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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • During a budget hearing for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House’s Committee on Appropriations Tuesday, DEA head Michele Leonhart criticized marijuana legalization measures in Washington and Colorado. She claimed Mexican drug traffickers were "setting up shop" and "are ready to come and sell cheaper" marijuana on the black market in the two states. She also accused many marijuana shops of being supplied by cartel-controlled growing operations. Leonhart's formal testimony can be found here.
  • United States Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske testified during a budget hearing for the agency on Tuesday. His testimony and a webcast of the hearing can be found here.
  • The United States confirmed this week that it stopped sharing radar intelligence with Honduran authorities on March 23 in response to a recently-passed law that permits the military to shoot down aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said the move is unlikely to grossly disrupt either interdiction efforts or cocaine flows, as “80 to 90 percent of illegal drugs that enter Honduras (do so) via maritime routes,” and not by air.
  • In an interview with El Universal Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández noted that increased security cooperation with Colombia and Mexico would be key following the United States' decision to end sharing radar information, as both are equipped with better intelligence technology.
  • Uruguay President Jose Mujica will meet with President Obama at the White House May 12. On the agenda will be Uruguay's recent decision to receive six Guantanamo Bay detainees as well as the country’s recent decision to regulate the sale of marijuana.
  • Colombia’s top court halted U.S.-backed coca crop fumigation in national parks, although as WOLA’s Adam Isacson asserted, crops sprayed in these areas did not account for much of the total acreage affected by the practice. He also described the "quiet but intense" debate over aerial eradication in the country.
  • U.S. Southern Command head General John Kelly, discussed regional counternarcotics strategies with military and civilian leaders from 14 nations in Guatemala City April 1-3 at the annual Central American Regional Security Conference. The participants discussed lessons learned from Operation Martillo, the U.S.-led and funded counternarcotics surge operation in Central America's coastal waters.
  • Some reports this week on U.S. training security forces in the region:
    • The AFP reported 42 members of Guatemala's National Police would be trained in Miami through funding from the Central American Regional Security Initiative April 5 to May 4 and August 30 to September 28. The Guatemalan officers will replicate the trainings for 400 of their counterparts when they return to their country.
    • The Georgia Army National Guard trained members of Guatemala's counternarcotics task force as part of the Defense Department's Regionally Aligned Forces program. According to Southcom, members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Border Patrol and DEA were involved in the trainings.
    • Green Berets assigned to an airborne Special Forces Group trained with Dominican Republic Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a month-long training program that focused on medical skills, marksmanship, and airborne operations.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández this week, the first visit in six years of a Mexican leader to the Central American country. The two leaders announced they would be forming a "regional front against organized crime" and would re-launch high-level bilateral security talks.
  • Also of note this week: an InSight Crime investigation on violence and the flow of drugs at the tri-border area of Brazil, Colombia and Peru; an informative article in the New Republic about increased migrant deaths on U.S. soil as a result of the crackdown along the U.S.-Mexico border; and an analysis of the five major shortcomings of Brazil's pacification program, which has kicked up in recent weeks, written by Americas Society/Council of the Americas's researcher Rachel Glickhouse for her RioGringa blog. Both Al Jazeera and Rio on Watch published excellent photo essays of the favela occupation.
  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Civil-Military Relations Update

    This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Mia Fasano.

    • As massive protests in Venezuela continue, President Nicolás Maduro has ordered paratroopers to patrol the streets of San Cristobal, Táchira, in an attempt to stop protests.
    • In Peru, Humberto Rosas Bonuccelli, the former director of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), testified in the “diarios chichas” corruption case that former dictator Alberto Fujimori authorized the transfer of US$750,000 per month from the armed forces to the National Intelligence Service during his 2000 election campaign. Vladimiro Montesinos, the currently imprisoned director of SIN, used the money to pay television channels and media forums.
    • Human rights organizations in El Salvador are demanding public access to military documents containing information about massacres that occurred during the height of state repression between 1981 and 1983. Journalists and human rights organizations have denounced a lack of accountability and transparency within the Ministry of Defense, which they claim violates the Law of Public Access to Information.
    • Authorities in Jamaica have created a truth-telling panel to investigate the use of excessive force during a military operation in which 70 people were killed in May of 2010. The operation was carried out to capture drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke and reestablish control of Tivoli Gardens, a low-income area. Citizens and activists have demanded a formal investigation into the operation.
    • Around 100 protesters in Mexico gathered to protest a weeks-long military exhibition in the Zócalo, Mexico City's central square. They held up signs that read “Zócalo is not a barracks.” The protestors held a symbolic moment of silence to commemorate the assassination of Mexican journalist Gregorio Jiménez.
    • Paraguay has proposed several changes to the organization of the armed forces in order to increase effectiveness between the separate branches. The three major branches of the armed forces will be converted into two in order to increase intelligence sharing capability and improve cooperation. In the reformed structure, the Navy and the Air Force will be under the same command.
    • President Otto Pérez Molina defended the army's continued use for policing duties in Guatemala, in response to calls from Foro Guatemala, a civil-society group, for a separation of military and police roles. Pérez Molina said that due to the current security situation, “the role of the army cannot be separated from citizen security.”

    Friday, March 7, 2014

    For Colombia's Military, a Tough Month

    Colombia’s armed forces have had a remarkably rough 30 days. The institution has been rocked by a series of scandals.

    • February 3: An investigative report from Colombia’s principal newsmagazine, Semana, alleged that a military intelligence operation had been spying on political leaders, human rights defenders, and even some members of the government team negotiating with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, Cuba.
    • February 15: The same magazine revealed audio recordings indicating “an impressive network of corruption” in the armed forces. Allegations include contracts obtained through bribery, arms trafficking, illegal mining investments, and access to cars and fuel for officers presumably jailed for human rights and other crimes.

      A central figure is former Col. Robinson González del Río, who is currently in a military prison in Bogotá. Col. del Río is awaiting trial for one of thousands of cases of so-called “false positives”: soldiers murdering civilians, then falsely claiming them as combat kills in order to reap rewards for high body counts. (Most “false positive” killings took place between 2004 and 2008.) Col. del Río claims to be the nephew of Gen. Rito Alejo del Río, who is also jailed for abetting the bloody mid–1990s takeover of the Urabá region in northwestern Colombia.

    • February 18: President Santos dismissed the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, who had been on the job for only six months. Among the leaked phone recordings in Semana is a conversation between Gen. Barrero and Col. del Río. Referring to the colonel’s imprisonment on “false positives” charges, the armed-forces chief encourages him to join with other accused officers to “make up a mafia to denounce the [civilian human rights] prosecutors and all of this crap.”
    • February 26: As Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón prepared to visit Washington, his office mistakenly leaked to the media a detailed agenda and set of talking points. They reveal some sensitive topics that Pinzón planned to take up in his visits with U.S. government officials. Pinzón was to ask Washington not to cut military assistance in the post-conflict phase. He planned to push to maintain the aerial herbicide spraying (fumigation) program, which could be bargained away in ongoing peace talks. The minister also planned to warn U.S. counterparts about “Nicaragua, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and foreign terrorist organizations” as “perceived/potential challenges to regional security.” The memo raises eyebrows, as some of the Defense Ministry recommendations seem to be out of step with Colombia’s on-the-record foreign policy.
    • March 3: Colombia’s Prosecutor-General issued an arrest warrant for Col. Del Río and 14 other military officials, charging them with trafficking weapons to drug-trafficking “criminal groups” like the Urabeños and ERPAC, bands formed by mid-level leaders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary network that disbanded in the mid–2000s.
    • March 6: Press reports revealed that the Army officer who served in 2013 as liaison to the Human Rights Unit of the civilian Prosecutor-General’s Office, Col. Anstrong Polanía Ducuara, is under investigation for illegally passing to his military superiors sensitive information about human rights cases, including “false positives.”

    Colombian opinion polls frequently show the armed forces to have one of the highest favorability ratings of all the country’s institutions, usually more than 75 percent. The Gallup poll released this week, however, found the military at 64 percent favorability, down from 80 percent in December and the lowest level recorded since 2000.

    Friday, February 28, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Friday, February 21, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

  • Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    Reactions to the political unrest gripping Venezuela

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Venezuelan Military

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

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

  • Colombia

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

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

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

  • United States

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

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

  • United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • CARICOM (Caribbean Community)

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

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

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

  • OAS (Organization of American States)

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

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

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

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

  • Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)

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

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

     

    Amnesty International asked the Venezuelan government to investigate the deaths:

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

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

    Human Rights Watch also stated that Venezuela must investigate killings:

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

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    A new wiretapping scandal casts doubt on the Colombian military's support for peace talks

    “It’s a relatively small place, near the Galerías shopping mall in western Bogotá. It now doesn’t have the sign outside that had idenfitied it, hanging over the two windows with glass that blocks the view of the interior. In a small terrace, under a black awning, there are eight tables and 24 chairs. Inside there are seven more tables, and a curved staircase that leads to a second floor, which has a large room with a gigantic television and computer workstations. …”

    “Despite the exotic combination of luncheonette and computer instruction center, a secret is hidden there: behind the facade is a National Army signals interception center.”

    The business described here was registered in Bogotá on September 12, 2012, just a few days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the launch of talks with the FARC guerrilla group. From this room, reports an investigation published to the website (but not the paper version) of Colombia’s Semana newsmagazine, soldiers and civilian hackers working for Colombian military intelligence carried out illegal wiretaps and email intercepts.

    Their targets included “the same ones as always”–NGOs and leftist politicians. This is outrageous enough. But the Army unit was also tapping into the emails and text messages of the Colombian government team negotiating with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.

    “Jaramillo (Sergio Jaramillo [a negotiator and the high commissioner for peace]), Éder (Alejandro Éder [director of the presidential demobilization and reintegration office, and an alternate negotiator]) and De la Calle (Humberto de la Calle [the lead negotiator]) were some of those whom I remember. The idea was to try to obtain the largest amount of information about what they were talking about, and how it was going,…” a source told Semana.com.

    One of the most important, and most uncertain, questions about Colombia’s peace process with the FARC is the extent to which the country’s powerful military actually supports it. These new revelations multiply the uncertainty.

    President Juan Manuel Santos has gone to great lengths to keep the generals in the tent: defense and security are off the negotiating agenda, a prominent retired general is one of the negotiators, FARC calls for a bilateral cease-fire–which the military resists–have been flatly refused, and the Santos administration has tried (and so far failed) to give military courts greater jurisdiction over human rights cases, in what some analysts regard to be a quid pro quo.

    The chief of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero, insisted in a recent interview that “we feel very well represented in the dialogues.” But there is little doubt that a significant portion of the officer corps, who have all spent their entire career fighting the FARC, would prefer to end the conflict on the battlefield. It is for that reason that support for ex-president Álvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the negotiations, remains high among the officers. As María Isabel Rueda, a longtime reporter and columnist for Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, recently put it: “Soldiers have hearts too, and some of them still beat more for Uribe than for Santos.”

    If the armed conflict ends in Havana, Colombia’s military will be in for a rough time, institutionally. Officers and soldiers will be expecting gratitude, and there will be parades, medals, and ceremonies. But post-conflict Colombia will also hold the spectacle of officers accused of human rights abuses forced to undergo humiliating confessions as part of a transitional justice process. A truth commission will detail brutal behavior. And the armed forces, faced with a reality in which citizen security threats outrank national security threats, will find it very hard to justify a membership of 286,000 [PDF] soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Latin America’s second-largest armed forces, and its largest army, could shrink considerably. (Colombia’s 175,000-strong police, however, could grow.)

    If the armed forces choose to resist these post-conflict shifts–starting now, while talks continue–they have some assets to deploy. They are huge and politically popular. They have important allies in Colombia’s political establishment, Álvaro Uribe high among them. And they have a crucial ally in the United States, which has forged a deep and broad military-to-military relationship in the 14 years since “Plan Colombia” emerged. Military sources tell Semana that the Army intelligence unit that oversaw the spying operation gets generous support from the CIA. We do not know, though, whether any of the equipment used in the wiretap/luncheonette came from the United States.

    The U.S. role is very important. The Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Southern Command can do much to determine whether Colombia’s civil-military relationship is smooth or friction-filled over the next several years. The key is in the messages that they convey to their allies in the Colombian armed forces–and the central message should be that illegal or undemocratic behavior is counter-productive and will damage the bilateral relationship. And that undermining an elected civilian president’s effort to negotiate peace, or to reconcile the country afterward, counts as “illegal and undemocratic behavior.”

    As criminal investigators try to piece together this new military spying scandal, those messages from the Colombian military’s U.S. “partners” should be louder and clearer than ever.

    Friday, January 31, 2014

    The Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Militarization of law enforcement

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

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

  • Elections

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

    New leadership in 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • El Salvador gang truce

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

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

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

  • Colombia peace process

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

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

  • Friday, January 17, 2014

    The Week in Review

    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.

    U.S. Policy

  • House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    The Houses’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing, “NAFTA at Twenty: Accomplishments, Challenges and the Way Forward.” The list of testifying witnesses was a mix of leaders of nonprofit and for profit organizations.
  • Obama to Mexico
    President Obama had a call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Monday, in which he congratulated Peña Nieto for the “important reforms” he pushed through in his first year in office. President Obama will travel to Mexico for a North American summit on February 19.
  • SOUTHCOM in Guatemala
    The head of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly, was in Guatemala this week to evaluate the progress of a counternarcotics task force the U.S. helped set up along the country’s northern border with Mexico. The United States and Guatemala are in negotiations to set up a similar task force along the country’s border with Honduras, Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported.
  • SOUTHCOM in Honduras
    The United States has offered
    to help Honduras build an international airport at the Soto Cano military airbase, from which U.S. military troops have operated since the early 1980s. Currently Joint Task Force Bravo is stationed there, the main U.S. force used to carry out counternarcotics operations in the country.
  • Help from the Vatican with Cuba
    Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Vatican, which has relatively good relations with the Cuba, to help with the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned on the island since 2009.
  • U.S. policies on sending migrants to Mexico
    Mexicali, Mexico has become the “world’s biggest landing pad for sent-back immigrants,” the Washington Post reported. Larger cities like Tijuana and Juarez used to be the main “drop-off” points but due to shifting U.S. immigration policies and the strong influence of the drug cartels, U.S. officials are now deporting immigrants to smaller border cities.
  • Omnibus spending bill
    The United States Congress passed a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill (PDF)for Fiscal Year 2014. Two of the bill’s provisions are the Defense Appropriations and State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations, which fund many of the aid programs tracked by Just the Facts.
  • Mexico

  • Self-defense and army clash in Michoacán
    The biggest story this week was the vigilante movement in Mexico’s western Michoacán state, particularly around the city of Apatzingan, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang. On Monday the Interior Minister Osorio Chong announced the government would be sending more troops to the region. Until now, federal troops had been reluctant to get involved, or had even worked with the groups, but this week ramped up their engagement to disarm them. By Saturday security forces will control all 27 municipalities in the Tierra Caliente region where Michoacán is located. So far Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has remained fairly silent on the issue, but has appointed a special commissioner to oversee the federal government’s response.

    The New York Times deftly explained the Mexican government’s “Catch 22:”

    Should it disarm the loosely organized gunmen who have risen up to fight the drug cartels, risking deadly clashes with some of the very citizens it has been accused of failing to protect in the first place?

    Or should it back down and let these nebulous outfits — with little or no police training, uncertain loyalties and possible ties to another criminal gang — continue to fight against the region’s narcotics rings, possibly leading to a bloody showdown?

    Reporting from the New York Times and other outlets indicated that many residents in fact support the vigilante groups and are disillusioned with security force involvement, particularly after the shooting of three civilians Wednesday. For a list of links to coverage in both English and Spanish, see the Just the Facts Mexico news page and the Pan-American Post.

  • Mexico’s police reform
    In the first six months of 2013, Mexico’s 31 states along with the Federal District did not use 88 percent of the available funds the government slated for vetting police. Initially, states were required to complete the vetting programs by December 29, 2013, but because of the delay, will now have until October 2014. More from Milenio and InSight Crime.
  • Colombia

  • Colombian cocaine labs
    Vocativ featured a video special on shifts in the Colombian cocaine trade that highlighted two of the latest trends to shake security forces’ counternarcotics efforts: the move from using huge processing labs in the jungle to small and disposable urban labs and the rise of trafficking the drug in liquid form, which is less detectable. The video also featured an anonymous trafficker who claimed, “legalization would be devastating, it would end the business.”
  • FARC ceasefire ends
    On Wednesday, the FARC ended its 30-day unilateral ceasefire. Colombian think tank CERAC documented the group’s deviation from the ceasefire and found that while the FARC decreased activity by 65 percent, there were 12 violations. Varying sources place the number of violations between four and twelve. Semana magazine wrote that despite these incidents, many analysts said the guerrilla group was largely able to hold the ceasefire, demonstrating the central Secretariat’s control over (almost) all of its fronts, a point that would be key to implementing any eventual peace deal. More analysis from InSight Crime ’s Jeremy McDermott who says while this is true, it also shows the risk of FARC fragmentation is a real possibility.

    On Thursday the government attributed a bombing in western Colombia that wounded 56 people to the FARC. The group said it was “surprised” by the attack and that if one of its fronts had in fact carried it out, it was an error.

  • FARC’s proposed drug reform
    On Tuesday, as the Colombian government and the FARC began their latest round of talks on drug trafficking, the guerrilla group released its proposed drug policy plan to regulate the production and sale of coca, poppy and marijuana. The plan also promoted demilitarization of drug- producing regions and an end to aerial crop fumigations, (See the proposal in its entirety in Spanish here and a summary in here here). Colombian newspaper El Tiempo highlighted various experts saying demilitarizing drug-producing regions is not realistic for the government, given the presence of drug labs and trafficking routes in these same areas.
  • Peru’s “license to kill” law

  • A new law in Peru exempts police officers and soldiers who shoot civilians “in compliance with their duty” from prosecution. The measure drew heavy criticism from civil society organizations who said it was a “license to kill” and will only further existing impunity for abuses. Supporters of the bill said it would allow police to protect civilians more effectively. More from El País.
  • Panama fines North Korea

  • North Korea has agreed to pay Panama a $670,000 fine to reclaim the ship that was found carrying Cuban missile equipment through the Panama Canal last year.