On Tuesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed her state visit to Washington, originally scheduled for next month. The Pan-American Post wrote that the decision is largely perceived as a political move ahead of elections in 2014, capitalizing on growing popularity polling after a sharp dip from widespread protests. Several analysts have said the move has negative implications for both countries. Nevertheless, the White House tried to soften the impact of the announcement, saying it would be working with the Brazilian government to reschedule the visit. More from Reuters, the Global Post,the Economist, James Bosworth, and Foreign Policy.
The Rousseff administration also began talks about creating a domestic network to store and share data. Popular technology blog Gizmodo called the Rousseff administration plan a “bullish” move and noted that breaking from the U.S. internet could be “potentially impossible.”
Joe Biden in Mexico
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Mexico on Thursday and Friday this week to discuss economic relations between the two countries. Joined by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson andAssistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, he was there to launch the High Level Economic Dialogue that President Obama announced on his trip to Mexico in May. As analyst James Bosworth noted, "All other issues that could be slightly controversial - security, spying, soccer - have been banished from the agenda." This is VP Biden's third trip to Mexico in his post and fifth trip to the region overall. More from the White House and the Los Angeles Times.
The Guardian featured an opinion piece on the visit, "Biden's visit to Mexico: what you should know, Joe," from John Ackerman, who wrote, "The widespread image of Peña Nieto as a bold reformist struggling against the forces of nostalgic reaction is about as accurate as Vladimir Putin's presentation of Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished statesman."
Verdad Abierta published an interesting, interactive feature about the FARC’s longstanding presence in the southern Colombian state of Caqueta. It examines the organization’s activities in narcotrafficking, intimidation tactics and more within this region, dubbed “the heart” of the FARC. There are extremely useful maps, timelines and graphics.
This week, Human Rights Watch released a report that documents the failures of the Colombian government to enforce the landmark Victims Law, which aimed to return millions of hectares of land to victims who had been displaced by violence. The report looked at the violence and threats against those victims trying to reclaim their land. Colombia’s Prosecutor General refuted the claims, citing an increase in convictions in cases involving forced displacement. InSight Crime provides some analysis of the report, highlighting the importance of criminal groups that are oftentimes contracted by wealthy individuals to maintain control of seized land.
The 14th round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government concluded yesterday. The negotiators did not report any progress on the second of five topics on the agenda, the rebels' political participation. Despite the slow pace of the talks and the fact that the most recent Gallup poll indicated in early September that 75% of Colombians disagree with how Santos has handled the peace process with the guerrillas, the Colombian leader has stood by the talks.
Ex-President Alvaro Uribe is planning a political comeback, announcing that he is running for a seat in the Senate. He will run on a closed list with nine other candidates from his Democratic Center Party, which Uribe and close political allies formed in 2012. The Pan-American Post explains Uribe’s closed-list candidacy means “Colombians would vote not for individual candidates but for the party as a whole.”La Silla Vacia has an online forum that includes opinions from policymakers, journalists and analysts on the political impact of Uribe’s candidacy in the nation.
Central American Border Disputes
On Monday, Nicaragua filed a second lawsuit against Colombia in the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime boundary in the Caribbean. Colombia’s President Santos has refused to recognize an earlier ruling by the ICJ that awarded Nicaragua a large portion of maritime territory.
Honduras and El Salvador also began a dispute over territory this week. El Faro reports that Honduran authorities announced construction of a helipad on the miniscule Conejo island in the Gulf of Fonseca, a natural harbor shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. El Salvador’s President quickly filed a complaint with the government of Honduras, claiming the island as Salvadoran territory.
On Thursday, President Maduro claimed the United States had banned his plane from flying over Puerto Rico on his way to China. Maduro called this an “act of aggression.” Reuters then reported Friday that the United States had granted President Maduro the right to use U.S. airspace on Thursday night, despite the fact that Venezuela had failed to follow protocol for a flyover request. Maduro also said the U.S. had refused to grant his chief of staff, General Wilmer Barrientos, a visa for the UN General Assembly in New York. More from the Pan-American Post.
Haiti taking steps toward a military force
Haitian President Michael Martelly is taking steps to reinstate the country’s army, with the help of Ecuador, the Associated Pressreported. The first batch of 41 Ecuadorian-trained recruits is being sent to the interior of the country to work on public service projects with Ecuador’s military. Haiti abolished its military in 1995, due to the military’s ongoing political influence and after dozens of military coups. The new force will not be armed, and will serve “not in the infantry but in technical service,” according to Defense Minister Jean-Rodolphe Joazile. President Martelly has been pledging to reinstate the army in recent years. Brazil is apparently also planning to train Haitian soldiers and has pledged to train 500 in Brazil and 1,000 in Haiti.
Two eye-catching photo galleries were released this week. The first one from James Rodriguez shows Guatemalans arriving back in their homeland after deportation from the United States. The other features entries from an exhibition of the best photo journalism from Central America, on display now in San Salvador.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
New Just the Facts Report!
We'll be releasing a big new report next Wednesday on U.S. military and police aid trends. For those in the D.C. area, please stop by our launch event that will be held Wednesday morning.
Biden's canceled trip to Panama
Vice President Joe Biden has canceled his meeting with Central American Presidents in Panama next week due to the situation in Syria, according to Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nuñez. He will, however, still be visiting Mexico on September 19 and 20 to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. This is Biden's fifth trip to the region as Vice President.
House of Representatives hearing on democracy in the region
The U.S. House of Representative's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on Tuesday, "Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere." Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe testified at the hearing and railed against countries in the Bolivarian Alliance: Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina. Uribe referred to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration as a "dictatorship in disguise" and Cuba as a "failure." Several experts also testified, including Carlos Lauria, the Senior Americas Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Dr. Cynthia J. Arnson, Director of the Americas Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, among others.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo on Wednesday to discuss the revelations of extensive NSA surveillance practices in the country that have rankled relations between the two countries. Rice reportedly conceded that the revelations raised "legitimate questions" for allies such as Brazil, but that the U.S. is “committed to working with Brazil to address these concerns." Adding to the already strained communications were reports that surfaced on Monday that the U.S. had been spying on the country's national oil company, Petrobras.
More from Reuters, Bloomberg, MercoPress and Bloggings by Boz, about recent proposals made by President Dilma Rousseff's administration for new policies to improve internet and telecommunication security. The most recent of which is a plan to force private international internet companies like Google and Microsoft that operate in Brazil to keep domestic data centers so that all data would remain inside the country.
U.S. origin of drug planes in Central America
Honduras Culture and Politics blog pubished an interesting post about U.S.-made planes used by drug traffickers in Central America. According to analyst Russell Sheptak, "Like the US side of narco-weapons, the US side of drug planes remains largely uninvestigated by law enforcement, and largely unreported on by the US press."
Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup in Chile that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. There was a lot of great coverage about the day that "democracy came to a violent end in Chile," as WOLA's Adam Isacson called it. Some highlights:
WOLA had an excellent podcast featuring co-founder Joe Eldridge, who was in Chile at the time of the coup. According to Eldridge, at the U.S. Embassy after the coup, "inference was we brought this on ourselves because of our sympathy for previous government."
The Associated Press featured a gripping first-hand account written by a former regional editor who was in Chile at the time of the coup, while the New York Times published an opinion piece by writer Ariel Dorfman, "9/11: The Day Everything Changed, in Chile"
The Economist published an article on how the coup continues to divide Chilean society today, noting, "Although three-fifths of the population was born after the coup, a survey taken by CERC, a pollster, suggested that three-quarters of Chileans believe the wounds opened in 1973 have yet to be healed."
The National Security Archives published the top ten declassified documents on the United States policy in Chile.
"How the Reagan administration broke with Chile's Pinochet in 1986," examined the often-overlooked political separation that took place between the United States and Chile in the mid-1990s.
Several protests were held to mark the anniversary, many of which resulted in violent clashes with police and ultimately the arrest of more than 260 people. According to the BBC, President Sebastian Piñera called on judges to punish those behind the clashes "with severity."
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón said Tuesday the government would begin peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's second largest guerrilla group, "in the coming days." Garzón said the talks would be separate from the current peace process with the FARC as to "not mix pears with apples" and that they would be "held in a different location than Havana, Cuba."
The most recent polls show that there are two clear front-runners in the Honduran presidential election. Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya and presidential candidate for the Libertad and Refundacion party, has a lead with 28%. The candidate of the ruling Partdo Nacional, Juan Orlando Hernandez, currently has 21.7% support. The Economist notes that neither candidate is expected to receive more than one third of the vote and that the Constitution does not hold a run-off clause, raising concerns about the potential for political instability. Christian Science Monitor has a profile of Castro.
980 members of the Honduran army have started training to join the ranks of the country's new military police force, the creation of which was approved by the country's Congress late last month.
The Venezuelan government officially exited the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Tuesday. The country announced its withdrawal from the Organization of American States- affiliated court in September 2012, but as the Pan American Post noted, it takes a year before denouncements go into effect. According to WOLA's Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog, "Although Venezuela will remain subject to existing rulings, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will still be able to receive complaints from Venezuelan citizens, the IACHR will no longer be able to bring cases regarding Venezuela to the I/A Court H.R., nor will Venezuelan citizens be able to directly address it." Venezuelans can go to the United Nations with complaints as well.
The move has been criticized by local and international human rights groups, like Amnesty International. President Nicolas Maduro tweeted, "The IACHR became a tool to protect the US geopolitical interests in America and to harass progressive governments." Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based human rights research group Dejusticia published a piece arguing that Venezuela could likely return to the body given regional politics.
The New York Times featured an overview of President Nicolas Maduro's ongoing list of conspiracy theories against his administration. As journalist William Neumann wrote, "Accusing unseen conspirators of subjecting the nation to a variety of ills is an art form in Venezuela."
The latest of these schemes, according to the Maduro administration, was a power outage last week that left half the country without electricity that was the result of economic "sabotage." To target conspirators, on Thursday President Maduro announced the creation of a state council, to fight economic "sabotage." The new body will monitor private companies that produce food and basic consumption goods. As Reuters noted, Maduro claims opposition leaders are trying to limit food production, among other plots, to destabilize the country. President Maduro has also created a special hotline to call for anyone who witnesses any irregularities to file reports: 0-800- Sabotaje, or “Sabotage.”
An article by Brazilian human rights organization Observatório de Favelas, translated by English-language blog Rio On Watch, reported that police in Rio de Janeiro have killed 10,000 people in the past ten years, between 2001 and 2011. The piece called for discussion about the militarization of police in the country as well as police and judicial reform.
This post was written by CIP interns Benjamin Fagan and Victor Salcedo
The large-scale protests that paralyzed many Brazilian cities and captured the attention of the international press this summer have mostly fizzled out following political promises to tackle corruption and other social woes. As noted in an earlier blog post, the conduct of Brazil’s police raised serious concerns about violence against peaceful protesters and journalists. Since then, Brazilian lawmakers and the Rousseff administration have sprung into action to appease protesters demands. First, Brazil’s Congress voted to allocate 25% of the royalties from newly discovered oil fields into the health system and 75% to education.
Yet this rapid response by Congress has not equated to across the board substantial changes. According to Globo, 60% of the government proposals in response to the protests are caught up in Congress. Some analysts note that repeat protests are likely if the government does not take the necessary measures to fulfill the demands of the Brazilian people. Shari Wejsa and Vitor de Salles Brasil write in the Americas Quarterly, “While the protest movement has waned for now, the fundamental conditions that sparked them have yet to be addressed. Without a continued push for reform, Brazilians are likely to take to the streets once again.” Thus far, some of the government’s key stopgap measures intended to address the protesters’ calls for reform have had mixed success:
The first failure of the Rousseff administration was a poorly planned proposal for a constituent assembly that was quickly squashed only 24 hours after being unveiled due to its unconstitutionality. LAC Press notes that the Brazilian Vice President, a constitutional lawyer, was not included in the policymaking process.
An anti-corruption bill, meant to classify corruption as a “heinous” crime, has been stuck in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress. Valeriano Costa, a professor at Campinas University, is quoted in DW as stating, “If it comes to mass protests against corruption on September 7, they will be targeted directly at the legislative branch.”
President Rousseff signed a controversial agreement, called Mais Medicos (More Doctors), with Cuba and other countries to recruit doctors to Brazil’s underserved rural regions. This measure is an immediate response to public concern over the health system; a Datafolha survey found that almost 50% of Brazilians cited healthcare as the most pressing issue in the country. Yet, this proposal has sparked more social unrest, this time among the medical community. Thousands of medical professionals and students protesting the government’s plan to import doctors from abroad have taken to the streets in a number of cities such as Brasilia, Santa Catarina, Fortaleza and Pernambuco. Doctors contest that a lack of adequate resources, not a lack of doctors, is the root of the country’s medical woes and are in opposition to new professionals that have not taken the "Revalida" medical exam and may not have the Portuguese language skills needed to treat patients.
As the Rousseff administration is focusing on a political solution to the crisis, other sectors of the government have begun to implement new security strategies in preparation for future protests:
The Government of Bahia is implementing a new strategy that prevents protesters from blocking major transportation avenues.
Brazil’s military police have announced a measure that will ban the use of masks during public protests to maintain order. “Anyone with a mask will be detained,” said Jooziel Freire Melo, commander of the Military Police in Brasilia.
Security measures also have been increased in preparation for the Independence Day celebration and a soccer match this Saturday, September 7th. The Department of Public Safety is expecting around 150,000 people in Brasilia for the festivities. Social media sites planning demonstrations, like the Anonymous Brasil Facebook account, have been monitored for the past 30 days. So far, there are major protests expected for this weekend in 135 cities around the country. 4,000 military police officers will be on duty to ensure civil security in Brasilia during the celebrations.
As we have noted in a seriesofposts on Just the Facts, there is a trend throughout Latin America of increasingly using militaries to carry out law enforcement duties.
In the case of Brazil, the government is using established Military Police to carry out these duties instead of directly sending in the Army. And politicians, citizens and analysts have begun calling for demilitarization of the country’s law enforcement.
Each state in Brazil has two distinct police units – the Civil Police and the Miltiary Police (PM). The PM is responsible for maintaining public order and immediately responding to crimes, while the Civil Police carry out investigations, detective work and forensics. Although the PMs are military-trained and also army reserve troops, they report to their state governments, not the Ministry of Defense. There are about 400,000 active PM members and 123,400 active members of the Civil Police.
The debate on the demilitarization of the military police in the country is not new. Part of the legacy of Brazil's dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, the military police emerged as a solution through the extinction of the Public Force and Civil Guard. After the 1964 coup, the new government abandoned the idea of creating a single, civilian police and implemented a military model.
Today, almost all urban policing in Brazil is done by military police attached to the governments of each state, and the country remains the only one in the world to have a police force that operates out of the military barracks.
The issue of demilitarizing the police has reentered the debate in Brazil after several recent episodes of PM violence against demonstrators and journalists during the massive protests that swept the country in June.
Analysts polled by BBC Brasil claim that one of the main problems of having two separate police forces is that neither carries out all responsibilities in any criminal occurrence - The PM holds a suspect who has just committed a crime and turns them over to the Civil Police, which starts investigating and reports the crime to the justice sector. However, this division of responsibility and sometimes overlap of tasks inhibits coordination and cooperation.
In addition, both police forces have units with similar responsibilities – investigation and patrol. In most states, the division of responsibility is blurred, creating competition and lack of cooperation between the two bodies, according to the researchers.
For Coronel Ibis Pereira, head of the sub-directorate of teaching for Rio de Janeiro’s military police, “militarization” is defined more by how a force views its target and less by a military structure: “It’s to see a favela and identify it as a territory that has to be conquered. To see the criminal faction as an enemy that needs to be confronted with bullets,” he says. “But we are facing criminals that have rights and guarantees.”
“The military is prepared to defend the country. It is a different methodology than is necessary to deal with the Brazilian people,” according to lawmaker Chico Lopes. “Some military police treat people as if they were enemies. The police have to have a social role, more humane and civilian.”
A survey by BBC Brasil on police killings in 2011 indicated that São Paulo’s PM killed six times more people than the Civil Police.
Any change to this structure would need a constitutional amendment. At least three Constitutional Amendment Proposals (PEC) related to demilitarization are being considered in the Brazilian Congress. The majority of them propose unifying the civil and military police.
According to legal experts, a constitutional amendment would have to be approved in two rounds by three-fifths of both the House and the Senate before moving on to be signed by the president.
Wilson Moraes, president of the Association of Chiefs and Soldiers PM from São Paulo, Brazil told the BBC that associations of PMs are favorable to the unification of the police - among other things because it would allow for the political participation of the military in society and make it possible for them to receive overtime.
In 2012, the UN Council on Human Rights asked the Brazilian government to work towards abolishing the PM, as they have been accused of numerous extrajudicial killings and abuses. Other global organizations have also spoken out about the PM for their involvement in death squads. Last year Amnesty International reported PM and Civil Police had been, “engaged in social cleansing, extortion, as well as in trafficking in arms and drugs,” as well as in enforced disappearance. The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights have also recognized these abuses.
CIP intern Victor Salcedo contributed to translations in the post
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States policy
The United States suspended all police assistance to St. Lucia over 12 unlawful killings by police in 2010 and 2011, the country's prime minister, Kenny Anthony, announced Wednesday. Anthony said he planned to introduce legislation to investigate extrajudicial police killings.
The United States is reportedly considering creating a three-tier security system with Mexico, along the country’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize, the Washington Free Beacon reported. The plan called for U.S. funding and technical support for sensors and intelligence gathering. The funding would come in part through the Mérida Initiative. Both the Obama and Peña Nieto administrations have been secretive about the proposal.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota told a Congressional committee on Thursday that the recently revealed NSA surveillance practices of the United States could create a “cloud of mistrust between countries.” This comes following remarks of a similar tone that Minister Patriota made during Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to the country.
Honduras announced plans to establish two new police forces this week:
The first a military police force of 5,000 members, was approved Thursday by the Honduran Congress. The military says the force will trained, vetted and ready to patrol by October, just one month before presidential elections. Congressman and presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez was the architect of the bill had told Congress, “We need to make use of the military, and they should be in the streets until the day we establish peace.”
As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, Liberal party congressman Jose Simon Azcona said the idea for the militarized force came from the U.S. Embassy and that “the government of the United States had offered assistance and were converting four battalions into military police under the previous administration.” The blog also provides a good historical overview of militarized police in the country. More from El Heraldo, Reuters and this week's Just the Facts podcast.
The other was a community police force of 4500 new civilian police scheduled to begin in September. Secretary of Defense and Security Arturo Corrales (in charge of both the military and police) created the initiative, which was pushed forward by decree instead of law. More from InSight Crime and El Nuevo Diario. Honduras Politics and Culture blog looks at the economics behind the decision.
FARC accept responsibility for victims
For the first time in history, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has acknowledged that its forces share blame for atrocities committed during the country's armed conflict. At a press conference on Tuesday in Havana, FARC spokesman Pablo Catatumbo read aloud a statement that admitted, “without a doubt, there has also been cruelty and pain provoked by our forces.” More from the Pan-American Post, El Tiempo, Reuters and La Silla Vacía.
Massive labor demonstrations involving over 30,000 workers broke out across Colombia starting Monday. The demonstrators include workers from various sectors that are making an assortment of demands from cheaper gas and fertilizer to greater government subsidies and investment in rural areas. President Santos has said he will not negotiate until the widespread road blockades are lifted. So far police have arrested at least 61 protestors.
Colombia Reports provided a clear rundown of who is striking and why, while the Economist noted that the protests have garnered support from two extreme sides of the political spectrum: far-right politicians loyal to former President Alvaro Uribe and the leftist FARC rebels.
Referendum on peace agreement
President Santos announced plans to submit a bill to Congress that would allow for a popular vote on the terms of an eventual peace agreement with the FARC. The referendum would be tied to the upcoming legislative elections in March or presidential elections in May. The bill is likely to pass, as the National Unity coalition, of which President Santo’s party is a member, supported the bill.
Over the weekend the Mexican armed forces reported the capture of Mario Ramirez Trevino, alias "X20," head of the Gulf Cartel. This is the second major drug capo the security forces have caught in just over a month. While the Associated Press,New York Times and other analysts claimed the arrest amount to a continuation of the former President Felipe Calderón’s much-criticized U.S.-backed “kingpin strategy,” InSight Crime's Steven Dudley arugued the high-profile arrests of the country’s most violence actors are aligned with President Peña Nieto’s security strategy to prioritize violence reduction.
As El Comercio noted, it is likely that the northeastern region where both leaders were captured and the principal corridor for trafficking drugs into the United States, will see an increase in violence as members within gangs vie for power and rival organizations fight for territorial control. The United States has reportedly named three new possible leaders for the Gulf Cartel.
The Venezuelan government announced plans to install about 30,000 surveillance cameras across the country in an effort to target the high levels of crime and violence, the AFP reported.
Venezuelan human rights group Provea released a report this week on abuses by the country’s armed forces. The assessment painted a bleak picture. More from Provea and El Universal in English.
Paraguay’s Congress approved President Horacio Cartes’ request to unilaterally send the military to carry out police duties and internal security operations in cases of terrorism threats. President Cartes, who was sworn in just last week, made the request to target the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a small leftist guerrilla group that allegedly killed five private security guards at a cattle ranch over the weekend. More from InSight Crime, Associated Press, Paraguayan newspaperABC Color and this week's Just the Facts podcast.
The Pan American Post highlighted remarks from the top drug official in new President Horacio Cartes’ government. In an interview with Spanish news agency EFE, Paraguay’s new drug czar, Luis Rojas, said he does not think legislation to regulate marijuana will have much of an effect on the illicit trade of the drug between the two countries. As the post notes, Paraguay is the biggest producer of cannabis in South America and produces as much as 80 percent of the marijuana that reaches the Uruguayan market.
Brazil’s congress approved a new law this week that will reserve 100 percent of the country’s oil royalties: 75 percent will be invested in education, while 25 percent will go towards healthcare. The country expects next year’s royalties to reach about $800 million. More from the AFP and O Globo.
Brazil’s Army blocked the country’s Truth Commission’s access to a facility used as a torture center during the country’s dictatorship from 1964- 1985. The commission is trying to raze the building and construct a historical center of memory.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Haiti travel warning
The U.S. Department of State issued a new Haiti travel advisory on August 13 that warned visitors of “violent crimes and lack of emergency response infrastructure.” This Travel Warning uses less strong language than the previous one issued in December 2012, which read, "No one is safe from kidnapping regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age,” and that "Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts or prosecute perpetrators."
Secretary of State Kerry's trip to Brazil and Colombia
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Colombia and Brazil Sunday to Tuesday. Kerry's meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials seemed to go fairly smoothly, while in Brazil, the NSA surveillance scandal overshadowed the visit as Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota took a hardline approach against the United States' surveillance practices. See a previous Just the Facts post and podcast for more details.
U.S. aid to Mexico
Last Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy froze $95 million dollars in funding for the Mérida Initiative, the United States' aid package to Mexico, because of an inadequate planning. In an opinion piece in Truth-Out, the Center for International Policy's Laura Carlsen wrote, "Thursday’s announcement confirms the hold on the funds and obliges both governments to define a joint strategy that shows some signs of viability. Contacted shortly after the hold, a top Leahy aide summed up the reason behind suspension of the aid,:'We received less than three pages of explanation. Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that.'"
At the behest of the United States, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, a former drug kingpin who was unexpectedly released last week while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kike" Camarena. The Dallas News has an interesting article by journalist Alfredo Corchado looking at the case in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations and U.S. security assistance to Mexico. According to Corchado, officials say money for Mérida "may be returned to Washington in the weeks to come." This week’s Just the Facts podcast has more details on the case
Last Friday, the Justice Department said it would not be prosecuting the Border Patrol agents who shot and killed two teens in separate incidents along the Arizona border, due to lack of evidence.
On Monday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos replaced his entire military and police leadership, including naming a new director for the National Police. According to analysts the decision to do so could be an attempt to bolster the peace talks, as former Army chief, General Sergio Mantilla was considered a hindrance to the peace process. The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Colombia Reports has more details on the new commanders while El Tiempo and Semana magazine have insight into the motives for the decision and its significance. A Just the Facts podcast also examined President Santo’s unexpected decision
Colombian news analysis website La SIlla Vacía published a report on the 15 biggest defense contractors in Colombia. In the lead was Elbit, an Israeli drone maker with an over $267 billion contract.
Peru's military dealt a blow to the Shining Path, killing two of the group's top leaders and another rebel in a military operation on Sunday. Analysts say that while the attack will hurt the group, it does not signal its demise. As Peru's armed forces chief, Admiral Jose Cueto said, the group "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance." Peru's IDL-Reporteros detailed the operation in Spanish and in another article revealed that the United States and other foreign actors played a role in the multi-agency operation. More from the Associated Press in English.
Amnesty International, along with several other activists and NGOs denounced reports that "Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since."
Proceso reported that the security in Michoacán is worsening, "cheapening the official rhetoric of Enrique Peña Nieto's government that the social-political situation in the state is under control," as Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong had stated on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that a vocal group of farmers and businessmen from the state demanded the government stop sending federal police to fight the drug cartels who have allegedly abused citizens and are corrupt.
InSight Crime examined the Knights Templar, the drug cartel with the strongest presence in Michoacán that recent government reports named as the third most powerful cartel in the country, after the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels. The article includes a video interview with the group's leader that was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
The Andean Information Network posted an analysis on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) estimates of potential cocaine production in the Andes. The report found there to be a significant decrease in the region between 2011 and 2012, the largest in Bolivia, which dropped 18 percent. The article pointed to several statistical irregularities in the report, noting, "Although they failed to provide any explanation, the same ONDCP press release reported Bolivia's potential cocaine production for 2011 at 190 metric tons—instead of the whopping 265 metric tons for 2011 reported by the same office a year earlier."
Conservative business mogul Horacio Cartes was sworn in yesterday as Paraguay’s first democratically-elected president since the controversial June 2012 ouster of Fernando Lugo. The Associated Press reports that in 2008-2009 the DEA targeted him in a mission called "Operation Heart of Stone," over alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade. The Pan-American Post examined the domestic and regional implications of Cartes' presidency.
On Wednesday there were several protests all over Brazil targeting a host of issues from corruption, police brutality, and disappearances, to education and low wages. Brazilians have been protesting Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral since the mass wave of protests that overtook the country in June have subsided. Cabral's critics claim he is corrupt and want an investigation into spending on projects for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. More from the Associated Press. America’s Quarterly had an assessment of the Brazilian government's response to the protests.
The Huffington Post blog had a post this week on security in Rio de Janeiro, specifically looking at the pacification police units (UPP), which the author claims are improving the situation. According to the piece, however, "The social protests that started in June and July 2013 are taking a sinister turn," and "with the changing of the leadership of the military police last week, there are fears that the UPP enterprise will unravel."
According to technology website, Phys Org, Brazil is "moving to secure its communications through its own satellite and digital networks to end its dependence on the United States, which is accused of electronically spying on the region." The outlet reported that French-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced on Tuesday that it had won a contract worth about $400 million to build a satellite for Brazil's developing space program.
On Thursday Ecuador was the first Latin American country to recall its ambassador, Edwin Johnson, from Egypt after security forces massacred about 600 supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. So far, no other Latin American country appears to have followed suit.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a video of interviews with gang leaders in El Salvador's prisons talking about the gang truce. According to CDA, "Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process... We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: 'We want a better life for our kids and families,' and 'the truce is working.'"
On Thursday Honduras' Congress approved the creation of a 5,000-strong military police unit charged with maintaining "public order." Mario Pérez, president of the Congress' security commission. said the group will “reclaim territory and capture criminals... We do not oppose the police, but it is not the model for the moment.” The chief of the armed forces presented the structure of the new unit. Critics of the decision say it is another step forward in the increasingly militarized policing of the country.
This announcement follows Monday's declaration that 4,500 community police units will be deployed by September 1. Proponents of the military police however say that this is a longer-term solution and will not produce immediate results. More from Honduras' El Heraldo newspaper and InSight Crime.
Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.
Adam looks at the Secretary of State's upcoming lightning-fast visit to Colombia and Brazil, new UN estimates of coca-growing in Bolivia and Colombia, and new violence amid struggling police reform in Honduras.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States policy
This weekend John Kerry will visit Colombia and Brazil, in his second trip to the region as Secretary of State. In his meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Kerry is expected to discuss the state of trade two years after a free trade agreement went into effect, the ongoing peace talks, overall security and Colombia’s training of foreign forces and increasing security assistance to third countries. See a previous Just the Facts post by WOLA’s Adam Isacson for more on Kerry’s trip to Colombia and record in the region.
There will also be a new United States ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, who is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere affairs. More from Semana and Colombia Reports.
On Wednesday, SOUTHCOM commander John Kelly met with the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina and the head of the armed forces to discuss deepening military cooperation between the two countries, U.S. security assistance to the region, and regional efforts to target organized crime. He also met with the president of the country’s National Directorate of Drug Control.
Colombia and Bolivia’s coca crops fell in 2012
According to the United Nations, in 2012 coca production in Colombia dropped by 25 percent. The report estimated the total amount of land in Colombia with coca in 2012 to be 120,000 acres, down from 160,000 in 2011 and the lowest figure since monitoring in the country started over 10 years ago. Some key points:
Although coca crop production fell, the amount of cocaine produced in 2012, 340 tons, was similar to the amount yielded in 2011. The AP explains this is.
Signaling Ecuador’s increasing importance in the drug trade, the two departments with the highest levels of coca were Nariño and Putumayo along the southern border.
About 80 percent of coca cultivation was concentrated in eight departments, about half of which occurred in three departments where coca cultivation increased -- Caquetá, Chocó and Norte de Santander.
The report found the amount of coca planted in Bolivia had declined by seven percent in 2012, from 27, 200 (ha) to 25,300, as part of a downward trend that began when production fell some 12 percent between 2010 and 2011. Bolivia kicked the DEA out in 2008.
Although the agency has yet to release 2012 coca or cocaine production figures for Peru, it is likely that the country has overtaken Colombia to be the top coca-producing country in the region. In 2011, Peru surpassed Colombia to become the largest producer of cocaine, according to the U.S., though there are concerns political interests can influence estimates. More from La Silla Vacía, InSight Crime, the UN News Centre, UNODC, Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.
Over the weekend, the Honduran government ordered the military and police to take control of a prison just outside Tegucilgalpa, after a fight involving AK-47s and grenades between rival gangs killed three people and injured 15 others. The security forces, which were also sent to prisons in San Pedro Sula, will be deployed for 90 days. The decision to send in the troops followed the release of an IAHCR report released last Friday which found that “structural deficiencies” had led to the “collapse” of the Honduran prison system, notorious for overcrowding and endemic violence.
On Wednesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled against opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ challenge to last April’s election results. The court then fined him $1,698 for challenging the election count and thereby “insulting government authority” and “accusing the judicial system of bias in favor of the government,” according to the Associated Press. Capriles’ chief of staff, Oscar Lopez was then arrested Thursday. Although the government’s stated reasons for the warrant have not been revealed, President Nicolás Maduro announced that the government “today captured a chief of the corruption and of the mafias of the Venezuelan right.” More from the New York Times.
WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog examined a disarmament law President Nicolás Maduro signed into law last month and in a follow-up post looked at reactions and criticism to the measure.
Rio’s military police installed a new chief following the dismissal of the previous head after he granted amnesty to 450 offices who committed ambiguously-reported low-level “administrative” infractions. The new chief, Colonel Jose Menezes is going to reverse the amnesty although he has said he thought it was a good idea. The police would revise current policy to “establish objective criteria with a view towards clarifying doubts about it,” he said.
A disconcerting report (pdf) released by Colombian NGO Somos Defensores found a jump in murders of human rights defenders in the country in recent years. In 2012, the number of killings (69) was almost 14 times what it was in 2006. So far in 2013, 37 human rights defenders have been killed, a 27 percent increase over the same period last year. The rise coincides with the implementation of the country’s historic Victims law, offering victims of the armed conflict the opportunity to reclaim stolen property and receive compensation. More from a previous Just the Facts post and El Tiempo.
Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía overviewed several proposals the FARC have made during peace talks with the government in Havana and sorted them according to their viability.
The only known tungsten mine in Colombia is controlled by the FARC, according to an in-depth investigative report by Bloomberg on the group’s illegal mining interests. Since the report’s release, Apple, BIC, BMW, Ferrari, Samsung (005930) and Volkswagen have all said they would be opening investigations.
On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took advantage of the country’s term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to criticize the veto power of its five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Fernandez and several other speakers from Latin America spoke out against the U.S. surveillance programs in the region revealed by Edward Snowden. More from the New York Times, Associated Press and the BBC.
InSight Crime and the Woodrow Wilson Center released a special series on violence in the city of Nuevo Laredo, an important drug trafficking hub on the border with the United States. The city is largely controlled by the Zetas, however the recent capture of leader Miguel Treviño (Z40) may spark turf wars that will likely cause violence to spike.
Alfredo Corchado, the journalist that first broke the story of Treviño’s arrest, profiled the capture for The Daily Beast. The piece depicts Corchado’s experiences as a journalist covering Treviño, and delves into the gang leader’s violent past. According to Corchado, Trevino’s “pep talk consisted of one line: If you don’t kill someone every day, you’re not doing your job.”
According to Peruvian news website Caretas, police detected 44 clandestine airstrips in a small town in the country’s central jungle that are used to export drugs to Bolivia. Authorities estimated that about 14 flights carrying 300 kilos of drugs took off each month between January and April of this year. As the article noted, Bolivia is becoming a more important hub for drug trafficking in the region as Brazilian, Argentine and European market demands are on the rise.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Uruguay is likely legalizing marijuana
As of this week, Uruguay is set to become the first country in the world to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. In a landmark 50-46 vote on Wednesday, the country’s lower house approved legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis. While the initial draft gave the state a monopoly in the production and distribution of marijuana, the passed version approved a private, albeit strictly regulated, market. The United Nations said the measure violated (pdf) international drug control treaties and called for Uruguay to reconsider the legislation.
According to InSight Crime's Steven Dudley, the bill is an important step as it will provide a real life experiment for legalization and provide proponents in the region with a boost, However, “Uruguay is too small to swing the pendulum in this political debate. The tendency, for the moment, appears to be keeping the status quo as evidenced by Brazil, Canada and the United States' federal governments firm positions against legalization.” The article, which complemented an excellent report written for InSight Crime by Pan-American Post author, Geoff Ramsey, noted challenges for the Uruguayan government going forward. The report, “Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of drugs,” also maps out drug policy throughout the region as well as the marijuana market in Uruguay. Ramsey also provided good coverage on the issue in the Pan-American Post throughout the week, and noted that "Because the Senate is anticipated to make minor changes and pass it back to the lower house, the bill will likely be signed into law in September or October."
Honduras: the presence of gangs expands and the investigation into DEA-backed drug operation killings continues
It has been over a year since a DEA-backed botched drug operation in Honduras killed four civilians. This week TruthOut published an article on the follow up investigation and DEA presence in the country and found, “ Honduran judicial authorities highlight a lack of cooperation from the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, impeding their investigation. A leaked State Department memo suggests high-level interference in the United States' own investigation.” Read more here.
The Associated Press reported that Honduran gangs now have a presence in 40 percent of the country's territory. They are also increasingly targeting the middle class as officials estimate that the gangs obtain about $50 million from extorting small businesses, taxi drivers, teachers, and others. According to Honduran government numbers, 17,000 small businesses closed in 2012.
Mexico’s overall homicide rate dropped in 2012; Violence spikes in Michoacán
Mexico's homicide rate fell for the first time in six months, according to a report released Tuesday by Mexico's National Statistics and Geography Institute. The report found that the murder rate dropped from 24 per 100,000 people in 2011 (27,213 homicides) to 22 per 100,000. With a murder rate of 77 per 100,000, Chihuahua (2,783) and Guerrero (2,684) tied for the most deadly states in 2012. Despite the drop, as Alejandro Hope noted, the figure of 24 per 100,000 is still extremely high when compared to nine per 100,000, the rate in 2007. More from InSight Crime and Animal Politico.
In response to a government security surge, drug cartels in Mexico’s western Michoacán state have launched a wave of attacks recently in which at least eight federal police officers were killed, over 20 criminals shot dead, and several more wounded. Among those killed was a key Mexican Navy admiral. As the Associated Press noted, it is rare for cartels to target military members. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto deployed an additional 2,000 soldiers and police to the state, following the 6000-strong military and police surge in May.
El Salvador’s government and the gang truce
It seems as though the Salvadoran government is playing a much larger role behind the scenes in the country's gang truce than it will publicly admit to. While the government claims its role has not extended beyond facilitating the ceasefire, an article in El Faro's Sala Negra reported on a meeting between former deputy minister Douglas Moreno and gang leaders at the Ministry of Justice and Security. The publication reported Security Minister David Munguia Payes and President Funes had previously approved the meeting. As to why the Salvadoran government continues to distance itself from the truce, Central American Politics blog highlighted that the agreement is not popular among Salvadorans or the U.S. government.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas posted its El Salvador update for July that provides a great overview of the current political landscape as well as the security situation and the gang truce.
Brazil is still protesting
Although the waves of social unrest in Brazil have quelled since June, there still ongoing protests in major cities like São Paulo, where hundreds of people took to the streets in protest of Governor Geraldo Alckmin in solidarity with those in Rio de Janeiro who were calling for the impeachment of Governor Sergio Cabral, accused of “corruption and arrogance.” In a poll Al Jazeera took of 544 people throughout the country, the top issues were: “Putting an end to government corruption was the most visible demand of demonstrators, followed by calls for more transparency in public service spending; an end to police violence and a more participatory political system.”
The Financial Times reported that the protests are honing in on more specific targets while the AFP noted they are becoming more radical in nature.Reuters reported on growing concerns about the country’s ability to host the World Cup and Olympics following security blunders during Pope Francis’ visit last week. Human Rights Watch had an article on extrajudicial killings by police in São Paulo and another on police violence. The Rio Real blog has an interesting post on police, the military and public security in Brazil.
Snowden leaks: XKeyscore
According to the latest leaks by Edward Snowden, a program known as “XKeyscore,” which reportedly had the ability to track ‘nearly everything a user does on the Internet,’ had servers located in several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. More from Foreign Policy and The Guardian.
Colombian peace talks re-start, but with tension
This week the Colombian Government and FARC guerrillas began a twelfth round of negotiations in Cuba. For detailed updates on the process, see the Washington Office on Latin America’s blog dedicated to the peace process. At the moment there are several issues of contention straining negotiations between the two sides, including protests in southern Colombia and the release of a former U.S. marine the group has held since June. Lead government negotiator, Vice President Humberto de la Calle reconfirmed that the army would continue to fight and that the FARC “will be held to account for everything that has happened during the conflict.” Uruguayan President Mujica, once a guerrilla himself, visited Cuba this week and reportedly met with FARC members. More from the BBC, Christian Science Monitor, EFE, Semana, and the Associated Press.
This post was written with CIP intern Victor Salcedo
United States policy
On July 26, the United States donated$5.7 million worth of speed boats, equipment and facility construction to the Nicaraguan Navy to aid the country’s fight against drug trafficking. This included two speed boats (Boston Whaler, model 370) with their respective haul trucks (Ford 450XLT) valued at $1.2 million. Five U.S.-trained Nicaraguan sailors will operate and maintain the boats, reports U.S. Southern Command.
“President Barack Obama proposed giving Colombia about $323 million in aid next year, mostly to combat drug trafficking and violence. Detroit, with an 81 percent higher homicide rate, will get $108.2 million,” Bloomberg News reported.
Over 70 percent of the 99,000 weapons recovered by Mexican law enforcement since 2007 were traced to U.S. manufacturers and importers, according to a new Council on Foreign Relations report on gun trafficking and violence in the Americas. ETrace data from 2011 for the Caribbean indicated that over 90 percent of the weapons recovered and traced in the Bahamas and over 80 percent of those in Jamaica came from the United States. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not released data from Central America.
The Colombian Air Force will be addingtwo “more advanced” drone aircraft from Israel to its fleet in October. It is also working on its own drone aircraft called “Iris” that will start to fly next week. Colombia’s Air Force currently has over 50 drones, purchased from the United Kingdom, which it disclosed would begin to be used to monitor borders and cities, combat illegal armed groups and drug trafficking, and respond to natural disasters.
Since 1986 the Colombian Army has killed3,896 civilians who were then presented as combat kills, in an attempt by military members to inflate their success rate against the guerillas, Colombia’s Prosecutor General Office confirmed Monday, according to Colombia Reports. A report released last week found that of the 220,00 Colombians killed in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, 176,000, or about 80 percent, were civilians.
According to the National Autonomous University of Honduras, there were 2,929 murders during the first five months of 2013. This represents a 3.7 percentdrop in homicides compared to the same period in 2012, when 3,043 killings were registered. The Observatory also counted16 days (not contiguous) in 2013 in which Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, had not registered a violent death. San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, has only experienced two murder-free days this year according to the Observatory, although the government registered three such days.
Honduran gangs now have a presence in 40 percent of the country's territory, the Associated Press reported. Officials estimate that the gangs obtain about $50 million from extorting small businesses, taxi drivers, teachers, and others. According to Honduran government numbers, 17,000 small businesses closed in 2012.
According to the Mexican government, a total of 244 public servants, including 14 soldiers, were murdered during the first six months of 2013. As InSight Crime notes, this high number was possibly tied to violence related to recent elections.
There has been a recent spike in violence in Mexico’s western Michoacán state as drug cartels battle themselves and security forces. The past week has seen a wave of attacks in response to the government security surge, including at least eight guerrilla-style ambushes by gunmen in which at least eight federal police officers were killed, over 20 criminals shot dead, and many more wounded. The Mexican government has reportedly deployed an additional 2,000 soldiers and police to the state, following the 6000-strong military and policesurge President Peña Nieto ordered in May.
Over the past decade, the homicide rate in the Brazilian state of São Paulo has dropped by 63 percent and fallen by 80 percent in city of São Paulo, the state’s capital. Human Rights Watch also reported that while police killings in the state decreased by about 34 percent during the first six months of 2013, there were still a registered six killings per week in the first semester of 2013.
The northeast region of Brazil has the most violent cities for the country’s youth. According to the Mapa da Violencia (pdf) 2013 published this month, youth homicide grew by 326 percent in the country.
According to the Financial Times, the Brazilian government mobilized 14,000 troops and over 7,000 police for Pope Francis’ visit. The overall cost of the trip and week-long youth festival ranged from $145 million to $159 million, the Associated Press reported.
Shifts in Cultivation, Usage Put Bolivia's Coca Policy at the Crossroads Coletta A. Youngers, World Politics Review
Caribbean Regional -
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns To Deliver Remarks at the Fourth Annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue
Office Of The Spokesperson, U.S. State Department
Libre, segunda fuerza parlamentaria de Honduras, Confidencial
Deteriorating democracy, The Economist
Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet Hugo Perez Hernaiz, Washington Office On Latin America
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)