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Friday, December 6, 2013
By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund
This blog appeared in the Huffington Post
As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met this week with President Barack Obama, it’s time to say, Yes to peace.
In November 2013, the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group signed an agreement, the second of five agreements which together will make up a final peace accord. With this second agreement, two of the most difficult topics, land and political participation, have been negotiated, showing that this peace process has a real chance to end a fifty-year war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, kidnapped and disappeared, and some 6 million people have been forcibly displaced.
It’s positive that the U.S. government is supporting this peace process, Colombia’s best hope for a sustainable peace in decades. The United States should support it decisively. U.S. policymakers must also consider how best to support a peace accord financially once negotiations are finalized, including by reorienting aid away from military assistance and towards demobilization and reintegration programs, support for victims of violence, and mechanisms for truth, justice and reparations.
The Colombian government should facilitate greater participation for victims of violence—including Afro-Colombian and indigenous people and women—in the peace process and its implementation. Strong measures of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition are essential if this agreement is to produce a just and lasting peace, as this letter by a wide range of U.S. faith-based organizations emphasizes.
And the Colombian government would be wise to open peace negotiations with the remaining, smaller guerrilla groups, to use this momentum to put an end to war.
But Colombia cannot achieve a sustainable peace without addressing its core human rights problems. Colombia’s human rights crisis is far from over. As noted in a statement by the Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America, US Office on Colombia, and Center for International Policy:
The Colombian government must make greater progress in dismantling paramilitary successor groups. In November 2013 alone, more than 2700 people, largely Afro-Colombian, were displaced in Buenaventura, allegedly by paramilitary successor groups. These brutal groups are also responsible for many of the threats and attacks against human rights defenders and are an obstacle to implementing the government’s land restitution program. Dismantling paramilitary successor groups—including by investigating and prosecuting the members of the military and police, local politicians, government officials, large landowners and companies that continue to finance and collude with them—is essential for human rights progress in Colombia.
Colombia must bring to justice the cases of the more than 3,000 alleged extrajudicial executions, most attributed to the armed forces, committed in the past decade. The Colombian Constitutional Court's decision to overturn the new, controversial law that would have expanded military jurisdiction affords the Santos Administration an opportunity to move forward, not backward, and ensure that human rights crimes allegedly committed by soldiers are effectively tried in civilian courts. Progress in bringing to justice cases of sexual violence committed by all armed actors is also essential.
The Colombian judicial system must make advances in prosecuting threats and attacks against human rights defenders. Those who defend human rights continue to face grave risks for their work, yet attacks against them are almost never investigated, let alone prosecuted. Though the Santos Administration has implemented important protection programs, it is essential to confront the problem at its source by ending impunity in attacks against defenders.
The Colombian government must meet its obligations to respect labor rights. To secure passage of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which faced significant public and congressional opposition, the U.S. and Colombian governments signed a Labor Action Plan (LAP) that laid out steps that the Colombian government agreed to take in order to protect labor unionists and increase respect for labor rights. It was good to hear the White House mention this, but we need action. The Colombian and U.S. governments must fulfill the pledge they made to the U.S. and Colombian publics by signing this plan.
While the number of deaths of labor union members has declined and Colombia has created institutions and passed laws, respect for labor rights has not improved on the ground. At least 11 trade unionists have been murdered in 2013 and hundreds have received death threats. As highlighted in a congressional report, “The US-Colombia Labor Action Plan: Failing on the Ground,” indirect employment is still pervasive and growing, the inspection system is ineffective, workers’ protections are weak and the right to organize is routinely denied.
Finally, the Colombian government must make progress in safe and sustainable land restitution for victims of forced displacement as well as land titling for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The Santos’ Administration’s Victims’ Law represents a historic opportunity for land restitution to Colombia’s internally displaced population and reparations for victims of violence. However, land restitution has been extremely slow, and even the vast majority of those who receive restitution are not yet able to return safely to their lands, as the structures that caused displacement remain intact (see Human Rights Watch's The Risk of Returning Home and Latin America Working Group's Far from the Promised Land). Land titling of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities is also proceeding at a snail's pace.
Land restitution cannot take place safely without more decisive action by the Colombian government to address the sources of violence from all armed actors—including paramilitaries, guerrillas and the armed forces—that caused people to flee their homes in the first place. It is especially crucial to dismantle the illegal paramilitary successor groups that still wage violence in the countryside, as well as to investigate and prosecute state and private actors that aid or employ them. The Colombian government should also ramp up legal services and protection for victims, and increase protection for land judges.
Colombia is still experiencing a human rights crisis. But if a peace accord is finalized in the near future, and if the Colombian government increases its attention to these human rights and labor rights issues, there is a real chance that Colombians, including those caught for decades in one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, can live their lives in peace.
Friday, December 6, 2013
By: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund
The November 24, 2013 elections in Honduras and their aftermath are a critical moment for the direction of the country. In June 2009 a coup overthrew the elected president, Liberal Party member Manuel Zelaya. In this month´s election, Zelaya´s wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya under the new Libre party banner ran against the National Party´s Juan Orlando Hernandez, the traditional Liberal Party, a new Anti-Corruption Party and several others.
The Supreme Electoral Council declared the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner, followed by Libre, with the Liberals, and the Anti-Corruption Party also receiving a significant share of votes. The newer parties’ significant vote count has altered the traditional two-party (National, Liberal) Honduran political scene.
But it is far from time to celebrate a free and fair election.
The International Human Rights Federation observation team in which Latin America Working Group participated, observing the human rights context as well as electoral mechanics, congratulated the Honduran people for a strong turnout, but observed the following serious problems:
Incentives for voting, provided by one party. The National Party had booths outside voting places where voters could pick up an envelope with their name on it with a card with discounts for telephone, food, medical care and pharmacy products. This was widespread and open, with the party having run ads promoting it.
Live people declared dead. Our small team met at least 20 people who had been declared dead and were unable to vote, as well as others whose voting places had been changed, making it difficult for them to vote. “They have not yet managed to kill me yet,” said one very angry “dead” woman we met at a Libre party booth outside a polling place. Many of these people told us that they had voted at the same voting place in last year´s primary.
Oppressive presence of the military. Honduran law unfortunately confers upon the armed forces the role of transporting and guarding electoral material and filled ballots. This law needs to be changed. The presence of the military on this election day was oppressive. Soldiers with automatic weapons had a prominent presence at voting centers, and in one case we observed soldiers frisking voters as they entered the polling place. Soldiers surrounded the transmission towers of progressive radio and television stations on election day.
Among the other problems we observed or which were reported to us were a complete lack of transparency in campaign financing, allegations that smaller parties were selling their pollwatcher credentials, immigration agents harassing some international observers, and the fact that the Supreme Electoral Council was formed by four of the nine parties running, rather than being strictly nonpartisan.
However, the allegations of fraudulent acts with the most impact would be in the transmission of votes between the polling places and the Supreme Electoral Council. Our mission noted with concern before the elections that this system appeared vulnerable to fraud. Two parties, Libre and the Anti-Corruption Party, are contesting the results of the elections and demanding to see the results from the individual polling places and a complete recount of ballots.
The Supreme Electoral Council must satisfy the legitimate demands of these parties for complete and transparent scrutiny of contested ballots. International observers should audit the vote transmission system, and the Honduran Attorney General’s office for Electoral Crimes should investigate carefully all claims of fraudulent activity.
In the long term, Honduran election law could be improved by removing the military from a role in administering elections, ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Council is nonpartisan, improving the voter rolls and ensuring transparency in campaign financing.
On the day after the elections, a small, peaceful protest by frustrated Libre voters approached the plaza where the Supreme Electoral Council had set up operations in a hotel. Some 150 heavily-armed police, including the anti-riot police with their tear gas and shields, and the black-clad military police, blocked their entrance. There was no violence, not with international electoral observers in their jackets and the international press in the nearby hotels. But what will happen now that the observers and the press have packed up and left?
The enormous frustration of voters who feel that once again the faith that they have placed in the electoral system has been violated needs to be heard and needs a solution. It must not meet teargas and batons.
The international community should be concerned about these elections and their aftermath.
We must also be concerned about the overall human rights context in Honduras. Yes, there is an extremely high murder rate due to organized crime and street crime. But there are also targeted killings of and threats against human rights defenders, including those who denounce human rights abuses, protect women´s rights and protest environmentally damaging projects such as mining and dams. Journalists and members of the LGBTI community are targeted. Police and other state actors are implicated in many cases, and the vast majority of these crimes remain in total impunity. The human rights unit of the Attorney General’s office that should investigate many of these crimes has been weakened by the recent transfer of dedicated prosecutors.
Nothing to celebrate yet.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Today, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with President Obama for two and a half hours at the White House. This was the fourth meeting between the two leaders since President Santos took office in August of 2010.
There was a fair amount of media coverage ahead of the meeting, not only about what the discussion would cover, but also about the meeting’s political context. Here are five points various articles and analyses have discussed and what the White House overview of the meeting said about them:
1. This visit was different. Both Colombia and the United States stressed the meeting was more about their economic ties than their security relationship
Much of the media attention ahead of the visit focused on the fact that this visit marked a turning point in U.S.-Colombian relations away from centering on security and towards economic partnership. President Santos told Caracol Radio Monday morning this meeting would be “totally different” as Colombia is no longer “coming with the hat out, asking for money.” Now Colombia wants to be seen as a different kind of partner to the United States. “The relations of our two countries find themselves at their best moment ever,” President Santos said in his remarks after the meeting.
For the past 20 years, the U.S.-Colombia relationship has been defined by Washington’s support for Colombia’s fight against guerillas, paramilitaries and narcotrafficking. In recent years, there was also the added push to get Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA went into effect last year, increasing trade between the countries by 20 percent. While Colombia is still the top recipient of U.S. assistance to the region, aid is at the lowest levels since before 2000, at less than $300 million per year.
Moreover, EFE and Colombian newspaper El Tiempo noted this meeting was important for President Obama’s image in the region as President Santos was the first (and really only) leader in Latin America “who offered President Obama a hand to recover,” following revelations of the National Security Archive’s extensive surveillance of citizens, companies and leaders throughout the hemisphere. President Obama’s former Latin America advisor, Dan Restrepo said, “this is an important meeting for the United States as it allows it to focus on a positive agenda… it’s a relationship that has turned the page.”
2. President Obama supports the peace talks
The peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were expected to be one of the central topics of the private meeting. Also on the agenda: trade, opportunities for energy, education, technology, and Colombia’s role in training security forces in Central America and the Caribbean.
As expected, President Obama emphasized his “strong support” for the peace process and praised President Santos’ “bold and brazen efforts” in engaging in discussions with the FARC. The administration has expressed support for the peace talks over the past year, but the backing of the United States is crucial in the negotiations.
So far the negotiating teams have reached agreements on agrarian development and the FARC’s political participation, but as the talks progress and both sides tackle contentious issues such as drug policy, demobilization and reintegration, transitional justice and extradition, international cooperation will be key. As Colombia is the United States’ main security partner in the region, U.S. support, financial and otherwise, will be needed to ensure a successful post-conflict transition.
Colombian magazine Semana reported President Santos was expected to request support from the U.S. as Colombia moves towards this transition. A statement released today by Latin American Working Group, the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America and U.S. Office on Colombia emphasized this:
U.S. policymakers should also consider how best to support a peace accord financially once negotiations are finalized, including by reorienting aid away from military assistance and towards peace accord implementation, such as demobilization and reintegration programs, support for victims of violence, and mechanisms for truth, justice and reparations.
3. The United States’ security relationship with Colombia is changing
The United States is planning to decrease its role in security operations in Colombia and shift its assistance into economic arenas, according to reports from a phone call between journalists and a White House senior official. The official said U.S. security assistance was “designed to be phased out over time” and because “conditions have been improving on the ground” security assistance is likely to be scaled back.
As an article in Foreign Policy noted, elite forces from U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force have deployed to Colombia since 2000 to work closely with the Colombians and that U.S. Special Forces will continue to train Colombian security forces. (See here for information of U.S. military training of Colombian forces)
Speaking at an event yesterday in Washington, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said the Colombian military would continue to train military and police forces in Central America and the Caribbean with U.S. funding. As expected, President Obama and President Santos covered this topic and agreed to triple joint U.S.- Colombian trainings throughout the hemisphere:
In 2013, this security assistance included 39 capacity-building activities in four Central American countries focused on areas such as asset forfeiture, investigations, polygraphs, and interdiction. The United States and Colombia announced the Action Plan for 2014, which aims to increase assistance through 152 capacity-building activities in six countries in Central America and the Caribbean.
4. Human rights and Labor issues exist that must be addressed
The statement mentioned above from the four Washington-baed NGOs called for the meeting to highlight serious labor and human rights problems that persist in the country. Some of the issues discussed during the meeting:
- Land Restitution and Afro-Colombians
Colombia passed the historic Victim’s Law in 2011, which aimed to offer reparations to victims and return land to some of the more than five million Colombians displaced because of violence. This process has been extremely slow, and those that have received restitution from the government often cannot return to the land for fear of being threatened or killed by armed actors, particularly paramilitary successor groups. Land titling for Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups in Colombia, who also continue to be marginalized and targeted, has been particularly slow.
The White House underscored the $68 million slated by USAID in support of this effort and said it intended to “expand the coverage of legal protection of land rights, especially those of small farmers, by strengthening the Colombian government’s land titling efforts.”
- Labor rights
Labor rights continue to be a huge issue in Colombia. Since January at least 11 trade unionists have been killed and hundreds more threatened. Impunity for murder cases of unionists runs at about 90% and workers who try to form unions are fired en mass. When the Colombian government signed the FTA, it also signed a “Labor Action Plan,” which obligated lawmakers to take specific steps to protect unionists and increase respect for labor rights. The majority of these steps have yet to be taken.
Regarding the Labor Action Plan, the White House said the two countries planned to “hold formal meetings through at least 2014 on Action Plan commitments and recognize advances under the Action Plan ad areas where challenges remain.”
The organizations’ statement also called for greater progress to be made in dismantling paramilitary successor groups, responsible for much of the violence and drug trafficking taking place today. It highlighted the need to investigate and prosecute the politicians, military and police members and large landowners that collude with these groups as well as the need to bring the over 3,000 military members accused of extrajudicial killings to justice.
5. U.S. political divisions and the peace process
This point was not discussed at all in English media, but touched on in Colombia. So far support for the peace process has been bipartisan, although some anti-Castro lawmakers have voiced their opposition to Havana hosting the talks. As Restrepo and Georgetown Professor Erick Langer noted, the U.S Congress has elections coming up next November and Colombia must be ready to ensure this bipartisan support continues in light of the uncertain makeup of next year’s Congress.
“Santos has to ensure that the Republicans feel that they are part of this process and it is not just an Obama issue. Traditionally the United States has maintained strong support for Colombia. But with the degree of polarization that exists currently in Washington creates the worry that this could change,” Langer said.
During his visit Santos also spoke to the Organization of American States, met with Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, with Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others. On Wednesday morning, he will appear on Morning Joe followed by a breakfast with the Washington Post’s editorial board and a lunch at the Chamber of Commerce.
For a list of links to more articles in Spanish and English, please see our Just the Facts Colombia news page.
Friday, September 20, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Release of new Just the Facts report!
We released our new report, “Time to Listen: Trends in US Military Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean.” It is available in both English (PDF) and Spanish (PDF). The report looks at U.S. defense and security trends in Latin America and the Caribbean. We found that despite calls from Latin America’s leader for an alternative to the drug war, the United States is still funding substantial military programs focused on counternarcotics operations that have little transparency or oversight.
On Tuesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed her state visit to Washington, originally scheduled for next month. The Pan-American Post wrote that the decision is largely perceived as a political move ahead of elections in 2014, capitalizing on growing popularity polling after a sharp dip from widespread protests. Several analysts have said the move has negative implications for both countries. Nevertheless, the White House tried to soften the impact of the announcement, saying it would be working with the Brazilian government to reschedule the visit. More from Reuters, the Global Post, the Economist, James Bosworth, and Foreign Policy.
The Rousseff administration also began talks about creating a domestic network to store and share data. Popular technology blog Gizmodo called the Rousseff administration plan a “bullish” move and noted that breaking from the U.S. internet could be “potentially impossible.”
Joe Biden in Mexico
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Mexico on Thursday and Friday this week to discuss economic relations between the two countries. Joined by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson andAssistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez, he was there to launch the High Level Economic Dialogue that President Obama announced on his trip to Mexico in May. As analyst James Bosworth noted, "All other issues that could be slightly controversial - security, spying, soccer - have been banished from the agenda." This is VP Biden's third trip to Mexico in his post and fifth trip to the region overall. More from the White House and the Los Angeles Times.
The Guardian featured an opinion piece on the visit, "Biden's visit to Mexico: what you should know, Joe," from John Ackerman, who wrote, "The widespread image of Peña Nieto as a bold reformist struggling against the forces of nostalgic reaction is about as accurate as Vladimir Putin's presentation of Bashar al-Assad as a distinguished statesman."
Verdad Abierta published an interesting, interactive feature about the FARC’s longstanding presence in the southern Colombian state of Caqueta. It examines the organization’s activities in narcotrafficking, intimidation tactics and more within this region, dubbed “the heart” of the FARC. There are extremely useful maps, timelines and graphics.
This week, Human Rights Watch released a report that documents the failures of the Colombian government to enforce the landmark Victims Law, which aimed to return millions of hectares of land to victims who had been displaced by violence. The report looked at the violence and threats against those victims trying to reclaim their land. Colombia’s Prosecutor General refuted the claims, citing an increase in convictions in cases involving forced displacement. InSight Crime provides some analysis of the report, highlighting the importance of criminal groups that are oftentimes contracted by wealthy individuals to maintain control of seized land.
The 14th round of peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government concluded yesterday. The negotiators did not report any progress on the second of five topics on the agenda, the rebels' political participation. Despite the slow pace of the talks and the fact that the most recent Gallup poll indicated in early September that 75% of Colombians disagree with how Santos has handled the peace process with the guerrillas, the Colombian leader has stood by the talks.
Ex-President Alvaro Uribe is planning a political comeback, announcing that he is running for a seat in the Senate. He will run on a closed list with nine other candidates from his Democratic Center Party, which Uribe and close political allies formed in 2012. The Pan-American Post explains Uribe’s closed-list candidacy means “Colombians would vote not for individual candidates but for the party as a whole.”La Silla Vacia has an online forum that includes opinions from policymakers, journalists and analysts on the political impact of Uribe’s candidacy in the nation.
Central American Border Disputes
On Monday, Nicaragua filed a second lawsuit against Colombia in the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime boundary in the Caribbean. Colombia’s President Santos has refused to recognize an earlier ruling by the ICJ that awarded Nicaragua a large portion of maritime territory.
Honduras and El Salvador also began a dispute over territory this week. El Faro reports that Honduran authorities announced construction of a helipad on the miniscule Conejo island in the Gulf of Fonseca, a natural harbor shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. El Salvador’s President quickly filed a complaint with the government of Honduras, claiming the island as Salvadoran territory.
On Thursday, President Maduro claimed the United States had banned his plane from flying over Puerto Rico on his way to China. Maduro called this an “act of aggression.” Reuters then reported Friday that the United States had granted President Maduro the right to use U.S. airspace on Thursday night, despite the fact that Venezuela had failed to follow protocol for a flyover request. Maduro also said the U.S. had refused to grant his chief of staff, General Wilmer Barrientos, a visa for the UN General Assembly in New York. More from the Pan-American Post.
Haiti taking steps toward a military force
Haitian President Michael Martelly is taking steps to reinstate the country’s army, with the help of Ecuador, the Associated Pressreported. The first batch of 41 Ecuadorian-trained recruits is being sent to the interior of the country to work on public service projects with Ecuador’s military. Haiti abolished its military in 1995, due to the military’s ongoing political influence and after dozens of military coups. The new force will not be armed, and will serve “not in the infantry but in technical service,” according to Defense Minister Jean-Rodolphe Joazile. President Martelly has been pledging to reinstate the army in recent years. Brazil is apparently also planning to train Haitian soldiers and has pledged to train 500 in Brazil and 1,000 in Haiti.
Two eye-catching photo galleries were released this week. The first one from James Rodriguez shows Guatemalans arriving back in their homeland after deportation from the United States. The other features entries from an exhibition of the best photo journalism from Central America, on display now in San Salvador.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
New Just the Facts Report!
We'll be releasing a big new report next Wednesday on U.S. military and police aid trends. For those in the D.C. area, please stop by our launch event that will be held Wednesday morning.
Biden's canceled trip to Panama
Vice President Joe Biden has canceled his meeting with Central American Presidents in Panama next week due to the situation in Syria, according to Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nuñez. He will, however, still be visiting Mexico on September 19 and 20 to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. This is Biden's fifth trip to the region as Vice President.
House of Representatives hearing on democracy in the region
The U.S. House of Representative's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on Tuesday, "Challenges to Democracy in the Western Hemisphere." Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe testified at the hearing and railed against countries in the Bolivarian Alliance: Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina. Uribe referred to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's administration as a "dictatorship in disguise" and Cuba as a "failure." Several experts also testified, including Carlos Lauria, the Senior Americas Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists and Dr. Cynthia J. Arnson, Director of the Americas Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, among others.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo on Wednesday to discuss the revelations of extensive NSA surveillance practices in the country that have rankled relations between the two countries. Rice reportedly conceded that the revelations raised "legitimate questions" for allies such as Brazil, but that the U.S. is “committed to working with Brazil to address these concerns." Adding to the already strained communications were reports that surfaced on Monday that the U.S. had been spying on the country's national oil company, Petrobras.
More from Reuters, Bloomberg, MercoPress and Bloggings by Boz, about recent proposals made by President Dilma Rousseff's administration for new policies to improve internet and telecommunication security. The most recent of which is a plan to force private international internet companies like Google and Microsoft that operate in Brazil to keep domestic data centers so that all data would remain inside the country.
U.S. origin of drug planes in Central America
Honduras Culture and Politics blog pubished an interesting post about U.S.-made planes used by drug traffickers in Central America. According to analyst Russell Sheptak, "Like the US side of narco-weapons, the US side of drug planes remains largely uninvestigated by law enforcement, and largely unreported on by the US press."
Wednesday marked the 40th anniversary of the September 11, 1973 military coup in Chile that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power. There was a lot of great coverage about the day that "democracy came to a violent end in Chile," as WOLA's Adam Isacson called it. Some highlights:
WOLA had an excellent podcast featuring co-founder Joe Eldridge, who was in Chile at the time of the coup. According to Eldridge, at the U.S. Embassy after the coup, "inference was we brought this on ourselves because of our sympathy for previous government."
The Associated Press featured a gripping first-hand account written by a former regional editor who was in Chile at the time of the coup, while the New York Times published an opinion piece by writer Ariel Dorfman, "9/11: The Day Everything Changed, in Chile"
The Economist published an article on how the coup continues to divide Chilean society today, noting, "Although three-fifths of the population was born after the coup, a survey taken by CERC, a pollster, suggested that three-quarters of Chileans believe the wounds opened in 1973 have yet to be healed."
The National Security Archives published the top ten declassified documents on the United States policy in Chile.
"How the Reagan administration broke with Chile's Pinochet in 1986," examined the often-overlooked political separation that took place between the United States and Chile in the mid-1990s.
Several protests were held to mark the anniversary, many of which resulted in violent clashes with police and ultimately the arrest of more than 260 people. According to the BBC, President Sebastian Piñera called on judges to punish those behind the clashes "with severity."
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón said Tuesday the government would begin peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's second largest guerrilla group, "in the coming days." Garzón said the talks would be separate from the current peace process with the FARC as to "not mix pears with apples" and that they would be "held in a different location than Havana, Cuba."
The most recent polls show that there are two clear front-runners in the Honduran presidential election. Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya and presidential candidate for the Libertad and Refundacion party, has a lead with 28%. The candidate of the ruling Partdo Nacional, Juan Orlando Hernandez, currently has 21.7% support. The Economist notes that neither candidate is expected to receive more than one third of the vote and that the Constitution does not hold a run-off clause, raising concerns about the potential for political instability. Christian Science Monitor has a profile of Castro.
980 members of the Honduran army have started training to join the ranks of the country's new military police force, the creation of which was approved by the country's Congress late last month.
The Venezuelan government officially exited the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Tuesday. The country announced its withdrawal from the Organization of American States- affiliated court in September 2012, but as the Pan American Post noted, it takes a year before denouncements go into effect. According to WOLA's Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog, "Although Venezuela will remain subject to existing rulings, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will still be able to receive complaints from Venezuelan citizens, the IACHR will no longer be able to bring cases regarding Venezuela to the I/A Court H.R., nor will Venezuelan citizens be able to directly address it." Venezuelans can go to the United Nations with complaints as well.
The move has been criticized by local and international human rights groups, like Amnesty International. President Nicolas Maduro tweeted, "The IACHR became a tool to protect the US geopolitical interests in America and to harass progressive governments." Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based human rights research group Dejusticia published a piece arguing that Venezuela could likely return to the body given regional politics.
The New York Times featured an overview of President Nicolas Maduro's ongoing list of conspiracy theories against his administration. As journalist William Neumann wrote, "Accusing unseen conspirators of subjecting the nation to a variety of ills is an art form in Venezuela."
The latest of these schemes, according to the Maduro administration, was a power outage last week that left half the country without electricity that was the result of economic "sabotage." To target conspirators, on Thursday President Maduro announced the creation of a state council, to fight economic "sabotage." The new body will monitor private companies that produce food and basic consumption goods. As Reuters noted, Maduro claims opposition leaders are trying to limit food production, among other plots, to destabilize the country. President Maduro has also created a special hotline to call for anyone who witnesses any irregularities to file reports: 0-800- Sabotaje, or “Sabotage.”
An article by Brazilian human rights organization Observatório de Favelas, translated by English-language blog Rio On Watch, reported that police in Rio de Janeiro have killed 10,000 people in the past ten years, between 2001 and 2011. The piece called for discussion about the militarization of police in the country as well as police and judicial reform.
Friday, September 6, 2013
This post was written by CIP interns Benjamin Fagan and Victor Salcedo
The large-scale protests that paralyzed many Brazilian cities and captured the attention of the international press this summer have mostly fizzled out following political promises to tackle corruption and other social woes. As noted in an earlier blog post, the conduct of Brazil’s police raised serious concerns about violence against peaceful protesters and journalists. Since then, Brazilian lawmakers and the Rousseff administration have sprung into action to appease protesters demands. First, Brazil’s Congress voted to allocate 25% of the royalties from newly discovered oil fields into the health system and 75% to education.
Yet this rapid response by Congress has not equated to across the board substantial changes. According to Globo, 60% of the government proposals in response to the protests are caught up in Congress. Some analysts note that repeat protests are likely if the government does not take the necessary measures to fulfill the demands of the Brazilian people. Shari Wejsa and Vitor de Salles Brasil write in the Americas Quarterly, “While the protest movement has waned for now, the fundamental conditions that sparked them have yet to be addressed. Without a continued push for reform, Brazilians are likely to take to the streets once again.” Thus far, some of the government’s key stopgap measures intended to address the protesters’ calls for reform have had mixed success:
The first failure of the Rousseff administration was a poorly planned proposal for a constituent assembly that was quickly squashed only 24 hours after being unveiled due to its unconstitutionality. LAC Press notes that the Brazilian Vice President, a constitutional lawyer, was not included in the policymaking process.
An anti-corruption bill, meant to classify corruption as a “heinous” crime, has been stuck in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress. Valeriano Costa, a professor at Campinas University, is quoted in DW as stating, “If it comes to mass protests against corruption on September 7, they will be targeted directly at the legislative branch.”
President Rousseff signed a controversial agreement, called Mais Medicos (More Doctors), with Cuba and other countries to recruit doctors to Brazil’s underserved rural regions. This measure is an immediate response to public concern over the health system; a Datafolha survey found that almost 50% of Brazilians cited healthcare as the most pressing issue in the country. Yet, this proposal has sparked more social unrest, this time among the medical community. Thousands of medical professionals and students protesting the government’s plan to import doctors from abroad have taken to the streets in a number of cities such as Brasilia, Santa Catarina, Fortaleza and Pernambuco. Doctors contest that a lack of adequate resources, not a lack of doctors, is the root of the country’s medical woes and are in opposition to new professionals that have not taken the "Revalida" medical exam and may not have the Portuguese language skills needed to treat patients.
As the Rousseff administration is focusing on a political solution to the crisis, other sectors of the government have begun to implement new security strategies in preparation for future protests:
The Government of Bahia is implementing a new strategy that prevents protesters from blocking major transportation avenues.
Brazil’s military police have announced a measure that will ban the use of masks during public protests to maintain order. “Anyone with a mask will be detained,” said Jooziel Freire Melo, commander of the Military Police in Brasilia.
Security measures also have been increased in preparation for the Independence Day celebration and a soccer match this Saturday, September 7th. The Department of Public Safety is expecting around 150,000 people in Brasilia for the festivities. Social media sites planning demonstrations, like the Anonymous Brasil Facebook account, have been monitored for the past 30 days. So far, there are major protests expected for this weekend in 135 cities around the country. 4,000 military police officers will be on duty to ensure civil security in Brasilia during the celebrations.
Friday, August 16, 2013
The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.
Haiti travel warning
The U.S. Department of State issued a new Haiti travel advisory on August 13 that warned visitors of “violent crimes and lack of emergency response infrastructure.” This Travel Warning uses less strong language than the previous one issued in December 2012, which read, "No one is safe from kidnapping regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age,” and that "Haitian authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such violent acts or prosecute perpetrators."
Secretary of State Kerry's trip to Brazil and Colombia
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Colombia and Brazil Sunday to Tuesday. Kerry's meetings with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other officials seemed to go fairly smoothly, while in Brazil, the NSA surveillance scandal overshadowed the visit as Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota took a hardline approach against the United States' surveillance practices. See a previous Just the Facts post and podcast for more details.
U.S. aid to Mexico
Last Thursday Senator Patrick Leahy froze $95 million dollars in funding for the Mérida Initiative, the United States' aid package to Mexico, because of an inadequate planning. In an opinion piece in Truth-Out, the Center for International Policy's Laura Carlsen wrote, "Thursday’s announcement confirms the hold on the funds and obliges both governments to define a joint strategy that shows some signs of viability. Contacted shortly after the hold, a top Leahy aide summed up the reason behind suspension of the aid,:'We received less than three pages of explanation. Senator Leahy does not sign away a quarter of a billion dollars just like that.'"
At the behest of the United States, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Rafael Caro Quintero, a former drug kingpin who was unexpectedly released last week while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kike" Camarena. The Dallas News has an interesting article by journalist Alfredo Corchado looking at the case in the context of U.S.-Mexico relations and U.S. security assistance to Mexico. According to Corchado, officials say money for Mérida "may be returned to Washington in the weeks to come." This week’s Just the Facts podcast has more details on the case
Last Friday, the Justice Department said it would not be prosecuting the Border Patrol agents who shot and killed two teens in separate incidents along the Arizona border, due to lack of evidence.
This week the United States hosted about 160 military personnel from 19 nations at the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters in Florida for the PANAMAX 2013 exercise. More from Southern Command, Latin American Herald Tribune and naval-technology.com
On Monday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos replaced his entire military and police leadership, including naming a new director for the National Police. According to analysts the decision to do so could be an attempt to bolster the peace talks, as former Army chief, General Sergio Mantilla was considered a hindrance to the peace process. The Economist's Intelligence Unit and Colombia Reports has more details on the new commanders while El Tiempo and Semana magazine have insight into the motives for the decision and its significance. A Just the Facts podcast also examined President Santo’s unexpected decision
Colombian news analysis website La SIlla Vacía published a report on the 15 biggest defense contractors in Colombia. In the lead was Elbit, an Israeli drone maker with an over $267 billion contract.
Peru's military dealt a blow to the Shining Path, killing two of the group's top leaders and another rebel in a military operation on Sunday. Analysts say that while the attack will hurt the group, it does not signal its demise. As Peru's armed forces chief, Admiral Jose Cueto said, the group "will now try to retool, because they always have young guys who want to advance." Peru's IDL-Reporteros detailed the operation in Spanish and in another article revealed that the United States and other foreign actors played a role in the multi-agency operation. More from the Associated Press in English.
Amnesty International, along with several other activists and NGOs denounced reports that "Three people, two of them children, were detained by Mexican marines in the northern city of Nuevo Laredo in late July and have not been seen since."
Proceso reported that the security in Michoacán is worsening, "cheapening the official rhetoric of Enrique Peña Nieto's government that the social-political situation in the state is under control," as Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong had stated on Wednesday. The Associated Press reported that a vocal group of farmers and businessmen from the state demanded the government stop sending federal police to fight the drug cartels who have allegedly abused citizens and are corrupt.
InSight Crime examined the Knights Templar, the drug cartel with the strongest presence in Michoacán that recent government reports named as the third most powerful cartel in the country, after the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels. The article includes a video interview with the group's leader that was posted on YouTube over the weekend.
The Andean Information Network posted an analysis on the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) estimates of potential cocaine production in the Andes. The report found there to be a significant decrease in the region between 2011 and 2012, the largest in Bolivia, which dropped 18 percent. The article pointed to several statistical irregularities in the report, noting, "Although they failed to provide any explanation, the same ONDCP press release reported Bolivia's potential cocaine production for 2011 at 190 metric tons—instead of the whopping 265 metric tons for 2011 reported by the same office a year earlier."
Conservative business mogul Horacio Cartes was sworn in yesterday as Paraguay’s first democratically-elected president since the controversial June 2012 ouster of Fernando Lugo. The Associated Press reports that in 2008-2009 the DEA targeted him in a mission called "Operation Heart of Stone," over alleged smuggling, money laundering and ties to the drug trade. The Pan-American Post examined the domestic and regional implications of Cartes' presidency.
On Wednesday there were several protests all over Brazil targeting a host of issues from corruption, police brutality, and disappearances, to education and low wages. Brazilians have been protesting Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral since the mass wave of protests that overtook the country in June have subsided. Cabral's critics claim he is corrupt and want an investigation into spending on projects for next year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. More from the Associated Press. America’s Quarterly had an assessment of the Brazilian government's response to the protests.
The Huffington Post blog had a post this week on security in Rio de Janeiro, specifically looking at the pacification police units (UPP), which the author claims are improving the situation. According to the piece, however, "The social protests that started in June and July 2013 are taking a sinister turn," and "with the changing of the leadership of the military police last week, there are fears that the UPP enterprise will unravel."
According to technology website, Phys Org, Brazil is "moving to secure its communications through its own satellite and digital networks to end its dependence on the United States, which is accused of electronically spying on the region." The outlet reported that French-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) announced on Tuesday that it had won a contract worth about $400 million to build a satellite for Brazil's developing space program.
On Thursday Ecuador was the first Latin American country to recall its ambassador, Edwin Johnson, from Egypt after security forces massacred about 600 supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. So far, no other Latin American country appears to have followed suit.
The Center for Democracy in the Americas published a video of interviews with gang leaders in El Salvador's prisons talking about the gang truce. According to CDA, "Everyone we spoke with expressed a strong commitment to the peace process... We heard the same messages over and over from men who know they could spend the rest of their lives in prison: 'We want a better life for our kids and families,' and 'the truce is working.'"
On Thursday Honduras' Congress approved the creation of a 5,000-strong military police unit charged with maintaining "public order." Mario Pérez, president of the Congress' security commission. said the group will “reclaim territory and capture criminals... We do not oppose the police, but it is not the model for the moment.” The chief of the armed forces presented the structure of the new unit. Critics of the decision say it is another step forward in the increasingly militarized policing of the country.
This announcement follows Monday's declaration that 4,500 community police units will be deployed by September 1. Proponents of the military police however say that this is a longer-term solution and will not produce immediate results. More from Honduras'
El Heraldo newspaper and InSight Crime.
Regulación Responsable, a coalition of Uruguayan organizations and individuals that support cannabis legalization, has a video with subtitles explaining Uruguay's marijuana regulation bill.
Monday, August 12, 2013
This post first appeared as an op-ed in Colombian newspaper El Espectador on August 11, 2013, as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. It was written by Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has a lot of thorny matters on his mind: who the United States should support in Egypt, should a reluctant United States get involved to any degree in Syria, how to address Russia, where relations are so frayed that the United States actually cancelled a presidential summit.
So Colombia, which is such a reliable partner of the United States, and where President Juan Manuel Santos has shown inspirational leadership in opening peace talks, may seem like an easy stop.
But Colombia is never easy.
Secretary of State Kerry comes bearing strong diplomatic support for the Colombian peace process. That’s good and important. As long as both sides are at the negotiating table, the Obama Administration stands strongly behind this process. Within the U.S. Congress, the voices raised concerning the peace process are in support, as an April letter from 62 members of Congress made clear. John Kerry is a man who believes in peace; now trying again the impossible task of moving forward a Middle East peace process, he also was involved in ending Central American wars and supporting Central American peace accords.
The United States can be counted on to provide substantial support for peace accord implementation.
We hope Secretary Kerry will also contribute to a just and lasting peace in Colombia by encouraging the negotiating teams to include the voice of victims of violence, especially as the discussion on victims approaches. If this peace is to be sustainable, victims of violence must help to build it.
If this peace is to be sustainable, it must have strong pillars of truth and justice. An independent truth commission is an essential step.
We know Secretary Kerry’s message will start with support for peace negotiations, but we hope his message does not end there. Even if an accord is signed, and on the long road to peace, Secretary Kerry would be a good friend to Colombia by talking about and helping address the still grim human rights situation on the ground.
This means talking frankly about the constitutional reform of its military justice system that leaves loopholes so that false positive cases could return to military courts. There must be justice for the over 3,500 ejecuciones extrajudiciales. U.S. security assistance is conditioned on respect for human rights, with the law stating that Colombia must effectively investigate and prosecute in civilian courts members of the security forces credibly alleged to have committed gross human rights violations. Secretary Kerry, as a U.S. senator, called on the State Department not to certify Colombia due to army abuses and lack of progress in prosecuting these crimes.
For the Obama administration, relying on the Colombian armed forces to "export" safety lessons to other countries seems a cost-effective solution to US budget woes. This is certainly a topic of discussion during the visit. But the fact that so many abuses by the armed forces remain in impunity makes it deeply concerning that the United States is encouraging the Colombian armed forces’ role in training other nation’s military forces.
Supporting a just and lasting peace also means Secretary Kerry should talk frankly about the ongoing assassinations of human rights defenders. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were assassinated in the first half of 2013. To stop the violence, threats and murders of defenders must be investigated and prosecuted. To stop the violence, the Santos Administration must do more to dismantle illegal armed groups, including paramilitary, BACRIM and guerrillas, and to prosecute the members of the armed forces, companies, politicians y public officials who finance and support them.
It also means talking frankly about the Labor Action Plan that both governments signed in order to achieve passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. There’s still far to go to carry out this plan. The Colombian government can highlight the fall in the murder of trade unionists as an important and positive change. Unfortunately, this has been the only positive change for a trade union movement that continues to struggle against illegal third-party subcontracting, constant harassment, and arbitrary dismissals for any degree of union activity. The Colombian government must act in favor of workers against these labor violations, implement effective inspection and sanction mechanisms to discourage the use of labor practices that restrict labor rights.
To pave the way for a just and lasting peace, the United States should encourage as well as fund the creation of meaningful protection for returned and returning communities, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Effective protection plans can only be designed in careful consultation with the communities they are intended to benefit. The United States should continue to fund the innovative Victims’ Law. But it must be done with real protection.
So no, it’s not an easy stop. But the right words and actions from Secretary Kerry could mean a lot for a just and lasting peace in Colombia.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
A study by Somos Defensores, a non-governmental protection program for human rights defenders, reveals shocking growth in murders of Colombian human rights defenders. The chart below illustrates that in 2012, the number of murders was nearly 14 times what it was in 2006. And 2013 is on a pace to be even worse.
The number of murders, although still high, remained relatively consistent around 30 per year between 2008 and 2011. But in 2012, the year after Colombia’s government passed a land restitution law encouraging displaced victims to come forward and claim stolen property, the number more than doubled to 69. The chart posted here, compiled by the Colombian newsmagazine Semana, puts the horrifying jump in context.
The first half of this year exhibited a 27% increase over the same time period in 2012. Thirty-seven human rights defenders were killed between January and June, a rate of one every five days. Of these 37, 12 reported receiving threats prior to their murder, suggesting the “evident institutional weakness for the security and control of the implementation of public policy in human rights,” reports Somos Defensores.
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.