Colombia: Secretary of State Kerry’s visit, and Senator Kerry’s record

Secretary of State Kerry and Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín.

John Kerry is about to make his second trip to Latin America as secretary of state. The first was in June, when he attended the OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala. This time, he is to go to Colombia on Sunday and Monday, and then to Brazil.

In Colombia, Secretary of State Kerry is expected to discuss with President Juan Manuel Santos the ongoing peace talks with the FARC guerrillas, for which the Obama administration has expressed support; the issue of security and Colombia’s provision of security assistance to third countries; and the state of bilateral trade two years after approval of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.

In his 28 years as a U.S. senator with a strong interest in foreign affairs, John Kerry has a long record of positions on U.S. policy toward Latin America. He opposed the Reagan administration’s massive aid to abusive regimes in Central America, especially aid to the Nicaraguan contras, during the civil wars of the 1980s. He has criticized the U.S. approach to Cuba as “frozen, stalemated.”

During the past 15 years, though, Senator Kerry consistently supported the aid packages that made Colombia by far the number-one recipient of U.S. military assistance in Latin America.

His support for “Plan Colombia,” however, was neither full-throated nor wholehearted. While Senator Kerry supported assistance to curtail drug trafficking, he criticized insufficient emphasis on drug treatment to reduce demand at home. He expressed concerns about the possibility that counter-drug aid could evolve into a larger counter-insurgency mission (as it did during the 2000s). He criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record, and endorsed human rights conditions that his Senate colleagues applied to U.S. military assistance. He has even at times urged the State Department not to certify improvements in the Colombian military’s human rights record, as required by foreign aid law.

Here are excerpts from Senator John Kerry’s record on Colombia, the country that Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting in a few days.

From his 1998 book The New War, where he characterized drug cartels as a principal threat.

Drugs have made Colombia rich; the nation is awash in profits earned by the export of cocaine to the US and the rest of the world.

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But the country has been all but stolen from its people, virtually taken over by the drug cartels. … A willing army of young Colombians enlist with the cartels, dreaming of easy money, while some young Colombians join the police, army, and customs department just to make money by cooperating with drug criminals.

From the June 22, 2000 Senate debate on the “Plan Colombia” aid appropriation, where he supported the aid package as a flawed but necessary option. Here, he raised concerns about counterinsurgency entanglements, displacement, human rights, and insufficient attention to domestic drug demand. He said he expected Europe to counter-balance the U.S. aid package’s lopsided emphasis on military aid. This did not happen.

Colombia’s situation is bleak, and this may be its last chance to begin to dig its way out. If we fail to support aid to Colombia, we can only sit back and watch it deteriorate even further.
… My first concern is the fine line that exists between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations, particularly since they are so intertwined in Colombia. It is impossible to attack drug trafficking in Colombia without seriously undercutting the insurgents’ operations. We must acknowledge that the more involved in Colombia’s counternarcotics efforts we become the more we will become involved in its counterinsurgency, regardless of our intentions to steer clear of it. But, because the drug trade is the most destabilizing factor in Colombia, our cooperation with the government will over the long run, advance the development and expansion of democracy, and will limit the insurgents’ ability to terrorize the civilian population. But our military involvement in Colombia should go no further than this. Efforts to limit number of personnel are designed to address this.
I appreciate the concerns expressed by my colleagues that the United States contribution to Plan Colombia is skewed in favor of the military, but we must keep in mind that our contribution is only a percentage of the total Plan. … As part of our contribution, and to balance military aid, the United States must continue to support Colombian requests for additional funding from international financial institutions and other EU donors. We must also continue to implement stringent human rights vetting and end-use monitoring agreements, and make sure that our Colombia policy does not end with the extension of aid.
Second, I am concerned that even if the Plan is successful at destroying coca production and reducing the northward flow of drugs, large numbers of coca farmers will be displaced, worsening the current crisis of internally displaced people in Colombia.
My third major concern with respect to this aid package is that it does not adequately address Colombia’s human rights problem. … I would like to commend my colleagues on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee for bolstering the human rights component of this legislation.
Despite my reservations, the potential benefits of this plan are too large to ignore. In light of the changes made by the committee, I believe the plan can help advance United States interests by reducing drug trafficking and thereby promoting stability and democracy in Colombia. We must now work to ensure that our concerns do not become realities.
… Increasing funding and expanding drug treatment and prevention programs are absolutely imperative if we are to coordinate an effective counterdrug campaign, particularly if we are to expect any real improvement in the situation in Colombia.
… As we support Colombia’s efforts to attack the sources of illegal drugs, we need to make sure we are addressing our own problems. … It is clear that drug treatment works, and there is no excuse for the high numbers of addicts who have been unable to receive treatment. As we increase funding for supply reduction programs in Colombia, we must increase funding for treatment to balance and complement it.

A July 26, 2004 letter to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe from 23 U.S. senators, including Senator Kerry, expressing human rights concerns and supporting the work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

We remain deeply concerned about the continued levels of violence directed at the civilian population. There are reports of increased violations, such as extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, attributed directly to Colombian security forces. In addition, guerrillas continued their indiscriminate use of explosive devices against civilians while paramilitary forces carried out assassinations and massacres despite the existence of a cease fire. We believe that an adherence to UNHCHR’s recommendations will help to establish the “democratic security” for all Colombians to which you are personally committed.

The most urgent of UNHCHR’s recommendations is to cut ties between the army and paramilitary forces engaged in abuses, by suspending, investigating and vigorously prosecuting officials engaged in such collaboration.

… We remain concerned about the commitment of the Attorney General’s office to investigate high-level officials implicated in human rights violations and links to paramilitary groups.

The United Nations also raises important points regarding the vulnerability of human rights defenders, journalists and union leaders. Your government’s protection program for human rights and union leaders is important. However, progress investigating and prosecuting threats and attacks against such leaders is essential.

An October 15, 2004 statement from the Kerry for President campaign

President Uribe has achieved deserved popular support for his efforts to make Colombia more secure. I have been encouraged by declining levels of murders, massacres and kidnappings and progress in addressing the challenges of drug trafficking, guerrillas and paramilitaries. I am further encouraged that the Colombian government has agreed to use the recommendations of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as a framework for achieving the just peace that all Colombians deserve.
A persistent cycle of violence, such as that occurring in Colombia, can ultimately be broken only by combining greater security efforts with ending impunity, strengthening the rule of law and the defense of human and labor rights. For Colombians, that means condemning and putting a stop to the kidnappings, killings, and extortion practiced by outlawed guerrilla groups and by paramilitary groups who continually violate international humanitarian law. It also requires severing all links between the security forces and the paramilitaries; punishing those in uniform who have perpetrated these links and engage in extrajudicial killings and abuses; and better protecting judges, prosecutors, journalists, human rights activists and unionists from intimidation, violence and murder.
In Colombia, we must focus on the fight against narco-trafficking and counterinsurgency at the same time as we support the rule of law, alternative development, and the expansion of legitimate state authority to achieve a durable peace. As a Senator I have consistently supported Plan Colombia; and, as President, I will work with President Uribe to keep the bipartisan spirit in Washington alive in support of Plan Colombia, while insisting on progress on ending the violence against civilians.

A July 1, 2005 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 22 U.S. senators, including Senator Kerry. The letter urges the secretary of state not to “certify” that the Colombian military’s human rights record is improving, thus freeing up a portion of military assistance. This letter includes an early mention of a practice that, three years later, would erupt in Colombia as the “false positives” scandal of extrajudicial executions.

We believe there has been insufficient progress in suspending from the armed forces, investigating and vigorously prosecuting security force members who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, or who have aided or abetted paramilitary organizations. Even some of the highest-profile cases have not advance.
… Greater progress in breaking links between the army and paramilitary forces is
imperative. The United Nations notes “continued reports… of cases in which
coordinated operations have been carried out by members of the security forces and
paramilitary groups, and cases in which the victims had been detained by members of the paramilitary forces and subsequently reported by the army as having been killed in combat.”
… We believe that it is time for the State Department to make clear to the Colombian government that further progress regarding its own security forces is necessary prior to certification. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Statement on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2012

In Colombia, where conflict has displaced an estimated 4 million people, our partners are helping the government to provide reparations and land restitution to affected individuals and families.

September 4, 2012 statement upon the announcement of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC

Colombians have suffered for far too long from the violence and insecurity associated with its decades-long internal armed conflict. President Santos has taken the difficult steps toward negotiating a political solution and has indicated that lessons learned from prior peace talks will be taken into consideration. This is an important and welcome sign. Any negotiation that helps strengthen Colombia’s democracy, promote the respect for the rule of law and human rights, and bring peace to the country is a good thing and deserves support.

Senator Kerry at his January 24, 2013 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

One of the great stories of Latin America is Colombia … President Uribe stepped up in a critical moment and began the process of rescuing that nation, President Santos is now doing an amazing job, we strengthened the relationship by passing the economic trade agreement. We have to build on that. And that is an example for the rest of Latin America of what awaits them… [Also] hope to bridge the gap with some of the other countries.

Murders of human rights defenders jump sharply in Colombia

study by Somos Defensores, a non-governmental protection program for human rights defenders, reveals shocking growth in murders of Colombian human rights defenders.

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The chart below illustrates that in 2012, the number of murders was nearly 14 times what it was in 2006. And 2013 is on a pace to be even worse.

The number of murders, although still high, remained relatively consistent around 30 per year between 2008 and 2011. But in 2012, the year after Colombia’s government passed a land restitution law encouraging displaced victims to come forward and claim stolen property, the number more than doubled to 69. The chart posted here, compiled by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, puts the horrifying jump in context.

The first half of this year exhibited a 27% increase over the same time period in 2012. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were killed between January and June, a rate of one every five days. Of these 37, 12 reported receiving threats prior to their murder, suggesting the “evident institutional weakness for the security and control of the implementation of public policy in human rights,” reports Somos Defensores.

Podcast: The Week Ahead, August 2, 2013

Adam looks at the foreign aid bill that’s moving through Congress, the state of the gang truce in El Salvador, and Venezuela’s latest effort to fight crime by sending soldiers into the streets.

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Militarization of law enforcement in Honduras

Last week, we posted a run-down of the militarization of policing in Guatemala. Today, we are looking at similar developments in Honduras, a country with a strong military tradition (pdf)

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that spent much of the 1990s trying to reduce the institution’s power. However, recent deployments of troops to the streets have highlighted concerns that the country is increasingly militarizing its fight against organized crime – and it appears as though soldiers will remain on the streets for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this month Honduran President Porfirio Lobo announced there had been nine days in 2013 (albeit not consecutive) without a recorded murder in Tegucigalpa. He lauded the statistic as “historic,” saying, “before we were always talking about two digits; there were more than 30 murders. Today we have many days at a national level with only one digit.” He attributed this to military presence and police reform, which he claimed was “pushing out those who ought to be pushed out” of the police, despite reports that only seven members of the 11,000-member force have been fired. “How am I going to take the military off of the streets if the work they have done is extraordinary?” he asked journalists.

However, it is unclear if there has been much of a change. According to the National Autonomous University Observatory of Violence, from the start of the year through May 31 of 2013 there were an average of 20 murders per day in the country. The Honduras Culture and Politics blog used this average to calculate projected murders for the whole year and found the country could expect 7,140 murders for 2013 if the rate remains constant. This would yield a murder rate of about 85 or 86 per 100,000 (depending on population growth), about the rate that the Observatory found in 2012. For 2013, the University’s Violence Observatory predicted that the homicide rate could fall by six percent, although, as InSight Crime noted, the prediction had more to do with population growth than a decrease in violence.

Some recent uses of military for law enforcement:


  • In February, the Honduran government launched “Operation Liberty” with the deployment of 1,300 troops — 800 to the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, and 500 to San Pedro Sula. The armed forces will remain on the streets until January 2014.Two months into the operation, an official from the 105th Brigade claimed crime had dropped 60 percent, while the police department claimed crime had fallen 10 percent. Similar claims of drops in homicides and capture of gang leaders were reported again in June. However, sources failed to explain what kind of crimes they referred to and over what time period they were reporting.
  • In early June, Honduras’ Congress approved a $4.4 million plan to add 1,000 more troops to fight organized crime, money that some members of Honduras’ Congress thought would be better spent on police.
  • Also, in June Honduras’ Congress approved the creation of an elite high-technology military police force known as the Tigers – TIGRES in Spanish and an acronym for: Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad. (Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups)
  • On June 7, the line between military and police became even more blurred when the Congress merged the responsibilities of the Ministry of Defense, which controls the military, and the Ministry of Security, which controls the police. The vice minister of security is also a retired member of the military, as are a number of security advisors in the government.


Institutional implications

In addition to worries of corruption and human rights abuse, analysts have expressed concern over the institutional implications of involving the military in domestic security. The Congressional Research Service’s latest report on Honduras (pdf) highlighted worries that the military has started to play a larger role (again) in domestic politics. Before 1982 the armed forces repeatedly took control of the country and only in the late 1990s were they subordinated to civilian leadership.

The military has also played a central role in major recent political shuffles. It led the 2009 coup of President Zelaya and in December 2012, troops guarded the National Congress when it voted to dismiss members of the Supreme Court. The day after, military commanders appeared publicly with President Lobo. In 2011, members of the Honduran Congress approved a reform to the constitution allowing soldiers to assume police duties and be used “on a permanent basis in the fight against drug-trafficking and terrorism, weapons-trafficking and organized crime.” As noted above, several former military members now hold high office within the government.

Human rights concerns

Honduras’ military has been cited as worse than the police for its human rights violations, as it has been linked to extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, drug and arms trafficking and extortion. One such example can be seen in the Army’s 15th Battalion, which receives U.S. assistance, that has control over the rural Bajo Aguán region, where over 60 people fighting for campesino land rights have been killed in the past three years.

Because of the military’s history of corruption, murder, and links to organized crime, experts have warned that putting boots on the streets could increase corruption in the institution by giving soldiers greater opportunity to become even more involved in narcotrafficking. This is compounded by the fact that there is almost near-complete impunity for state security forces in a highly-politicized judicial system.

In mid-June 21, U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the State Department “conduct a thorough review to ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations,” as it questioned the release of aid to Honduras in 2012.

As with the military, there is also substantial evidence that members of Honduras’ notoriously corrupt police force have participated in extortion rackets, are involved with organized crime, and have carried out several extrajudicial killings. According to a March 2013 Associated Press report, “Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula.”

Despite these alarming statistics, the United States continues to fund the police (and military). William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, rationalized continued aid, saying, “Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil,” according to the Associated Press. The statement came following several Associated Press reports on Honduran police corruption that also document U.S. funding for police units, which has reached about $16 million this year.

Former U.S. Southern Command head, General Douglas Fraser, noted in his 2012 posture statement (pdf) that using the Honduran military for internal security “is a necessary initial step to help curb the rising tide of violence,” but maintain that such an approach “is unsustainable in the long term.”

Currently, Congress is holding up $10.3 million in funding to Honduras because of security forces’ questionable human rights record. While there is legislation that puts some human rights conditions on military and police aid to Honduras, as Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group pointed out in an interview with Free Speech Radio News, there is a large loophole: the conditions do not apply to funding for counternarcotics assistance to fight drug trafficking and related violence. In a country like Honduras, through which 40 percent of cocaine that reaches the United States is said to be trafficked, it is difficult to classify which episodes of violence are linked to drugs and which are not.

As lawmakers in both the Senate and House debate the appropriations bill that will determine foreign aid spending for FY2014, human rights advocates can only hope that some of the above will be taken under consideration.

Memories of War and Dignity: Report on victims of Colombia’s conflict

On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years.

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The 431-page document was the result of a five-year investigation that revealed some alarming statistics about kidnappings, deaths, and massacres carried out during the past five decades. The report, “¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de guerra y de dignidad,” (“Enough Already! Memories of War and Dignity”) can be download on the Historical Memory Center’s website.

This reports comes in the midst of ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC. Uponreceiving the report, President Santos said it was a “first window towards the truth that we owe to the victims of this country.”

Some key findings from the report:


  • The report found that in total, 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013. Of that number, 176,000 were civilians — a ratio of eight civilians for every ten deaths, or about 80 percent.
  • Since 1981, paramilitaries have been the biggest perpetrators of violence. In the past three decades, there were 1,983 massacres, which have cost the lives of more than 400 children. The paramilitaries were responsible in 59% of the cases, the guerrillas in 17%, and state officials in 8% of the cases. Victims were 60% farmers, 10% workers, and 30% traders.
  • Between 1985 and 2012, 26 people were displaced per hour. The number of people displaced by the fighting – 4.7 million — represents almost the entire population of Ireland, Costa Rica or Lebanon.
  • There were 23,154 assassinations between 1981 and 2012. In 16.8% of the cases the guerrillas were the ones responsible, while in 10% of the cases the police force carried out the assassinations.
  • The majority of kidnappings, around 27,000, between 1970 and 2010, were carried out by the FARC. Between 1996 and 2002, there were 16,040 kidnappings. Of those, the FARC were responsible for 8,578 and the ELN for 7,462. Kidnappings have occurred in 919 municipalities across the country.
  • Colombia has the second-highest number of landmine victims in the world, after Afghanistan: 10,189.
  • 5,000 reported cases of forced disappearances. Out of that number, only 689 cases were solved.


As Colombia Reports noted, Gonzalo Sánchez, director of the Historical Memory Center said in an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo:

“We propose that the State take the lead. The State says it would not recognize anything until the crime is proven in the highest appeal. But if we are reconstructing what has happened and if we believe the victims, we must ask for forgiveness. This is a mechanism that facilitates the peace process.”

He added that the “biggest sin of the State” was to “fight the war without fighting the causes.”

The El Tiempo interview can be found here, an El Espectador article expanding on the report’s findings can be found here, and an English summary of the report can be found on the Colombia Reports website. Colombian magazine Semana has a selection of quotes organized by topic and an accompanying article.

Militarization of law enforcement in Guatemala

Latin American countries have a long history of using the armed forces to carry out internal security duties.

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However, these militaries also have a long history of human rights abuses. While progress has been made, many countries in the region continue to deploy their troops to combat crime as they struggle with weak public institutions, pervasive impunity, and high crime rates.

Recently several governments have launched military initiatives to deal with these issues. In many cases the country is undergoing a longer-term police reform that is not yielding results, or in the case of Honduras, producing more headaches.

Although international bodies and human rights organizations have pushed for the region’s governments to allow civilian police to fight crime, leaders send their militaries into high crime zones or areas with a strong organized crime presence but poorly trained local law enforcement, in order to see results in the short term, and many times with U.S. support. There are several examples of this throughout the region and in a series of posts we will look at a few of them.


When President Otto Pérez Molina assumed the presidency in January 2012, he became the first career military official to hold that office in 25 years. Guatemalan security analysts say that now about 40 percent of security-related positions are held by former members of the armed forces. After taking office, Pérez immediately calledon the army to collaborate in “neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power.” Since then, given the weakness and endemic corruption of the National Civil Police (PNC), Pérez Molina has relied heavily on the military to fight organized crime and contain social unrest.

In March 2012, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay expressed concernabout “reports of an increased use of the military in law-enforcement functions.” She stressed that any such participation should only be in a “police support capacity without diverting resources from the police”; must be “subject to civilian direction and control”; and needed to be “limited in time and scope.” Since then, it appears little has improved:


  • Since the beginning of 2012, the government has opened at least five new military bases and outposts.
  • Currently there are over 21,000 troops deployed for maintaining security throughout nine states: from Huehuetenango to sectors of Quiche and Alta Verapaz,from Escuintla to sectors of Suchitepequez and Santa Rosa, and from Zacapa to sectors of Izabal and Chiquimula.
  • In September, the Maya Task Force was deployed to Zone 18 of Guatemala City, with 1,200 soldiers and 100 police, representing a ratio of ten to one. A similar operation began in Zone 12 in November.
  • On June 14, 2013 1,500 members of the military reserves were deployed to Huehuetenango in western Guatemala, Escuintla in south central Guatemala and Zapaca in the eastern part of the country as part of an initiative known as the Army “Citizen Security Squadrons.” They were split into three squadrons of 503 soldiers at a cost of $15 million (119 million quetzales), according to Guatemalan news outlet Siglo 21.
  • On July 1, a new military Inter-Agency Border Unit, also known as Joint Task Force Tecún Umán (Fuerza de Tarea Tecún Umán) began operating in zones along the border shared with Mexico. On June 28th the group finished two months of training. The U.S. also in part funds the unit.


Guatemala’s army has a poor record of human rights violations and has yet to be held accountable for the abuses committed during the country’s civil war from 1960-1996, in which 200,000 people were killed and 45,000 forcibly disappeared. According to the Historical Clarification Commission, Guatemala’s truth and reconciliation commission, the Guatemalan state (military and government paramilitaries) was responsible for over 90 percent of the human rights abuses. More recently, in October of 2012, six people were killed and another 34 injured when soldiers open fired into a crowd of indigenous protestors. The military has also been tied to drug trafficking and organized crime.

For decades, the U.S. State Department has been barred from providing aid to the Guatemalan army over concerns of human rights abuses dating back to the civil war. However, this ban does not apply to Department of Defense assistance, which accounted for $26 million in antidrug assistance 2011 and 2012.

While President Perez Molina has started a police clean-up initiative, reports indicate that the effort lacks sufficient funding and political will from much of the government. Aside from the concerns about human rights, analysts have questioned the overall strategy of military deployment, saying that it does not address the need for preventative policies, such as community policing. As one analyst questioned, “What is going to happen when the military finally withdraw?” she asked. “Won’t crime just go back up?”

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.

Entire Region


  • Brazilian newspaper O Globo released three reports this week detailing documents released by Snowden asserting that the United States has been collecting data on telephone calls and e-mails from several countries in Latin America, such as Brazil and Mexico.The reports indicate that the United States has not only been amassing military and security data, but also collecting inside commercial information on the oil industry in Venezuela and the energy sector in Mexico, which are state-run and essentially closed to foreign investment.The reports also showed that Colombia, the strongest U.S. military ally in South America, along with Mexico and Brazil, were the countries where the U.S. program intercepted the biggest chunks of information on emails and telephone calls during the last five years. Similar activities took place in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is demanding an explanation for the United States’s spying and plans to involve the United Nations in an investigation of the NSA’s actions. Brazil also said that it might contact Snowden as it investigates the matter. “Mr. Snowden’s participation in an investigation is absolutely relevant and pertinent,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. MexicoChileColombia and Argentina are also demanding official explanations and the MercoSur trading bloc held a special session on Friday to discuss the U.S.’ espionage programs. More from the Pan-American Post.
    The New York Times featured an article on U.S. attempts to to prevent Snowden from receiving asylum in Latin America, citing a State Department official who warned that helping Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.” However, according to the piece, “Washington is finding that its leverage in Latin America is limited just when it needs it most.”
  • Bolivia is accusing Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal of violating the norms and regulations of international law by impeding Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane while it was passing through European airspace, based on a suspicion that Edward Snowden was on the plane. The OAS expressed the discontent of a large part of Latin America regarding the incident via a firm resolution condemning the European nations’ actions and demanding an apology.
  • The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) found there was a drop in cocaine production in the Andean region. The estimates indicate a 41 percent drop in potential pure cocaine production since 2001, from an estimated 1,055 metric tons to 620 metric tons in 2012. The largest reduction was in Bolivia, which dropped from 190 metric tons of potential pure cocaine production capacity to 150 metric tons. Unlike Colombia and Peru, Bolivia receives very little counternarcotics aid from the United States.
  • Mexico and Argentina topped the list in Latin America on Transparency International’s recently released list for the most corrupt countries in the world.Corruption is something that has become inevitable and there is no field that has been spared from its spell. Trading market is also corrupted with some swindled trading platforms and it is a caution to all the traders to stay away from such ones. Legality and authenticity are the principles followed by few binary trading applications like the HB Swiss and so people should take up trading here.The report also pointed out the most corrupt institutions in each country. While politicians and political parties held the top spot in Mexico and Argentina, the police was named the most corrupt entity in Bolivia, Venezuela, and El Salvador. More from ABC News.




  • On Tuesday, Colombia’s highest administrative court annulled a 2002 electoral court ruling preventing the Union Partiotica (UP), a left-wing Colombina party formed in 1985 during peace talks between the Farc and the government, from political participation. Although the UP’s regained legal status will allow the party to participate in the upcoming March 14th elections, changes in the political landscape since its barring mean the UP may no longer be the Farc’s main political party as it was in the 1980’s and 90’s. More from the
    Pan-American Post.
  • InSight Crime looks at how intra-urban displacement in the country’s second-largest city, Medellin, is used as an “instrument of war” between two of the main groups vying for control over the city’s underworld: the narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado, which has largely held control of the city since the fall of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.




  • Uruguay’s legislature met on Monday and agreed to postpone the vote on legalizing marijuana for a period between 10 and 30 days. Dario Perez, the deputy, proposed postponing the vote based on concern that “it’s not the time” to vote on the initiative; a “period of reflection” will take place before the vote, which will be on Wednesday, the 31st of July.




  • Nearly half of Mexico’s 31 states held elections for a mix of local parliaments and municipal governments on Sunday. Focus was on the tight race in the election for governor of the key Mexican border state of Baja California. According to Huffington Post, both the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were claiming victory following preliminary results. Sixty percent of voters abstained from the elections, reported El Proceso magazine.Fears of violence accompanying the elections are on the rise in the border state of Baja California. Experts say it is more effective and less risky for cartels to control or intimidate local governments, leading gangs to target and intimidate local officials to yield tangible results. “Their thinking is that ‘we are going to support the candidates who sympathize with us or whom we can negotiate with, and if there is a candidate who might win who won’t make a deal with us, we’ll tell him not to run or attack them, or even kill them.”
  • Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda announced the reinstallation of five generals who were released from prison last Friday. They had been incarcerated under former President Felipé Calderón over accusations of alleged ties to drug traffickers. A judge dropped the charges citing insufficient evidence. According to El Proceso, this was the first time in the history of the military that high ranking military officers who had been accused of having ties to the drug trade have been given back their positions after being exonerated.




  • In a prominent speech before legislators at one of parliament’s twice-annual sessions on Sunday, Cuba’s President Raul Castro scolded his countrymen for all kinds of bad behavior, including corruption, loud music, theft, public swearing, illicit logging, unauthorized home construction, and the acceptance of bribes. “When I meditate on these regrettable displays, it makes me think that despite the undeniable educational achievements made by the Revolution… we have taken a step back in citizens’ culture and public spirit.” More from the Washington Post.




  • In response to continuing protests and discontent in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a package of political reforms which she says would reduce corruption and make politicians more accountable. However, as the Economist noted, whether the reforms pass hinges on Brazil’s Congress, in which 191 of Brazil’s 594 senators and deputies are currently under investigation for offenses ranging from minor administrative offences to drug trafficking and murder. Rousseff also announced Wednesday that an additional $1.3 billion would be spent on healthcare and education.
  • On Thursday there was a one-day nationwide general labor strike. Mass protests resumed in several major cities by workers calling for better labor conditions and improved social services. According to the New York Times, the mobilization had mixed success “with some cities and states disrupted severely and others largely unaffected.”
  • Henrique Eduardo Alves, the leader of Brazil’s House of Representatives, said Tuesdaythe proposed plebiscite that is among President Dilma Rouseff’s key responses to waves of mass protests is unfeasible. Top politicians and congressional party leaders who have also cast doubt on the feasibility of the plebiscite favor drafting political reform legislation and submitting it for a popular referendum instead, which would allow citizens to vote yes or no to a series of proposals, with legislation to be drafted based on the results.


El Salvador


  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics both look at a spike in violence in El Salvador. This week there were over 100 homicides, prompting questioning of the stability of a year-long truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and rival gang Barrio 18. Truce mediator Raul Mijango asserts that the surge in killings is a response to changes in government policy, such as new restrictions on imprisoned gang members. However, there has been little analysis of the murders or the victims, and many questions are left open as to whether the end of the truce is really nearing and why.
  • InSight Crime has a post outlining the five biggest differences between the troubled Salvadoran truce and the emerging Honduran truce. The article asserts that “The one area where Honduras may have an advantage is on the mediation front,” as the agreement is being brokered by a unified Catholic Church as opposed to a divided one.
  • report (PDF) by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights the political connections of two drug trafficking organizations confirmed to be operating in El Salvador, according to an article in La Prensa Grafica and translated by InSight Crime. The report found that the effectiveness of the cocaine trafficking and organized criminal operations of the Perrones and the Texis Cartel is owing to protection and lack of investigation from the state.
  • The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue published a new report entitled “Mediating Criminal Violence: Lessons from the gang truce in El Salvador.” (PDF) More from Armed Groups and International Law.


INL Assistant Secretary Brownfield’s trip to Honduras and Costa Rica

Last week Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William R. Brownfield traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras to discuss the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and collaborative counternarcotics and security strategies. While there he announced funding for upcoming initiatives in both countries.


In Honduras, Assistant Secretary Brownfield met withVice President María Antonieta Guillen de Bográn, Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla, and Defense Minister Marlon Pascua.

Brownfield announced the U.S. would be providing $16.3 million to combat crime in the country: $6 million to create a special police unit to combat large-scale crimes (to be called the Major Crimes Task Force), and another $10.3 million to equip and train police and prosecutors.

Recently, two troubling Associated Press reports have linked U.S. funding to Honduran police units carrying out “death-squad style” killings. In August the United States froze about $30 million in aid to Honduras over concerns that its police director, Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, had been involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The United States has since released some of the money under strict conditions, saying it only would go to specially vetted units not under Bonilla’s control, in accordance with the Leahy Law.

The AP investigation revealed that under Honduran law, all police units are in fact, under Bonilla’s control. Some of the aid announced by Brownfield “will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla,” according to the AP.

In an interview with the AFP, Brownfield insisted that the U.S. does not have relations with Bonilla and would not offer him “neither a dollar nor a cent.” He recognized that as director Bonilla is responsable for all units, but that not all “15,000 or 16,000 members of the Honduran National Police report directly to the director.” To give “two degrees of separation” between U.S. funding and individuals and units accused of human rights abuses, Brownfield said the U.S. would also give no support to the 20 officials directly below Bonilla.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, has also refuted the claims, saying the U.S. is monitoring individuals and institutions receiving the funds and that aid will continue to flow into Honduras.

For 2013, the U.S. Congress approved around $36 million for programs in Honduras, $26 million of which was marked for police and security initiatives, according to Brownfield. Of this funding, Congress is reportedly withholding $11 million over human rights concerns.

Brownfield estimated police reform in the Central American country could take five to ten years. He noted the U.S.’ current strategy “is to support the process over the years and at the same time work with small, specialized units” of vetted officers that would be monitored. He also added that the U.S. was looking to create specialized anti-gang and anti-drug units that would work with the FBI and DEA.

These reports follow last year’s revelations that Honduran citizens had been killed during U.S.-funded counternarcotics operations by specially vetted security force units.

Speaking at a recent event at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Washington on Central American security, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said, “We do not need to create law enforcement ‘paradise’ in Central America. What we need to do is improve capabilities by 10 or 15 percent. That will drive up the cost for the trafficking organizations of doing business in and through Central America.”

Costa Rica

While in Costa Rica Assistant Secretary Brownfield met with Anti-Drug Commissioner Mauricio Boraschi and Public Security Minister Mario Zamora. He announced the U.S. government would provide $6-$7 million to fight drug trafficking. The funds, he said, would provide for “training of prosecutors and investigators, the professionalization of police corps, for border control tasks, and for supporting anti-drug police units during land and sea operations.”

Brownfield also revealed another $1.6 million would be provided to government institutions and NGOs to fight domestic violence.

A recent Associated Press article notes that in 2012 the U.S. spent more than $18.4 million in direct security in Costa Rica. The article discusses increased U.S. involvement in the country and is definitely worth a read. It cited risk-analysis firm Southern Pulse director Sam Logan as saying Costa Rica was “the closest the U.S. has to a protectorate in Central America.”

In the past few years, Costa Rica has been threatened by rising domestic drug consumption, increasing levels of violence and expanding presence of Mexican drug cartels.

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Organized crime is also on the rise. As President Laura Chinchilla and Brownfield have both noted, Costa Rica is a “victim of its geography,” located between cocaine producing countries in South America and the region’s number one consumer – the United States. The country has become a more attractivetransit country for traffickers as counternarcotics operations targeting more traditional routes have shifted smugglers’ tactics.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Strategy Report, law enforcement agencies in the army-less country are under-resourced and have limited capacity. In 2012, Costa Rica increased its police budget by 11% to $351.5 million, which the Wall Street Journal pointed out was slightly less than the Baltimore police force’s budget.

In a radio interview while in Costa Rica, Brownfield warned the situation is likely to worsen. He said tackling crime would “require more force, more collaboration between the United States and Costa Rica during the next two to three years” and that more focus on maritime interdiction and border and port security would be required. He underscored the importance of creating opportunity but also the need for the threat of legal consequences for those involved in drug trafficking.

During the interview, Brownfield said that the argument that the United States’ role as the main consumer in the region creates the problem is “up to a certain point, stuck in the 1990s,” citing that cocaine and methamphetamine consumption has dropped considerably in the past seven years.

The White House just announced that President Obama will be traveling to Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade, and immigration, among other topics. In Costa Rica he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of countries part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), also to discuss trade and security.

Six observations about last week’s Southern Command “Posture Statement”

Marine Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command since November, gave his first testimonies last week in the U.S. Congress. Before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, he presented the annual “Posture Statement” for Southcom the “regional combatant command” that manages all U.S. military activity in the Western Hemisphere (excluding Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas).

Gen. Kelly took command just in time for “sequestration,” the deep cuts in federal spending, including Defense spending, that went into effect on March 1. As Latin America is clearly a lower U.S. national security priority than other regions of the world (Middle East, Pacific Rim, Europe), these cuts are hitting Southern Command disproportionately. Its Miami headquarters is trimming 26 percent from its budget, Gen. Kelly testified. These cuts’ effect, in fact, was the central theme of his testimonies last week.

  • 1. Reduced drug interdiction. Due to budget cuts, Gen. Kelly foresees a sharp drop in the number of planes and boats available to look for drug-smuggling and other trafficking activity along Central America’s coasts and in the Caribbean. He raised the possibility that the U.S. Navy may resort to “stopping all naval deployments to the Caribbean and South America,” something that would leave Southcom’s naval component, the 4th Fleet, with little to do.

As a result, Gen. Kelly foresees a drop in the number of tons of cocaine that Southcom will seize in Central America and the Caribbean, from 152 last year to 90 this year. (See the chart below, which is also interesting because it contends that U.S. interdiction dropped after Ecuador refused to renew a U.S. presence at its Manta airbase in 2009.).

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The cuts will spell the end of “Operation Martillo” (“Hammer”), a surge of U.S. interdiction boats and planes that began last year along Central America’s coastlines. Two Navy frigates currently participating in the operation will return to port soon. The 90 tons of expected seizures this year, however, represent only a modest drop from the non-Martillo level of 117 tons measured in 2011.

  • 2. Trafficking appears to be moving westward, to the Pacific. The Posture Statement offers these estimates of how trafficking activity has shifted as a result of “Martillo.”
    • 21% drop in aircraft smuggling to Central America (mainly Honduras).
    • 57% drop in aircraft smuggling to Hispaniola island (mainly Haiti).
    • 36% drop in boats smuggling near Central America’s Caribbean coast.
    • 38% drop in boats smuggling on Caribbean high seas near Central America.
    • 71% increase in 2012, but 43% drop so far in 2013, in boats smuggling near Central America’s Pacific coast.
    • 12% increase in 2012, and 51% increase so far in 2013, in boats smuggling on Pacific high seas near Central America.

The “balloon effect,” it would appear, continues to illustrate illicit trafficking activity in the region.

  • 3. Southcom is cutting back on exercises, military-to-military contacts, and Special Forces training deployments in 2013 as a result of “sequestration.” The command, Gen. Kelly says, has been forced to “scale back deployments of Civil Affairs and Special Operations Forces teams to the region.” Southcom has chosen to scale back the annual “Panamax” canal-defense exercise, and to cancel the following exercises:

The Posture Statement also says that the National Guard’s “State Partnership Program,” a series of smaller deployments, has canceled more than 90 events. In 2012, this program alone carried out 223.

Exercises that appear to have survived the cut include the “Beyond the Horizon” series of humanitarian exercises, UNITAS, the Southern Partnership Station series of naval events, and the Caribbean exercise Tradewinds.

  • 4. Iran’s efforts aren’t getting traction in the region. “I share the Congress’ concerns over Iran’s attempts to increase its influence in the region,” General Kelly says. However,

“The reality on the ground is that Iran is struggling to maintain influence in the region, and that its efforts to cooperate with a small set of countries with interests that are inimical to the United States are waning. In an attempt to evade international sanctions and cultivate anti-U.S. sentiment, the Iranian regime has increased its diplomatic and economic outreach across the region with nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. This outreach has only been marginally successful, however, and the region as a whole has not been receptive to Iranian efforts.”

Southcom nonetheless remains vigilant, Gen. Kelly says, even though its “limited intelligence capabilities may prevent our full awareness of all Iranian and Hezbollah activities in the region.”

  • 5. China is now being explicitly cited as a competitor. Gen. Kelly notes “an unprecedented three naval deployments to Latin America since 2008, including a hospital ship visit in 2011” from China. Whether three deployments in five years should be cause for concern is unclear, but the Commander, mindful of his congressional audience, contrasts them with the current budget cuts:

“China is attempting to directly compete with U.S. military activities in the region. I believe it is important to note that sequestration will likely result in the cancellation of this year’s deployment of the USNS Comfort [a U.S. Navy hospital ship] to the region, an absence that would stand in stark contrast to China’s recent efforts.”

  • 6. The document’s annex provides a glimpse of current assistance to Colombian forces fighting in that country’s armed conflict. Note these fragments from the section on Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), the Southern Command’s Special Forces component.
    • “SOCSOUTH elements provided assistance to the Colombian Special Operations Command, the new joint interagency task forces that are conducting operations against key FARC concentrations. SOCSOUTH also provided counternarcotics, small unit tactics, and riverine training to Colombian National Police and military forces.”
    • SOCSOUTH supported Colombian War Plan ‘SWORD OF HONOR’ by helping build intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination capacity in newly established joint interagency task forces fighting the FARC.”
    • “In 2012, SOCSOUTH provided subject matter expertise to enable key Colombia partner units to establish a sustainable weapons-repair capability and initiate the development of an aerial delivery capability.”
    • “By partnering with academia, SOCSOUTH seeks to build critical thinking skills of key partner unit leadership, helping them to better confront complex irregular warfare challenges. In 2012, SOCSOUTH sponsored a “Counter FARC Ideological Activities” seminar in Colombia, and a “Counterterrorist Operations Planning” seminar in Peru in support of counter narco-terrorist operations.”

Vigilante justice in Mexico: A state-by-state guide

Citizens’ self-defense groups, or vigilantes calling themselves “community police,” are now active in 13 states and 68 municipalities across Mexico.

Although many rural parts of Mexico have a tradition of self-policing that dates back a decade or longer, there has been a surge in the formation of new groups in recent months due to the spread of organized crime into these areas, including increases in extortion and kidnappings.

The spike in violence in places like the state of Guerrero, combined with the minimal presence and weakness of police in rural areas, as well as the low level of public confidence in state institutions, are all contributing factors to the rise
of self-defense groups. “We want to escape the yoke of organized crime,” said one vigilante leaderabout the movement’s motivations. “They were charging us protection payments, extortion.”

While supporters of the groups say they are providing much-needed security, there are growing concerns they may turn into paramilitary groups or become involved with criminal groups. Raúl Plascencia, head of Mexicos Human Rights Commission, has warned, “there is a very thin line between these self-defense organizations and paramilitary groups.”

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of vigilante activity:



  • The recent self-policing phenomenon first began in Cherán, Michoacán in April 2011, when a group of residents took up arms to defend their forests against loggers with ties to drug cartels. Vigilantes set up roadblocks and night watches to fight back against unauthorized logging.
  • Self-policing groups also exist in Tepalcatepec and Buenavista Tomatlán, towns in the western part of the state that have been overrun by organized crime. According to official reports, about 400 masked men, some armed with AK-47s and dressed in matching printed T-shirts, set up checkpoints at the entrances to Tepalcatepec.
  • Authorities recently arrested 31 members of the Buenavista Tomatlán “community police” force in northern Michoacán and 34 members of a similar group in La Ruana. A few days later, another 17 vigilantes were arrested in La Ruana. The groups were accused of being fronts for drug trafficking. “The intelligence we are working with, the type of arms confiscated and other elements, indicates that these are people armed by organized crime groups that operate in Jalisco, Michoacán, and Colima,” explained Eduardo Sánchez, Assistant Interior Secretary, regarding the La Ruana arrests.
  • Four new self-defense groups emerged in the municipalities of Cherato, Cheratillo, 18 de Marzo, and Orúscato, all in central Michoacán.




  • The new vigilante movement that took off in January has grown most prominently in Guerrero recently. According to the New York Times, this spike builds on a long-standing tradition of citizen police forces in the rural regions of the state. Before the outbreak, vigilante groups already claimed to be patrolling the streets of 77 towns and villages in Guerrero.
  • The Regional Coordination of Community Authorities (CRAC), which began as the Community Police in 1995, has a deep history in the region. CRAC works in 60 communities in 10 municipalities to “stop common crime through surveillance by community police and the reeducation of those detained.”
  • On January 5, the Union of Towns and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), originally formed to protest high electricity prices, emerged as a self-policing group in Ayutla de los Libres. It is now present in 41 towns across Guerrero.
  • There have been two recorded killings thus far by the groups: the first on January 22, in the
    town of Tixtla, where a suspected criminal was shot to death when he refused to stop for inspections at a roadblock. The second took place on February 20 in the community of Refugio, in Ayutla de los Libres, when vigilantes opened fire on a group of five armed suspects, killing one.
  • Following a popular trial that began on January 31 in the town of Ayutla de los Libres, vigilante groups turned over 20 of the suspected criminals to state authorities. The vigilantes freed over 20 others following a “re-education process.” They now claim they have either freed or turned in all of the 54 detained criminals.
  • On February 24, vigilante leaders announced that 20 self-policing groups from villages around Acapulco and Coyuca de Benítez will unite into one front. Spokesman Carlos García Jiménez said that the “community police force” would be setting up checkpoints the following week, and claimed the group was working toward official recognition from the government.

According to an investigative report by the Toward Freedom website, Marines were unofficially deployed to Guatemala for Martillo in July, just two days after a SOUTHCOM-led military interaction/humanitarian exercise known as “Beyond the Horizon” ended in Guatemala.

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    • At the request of rural farmers and ranchers, some 60 residents of Mapastepec, on the southern coast of Chiapas,

banded together

     to form a Rural Forces Squad (PFR) to work in collaboration with local authorities.

  • With only 60 municipal police serving a population of 50,000 in the town and 200 surrounding communities, the town was previously ill-equipped to fight crime, particularly cattle theft, according to La Jornada. The Rural Forces Squad has been sworn in and armed by the government, but apart from thefts, they are required to refer any crime to authorities.


    • Self-defense groups are

now patrolling

     in two communities in the eastern part of Morelos: Tetelcingo, in the municipality of Cuautla, and Tenextepango, in Ciudad Ayala. The groups formed in response to a surge in criminal acts, including vehicle theft, homicides, and attacks on storekeepers and credit holders at banks.

  • In the indigenous community of Tetelcingo, the group has hung banners over streets and bridges to advise residents to remain vigilant for crime, and to warn criminals that they will be “put to death by the people” if they are apprehended in the area. State Secretary Jorge Messeguer Guillén said that the government is aware of the situation and that it “rejects any public use of force by one’s own hand.”
  • In Tenextepango, a recent attack on an elderly woman in her own store riled up the anger of the community, which then began to organize to put an end to such crimes themselves.



  • Residents of Santos Reyes Nopala formed their own self-policing group and declared themselves in rebellion against abuses of the army and members of the state police. After being sworn in by Mayor Fredy Gil Pineda Gopar, a member of the PRI, the 500 vigilantes took up rifles, shotguns, and machetes and set up the first roadblock at the entrance to the community. The governor of Oaxaca has vowed to dissolve the group.




  • In two municipalities, Ascención and Galeana, members of the Mennonite and Mormon communities have taken up arms to end the kidnappings, murders, and acts of extortion that members of their families have experienced at the hands of organized crime groups.
  • In the community of Obrera, in the capital city, residents have set up guards and taken up
    homemade arms to stop thieves, though the local police intervened.


Estado de Mexico


  • The Secretary General of the State of Mexico, Efrén Rojas Dávila, acknowledged that self-policing groups operate in the towns of Amatepec and Tlatlaya, in the southern part of the state.




  • The only known self-defense group in Tabasco is People United Against Crime (PUCD), which emerged in Villahermosa in order to “clean” the city of organized criminal groups like Los Zetas. Governor Arturo Núñez Jiménez has denied the existence of PUCD, and claims to have “no evidence” that the group exists.




  • On February 11, municipal leaders met with representatives of the state government, the military, and several indigenous groups, including 150 members of the indigenous Nahua group, in Cuautitlán de García Barragán to announce their decision to create a self-defense group. Town leaders have been faced with an increase in illegal mineral extraction and logging as well as organized crime.




  • The vigilante movement has also spread to Veracruz, where there are self-policing groups in three different regions of the state, including Ciudad Mendoza, Acultzingo, and the northern region. The communications coordinator for the state of Veracruz, Gina Domínguez Colío, has denied that such groups exist in the state and claimed that the reports mistook protesting peasants in Acultzingo for vigilantes.


Today, the Mexican news website Animal Político reported the results of a public opinion surveyconducted by Parametría. The study found that approximately 6 out of 10 Mexicans approve of the self-defense groups. About 50% of those surveyed believe that the groups are “a way of helping authorities solve the problem of crime,” as opposed to 25% who responded that they constitute “taking justice into one’s own hands.”

Click the map below for an interactive version with more details. Animal Político also has a thorough map of self-defense groups across the country.

Selected Self-Defense Groups in Mexico