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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Week in Review

This week Mexico's national security commissioner resigned, U.S. Southern Command deployed more ships to help Honduras' Navy interdict drugs and Colombian security forces were deployed to the country's primary cocaine port, where neo-paramilitary groups are terrorizing residents. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to divert U.S. security assistance away from aerial coca fumigation and towards preventative, development programs like alternative crop incentives. According to Gomez, doing so would free up resources to "attack the causes" of the illicit drug trade, which he asserted needed to be viewed as "an economic and social problem."
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a report on Colombia’s training of foreign forces throughout the region. The United States strongly supports this practice, as the use of Colombian facilities and trainers can be up to four times cheaper than using U.S. assets. The creation of an International Cooperation Division to help coordinate trainings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, allocated $15 million in the 2014 budget, suggests this is no passing trend.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said his country would receive five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, although U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso said the two countries are still "in consultations and dialogue." As the Pan-American Post noted, if an agreement is reached, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to accept Guantanamo detainees, after El Salvador accepted two prisoners in 2012.
  • Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes announced U.S. Southern Command would be ramping up its activities off the coast of Honduras to work with the Honduran Navy on counternarcotics operations. SOUTHCOM’s new deployment includes four armed vessels, two cutters and two frigates, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific.
  • On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report on the security crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura. The report highlighted the violence, torture and extortion committed by the two predominant paramilitary successor groups in the area, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which caused the displacement of 19,000 people from the city in 2013 alone. El Espectador also profiled the security situation, while freelance journalist James Bargent noted the relatively recent U.S-Colombia free trade agreement has exacerbated the problem.
  • El Tiempo reported that almost 600 soldiers and marines have been deployed to Buenaventura in hopes of wrangling control from the Empresa and the Urabeños, which is said to be Colombia's most powerful criminal group. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "the Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city over the past decade."
  • A sobering but excellent interactive feature (and phone app) from Colombian investigative news organization Verdad Abierta and Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory chronicles 700 massacres that have taken place in the country from 1982-present.
  • Military budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by three percent in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The study found Nicaragua increased its budget by 27 percent, while Honduras and Guatemala increased their budgets by about 18 percent.
  • Honduran authorities discovered opium poppies for the first time during a greenhouse raid in the western part of the country, IPS News reported Monday.
  • On Sunday, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) named left-wing FMLN candidate and former guerrilla Salvador Sanchez Céren as the country's next president, following a contentious post-election standoff with the conservative ARENA party. Sanchez Céren and his vice-president Oscar Ortíz will begin their terms on June 1. As Central American Politics noted, Sanchez Céren, has appointed six other former leftist rebels to his transition team.
  • As Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva highlighted in an op-ed for El Faro, while the U.S. government historically "does not like to dance" with the country's political left, there are a number of issues, like drug trafficking and immigration, that inextricably link the two nations. There were a number of other helpful articles examining the challenges Sanchez Céren now faces given his razor-thin victory, including these from Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, and Americas Quarterly
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew traveled to Brazil this week in hopes of repairing relations with the country, which were strained following revelations of NSA espionage earlier this year. Lew also met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited the region this week as well to meet with government officials from Brazil and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. Following her meeting with Cartes, Jacobson said the United States was looking to increase cooperation with the South American nation in the fight against organized crime.
  • On Thursday, five members of the U.S. Congress met with Bolivian President Evo Morales to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • The head of Mexico's National Security Commission and federal police, Manuel Mondragon, stepped down on Monday. President Enrique Peña Nieto nominated lawyer Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia to be his replacement, profiled by El Universal here. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this is the second high-level Mexican security official to step down in less than two months, noting the resignation of Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo in late January.
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute released a report, "Changes in the Neighborhood:Reviewing Citizen Security Cooperation in Latin America," which examined a shift in security strategies towards “softer” policies focused on regional cooperation and citizen participation. InSight Crime published an analysis of the report, including an examination of the United States’ role in citizen security throughout the region.
  • Peruvian investigative news website IDL-Reporteros critiqued the Peruvian government’s militarized forced eradication strategy in the VRAE region, which now produces more coca than any other place in the world.
  • Friday, February 7, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Colombia’s military was caught spying on peace negotiations in Havana, Guatemala’s President was unhappy about U.S. conditioning aid to the country, U.S. Southern Command geared up for training exercises in the region and the Knights Templar cartel made money off your Super Bowl guacamole. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, "Terrorist Groups in Latin America: The Changing Landscape."
  • Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina expressed his discontent with U.S. conditioning security assistance to the country, which place a sizeable portion of aid on hold until Guatemala has shown significant steps towards investigating corruption in its international adoption program and implementing a 2010 reparations plan for victims related to the massacres and displacement that occurred during the construction of the Chixoy dam in the 1980s. “…we are not going to be anyone’s toy, and the laws of Guatemala are going to say how they advance,” he told reporters in a press conference.
  • The Wilson Center released a report this week on violence in Mexico and Colombia. It compiles essays by leading regional exports that compare and contrast the two countries' security situations and looks at what lessons their tactics offer one another.
  • U.S. Southern Command news was active this week. Another frigate (notably the Navy's second-oldest after the USS Constitution which was launched in 1797) was deployed to the Caribbean for "Operation Martillo," the U.S.-led anti-drug surge mission along Central America's coastline, while Joint Combined Exchange Training began with Trinidad and Tobago. Joint Task Force-Bravo, the main Southcom unit in Honduras, started preparing for a joint foreign military exercise in which 1,200 U.S. military members will deploy to Guatemala for training and to provide humanitarian services.

    It was also reported that Air Forces Southern members are in Belize to prepare for an upcoming training exercise and that the USS Pathfinder arrived in Guatemala for a scientific information exchange, a key part of the naval relationship between both countries, according to a representative from the Guatemalan armed forces.

  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS) published a report that found Latin American countries’ military spending grew 15 percent between 2010 ($61.3 billion) and 2013 ($70.9 billion). ISS found Venezuela increased its defense budget more than any other country in the region over the past year, boosting it by just over 12 percent. Here's an infographic of defense spending from the AFP and another from ISS.
  • Fusion reported on Mexican immigrants in California who have been financing self-defense groups in Michoacán while the Wall Street Journal reported on the Knights Templar's control over the avocado industry in the state, the only one in Mexico certified to export avocados to the United States. According to the article, the cartel profits $150 million each year through extortion and keeping their own farms. The New York Times featured an interview with the head of the Knights Templar, Servando Gómez, and noted the group makes more from illegal mining than drug trafficking. InSight Crime translated a piece published by Animal Politico on the risks and benefits of Mexico’s recent decision to legalize the vigilante groups that have sprung up to fight the cartel’s presence.
  • Peru announced plans to launch a major coca eradication initiative in the VRAE region, which is one of the largest coca-producing regions in the world, believed to have an area of cultivation at around 20,500 hectares. The government announced a target of 16,000 hectares.
  • The United Kingdom’s deputy prime minister backed Colombian President Santos’ calls for an alternative to the drug war, saying, "nobody can say the world is winning the war against drugs."
  • Colombian magazine Semana revealed this week that the Colombian Army has been spying on peace negotiators in Havana from both sides of the table and has continued illegal surveillance of human rights defenders and opposition lawmakers. President Santos quickly removed the head of Army intelligence along with another top intelligence official and demanded the military investigate the incident and submit a report by February 15. The government has since stepped back and changed its rhetoric dramatically, asserting the taps were in fact legal, despite the claims of Semana.

    Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) issued a statement voicing his concern and calling on the U.S. government to carry out an investigation, given his worry that "U.S. intelligence or defense agencies might have unwittingly provided support . . . directly or indirectly, through funds, equipment, training, intelligence-sharing or receipt of tainted intelligence." The incident also raises questions about the military's support for the peace talks, which could have negative implications if a peace agreement in Havana is reached, given the military's size and popularity.

  • According to the Sao Paulo state's Public Safety Department, police killed 335 people in 2013, compared to 546 during the previous year. The Associated Press reported the drop has been attributed to a law enacted earlier this year that prohibits officers from offering first aid to shooting victims (including those they themselves have shot) or from removing the body, such as taking the victim to the hospital. It was also reported this week that in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's military police killed six alleged gang members who were believed to have carried out an attack on a Police Pacification Unit on Sunday that resulted in the death of one officer.
  • Friday, January 17, 2014

    The Year in Review: U.S. Policy in 2013

    In 2013, there were some subtle changes in U.S. policy towards Latin America. However, many events in the region have set the stage for the United States to possibly make some difficult policy choices in 2014, from Uruguay legalizing marijuana, to Colombia’s possible peace accords, to new shifts in the drug trade and increased militarization of law enforcement.

    As we move into the New Year and start to think about U.S.-Latin America relations going forward, we wanted to take a step back and look at some trends and highlights that will guide decisions going forward. Here is a roundup of events that in some way influenced U.S. security policy towards the region in 2013 and will affect U.S. policy in 2014.

    United States’ Security Relationship
    In 2013, the Obama administration engaged more with Latin America than it had in the past four years, with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama traveling to the region and meeting with various leaders.

    While the United States continued to devote military assistance for the drug war in Latin America, Mexico and Colombia shifted the focus of their conversations with the United States from security to economics. Despite this shift, the two countries held their spot as the top two U.S. military and police aid recipients in the region and will continue to do so, although the big-ticket aid packages to both, Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, are in decline.

    There were a few developments over the past year to keep an eye on going forward:

  • Although Plan Colombia will be scaled back over the next few years, Colombia's training of foreign forces with U.S. funds will increase. In 2013, there 39 training events in four Central American countries with U.S. funding. (Read more here). In 2014, this cooperation will triple to 152 trainings in six countries, according to the White House. (The total number of trainees is unknown.) This excludes other U.S.-backed trainings within Colombia.
  • Increasing assistance to Central America and Peru. This year the United States continued with Operation Martillo, its counternarcotics surge operation along Central America’s coasts, and funded numerous other military counternarcotics initiatives in Central America, many of which were laid out in our September Just the Facts Military trends report. Although murder rates in Central America were either the same or slightly lower in 2013, heavy violence continued as Mexican cartels spread operations into the region. In the 2014 budget request, funds for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) increased by $26 million over 2013.

    This year, anti-drug assistance to Peru reached $100 million, almost double 2012's $55 million, due to the country’s increase in coca cultivation and the Peruvian government’s stated commitment to eradicating crops and targeting narcotraffickers and Shining Path rebels.

  • Shifts to the Caribbean: Top U.S. officials said over the course of this year that drug traffickers are shifting their routes back to the Caribbean, a trend that is likely to develop further in 2014, due to increased counternarcotics efforts in Central America.
  • Assistance to Honduras: This year activists and several lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of U.S. security assistance to Honduras, following several reports linking military and police officers to extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. The United States had held up several millions over concerns that the (now) former police chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” had been linked to death squads, claiming it did not directly fund Bonilla and would only fund those “two steps below” him. However, the Associated Press later reported that all units, regardless of rank, were under Bonilla’s control and quoted Bonilla saying the United States had been his “best ally and support.”

    In March, the United States stopped funding a failing police reform altogether after reports that hundreds of officers that had failed confidence tests had remained on the force. Since then, the country has only become more militarized as a newly created military police force started patrolling in October and the corruption, massive fiscal troubles and spiraling crime and violence that racked the country going into 2013 has continued into 2014. It was recently announced that Juan Carlos Bonilla has been fired, but the amount of U.S. assistance released to Honduras remains to be seen in light of all other police and military abuse reports.

  • Militarization of law enforcement

  • In 2013, governments throughout the region increased their use of militaries to carry out law enforcement duties. We documented this trend in Brazil, Guatmala, Honduras and Venezuela. However it is also true in Paraguay, Mexico, and even Argentina (which, after years of excluding the military from internal security, has recently sought more U.S. assistance for Army counternarcotics operations.) Although human rights activists and analysts criticized this trend, the pattern appears to be deepening in the first weeks of 2014.

    In most of these countries, much-needed police reform efforts are flailing, due to lack of funding and political will as violence soars. Much of this has happened with tacit U.S. approval.

  • Elections

    In 2013, a few countries in Latin America voted in new leaders that will affect the region’s security landscape.

    New leadership in 2013:

  • Honduras: Conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez won November’s controversial presidential election amid allegations of fraud. In 2014, he will likely take a hardline approach to security as he has said he wanted to put a “soldier on every street corner.” U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern over the country’s militarized security strategy.
  • Venezuela: On March 5, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died. The 10-month rule of Chávez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, whose election was hotly contested, has been marked by runaway inflation, political gaffes, increasing censorship of the opposition, an uptick in homicides and increasing militarization. Corruption and drug trafficking in the military remain central issues. Like Chávez, Maduro blamed the United States and the opposition for many of the country’s afflictions, despite initial signs of warming relations with Washington.
  • Paraguay: Horacio Cartes, of the country’s Colorado party, was the first elected leader since the country’s “Golpeachment” in June 2012, despite his ties to corruption and the drug trade. Within a week of Cartes taking his oath, the country’s Congress awarded him the power to deploy the military domestically, in response to a renewed push by a small guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army.
  • Drug Policy

    In 2013, there was a notable push throughout Latin America to move away from U.S.-promoted prohibition and eradication and towards a drug policy based on a public health approach. This momentum to find alternatives to the drug war can be seen in June’s Organization of American States meeting, themed “Alternative Strategies for Combating Drugs.” So far however the United States has said it will not support marijuana legalization at the national level.

  • Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production and sale of marijuana. The president of neighboring Paraguay, the largest producer of marijuana in the region, claimed it would encourage cross-border trafficking and drive production in his country. In 2014, it will not only be important to see if these predictions come true, but also if violence associated with other drugs drops, which the Uruguayan government claims will happen as police become more available to focus on heavier narcotics.
  • On January 1, 2014 Colorado became the first U.S. state to regulate commercial production and sale of recreational marijuana. Washington State will soon follow. In 2014 it will be interesting to see whether this leads to a drop in Mexican marijuana trafficking and/or violence on the border. As the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica reaffirmed, it will unlikely lead to change in drug policy towards Latin America.
  • Domestic drugs markets in Latin America increased in 2013, most notably in Argentina and Brazil, which are supplied by coca production in Bolivia and Peru, the latter of which overtook Colombia this year as the world’s biggest producer of cocaine.
  • Although Colombia made no legal changes in 2013, President Santos has indicated on numerous occasions that he is ready for a change if others go in that direction. It could be that in 2014 the country will undergo some changes to its drug policy as a result of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group. The two are currently discussing the issue of drug trafficking at peace negotiations taking place in Havana..
  • One year for Mexican President Peña Nieto

  • During his campaign, President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed a change in Mexico’s war against the drug cartels. He pledged to focus more on violence against citizens rather than on the militarized, U.S.-backed “kingpin” strategy so aggressively pursued by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, which drew criticism for splintering the cartels and causing violence to spike.

    However, this year Peña Nieto’s security strategy showed little departure from years past, sending federal troops to hotbeds of crime and violence and working closely with the U.S. to bring down top traffickers. Unlike Calderón however, he did not publicly promote his war on the cartels, instead choosing to put the spotlight on economy and reform. He also limited U.S. agencies’ access to Mexican security forces, channeling all bilateral law enforcement contact through the Ministry of the Interior, the effects of which remain to be seen.

    Murders did drop slightly in 2013, however the number of kidnappings and extortion skyrocketed and armed citizen self-defense groups surged, citing the government’s inability to protect them from the cartels.

    One year in, Peña Nieto has yet to articulate a clear plan or timeline for his overall security strategy. Heading into 2014, several security problems remain, but two major ones include: ongoing impunity for abuses and corruption committed by security officials, and the rise of vigilante groups that are clashing with the drug cartels and federal troops, particularly in the western part of the country. Many worry the groups will follow the path taken by paramilitary groups in Colombia, widening the criminal landscape.

  • El Salvador gang truce

  • Going into 2013, there was hope the truce between El Salvador’s two rival gangs, the MS-13 and Barrio 18, that had initially caused the murder rate to halve in 2012, would yield even more security gains as neighboring Guatemala and Honduras continued to be plagued by drug trafficking and high homicide rates due to gang violence.

    But going into 2014, the truce is eroding and few believe it will become a viable security solution, no matter the outcome of February’s presidential elections. Although an El Faro report this year revealed the government’s undeniable role in facilitating the truce, the administration of President Mauricio Funes has refused to admit its role, due to an ever-increasing lack of political and public support. The United States did not come out for or against the deal, allotting funding to several other security-focused initiatives over the year, but none specifically aligned with the truce.

    El Salvador ended 2013 with a lower homicide rate than 2012, but disappearances doubled, murders steadily crept up in the last six months of the year – a trend that has continued into 2014 – and mass graves possibly linked to gang violence were found, increasing skepticism about the agreement’s actual gains. If the truce falls apart, El Salvador could see a spike in violence.

  • Colombia peace process

  • In 2013, advances in peace negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signaled both sides’ commitment to finding a resolution to end the country’s fifty-year internal conflict. However the talks continue to be met with cautious optimism. The negotiating teams have made more progress than in any previous peace talks, hammering out deals on two of the root causes of the conflict: land reform and the guerrillas’ political participation. The Obama administration expressed strong support for talks throughout the year, which will be crucial in to ensure a post-conflict transition, given Colombia is the U.S.’ main security partner in Latin America.

    Although the talks closed 2013 without much movement on the third agenda point – the drug trade--there remains the sense that both sides are committed to reaching an agreement. President Santos has all but staked his re-election on the negotiations. In 2014, it is likely that the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s smaller—but also nearly 50-year-old—guerrilla group, will begin negotiations with the government.

  • Friday, January 17, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

    U.S. Policy

  • House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    The Houses’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing, “NAFTA at Twenty: Accomplishments, Challenges and the Way Forward.” The list of testifying witnesses was a mix of leaders of nonprofit and for profit organizations.
  • Obama to Mexico
    President Obama had a call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday, in which he congratulated Peña Nieto for the “important reforms” he pushed through in his first year in office. President Obama will travel to Mexico for a North American summit on February 19.
  • SOUTHCOM in Guatemala
    The head of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly, was in Guatemala this week to evaluate the progress of a counternarcotics task force the U.S. helped set up along the country’s northern border with Mexico. The United States and Guatemala are in negotiations to set up a similar task force along the country’s border with Honduras, Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported.
  • SOUTHCOM in Honduras
    The United States has offered
    to help Honduras build an international airport at the Soto Cano military airbase, from which U.S. military troops have operated since the early 1980s. Currently Joint Task Force Bravo is stationed there, the main U.S. force used to carry out counternarcotics operations in the country.
  • Help from the Vatican with Cuba
    Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Vatican, which has relatively good relations with the Cuba, to help with the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island since 2009.
  • U.S. policies on sending migrants to Mexico
    Mexicali, Mexico has become the “world’s biggest landing pad for sent-back immigrants,” the Washington Post reported. Larger cities like Tijuana and Juarez used to be the main “drop-off” points but due to shifting U.S. immigration policies and the strong influence of the drug cartels, U.S. officials are now deporting immigrants to smaller border cities.
  • Omnibus spending bill
    The United States Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill (PDF)for Fiscal Year 2014. Two of the bill’s provisions are the Defense Appropriations and State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations, which fund many of the aid programs tracked by Just the Facts.
  • Mexico

  • Self-defense and army clash in Michoacán
    The biggest story this week was the vigilante movement in Mexico’s western Michoacán state, particularly around the city of Apatzingan, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang. On Monday the Interior Minister Osorio Chong announced the government would be sending more troops to the region. Until now, federal troops had been reluctant to get involved, or had even worked with the groups, but this week ramped up their engagement to disarm them. By Saturday security forces will control all 27 municipalities in the Tierra Caliente region where Michoacán is located. So far Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has remained fairly silent on the issue, but has appointed a special commissioner to oversee the federal government’s response.

    The New York Times deftly explained the Mexican government’s “Catch 22:”

    Should it disarm the loosely organized gunmen who have risen up to fight the drug cartels, risking deadly clashes with some of the very citizens it has been accused of failing to protect in the first place?

    Or should it back down and let these nebulous outfits — with little or no police training, uncertain loyalties and possible ties to another criminal gang — continue to fight against the region’s narcotics rings, possibly leading to a bloody showdown?

    Reporting from the New York Times and other outlets indicated that many residents in fact support the vigilante groups and are disillusioned with security force involvement, particularly after the shooting of three civilians Wednesday. For a list of links to coverage in both English and Spanish, see the Just the Facts Mexico news page and the Pan-American Post.

  • Mexico’s police reform
    In the first six months of 2013, Mexico’s 31 states along with the Federal District did not use 88 percent of the available funds the government slated for vetting police. Initially, states were required to complete the vetting programs by December 29, 2013, but because of the delay, will now have until October 2014. More from Milenio and InSight Crime.
  • Colombia

  • Colombian cocaine labs
    Vocativ featured a video special on shifts in the Colombian cocaine trade that highlighted two of the latest trends to shake security forces’ counternarcotics efforts: the move from using huge processing labs in the jungle to small and disposable urban labs and the rise of trafficking the drug in liquid form, which is less detectable. The video also featured an anonymous trafficker who claimed, “legalization would be devastating, it would end the business.”
  • FARC ceasefire ends
    On Wednesday, the FARC ended its 30-day unilateral ceasefire. Colombian think tank CERAC documented the group’s deviation from the ceasefire and found that while the FARC decreased activity by 65 percent, there were 12 violations. Varying sources place the number of violations between four and twelve. Semana magazine wrote that despite these incidents, many analysts said the guerrilla group was largely able to hold the ceasefire, demonstrating the central Secretariat’s control over (almost) all of its fronts, a point that would be key to implementing any eventual peace deal. More analysis from InSight Crime ’s Jeremy McDermott who says while this is true, it also shows the risk of FARC fragmentation is a real possibility.

    On Thursday the government attributed a bombing in western Colombia that wounded 56 people to the FARC. The group said it was “surprised” by the attack and that if one of its fronts had in fact carried it out, it was an error.

  • FARC’s proposed drug reform
    On Tuesday, as the Colombian government and the FARC began their latest round of talks on drug trafficking, the guerrilla group released its proposed drug policy plan to regulate the production and sale of coca, poppy and marijuana. The plan also promoted demilitarization of drug- producing regions and an end to aerial crop fumigations, (See the proposal in its entirety in Spanish here and a summary in here here). Colombian newspaper El Tiempo highlighted various experts saying demilitarizing drug-producing regions is not realistic for the government, given the presence of drug labs and trafficking routes in these same areas.
  • Peru’s “license to kill” law

  • A new law in Peru exempts police officers and soldiers who shoot civilians “in compliance with their duty” from prosecution. The measure drew heavy criticism from civil society organizations who said it was a “license to kill” and will only further existing impunity for abuses. Supporters of the bill said it would allow police to protect civilians more effectively. More from El País.
  • Panama fines North Korea

  • North Korea has agreed to pay Panama a $670,000 fine to reclaim the ship that was found carrying Cuban missile equipment through the Panama Canal last year.
  • Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Citizen insecurity in Latin America has grown: UN report

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

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

    Some of the statistics revealed:

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

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by Sarah Kinosian and 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.

    United States Policy

    Colombia

  • On Thursday, the United States Congress held a hearing, “Creating Peace and Finding Justice in Colombia.” It was held before the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. WOLA’s Adam Isacson testified, as did Ginny Bouvier from USIP and Max Shoening from Human Rights Watch, among others. The topics discussed included the peace process, the role of the United States should a peace agreement be reached, and labor rights and land rights. See the commision’s website and Colombia Reports for more information.
  • NSA fallout

  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched an official investigation looking into the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, including any accounts of Mexican cooperation in the U.S. spying programs. The decision comes after this week’s revelation that the NSA hacked former President Felipe Calderon’s public email account. While Mexico’s response to disclosures of U.S. spying has been more measured than that of other targeted governments, the country’s foreign minister said he would be seeking an explanation from the U.S. ambassador. More from The Christian Science Monitor, Latin Americanist blog, BBC Mundo, Der Speigel, CNN, Los Angeles Times, and Excelsior.
  • Brazil and Germany teamed up this week to cosponsor a U.N. resolution on internet privacy. Although the draft resolution did not directly mention the recent disclosures of the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying practices, it most certainly was the prompt.
  • Uruguay

  • President Obama postponed his meeting with President Mujica due to the government shutdown. The meeting is planned to take place next year.
  • Colombia

  • On Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have increased military jurisdiction over human rights crimes. As of right now, all human rights cases involving members of the military are to be tried in civilian court. Members of the U.S. Congress had withheld at least $10 million in military aid over human rights concerns implicit in the measure.

    As the Associated Press noted, Defense Minister Juan Pinzon called the ruling “a blow to the morale of the military forces that without doubt will affect Colombians’ security.” The measure was seen as President Santos’ concession to the armed forces for their backing in peace negotiations with the FARC. As La Silla Vacia noted, the law would have acted as a “protective shield that would give them legal guarantees.” The decision to throw out the “fuero militar” could have a negative impact on the armed forces support for the peace process. More from the Pan-American Post, Amnesty International, Semana, and El Espectador. For more context on the law in English, see last week’s AP article profiling the measure.

  • Amnesty International reported right-wing paramilitary group Los Rastrojos has threatened “social cleansing” of indigenous leaders and groups involved in protests throughout the country.The threats come amid reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.
  • Guatemala

  • A court ruling in Guatemala this week could open the door for amnesty for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the First Chamber of Appeals to rule on whether a 1986 amnesty law applies to Rios Montt, despite several prior rulings that it did not, given the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. If the chamber finds the law applies, his case will be thrown out. Judge Jorge Mario Valenzuela, president of the chamber, says they will announce their decision today or tomorrow. As Central American Politics blog noted, “The Constitutional Court seems intent on ensuring that Rios Montt and other human rights violators are never held accountable.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • Human rights organization FIDH released a report (PDF) on the Rios Montt trial, asking for members of the European Union (EU) not to ratify the EU-Central America Association Agreement in protest of the annulment of Rios Montt’s genocide conviction.
  • A report published by the National Economic Research Center (CIEN) found the rate of murders linked to firearms has doubled over the past ten years to 82 percent. This is nearly twice the global average of 42 percent and over Central America’s average of 70 percent. More from InSight Crime.
  • Honduras

  • There is one month before presidential elections take place in Honduras on November 24 and the race is in a dead heat between Xiomara Castro for the center-left LIBRE party and Juan Orlando Hernández for the ruling National Party. Honduras Culture and Politics blog has a helpful overview and breakdown of polling numbers, while Hermano Juancito published two informative posts ahead of elections -- one outlining the political landscape and the other looking at corruption, violence and mudsling ahead of elections. More from Just the Facts, Reuters and World Politics Review.
  • Mexico

  • The United Nations Human Right Council began its review of human rights in Mexico on Wednesday in Geneva. Members called on Mexico to investigate several of the severe citizen security issues going on in the country, such as deadly attacks on journalists, violence against women, and forced disappearances by security forces. Swiss representative Michael Meier said, "Despite Mexico's will to improve the training of relevant authorities, the number of officials suspected of being involved in enforced disappearances is very alarming." Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio insisted progress had been made and cited the creation of a new victims law and an alleged drop in complaints filed against the military. More from Animal Politico, El Universal and Reuters.
  • Cuba

  • This week the Cuban government announced it would be doing away with its dual currency system. The measure was put in place in 1994 and has been unpopular with the island's residents. No timetable has been given for when the new single currency system will go into effect. The Economist had an overview of the current system and laid out some challenges that lie ahead of the changeover.
  • Al Jazeera reported on the creation of a “Special Economic Zone” on the island where, “One-hundred percent foreign ownership will be allowed for firms operating in the zone, and contracts will be extended to 50 years, up from the current 25.”
  • Bolivia

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales, once head of the coca growers union, defended eradication efforts in the northern region of Apolo, citing strong evidence of narcotrafficking in the area. The statement comes after coca growers attacked security forces involved in an eradication operation, killing four and taking six hostage, all of whom were later released. Morales pointed to the capture of four Peruvians in the area as evidence that foreigners were trafficking in the region. President Morales has called for an increased military presence on the border to stem the illegal flow of coca, EFE reported.
  • Peru

  • IDL Reporteros published an interesting piece on the growing use of small planes to transport cocaine out of the remote Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRA) region, where more coca is grown than anywhere else in the world. These “narcoflights” land on some 40 clandestine runways that are scattered throughout the harsh geography of the region.
  • Uruguay

  • The Secretary of Uruguay’s National Board of Drugs Julio Calzada traveled to the U.S. this week to look at the legal cannabis market and regulation in Colorado. Calzada told the Associated Press, “We see the hypocrisy of U.S. politics towards Latin America. We have thousands of deaths that are the simple result of (drug) prohibition.” On the visit the delegation toured growhouses with digital marking systems and learned about video monitoring systems. This trip comes as the drug regulation body announced earlier this week that the initial regulated pricing of marijuana cigarettes would be around $1 a gram. More from the Pan-American Post about legal debates surrounding the law.
  • Venezuela

  • President Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of a vice-ministry for the “Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People.” The new cabinet position will be charged with overseeing the social missions, known as “Bolivarian Missions,” that were a hallmark of former President Hugo Chávez’s presidency. More from BBC Mundo.
  • Saturday, October 19, 2013

    The Week Ahead: October 19, 2013

    Adam talks about a U.S.-backed coca eradication offensive in Peru, a delivery of U.S. helicopters and equipment to Guatemala, and a series of events affecting human rights and the judicial system in El Salvador.

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





    Download

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

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

    Brazil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Honduras

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

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

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

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

  • The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center released a report that found there has been a dramatic increase in citizen security interventions in the region since the late 1990s. Citizen security interventions are described as preventative measures “intended to support social cohesion.”
  • 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.
  • Friday, June 21, 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

  • Twenty-one U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry requesting a detailed report to Congress on human rights abuses committed by security forces in Honduras. The letter stated the senators had “serious questions regarding the State Department’s certification” that Honduras met the human rights conditions necessary to guarantee U.S. aid for FY 2012.
  • On Monday, the State Department issued a travel warning for Honduras as "crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and the Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to address these issues."
  • On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on security cooperation with Mexico, looking at the Mérida Initiative, the U.S.' central security package to Mexico.The full testimonies and a live webcast can be found on the committee's website.
  • On Wednesday, the House's Subcommittee on Foreign Relations held a hearing examining the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), the U.S.' main aid packages to Central America and the Caribbean.See the House committee's website for full testimonies of all witnesses and a webcast.
  • John Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, met with top commanders from Peru and Colombia's armed forces in Lima on Wednesday. The AFP reported the commanders discussed narcotrafficking, terrorism and illegal mining. The meeting comes just after last week's announcement that the United States would be giving Peru an extra $20 million for counternarcotics operations, bringing total U.S. investment in Peru's counterdrug initiatives for the year to $60 million, a marked increase from recent years.
  • Cuba and the U.S. announced they will be resuming discussions on migration in Washington D.C. on July 17th. The announcement came as the two countries concluded talks about resuming direct mail service for the first time in fifty years.
  • The U.S. announced it has approved $91.2 million in funding as part of the bilateral Partnership for Growth agreement the U.S. signed with El Salvador in 2011. The money will go towards improving the Salvadoran justice system, improving education, and a crime prevention program called SolucionES. None of the funding will go towards supporting initiatives linked to the country's gang truce however, as the U.S. has reiterated that it will not actively support the truce. InSight Crime raised the question of whether this undermined the agreement, while Central America Politics blog looked at other U.S. support for El Salvador and concluded, "it just looks like the US is going about its business as if there were no gang truce."
  • The United States Southern Command announced this week that is has deployed a Navy Aircraft squadron that "will be operating out of El Salvador flying detection and monitoring missions along with aircraft and surface units from partner nations, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection," as part of "Operation Martillo," the United States' surge counternarcotics operation off of Central America.
  • Brazil

  • The story that has dominated the region this week were the protests in Brazil. What initially started as a protest in response to a 20-cent increase in bus fares has snowballed into a nation-wide movement that culminated with over one million Brazilians taking to the streets in at least 80 cities Thursday. There were some violent clashes between citizens demanding better services and government accountability and police dispensing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, and so far one protestor has died.

    The movement is apolitical and has no set list of demands. Observers and even the protestors themselves seem unclear about what is exactly happening on a larger scale. As Gabriel Elizondo notes on Aljazeera, "I would be lying if I said I know exactly what is happening here right now. It's complicated. Brazil isn't for beginners, and neither is this current wave of protests."

    Reuters concluded that the protest movements were more "Occupy Wall Street" than "Arab Spring" in terms of motives. Several observers have drawn parallels to the on-going protests in Turkey, such as the key role of social media and the young, educated and middle-class profile of the protestors. However there are significant differences- the main one being the Brazilian government's more conciliatory approach. So far there has been little word from President Rousseff, however she did cancel her trip to Japan to hold an emergency cabinet meeting this morning. The Pan-American Post has offered good coverage this week. See here for a list of links to coverage on Just the Facts.

  • Dominican Republic

  • Since this weekend, the government of the Dominican Republic has deployed about 3,000 troops to the country's capital, Santo Domingo. While the police said there was an immediate drop in crime, human rights groups and some government officials, like the city's district attorney, have voiced concern over human rights abuses. However, the Dominican Republic's police force is notorious for corruption and extrajudicial killings. As the Miami Herald noted, police killed 4,069 people between 1997 and mid-2012. The government justified the move by saying military deployments had worked in other countries like Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Guatemala and Ecuador. The government plans to increase the number of troops patrolling the streets to 5,000.
  • El Salvador

  • InSight Crime has a four-part investigation on the truce between El Salvador’s two largest gangs – the MS- 13 and the Barrio 18. One of the pieces examines the positives and negatives of the truce while another features an interview with Barrio 18’s leader who said the gang does not “have political aspirations. We only aspire to have a dignified life.” The investigation also looks at whether the U.S. Treasury’s decision to designate the MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization was founded.
  • Mexico

  • Mexico is offering $500 million dollars to finance infrastructure projects in Central America. The proposal was announced at a meeting of foreign ministers of Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Central America.
  • Univision has a geographical breakdown of disappearances in Mexico. Unsurprisingly, most are located in areas with high levels of violence and a strong organized crime presence. More from InSight Crime.
  • Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica is experiencing a rise in drug trafficking and has become an important transshipment hub, according to a BBC Mundo profile of examined crime in the country. The article sheds further light on Costa Rica’s involvement in global drug trade as previous reports of Mexican and Colombian cartel activity have indicated. The country’s cocaine exports have been reported to reach 39 different locations across the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa.
  • Colombia

  • On Monday, Colombia’s congress passed a law that will expand the jurisdiction of the country’s military courts, allowing them to try military members for human rights abuses. The law is a huge setback for human rights, as noted by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the United Nations and countless civil society groups. While the law could have several implications for human rights justice, HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco described the central problem: “The law could result in the transfer of cold-blooded killings by the military known as ‘false positives’ from civilian authorities to the military justice system, where there is virtually no chance for accountability.” See a previous Just the Facts post for more on the bill.
  • Almost 40,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia in the past 40 years, according to a new report published Thursday by the country's Centro de Memoria Historica. Since 1970 the FARC have been responsible for more kidnappings than any of the country's other illegal armed groups. Colombia Reports highlights the report's graphs and charts.
  • The Thomas Reuters Foundation published a special report on the link between land and peace in Colombia. Journalist Anastasia Moloney examines the security situation in the Cauca department, a long-time FARC stronghold and main drug trafficking corridor that has been on the frontline of the country's conflict for 50 years. Moloney asserts that "As the Colombian government and FARC hold ongoing peace talks in Havana to end Latin America's longest-running insurgency, it will be in rebel fiefdoms like Cauca where peace will be hardest to build and hardest won."
  • Peru

  • A Peruvian court has suspend a military draft that was set to go into effect this week. The court ruled that the draft was discriminatory against poor and uneducated Peruvians as it included exceptions for those in university or for those who pay a fine. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has said the country has no money to pay for a salary for military service.
  • Ecuador

  • Ecuador passed a controversial Communications Law this week that critics say will restrict freedom of the press and proponents charge will make the country's media more pluralist. According to Reuters, the law will redistribute broadcast frequencies evenly between state media, private broadcasters and indigenous groups. It will also create a watchdog group that can sanction and fine outlets for reporting content "that is critical of government officials and for content that they fail to report that the government believes should be reported." On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of State denounced the law, regarding it as a blow to freedom of the press. Analyst James Bosworth contends, "Correa has spent the last several years at war with Ecuador's media and this is a law that will strengthen the president and help silence his opponents."
  • Venezuela

  • Venezuela is implementing new regulations and investing millions of dollars into several jails in an attempt to reform its notoriously inhumane and violent prison system. Prisoners will now receive job training, participate in monitored group activities, wear uniforms, and will be granted two official visits per month as well as one phone call per week. The Venezuelan government has pledged a little bit more than $30 million to repair the Uribana jail and 10 other jails.
  • A recent anti-corruption campaign in Venezuela has resulted in the arrest of a top official from the country’s National Integrated Service of Tax Administration. In previous weeks, Maduro’s government has declared corruption is one of Venezuela's biggest problems. The arrest, along with numerous others made last week, gives credence to Maduro's pledge to target corrupt officials, marked by last week's announcement that the government will create a new anti-corruption unit.