former soldier implicated current President Otto Perez Molina in several violent atrocities against the Guatemalan population during the country’s civil war in the 1980s. According to the Associated Press, Hugo Reyes, a soldier who was a mechanic in an engineering brigade, told the court that Perez Molina ordered soldiers to “burn and pillage" during the war. Reyes said that Perez Molina coordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people." The Pan American Post links to several good articles about the case, and points out that Reyes also implicated another general who is a key witness for the defense, possibly tarnishing his testimony. On Wednesday, the court heard many testimonies about sexual violence that took place during the civil war. According to Mike Allison's Central American Politics Blog, an estimated 100,000 women of all ages were sexually assaulted during the conflict.

    For more information on the trial, check out The Open Society Justice Initiative's blog, which provides a daily account of the case. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala has good coverage of the case, as do Mary Jo McConahay and Sonia Perez-Diaz of the Associated Press.

  • Mexico's 2014 security budget

  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed a $4.4 billion security budget for 2014. Of that amount, $1.6 billion will go towards crime prevention; $1.4 billion will go to the penal system, $122 million to the new gendarmerie police force and $231 to intelligence. About $382 million is slated for smaller public security initiatives and will be dispersed to states, municipalities and Mexico City. As InSight Crime pointed out, should this new budget be approved, the gendarmerie, the details of which have yet to be announced, will receive around $384.
  • Presidents of Peru and Mexico to China

  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala traveled to China, Peru's largest trading partner, to discuss trade opportunities in an effort to increase the country's exports. The AFP reported that "Bilateral trade between Peru and China has more than doubled since their free trade deal took effect in 2010, surging from about seven billion dollars to $15 billion in 2012." Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will also travel to China this weekend to discuss trade relations as he kicks off his Asia tour.
  • Armed groups and illegal gold mining in Colombia

  • On Monday, Colombian magazine Semana published an excellent series about armed groups' deep involvement in illegal gold mining. A map shows that in the 20 municipalities with the most gold, there is a heavy presence of armed groups and extortion and abuse of mine workers is constant. A letter between FARC leaders, published by Caracol Radio, revealed details about the group's extortion of the mining industry. Illegal gold mining is now reportedly the group's top source of income in several departments throughout the country. According to InSight Crime, "miners are forced to pay 5 percent of their total income to the FARC, 5 percent to guerrilla group ELN, as well as 7 million pesos ($3,800) to the FARC for the entrance of each mechanical digger to a mining site."
  • Colombia's "emerald czar" dies

  • Victor Carranza, known as Colombia's "Emerald Czar," died Thursday, theAssociated Press reported. Carranza allegedly financed paramilitary groups, but was never tried, supposedly because of his relationship with top political elites. Colombia accounts for 60% of the world's emerald trade, and Carranza was believed to control about half of all mining operations in the country. On Monday, news website Colombia Reports reported that as Carranza's health was deteriorating he, along with other top players in the industry, requested an "active presence" from the government to prevent a possibly violent war between groups looking to control his assets. InSight Crime has a profile of Carranza that is worth a read.
  • El Salvador

  • El Salvador is reportedly planning to request funding assistance from the United States for the country's gang truce. According to InSight Crime, Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes said the government only has $18 million of the $150 million that will be needed to fully implement the truce.
  • El Faro had a long but informative article on off-record cash payments to government officials in El Salvador.