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).
On Tuesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed her state visit to Washington, originally scheduled for next month. The Pan-American Post wrote that the decision is largely perceived as a political move ahead of elections in 2014, capitalizing on growing popularity polling after a sharp dip from widespread protests. Several analysts have said the move has negative implications for both countries. Nevertheless, the White House tried to soften the impact of the announcement, saying it would be working with the Brazilian government to reschedule the visit. More from Reuters, the Global Post,the Economist, James Bosworth, and Foreign Policy.
The Rousseff administration also began talks about creating a domestic network to store and share data. Popular technology blog Gizmodo called the Rousseff administration plan a “bullish” move and noted that breaking from the U.S. internet could be “potentially impossible.”
Joe Biden in Mexico
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Mexico on Thursday and Friday this week to discuss economic relations between the two countries. Joined by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson andAssistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, he was there to launch the High Level Economic Dialogue that President Obama announced on his trip to Mexico in May. As analyst James Bosworth noted, "All other issues that could be slightly controversial - security, spying, soccer - have been banished from the agenda." This is VP Biden's third trip to Mexico in his post and fifth trip to the region overall. More from the White House and the Los Angeles Times.
The Guardian featured an opinion piece on the visit, "Biden's visit to Mexico: what you should know, Joe," from John Ackerman, who wrote, "The widespread image of Peña Nieto as a bold reformist struggling against the forces of nostalgic reaction is about as accurate as Vladimir Putin's presentation of Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished statesman."
Verdad Abierta published an interesting, interactive feature about the FARC’s longstanding presence in the southern Colombian state of Caqueta. It examines the organization’s activities in narcotrafficking, intimidation tactics and more within this region, dubbed “the heart” of the FARC. There are extremely useful maps, timelines and graphics.
This week, Human Rights Watch released a report that documents the failures of the Colombian government to enforce the landmark Victims Law, which aimed to return millions of hectares of land to victims who had been displaced by violence. The report looked at the violence and threats against those victims trying to reclaim their land. Colombia’s Prosecutor General refuted the claims, citing an increase in convictions in cases involving forced displacement. InSight Crime provides some analysis of the report, highlighting the importance of criminal groups that are oftentimes contracted by wealthy individuals to maintain control of seized land.
The 14th round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government concluded yesterday. The negotiators did not report any progress on the second of five topics on the agenda, the rebels' political participation. Despite the slow pace of the talks and the fact that the most recent Gallup poll indicated in early September that 75% of Colombians disagree with how Santos has handled the peace process with the guerrillas, the Colombian leader has stood by the talks.
Ex-President Alvaro Uribe is planning a political comeback, announcing that he is running for a seat in the Senate. He will run on a closed list with nine other candidates from his Democratic Center Party, which Uribe and close political allies formed in 2012. The Pan-American Post explains Uribe’s closed-list candidacy means “Colombians would vote not for individual candidates but for the party as a whole.”La Silla Vacia has an online forum that includes opinions from policymakers, journalists and analysts on the political impact of Uribe’s candidacy in the nation.
Central American Border Disputes
On Monday, Nicaragua filed a second lawsuit against Colombia in the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime boundary in the Caribbean. Colombia’s President Santos has refused to recognize an earlier ruling by the ICJ that awarded Nicaragua a large portion of maritime territory.
Honduras and El Salvador also began a dispute over territory this week. El Faro reports that Honduran authorities announced construction of a helipad on the miniscule Conejo island in the Gulf of Fonseca, a natural harbor shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. El Salvador’s President quickly filed a complaint with the government of Honduras, claiming the island as Salvadoran territory.
On Thursday, President Maduro claimed the United States had banned his plane from flying over Puerto Rico on his way to China. Maduro called this an “act of aggression.” Reuters then reported Friday that the United States had granted President Maduro the right to use U.S. airspace on Thursday night, despite the fact that Venezuela had failed to follow protocol for a flyover request. Maduro also said the U.S. had refused to grant his chief of staff, General Wilmer Barrientos, a visa for the UN General Assembly in New York. More from the Pan-American Post.
Haiti taking steps toward a military force
Haitian President Michael Martelly is taking steps to reinstate the country’s army, with the help of Ecuador, the Associated Pressreported. The first batch of 41 Ecuadorian-trained recruits is being sent to the interior of the country to work on public service projects with Ecuador’s military. Haiti abolished its military in 1995, due to the military’s ongoing political influence and after dozens of military coups. The new force will not be armed, and will serve “not in the infantry but in technical service,” according to Defense Minister Jean-Rodolphe Joazile. President Martelly has been pledging to reinstate the army in recent years. Brazil is apparently also planning to train Haitian soldiers and has pledged to train 500 in Brazil and 1,000 in Haiti.
Two eye-catching photo galleries were released this week. The first one from James Rodriguez shows Guatemalans arriving back in their homeland after deportation from the United States. The other features entries from an exhibition of the best photo journalism from Central America, on display now in San Salvador.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Haiti travel warning
The U.S. Department of State issued a new Haiti travel advisory on August 13 that warned visitors of “violent crimes and lack of emergency response infrastructure.” This Travel Warning uses less strong language than the previous one issued in December 2012, which read, "No one is safe from kidnapping regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age,” and that "Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts or prosecute perpetrators."
Secretary of State Kerry's trip to Brazil and Colombia
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Colombia and Brazil Sunday to Tuesday. Kerry's meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials seemed to go fairly smoothly, while in Brazil, the NSA surveillance scandal overshadowed the visit as Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota took a hardline approach against the United States' surveillance practices. See a previous Just the Facts post and podcast for more details.
U.S. aid to Mexico
Last Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy froze $95 million dollars in funding for the Mérida Initiative, the United States' aid package to Mexico, because of an inadequate planning. In an opinion piece in Truth-Out, the Center for International Policy's Laura Carlsen wrote, "Thursday’s announcement confirms the hold on the funds and obliges both governments to define a joint strategy that shows some signs of viability. Contacted shortly after the hold, a top Leahy aide summed up the reason behind suspension of the aid,:'We received less than three pages of explanation. Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that.'"
At the behest of the United States, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, a former drug kingpin who was unexpectedly released last week while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kike" Camarena. The Dallas News has an interesting article by journalist Alfredo Corchado looking at the case in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations and U.S. security assistance to Mexico. According to Corchado, officials say money for Mérida "may be returned to Washington in the weeks to come." This week’s Just the Facts podcast has more details on the case
Last Friday, the Justice Department said it would not be prosecuting the Border Patrol agents who shot and killed two teens in separate incidents along the Arizona border, due to lack of evidence.
On Monday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos replaced his entire military and police leadership, including naming a new director for the National Police. According to analysts the decision to do so could be an attempt to bolster the peace talks, as former Army chief, General Sergio Mantilla was considered a hindrance to the peace process. The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Colombia Reports has more details on the new commanders while El Tiempo and Semana magazine have insight into the motives for the decision and its significance. A Just the Facts podcast also examined President Santo’s unexpected decision
Colombian news analysis website La SIlla Vacía published a report on the 15 biggest defense contractors in Colombia. In the lead was Elbit, an Israeli drone maker with an over $267 billion contract.
Peru's military dealt a blow to the Shining Path, killing two of the group's top leaders and another rebel in a military operation on Sunday. Analysts say that while the attack will hurt the group, it does not signal its demise. As Peru's armed forces chief, Admiral Jose Cueto said, the group "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance." Peru's IDL-Reporteros detailed the operation in Spanish and in another article revealed that the United States and other foreign actors played a role in the multi-agency operation. More from the Associated Press in English.
Amnesty International, along with several other activists and NGOs denounced reports that "Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since."
Proceso reported that the security in Michoacán is worsening, "cheapening the official rhetoric of Enrique Peña Nieto's government that the social-political situation in the state is under control," as Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong had stated on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that a vocal group of farmers and businessmen from the state demanded the government stop sending federal police to fight the drug cartels who have allegedly abused citizens and are corrupt.
InSight Crime examined the Knights Templar, the drug cartel with the strongest presence in Michoacán that recent government reports named as the third most powerful cartel in the country, after the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels. The article includes a video interview with the group's leader that was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
The Andean Information Network posted an analysis on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) estimates of potential cocaine production in the Andes. The report found there to be a significant decrease in the region between 2011 and 2012, the largest in Bolivia, which dropped 18 percent. The article pointed to several statistical irregularities in the report, noting, "Although they failed to provide any explanation, the same ONDCP press release reported Bolivia's potential cocaine production for 2011 at 190 metric tons—instead of the whopping 265 metric tons for 2011 reported by the same office a year earlier."
Conservative business mogul Horacio Cartes was sworn in yesterday as Paraguay’s first democratically-elected president since the controversial June 2012 ouster of Fernando Lugo. The Associated Press reports that in 2008-2009 the DEA targeted him in a mission called "Operation Heart of Stone," over alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade. The Pan-American Post examined the domestic and regional implications of Cartes' presidency.
On Wednesday there were several protests all over Brazil targeting a host of issues from corruption, police brutality, and disappearances, to education and low wages. Brazilians have been protesting Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral since the mass wave of protests that overtook the country in June have subsided. Cabral's critics claim he is corrupt and want an investigation into spending on projects for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. More from the Associated Press. America’s Quarterly had an assessment of the Brazilian government's response to the protests.
The Huffington Post blog had a post this week on security in Rio de Janeiro, specifically looking at the pacification police units (UPP), which the author claims are improving the situation. According to the piece, however, "The social protests that started in June and July 2013 are taking a sinister turn," and "with the changing of the leadership of the military police last week, there are fears that the UPP enterprise will unravel."
According to technology website, Phys Org, Brazil is "moving to secure its communications through its own satellite and digital networks to end its dependence on the United States, which is accused of electronically spying on the region." The outlet reported that French-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced on Tuesday that it had won a contract worth about $400 million to build a satellite for Brazil's developing space program.
On Thursday Ecuador was the first Latin American country to recall its ambassador, Edwin Johnson, from Egypt after security forces massacred about 600 supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. So far, no other Latin American country appears to have followed suit.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a video of interviews with gang leaders in El Salvador's prisons talking about the gang truce. According to CDA, "Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process... We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: 'We want a better life for our kids and families,' and 'the truce is working.'"
On Thursday Honduras' Congress approved the creation of a 5,000-strong military police unit charged with maintaining "public order." Mario Pérez, president of the Congress' security commission. said the group will “reclaim territory and capture criminals... We do not oppose the police, but it is not the model for the moment.” The chief of the armed forces presented the structure of the new unit. Critics of the decision say it is another step forward in the increasingly militarized policing of the country.
This announcement follows Monday's declaration that 4,500 community police units will be deployed by September 1. Proponents of the military police however say that this is a longer-term solution and will not produce immediate results. More from Honduras' El Heraldo newspaper and InSight Crime.
Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.
This post was written by CIP intern Victor Salcedo
In recent years, the United States Congress has been paying close attention to the presence of Iran in Latin America. While both the State Department and United States Southern Command posit that there appears to be no imminent threat of a terrorist attack, members of Congress, particularly the House Republicans, have shown consistent concern about Iran’s ties to the region. Their concern especially relates to Iran’s relationship with countries that maintain cool relationships with the United States.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency held a hearing, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere.” The witnesses were Ilan Berman,Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director, Center for a Secure Free Society, Blaise Misztal Acting Director of Foreign Policy Bipartisan Policy Center, and Douglas Farah, President, IBI Consultants.
All witness testimonies and opening remarks can be found here.
Alberto Nisman, Argentine government prosecutor, was expected to be the main witness to appear in the hearing. However, for undisclosed reasons, the Argentine government barred Nisman from testifying, drawing criticism from both Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC). In a letter to Argentina’s President Kirchner following her decision, both representatives wrote, "Considering both our countries have suffered terrorist attacks from agents affiliated with the government of Iran, we have a unique motivation for being vigilant." On July 10, members of Congress sent a Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the U.S. to sanction Argentina for its ties to Iran. "In light of Argentina’s growing cooperation with Iran and recent decision to deny Nisman to testify before the U.S. Congress, we believe that the U.S. should reconsider its legal support to Argentina,” read the letter (PDF).
Rep. Jeff Duncan was the only member present for the final 40 minutes of the hearing and made clear that he was very concerned about the refusal of the United States government to see Iran’s presence in the region as a threat to homeland security.
Iran and Argentina: Although the U.S. Department of State noted in an unclassified summary of a report released in late June that “Iranian influence in Latin American and the Caribbean is waning,” Rep. Duncan reiterated that he continues to be concerned about Iranian activities and the potential for a terrorist attack. He highlighted Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s recent study that links Iran to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed 85 people and injured over 300. The report also claimed Iran has been “infiltrating” Latin American countries to ”sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks.” In May of this year, Iran approved a memorandum of understanding with Argentina on forming a truth commission to investigate the bombing.
Given the recent thaw in relations between Argentina and Iran, Duncan asked Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants, if he believed “that Argentina wants to assist Iran in its illicit nuclear activities.” Mr. Farah responded by noting that Argentina has a history of training Iran in nuclear technologies and that it would like to restart training, but did not know what its motive to do so would be. He also said that Iran would like to “get its hands” on Argentina’s technology, as the country has a robust nuclear as well as a robust space program.
Iranian nationals in Latin American: Rep. Duncan also brought up the apparent lack of security of U.S borders, which he insisted could be penetrated by Iranian nationals that roam freely in Latin America with “fraudulent passports and other false documentation.”
Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Representative Michael McCaul, shared Rep. Duncan’s concerns about the “Iranian threat,” adding that it was “a slap in the face” that Argentina did not grant Mr. Nisman permission to attend.
Rep. McCaul said that when he traveled to Argentina to see where the AMIA bombing took place, he became aware of the discrepancies between the information given by the U.S. State Department, which has “downplayed” the threat of Iran versus other intelligence services (although did not name which ones) that assess Iran to be “a much greater existential threat to the United States in the Western Hemisphere.”
Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council
Increasing Iranian presence: Mr. Berman argued that diplomatic relations between Iran and many Latin American countries has increased over the past decade. According to Berman, “has more than doubled its diplomatic presence in the region over the past decade, increasing its embassies from five in 2005 to eleven today.”
Bypassing Sanctions:According to Mr. Berman, Iran has been able to bypass sanctions because of its economic ties to countries in the region. He highlighted its relationship with Venezuela, which dates back to 2005 when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Hugo Chávez first established partnerships. “With the active cooperation of Caracas, the Iranian government has exploited the Venezuelan financial sector -- via joint financial institutions, shell companies and lax banking practices -- to continue to access the global economy in spite of mounting Western sanctions,” he added.
Relationship with Venezuela’s new president: Rep. Duncan asked Mr. Berman if he saw “the relationship between Tehran and Caracas evolving under this new government [of President Maduro].” Mr. Berman responded that Nicolas Maduro could be expected to be sympathetic about continuing good relations with Iran. Nonetheless, he stressed that there is no guarantee the new government in Iran would continue to make Latin America a high priority.
Berman added, while “Latin America does not rank at the highest level of Iranian foreign policy,” it is certainly important enough for the Iranian government to take the region into consideration for the benefit of several Iranian programs.
Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society
Leftist Alliances: Mr. Humire expressed concern about the active role of certain ALBA nations (Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador) with Iran. He said that ALBA provided cover for the irregular activities that Iran carried out in the region, and that it was also “complicit in helping Iran propagate terrorist networks, skirt sanctions and initiate a military industrial footprint in the Hemisphere.” He also argued that Iran is using proxy non-state actors, such as Hezbollah and converted Latin American Muslims, to infiltrate Latin America.
For Humire, the creation of an alternative banking and virtual currency, the Unified System of Regional Compensation (Sistema Unico de Compensación Regional) (SUCRE), “affords Iran the ability to leverage its financials activity in Latin America through one principle entity, minimizing the risk.”
Humire recommended that the United States:
Counter ALBA’s influence in the region by supporting the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico).
Direct U.S. Homeland Security to work with countries such as Brazil to implement anti-terrorist legislation.
Work with Panamanian officials to provide better intelligence about Iranian boats passing through the Canal.
Work with Canada to strengthen screening and identifying of “Visa applications coming from ALBA countries.”
Blaise Misztal, Acting Director of Foreign Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center:
Mr. Misztal presented a more skeptical account when compared to the other witnesses and offered political and economic reasons why notions of the “Iran Threat” are debatable.
Economic ties to Latin America are not a threat: According to Misztal, the fact that Iran is seeking Latin America’s help signals the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate the country. “At the same time, Iran’s own political and economic isolation, as a result of sanctions, will drive it ever more desperately to seek friends and money wherever it can. In this way, we should understand Iran’s interest in strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with Latin America as perhaps a sign of the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate it.”
In terms of economic exchange, Misztal said the relationship between Iran and some Latin American nations is more “symbolic than substantive,” noting that the actual amount of trade occurring between Latin American countries and the Islamic nation is less than expected. He gave the example of Venezuela:
Venezuela does not even rank among Iran’s top fifty trade partners, and in 2011 Venezuela imported less than $14 million of Iranian goods, ranking below countries like Afghanistan, Georgia, and Guatemala. Additionally, Venezuela in 2011 was ranked as Iran’s 48th largest export partner at $8 million… Furthermore, trade volume between Iran and Latin America’s largest economy behind Brazil, Mexico is a dismal $50 million. Given these statistics, the perceived threat of Iran’s growing economic influence in the region is largely unsubstantiated.
No imminent threat of terrorist attack: Misztal pointed out that although Iran “is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism,” the government’s “tactical use of terror has of late tended toward retaliatory attacks.” He suggested that Iran had a “concern for not provoking a U.S. military reprisal that would disrupt its nuclear program.”
Mr. Misztal recommended the U.S. government support more intelligence sharing between nations and improvements of local police forces to detect terrorist cells.
Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants
Douglas Farah echoed Joseph Humire’s concerns about ALBA countries that oppose the U.S. supporting Iran, claiming its presence in the region was growing as a result.
Iran’s direct and indirect relationships: Mr. Farah stated in his testimony that the extent of the Iranian influence oscillates directly and indirectly in the Western Hemisphere. Direct relationships that translate to political, economic, and cultural exchanges with Iran are increasing; but indirect relations, which Mr. Farah highlighted as a type of relationship between Iran and a third governmental or non-governmental institution, are beginning to be more noticeable. Farah said that non-state actors include “NGOs tied to Hezbollah and often funded by Venezuelan oil money; Islamic cultural centers and mosques … and links to drug trafficking organizations that provide millions of dollars to support radical Islamist activities.”
Existing examples of terrorism: For Mr. Farah, the AMIA bombing showed Iran has a “long-standing, highly developed structure in Latin America whose primary purpose is to fuse state and non-state force to spread the Iranian revolution.” He went on to point to three more examples that show Iran has engaged in specific attempts to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States. This included the October 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. that was foiled when a naturalized U.S. citizen who was also a member of Iranian Qods Force (a special operations unit) contacted an alleged member of Mexico’s Zeta cartel who turned out to be an informant.
Training: Mr. Farah underscored that a handful of Latin Americans have been trained in Qom, Iran. He shared insight of Salvadorian students that had received training there, and noted that most of the recruitment is often done in mosques and cultural centers:
Most [recruits] are present with the opportunity to attend ‘revolutionary’ indoctrination courses in Venezuela dealing with revolutionary ideology. These meetings bring together several hundred students at one time from across Latin America, all with their travel fess and expenses paid by the Venezuelan government.
Farah recommended Congress get help from the Treasury Department to weaken Iran’s banking activities in the region that allow it to “move hundreds of million of dollars into the world market.” He also recommended the U.S. closely follow the deals and agreements between Argentina, Venezuela, and Iran.
For more Just the Facts posts on the U.S. Congress’s concerns about Iran’s influence in Latin America, see here and here.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a hearing on Tuesday, “Advocating for American Jacob Ostreicher’s Freedom after Two Years in Bolivian Detention.” Jacob Ostreicher is an American businessman being held under house arrest on allegations of links to criminal groups and money laundering. Actor/Activist Sean Penn testified and urged the U.S. government to pressure Bolivia to free Ostreicher. A video of the hearing, along with Mr. Penn’s testimony, can be found here.
The Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing yesterday, “U.S.-Mexico Cooperation: An Overview of the Mérida Initiative 2008-Present.” There were several notable testimonies from government officials, including William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics Affairs, and non-government experts, like Steven Dudley, director of InSight Crime. John D. Feeley of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs within the State Department testified, "At the federal level, Mérida has delivered training to nearly 19,000 federal law enforcement officers." View the webcast and find all testimonies here.
In his testimony, Dudley provided eight recommendations for Congress on the Mérida Initiative, including continuing to support the cooperation between officials in both countries on the mid to lower levels and pushing to continue judicial and police reform. InSight Crime has an excerpt from the testimony and the recommendations.
Tradewinds 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored training exercise focused on security cooperation is being held from May 20 – June 6 in St. Lucia. The training will bring together over 260 law enforcement officers and military personnel and government representatives from 14 countries, the majority in the Caribbean Basin.
Joint Interagency Task Force South director Charles D. Michel said 38 more metric tons of cocaine are entering the United States as a result of sequestration spending cuts. “It breaks my heart to see multi-metric-ton cocaine shipments go by that we know are there and we don’t have a ship to target it,” he told the Defense Writers Group.
The U.S. Southern Command reported that during an exercise in Honduras, U.S. Marines and Seabees tested an inflatable aerostat and a small Puma drone. According to Southcom, “The Aerostat and Puma UAV are equipped with state-of-the-art radars, cameras and sensors that could prove to be useful in detecting Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) organizations attempting to smuggle drugs and other illicit materials (guns, people, drug money) in the maritime and littoral environments. The Aerostat and Puma UAV were testing in actual counter drug operations.”
Today Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was sworn in for his third term as president. Correa has pledged this term will be his last. In the coming weeks his administration is expected to pass major reforms to the mining sector, communications regulations, social security and land redistribution. More from MercoPress and the Pan-American Post.
Yesterday the Pacific Alliance economic bloc convened in Colombia. The heads of the member countries – Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru—met with aspiring members Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica, along with several other observing countries. Analyst James Bosworth provides a short overview of what was accomplished, including a 90 percent tariff drop on goods traded between the countries and proposal to create a joint visa system.
The U.S.announced Thursday it is closing the Narcotics Affairs Section at the Embassy in La Paz and suspending funding for counternarcotics operations until 2015. Speaking at the hearing on U.S.-Mexico security cooperation, Assistant Secretary Brownfield said it is “time for us to go.”
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera signed a law on Monday that will permitEvo Morales to run for a third term. The Bolivian Constitution says that a president can only serve for two terms, but in a ruling last month, the country’s Supreme Court ruled Morales’ first term did not count because the constitution was changed in during his first term.
El Salvador’s Supreme Court declared the appointment of two retired generals, General David Mungia Payes and General Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera, to Minister of Public Security and Director of the Police unconstitutional. The pair were given their posts a few months before a truce began rival gangs and Mungia was a key orchestrator of the agreement. Gang leaders have since held a press conference conference saying the announcement put their ceasefire at risk. As several analysts note, the truce and the associated drop in violence has given the gangs political power and the ability to make demands. More from James Bosworth, InSight Crime, WOLA and Tim’s El Salvador blog.
According to the World Bank, El Salvador spends 2.8% of its GDP on security and justice, more than any other Central American country. Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama reportedly invest 2.3% into the same sectors, while Honduras and Guatemala spend 2% and 1.7% respectively.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced plans to create a “Bolivarian Workers’ Militia” of armed and organized workers. According to Maduro, “The working class is increasingly respected. It will be respected even more if the workers’ militias have 300,000, 500,00, one or two million working men and women in uniform, ready and armed for the defense of the Fatherland.”
Seventy-five percent of the audit of elections results is complete and President Maduro has claimed a “heroic victory.”
In a 3-2 decision on Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the ruling that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was guilty of genocide and said the trial would go back to April 19 on account of a procedural irregularity. According to the New York Times, however, lawyers from both sides of the case say that the trial will have to go back to square one and begin with a new panel of judges. The Times’ Editorial Board featured an op-ed this week calling for the United States to push for the case to be “pursued through an independent process.”
There were protests in Guatemala and throughout Latin America today targeting the Constitutional Court’s decision.
The Colombian government and the FARC are still deliberating on land redistribution- the first point on the talks’ five-point agenda. The Colombian government has indicated that it would like to go faster, while FARC lead negotiator asked for more time for a deal, saying "We have to approach these issues with serenity, with depth if we really want to form the solid basis to build a stable and long-lasting peace." In an op-ed for El Tiempo, Marisol Gomez Giraldo said if the sides have not reached a land accord by Sunday, “the peace process will be left without oxygen.”
InSight Crime released a new report on the possible criminalization of the FARC. The report looks at the FARC fragmenting and turning to crime in three scenarios: during the talks, after an agreement has been reached, or following the demobilization. According to InSight Crime, “The risk of FARC elements criminalizing in scenario three, once an agreement has been signed and demobilization has occurred, is very high, even almost inevitable.”
The Los Angeles Times published an interview with a former FARC commander who deserted the guerilla organization. One of the reasons he cited for leaving the group was the “comfort” of the leaders negotiating in Havana. According to the article, 500 FARC fighters have deserted so far this year, a 6% increase on the say period last year.
The biggest story out of Mexico this week was the Mexican government’s decision to deploy troops to the embattled western Michoacán to fight local militias and the Knights Templar drug gang, which has taken control of the state and is on “a medieval-like reign of terror,” reported the Associated Press. As the Washington Post notes, President Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón launched his militarized drug war by sending soldiers into the same state in 2006 to fight another syndicate, La Familia. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio Chong told reporters, “Our fundamental goal is simple: to come to Michoacán and not leave until peace and security have been provided for every Michoacán resident.” More from the Global Post, Animal Politico and El Universal.
In an interview in Cali, Colombia, President Enrique Peña Nieto reaffirmed his opposition to legalizing drugs as a means of combating crime.
The day after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the country’s defense minister, Adm. Diego Molero, twice called on Venezuelans to vote for Chávez’s handpicked successor, Acting President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles called Adm. Molero a “disgrace” for openly backing a candidate. A New York Times analysis notes that Maduro, who never served in the armed forces, must contend with “arguably the most powerful pro-Chávez group of all: senior military figures whose sway across Venezuela was significantly bolstered by the deceased leader.”
In December and January, the first two months of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, Mexico’s Army killed 161 “presumed criminals” as part of its role in fighting organized crime. Nine soldiers were killed. In an early February discussion with Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, legislators said “the spirit of the Army is not to be in the streets patrolling,” but that “until the problem of insecurity is resolved,” they would likely have to stay there.
Gen. Cienfuegos may not have been President Peña Nieto’s first choice for defense secretary, alleges a February 4 New York Times investigation, which claims that the United States expressed strong misgivings about the actual next-in-line for the job, Gen. Moisés García Ochoa. Nearly two weeks later, the State Department denied that it had sought to block Gen. García.
In one of the Peña Nieto government’s first security policy changes, 10,000 Mexican soldiers and marines will form a new mobile federal constabulary police force, a “National Gendarmerie,” before the end of the year.
Mexico’s human rights ombudsman (CNDH) “recommended” 109 cases of alleged human rights abuse to Mexico’s Defense Secretariat (SEDENA, which comprises the Army and Air Force) during the 2006-2012 government of President Felipe Calderón. Of these, SEDENA claims to have closed 63. Only two have resulted in soldiers being convicted. SEDENA led all government agencies in 2012 with 15 new CNDH “recommendations.”
Guatemalan prosecutors requested a copy of the Guatemalan Army’s “Table of Organization and Equipment” for 1982 outlining the institution’s lines of command in a year in which it committed massive numbers of human rights violations. Citing reasons of “sensitivity” for national security, Guatemala’s Defense Ministry refusedto hand over the document — which would be important in prosecutions of past abuses — saying it would be secret for seven more years. Correction as of 6:00PM EDT: The document was released to prosecutors only, but will remain unavailable to the public for seven years. (Source: the Guatemalan daily ElPeriódico, with a hat tip to Cascadia Solidaria blog.)
The abrupt transfer of judge Mariana Mota is likely to delay or derail many cases against former Uruguayan officers accused of human rights abuses during the country’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship. Shortly afterward Uruguay’s Supreme Court, which transferred Judge Mota, then struck down a legal change that sought to overturn a 1980s amnesty law.
A column of Chilean marines caused a small uproar in late January after its members were filmed chanting that they would “kill Argentines, shoot Bolivians and slit the throats of Peruvians.”
Two top Ecuadorian Army generals resigned their posts over an eight-day period in February, apparently due to discontent over the promotion of three colonels to the rank of general.
Ecuadorian Defense Minister María Fernanda Espinosa said that the government of President Rafael Correa tripled the country’s defense budget between 2007 and 2012.
“It is necessary that we have the highest participation of women [in the armed forces], above all when the commander-in-chief is a woman,” said Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. “Perhaps we’ll have a female general soon. I hope before my term is over.” An overview by Spain’s EFE news service notes that Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua Paraguay, and Uruguay all allow some degree of women’s participation in the armed forces, though usually not combat. Colombia’s army just graduated the first five female officers to have command over male soldiers.
Defense officials from Peru’s last government are under a cloud of corruption suspicions surrounding a contract with an Israeli company hired to provide military training.
Retired Gen. Hugo Pow Sang was named to head Peru’s military justice system, although he currently faces two civilian judicial proceedings for alleged corruption.
A December 2012 poll by M&R Consultores found 85.67 percent of Nicaraguans “trusting” the country’s army, with 91.4 percent supporting the Nicaraguan Army playing a role in “the fight against international narcotrafficking” and “organized crime.”
When Nicaraguan Education Minister José Antonio Alvarado was moved to head the Defense Ministry, asksEl Nuevo Diario columnist León Núñez, was it a promotion or a demotion? “Political analysts who view it as a demotion say that in the Defense Ministry there is nothing to do, except read newspapers, sleep, drink coffee, put up with giving the occasional obligatory talk, and be on hand for occasional events.”
President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday night, winning over 300 electoral votes and the popular vote by 2.6 million over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney led the popular vote for most of the night, until western states like California closed their polls and counted their ballots. In the end, Obama handily took the electoral college with 303 vote to Romney's 206 and the popular vote with a narrow margin of victory, winning 50% of the vote to Romney's 48%.
Tuesday's election was historic in the United States for several reasons -- marijuana was legalized in two U.S. states, same-sex marriage was passed in another three -- but also of particular note was the increase in the Hispanic electorate's importance. President Obama won just over 70% of the Latino vote, compared to Romney's 27%, ensuring his slight victory in a number of battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
Leading up to the election, many analysts, politicians and voters were disillusioned that Latin America was noticeably absent from both candidates campaigns, especially in relation to issues such as the Mexican drug war that has claimed some 60,000 lives since 2006, the re-election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the Cuban embargo and Brazil's growing economic presence.
Before the election took place, regional analysts and leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, said they expected few changes with regards to U.S. policy in the region, regardless of the outcome.
Reactions to President Obama's victory throughout the region held a similar tone. There was a general consensus that Obama was the preferred victor of the two candidates, but that the region expected more attention and cooperation from his administration in the next four years.
Aside from the usual congratulatory messages, many leaders took the opportunity to voice their concerns over a domestic problem that reverberates throughout the region -- immigration reform -- reminding Obama that he owed a large part of his victory to Latinos.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated President Obama saying his re-election was "good news for Colombia," and noting that now the two countries can "continue to work in cooperation, with the same proposals and objectives and getting results."
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón also applauded Obama's re-election as something "positive for the United States and Colombia," but said President Obama had to fulfill his obligation to the international community and the region as a whole, which "expected more" from him. Garzón highlighted the contentious immigrant situation in the U.S., saying "It's good to point out that Colombian immigrant workers have rights that must be respected, human rights, including the right to have American citizenship and residence."
Ecuador's deputy foreign minister, Marco Albuja, echoed these sentiments on Twitter, asking Obama to "always remember the transcendental latino vote." He added that he hoped the new administration would pass immigration reform to "find a definitive solution to the more than 10 million people in [the US] without a defined migrant status."
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who showed his support for President Obama during the campaign, extended his congratulations, calling Obama "an extraordinary person," but also commenting that he expected little change because "the foreign policy of the United States is inertial and they will need many years to change it.... Everything will practically be the same in Latin America."
Paraguay also weighed in on the immigration issue with Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia pressing Obama to recognize that "part of his win he owes to our Latin American compatriots," and he hoped "President Obama contributes to improving relations with [the rest of] Latin America and to solving the latino immigration problem."
For Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo's government, which enjoyed strong support by Obama in its 2011 election following a contentious 2009 coup, said it did not expect "much change in general relations with the United States," but secretary of planning, Julio Raudales, did comment that "Obama's reelection is good news." Former Honduran President Ricardo Maduro told local television he hoped Obama would focus his attention "towards the south."
Bolivian President Evo Morales had a more critical response to Obama's re-election. After condemning the U.S. electoral process, he suggested Obama settle the score with Latino voters by doing away with the Cuban embargo. He also took a jab at Obama's refusal to extradite Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former president accused of corruption and genocide in Bolivia.
"He was reelected thanks to latinos and the best thing he could do to recognize their vote is end the embargo in Cuba," Morales said. "If he wants to dignify his government, it would be important to stop protecting delinquents that escape from many countries, Bolivia included."
With respect to the country's economy, the Bolivian leader gave little clout to the U.S. election, saying "who wins in the United States does not affect the Bolivian people... We should export but [the US] market cannot define our political economy."
Cuban President Raul Castro has also yet to publicly respond, however Cuban state-run news website CubaSi reiterated the general feeling of indifference, saying "The news of Barack Obama's triumph in yesterday's general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism."
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner congratulated President Obama with a letter and also via Twitter, adding that it is "his turn" to "take his place in the history of his people and the world," and assume his "role as global leader to overcome this political and economic crisis."
In this election the Republican Party, as it is wont to do, adopted a more aggressive stance towards the region, particularly with regards to leftist governments, that signaled a possible unwelcome return to the diplomacy of Bush's presidency. Across the board, there was more a sense of relief that Romney lost than excitement that Obama won.
While in practice the policy differences might have been marginal, a Romney presidency would likely have included bellicose rhetoric towards Venezuela and Cuba and potentially cause greater political polarization in the hemisphere, as Inter-American Dialogue president Michael Shifter noted most recently in Foreign Policy magazine.
As Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas points out in the Miami Herald, there are several pending situations could force a change in the region's political and economic landscape, pulling more attention to it, such as the death of Hugo Chavez, the death of Fidel Castro or his brother Raúl, the possible success of peace talks in Colombia, and China's financial growing financial involvement.
Although the issues that shifted the rhetoric away from Latin America during the campaign are still front and center-- Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, jobs, etc-- there is hope that going forward Obama will prioritize the region, and at the very least immigrants looking for a home in the United States, in his second term.
Adam discusses challenges facing newly inaugurated President Ollanta Humala in Peru; Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa's lawsuit against a newspaper; cuts in U.S. aid to Mexico and other ways that the U.S. Congress is affecting Latin America policy.
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Ecuadorians are voting tomorrow on a list of ten questions, proposed by left-of-center President Rafael Correa, having to do with possible legal and constitutional reforms. Polls indicate that while awareness of the questions is low, all of them will be approved.
Some, particularly those having to do with judicial independence and press freedom, are very controversial. Here is the English text of the ten questions.
1. Do you agree with amending Article 77, number 9 of the Constitution, incorporating a clause to prevent the expiration of preventive detentions when this expiration has been caused by the person on trial, and to punish unreasonable obstacles to justice placed by judges, prosecutors, experts or auxiliary judicial officials?
(If approved, this measure could keep criminals from being released prematurely. But it could also allow preventive detentions to drag on indefinitely for those “innocent until proven guilty.”)
2. Do you agree that alternatives to deprivation of liberty [imprisonment] should apply?
(If approved, this measure could regulate judges’ practice of giving condemned criminals alternative penalties like house arrest or probation.)
3. Do you agree with prohibiting private financial-system institutions, as well as private national media companies, their directors and principal shareholders, from owning or holding shares outside the financial or communication sectors, respectively?
(This is one of the more controversial questions. If approved, it would prevent the formation of large private media/entertainment conglomerates like Time-Warner or News Corporation in the United States. On the other hand, it would represent an important infringement on property rights. Critics of this question view it as a symptom of President Rafael Correa’s very poor relations with Ecuador’s major private media outlets.)
4. Do you agree with substituting the current Judiciary Council with a Transitional Judiciary Council, comprised of three members, one designated by the executive branch, one by the legislative branch and one by the transparency and social-control branch, so that within the time limit of 18 months, it may exercise the powers of the Judicial Council and restructure the judiciary?
(This is one of the more controversial questions. If approved, it would speed judicial reforms called for by the country’s new constitution. However, it would notably weaken checks and balances, as President Correa’s supporters would dominate the proposed Transitional Judiciary Council.)
5. Do you agree with modifying the composition of the Judiciary Council, amending the Constitution and reforming the Organic Code of the judicial branch? (Numerous changes are spelled out in a long annex to this question.)
(Supporters of this controversial question say that it will streamline judicial processes. Opponents argue that it will give President Correa effective control over the judicial branch, as judges and other officials will no longer be chosen by an independent commission, but by a commission including representatives of some branches of government dominated by Correa supporters.)
6. Do you agree that the National Assembly, without delay, within the period specified in the Organic Law of the legislative branch, after the publication of this plebiscite’s results, make “unjustified private enrichment” a crime within the penal code?
(This is a controversial question. Supporters claim it will give the government new tools to fight corruption. Opponents cite the vagueness of the “unjustified” term, which is not further defined but is clearly different from “illegal,” and worry that the President and his supporters may use it to pressure and silence political opponents.)
7. Do you agree that businesses dedicated to gambling, such as casinos and gaming rooms, should be prohibited in the country?
(This question has the support of many conservative Ecuadorians who do not otherwise back President Correa. However, banning gambling could eliminate several thousand jobs.)
8. Do you agree that spectacles that end with the killing of an animal [such as bullfights] should be banned in your county?
(It is still not clear whether this applies just to bullfights or to cockfights as well.)
9. Do you agree that the National Assembly, without delay, within the period specified in the Organic Law of the legislative branch, should issue a Communications Law creating a Regulation Council, which would regulate the diffusion of content on television, on the radio and in the written press that contain violent, sexually explicit or discriminatory messages, and that would establish criteria to hold communicators or broadcasters responsible?
(This is a very controversial question, again related to President Correa’s poor relations with Ecuador’s major private media outlets. The idea of a state body to regulate media content has alarmed press-freedom groups. Similar statutes to punish content considered violent, discriminatory, or otherwise harmful have been very controversial in Venezuela and Bolivia.)
10. Do you agree that the National Assembly, without delay, within the period specified in the Organic Law of the legislative branch, should after the publication of this plebiscite’s results, should make it a criminal offense not to include employees in the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute?
(As many as a million workers, in a country of 14 million people, are currently outside the social security system. Many are maids and childcare providers.)
Shifts in Cultivation, Usage Put Bolivia's Coca Policy at the Crossroads Coletta A. Youngers, World Politics Review
Caribbean Regional -
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns To Deliver Remarks at the Fourth Annual Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue
Office Of The Spokesperson, U.S. State Department
Libre, segunda fuerza parlamentaria de Honduras, Confidencial
Deteriorating democracy, The Economist
Venezuela Municipal Elections Cheat Sheet Hugo Perez Hernaiz, Washington Office On Latin America
Que hay detras de la posible complicacion en la compra por Argentina de los F-1 del ejercito del aire espanol? Francia entra en escena y ofreta sus F-1 co,pitiendo con los espanoles, Defensa.com
Brazil, Cuba -
Cuban doctors tend to Brazil's poor, giving Rousseff a boost Anthony Boadle, The Chicago Tribune
Ingeniero Leon Andres Montes Ceballos fue liberado por el Eln, El Colombiano
Tables Turned Virginia Bouvier, Foreign Policy Magazine
As Colombia's presidential race heats up, peace talks take center stage Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald
La mala herencia que nos dejo el capo Alejandro Baena, El Tiempo
El homicidio se redujo un nueve por ciento en el pais, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Las claves de la cita Barack Obama y Juan Manuel Santos Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Colombia espera que Obama ratifique apoyo al proceso de paz Sergio Gomez Maseri, El Tiempo (Colombia)
Honduras Election Results Challenged Nicholas Phillips, The New York Times
Pena Nieto cambia Mexico sobre el papel en su primer ano de mandato, El Pais
The Mexico Govt's Coordination Obsession Alejandro Hope, In Sight Crime
Mexican bishop takes on cultish cartel in drug war battleground state Joshua Partlow, The Washington Post
Despues de la guerra Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez, Nexos En Linea
¿Que puede pasar el domingo? Luis Vincente Leon, El Universal
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)