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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Week in Review

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

U.S. Policy

  • House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    The Houses’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing, “NAFTA at Twenty: Accomplishments, Challenges and the Way Forward.” The list of testifying witnesses was a mix of leaders of nonprofit and for profit organizations.
  • Obama to Mexico
    President Obama had a call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday, in which he congratulated Peña Nieto for the “important reforms” he pushed through in his first year in office. President Obama will travel to Mexico for a North American summit on February 19.
  • SOUTHCOM in Guatemala
    The head of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly, was in Guatemala this week to evaluate the progress of a counternarcotics task force the U.S. helped set up along the country’s northern border with Mexico. The United States and Guatemala are in negotiations to set up a similar task force along the country’s border with Honduras, Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported.
  • SOUTHCOM in Honduras
    The United States has offered
    to help Honduras build an international airport at the Soto Cano military airbase, from which U.S. military troops have operated since the early 1980s. Currently Joint Task Force Bravo is stationed there, the main U.S. force used to carry out counternarcotics operations in the country.
  • Help from the Vatican with Cuba
    Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Vatican, which has relatively good relations with the Cuba, to help with the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island since 2009.
  • U.S. policies on sending migrants to Mexico
    Mexicali, Mexico has become the “world’s biggest landing pad for sent-back immigrants,” the Washington Post reported. Larger cities like Tijuana and Juarez used to be the main “drop-off” points but due to shifting U.S. immigration policies and the strong influence of the drug cartels, U.S. officials are now deporting immigrants to smaller border cities.
  • Omnibus spending bill
    The United States Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill (PDF)for Fiscal Year 2014. Two of the bill’s provisions are the Defense Appropriations and State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations, which fund many of the aid programs tracked by Just the Facts.
  • Mexico

  • Self-defense and army clash in Michoacán
    The biggest story this week was the vigilante movement in Mexico’s western Michoacán state, particularly around the city of Apatzingan, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang. On Monday the Interior Minister Osorio Chong announced the government would be sending more troops to the region. Until now, federal troops had been reluctant to get involved, or had even worked with the groups, but this week ramped up their engagement to disarm them. By Saturday security forces will control all 27 municipalities in the Tierra Caliente region where Michoacán is located. So far Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has remained fairly silent on the issue, but has appointed a special commissioner to oversee the federal government’s response.

    The New York Times deftly explained the Mexican government’s “Catch 22:”

    Should it disarm the loosely organized gunmen who have risen up to fight the drug cartels, risking deadly clashes with some of the very citizens it has been accused of failing to protect in the first place?

    Or should it back down and let these nebulous outfits — with little or no police training, uncertain loyalties and possible ties to another criminal gang — continue to fight against the region’s narcotics rings, possibly leading to a bloody showdown?

    Reporting from the New York Times and other outlets indicated that many residents in fact support the vigilante groups and are disillusioned with security force involvement, particularly after the shooting of three civilians Wednesday. For a list of links to coverage in both English and Spanish, see the Just the Facts Mexico news page and the Pan-American Post.

  • Mexico’s police reform
    In the first six months of 2013, Mexico’s 31 states along with the Federal District did not use 88 percent of the available funds the government slated for vetting police. Initially, states were required to complete the vetting programs by December 29, 2013, but because of the delay, will now have until October 2014. More from Milenio and InSight Crime.
  • Colombia

  • Colombian cocaine labs
    Vocativ featured a video special on shifts in the Colombian cocaine trade that highlighted two of the latest trends to shake security forces’ counternarcotics efforts: the move from using huge processing labs in the jungle to small and disposable urban labs and the rise of trafficking the drug in liquid form, which is less detectable. The video also featured an anonymous trafficker who claimed, “legalization would be devastating, it would end the business.”
  • FARC ceasefire ends
    On Wednesday, the FARC ended its 30-day unilateral ceasefire. Colombian think tank CERAC documented the group’s deviation from the ceasefire and found that while the FARC decreased activity by 65 percent, there were 12 violations. Varying sources place the number of violations between four and twelve. Semana magazine wrote that despite these incidents, many analysts said the guerrilla group was largely able to hold the ceasefire, demonstrating the central Secretariat’s control over (almost) all of its fronts, a point that would be key to implementing any eventual peace deal. More analysis from InSight Crime ’s Jeremy McDermott who says while this is true, it also shows the risk of FARC fragmentation is a real possibility.

    On Thursday the government attributed a bombing in western Colombia that wounded 56 people to the FARC. The group said it was “surprised” by the attack and that if one of its fronts had in fact carried it out, it was an error.

  • FARC’s proposed drug reform
    On Tuesday, as the Colombian government and the FARC began their latest round of talks on drug trafficking, the guerrilla group released its proposed drug policy plan to regulate the production and sale of coca, poppy and marijuana. The plan also promoted demilitarization of drug- producing regions and an end to aerial crop fumigations, (See the proposal in its entirety in Spanish here and a summary in here here). Colombian newspaper El Tiempo highlighted various experts saying demilitarizing drug-producing regions is not realistic for the government, given the presence of drug labs and trafficking routes in these same areas.
  • Peru’s “license to kill” law

  • A new law in Peru exempts police officers and soldiers who shoot civilians “in compliance with their duty” from prosecution. The measure drew heavy criticism from civil society organizations who said it was a “license to kill” and will only further existing impunity for abuses. Supporters of the bill said it would allow police to protect civilians more effectively. More from El País.
  • Panama fines North Korea

  • North Korea has agreed to pay Panama a $670,000 fine to reclaim the ship that was found carrying Cuban missile equipment through the Panama Canal last year.
  • Friday, November 22, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    Vice President Biden in Panama

  • On Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Panama to discuss security and trade with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and tour the expansion of the Panama Canal. He praised Panama for “contributing to global security” in its detection and seizure of weapons found heading from Cuba to North Korea. As security analyst James Bosworth noted, the United States has been relatively quiet on the issue. This is likely due, in part, to the “surprise warming in recent months” of relations between the two countries.
  • Attorney General Holder in Colombia

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss narcotrafficking and bilateral cooperation ahead of the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, held in Medellín. During his remarks, Holder called for a change in security strategy saying, "we must acknowledge that none among us can fight this battle on our own, or by implementing a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach,” and "the path we are currently on is not sustainable."

    As La Silla Vacía notes, Holder’s trip comes just as the Colombian government and Farc guerrillas start to address the third point on the agenda, narcotrafficking. For a detailed analysis and update on the peace process, see WOLA’s

  • Secretary of State Kerry addresses OAS

  • On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a speech at the Organization of American States in which he touched on climate change and endorsed the Obama administration’s current Cuba policy, lauding restrictions on travel but calling for broader political reform. The Washington Office on Latin America said the speech offered nothing new and “ignored things that Latin American nations have been asking of the United States,” such as an alternative drug policy, immigration reform, violence, and organized crime. More from the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal.
  • Elections in Honduras

  • On Sunday, Hondurans will vote for a new president. The election is in a dead-heat between Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, and conservative ruling party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández. The outcome of the elections will greatly impact security strategy as Hernández has said he would “put a soldier on every corner,” while Castro has promoted community policing. An Organization of American States election observer said there was no indication of fraud, however, international and national observers will be watching to ensure Sunday’s polls are not manipulated. More analysis from the Wilson Center (video), which held an event on the elections last Friday, from El Faro and from Reuters, which has a useful "Factbox" on the candidates.

    The International Foundation for Electoral Systems had a helpful FAQ on the elections, while Honduras Politics and Culture blog had an overview of the country’s voting system as well as an overview of an OAS report (pdf) on the vote counting system, which offered some praise but highlighted significant shortcomings.

  • Venezuela president gets decree powers

  • On Tuesday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicholas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. He claims he needs the powers to fix the economy and target corruption. More from the Latin Americanist, Reuters, El País and Christian Science Monitor.
  • Chilean elections

  • On Sunday, in the first round of Chilean presidential elections, former President Michelle Bachelet received 47 percent of the vote, just shy of the 51 percent needed to win. Her closest competitor, Evelyn Matthei, received 25 percent. A run-off will be held December 15. More from the Economist and New York Times.
  • Protests in Haiti

  • Protestors in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, clashed with police and government supporters as they called for President Michel Martelly to resign, highlighting several concerns that range from high living costs to unabated corruption. The police and UN peacekeeping forces broke up the violent confrontations. More from the BBC and Pan-American Post.
  • El Salvador gang truce on the rocks?

  • According to El Salvador’s Security and Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo, gangs in the country “are at war, in a process of vengeance and territorial control." An uptick in murders suggests the truce is abating. As InSight Crime noted, murders have been “steadily approaching the pre-truce average of 12 a day.” On Wednesday, gang leaders denied their involvement in the murder increase as well as an alleged plan to increase homicides in December.
  • Colombian President Santos running for re-election

  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday night that he would run for re-election in 2014. His announcement speech focused on finishing the peace process. Santos’ main opposition candidate, Oscar Iván Zulaga, is backed by former President Álvaro Uribe and is a critic of the talks. For this reason, some observers, like analyst Laura Gil and former Senator Piedad Córdoba, have said the vote will be a referendum for the peace process. President Santos is still seeking a vice-president for his bid. More from Reuters and James Bosworth on the challenges President Santos faces in the election. La Silla Vacía has the full text of his announcement speech.
  • Mexican "self-defense" groups in Michoácan

  • Last weekend, "self-defense" groups seized another town in the violence-ridden Michoácan state in a clash with the Knights Templar cartel. As the AFP reported, these vigilante groups now provide security in six towns throughout the state, with plans to take over another 40,000 resident town. The Mexican government has pledged to prevent the groups from spreading.
  • Reports

  • RESDAL (Red de Seguridad y Defensa de America Latina – Latin American Security and Defense Network) published a comprehensive, graphical, and extremely informative Public Security Index (pdf) of Central America this week.
  • InSight Crime provided a breakdown and analysis of Brazil's Forum of Public Security and Open Society Foundation’s study on police killings, looking at why police in Brazil kill. The report found that police in São Paulo were responsible for 20 percent of all homicides last year.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration published its National Drug Threat Assessment (pdf) Monday. It found that while the availability of cocaine in the United States has dropped, the availability of methamphetamine is on the rise, reportedly due to Mexican drug traffickers increasing production and control over the U.S. market.
  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a two-part documentary by independent journalist Tracey Eaton that "sheds light on the origins, failures, and future of the United States’ policy toward Cuba’s government."
  • Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Citizen insecurity in Latin America has grown: UN report

    On Tuesday, the United Nation Development Program released a report that found Latin America continues to be the most unequal and the most insecure region in the world. As the UN noted, “ ‘Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America,’ revealed a paradox: in the past decade, the region experienced both economic growth and increased crime rates.”

    The report, assessed citizen insecurity in 18 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. It examined a myriad of ongoing problems in the region such as high levels of violence, weak judicial and penal systems, and high rates of economic inequality.

    Some of the statistics revealed:

  • Homicides have reached “epidemic levels” with over 100,000 murders recorded each year. From 2000-2010 the number of homicides rose above one million and grew 11%.
  • In Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador more respondents said the police were involved in crime than those who believed they protected the population.
  • In the majority of the countries surveyed, common criminals were perceived to be the biggest threat to public security. Only in Mexico and Brazil were organized crime and narcotraffickers perceived to be the biggest threat, while in El Salvador and Honduras gangs were chosen as posing the greatest danger.
  • Latin America has about 50% more private security guards (3,811,302) than police officers (2,616,753) and Latin American private security guards have rates of gun possession per employee ten times larger than Europe. Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil had disproportionately high numbers of private security guards.
  • The perception of insecurity has also risen. Interestingly enough, the perception of insecurity is higher in Chile, which has the lowest murder rate in the region (2 per 100,000), than in Honduras, which has the highest homicide rate (86.5 per 100,000).
  • In the past 25 years robberies have tripled. In 2012, one in three Latin Americans was a victim of a violent crime. This high level of crime had affected people's daily lives: between 45% and 65% of respondents said they no longer leave their houses at night, while 13% said they had felt the need to move to avoid crime.
  • The findings in the report underscore the importance of calls that have been growing throughout the region for a change in security strategies and for alternative approaches in the fight against the drug cartels. The report put forth several recommendations that have been voiced by analysts, officials and advocates: public institutions must be strengthened; efforts must be coordinated between governments and civil society, as well as between countries; opportunities for human development and growth ought to be increased, while “crime triggers” like alcohol, drugs, arms and weapons should be regulated and reduced through a public health perspective. More from Terra, Animal Politico and the Miami Herald. The report can be downloaded in Spanish here (pdf).

    Friday, October 11, 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.

    Inter American Court of Human Rights

  • Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
  • Argentina

  • A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
  • Arms transfers

  • The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
  • The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
  • Chile

  • Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
  • Brazil

  • Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
  • This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
  • The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
  • Colombia

  • A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
  • Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
  • Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
  • In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
  • The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
  • Venezuela

  • President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • El Salvador

  • In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
  • Honduras

  • In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
  • There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
  • Cuba/Panama/North Korea

  • According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
  • Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Colombia defense minister looking to export security strategy and arms to Central America

    Last week Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón traveled to seven different Central American and Caribbean countries to discuss security cooperation: Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago.

    In every country Pinzón visited he discussed deals with the host governments to increase defense cooperation with Colombia. These deals included selling the countries arms and equipment, as well as having their security forces trained by Colombian police officers and military personnel to fight drug trafficking.

    Colombian newspaper El Tiempo covered Pinzón’s trip, focusing on this expansion of the Colombian security model into Central America. According to the newspaper, the trip had three focuses:

  • Advising on the implementation of Colombian models for the police, the Armed Forces and defense sector sales;
  • Security cooperation so that [Colombian] national companies invest more in [Central America]
  • Gaining support for the government’s decision regarding the maritime dispute with Nicaragua.
  • There were several other key points to highlight from the article:

    Security reform and cooperation

  • Colombia advises police reform in Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, but has agreements to reproduce a national model against drug trafficking all over Central America, from Mexico to Panama.
  • Colombia hopes [that cooperation], for example from the various police reforms in the region, will allow for shared protocols against crime. According to Pinzón:

    “We need to be in solidarity with these countries that are facing problems similar to the ones we face. To the extent that this interrupts trafficking, it interrupts criminality and reduces the flow of resources that come to finance violence and terrorism in Colombia, so we all win.”

    This idea has become popular in the region. Honduran Minister of Security Arturo Corrales said,

    “The idea is that Honduras will join a concert of friends that will widen the spectrum against common enemies, and from the South to the North, and will construct a bridge free of narcotrafficking and organized crime. For this, we need Colombia.”

    David Muguia Payes, the Salvadoran Defense Minister, also supported the partnership, saying: “The Colombian experience is useful for us in the head-on attack against criminals.” The Dominican Republic and Jamaica also recognize Colombia as their primary ally in the fight against narcotrafficking.

  • Pinzón also told the paper that it was a mistake for some Central American countries to have reduced the sizes of their militaries after signing peace accords, saying that this “opened up spaces for organized crime.”
  • On the issue of the country’s maritime territorial dispute with Nicaragua, Pinzón said: “I found a lot of understanding for Colombia’s position to not implement The Hague’s [November 2012] ruling.”
  • Business interests:

    Colombian companies from various industries have invested all over Central America. As El Tiempo noted, Colombia and its business community have one of the highest rates of investment in the region. Some defense-focused businesses, like armored cars and bulletproof clothing, are already widely recognized.

    Colombia hopes that these trainings and agreements will boost their military- industrial complex and lead to the sale of ships, boats, guns, pistols, rifles and gun sights.

    Minister Pinzón is promoting Indumil and Cotecmar, two Colombian businesses that have developed weapons such as the Cordoba pistol, the Galil ACE rifle, as well as river and ocean patrol boats. The sale of one of these boats, which cost around US$60 million to construct, is being negotiated with Trinidad and Tobago, and Colombia has just closed a deal to sell river patrol boats to Brazil.

    The article then goes on to discuss the expansion of Colombian banking interests in Central America.

    Continuing a problematic trend

    Colombian training of foreign forces is not a new trend, but it is accelerating one. As noted in our recent military trends report, an April PowerPoint slideshow from the Colombian Ministry of Defense shows there were 9,983 recipients of Colombian training from 45 different countries between 2010 and 2012. In Panama, Pinzón noted 4,000 police agents alone have already been trained in Colombia. Between 2010 and 2012, that number was just shy of 2,500.

    Just the Facts’ Adam Isacson has covered concerns about the “export” of Colombia’s training model before – for one, Colombia has yet to address the widespread human rights violations committed by their own security forces, including 4,716 alleged extrajudicial killings of civilians.

    Another concern is the United States’ financial and diplomatic support for this training. The United States pays for Colombia to carry out some part of these trainings with funds from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). However, it is not known what the content of the training courses covers, how much money the U.S. provides, or how many foreign forces are trained with its financial backing.

    The State Department’s Foreign Military Training Report, the annual report that documents U.S. training of foreign forces, only documents recipients trained directly by United States personnel and fails to include those trained by Colombian personnel with funding from the United States.

    For example, according to the report for 2012 that was just released, just 290 Honduran police and military received training from the United States. This number does not include, for example, Honduran police personnel trained by Colombian police as part of the U.S.-backed Honduran police reform. For Haiti, the U.S. government reports 20 trainees – this omits the training of ten female Haitian police that were trained in Colombian earlier this year, funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.

    With a reduced defense budget, having Colombia train some of these forces with U.S. funding is a much cheaper option for the United States. As Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has said, “It’s a dividend that we get for investing over $9 billion in support for Plan Colombia.”

    Going forward it is important to keep in mind what lessons are being exported. Pinzón’s comment that reducing the size of militaries was “a mistake” and linked to the rise in organized crime in Central America is a troubling message for both human rights and civil military relations, and one that the U.S. government does not necessarily share. It comes at a time when several countries like Honduras and Guatemala are already militarizing their domestic law enforcement, which is happening with some degree of U.S. funding and tacit approval.

    CIP intern Ben Fagan drafted the translations included in this post

    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, February 22, 2013

    Week in Review

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


  • Human Rights Watch released a report, "Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored," documenting Mexican security forces' participation in forced disappearances. The report's findings were alarming and highlighted Mexico's police problem. As analyst James Bosworth notes, "The number of police abuses listed in this report - including illegal detentions, corruption and collusion with organized crime - is incredibly high and much worse than the military abuses." It also underscores the failures of country's judicial system, noting that prosecutors delay or avoid investigations. Some of the reports findings include:
    • Security forces were involved in 149 of the 249 cases of forced disappearances investigated.

    • None of the 249 cases investigated by HRW have led to a conviction in a court of law.
    • In 54 cases of force disappearance, the Mexican Army, Navy or Federal Police were involved. Local police were involved in about 40 percent of the 249 cases.
    • The number of those disappeared under former President Felipe Calderón, previously thought to be 25,000, is actually 27,000.
  • The HRW report comes on the heels of a civil society group identifying Acapulco in the Guerrero state as Mexico's most violent municipality in 2012. Of those included on the list of the most violent municipalities in the country, five out of the top twenty were located in Guerrero.
  • The Guerrero state has also seen a growth in the widely debated "self-defense" vigilante groups. This week the Associated Press reported the first killing of a suspect by one such group, while El Universal claims it was the second. Animal Politico offers a good interactive map of the vigilante groups.
  • El Chapo Guzman, head of Sinaloa Cartel

    Authorities are investigating whether a shootout occurred in the Guatemalan department of Petén last night that resulted in the death of El Chapo Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Latin America's biggest drug trafficker. According to Insight Crime, the country’s Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez confirmed that there had been two confrontations, while a Guatemalan army spokesman said there was no sign that a shootout had occurred at one of the sites. Lopez said one of the dead allegedly "looked like" El Chapo, however reports of what happened remain confused. The Insight Crime article provides good analysis of what the news-- albeit likely false, according to the website-- would mean for Mexico.


  • Colombian NGO Somos Defensores reported that 2012 was the deadliest year in the past decade for human rights activists in Colombia. According to the group, one human rights advocate was attacked every 20 hours and one was killed every five days, reported news website Colombia Reports. Semana magazine has an infographic on the data.
  • A good article in Christian Science Monitor looks at the recent wave of FARC attacks and its impact on peace talks between the government and the rebel group, which began a new round on Monday. According to the article, "the fact that negotiations have withstood the strain is a promising sign of the strength of the process, analysts say."
  • Colombia's ELN rebel group announced that it was working with the FARC to fight natural resource-mining mega projects together in the Antioquia department. The announcement, posted on the ELN's website, says that leaders of the two groups met in early February and decided "to keep fighting against mega projects including mining exploitation, large dams for hydropower and monocultivation of woods and agro fuels that impoverish people and the environment."
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual Human Rights report on Colombia today. The document highlights continued concerns about attacks on human rights defenders, military jurisdiction over crimes committed against civilians by soldiers, impunity for human rights violations and the ongoing threat of neo-paramilitaries. It praises the current peace process in Havana and the passage and beginning steps of implementation of the Victims Law.
  • Honduras

  • The former head of Honduran police, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, accused police and military officers for his son's murder last Sunday. Officials said the teenager was killed by gang members, however, Ramirez claimed corrupt security force members killed his son in a failed kidnap attempt.
  • Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reported an alarming statistic that more than 60,000 murders committed over the past ten years in the country have yet to be investigated.
  • El Salvador

    Given reports of a recent increase in revenge killings between rival gangs, there are concerns that the gang truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs could be breaking down. According to Insight Crime, "recent killings had seen the murder rate creep up to an average of 6.6 a day since the start of this year, up from 5.3 at the end of 2012. However, the rate still remains far below the average of 14 murders a day registered before the truce."

    Costa Rica

    The Associated Press put out an article on Monday looking at U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Costa Rica. Although the country's crime levels remain the second-lowest in Central America (after Nicaragua), in recent years the country has seen a spike in crime due to its increasing involvement in the drug trade. To counter this trend, "Costa Rica's conservative government has proposed looser wiretapping laws, easier confiscation of suspect assets and quicker approval of U.S. warships docking in Costa Rican ports," reports the AP.

    The article notes that the U.S. spent over $18.4 million in direct security aid to Costa Rica in 2012. It also continues to equip the army-less country with gear such as night vision goggles, provides law enforcement with training and invested in a $2m satellite and radio communications station on the Pacific Coast linked to the U.S. anti-drug command in Key West.


  • On Wednesday, a seven-member delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Cuba and met with imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and with Cuban President Raúl Castro to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • A senior official in the Obama administration said there is "a pretty clear case" for Cuba to be removed from the State Department's "state sponsors of terrorism" list (which includes Syria, Sudan and Iran), according to the Boston Globe. The article mentions that while Congress must vote on whether or not to lift the embargo, the Obama administration can act unilaterally to remove Cuba from the terrorist list, which has been a key obstacle to negotiations with the Castro government. Both the White House and State Department have denied they are considering removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.
  • Caricom meeting in Haiti

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attended a summit in Haiti of the 15-member Caribbean Community, known as Caricom. The discussion centered on crime and security concerns, but the main point of media coverage surrounded gun control. The group asked for the United States’ help in ensuring an international arms treaty included provisions dealing with small arms. "It is the small arms and ammunition which do the most damage in the Caricom region," said Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which is in charge of security issues within the bloc.

    U.S. in the region

    United States Southern Command leader John Kelly visited Panama this week and met with President Ricardo Martinelli, Minister of Public Security Jose Mulino, and the directors of Panama's National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the Panamanian National Police. He then spent two days in Guatemala to meet with senior government and security officials. This was General Kelly's second trip to Central America this year.

    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, April 22, 2011

    Week in Review

    • This week there were multiple reports in the press about the spreading influence of Mexico's drug cartels:

      • Guy Lawson writes in Rolling Stone about the new ways Mexican drug cartels are operating inside the United States.
      • Reporting from South Carolina, the Los Angeles Times documents Mexican cartels' inroads in the United States.
      • Revista Proceso writes about the impact of Mexican cartels' in Costa Rica.
      • McClatchy's Tim Johnson writes about the growing presence of cartels in Central America.
      • The Economist reports on the spread of Mexico's organized crime in "The drug war hits Central America."
    • Carnegie's Moises Naim and LAWG's Lisa Haugaard both have good pieces about Mexico in The Huffington Post this week. Also, CIP's Laura Carlsen wrote about Mexico and the United States' failed "Operation Fast and Furious" in Foreign Policy in Focus.
    • As Mexican forces continue to find more bodies in mass graves in the Taumalipas state (now totaling 177), The Washington Post published an article and video on "Mexico's Highway of Death." According to William Booth and Nick Miroff, "The highway is so forbidding that even the news these past few weeks of the largest mass grave found in Mexico’s four-year drug war cannot lure TV trucks or journalists onto the road."
    • Victor Oscar Martínez, a key witness against a former Argentine military officer in the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de Leon, who tried to intervene on behalf of victims of the dictatorship, disappeared on Monday. After President Cristina Fernandez ordered all federal forces to search for Martínez, he was freed and found early Thursday, though he was warned by his kidnappers to back down from testifying in the trial. Argetina's Pagina 12 published the first interview with Martínez after his abduction here.
    • On Tuesday, Haiti's electoral commission officially declared Michel Martelly as the country's president-elect. This announcement came on the same day that Martelly met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of a three-day visit to Washington. "The people of Haiti may have a long road ahead of them, but as they walk it, the United States will be with you all the way," Secretary Clinton told Martelly. The two held a press conference after their meeting, the transcript of which can be found here.

      Prior to President-elect Martelly's meeting with Secretary Clinton, 53 members of Congress sent a a letter (PDF) to Clinton calling on the U.S. to "dedicate significant attention to the critical and urgent task of improving the appalling conditions in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps."

      The International Crisis Group's Bernice Robertson and Kimberly Abbott list five tasks for Haiti's new president in this Christian Science Monitor article. The list includes: ensure economic stability; rebuild communities; find Haitians jobs; restore law and order; and put the country before politics.

    • The Center for International Policy released a new report last week. "Stabilization and Development: Lessons of Colombia's 'Consolidation' Model" summarizes the discussion that took place at CIP's December 2010 conference and outlines the past successes and future challenges of Colombia's Consolidation, of "Integrated Action," program. The report is available in HTML, as a PDF in English, and a PDF in Spanish.
    • According to Nacha Cattan and Taylor Barnes, in the Christian Science Monitor, at least nine Latin American nations are developing drone programs as a way to tackle drugs, gang vilence, and activities such as illegal logging throughout the region. This increase in use of drones has led to calls for a code of conduct that will assuage concerns over potential misuse.
    • A new ECLAC review finds that Latin America is rapidly becoming a middle-class continent. According to the report, Brazil experienced the greatest expansion of the middle class, with 38 million people climbing above the poverty line in the last ten years. Argentina and Colombia, however, were the two countries in the region that experienced a decline in their middle class populations.
    • The latest issue of ReVista, the Harvard Review on Latin America, focuses on media and press freedom in the region.
    • The Air Force Times published an article about the Inter-American Air Forces Academy, the Air Force's version of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (previously the School of the Americas). According to the article, the IAAFA graduated 42,000 officers and enlisted service members from 22 Central and South American countries in the last 68 years.
    • Bolivia's Vice Minister of Social Defense, Felipe Cáceres, announced that the United States and Brazil will contribute to Bolivia's efforts to combat narcotrafficking. Apparently, Washington will contribute $250,000 for the purchase of GPS systems to help modernize the monitoring system currently in place. Brazil will contribute $100,000 to provide courses for Bolivian technicians who specialize in collecting data on the number of coca plantations in cultivation and the number eradicated.
    • On Tuesday, Brazilian police swept through Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha favela, hoping to capture one of the city's most wanted drug kingpins. Instead, they only came away with 11 suspected foot soldiers for the "Amigos dos Amigos" drug gang, 3 tons of marijuana and 60 stolen cars. According to the Associated Press, questions of whether word of the raid had been leaked were raised after officers met no resistance from gang members.
    • Last week, Ecuador named U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges persona non grata, prompting the United States to retaliate and name Ecuador's Ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos, the same. This week, Ecuador's Minister of Exterior Relations announced that he would call Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, to ask if the United States is interested in naming a new Ambassador. It is unlikely that the U.S. will take Ecuador up on this offer so soon after Ambassador Hodges' expulsion. During a hearing on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela called Hodges' expulsion "scandalous" and "counterproductive."
    • This week's Southcom update:
      • A new, high-tech countertrafficking command center that serves Joint Interagency Task Force South opened in Key West, Florida.
      • Three U.S. Navy ships and one U.S. Coast Guard Cutter arrived in Salvador, Brazil late last week for the start of UNITAS Atlantic phase 52. The three-week long exercise includes navies from Brazil, the United States, Argentina and Mexico. According to Southcom, "the partner countries will operate and train together in scenario-based environments, which include theater security operations, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotic operations, live-fire exercises, humanitarian assistance and disaster response."
      • Continuing Promise 2011 is currently in Jamaica, and has set up two locations with "60 pallets of medical, dental and other supplies, which several practitioners will use to examine, diagnose and treat hundreds of patients."
    • On Monday, a bipartisan group of six members of Congress traveled to Colombia to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement with President Juan Manuel Santos, his Cabinet, and labor leaders and employers. Upon their return, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) issued statements on their fact-finding mission to Colombia, which can be read here.
    • The White House announced that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and President Obama will meet for the first time in Washington on April 28th. The pending free trade agreement is likely to be high on their list of things to talk about.
    • The second-in-command of Colombia's armed forces, General Gustavo Matamoros, resigned this week. According to El Colombiano, there are two versions that explain this abrupt departure: 1) General Matamoros himself decided to resign, or 2) Admiral Edgar Cely, first-in-command of the armed forces, requested the departure to President Juan Manual Santos. General Matamoros' resignation comes in the middle of rumors that there exists a division within the armed forces between members of the Army and the Navy - a rumor which Admiral Cely denies.

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Freedom of the Press

    Government-sponsored forum to denounce "media terrorism," Caracas, 2009.

    The Press Emblem Campaign, a Swiss-based NGO, declared Latin America to have been the most dangerous region in the world for journalists in 2010. Last year, the NGO counted 37 journalists killed in Latin America, a third of the world’s total (14 in Mexico, 10 in Honduras, 4 in Colombia and Brazil, 2 in Venezuela, and one each in 3 other countries).

    Throughout the region, though, reporters’ work is also complicated by states pursuing non-violent, legal means. A recent trend has been the proposal or passage of laws that prohibit or punish certain types of reporting. Nearly all of these laws have a noble stated purpose, but suffer from a vagueness of language that can open the door to abuse. In particular, these laws appear to enable leaders to silence critical or investigative journalism.

    The most recent example is in Ecuador, where citizens will vote this year on a referendum to change the Constitution and introduction of new laws. One question on the ballot asks whether voters would favor “a Communications Law that would create a Regulation Council to regulate broadcast and print media that contains violent, sexually explicit or discriminatory messages, and establishes criteria to hold the broadcasters or media outlets responsible.”

    The ballot measure could pass, since most citizens naturally oppose messages of violence, discrimination or other offensive content. However, critics of the proposed law note that it may empower the Ecuadorian government to review and approve all news reporting before its publication or broadcast. “Its objective,” said Vicente Ordoñez of Ecuador’s National Journalists’ Union, “is to establish prior censorship of journalists’ work.” This would be a large step backward for freedom of expression in Ecuador.

    The Ecuadorian proposal follows a measure sent to Nicaragua’s pro-government-majority National Assembly in February that, as part of a law to punish violence against women, would have created the crime of “media violence” (violencia mediática). This provision was later withdrawn.

    In January, Panama’s National Assembly considered a law, encouraged by President Ricardo Martinelli, that would have made it a crime of up to four years’ imprisonment to “offend, insult, publicly vilify” the president or other public officials. This bill was also withdrawn.

    In December, the National Assembly of Venezuela approved changes to the country’s Organic Telecommunications Law and Social Responsibility on Radio and Television Law. “The social responsibility law,” CNN explained at the time, “explicitly states that no broadcaster or internet provider can broadcast things that incite hatred, cause ‘anxiety or unrest among the public order’ or promote the assassination of leaders.” With such vague terms as “anxiety or unrest,” “alteration of public order,” “motivating intolerance” or “ignoring authority,” the law is written in such a sweeping way that it could conceivably be applied to all opposition media.

    In November, Bolivia approved legislation with another laudable goal – combating racism – that included another troubling provision. The country’s new Law Against Racism would impose fines on, or even suspend the licenses of, media that are publishing or broadcasting racist or discriminatory messages. The trouble is that the government gets to decide whether an article or broadcast meets the standard that would trigger a fine or clusure – and the criteria it uses could be politicized. Much depends on the regulations that the government will develop to implement the law. During a November visit to Bolivia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay warned, “Prohibiting the dissemination of racist ideas, if not adequately regulated, could affect the right to freedom of expression. … [I]nternational law requires that limitations be stipulated by law, that they be defined in a clear and precise manner, and that they be implemented by an independent body.”