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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The FARC's "Manuals"

We are pleased to reproduce this commentary from Colombian human rights defender and security expert Nancy Sánchez, who has worked for 20 years in the department of Putumayo, the zone along the Ecuadorian border where U.S.-backed operations under “Plan Colombia” began in 2000. The guerrilla “manual” to which her article refers is here.

The FARC’s Manuals

Nancy Sánchez

In August 1998, along the main highway between Putumayo’s largest city (Puerto Asís) and its capital (Mocoa), I came across this poster at a gas station. Made by the FARC’s 32nd Front, it described “the rules for living in an honest and dignified community: punishments and fines.”

During this time, the 32nd Front, part of the FARC’s Southern Bloc, implemented some interesting regulations. It exerted control over many functions that should have been the state’s responsibility, such as environmental protection, avoiding deforestation and riverine pollution, and limiting residues of chemicals from coca paste production. Similarly, it set in place various regulations to control individual behavior in the community, such as curtailing “gossip,” maintaining cleanliness, and even avoiding fistfights at parties.

Beyond social and community regulation, however, it was evident that behavior that would risk the FARC’s territorial control carried stricter punishments and fines. For example, inviting the entry of unknown individuals (resulting in a fine of US$1,000), buying and selling properties to individuals without FARC authorization, transporting people and vehicles outside of certain hours, or bringing in prostitutes.

In this context, “the entry of prostitutes” referred to “new” prostitutes: women who had not previously lived in the area. This group of women, who were co-opted through this war, were used and regulated not only by the guerrillas but later on by the paramilitaries and the military to fulfill their “sexual needs.” Occasionally, they acted as sources of information about the enemy.

With the implementation of Plan Colombia in 2000, amid the paramilitaries’ actions and the FARC’s response, thousands of innocent civilians were assassinated, disappeared, or forcibly displaced in Putumayo. About half of the population—150,000 people from a population of 350,000—was forcibly displaced.

After 13 years of various stages of Plan Colombia, most recently the “Territorial Consolidation Plan,” the situation remains basically the same, or even worse. There have been cruel humanitarian consequences as the rural population continues to be subjected to strict social control by illegal armed actors.

The most recent “FARC Rule Book” (Manual de Convivencia de los FARC) was published at the end of 2013, as reported by the Catholic Church of Putumayo, after the FARC prohibited the performance of Mass in rural zones. This warning and threat was the most notable of the 46 points making up the current “Manual for Coexistence for the good functioning of communities” that now is not a poster, but an actual three-page bulletin that was distributed to rural communities.

I found the physical document this month, in Puerto Asís municipality, amid the anguish of some women who told me that they had to abandon their farms and villages because their sons had been forced into obligatory military service. Their children were recruited by the armed forces in surprise raids that military members carried out every year, and the young people had to comply.

Other people did not know what to do before the FARC’s strict order to “establish themselves” either in the rural zone or the town center. The thing is, this manual—unlike the last one—dedicates the majority of its points to carefully regulating all sorts of situations of transit and mobility between town centers and the rural zones, where they have control.

A few examples. If you are a farmer and have children studying in town, you can only bring them home during their vacations. This creates a dilemma for the parents: whether to take them out of school or pay for their room and board, because the school does not provide it. (It is worth noting that the majority of schools offering education up to 11th grade are located in town centers.) If you are new in the area and decide to settle there, you may not leave the zone for a year--the time period it supposedly takes to gain the FARC’s trust—at which time the FARC will decide whether you may stay or not. If you live in town and have a farm in the rural zone, which is very common in these regions, you have to choose to live in one or the other, or pay someone else whom you trust to take care of the land for life, while paying all community taxes.

Several points, like the fines, did not change much between one manual and the next. For example, the prohibitions on state-run social assistance programs and on the unauthorized entry of unknown individuals remain the same. Transit continues to be regulated, for both people and animals, at permitted hours that change along with the context: when combat is happening, it is stricter. No matter what, one may not move or leave without permission, not even for health reasons (the hospitals are in the town centers). Property rights are also strictly controlled in the new manual. Now even a cow cannot be sold without prior authorization, requested in person.

The rest of the points are similar to what was found in the earlier manual, except for one ordering better control of dogs in towns, and two new ones. The first refers to the population’s food security and the other regulates communications.

Under penalty of forced “social labor” and expulsion, the planting of yucca, plantain, corn, and home-grown vegetables is ordered. This reminds me of the year 1994, when the guerrillas ordered that the massive planting of coca crops be combined with subsistence crops, in a four-to-one ratio (if I recall correctly) because the region lacked food and even chickens had to be imported from Ecuador. This issue is taken up again in a commentary that I found in Puerto Guzmán, referring to the manual. “This time, the coca is going to go away, because the guerrillas are making us plant food,” some residents told me. Actually, there is not much coca in the area today, compared with the 1990s. The problem is that it is still the only crop from which the people make a living. Are the guerrillas really going to be able to do away with this crop if their manuals order them to do so? That’s a point for Havana.

The entry of mobile phones brings their regulation: the right to private communications is lost in these war territories. With the excuse of security, cell phones’ use is limited to two per person per family—these must be noted in a census—and they must not have cameras.

Finally, despite some interesting items about environmental protection, controlling common crime, regulation of parties and flea markets, this manual raises three concerns in particular:

1. Immediately, what is now being experienced: forced displacement or silent confinement of farmer populations, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. People who live in rural areas but require services in the town centers. To travel “to town” is not just entertainment. It means going to a hospital, to study, to pick up basic foods like grains or salt, to buy gasoline for electric generators, or to get in a long line to speak with the mayor, meet with a judge, communicate with relatives elsewhere, pay back loans from the Banco Agrario, to buy medicines for livestock,etc.

2. Meanwhile, this manual exposes members of the Community Action Boards [Juntas de Acción Comunal, legally established local advisory commissions] to a serious security threat. According to the manual, it is these leaders who are charged with monitoring and guaranteeing compliance with its 46 points. They must do so in a context in which, on one hand, the paramilitary groups—under new names—dominate Puerto Asís and the town centers of Bajo Putumayo, and on the other hand, the “Territorial Consolidation Plan” gives U.S. resources to the Colombian military to carry out public works projects in these zones (medical brigades, bridge construction, etc.). Projects that—again—require the coordination and collaboration of Community Action Boards. So between the “FARC Manual” and the “Consolidation Plan,” the civilian population has few options. It can be the object of armed or judicial repression from one side or the other. A point for Havana: if there is no hope for a cease-fire during talks, at least it would be important to consider a cessation of these strategies of territorial control that involve the civilian population. That way, finally, the people might truly feel the sensation that something is changing as a result of the peace talks.

3. In the long term, the manual gives us strong doubts about the model of life that the FARC are proposing for us in an eventual post-conflict.

March 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Week in Review

This week the Associated Press uncovered that USAID tried to "trigger a Cuban Spring" through a secretly-established social media platform, the DEA said Mexican cartels were setting up shop in Colorado and Washington to cash in on black market marijuana, and the United States stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduras. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • The Associated Press published an incendiary investigation this week revealing that USAID used front companies to secretly establish a now defunct Twitter-like social media platform in Cuba in 2010, with the intended purpose of stirring social unrest that might "trigger a Cuban Spring." The platform was also used to collect private data from its 40,000 users.

    On Thursday USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said that while the program was not covert, "parts of it were done discreetly." The White House echoed those claims, saying the program was debated in Congress and reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.

    The Pan-American Post posted an excellent piece outlining the key points of the length AP report, while political analysts Greg Weeks, James Bosworth and Marc Hanson of the Washington Office on Latin America also provided helpful commentary.

  • During a hearing on U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation on Tuesday, James Dinkins, executive associate director for homeland security at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Committee on Homeland Security that "We have the best relationship with our Mexican counterparts that we've ever had." He pointed to the coordination between U.S. and Mexican agencies involved in the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera as evidence of the strengthening relationship.

    The head of U.S. Northern Command, General Charles Jacoby, emphasized this same point several weeks ago in the wake of reports claiming U.S.-Mexico cooperation had suffered since Mexican President Peña Nieto mandated all contact with U.S. law enforcement go through the Ministry of the Interior.

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Friday, March 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration “is in diplomatic talks” to reschedule her official visit to meet with President Obama after canceling her previous visit in September following revelations of NSA espionage. According to Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, it is unlikely that this visit would occur before October’s presidential elections in Brazil.
  • Today marks the conclusion of the week long 150th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in which cases relating to a range of issues – from freedom of speech in Ecuador, to the ousting of Bogotá’s mayor, Gustavo Petro, to the justice system in Peru or indigenous rights in Nicaragua – were heard. On Tuesday, the commission held its first-ever hearing on drug policy and human rights abuses in the Americas at the request of 17 human rights organizations, which argued that the fight against drug trafficking justifies repression and abuse in the region. Animal Politico laid out several of the presenters’ arguments and has a video of the hearing.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced Sunday that it would suspend issuing visas to first-time applicants. The embassy said it did not have enough staff to process the paperwork after three consular officers were kicked out of the country by the Venezuelan government, which has also delayed authorizing new personnel.
  • On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced three air force generals had been arrested for allegedly planning a coup after supposedly meeting with members of the opposition. Hours after the announcement the military issued a statement pledging its “monolithic” support, saying it would continue "protecting our people, guarding our homeland's sovereignty and supporting the constitutionally elected president and commander in chief." Also on Tuesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court sentenced opposition mayor Marina Corina Machado to one year in jail for “inciting violence.”
  • President Maduro has agreed to enter talks with the opposition with the help of an outside facilitator, a move proposed by a visiting delegation from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). According to the Pan-American Post, it has been suggested foreign ministers from Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador would take the lead on creating conditions for the talks, while the Associated Press noted Maduro has agreed to create a human rights commission to investigate abuses committed by the security forces.
  • Honduras’ military police chief, Coronel German Alfaro, announced plans to double the number of officers on the streets of San Pedro Sula, the most violent city in the country, from 1,000 to 2,000. According to Alfaro, the military police force has been a success in the country’s most violent city and the government will continue to roll out its plan to deploy 5,000 officers throughout the country. In an update on the national police reform process, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported 536 police were fired after failing vetting tests and another 221 resigned.
  • On Tuesday the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing, “newspaper U.S. disengagement from Latin America: Compromised Security and Economic Interests.” While much of the discussion focused on Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Russia, Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter did note that the U.S. is not disengaged and, on the contrary, has been positively and heavily engaged in the region.
  • In addition to Uruguay, the United States also askedBrazil and Colombia to take in inmates from Guantanamo Bay. Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said the government was analyzing the request, while Uruguay agreed to take five inmates earlier this week.
  • Federal troops were sent to one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slums and will stay there until the kickoff of the World Cup in 76 days. The military deployment comes after a serious of bombing, murders and attacks on police bases. InSight Crime published an on-the-ground perspective of one of these pacification operations in one of Rio’s most violent favelas, Vila Kennedy.
  • Locals in a major coca-producing region in Bolivia clashedwith police over the construction of a military base. According to the Associated Press, the counterdrug base is being built with $1.3 million in European Union funding.
  • On Tuesday, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announcedthat FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Céren would officially be the country’s next president, after the body formally rejected the ARENA party’s petition for a ballot-by-ballot recount on Wednesday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) releaseda statement Tuesday congratulating Sanchez Céren that noted a “calm and orderly” election but recognized there were “pending legal matters.”
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarapé, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, launched an impressive interactive online database of citizen security programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As Spanish news agency EFE noted, 66 percent of security policies in Latin America have been concentrated in Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
  • Also of note this week: an article by Ander Izagirre in El Pais on Colombia’s false positives, a piece on the massacre of 260 Central American migrants in 2010 and 2011 by Oscar Martinez in El Faro, in Vice on violence against local communities involved in mining conflicts in Guatemala, and an investigation published by El Faro, in Inside Costa Rica on the effectiveness of panic buttons in busses in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  • Thursday, March 27, 2014

    United States Counternarcotics Assistance in Central America from the 2013 INCSR

    This post was drafted by CIP intern Elijah Stevens

    The U.S. State Department’s recently released International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) identified all seven countries in Central America as major transit countries for drug trafficking. While there are serious efforts to combat drug trafficking in these countries, many of which are backed by various forms of U.S. assistance through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the report found that 80 percent of illegal drugs destined for the United States are still trafficked through Central America.
    Countries throughout this region are plagued, to varying degrees, by limited funds for improving capabilities and resources, problematic and weak judiciary systems, corruption at various levels of security institutions, and lack of professionalization in their security forces.

    The INCSR explains some of the initiatives the United States has supported and continues to support, the majority of them through CARSI:

    Belize

  • Trained and supported the Coast Guard to establish Belize’s first Sea, Air and Land Team (SEAL).
  • Established a Mobile Interdiction Team in December 2012 whose mission is to interdict narcotics at ports of entry throughout border regions. This is in addition to the provision of training and equipment to the country’s police force.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement, and a U.S.-sponsored Multilateral Counterdrug Summit with 11 other participants from Central and South America
  • Currently, Belize’s government is exploring the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana in small quantities as an alternative strategy in combatting narcotrafficking and crime.

    Costa Rica

  • Updated police academy curriculum and continued implemention of the COMPSTAT crime-tracking system.
  • Providing training and equipment for Costa Rica’s police to perform anti-gang law enforcement and also support for community policing with equipment, vehicles and training.
  • A maritime counternarcotics bilateral agreement to target offshore narcotrafficking. Although the U.S.’ antidrug surge mission in Central America’s coastal waters, Operation Martillo, has been constrained by Costa Rica’s reluctance to allow other countries’ military ships into its waters, an uptick in drug trafficking in the country has meant the government has been more open to granting permission.
  • Helped create, train and support the newly established Border Police, including building a critical checkpoint in southern Costa Rica to monitor traffic from Panama.
  • There has been an increasing presence of transnational criminal organizations in Costa Rica, which has grown hand-in-hand with continued perceptions of corruption in the police, judiciary and government. Although violence is relatively low in Costa Rica, homicide rates held steady in 2013 and assaults increased nearly 19 percent.

    El Salvador

  • Providing equipment and training for law enforcement agencies to interdict narcotics shipments, combat money laundering and public corruption, and enforce the anti-gang law.
  • Helped establish a joint Interagency Task Force “Grupo Conjunto Cuscatlán” (Cuscatlán Joint Group or GCC) in 2012 to better integrate the National Civil Police (PNC), customs and port authorities, and local military
  • Donation of three helicopters and six boats to the GCC, which is made up of the PNC, the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) and the Attorney General’s Office (FGR)
  • Initiated and sponsored two large polygraph sessions in 2013 administered by U.S-trained Colombian polygraphists
  • A number of reforms were also launched in El Salvador to address issues within the legal system. The Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of National Civilian Police was organized to confront retention issues, staffing shortages and leadership problems. According to the report, “The vetted counternarcotics unit (GEAN) within the DAN is responsible for conducting sensitive counternarcotics investigations, but few operational results have been achieved since 2012.”

    Guatemala

  • The transfer of title and operational control of six UH-1H II helicopters, effectively nationalizing the aviation interdiction program
  • Collaboration with the National Police (PNC) to form a 38-man land interdiction unit for mobile check points along with additional efforts to modernize and expand the PNC force
  • Financial and technical support to three special prosecutorial units for criminal cases, and a special task force for investigation and preparation of high-impact narcotics cases.
  • The report noted that narcotics traffickers might be attempting to increase the domestic market in Guatemala by paying local couriers in drugs rather than cash. President Pérez Molina has increased cooperation between the police and military to combat crime and drug trafficking.

    Honduras

  • The United States has provided training to Honduran police, prosecutors and judges:
    • Directly trained 1,200 individuals
    • Helped establish a Criminal Investigative School
    • Funded Colombian trainers through the U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Action Plan for several trainings with government officials and security forces
    • Funded Chilean trainers to train Honduran police
  • Helped create the Inter-Institutional Task Force to improve investigative capacity, protect human rights and reduce impunity.
  • U.S. support for several counternarcotics operations, including Operation Armadillo, a mission in the major drug trafficking corridor of the Gracias a Dios region and another joint DEA-Honduran Navy interdiction operation.
  • Helped the government design several police reforms, none of which have passed into law.
  • While drug-related violence remains extremely high in Honduras, a blow was struck against narcotics trafficking with a major law enforcement operation against the Los Cachiros drug trafficking organization in September in which over $500 million in assets was seized. The country has immensely weak institutions and in 2013, several high-ranking security officials resigned or were fired. The government established a new police unit and two military police battalions in 2013 to combat the soaring crime and violence. Honduras has counternarcotics agreements with the United States, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela and Spain.

    Nicaragua

    The U.S. State Department ceased providing funds to certain Nicaraguan government agencies in 2013 due to ongoing concerns over fiscal transparency. This phased out several bilateral programs and prompted some counternarcotics funds to be redirected towards drug eradication and non-governmental drug demand reduction programs. The United States does continue to assist Nicaragua’s counternarcotic efforts in some ways:

  • Using funds from 2012, donated four Mobile Tracers narcotics detectors valued at $168,000 to the Nicaraguan National Police’s (NNP) Drug Unit, and provided associated training to 15 anti-narcotics police officers.
  • Donated interdiction equipment and two boats with the capacity to intercept offshore speedboats, constructed an anti-drugs operation center, storage warehouse and boat ramp valued at $5.4 million.
  • Also using funding from 2012, donated four drug detector units valued at $87,000 and provided interdiction training to 12 naval officers.
  • Panama

  • Established an asset-forfeiture sharing agreement that will provide $36 million from past investigations to the Panamanian government.
  • Supported prison reform and anti-corruption classes, which will continue as several security-service members were detained for narcotrafficking in 2013.
  • Provided support to modernize and maintain Panama’s Air Naval Service (SENAN), Panamanian National Border Service (SENAFRONT), Panamanian National Police (PNP) vessels and facilities for interdiction, including funding Colombian trainers to work with SENAN and SENAFRONT. Members of SENAFRONT are now training security forces in Costa Rica, Belize and Honduras.
  • According to the INCSR, through strong U.S. support, Panama was able to achieve some successes in combating narcotrafficking, especially with the use of the Panamanian National Border Front (SENAFRONT) to end the FARC’s permanent presence in the remote Darien Gap region.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week Mexico's national security commissioner resigned, U.S. Southern Command deployed more ships to help Honduras' Navy interdict drugs and Colombian security forces were deployed to the country's primary cocaine port, where neo-paramilitary groups are terrorizing residents. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • Colombian Minister of Justice Alfonso Gomez asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to divert U.S. security assistance away from aerial coca fumigation and towards preventative, development programs like alternative crop incentives. According to Gomez, doing so would free up resources to "attack the causes" of the illicit drug trade, which he asserted needed to be viewed as "an economic and social problem."
  • The Washington Office on Latin America released a report on Colombia’s training of foreign forces throughout the region. The United States strongly supports this practice, as the use of Colombian facilities and trainers can be up to four times cheaper than using U.S. assets. The creation of an International Cooperation Division to help coordinate trainings at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, allocated $15 million in the 2014 budget, suggests this is no passing trend.
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has said his country would receive five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, although U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso said the two countries are still "in consultations and dialogue." As the Pan-American Post noted, if an agreement is reached, Uruguay would become the second Latin American country to accept Guantanamo detainees, after El Salvador accepted two prisoners in 2012.
  • Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes announced U.S. Southern Command would be ramping up its activities off the coast of Honduras to work with the Honduran Navy on counternarcotics operations. SOUTHCOM’s new deployment includes four armed vessels, two cutters and two frigates, one to the Atlantic and the other to the Pacific.
  • On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report on the security crisis in the Colombian port city of Buenaventura. The report highlighted the violence, torture and extortion committed by the two predominant paramilitary successor groups in the area, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which caused the displacement of 19,000 people from the city in 2013 alone. El Espectador also profiled the security situation, while freelance journalist James Bargent noted the relatively recent U.S-Colombia free trade agreement has exacerbated the problem.
  • El Tiempo reported that almost 600 soldiers and marines have been deployed to Buenaventura in hopes of wrangling control from the Empresa and the Urabeños, which is said to be Colombia's most powerful criminal group. As the Los Angeles Times noted, "the Buenaventura situation is especially alarming because the Colombian and U.S. governments have poured millions of dollars in aid into the city over the past decade."
  • A sobering but excellent interactive feature (and phone app) from Colombian investigative news organization Verdad Abierta and Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory chronicles 700 massacres that have taken place in the country from 1982-present.
  • Military budgets in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by three percent in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The study found Nicaragua increased its budget by 27 percent, while Honduras and Guatemala increased their budgets by about 18 percent.
  • Honduran authorities discovered opium poppies for the first time during a greenhouse raid in the western part of the country, IPS News reported Monday.
  • On Sunday, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) named left-wing FMLN candidate and former guerrilla Salvador Sanchez Céren as the country's next president, following a contentious post-election standoff with the conservative ARENA party. Sanchez Céren and his vice-president Oscar Ortíz will begin their terms on June 1. As Central American Politics noted, Sanchez Céren, has appointed six other former leftist rebels to his transition team.
  • As Salvadoran journalist Hector Silva highlighted in an op-ed for El Faro, while the U.S. government historically "does not like to dance" with the country's political left, there are a number of issues, like drug trafficking and immigration, that inextricably link the two nations. There were a number of other helpful articles examining the challenges Sanchez Céren now faces given his razor-thin victory, including these from Al Jazeera, Prensa Libre, and Americas Quarterly
  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew traveled to Brazil this week in hopes of repairing relations with the country, which were strained following revelations of NSA espionage earlier this year. Lew also met with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson visited the region this week as well to meet with government officials from Brazil and Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes. Following her meeting with Cartes, Jacobson said the United States was looking to increase cooperation with the South American nation in the fight against organized crime.
  • On Thursday, five members of the U.S. Congress met with Bolivian President Evo Morales to discuss improving bilateral relations.
  • The head of Mexico's National Security Commission and federal police, Manuel Mondragon, stepped down on Monday. President Enrique Peña Nieto nominated lawyer Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia to be his replacement, profiled by El Universal here. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this is the second high-level Mexican security official to step down in less than two months, noting the resignation of Colombian security advisor General Oscar Naranjo in late January.
  • Brazilian think-tank Igarape Institute released a report, "Changes in the Neighborhood:Reviewing Citizen Security Cooperation in Latin America," which examined a shift in security strategies towards “softer” policies focused on regional cooperation and citizen participation. InSight Crime published an analysis of the report, including an examination of the United States’ role in citizen security throughout the region.
  • Peruvian investigative news website IDL-Reporteros critiqued the Peruvian government’s militarized forced eradication strategy in the VRAE region, which now produces more coca than any other place in the world.
  • Friday, February 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    Reactions to the political unrest gripping Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Venezuelan Military

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

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

  • Colombia

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

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

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

  • United States

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

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

  • United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • CARICOM (Caribbean Community)

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

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

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

  • OAS (Organization of American States)

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

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

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

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

  • Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)

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

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

     

    Amnesty International asked the Venezuelan government to investigate the deaths:

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

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

    Human Rights Watch also stated that Venezuela must investigate killings:

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

    Friday, January 31, 2014

    The Week in Review

    This week, the presidential race heated up in Costa Rica and El Salvador, Honduras's new president criticized U.S. drug policies and Nicaragua expanded the military's role in the country. Below is a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region over the past week.

  • On Monday, Honduras swore in its new president, Juan Orlando Hernández. During his ceremony he criticized U.S. drug policy and invited the Obama administration to "work for real" in the fight against drugs. According to Hernandez, ""It strikes us as a double standard that while our people die and bleed, and we're forced to fight the gangs with our own scarce resources, in North America drugs are just a public health issue, for Honduras and the rest of our Central American brothers it's a case of life and death."

    The same day Hernandez also deployed the controversial military police to the streets as part of "Operation Morazan ," the latest joint military and police effort to target soaring crime, violence and drug trafficking. The plan includes increasing security force presence on the streets and public transportation.

  • La Silla Vacía found Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' rhetoric about changing drug policy does not match with the number of actual changes implemented. The tough critique, which examined seven aspects of President Santos' drug policy, including several U.S.-backed initiatives like fumigation and development plans, finds that little change has been made and that he has also been fairly absent from the country's Drug Policy Advisory Commission. WOLA dealt with some of these policy issues in a post this week, "Eleven Ways Colombian and FARC Negotiators can Reform Drug Policy and Build a Lasting Peace."
  • The U.S. Border Patrol posted its 2013 apprehension statistics , which also include information on the location of apprehensions and the amount and type of narcotics seized. In "What New Border Patrol Statistics Reveal about Changing Migration to the United States," WOLA's Adam Isacson provides useful graphics highlighting a variety of trends, such as an increase in non-Mexican migrants, a drop in apprehensions to 1970s levels, and a shift in the location of the highest apprehension rates from Arizona to South Texas. More from the Washington Post on Border Patrol shootings and InSight Crime on the regional implications of a U.S. drone crash on the border.
  • Roberta Jacobson was interviewed on CNN Thursday night to discuss the United States' priorities in the region.
  • In an article in Science Daily , researchers at Ohio State University looked at the link between rapidly disappearing rainforests in Central America and the acceleration and shifts of the drug war.
  • The Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, submitted to Congress the annual "World Threat Assessment. " The report briefly discussed instability in Haiti, economic and security threats in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and made one reference to the spread of Mexican drug cartels influence into Central America and role in the country's high levels of violence.
  • Defense, law enforcement and civilian leaders from 20 countries met in Santo Domingo from Tuesday to Thursday for a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored conference on countering transnational organized crime in the Caribbean. As Francisco Palmieri, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central America and Caribbean Affairs said, "As the regional security initiatives in Colombia, Mexico and Central America produce successes, we know transnational crime and violence will inherently become a greater challenge in the Caribbean." The article goes on to describe several ongoing U.S. security initiatives in the region.
  • Naval Forces Southern Command hosted a conference for U.S. Navy officials working at embassies across Latin America and the Caribbean to coordinate engagements for 2014.
  • Nicaragua’s Congress approved constitutional reforms that eliminate presidential term limits and expand the role of the military. The Associated Press has a useful rundown of the reforms in the bill, including allowing active members of the military and police to run for political office and allowing the military to provide security for private companies. Confidencial also documented changes to the military code that allow the military chief of staff to indefinitely keep his post as well as create a reserve force.
  • There are two key presidential elections happening in El Salvador and Costa Rica this weekend:

  • In El Salvador, the elections will be a close race between the FMLN's Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Norman Quijano from the ARENA party. The outcome will have security implications as Sánchez Cerén promotes strengthening the role of the National Civil Police and scaling back the military, while Quijano is pushing for a more mano duro, or iron fist approach.

    The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a helpful guide to the Salvadoran elections, highlighting the major candidates and parties in the running and obstacles facing them. The Pan-American Post published a useful summary Thursday and WOLA's Geoff Thale discussed the stakes of the election on Adam Isacson's podcast and published a written overview, noting the United States' crucial role as a remaining powerful force in El Salvador.

  • While the Obama Administration has remained neutral, the elections in El Salvador have become politicized in the United States, with several Bush-era officials (Elliot Abrams and Jose R. Cardenas) calling for the ruling FMLN party to be voted out, accusing it of links to the drug trade. Salvadoran journalist and political analyst Hector Ávilos posted an article examining U.S. involvement in the drug war, arguing the drug trade has been tied to many Salvadoran governments, several of which were backed by the United States during the Reagan and Bush eras.

    Other helpful articles on the election: analysis on Central American Politics blog, "Don't Fear El Salvador's Leftists" from former U.S. ambassador William Walker, this from El Faro, and a reading list from Tim's El Salvador Blog, which includes this useful Reuters article.

  • As for Costa Rica's presidential election, the Tico Times published poll numbers and the Pan-American Post provided a short guide to those running and the political landscape.
  • Friday, January 17, 2014

    The Year in Review: U.S. Policy in 2013

    In 2013, there were some subtle changes in U.S. policy towards Latin America. However, many events in the region have set the stage for the United States to possibly make some difficult policy choices in 2014, from Uruguay legalizing marijuana, to Colombia’s possible peace accords, to new shifts in the drug trade and increased militarization of law enforcement.

    As we move into the New Year and start to think about U.S.-Latin America relations going forward, we wanted to take a step back and look at some trends and highlights that will guide decisions going forward. Here is a roundup of events that in some way influenced U.S. security policy towards the region in 2013 and will affect U.S. policy in 2014.

    United States’ Security Relationship
    In 2013, the Obama administration engaged more with Latin America than it had in the past four years, with Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama traveling to the region and meeting with various leaders.

    While the United States continued to devote military assistance for the drug war in Latin America, Mexico and Colombia shifted the focus of their conversations with the United States from security to economics. Despite this shift, the two countries held their spot as the top two U.S. military and police aid recipients in the region and will continue to do so, although the big-ticket aid packages to both, Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative, are in decline.

    There were a few developments over the past year to keep an eye on going forward:

  • Although Plan Colombia will be scaled back over the next few years, Colombia's training of foreign forces with U.S. funds will increase. In 2013, there 39 training events in four Central American countries with U.S. funding. (Read more here). In 2014, this cooperation will triple to 152 trainings in six countries, according to the White House. (The total number of trainees is unknown.) This excludes other U.S.-backed trainings within Colombia.
  • Increasing assistance to Central America and Peru. This year the United States continued with Operation Martillo, its counternarcotics surge operation along Central America’s coasts, and funded numerous other military counternarcotics initiatives in Central America, many of which were laid out in our September Just the Facts Military trends report. Although murder rates in Central America were either the same or slightly lower in 2013, heavy violence continued as Mexican cartels spread operations into the region. In the 2014 budget request, funds for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) increased by $26 million over 2013.

    This year, anti-drug assistance to Peru reached $100 million, almost double 2012's $55 million, due to the country’s increase in coca cultivation and the Peruvian government’s stated commitment to eradicating crops and targeting narcotraffickers and Shining Path rebels.

  • Shifts to the Caribbean: Top U.S. officials said over the course of this year that drug traffickers are shifting their routes back to the Caribbean, a trend that is likely to develop further in 2014, due to increased counternarcotics efforts in Central America.
  • Assistance to Honduras: This year activists and several lawmakers questioned the legitimacy of U.S. security assistance to Honduras, following several reports linking military and police officers to extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. The United States had held up several millions over concerns that the (now) former police chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” had been linked to death squads, claiming it did not directly fund Bonilla and would only fund those “two steps below” him. However, the Associated Press later reported that all units, regardless of rank, were under Bonilla’s control and quoted Bonilla saying the United States had been his “best ally and support.”

    In March, the United States stopped funding a failing police reform altogether after reports that hundreds of officers that had failed confidence tests had remained on the force. Since then, the country has only become more militarized as a newly created military police force started patrolling in October and the corruption, massive fiscal troubles and spiraling crime and violence that racked the country going into 2013 has continued into 2014. It was recently announced that Juan Carlos Bonilla has been fired, but the amount of U.S. assistance released to Honduras remains to be seen in light of all other police and military abuse reports.

  • Militarization of law enforcement

  • In 2013, governments throughout the region increased their use of militaries to carry out law enforcement duties. We documented this trend in Brazil, Guatmala, Honduras and Venezuela. However it is also true in Paraguay, Mexico, and even Argentina (which, after years of excluding the military from internal security, has recently sought more U.S. assistance for Army counternarcotics operations.) Although human rights activists and analysts criticized this trend, the pattern appears to be deepening in the first weeks of 2014.

    In most of these countries, much-needed police reform efforts are flailing, due to lack of funding and political will as violence soars. Much of this has happened with tacit U.S. approval.

  • Elections

    In 2013, a few countries in Latin America voted in new leaders that will affect the region’s security landscape.

    New leadership in 2013:

  • Honduras: Conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez won November’s controversial presidential election amid allegations of fraud. In 2014, he will likely take a hardline approach to security as he has said he wanted to put a “soldier on every street corner.” U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern over the country’s militarized security strategy.
  • Venezuela: On March 5, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died. The 10-month rule of Chávez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, whose election was hotly contested, has been marked by runaway inflation, political gaffes, increasing censorship of the opposition, an uptick in homicides and increasing militarization. Corruption and drug trafficking in the military remain central issues. Like Chávez, Maduro blamed the United States and the opposition for many of the country’s afflictions, despite initial signs of warming relations with Washington.
  • Paraguay: Horacio Cartes, of the country’s Colorado party, was the first elected leader since the country’s “Golpeachment” in June 2012, despite his ties to corruption and the drug trade. Within a week of Cartes taking his oath, the country’s Congress awarded him the power to deploy the military domestically, in response to a renewed push by a small guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army.
  • Drug Policy

    In 2013, there was a notable push throughout Latin America to move away from U.S.-promoted prohibition and eradication and towards a drug policy based on a public health approach. This momentum to find alternatives to the drug war can be seen in June’s Organization of American States meeting, themed “Alternative Strategies for Combating Drugs.” So far however the United States has said it will not support marijuana legalization at the national level.

  • Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production and sale of marijuana. The president of neighboring Paraguay, the largest producer of marijuana in the region, claimed it would encourage cross-border trafficking and drive production in his country. In 2014, it will not only be important to see if these predictions come true, but also if violence associated with other drugs drops, which the Uruguayan government claims will happen as police become more available to focus on heavier narcotics.
  • On January 1, 2014 Colorado became the first U.S. state to regulate commercial production and sale of recreational marijuana. Washington State will soon follow. In 2014 it will be interesting to see whether this leads to a drop in Mexican marijuana trafficking and/or violence on the border. As the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica reaffirmed, it will unlikely lead to change in drug policy towards Latin America.
  • Domestic drugs markets in Latin America increased in 2013, most notably in Argentina and Brazil, which are supplied by coca production in Bolivia and Peru, the latter of which overtook Colombia this year as the world’s biggest producer of cocaine.
  • Although Colombia made no legal changes in 2013, President Santos has indicated on numerous occasions that he is ready for a change if others go in that direction. It could be that in 2014 the country will undergo some changes to its drug policy as a result of peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group. The two are currently discussing the issue of drug trafficking at peace negotiations taking place in Havana..
  • One year for Mexican President Peña Nieto

  • During his campaign, President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed a change in Mexico’s war against the drug cartels. He pledged to focus more on violence against citizens rather than on the militarized, U.S.-backed “kingpin” strategy so aggressively pursued by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, which drew criticism for splintering the cartels and causing violence to spike.

    However, this year Peña Nieto’s security strategy showed little departure from years past, sending federal troops to hotbeds of crime and violence and working closely with the U.S. to bring down top traffickers. Unlike Calderón however, he did not publicly promote his war on the cartels, instead choosing to put the spotlight on economy and reform. He also limited U.S. agencies’ access to Mexican security forces, channeling all bilateral law enforcement contact through the Ministry of the Interior, the effects of which remain to be seen.

    Murders did drop slightly in 2013, however the number of kidnappings and extortion skyrocketed and armed citizen self-defense groups surged, citing the government’s inability to protect them from the cartels.

    One year in, Peña Nieto has yet to articulate a clear plan or timeline for his overall security strategy. Heading into 2014, several security problems remain, but two major ones include: ongoing impunity for abuses and corruption committed by security officials, and the rise of vigilante groups that are clashing with the drug cartels and federal troops, particularly in the western part of the country. Many worry the groups will follow the path taken by paramilitary groups in Colombia, widening the criminal landscape.

  • El Salvador gang truce

  • Going into 2013, there was hope the truce between El Salvador’s two rival gangs, the MS-13 and Barrio 18, that had initially caused the murder rate to halve in 2012, would yield even more security gains as neighboring Guatemala and Honduras continued to be plagued by drug trafficking and high homicide rates due to gang violence.

    But going into 2014, the truce is eroding and few believe it will become a viable security solution, no matter the outcome of February’s presidential elections. Although an El Faro report this year revealed the government’s undeniable role in facilitating the truce, the administration of President Mauricio Funes has refused to admit its role, due to an ever-increasing lack of political and public support. The United States did not come out for or against the deal, allotting funding to several other security-focused initiatives over the year, but none specifically aligned with the truce.

    El Salvador ended 2013 with a lower homicide rate than 2012, but disappearances doubled, murders steadily crept up in the last six months of the year – a trend that has continued into 2014 – and mass graves possibly linked to gang violence were found, increasing skepticism about the agreement’s actual gains. If the truce falls apart, El Salvador could see a spike in violence.

  • Colombia peace process

  • In 2013, advances in peace negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government signaled both sides’ commitment to finding a resolution to end the country’s fifty-year internal conflict. However the talks continue to be met with cautious optimism. The negotiating teams have made more progress than in any previous peace talks, hammering out deals on two of the root causes of the conflict: land reform and the guerrillas’ political participation. The Obama administration expressed strong support for talks throughout the year, which will be crucial in to ensure a post-conflict transition, given Colombia is the U.S.’ main security partner in Latin America.

    Although the talks closed 2013 without much movement on the third agenda point – the drug trade--there remains the sense that both sides are committed to reaching an agreement. President Santos has all but staked his re-election on the negotiations. In 2014, it is likely that the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s smaller—but also nearly 50-year-old—guerrilla group, will begin negotiations with the government.