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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.

  • Friday, January 10, 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.


  • On Tuesday Argentina's La Nación newspaper reported the country's military would be sent to the border for their first anti-drug mission, part of a new strategy increasing the armed forces' role in domestic counternarcotics operations. According to the paper, Argentina plans to seek U.S. military assistance for those operations. As Adam Isacson noted, the news marked some big policy shifts in that the U.S. has given virtually no military assistance to Argentina for years and the country has historically maintained civilian control over internal policing duties.

    Argentina's defense minister, Agustín Rossi, confirmed the country purchased 35 hummers from the United States military, but said the vehicles would not be used for counternarcotics missions.

  • Honduras

  • A fantastic read in the New Yorker gives a history of the United States' war on drugs at home and in Latin America, underscoring its failures and highlighting why the U.S. strategy remains "on autopilot" despite the spate of shortcomings. It noted, "What is remarkable is how many times the U.S. has tried such militarized counter-narcotics programs and how long it has been apparent how little they amount to."
  • Other interesting articles this week concerning U.S. involvement in Honduras came from Al Jazeera's “US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown” and the Guardian's “Honduras and the dirty war fueled by the west’s drive for clean energy.”
  • Honduras' outgoing Congress approved for the country's newly established military police to be added to the constitution. The next step is for the legislature to approve the addition. President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández, the architect of the unit, is pushing for this as he has said it would not only be involved in citizen security, but in fiscal crimes as well.
  • Cuba

  • On Thursday Cuban and U.S. officials met in Havana for migration talks. The talks, which are the highest public contact between the two governments, are the latest development in a series of events indicating a thaw in relations. The delegations discussed the status of the 1990s migratory accords, which allowed for the U.S. to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year to Cubans, as well as the issues of illegal immigration and human trafficking. The Cuban government continues to object to U.S. special exemptions for Cuban immigrants, such as the "wet foot, dry-foot" policy, which the Cubans claim encourages illegal immigration. More from the Associated Press. See here for the full text in English of the Cuban press release on the migration talks.
  • Mexico

  • On Monday Mexico's Federal Police, Marine Corps and Army were deployed to the coast and Michoacán, where clashes between armed vigilante groups and drug cartels is causing violence to spike and main transportation thoroughfares to close.

    On Saturday, some 100 members of a self-defense group took over the Michoacán village of Paracuaro, a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug gang, and detained 15 local police officers accused of colluding with the cartel. Reuters published a vivid photo feature on the incident. El Universal has a helpful interactive feature on the security situation in the state with maps, profiles, a timeline and videos.

  • The government has since sent federal troops to protect the high-profile leader of the group that took over Paracuaro, Jose Manuel Mireles, who was injured in a plane crash Saturday. The Associated Press, noted the decision to do so illustrated the "tricky position in which Mexico's government finds itself with regard to the rebel movement." The government has denounced these groups as outside the law, but hailed Mireles Wednesday for "wounding the cartels, particularly the Templars." More analysis from El País on the federal government’s role in the conflict.

    Local townspeople are now protesting the vigilante's takeover of Paracuaro,while the mayor has requested the federal government's assistance in removing the armed vigilante group. Self-defense groups now control 13 cities and a community in Michoacan.

  • Vice Mexico published a feature on Mireles, "With the moral leader of Michoacan's self-defense groups," documenting his life with the vigilante movement over the course of five days as they planned the takeover and executed it, up through the plane crash that landed Mireles in the hospital.
  • Human Rights Watch researcher Nik Steinberg published a harrowing story in Foreign Policy about ongoing impunity for forced disappearances in Mexico, many committed by members of the country's police and military. He noted a lack of government will to prosecute cases or set up a functioning database of missing individuals.
  • InSight Crime translated Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope’s “5 Predications for Mexico Security in 2014.”
  • Venezuela

  • The high-profile murder of a former Miss Venezuela on Monday has shocked the country and sparked a nation-wide debate about the dire public security situation. On Twitter, the hashtag #NoMasViolenciaVenezuela (No more violence Venezuela) was trending while the statistic was spread that Venezuela's 2013 homicide rate (24,763) was over 2.5 times that of Iraq (9.472), which has about the same population. On Thursday all governors and mayors from the country's 79 municipalities convened in Caracas to review the government's security plan. So far seven arrests have been made for the murders.

    At the meeting, a much-publicized handshake took place between President Maduro and Henrique Capriles, Maduro's rival in April's hotly contested presidential elections. It was the first time the two had been in the same room since Maduro defeated Capriles. President Maduro has since announced the creation of a center for victims of violence as well as a major cabinet reshuffle, including the heads of seven civilian ministries and several military agencies.

  • Colombia

  • The Los Angeles Times published an article on the status of Colombia’s 2011 land restitution statute, which one farmer said was “a beautiful law that gave us hope we might recover our land. But we’re still in limbo and under constant threat.” The piece goes on to describe obstacles to the law's implementation such as protection for those reclaiming their land from paramilitary groups and lack of local development.
  • Following a recent Washington Post article detailing the CIA’s covert involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency missions, the FARC issued a communiqué questioning the government’s commitment to the peace talks, saying the article, “raises doubts about the true role of the fatherland-betraying Colombian oligarchy.” In a post published Friday in English, “The Army of Colombia: A Pawn in the CIA’s Chess Game,” the group blasted the government, asserting that “To hand over the command of your military operations to a foreign army and hide it from the country for years is a crime of the offended country; it is an outrage that stains our sovereignty and independence; a crime of treason.”
  • An editorial in Colombia’s most circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, strongly praised Colorado’s marijuana legalization measure, calling it an “urgent and necessary framing of the war on drugs.”
  • Although Colombia seized more marijuana in 2013 than in any year in the past two decades, cocaine seizures fell dramatically to 70 tons, which would mean a 170-ton drop using some 2012 numbers. According to InSight Crime, this shift indicates cocaine traffickers have adapted their strategies, as the United Nations has reported cocaine production in the country remains stable, despite drops in coca cultivation.
  • El Salvador

  • A joint study by the Salvadoran Government and the United States’ Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, found that although criminals’ weapons used to be left overs from the civil war, now 60% of weapons traced come from the United States today.
  • Friday, December 13, 2013

    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.


    Peace Talks

  • On Sunday, the FARC declared a 30-day ceasefire beginning December 15. The FARC’s statement came a day after the group bombed a police station in Cauca, killing nine. President Santos said the government would continue to fight the rebels throughout the ceasefire, while FARC leader “Pablo Catatumbo” warned on Tuesday there could be more attacks before the ceasefire begins Sunday. More from BBC, Semana, Colombia Reports and Fusion.
  • The Colombian government and the FARC released a joint report detailing the November accord on the guerrilla group's political participation.
  • Aerial eradication

  • The U.S. Ambassador - Designate to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said ending the aerial eradication program would be a “great mistake.” Whitaker also expressed his support for the peace talks. More analysis from Adam Isacson and the United Institute of Peace’s Ginny Bouvier.
  • U.S. influence in drug policy

  • Colombian news and analysis site La Silla Vacía published a list of the 10 most powerful actors with respect to drug policy in the country. The number one spot went to President Obama and the number 10 spot to former President Álvaro Uribe. The FARC, the U.S. Embassy and Open Sociey Foundations were also included on the list.
  • Bogota mayor

  • On Monday, Colombia's ultra-conservative prosecutor general, Alejandro Ordóñez, removed left-wing Bogota Mayor Guastavo Petro and banned him from holding public office for 15 years. Ordóñez claimed Petro had improvised and mismanaged a shift in responsibility of the city's garbage collection systems to a public collection service, resulting in tons of trash being left on the streets for several days last year. Petro and his supporters called the move an undemocratic right-wing “coup” by ruling conservatives threatened by his leftist views. On Monday and Tuesday, thousands converged on Bogota's main square, Plaza Bolivar, in support of Petro, who, hoping for a “Colombian Spring,” called for massive demonstrations to take place Friday.

    Given Petro was a former M-19 guerrilla, several observers have noted his dismissal could have repercussions for the peace talks in Havana. The guerrillas could interpret the move as a sign there are no political guarantees for leftist politicians, dissuading them from entering into formal politics. As Colombian magazine Semana noted, Ordóñez' decision has rallied support for Petro, not only within the capital city, but from the United States, the FARC, Colombia's political left, sectors of the indigenous population, the United Nations and the European Parliament.

    At his nomination hearing this Wednesday, the U.S. Ambassador - Designate to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said the move "could erode" the peace process, while the FARC, in a statement released Wednesday, commented, "With a simple signature, Ordoñez gave those of use who have risen up in arms a lesson in what democracy means to the oligarchy in Colombia." Petro has appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and said he plans to appeal the decision, the deadline for which is January. More from the Miami Herald, La Silla Vacía and the Christian Science Monitor on the effect on the peace talks and El Tiempo on the Colombian government’s negative reaction to Whitaker's statement.

  • Uruguay Marijuana bill

  • On Tuesday, Uruguay's Senate approved a bill in a 16 to 13 vote that would allow the government to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana, which lawmakers consider fundamental to reducing drug-related violence in the country. President Jose Mujica is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday, however, he has reiterated he views the measure as an "experiment.” The U.N. International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has come out against the proposal, saying it breaks international anti-drug laws, while bordering countries Brazil and Argentina have expressed concern about increased trafficking. President Mujica told INCB head Raymond Yans to “stop lying” in reference to Yans’ claims that Uruguayan officials would not meet with him.

    More from the Pan-American Post, El País, Reuters, The Economist, and the New York Times, while the Transnational Institute's Drugs and Democracy program has useful infographics on why the measure was implemented and how it will work.

    InSight Crime has a feature looking at short-term and long-term obstacles to the bill, such as pushback from opposition lawmakers that have vowed to repeal the law and low public approval for the measure.

  • Venezuelan municipal elections

  • As was expected, Venezuela's ruling PSUV party won the majority of municipal elections that were held last Sunday. The final tally indicated that the PSUV won 44 percent of the local seats and the MUD part won 42 percent. Many had described the vote as a referendum for President Nicolas Maduro’s presidency, and as Venezuela expert David Smilde wrote on WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, “This result clearly gives Maduro some breathing room.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the elections had “met the standards” despite “some questions of irregularities.” More from Christian Science Monitor, NPR, James Bosworth, the Miami Herald, World Politics Review, and the Economist.
  • The Venezuelan government says the country’s homicide rate is expected to drop by 25 percent this year: from a government-recorded 56 homicides per 100,000 people to 39 per 100,000, which would be the lowest rate in four years. In an interview with Reuters, Venezuela’s interior minister attributed the decrease to Plan Patria Segura, an anti-crime initiative that ramped up the presence of troops on the streets.InSight Crime highlighted the inconsistency and unreliability of official crime numbers, as the Venezuelan government has admitted to keeping unwanted statistics secret.
  • Honduras

  • Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has confirmed conservative ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández as the official winner of the country’s presidential elections, despite complaints of fraud and electoral irregularity filed by the opposition LIBRE and Anti-Corruption parties. Secretary of State John Kerry formally extended his congratulations to Hernández on Thursday. Hernández’ confirmation likely means the Honduran government will take a more heavy-handed approach to security, as Adam Isacson noted. More from El Heraldo and the BBC.
  • Chile

  • Chile is holding a presidential runoff election this Sunday, which former President Michelle Bachelet is almost certain to win. Bachelet won 47% of the vote in the first round, almost double that of her conservative rival, Evelyn Matthei. Even Matthei has said she would consider a victory a “miracle.” More from La Tercera.
  • Cuba

  • Cuban police detained, beat, and otherwise harassed over 150 dissidents throughout the county ahead of protests and marches intended to commemorate International Human Rights Day on December 10. About 20 members of the dissident group the Ladies in White were among those detained. The Miami Herald reported Thursday all of those detained have been released.
  • The handshake between President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral caused a media storm this week. Conservative lawmakers such as John McCain and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), along with some media outlets, including the Washington Post's Editorial Board, heavily criticized the move while several news agencies and analysts speculated it signaled a thaw in relations. For links to articles on both sides of the debate, see the Just the Facts' Cuba news page.
  • Argentina

  • This week police protests and strikes that started ten days ago spread to 20 of Argentina’s 23 provinces. The strikes and subsequent looting have resulted in mass violence, including the death of 12 people. The officers are demanding higher wages and better work conditions. According to La Nación, the strikes and looting have subsided but are still ongoing in three provinces and parts of Buenos Aires, the capital city. More from the Economist and the Pan-American Post.
  • Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Citizen insecurity in Latin America has grown: UN report

    On Tuesday, the United Nation Development Program released a report that found Latin America continues to be the most unequal and the most insecure region in the world. As the UN noted, “ ‘Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America,’ revealed a paradox: in the past decade, the region experienced both economic growth and increased crime rates.”

    The report, assessed citizen insecurity in 18 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. It examined a myriad of ongoing problems in the region such as high levels of violence, weak judicial and penal systems, and high rates of economic inequality.

    Some of the statistics revealed:

  • Homicides have reached “epidemic levels” with over 100,000 murders recorded each year. From 2000-2010 the number of homicides rose above one million and grew 11%.
  • In Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador more respondents said the police were involved in crime than those who believed they protected the population.
  • In the majority of the countries surveyed, common criminals were perceived to be the biggest threat to public security. Only in Mexico and Brazil were organized crime and narcotraffickers perceived to be the biggest threat, while in El Salvador and Honduras gangs were chosen as posing the greatest danger.
  • Latin America has about 50% more private security guards (3,811,302) than police officers (2,616,753) and Latin American private security guards have rates of gun possession per employee ten times larger than Europe. Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil had disproportionately high numbers of private security guards.
  • The perception of insecurity has also risen. Interestingly enough, the perception of insecurity is higher in Chile, which has the lowest murder rate in the region (2 per 100,000), than in Honduras, which has the highest homicide rate (86.5 per 100,000).
  • In the past 25 years robberies have tripled. In 2012, one in three Latin Americans was a victim of a violent crime. This high level of crime had affected people's daily lives: between 45% and 65% of respondents said they no longer leave their houses at night, while 13% said they had felt the need to move to avoid crime.
  • The findings in the report underscore the importance of calls that have been growing throughout the region for a change in security strategies and for alternative approaches in the fight against the drug cartels. The report put forth several recommendations that have been voiced by analysts, officials and advocates: public institutions must be strengthened; efforts must be coordinated between governments and civil society, as well as between countries; opportunities for human development and growth ought to be increased, while “crime triggers” like alcohol, drugs, arms and weapons should be regulated and reduced through a public health perspective. More from Terra, Animal Politico and the Miami Herald. The report can be downloaded in Spanish here (pdf).

    Friday, November 8, 2013

    Week in Review

    This post was written by CIP intern Benjamin Fagan.

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.


  • Argentina’s government has uncovered secret documents from the military dictatorship era (1976-1983) that shed light on human rights abuses. The documents, found in the basement of the Air Force headquarters, contain a blacklist of public figures, such as famed folk singer Mercedes Sosa, as well as secret transcripts of the junta meetings. The Open Society Foundations Justice Initiative published an interesting piece exploring the potential implications of the find.
  • Mexico

  • The Mexican government deployed the Army, Navy and Federal Police to replace local police in the port and city of Lázaro Cárdenas, in the embattled western state of Michoacán. The strategic port, which has become a hub for commerce as well as the cartels, is a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel. The group reportedly taxes products passing through and extorts businesses operating in and around it, in addition to being involved in several other lucrative activities, such as smuggling in precursor chemicals to process methamphetamines.

    Citizen vigilante “self-defense” forces have pulled back in response to the military’s deployment. Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in Animal Politico, “This seems to be a largely reactive measure, prompted more by the actions of criminals that by a well planned law enforcement strategy. It may have some immediate positive effects, but how will these be maintained in the long term?” More from Bloggings by Boz and the Los Angeles Times.

  • The U.S. Department of State announced a $5 million reward “for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Rafael Caro-Quintero, who kidnapped, tortured and murdered U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena in 1985.” Caro-Quintero was imprisoned in Mexico until earlier this year, when he was released by an appeals court. This week, Mexico’s Supreme Court overturned this appeal ruling and the Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying it was “the correct decision.”
  • VICE published an interesting article that looks at the way cartel members have been using social media to “run positive PR campaigns, post selfies with their pistols, and hunt down targets by tracking their movements on social media.” And if you were wondering, yes, cartel members post pouty “duckface” pictures to Facebook.
  • Honduras

  • The police chief of Honduras, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, sat down with the Associated Press for an extensive interview that touched on allegations of abuse from the National Police. In response to accusations against his force he stated, “I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human.” He also noted the United States was his “best ally and support” in the fight against drug traffickers in the violent country. This is contradictory to claims made by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield who said, “in accordance with its obligations under the Leahy Law, will not work with the Director General of the National Police. We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • El Faro reported the ruling party candidate in Honduras’ upcoming presidential elections, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has called for the acquisition of war planes in response to El Salvador’s recent deal to buy 12 A-37 military planes from Chile. Hernandez stated the deal was “breaking the equilibrium” of power in the region, especially as El Salvador is laying claim to Isla Conejo, a small island controlled by Honduras in the Gulf of Fonseca.
  • A new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at the economic and social state of Honduras since 2006. The report concluded “economic inequality in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2010, while poverty has worsened, unemployment has increased and underemployment has risen sharply.”
  • Brazil

  • Brazilian authorities found themselves in an “uncomfortable position” after Folha de São Paulo reported the government had spied on foreign diplomats, tracking their movements and monitoring a property leased by the United States Embassy in Brasília. However, as Americas Quarterly noted, the espionage activities “paled in comparison” to the United States’ National Security Administration’s massive data collection. Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet also stressed the legality of the program, saying it was “in absolute compliance” with national laws, and that the government will pursue prosecution of the leaker of this classified information.
  • O Globo published the first in a series of articles that explore civilians killed by police forces. According to the report, five people are killed daily in Brazil by a member of the police force, while in the United States, that number is just over one person a day. This comes weeks after multiple police officers were arrested for the murder of Rio bricklayer Amarildo de Souza, who was tortured and killed during the police pacification of the Rocinha slum.
  • Colombia

  • There was major progress in the talks between the FARC rebel group and Colombian government, with the two sides announcing an agreement on political participation. The agreement outlines a commitment to opening the political process to the rebel group and contains guarantees to ensure the safety of leaders of new political movements. The joint statement from the FARC and Colombian government stated, “We have agreed upon an integral system of security for political exercise.” Looking ahead to the next round of talks, Reuters published a good overview on the upcoming challenges for negotiators in reaching a final settlement. More from USIP’s Colombia expert Ginny Bouvier, the Washington Post, BBC, Colombia Reports, La Silla Vacía, and Semana.
  • Twelve United States Congressmen wrote a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos expressing serious concern for the security situation of Afro-Colombian communities involved in the land restitution process. More from Colombia Reports.
  • Nicaragua

  • Nicaragua’s ruling party has proposed a set of changes to the Constitution, including the abolition of term limits, which would allow President Daniel Ortega to seek a third consecutive term. Nicaragua Dispatch had a great overview of the possible changes, which include allowing current members of the police and military to hold office. The piece noted that the FSLN’s “supermajority status in the National Assembly absolves them from the need for serious consultation or compromise.” More from the Economist and the Guardian.
  • Venezuela

    A few interesting things happened in Venezuela this week:

    • Maduro declared an “early Christmas” this year in order to boost the spirits of the Venezuelan people. The early holiday season was implemented to boost morale in the country, and government workers will be receiving two-thirds of their holiday bonuses in November.
    • The President also announced a new holiday in memory of former President Hugo Chávez. The holiday will be held on December 8, the same day as important mayoral elections across the country.
    • The Associated Press reported that during a televised speech, Maduro called for the installation of anti-aircraft missiles in the slums of Caracas. The move is to repel “imperialist” attacks, while “arming civilians and putting state-of-the-art artillery in densely-populated neighborhoods is an integral part of an ongoing defense buildup.”
    • Inflation has reached above 50 percent, the highest since 1999 when Chávez took power. Here is a picture via Twitter of Venezuelan inflation from 1973-2013. More from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
    • Despite major diplomatic differences, Venezuela and the United States are participating in the CRUZEX joint air exercises being held in Brazil and run until November 15.

    Saturday, October 12, 2013

    Podcast: The Week Ahead, October 12, 2013

    Adam talks about the recent troubles of Rio de Janeiro's Favela Pacification Program, the Venezuelan President's quest for decree powers, and politics in Argentina as President Cristina Fernández undergoes brain surgery.

    Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


    Friday, August 9, 2013

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    United States policy

  • This weekend John Kerry will visit Colombia and Brazil, in his second trip to the region as Secretary of State. In his meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Kerry is expected to discuss the state of trade two years after a free trade agreement went into effect, the ongoing peace talks, overall security and Colombia’s training of foreign forces and increasing security assistance to third countries. See a previous Just the Facts post by WOLA’s Adam Isacson for more on Kerry’s trip to Colombia and record in the region.

    There will also be a new United States ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, who is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere affairs. More from Semana and Colombia Reports.

  • On Wednesday, SOUTHCOM commander John Kelly met with the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina and the head of the armed forces to discuss deepening military cooperation between the two countries, U.S. security assistance to the region, and regional efforts to target organized crime. He also met with the president of the country’s National Directorate of Drug Control.
  • Colombia and Bolivia’s coca crops fell in 2012

  • According to the United Nations, in 2012 coca production in Colombia dropped by 25 percent. The report estimated the total amount of land in Colombia with coca in 2012 to be 120,000 acres, down from 160,000 in 2011 and the lowest figure since monitoring in the country started over 10 years ago. Some key points:
    • Although coca crop production fell, the amount of cocaine produced in 2012, 340 tons, was similar to the amount yielded in 2011. The AP explains this is.
    • Signaling Ecuador’s increasing importance in the drug trade, the two departments with the highest levels of coca were Nariño and Putumayo along the southern border.
    • About 80 percent of coca cultivation was concentrated in eight departments, about half of which occurred in three departments where coca cultivation increased -- Caquetá, Chocó and Norte de Santander.

    The report found the amount of coca planted in Bolivia had declined by seven percent in 2012, from 27, 200 (ha) to 25,300, as part of a downward trend that began when production fell some 12 percent between 2010 and 2011. Bolivia kicked the DEA out in 2008.

    Although the agency has yet to release 2012 coca or cocaine production figures for Peru, it is likely that the country has overtaken Colombia to be the top coca-producing country in the region. In 2011, Peru surpassed Colombia to become the largest producer of cocaine, according to the U.S., though there are concerns political interests can influence estimates. More from La Silla Vacía, InSight Crime, the UN News Centre, UNODC, Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.

  • Honduras

  • Over the weekend, the Honduran government ordered the military and police to take control of a prison just outside Tegucilgalpa, after a fight involving AK-47s and grenades between rival gangs killed three people and injured 15 others. The security forces, which were also sent to prisons in San Pedro Sula, will be deployed for 90 days. The decision to send in the troops followed the release of an IAHCR report released last Friday which found that “structural deficiencies” had led to the “collapse” of the Honduran prison system, notorious for overcrowding and endemic violence.
  • Venezuela

  • On Wednesday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled against opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ challenge to last April’s election results. The court then fined him $1,698 for challenging the election count and thereby “insulting government authority” and “accusing the judicial system of bias in favor of the government,” according to the Associated Press. Capriles’ chief of staff, Oscar Lopez was then arrested Thursday. Although the government’s stated reasons for the warrant have not been revealed, President Nicolás Maduro announced that the government “today captured a chief of the corruption and of the mafias of the Venezuelan right.” More from the New York Times.
  • WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog examined a disarmament law President Nicolás Maduro signed into law last month and in a follow-up post looked at reactions and criticism to the measure.
  • Brazil

  • Rio’s military police installed a new chief following the dismissal of the previous head after he granted amnesty to 450 offices who committed ambiguously-reported low-level “administrative” infractions. The new chief, Colonel Jose Menezes is going to reverse the amnesty although he has said he thought it was a good idea. The police would revise current policy to “establish objective criteria with a view towards clarifying doubts about it,” he said.
  • Colombia

  • A disconcerting report (pdf) released by Colombian NGO Somos Defensores found a jump in murders of human rights defenders in the country in recent years. In 2012, the number of killings (69) was almost 14 times what it was in 2006. So far in 2013, 37 human rights defenders have been killed, a 27 percent increase over the same period last year. The rise coincides with the implementation of the country’s historic Victims law, offering victims of the armed conflict the opportunity to reclaim stolen property and receive compensation. More from a previous Just the Facts post and El Tiempo.
  • Colombian political analysis website La Silla Vacía overviewed several proposals the FARC have made during peace talks with the government in Havana and sorted them according to their viability.
  • The only known tungsten mine in Colombia is controlled by the FARC, according to an in-depth investigative report by Bloomberg on the group’s illegal mining interests. Since the report’s release, Apple, BIC, BMW, Ferrari, Samsung (005930) and Volkswagen have all said they would be opening investigations.
  • Argentina

  • On Tuesday, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took advantage of the country’s term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and used the opportunity to criticize the veto power of its five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Fernandez and several other speakers from Latin America spoke out against the U.S. surveillance programs in the region revealed by Edward Snowden. More from the New York Times, Associated Press and the BBC.
  • Mexico

  • InSight Crime and the Woodrow Wilson Center released a special series on violence in the city of Nuevo Laredo, an important drug trafficking hub on the border with the United States. The city is largely controlled by the Zetas, however the recent capture of leader Miguel Treviño (Z40) may spark turf wars that will likely cause violence to spike.
  • Alfredo Corchado, the journalist that first broke the story of Treviño’s arrest, profiled the capture for The Daily Beast. The piece depicts Corchado’s experiences as a journalist covering Treviño, and delves into the gang leader’s violent past. According to Corchado, Trevino’s “pep talk consisted of one line: If you don’t kill someone every day, you’re not doing your job.”
  • Peru

  • According to Peruvian news website Caretas, police detected 44 clandestine airstrips in a small town in the country’s central jungle that are used to export drugs to Bolivia. Authorities estimated that about 14 flights carrying 300 kilos of drugs took off each month between January and April of this year. As the article noted, Bolivia is becoming a more important hub for drug trafficking in the region as Brazilian, Argentine and European market demands are on the rise.
  • Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    Congressional Hearing: “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere”

    This post was written by CIP intern Victor Salcedo

    In recent years, the United States Congress has been paying close attention to the presence of Iran in Latin America. While both the State Department and United States Southern Command posit that there appears to be no imminent threat of a terrorist attack, members of Congress, particularly the House Republicans, have shown consistent concern about Iran’s ties to the region. Their concern especially relates to Iran’s relationship with countries that maintain cool relationships with the United States.

    Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency held a hearing, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere.” The witnesses were Ilan Berman,Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director, Center for a Secure Free Society, Blaise Misztal Acting Director of Foreign Policy Bipartisan Policy Center, and Douglas Farah, President, IBI Consultants.

    All witness testimonies and opening remarks can be found here.

    Alberto Nisman, Argentine government prosecutor, was expected to be the main witness to appear in the hearing. However, for undisclosed reasons, the Argentine government barred Nisman from testifying, drawing criticism from both Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC). In a letter to Argentina’s President Kirchner following her decision, both representatives wrote, "Considering both our countries have suffered terrorist attacks from agents affiliated with the government of Iran, we have a unique motivation for being vigilant." On July 10, members of Congress sent a Letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the U.S. to sanction Argentina for its ties to Iran. "In light of Argentina’s growing cooperation with Iran and recent decision to deny Nisman to testify before the U.S. Congress, we believe that the U.S. should reconsider its legal support to Argentina,” read the letter (PDF).

    Opening Remarks

    Rep. Jeff Duncan was the only member present for the final 40 minutes of the hearing and made clear that he was very concerned about the refusal of the United States government to see Iran’s presence in the region as a threat to homeland security.

  • Iran and Argentina: Although the U.S. Department of State noted in an unclassified summary of a report released in late June that “Iranian influence in Latin American and the Caribbean is waning,” Rep. Duncan reiterated that he continues to be concerned about Iranian activities and the potential for a terrorist attack. He highlighted Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s recent study that links Iran to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), which killed 85 people and injured over 300. The report also claimed Iran has been “infiltrating” Latin American countries to ”sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks.” In May of this year, Iran approved a memorandum of understanding with Argentina on forming a truth commission to investigate the bombing.
  • Given the recent thaw in relations between Argentina and Iran, Duncan asked Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants, if he believed “that Argentina wants to assist Iran in its illicit nuclear activities.” Mr. Farah responded by noting that Argentina has a history of training Iran in nuclear technologies and that it would like to restart training, but did not know what its motive to do so would be. He also said that Iran would like to “get its hands” on Argentina’s technology, as the country has a robust nuclear as well as a robust space program.
  • Iranian nationals in Latin American: Rep. Duncan also brought up the apparent lack of security of U.S borders, which he insisted could be penetrated by Iranian nationals that roam freely in Latin America with “fraudulent passports and other false documentation.”
  • Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Representative Michael McCaul, shared Rep. Duncan’s concerns about the “Iranian threat,” adding that it was “a slap in the face” that Argentina did not grant Mr. Nisman permission to attend.

  • Rep. McCaul said that when he traveled to Argentina to see where the AMIA bombing took place, he became aware of the discrepancies between the information given by the U.S. State Department, which has “downplayed” the threat of Iran versus other intelligence services (although did not name which ones) that assess Iran to be “a much greater existential threat to the United States in the Western Hemisphere.”
  • Witness Testimonies:

    Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council

  • Increasing Iranian presence: Mr. Berman argued that diplomatic relations between Iran and many Latin American countries has increased over the past decade. According to Berman, “has more than doubled its diplomatic presence in the region over the past decade, increasing its embassies from five in 2005 to eleven today.”
  • Bypassing Sanctions:According to Mr. Berman, Iran has been able to bypass sanctions because of its economic ties to countries in the region. He highlighted its relationship with Venezuela, which dates back to 2005 when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Hugo Chávez first established partnerships. “With the active cooperation of Caracas, the Iranian government has exploited the Venezuelan financial sector -- via joint financial institutions, shell companies and lax banking practices -- to continue to access the global economy in spite of mounting Western sanctions,” he added.
  • Relationship with Venezuela’s new president: Rep. Duncan asked Mr. Berman if he saw “the relationship between Tehran and Caracas evolving under this new government [of President Maduro].” Mr. Berman responded that Nicolas Maduro could be expected to be sympathetic about continuing good relations with Iran. Nonetheless, he stressed that there is no guarantee the new government in Iran would continue to make Latin America a high priority.
  • Berman added, while “Latin America does not rank at the highest level of Iranian foreign policy,” it is certainly important enough for the Iranian government to take the region into consideration for the benefit of several Iranian programs.

    Joseph M. Humire, Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society

    Leftist Alliances: Mr. Humire expressed concern about the active role of certain ALBA nations (Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador) with Iran. He said that ALBA provided cover for the irregular activities that Iran carried out in the region, and that it was also “complicit in helping Iran propagate terrorist networks, skirt sanctions and initiate a military industrial footprint in the Hemisphere.” He also argued that Iran is using proxy non-state actors, such as Hezbollah and converted Latin American Muslims, to infiltrate Latin America.

    For Humire, the creation of an alternative banking and virtual currency, the Unified System of Regional Compensation (Sistema Unico de Compensación Regional) (SUCRE), “affords Iran the ability to leverage its financials activity in Latin America through one principle entity, minimizing the risk.”

    Humire recommended that the United States:

  • Counter ALBA’s influence in the region by supporting the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico).
  • Direct U.S. Homeland Security to work with countries such as Brazil to implement anti-terrorist legislation.
  • Work with Panamanian officials to provide better intelligence about Iranian boats passing through the Canal.
  • Work with Canada to strengthen screening and identifying of “Visa applications coming from ALBA countries.”
  • Blaise Misztal, Acting Director of Foreign Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center:

    Mr. Misztal presented a more skeptical account when compared to the other witnesses and offered political and economic reasons why notions of the “Iran Threat” are debatable.

  • Economic ties to Latin America are not a threat: According to Misztal, the fact that Iran is seeking Latin America’s help signals the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate the country. “At the same time, Iran’s own political and economic isolation, as a result of sanctions, will drive it ever more desperately to seek friends and money wherever it can. In this way, we should understand Iran’s interest in strengthening diplomatic and economic ties with Latin America as perhaps a sign of the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to isolate it.”
    In terms of economic exchange, Misztal said the relationship between Iran and some Latin American nations is more “symbolic than substantive,” noting that the actual amount of trade occurring between Latin American countries and the Islamic nation is less than expected. He gave the example of Venezuela:
  • Venezuela does not even rank among Iran’s top fifty trade partners, and in 2011 Venezuela imported less than $14 million of Iranian goods, ranking below countries like Afghanistan, Georgia, and Guatemala. Additionally, Venezuela in 2011 was ranked as Iran’s 48th largest export partner at $8 million… Furthermore, trade volume between Iran and Latin America’s largest economy behind Brazil, Mexico is a dismal $50 million. Given these statistics, the perceived threat of Iran’s growing economic influence in the region is largely unsubstantiated.

  • No imminent threat of terrorist attack: Misztal pointed out that although Iran “is the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism,” the government’s “tactical use of terror has of late tended toward retaliatory attacks.” He suggested that Iran had a “concern for not provoking a U.S. military reprisal that would disrupt its nuclear program.”
  • Mr. Misztal recommended the U.S. government support more intelligence sharing between nations and improvements of local police forces to detect terrorist cells.
  • Douglas Farah, President of IBI consultants

    Douglas Farah echoed Joseph Humire’s concerns about ALBA countries that oppose the U.S. supporting Iran, claiming its presence in the region was growing as a result.

  • Iran’s direct and indirect relationships: Mr. Farah stated in his testimony that the extent of the Iranian influence oscillates directly and indirectly in the Western Hemisphere. Direct relationships that translate to political, economic, and cultural exchanges with Iran are increasing; but indirect relations, which Mr. Farah highlighted as a type of relationship between Iran and a third governmental or non-governmental institution, are beginning to be more noticeable. Farah said that non-state actors include “NGOs tied to Hezbollah and often funded by Venezuelan oil money; Islamic cultural centers and mosques … and links to drug trafficking organizations that provide millions of dollars to support radical Islamist activities.”
  • Existing examples of terrorism: For Mr. Farah, the AMIA bombing showed Iran has a “long-standing, highly developed structure in Latin America whose primary purpose is to fuse state and non-state force to spread the Iranian revolution.” He went on to point to three more examples that show Iran has engaged in specific attempts to carry out terrorist attacks inside the United States. This included the October 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. that was foiled when a naturalized U.S. citizen who was also a member of Iranian Qods Force (a special operations unit) contacted an alleged member of Mexico’s Zeta cartel who turned out to be an informant.
  • Training: Mr. Farah underscored that a handful of Latin Americans have been trained in Qom, Iran. He shared insight of Salvadorian students that had received training there, and noted that most of the recruitment is often done in mosques and cultural centers:
  • Most [recruits] are present with the opportunity to attend ‘revolutionary’ indoctrination courses in Venezuela dealing with revolutionary ideology. These meetings bring together several hundred students at one time from across Latin America, all with their travel fess and expenses paid by the Venezuelan government.

    Farah recommended Congress get help from the Treasury Department to weaken Iran’s banking activities in the region that allow it to “move hundreds of million of dollars into the world market.” He also recommended the U.S. closely follow the deals and agreements between Argentina, Venezuela, and Iran.

    For more Just the Facts posts on the U.S. Congress’s concerns about Iran’s influence in Latin America, see here and here.

    Friday, June 14, 2013

    The Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    US Policy

  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala visited the White House Tuesday to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as part of his three-day trip to the United States. The two presidents agreed to deepen cooperation on trade and counterdrug strategies. During a joint press conference following their meeting President Humala said to President Obama, “I am convinced that under your administration we will substantively and qualitatively fight against the scourge of drugs.”
  • New York Times reported on U.S. border agents excessive use of force. The article notes that of 15 people killed by Border Patrol since 2010, 6 were shot in Mexico, mostly for throwing rocks. According to the Times, "In a statement, the Mexican Embassy in Washington criticized the shootings as “disproportionate deadly force,” saying, “In recent years, the results of investigations have unfortunately not even resulted in the prosecution of the agents” who have engaged in fatal shootings “or even fired into Mexican territory." WOLA has an infographic set of slides regarding migration and border security.
  • Voz de America reported that a Venezuelan official in Washington confirmed she would meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs next week to discuss re-establishing bilateral relations. The State Department has yet to confirm the statement.
  • United States Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield has been accused of blocking an investigation into a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department in Honduras that resulted in the deaths of four Hondurans. Foreign Policy's The Cable reported Brownfield denied the charges and said the investigation was delayed because it was unclear if the case fell under the purview of the DEA or the Department of State. According to Brownfield, "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
  • Colombia

  • The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas started a tenth round of peace talks this week, after reaching a breakthrough agreement on land reform on May 26. The negotiating teams began to tackle the issue of the rebel group's political participation. Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle emphasized that the discussion would focus on participation of the entire group and not individual leaders, many of whom could face criminal charges.
  • In a press statement Tuesday the FARC proposed the government postpone presidential elections scheduled for November 2014 by a year. The government rejected the proposal with President Santos saying, “There is not the slightest chance that can happen. We have an electoral calendar. It will be followed.” More from the Pan-American Post.
  • Juan Forero had two interesting articles in the Washington Post this week. The first looked at harrowing tales of rape and gender-based violence against women committed by paramilitaries in the Putamayo department of southern Colombia. The second article examined security in Medellin, noting that, “In 2007, the city recorded 771 killings for a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. But by 2011, it was back up to 1,649 homicides. The number has since fallen fast once more, but gang expert Luis Fernando Quijano said the sharp rise and fall suggest that gang leaders may be fighting less, not that the state has control.“ The Guardian also had an informative article on security, politics and society in Colombia’s second-largest city.
  • The Colombian Senate passed an amended bill that would transfer many human rights cases against security force members, currently tried in civilian courts, to military tribunals. As Semana magazine noted, even though the legislation was altered to address human rights concerns, the risk of impunity persists. This week the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International all denounced the measure. More from Pan-American Post.
  • Guatemala

  • Former Guatemalan dictator Efaín Rios Montt was released from a military hospital and is now under house arrest. Last month Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. However Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned the ruling on account of a procedural technicality and ordered the trial to resume to where it was on April 19. The re-trial is reportedly set for April 2014.
  • The Guatemalan government has identified over 54 drug trafficking organizations and 70 gang cells operating in the country. It found some 40 cells of Barrio-18 and 30 cells of Mara Salvatrucha street gangs. These reports give weight to accounts that the violence in Guatemala is being fueled by infighting between small local gangs. These smaller groups have either splintered from larger cartels or are contracted by rivaling Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and the Zetas), noted by InSight Crimes. As Central American Politics blog notes, the country's murder rate has increased this year, after a steady decline from 2009 to 2012. May 2013 was the only month which saw less murders than the previous year: 409 murders compared to 426 in May 2012. Prensa Libre has a map detailing the country's criminal groups' areas of operation.
  • Brazil

  • There were a number of reports this week on Brazil’s ramped up security initiatives ahead of numerous major public events, including the World Cup, a visit from the pope, and the 2016 Olympics. In the Guardian, Jon Watts reported on police operation to regain favelas from the powerful 'Red Command' -- Rio's biggest gang-- ahead of the World Cup. He lays out the government's three-step process for securing a neighborhood. "First, a military police battalion, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE), which specialises in urban warfare, increases searches for drugs and guns. Next the area is surrounded and occupied by BOPE forces. Finally when it is secure, BOPE move out and a resident police unit — known as a UPP — is established." The Associated Press also has more on persisting violence in Brazil and security measures as the Confederation's Cup gets underway while Americas Quarterly looks at a new safety system, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that President Rousseff inaugurated yesterday.
  • Violent protests broke out Thursday night in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro over a 20-cent increase in bus fares. As the New York Times' Simon Romero pointed out, they "come at time of high inflation, sluggish growth & sharp fall in currency." The RioGringa blog contended that they “have more to do with the evolution of Brazil's middle class amid a stagnation in quality in life.”
  • A Datafolha survey shows President Rousseff ‘s approval ratings have dropped from 65 percent to 57 percent. As analyst James Bosworth notes, “Brazil's economic growth is too slow, but citizens and government officials appear more concerned about inflation. The poll shows voters, particularly women, concerned about rising prices and believing that inflation will get worse.”
  • World Politics Review had an interesting article on Brazil's drone program, which has received more attention since the government announced it would be using UAVs to bolster security during ceremonies for the Confederation Cup soccer tournament. The article highlights how increasing drone use is affecting its foreign policy, noting that the country has an agreement with Bolivia to fly UAVs in its airspace for counternarcotic operations and it has been quietly deploying drones to the Uruguayan and Paraguayan borders.
  • Bolivia

  • There are clashes going on between the Bolivian government and coca growers in the country. According to Southern Pulse: "On 29 May 2013, the government offered the municipality of Apolo, La Paz almost US$1.5 million for local development in an effort to persuade illegal coca growers to turn to alternative crops. Eradication forces and efforts clashed with coca growers on 26 May 2013, resulting in 19 injured. The government plans to use this strategy of development grants coupled with eradication efforts on other regions, as they expect US$3 million more to be funded to these programs later this year by the European Union (EU)." More from InSight Crime.
  • Venezuela

  • "Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights" blog had a helpful analysis of recent Colombia-Venezuela relations. Analyst David Smilde notes, “Colombia’s meetings with Capriles and announcement that it was seeking to strengthen ties to NATO essentially represented a move towards the U.S. Venezuela turned around and themselves strengthened ties to the US.”
  • Smilde’s other post on the blog counters a recent Washington Post editorial, which criticized Secretary Kerry for meeting with Venezeula’s Foreign Minister while in Guatemala. The op-ed argued the U.S. was in effect, "extending a lifeline to Maduro." While the Post said that the U.S. meeting gave Maduro legitimacy while other countries and UNASUR have questioned his legitimacy, Smilde asserts, "The only government in the hemisphere that has not recognized Maduro’s election is the United States. All other countries including the US’s close ally and Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia recognized the election result quickly. Furthermore, Unasur did not call for an audit of the results, it endorsed an audit of the result after the National Electoral Council announced it."
  • The Venezuelan government says it is targeting corruption. President Maduro announced this week that more public officials had been arrested. Venezuela Analysis blog has a run-down of the arrests. President Maduro also announced he is creating a new anti-corruption unit, which will be under his direct control.
  • Argentina

  • Former Argentine President and current Senator Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for smuggling arms to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995, while both countries were under an arms embargo. As a senator, Menem has diplomatic immunity and will not serve prison time at the moment. However, legislators may vote to strip him of the privilege. He will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court.
  • Mexico

  • Cherokee Gothic, a blog run by professors at the University of Oklahoma, provides a short run-down and links to four informative articles suggested by Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst.
  • In a post published on InSight Crime, Hope examined the similarities between the current security surge in Michoacan, where the government deployed the military in hopes of regaining control from drug cartels, most notably the Knights Templar, and the one launched in 2006 under Felipe Calderon, which effectively ushered in a more militarized drug war. According to Hope, there are three main similarities: 1. The operation does not have a fixed time limit, 2.There is no transparency regarding the operation, and 3.The participation of the armed forces in public security tasks continues to be unregulated.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported on the increasing emergence of local vigilante groups throughout the country, particularly noting their positive influence in violent parts of Tierra Caliente in Michoacan in western Mexico. Yet despite the vigilante groups' efforts, drug cartels still control the region.
  • The Economist reported on a new police force in Monterrey, called the "Fuerza Civil." The force is made up of people who have never worked in law enforcement that then receive a starting salary of $1,175 a month, double that of a normal police officer. According to the Economist, "The private sector has helped the government, with both money and technical expertise, to recruit and run a new police force."
  • Honduras

  • The Associated Press featured an article on the failures of police reform in Honduras. According to a U.S. document provided to the AP, four out of every ten officers failed a vetting process. By April of this year only seven members from the over- 11,000 member police had been fired, demonstrating how slow the process has been. The report follows last week's announcement that the U.S. had suspended funding for police reform in March.
  • This week the Honduran Congress approved a $4.4 million initiative that will add 1,000 more troops to the country's military to help combat organized crime. The measure highlights concerns that Honduras is increasingly militarizing the fight against organized crime. More from InSight Crime.
  • Resources

  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas has a helpful chronology of the gang truce in El Salvador from March 2012-March2013
  • WOLA latest "Latin America Today" podcast focused on the 43rd annual Organization of American States meeting and shifts in drug policy in the region. Americas Quarterly also offers an overview of other topics besides drug policy that were discussed at the meeting.
  • WOLA had an event with Ariel Ávila -- Former Coordinator, Conflict Observatory at the Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, a security think-tank in Bogota. Ávila discussed several current topics in Colombia from the peace talks to organized crime and illicit profits. Adam Isacson has a video of the event (in spanish) on his blog.
  • The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2013 Global Peace Index.Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica were ranked as the most peaceful in Latin America, although Uruguay was the only country to come in above 30 for the global rankings.
  • Friday, April 26, 2013

    Week in Review

    The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

    U.S. Policy

  • Ahead of President Obama's visit to Mexico next week, 24 lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge the administration to make human rights in Mexico "a central part" of the agenda. The legislators voiced concern about Mexico's human rights record, including "the widespread use of torture in Mexico to obtain confessions" and a fivefold increase in reported abuses by security personnel under former President Felipe Calderón.

    As the Pan-American Post reports, President Obama "has not been particularly vocal" about the abuses, and if he does speak up during this trip, "he will likely do so in the context of applauding the Peña Nieto government's response to victims of the violence" with the passage of a law for victims' compensation.

    Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch published an illuminating report on disappearances in Mexico, prompting the government to release an official database of over 26 thousand disappeared between 2006 and 2012.

  • On Monday a federal district ruled the U.S. government must release the names of all graduates of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). According to The Hill, "Plaintiffs say releasing the names of attendees at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning - formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas - will help Congress ensure that U.S. funds aren't used to train human-rights violators." The judge found no evidence to support Defense Department claims that the release of such information would violate attendees' personal privacy or create a security risk.
  • The U.S. State Department released its Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2012. The report was particularly critical of Venezuela for its repression on freedom of expression. It also indicated that police and soldiers were involved in 392 extrajudicial killings in Venezuela last year compared to 173 in 2011.
  • This week the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Appropriations Committee held hearings on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget request. During the Senate hearing, several congressional members criticized some cuts to humanitarian assistance in the region. Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Robert Menendez (D-NJ) complained about the decline in humanitarian assistance to Latin America, saying the reduction comes as there is a move away from democracy to dictatorship in the region. According to Menendez, the one bright spot in the agency's request was the Central American Regional Security Initiative, which USAID administrator Rajiv Shah testified would receive a 29 percent increase under the requested budget.

    Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to budget cuts to Cuba as "a terrible precedent, a terrible idea." The planned reduction would cut aid to the island by 25 percent -- from $15 million to about $11.25 million. Senator Menendez also questioned the reduction, asking, "why are we cutting democracy assistance to Cuba? Will cost us when there will be a major political or environmental crisis in the region."

    The video of the Senate hearing can be viewed here and the video of the House hearing here.

  • Colombia

  • Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón arrived in Washington, DC on Wednesday to start his week-long visit to the United States. Minister Pinzón planned to meet with members of Congress and high-level government officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to discuss Colombia's strategies to combat the drug trade and illegal armed groups, according to El Colombiano. "It must be remembered that with all the fiscal cuts the U.S. is applying, there is always the possibility that it will cut funds beyond what was originally agreed upon. For this reason, its important to ensure that these resources are maintained and serve to strengthen capacities that help us to be effective in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes," Pinzón said.
  • Peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC restarted this week. On Wednesday the FARC delegation submitted the last of its land reform proposals, calling for tax reform, a rewritten constitution, and the participation of rural residents in policy-making. The government delegation did not immediately respond, but negotiator Humberto de la Calle had previously said that changes to economic policy would not be on the table. During this round of talks, both sides will be pushing for an agreement on the land reform issue, which will allow the negotiators to move on to the remaining four topics up for discussion.
  • On Thursday a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Colombia released its 2012 activity report. While it applauded the Colombian government's victims law, which looks to compensate victims of guerrilla groups and security forces, it expressed concern that the victims of other criminal groups known as Bandas Criminales or BACRIMs are not receiving compensation because they are not covered by the law. Last week a report released by Colombia's national Ombudsman reported that BACRIMs are responsible for 30 percent of human rights abuses in the country.
  • The FARC thanked 62 members of the U.S. Congress in a statement read in Havana yesterday. The group reiterated the congressional group's calls for U.S. support of the peace process. "We share ... your consideration that the United States is able to support the process, offering an assistance package designed to support a just and lasting peace," the group wrote. Last week the 62 members signed a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a U.S. policy that promotes peace, development and human rights in Colombia. Read the complete letter with signatories here.
  • Mexico

  • Guerrero state governor Angel Aguirre Rivero signed a pact with local vigilante groups to legalize such groups. As InSight Crime reports, "the agreement aims to legally define the self-defense groups' responsibilities, obligations and powers, the governor said. It also sets out plans for the groups to receive training from the Mexican Army in human rights and security strategies."
  • Also in Guerrero, striking teachers from the radical Education Workers Union (CETEG) went on a rampage Wednesday to protest an education reform law. The teachers destroyed the offices of four major political parties in the town of Chilpancingo, setting fire to the state headquarters of the ruling PRI. The law, signed by President Peña Nieto two months ago, prohibits the traditional practice of buying and selling teaching positions and establishes teacher evaluations. Union members argue that the reform will lead to mass layoffs and privatization of education. The Associated Press has more details and photos of the attacks.
  • Opposition party PAN released videos that show government officials allegedly planning to use funds from social programs to support the PRI's campaigns ahead of local elections this July. The scandal upset party leaders and put Peña Nieto's "Pact for Mexico" in jeopardy, until the president held an emergency meeting to smooth over relations. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, the main parties have settled their differences and agreed that "the reform agenda laid out in the Pact comes before party interests."
  • The Congressional Research Service released a report, "Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Violence." The report "provides background on drug trafficking in Mexico: it identifies the major DTOs; examines how the organized crime 'landscape' has been altered by fragmentation; and analyzes the context, scope, and scale of the violence. It examines current trends of the violence, analyzes prospects for curbing violence in the future, and compares it with violence in Colombia."
  • United States Attorney General Eric Holder visited Mexico on Tuesday to discuss ways to "deepen" cooperation between the two countries on justice and security. His visit comes ahead of President Obama's trip to Mexico on May 2-3.
  • InSight Crime published an interesting article examining why the Zetas have been so effective at expanding their influence. It argues that the key to the group's success was that "the Zetas understood something the other groups did not: they did not need to run criminal activities in order to be profitable; they simply needed to control the territory in which these criminal activities were taking place."
  • Venezuela

  • Since President Nicolás Maduro's narrow victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles on April 14, the Venezuelan government has increasingly cracked down on those critical of the government. Last week both parties agreed to an audit of the vote -- which will take about another three weeks. Since then Capriles has called for the process to include an examination of who voted and if fingerprint scanners meant to prevent double voting functioned. For its part, the government has placed much of its focus on implicating Capriles in the post-election violence that broke out during protests surging with opposition supporters calling for a recount.

    On Monday the country's minister of prisons, Iris Varela, called Capriles the "intellectual author" of the violence and said she was "preparing a cell for him," while National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello has launched an investigation into Capriles' role in the violence that killed nine and injured at least 60.

    As James Bosworth points out, some media and citizens have provided evidence showing the government has lied about the violence. He writes, "Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured 'chavistas' have turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs." It was also reported this week that the government is threatening to "throw out" any workers suspected of being Capriles supporters -- over 300 government employees have said to be fired over such claims already. The Associated Press reported that Capriles supporters are being arrested, beaten and threatened by the hundreds. Capriles has reportedly warned that the audit process risks becoming a joke and that he will challenge the election results in court.

  • On Sunday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named a new head of the country's diplomatic mission in the United States. Calixto Ortega, a member of Venezuela’s delegation to the Latin American parliament, was appointed as the new chargé d'affaires in Washington. "We hope one day to have respectful relations with the United States, a dialogue between equals, state-to-state," Maduro said. "Sooner rather than later, the elites running the United States will have to realize there is a new, independent, sovereign and dignified Latin America."
  • Honduras

  • In Honduras a recent poll ahead of the presidential elections in the country showed that 1) at this point no candidate is ensured a win and 2) that many voters are dissatisfied with their choices, as the choice "None of the above" received the highest ranking of all five candidate and 3) that former president Manuel Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro is narrowly ahead of all others, while National Party (currently in power) candidate Juan Orlando Hernández's popularity is much lower than many had expected it to be at this point.

    Here are the poll numbers:

    19%: Xiomara Castro
    17%: Salvador Nasralla
    16%: Juan Orlando Hernández
    10%: Mauricio Villeda
    22%: None of the above
    15%: Don't know/Not responding

  • 1,800 police went on strike this week in the country's capital Tegucigalpa, protesting for better wages and working conditions. According to the Associated Press, officers make around $150 a month and are required to pay for their own uniform and bullets. The same officer also noted that police stations lack equipment and do not even have toilets. On Friday InSight Crime reported that residents in the capital say police are working with gangs to extort a fee of almost $80 a month.
  • Guatemala

  • The fate of the genocide trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt remains unclear. This week Guatemala's Constitutional Court passed the case over to a judge who last week called for all testimonies to be annulled -- a move which would put the trial back to square one.

    Despite Flores' rulings, the Constitutional Court will decide if the proceedings were legal. So far the court has voted on six of twelve petitions in the case, but has yet to rule if the testimonies will be annulled.

    The United States, in a show of support for the proceedings, sent its Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to the country to meet with officials and civil society groups about the trial.

    For a more complete run-down of events, check the Pan-American Post, Open Society's Justice Initiative's blogs and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.

  • Argentina

  • On Wednesday Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the judicial reform proposals made by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The statement argues that the reforms would "give Argentina's ruling party an automatic majority on the council that oversees the judiciary, which seriously compromises judicial independence." Included in the package is a bill that would require most members of the Council of the Judiciary, the body that selects judges, to be nominated by political parties and chosen by popular vote during the general election. The reforms, which have already been approved by the Senate, are now being considered in the Chamber of Deputies.
  • Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino caused a stir on Argentine social media when a video surfaced of him telling an aide "I want to leave" during an interview with a Greek reporter who questioned him about the country’s true inflation rate. The Twitter hashtag "#mequieroir" was retweeted by many and one person made a video remix of the interview mashed with the Peronist March.
  • This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer.