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Friday, December 6, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top security-related articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The Latin Americanist and Pan American Post had roundups of Latin American leaders' reactions to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday. As both noted, Venezuela and Nicaragua have called for three national days of mourning.
President Santos met with President Obama in the Oval Office for two and a half hours Tuesday morning. After the meeting, Santos described relations between the two countries as “at their best moment ever.” See this Just the Facts post for a summary of news and analysis on the visit.
Despite the optimistic tones of the meeting with President Obama, President Santos criticized the United States’ Cuba policy while speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Congress. “I think Cuba would be willing to change, and both sides have to give in some way,” saying that the moment is “now” for diplomacy to change. At the Organization of American States, President Santos reiterated his stance on creating alternative policies to the drug war and asked members to promote an open discussion on drug policy.
Monday December 2nd was the 20th anniversary of Pablo Escobar’s death. There was coverage in both English and Spanish on the infamous drug lord’s divisive legacy including pieces from the BBC, El Tiempo (multimedia feature), and BBC Mundo. Longtime Medellín journalist Jeremy McDermott noted that while Medellín remains the epicenter of narcotrafficking in Colombia, the nature of the drug trade and landscape of the criminal underworld has changed significantly since the downfall of Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.
On Monday, lead FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo read out a ten-point anti-narcotics plan in Havana. Some of the changes in drug policy listed in the communiqué are not too different from what many leaders in Latin America, including Colombia’s President Santos, have been calling for, which include: demilitarization of drug policy, immediate suspension of (U.S.-backed) coca fumigation programs, and the treatment of psychoactive drug use as a public health problem along with the decriminalization of drug consumption.
The group also proposed the state recognize the “food, medicinal, therapeutic, industrial and cultural uses of cultivating coca leaves, marijuana and poppy” as part of an illicit crop substitution program. The Colombian government rejected this. As a recommended read from InSight Crime analyzing the obstacles and opportunities in the talks regarding the drug trade noted, “The chance of striking an agreement with such a key member of the drug trafficking underworld offers the Colombian authorities an unprecedented opportunity.” More from the AFP.
Colombia's Defense Minister in D.C.
On Monday, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón spoke at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. He discussed Colombia’s currently military strategy as well as defense plans going forward. The transcript can be read here.
December 1st marked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office. There were several analysis, including from: Alfredo Corchado, James Bosworth, the Washington Office on Latin America, David Agren for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, analyst Alejandro Hope, the Pan-American Post and InSight Crime, which included an overview of Mexico’s current criminal setting.
Most of the analysis touched on the fact that while President Peña Nieto is distinct from former President Calderón in that fighting the cartels has not been the public focus of his government, the policy of deploying the military and federal police to criminal hotspots has continued. As a result, human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have blasted Peña Nieto for the justice system’s ongoing impunity for murder and abuses committed by security officials. Although homicides have dropped in some areas, kidnapping has skyrocketed. As analyst James Bosworth asserted, “the two key issues, security and economic growth, have not seen the improvements Peña Nieto promised during his campaign.”
Fugitive Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero sent President Peña Nieto a letter urging him to resist U.S. “pressure” to capture and extradite him for the 1985 killing of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Quintero had served 28 years of a 40-year sentence when a Mexican court allowed his release, drawing heavy criticism from the United States. Mexico’s Supreme Court has since overturned the ruling and Mexican and U.S. authorities have issued warrants for Quintero’s arrest. More from the Los Angeles Times and Fox News Latino.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a new report on security and migration along the United States-Mexico border on Thursday.
Transparency International report
Transparency International released its 2013 Corruption Index Tuesday and found there has been little improvement in the region’s most corrupt countries. Venezuela, Paraguay and Honduras had the highest indexes of corruption, while Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica ranked as the least corrupt. Central America in general was found to be more corrupt than last year, with an uptick in drug trafficking cited as the main cause. More from InSight Crime and International Business Times.
In an effort to reduce the size of Ecuador’s armed forces, President Rafael Correa proposed creating financial incentives for officers to retire from the military and law civilian law enforcement bodies.
The U.S. Department of Defense said there were no plans for toxin-filled munitions abandoned by the U.S. Army on San Jose Island in 1947 to be returned and destroyed. Despite a statement by Panama’s foreign minister last month that the aging chemical weapons would be returned, the Pentagon has said it would be sending experts to the Central American country. This has been a contentious issue between the two countries for some time.
On Sunday, Venezuelans will go to the polls to elect 365 mayors and 2,389 municipal representatives. Some analysts have described this vote as a “referendum” on President Maduro’s first eight months in office. As Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has campaigned hard for his MUD party, visiting 117 municipalities compared to Maduro’s 21. Americas Society/Council of the Americas has an explainer on the elections and analyst Luis Vincente León looks at possible outcomes from the elections, noting that some of Maduro’s most recent political tricks, such as lowering the prices of electronics and other goods, could tip the scale in his favor. Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog has a useful cheat sheet.
Most of the firearms in El Salvador come from the United States, according to the country’s national police (PNC). With training from the U.S. Office on Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the PNC has tracked nearly 34,000 weapons, the majority of which came from the United States. While some are left over from Central America’s civil wars, modern weapon discoveries suggest new arms trafficking networks. More from InSight Crime and La Prensa Grafica.
Last week, Honduras’ electoral court announced conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez winner of the country's presidential elections. On Monday, Hernández’s closest competitor and wife of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party, filed a formal complaint claiming fraud in the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) agreed to count the tally sheets on Wednesday, however officials delayed doing so after claiming members of the LIBRE failed to appear. The LIBRE leadership claimed the TSE's procedures were insufficient and had suggested other mechanisms. As Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted, LIBRE and the TSE had never agreed to specifics in the procedure and therefore had no official start date to begin vote counting. See this Just the Facts post post by Latin America Working group for more on foul play in the electoral process.
Friday, October 25, 2013
This post was written by Sarah Kinosian and CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
United States Policy
On Thursday, the United States Congress held a hearing, “Creating Peace and Finding Justice in Colombia.” It was held before the House’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. WOLA’s Adam Isacson testified, as did Ginny Bouvier from USIP and Max Shoening from Human Rights Watch, among others. The topics discussed included the peace process, the role of the United States should a peace agreement be reached, and labor rights and land rights. See the commision’s website and Colombia Reports for more information.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched an official investigation looking into the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, including any accounts of Mexican cooperation in the U.S. spying programs. The decision comes after this week’s revelation that the NSA hacked former President Felipe Calderon’s public email account. While Mexico’s response to disclosures of U.S. spying has been more measured than that of other targeted governments, the country’s foreign minister said he would be seeking an explanation from the U.S. ambassador. More from The Christian Science Monitor, Latin Americanist blog, BBC Mundo, Der Speigel, CNN, Los Angeles Times, and Excelsior.
Brazil and Germany teamed up this week to cosponsor a U.N. resolution on internet privacy. Although the draft resolution did not directly mention the recent disclosures of the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying practices, it most certainly was the prompt.
President Obama postponed his meeting with President Mujica due to the government shutdown. The meeting is planned to take place next year.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have increased military jurisdiction over human rights crimes. As of right now, all human rights cases involving members of the military are to be tried in civilian court. Members of the U.S. Congress had withheld at least $10 million in military aid over human rights concerns implicit in the measure.
As the Associated Press noted, Defense Minister Juan Pinzon called the ruling “a blow to the morale of the military forces that without doubt will affect Colombians’ security.” The measure was seen as President Santos’ concession to the armed forces for their backing in peace negotiations with the FARC. As La Silla Vacia noted, the law would have acted as a “protective shield that would give them legal guarantees.” The decision to throw out the “fuero militar” could have a negative impact on the armed forces support for the peace process. More from the Pan-American Post, Amnesty International, Semana, and El Espectador. For more context on the law in English, see last week’s AP article profiling the measure.
Amnesty International reported right-wing paramilitary group Los Rastrojos has threatened “social cleansing” of indigenous leaders and groups involved in protests throughout the country.The threats come amid reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators.
A court ruling in Guatemala this week could open the door for amnesty for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the First Chamber of Appeals to rule on whether a 1986 amnesty law applies to Rios Montt, despite several prior rulings that it did not, given the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. If the chamber finds the law applies, his case will be thrown out. Judge Jorge Mario Valenzuela, president of the chamber, says they will announce their decision today or tomorrow. As Central American Politics blog noted, “The Constitutional Court seems intent on ensuring that Rios Montt and other human rights violators are never held accountable.” More from the Pan-American Post.
Human rights organization FIDH released a report (PDF) on the Rios Montt trial, asking for members of the European Union (EU) not to ratify the EU-Central America Association Agreement in protest of the annulment of Rios Montt’s genocide conviction.
A report published by the National Economic Research Center (CIEN) found the rate of murders linked to firearms has doubled over the past ten years to 82 percent. This is nearly twice the global average of 42 percent and over Central America’s average of 70 percent. More from InSight Crime.
There is one month before presidential elections take place in Honduras on November 24 and the race is in a dead heat between Xiomara Castro for the center-left LIBRE party and Juan Orlando Hernández for the ruling National Party. Honduras Culture and Politics blog has a helpful overview and breakdown of polling numbers, while Hermano Juancito published two informative posts ahead of elections -- one outlining the political landscape and the other looking at corruption, violence and mudsling ahead of elections. More from Just the Facts, Reuters and World Politics Review.
The United Nations Human Right Council began its review of human rights in Mexico on Wednesday in Geneva. Members called on Mexico to investigate several of the severe citizen security issues going on in the country, such as deadly attacks on journalists, violence against women, and forced disappearances by security forces. Swiss representative Michael Meier said, "Despite Mexico's will to improve the training of relevant authorities, the number of officials suspected of being involved in enforced disappearances is very alarming." Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio insisted progress had been made and cited the creation of a new victims law and an alleged drop in complaints filed against the military. More from Animal Politico, El Universal and Reuters.
This week the Cuban government announced it would be doing away with its dual currency system. The measure was put in place in 1994 and has been unpopular with the island's residents. No timetable has been given for when the new single currency system will go into effect. The Economist had an overview of the current system and laid out some challenges that lie ahead of the changeover.
Al Jazeera reported on the creation of a “Special Economic Zone” on the island where, “One-hundred percent foreign ownership will be allowed for firms operating in the zone, and contracts will be extended to 50 years, up from the current 25.”
Bolivian President Evo Morales, once head of the coca growers union, defended eradication efforts in the northern region of Apolo, citing strong evidence of narcotrafficking in the area. The statement comes after coca growers attacked security forces involved in an eradication operation, killing four and taking six hostage, all of whom were later released. Morales pointed to the capture of four Peruvians in the area as evidence that foreigners were trafficking in the region. President Morales has called for an increased military presence on the border to stem the illegal flow of coca, EFE reported.
IDL Reporteros published an interesting piece on the growing use of small planes to transport cocaine out of the remote Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRA) region, where more coca is grown than anywhere else in the world. These “narcoflights” land on some 40 clandestine runways that are scattered throughout the harsh geography of the region.
The Secretary of Uruguay’s National Board of Drugs Julio Calzada traveled to the U.S. this week to look at the legal cannabis market and regulation in Colorado. Calzada told the Associated Press, “We see the hypocrisy of U.S. politics towards Latin America. We have thousands of deaths that are the simple result of (drug) prohibition.” On the visit the delegation toured growhouses with digital marking systems and learned about video monitoring systems. This trip comes as the drug regulation body announced earlier this week that the initial regulated pricing of marijuana cigarettes would be around $1 a gram. More from the Pan-American Post about legal debates surrounding the law.
President Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of a vice-ministry for the “Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People.” The new cabinet position will be charged with overseeing the social missions, known as “Bolivarian Missions,” that were a hallmark of former President Hugo Chávez’s presidency. More from BBC Mundo.
Friday, October 11, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Inter American Court of Human Rights
Peruvian Judge Diego Garcia-Sayan, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH), said that the use of military for domestic law enforcement was acceptable in the fight against crime. Charles Parkinson of InSight Crime noted, “his endorsement of the use of the army for citizen security may affect claims made against military human rights abuses before the CIDH, which is often the only serious option available to citizens as military personnel tend to be tried in closed military courts.”
A new report was released by the Centro de Estudios Legales about extrajudicial killings by members of Bueno Aires’ Metropolitan Police.
The Russian Defense Minister is set to travel to Brazil and Peru to discuss the sale of military technology to the South American nations. Brazil is set to buy anti-aircraft system batteries and Peru is in talks to acquire tanks. Both deals are expected to be valued at millions of dollars.
The United States donated six UH1Y helicopters to the Guatemalan Air Force to combat drug trafficking, along with navigational and infrastructure equipment all purported to be valued at $40 million. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said the donation was, “a show of confidence in Guatemala by the United States government.”
Michelle Bachelet, the center-left candidate for president, is likely to win the race in mid-November, according to new opinion polls. Ms. Bachelet, who already has held Chile’s highest office, is polling at 33%, meaning a run-off vote is likely. In Chile, a candidate must gain 50% of the vote in the first round to avoid a runoff.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has demanded explanations from the Canadian government over allegations of spying on the country’s energy and mining sectors. Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail quoted American journalist Glenn Greenwald, “There is a huge amount of stuff about Canada in these archives because Canada works so closely with the NSA.” This is just the latest in allegations of spying on Brazil.
This week ongoing teachers protests turned violent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with police responding with tear gas. Al Jazeera writes, “Rio's police forces have come under criticism in recent months for their forceful responses to a series of street protests that have swept the city since June.” One incident that has gained notoriety in the country is the Facebook picture of a Rio police officer holding a broken baton with the caption “My bad, Teach.” More from Southern Pulse.
The Associated Press reported that while homicides have dropped in Rio de Janeiro since 2007, disappearances have “shot up,” fueling speculation about the police’s role in recent disappearances in the city. These concerns come a week after ten police officers were charged with the murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who lived in Rocinha, a slum targeted by the police pacifying units that are attempting to control Rio’s slums.
A plane crashed during an anti-drug operation killing three Americans and a Panamanian and injuring two others. The aircraft was tracking boats suspected of smuggling illicit substances when it crashed in northern Colombia near Capurgana. The mission was part of Operation Martillo, a security agreement meant to stem the flow of illegal drugs in the Caribbean region.
Daniel Mejia from the Universidad de los Andes criticized irregularities in a study published by former and current Monsanto contractors on the effectiveness of coca fumigation. In an interview, Mejia, Colombia’s leading drug policy expert noted, “there is a strong scientific base to question what we are doing with the fumigation of glyphosate.” The researcher also said the government tried to censor information indicating aerial fumigation is harmful and ineffective.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America believes that the FARC peace talks could provide an opening to end fumigation programs, stating, “Both sides should commit to bringing the fumigation program to an end, and to replacing it with voluntary manual eradication, as part of a larger effort to bring the civilian part of the government to long-neglected areas.” The post looked at three reasons why the government should abandon aerial coca fumigation.
In an opinion piece, Laura Gil wrote that the Colombian government’s decision to not release an agreement that awarded Ecuador $15 million in damages over the use of glyphosate on the countries shared border was to stifle criticism of the controversial practice. On Thursday, the agreement, along with extensive commentary, was posted on El Tiempo.
The Independent published a chilling article by journalist James Bargent on the trafficking of girls in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. Gangs in the city have been known to recruit girls as young as ten years old to be sold to the highest bidder, often times drug lords or foreign tourists.
President Nicolas Maduro has asked for decree granting powers, allowing him to bypass the legislature to tackle the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. The Financial Times noted that Maduro “needs the votes of 99 lawmakers in the National Assembly … meaning that he needs to lure one independent or opposition legislator.” More from the Pan-American Post.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez argued the Salvadoran government’s failure to take credit for its role in facilitating a gang truce that has “already saved more than 2,000 lives,” could eventually cause the truce to fall apart. More from Central American Politics blog.
In mid-September, Honduran authorities announced that working closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration they had taken down $800 million in assets of Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This week it was revealed that members of the organization were told about the operation at least a month in advance, allowing them to clear out banks accounts and sell considerable assets in advance of the raid. InSight Crime examined the U.S.’ role in the affair, noting that this U.S. push against narco-corruption “may be too late and might provoke a violent backlash.”
There has been an average of more than ten massacres per month in Honduras this year, El Heraldo reported. As the rate stands, the country is on track to register well over the 115 massacres recorded last year. Massacre is defined as the murder of three or more people.
According to McClatchy, “two Cuban MiG-21 jet fighters found aboard a seized North Korean cargo ship three months ago were in good repair, had been recently flown and were accompanied by ‘brand-new’ jet engines, Panamanian officials say.” Cuba had claimed all equipment found in the hidden arms shipment was obsolete and being sent to North Korea for repair.
Friday, July 26, 2013
This post was written with CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations committee did a full mark-up of the House’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. The committee approved a $5.8 billion cut to foreign aid, including a 10 percent cut to the State Department overall. The committee also voted to lift human rights conditions on aid to many Latin American countries. According to The Hill, "During debate, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) said they were outraged by the removal of restrictions on aid to central and South American countries over human rights violations." Read a summary of the Senate’s FY2014 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill highlighting the biggest differences with the House version here.
On Friday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement ending conversations to restore diplomatic ties with the United States. The statement came following the State Department's backing of critical remarks made by President Obama’s United Nations ambassador nominee, Samantha Power. In Thursday’s press briefing, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "We are open to having a positive relationship with Venezuela moving forward. That’s what our focus is on, and we still are leaving the door open for that."
Despite Pena Nieto’s plans to scale back cooperation with United States intelligence and law enforcement in its fight against drug cartels, outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met on the border and announced plans for a bi-national security communications network and corresponding patrols between U.S. Border Patrol and Mexican Federal Police, the Washington Post reported.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the state of human rights in Honduras. The witnesses, as well as those on the commission, lamented the United States government’s continued funding of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo’s administration, under which citizens have experienced grave human rights abuses at the hands of organized crime, the police and the military. At the close of the hearing, the commission’s co-chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) noted that the United States needs to "make it clear to the Honduran government that enough is enough" on human rights abuses. The hearing can be watched here.
The list of witnesses: Senator Timothy M. Kaine, Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group, Dr. Dana Frank, Professor of History, University of California Santa Cruz, Tirza Flores Lanza, Lawyer, Former Magistrate of the Court of Appeals for San Pedro Sula and Viviana Giacaman, Director for Latin America Programs, Freedom House.
Carlos Urrutria, Colombia’s ambassador in Washington, resigned after being implicated in the theft of 100,000 acres of land throughout central Colombia. According to El Tiempo, President Juan Manuel Santos accepted Urrutria’s resignation on Tuesday, following the accusations made by the Polo Democratico party.
Last weekend, United States Vice President Joe Biden called Brazilian President Roussef in an effort to ease tensions and provide explanations about surveillance practices in Brazil. According to the New York Times, Biden called to "express his regret over the negative repercussions caused by the disclosures" and to extend an invitation to Brazil to send a delegation to Washington to receive "technical and political details" about the case.
The New Yorker found the N.S.A. holds a strong interest in Brazil because "That’s where the transatlantic cables come ashore." Last week at the Aspen Institute, N.S.A. Director General Keith Alexander emphasized that rather than collecting e-mails and phone numbers, the agency is interested in collecting "metadata around the world that you would use to find terrorist activities that might transit." Brazil’s geography, which bulges out eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, makes Brazil one of the most important telecommunication hubs in the world.
On his first international trip as pontiff, Pope Francis arrived back to his home continent on Monday, first visiting Brazil, which has faced more than a month of often violent protests against government corruption and public spending priorities. Foreign Policy reported on the approximate costs of the Pope’s visit for World Youth Day, including the mobilization of 14,000 troops and more than 7,000 police, bringing security costs to over $52 million dollars. Estimates for the total costs of the trip and the weeklong festival range from $145 million to $159 million. More from Christian Science Monitor, Financial Times, and the Associated Press.
In a speech given while inaugurating a drug rehabilitation clinic in a favela (Brazilian slum) on Wednesday, Pope Francis assailed narcotics trafficking and criticized calls to legalize drugs in Latin America. "A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug laws," Francis said. "Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people." More from Folha de Sao Paulo and the Pan-American Post.
According to the New York Times, the Pope’s visit has been marred by "missteps" that characterize the challenging day-to-day life of Rio residents. To name a few, the Pope’s motorcade got stuck on a crowded thoroughfare, the subway system carrying thousands gathering for a conference of Catholic youth broke down, and violence, possibly incited by undercover intelligence agents, continues to erupt in protests that have ended in water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. More from BBC News.
On Thursday, Pope Francis delivered some his most politically provocative remarks since his papacy began this year, criticizing the "culture of selfishness and individualism," urging youth to fight against corruption, and praising the Brazilian government’s antipoverty programs. According to the New York Times, although he never directly mentioned the anti-establishment protests, Francis did critique Rio’s pacification project in the city’s slums. "No amount of pacification will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," the pope said in Varginha.
On Tuesday, gang gunman believed to be working for the Knights Templar cartel staged a series of attacks on the federal police, leaving 20 assailants and four federal police dead. This outbreak of violence in Michoacán follows the recent arrest of the Zeta gang leader Miguel Angel Treviño. Although President Peña Nieto sent thousands of troops into the state two months ago, as the AP noted, "The cartel’s deep local roots and proven capacity for violence could make Michoacan the graveyard of Peña Nieto’s pledge to reduce drug violence."
An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times said President Peña Nieto’s approach to the drug war is starting to look a lot like the much-criticized strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. As an example, the piece looked at the arrest of Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, which "had all the familiar hallmarks: Treviño Morales' moves were tracked in real time by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone, while American intelligence monitored his communications and shared what was learned with Mexican authorities."
Writing for Forbes, Nathaniel Parish Flannery examined the history of the 1994 uprising of the Zapatistas, Mexico’s masked guerrilla group in the Chiapas state. According to the article, Chiapas has not fared well in modern Mexico. "Of all of the states the most agricultural, least electrified, least schooled, least literate, & poorest state has been Chiapas." The piece also provides an overview of different analysis of the movement.
Animal Politico detailed the top 45 criminals that the Mexican government has set as priority targets in its security strategy. The list includes nearly all of the leaders of the country’s main drug cartels.
Upon reflecting on Raul Castro’s lengthy public lecture criticizing Cubans’ culture and conduct, islanders agreed that moral decay is prevalent in today’s Cuban society. However, Cubans point to an unworkable economic system and the crumbling of Cuba’s infrastructure and social services as the roots of the uncouth behavior Castro bemoaned in his speech. The article does note, however, that despite the grievances, "Havana has avoided the rampant crime and drug violence that plague many Latin American — and American — cities." More from the New York Times.
Foreign Relations published an article, "Cuba after Communism," detailing economic reforms that are transforming an island that has been clinging to Communism for the past fifty years. Authors Julia E. Swieg and Michael J. Bustamante argue that because of these changes, "Cuba has entered a new era, the features of which defy easy classification or comparison to transitions elsewhere."
According to the Washington Post, the 18th Street gang and rival gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have taken more steps toward what their Organization of the Americas backers are calling "a peace process," carefully avoiding the term "gang truce." While bringing the region’s two most notorious transnational gangs together in El Salvador has produced a 50 percent decline in homicides, translating the model to Honduras, where there’s a weaker government, worse violence, and a more lucrative drug trade will be a challenge.
The Miami Herald reported on South Korea’s announcement of its intention to explore a free trade agreement with Panama just days before Panama’s seizure of a North Korean freighter carrying undeclared military cargo. The article highlights the differences between Panama’s relations with the two Koreas.
Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics blog both covered the poll numbers for next year’s election in El Salvador. The race is tight and breaks down three ways between the FMLN’s candidate, Salvador Ceren, ARENA’s Norman Quijano, and former President Tony Saca.
Central American Politics blog also has an overview and round-up of news stories about the gang truce that were published this week.
On Monday, Colombia’s FARC rebels offered armed support to a rural protest in Catatumbo, a gesture that could increase friction as peace talks between FARC and the government continue in Havana. The Colombian government responded to a statement FARC released in support of mobilization of the farmers with a warning that guerrilla infiltration in Catatumbo will permanently endanger the inhabitants of the region.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a historic report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years. The five-year investigation presented many alarming findings, including the revelation that 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013, 80 percent, or 176,000, of which were civilians. See Reuters and Thursday’s Just the Facts post for overviews in English and El Espectador and Verdad Abierta for good Spanish coverage.
On Monday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met on the border, where they agreed to improve relations, which became strained when President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Henrique Capriles in May. President Maduros also expressed full support for Colombia’s peace talks with the FARC.
"Megateo," the boss of a dissident faction of the officially demobilized EPL that has been heavily involved in narcotrafficking in northeast Colombia, expressed interest in joining the peace talks. "I wish that in these accords the ELN [Colombia’s second largest rebel group], and EPL were [involved] to jointly come up with proposals," stated the EPL leader in an interview published in Semana. Megateo also admitted to involvement in the drug trade, kidnapping, and extortion, revealing that he gets $200 per kilogram of cocaine in his domain. He claimed the money from his illicit activities is a "way to finance the war" against the state.
President Santos said he would not let the FARC get any media benefit from the capture of Kevin Scott Sutay, an American veteran who was trekking alone through eastern Colombia’s dangerous jungle when he was kidnapped. As the Daily Beast noted, "Sutay's kidnapping has heightened tensions between the rebels and the government as the two sides navigate delicate peace talks." More from Reuters.
Colombia’s Constitutional court held a hearing on the recently passed Legal Framework for Peace bill. The legislation permits demobilized guerrilla fighters to hold elected office, and grants Congress the power to prioritize investigating certain crimes over others. Proponents of the bill say it will allow the justice system to target systematic human rights abuses, while critics, which include former President Álvaro Uribe, the UN and various human rights groups, say it will lead to impunity for human rights abuses. As Reuters noted, supporters like President Juan Manuel Santos say the measure is necessary for a peace agreement. The Pan-American Post and Reuters provided helpful overviews of the bill in English and El Espectador has an overview of arguments presented at the hearing. The court has until August 20 to rule on the bill.
Friday, July 19, 2013
This post was written by CIP intern Ashley Badesch
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, leader of the notoriously violent Zetas drug gang in Mexico, was captured by Mexican armed forces early Monday near the border town of Nuevo Laredo. Treviño Morales, also known as “El Z-40,” was wanted on both sides of the border for ordering the kidnapping and killing of 265 migrants, along with numerous other charges of torture, murder, money laundering, and other crimes. His arrest is the highest-profile arrest in the fight against organized crime since Enrique Pena Nieto took the presidency. More from Dalla Morning News, BBC, Vice, Insight Crime and CNN.
Many analysts have said that Treviño’s arrest may result in more violence in areas where Zetas wield control. In addition to sparking retribution from the vindictive Zeta organization, the Zetas weakening will spur rivals like the Sinaloa Cartel to make a play for control of Zetas-dominated trafficking routes. CNN Mexico reported that security measures were strengthened in Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Veracruz, and Durango for fear of a resurgence of violence in response to the capture. While most observers agree that Z-40’s arrest was a positive step towards slowing the type of hyper-violent crimes the Zetas and Treviño himself have perpetuated, it will have little effect on the drug war as a whole or do much to reduce the flow of drugs.
On Wednesday, the United States and Cuba resumed immigration talks in Washington after a two-year hiatus. In addition to discussing aviation safety, visa processing, and other cooperation on migration, the U.S. Department of State reiterated its call for the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross.
The Washington Post reported that diplomats who have previously faced strict limitations on their travel within the United States and Cuba recently have been increasingly, and more easily, moving about each country. The Post points to the travel as a part of a larger, slow-moving thaw of relations between the two countries, evidenced by Wednesday’s migration talks and last month’s talks on resuming direct mail, among other events.
Cuba confirmed that a North Korean cargo ship seized in Panama was carrying “obsolete” missiles and other armaments, including two Mig-21 jets and parts for a SA-2 anti-aircraft system from the 1960s) to be repaired in North Korea and then returned. The weaponry was found among a load of 10,000 tons of sugar, the Guardian reported. The 35 North Koreans on the boat were arrested after resisting police efforts to intercept the ship, and the captain reportedly tried to commit suicide during the operation.
The U.S. government has agreed to lend equipment and personnel to help inspect the ship, following a request from the Panamanian government. Meanwhile the UN’s sanctions committee will assess the case to determine if it violated arms sanctions against North Korea. Some analysts have suggested the incident shows the weakness and “dire straights” of the Cuban military. More from BBC,Reuters and NBC.
On Tuesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he did not think the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was needed in the country. During an address given in Bogota, he stated “Colombia has advanced enough to say: We don’t need a U.N. human rights office in our country anymore.”
The next day the government announced it would renew the UN mandate, extending it until October 31, 2014. The UN High Commissioner on this issue, Navi Pillay,said the office's work was still needed in the country, as its main objective is "to see Colombia united and all Colombians enjoying human rights." According to IPS news, Pillay travelled to the embattled Cauca department in southern Colombia to "meet for several hours with leaders of black, indigenous and rural communities who had plenty to say about the need for multilateral bodies to continue monitoring human rights in this country." Colombia's Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín echoed President Santos' remarks that the country's human rights situation had improved and did not necessarily need the office present to continue to make progress.
Next Monday, July 22, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will meet on the border to carry out a “complete revision of the bilateral relations” between the two countries. Relations, which Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Minister categorized as “a little cold” this week, have been especially strained since President Santos met with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles in May.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa congratulated his administration for going nine (non-consecutive) days so far this year without a single murder in Tegucigalpa, Honduran Culture and Politics reports. “Before we were always talking about 2 digits; the were more than 30 (daily) murders... but yes its getting better, and it is because of the police cleanup and the participation of the armed forces. However, the Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University contends that despite a few murder-free days the situation is not really improving; according to its director, Migdonia Ayestas, there have been an average of 20 murders per day through May 31 of this year.
InSight Crime featured an article that looked at homicide distribution since the onset of the Salvadoran gang truce. Using police data, the article found that while it is undeniable that the truce resulted in a significant drop (nearly 50 percent) in homicides, that there was not a decrease in all municipalities and that the number of municipalities in which homicides are increasing has risen. More from Tim’s El Salvador Blog.
On Wednesday, President Rousseff reiterated her proposal for a plebiscite to address Brazilians concerns about corruption and public spending. Congress rejected her first proposal on June 24, however a Datafolha poll shows that 68 percent of Brazilians favor holding a plebiscite.
While there is variance among the numbers, all polls have President Rousseff’s approval dropping significantly in the wake of the protests, with a MDA pesquisa poll showing a drop to 33 percent, down from 54 percent in June, while CNT/MDA pollhas her rating plunging 24.4 points from 73 percent in June to 49 percent this month.
Reuters reported that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed that her Worker’s Party government will not spend beyond its means, “rejecting the temptation of increasing outlays to improve public services in the wake of an outburst of national discontent last month.” In a speech to an advisory group of ministers and business leaders on Wednesday, she stated, "Our pact for fiscal stability and inflation control limits any temptation for fiscal populism."
The Wall Street Journal reported that in Sao Paulo police killed one suspect for every 229 arrested in 2012, according to government statistics, while in 2011 in the United States, that number was one per 31,575. According to the article, "The problem is acknowledged by government officials, including São Paulo's governor, who has replaced his hard-line security chief with a mild-mannered lawyer vowing to take steps to reduce unjustified police shootings."
Pablo Longueira, the conservative coalition’s candidate in the Chilean presidential campaign, has dropped out of the race, further weakening the conservative’s chances of beating former President Michelle Bacelet of the Socialist party, the Associated Press reported. At a news conference on Wednesday, Longuiera’s son revealed that his father’s surprise resignation was due to a medically diagnosed bout of depression. According to Guillermo Holzmann, a political science professor at the Universidad de Valparaiso, the resignation “wasn’t considered under any political scenario because the campaign is on its final stretch. This is a crisis for the right-wing coalition.”
United States Policy
The United States Department of Homeland Security is sending 30 agents to Puerto Rico as part of a Operation Caribbean Resilience, which was launched last year to fight drug trafficking.
The government of Bolivia stated that restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States is “far off,” according to Terra, an Argentine news agency. Bolivia and the United States have not had diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level since September of 2008, when President Evo Morales expelled Washington’s representative, Philip Goldberg, and the American government applied a reciprocity measurement with the representative of La Paz in Washington, Gustavo Guzmán.
Brazil’s foreign minister said Monday that Washington had not sufficiently responded to Brazil’s request for an explanation of the alleged US electronic spying disclosed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, according to the Global Post.
The U.S. State Department’s updated travel warning puts Mexican states Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas as the “least secured states” in the country. The travel warning highlights kidnapping and murder rates that have been increasing. In general, just 12 out of 31 Mexican states (plus DF) are categorized as safe enough without travel warnings.
Mexican secretaries of national defense, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, and Marina Vidal Sanz Francisco Soberon, began a tour of the United States and Canada to meet with senior military in those countries and to promote military and naval cooperation between Mexico and its counterparts, Milenio reported.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro demanded that the United States apologize on Thursday for Washington’s U.N. ambassador-designate’s remarks criticizing Venezuela’s human rights record. During her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Samantha Power vowed to stand up against “repressive regimes” and contest “the crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.” Maduro replied with a demand for “immediate correction by the U.S. government” for what he called “despicable” criticism, Reuters reported.
The Congressional Research Service released a report this week: “Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean” (PDF)
The Washington Office on Latin America has launched a new website dedicated to the Colombia peace talks that houses documents, updates, U.S. government statements and an in-depth timeline.
Monday, June 17, 2013
This post was written with CIP Cuba Intern, Ashley Badesch
Despite Cuba’s absence from the recent OAS meeting, where antidrug policy in the Americas topped the agenda, Cuba collaborates with Latin American and Caribbean nations, and even the United States, on counternarcotics efforts. Cuba maintains formal agreements to fight narcotrafficking with at least 35 countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Chile, UK, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Tanzania, Laos, and Jamaica. These accords allow Cuba to standardize counternarcotics operations and send real time alerts.
In 2002, the Cuban government drafted a bilateral accord for counternarcotics cooperation with the U.S. government; however, the U.S. has yet to acknowledge the accord, despite the State Department’s support of a well-structured agreement between the nations. The accord is still “under review” by the U.S. government and has gone through several iterations since it was introduced.
The most recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) report, published by the U.S. State Department, states that a U.S.-Cuba bilateral anti-drug agreement and greater multilateral cooperation in the region would likely lead to improved tactics, procedures, and sharing of information, leading to an increased disruption of narcotrafficking operations.
Counternarcotics in Cuba
2013’s INCSR, praised Cuba’s policies against illicit drugs and trafficking, stating,
“Cuba’s domestic drug production and consumption remain negligible as a result of active policing, harsh sentencing for drug offenses, and very low consumer disposable income. Cuba’s counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.”
Cuba is situated between the region’s top drug-producing countries in the Andean region and the region’s number one consumer country, the United States. It has 42,000 sq. miles of territorial waters, 3,000 miles of shoreline and 4,195 islands and small keys. Given these factors, both Cuba and the United States share a vested interest in improving tactics to close trafficking routes in the Caribbean and combat transnational crime.
In spite of Cuba’s close proximity to a number of the region’s largest exporters of illegal drugs, the State Department found, “Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) frequently attempt to avoid GOC and U.S. government counter drug patrol vessels and aircraft by skirting Cuba’s territorial waters.”
Cuba’s effective counternarcotics efforts are largely attributed to bilateral interdiction, intensive police presence on the ground, and low levels of domestic illegal drug consumption.
One of the chief reasons for the low demand for illegal drugs in Cuba is their prohibitive cost; the cost of one cigarette of marijuana on the island is equivalent to a week’s pay for a state employee (US$5).
President Obama’s lifting of restrictions on remittances has given a number of Cubans greater purchasing power, however. According to a Brookings report, remittances entering Cuba in 2012 were estimated to total $2.6 billion, double what Cuba received in remittances five years ago.
Maritime and aerial operations like “Operation Hatchet,” Cuba’s Minister of Interior-led multi-agency counternarcotics strategy, combined with harsh sentencing (up to 15 years for drug possession), prevention education and extensive on-the-ground policing by the Cuban National Anti-Drug Directorate, have reduced supply and demand.
In the past year, maritime interdictions fell by over 50 percent and total drug seizures on land declined 60 percent while narcotrafficking attempts through Cuba’s air border rose.
According to Granma, the official government newspaper, drug trafficking operations interdicted in Cuban airports doubled to 42 over the past year, resulting in the detention of 69 persons. The majority of those detained were Cuban citizens living in the United States. Police estimate that the increase in air trafficking to the U.S. is due to President Obama’s relaxation of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans.
Up from 21 kilograms in 2011, Cuban airport security seized 42 kilograms of drugs (33.6 kg of cocaine, 7.4 kg of marijuana, and one kg of the synthetic drug known as cannabimimetic) in 2012 according to figures released by Granma in February.
Bilateral Counternarcotics Cooperation
According to the INCSR, “With limited Cuban Interdiction assets and the high speed of the drug smuggling vessels, at-sea interdictions remain problematic, and the GOC’s prevalent response continues to be to pass information to neighboring countries, including the United States.” Some points on Cuban cooperation:
Although the United States does not provide any formal narcotics-related funding or assistance to Cuba, the U.S. government maintains one Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist on the island.
The INCSR indicates that in 2012, coordination between Cuban law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard on a case-by-case basis led to 31 interdictions of “go-fast” narcotics vessels. The report also notes that the real-time e-mail and phone communications with the Cuban Border Guard have increased in quantity and improved in timeliness and quality.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010 revealed U.S.-Cuban collaboration on combating drug smuggling from Jamaica, including one case in which the U.S. Coast Guard provided information that helped the Cuban Border Guard to interdict 700 kilograms of marijuana and another in which Cuban officials advised the USCG on the location of a plane that had dumped 13 bales of marijuana in a rural area in Cuba.
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control released a report on U.S.-Caribbean security cooperation in September 2012, in which Senator Feinstein (D-California) recommended a number of steps to increase U.S.-Cuba collaboration on drug policy. Her recommendations included the negotiation of a bilateral agreement and the inclusion of Cuba in the U.S.-Caribbean Security Dialogue.
Feinstein is not the only one asking for increasing dialogue with Cuba; Nicaragua, Brazil and several member states of the OAS have demanded Cuba’s inclusion in the 2015 Summit of the Americas. As a result the OAS created a special committee to address the issue.
Friday, April 12, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
The U.S. State Department posted its 2014 budget request for foreign aid. According to WOLA's Adam Isacson, this budget offered the lowest U.S. aid to Latin America in a decade without adjusting for inflation. Another post on Just the Facts has charts illustrating the breakdown of the $40.9 billion in aid the U.S. has given to Latin America since 1996.
There were four hearings this week that in some fashion pertained to Latin America. On Tuesday the Senate held a hearing on border security, while the House of Representative’s Oversight Committee held another, "U.S. Foreign Assistance: What Oversight Mechanism are in Place to Ensure Accountability?" On Thursday the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on energy opportunities in the region and on Friday the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on the Drug Enforcement Administration's budget.
The New York Times featured an interesting discussion on the alleged benefits and risks of U.S. military training. Of particular note is a short but pungent article by Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. Doyle examines the history of U.S. aid in Latin America and contends, “U.S. aid left countries with a legacy of repression and violence."
The Wilson Center held an event this week, “The Transnational Nature of Organized Crime in the Americas.” The two-hour event can be watched on its website, where papers from many of the presenters can also be found.
One of the reports, written by Daniel Rico, argues that Colombia's new criminal groups, known as bandas criminales, or BACRIMS, are bound to become extinct. As Wired Magazine highlights, his report also explains that as these groups become weaker and more fragmented, cocaine is becoming cheaper for Mexican cartels. InSight Crime's Jeremy McDermott posted an article that unpacks the report and is worth a read.
On Tuesday tens of thousands of Colombians gathered for a mass demonstration in support of the current peace process. Among them were Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro and former leftist Senator Piedad Córdoba. The Marcha Patriótica, a new and far-left political movement accused of having ties to the FARC, organized the marches. Critics of the march say it was funded by guerillas. In response, President Santos said, "I don't see any guerillas here, I see Colombians." Historically, participating in the political left in Colombia can be dangerous. In an interview with a Chicago radio station, Adam Isacson noted, Santos' appearance signaled to the FARC that, "there is space for you if you lay down your arms."
Over the weekend the FARC added two top leaders to its negotiating team: Victoria Sandino and Jorge Torres Victoria, alias “Pablo Catatumbo.” Catatumbo is the third member of the FARC’s ruling body, known as the Secretariat, to participate in the talks. He is also the commander of the group’s most active unit in southwestern Colombia. To allow both leaders to join, the Colombian military suspended operations in the region.
On Sunday former President Álvaro Uribe, who has been a strong critic of the talks, tweeted the coordinates where military operations had been suspended to allow for the FARC leaders' transport. This marked a change from him being an outspoken critic of the talks to actively spoiling them.
La Silla Vacía has an excellent interactive map that traces the routes of displaced victims of the conflict that have since become leaders and advocates for other victims. A report by the United Nations says internal displacement in the country continues to increase. According to the document, 130,000 Colombians were displaced in 2010 and another 143,000 were forced from their homes in 2011.
This week the Mexican government announced a drop in drug-related killings. Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced Wednesday that 1,101 people were killed in March, bringing the official murder number to 4,249 since December. The government compared this to the 5,127 killed during the same time under former President Felipe Calderón, claiming a 17% drop. However, the Associated Press put the number killed during Calderón’s last four months at 4,934, which would mean only a 14% reduction. In an article in Animal Politico, analyst Alejando Hope shows that murders have been on the decline since May, making it "hard to argue that policies applied in December have had a significant effect on the number of homicides."
On the same day of the announcement, 14 people were killed in the western Michoacán state.
The AP noted that there is reason to question the Mexican government's numbers because “much of that data originally comes from the 31 states and federal district, with inconsistent or misreporting of cases and subjective criteria on what constitutes a cartel-related crime.”
As Mexican President Peña Nieto has focused much of his discourse on the economy and other non-drug war related issues, his administration has “asked the media... to change the narrative with respect to numbers and figures,” according to Osorio Chong. As an extension of this trend, on Monday Proceso magazine reported that the Mexican government had sealed information about organized crime in the country – the number of cartels in existence, their names, leaders and areas of influence – for the next 12 years. As InSight Crime notes, this is just a continuance of “a broader strategy of the Peña Nieto administration to deny access to information to non-governmental and governmental entities alike.”
An organization that monitors the press in the country, The Observatory of Coverage of Violence, found that in the first three months of the Peña Nieto administration, the appearance of the words “homicide,” “organized crime” and “drug-trafficking” had fallen 50 percent.
According to Honduras’s chief prosecutor, Luis Rubí, 80% of homicides in the country go unpunished. “The country is not prepared for this wave of crime, it has overwhelmed us” Rubí said. There was also significant discrepancy in reported police reform numbers this week. The Ministry of Security reported that 652 agents had been fired from the force, while the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), the unit charged with evaluating officers, reported that only seven of 230 that had failed polygraphs had been removed.
Venezuela’s presidential elections will take place this Sunday. The candidates officially ended their campaigns on Thursday with dueling rallies. Encapsulating the themes of their campaigns, former vice president and interim President Nicolas Maduro said, “I am the son of Chávez, I am ready to be your president,” while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles played up the rampant insecurity in the country and said, "If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government." Maduro is the expected victor.
There has been a lot of coverage of the race as it comes to a close. Venezuela Analysis has posted daily updates while WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog offers good analysis of the election. The AP has an interesting article on Maduro’s outlandish campaign tactics while the Atlantic discusses Maduro’s advantages in what it dubs an unfair election. Reuters reported that Capriles denied Maduro’s claims that he would do away with the government’s welfare programs and Caracas Chronicles criticized his campaign tactics. Reuters also has a very useful “Factbox” with information about both candidates.
Analyst James Bosworth posted an infographic map depicting violence in Venezuela that shows every state in the country having a higher murder rate than the national average of Colombia, Guatemala or Mexico.
This week Maduro claimed right-wing Salvadoran politician Roberto D’Aubuisson was plotting to kill him. The Venezuelan government released alleged recordings of D’Aubuisson hiring someone to carry out the assassination. Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said, “the least [his government] could do” would be to investigate the case. D’Aubuisson denies the voice on the recording is his.
On Tuesday a couple accused of kidnapping their two sons from protective custody in the United States fled to Cuba on a fishing boat, but was promptly handed over to U.S. authorities by their Cuban counterparts. Afterwards, the AP published an article that said the incident showed "the Cold War enemies are capable of remarkable cooperation on many issues,” and went on to highlight the undocumented cooperation that goes on between the two ideologically-warring nations.
In an article in Foreign Policy, Bill Leogrande asserted, "The moss powerful lobby in Washington isn't the NRA. It's the Castro-hating right wing that has Obama's bureaucrats terrified and inert."
This week it was reported that Guatemala’s air fleet got a boost for counternarcotics operations. Reuters reported that Brazil’s state development bank helped finance Embraer’s recent sale of Super Tucano planes to Guatemala. It was also reported by the website InfoDefensa that the U.S. would be giving six helicopters to the Guatemalan air force.
Today is day number 16 of former dictator Rios Montt trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. This week both the prosecution and defense presented experts in various fields from military to international law to forensics. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has live coverage of the trial as does the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Friday, March 1, 2013
On Thursday, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere held a hearing, titled "Overview of U.S. Interests in the Western Hemisphere: Opportunities and Challenges."
The two witnesses were Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the Department of State Roberta S. Jacobson and Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein.
Main points of discussion:
- Colombia as a success story and its cooperation with other governments in the region to fight drug trafficking
- Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere
- Cuba: The discussion almost exclusively focused on Alan Gross
- Counternarcotics: Partnering with Colombia and Mexico to address drug-related
violence in Central America; Violence related to the drug war in Mexico; Caribbean Basin Security initiative
- Evaluation of aid impact in Haiti
- Post-Chávez Venezuela
- Rights of Afro-descendants and indigenous populations
- Environmental issues: Clean energy in the region (Also included discussion on deforestation in the Amazon)
- Trade with Mexico
In her opening testimony Assistant Secretary Jacobson said that relations were on a positive trajectory, with the U.S. focused on fostering economic growth, citizen security, clean energy and strengthening democracy. Secretary Jacobson told the committee that the Obama administration's overall approach to Latin America "is as much about seizing opportunities as it is about countering threats."
Feierstein focused on the shift USAID has made in the region by increasingly working with institutions from the recipient country's government so they may generate revenue for themselves as well as closely working with the private sector. He mentioned the need to focus on crime prevention and investing in youth development. He also noted, "In much of Latin America and the Caribbean, we are well on our way to achieving the USAID goal of largely graduating countries in the region from foreign assistance by 2030."
Chairman of the subcommittee Matt Salmon's (R-AZ) opening statement can be found here and Ranking Member Albio Sires'(D-NJ) can be found here.
Colombia as a model
Several of the subcommittee members heralded Colombia as the region's main success story. Medellin was singled out a couple of times, with Feierstein saying, "Medellin is a success story. It was once seen as a drug capital and just recently it was featured in the New York Times."
When asked by Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) what the U.S. could apply to Colombia from Mexico, Jacobson underscored that there were differences in each country's specific situation (for one, Mexico is a federal system), and that there were both positive and negative lessons to be learned from Colombia.
The most interesting take-away from the discussion surrounding Colombia, however, was the topic of its training of foreign forces. (See here for a previous post on Colombian training of foreign forces)
Secretary Jacobson said a big benefit of U.S. investment in Colombia is that it now knows how to combat drug trafficking and can work with the U.S. in the hemisphere. She noted that the Colombians have trained over 14,000 forces from 25 countries, saying, "they know how to do things better than us." She also highlighted that Colombians are working with Central American governments to combat drug traffickers as well as working with the Mexican government to train police and helicopter pilots, among other initiatives.
Both witnesses reiterated the U.S. government's support for the peace process, saying it was willing to do whatever necessary to facilitate a successful outcome.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) pushed hard about what the State Department and USAID were doing to promote the rights of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups in the more geographically isolated regions of the country like Chocó and Tumaco. Jacobson noted that economic assistance to Afro-Colombians has been increased, but that there was a long way to go in terms of improving security and economic opportunity. Feierstein noted the Santos administration's strides to increase equality with the victims law and land redistribution law, which USAID helped to draft.
Iranian influence in the hemisphere
Several members of the subcommittee brought up Iranian influence in the Western Hemisphere, most notably, Ranking Member Albio Sires (D-NJ), Rep. Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) and Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC). They expressed concern over Iran's economic agreements with several countries in the hemisphere, especially Venezuela, as well as the truth commission that Argentine legislators have approved to investigate the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. The commission would be made up by experts from other countries and allow them to travel to Iran for investigations. The Iranian Parliament has not yet approved the commission.
Jacobson acknowledged that the State Department is monitoring the threat, because "anything is possible," but did not give a sense of urgency. She noted that she is continually working with the intelligence community to monitor the threat and that the State Department will release a report on Iran's influence in the hemisphere in June. The Assistant Secretary mentioned the State Department is working with governments in the region to evaluate Iran's influence, making sure they understand how the U.S. views the situation, sharing information when it can, and teaching other governments how to best monitor the Iran and Hezbollah at their request.
This has been a reoccurring topic in the House in recently, with the passage of a bill in 2012,"Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere," that President Obama signed into law on December 28, and a report earlier this year, "A Line in the Sand: Countering Crime, Violence and Terror at the Southwest Border," detailing Iran and Hezbollah's increased presence in the region.
Venezuela post-Hugo Chávez
Although the topic wasn't discussed at length, a couple of members questioned what the U.S.' role would be in ensuring elections in the event of Hugo Chávez's death or resignation.
Jacobson echoed what the standard State Department line has been: that it supports democracy in the country and the Venezuelan people's right to decide their future within the guidelines of the constitution. Feierstein noted that USAID has programs to support civil society and support human rights groups that work with elections. Rep. Albio Sires mentioned that improving relations with Venezuela would be beneficial, as it is the world's 4th-largest producer of petroleum.
Alan Gross was the main focus of all discussion with regards to Cuba. Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL) emphatically pushed Jacobson on what the State Department was doing to get him out, expressing disbelief that even mutual allies, such as the Vatican, were unable to help.
Jacobson said that the U.S. views this as a humanitarian issue, noting that Gross' mother is currently fighting cancer and lost his daughter to cancer, amid concern over his own health. The Assistant Secretary later noted that the Cuban government has repeatedly refused U.S. requests for a doctor of the Gross family's choosing to see Alan Gross.
The issue of American fugitives seeking refuge in Cuba, like the case of Joanne Chesimard, was also brought up. Jacobson reiterated several times that the U.S.' goal is to ultimately allow Cubans to "make their own decisions."
Mexican Drug Cartels
Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (American Samoa) was the only member to ask about Mexico's drug cartels, mentioning the problem of high demand for drugs in the U.S. as well as the problem of U.S. guns showing up at the majority of Mexican crime scenes.
Jacobson admitted that there was a shared responsibility in the fight against drug trafficking. She noted that the Obama administration has put more money towards drugs and that the demand side is improving.
As for Mexico, Jacobson said that the increased pressure on the cartels has noticeably inhibited their ability to operate and has increased their operation costs. She also cited the main problem that resulted from the previous administration's strategy to target kingpins: the fragmentation of large cartels into smaller groups. Jacobson noted that the U.S.' goal is to coordinate with Mexican security forces to lower drug trafficking and violence to levels within police control.
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) questioned Feierstein about the USAID mission in Haiti, particularly given Haitian President Martelly's recent comments that relief efforts were uncoordinated and undermining his government and that he wants the money to stop coming in and fix the relief process. He noted that 250,000 Haitians still remain in tent camps.
Feierstein responded by noting that the number of Haitians living in camps is currently around 300,000, down from the 1.5 million when the effort started three years ago. He stressed that the number one priority for USAID is job creation. Noting that without that, or the installation of health or education services, people are unable to move to new housing. He said it was a long-term challenge, but USAID has a long-term plan in place.
Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI)
When asked by Rep. Meeks if the CBSI was a success or failure, Jacobson said "the jury is still out" on the success of the initiative and that there is certainly work to be done. She noted increased cooperation between governments and improved judicial reform. To this end, she mentioned both Canada and the United Kingdom's contribution of extra legislators to work on judicial reforms.
Mark Feierstein said USAID is working on three main objectives in the Caribbean:
1. Support efforts to expand education and employment opportunities
2. Working on the juvenile judicial process
3. Community policing, which they have had the most success with, particularly in Jamaica.
He also mentioned in his testimony that Los Angeles officials had trained officials from Central American governments.
A video of the hearing in its entirety can be seen here.
For more detailed notes on the hearing see a previous Just the Facts post. According to WOLA's Adam Isacson, several topics were left out of the hearing:
- There was no mention, apart from Colombia’s role as a training country, of bi-lateral or regional military involvement or strategy.
- Other than Salmon’s closing remarks, nothing was said about the border or border security.
- Nothing was said about immigration reform.
- There was nothing said about Central American immigrants, it was as if the committee members present believed that everyone in this country who is a Hispanic immigrant has come from either Mexico out of fear of the drug cartels, or from Cuba, out of fear of being repressed.
- Although violence caused by narco-trafficking and organized criminal activity was mentioned, nothing was said about US domestic gun reform and the potential impact that could have on violence in Central America.
- While crop-transitions were mentioned for current farmers of coca, nothing was mentioned about the UN’s recent decriminalization of traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia.
Seven out of eleven subcommittee members attended the event, not including the chairman, Matt Salmon (R-AZ).
From the majority:
Rep. Jeff Duncan (SC)
Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL)
Rep. Trey Radel (FL)
From the minority:
Rep. Albio Sires (NJ), Ranking Member
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (NY)
Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (AS)
Rep. Theodore E. Deutch (FL)
Friday, February 22, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
Human Rights Watch released a report, "Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored," documenting Mexican security forces' participation in forced disappearances. The report's findings were alarming and highlighted Mexico's police problem. As analyst James Bosworth notes, "The number of police abuses listed in this report - including illegal detentions, corruption and collusion with organized crime - is incredibly high and much worse than the military abuses." It also underscores the failures of country's judicial system, noting that prosecutors delay or avoid investigations. Some of the reports findings include:
Security forces were involved in 149 of the 249 cases of forced disappearances investigated.
The HRW report comes on the heels of a civil society group identifying Acapulco in the Guerrero state as Mexico's most violent municipality in 2012. Of those included on the list of the most violent municipalities in the country, five out of the top twenty were located in Guerrero.
The Guerrero state has also seen a growth in the widely debated "self-defense" vigilante groups. This week the Associated Press reported the first killing of a suspect by one such group, while El Universal claims it was the second. Animal Politico offers a good interactive map of the vigilante groups.
- None of the 249 cases investigated by HRW have led to a conviction in a court of law.
- In 54 cases of force disappearance, the Mexican Army, Navy or Federal Police were involved. Local police were involved in about 40 percent of the 249 cases.
- The number of those disappeared under former President Felipe Calderón, previously thought to be 25,000, is actually 27,000.
El Chapo Guzman, head of Sinaloa Cartel
Authorities are investigating whether a shootout occurred in the Guatemalan department of Petén last night that resulted in the death of El Chapo Guzman, head of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel and Latin America's biggest drug trafficker. According to Insight Crime, the country’s Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez confirmed that there had been two confrontations, while a Guatemalan army spokesman said there was no sign that a shootout had occurred at one of the sites. Lopez said one of the dead allegedly "looked like" El Chapo, however reports of what happened remain confused. The Insight Crime article provides good analysis of what the news-- albeit likely false, according to the website-- would mean for Mexico.
Colombian NGO Somos Defensores reported that 2012 was the deadliest year in the past decade for human rights activists in Colombia. According to the group, one human rights advocate was attacked every 20 hours and one was killed every five days, reported news website Colombia Reports. Semana magazine has an infographic on the data.
A good article in Christian Science Monitor looks at the recent wave of FARC attacks and its impact on peace talks between the government and the rebel group, which began a new round on Monday. According to the article, "the fact that negotiations have withstood the strain is a promising sign of the strength of the process, analysts say."
Colombia's ELN rebel group announced that it was working with the FARC to fight natural resource-mining mega projects together in the Antioquia department. The announcement, posted on the ELN's website, says that leaders of the two groups met in early February and decided "to keep fighting against mega projects including mining exploitation, large dams for hydropower and monocultivation of woods and agro fuels that impoverish people and the environment."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual Human Rights report on Colombia today. The document highlights continued concerns about attacks on human rights defenders, military jurisdiction over crimes committed against civilians by soldiers, impunity for human rights violations and the ongoing threat of neo-paramilitaries. It praises the current peace process in Havana and the passage and beginning steps of implementation of the Victims Law.
The former head of Honduran police, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, accused police and military officers for his son's murder last Sunday. Officials said the teenager was killed by gang members, however, Ramirez claimed corrupt security force members killed his son in a failed kidnap attempt.
Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reported an alarming statistic that more than 60,000 murders committed over the past ten years in the country have yet to be investigated.
Given reports of a recent increase in revenge killings between rival gangs, there are concerns that the gang truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs could be breaking down. According to Insight Crime, "recent killings had seen the murder rate creep up to an average of 6.6 a day since the start of this year, up from 5.3 at the end of 2012. However, the rate still remains far below the average of 14 murders a day registered before the truce."
The Associated Press put out an article on Monday looking at U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Costa Rica. Although the country's crime levels remain the second-lowest in Central America (after Nicaragua), in recent years the country has seen a spike in crime due to its increasing involvement in the drug trade. To counter this trend, "Costa Rica's conservative government has proposed looser wiretapping laws, easier confiscation of suspect assets and quicker approval of U.S. warships docking in Costa Rican ports," reports the AP.
The article notes that the U.S. spent over $18.4 million in direct security aid to Costa Rica in 2012. It also continues to equip the army-less country with gear such as night vision goggles, provides law enforcement with training and invested in a $2m satellite and radio communications station on the Pacific Coast linked to the U.S. anti-drug command in Key West.
On Wednesday, a seven-member delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Cuba and met with imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and with Cuban President Raúl Castro to discuss improving bilateral relations.
A senior official in the Obama administration said there is "a pretty clear case" for Cuba to be removed from the State Department's "state sponsors of terrorism" list (which includes Syria, Sudan and Iran), according to the Boston Globe. The article mentions that while Congress must vote on whether or not to lift the embargo, the Obama administration can act unilaterally to remove Cuba from the terrorist list, which has been a key obstacle to negotiations with the Castro government. Both the White House and State Department have denied they are considering removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror.
Caricom meeting in Haiti
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attended a summit in Haiti of the 15-member Caribbean Community, known as Caricom. The discussion centered on crime and security concerns, but the main point of media coverage surrounded gun control. The group asked for the United States’ help in ensuring an international arms treaty included provisions dealing with small arms. "It is the small arms and ammunition which do the most damage in the Caricom region," said Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, which is in charge of security issues within the bloc.
U.S. in the region
United States Southern Command leader John Kelly visited Panama this week and met with President Ricardo Martinelli, Minister of Public Security Jose Mulino, and the directors of Panama's National Aeronaval Service (SENAN), National Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the Panamanian National Police. He then spent two days in Guatemala to meet with senior government and security officials. This was General Kelly's second trip to Central America this year.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
This post was written by John Lindsay-Poland from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The original article can be found on the FOR blog.
The Pentagon signed $444 million in non-fuel contracts for purchases and services in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 2012 fiscal year, an overall decrease of nearly 15% from the previous year. But US military spending in the region is still considerably higher than during the George W. Bush administration, when the equivalent Pentagon spending in Latin America averaged $301 million a year.
FOR conducted an analysis of Defense Department contracts listed on usaspending.gov for Fiscal Year 2012, building on the review we did last year.
More than a third of funds for these contracts in the region are being carried out in Cuba, with $158 million for housing upgrades, intelligence analysis, port operations and other services. The United States maintains the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, site of the 11-year-old detention center that holds 171 prisoners without trial, many of whom have been cleared for release.
An additional $130 million in Pentagon contracts was for fuel purchases, including more than $44 million in Brazil, $35 million in Costa Rica, and $24 million in Honduras. Such fuel purchases supply the Fourth Fleet of the Navy, as well as military aircraft and land vehicles used in exercises, operations, and training.
Colombia remained the country with the largest amount of Pentagon contracts in continental Latin America, with $77 million. A multi-year contract shared by Raytheon and Lockheed for training, equipment and other drug war activities accounted for more than a third of Pentagon contract spending in Colombia. Honduras, which has become a hub for Pentagon operations in Central America, is the site for more than $43 million in non-fuel contracts signed last year.
The US Southern Command (SouthCom), responsible for US military activities in Central and South America and the Caribbean, is assisting the Panamanian border police, known as SENAFRONT, by upgrading a building in the SENAFRONT compound. The force was implicated in killings of indigenous protesters (PDF) in Bocas del Toro in 2011, and fired indiscriminately with live ammunition (PDF) on Afro-Caribbean protesters last October.
Many countries that host US military activities hope to receive economic benefits and jobs as a result. But more than five of every six Pentagon dollars contracted for services and goods in the region went to US-based companies. Only nine percent of the $574.4 million in Pentagon contracts signed in 2012 (including fuel contracts) were with firms in the country where the work was to be carried out. In the Caribbean, there were virtually no local companies that benefitted from the $245 million in Defense Department contracts.
A few corporations dominated Pentagon contracts in the region. CSC Applied Technologies, based in Fort Worth, Texas, received more than $53 million in contracts to operate the Navy’s underwater military testing facility in the Bahamas. Lockheed Martin received more than $40 million in contracts, almost entirely for drug war training, equipment and services in Colombia and Mexico.
Pentagon Focus on Guatemala
Although the Pentagon spent less in most Latin American countries in 2012 than the year before, DOD contracts have more than doubled since 2010 in Guatemala, where there is a ban on most State Department-channeled military aid to the army. However, the ban does not apply to Defense Department assistance. The contracts for nearly $14 million in 2012 amount to more than seven times what it was in 2009. In addition, the US military spent another $8.1 million on fuel in Guatemala last year, probably for “Beyond the Horizon” military exercises held there and in Honduras from April to July, and perhaps to support the deployment of 200 Marines to Guatemala in August.
The contracts included new assistance to the Guatemalan special forces, known as Kaibiles, former members of which have been implicated in giving training to the Zetas drug cartel, as well as the worst atrocities during the genocide period of the 1980s. Two contracts, funded by SouthCom and signed in September, were for a “shoot house” and “improvements” at the Kaibiles training base in Poptun, Petén.
SouthCom also funded a contract for construction of a new $3 million counter-drug base in Santa Ana de Berlin, in Quetzaltenango. This year, SouthCom is slated to build a $1.8 million counternarcotics operations center and barracks in Mantanitas, Guatemala, according to an Army Corps of Engineers presentation.
The expenditures included equipment. For the last two years, SouthCom has been providing Boston whaler boats, radios, and tactical vehicles (Jeeps) to Central American militaries. Guatemala is receiving more of the equipment than other countries in the region – 47 Jeeps and 8 Boston whalers, according to a SouthCom document. SouthCom signed a $2.5 million contract in September for Jeeps for Guatemala, and it has purchased more than $2.8 million of Harris military radios for Guatemala since September 2011.
Department of Defense contracts, summaries of which are posted on usaspending.gov, only represent a portion of Pentagon spending. A report to Congress last April (PDF) of Defense Department assistance worldwide showed more than $15 million in military aid to Guatemala in 2010, including $9 million for intelligence analysis, training, boats, trucks, night vision devices, and a “base of operations.” These funds also included more than $6 million of unspecified support for Guatemalan police operations in Cobán, in the Guatemalan highland department of Alta Verapaz. The report didn’t include data after 2010.
On December 7, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency signed a $1.4 million contract with a Guatemalan firm to manage a 10,000-barrel supply of turbine fuel for the next five years in Puerto Quetzal, on Guatemala’s southern coast. This followed a July 2012 solicitation to deliver 63,000 gallons of jet fuel to another southern Guatemalan site, in Retalhuleu.
FOR compiled data on the “country of performance” for contracts. For Guatemala, we also examined data on additional contracts that reference the country, which included a $2.5 million contract signed in late September with a Chrysler distributor to deliver tactical vehicles – some of the Jeeps slated for the country. The US Army also purchased $7.6 million worth of trousers from a producer in Guatemala in 2012.
Some legislation for DOD drug war construction of bases and other infrastructure limits projects to $2 million, and the Southern Command continues to employ this authority frequently to construct a variety of facilities all over the Americas. Here are some of the facilities the US military is constructing around Latin America.