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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Week in Review

This week the Associated Press uncovered that USAID tried to "trigger a Cuban Spring" through a secretly-established social media platform, the DEA said Mexican cartels were setting up shop in Colorado and Washington to cash in on black market marijuana, and the United States stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduras. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The Associated Press published an incendiary investigation this week revealing that USAID used front companies to secretly establish a now defunct Twitter-like social media platform in Cuba in 2010, with the intended purpose of stirring social unrest that might "trigger a Cuban Spring." The platform was also used to collect private data from its 40,000 users.

    On Thursday USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that while the program was not covert, "parts of it were done discreetly." The White House echoed those claims, saying the program was debated in Congress and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

    The Pan-American Post posted an excellent piece outlining the key points of the length AP report, while political analysts Greg Weeks, James Bosworth and Marc Hanson of the Washington Office on Latin America also provided helpful commentary.

  • During a hearing on U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation on Tuesday, James Dinkins, executive associate director for homeland security at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Committee on Homeland Security that "We have the best relationship with our Mexican counterparts that we've ever had." He pointed to the coordination between U.S. and Mexican agencies involved in the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera as evidence of the strengthening relationship.

    The head of U.S. Northern Command, General Charles Jacoby, emphasized this same point several weeks ago in the wake of reports claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation had suffered since Mexican President Peña Nieto mandated all contact with U.S. law enforcement go through the Ministry of the Interior.

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Friday, March 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Honduras made plans to double the number of military police in its most violent city, federal troops were deployed to one of Rio's largest slums and the Venezuelan military reaffirmed its support for the government after three air force officers were arrested for allegedly planning a coup. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration “is in diplomatic talks” to reschedule her official visit to meet with President Obama after canceling her previous visit in September following revelations of NSA espionage. According to Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, it is unlikely that this visit would occur before October’s presidential elections in Brazil.
  • Today marks the conclusion of the week long 150th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which cases relating to a range of issues – from freedom of speech in Ecuador, to the ousting of Bogotá’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, to the justice system in Peru or indigenous rights in Nicaragua – were heard. On Tuesday, the commission held its first-ever hearing on drug policy and human rights abuses in the Americas at the request of 17 human rights organizations, which argued that the fight against drug trafficking justifies repression and abuse in the region. Animal Politico laid out several of the presenters’ arguments and has a video of the hearing.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas to first-time applicants. The embassy said it did not have enough staff to process the paperwork after three consular officers were kicked out of the country by the Venezuelan government, which has also delayed authorizing new personnel.
  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three air force generals had been arrested for allegedly planning a coup after supposedly meeting with members of the opposition. Hours after the announcement the military issued a statement pledging its “monolithic” support, saying it would continue "protecting our people, guarding our homeland's sovereignty and supporting the constitutionally elected president and commander in chief." Also on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Marina Corina Machado to one year in jail for “inciting violence.”
  • President Maduro has agreed to enter talks with the opposition with the help of an outside facilitator, a move proposed by a visiting delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to the Pan-American Post, it has been suggested foreign ministers from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador would take the lead on creating conditions for the talks, while the Associated Press noted Maduro has agreed to create a human rights commission to investigate abuses committed by the security forces.
  • Honduras’ military police chief, Coronel German Alfaro, announced plans to double the number of officers on the streets of San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the country, from 1,000 to 2,000. According to Alfaro, the military police force has been a success in the country’s most violent city and the government will continue to roll out its plan to deploy 5,000 officers throughout the country. In an update on the national police reform process, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported 536 police were fired after failing vetting tests and another 221 resigned.
  • On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing, “newspaper U.S. disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” While much of the discussion focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Russia, Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter did note that the U.S. is not disengaged and, on the contrary, has been positively and heavily engaged in the region.
  • In addition to Uruguay, the United States also askedBrazil and Colombia to take in inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the government was analyzing the request, while Uruguay agreed to take five inmates earlier this week.
  • Federal troops were sent to one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums and will stay there until the kickoff of the World Cup in 76 days. The military deployment comes after a serious of bombing, murders and attacks on police bases. InSight Crime published an on-the-ground perspective of one of these pacification operations in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vila Kennedy.
  • Locals in a major coca-producing region in Bolivia clashedwith police over the construction of a military base. According to the Associated Press, the counterdrug base is being built with $1.3 million in European Union funding.
  • On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announcedthat FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Céren would officially be the country’s next president, after the body formally rejected the ARENA party’s petition for a ballot-by-ballot recount on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) releaseda statement Tuesday congratulating Sanchez Céren that noted a “calm and orderly” election but recognized there were “pending legal matters.”
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarapé, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, launched an impressive interactive online database of citizen security programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As Spanish news agency EFE noted, 66 percent of security policies in Latin America have been concentrated in Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Also of note this week: an article by Ander Izagirre in El Pais on Colombia’s false positives, a piece on the massacre of 260 Central American migrants in 2010 and 2011 by Oscar Martinez in El Faro, in Vice on violence against local communities involved in mining conflicts in Guatemala, and an investigation published by El Faro, in Inside Costa Rica on the effectiveness of panic buttons in busses in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the violence in Venezuela continued to escalate, Colombia's military became embroiled in the second major scandal this month and Argentina's top security officials grappled with the rise in narcotrafficking. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Wednesday the Washington Post ran an article on reduced U.S.-Mexico security cooperation since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office. The article found “Americans are still kept more at arms’ length than before,” noting the Mexican government delayed State Department-funded programs that train and equip Mexican security forces until as recently as November. It also highlighted a significant drop in extraditions to the United States. During the White House press gaggle before Obama's visit to Mexico, Ben Rhodes insisted the U.S. government is pleased with the level of security cooperation between the two governments.
  • On Wednesday President Obama traveled to Toluca, Mexico to meet with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper for the North American Leaders’ Summit. According to several media reports, the leaders agreed to improve their economic and security relationships, and as the New York Times noted, "continue" with existing cooperation without announcing any new developments. The focus was largely on the economy and the Trans-Atlantic Trade partnership, with little focus on security or immigration. McClatchy reported on the tensions between the three leaders, claiming it overshadowed the summit.
  • On Sunday, Semana magazine reported members of the Colombian military had been receiving kickbacks from military contracts while diverting money from base budgets. It also found that jailed lower-ranking officers been paid to remain silent about the involvement of higher-ranking officers in the so-called "false positives" scandal, in which innocent civilians were slain and presented as guerrillas killed in combat.

    On Tuesday, President Santos announced the dismissal of four top generals for corruption and the head of the military, General Barrera. Barrera was not fired over corruption but for calling "false positive" investigations "a bunch of crap" and suggesting officers band together, "like a mafia" against prosecutors investigating the cases. Over 4,000 members of the military are being investigated for their roles in extrajudicial killings and there are estimated to have been between 3,000 and 4,000 victims. President Santos has called for further investigation and said officers should be tried in civilian courts. This scandal comes after another just a few weeks ago, when Semana reported the military had been wiretapping both negotiating teams in Havana, opposition lawmakers and journalists.

  • The Colombian government resumed aerial coca fumigation this past Saturday. It had been suspended after two planes had been shot down in U.S.-sponsored missions. Rodrigo Uprimny, a researcher for Colombian organization Dejusticia, criticized the practice in an op-ed in El Espectador, noting its harmful affect on health, the environment and licit crops, while it has also largely been found ineffective.
  • Although murders in Guatemala have dropped to the lowest in a decade, an article in Plaza Pública found the trend started before current President Otto Perez Mólina took office, challenging his claim that his militarized security policies have been effective. The news site reported that the rate of reduction has slowed under President Perez Mólina. InSight Crime translated the article into English.
  • Argentina's Security Minister, Sergio Berni, said this week that he would support decriminalizing not just the consumption of marijuana but production as well. Berni said there was "no chance police could beat narcotrafficking" and that “The [United States] has the most protected borders and everything gets inside." The comments came after Berni rejected claims by Defense Minister Agustin Rossi that Argentina is no longer just a drug consumption and transit hub, but is also now a drug producer, due to the increased presence of Mexican cartels.
  • In Brazil, police officers kill an average of five people per day. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara offers insight on how to improve the current cycle of abuse. She makes the case for demilitarization, arguing that doing so would not only do away with "training infused with a war mentality," but also give the officers more rights and better work conditions, in turn leading to improved law enforcement.
  • Honduras' controversial law allowing officials to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics will go into effect next week next week. On his recent visit to Honduras, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, expressed the United States' disapproval of the law.
  • The Congressional Research Service published "Latin American and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress"
  • The International Drug Policy Consortium published a paper on compulsory drug addiction treatment in Latin America, which has been increasingly labeled as inefficient and inhumane by human rights organizations. Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico all practice forced rehabilitation or are considering implementing the method.
  • The violent demonstrations that began last week across Venezuela in protest of rampant insecurity, surging inflation and shortages, escalated this week. So far eight people have been killed, over 100 injured and several more detained as clashes between protestors, security forces and pro-government militias intensify. Protests turned particularly violent Wednesday night and it appears the violence is increasing. President Maduro accused the United States of inciting the violence and expelled three U.S. consular officers Sunday. He has also blamed former President Uribe and sent paratroopers to a western border state claiming Colombians were crossing the border "to carry out paramilitary missions" in Venezuela. While in Mexico, President Obama commented that instead of "making up false accusations" against U.S. diplomats, President Maduro should focus on the "legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan government."
  • Opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself over to security forces on Tuesday. He has since had the charges of murder and terrorism dropped and is awaiting trial for lesser crimes like arson and criminal incitement. Another big opposition march is scheduled for Saturday.

    See Venezuela Politics and Human Rights for sound analysis on the situation, including a helpful Q& A, and Just the Facts' Venezuela news page for information on the violence, how the protests are playing out on social media, the Venezuelan government's censorship of T.V. coverage, the rising tensions with the United States, and more.

  • Friday, December 20, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    Note: This will be the last blog post until January 8th. Happy Holidays!

    U.S. Policy

    Aerial fumigation of coca crops in Colombia halted

  • U.S.- funded aerial fumigation of coca in Colombia has been indefinitely suspended after two planes were shot down in late September and early October, allegedly by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which resulted in the death of one U.S. pilot.

    La Silla Vacía reported the United States has begun a security review of the plane crashes and that Colombia has not carried out any fumigation missions since late September. As InSight Crime reported, Colombia is going to miss its coca eradication target considerably this year, which could mean an increase in the reported amount of coca produced.

  • USAID to leave Ecuador

  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced last Thursday it would be leaving Ecuador “as a result of the Government of Ecuador’s decision to prohibit approval of new USAID assistance programs.” Although the agency had reportedly allocated $32 million for programs in the country for the coming years, it will close its doors by September 2014. The news comes just six months after Bolivia expelled USAID for allegedly conspiring against the government.
  • Edward Snowden’s open letter to Brazilians

  • On Tuesday, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden wrote an open letter to Brazilians offering to help the Brazilian government investigate U.S. espionage practices in exchange for permanent asylum. Government officials said it had no plans to offer Snowden asylum.
  • Defense Purchases

  • Honduras purchased $30 million worth of radars from Israel, which are set to arrive in January for counternarcotics operations.
  • Brazil announced it awarded Sweden’s Saab (different than the car company) with a $4.5 billion deal for 36 fighter jets, over U.S.- based Boeing or the French company Dassault. The deal will likely be even more valuable for the Swedish company as it will get contracts for future supply, parts and maintenance for the jets.

    Most headlines attributed the Brazilian government’s decision to forgo Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, which had been considered the front runner for the bid earlier this year, to the diplomatic fallout with United States following revelations of the National Security Agency's espionage programs in the country. “The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans,”according to an anonymous government official. However, the Brazilian government’s official line has been that the decision was based on “performance, the effective transfer of technology and costs, not only of acquisition, but also of maintenance.” As the New York Times noted, the Saab model would be a significantly less-costly investment.

  • Bolivia announced it would be purchasing six Superpuma helicopters for $221.2 million in efforts to ramp up its fight against drug trafficking. This week the government announced that while coca eradication has increased in the country, cocaine seizures are down. More from InSight Crime.
  • Peru has made several defense purchases recently. This week the government announced it would purchase 24 helicopters from Russia intended for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism missions in the Apurimac and Ene Valley (VRAE) region, which produces more coca than any other region in the world. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the announcement followings the purchase of two Italian-made military transport airplanes for around $122 million and 20 training airplanes from Korea Aerospace Industries.

    On Tuesday Peruvian special forces destroyed 20 clandestine airstrips in the VRAE region. The mission was carried our by 224 security agents, 10 helicopters and five hovercrafts, according to the Associated Press.

  • Uruguay ‘Country of the Year’

  • The Economist named “modest yet bold, liberal and fun-loving” Uruguay ‘The Country of the Year,’ lauding the nation’s most recent legislation legalizing the production and sale of marijuana. “If others followed suit, and other narcotics were included, the damage such drugs wreak on the world would be drastically reduced,” praised the publication.
  • Guatemala contemplating legalizing poppy cultivation

  • Guatemala is going to debate legalizing the cultivation of poppy, a principal component in heroin, for medical purposes. According to the country’s interior minister, the government is considering both regulated legal cultivation and alternative development, International Business Times reported. More from La Tercera.
  • Mexico’s list of the top 69 arrested or killed drug traffickers this year

  • The Mexican government released a list of 69 drug cartel capos captured or killed out of the 122 most wanted drug traffickers in the country. A look at the list reveals the Zeta drug gang has been the most affected of the cartels. More from the Associated Press and Animal Politico.
  • Report on the rise of vigilante groups in Mexico

  • On Tuesday Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) released a report on the rise of vigilante groups in the country. The body said the government should not allow the groups to form as they undermine the rule of law and could lead to more violence, noting however that lack of security in several areas was fomenting their growth. As Animal Politico reported, the Guerrero state government has funded some of these groups. In that state alone, CNDH documented 7,000 members of self-defense groups, which have expanded their reach to 56 percent of the state’s territory.
  • New report examining the FARC’s strategy during peace talks

  • A new report (pdf, summary here) by Colombian think tank Fundación Paz y Reconciliación examined how the FARC’s military strategy has changed during the peace talks. According to the report, the FARC have maintained similar levels of activity since 2010, but have been able to adapt their tactics to the rhythm of the peace talks, planning offensives or declaring truces, depending on the status of the negotiations in Havana. Some interesting findings included:
    • The FARC have 11,000 fighters, as opposed to the 8,000 alleged by the Colombian government, and have a presence in 11 regions and 242 municipalities, or about 20 percent of the country.
    • In the last two months the FARC have allied with the National Liberation Army, the country’s second-largest insurgency. This has lead to an increase in attacks on oil, mining and gas infrastructure in the country.
    • The FARC have increased their influence in social movements and protests, including the recent coca growers strike.

    The report reveals a great deal about the guerrilla group’s sustained capacity. More from InSight Crime and Colombia Reports about the report in English and from Semana and El Espectador in Spanish.

  • Honduras new police and military leadership

  • On Thursday, Honduran President Porifirio Lobo fired the country’s national police chief, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, who had been linked to death squads and forced disappearances as a lower-ranking officer. The move came at the behest of President-elect, Juan Orlando Hernández, who has “expressed skepticism” about police reform efforts. Under Bonilla, Honduras’ police have been accused of abuse and extrajudicial killings. More from the Associated Press.

    As Honduras Culture and Politics also noted, there were other major shake-ups in the high command of the country’s security forces: the military is getting a new commander, Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelayaya, who was fundamental in creating the new military police. The Air Force and Navy will also be under new leadership as will the joint military and police task force. See the post for a full run-down of the new positions. As El Heraldo noted, under Hernández, Honduras’ military will continue to play a key role in domestic security.

  • Chile’s new president

  • As of last Sunday, Michelle Bachelet is set to be Chile’s new president. As several outlets have noted, Bachelet made significant promises during her campaign, with increased taxes and education reform as her hallmark initiatives. Many analysts have noted she will need serious momentum to overcome a slowing economy and congressional opposition to push through major proposed reforms, like changing the Pinochet-era electoral system and constitution. More from the Time, Americas Quarterly, the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor.
  • Friday, December 6, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    Entire Region

  • The Latin Americanist and Pan American Post had roundups of Latin American leaders' reactions to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday. As both noted, Venezuela and Nicaragua have called for three national days of mourning.
  • Colombia

  • President Santos met with President Obama in the Oval Office for two and a half hours Tuesday morning. After the meeting, Santos described relations between the two countries as “at their best moment ever.” See this Just the Facts post for a summary of news and analysis on the visit.

    Despite the optimistic tones of the meeting with President Obama, President Santos criticized the United States’ Cuba policy while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Congress. “I think Cuba would be willing to change, and both sides have to give in some way,” saying that the moment is “now” for diplomacy to change. At the Organization of American States, President Santos reiterated his stance on creating alternative policies to the drug war and asked members to promote an open discussion on drug policy.

  • Pablo Escobar

  • Monday December 2nd was the 20th anniversary of Pablo Escobar’s death. There was coverage in both English and Spanish on the infamous drug lord’s divisive legacy including pieces from the BBC, El Tiempo (multimedia feature), and BBC Mundo. Longtime Medellín journalist Jeremy McDermott noted that while Medellín remains the epicenter of narcotrafficking in Colombia, the nature of the drug trade and landscape of the criminal underworld has changed significantly since the downfall of Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
  • Peace Talks

  • On Monday, lead FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo read out a ten-point anti-narcotics plan in Havana. Some of the changes in drug policy listed in the communiqué are not too different from what many leaders in Latin America, including Colombia’s President Santos, have been calling for, which include: demilitarization of drug policy, immediate suspension of (U.S.-backed) coca fumigation programs, and the treatment of psychoactive drug use as a public health problem along with the decriminalization of drug consumption.

    The group also proposed the state recognize the “food, medicinal, therapeutic, industrial and cultural uses of cultivating coca leaves, marijuana and poppy” as part of an illicit crop substitution program. The Colombian government rejected this. As a recommended read from InSight Crime analyzing the obstacles and opportunities in the talks regarding the drug trade noted, “The chance of striking an agreement with such a key member of the drug trafficking underworld offers the Colombian authorities an unprecedented opportunity.” More from the AFP.

  • Colombia's Defense Minister in D.C.

  • On Monday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón spoke at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. He discussed Colombia’s currently military strategy as well as defense plans going forward. The transcript can be read here.
  • Mexico

  • December 1st marked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office. There were several analysis, including from: Alfredo Corchado, James Bosworth, the Washington Office on Latin America, David Agren for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, analyst Alejandro Hope, the Pan-American Post and InSight Crime, which included an overview of Mexico’s current criminal setting.

    Most of the analysis touched on the fact that while President Peña Nieto is distinct from former President Calderón in that fighting the cartels has not been the public focus of his government, the policy of deploying the military and federal police to criminal hotspots has continued. As a result, human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have blasted Peña Nieto for the justice system’s ongoing impunity for murder and abuses committed by security officials. Although homicides have dropped in some areas, kidnapping has skyrocketed. As analyst James Bosworth asserted, “the two key issues, security and economic growth, have not seen the improvements Peña Nieto promised during his campaign.”

  • Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero sent President Peña Nieto a letter urging him to resist U.S. “pressure” to capture and extradite him for the 1985 killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Quintero had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence when a Mexican court allowed his release, drawing heavy criticism from the United States. Mexico’s Supreme Court has since overturned the ruling and Mexican and U.S. authorities have issued warrants for Quintero’s arrest. More from the Los Angeles Times and Fox News Latino.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a new report on security and migration along the United States-Mexico border on Thursday.
  • Transparency International report

  • Transparency International released its 2013 Corruption Index Tuesday and found there has been little improvement in the region’s most corrupt countries. Venezuela, Paraguay and Honduras had the highest indexes of corruption, while Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica ranked as the least corrupt. Central America in general was found to be more corrupt than last year, with an uptick in drug trafficking cited as the main cause. More from InSight Crime and International Business Times.
  • Ecuador

  • In an effort to reduce the size of Ecuador’s armed forces, President Rafael Correa proposed creating financial incentives for officers to retire from the military and law civilian law enforcement bodies.
  • Panama

  • The U.S. Department of Defense said there were no plans for toxin-filled munitions abandoned by the U.S. Army on San Jose Island in 1947 to be returned and destroyed. Despite a statement by Panama’s foreign minister last month that the aging chemical weapons would be returned, the Pentagon has said it would be sending experts to the Central American country. This has been a contentious issue between the two countries for some time.
  • Venezuela

  • On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 365 mayors and 2,389 municipal representatives. Some analysts have described this vote as a “referendum” on President Maduro’s first eight months in office. As Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has campaigned hard for his MUD party, visiting 117 municipalities compared to Maduro’s 21. Americas Society/Council of the Americas has an explainer on the elections and analyst Luis Vincente León looks at possible outcomes from the elections, noting that some of Maduro’s most recent political tricks, such as lowering the prices of electronics and other goods, could tip the scale in his favor. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog has a useful cheat sheet.
  • El Salvador

  • Most of the firearms in El Salvador come from the United States, according to the country’s national police (PNC). With training from the U.S. Office on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the PNC has tracked nearly 34,000 weapons, the majority of which came from the United States. While some are left over from Central America’s civil wars, modern weapon discoveries suggest new arms trafficking networks. More from InSight Crime and La Prensa Grafica.
  • Honduras

  • Last week, Honduras’ electoral court announced conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez winner of the country's presidential elections. On Monday, Hernández’s closest competitor and wife of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party, filed a formal complaint claiming fraud in the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) agreed to count the tally sheets on Wednesday, however officials delayed doing so after claiming members of the LIBRE failed to appear. The LIBRE leadership claimed the TSE's procedures were insufficient and had suggested other mechanisms. As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, LIBRE and the TSE had never agreed to specifics in the procedure and therefore had no official start date to begin vote counting. See this Just the Facts post post by Latin America Working group for more on foul play in the electoral process.
  • Friday, November 15, 2013

    The Week in Review

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

    U.S. policy

  • Migration Declassified, a project of the National Security Archive, published documents that offer the most detailed glimpse yet into Defense Department’s intelligence programs in Mexico in recent years. According to the group, “What emerges are the outlines of a two-track U.S. intelligence program: one, a network of joint intelligence centers staffed by personnel from both countries; the other, a secret facility located inside the U.S. Embassy to which the Mexicans are not invited.”
  • President Obama will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on December 3 and will emphasize the United States’ “continued support for efforts to achieve peace in Colombia, according to W Radio.
  • Entire region

  • The United Nations Development Program released a report on Tuesday, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America” which found Latin America continues to be the most insecure and unequal region in the world. The Economist provides a good overview and analysis of the report. More from Just the Facts, EFE, the Miami Herald and El País.
  • Chilean presidential elections this weekend

  • This Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. As analyst James Bosworth noted, it is a “near certainty” former President Michelle Bachelet, a self-declared socialist from the opposition party, will beat out conservative ruling party candidate Evelyn Matthei. In the event that Bachelet does not receive the required 51% of the vote this Sunday, run-off elections will be held in December. More from the Miami Herald and Associated Press about Bachelet’s radical proposed plans for reform. This will be the first election in which voting is voluntary rather than compulsory.
  • Colombia

  • On Monday, the Colombian government said it discovered a plot by FARC rebels to assassinate former President Álvaro Uribe and the country’s Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre. While there did not appear to be immediate fallout from the revelations, lead government negotiator Humerto de la Calle warned should such an attack take place, negotiations would be “destroyed.” The revealed plot has fomented concerns that the FARC’s central command negotiating in Havana does not have control over mid-level members of the group. More from La Silla Vacía.
  • The negotiating teams in Havana have worked out agreements on land and the FARC’s participation in politics. On Monday, both sides will begin talks on the drug trade. In a lengthy post published Tuesday, FARC’s top commander “Timochenko” said the group would debate the legalization of illicit crops in negotiations, noting the group has advocated for a shift in policy for several years. More from Colombia Reports. For further analysis on the progress on the peace talks, see this post by Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace, the Pan-American Post, and Semana.
  • The Latin America Working Group published a report, “ Far from the Promised Land”(pdf)examining land restitution along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The authors looked at the sluggish implementation of 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which set out procedures to grant reparations and land return to victims of the armed conflict. They found that “land restitution is just beginning to be implemented, but that both land restitution and victims’ reparations promised under the law are, for most victims, still a distant dream.”
  • Venezuela

  • On Thursday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. Maduro says he will use the special powers to target corruption and the country’s economic problems, while critics claim he will use the silence the opposition in upcoming local elections. On Tuesday, the Congress stripped an opposition lawmaker of her immunity to be prosecuted for corruption, and a government supporter was put in her place, giving the ruling party the 99th vote needed to pass the measure. This was the first of two votes the Congress will hold. The next will take place Tuesday. More from the BBC, Ultimas noticias and El Universal.
  • InSight Crime translated an excellent investigation about the Venezuelan military’s involvement in drug trafficking. “Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms” first appeared in Spanish in El Universal Domingo.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday, Mexico announced it would be firing or demoting 700 state police officers in Michoácan for failing to pass a vetting process. Police forces have been accused of ties to the Knights Templar drug gang. This week Mexican newspaper Milenio published a report which found that in one month, in an “important city in Michoácan,” one state police officer receives over $18,000 from the cartel, while a federal police official receives about $27,000 and an official from the Attorney General’s Office receives almost $19,000.
  • El Salvador

  • Three unidentified armed persons broke into the office of a Salvadoran non-profit agency whose mission is to track down children disappeared during the country’s civil war. They tied up the guard, stole several computers and set fire the organization’s archives. The country’s human rights prosecutor, David Morales, suggested the attack was linked to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal to a law granting amnesty for human right violations committed during the war. The group had apparently backed up all files that had been destroyed. More from the Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Office on Latin America.
  • Writing for InSight Crime, Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva examined impunity for high-level corruption within El Salvador’s Civil National Police.
  • Brazil

  • French police arrived in Brazil this week to train Rio de Janeiro’s military police in how to handle large-scale protests without using excessive force.
  • The Rio State Security Secretariat suspended the creation of new Pacifying Police Units, after reports of inappropriate use of force, forced disappearance and torture. Rio On Watch has an update on the city’s plans to target increased violence.
  • Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Citizen insecurity in Latin America has grown: UN report

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

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

    Some of the statistics revealed:

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

    Friday, November 8, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

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

    Argentina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A few interesting things happened in Venezuela this week:

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

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

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

    Brazil

  • Tuesday was Teachers Day in Brazil, and protests erupted in multiple cities with marchers demanding educational reforms and free university tuition. The protests were the largest in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where violence broke out with firebombs thrown by protesters and the use of tear gas by police. Folha de S. Paulo reported police were using lethal weapons, mainly shooting warning shots around protesters.

    The New York Times featured gripping photos by FotoProtestoSP, a group of photographers that have documented various protests throughout the country.

  • The Igarape Institute released a new report about the future of Brazil’s security. The report notes that Brazil has a two-pronged approach to dealing with transnational crime: deepening its involvement in the larger international community while focusing on smaller bilateral agreements with its close neighbors to tackle the region’s issues. The study looks ahead and asks: “What direction will Brazil take in the coming decade?”
  • Arms sales

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has been promoting arms sales in Latin America with trips to Peru and Brazil this week. UPI noted Moscow media outlets are reporting that Russia is now the largest arms supplier to the region and the sales of weapons could potentially net $1.7 billion. On Wednesday Brazil’s Defense Ministry announced it would be going ahead with a $1 billion deal to buy anti-aircraft missile batteries from Russia.
  • Colombia

  • The Associated Press published an excellent article that outlined growing criticism of Colombia’s Military Justice Law, which “would broaden the military justice system's jurisdiction and narrow the definition of extrajudicial killings.”This law would likely see an increase in impunity for military members accused of human rights abuses, as their cases could be transferred from civilian to military courts. These concerns have led U.S. Congress members to withhold $10 million in aid.
  • The fifteenth round of peace talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group have ended without an agreement on political participation. Reuters reported on growing tensions between the two sides and noting as well that “Polls in Colombia show the population is tiring of the talks,” which have been lagging on for 11 months. The FARC delegation noted that public opinion should not affect the pace of the talks. More from El Espectador and El Tiempo.
  • Drug Policy

  • Mexico City lawmakers are set to propose legislation to decriminalize and regulate the marijuana market through the implementation of cannabis clubs. Mexico City Assemblyman Vidal Llerenas stated, “We cannot hope for a drug-free world. But we can hope to limit the damage and take the profits away from organized crime.”
  • Ecuadorian officials showed signs of openness to a change in drug policy during a binational meeting in Uruguay. Rodrigo Velez, head of Ecuador’s national drug office, stated, “Ecuador looks with interest at Uruguay’s experience with the new regulated marijuana market.” However, Velez noted Ecuador’s proximity to the world’s largest coca-producing nations, Colombia and Peru, warranted a cautious and democratic response to drug policy.
  • Peru

  • The Global Post published a two-part series on coca production in Peru’s valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (VRAE), where more coca is grown than any other region in the world. The first piece looked at a possibly violent backlash from farmers should U.S-backed counternarcotics operations in the region eradicate their crops. The article noted that U.S. assistance is increasing, as “the US Embassy in Lima said it was this year handing Peru $68 million for counternarcotics operations and $32 million for alternative development, including support for testing new crops and increasing their yields. Combined that is almost double the 2012 total of $55 million.”

    The second article focuses on the VRAE’s small-scale rural farmers’ financial dependence on coca. One quoted farmer highlighted a major problem in the country: “When we grow cassava or bananas no one wants to buy them. But they come almost every day to buy our coca.”

  • Honduras

  • One thousand members of Honduras’ controversial new military police unit were deployed Monday to San Pedro Sula and parts of Tegucigalpa, the most violent cities in the country. The new force, known as the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), is the government’s latest measure using militarized tactics to combat rampant crime and violence. The continued use of this tactic has become the primary issue in the ongoing presidential race, with the ruling National party’s candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, supporting the use of military policing to fight crime. Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE party candidate, is advocating a community police force that interacts with local communities. More from the Pan-American Post.
  • This move toward militarization has caught the attention of the US Congress. On Wednesday congressmen Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Mike Honda (D-CA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry airing a number of concerns, including “that the Embassy has not spoken forcefully about the militarization of the police under the impetus of one of the candidates.” More from Honduras Culture and Politics blog.
  • Mexico

  • Mexico is going to delay its deadline to vet local and federal police throughout the country, the Los Angeles Times reported. As the paper noted, “As part of a program created in 2008, Mexico’s half a million police officers are to be tested and vetted based on numerous criteria including financial information, trustworthiness, family connections and skills.”

    This testing is tied to part of the United States’ $2 billion aid package, which has invested in overhauling the police. Analyst James Bosworth has a rundown of the challenges the vetting program has faced on his blog. Continued reports of serious criminal offenses by officers has highlighted the need to effectively implement police reform, however the process has been extended for one year, InSight Crime reported.

  • A piece in The Economist noted that analysts “agree that the government has yet to do anything to improve the quality of the police” and that although President Peña Nieto has decided to downplay the fight against drug kingpins, he “has yet to come up with a serious alternative.”
  • Entire Region

  • The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center released a report that found there has been a dramatic increase in citizen security interventions in the region since the late 1990s. Citizen security interventions are described as preventative measures “intended to support social cohesion.”
  • Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, October 12, 2013

    Adam talks about the recent troubles of Rio de Janeiro's Favela Pacification Program, the Venezuelan President's quest for decree powers, and politics in Argentina as President Cristina Fernández undergoes brain surgery.

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.





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