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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Week in Review

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

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration “is in diplomatic talks” to reschedule her official visit to meet with President Obama after canceling her previous visit in September following revelations of NSA espionage. According to Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, it is unlikely that this visit would occur before October’s presidential elections in Brazil.
  • Today marks the conclusion of the week long 150th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which cases relating to a range of issues – from freedom of speech in Ecuador, to the ousting of Bogotá’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, to the justice system in Peru or indigenous rights in Nicaragua – were heard. On Tuesday, the commission held its first-ever hearing on drug policy and human rights abuses in the Americas at the request of 17 human rights organizations, which argued that the fight against drug trafficking justifies repression and abuse in the region. Animal Politico laid out several of the presenters’ arguments and has a video of the hearing.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas to first-time applicants. The embassy said it did not have enough staff to process the paperwork after three consular officers were kicked out of the country by the Venezuelan government, which has also delayed authorizing new personnel.
  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three air force generals had been arrested for allegedly planning a coup after supposedly meeting with members of the opposition. Hours after the announcement the military issued a statement pledging its “monolithic” support, saying it would continue "protecting our people, guarding our homeland's sovereignty and supporting the constitutionally elected president and commander in chief." Also on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Marina Corina Machado to one year in jail for “inciting violence.”
  • President Maduro has agreed to enter talks with the opposition with the help of an outside facilitator, a move proposed by a visiting delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to the Pan-American Post, it has been suggested foreign ministers from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador would take the lead on creating conditions for the talks, while the Associated Press noted Maduro has agreed to create a human rights commission to investigate abuses committed by the security forces.
  • Honduras’ military police chief, Coronel German Alfaro, announced plans to double the number of officers on the streets of San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the country, from 1,000 to 2,000. According to Alfaro, the military police force has been a success in the country’s most violent city and the government will continue to roll out its plan to deploy 5,000 officers throughout the country. In an update on the national police reform process, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported 536 police were fired after failing vetting tests and another 221 resigned.
  • On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing, “newspaper U.S. disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” While much of the discussion focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Russia, Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter did note that the U.S. is not disengaged and, on the contrary, has been positively and heavily engaged in the region.
  • In addition to Uruguay, the United States also askedBrazil and Colombia to take in inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the government was analyzing the request, while Uruguay agreed to take five inmates earlier this week.
  • Federal troops were sent to one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums and will stay there until the kickoff of the World Cup in 76 days. The military deployment comes after a serious of bombing, murders and attacks on police bases. InSight Crime published an on-the-ground perspective of one of these pacification operations in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vila Kennedy.
  • Locals in a major coca-producing region in Bolivia clashedwith police over the construction of a military base. According to the Associated Press, the counterdrug base is being built with $1.3 million in European Union funding.
  • On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announcedthat FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Céren would officially be the country’s next president, after the body formally rejected the ARENA party’s petition for a ballot-by-ballot recount on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) releaseda statement Tuesday congratulating Sanchez Céren that noted a “calm and orderly” election but recognized there were “pending legal matters.”
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarapé, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, launched an impressive interactive online database of citizen security programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As Spanish news agency EFE noted, 66 percent of security policies in Latin America have been concentrated in Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Also of note this week: an article by Ander Izagirre in El Pais on Colombia’s false positives, a piece on the massacre of 260 Central American migrants in 2010 and 2011 by Oscar Martinez in El Faro, in Vice on violence against local communities involved in mining conflicts in Guatemala, and an investigation published by El Faro, in Inside Costa Rica on the effectiveness of panic buttons in busses in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Friday, March 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the head of Southcom said he can't stop 80 percent of drugs coming from Colombia, the U.S. government made increasingly critical statements against Venezuela's government and El Salvador almost got a new president. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday, the heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As in his appearance before the House last week, Southcom commander General Kelly said that he is "unable to get after 74 percent of suspected maritime drug smuggling," because of severe budget cuts that have pared down assets like intelligence equipment and vessels. Kelly said he needed 16 ships capable of transporting helicopters in order to reduce the flow of drugs by 40 percent. He also noted
    that he does not get to use the U.S. Air Force’s surveillance drones.
  • General Kelly also said he had to cancel more than 200 engagements due to the tightened defense spending and that some Latin American leaders are "in disbelief" over legalization in the United States given its push for the drug war. A video of the hearing can be accessed here and General Kelly’s comments from the Pentagon briefing room here.
  • While testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to "end this terror campaign against his own people,” one of his strongest statements to date about the protests in the country. Kerry said the United States was prepared “to get involved in various ways,” mentioning sanctions but noting that “the economy there is already quite fragile.” A video of the hearing can be viewed here.
  • During the hearing Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the statement from the Organization of American States, released last Friday, "shamefully weak," a sentiment shared by Human Rights Watch Americas director José Miguel Vivanco, who said the statement “describes Venezuela as if natural disaster had struck, ignoring government censorship and abuses.” The United States and Panama added lengthy footnote objections to the statement, ultimately pushing for stronger language on demanding dialogue.
  • In an interview with Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, Biden called the situation in Venezuela “alarming,” accusing the government of backing armed militias and not respecting basic human rights. An unofficial source told the Associated Press Biden mentioned the possibility of third-party mediation.
  • The Union of South American Nations met in Chile the day after the inauguration to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. The group released a statement supporting dialogue and resolved to send a delegation to Venezuela to facilitate “dialogue between the government and all political forces and players.”
  • President Maduro announced the government would be stepping up security measures in areas where violence has spiked since the protests started one month ago. According to Reuters, the death toll has reached 28 and Venezuela State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, said 1,293 detainees had been released and 104 remained in custody. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a post tracking the deaths to date, while the Center for Economic Policy Research has a consistently updated blog feature, “Venezuela: Who Are They and How Did They Die?” See our Venezuela news page for links to several articles about the current situation.
  • Guatemala, the United States and Mexico are creating a coalition to ramp up security along their borders, Spanish news agency EFE reported.
  • For the first time, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on March 25 to discuss the negative impact of the drug war on human rights in Latin America, reported the AFP. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is currently holding a review of global drug policy and for the first time has updates available to the public on its blog.
  • The State Department published its 2000-2010 estimates of world military budgets and arms transfers.
  • On Wednesday night, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared left wing FMLN candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén the winner of the country's presidential election. The final tally was 50.11 percent for Cerén to 49.89 percent for Norman Quijano. Quijano's conservative ARENA party has filed numerous petitions calling for the election to be set aside for several reasons, which are laid out by Tim Muth on his blog. ARENA has also submitted alleged proof of electoral fraud to the Attorney General's office. Before the TSE can ratify Cerén, these petitions must be addressed. According to Muth, the TSE will meet Sunday and announce on Monday whether the election will be set aside or if Cerén will be El Salvador’s next president.
  • Last weekend Colombia held congressional elections that many regarded as a referendum on the government's peace process with the FARC. Former President Alvaro Uribe, who has opposed the peace talks, won a Senate seat and his newly formed Democratic Center party won almost 15 percent of the seats in the Senate and 10 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. Although President Santos's U party maintained a majority, the Democratic Center's strong showing could pose political difficulties for Santos going forward, however as Adam Isacson noted in World Politics Review, "his agenda as a whole will survive." Analyst James Bosworth has a succinct analysis of what the elections mean for Colombia's political landscape on his blog.
  • Several of the newly elected members of Colombia’s congress have been linked to paramilitary groups, including Senator Uribe. The estimates of the exact number of members with ties to paramilitaries has varied between 30, as Inter-Press Service reported, and 70, as Colombian organization Fundación Paz y Reconciliación determined. Colombian investigative news website Verdad Abierta published an excellent report and infographic on the issue, while La Silla Vacía included profiles of the members of congress linked to the paramilitary groups.
  • Friday, March 7, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the Obama administration cut aid to Colombia and Mexico in its proposed budget for FY2015, El Salvador's police chief said the gang truce was technically done and Colombia's military was rocked by more scandals. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Tuesday, the White House released its budget proposal for FY2015, which included considerable cuts in State Department counternarcotics assistance to Mexico. A drop from $195 million spent in 2013 for the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement fund to a potential $80 million in 2015 indicates the Mérida Initiative is on the way out, according to WOLA's Adam Isacson. The proposal also reduced aid to Colombia, for both military and economic assistance, by about 12 percent. Overall the administration is planning to cut antidrug assistance to the region by $285 million in 2015.
  • Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) criticized the sizable drop in economic aid, saying, "After spending billions on counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency, we must not walk away from Colombia’s development and human rights needs, just when they might have the most positive impact." See here for more detailed State Department numbers and other international programs and here for the Congressional Budget Justification, which includes the actual amount spent in 2013 and the request for 2015.
  • Salvadoran journalist Héctor Silva Ávalos published a working paper for the Inter-American Dialogue, “The United States and Central America’s Northern Tier: The Ongoing Disconnect” The paper reviews U.S. security policy in the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Silva noted U.S. assistance has done little to curb the soaring crime and murder rates that have plagued the region since the end of their civil wars in the 1990s.
  • Silva also published a series on corruption in El Salvador for InSight Crime, including an excellent article on the country's police force and another detailing the logistics of a smuggling ring moving cocaine from El Salvador to New York and Washington, D.C.
  • The U.S. Department of Defense released the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, which broadly outlines DOD strategy and priorities. The document said very little about Latin America and the Caribbean. Analyst James Bosworth put together a roundup of all mentions of the region. The report cited transnational organized crime as the greatest threat to security in the region and said it would be "focusing limited resources on working with countries that want to partner with the United States and demonstrate a commitment to investing the time and resources required to develop and sustain an effective, civilian-led enterprise."
  • The State Department also released the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report that provides country and region profiles. All seven Central American countries were listed as major drug transit countries, as were Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Bahamas, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica and Mexico. The report estimated that 86 percent of the cocaine smuggled to the United States in the first part of 2013 passed through Central America before moving on to Mexico and across the border, up from 80 percent in 2012, as InSight Crime noted.. MercoPress highlighted that several Caribbean countries were now listed as major money laundering countries.
  • Sunday, voters will go to the polls for the second round of El Salvador's presidential election to chose between Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist FMLN party and Norman Quijano of the conservative ARENA party. The polls indicate Sánchez Cerén will likely be the candidate taking office June 1, according to Tim's El Salvador blog, which offers helpful information and analysis on the election.
  • In Costa Rica it looks likely that Luis Guillermo Solis of the center-left Citizens' Action Party (PAC) will take office following the second round presidential vote in April. Solis' main opponent, Johnny Araya of the Liberal Party, withdrew his name from the vote on Wednesday.
  • El Salvador's police chief, Rigoberto Pleites, told local media this week that the truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 street gangs, "technically no longer exists, given the increase in homicides in the past months." Pleites attributed about 70 percent of the 484 murders that took place between January 1 and March 1 of 2014, to the gangs. According to police numbers, this is about 100 more murders than were registered over the same period last year.
  • Fifteen members Colombia's military, including a colonel embroiled in the military's other recent scandals, were arrested for trafficking weapons to criminal gangs, like the narco-paramilitary group Los Urabeños. El Tiempo also reported that an Army liaison to civilian human rights prosecutors in Colombia might have been illegally passing information on “false positive” cases to commanders. A recent Gallup poll indicated the military’s favorability has fallen 16 points in two months (down from 80 percent in December), following the onslaught on corruption reports.
  • The violent protests in Venezuela continue and to date have left 20 dead and over 300 hundred injured. Countries in the Western Hemisphere have begun to voice their increasing concern over the events unfolding. On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution, nearly unanimously, condemning the "inexcusable violence perpetuated against opposition leaders and protesters in Venezuela." Despite calls for sanctions on Venezuelan leaders from lawmakers, the resolution was even-keeled, calling for an end to violence and promoting dialogue between both sides and support from the region. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the Miami Herald that President Obama is "looking at" the sanctions.
  • As today's Pan-American Post noted, the Organization of American States is meeting again today to discuss Venezuela, after members failed to reach a consensus during an eight-hour meeting yesterday. The United Nations issued a statement asking the Venezuelan government to provide information on alleged cases of torture, arbitrary detention and use of force as well as the 65 reported attacks against journalists. The country's national prosecutor Luisa Ortega said "1,322 people have been arrested and received court appearances during the protests and 92 are still in custody, including 15 members of the security forces suspected of human rights abuses,” according to the New York Times.Venezuela Politics and Human Rights published a helpful Q&A on the protests, including a section on what the United States’ best likely course of action would be.
  • Friday, February 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week, the world's most wanted drug trafficker was captured in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation, U.S. Southern Command said it didn't have enough money to interdict the majority of drugs at sea, robots started patrolling drug tunnels at the border and Venezuela announced a new ambassador to the United States. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Thursday the State Department released its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013” The Colombian government was particularly upset by the report, which cited impunity and inefficiency in the justice system as principle human rights infractions in the country. Vice President Angelino Garzón responded by saying the report was an “intrusion” into Colombia’s internal politics and that the United States had no place to preach about human rights given its maintenance of the Guantánamo Bay prison facility.

    Some other topics touched on in the report include Mexico’s negligence in accounting for thousands of “disappeared” citizens, extrajudicial killings by security forces in El Salvador, and rampant corruption in government institutions and security forces in Honduras and Guatemala. For Politico, Dana Frank examined the United States’ continued to security relationship with Honduras despite these abuses and current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s own shady past.

  • The heads of U.S. Southern Command and Northern Command (Mexico and the Bahamas fall under its purview) gave their posture statements at a hearing before the House’s Armed Services Committee. Northcom commander General Jacoby underscored that the U.S.-Mexico security relationship remains closer than ever despite recent grumblings suggesting a distancing, pointing to the recent capture of Mexican drug trafficker “El Chapo” Guzmán in a joint military operation as evidence. General Jacoby’s posture statement can be read here (PDF).
  • Among several other topics, Southcom commander General Kelly discussed the effect of budget cuts, claiming he now watches 74 percent of cocaine passing through Honduras’ maritime corridor go by due to insufficient vessels and equipment. He touched on human rights vetting and noted his ever-growing concern over shifts in the drug trade towards the Caribbean. The video can be watched here and General Kelly’s posture statement can be read here(PDF).
  • The Associated Press reported on budget cuts to the Coast Guard, despite an increase in maritime trafficking routes. The article noted, “While security has tightened at the U.S. border, drug smugglers are increasingly turning to the high seas.” InSight Crime argued this indicates a politicization in funding for the drug war. An example of this increased border funding can be seen in the recent deployment of remote control robots to patrol tunnels used to smuggle drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • In another hearing this week, “The Posture of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command,” Colombia was heralded as a military and human rights success story, particularly given that it is now training other countries’ security forces.
  • Colombia's military will soon send "senior officials from the Army specialized in education, training and protocols” to help train national police officers in Guatemala, reported U.S.-Southern Command-sponsored news site InfoSur Hoy.
  • Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón was in Washington D.C. this week for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, including “High-Level Partnership DialogueSemana published part of a leaked copy of his agenda, noting that he would ask for continued U.S. support in programs like aerial fumigation and other counternarcotics operations.

    While in town Pinzón gave a talk at Center for American Progress where he “laid out an extremely expansive vision of the role of the armed forces post-peace accord, ranging from border security to confronting drug trafficking, transnational crime and continued armed violence in an accord’s aftermath; and from addressing climate change to expanding the military’s role in development,” according to Lisa Haugaard, director of Latin America Working Group. He also strongly emphasized increasing Colombia’s role in security training particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, some of which is done with U.S.-funding. See here for concerns about Colombia’s exportation of training.

  • There were two informative English-language explainers this week about the amassing corruption scandals rocking the Colombian military, one from Reuters and the other from the Latin American Working Group. The latter noted that the Army's new commander, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, oversaw a unit implicated in the false positive scandal.
  • Brazil and the European Union approved an undersea communication cable with the stated purpose of reducing dependency on U.S. fiber optic cables and to “guarantee the neutrality of the internet,” protecting Brazil Internet users from U.S. surveillance.
  • An article in Foreign Policy questioned the Pentagon’s support for Suriname’s government, given President Desi Bouterse has been convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands and is accused of maintaining links to traffickers currently. His son, Dino Bouterse, was arrested by the DEA and extradited to the United States after he stuck a deal with “Mexican smugglers” (undercover DEA agents) to allow “Hezbollah militants” to train in Suriname. See Just the Facts’ Suriname country page for more information on security assistance to the country.
  • The U.S. State Department announced Tuesday it had given three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to exit the country in response to last week’s expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in Venezuela. That same day, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced he would be appointing an ambassador the United States. Though Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 they have maintained embassies. See here for more detailed information on Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, the new Venezuelan ambassador to the United States.
  • As the protests continue to rage throughout Venezuela, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution “asking the administration to study and consider putting in place strong individual sanctions against individuals in the Venezuelan government who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S.”
  • The Congressional Research Service published a new report: “Gangs in Central America.”
  • “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug trafficker, was captured this weekend in a joint U.S.-Mexico military operation. While Guzmán’s capture was a huge win for the Mexican and United States governments, the general consensus is that it will have little impact on the drug trade while another leader in the Sinaloa cartel will step up to fill his role. Several analysts weighed in on what comes next for narcotrafficking in Mexico -- particularly InSight Crime, which posted a series of good analysis on what his capture means. See our Mexico news page for links to these articles.

    According to reports, the United States’ main contribution was providing intelligence and technology leading up to the capture, while the Mexican Navy, the United States’ main security partner in Mexico, carried out the final capture. Although several indictments have been filed in cities throughout the United States, it is unlikely that Guzmán will get extradited any time soon as lawmakers want him to first face justice in Mexico. President Peña Nieto said he extradition would be possible later. On Thursday the U.S. Treasury Department placed Kingpin Act sanctions against the financial networks of several of Guzmán’s associates. Prensa Libre published a timeline of OFAC sanctions on the Sinaloa Cartel from 2007-2014.

  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    Reactions to the political unrest gripping Venezuela

    CIP interns Matt La Lime and Sebastian Belloni contributed to the drafting of this post

    Violent protests in Venezuela that began a week ago continue to plague cities throughout the country. The violence has killed five people so far, injured many more and led to the arrest of hundreds. Many of those detained said they had been tortured and raped by security forces in custody, while videos of the National Guard abusing protestors have made the rounds on social media.

    The Venezuelan government has blamed the U.S. and Colombia, including former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, for inciting the protests, going so far as to expel three U.S. consular officers, deeming them personae non-gratae and giving them 48-hours to leave the country.

    Opposition leader Leopoldó Lopez turned himself over to security forces Tuesday, but called for protestors to keep fighting. Social media has been ablaze as the government has limited access to Twitter and other media outlets, while opposition supporters have uploaded images from Eygpt and Chile that are being used as examples of repression in Venezuela.

    To read more about what has transpired see the Venezuela Politics and Human Rights and a series of other links from Just the Facts' Venezuela news page.

    Here is a round up of reactions to the current situation in Venezuela from regional organizations, NGOs, and others:

  • Venezuelan Military

    The Venezuelan military issued a statement focusing on the constitutional legitimacy of Maduro, saying it would “never accept a government that does not come to power constitutionally.” It held the government’s line of deploring “outside forces” it claims are fueling the violence.

    As analyst James Bosworth pointed out, this suggests the military might support another member of the ruling PSUV party, such as Vice President Jorge Arreaza, should Maduro step down. Caracas Chronicles blog argued that this is unlikely as the protests in some ways are serving the government, in that they are fueled by the middle class and the Chavistas have maintained support from their base. As long as this is the case, analysts have argued, the government can maintain it is fighting for “the people,” while also diverting focus from the difficult economic situation it is facing. Many observers contend that the biggest threat to President Maduro is divisions within his own party, although at the moment the PSUV is putting up a united front.

  • Colombia

    President Santos deplored the violence and called for “calm,” encouraging dialogue between the different political factions in the country. He said he had a vested interest in the country’s stability as everything that happens in Venezuela, “good or bad, affects Colombia.”

    Maduro fired back at Santos saying he should not comment on his country’s internal politics and asked “What would you rather I do? Leave these masked groups alone while they attack metro workers?” He went on to describe the protestors as “some crazy people with no moral or ethical boundaries” and that he would defend the country with all of the force of the people. The Venezuelan embassy in Washington has described the demonstrators as “neo-fascist.”

    Maduro also had a prickly back-and-forth about making statements on events within Venezuela with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, who said the Venezuelan government “ought to know to respect human rights.”

  • United States

    The United States expressed its sympathy with people negatively affected by the protests, but was "particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors and issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez. These actions have a chilling effect on citizens' rights to express their grievances peacefully.” The Venezuelan government has since expelled three American diplomats from the country, accusing them of organizing protests aimed at overthrowing the government.

    While in Mexico, President Obama condemned the violence and said that instead of "making up false accusations," Venezuela's government should focus on the "legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan government," release jailed protesters, and engage in dialogue. "All parties have an obligation to work together," Obama said.

  • United Nations

    The U.N. was concerned about the escalating violence, but drew specific attention to the accusation that the Maduro government has been undermining human rights during protests.

    Rupert Coleville, Office of the U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights said:

  • “We have also received worrying reports of intimidation of journalists, some of whom have had their equipment seized, as well as reports that some local and international journalists were attacked while covering the protests.”

    “In addition, some protestors have reportedly been detained and may be prosecuted on terrorism charges. It has also been reported that some protesters, including minors, are being denied contact with family or lawyers.”

    “Perpetrators should be prosecuted and those found responsible for acts of violence, and in particular deaths, should be sanctioned with appropriate penalties…We are especially concerned at reports of attacks on demonstrators by armed groups acting with impunity.

  • CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States – 33 member states, absent are the United States, Canada and European territories)

    The regional organization called on the Venezuelan government to foster dialogue between all political forces.

  •  “CELAC member states express their solidarity with the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and encourage its government to continue its efforts to propitiate dialogue between all of the political forces of the country.”

    Dialogue must be implemented, “in favor of the peace and national unity that the Venezuelan people require to continue their march toward progress and wellbeing.”

  • Bolivar Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) rejected violence and publicly issued support for the Maduro government.

    “These reprehensible acts are part of a planned strategy to discredit the Bolivarian Revolution by means of the international media, in times that the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela has taken actions directed to achieving greater peace, stability, and national dialogue.”

    Some heads of state from other ALBA nations, such as Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Bolivia's Evo Morales, have publicly backed Maduro's claim that the United States is fomenting internal dissent.

  • CARICOM (Caribbean Community)

    The Caribbean regional group said it was “concerned” by the violence, and called for “respect for the democratically elected” Maduro government, but noted that all parties have the right to express themselves within the constitutional and legal framework. It also called for dialogue between all parties.

  • MERCOSUR (Mercado Común del Sur or Southern Common Market)
    Mercosur condemned the opposition’s use of violence as a political tool and also called for further dialogue.
  • Members "repudiate all kind of violence and intolerance which pretends to attack democracy and its institutions, whatever its origin."

    The group reiterated "its strong commitment with the full exercise of democratic institutions, and in that framework rejects the criminal actions from violent groups that want to disseminate intolerance and hatred as an instrument of political struggle in the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela."

  • OAS (Organization of American States)

    OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza rejected the violence and called for détente, broad dialogue, and investigation into the deaths of protestors.

    Secretary General Insulza, said it was “the responsibility of the government to avoid the use of force by police or related groups,” and called on all actors to “avoid new confrontations that might aggravate existing tensions.”

    He also urged the Venezuelan government to conduct an investigation that is “truthful, objective, and transparent, that determines who is responsible for the deaths and injuries, according to the laws of the Venezuelan state, by the Justice Tribunals, with respect to human rights and the guarantees of due process.”

    The Organization of American States met on Wednesday to debate the situation in Venezuela, with most leaders echoing the sentiments of Secretary General Insulza.

  • Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)

    The regional group expressed solidarity with the Maduro government, and condemned the "attempt to destabilize legitimately constituted democracy." 

  • “The members of UNASUR repeat their defense of democratic order, rule of law and of its institutions, and highlight the conviction that any demand should be channeled through political and democratic channels.”

     

    Amnesty International asked the Venezuelan government to investigate the deaths:

    “It is extremely concerning that violence has become a regular feature during protests in Venezuela. If the authorities are truly committed to preventing more deaths, they must ensure those responsible for the violence, demonstrators, security forces and armed civilians alike face justice."

    The Venezuelan authorities must show they are truly committed to respect people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly by ensuring they can participate in protests without fear of being abused, detained or even killed. It is essential that journalists are allowed to report events freely and human right defenders are able to monitor demonstrations.”

    Human Rights Watch also stated that Venezuela must investigate killings:

    What Venezuela urgently needs is for these killings to be investigated and the killers brought to justice, no matter their political affiliation. What Venezuela does not need is authorities scapegoating political opponents or shutting down news outlets whose coverage they don’t like.

    Friday, February 14, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week the United States reaffirmed its commitment to fighting narcotrafficking in Central America, a majority of U.S. citizens indicated they wanted a change in U.S. policy to Cuba and Venezuelans took to the streets. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, was in Guatemala and Honduras this week with the head of U.S. Southern Command, General Kelly. In Guatemala, Brownfield met with President Otto Perez Mólina, after which he announced
    an additional $5 million dollars for counternarcotics operations in the country. He also met with Prosecutor General Claudia Paz y Paz and Iván Velásquez Gómez, the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), announcing $4.8 million for that initiative.
  • In Honduras Brownfield reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting counternarcotics initiatives in the country but expressed the State Department’s disapproval of a new law that allows officials to shoot down civilian aircraft suspected of carrying drugs. In a lengthy interview with Honduran newspaper La Prensa, Brownfield said the State Department had found drug flights were down 80 percent in the country and that sea trafficking was on the rise. The visit comes after Honduras’ new president criticized U.S. drug policy in his inauguration speech, calling it a “double standard” and inviting the Obama Administration to have greater cooperation.La Prensa also published a Southcom map showing various illicit trafficking networks across the globe.
  • Mexico's military hosted a competition with cadets and Special Forces from several Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the United States.
  • A new poll released by the Atlantic Council this week found not only that the majority of Americans, but an even higher percentage of Floridians, favor a shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba. This may suggest a shifting tide in relations as a strong anti-Cuba contingent in Florida has been seen as the major political obstacle in thawing relations. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) published a bi-partisan op-ed on why the United States needs to change its policy towards the island.
  • Human Rights Watch published a report Wednesday on impunity for murders tied to land disputes in Honduras’ contested Bajo Aguán region. U.S. security assistance to Honduras for 2014 has been conditioned on the protection of human rights in this region due to ongoing attacks against activists.
  • The New York Times reported on the links between drug trafficking and deforestation and illegal logging in Honduras. According to the article, “as Honduras has become a central transfer point for drug shipments to the United States, there is more money to pay - and arm - land invaders, who strip the forest and transform the land into businesses like cattle ranching that can be used to launder drug money.”
  • The Associated Press profiled a kidnapping epidemic in Morelos, Mexico and the population’s mistrust of security forces sent to fight it. Locals doubt whether weak government institutions will investigate those responsible and have a long-term impact on the problem.
  • The Christian Science Monitor published a post by Rio Gringa on vigilante justice in Brazil’s biggest cities.
  • Thousands took to the streets in protest of Venezuela Preisdent Nicolás Maduro’s government this week. Student protests in Caracas turned especially violent, leaving three dead: two from the opposition and one government supporter. Each side is blaming the other for the violence. The government is seeking the arrest of opposition leader Leopold Lopez, drawing a wave of criticism, including from the U.S. State Department. Caracas-based journalist Girish Gupta posted a video from protests Wednesday night and Venezuela Politics and Human Rights has an excellent analysis and overview. Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported that the protests have subsided but that citizens were surprised by the heavy military presence. Brazil also experienced some violent protests this week.
  • A California court revoked the U.S. citizenship of a former Guatemalan special forces officer for covering up his role as an army lieutenant in the massacre of 182 villagers in Guatemala. He received the maximum 10 years in prison for deceiving U.S. immigration officials.
  • In an excellent op-ed in the New York Times, Medellín-born author Héctor Abad writes Colombia’s damaging experience with paramilitarism should serve as a warning to Mexico. Abad also notes that the United States has played a significant role in perpetuating a fight against drugs that forces “obedient governments to ignore real solutions.” InSight Crime analyzed the difference in the Mexican government’s approach to these groups in various places, noting its cooperation with the groups in Michoacán but its attempts to halt them in Guerrero.
  • On Thursday the FARC and the Colombian government closed the latest round of the peace talks and said they have made progress towards reaching an agreement on combating the illegal drug trade. The two sides issued a joint statement noting they’ve reached a consensus on several points. More analysis from United States Institute for Peace’s Ginny Bouvier and WOLA.
  • 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 10, 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.

    Argentina

  • On Tuesday Argentina's La Nación newspaper reported the country's military would be sent to the border for their first anti-drug mission, part of a new strategy increasing the armed forces' role in domestic counternarcotics operations. According to the paper, Argentina plans to seek U.S. military assistance for those operations. As Adam Isacson noted, the news marked some big policy shifts in that the U.S. has given virtually no military assistance to Argentina for years and the country has historically maintained civilian control over internal policing duties.

    Argentina's defense minister, Agustín Rossi, confirmed the country purchased 35 hummers from the United States military, but said the vehicles would not be used for counternarcotics missions.

  • Honduras

  • A fantastic read in the New Yorker gives a history of the United States' war on drugs at home and in Latin America, underscoring its failures and highlighting why the U.S. strategy remains "on autopilot" despite the spate of shortcomings. It noted, "What is remarkable is how many times the U.S. has tried such militarized counter-narcotics programs and how long it has been apparent how little they amount to."
  • Other interesting articles this week concerning U.S. involvement in Honduras came from Al Jazeera's “US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown” and the Guardian's “Honduras and the dirty war fueled by the west’s drive for clean energy.”
  • Honduras' outgoing Congress approved for the country's newly established military police to be added to the constitution. The next step is for the legislature to approve the addition. President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández, the architect of the unit, is pushing for this as he has said it would not only be involved in citizen security, but in fiscal crimes as well.
  • Cuba

  • On Thursday Cuban and U.S. officials met in Havana for migration talks. The talks, which are the highest public contact between the two governments, are the latest development in a series of events indicating a thaw in relations. The delegations discussed the status of the 1990s migratory accords, which allowed for the U.S. to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, as well as the issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking. The Cuban government continues to object to U.S. special exemptions for Cuban immigrants, such as the "wet foot, dry-foot" policy, which the Cubans claim encourages illegal immigration. More from the Associated Press. See here for the full text in English of the Cuban press release on the migration talks.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday Mexico's Federal Police, Marine Corps and Army were deployed to the coast and Michoacán, where clashes between armed vigilante groups and drug cartels is causing violence to spike and main transportation thoroughfares to close.

    On Saturday, some 100 members of a self-defense group took over the Michoacán village of Paracuaro, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang, and detained 15 local police officers accused of colluding with the cartel. Reuters published a vivid photo feature on the incident. El Universal has a helpful interactive feature on the security situation in the state with maps, profiles, a timeline and videos.

  • The government has since sent federal troops to protect the high-profile leader of the group that took over Paracuaro, Jose Manuel Mireles, who was injured in a plane crash Saturday. The Associated Press, noted the decision to do so illustrated the "tricky position in which Mexico's government finds itself with regard to the rebel movement." The government has denounced these groups as outside the law, but hailed Mireles Wednesday for "wounding the cartels, particularly the Templars." More analysis from El País on the federal government’s role in the conflict.

    Local townspeople are now protesting the vigilante's takeover of Paracuaro,while the mayor has requested the federal government's assistance in removing the armed vigilante group. Self-defense groups now control 13 cities and a community in Michoacan.

  • Vice Mexico published a feature on Mireles, "With the moral leader of Michoacan's self-defense groups," documenting his life with the vigilante movement over the course of five days as they planned the takeover and executed it, up through the plane crash that landed Mireles in the hospital.
  • Human Rights Watch researcher Nik Steinberg published a harrowing story in Foreign Policy about ongoing impunity for forced disappearances in Mexico, many committed by members of the country's police and military. He noted a lack of government will to prosecute cases or set up a functioning database of missing individuals.
  • InSight Crime translated Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope’s “5 Predications for Mexico Security in 2014.”
  • Venezuela

  • The high-profile murder of a former Miss Venezuela on Monday has shocked the country and sparked a nation-wide debate about the dire public security situation. On Twitter, the hashtag #NoMasViolenciaVenezuela (No more violence Venezuela) was trending while the statistic was spread that Venezuela's 2013 homicide rate (24,763) was over 2.5 times that of Iraq (9.472), which has about the same population. On Thursday all governors and mayors from the country's 79 municipalities convened in Caracas to review the government's security plan. So far seven arrests have been made for the murders.

    At the meeting, a much-publicized handshake took place between President Maduro and Henrique Capriles, Maduro's rival in April's hotly contested presidential elections. It was the first time the two had been in the same room since Maduro defeated Capriles. President Maduro has since announced the creation of a center for victims of violence as well as a major cabinet reshuffle, including the heads of seven civilian ministries and several military agencies.

  • Colombia

  • The Los Angeles Times published an article on the status of Colombia’s 2011 land restitution statute, which one farmer said was “a beautiful law that gave us hope we might recover our land. But we’re still in limbo and under constant threat.” The piece goes on to describe obstacles to the law's implementation such as protection for those reclaiming their land from paramilitary groups and lack of local development.
  • Following a recent Washington Post article detailing the CIA’s covert involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency missions, the FARC issued a communiqué questioning the government’s commitment to the peace talks, saying the article, “raises doubts about the true role of the fatherland-betraying Colombian oligarchy.” In a post published Friday in English, “The Army of Colombia: A Pawn in the CIA’s Chess Game,” the group blasted the government, asserting that “To hand over the command of your military operations to a foreign army and hide it from the country for years is a crime of the offended country; it is an outrage that stains our sovereignty and independence; a crime of treason.”
  • An editorial in Colombia’s most circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, strongly praised Colorado’s marijuana legalization measure, calling it an “urgent and necessary framing of the war on drugs.”
  • Although Colombia seized more marijuana in 2013 than in any year in the past two decades, cocaine seizures fell dramatically to 70 tons, which would mean a 170-ton drop using some 2012 numbers. According to InSight Crime, this shift indicates cocaine traffickers have adapted their strategies, as the United Nations has reported cocaine production in the country remains stable, despite drops in coca cultivation.
  • El Salvador

  • A joint study by the Salvadoran Government and the United States’ Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, found that although criminals’ weapons used to be left overs from the civil war, now 60% of weapons traced come from the United States today.
  • Friday, December 13, 2013

    The Week in Review


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

    Colombia

    Peace Talks

  • On Sunday, the FARC declared a 30-day ceasefire beginning December 15. The FARC’s statement came a day after the group bombed a police station in Cauca, killing nine. President Santos said the government would continue to fight the rebels throughout the ceasefire, while FARC leader “Pablo Catatumbo” warned on Tuesday there could be more attacks before the ceasefire begins Sunday. More from BBC, Semana, Colombia Reports and Fusion.
  • The Colombian government and the FARC released a joint report detailing the November accord on the guerrilla group's political participation.
  • Aerial eradication

  • The U.S. Ambassador - Designate to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said ending the aerial eradication program would be a “great mistake.” Whitaker also expressed his support for the peace talks. More analysis from Adam Isacson and the United Institute of Peace’s Ginny Bouvier.
  • U.S. influence in drug policy

  • Colombian news and analysis site La Silla Vacía published a list of the 10 most powerful actors with respect to drug policy in the country. The number one spot went to President Obama and the number 10 spot to former President Álvaro Uribe. The FARC, the U.S. Embassy and Open Sociey Foundations were also included on the list.
  • Bogota mayor

  • On Monday, Colombia's ultra-conservative prosecutor general, Alejandro Ordóñez, removed left-wing Bogota Mayor Guastavo Petro and banned him from holding public office for 15 years. Ordóñez claimed Petro had improvised and mismanaged a shift in responsibility of the city's garbage collection systems to a public collection service, resulting in tons of trash being left on the streets for several days last year. Petro and his supporters called the move an undemocratic right-wing “coup” by ruling conservatives threatened by his leftist views. On Monday and Tuesday, thousands converged on Bogota's main square, Plaza Bolivar, in support of Petro, who, hoping for a “Colombian Spring,” called for massive demonstrations to take place Friday.

    Given Petro was a former M-19 guerrilla, several observers have noted his dismissal could have repercussions for the peace talks in Havana. The guerrillas could interpret the move as a sign there are no political guarantees for leftist politicians, dissuading them from entering into formal politics. As Colombian magazine Semana noted, Ordóñez' decision has rallied support for Petro, not only within the capital city, but from the United States, the FARC, Colombia's political left, sectors of the indigenous population, the United Nations and the European Parliament.

    At his nomination hearing this Wednesday, the U.S. Ambassador - Designate to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said the move "could erode" the peace process, while the FARC, in a statement released Wednesday, commented, "With a simple signature, Ordoñez gave those of use who have risen up in arms a lesson in what democracy means to the oligarchy in Colombia." Petro has appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and said he plans to appeal the decision, the deadline for which is January. More from the Miami Herald, La Silla Vacía and the Christian Science Monitor on the effect on the peace talks and El Tiempo on the Colombian government’s negative reaction to Whitaker's statement.

  • Uruguay Marijuana bill

  • On Tuesday, Uruguay's Senate approved a bill in a 16 to 13 vote that would allow the government to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana, which lawmakers consider fundamental to reducing drug-related violence in the country. President Jose Mujica is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday, however, he has reiterated he views the measure as an "experiment.” The U.N. International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has come out against the proposal, saying it breaks international anti-drug laws, while bordering countries Brazil and Argentina have expressed concern about increased trafficking. President Mujica told INCB head Raymond Yans to “stop lying” in reference to Yans’ claims that Uruguayan officials would not meet with him.

    More from the Pan-American Post, El País, Reuters, The Economist, and the New York Times, while the Transnational Institute's Drugs and Democracy program has useful infographics on why the measure was implemented and how it will work.

    InSight Crime has a feature looking at short-term and long-term obstacles to the bill, such as pushback from opposition lawmakers that have vowed to repeal the law and low public approval for the measure.

  • Venezuelan municipal elections

  • As was expected, Venezuela's ruling PSUV party won the majority of municipal elections that were held last Sunday. The final tally indicated that the PSUV won 44 percent of the local seats and the MUD part won 42 percent. Many had described the vote as a referendum for President Nicolas Maduro’s presidency, and as Venezuela expert David Smilde wrote on WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, “This result clearly gives Maduro some breathing room.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the elections had “met the standards” despite “some questions of irregularities.” More from Christian Science Monitor, NPR, James Bosworth, the Miami Herald, World Politics Review, and the Economist.
  • The Venezuelan government says the country’s homicide rate is expected to drop by 25 percent this year: from a government-recorded 56 homicides per 100,000 people to 39 per 100,000, which would be the lowest rate in four years. In an interview with Reuters, Venezuela’s interior minister attributed the decrease to Plan Patria Segura, an anti-crime initiative that ramped up the presence of troops on the streets.InSight Crime highlighted the inconsistency and unreliability of official crime numbers, as the Venezuelan government has admitted to keeping unwanted statistics secret.
  • Honduras

  • Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has confirmed conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández as the official winner of the country’s presidential elections, despite complaints of fraud and electoral irregularity filed by the opposition LIBRE and Anti-Corruption parties. Secretary of State John Kerry formally extended his congratulations to Hernández on Thursday. Hernández’ confirmation likely means the Honduran government will take a more heavy-handed approach to security, as Adam Isacson noted. More from El Heraldo and the BBC.
  • Chile

  • Chile is holding a presidential runoff election this Sunday, which former President Michelle Bachelet is almost certain to win. Bachelet won 47% of the vote in the first round, almost double that of her conservative rival, Evelyn Matthei. Even Matthei has said she would consider a victory a “miracle.” More from La Tercera.
  • Cuba

  • Cuban police detained, beat, and otherwise harassed over 150 dissidents throughout the county ahead of protests and marches intended to commemorate International Human Rights Day on December 10. About 20 members of the dissident group the Ladies in White were among those detained. The Miami Herald reported Thursday all of those detained have been released.
  • The handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral caused a media storm this week. Conservative lawmakers such as John McCain and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), along with some media outlets, including the Washington Post's Editorial Board, heavily criticized the move while several news agencies and analysts speculated it signaled a thaw in relations. For links to articles on both sides of the debate, see the Just the Facts' Cuba news page.
  • Argentina

  • This week police protests and strikes that started ten days ago spread to 20 of Argentina’s 23 provinces. The strikes and subsequent looting have resulted in mass violence, including the death of 12 people. The officers are demanding higher wages and better work conditions. According to La Nación, the strikes and looting have subsided but are still ongoing in three provinces and parts of Buenos Aires, the capital city. More from the Economist and the Pan-American Post.