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Friday, November 15, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Migration Declassified, a project of the National Security Archive, published documents that offer the most detailed glimpse yet into Defense Department’s intelligence programs in Mexico in recent years. According to the group, “What emerges are the outlines of a two-track U.S. intelligence program: one, a network of joint intelligence centers staffed by personnel from both countries; the other, a secret facility located inside the U.S. Embassy to which the Mexicans are not invited.”
President Obama will meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on December 3 and will emphasize the United States’ “continued support for efforts to achieve peace in Colombia, according to W Radio.
The United Nations Development Program released a report on Tuesday, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America” which found Latin America continues to be the most insecure and unequal region in the world. The Economist provides a good overview and analysis of the report. More from Just the Facts, EFE, the Miami Herald and El País.
Chilean presidential elections this weekend
This Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s next president. As analyst James Bosworth noted, it is a “near certainty” former President Michelle Bachelet, a self-declared socialist from the opposition party, will beat out conservative ruling party candidate Evelyn Matthei. In the event that Bachelet does not receive the required 51% of the vote this Sunday, run-off elections will be held in December. More from the Miami Herald and Associated Press about Bachelet’s radical proposed plans for reform. This will be the first election in which voting is voluntary rather than compulsory.
On Monday, the Colombian government said it discovered a plot by FARC rebels to assassinate former President Álvaro Uribe and the country’s Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre. While there did not appear to be immediate fallout from the revelations, lead government negotiator Humerto de la Calle warned should such an attack take place, negotiations would be “destroyed.” The revealed plot has fomented concerns that the FARC’s central command negotiating in Havana does not have control over mid-level members of the group. More from La Silla Vacía.
The negotiating teams in Havana have worked out agreements on land and the FARC’s participation in politics. On Monday, both sides will begin talks on the drug trade. In a lengthy post published Tuesday, FARC’s top commander “Timochenko” said the group would debate the legalization of illicit crops in negotiations, noting the group has advocated for a shift in policy for several years. More from Colombia Reports. For further analysis on the progress on the peace talks, see this post by Virginia Bouvier of the United States Institute of Peace, the Pan-American Post, and Semana.
The Latin America Working Group published a report, “ Far from the Promised Land”(pdf)examining land restitution along Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The authors looked at the sluggish implementation of 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which set out procedures to grant reparations and land return to victims of the armed conflict. They found that “land restitution is just beginning to be implemented, but that both land restitution and victims’ reparations promised under the law are, for most victims, still a distant dream.”
On Thursday, Venezuela’s Congress voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro decree powers for the next 12 months. Maduro says he will use the special powers to target corruption and the country’s economic problems, while critics claim he will use the silence the opposition in upcoming local elections. On Tuesday, the Congress stripped an opposition lawmaker of her immunity to be prosecuted for corruption, and a government supporter was put in her place, giving the ruling party the 99th vote needed to pass the measure. This was the first of two votes the Congress will hold. The next will take place Tuesday. More from the BBC, Ultimas noticias and El Universal.
InSight Crime translated an excellent investigation about the Venezuelan military’s involvement in drug trafficking. “Venezuela: Where the Traffickers Wear Military Uniforms” first appeared in Spanish in El Universal Domingo.
On Monday, Mexico announced it would be firing or demoting 700 state police officers in Michoácan for failing to pass a vetting process. Police forces have been accused of ties to the Knights Templar drug gang. This week Mexican newspaper Milenio published a report which found that in one month, in an “important city in Michoácan,” one state police officer receives over $18,000 from the cartel, while a federal police official receives about $27,000 and an official from the Attorney General’s Office receives almost $19,000.
Three unidentified armed persons broke into the office of a Salvadoran non-profit agency whose mission is to track down children disappeared during the country’s civil war. They tied up the guard, stole several computers and set fire the organization’s archives. The country’s human rights prosecutor, David Morales, suggested the attack was linked to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal to a law granting amnesty for human right violations committed during the war. The group had apparently backed up all files that had been destroyed. More from the Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Office on Latin America.
Writing for InSight Crime, Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva examined impunity for high-level corruption within El Salvador’s Civil National Police.
French police arrived in Brazil this week to train Rio de Janeiro’s military police in how to handle large-scale protests without using excessive force.
The Rio State Security Secretariat suspended the creation of new Pacifying Police Units, after reports of inappropriate use of force, forced disappearance and torture. Rio On Watch has an update on the city’s plans to target increased violence.
Friday, October 18, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Tuesday was Teachers Day in Brazil, and protests erupted in multiple cities with marchers demanding educational reforms and free university tuition. The protests were the largest in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where violence broke out with firebombs thrown by protesters and the use of tear gas by police. Folha de S. Paulo reported police were using lethal weapons, mainly shooting warning shots around protesters.
The New York Times featured gripping photos by FotoProtestoSP, a group of photographers that have documented various protests throughout the country.
The Igarape Institute released a new report about the future of Brazil’s security. The report notes that Brazil has a two-pronged approach to dealing with transnational crime: deepening its involvement in the larger international community while focusing on smaller bilateral agreements with its close neighbors to tackle the region’s issues. The study looks ahead and asks: “What direction will Brazil take in the coming decade?”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has been promoting arms sales in Latin America with trips to Peru and Brazil this week. UPI noted Moscow media outlets are reporting that Russia is now the largest arms supplier to the region and the sales of weapons could potentially net $1.7 billion. On Wednesday Brazil’s Defense Ministry announced it would be going ahead with a $1 billion deal to buy anti-aircraft missile batteries from Russia.
The Associated Press published an excellent article that outlined growing criticism of Colombia’s Military Justice Law, which “would broaden the military justice system's jurisdiction and narrow the definition of extrajudicial killings.”This law would likely see an increase in impunity for military members accused of human rights abuses, as their cases could be transferred from civilian to military courts. These concerns have led U.S. Congress members to withhold $10 million in aid.
The fifteenth round of peace talks in Havana between the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group have ended without an agreement on political participation. Reuters reported on growing tensions between the two sides and noting as well that “Polls in Colombia show the population is tiring of the talks,” which have been lagging on for 11 months. The FARC delegation noted that public opinion should not affect the pace of the talks. More from El Espectador and El Tiempo.
Mexico City lawmakers are set to propose legislation to decriminalize and regulate the marijuana market through the implementation of cannabis clubs. Mexico City Assemblyman Vidal Llerenas stated, “We cannot hope for a drug-free world. But we can hope to limit the damage and take the profits away from organized crime.”
Ecuadorian officials showed signs of openness to a change in drug policy during a binational meeting in Uruguay. Rodrigo Velez, head of Ecuador’s national drug office, stated, “Ecuador looks with interest at Uruguay’s experience with the new regulated marijuana market.” However, Velez noted Ecuador’s proximity to the world’s largest coca-producing nations, Colombia and Peru, warranted a cautious and democratic response to drug policy.
The Global Post published a two-part series on coca production in Peru’s valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (VRAE), where more coca is grown than any other region in the world. The first piece looked at a possibly violent backlash from farmers should U.S-backed counternarcotics operations in the region eradicate their crops. The article noted that U.S. assistance is increasing, as “the US Embassy in Lima said it was this year handing Peru $68 million for counternarcotics operations and $32 million for alternative development, including support for testing new crops and increasing their yields. Combined that is almost double the 2012 total of $55 million.”
The second article focuses on the VRAE’s small-scale rural farmers’ financial dependence on coca. One quoted farmer highlighted a major problem in the country: “When we grow cassava or bananas no one wants to buy them. But they come almost every day to buy our coca.”
One thousand members of Honduras’ controversial new military police unit were deployed Monday to San Pedro Sula and parts of Tegucigalpa, the most violent cities in the country. The new force, known as the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), is the government’s latest measure using militarized tactics to combat rampant crime and violence. The continued use of this tactic has become the primary issue in the ongoing presidential race, with the ruling National party’s candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, supporting the use of military policing to fight crime. Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE party candidate, is advocating a community police force that interacts with local communities. More from the Pan-American Post.
This move toward militarization has caught the attention of the US Congress. On Wednesday congressmen Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Mike Honda (D-CA) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry airing a number of concerns, including “that the Embassy has not spoken forcefully about the militarization of the police under the impetus of one of the candidates.” More from Honduras Culture and Politics blog.
Mexico is going to delay its deadline to vet local and federal police throughout the country, the Los Angeles Times reported. As the paper noted, “As part of a program created in 2008, Mexico’s half a million police officers are to be tested and vetted based on numerous criteria including financial information, trustworthiness, family connections and skills.”
This testing is tied to part of the United States’ $2 billion aid package, which has invested in overhauling the police. Analyst James Bosworth has a rundown of the challenges the vetting program has faced on his blog. Continued reports of serious criminal offenses by officers has highlighted the need to effectively implement police reform, however the process has been extended for one year, InSight Crime reported.
A piece in The Economist noted that analysts “agree that the government has yet to do anything to improve the quality of the police” and that although President Peña Nieto has decided to downplay the fight against drug kingpins, he “has yet to come up with a serious alternative.”
The Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center released a report that found there has been a dramatic increase in citizen security interventions in the region since the late 1990s. Citizen security interventions are described as preventative measures “intended to support social cohesion.”
Friday, October 11, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Inter American Court of Human Rights
Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
Friday, July 26, 2013
This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations committee did a full mark-up of the House’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. The committee approved a $5.8 billion cut to foreign aid, including a 10 percent cut to the State Department overall. The committee also voted to lift human rights conditions on aid to many Latin American countries. According to The Hill, "During debate, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) said they were outraged by the removal of restrictions on aid to central and South American countries over human rights violations." Read a summary of the Senate’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill highlighting the biggest differences with the House version here.
On Friday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement ending conversations to restore diplomatic ties with the United States. The statement came following the State Department's backing of critical remarks made by President Obama’s United Nations ambassador nominee, Samantha Power. In Thursday’s press briefing, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "We are open to having a positive relationship with Venezuela moving forward. That’s what our focus is on, and we still are leaving the door open for that."
Despite Pena Nieto’s plans to scale back cooperation with United States intelligence and law enforcement in its fight against drug cartels, outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met on the border and announced plans for a bi-national security communications network and corresponding patrols between U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican Federal Police, the Washington Post reported.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the state of human rights in Honduras. The witnesses, as well as those on the commission, lamented the United States government’s continued funding of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo’s administration, under which citizens have experienced grave human rights abuses at the hands of organized crime, the police and the military. At the close of the hearing, the commission’s co-chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) noted that the United States needs to "make it clear to the Honduran government that enough is enough" on human rights abuses. The hearing can be watched here.
The list of witnesses: Senator Timothy M. Kaine, Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group, Dr. Dana Frank, Professor of History, University of California Santa Cruz, Tirza Flores Lanza, Lawyer, Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals for San Pedro Sula and Viviana Giacaman, Director for Latin America Programs, Freedom House.
Carlos Urrutria, Colombia’s ambassador in Washington, resigned after being implicated in the theft of 100,000 acres of land throughout central Colombia. According to El Tiempo, President Juan Manuel Santos accepted Urrutria’s resignation on Tuesday, following the accusations made by the Polo Democratico party.
Last weekend, United States Vice President Joe Biden called Brazilian President Roussef in an effort to ease tensions and provide explanations about surveillance practices in Brazil. According to the New York Times, Biden called to "express his regret over the negative repercussions caused by the disclosures" and to extend an invitation to Brazil to send a delegation to Washington to receive "technical and political details" about the case.
The New Yorker found the N.S.A. holds a strong interest in Brazil because "That’s where the transatlantic cables come ashore." Last week at the Aspen Institute, N.S.A. Director General Keith Alexander emphasized that rather than collecting e-mails and phone numbers, the agency is interested in collecting "metadata around the world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit." Brazil’s geography, which bulges out eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, makes Brazil one of the most important telecommunication hubs in the world.
On his first international trip as pontiff, Pope Francis arrived back to his home continent on Monday, first visiting Brazil, which has faced more than a month of often violent protests against government corruption and public spending priorities. Foreign Policy reported on the approximate costs of the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day, including the mobilization of 14,000 troops and more than 7,000 police, bringing security costs to over $52 million dollars. Estimates for the total costs of the trip and the weeklong festival range from $145 million to $159 million. More from Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, and the Associated Press.
In a speech given while inaugurating a drug rehabilitation clinic in a favela (Brazilian slum) on Wednesday, Pope Francis assailed narcotics trafficking and criticized calls to legalize drugs in Latin America. "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug laws," Francis said. "Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people." More from Folha de Sao Paulo and the Pan-American Post.
According to the New York Times, the Pope’s visit has been marred by "missteps" that characterize the challenging day-to-day life of Rio residents. To name a few, the Pope’s motorcade got stuck on a crowded thoroughfare, the subway system carrying thousands gathering for a conference of Catholic youth broke down, and violence, possibly incited by undercover intelligence agents, continues to erupt in protests that have ended in water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. More from BBC News.
On Thursday, Pope Francis delivered some his most politically provocative remarks since his papacy began this year, criticizing the "culture of selfishness and individualism," urging youth to fight against corruption, and praising the Brazilian government’s antipoverty programs. According to the New York Times, although he never directly mentioned the anti-establishment protests, Francis did critique Rio’s pacification project in the city’s slums. "No amount of pacification will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," the pope said in Varginha.
On Tuesday, gang gunman believed to be working for the Knights Templar cartel staged a series of attacks on the federal police, leaving 20 assailants and four federal police dead. This outbreak of violence in Michoacán follows the recent arrest of the Zeta gang leader Miguel Angel Treviño. Although President Peña Nieto sent thousands of troops into the state two months ago, as the AP noted, "The cartel’s deep local roots and proven capacity for violence could make Michoacan the graveyard of Peña Nieto’s pledge to reduce drug violence."
An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times said President Peña Nieto’s approach to the drug war is starting to look a lot like the much-criticized strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. As an example, the piece looked at the arrest of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, which "had all the familiar hallmarks: Treviño Morales' moves were tracked in real time by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone, while American intelligence monitored his communications and shared what was learned with Mexican authorities."
Writing for Forbes, Nathaniel Parish Flannery examined the history of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatistas, Mexico’s masked guerrilla group in the Chiapas state. According to the article, Chiapas has not fared well in modern Mexico. "Of all of the states the most agricultural, least electrified, least schooled, least literate, & poorest state has been Chiapas." The piece also provides an overview of different analysis of the movement.
Animal Politico detailed the top 45 criminals that the Mexican government has set as priority targets in its security strategy. The list includes nearly all of the leaders of the country’s main drug cartels.
Upon reflecting on Raul Castro’s lengthy public lecture criticizing Cubans’ culture and conduct, islanders agreed that moral decay is prevalent in today’s Cuban society. However, Cubans point to an unworkable economic system and the crumbling of Cuba’s infrastructure and social services as the roots of the uncouth behavior Castro bemoaned in his speech. The article does note, however, that despite the grievances, "Havana has avoided the rampant crime and drug violence that plague many Latin American — and American — cities." More from the New York Times.
Foreign Relations published an article, "Cuba after Communism," detailing economic reforms that are transforming an island that has been clinging to Communism for the past fifty years. Authors Julia E. Swieg and Michael J. Bustamante argue that because of these changes, "Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere."
According to the Washington Post, the 18th Street gang and rival gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have taken more steps toward what their Organization of the Americas backers are calling "a peace process," carefully avoiding the term "gang truce." While bringing the region’s two most notorious transnational gangs together in El Salvador has produced a 50 percent decline in homicides, translating the model to Honduras, where there’s a weaker government, worse violence, and a more lucrative drug trade will be a challenge.
The Miami Herald reported on South Korea’s announcement of its intention to explore a free trade agreement with Panama just days before Panama’s seizure of a North Korean freighter carrying undeclared military cargo. The article highlights the differences between Panama’s relations with the two Koreas.
Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics blog both covered the poll numbers for next year’s election in El Salvador. The race is tight and breaks down three ways between the FMLN’s candidate, Salvador Ceren, ARENA’s Norman Quijano, and former President Tony Saca.
Central American Politics blog also has an overview and round-up of news stories about the gang truce that were published this week.
On Monday, Colombia’s FARC rebels offered armed support to a rural protest in Catatumbo, a gesture that could increase friction as peace talks between FARC and the government continue in Havana. The Colombian government responded to a statement FARC released in support of mobilization of the farmers with a warning that guerrilla infiltration in Catatumbo will permanently endanger the inhabitants of the region.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a historic report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years. The five-year investigation presented many alarming findings, including the revelation that 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013, 80 percent, or 176,000, of which were civilians. See Reuters and Thursday’s Just the Facts post for overviews in English and El Espectador and Verdad Abierta for good Spanish coverage.
On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met on the border, where they agreed to improve relations, which became strained when President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Henrique Capriles in May. President Maduros also expressed full support for Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC.
"Megateo," the boss of a dissident faction of the officially demobilized EPL that has been heavily involved in narcotrafficking in northeast Colombia, expressed interest in joining the peace talks. "I wish that in these accords the ELN [Colombia’s second largest rebel group], and EPL were [involved] to jointly come up with proposals," stated the EPL leader in an interview published in Semana. Megateo also admitted to involvement in the drug trade, kidnapping, and extortion, revealing that he gets $200 per kilogram of cocaine in his domain. He claimed the money from his illicit activities is a "way to finance the war" against the state.
President Santos said he would not let the FARC get any media benefit from the capture of Kevin Scott Sutay, an American veteran who was trekking alone through eastern Colombia’s dangerous jungle when he was kidnapped. As the Daily Beast noted, "Sutay's kidnapping has heightened tensions between the rebels and the government as the two sides navigate delicate peace talks." More from Reuters.
Colombia’s Constitutional court held a hearing on the recently passed Legal Framework for Peace bill. The legislation permits demobilized guerrilla fighters to hold elected office, and grants Congress the power to prioritize investigating certain crimes over others. Proponents of the bill say it will allow the justice system to target systematic human rights abuses, while critics, which include former President Álvaro Uribe, the UN and various human rights groups, say it will lead to impunity for human rights abuses. As Reuters noted, supporters like President Juan Manuel Santos say the measure is necessary for a peace agreement. The Pan-American Post and Reuters provided helpful overviews of the bill in English and El Espectador has an overview of arguments presented at the hearing. The court has until August 20 to rule on the bill.
Friday, June 7, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Delegations from Latin American countries and the United States gathered in Antigua, Guatemala from June 4-June 6 for the Organization of the American States' 43rd annual General Assembly meeting. Drug policy topped the agenda of the meeting, titled "For a comprehensive policy to fight the global drug problem in the Americas." The group's final declaration mentioned nothing on legalization or decriminalization of marijuana or any other drug, despite calls in the region to do so, and called for a drug policy with "full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that fully incorporates public health, education, and social inclusion." The New York Times notes that the ambiguous declaration reflects the divided views of governments in the hemisphere on the issue. The paper reported Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Nicaragua all oppose legalization, while Secretary of State John Kerry upheld the U.S.' position against such a measure. More from Pan-American Post, Reuters, and Prensa Libre.
The group also voted in two new members to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- American James Cavallaro and Brazilian Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi -- while Mexican Jose de Jesus Orozco was re-elected as president of the IACHR. More from Americas Quarterly.
While in Guatemala leading the U.S. delegation for the OAS meeting, Secretary of State Kerry met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua. This was the first meeting in eight years between foreign ministers from the two countries. The meeting was cordial and afterwords Secretary Kerry said, "We agreed today, both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship." The meeting came as the Venezuelan government freed U.S. filmmaker Tim Tracy who had been detained since April over accusations that he was trying to undermine the government. Kerry also met with the Foreign Ministers from Colombia and Peru.
Brazil is reportedly getting closer to signing a $4 billion contract with Boeing for 36 F-18 fighter planes. While in Brazil, Vice President Biden told President Rousseff that Congress will likely allow a technology transfer, said to be the most important part of the deal as it will help build up Brazil's own defense industry. "If it's Boeing, Biden will deserve much of the credit," one senior Brazilian official said, Reuters reported. Other finalists for the deal are France's Dassault Aviation SA (AVMD.PA) and Sweden's Saab AB (SAABb.ST).
Today the new U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Liliana Ayalde, who is currently Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs will be named to the post, Brazil's Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper reported Thursday.
The State Department put up its "World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 2012." It covers the years 1999 through 2009.
Ex-dictator Efraín Rios Montt will be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in April 2014, a year after his original conviction was controversially overturned.
Rice University's Baker Institute Blog ran a weeklong series about the Mexican military's involvement in law enforcement which includes articles from a range of experts, including Just the Fact's project staff member, Adam Isacson, writing on the use of Mexico's military to perform police functions.
Amnesty International published a report, "Confronting a nightmare: Disappearances in Mexico," highlighting the continued trend of disappearances, many of them forced and involving public officials or security forces. According to the report, between December 2006 and December 2012, 26,121 people were reported missing or disappeared. In those six years, there were only two convictions for enforced disappearances and no convictions at the state level. So far, 12 investigators have been assigned to a new federal Attorney General's office unit on disappearances.
Animal Politico had an article on the issue of forced disappearances as well this week, noting that of the 24,800 forced disappearances that Mexico's Human Rights Commission had documented in the past five years, 2,443 involved public officials.
Mexico's Navy will now be in charge of a new border security program at its southern border with Guatemala and Belize, the AFP reported.
A member of Mexico's Zeta Cartel told a U.S. court in Texas the organization spends all of its profits from trafficking cocaine into the United States -- estimated to be over $350 million a year -- on fighting the Gulf Cartel, a rival drug gang. According to Insight Crime, during his testimony, Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, alias "El Mamito," also "implied that the Zetas enjoyed the backing of Mexican police and military during its struggle against the Gulf Cartel, stating that the authorities would take bribes in exchange for information and other services, among them kidnapping."
A state in western Venezuela announced plans to implement a ration system for basic items like toilet paper, chicken, flour and sugar. The system, which issues smart cards that will limit customers' purchases, will apply to 65 supermarkets in the state's two-biggest cities, Maracaibo and San Francisco. The government says it will not be expanded. The Maduro administration claims the initiative is designed to combat smuggling of price-controlled foods into Colombia, however the reports follow several of basic good shortages throughout the country. Venezuela's El Universal newspaper reported that in the month of May, inflation was up ten percent for all food and drink items.
Time has an interesting photo essay on southern Venezuela's Vista Hermosa prison, where "Outside its walls, the Venezuelan national guard patrols; inside, the inmates live and die in a world of their own making." The prison generates a profit of about $3 million a year from illegal activities and weekly taxes, and according to Time, "could not function without the complicity of corrupt officials who allow drugs and weapons inside."
On Monday, the United States suspended all aid to the Honduran Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit responsible for carrying out police evaluation and reform. On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress approved the creation of a special high-technology police unit targeting organized crime, known as the "Tigers."
On Wednesday, all 1,400 officers from Honduras' Criminal Investigation Unit were suspended indefinitely over reports of links to organized crime. On Thursday, after 100 members of the DNIC protested, the government agreed to permit them to return to work and just take two days off to take polygraph tests. Also on Thursday a Honduran court issued arrest warrants for five National Police officers accused of killing seven gang members in 2011.
InSight Crime published an article last week examining the recently-announced gang truce between the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 street gangs in Honduras. "5 Questions About Honduras' Gang Pact" looks at what the agreement is, who is running it, what the gangs want, what to expect and if "gang truces" are a sustainable policy to be replicated in the region.
Negotiations between the FARC and the government are scheduled to restart Tuesday, June 11. As they have reached a deal on land reform, they will move on to political participation, the second issue on the talks' five-point agenda.
There were two informative specials on Colombia this week: One from Colombian magazine Semana, "5.5 Million Victims and Counting," which features several infographics showing the extent of displacement, homicide and other crimes in the armed conflict and offers various views on challenges to implementing the country's victims' reparation law. The other comes from the Financial Times and presents infographics on biodiversity and oil distribution as well as articles, including one about Colombia's export of security training.
Colombia announced plans to form a closer partnership with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance. In response to the subsequent buzz,(even the U.S. responded that it might support Colombia in a membership bid), the government released a statement acknowledging it was not eligible to join the regional alliance and that it did not intend to do so, but rather intended to to collaborate on issues of security. Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador all expressed concern over Colombia's discussions with the organization.According to Al Jazeera, "Using the hashtag #SiAUnasurNoAOtan (Yes to UNASUR, No to NATO), Venezuelans highlighted what they believe to be atrocities committed by NATO forces and urged Colombia to show solidarity with its Latin American neighbours."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who refuses to accept the legitimacy of President Maduro's government after a dispute of the results of the April 14 elections. In response, the Venezuelan government threatened to withdraw Venezuela's support for the Colombian government's peace talks with the FARC. Since then, Venezuela has softened its approach and tensions have subsided. More from Adam Isacson's Latin America blog.
The Miami Herald published an article on 10 female members of Haiti's National Police Force that are undergoing months of training in Colombia. According to the article, "Women now represent just 7 percent of the estimated 10,000 officers in the Haitian National Police. Haiti is hoping that programs like this and others with Chile, Canada and the U.S. will help increase the force to 15,000." The cost of the program reportedly runs at $17,000 per cadet and is partially funded by the U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office.
China in Latin America
Chinese President Xi Jinping wraps up his Western Hemisphere visit today and tomorrow with a meeting in California with President Obama. During his trip he also went to Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico. More from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, CNN Mexico, the Economist, and McClatchy.
Foreign Policy had an article on Chinese involvement in Latin America that notes, "Since 2007, China has loaned $50 billion to Ecuador and Venezuela." This week Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the country is set to receive $4 billion in credit from China for oil field development. Also this week Nicaragua announced it granted China a 100-year concession, with share declining each decade, to build a canal through Lake Nicaragua. The new waterway will provide an alternative to the Panama Canal, a key shipping route for the U.S. The project will run at around $40 billion dollars. Nicaragua's Congress began debating two bills to authorize the project today. More from the Guardian and the Associated Press.
Monday, May 6, 2013
This weekend President Obama completed his much-anticipated visits to Mexico and Costa Rica.
In both countries Obama promoted economic growth as the key to fighting organized crime and combating drug-related violence. "The stronger the economies and the institutions for individuals seeking legitimate careers, the less powerful those narco-trafficking organizations are going to be," President Obama said at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla on Friday.
In Mexico, President Obama met with President Enrique Peña Nieto to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. As several analysts predicted ahead of the meeting, much of the public discussion centered on the two countries’ economic relationship. The leaders’ joint statement discussed commercial and economic initiatives at length, while giving security cooperation a limited mention at the end of the document.
In a press conference, both leaders skirted around the two key issues of immigration and security, while announcing new economic initiatives, including a set of dialogues between top economy officials from both countries planned for this fall.
On security, President Obama kept the discussion limited, saying, “We will interact with them in ways that are appropriate.” Obama’s visit followed a Washington Post report that Mexico’s new government will no longer allow U.S. officials at its intelligence fusion centers. According to the Associated Press, all U.S.-Mexico law enforcement contact will now go through a “single door,” the federal Interior Ministry. During his visit Obama brushed aside questions of decreased security cooperation by responding, “it is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with other nations, including the United States."
Peña Nieto has been trying play up Mexico’s economic growth and shift the conversation away from the violence. As the New York Times noted, Obama’s new approach runs the risk of being seen as supportive of presidents more concerned with cosmetic changes than implementing any real change. Human rights advocates also worry that the U.S. taking a step back on security would mean less pressure on the Mexican government to investigate disappearances and other abuses by the police and military. The new approach “suggests that the Obama administration either doesn’t object to these abusive practices or is only willing to raise such concerns when it’s politically convenient,” according to José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division.
“On security, the fact that there were no new announcements underscores the fact that the Peña Nieto government does not have a detailed security strategy,” Maureen Meyer an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America told the New York Times.
Before the trip, the America’s Society/Council of the Americas provided a guide to Obama’s trip which included good analysis of potential discussion topics: trade, immigration, security and energy.
America’s Quarterly interview with the President before his trip to the region can be found here.
The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute provides several links to what the English-language press and what Mexican columnists had to say about the meeting.
Friday afternoon Obama arrived in Costa Rica, where he met privately with President Laura Chinchilla, had dinner with leaders from the eight-nation Central American Integration System and participated in an investment forum with nearly 200 MBA students and Central American business leaders.
Economic growth continued to be the overriding theme of President Obama’s visit, with particular attention given to trade, energy, and democratic reforms. He called on leaders to reduce energy costs and integrate their economies. As the Associated Press noted, issues such as immigration and education that top the United States’ domestic agenda also played a large role in the regional talks.
Although the summit ended without a joint statement, any agreements or resolutions, or plans going forward, the Los Angeles Times noted Obama’s focus on infrastructure and economic ties marked a shift in U.S. rhetoric away from “tough talk” on plans to crack down on narcotraffickers. However Costa Rica’s La Nación said, the meetings “offered no fruits for the near future.” Christian Science Monitor called Costa Rica the ‘safe choice’ for a “smooth- if uneventful- trip this weekend” and noted that “Few details were made public about the presidents’ private meeting on Friday night, but by Saturday morning the presidents of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras had already left the country.”
Ahead of the talks, several leaders, such as El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes, said they would use the meeting to request more funding for security programs from the U.S., who they say should take more responsibility for combating drug trafficking.
The president announced no new initiatives or funding for security and instead promoted better coordination and use of existing aid. “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking. This is a law enforcement problem. And if we have effective law enforcement cooperation and coordination, and if we build up capacity for countries in Central America, then we can continue to make progress.” Obama said in the press conference on Friday.
The change in tone was seemingly well received by the Central American leaders. "That was what most presidents said in this meeting, that is not only about sharing through the suppression of crime, but through prevention, investment in social policy and economic growth policies," said President Funes.
Several leaders such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and President Chinchilla continued their calls to rethink drug prohibition in the hemisphere. While Obama said he would maintain the U.S. federal policy prohibiting any drugs, he said he was open to the debate. Central American Politics blog discusses these two opposing viewpoints on how to increase security: one that looks to regulate the drug trade which will thereby improve economic development, and the other, which promotes economic development to regulate the drug trade.
Since 2008 the U.S. has given nearly $500 million in security assistance to the region through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). In 2012, the Obama administration slated $136 million through CARSI to fight drug trafficking. The State Department requested $107.5 million for CARSI for this year, but expected that number to increase to between $150 and $160 million after a review of all current projects, according to Brookings Fellow Diana Villiers Negroponte. While the White House’s 2014 budget request cut aid to Mexico and Colombia, it asked for more money for CARSI and allocated $162 million to combat the drug trade in Central America.
Friday, March 22, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Today the Organization of American States (OAS) voted on controversial proposals to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador is leading the charge on making the changes that many analysts say aim to limit the court’s power and will likely have a negative effect on human rights in the hemisphere. Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) has a guide to the reform vote. As AS/COA notes, one of the reforms calls for funding to only come from within the region, despite the fact that one-third of its current budget comes from Europe. The budget for the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, which protects press freedoms in the Americas, could also be completely cut.
In a congressional meeting, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) denounced these reforms as well as made sure an article in the Washington Post by Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, former President of Colombia and Secretary General of the OAS, was printed in the formal Senate record.
The AS/COA guide, along with several sources can be found here.
Live blog posts can be found here at Americas Quarterly.
The OAS schedule can be accessed here.
El País has an overview of the reforms’ supporters.
On Tuesday the trialbegan for former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his head of military intelligence, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, both accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The New York Times featured an article last weekend on the recent judicial changes in Guatemala that made the trial possible.
Daily updates on the trial can be found at this blog, a project from the Open Society Justice Initiative.
The trial can be watched live here
Susana Villarán, Lima’s first leftist (and first female) mayor got to keep her job this week after the city voted to keep her in power in a referendum held Sunday. 51.7 percent of voters supported Villarán staying in office, while 48.3 percent chose to have her removed. Villarán’s more conservative critics say she is inept and inefficient, while her supporters say the elite is trying to remove her for her progressive policies. According to the Guardian, the former human rights activist has “battled to organize Lima's chaotic transit system and reform other corruption-ridden institutions.”
The New York Times also featured a good article today on the inequality of income distribution in Peru. It describes the economic and political divide between Lima and the rest of the country.
It was also announced this week that Peru is creating a new police “special operative intelligence group” to “identify, locate and capture” paid hitmen, known as ‘sicarios.’
It was reported by some Colombian media that the government and the FARC would reach an agrarian reform this week. However, the two parties did not reach a final agreement. Negotiations are set to begin in Havana again on April 2.
According to the Associated Press, FARC commander Iván Márquez, “said at least five areas of disagreement remain on agrarian matters: rules limiting the size of agricultural holdings; foreign ownership of prime farmland; limits on the extent of cattle ranching; the widespread cultivation for products used for energy purposes rather than food; and mining.”
La Silla Vacía takes a look at “Campesino Reserve Zones,” or collective land reserves that the FARC propose would have political autonomy and their own “administrative justice.”
The UN insisted Colombia not grant amnesty to the FARC in a report (PDF) presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights. According to news website Colombia Reports, the report also notes the “serious human rights issues” that have yet to be addressed in the country. Specifically referencing the 4,716 civilians reportedly killed by state agents, while only 294 cases have been brought before the justice system.
This week the commanders of U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Southern Command testified before Congress. Much of the discussion centered on the effects budget cuts will have on both commands’ operations. A Just the Facts post from Thursday overviews what happened in hearings in both the House and the Senate. Southcom commander General John Kelly said, “Navy ops in my area of operations will essentially stop -- go to zero, I believe," Kelly said of the sequestration cuts. "With a little luck we might see a Coast Guard cutter down there, but we're gonna lose airborne ISR (aircraft surveillance) in the counter-drug fight, we'll lose the Navy assets," he said.
There was a lot of media attention this week surrounding Mexican security. For a collection of articles on Mexico, please see the Just the Facts database. Here are some highlights:
A study published this week found 253,000 guns are smuggled from the United States into Mexico each year. This number represents 2.2% of all guns sales in the United States. The value of the annual smuggling trade is $127.2 million. The study in its entirety can be found here.
The International Crisis Group released its first report on Mexico this week, “Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico.” According to the report,
Mexico must build an effective police and justice system, as well as implement comprehensive social programs, if it is to escape the extraordinary violence triggered by the country’s destructive cartels in extortion, kidnapping and control of transnational crime.
Read the full report here
Insight Crime has a good article this week on President Peña Nieto’s security strategy, which says,
After just over 100 days in office, two story lines are emerging about Enrique Peña Nieto: one says that the new Mexican president is subtly continuing his predecessor’s "war on drugs;" the other that he is backing off, creating the conditions for a more "peaceful" underworld.
The article concludes by noting that should the Mexican government turn to “capitulation to large drug trafficking interests” relations could become much more tense.
Facing growing criticism over his security strategy and a recent wave of violence, which included a recent death toll of 29 people in one day, Mexican President Peña Nieto has asked for a year before judgment is passed on his anti-violence strategy. “That doesn’t mean that in a year, we’ll achieve the objectives laid out by this administration,” he said, reported the Los Angeles Times. “But I think that yes, in one year is the moment to take stock of how this strategy is going.”
Mexico’s Guerrero state will create a legal framework for local self-defense groups that have gained momentum around the country, but particularly there.
Animal Politico features the eight-point document.
The Venezuelan government suspended a “channel of communications” with Washington on Wednesday. It claimed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson violated the country’s sovereignty by making statements about the country’s electoral system, as reported by Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper. MercoPress said it was because Assistant Secretary Jacobson called for “open, fair and transparent elections.”
On Tuesday the U.S. “categorically” rejected Interim President Maduro’s accusations that former U.S. diplomats Roger Noriega and Otto Reich were trying to assassinate opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The U.S. statement said it was not trying to “destabilize or hurt anyone in Venezuela.”
Friday, March 1, 2013
On Thursday, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere held a hearing, titled "Overview of U.S. Interests in the Western Hemisphere: Opportunities and Challenges."
The two witnesses were Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the Department of State Roberta S. Jacobson and Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein.
Main points of discussion:
- Colombia as a success story and its cooperation with other governments in the region to fight drug trafficking
- Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere
- Cuba: The discussion almost exclusively focused on Alan Gross
- Counternarcotics: Partnering with Colombia and Mexico to address drug-related
violence in Central America; Violence related to the drug war in Mexico; Caribbean Basin Security initiative
- Evaluation of aid impact in Haiti
- Post-Chávez Venezuela
- Rights of Afro-descendants and indigenous populations
- Environmental issues: Clean energy in the region (Also included discussion on deforestation in the Amazon)
- Trade with Mexico
In her opening testimony Assistant Secretary Jacobson said that relations were on a positive trajectory, with the U.S. focused on fostering economic growth, citizen security, clean energy and strengthening democracy. Secretary Jacobson told the committee that the Obama administration's overall approach to Latin America "is as much about seizing opportunities as it is about countering threats."
Feierstein focused on the shift USAID has made in the region by increasingly working with institutions from the recipient country's government so they may generate revenue for themselves as well as closely working with the private sector. He mentioned the need to focus on crime prevention and investing in youth development. He also noted, "In much of Latin America and the Caribbean, we are well on our way to achieving the USAID goal of largely graduating countries in the region from foreign assistance by 2030."
Chairman of the subcommittee Matt Salmon's (R-AZ) opening statement can be found here and Ranking Member Albio Sires'(D-NJ) can be found here.
Colombia as a model
Several of the subcommittee members heralded Colombia as the region's main success story. Medellin was singled out a couple of times, with Feierstein saying, "Medellin is a success story. It was once seen as a drug capital and just recently it was featured in the New York Times."
When asked by Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) what the U.S. could apply to Colombia from Mexico, Jacobson underscored that there were differences in each country's specific situation (for one, Mexico is a federal system), and that there were both positive and negative lessons to be learned from Colombia.
The most interesting take-away from the discussion surrounding Colombia, however, was the topic of its training of foreign forces. (See here for a previous post on Colombian training of foreign forces)
Secretary Jacobson said a big benefit of U.S. investment in Colombia is that it now knows how to combat drug trafficking and can work with the U.S. in the hemisphere. She noted that the Colombians have trained over 14,000 forces from 25 countries, saying, "they know how to do things better than us." She also highlighted that Colombians are working with Central American governments to combat drug traffickers as well as working with the Mexican government to train police and helicopter pilots, among other initiatives.
Both witnesses reiterated the U.S. government's support for the peace process, saying it was willing to do whatever necessary to facilitate a successful outcome.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) pushed hard about what the State Department and USAID were doing to promote the rights of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups in the more geographically isolated regions of the country like Chocó and Tumaco. Jacobson noted that economic assistance to Afro-Colombians has been increased, but that there was a long way to go in terms of improving security and economic opportunity. Feierstein noted the Santos administration's strides to increase equality with the victims law and land redistribution law, which USAID helped to draft.
Iranian influence in the hemisphere
Several members of the subcommittee brought up Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere, most notably, Ranking Member Albio Sires (D-NJ), Rep. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) and Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC). They expressed concern over Iran's economic agreements with several countries in the hemisphere, especially Venezuela, as well as the truth commission that Argentine legislators have approved to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. The commission would be made up by experts from other countries and allow them to travel to Iran for investigations. The Iranian Parliament has not yet approved the commission.
Jacobson acknowledged that the State Department is monitoring the threat, because "anything is possible," but did not give a sense of urgency. She noted that she is continually working with the intelligence community to monitor the threat and that the State Department will release a report on Iran's influence in the hemisphere in June. The Assistant Secretary mentioned the State Department is working with governments in the region to evaluate Iran's influence, making sure they understand how the U.S. views the situation, sharing information when it can, and teaching other governments how to best monitor the Iran and Hezbollah at their request.
This has been a reoccurring topic in the House in recently, with the passage of a bill in 2012,"Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere," that President Obama signed into law on December 28, and a report earlier this year, "A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence and Terror at the Southwest Border," detailing Iran and Hezbollah's increased presence in the region.
Venezuela post-Hugo Chávez
Although the topic wasn't discussed at length, a couple of members questioned what the U.S.' role would be in ensuring elections in the event of Hugo Chávez's death or resignation.
Jacobson echoed what the standard State Department line has been: that it supports democracy in the country and the Venezuelan people's right to decide their future within the guidelines of the constitution. Feierstein noted that USAID has programs to support civil society and support human rights groups that work with elections. Rep. Albio Sires mentioned that improving relations with Venezuela would be beneficial, as it is the world's 4th-largest producer of petroleum.
Alan Gross was the main focus of all discussion with regards to Cuba. Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL) emphatically pushed Jacobson on what the State Department was doing to get him out, expressing disbelief that even mutual allies, such as the Vatican, were unable to help.
Jacobson said that the U.S. views this as a humanitarian issue, noting that Gross' mother is currently fighting cancer and lost his daughter to cancer, amid concern over his own health. The Assistant Secretary later noted that the Cuban government has repeatedly refused U.S. requests for a doctor of the Gross family's choosing to see Alan Gross.
The issue of American fugitives seeking refuge in Cuba, like the case of Joanne Chesimard, was also brought up. Jacobson reiterated several times that the U.S.' goal is to ultimately allow Cubans to "make their own decisions."
Mexican Drug Cartels
Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (American Samoa) was the only member to ask about Mexico's drug cartels, mentioning the problem of high demand for drugs in the U.S. as well as the problem of U.S. guns showing up at the majority of Mexican crime scenes.
Jacobson admitted that there was a shared responsibility in the fight against drug trafficking. She noted that the Obama administration has put more money towards drugs and that the demand side is improving.
As for Mexico, Jacobson said that the increased pressure on the cartels has noticeably inhibited their ability to operate and has increased their operation costs. She also cited the main problem that resulted from the previous administration's strategy to target kingpins: the fragmentation of large cartels into smaller groups. Jacobson noted that the U.S.' goal is to coordinate with Mexican security forces to lower drug trafficking and violence to levels within police control.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) questioned Feierstein about the USAID mission in Haiti, particularly given Haitian President Martelly's recent comments that relief efforts were uncoordinated and undermining his government and that he wants the money to stop coming in and fix the relief process. He noted that 250,000 Haitians still remain in tent camps.
Feierstein responded by noting that the number of Haitians living in camps is currently around 300,000, down from the 1.5 million when the effort started three years ago. He stressed that the number one priority for USAID is job creation. Noting that without that, or the installation of health or education services, people are unable to move to new housing. He said it was a long-term challenge, but USAID has a long-term plan in place.
Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI)
When asked by Rep. Meeks if the CBSI was a success or failure, Jacobson said "the jury is still out" on the success of the initiative and that there is certainly work to be done. She noted increased cooperation between governments and improved judicial reform. To this end, she mentioned both Canada and the United Kingdom's contribution of extra legislators to work on judicial reforms.
Mark Feierstein said USAID is working on three main objectives in the Caribbean:
1. Support efforts to expand education and employment opportunities
2. Working on the juvenile judicial process
3. Community policing, which they have had the most success with, particularly in Jamaica.
He also mentioned in his testimony that Los Angeles officials had trained officials from Central American governments.
A video of the hearing in its entirety can be seen here.
For more detailed notes on the hearing see a previous Just the Facts post. According to WOLA's Adam Isacson, several topics were left out of the hearing:
- There was no mention, apart from Colombia’s role as a training country, of bi-lateral or regional military involvement or strategy.
- Other than Salmon’s closing remarks, nothing was said about the border or border security.
- Nothing was said about immigration reform.
- There was nothing said about Central American immigrants, it was as if the committee members present believed that everyone in this country who is a Hispanic immigrant has come from either Mexico out of fear of the drug cartels, or from Cuba, out of fear of being repressed.
- Although violence caused by narco-trafficking and organized criminal activity was mentioned, nothing was said about US domestic gun reform and the potential impact that could have on violence in Central America.
- While crop-transitions were mentioned for current farmers of coca, nothing was mentioned about the UN’s recent decriminalization of traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia.
Seven out of eleven subcommittee members attended the event, not including the chairman, Matt Salmon (R-AZ).
From the majority:
Rep. Jeff Duncan (SC)
Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL)
Rep. Trey Radel (FL)
From the minority:
Rep. Albio Sires (NJ), Ranking Member
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (NY)
Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (AS)
Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (FL)
Thursday, February 7, 2013
This post was written by John Lindsay-Poland from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The original article can be found on the FOR blog.
The Pentagon signed $444 million in non-fuel contracts for purchases and services in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 2012 fiscal year, an overall decrease of nearly 15% from the previous year. But US military spending in the region is still considerably higher than during the George W. Bush administration, when the equivalent Pentagon spending in Latin America averaged $301 million a year.
FOR conducted an analysis of Defense Department contracts listed on usaspending.gov for Fiscal Year 2012, building on the review we did last year.
More than a third of funds for these contracts in the region are being carried out in Cuba, with $158 million for housing upgrades, intelligence analysis, port operations and other services. The United States maintains the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, site of the 11-year-old detention center that holds 171 prisoners without trial, many of whom have been cleared for release.
An additional $130 million in Pentagon contracts was for fuel purchases, including more than $44 million in Brazil, $35 million in Costa Rica, and $24 million in Honduras. Such fuel purchases supply the Fourth Fleet of the Navy, as well as military aircraft and land vehicles used in exercises, operations, and training.
Colombia remained the country with the largest amount of Pentagon contracts in continental Latin America, with $77 million. A multi-year contract shared by Raytheon and Lockheed for training, equipment and other drug war activities accounted for more than a third of Pentagon contract spending in Colombia. Honduras, which has become a hub for Pentagon operations in Central America, is the site for more than $43 million in non-fuel contracts signed last year.
The US Southern Command (SouthCom), responsible for US military activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, is assisting the Panamanian border police, known as SENAFRONT, by upgrading a building in the SENAFRONT compound. The force was implicated in killings of indigenous protesters (PDF) in Bocas del Toro in 2011, and fired indiscriminately with live ammunition (PDF) on Afro-Caribbean protesters last October.
Many countries that host US military activities hope to receive economic benefits and jobs as a result. But more than five of every six Pentagon dollars contracted for services and goods in the region went to US-based companies. Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefitted from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts.
A few corporations dominated Pentagon contracts in the region. CSC Applied Technologies, based in Fort Worth, Texas, received more than $53 million in contracts to operate the Navy’s underwater military testing facility in the Bahamas. Lockheed Martin received more than $40 million in contracts, almost entirely for drug war training, equipment and services in Colombia and Mexico.
Pentagon Focus on Guatemala
Although the Pentagon spent less in most Latin American countries in 2012 than the year before, DOD contracts have more than doubled since 2010 in Guatemala, where there is a ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army. However, the ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance. The contracts for nearly $14 million in 2012 amount to more than seven times what it was in 2009. In addition, the US military spent another $8.1 million on fuel in Guatemala last year, probably for “Beyond the Horizon” military exercises held there and in Honduras from April to July, and perhaps to support the deployment of 200 Marines to Guatemala in August.
The contracts included new assistance to the Guatemalan special forces, known as Kaibiles, former members of which have been implicated in giving training to the Zetas drug cartel, as well as the worst atrocities during the genocide period of the 1980s. Two contracts, funded by SouthCom and signed in September, were for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the Kaibiles training base in Poptun, Petén.
SouthCom also funded a contract for construction of a new $3 million counter-drug base in Santa Ana de Berlin, in Quetzaltenango. This year, SouthCom is slated to build a $1.8 million counternarcotics operations center and barracks in Mantanitas, Guatemala, according to an Army Corps of Engineers presentation.
The expenditures included equipment. For the last two years, SouthCom has been providing Boston whaler boats, radios, and tactical vehicles (Jeeps) to Central American militaries. Guatemala is receiving more of the equipment than other countries in the region – 47 Jeeps and 8 Boston whalers, according to a SouthCom document. SouthCom signed a $2.5 million contract in September for Jeeps for Guatemala, and it has purchased more than $2.8 million of Harris military radios for Guatemala since September 2011.
Department of Defense contracts, summaries of which are posted on usaspending.gov, only represent a portion of Pentagon spending. A report to Congress last April (PDF) of Defense Department assistance worldwide showed more than $15 million in military aid to Guatemala in 2010, including $9 million for intelligence analysis, training, boats, trucks, night vision devices, and a “base of operations.” These funds also included more than $6 million of unspecified support for Guatemalan police operations in Cobán, in the Guatemalan highland department of Alta Verapaz. The report didn’t include data after 2010.
On December 7, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency signed a $1.4 million contract with a Guatemalan firm to manage a 10,000-barrel supply of turbine fuel for the next five years in Puerto Quetzal, on Guatemala’s southern coast. This followed a July 2012 solicitation to deliver 63,000 gallons of jet fuel to another southern Guatemalan site, in Retalhuleu.
FOR compiled data on the “country of performance” for contracts. For Guatemala, we also examined data on additional contracts that reference the country, which included a $2.5 million contract signed in late September with a Chrysler distributor to deliver tactical vehicles – some of the Jeeps slated for the country. The US Army also purchased $7.6 million worth of trousers from a producer in Guatemala in 2012.
Some legislation for DOD drug war construction of bases and other infrastructure limits projects to $2 million, and the Southern Command continues to employ this authority frequently to construct a variety of facilities all over the Americas. Here are some of the facilities the US military is constructing around Latin America.
Friday, January 4, 2013
This post was written by LAWG-EF Executive Director Lisa Haugaard. The original version was published in the Huffington Post. It is also cross-posted with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund's LAWGBlog.
U.S. policy towards our Latin American neighbors is, as usual, in need of a few New Year's resolutions. Here goes:
1. Ban assault weapons. Three months before the murders of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, 110 victims of violenceand advocates from Mexico traveled across the United States calling on us to take action to stop the violence that has claimed over 100,000 lives in Mexico in Mexico during the last six years. They asked us to ban the assault weapons that arm Mexico's brutal cartels. Some 70 percent of assault weapons and other firearms used by criminal gangs in Mexico come from the United States. The United States should reinstate and tighten the assault weapon ban and enforce the ban on the import of assault weapons into our country, which are then smuggled into Mexico. Do it for Newtown. Do it for Aurora. Do it for Mexico's mothers and fathers who have lost their children to senseless violence.
2. Deliver comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats and Republicans alike should heed the message delivered by the Latino vote in 2012 and provide a path to citizenship for the eleven million people living in the shadows in the United States and build a flexible, sensible legal immigration system for the future. This historic step would help families and the economy in the United States and Latin America, and would do more to improve U.S.-Latin American relations than any other single action. And right now, the Obama administration should protect the rights of migrants and border communities by stopping deportation practices that send migrants back to dangerous areas to be preyed upon by cartels, and by ensuring U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are held accountable for abuses.
3. Support peace in Colombia, with justice. In 2013, there's a real chance to end the longest-running conflict in the Americas. The Obama administration sensibly backs Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' negotiations with the FARC guerrillas. But we should also be listening to the voices of families of the disappeared and kidnapped, and the mothers of children murdered by Colombia's army, who are calling for justice along with peace. There must be accountability and truth for the murder, torture, forced displacement and rape perpetrated by all actors: the paramilitaries, the guerrillas and the country's own armed forces. The sad truth is that the Santos administration is moving backwards in accountability for army abuses. Without full truth and a strong measure of justice, there cannot be a lasting peace.
4. Try this on for size: a rational policy towards Cuba. The United States should launch a serious dialogue that aims at lifting the failed, 50-year embargo. We know this won't happen overnight. For starters, we should end the travel ban that divides us from our neighbors just off the Florida coast. The Obama administration should also take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism; there is no earthly reason it belongs there in 2013. The accusation of giving shelter to Colombia's guerrillas was one of the few rationales for Cuba's inclusion; now Cuba is lauded by Colombia's government for hosting peace negotiations. If we support peace in Colombia, how can we not recognize Cuba's contribution?
5. End the militarized approach to drugs. Latin American presidents of all political persuasions are telling us: we must rethink the "War on Drugs," which has brought suffering without results. For starters, we should stop the tactics that cause the most harm while doing the least good: counternarcotics campaigns that bring Latin American armies into the streets; aerial spraying, which destroys food as well as drug crops. And we should focus on the public health approaches here and abroad that do the most good and the least harm: providing treatment when and where addicts need it; evidence-based prevention campaigns; youth employment and building resilient communities.
6. Focus on aid that helps people, not guns and military aid. As we face another battle on budget cuts, why not put military aid to Latin America on the chopping block. There's no war anywhere in the region, if Colombia's peace talks succeed. Focus on aid that actually helps people: disaster assistance, including reconstruction aid for Haiti; aid for health care, education, micro-loans, improving justice systems, and community development. Ensure that aid programs are consulted with the people they intend to benefit.
7. Speak up for human rights. While the United States isn't perfect, as our Latin American friends readily tell us, our government should speak up for human rights in this hemisphere. But do it fairly. When a left-wing government restricts freedom of the press, the United States should speak against this. When governments the U.S. favors -- like Colombia and Mexico--fail to prosecute human rights abuses committed by their militaries, the United States should press for justice, including by suspending military aid when needed.
8. Decisively support human rights in Honduras. Honduras is in crisis. Since the June 2009 coup in Honduras, human rights protections, never strong, have been severely weakened. Human rights defenders, LGBT community members, leaders in poor farming communities, and opposition activists have been threatened and killed, in crimes for which there is no justice. Military, police and private security guards are unaccountable. The United States should suspend military and police aid to Honduras while using aid and tough diplomacy to help Honduras strengthen the failing justice system.
9. Support the Inter-American human rights system. To its credit, the Obama administration has actively supported the Inter-American human rights system, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which many Latin American governments of left, right and center have recently sought to weaken. 2013 will be an important year to join with civil society groups across the Americas to ensure reforms strengthen, not weaken, this system's role as the last recourse for victims who fail to attain justice in their countries.
10. Finally, clean up our own act. The United States' voice on human rights will be stronger, of course, if our government sticks to human rights principles in its own actions. Drone strikes that kill civilians, rendition, indefinite detention and complete lack of due process for terror suspects weaken U.S. credibility in Latin America as well as in other regions of the world.
Now, if we could keep these resolutions, 2013 would be a banner year for U.S.-Latin American relations.