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Monday, April 1, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Peace talks between the FARC and Colombian government, scheduled to restart April 2, have been postponed until the end of the month. Both sides are reportedly working on their respective proposals for land reform, the first agenda item of the six points that the talks will address.
President Santos President Santos said the Urabeños drug gang was the only neoparamilitary criminal organization (known in Colombia as BACRIMS, for “bandas criminales”) with a national presence. According to Santos, other such groups like the Rastrojos are losing traction. In March, Colombian think-tank Nuevo Arco Iris published a report citing BACRIMS as the central threat to Colombian security, recording their presence in 209 of the country’s 337 municipalities. While President Santos attributed the diminished presence of several groups to security forces, it may more likely be the result of consolidation of smaller groups into stronger organizations, as pointed out by InSight Crime.
The U.S. Department of Defense reported that the FARC had shoulder-fired air-to-surface missiles. According to the article, “Defense experts say the FARC has long sought to acquire such weapons to counter a key strategic advantage of Colombia's military -- air superiority.” The Colombian government has had the most success against the FARC with its air strikes. As noted in the above-mentioned Nuevo Arco Iris report, in 2012, 15 aerial operations by the government killed 200 guerillas.
Several analysts said that should the group acquire enough missiles, it could change the war. "If they had a few dozen, it would make a difference: It could limit what the Colombians could do against them from the air," said Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "My guess is they don't have that many." The article also notes that U.S. military assistance to Colombia for 2013 is slated to be $266 million.
The FARC issued a statement saying they would reject any proposal for peace that includes jail time for guerilla leaders. The Colombian government already has legislation in place that limits the prosecution of FARC members, but does not provide for total amnesty.
Peru and the United States have agreed to enhance political-military cooperation.
The State Department’s press release can be read here, but notes the two countries will collaborate on various security issues like terrorism and drug trafficking. A good article in El País touches on how the agreement to share information, technology and training benefits both sides, and particularly Peru, which has seen an uptick in drug trafficking and coca production in its VRAEM region (the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, and the Mantaro Valley).
In May, Peru will begin drafting men between the ages of 18 and 25 for military service to help fill the reported 30,000-member deficit in the armed forces. Parents and university students will be exempt while draftees can pay a fine of $700 to get out of service. The measure has drawn much criticism, as opponents say it favors the wealthy. CNN pointed out that “Nearly a third of Peru's population lives below the poverty line, according to government statistics. A minimum wage salary is 750 soles ($290) per month."
As InSight Crime notes, Peru has begun to more heavily “militarize the fight against drug traffickers and Shining Path guerillas,” particularly in the country’s largest coca-producing region, the VRAEM. In October, the government announced it would increase military and police budgets by 20 percent and double its police force.
Peru is reportedly purchasing 24 Russian Mi-171 helicopters for $407 million for counternarcotics operations in the country. According to reports, the deal could rise to a value of $485.5 million as Peru has supposedly signaled it wants to buy additional onboard weapons and Russia has offered to train Peruvian pilots.
Mexico and the border
A group of four U.S. senators working on the immigration bill toured the U.S.- Mexico border last Wednesday. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) concluded his visit by saying, “What I learned was that we have adequate manpower, but we don’t have adequate technology.” The senators are part of the “gang of eight,” the bipartisan group developing legislation to reform U.S. immigration laws.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), four out of five drug busts made by Border Patrol along the U.S.-Mexico border involve U.S. citizens. The report’s authors recognize that Mexican cartels are controlling the smuggling trade but note, “the public message that the Border Patrol has trumpeted for much of the last decade, mainly through press releases about its seizures, has emphasized Mexican drug couriers, or mules, as those largely responsible for transporting drugs.”
The Associated Press has since come out with a report which claims Mexican drug cartels are running drug distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast.
The White House announced President Obama will visit Mexico and Costa Rica May 2-4. In Mexico, he will meet with President Peña Nieto to discuss border security, trade and immigration, among other topics like education. In Costa Rica, he will meet with President Chinchilla and other leaders of the Central American Integration System (SICA) to discuss trade and security.
Mexican news website Animal Politico outlines five key components of Mexico’s revised draft of its victims law. The new language includes a definition for “indirect victims” as well as punishment for negligence by authorities. The law has been approved by the Mexican Senate, but still awaits full congressional approval.
Russia in Nicaragua
William Brownfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement says the United States welcomes Russia’s recent involvement in Central America’s drug war and collaboration with Nicaraguan forces to combat narcotics trafficking. The Nicaragua Dispatch reported Brownfield as saying, “I welcome any contribution, any donation and any support that the Russian government wants to give in this hemisphere.” According to the paper, Russia's drug czar Victor Ivanov says his plan is to convert Nicaragua into a regional stronghold for Central America’s drug war.
In the interview Brownfield also discussed U.S. counternarcotics strategies in Central America, noting he hopes to shift routes away from the region within two to three years.
United States officials claims that no security assistance is given to police units under the control of the country’s national police director, Juan Carlos Bonilla, over concerns that he was involved in extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The Associated Press published a must-read article last week challenging this, alleging that all police units are under Bonilla’s control. The U.S. has denied these claims saying that while it does support Honduran police, it does not support its director and gives no assistance to Bonilla or those directly under him. For more information, see a Just the Facts post published Friday.
The campaign ahead of Venezuela’s April 14 presidential election continues to be mired in personal and fiery insults between the two candidates, interim President Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles. According to Reuters, over the weekend Maduro “called the country's opposition ‘heirs of Hitler,’ accusing them of persecuting Cuban doctors working in the South American country the way Jews were persecuted in Nazi Germany.” This comes after he accused Capriles of trying to “provoke” violence when plans were announced that he would be campaigning in the same western Venezuela state as Maduro this week. Capriles has since announced that he will start his campaign in the state of Monagas state on Tuesday, and move into Barinas on Wednesday.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet returned to Chile and announced she will be running for president in the country’s November elections. The Pan-American Post has a good overview of her announcement and links to several articles outlining the challenges facing her despite being the favored candidate. The post highlights Bachelet’s speech in which she said, “the main goal of her administration would be addressing income inequality in Chile, which in 2011 had the most uneven distribution of wealth of any Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country.”
Friday, March 22, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Today the Organization of American States (OAS) voted on controversial proposals to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador is leading the charge on making the changes that many analysts say aim to limit the court’s power and will likely have a negative effect on human rights in the hemisphere. Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) has a guide to the reform vote. As AS/COA notes, one of the reforms calls for funding to only come from within the region, despite the fact that one-third of its current budget comes from Europe. The budget for the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, which protects press freedoms in the Americas, could also be completely cut.
In a congressional meeting, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) denounced these reforms as well as made sure an article in the Washington Post by Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, former President of Colombia and Secretary General of the OAS, was printed in the formal Senate record.
The AS/COA guide, along with several sources can be found here.
Live blog posts can be found here at Americas Quarterly.
The OAS schedule can be accessed here.
El País has an overview of the reforms’ supporters.
On Tuesday the trialbegan for former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his head of military intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, both accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The New York Times featured an article last weekend on the recent judicial changes in Guatemala that made the trial possible.
Daily updates on the trial can be found at this blog, a project from the Open Society Justice Initiative.
The trial can be watched live here
Susana Villarán, Lima’s first leftist (and first female) mayor got to keep her job this week after the city voted to keep her in power in a referendum held Sunday. 51.7 percent of voters supported Villarán staying in office, while 48.3 percent chose to have her removed. Villarán’s more conservative critics say she is inept and inefficient, while her supporters say the elite is trying to remove her for her progressive policies. According to the Guardian, the former human rights activist has “battled to organize Lima's chaotic transit system and reform other corruption-ridden institutions.”
The New York Times also featured a good article today on the inequality of income distribution in Peru. It describes the economic and political divide between Lima and the rest of the country.
It was also announced this week that Peru is creating a new police “special operative intelligence group” to “identify, locate and capture” paid hitmen, known as ‘sicarios.’
It was reported by some Colombian media that the government and the FARC would reach an agrarian reform this week. However, the two parties did not reach a final agreement. Negotiations are set to begin in Havana again on April 2.
According to the Associated Press, FARC commander Iván Márquez, “said at least five areas of disagreement remain on agrarian matters: rules limiting the size of agricultural holdings; foreign ownership of prime farmland; limits on the extent of cattle ranching; the widespread cultivation for products used for energy purposes rather than food; and mining.”
La Silla Vacía takes a look at “Campesino Reserve Zones,” or collective land reserves that the FARC propose would have political autonomy and their own “administrative justice.”
The UN insisted Colombia not grant amnesty to the FARC in a report (PDF) presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. According to news website Colombia Reports, the report also notes the “serious human rights issues” that have yet to be addressed in the country. Specifically referencing the 4,716 civilians reportedly killed by state agents, while only 294 cases have been brought before the justice system.
This week the commanders of U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command testified before Congress. Much of the discussion centered on the effects budget cuts will have on both commands’ operations. A Just the Facts post from Thursday overviews what happened in hearings in both the House and the Senate. Southcom commander General John Kelly said, “Navy ops in my area of operations will essentially stop -- go to zero, I believe," Kelly said of the sequestration cuts. "With a little luck we might see a Coast Guard cutter down there, but we're gonna lose airborne ISR (aircraft surveillance) in the counter-drug fight, we'll lose the Navy assets," he said.
There was a lot of media attention this week surrounding Mexican security. For a collection of articles on Mexico, please see the Just the Facts database. Here are some highlights:
A study published this week found 253,000 guns are smuggled from the United States into Mexico each year. This number represents 2.2% of all guns sales in the United States. The value of the annual smuggling trade is $127.2 million. The study in its entirety can be found here.
The International Crisis Group released its first report on Mexico this week, “Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico.” According to the report,
Mexico must build an effective police and justice system, as well as implement comprehensive social programs, if it is to escape the extraordinary violence triggered by the country’s destructive cartels in extortion, kidnapping and control of transnational crime.
Read the full report here
Insight Crime has a good article this week on President Peña Nieto’s security strategy, which says,
After just over 100 days in office, two story lines are emerging about Enrique Peña Nieto: one says that the new Mexican president is subtly continuing his predecessor’s "war on drugs;" the other that he is backing off, creating the conditions for a more "peaceful" underworld.
The article concludes by noting that should the Mexican government turn to “capitulation to large drug trafficking interests” relations could become much more tense.
Facing growing criticism over his security strategy and a recent wave of violence, which included a recent death toll of 29 people in one day, Mexican President Peña Nieto has asked for a year before judgment is passed on his anti-violence strategy. “That doesn’t mean that in a year, we’ll achieve the objectives laid out by this administration,” he said, reported the Los Angeles Times. “But I think that yes, in one year is the moment to take stock of how this strategy is going.”
Mexico’s Guerrero state will create a legal framework for local self-defense groups that have gained momentum around the country, but particularly there.
Animal Politico features the eight-point document.
The Venezuelan government suspended a “channel of communications” with Washington on Wednesday. It claimed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson violated the country’s sovereignty by making statements about the country’s electoral system, as reported by Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper. MercoPress said it was because Assistant Secretary Jacobson called for “open, fair and transparent elections.”
On Tuesday the U.S. “categorically” rejected Interim President Maduro’s accusations that former U.S. diplomats Roger Noriega and Otto Reich were trying to assassinate opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The U.S. statement said it was not trying to “destabilize or hurt anyone in Venezuela.”
Monday, March 11, 2013
The day after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the country’s defense minister, Adm. Diego Molero, twice called on Venezuelans to vote for Chávez’s handpicked successor, Acting President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called Adm. Molero a “disgrace” for openly backing a candidate. A New York Times analysis notes that Maduro, who never served in the armed forces, must contend with “arguably the most powerful pro-Chávez group of all: senior military figures whose sway across Venezuela was significantly bolstered by the deceased leader.”
In December and January, the first two months of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, Mexico’s Army killed 161 “presumed criminals” as part of its role in fighting organized crime. Nine soldiers were killed. In an early February discussion with Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, legislators said “the spirit of the Army is not to be in the streets patrolling,” but that “until the problem of insecurity is resolved,” they would likely have to stay there.
Gen. Cienfuegos may not have been President Peña Nieto’s first choice for defense secretary, alleges a February 4 New York Times investigation, which claims that the United States expressed strong misgivings about the actual next-in-line for the job, Gen. Moisés García Ochoa. Nearly two weeks later, the State Department denied that it had sought to block Gen. García.
In one of the Peña Nieto government’s first security policy changes, 10,000 Mexican soldiers and marines will form a new mobile federal constabulary police force, a “National Gendarmerie,” before the end of the year.
Mexico’s human rights ombudsman (CNDH) “recommended” 109 cases of alleged human rights abuse to Mexico’s Defense Secretariat (SEDENA, which comprises the Army and Air Force) during the 2006-2012 government of President Felipe Calderón. Of these, SEDENA claims to have closed 63. Only two have resulted in soldiers being convicted. SEDENA led all government agencies in 2012 with 15 new CNDH “recommendations.”
Guatemalan prosecutors requested a copy of the Guatemalan Army’s “Table of Organization and Equipment” for 1982 outlining the institution’s lines of command in a year in which it committed massive numbers of human rights violations. Citing reasons of “sensitivity” for national security, Guatemala’s Defense Ministry refused
to hand over the document — which would be important in prosecutions of past abuses — saying it would be secret for seven more years.
Correction as of 6:00PM EDT: The document was released to prosecutors only, but will remain unavailable to the public for seven years. (Source: the Guatemalan daily ElPeriódico, with a hat tip to Cascadia Solidaria blog.)
The abrupt transfer of judge Mariana Mota is likely to delay or derail many cases against former Uruguayan officers accused of human rights abuses during the country’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship. Shortly afterward Uruguay’s Supreme Court, which transferred Judge Mota, then struck down a legal change that sought to overturn a 1980s amnesty law.
A column of Chilean marines caused a small uproar in late January after its members were filmed chanting that they would “kill Argentines, shoot Bolivians and slit the throats of Peruvians.”
Two top Ecuadorian Army generals resigned their posts over an eight-day period in February, apparently due to discontent over the promotion of three colonels to the rank of general.
Ecuadorian Defense Minister María Fernanda Espinosa said that the government of President Rafael Correa tripled the country’s defense budget between 2007 and 2012.
“It is necessary that we have the highest participation of women [in the armed forces], above all when the commander-in-chief is a woman,” said Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. “Perhaps we’ll have a female general soon. I hope before my term is over.” An overview by Spain’s EFE news service notes that Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua Paraguay, and Uruguay all allow some degree of women’s participation in the armed forces, though usually not combat. Colombia’s army just graduated the first five female officers to have command over male soldiers.
Defense officials from Peru’s last government are under a cloud of corruption suspicions surrounding a contract with an Israeli company hired to provide military training.
Retired Gen. Hugo Pow Sang was named to head Peru’s military justice system, although he currently faces two civilian judicial proceedings for alleged corruption.
A December 2012 poll by M&R Consultores found 85.67 percent of Nicaraguans “trusting” the country’s army, with 91.4 percent supporting the Nicaraguan Army playing a role in “the fight against international narcotrafficking” and “organized crime.”
When Nicaraguan Education Minister José Antonio Alvarado was moved to head the Defense Ministry, asks El Nuevo Diario columnist León Núñez, was it a promotion or a demotion? “Political analysts who view it as a demotion say that in the Defense Ministry there is nothing to do, except read newspapers, sleep, drink coffee, put up with giving the occasional obligatory talk, and be on hand for occasional events.”
Friday, February 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
On Wednesday, the FARC killed seven soldiers and injured five others in the worst violence against security forces since the peace talks began. The group also agreed to hand over two police officers being held to delegates from the Red Cross and the NGO Colombians for Peace on Thursday. The release was canceled at the last minute, however, because the heightened media presence made it difficult to carry out the mission. To facilitate the release, the government extended a temporary military ceasefire until midnight in two southwestern states, however both officers were released this afternoon.
A third hostage, a Colombian soldier, is scheduled to be released on Saturday. Since the unilateral ceasefire was lifted on January 20, fighting has intensified and the FARC “have increased attacks on civilian and military targets, taken hostages and blown up oil and energy infrastructure in a bid to force the government to suspend hostilities,” reports The Guardian.
On Tuesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced details about his new security strategy. According to the Associated Press, the government will spend $9.2 billion in 2013 on social programs for youth in the country's 251 most violent towns. The plan focuses on crime prevention more than punishment, marking a clear change in tone from Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who primarily focused on targeting cartel leaders. Security analyst Alejandro Hope said, "They're going to throw a lot of money at a lot of programs. That is ground for skepticism, the level of specificity is not there yet. I find this disconcerting."
On Thursday the Associated Press reported that Mexico will ask the United States to focus counternarcotics aid on social programs and prevention. About 2 perent of the current $1.9 billion under the Mérida Initiative is intended for social programs, with the majority of the funds going to intelligence transport and training for Mexican law enforcement, according to Mexican Assistant Interior Secretary Roberto Campa.
Alejandro Hope wrote a piece on murder rates in Mexico, concluding that it is too early to know if the security situation is getting better or worse.
On Thursday, the Chicago Crime Commission announced that it designated the head of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman, as the city's new "Public Enemy Number One." This is the first time the term has been used since it was created for Al Capone in 1930. The Sinaloa cartel supplies the majority of drugs sold in Chicago. According to Reuters, Jack Riley, head of the DEA in Chicago, said the cartel is so deeply embedded in Chicago that law enforcement officers have to operate as if Chicago were on the border with Mexico instead of 1,500 miles away.
InSight Crime released a special report on Ciudad Juarez, looking at the causes behind the drop in violence in the past two years.
Peru has plans to construct a 476-hectare airfield and military base for counternarcotics operations. The base will be built on the eastern edge of the Apurimac and Ene River Valley, an area known as the VRAE, where authorities say Shining Path guerrillas are increasing their drug trafficking operations. The base is intended to improve "logistical operations ... in the face of the increase in terrorist activity in the CE-VRAE (VRAE Special Command)," according to a Ministry of Defense report. United States military aid advisors helped the Peruvian air force develop plans for the base, reported La República, but made no mention if the U.S. helped fund the initiative.
According to InSight Crime, "the VRAE is the site of an estimated third of Peru's drug crops and home to the biggest remaining faction of Maoist guerrilla group the Shining Path, which is deeply involved in the drug trade and uses the region to mount attacks against security forces." The plan is causing outrage among locals, who say the government said a civilian airfield meant to increase tourism and export produce. The land will be expropriated from 100 families.
The Peruvian government also announced that it will start to eradicate coca crops in the VRAE for the first time. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there are about 20,000 hectares of coca in the region. The Peruvian government has budgeted $30 million this year for eradication efforts, planning to reduce coca crops by 6% with the eradication of 22,000 hectares.
The U.S. embassy in Peru has issued a warning for U.S. citizens, saying that Shining Path guerillas "may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area."
On Sunday, current Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will very likely be re-elected for a third term. Several articles have come out this week around the election. An Economist article gives a good overview of the positive initiatives Correa has put in place, such as investment in infrastructure, as well as the negative aspects, including his abuses of power and clamp down on freedom of expression. Another article in the Economist's Intelligence Unit noted that while there exists the potential for fraudulence during the elections, it is not likely given Correa's public popularity, as opinion polls show 62 percent of the country back him. BBC Mundo profiled the other seven candidates, while the BBC examined what his victory will mean for the country.
The U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan Military Industry Company (Cavim), a state-owned Venezuelan weapons company. According to a State Department press release, the company was sanctioned after it traded with Iran, North Korea or Syria.
On Friday, the Venezuelan government released photos of ailing President Hugo Chávez for the first time in over two months. The pictures show him with his daughters in Cuba, and some show him reading Cuba's Communist Party newspaper, Granma. On Wednesday, Vice President Nicholas Maduro said President Chávez is undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments.
The Congressional Research Service released a new report (.pdf) outlining the key issues for U.S. policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Amid the political crisis surrounding ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s absence, a few analysts have sought to measure the mood within the country’s armed forces. Ewald Scharfenberg at Spain’s El País sees three principal factions, which he calls “ideologues,” “pragmatists,” and “institutionalists.” Alfonso Ussia of Spain’s La Razón calls them “officialists,” “unionists” and “institutionalists.” Rocío San Miguel of Caracas’s Control Ciudadano think-tank warns that Vice President Fernando Maduro is not in the chain of command, and that with Chávez out of contact the armed forces are currently “orphaned.”
The Mexican Army’s and Air Force’s involvement in fighting organized crime is an “atypical situation” that “cannot, and should not, in any way, be prolonged.” The author of that phrase is surprising: Gen. Guillermo Galván, who served as Mexico’s secretary of defense until last December. Gen. Galván wrote the preface to a book on the fight against organized crime published by Mexico’s Secretariat [Department/Ministry] of Defense.
19 officers who graduated Peru’s military academy in the same year (1984) as President Ollanta Humala, a former officer, are now generals holding key army posts. This is a record.
Former soldiers of El Salvador’s army, veterans of the country’s 1980s civil war, blocked main roads — including border crossings with Honduras and Guatemala — to demand pension payments. Last year the Salvadoran government approved a US$50 monthly stipend to former members of the FMLN guerrillas over 70 years of age.
A “serious setback in human rights” and “incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights” is how the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in a January 4 statement, characterized Colombia’s December 28 approval of a constitutional amendment that will send many more human rights cases to the military justice system, which has a strong tradition of lenience toward accused soldiers.
The infosurhoy.com website points to a regional poll by the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (FLACSO) showing strong Latin American support for involving the military in internal missions. Of 9,057 people surveyed in 28 cities of 18 countries, 84% supported giving armed forces a role in fighting narcotrafficking, and 83.2% (86% in Mexico) favored a role in fighting organized crime. 85% — 91% in Brazil and Ecuador, 73% in Paraguay — oppose abolishing the armed forces. 77% see no risk of a military coup in their country.
Argentina’s vice-president, Amado Boudou, rang in the new year in Gonaïves, Haiti, accompanying Argentine infantry troops stationed there as UN peacekeepers.
The Nicaraguan Army’s “Ecological Battalion” has set up five posts in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean coastal region, a sparsely populated zone susceptible to narcotrafficking activity. The posts, which will operate for three months, are a response to a request from 200 local farmers concerned about worsening security.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Last Wednesday (July 25) the UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report with its latest findings about coca, the plant used to make cocaine, in Colombia.
The 112-page report explains that, from 2010 to 2011:
- the area cultivated with coca in Colombia increased, from 62,000 to 64,000 hectares (1 hectare = 2 1/2 acres).
- because traffickers were able to extract a bit less cocaine per hectare of coca, the country’s production of cocaine dropped slightly, from 350 to 345 metric tons.
The UN agency has not yet produced estimates for the world’s two other coca-growing countries, Bolivia and Peru. Its report got a lot of press in Colombia, though, because for the first time since 2007, it did not show a decrease in coca cultivation. Despite over 100,000 hectares sprayed with herbicides and 34,000 hectares of coca bushes physically uprooted by eradicators, the amount of coca left over actually increased last year.
Estimates of coca and cocaine production are only produced by two sources: the UNODC and the U.S. government. Washington had not issued any estimates for 2011 cocaine production when the UNODC released its report. However, five days later, Monday July 30, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy produced a press release.
This 600-word document explains that, from 2010 to 2011:
- the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia fell by 25 percent, from 270 to 195 metric tons.
The press release doesn’t say how much coca was grown in Colombia last year, or even whether the land area increased or decreased. Nor does it say whether growers were extracting less cocaine from the coca they harvested, and if so why or how much less. The document did tell us that Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer since the mid-1990s, has now fallen behind Peru (325 metric tons) and Bolivia (265 metric tons).
This is mysterious because in 2010, the last year for which the U.S. government and UNODC have coca-crop estimates for all three countries, Colombia and Peru show nearly the same amount of coca, and Bolivia shows about half as much as the other two. For Bolivia to be producing more cocaine than Colombia from half as much coca is difficult to fathom.
(All available coca and cocaine data from the U.S. and UN since 1999 is at the bottom of this post.)
The Bolivia result is especially surprising because the country’s coca cultivation, in both U.S. and UN estimates, had stayed about the same in 2008-2010. Why would cocaine producers be getting so much more of the drug from the same land area planted with coca?
Asked that very question by a Bolivian interviewer in mid-July, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires John Creamer explained that Bolivian cocaine producers are using “Colombian methods.” These methods, however, are apparently not at work in Colombia.
Here, using the data below, is a chart of how much cocaine the U.S. government believes that producers are deriving from each hectare of coca. It shows producers in Colombia getting less than half as much of the drug out of coca bushes than their counterparts in Bolivia and Peru. A hectare of coca in Peru produced 6.1 kilograms of cocaine in 2010. In Bolivia, it produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine. In Colombia, it produced only 2.7 kilograms. (The difference may be even greater in the 2011 estimates, but since the U.S. government has not issued coca cultivation land-area estimates for 2011, we can’t calculate it.)
This discrepancy may be a result of frequent eradication in Colombia, which may force growers to replant more often and thus harvest from smaller bushes. However, the UNODC doesn’t reach the same conclusion. The UN estimate of how much cocaine Colombian producers extracted from coca in 2011 (5.4 kilograms per hectare) is closer to the Bolivia and Peru estimates, and more than twice the U.S. figure. (The UNODC, meanwhile, has not even ventured a guess for Peru’s and Bolivia’s cocaine tonnage since 2008.)
Since the U.S. government is not at all transparent about how it gets its cocaine production numbers, this kilograms-per-hectare discrepancy leaves a strong impression that a political agenda is involved. Washington has a strong incentive to reward close ally Colombia and to show that the billions spent on forced coca eradication since 2000 are “working.” It has a strong incentive to prod Peru, whose center-left government may be tempted to take a nationalistic, independent course, to toe the line of the current strategy. And it has a strong incentive to punish Bolivia which, though controlling illicit coca cultivation far better than neighboring Peru, has a government that sharply (and sometimes unfairly) criticizes the United States and is perceived as opposing other U.S. interests.
We want to think that these numbers are not pulled from the U.S. anti-drug bureaucracy’s nether regions, and are based on a considered, reasoned process. But with no transparency at all over how these tonnage estimates are derived, the U.S. cocaine-production numbers are wide open to charges of politicization.
UN and U.S. coca and cocaine estimates (if not visible, refresh this page)
US Data: State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports
UN Data: UNODC Crop Monitoring Reports
Monday, December 5, 2011
In just the past week, the armed forces were given, or are on the verge of getting, new internal security roles in four Latin American countries.
In Peru, President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency over the weekend in the Cajamarca region, where protests by affected communities have halted the largest mining project in the country’s history. President Humala’s emergency decree “allows the military to help police reopen roads, schools and hospitals shut down for days by rallies and marches against the proposed mine,” reports Reuters.
In Bolivia, soldiers were deployed to support police in high-crime areas of Santa Cruz and El Alto. The decision came after several days of deliberations. Bolivia’s constitution allows the armed forces to support the police when the latter’s capacities have been “surpassed.” A vice-minister of Interior, Roberto Quiroz, had opposed the deployment, arguing that poorly trained conscripts (“17 and 18 year old kids”) might not be up to the job.
In Honduras last Wednesday, the Congress quickly approved a temporary constitutional reinterpretation allowing the military to “take on policing roles” in the fight against violent crime. The El Salvador-based website El Faro observed that the turn the armed forces was in part a response to the virtual collapse of Honduras’s poorly trained, abusive and corrupt police. President Porfirio Lobo said that an earlier temporary deployment of the military to support the police – “Operation Lightning,” which began on November 1 – brought a 36% drop in homicides since October.
In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes defended a 2009 decision to give the military a greater crimefighting role and, as the La Prensa Gráfica newspaper put it, “softened the ground for a possible reform to give new functions to the army to fight organized crime, narcotrafficking, gangs and state corruption.” Funes, whose political party (FMLN) was once a guerrilla group that fought the government in the 1980s, warned that the country is in a “new war” whose “enemy” is “strongly armed criminal bands.” Funes added that critics who worry about “militarization” have “prejudices” that are “anchored in the past.” The speech came a week after Funes moved Defense Minister David Munguía Payés, a former general, into the position of minister of justice and security, making him the first official with a military background to head the Salvadoran police since the end of the country’s civil war. Meanwhile the new defense minister, Atilio Benítez, argued that the military needs new internal crime-fighting functions. Gen. Benítez said that El Salvador should follow the example of the steps that Honduras just took.
All articles linked from this post are from November 30 or later. Military roles are expanding very quickly.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
(Note as of October 6: This post has been updated to reflect a U.S. estimate of 34,500 hectares of coca cultivation in 2010 in Bolivia, revealed in President Obama's September 15 determination (PDF) "decertifying" Bolivia for failure to cooperate in counter-drug efforts. Production in Bolivia remains flat, or slightly down, according to both the U.S. and UN estimates.)
With the mid-September release of its report on Bolivia, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has now completed its estimates of how much coca -- the plant used to make cocaine -- was under cultivation in South America in 2010.
Here are the last 12 years of UNODC coca-growing estimates, measured in hectares (1 hectare is about 2 1/2 acres):
The UN figures show a drop in coca-growing after 2002, then eight years of stasis: regional cultivation has remained within the range of 150,000-170,000 hectares per year. During this period, cultivation decreased in Colombia, while it increased in Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia. According to the UN, Peru may have eclipsed Colombia last year as the world's largest coca-growing nation.
The U.S. government maintains a separate, and quite different, set of coca-growing estimates. These are published in the State Department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports. The U.S. government has not yet finalized its coca-growing estimates for 2010, though a June White House press release noted that "Between 2009 and 2010, the change in coca cultivation was not statistically significant" in Colombia.
With 2010 incomplete, here are the last 12 years of U.S. coca-growing estimates:
The U.S. government finds far more coca under cultivation in Colombia, and significantly less in Peru, than the UNODC does. The U.S. data show a 66,000-hectare gap between Colombia and Peru in 2009; it is unlikely that the 2010 U.S. estimates, when they become available, will join the UN in showing Peru as the region's number-one coca-growing country.
The U.S. chart appears to show a jump in 2005; this is the result of a readjustment made after officials determined that they had been under-estimating the area of coca in Colombia.
As it stands, though, the U.S. chart shows little fundamental change in coca cultivation amounts over the past decade. The 2009 estimates bear a striking resemblance to the estimates for 1999, the year before Plan Colombia began.
The following chart combines the previous two, juxtaposing the U.S. and UN estimates.
Plainly, the U.S. and UN estimates often fail to correspond -- a reminder that these coca statistics are, in the end, merely educated guesses. Both, though, seem to show some decrease in cultivation -- principally in Colombia -- after 2007, which was an unusually high year. 2007 was also the year in which the U.S. government funded the most aerial coca fumigation in Colombia. This herbicide-spraying program has since been reduced -- yet coca cultivation in Colombia has not increased at all.
The two charts are also notable for their Bolivia estimates. Neither shows an explosion of coca cultivation after the 2005 election of coca federation leader Evo Morales to the Bolivian presidency. Coca has increased slowly under Morales -- continuing a trend that began several years earlier -- and the UN figures actually show Bolivian cultivation to be flat between 2008 and 2010.
Finally, here are the U.S. and UN estimates of how much cocaine, in tons, was produced from all of this coca. Both charts are notable for the steadiness of supply. Also note how much lower the recent U.S. estimates of Colombian cocaine production are compared to the UN estimates. The recent U.S. estimates of Bolivian production, meanwhile, are much higher than the UN estimates.
Friday, August 26, 2011
In the News
- In what Mexican President Felipe Calderon called a "true terrorist" act, 53 people were killed and dozens injured after gunmen torched the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico. Hundred of soldiers are currently hunting those responsible, while the President has declared three days of mourning for the victims, who were mostly women. This is thought to be the single deadliest attack in the history of Mexico's drug war.
- According to the Washington Post, U.S. aid and possibly some U.S. officials may be linked to Colombia's DAS wiretapping scandal, in which the country's security service used spying operations and smear campaigns against former president Uribe’s political opponents and civil society groups. Both the United States Embassy and former president Uribe have denied the allegations.
- A Brazilian leader of landless workers, Valdemar Oliveira Barbosa, was shot to death in the state of Para. He is the fourth person involved in environmental or land rights to be murdered since May.
- Peru's new president Ollanta Humala enjoyed two political victories this week. First, in an attempt to mitigate social conflict in Peru's rural areas, the Peruvian Congress unanimously passed a law requiring companies to consult with indigenous communities before building mines or drilling for oil on their lands. Second, the Peruvian government negotiated a deal with mining companies that creates a new windfall tax that could raise around $1 billion in revenue a year.
- Colombia's Supreme Court decriminalized the carrying of small doses of drugs for personal use. The ruling overturned legislation passed in 2009 that penalized the carrying of all amounts of illegal drugs.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez signed into law the nationalization of the country's gold industry. Chávez also announced his plans to repatriate the nation's gold reserves from European and American banks.
- A 16 year old boy died after being shot in the chest during the latest round of massive student and labor protests in Chile. During the two day strike over 1,300 people were arrested and two police officers were shot and wounded.
- Mary Luz Avendaño, a journalist for Colombian newspaper El Espectador in the city of Medellín, was forced to flee Colombia after receiving death threats.
- The Peruvian government resumed coca eradication in the Upper Huallaga Valley after temporarily suspending it last week.
- Honduran farm workers' leader Secundino Ruíz was murdered in the Bajo Aguan valley, only a week after eleven people were killed in clashes between land owners and farmers.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that over 100,000 acres of land have been acquired illicitly in the northwest region of Uraba. This brings the total amount of illegally obtained land in Colombia up to almost one million acres.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sat down for an interview with the Washington Post's Lally Weymouth.
- On the Just the Facts Blog, Andrew Carpenter of the Latin America Working Group reports on the fact that Mexican asylum seekers, including human rights defenders and law enforcement officers, are disproportionately rejected by the United States.
- Shannon O'Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations has a piece in the Atlantic titled "Myths and Realities of U.S.-Mexico Border Spillover Effects."
- Patrick Corcoran of InSight Crime reports on how the recent history of Torreon, the small Mexican city where gunfire interrupted a soccer game earlier this week, serves as a microcosm for the nation's drug war.
- Patrick Corcoran also has an article in the Christian Science Monitor on the increase in drug violence in Mexican tourist city Acapulco.
U.S. Southern Command Updates
- The Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11) mission team, embarked aboard USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), was forced to temporarily suspend its mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti due to hurricane Irene. The team returned three days later to resume medical, dental, veterinary and engineering operations.
- The PANAMAX joint military exercises ended today in Panama. This large-scale U.S. Southern Command- and U.S. Army South-sponsored "Fuerzas Aliadas" event allowed forces from 16 countries to participate in exercises emphasizing the defense of the Panama Canal.
This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey
Friday, August 19, 2011
In the News
- In a move that took the United States by surprise, Peru's new government under President Ollanta Humala announced the temporary suspension of coca eradication in the Upper Huallaga Valley until the government can "evaluate the policies". While the eradication program has only been in place since January and the government has said the suspension is only temporary, the decision seems to demonstrate President Humala's willingness to "shake up" Peru's drug policy.
- Hugo Chávez returned to Venezuela after receiving his second round of chemotherapy in Cuba. He assured his followers that while the treatment has weakened him, his cancer has not spread.
- Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner trounced competitors in the primary election, putting her on track to win re-election in October.
- 11 people were killed in clashes over land in northeastern Honduras, leading the government to deploy additional police and soldiers to the region.
- Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe testified in front of the House of Representatives' Accusations Commission regarding his alleged involvement in the DAS wiretapping scandal. Uribe denied both his involvement in the wiretapping and his alleged links to paramilitaries, claiming that he is a "victim of criminal vengeance."
- The Honduran government proposed establishing a no-fly zone over Honduras' northeastern departments of Colón and Yoro, in an attempt to stop drug traffickers from flying "narcoavionetas" across Honduran airspace while transporting drugs from South America.
- The Colombian offshoot of hacker group Anonymous attacked multiple Colombian government websites in protest of Colombia's education policies. The websites of the presidency, the Senate, and the Ministries of Education and Defense were all hit in the cyber attack.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Chile and to Argentina to improve bilateral economic ties between Colombia and both countries. This was the first official visit of a Colombian president to Argentina in over a decade, and represents an attempt by Santos to improve a relationship that grew strained under his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.
- Brazil's agriculture minister, Wagner Rossi, resigned this week amid a corruption scandal, making him the fourth official in President Dilma Rousseff's cabinet to step down this year.
- After taking criticism for deporting a record number of undocumented immigrants, the Obama administration postponed the deportation of illegal immigrants without criminal records in order to shift resources to high priority cases. Human rights groups praised the decision to stop "clogging the system" with low priority cases.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced his plans to nationalize Venezuela's gold industry and take its gold reserves out of Western countries.
- Three oil contractors were kidnapped in the Santander province of Colombia. Colombian armed forces have indicated that they believe common criminals, rather than rebels, are behind the kidnapping.
- Damien Cave of the New York Times reports on the "feminization" of Mexico's drug war.
- The International Crisis Group released a report on politics and violence in Venezuela, warning that the 2012 elections may bring violent social conflict regardless of whether current President Hugo Chávez stays on or a transition of power occurs.
- On the Just the Facts Blog, Abigail Poe has a new piece on the U.S. Department of Defense's extension of a five-year $15 billion global counternarcotics program that includes Colombia and Mexico.
- The Council on Hemispheric Affairs released a report titled "Drug Trafficking: Central America’s Dark Shadow."
- Nathan Jones of InSight Crime investigates why the United States does not have large Mexico-style drug cartels.
- Also at InSight Crime, Steven Dudley questions the strategy of using the armed forces to fight organized crime.
U.S. Southern Command Updates
- Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort departed Costa Rica after providing medical care and technical support as part of U.S. Southern Command's Continuing Promise 2011 humanitarian tour.
- The PANAMAX joint military exercises began this week in Panama. This large-scale U.S. Southern Command- and U.S. Army South-sponsored "Fuerzas Aliadas" event will allow forces from 17 countries to participate in exercises emphasizing the defense of the Panama Canal. Members of the maritime task force began training on Monday. Before the commencement of the exercises, soldiers from Multi-National Forces South provided assistance to a local school.
This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey