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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.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Here is a collection of “long-read” articles I found to be especially noteworthy in 2012. In addition to being engrossing reading, these all met the following criteria.
- They are about Latin America and the Caribbean, and usually about security.
- They are at least 3,000 words, thus qualifying them as “long reads” – often requiring more than one sitting to finish them, but not book length.
- They are written in a clear, journalistic style – not academic prose.
- As of today, all are available for free online.
- They are written by authors other than staff of the three organizations that make up the “Just the Facts” project (CIP, LAWG and WOLA). Our organizations’ 2012 “long reads” are listed separately at the end of this post.
This comes from a scan of my database and my own memory. If I missed anything big, let me know in the comments. Happy reading (although some of these articles are quite grim), and best wishes for the holiday.
– Adam Isacson, WOLA
January 2012, Colombia: “Las FARC: La guerra que el país no quiere ver (Starts on page 36)”
Arcanos (Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, Colombia)
A look at how the FARC have adapted to the Colombian government’s 10-year-long offensive, arguing that they still remain “lethal to the Armed Forces and the civilian population.”
January 2012, Colombia: “Fighting the Last War ”
The Washington Monthly
“As president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe triumphed over a fierce narco-insurgency. Then the U.S. helped to export his strategy to Mexico and throughout Latin America. Here’s why it’s not working.”
January 12, 2012, Guatemala: “Breaking the wave: critical steps in the fight against crime in Guatemala”
Ivan Briscoe, Marlies Stappers
Clingendael Institute (Netherlands), Impunity Watch
A thorough review and diagnosis of Guatemala’s halting efforts to reform its public security and judicial institutions, including the work of CICIG, the UN anti-impunity body.
January 13, 2012, Ecuador: “Reversal of Fortune”
Patrick Radden Keefe
The New Yorker
A somewhat critical profile of Steven Donziger, the lead U.S. lawyer in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against oil giant Chevron brought by Ecuadorian communities affected by severe pollution.
January 25, 2012, Peru: “The Devastating Costs of the Amazon Gold Rush”
A likely future zone of social conflict is Madre de Dios state in Peru’s Amazon basin, where a bonanza of uncontrolled gold mining is devastating the environment.
April 9, 2012, El Salvador: “12 preguntas urgentes acerca del pacto con las pandillas”
El Faro (El Salvador)
The online publication that broke the story about a government-brokered pact between El Salvador’s principal gangs asks twelve questions about the secretive deal. Many remain unanswered months later, even as homicide rates plummet.
April 16, 2012, Brazil: “Special Report: Brazil’s “gringo” problem: its borders”
Reuters looks at Brazil’s changing approach to border security and international drug flows, which increasingly resembles the old-school, military-heavy, U.S. “drug war” model.
April 23, 2012, Mexico: “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle”
David Barstow, Alejandra Xanic Von Bertrab, James C. McKinley
The New York Times
December 18, 2012, Mexico: “The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Used Payoffs to Get Its Way in Mexico”
David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic Von Bertrab
The New York Times
A remarkable series on Wal-Mart’s shameless activities in Mexico: “Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited.”
May 1, 2012, Colombia: ““We are Illegal, but not Illegitimate.” Modes of Policing in Medellin, Colombia”
Political and Legal Anthropology Review
Medellín as an example of a place where organized crime isn’t filling the vacuums left by the government’s absence – it actually requires the government’s collusion in order to thrive.
May 1, 2012, Mexico: “The Deadliest Place in Mexico”
Melissa Del Bosque
The Texas Observer
A visit to the Juárez valley, east of Ciudad Juárez, which has been devastated by violent competition between the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels.
May 21, 2012, Cuba: “The Yankee Comandante”
The New Yorker
A profile of William Morgan, an American who fought in Fidel Castro’s rebel army in the 1950s, only to be imprisoned and shot by a firing squad in 1961.
May 25, 2012, Guatemala: “Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala”
Sebastian Rotella, Ana Arana
A man in Massachusetts finds out that, as a small boy, he survived Guatemala’s notorious Dos Erres massacre, from where he was abducted.
June 1, 2012, Mexico: “Cronica de la cartelizacion”
Natalia Mendoza Rockwell
A look at El Altar, Sonora, a staging area for drugs and migrants south of Arizona, where independent smugglers have fallen violently under the control of organized crime.
June 13, 2012, Mexico: “A Drug Family in the Winner’s Circle”
The New York Times
An investigation of how the Treviño family, part of the leadership of Mexico’s Zetas criminal organization, laundered money through horse-breeding in the United States. This episode, some speculate, may have fostered a violent split within the Zetas when the amount of money involved was revealed.
June 15, 2012, Mexico: “Cocaine Incorporated”
Patrick Radden Keefe
The New York Times Magazine
An exploration of what we know about the Sinaloa cartel and how it operates, both in Mexico and the United States.
June 25, 2012, Mexico: “The Kingpins”
The New Yorker
“‘Heating up the plaza’ is the term of art for what’s happening in Guadalajara, mainly in the poor barrios and in the badlands on the outskirts.”
June 28, 2012, Mexico: “The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal”
If you want to know what really went wrong with “Fast and Furious,” read this. “The ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”
July 17, 2012, Peru: “Sendero Luminoso y el narcotrafico en el VRAE”
IDL Reporteros (Peru)
First of an eight-part series exploring who the “narcos” are in today’s Peru, which appears to be surpassing Colombia as the world’s largest cocaine producer.
July 17, 2012, Venezuela: “Tightening the Grip”
Human Rights Watch
Documenting the erosion of judicial independence, limits on press freedom, and pressure on human rights defenders in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela.
July 30, 2012, Mexico: “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico”
Catherine Daly, Kimberly Heinle, and David A. Shirk
Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego
The authors dig through the data about human rights complaints against Mexico’s military, which has been called to help fight crime, highlighting trends and calling for more determined action to bring abuses to justice.
August 1, 2012, Entire Region: “Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in the Americas: Major Trends in the Twenty-First Century”
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Taking the pulse of anti-drug policies, and their latest unintended consequences, throughout the hemisphere.
August 21, 2012, Colombia: “Impunity: Has implementation of the accusatory legal system been an effective response to the fight against impunity in Colombia?”
U.S. Office on Colombia
A highly critical view of Colombia’s U.S.-aided shift to an oral, accusatorial justice system, contending that it has harmed “due process and access to justice, particularly for grave human rights violations.”
August 29, 2012, Venezuela: “Venezuela’s private media wither under Chavez assault”
Committee To Protect Journalists
“The Chavez administration has used an array of legislation, threats, and regulatory measures to gradually break down Venezuela’s independent press while building up a state media empire.”
September 25, 2012, Colombia: “Colombia: Peace at Last?”
International Crisis Group
A thorough overview of why moderate optimism about Colombia’s FARC peace talks is warranted, and what the main actors need to do.
September 30, 2012, Entire Region: “The Mafia’s Shadow in the Americas: Modern Slavery and Refugees”
InsightCrime.org, Animal Político (Mexico), Plaza Pública (Guatemala), El Faro (El Salvador), Verdad Abierta (Colombia)
A remarkable series about how organized crime groups are, for all intents and purposes, enslaving people throughout the region, whether through forced child recruits, sex trafficking, forced labor and other means.
October 9, 2012, Mexico: “Deadly crossing: Death toll rises among those desperate for the American Dream”
Hannah Rappleye, Lisa Riordan Seville
A report about the alarmingly sharp rise in deaths of migrants passing through rural south Texas.
October 11, 2012, Mexico: “El nuevo mapa del narcotrafico en Mexico”
An overview of “who is who” in Mexico’s principal organized crime groups.
October 12, 2012, Honduras: “U.S. Rethinks a Drug War After Deaths in Honduras”
Damien Cave and Ginger Thompson
The New York Times
A “series of fatal enforcement actions … quickly turned the antidrug cooperation, often promoted as a model of international teamwork, into a case study of what can go wrong.”
October 22, 2012, Chile: “El dominio del narco en las poblaciones más vulnerables de Santiago”
Tabatha Guerra y Juan Pablo Figueroa
A surprising 83 urban neighborhoods in Chile are beset by gang violence. “Without basic services or police presence, they are at the mercy of small gangs of traffickers.”
October 25, 2012, Colombia: “Colombia: Letter to President Santos Criticizing the Expansion of Military Jurisdiction”
Jose Miguel Vivanco
Human Rights Watch
Lays out the arguments against the Colombian government’s controversial weakening of its civilian court system’s ability to investigate and punish military human rights abuses. “Colombia’s military justice system is an example of impunity—not accountability—for atrocities.”
November 1, 2012, Mexico, Central America: “Transnational Crime in Mexico and Central America: its Evolution and Role in International Migration”
Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars and Migration Policy Institute
“The rise of organized crime in Mexico and the Northern Triangle has dramatically increased the risks that migrants face as they attempt to cross the region.”
November 2, 2012, Brazil: “Rio: the fight for the favelas”
The Financial Times (UK)
A balanced look at the present state of Rio de Janeiro’s ambitious “favela pacification program.”
November 14, 2012, Mexico: “Mexico: Risking Life for Truth”
The New York Review Of Books
Mexican journalists facing threats – and worse – from organized crime, and getting no help from ineffective government institutions.
December 3, 2012, Colombia: “Delincuencia en Colombia: bandas desbandadas”
A region-by-region overview of the new landscape of organized crime and narcotrafficking in Colombia, following the demobilization of paramilitaries and the takedowns of many successor groups’ leaders. A hint of what awaits Colombia even if talks with the FARC succeed.
December 3, 2012, Mexico: “La estrategia fallida”
Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez
The security specialist digs through Mexico’s crime statistics and finds four strategic errors committed by the Calderón government (2006-2012).
December 7, 2012, Mexico: “The New Border: Illegal Immigration’s Shifting Frontier”
“Although Mexicans remain the largest group, U.S.-bound migrants today are increasingly likely to be young Central Americans fleeing violence as well as poverty, or migrants from remote locales such as India and Africa.”
December 11, 2012, Guatemala: “Los huesos que buscan su nombre”
Plaza Pública (Guatemala)
Forensic anthropologists continue to uncover the horrors of Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, in order to provide evidence for the first prosecutions of military personnel.
December 14, 2012, Nicaragua: “Security in Nicaragua: Central America’s Exception?”
A look at why Nicaragua has largely avoided the violent crime wave that has swept over northern Central America. The country’s police force is a big reason, but politicization and Caribbean narco activity pose big threats.
December 16, 2012, Mexico: “The Zetas and Monterrey”
A 3-part series about the bloody battle for Mexico’s third-largest, and wealthiest, city. “How and why the Zetas settled in Monterrey goes a long way toward explaining who they are and how they operate.”
“Long reads” from Just the Facts project participant organizations
Center for International Policy:
- January 2012, Mexico: “Illicit Financial Flows, Macroeconomic Imbalances, and the Underground Economy”
- January 16, 2012, Mexico: “The Numbers Game: Government Agencies Falsely Report Meaningless Deportations and Drug Seizures as Victories”
- February 1, 2012, Colombia: “Waiting for Consolidation: Monitoring Colombiaʼs U.S.-aided Counterinsurgency and Development Program”
Abigail Poe, Adam Isacson, Yamile Salinas, Nancy Sánchez
- March 12, 2012, Mexico: Who Is Securing the Texas Border? How Private Contractors Mislead the Public, Then Get Rich Off Taxpayer Money
- July 9, 2012, Cuba: “Disaster Medicine: U.S. Doctors Examine Cuba’s Approach”
- October 17, 2012, Cuba: “Election 2012: What Cuban Americans Stand to Lose”
- December 3, 2012, Mexico: “The Border Patrol’s Strategic Muddle”
Latin America Working Group Education Fund:
Washington Office on Latin America:
- January 30, 2012, Colombia: “‘Consolidation,’ land restitution, and rising tensions in Montes de María”
- April 2012, Entire Region: “Los de atrás vienen conmigo: El problema de las drogas en América Latina,
Derecho al desarrollo y regulación de mercados”
Amb. Milton Romani Gerner, Uruguay
- April 19, 2012, Mexico: “Beyond the Border Buildup: Security and Migrants Along the U.S.-Mexico Border”
Adam Isacson and Maureen Meyer
- April 27, 2012, Colombia: “Hostages in Our Own Territories: Afro-Colombian Rights under Siege in Chocó”
Gimena Sánchez Garzoli and Anthony Dest
Friday, December 7, 2012
Below is a compilation of news highlights and happenings from around the region this past week.
A U.S. delegation traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for the Caribbean-United States Security Cooperation Dialogue, marking the third year of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative(CBSI). At the meeting the U.S. announced a $3.43 million assistance program to combat illicit trafficking in firearms as part of CBSI.
On November 30 the U.S. Congress passed the "Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force Act," also known as H.R.915, a bill which seeks to create a new border security task force within the Department of Homeland Security. The new entity, the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, to be known as BEST, will be comprised of personnel from several U.S. security agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard, and FBI, as well as agents from Mexico's public security entity, the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (SSP).
The case of development worker Alan Gross continues to be a sore note between U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations as this Tuesday marked the third year of his imprisonment. The Department of State released a statement Monday asking the Cuban Government to allow Gross to visit his ailing mother, while the Senate submitted a resolution calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Members of the U.S government have expressed concerns about his health, which the Cuban government claims are false, saying that Gross has received medical care and does not have cancer.
State Department officials asserted it is unlikely that the U.S will trade Gross for the release of five Cuban intelligence agents -- known as the Cuban Five -- who are currently serving treason and espionage charges in a Florida prison, saying the two cases are unrelated.
On Saturday Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico's new president, amid a mass protesting against the return of the once autocratic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Several analysts have weighed in on how his presidency will impact U.S.-Mexican relations, with many focusing on enhanced economic cooperation between the two nations.
Much of the media attention in Mexico has focused on the violence that took place during the inaugural event. At least 100 protesters were injured during the protest. Police in Mexico City are now being questioned about their role in the violence. The Federal District’s human rights commission (CDHDF) reports that officers dressed in civilian clothes were responsible for the arrest of many protesters. So far the CDHDF has documented the arrest of 22 people who were not involved in the violence and four more who maybe have been tortured. Mexico City's new mayor was also sworn in this week amid the capital's controversy. Amnesty International has set up a support page for victims of the police violence.
Analyst James Bosworth offers a concise, interesting comparison on his blog between the security policies of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Colombian President Alvaró Uribe and the implications for the countries' current leadership with regards to security.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC resumed in Havana on Wednesday after negotiators took a break last week and following an air strike over the weekend near the Ecuadorian border in which Colombian forces killed at least 20 FARC guerrillas, the largest blow to the group since the talks began. President Santos set a deadline for November of 2013 for the talks saying, "This has to be a process of months, rather than years."
The guerrilla group made comments earlier this week that is was still holding "prisoners of war," causing backlash from the government, and particularly its lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle, saying, "The FARC has to respond to the victims, it has to clarify this issue of kidnapping, the way to deal with the issue of kidnapping is not with ambiguities." Two other FARC negotiators denied the claims.
Mercosur is meeting today in Brazil. It is the first time that Venezuela will be participating as a full member while Bolivia and Ecuador's incorporation as full members will be discussed. Brazil anticipates that Paraguay's suspension from the group following the June impeachment/ousting of its president will stand until August 2013. Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, who has returned home following 10 days of cancer treatments in Cuba, will not be attending the trade bloc summit, causing concern over his health status, which some analysts say might affect the outcome of the December 16 gubernatorial elections.
A Los Angeles Times article offers a picture of the U.S.' expanding security role in Central America as the region faces increasing levels of gang violence, where homicide rates in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras significantly top those of Mexico and where government corruption hinders security initiatives. Gangs in Guatemala and other Latin American countries have begun to demand Christmas bonuses from bus drivers, asking for twice as much in monthly extortion fees.
In a feature on shifting illegal immigration trends, ProPublica notes that the rising number of Central American migrants making their way into the United States to flee violence and poverty means security on Mexico's southern border is becoming a priority for officials in Washington as well as Mexico City.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a US$45 million loan to El Salvador to implement the Central American nation’s new social youth violence prevention project. “According to several studies, more than one in every ten dollars generated by the Salvadoran economy is absorbed by the cost of crime and violence,” the ISDB's project leader said.
In Honduras, a recent Supreme Court ruling deeming the cleaning up of corrupt police force unconstitutional adds another barrier to the country’s law enforcement reform. In response, President Lobo called the Supreme court the "enemy of the state" and that the police cleanup will continue."
A report released Monday, which shows 149 people have died at the hands of the Honduran Police in the last 23 months, was used to denounce the ruling.
Friday, November 9, 2012
The following is a compilation of articles and analysis from think-tanks and news outlets examining how President Obama's re-election could impact U.S.-Latin American relations going forward.
"Obama's Election and the Caribbean: What Does it Mean?" by Kevin Edmonds for the North American Congress on Latin America (Nacla) looks at Obama's involvement in the Caribbean during his first term and notes that there is a "cautious optimism" throughout the region, with most leaders calling for more engagement. It highlights the president's more "hands-off" approach, saying this position "comes with both new problems and possibilities for change through new alliances and spaces for policy development in the Caribbean."
"Analysis: Obama faces Latin America revolt over drugs, trade" by Brian Winter for Reuters considers how relations between the U.S. and Latin America will change in the wake of Obama's re-election, noting the potential for governments in the region to become more independent, as "even close allies are increasingly emboldened to act without worrying about what 'Tio Sam' will say or do."
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Mexico Institute provides analysis on the implications of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Elections for Mexico. They look at trade, immigration and Obama's relationship with Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto.
The Inter-American Dialogue's U.S. election page houses several articles in English and Spanish from its analysts, including a good piece from organization president Michael Shifter in Foreign Policy magazine and a collection of opinions on what Obama's second term will mean for Latin America from several analysts, including Rubens Barbosa, former ambassador of Brazil to the United States.
"Top 10 Policy Drivers for U.S.-Latin American Relations in 2013," by Eric Farnsworth of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas reviews the top ten policy drivers for U.S.-Latin American relations in 2013. They all start with the letter "C" and include the Castros, Chavez and China.
"Congressional Update: How the Election Results Impact U.S.-Latin America Policy" by Kezia McKeague, also of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, looks at how the picks for U.S. Congress in the most recent elections will affect the House and the Senate's stance towards the region.
"Will Latin America become a higher priority during second Obama term?" by Mimi Whitefield and Tim Johnson explores if Latin America will become a higher priority during Obama's second term, examining how much issues like immigration, the rise of the latino vote, trade, security and political changes within the region could attract more attention to the region during Obama's presidency.
"The Writing is on the Wall: The Cuban-American Vote and the Future of U.S. Policy toward Cuba" by Geoff Thale notes a change in Florida's Cuban-American community's position on U.S. policy towards the island, after they came out to vote for Obama in record numbers on Tuesday.
On the Havana Note blog, the director of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative for the New America Foundation, Anya Landau French, writes about the historic Cuban-American outpouring of support for Obama, saying it marks a shift in U.S. politics, commenting "engaging Cuba is no longer the political liability it once was."
"Obama won. What does his victory mean for the United States and Mexico?" from Mexican news website Animal Politico collects opinions from 14 different analysts, professors and politicians about what an Obama second term means for relations between Mexico and the United States.
"Mexico says marijuana legalization in U.S. could change anti-drug strategies" by William Booth for the Washington post looks at how Mexico's incoming government will responded to the approval of marijuana ballot measures in Colorado and Washington. A top aide for Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who will take office in December, said it "changed the rules of the game," and that Peña Nieto and his advisors will have to reformulate their anti-drug strategy.
"Obama continues" is an editorial in Colombia's El Tiempo that highlights the importance of Obama's return, saying it signals to both the Colombian government and the FARC that the United States will continue to back the peace talks, set to start in Havana on November 15.
Overall, Obama's victory over Romney is seen as a positive development for the region, but it has been met with cautious optimism. For the most part, there are few expected changes, although many hope that Obama will turn his focus south and address several issues, from the Mexican drug war, to Cuba, to Colombia, that involve the United States and are pressing in the region.
Also, in case you missed it, yesterday's Just the Facts blog reviews Latin American leaders reactions to Obama's victory Tuesday night and what it could mean for the region as a whole over the next four years.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
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."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has not commented since the election, but during the campaign he said that if he were an American, he would vote for Obama, although he later said he did not expect much change in U.S. foreign policy.
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.
Friday, October 5, 2012
On September 28, 2012, the Center for International Policy (CIP), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) held the first "Just the Facts" conference to discuss security trends in the Americas. The goal of the event, titled "Security, Civil-Military Relations, and U.S. Policy in the Americas Today," was to take the pulse of regional security at a key political moment for the United States.
The conference was made up of three panels. The first panel looked at internal or citizen security threats like organized crime, the debate about whether to confront such threats using military force, and recommendations for U.S. policy. The second panel focused on the United States, considering the Defense Department's assistance programs and coordination with diplomatic priorities in the region. The third panel discussed the state of human rights in the region today, with a focus on justice, accountability, and the efficacy of conditions in U.S. aid.
You can now watch all three panels online. On the same page, you can also find additional resources and powerpoint presentations provided by the panelists.