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Friday, April 8, 2011

Week in Review

  • The U.S. and Colombian governments announced this week that they have reached a breakthrough on the long-stalled U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Under the agreed upon "Action Plan," Colombia will phase in a series of steps to expand protections for unions and workers, boost the prosecution of those who violate workers' rights, and hire as many as 480 new labor inspectors over the next four years (see this Fact Sheet (PDF) for more details). Congress must still vote on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement before it can go into effect.

    At a joint press conference on Thursday, Presidents Obama and Santos formally endorsed the new agreement.

    Many members of Congress took the opportunity to make statements in opposition or in support of the pending FTA and the new action plan. Links to these statements are here.

    Below are some statements made by various labor and human rights organizations about the new action plan.

    NGO & Labor statements

  • 72 bodies have been removed from mass graves in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. Investigations are ongoing, however it is suspected that there is a link between the bodies and the dozens of individuals who have been pulled off long-distance commercial buses in recent weeks. The graves were found in the area surrounding the city of San Fernando, where the bodies of 72 massacred Central American migrants were found in August 2010.
  • On Wednesday, thousands of Mexicans took to the streets in at least two dozen cities to call for an end to the violence in Mexico after the son of poet Javier Sicilia was found dead along with six other people, whose bodies were accompanied by a note signed by the Gulf cartel. Protestors called for the Mexican Army to return to the barracks and the end of President Calderón's "poorly designed, poorly managed, and poorly led" campaign against the country's drug cartels and organized crime.

    Javier Sicilia told reporters, "The mafias are here. We should make a pact," an idea which was discussed by Time reporter Ioan Grillo in the article, "Should Mexico Call for a Cease-Fire with Drug Cartels?".

  • The Ecuadorian government declared U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges "persona non grata" and expelled her from the country over a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks that accuses a "newly retired police chief of a long history of corruption and speculates that President Rafael Correa was aware of it." Ambassador Hodges' expulsion was announced by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino at a news conference (video here). Upon receiving the news, Hodges issued a statement saying that the order "left me saddened tremendously, both personally and for this country."

    In retaliation for the expulsion of Ambassador Hodges, the United States expelled Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos on Thursday. The State Department also announced that high-level U.S.-Ecuador talks set for this June have been suspended. As a result of this week's round of expulsions, the United States now does not have ambassadors in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. And Hodges has become the second U.S. ambassador to "fall victim to WikiLeaks," after Carlos Pascual resigned as ambassador to Mexico last month.

  • Preliminary results released by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council indicate that Michel Martelly defeated Mirlande Manigat in the second round presidential election by more than a 2 to 1 margin. Martelly won more than 67% of the vote, however the results will not be final until April 16.
  • New legislation related to Latin America has been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives over the past week:
  • Former President Jimmy Carter traveled to Cuba last week, where he met with President Raul Castro and Fidel Castro, among others. His trip report is here. CIP's Wayne Smith wrote a policy brief (PDF) on Carter's press conference, where the former U.S. president called "not only for ending all restrictions on the travel of American citizens to Cuba, but for an end to the trade embargo." WOLA's Geoff Thale also commented on the trip and the State Department's announcement of its "intention to obligate $20 million to support very controversial 'human rights and civil society' programs in Cuba" just two days after Carter's return.
  • The first round of Peru's presidential elections will be held on Sunday. According to recent polls, Ollanta Humala is forecast to win the first round and face Keiko Fujimori in the run-off.
  • We recently received the Department of Defense's Section 2011 Report on Training of Special Operations Forces for FY2009 (also known as the Joint Combined Exchange Training Program (JCET) report). The PDF is available here. This report provides an overall summary of section 2011 deployments for Fiscal Year 2009 and includes a summary of the type of training conducted and detailed information for each country's deployment. These training details have been added to the Just the Facts database. To see the details for each country, click on the country name in this table.
  • Saturday, March 26, 2011

    President Obama's visit to Latin America

    Obama’s first trip to Latin America ended Wednesday, having been largely overshadowed by events in Libya and Japan. The U.S. media was both critical and supportive of Obama’s decision to go on the five-day trip, despite the crises in Libya and Japan, but seemed largely underwhelmed by the actual content of the trip. But what was the Latin American media’s response to the trip? Last week we looked at what was being said in the days leading up to the trip, now we focus on the trip itself.

    Brazil

    • Obama widely praised Brazil during his visit for the country’s successful transition to democracy and economic success, saying that Brazil is “a country that shows how a call for change that starts in the streets can transform a city, transform a country, transform a world.” He also emphasized that the two countries must be “equal societies”, although he stopped short of supporting Brazil’s bid to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Instead, a statement was released saying that he “expressed appreciation” for Brazil’s desire to gain a seat on the council, a move that did not sit well with Brazil’s President Rousseff, who reportedly “barely looked at Obama during her remarks” in which she called for an end to what she sees as the “empty rhetoric” that has characterized relations between the two countries in the past.

      Rousseff was also less than pleased by Obama’s focus on Libya during his visit, because, in her words, “I don't like declarations of war, wherever they occur.” She expressed disappointment that more wasn't done during the U.S. president's visit to remove U.S. barriers to Brazilian products

    • Brazilians denounced the U.S. security for Obama’s trip, calling it “aggressive”, with Brazil’s minister of science and technology Aloizio Mercadante calling it “unacceptable”. For its part, the U.S. embassy in Brazil maintained that it was a “classic system of security.” Similar criticisms were seen in Chile.
    • In spite of the intense security surrounding Obama during his trip, he did make a much-heralded trip to the City of God (Cidade de Deus) favela in Rio de Janiero, the largest of the city's slums “pacified” by the Unidades de Polícia Pacificadoras (UPPs) or the Police Peacekeeping Unit, a program Adam Isacson looked at in greater detail here on our blog.

    Chile

    • During his stopover in Chile, Obama stirred up controversy, agreeing to help Chile deal with the human rights violations committed during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, but avoided apologizing for U.S. policies in Chile at the time, that are believed by many to have led to the 1973 coup that ousted democratically-elected president Salvador Allende and began the brutal dictatorship of Pinochet. While President Obama noted that it is important to “learn from” and “understand” our history, he said that we should not be “trapped” by it. According to MercoPress, “Chilean judges are still pursuing criminal investigations into nearly a third of the 3,065 deaths of leftists and other Pinochet opponents, including the two former presidents, whose deaths remain shrouded in mystery.”
    • The president also faced criticism over tight security during his trip to Chile, because it didn’t allow much opportunities for Chileans to actually see Obama, with no public appearances scheduled during his visit comparable to his trip to Brazil’s City of God favela. However, the security situation during Obama’s visit to Chile probably wasn’t helped by the small bomb that exploded in Viña del Mar just hours before the U.S. president arrived in the country.
    • Despite disappointment over the tight security, there was praise for President Obama's visit, with Patricio Melero, a right-wing Chilean politician, calling Obama's expressed view of Chile “fair recognition of our way to development.” Ignacio Walker, president of the Christian Democratic Party, meanwhile, stated that the U.S. president's visit served to “highlight the capacity to reconcile democracy, politics, economic growth and social equity.”

      Not everyone was as pleased by Obama's visit. Osvaldo Andrade, president of the Socialist Party, was one of several critics of the lack of concrete agreements between the two countries, labeling the president's visit to Chile a "show".

    • As for the president himself, Obama referred to Chile as a one of the “success stories of the region” and said the rescue of 33 miners trapped in the San Jose mine in Copiapó in October “inspired the world.” However, the Secretary General of the Organization for American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza and Chilean President Sebastian Piñera criticized the lack of free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

    El Salvador

    • While President Obama’s stopovers in Chile and Brazil were focused mainly on economic successes, the tone shifted on his stopover in El Salvador, during which issues surrounding drugs and immigration took center stage. Drug cartels pose a growing threat in El Salvador and the rest of Central America, and earlier this year, the U.S. pledged $200 million to fight the problem, as part of the the Central American Regional Security Intiative (CASI), aimed at increasing border security and expanding community-based anti-gang initiatives. Obama announced during his visit that the U.S. had pledged an additional $200 million to support security in the region, and that the U.S. would work with Central America to develop a new security strategy. Analyst Paolo Luers criticized the move, saying the only way for the U.S. to help combat the drug violence El Salvador and the rest of Central America faces is to legalize drug use and address the problem with drugs as a “public health problem” because “Washington knows it will never win the war against narcotrafficking.”

      President Obama also focused on immigration, saying that despite opposition, he would continue to fight for immigration reform, a move supported in El Salvador, as there are over 2,000,000 immigrants in the U.S. from El Salvador. The remittances from these Salvadorans are an important source of income to maintain the Salvadoran economy.

    • Obama left El Salvador a few hours ahead of schedule to turn his attention to the ongoing crisis in Libya, but still managed to make a visit to the tomb of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, just before the 31st anniversary of his assassination. The archbishop was a revered Catholic figure, and the visit was seen as symbolic of Obama's support of human rights in El Salvador, where approximately 75,000 people were killed during a bloody 12-year civil war.
    • Some analysts and politicians were critical of the president's visit to El Salvador, which lasted less than 24 hours and, they say, caused “much noise” with little policy action, although some, such as analyst Salvador Samayoa, here, praised the visit, due to the “distinction” and “international attention” it brought to the country.

    Entire Region

    • During his visit to the region, Obama lobbied for a “new era of partnership” in Latin America, saying the region, which has seen impressive economic growth in recent years, has become more of asset for U.S. prosperity and security than in years past. Latin America, said Obama, is a “guide” to others seeking a transition to democracy. The region has shown that there is “no substitute for democracy” and that there is an “obligation to defend” democracy throughout the world, said the U.S. president.

    This post was written by CIP Intern Erin Shea

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Military and police training in Latin America, 2009

    After a long delay, the Department of State released the Foreign Military Training Report (FMTR) for 2009. The report is a joint report by the Department of Defense and the Department of State and is due by March 1 of every year. The report covering 2010, therefore, is recently overdue.

    Volume I of the FMTR is very useful to our project. We use the information presented in these reports to track the total number of United States training recipients in the region via different assistance programs. The report also provides us with the information necessary to keep track of courses, training locations, recipient units, and how much money the United States spent on each training program/course. Since the State Department released its 2008 and 2009 reports within a span of a couple of weeks this year, our previously out-of-date training database now covers U.S. training in Latin America from 1999 to 2009.

    A look at the new training statistics shows an increase from 2008 to 2009 in the number of Latin American military and police personnel trained. After declining from 2007 to 2008, training appears to be going back up to around average, with 15,423 military and police personnel trained in 2009.

    This increase, however, owes entirely to training information received not from the 2009 FMTR, but a report about the status of aid deliveries to Mexico that we received from Republican staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [PDF]. As Adam Isacson pointed out in a recent blog, a side-by-side comparison of the 2009 FMTR data for Mexico and the Senate report shows a massive discrepancy in the total number of Mexican military and police personnel trained by the United States in 2009. The Senate report shows 4,933 Mexican personnel trained by the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INLCE) program in 2009, while the FMTR shows 5 trained by that same program.

    Therefore, if we only use the data provided by the 2009 FMTR, the total number of Latin American trainees actually continues the downward trend that started in 2008, with only 10,495 military and police personnel trained in 2009. As Adam pointed out in his blog on the 2008 FMTR data, the decline in training from 2007 to 2008 was prompted by "a sharp reduction in training of personnel from Colombia," as the United States began to wind down the large-scale military assistance programs of the 2000s.

    Adam also noted that the 2008 data did not "register what is likely the most important change: the effect of sharply increased military and police aid to Mexico and Central America under the Mérida Initiative, which was barely underway in 2008." The 2009 training data, thanks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, shows that this Mérida Initiative effect is in full-force in Mexico. From 2008 to 2009, the number of Mexican military and police personnel trained by the United States increased from 1,074 to 5,724. That's a 728% increase over the average number of personnel from Mexico trained between 1999 and 2007.

    Most of the Mérida Initiative training comes out of the State Department's INCLE program, which increased substantially in 2009 (from 707 trainees in 2008 to 5,732 in 2009), making 2009 an all-time high for the number of Latin American personnel trained by that program. Of the 5,732 personnel trained by INCLE in 2009, 4,933 were from Mexico. The majority of which (4,892) were Federal Police trained by the Narcotics Affairs Section. In 2003, the second-highest year since 1999, only 1,713 Latin American personnel were trained by INCLE, of which only 55 were from Mexico.

    The Mérida effect, however, does not appear to have taken hold in Central America, at least according to the data that is currently available to us. Instead, the number of personnel from Central America trained declined 32% from 2008 (3,381) to 2009 (2,286). The countries that experienced the largest decreases in training were Nicaragua (549 to 112) and Honduras (805 to 411).

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Week in Review

    • UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, was formally launched today at a meeting of Foreign Affairs ministers in Quito, Ecuador. Before the group could become effective, the charter requested that nine members subscribe to the treaty. Of UNASUR's members, Brazil and Paraguay still have to comply with the approval of treaty.

      Next on the agenda for UNASUR is to agree on a new Secretary General, a post which has been vacant since the death of Nestor Kirchner. Currently, the two main candidates are Venezuela's Electricity minister Ari Rodriguez, an energy expert, and Maria Emma Mejia, a former Colombian Deputy Foreign Affairs minister. UNASUR will convene again at a presidential summit in Venezuela in April, where some speculate the next Secretary General will be chosen.

    • On Tuesday, the International Court of Justice ordered Costa Rica and Nicaragua to withdraw all troops, police and security personnel from the 1.2 square-mile contested border region. This ruling allowed both sides to claim victory for the moment. Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla called the decision an "overwhelming victory" for her country in using law to repel aggressors, while Nicaragua's representative before The Hague was satisfied with the ruling since it blocks Costa Rica's "offensive" against Nicaraguan sovereignty. The decision does not bring the two countries any closer to a solution for their tense standoff, however, and the legal process could take another four years to reach a final verdict.
    • The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) "Operation Fast and Furious" made it into multiple news stories this week, as more details about the operation are exposed. The Operation was meant to investigate gunrunning by cartels, and allowed 1,765 guns purchased in the United States to be smuggled into Mexico over a 15-month period--of which only 797 were recovered. According to a ranking Mexican legislator, at least 150 Mexicans have been killed or wounded by guns trafficked by smugglers being tracked by U.S. ATF agents. Investigators are now trying to determine if the gun that killed ICE agent Jaime Zapata in February was one of those missing guns. Yesterday, the Mexican Senate called a hearing on Operation Fast and Furious and voted to summon U.S. Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan to discuss the issue, though a date has not been set.
    • Last week, the New York Times reported that Marisol Valles García, the 21 year old police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, a small town 60 miles southeast of Ciudad Juárez, had not been to work for three days. She had been granted a leave of absence to take her baby son, who was ill, to the United States, but failed to return as agreed. By Monday, Valles had been fired by the town's mayor for abandoning her post. It turns out, as the El Paso Times reported, that Valles fled to the United States last week to seek asylum after receiving death threats. According to the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission, Valles is staying in the United States, and keeping a low profile, until her case is heard by an immigration judge.
    • Other news from Mexico this week included the appointment of Julian Leyzaola, former Tijuana police chief and lieutenant colonel, to the post of public safety secretary of Ciudad Juárez, more arrests of suspected gang members linked to the death of ICE agent Jaime Zapata, and an in-depth piece in the Washington Post on the effects of drug violence on Monterrey. CIP Intern Erin Shea's blog on recent violence in Mexico provides more details about these news stories and more. Read it here.
    • Haiti is starting to prepare for its March 20th presidential and legislative runoff election. On Wednesday, the two presidential candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, faced off in a televised debate, trying to distinguish their policies from the other, despite their similar platforms: education, national production and the reestablishment of a Haitian military.

      According to the Los Angeles Times, personality, not politics, is the true divide between the two candidates: "With not much in the way of politics dividing the two right-of-center candidates, voters may be left to weigh backgrounds and styles, which are as different as those of a lampshade-wearing uncle and tsk-tsking grandmother."

      The Miami Herald lists several fixes that are being made to prevent the fraud and disorganization that "marred November's first round of balloting." These changes include increased education requirements for poll workers and supervisors, cleaning up the list of voters, and using color tally sheets to help deter fraud.

    • The Guardian's Rory Carroll wrote a long piece on gang violence in Caracas, Venezuela. In the article, "Drugs, murder and redemption: the gangs of Caracas" Carroll notes that gang violence played a large role in the fact that in 2010 14,000 people were murdered in Venezuela, three times more than in Iraq.
    • The largest cocaine processing lab ever, capable of producing about a ton of cocaine a month, was found in Honduras. Some say it is another sign Mexican drug trafficking organizations are spreading into Honduran territory. Steven Dudley, of InSight, called this discovery a "game changer." Dudley writes, "the presence of an HCl lab means the calculus region wide may be changing. The assumption is that so much pressure is on the traffickers in Colombia and neighboring states that they are moving their raw material north." Boz also wrote about this discovery today, and closes his blog by asking: "How many more labs are there? If this lab was found, and it's a significant lab, it's probably not the only one."
    • InSight also provides an overview of the evolution of the drug submarine.
    • Guatemala's first lady Sandra Torres announced her candidacy for president to succeed her husband, Alvaro Colom, in the presidential elections in September. Her announcement came despite a constitutional ban prohibiting close relatives of a president from standing to replace him or her. Guatemala's constitutional court will have the final decision on whether or not Torres will be able to run.
    • The Christian Science Monitor published an interview with Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, in which Correa told interviewer Abraham Lowenthal that "I have personal respect for President Obama and for the positive changes he seeks to introduce, but the U.S. system and the power of vested interests have prevented significant changes." In the interview, Correa and Lowenthal also talk about political and social change in Ecuador and the possibilities for Peru under a new leadership.

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Week in Review

    • This week saw an increase in tension between the United States and Mexico as President Felipe Calderón expressed his frustration with comments made in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. In an interview with El Universal, President Calderón noted that U.S. "cooperation on an institutional level has ended up being notoriously insufficient" and complained that the United States' intelligence and security agencies act like rivals, instead of coordinating with each other. Read more on the Just the Facts blog.
    • In the 24 hours after El Universal released President Calderón's interview, various steps were taken to improve U.S.-Mexico relations, including the announcement that Calderón will travel to Washington next week to meet with President Obama, where they will discuss bilateral relations. While in Washington, Calderón will also meet with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio).
    • Within those 24 hours, Mexico's Army also announced the capture of Julian Zapata, a reputed cell leader of the Zetas cartel and the main suspect in the murder of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata. Five others tied to the February 15th murder were also detained. According to Zapata, the shooting was the result of confusion that the two belonged to a rival gang because of the SUV they drove.
    • Meanwhile, more than 100 suspects were arrested in nine U.S. cities in a drug trafficking sweep launched by U.S. authorities this week. The sweeps involved more than 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents, and resulted in the seizure of approximately 300 kilograms of cocaine, 150,000 pounds of marijuana, and 190 weapons. According to the Los Angeles Times, officials declared the crackdown a retaliatory strike against the U.S. operations of Mexican drug cartels. "If you attack a U.S. law enforcement officer, we are not going to back down," said Derek Maltz, special agent in charge of special operations for the DEA.
    • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual report on the situation of human rights in Colombia. The report can be downloaded in English or Spanish here. While the UNHCHR does recognize the Santos Administration's commitment to human rights and "welcomes the drastic reduction" in false-positives, it continues to cite that the persistence of the internal armed conflict in Colombia gets in the way of the full enjoyment of human rights. The report authors write, "this situation is exacerbated by the violence caused by illegal armed groups emerged after the demobilization of paramilitary organizations, and disputes among illegal armed actors to control drug trafficking."
    • Lisa Haugaard, of the Latin America Working Group, published a new article in The Huffington Post on the implications of the budget battles in the United States for Latin America. According to Haugaard, the House Republican leadership's proposal for this year's budget slashes important programs that "show the generous face of our nation abroad," while maintaining funding levels of military aid and training to the region's security forces. In contrast, the Obama Administration's budget for 2012 makes mostly "smart cuts" to aid for Latin America, "economic aid is reduced by 5 percent from 2009, while military and police aid programs would go down by 43 percent." Haugaard closes with this:

      As the White House and Congress consider budgets for this year and next, the sensible course is to preserve already very limited economic and institution-building programs for Latin America that lend a helping hand. These programs help farmers grow food, not coca; provide immunizations for deadly diseases; strengthen courts, and help those fleeing from wars and recovering from disasters. Their impact on the U.S. budget is microscopic, but their return, measured in increased goodwill, security, and protection for human rights, is substantial.

    • Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota was in Washington this week in preparation for President Obama's visit to Brazil in mid-March. Patriota met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday and the two held a brief press conference where they told reporters that the "U.S.-Brazilian relationship has developed into a solid partnership in areas that include trade and investment, contacts between civil societies, combating racial discrimination, promoting gender equality, and in emerging areas such as science and technology." The full transcript of the press conference is here.
    • Bolivia's Cambio reported on a new trilateral counter-narcotics agreement that would include Bolivia, Brazil, and the United States. Brazilian and Bolivian officials are to meet this week to finalize the technical details of the agreement, although there is little information about what role the United States would play in the project.
    • The U.S. Office on Colombia, Lutheran World Relief and the Instituto de Estudios para la Paz y el Desarrollo (INDEPAZ) released a new report this week. Closer to Home: a critical analysis of Colombia’s proposed land law provides and initial review of the most prominent gaps in the proposed bill and recommendations for how U.S. policy-makers can support a more equitable land policy in Colombia. Download the report here.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Week in Review

  • Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) electoral board announced that the Preval government's candidate, Jude Celestin, will not advance to the second-round presidential runoff on March 20. Instead, Michel Martelly will face off against Mirlande Manigat.

    This decision came after many groups and governments voiced their opinions and concerns about who should advance to the runoff--and debated whether an entirely new election should be held. The list of people voicing their concerns included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who traveled to Haiti on Sunday. Secretary Clinton encouraged the Haitian government to accept the OAS recommendation to drop Celestin from the second-round runoff. While in Haiti, Secretary Clinton met with President Preval, and held individual meetings with Celestin, Martelly and Manigat.

  • Former Haitian dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who returned to Haiti over three weeks ago after 25 years in exile, was interviewed on Univision on Tuesday. When asked about being described as a tyrant, "Baby Doc" laughed, saying "When they talk of me as a tyrant, they make me laugh, it gives me the impression that people suffer from amnesia, they've forgotten the way in which I left Haiti, how I left voluntarily." He also said that he was the "first person" to start a democratic process in Haiti.
  • Continuing with Haiti, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's lawyer announced that the Haitian government has agreed to issue a diplomatic passport to the former president, who has not returned to Haiti since he was ousted in 2004, if he asks for one.
  • The Washington Post reported on Monday that proposed budget cuts might threaten the future of Project Gunrunner, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) effort to stem the flow of guns from the United States to Mexico. The preliminary budget document obtained by the Post outlined a 12.8 percent reduction in the ATF's budget--amounting to a $160 million cut. However, on Wednesday, an editorial in the Post noted that "the adminstration wisely - and in this political climate, bravely - appears to have had a change of heart." A spokeswoman from the Office of Management and Budget announced this week that "As part of the president's commitment to strengthening core law enforcement and homeland security functions - even as we make tough choices across the government - the 2012 budget includes robust support for Southwest border security, including an increase above current funding levels for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives."
  • Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom announced last week that Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are talking about forming a combined special operations force to fight Mexican organized crime. The new force will count on the support and shared responsibility of the United States, and will work with both Mexico and Colombia, says Colom. The plan is to be discussed in more detail at the upcoming Summit on the Central American Integration System in June.

    Organized crime is both a global and regional problem. It's frequently said that "Los Zetas" are a Mexican organization, but it's also true that we have captured Guatemalans, Honduras, and Salvadorans. This criminal group has been globalized, and so the solution to their serious aggression of which we are all victims has to be regional – I call it a "Mesoamerican Plan of Security and Justice."

  • John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation writes that despite the Colombian constitutional court's decision to stike down the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement, "U.S. military agencies in September 2010 signed contracts for construction at Tolemaida, Larandia and Malaga bases in Colombia worth nearly US$5 million."
  • Adam Isacson looks at "Why Latin America is Rearming" in his recent article in the February 2011 issue of Current History.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez celebrated 12 years as president on Tuesday, and said he was ready to battle for six more years in next year's election, according to the Associated Press.
  • Argentina's Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman, criticized Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri's decision to send the capital police officers to the U.S.-run International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador. Timmerman said via Twitter:

    As a [Buenos Aires resident] I'm frightened that Macri continues sending police to study 'antiterrorism' in courses taught and financed by the USA.... In the past, they were dedicated to training the military in coup techniques and courses in torture and persecution of political enemies. It seems to me that these are limits that we shouldn't cross.

    In an opinion piece, Timerman explained that transit police don't need terrorism experts. He wrote, "obviously ... Macri hopes to count on a repressive shock force trained in intelligence operations. All of this is very far from the law that created the police." Joshua Frens-String has more details on his Hemispheric Brief blog.

  • There has not been much good news coming out of Mexico recently:
    • Only one month after taking the job, the police chief of Nuevo Laredo, General Manual Farfan, two bodyguards and his personal assistant were killed this week.
    • Mexico's second- and third-largest cities both experienced a series of attacks by suspected drug cartel members this week, as reported by the Associated Press.
    • A woman who distributed newspapers in Ciudad Juárez, Maribel Hernandez, was shot to death by a drug cartel member because "his gang thought she threatened their control over street vendors," reports the Associated Press.
    • BBC Mundo reports on the failure of "Todos Somos Juárez," the anti-violence program announced by the Mexican government one year ago, after 15 youth were killed at a birthday party in Ciudad Juárez. Despite the tens of millions of dollars spent on the program, the border town "has changed very little."
  • Next week, two Obama Administration officials will travel to Latin America:
    • Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) William R. Brownfield (former Ambassador to Colombia) will travel to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia February 6-11, 2011. "Assistant Secretary Brownfield’s visit will demonstrate U.S. support and encourage continued partnership between the U.S., the governments of Central America, and other international donors to improve citizen security in the region," according to the State Department's press release.
    • Timothy Geithner will travel to Brazil on February 7th, where he will meet with government and economic leaders in the country and "will discuss the importance of cooperating economically and financially with the growing South American nation."
  • Colombia's Minister of Defense, Rodrigo Rivera, traveled to Miami and Washington this week, where he met with government officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates. According to El Tiempo, during his meeting with Secretary Gates, Defense Minister Rivera expressed his concern about potential cuts in U.S. aid to Colombia this year.
  • In two weeks, presidents from South American and Arab countries will meet in Peru.
  • Friday, January 21, 2011

    Week in Review

    • One of this week's top stories was the return of dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier to Haiti. Speculation is still flying about why "Baby Doc" returned, including the theory that he intended to act as some sort of pressure on the current political situation with the country's stalled elections. A more plausible theory emerged recently, however, that has to do with $4.6 million currently frozen in a Swiss bank account. Joshua Frens-String explains:

      The story begins in Switzerland where that country's top court, in a ruling made just hours before last January's devastating earthquake, decided that at least $4.6 million under Mr. Duvalier's name and still frozen in a Swiss bank account could be released back to Mr. Duvalier. In a response to the high court's decision, Swiss officials promptly passed new legislation, calling it the “Duvalier Law,” which would allow the Swiss government "greater discretion" in deciding to whom it should return frozen assets that lingered in its world-famous bank accounts. That law will go into effect on Feb. 1. But, says the paper, under until Feb. 1, states making claims to money in Switzerland "must show that they have begun a criminal investigation against the suspected offender before any funds can be returned."

      As the New York Times put it: "[If] Mr. Duvalier had been able to slip into the country and then quietly leave without incident, as he was originally scheduled to do on Thursday, he may have been able to argue that Haiti was no longer interested in prosecuting him — and that the money should be his." However, since his return, court investigations into corruption and embezzlement have been opened and formal complaints for human rights abuses during his 15-year rule have been filed. As "Baby Doc's" lawyer puts it, he now "must have mixed feelings about" his decision to return.

    • The return of former dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier to Haiti prompted questions about whether former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, exiled in 2004, would also try to return. Aristide wrote a letter to the governments of Haiti and South Africa, where he currently lives, in which he expresses his desire to return to Haiti quickly. He writes: "So, to all those asking me to return home, I reiterate my willingness to leave today, tomorrow, at any time."
    • "Baby Doc's" return and the potential for Aristide's return diverted attention from the problems surrounding Haiti's stalled elections. The United States began to increase pressure on Haiti to resolve the disputed president election this week. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, called on Haiti to "outline a very clear way forward that will lead promptly to the inauguration of a legitimate and democratically elected government." Rice continued, "Sustained support from the international community, including the United States, will require a credible process that represents the will of the Haitian people, as expressed by their votes."

      While a statement released on Tuesday by Haiti's provisional electoral council signaled that they are not bound by the Organization of American States' "recommendations to drop the ruling party's candidate from [the] disputed presidential race," as reported by the New York Times, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told the Miami Herald that the country is following the OAS recommendations "exactly."

    • The United States filed its formal objection to Bolivia's bid to amend the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to end an international prohibition on coca-leaf chewing. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca is currently traveling through Europe in an attempt to garner support for Bolivia's proposal, and has already visited Spain, France and Belgium. You can learn more about what is happening on this podcast and in this Foreign Policy in Focus article by WOLA's Coletta Youngers.
    • White House Office of National Drug Policy Director (or "Drug Czar") Gil Kerlikowske visited Colombia this week, where he met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss "the United States' valued relationship with Colombia, ongoing counternarcotics cooperation between the two nations and support for hemispheric drug prevention, treatment and alternative development programs." During his visit, Kerlikowske hailed a sharp drop in cocaine production in the Andes. However, on this blog, Adam Isacson points to a problem with the U.S. government's estimates:

      If 690 tons [of cocaine] were produced and 495 were interdicted in these countries, it would leave only 195 tons to satisfy global demand. And these 495 tons don’t include any U.S. seizures on international waters, seizures on U.S. soil by state or municipal police, or seizures in Europe, Asia or elsewhere – which would reduce supplies still further.

    • The Center for International Policy's Global Financial Integrity program released a new report this week that estimates the quantity and patterns of illicit financial flows coming out of developing countries. The report, "Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries, 2000-2009," (PDF) places both Mexico and Venezuela in the top ten countries with the highest measured cumulative illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2008. According to the new report, from 2000 to 2008 $416 billion in illicit money flowed out of Mexico, placing Mexico third on the list, just behind China ($2.18 trillion) and Russia ($427 billion). Venezuela falls eighth on the list, with $157 billion in illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2008. Read more here.
    • Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón will be in Washington next week. According to the Vice-Presidency's press release, Garzón's visit has two objectives: To request that the United States extends Colombia's ATPDEA preferences for two years, and to push for the approval of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. VP Garzón's agenda is available for download as a PDF.
    • Colombia also announced that Minister of Defense Rodrigo Rivera will travel to Washington in February to meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. This week Defense Minister Rivera party blamed reduced U.S. aid for budget cuts that will prevent Colombia from creating eight new battalions.
    • Peruvian President Alan García and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera met on Wednesday, where they said they would leave behind hard feelings between the two countries based on a border dispute currently before The Hague and strengthen commercial ties between the two countries.
    • Bolivia's Air Force announced it will receive six Chinese K-8 interceptor planes in April that will be used to combat narcotrafficking. The planes cost US$57.8 million.
    • Four months after the September 30th police uprising in Ecuador, the Government of Ecuador assumed direct administrative control of the police. This decision implies that the Ministry of the Interior will assume "legal, judicial and extrajudicial" representation of the 40,000 member entity and will take on all economic obligations, including credits, income, daily expenses and investments.
    • Former Mexican President Vicente Fox reiterated his calls for the legalization of the production, transit and sale of prohibited drugs, especially marijuana. Fox:

      Prohibition didn't work in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple.... "We have to take all the production chain out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of producers — so there are farmers that produce marijuana and manufacturers that process it and distributors that distribute it and shops that sell it ... I don't want to say that legalizing means that drugs are good. They are not good but bad for your health, and you shouldn't take them. But ultimately, this responsibility is with citizens.

    • Colombian Army Major César Maldonado, imprisoned for his role in a 2000 assassination attempt against union leader (now congressman) Wilson Borja, escaped for the second time from the military stockade where he has been held in lieu of a regular prison. Though he was quickly recaptured, Maldonado's escape from the Tolemaida army base raised questions about the lenient conditions under which military human-rights violators are imprisoned at military bases. These conditions apparently even include weekend leave time, as witnesses have reported seeing Maldonado at large in the nearby resort town of Melgar.
    • The Washington Post, The Economist, and IPS all had articles this week on the spread of both gang and cartel violence in Central America.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Illicit Financial Flows out of Latin America

    The Center for International Policy's Global Financial Integrity program released a new report this week that estimates the quantity and patterns of illicit financial flows coming out of developing countries. The report, "Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries, 2000-2009," (PDF) finds that approximately $6.5 trillion was removed from the developing world from 2000 through 2008, averaging $725 billion to $810 billion per year.

    Most notable for Latin America, the new GFI report, authored by Dev Kar and Karly Curcio, places both Mexico and Venezuela in the top ten countries with the highest measured cumulative illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2008. According to the new report, from 2000 to 2008 $416 billion in illicit money flowed out of Mexico, placing Mexico third on the list, just behind China ($2.18 trillion) and Russia ($427 billion). Venezuela falls eighth on the list, with $157 billion in illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2008.

    CIP's Global Financial Integrity program explains that the term "illicit financial flows" pertains to

    the cross-border movement of money that is illegally earned, transferred, or utilized. Illicit financial flows generally involve the transfer of money earned through illegal activities such as corruption, transactions involving contraband goods, criminal activities, and efforts to shelter wealth from a country's tax authorities.

    The report does not include estimated amounts of illicit flows leaving countries as a result of strictly cash transactions, which is often how narcotrafficking and organized crime transactions are conducted. As Karly Curcio, one of the report's authors, states in a recent blog post, "The model is not able to capture illegal, cash-only transactions and smuggling related activities, so the negative economic impact of illicit flows from [Mexico] is almost certainly understated."

    The policy implication, according to GFI, of this huge amount of illicit flows out of the developing world is that for every $1 in economic development assistance that goes into a developing country, $10 is lost via illicit outflows. "Illicit outflows deprive governments of tax revenues crucial for providing public goods like domestic security, ... [and] also drain capital needed for various investment projects, poverty alleviation, and economic growth," writes Curcio. Using Mexico as an example, GFI's new estimates put the flow of illicit money out of Mexico at some $46.24 billion each year, while, over the last eight years for which data are available, the country received an average of just $212 million in Official Development Assistance. Given the ratio of inflows to outflows, it is unclear how countries like Mexico can address their development needs when such a large amount of money pours out of their economies each year.

    While Mexico and Venezuela rank third and eighth in the developing world, here is a list of the average annual illicit financial outflows from Latin American & Caribbean countries, from highest to lowest:

    1. Mexico ($46.24 billion)
    2. Venezuela (17.5 billion)
    3. Argentina ($10 billion)
    4. Chile ($7.8 billion)
    5. Costa Rica ($4.4 billion)
    6. Panama ($3.9 billion)
    7. Honduras ($2.8 billion)
    8. Brazil ($2.6 billion)
    9. Colombia ($2.1 billion)
    10. Ecuador ($1.5 billion)
    11. Guatemala ($1.5 billion)
    12. El Salvador ($1 billion)
    13. Uruguay ($837 million)
    14. Nicaragua ($774 million)
    15. Jamaica ($706 million)
    16. Bolivia ($590 million)
    17. Paraguay ($476 million)
    18. Peru ($311 million)
    19. The Bahamas ($121 million)
    20. Belize ($43 million)
    21. Antigua and Barbuda ($16 million)
    22. St. Kitts ($16 million)
    23. St. Lucia ($9 million)
    24. Dominica ($66 million)

    You can find more information about illicit financial flows on GFI's website.
    More information on the report can be found here, or download the full report (PDF).

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Week in Review

    • The trial of suspected anti-Castro Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles began in El Paso, Texas this week. While Posada Carriles has been linked to bombings in Havana and the downing of an airliner in the 1970s, he is being charged with "perjury, obstruction of federal proceedings and making false statements during a naturalization hearing" -- not terrorism. However, this trial, according to the New York Times, marks the first time American prosecutors will present evidence in open court that Posada Carriles played a major role in carrying out bombings in Cuba, as he is being tried for lying to an immigration judge about his role in the bombings.
    • The Organization of American States released its report on Haiti's electoral crisis (the report has not been made public, but a version is available for download on the Center for Economic and Policy Research's website: PDF), recommending that the country's electoral officials prevent government-backed candidate, Jude Celestin, from moving on to a second round run-off vote. Haitian President Rene Preval officially received the report on Thursday, though the Associated Press reports that he is "unhappy with their recommendation that his preferred candidate be cut from the presidential runoff vote" and is reported to have requested revisions to the document.
    • Meanwhile, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who completed his second term as governor in December, was named special envoy for the OAS.
    • The Mexican government released a new set of official drug war statistics, citing over 34,612 drug-related murders since President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006. The government broke this statistic down, showing that of the 34,612 murders, 30,913 were execution-style killings, 3,153 were the result of shootouts between gangs, and 546 involved attacks on authorities. In 2010 alone, 15,273 people were killed - a 60 percent increase from 2009.
    • In other news related to violence in Mexico, over the weekend, and in less than 24 hours, more than 30 people were killed - at least 16 of them were found decapitated - in Acapulco.

      Also, three mayors have already been killed in 2011 in Mexico, compared to a total of 14 in 2010. On Thursday, the mayor of a "remote mountain town in southern Oaxaca state" was shot to death. On Monday, the mayor of Temoac (Morelos), was killed, and last Friday, the mayor of Zaragoza, of the Coahuila state, was found dead.

    • Freedom House released the 2011 edition of its Freedom in the World index, which scores 194 countries and territories on their levels of political rights and civil liberties. This year, Mexico dropped from "free" to "partly free." According to Freedom House, this drop results from the state's failure to "protect ordinary citizens, journalists, and elected officials from organized crime."
    • U.S. Representative Sandy Levin (D-Michigan) traveled to Colombia this week on "a fact-finding mission to observe first-hand conditions relevant to the Colombia [Free Trade Agreement]."
    • Many articles were published on Haiti's slow-going reconstruction efforts this week, as the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the country on January 12, 2010 passed. This includes an op-ed by Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), in which he writes:

      Partnership entails commitment and maturity on both sides. Haitians across society -- from the economic and political elite, to the nascent and unsteady civil society, to the masses of poor -- have to realize that our concern for their welfare does not give them leverage to shun our demands for progress. We cannot do the tasks that only they can do.

    • Chile's Minister of Defense, Jaime Ravinet, resigned from his post following a scandal over untransparent purchases made in the wake of last February's earthquake in the country.
    • Colombia's new Attorney General, Viviane Morales, assumed her post this week and noted that the extradition of paramilitary leaders to the United States was a bad idea, as it served as an excuse for them to stop collaborating with the Justice and Peace Process in Colombia.
    • Honduras' congress approved constitutional reform measures that would allow referendums on re-election and term limits. As the Associated Press notes, these "once taboo subjects" were the "hot-button issues behind the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009." The measures must be approved again when the new congressional session begins on January 25th before they go into effect, however the Attorney General or Supreme Court could still challenge the measures' constitutionality.
    • And finally, according to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil is planning to spend $6 billion on radars, armored vehicles and unmanned aircraft to carry out a new project to protect its borders from smuggling and arms trafficking.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Week in Review - Monday edition

  • The news story of the week last week was certainly WikiLeaks. The Washington Post's Juan Forero offers a quick summary of many of the Latin America-related cables here. Or you can find links to extended coverage of the leaked cables on Just the Facts. One cable about Mexico suggests that the United States has lost a great deal of confidence in the Mexican military and its ability to take on the country's drug cartels:

    Calderon has aggressively attacked Mexico's drug trafficking organizations but has struggled with an unwieldy and uncoordinated interagency and spiraling rates of violence that have made him vulnerable to criticism that his anti-crime strategy has failed. Indeed, the GOM's inability to halt the escalating numbers of narco-related homicides in places like Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere - the nationwide total topped 7,700 in 2009 - has become one of Calderon's principal political liabilities as the general public has grown more concerned about citizen security. Mexican security institutions are often locked in a zero-sum competition in which one agency's success is viewed as another's failure, information is closely guarded, and joint operations are all but unheard of. Official corruption is widespread, leading to a compartmentalized siege mentality among "clean" law enforcement leaders and their lieutenants. Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; two percent of those detained are brought to trail. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime.

  • Haiti's presidential elections on Sunday, November 28th, resulted in calls of fraud, violence and voter confusion. Official election results are not expected until tomorrow, but the joint Organization of American States-Caribbean Community observer mission noted that despite serious irregularities, the results should stand.
  • A leaked memo by former U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson to Haiti said that President René Préval's primary concern ahead of the election was to ensure the winner would not force him into exile. The memo, dated seven months before the earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince, read President Préval's "overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for Préval."
  • At least four of the nineteen Haitian presidential contenders marched with demonstrators in a protest in Port-au-Prince on Thursday to demand a rerun of the elections. The two front-runners, Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly and Mirlande Manigat, as well as current President René Préval's candidate, Jude Célestin, are calling for the vote to stand.
  • Paul Farmer had a good piece in Foreign Policy last week on "5 lessons from Haiti's Disaster: What the earthquake taught us about foreign aid."
  • After a weeklong battle in the Rio favela of Alemao, Brazilian security forces seized the shantytown and announced that 2,000 troops will stay in the "re-conquered" favela for at least six months.

    IPS's report on the seizures argues that human rights abuses committed during the raids "are jeopardizing local residents' newfound support for security forces."

  • On Tuesday, the Uruguayan Senate voted to officially ratify the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) charter, giving the organization "full legal effectiveness." The three nations that have yet to ratify are Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay.
  • A must-have reference and free download: RESDAL released its new Comparative Atlas of Defense in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Colombia's Supreme Court elected Viviane Morales as the country's first female attorney general. Soon after the Supreme Court's vote, Morales announced that "the first thing we’ll do is meet to learn the real legal situation of the (illegal spying cases)." This ends 16 months of vacancy of this key post.
  • Reuters published a series looking at the narcotrafficking and public security crisis in Michoacán, Mexico. In December 2006, President Felipe Calderón launched his war on drug cartels in the western state of Michoacán. Yet, "despite heavily armed patrols, hundreds of drug lab busts and thousands of arrests, locals say gangs in the president's home state wield huge power, ramping up drug output while using terror and bribes to control towns mired in poverty."
  • Peter Kornbluh and Marian Schlotterbeck write in the Santiago Times, "How U.S. President Reagan Broke With Chile's Pinochet." Using declassified White House documents, recently obtained by the National Security Archive, the two authors shed light on "how the conservative Reagan Administration concluded that Pinochet no longer served U.S. national interests and should be forced from power."
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Latin America in 2010 last week. On Haiti, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) remarked that "political uncertainty now threatens to exacerbate human suffering" in the country. Senator Lugar continued, "But our willingness to direct funds through the Haitian government depends on the fair, transparent, and legal resolution of the current political crisis." In his opening remarks, Senator Lugar called for the passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, more coordination to help Mexico fight drug cartels, placing more attention on the situation in Venezuela, and the elections in Haiti. According to Senator Lugar,

    Our foreign policy in Latin America continues to struggle with perceptions that the United States has neglected the region in the past. These perceptions often have been inaccurate or incomplete, but there is little doubt that U.S. engagement with Latin America over a period of decades has been crisis driven.

    If you missed the hearing, you can watch it online.

  • We posted the Department of Defense's FY2009 Humanitarian and Civic Assistance report to Just the Facts last week. Download the PDF here. This report includes U.S. military activities in foreign countries that involve providing medical, dental and veterinary care, constructing roads, bridges, schools, clinics and other public buildings, drilling wells and constructing basic sanitation facilities. Soon, we'll post the FY2009 totals to the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance program page on Just the Facts.
  • The Mexican army discovered several mass graves holding at least 20 bodies in the northern state of Chihuahua. The 20 bodies, which had been buried for between four and eight months, were distributed in 12 graves in the town of Puerto Palomas.