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Friday, October 11, 2013

Week in Review

This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

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

Inter American Court of Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Latin America Security by the Numbers

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    • 2013 marks the 20th anniversary
      of U.S. Border Patrol’s “Operation Hold the Line,” whose objective was to reduce the number of illegal border crossings. The program called for increased physical presence at the El Paso border crossing point to serve as a “show of force” and dissuade would be crossers from Mexico. This program was initially hailed as a success, however experts cited in an extensive El Paso Times analysis claim that it forced undocumented immigrants to enter the United States in more dangerous places or to seek out those who deal in smuggling people across borders, thus feeding into organized crime.

    • The Central State of Mexico has hired hundreds of women to fill the ranks of the corruption-prone State Transit Police. Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro, a strong supporter of the initiative, claims that “women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don’t ask for or take bribes." As it stands, the female traffic officers are limited to issuing verbal warnings until certain anti-corruption standards are put in place and the officers are determined to be compliant with them.

    • Forty years too late, the government of Chile has located Raymond E. Davis, a former U.S. naval officer charged with complicity in the murder of two American journalists. The Chilean government charged Davis, the chief of the military group in the U.S. embassy at the time of Chile’s September 11, 1973 coup, with passing information to two Chilean intelligence officers working with the Pinochet regime, ultimately leading to the journalists’ execution. The Chilean government had processed orders for extradition with the United States, only to find out that Davis had died in an affluent nursing home near Santiago.

    • In Colombia, the government’s Agency for Reintegration (ACR) has stated that it is ready to receive up to 40,000 former combatants if a peace process should succeed. The US$90 million-per-year program seeks to rehabilitate former fighter, providing psychological support, education, and vocational training. ACR Director Alejandro Éder notes the difficulty of the program: “they [ex-combatants] are coming from a completely different society and you essentially have to train them about everything.” The ACR’s pronouncement comes as FARC representatives note “modest progress” being made in peace talks between the Colombian government and the former leftist turned narcotics trafficking paramilitary group.

    • Recent figures released by the government of Colombia claim that more than 3,500 guerrilla fighters have demobilized over the past three years. With mass demobilization comes the difficulty of not only rehabilitating the former fighters, many of whom have been with the FARC since they were children, but also the difficulty of ensuring their acceptance into the Colombian population as a whole.

    • In a sweep of the notorious Sabaneta prison, authorities in Venezuela discovered a weapons cache containing over one hundred firearms, more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as grenades and tear gas canisters.. In addition to the weapons, 26 pounds of marijuana and cocaine were discovered in a hidden underground labyrinth of tunnels. Prison authorities have made assurances that those responsible for smuggling will be held responsible for their actions.

    • Documents discovered by the Truth Commission working in Brazil shed light on specific operations that occurred between 1964 and 1974, the first ten years of a 21-year dictatorship. The roughly 1.2 million pages of documentation were converted into microfilm by CENIMAR (service to the Navy), in order to preserve some of the dictatorship’s specific history.

    • As part of the urban pacification program in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 590 police officers and 180 soldiers entered into the Lins de Vasconcelos favela, in northern Rio, “securing” the community with the intention of installing two police stations. The addition of these Police Pacification Units (UPP) will bring the total to 36 across the city that will host next year’s World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Olympics. Both the UPP’s and Brazil’s government have been facing mounting criticism over charges that some UPP personnel, particularly in neighborhoods most recently “pacified,” are abusing the population.

    Friday, September 27, 2013

    NSA spying and a new low in U.S.-Brazil relations

    This post was written by WOLA Intern Michael Pelzer.

    Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff formally cancelled her planned October 23 visit to Washington D.C. in response to United States spying activities in Brazil, despite attempts by high ranking U.S. officials, including President Obama himself, to convince her otherwise. Rousseff’s staunch position comes in response to revelations surrounding National Security Agency (NSA) documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden. These leaks have profound implications for for the future of U.S.- Brazil relations with President Rousseff calling them “totally unacceptable,” and stating that “meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations.”

    The exposure of a broad reaching and intrusive NSA initiative codenamed “PRISM”, among other programs, has led to varying degrees of diplomatic backlash from nations considered friends and allies.

    PRISM is essentially a data-mining program that collects information passing through American Internet servers. Information is compiled without the permission of individuals or nations; it is then broken down and analyzed by the NSA.

    The realization that the United States government was spying on citizens of nations considered friends or allies, has put a strain on relations around the globe. Heads of state from Europe, Asia and Latin America have claimed it to be a violation of sovereignty, as well as a poor precedent for use of new technologies set by the United States, the world’s most influential democracy.

    Documents published by the Guardian have noted a three tier system of spying within Brazil, well beyond the PRISM program. Like many other nations, Brazilian citizens’ phone and Internet traffic was monitored, collected and analyzed—without government permission. This is especially disconcerting to the Brazilian people, who are still grappling with the legacy of a twenty year dictatorship defined by surveillance, repression, and a lack of transparency. Furthermore under programs like Blarney and Fairview, users social media data was scooped up and analyzed. Brazilians are avid users of social media, ranking third globally in terms of Facebook usage and second for both Youtube and Twitter.

    The second tier of the NSA spy program involved the interception of phone calls, text messages, and emails between Rousseff and members of her staff. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper claimed that the program was focused on combating terrorism and did not target personal communications — but the new revelations about spying on Rousseff’s communications contradicted that assurance. Rousseff saw this breach as “unacceptable” citing violations of national sovereignty.

    As egregious an invasion of privacy as intercepting presidential text messages may have been, the revelation that the NSA hacked into the computers of Brazilian mega-company Petrobras met with the most outrage. Rousseff likened the incident to industrial espionage, arousing fears that the United States was attempting to gain an upper hand in the upcoming auction of the Libra oil field in October. Clapper refuted outright these implications, claiming that “The department does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” Clapper clarified this point by noting that:

    “We collect this information for many important reasons: for one, it could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy. It also could provide insight into other countries’ economic policy or behavior which could affect global markets.”

    Rousseff responded with skepticism, questioning the intentions of the United States government. This skepticism led Rousseff to commission an investigation into the alleged hack. In a September 18 Senate hearing, Petrobras President Maria das Graças Foster testified that “there was no breach or any sign of a hacking attempt if there was one.” In all reality, the incentive for hacking the files does not balance with the risk of being caught doing so: almost all of the information pertaining to the Libra oil field was already publicly available.

    The big question about NSA spying activities in Brazil is quite simply, why? Brazil has no history of terrorist connections and is not exactly a springboard for international terrorism. The answer inhabits the grey line between national security and national interest.

    The President’s line is one claiming ignorance of the program’s pervasiveness and making assurances that the White House will consider making changes after a review. The intelligence community has responded differently; rather than apologizing, it is offering a justification for its actions, citing the importance of combating terrorism abroad. This mixed response by the United States government is a reflection of its relationship with Brazil in general: one of stated trust amid quiet skepticism.

    Much of the NSA’s interest in Brazil owes to its location. Telecommunication lines from Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East cross the Atlantic and converge in Brazil. It is worth noting that there are very few locations like this around the globe. Hubs like these are chokepoints for international communications, consolidating the interactions of millions into a single location providing a one stop shop for all the NSA’s information needs. Furthermore, Brazil is also a hub for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a clearing house for international financial transaction communications. SWIFT provides a secure means of sending sensitive banking information between more than ten thousand financial institutions in 212 countries. Again, this provides intelligence agencies with a swath of sensitive information that has the potential to incriminate the financiers of terrorist organizations as well as the intended recipients of that money.

    Some have labeled Rousseff’s outraged response a product of political pandering, citing her desire to rally public opinion for the upcoming 2014 elections. Although her approval rating is relatively high, a September 12 poll put her at 58%, rallying public support is always on the prospectus for an incumbent politician. Had she not made a statement, Rousseff would have come across as inept or worse, weak. Brazil is attempting to establish itself in the world and in order to do so it cannot be humiliated by other nations. By standing up to the United States, Rousseff is playing off an important historical legacy with implications for the future.

    Brazil’s Cold War history is defined by a succession of brutally repressive military dictators whose lineage began with a 1964 coup, which was supported by the United States. The memories of that coup and the following two decades of military dictators are a dark period in Brazilian history and a legacy of U.S. meddling. During the military regime, Rousseff associated herself with various Marxist and left-leaning movements leading to her eventual imprisonment and torture. It stands to reason that the discovery of a clandestine surveillance program by a U.S. spy agency triggered fears of a resurgent meddling of the United States in Brazilian affairs, something alluded to in her address to the United Nations where she noted “As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country.”

    Rousseff’s cancellation is a means of asserting Brazil’s independence within the region. Her meeting with Obama was the only scheduled official state visit to the White House this year, and was a representation of Brazil’s growing importance within the hemisphere. Brazil’s willingness to voice protest against the United States may represent a paradigmatic shift in U.S.-Brazil relations; changing from one of U.S. dominance to one of greater Brazilian independence and regional relevance.

    Rousseff is now pushing for a number of reforms in an attempt to curb U.S. spying; the two main reforms would be the passage of an Internet constitution and the creation of localized servers.

    The Internet constitution itself is not a new concept. It was originally proposed in 2009. However, recent revelations have fast-tracked its consideration. The Marco Civil da Internet will spell out the expectations and rights of the government, businesses, and the population with regard to the Internet and its usage.

    The second, and potentially more contentious, response is Rousseff’s push to mandate local servers designed by Brazilian companies. The broad objective of this move would be to put the management of information in the hands of Brazilians, rather than in those of multinational corporations complicit with the U.S. intelligence community. Agencies such as the NSA work with American software developers in order to build backdoors into programs that allow eavesdropping. By designing Internet and security software in house, Rousseff is hoping to avoid this type of issue in the future. Mandating companies wishing to operate in Brazil to have local servers is also an attempt to manage the flow of private information out of Brazil and into the hands of companies that share it with various governments.

    Concerns have been raised about these types of programs, with some saying that they will create barriers in the Internet, act as anticompetitive measures boosting domestic companies, or simply won’t work. How effective or ineffective these programs will or will not be is not what is at the center of this shift, rather it is the statement being made by instituting them in the first place.

    Brazil’s actions have implications for both the U.S. economy and security sector. The importance of Brazil as a consumer economy, especially in terms of social media, will lead many companies to follow proposed Brazilian legislations, building domestic servers and ultimately rasing operating costs. Facebook, for example, operates a global network out of the United States and Sweden. Brazilian reforms like the ones proposed would require Facebook to build facilities in Brazil as well, raising costs significantly. In fact, Forrester Research, a business forecasting service, estimates that this type of reform could cost U.S. companies 180 billion dollars by 2016—constituting a 25% hit to information technology service providers.

    However, the real effects of this legislation would be felt if it spread. Brazil is setting a precedent, directly confronting the ways in which large technology firms operate. This forces them to reconsider their relationship with governments and consumers, prompting a much needed conversation about the role of private information, technology firms, and national security.

    Perhaps the more profound impact of Brazil’s push is the ways in which it will affect both current and future U.S. intelligence programs. Nations across the globe reacted by condemning the NSA program, calling it an invasion of their citizens’ privacy and a breach of national sovereignty; but their outrage was markedly reserved, for most never extending beyond verbal condemnation. Dilma Rousseff, on the other hand, has not remained silent on the issue; instead she has used what influence she has to try and influence U.S. spying policy. This is very much because Brazil is in a relatively unique position, insofar as some of the leaks coming from Snowden dealt directly with Brazil. This served as a direct affront to Rousseff and her people, forcing a more vehement response.

    By further asserting her nation’s autonomy from the United States as well as Brazil’s influence within the region and around the globe, Rousseff can encourage other nations to take similar measures. The hope is that Rousseff’s actions will force a much needed conversation on what defines sovereignty in a world that is increasingly shaped by boundless communication and an unregulated security sector that seeks to exploit it.

    Saturday, September 21, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, September 21, 2013

    Adam looks at Brazil's aprubtly canceled state visit to Washington amid NSA spying revelations; Vice-President Biden's visit to Mexico City; and mild controversy over a new Millennium Challenge grant to El Salvador.

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





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    Friday, September 20, 2013

    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.

    Release of new Just the Facts report!

  • We released our new report, “Time to Listen: Trends in US Military Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean.” It is available in both English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF). The report looks at U.S. defense and security trends in Latin America and the Caribbean. We found that despite calls from Latin America’s leader for an alternative to the drug war, the United States is still funding substantial military programs focused on counternarcotics operations that have little transparency or oversight.
  • US Policy

    Brazil-U.S. Relations

  • 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."

  • Colombia

  • 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.
  • Venezuela

  • 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.
  • Photo Galleries

  • 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.
  • Friday, September 13, 2013

    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.

    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.

    U.S. Policy

    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.

    Brazil-U.S. relations

    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."

    Chile

    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."

    Colombia

    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."

    Honduras

  • 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.
  • Venezuela

  • 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.”

  • Brazil

    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.

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Security in Brazil: more protests to come

    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.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    Brazil's Military Police: Calls for demilitarization

    As we have noted in a series of posts 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.

    As Global Voices explains,

    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.

    A recent article in BBC Brasil, Como desmiliarizar a polícia no Brasil?, examined this issue. Here are some key points and quotes in the article (translated):

    Logistical problems:

  • 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.
  • Ideological problems:

  • 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.
  • Change?

  • 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

    Friday, August 23, 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.

    United States policy

    St. Lucia

  • 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.
  • Mexico

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Colombia

    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.
  • Labor Protests

  • 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.

    The FARC have previously come out against the measure and on Friday paused the peace talks in order analyze the government’s proposal. More from Reuters, Colombia Reports, El Espectador, and Semana.

  • Mexico

  • 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.

  • Venezuela

  • 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

  • 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 newspaper ABC 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

  • 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.
  • Friday, August 16, 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

    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.
  • This week the United States hosted about 160 military personnel from 19 nations at the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters in Florida for the PANAMAX 2013 exercise. More from Southern Command, Latin American Herald Tribune and naval-technology.com
  • Colombia

  • 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

  • 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.
  • Mexico

  • 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.
  • Bolivia

  • 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."
  • Paraguay

  • 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.
  • Brazil

  • 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.
  • Ecuador

  • 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.
  • El Salvador

  • 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.'"
  • Honduras

  • 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.

  • Uruguay

  • Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.