The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Brazil is planning to build a 10,000-mile virtual border fence. According to NPR, "The system will use a combination of satellite technology, electromagnetic signaling, tactical communications, drones, and an increased army presence to monitor the border areas." The project is expected to cost $13 billion and require 10 years to complete.
Brazil is expanding naval operations off the coast of Africa to protect their financial and oil interests from piracy and to thwart increased drug trafficking.
Venezuela's national election authority, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE), concluded its audit of last month's presidential election results and confirmed President Nicolas Maduro as the victor. According to the CNE, there was only a margin of error of 0.02 percent. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called the audit "a farse" on Twitter.
As noted in Monday's round-up, the Venezuelan government has sent 3,000 troops to the streets in some areas of Caracas. According to the Associated Press, "Human rights activists worry that sending soldiers trained for warfare on policing missions will only make things worse for the residents they are meant to protect." WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog and the Guardian have more on the "Secure Homeland" initiative.
International Crisis Group published a report, "A House Divided," that examines the political environment in Venezuela and looks at how the country can avoid political violence and polarization.
The Washington Post published an article on Mexico's new security protocol that prohibits U.S. officials from working inside any of its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Post, all U.S. ties to Mexico, including interactions with the country's army and navy, will go through the civilian Ministry of the Interior.
Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla was engulfed in a scandal this week after it was reported that she had used the jet of a Colombian linked to drug trafficking. The affair caused a media storm which was followed by the resignation of three high-level government officials. Communications Minister Francisco Chacon stepped down on Wednesday. Mauricio Boraschi, head of intelligence and security, and presidential aide Irene Pacheco both resigned Thursday. President Chinchilla is also being investigated as Costa Rican law prohibits officials from accepting undisclosed gifts. Reuters, BBC, Bloomberg, and the AFP all have coverage.
The ninth round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government began this Wednesday. The round will end May 25. Both sides are still working to reach an agreement on land, the first topic of the talks' five-point agenda. The next point will be the FARC's political participation. WOLA's Adam Isacson posted six weeks of updates to his Colombia Peace Dialogues Timeline on his blog. Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía has an informative article examining the three stages of the peace process, the government's preparation, the negotiations and policy implementation, and looks at what the FARC's involvement in formal politics might look like.
The Washington Post featured an article about the FARC's "recruitment of children to boost its weakened fighting units even as it talks peace with the government." The article provides one harrowing tale after another about what child soldiers in the group have endured: "Angel Vivas, who served in the FARC from age 13 to 16, recalled how one 10-year-old fighter was executed for having thrown away his rifle. “The commander shot him right then and there and told the others to throw him in the same hole where he slept,” Vivas said."
Colombia's El País also looked at the issue of child recruitment not just by the FARC but by criminal gangs in the southwestern city of Calí. As far as the information that has been made available to the public, the issue of child combatants has yet to be discussed in the peace talks.
According to sources within Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture, a government body responsible for land redistribution and restitution to victim's of the armed conflict has been illegally granting land to criminal actors and wealthy landowners since 2006. So far 13 people have been charged in the investigation. More coverage from Colombia Reports, El Tiempo and La Opinion.
The Associated Press published a new investigation providing further evidence that units within the U.S.- backed Honduran national police are operating as death squads by killing alleged gang members extrajudicially. The AP looked at U.S. involvement and found:
In the last two years, the United States has given an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduran law enforcement. The U.S. State Department says, it faces a dilemma: The police are essential to fighting crime in a country that has become a haven for drug-runners. It estimates that 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. - and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America - pass through Honduras.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield responded to reports by saying, funding the police was the "lesser evil.":
"The option is that if we don't work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of ... taking matters in their own hands," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told the AP via live chat on March 28. "Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil."
In another interview with EFE this week, Brownfield praised National Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who has previously been accused of participating in death squads. Brownfield said that he "respects" and "admires" the "effective work" that Bonilla has done. "I want to make it very clear that I am working with the Honduran police, and supplying aid through programs, because everyone in Honduras agrees that they are suffering a problem of violence, homicides, and drug trafficking. And to solve them we have to work with the police,” Brownfield told EFE.
Ahead of the report's release, U.S. officials underscored the United States' position on drug policy: the U.S. will continue to oppose legalization. In an article in Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske reiterated that for the United States, legalization is not a viable solution to the problem. He argued the drug trade was not the only illegal market fueling organized crime, pointing to other sources of income: kidnappings, human trafficking, extortion and corruption.
Earlier in the week, in an interview with El Tiempo, William Brownfield Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs sent a similar message: the legalization of "cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, synthetic drugs” was a red line no country wants to cross." According to Brownfield, if security policies increase costs for drug traffickers 10 to 15 percent, this will prompt drug traffickers to move routes, which "would be good for the hemisphere."
Uruguayan President Mujica gave an interview to EFE in which he defended his government's steps towards marijuana legalization, saying that while he considers the drug a "plague," regulating the market is much better than letting the drug traffickers continue to profit.
Drug legalization will be the main topic at the OAS' upcoming general assembly meeting, June 4 to 6 in Guatemala.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The White House announced last week that Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden will be traveling to Brazil, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago during the week of May 26. It was also announced that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Chilean President Sebastion Piñera will visit Washington in June to meet with President Obama.
The Congressional Research Service released a new report, “Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress.”According to the report, “From FY2008- FY2012, Congress appropriated $496.5 million under what is now known as the Central America Regional Security Initiative to support security efforts in the region. While there are some signs of progress, security conditions remain poor in several Central American nations.”
This week there will be two hearings in the Senate that pertain to Latin America. The first will be held by the Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday and will discuss S.793, the Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act of 2013. The second will be held by the Committee on Armed Services and will look at Oversight of the Law of Armed Conflict, the Use of Military Force and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Today, the Venezuelan government deployed 3,000 military troops to the streets of Caracas to battle rising insecurity in the country’s capital. According to EFE, the units will be deployed to six neighborhoods in and around the capital, including the Sucre and Baruta municipalities, which have both been described by President Maduro as “the two most dangerous in the country.” President Maduro said, "We are putting the Armed Forces on the street because it is a necessity, and they will stay on the streets for the time that we need them to stabilize security.” As InSight Crime noted, putting more troops on the streets will not fix several factors that fuel the endemic violence, such as widespread corruption within security forces, a weak and corrupt judicial system and lenient firearm controls.
EFE also reported on Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez’s announcement that a special police unit was being created for “the search and capture of citizens involved in homicides.”
The Economist published an article over the weekend looking at the political and economic aftermath of Venezuela’s election. The piece runs through a series of post-election events, from President Maduro backing out of a full audit of the election results to violence breaking out in the country’s National Assembly, that have been compounded by rising inflation, falling oil prices and food shortages. The article notes, “For the first time, analysts are speaking of a split in the armed forces.” As one analyst contends, using the army to tackle rising violence “could oblige the armed forces to take a [political] position.”
On Friday, former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sentenced to eighty years in prison after a court convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity. The historic case marks the first time a domestic court has tried a former leader for genocide and war crimes. He was convicted of ordering the murder of 1,771 members of the Ixil Maya while running the country between 1982-1983. Rios Montts' intelligence chief, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, also on trial for the same charges, was acquitted. During the closing trial Judge Yasmin Barrios acknowledged the forced displacement, hunger and systematic rape of the Ixil people and noted, "Merely being a member of (Ixil) indigenous group amounted to a mortal offense."
However it seems there are still many legal proceedings in the case’s future. Ríos Montt’s lawyers have said he plans to appeal the decision and several injunctions that were filed during the trial have yet to be ruled on. President Perez Molina has released a statement saying he respects the ruling, but many believe that his role in the civil war should be questioned. Under Guatemalan law, Perez Molina is immune from prosecution until he is out of office. President Perez Molina has denied there was genocide and in an interview Friday he reiterated the fact that “the ruling is not yet firm.” In the same interview, Perez Molina was asked about statements he made to a journalist in which he said, “all families are with the guerrillas.”
InSight Crime reported on the steady increase of homicides in Guatemala in 2013. According to the article, “police numbers show that Guatemala registered a 20 percent rise in homicides during the first third of 2013, compared to the same time period in 2012.” The numbers have returned to where they were in 2011. The article looks at several theories that could account for the jump in homicides, including spillover violence from Guatemala’s southeastern neighbor, Honduras, where the security situation has continued to deteriorate, particularly following a 2009 coup.
American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and InSight Crime published a report as part of a series on religion and violence in Latin America. The paper, “The El Salvador Gang Truce and the Church: What was the role of the Catholic Church?” looks at “the widely held belief that the Catholic Church ‘brokered’ that truce in light of the wider set of actors actually responsible and considers the various ways that religion may have an impact on contemporary violence in the region.”
The Colombian government presented the country’s first domestically produced flight simulator for drone operators. EFE reported that using the new equipment, “Aspiring drone pilots carry out a simulated mission with a Boeing-made Scan Eagle, tracking moving vehicles or people or locating rebel camps.” Of Colombia’s total budget of $102.93 billion for 2013, it plans to spend more than $14 billion on defense.
The Colombian government reiterated it would not enter peace talks with the country’s second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, until it releases all its hostages, including a Canadian citizen, Jernoc Wobert held captive since January. The day before, the ELN said it would not release Wobert until his employer, the Canadian mining company Braeval Mining, gave mining rights to those living close to the company’s installments in northern Colombia. Although the group’s forces have been greatly diminished over the years, its attacks against oil and mining sites continue to impact these key industries.
Colombian political analysis website Verdad Abierta has an interactive special report with videos, maps and infographics on large-scale land theft in Colombia’s eastern plains.
Rio Real blog reported on a video aired on a Brazilian news program that showed police opening fire into a highly populated favela from a low-flying helicopter while in pursuit of a heavily armed drug trafficker. According to blog-creator Julia Michaels, “U.S. security personnel, closely watching Brazil as mega-events quickly approach, weren’t pleased by what they saw.” The post also provides a short overview of Rio’s public security chain of command. It concludes by looking at the bigger issue of institutions historically not being held accountable in Brazil and notes that while the overall system is reforming, issues of neglect remain.
Last week the New York Times profiled the Jungle Warfare Instruction Center in the Brazilian Amazon that trains elite Brazilian commando units. The school is now training troops from across the developing world, including Guatemala, Ecuador and Senegal. According to the report, “The program focuses on the challenges posed by cocaine trafficking, illegal deforestation, the unauthorized mining of gold and diamonds, and the threat of incursions by guerrillas from Colombia briefly seeking a haven.”
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region since Monday.
The Economist had a couple good articles this week, one on the issue of peasant land reserves in Colombia and another on how Brazil is attempting to deal with crack addicts. According to the latter article, Brazil is the world's largest market for crack, with recent studies indicating 1.1 to 1.2 million people in the country are users.
Reuters takes a look at support for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff ahead of the country's 2014 elections. Recent opinion polls placed her popularity at an all-time high of 79 percent. According to Reuters, however, she "could fail to win re-election" as "the threat of rising inflation and unemployment, a trio of attractive opposition candidates, and the possibility of an embarrassing logistical debacle at the World Cup mean that Rousseff is less of a shoo-in than many observers think." Analyst James Bosworth offers a quick look back to the 2006 and 2010 elections, which both went to the second round, despite the popularity of a single candidate.
Blog del Narco
The Guardian and Texas Observer released a report about Blog del Narco, a website that has been reporting on drug-related violence and deaths since March 2010. With the media being silenced in Mexico, Blog del Narco has emerged as one of the few mediums covering the full extent to which drug-related violence plagues the country. The article revealed that the author, whose identity has been a complete secret until now, is a woman in her mid-20s. On Wednesday, her book, "Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War" was released. The book is said to provide, "the most gruesome, explicit account yet of the mayhem that the cartel wars have brought to Mexico." Another Guardian/ Texas Observer article explains the significance of Blog del Narco and why it "has become the most important website in Mexico." An excerpt can be read here.
Uruguay Marijuana Bill
Uruguay's Congress will vote next month on a controversial marijuana legalization bill. In the upcoming month before the vote, the government will be hosting educational presentations and panels throughout the country on the benefits of regulating the marijuana market. Public opinion polls in December 2012 showed that 64% of Uruguayans oppose the measure, although it has support in Congress. The new law would permit adults to purchase up to 40 grams of marijuana each month and allow for domestic growth of no more than six plants. Marijuana growth and consumption clubs are provided for under the law, however no more than 30,000 hectares of cannabis may be grown nationwide.
Rios Montt trial
The historic Rios Montt trial re-started this week. A testimony of a former soldier implicated current President Otto Perez Molina in several violent atrocities against the Guatemalan population during the country’s civil war in the 1980s. According to the Associated Press, Hugo Reyes, a soldier who was a mechanic in an engineering brigade, told the court that Perez Molina ordered soldiers to “burn and pillage" during the war. Reyes said that Perez Molina coordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people." The Pan American Post links to several good articles about the case, and points out that Reyes also implicated another general who is a key witness for the defense, possibly tarnishing his testimony. On Wednesday, the court heard many testimonies about sexual violence that took place during the civil war. According to Mike Allison's Central American Politics Blog, an estimated 100,000 women of all ages were sexually assaulted during the conflict.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed a $4.4 billion security budget for 2014. Of that amount, $1.6 billion will go towards crime prevention; $1.4 billion will go to the penal system, $122 million to the new gendarmerie police force and $231 to intelligence. About $382 million is slated for smaller public security initiatives and will be dispersed to states, municipalities and Mexico City. As InSight Crime pointed out, should this new budget be approved, the gendarmerie, the details of which have yet to be announced, will receive around $384.
Presidents of Peru and Mexico to China
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala traveled to China, Peru's largest trading partner, to discuss trade opportunities in an effort to increase the country's exports. The AFP reported that "Bilateral trade between Peru and China has more than doubled since their free trade deal took effect in 2010, surging from about seven billion dollars to $15 billion in 2012." Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will also travel to China this weekend to discuss trade relations as he kicks off his Asia tour.
Armed groups and illegal gold mining in Colombia
On Monday, Colombian magazine Semana published an excellent series about armed groups' deep involvement in illegal gold mining. A map shows that in the 20 municipalities with the most gold, there is a heavy presence of armed groups and extortion and abuse of mine workers is constant. A letter between FARC leaders, published by Caracol Radio, revealed details about the group's extortion of the mining industry. Illegal gold mining is now reportedly the group's top source of income in several departments throughout the country. According to InSight Crime, "miners are forced to pay 5 percent of their total income to the FARC, 5 percent to guerrilla group ELN, as well as 7 million pesos ($3,800) to the FARC for the entrance of each mechanical digger to a mining site."
Colombia's "emerald czar" dies
Victor Carranza, known as Colombia's "Emerald Czar," died Thursday, theAssociated Press reported. Carranza allegedly financed paramilitary groups, but was never tried, supposedly because of his relationship with top political elites. Colombia accounts for 60% of the world's emerald trade, and Carranza was believed to control about half of all mining operations in the country. On Monday, news website Colombia Reports reported that as Carranza's health was deteriorating he, along with other top players in the industry, requested an "active presence" from the government to prevent a possibly violent war between groups looking to control his assets. InSight Crime has a profile of Carranza that is worth a read.
El Salvador is reportedly planning to request funding assistance from the United States for the country's gang truce. According to InSight Crime, Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes said the government only has $18 million of the $150 million that will be needed to fully implement the truce.
El Faro had a long but informative article on off-record cash payments to government officials in El Salvador.
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
The most staggering news from Mexico this week was that the government released a database of missing people. According to official numbers, 26,121 people disappeared between December 2006 and November 2012. The database's announcement follows a report put out by Human Rights Watch on February 20 documenting Mexican security forces' participation in forced disappearances.
Given the onslaught of reports on Mexico's disappeared, Steven Dudley of Insight Crime says, "the U.S. government has to question whether the country's navy, its most important ally in combating drugs, is really a trustworthy partner." Dudley likens the case to that of Colombia in which an "embattled government gets large amounts of U.S. assistance, and the very units receiving the aid are connected to systematic human rights abuses."
On the security front for Mexico, there were several other developments this week:
Mexican newspaper Milenio reported that 922 people were killed in Mexico during the month of February. Milenio featured an interactive map that broke down the murder numbers by state. Chihuahua state had the highest, with 161 registered killings. The newspaper also revealed that 100 members of the country's security forces were killed in the first three months of President Peña Nieto's term.
The creation of a 200-strong new police unit dedicated to combating drug dealing in Mexico City was announced this week. The unit will work with the city's Attorney General's Office to gather intelligence and search homes suspected of being involved with small-scale drug trafficking.
The Mexican government has begun giving military training to 10,000 officers that will be part of a new federal police force that President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration will build up over the next few years, known as a gendarmerie. The Associated Press reported the forces are expected to be on the street by the end of the year.
The secretary of government for Mexico, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, said that a total of $576.3 million would be invested in public security initiatives in 2013, reported Mexican newspaper Excelsior. According to the article, $25.7 million is earmarked for the purchase of vehicles and public security programs on the ground. Another $2.5 million will be spent on explosive materials, while $19.4 million will be spent on protective gear for security forces.
The Associated Press profiled the continuing debate over Mexico's self-defense vigilante movement. The president of the country's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Raul Plascencia, said, "there is a fine line between self-defense organizations and paramilitary groups." In the Guerrero state, where the movement has most intensified, 20 groups announced they would unify under one single command.
This week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the biggest education reform bill the country has seen in seven years. The legislation looks to relinquish some control over a powerful teachers' union, aiming to stop the inheritance and purchasing of teaching positions.
Just one day after the reform was announced, the head of the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE), Elba Ester Gordillo, was arrested for embezzlement and laundering $200 million in funds. The arrest spawned a media storm and caused many to speculate whether Peña Nieto will go after other political bosses in the country thought to be corrupt. Gordillo has quickly been replaced by Juan Diaz de la Torre, profiled by Vanguardia here.
Government Accountability Office reports
The Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) indicating that there was an overall decrease in violent crime along the U.S. border between 2004 and 2011. According to Insight Crime, the study "further supports the interpretation that claims of rampant 'spillover violence' in the U.S. border region have been mostly exaggerated." Some findings:
Assaults against Border Patrol agents decreased from 2008 to 2012, to levels 25 percent lower than in 2006.
Interviewed officials from state and local law enforcement agencies said they had not observed violent crime from Mexico regularly spilling over into the U.S.
Over 7 years, Arizona saw the most significant decline (33 percent), Texas (30 percent), California (26 percent), and New Mexico (eight percent from 2005 onward).
The sequestration cuts expected to go into effect today could hit Latin American economies hard.
Shannon K. O'Neil from the Council on Foreign Relations said the effects could mean less military aid transfers, noting that "Secretary of State John Kerry has specifically mentioned that funds destined for disrupting drug networks in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean will be some of the most severely hit." O'Neil also mentions the financial hit that those same countries’ economies might take. A January 2013 World Bank report had estimated that Latin America's total GDP could be reduced by 1.2 percent due to the U.S.' financial uncertainty.
According to the New Security Beat blog from the Wilson Center, the Secretary of State said the sequestration will force the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to "find $2.6 billion in across-the-board reductions” and “seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy, and development." The article goes on to detail how the cuts will affect Latin America from a more humanitarian perspective, noting cuts to initiatives in family planning and reproductive health programs.
Brazilian company wins DOD contract
The United States Air Force is buying attack planes from Brazil's Embraer SA company for counterinsurgency missions in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, "Under this contract, 20 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to operational air bases in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014 to conduct advanced flight training, surveillance, close air support and air interdiction missions."
According to Reuters, the deal tightens "U.S.-Brazilian defense ties after a politically charged bidding process." The article goes on to note,"Embraer and its privately held partner, Sierra Nevada, beat out U.S.-based Hawker Beechcraft for the $428 million deal, the Brazilian planemaker's first with the U.S. armed forces."
Brazilian officials are already signaling that this contract is a good sign for Boeing's chances to win the fighter jet bid in Brazil. There is little doubt that the F/A-18 is the most capable jet in that competition, but Brazil does have serious political and military concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could later restrict access to technology and parts. Embraer's winning a $400 million defense contract related to a top U.S, security priority (Afghanistan) should assuage some of those fears.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is "fighting for his life" in a Caracas military hospital the country's vice president, Nicolas Maduro, said Thursday night in a televised speech, the Associated Press reported. Maduro continued on to say, "Our commander is sick because he gave his life for those who don't have anything." A recent poll coming out of Venezuela revealed some interesting statistics: 46% of the population thinks that Chávez is not making decisions; 58% believe Chávez will recover while 30% say he won't return to power; 12.5% say they are unsure what will happen.
EFE reported that Venezuela plans to create a commission to investigate crimes committed by the state prior to 1998. Hugo Chávez became president in 1999.
Bolivian President Evo Morales's Movement towards Socialism party (MAS) formally nominated him as its candidate for the country's 2014 presidential elections. The move sparked controversy over the constitutionality of President Morales running for a third term, since the constitution says rulers can only have two terms. The MAS is arguing that because the document was changed by referendum in Morales' first term, another term would only be his second under the changed constitution. The country's Constitutional Court is studying the matter.
On Wednesday, the Honduran National Autonomous University’s Violence Observatory released its annual report, which showed that the country saw 85.5 homicides for every 100,000 residents last year, about ten times the global average of 8.8 per 100,000. Although this number has already been widely reported, it offers even further support to show that the country's security situation is devolving, marred by rising drug trafficking rates and a corrupt police force.
A new libel law in Honduras sentences people who "incite hate or attack against ideological groups, sexes, or genders" to 3-5 years in prison. Honduras Culture and Politics blog examines the law, questioning, "where are the limits of this law?" According to the post, the law is directed at the media and "could silence dissent as illegal disrespect for the ‘dignity’ of Honduran politicians."
The following is a round-up of news highlights from around the region this week.
President Obama named the nominees for the his national security team, with John Kerry at Department of State, Chuck Hagel at the Department of Defense and John Brennan at the CIA. The Washington Office on Latin America's Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Adam Isacson, examined what these appointments could mean for Latin America and looked at four likely outcomes: more Special Forces deployments to the region; a greater intelligence community presence; greater use of drones and robotics; and more emphasis on cyber-security.
United States Southern Command leader General John F. Kelly visited Honduras and El Salvador this week to discuss continued military cooperation with both nation's heads of state and ministers of defense.
The Mexican Congress confirmed Eduardo Medina Mora to replace Arturo Sarukhan as the country's ambassador to the U.S. Medina Mora was President Calderón's former attorney general from 2006-2009 and the Secretary of Public Safety under President Fox from 2005-2006. Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Mexico City- based Center for Economic Research and Teaching, told BusinessWeek that Medina Mora will "prevent the U.S. perspective from dominating on this issue." The new ambassador cited security as one his top priorities. He has weighed in on U.S. policy, suggesting the United States make drug, arms and immigration reforms, as Animal Politico notes. Medina Mora also called for the United States to reform guns laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting, calling it a "window of opportunity" to make changes.
On Wednesday, new Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a bill designed to track drug war victims and compensate their families up to $70,000 per innocent victim. The fund will compensate surviving victims of drug violence as well. According to Reuters and the Los Angeles Times, the measure requires authorities to pay for victims' medical care and establish a national registry of victims. Mexico's government has yet to announce how much money is allocated for the initiative or how many victims it considers innocent.
Former President Felipe Calderón vetoed the bill last summer over apparent technical flaws, drawing much criticism from human rights groups. The removal of the veto, "is a positive sign that this government will begin to take seriously the rights of the victims of the violence," according to Amnesty International. “But for it to make a real difference, the Mexican authorities at all levels must ensure the law is complied with effectively."
As of Thursday, Mexico will be divided into five national security regions, effective immediately. News website Animal Politico published the twelve security initiatives that the Mexican government agreed to implement within the next 45 days, including the creation of a national crime prevention program, a police education program along with new operation protocols, and the creation of specialized units focused on kidnapping within the federal police force, among others.
Last Friday, a cash-for-weapons voluntary disarmament program was extended in Mexico City. Since the program began on December 24th, authorities have confiscated nearly 1,500 weapons.
A few good reports were put out on Mexican security this week:
The Inter-American Dialogue published a working paper by Alejandro Hope "Peace now? Mexican security policy after Felipe Calderón," that offers an analysis of the security challenges facing the Peña Nieto administration. He looks at former President Calderón's institutional legacy and changes in Mexico's security climate. For Hope, Peña Nieto will likely offer adjustments to Calderón's strategy, the biggest difference between the two possibly involving "more tone than substance."
"Mexico Drug Policy and Security Review 2012," by Nathan P. Jones for Small Wars Journal examines Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's new security policy and concludes that the initiative shares "more similarities than differences" with the much-criticized security agenda of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. It offers a good overview of the policy's components.
Bolivia re-entered the United Nation's 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on January 10 with an exception that allows for chewing coca leaves within the country's border. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, "this represents the successful conclusion of an arduous process in which Bolivia has sought to reconcile its international treaty obligations with its 2009 Constitution, which obliges upholding the coca leaf as part of Bolivia’s cultural patrimony." The new reservation was opposed by at least 15 countries, including the United States, Russia, Germany, Mexico, and Japan. However, for Bolivia's proposal to have been blocked, 63 countries would have needed to object.
The vote comes with recent media attention to the country's controversial coca-leaf regulating program, which a recent report from WOLA suggests is working. According to both the White House and the UN, the total acreage of coca cultivation in Bolivia dropped in 2011 between 12-13 percent. Bolivian President and former coca farmer Evo Morales has planned two celebrations for Monday.
In Brazil, ex-President Lula has been implicated in a vote-buying scandal that has rocked the country. Brazil's top prosecutor said Wednesday that he will look into allegations that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was involved in the embezzlement and vote-buying scheme, known as the "mensalão" case. Brazilian businessman Marcos Valério de Souza, who received a 40-year sentence for his role in the scandal, testified that he deposited funds for Lula da Silva's "personal spending." So far the case has brought down several top officials in the Lula administration, including his chief of staff, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Colombia's prosecutor general re-opened an investigation into former President Álvaro Uribe over his alleged involvement with paramilitary groups while he was governor of the Antioquia department in the 1990s. On his well-maintained Twitter account, he denied the charges, amounting them to "Slander from imprisoned criminals," and starting the hashtag "Criminal Revenge," (#VenganzaCriminal) for the case.
On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced that the two-month unilateral ceasefire they declared at the beginning of peace talks on November 20th will end on January 20th. The FARC's lead negotiator, Ivan Marquez, said in a news conference in Havana that "only the signing of a bilateral ceasefire would be possible," which the Santos administration has repeatedlyrefused. According to news website Colombia Reports, violence attributed to the FARC decreased by 80 percent during the first week of January, compared to the same period in January 2012, which NGO Nuevo Arco Iris said was the most violent month in the past eight years. Also of note in the peace talks is that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will be traveling to Colombia this Saturday to meet with President Santos and negotiators from both sides of the table.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a report today titled "Consolidating 'Consolidation,'" The new report examines Colombia's U.S.-backed counterinsurgency program, the National Territorial Consolidation Plan. According to the report, the U.S. has invested a least half a billion dollars of U.S. assistance into the five-year-old program, which "seeks to bring the government into several areas of the country with histories of illegal armed groups, violence, drug trafficking, and statelessness." The report notes that while “Consolidation” has "brought security improvements and more soldiers and police to a few territories, the governance vacuum remains far from filled."
On Tuesday the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a measure giving President Chávez, who is recovering from his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba, "as long as he needs," saying that he could be sworn in in front of the Supreme Court after the January 10th inauguration date set forth in the constitution. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) upheld the decision. On Thursday, the would-be inauguration date, thousands of Chávez supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Caracas in solidarity. Several Latin American leaders also traveled to Caracas to show their support for Chávez and the Venezuelan government's decision to keep him in power.
An interesting twist to the ruling was Supreme Court President Luisa Estela Morales' reference to an obscure 19th century U.S. vice president, William R. King, who took his oath of office 20 days after the new government came to power -- while in Cuba being treated for tuberculosis.
The opposition has argued that since the president-elect was unable to be sworn in by Jan. 10, power should be transferred to the next-in-line in succession, who would be the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello with an election to follow. Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado told CNN, "This is a decision that was clearly taken in Cuba by the Cubans."
U.S. congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who previously led the House's Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed, saying,"The delay of his swearing-in is yet another example of the trampling of the constitution by this despot. The Venezuelan constitution states that the leader of Venezuela needs to take the oath of office on January 10 in front of the National Assembly or the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice."
Some analysis examining the Venezuelan constitution contend the ruling to allow Chávez to stay in power and extend his swear-in date was constitutional. Others say it is a matter of legal interpretation, as there is no precedent for the situation and the constitution does not provide a concrete solution.
On the Washington Office on Latin America's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, David Smilde gives a clear analysis of the case. According to Smilde, the government's decision is based on an article in the constitution that allows an extension of power in the case of extended trips abroad, essentially allowing Chávez to be "indefinite leave with no mechanisms for reviewing that leave or verifying his condition." Technically the Supreme Court has the power to determine if Chávez is permanently mentally or physically unfit to rule, in which case he could be removed from power and elections would ensue. This is unlikely to happen however, as the court said he had justified his "extended trip abroad." As Smilde posits, with the National Assembly and Supreme Court's support, "Chávez could conceivably be on life-support for weeks or months, but still hold the office of president whether or not that would have been his wish."
An earlier post from Smilde provides an excellent overview and analysis of the complexity of the situation and looks at a discussion from UCV law professor José Ignacio Hernández.
Dan Beeton at the Center for Economic and Policy Research examines the Venezuelan constitution and argues that the government's decision to keep Chávez in power is in line with the constitution. According to Beeton, an article in the document says a leader can be sworn in after the inauguration date and offers no deadline for when it can take place. The only instance in which elections would be held would be if he was removed as a result of “death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.” This is the chief argument that Venezuelan officials have been making.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times commented on the lack of information about President Chávez's health, saying, "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies need to stop treating his health like a national secret."
According to the AP, Vice President Maduro, along with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchener and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, is traveling to Cuba this weekend to visit President Chavez.
Amid the debate about Venezuela's leadership and as the possibility of a power vacuum grows, crime analysis website Insight Crime reports that crime and violence have been on the upswing in the midst of the political upheaval, with more than 75 murders being registered in Caracas in the first six days of 2013.
Univision offers a useful timeline of Chávez's political career, which can be found here.
An English version of the Venezuelan constitution can be found here
The text for the Supreme Court's decision can be found here
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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."
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.
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."
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.”
On August 24, 2012, the Congressional Research Service released its annual report (PDF) on conventional arms transfers to the developing world from 2004-2011. This report provides an account of the level of arms transfers by major weapons suppliers to countries in the developing world. Written by Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr, this report is often referred to as the "Grimmett Report."
According to this year's report, trends in arms transfer agreements (represent orders for future delivery) with and actual arms deliveries to developing nations were on the rise in 2011. Total arms transfer agreements were valued at $71.5 billion in 2011, a substantial increase from $32.7 billion in 2010, with the United States and Russia dominating the list of suppliers in the world market. The value of all arms deliveries to the developing nations was $28 billion, "the highest total in these deliveries values since 2004."
The current trend in the Latin American market, as noted by the CRS, shows countries seeking strategic modernization of their military. The report attributes the selectivity of these purchases to constraints by financial resources.
A few developing nations in Latin America ... have sought to modernize key sectors of their military forces. In recent years, some nations in these regions have placed large arms orders, by regional standards, to advance that goal. Many countries within these regions are significantly constrained by their financial resources and thus limited to the weapons they can purchase. Given the limited availability of seller-supplied credit and financing for weapons purchases, and their smaller national budgets, most of these countries will be forced to be selective in their military purchases.
Within the region, Brazil and Venezuela continue to dominate as the leading recipients of arms agreements, ranking 4th and 6th in the developing world, respectively, for the period of 2008-2011. This demonstrates a significant change from the previous four years, particularly with Brazil, which did not rank within the top ten from 2004-2007.
In terms of actual deliveries, however, Venezuela is the only Latin American country in the top ten list, ranking eighth with the value of deliveries from 2008 to 2011 totaling $4 billion. When 2011 is pulled out of the four year time frame, Venezuela moves up to fifth place ($1.7 billion in total delivery value), after Saudi Arabia ($2.8 billion), India ($2.7 billion), Pakistan ($1.8 billion) and the United Arab Emirates ($1.7 billion), even though it did not appear in the top ten list for total value of arms transfer agreements made in 2011.
From 2008-2011, France surpassed Russia in the total value of arms transfer agreements signed with Latin American countries. In this time period, 34.69% of the total value of agreements with Latin American countries were signed with France, 31.46% with Russia, and 10.45% with the United States. France's jump to first place indicates a significant increase in the value of their agreements with Latin America, from $500 million between 2004-2007 to $8.6 billion between 2008-2011, more than 17 times the previous four years. (By comparison, Russia's agreements with Latin America totaled $7.8 billion and the United States' agreements totaled $2.59 billion). One more way of looking at it - 49.71% of all arms transfer agreements made by France with countries in the developing world between 2008-2011 were with Latin American countries.
The CRS report distinguishes between arms transfer agreements made and actual deliveries. As indicated above, the report shows France as the supplier entering into the highest total value of agreements with countries in Latin America. However, when looking at actual deliveries of arms, Russia maintains the number one spot, $3.1 billion in total arms deliveries from 2008-2011, while France only delivered $500 million during the same time period ($8.1 billion less than the total value of agreements made). The authors of the report indicate that Venezuela is Russia's principal focus in the region. According to the report's authors, "With the strong support of its President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has become Russia's major new arms client in this region."
Perhaps the most striking fact outlined by the CRS was the shift in the categories of weapons delivered between the two time periods. From 2004-2007, tanks and self-propelled guns lead with 140 units being supplied primarily by Major Western Nations (120). During the period of 2008-2011, we see both a change in major supplier and category. While tanks and self-propelled guns retained its importance, surface to air missiles topped the rankings at 3,120 units delivered, (3,070 from Russia), up from 0 in the previous four years. APCs and armored cars also saw a noted increase in deliveries (80 to 509).
The report's authors do make note that care must be taken when looking at the numbers and categories of weapons delivered. According to the authors, while the data on actual transfers of military equipment is useful in showing "relative trends in the delivery of important classes of military equipment and indicate who the leading suppliers are from region to region over time," it is limited as it does not give "detailed information regarding either sophistication or the specific name of the equipment delivered." Nor does the data "provide an indication of the relative capabilities of the recipient nations to use effectively the weapons delivered to them."
This blog was written by Abigail Poe and Aapta Garg.
Adam looks at Peru's presidential vote, which is four days away; the "high level partnership dialogue" that has many Colombian diplomats visiting Washington; and a bill before Brazil's Congress that may make it easier to cut down the Amazon rainforest.
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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 Monitorarticle. 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.
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."
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.
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)