The following is a round-up of some of the top news highlights from around the region this week.
The most staggering news from Mexico this week was that the government released a database of missing people. According to official numbers, 26,121 people disappeared between December 2006 and November 2012. The database's announcement follows a report put out by Human Rights Watch on February 20 documenting Mexican security forces' participation in forced disappearances.
Given the onslaught of reports on Mexico's disappeared, Steven Dudley of Insight Crime says, "the U.S. government has to question whether the country's navy, its most important ally in combating drugs, is really a trustworthy partner." Dudley likens the case to that of Colombia in which an "embattled government gets large amounts of U.S. assistance, and the very units receiving the aid are connected to systematic human rights abuses."
On the security front for Mexico, there were several other developments this week:
Mexican newspaper Milenio reported that 922 people were killed in Mexico during the month of February. Milenio featured an interactive map that broke down the murder numbers by state. Chihuahua state had the highest, with 161 registered killings. The newspaper also revealed that 100 members of the country's security forces were killed in the first three months of President Peña Nieto's term.
The creation of a 200-strong new police unit dedicated to combating drug dealing in Mexico City was announced this week. The unit will work with the city's Attorney General's Office to gather intelligence and search homes suspected of being involved with small-scale drug trafficking.
The Mexican government has begun giving military training to 10,000 officers that will be part of a new federal police force that President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration will build up over the next few years, known as a gendarmerie. The Associated Press reported the forces are expected to be on the street by the end of the year.
The secretary of government for Mexico, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, said that a total of $576.3 million would be invested in public security initiatives in 2013, reported Mexican newspaper Excelsior. According to the article, $25.7 million is earmarked for the purchase of vehicles and public security programs on the ground. Another $2.5 million will be spent on explosive materials, while $19.4 million will be spent on protective gear for security forces.
The Associated Press profiled the continuing debate over Mexico's self-defense vigilante movement. The president of the country's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Raul Plascencia, said, "there is a fine line between self-defense organizations and paramilitary groups." In the Guerrero state, where the movement has most intensified, 20 groups announced they would unify under one single command.
This week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed the biggest education reform bill the country has seen in seven years. The legislation looks to relinquish some control over a powerful teachers' union, aiming to stop the inheritance and purchasing of teaching positions.
Just one day after the reform was announced, the head of the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE), Elba Ester Gordillo, was arrested for embezzlement and laundering $200 million in funds. The arrest spawned a media storm and caused many to speculate whether Peña Nieto will go after other political bosses in the country thought to be corrupt. Gordillo has quickly been replaced by Juan Diaz de la Torre, profiled by Vanguardia here.
Government Accountability Office reports
The Government Accountability Office released a report (PDF) indicating that there was an overall decrease in violent crime along the U.S. border between 2004 and 2011. According to Insight Crime, the study "further supports the interpretation that claims of rampant 'spillover violence' in the U.S. border region have been mostly exaggerated." Some findings:
Assaults against Border Patrol agents decreased from 2008 to 2012, to levels 25 percent lower than in 2006.
Interviewed officials from state and local law enforcement agencies said they had not observed violent crime from Mexico regularly spilling over into the U.S.
Over 7 years, Arizona saw the most significant decline (33 percent), Texas (30 percent), California (26 percent), and New Mexico (eight percent from 2005 onward).
The sequestration cuts expected to go into effect today could hit Latin American economies hard.
Shannon K. O'Neil from the Council on Foreign Relations said the effects could mean less military aid transfers, noting that "Secretary of State John Kerry has specifically mentioned that funds destined for disrupting drug networks in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean will be some of the most severely hit." O'Neil also mentions the financial hit that those same countries’ economies might take. A January 2013 World Bank report had estimated that Latin America's total GDP could be reduced by 1.2 percent due to the U.S.' financial uncertainty.
According to the New Security Beat blog from the Wilson Center, the Secretary of State said the sequestration will force the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to "find $2.6 billion in across-the-board reductions” and “seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy, and development." The article goes on to detail how the cuts will affect Latin America from a more humanitarian perspective, noting cuts to initiatives in family planning and reproductive health programs.
Brazilian company wins DOD contract
The United States Air Force is buying attack planes from Brazil's Embraer SA company for counterinsurgency missions in Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, "Under this contract, 20 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to operational air bases in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014 to conduct advanced flight training, surveillance, close air support and air interdiction missions."
According to Reuters, the deal tightens "U.S.-Brazilian defense ties after a politically charged bidding process." The article goes on to note,"Embraer and its privately held partner, Sierra Nevada, beat out U.S.-based Hawker Beechcraft for the $428 million deal, the Brazilian planemaker's first with the U.S. armed forces."
Brazilian officials are already signaling that this contract is a good sign for Boeing's chances to win the fighter jet bid in Brazil. There is little doubt that the F/A-18 is the most capable jet in that competition, but Brazil does have serious political and military concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could later restrict access to technology and parts. Embraer's winning a $400 million defense contract related to a top U.S, security priority (Afghanistan) should assuage some of those fears.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is "fighting for his life" in a Caracas military hospital the country's vice president, Nicolas Maduro, said Thursday night in a televised speech, the Associated Press reported. Maduro continued on to say, "Our commander is sick because he gave his life for those who don't have anything." A recent poll coming out of Venezuela revealed some interesting statistics: 46% of the population thinks that Chávez is not making decisions; 58% believe Chávez will recover while 30% say he won't return to power; 12.5% say they are unsure what will happen.
EFE reported that Venezuela plans to create a commission to investigate crimes committed by the state prior to 1998. Hugo Chávez became president in 1999.
Bolivian President Evo Morales's Movement towards Socialism party (MAS) formally nominated him as its candidate for the country's 2014 presidential elections. The move sparked controversy over the constitutionality of President Morales running for a third term, since the constitution says rulers can only have two terms. The MAS is arguing that because the document was changed by referendum in Morales' first term, another term would only be his second under the changed constitution. The country's Constitutional Court is studying the matter.
On Wednesday, the Honduran National Autonomous University’s Violence Observatory released its annual report, which showed that the country saw 85.5 homicides for every 100,000 residents last year, about ten times the global average of 8.8 per 100,000. Although this number has already been widely reported, it offers even further support to show that the country's security situation is devolving, marred by rising drug trafficking rates and a corrupt police force.
A new libel law in Honduras sentences people who "incite hate or attack against ideological groups, sexes, or genders" to 3-5 years in prison. Honduras Culture and Politics blog examines the law, questioning, "where are the limits of this law?" According to the post, the law is directed at the media and "could silence dissent as illegal disrespect for the ‘dignity’ of Honduran politicians."
The following is a round-up of news highlights from around the region this week.
President Obama named the nominees for the his national security team, with John Kerry at Department of State, Chuck Hagel at the Department of Defense and John Brennan at the CIA. The Washington Office on Latin America's Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Adam Isacson, examined what these appointments could mean for Latin America and looked at four likely outcomes: more Special Forces deployments to the region; a greater intelligence community presence; greater use of drones and robotics; and more emphasis on cyber-security.
United States Southern Command leader General John F. Kelly visited Honduras and El Salvador this week to discuss continued military cooperation with both nation's heads of state and ministers of defense.
The Mexican Congress confirmed Eduardo Medina Mora to replace Arturo Sarukhan as the country's ambassador to the U.S. Medina Mora was President Calderón's former attorney general from 2006-2009 and the Secretary of Public Safety under President Fox from 2005-2006. Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Mexico City- based Center for Economic Research and Teaching, told BusinessWeek that Medina Mora will "prevent the U.S. perspective from dominating on this issue." The new ambassador cited security as one his top priorities. He has weighed in on U.S. policy, suggesting the United States make drug, arms and immigration reforms, as Animal Politico notes. Medina Mora also called for the United States to reform guns laws in the wake of the Newtown shooting, calling it a "window of opportunity" to make changes.
On Wednesday, new Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a bill designed to track drug war victims and compensate their families up to $70,000 per innocent victim. The fund will compensate surviving victims of drug violence as well. According to Reuters and the Los Angeles Times, the measure requires authorities to pay for victims' medical care and establish a national registry of victims. Mexico's government has yet to announce how much money is allocated for the initiative or how many victims it considers innocent.
Former President Felipe Calderón vetoed the bill last summer over apparent technical flaws, drawing much criticism from human rights groups. The removal of the veto, "is a positive sign that this government will begin to take seriously the rights of the victims of the violence," according to Amnesty International. “But for it to make a real difference, the Mexican authorities at all levels must ensure the law is complied with effectively."
As of Thursday, Mexico will be divided into five national security regions, effective immediately. News website Animal Politico published the twelve security initiatives that the Mexican government agreed to implement within the next 45 days, including the creation of a national crime prevention program, a police education program along with new operation protocols, and the creation of specialized units focused on kidnapping within the federal police force, among others.
Last Friday, a cash-for-weapons voluntary disarmament program was extended in Mexico City. Since the program began on December 24th, authorities have confiscated nearly 1,500 weapons.
A few good reports were put out on Mexican security this week:
The Inter-American Dialogue published a working paper by Alejandro Hope "Peace now? Mexican security policy after Felipe Calderón," that offers an analysis of the security challenges facing the Peña Nieto administration. He looks at former President Calderón's institutional legacy and changes in Mexico's security climate. For Hope, Peña Nieto will likely offer adjustments to Calderón's strategy, the biggest difference between the two possibly involving "more tone than substance."
"Mexico Drug Policy and Security Review 2012," by Nathan P. Jones for Small Wars Journal examines Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's new security policy and concludes that the initiative shares "more similarities than differences" with the much-criticized security agenda of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. It offers a good overview of the policy's components.
Bolivia re-entered the United Nation's 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on January 10 with an exception that allows for chewing coca leaves within the country's border. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, "this represents the successful conclusion of an arduous process in which Bolivia has sought to reconcile its international treaty obligations with its 2009 Constitution, which obliges upholding the coca leaf as part of Bolivia’s cultural patrimony." The new reservation was opposed by at least 15 countries, including the United States, Russia, Germany, Mexico, and Japan. However, for Bolivia's proposal to have been blocked, 63 countries would have needed to object.
The vote comes with recent media attention to the country's controversial coca-leaf regulating program, which a recent report from WOLA suggests is working. According to both the White House and the UN, the total acreage of coca cultivation in Bolivia dropped in 2011 between 12-13 percent. Bolivian President and former coca farmer Evo Morales has planned two celebrations for Monday.
In Brazil, ex-President Lula has been implicated in a vote-buying scandal that has rocked the country. Brazil's top prosecutor said Wednesday that he will look into allegations that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was involved in the embezzlement and vote-buying scheme, known as the "mensalão" case. Brazilian businessman Marcos Valério de Souza, who received a 40-year sentence for his role in the scandal, testified that he deposited funds for Lula da Silva's "personal spending." So far the case has brought down several top officials in the Lula administration, including his chief of staff, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Colombia's prosecutor general re-opened an investigation into former President Álvaro Uribe over his alleged involvement with paramilitary groups while he was governor of the Antioquia department in the 1990s. On his well-maintained Twitter account, he denied the charges, amounting them to "Slander from imprisoned criminals," and starting the hashtag "Criminal Revenge," (#VenganzaCriminal) for the case.
On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced that the two-month unilateral ceasefire they declared at the beginning of peace talks on November 20th will end on January 20th. The FARC's lead negotiator, Ivan Marquez, said in a news conference in Havana that "only the signing of a bilateral ceasefire would be possible," which the Santos administration has repeatedlyrefused. According to news website Colombia Reports, violence attributed to the FARC decreased by 80 percent during the first week of January, compared to the same period in January 2012, which NGO Nuevo Arco Iris said was the most violent month in the past eight years. Also of note in the peace talks is that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will be traveling to Colombia this Saturday to meet with President Santos and negotiators from both sides of the table.
The Washington Office on Latin America released a report today titled "Consolidating 'Consolidation,'" The new report examines Colombia's U.S.-backed counterinsurgency program, the National Territorial Consolidation Plan. According to the report, the U.S. has invested a least half a billion dollars of U.S. assistance into the five-year-old program, which "seeks to bring the government into several areas of the country with histories of illegal armed groups, violence, drug trafficking, and statelessness." The report notes that while “Consolidation” has "brought security improvements and more soldiers and police to a few territories, the governance vacuum remains far from filled."
On Tuesday the Venezuelan National Assembly passed a measure giving President Chávez, who is recovering from his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba, "as long as he needs," saying that he could be sworn in in front of the Supreme Court after the January 10th inauguration date set forth in the constitution. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) upheld the decision. On Thursday, the would-be inauguration date, thousands of Chávez supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Caracas in solidarity. Several Latin American leaders also traveled to Caracas to show their support for Chávez and the Venezuelan government's decision to keep him in power.
An interesting twist to the ruling was Supreme Court President Luisa Estela Morales' reference to an obscure 19th century U.S. vice president, William R. King, who took his oath of office 20 days after the new government came to power -- while in Cuba being treated for tuberculosis.
The opposition has argued that since the president-elect was unable to be sworn in by Jan. 10, power should be transferred to the next-in-line in succession, who would be the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello with an election to follow. Opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado told CNN, "This is a decision that was clearly taken in Cuba by the Cubans."
U.S. congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who previously led the House's Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed, saying,"The delay of his swearing-in is yet another example of the trampling of the constitution by this despot. The Venezuelan constitution states that the leader of Venezuela needs to take the oath of office on January 10 in front of the National Assembly or the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice."
Some analysis examining the Venezuelan constitution contend the ruling to allow Chávez to stay in power and extend his swear-in date was constitutional. Others say it is a matter of legal interpretation, as there is no precedent for the situation and the constitution does not provide a concrete solution.
On the Washington Office on Latin America's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, David Smilde gives a clear analysis of the case. According to Smilde, the government's decision is based on an article in the constitution that allows an extension of power in the case of extended trips abroad, essentially allowing Chávez to be "indefinite leave with no mechanisms for reviewing that leave or verifying his condition." Technically the Supreme Court has the power to determine if Chávez is permanently mentally or physically unfit to rule, in which case he could be removed from power and elections would ensue. This is unlikely to happen however, as the court said he had justified his "extended trip abroad." As Smilde posits, with the National Assembly and Supreme Court's support, "Chávez could conceivably be on life-support for weeks or months, but still hold the office of president whether or not that would have been his wish."
An earlier post from Smilde provides an excellent overview and analysis of the complexity of the situation and looks at a discussion from UCV law professor José Ignacio Hernández.
Dan Beeton at the Center for Economic and Policy Research examines the Venezuelan constitution and argues that the government's decision to keep Chávez in power is in line with the constitution. According to Beeton, an article in the document says a leader can be sworn in after the inauguration date and offers no deadline for when it can take place. The only instance in which elections would be held would be if he was removed as a result of “death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.” This is the chief argument that Venezuelan officials have been making.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times commented on the lack of information about President Chávez's health, saying, "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies need to stop treating his health like a national secret."
According to the AP, Vice President Maduro, along with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchener and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, is traveling to Cuba this weekend to visit President Chavez.
Amid the debate about Venezuela's leadership and as the possibility of a power vacuum grows, crime analysis website Insight Crime reports that crime and violence have been on the upswing in the midst of the political upheaval, with more than 75 murders being registered in Caracas in the first six days of 2013.
Univision offers a useful timeline of Chávez's political career, which can be found here.
An English version of the Venezuelan constitution can be found here
The text for the Supreme Court's decision can be found here
President Barack Obama was re-elected Tuesday night, winning over 300 electoral votes and the popular vote by 2.6 million over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Romney led the popular vote for most of the night, until western states like California closed their polls and counted their ballots. In the end, Obama handily took the electoral college with 303 vote to Romney's 206 and the popular vote with a narrow margin of victory, winning 50% of the vote to Romney's 48%.
Tuesday's election was historic in the United States for several reasons -- marijuana was legalized in two U.S. states, same-sex marriage was passed in another three -- but also of particular note was the increase in the Hispanic electorate's importance. President Obama won just over 70% of the Latino vote, compared to Romney's 27%, ensuring his slight victory in a number of battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
Leading up to the election, many analysts, politicians and voters were disillusioned that Latin America was noticeably absent from both candidates campaigns, especially in relation to issues such as the Mexican drug war that has claimed some 60,000 lives since 2006, the re-election of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the Cuban embargo and Brazil's growing economic presence.
Before the election took place, regional analysts and leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, El Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes and OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, said they expected few changes with regards to U.S. policy in the region, regardless of the outcome.
Reactions to President Obama's victory throughout the region held a similar tone. There was a general consensus that Obama was the preferred victor of the two candidates, but that the region expected more attention and cooperation from his administration in the next four years.
Aside from the usual congratulatory messages, many leaders took the opportunity to voice their concerns over a domestic problem that reverberates throughout the region -- immigration reform -- reminding Obama that he owed a large part of his victory to Latinos.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated President Obama saying his re-election was "good news for Colombia," and noting that now the two countries can "continue to work in cooperation, with the same proposals and objectives and getting results."
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón also applauded Obama's re-election as something "positive for the United States and Colombia," but said President Obama had to fulfill his obligation to the international community and the region as a whole, which "expected more" from him. Garzón highlighted the contentious immigrant situation in the U.S., saying "It's good to point out that Colombian immigrant workers have rights that must be respected, human rights, including the right to have American citizenship and residence."
Ecuador's deputy foreign minister, Marco Albuja, echoed these sentiments on Twitter, asking Obama to "always remember the transcendental latino vote." He added that he hoped the new administration would pass immigration reform to "find a definitive solution to the more than 10 million people in [the US] without a defined migrant status."
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who showed his support for President Obama during the campaign, extended his congratulations, calling Obama "an extraordinary person," but also commenting that he expected little change because "the foreign policy of the United States is inertial and they will need many years to change it.... Everything will practically be the same in Latin America."
Paraguay also weighed in on the immigration issue with Foreign Minister José Félix Fernández Estigarribia pressing Obama to recognize that "part of his win he owes to our Latin American compatriots," and he hoped "President Obama contributes to improving relations with [the rest of] Latin America and to solving the latino immigration problem."
For Honduras, President Porfirio Lobo's government, which enjoyed strong support by Obama in its 2011 election following a contentious 2009 coup, said it did not expect "much change in general relations with the United States," but secretary of planning, Julio Raudales, did comment that "Obama's reelection is good news." Former Honduran President Ricardo Maduro told local television he hoped Obama would focus his attention "towards the south."
Bolivian President Evo Morales had a more critical response to Obama's re-election. After condemning the U.S. electoral process, he suggested Obama settle the score with Latino voters by doing away with the Cuban embargo. He also took a jab at Obama's refusal to extradite Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former president accused of corruption and genocide in Bolivia.
"He was reelected thanks to latinos and the best thing he could do to recognize their vote is end the embargo in Cuba," Morales said. "If he wants to dignify his government, it would be important to stop protecting delinquents that escape from many countries, Bolivia included."
With respect to the country's economy, the Bolivian leader gave little clout to the U.S. election, saying "who wins in the United States does not affect the Bolivian people... We should export but [the US] market cannot define our political economy."
Cuban President Raul Castro has also yet to publicly respond, however Cuban state-run news website CubaSi reiterated the general feeling of indifference, saying "The news of Barack Obama's triumph in yesterday's general elections in the United States was received with some relief and without great optimism."
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner congratulated President Obama with a letter and also via Twitter, adding that it is "his turn" to "take his place in the history of his people and the world," and assume his "role as global leader to overcome this political and economic crisis."
In this election the Republican Party, as it is wont to do, adopted a more aggressive stance towards the region, particularly with regards to leftist governments, that signaled a possible unwelcome return to the diplomacy of Bush's presidency. Across the board, there was more a sense of relief that Romney lost than excitement that Obama won.
While in practice the policy differences might have been marginal, a Romney presidency would likely have included bellicose rhetoric towards Venezuela and Cuba and potentially cause greater political polarization in the hemisphere, as Inter-American Dialogue president Michael Shifter noted most recently in Foreign Policy magazine.
As Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas points out in the Miami Herald, there are several pending situations could force a change in the region's political and economic landscape, pulling more attention to it, such as the death of Hugo Chavez, the death of Fidel Castro or his brother Raúl, the possible success of peace talks in Colombia, and China's financial growing financial involvement.
Although the issues that shifted the rhetoric away from Latin America during the campaign are still front and center-- Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, jobs, etc-- there is hope that going forward Obama will prioritize the region, and at the very least immigrants looking for a home in the United States, in his second term.
Last Tuesday, Bolivia's Constitutional Tribunal declared a long-standing law criminalizing defamation of government officials, known as the "desacato" law, unconstitutional for violating freedom of speech. Under the law, individuals can incur a three-year prison sentence for insulting a member of the government.
Later in the week Bolivian media was abuzz following comments from Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, who warned those who might dare to criticize the president via social media, saying "I am always going online, and I am writing down the first and last names of the people who insult him on Facebook and Twitter." Morales' Movement for Socialism party (MAS) is currently attempting to push through a law monitoring Bolivian citizens' political commentary on digital news sites and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Earlier this month, reports revealed the government was harassing journalists from media outlets that reported on government corruption, causing them to flee over fears of incarceration. In a most recent example, a Bolivian journalist was set on fire by four masked men while on air at a radio station in the southern city of Yacuiba, along the Argentine border and a drug smuggling route. Fernando Vidal, 78, was a harsh critic of the local government and was reporting on trafficking in the area at the time of the attack. Vidal along with other journalists have been increasingly denouncing a rise in smuggling across the border, particularly of liquid petroleum gas.
Amnesty International said the attack is "one of the worst instances of violence against journalists in Bolivia in recent years.” Four men have been arrested in the case. Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero along with Vidal's son-in-law, also a journalist, believe two local government officials hired the men.
In Mexico, workers are protesting after the country's Senate passed through a version of labor reform legislation. Members from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) as well as president-elect Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) supported the bill despite differences over certain details in the law, like the election of union leaders by secret ballot, a provision opposed by the union-friendly PRI party, but was ultimately included in the draft.
Lawmakers say the bill seeks to increase transparency of trade union finances and union leader elections-- the country's two most prominent union leaders (Elba Esther Gordillo of Mexico’s largest teachers’ union and Carlos Romero Deschamps of the Oil Workers Union) won uncontested re-election. Mexican trade unions dominate state industry and their leaders are often accused of corruption. The government says the new reforms will create thousands of new jobs, making Mexico more competitive. Some economists and politicians say the reforms could create upwards of 150,000 jobs a year.
Workers however rose up saying that under the proposed law, it will be easier for companies to fire employees and they will be forced to accept lower wages. Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) called the reform "simplistic," saying it is not the "magic bullet" to create jobs and could harm workers' interests, particularly those in the informal sector who account for 28.8 million of the country's 50 million workers. Congressman in the lower house will now vote on the bill, however the vote has been delayed as the PRI fight to protect union interests.
The PAN, PRD and Citizens' Movement (MC) parties held a press conference Wednesday where they announced they would form a united legislative opposition front against PRI president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto to fight "clientelistic and corrupt practices" during his six-year term.
A faction of the Zetas reportedly split off and formed a new group called the Legionaries, according to Insight Crime. A banner hung by the group in Nuevo Laredo in northern Mexico says the organization has a "clear mission to kill people from the Zetas and their families" and their business is "solely and exclusively drug trafficking." The formal split comes following the capture of Zetas leader Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias "El Taliban" and the recent killing of another head, Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z-3," whose death was finally confirmed by authorities who used his dead father's DNA to corroborate his demise after Z-3's body disappeared from the morgue.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, from Mexico, pleaded guilty Tuesday in the 2010 shooting of US border patrol Agent Brian Terry. He claimed to be part of a group that crossed into the US to steal from marijuana smugglers and had entered the country the week prior to the shooting to stash guns and food supplies.
There were massive protests in Colon, Panama last week in response to a government law allowing for the sale of state-owned land to private companies in Latin America's biggest duty-free zone. Three people were killed, including a 9 year-old-boy, prompting groups like Amnesty International to call for investigation into excessive use of force.
After the bill was passed last Friday, protesters from trade unions, student groups and business associations took to the streets, claiming that the sell-off will cause layoffs and a loss of revenue. The Panamanian government has since repealed the law, with assembly president Sergio Galvez saying "An error has been corrected," after the measure passed.
Last Monday was the final debate in the US Presidential elections, covering foreign policy. There was virtually no mention of Latin America, causing analysts, politicians and voters to express dismay with both candidates.
Some saw the lack of discussion about Latin America as a positive sign. In a press conference after his meeting with Hillary Clinton, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said of the debate, "it’s true that Latin America was not present, to my knowledge, and Brazil was not mentioned, but I think that the debate concentrated really on problem issues and concerns. And today, Brazil, South America in particular, is more of a region of the world that offers solutions than problems. So we interpret that in this positive light."
Similarly in an opinion piece for Christian Science Monitor, Geoff Thale from WOLA said the scant discussion of Cuba could signal a more rational approach towards the island.
The FARC proposed a cease-fire during the talks, but President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly refused their request. A group of Colombian NGOs has called on the government to stop fighting for the month between December 15 and January 15. A recent Gallup poll showed 72% of Colombians support the peace process, but only 39% believe they would be successful. Another recent poll indicates President Santos' approval rating has gone up seven points to 58% since the announcement of the peace talks.
In an interview with W Radio, President Obama said his hope was that a "peaceful Colombia would be created and that the FARC lay down their arms and recognize that although they disagree with the government they should participate in the political process instead of using violence."
Last Thursday, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, criticizing a proposed constitutional amendment which would expand the jurisdiction of the military. According to the letter, the measure would, "result in serious human rights violations by the military—including extrajudicial executions, torture, and rape—being investigated and tried by the military justice system."
Colombia is also in the process of producing their own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or "drones." Although Colombia has been using US drones since 2006, this will be the first domestically-produced UAV used by the country's military.The drones will reportedly be used for military operations as well as for other functions such as monitoring oil pipelines.
Colombian drug lord Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, alias "Mi Sangre," was arrested
in a Buenos Aires supermarket. Mi Sangre was a top leader of the Urabeños drug gang and was in charge of expanding and maintaining the group's presence and control throughout Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city.
The Honduras Truth Commission released a report on human rights violations before and after the 2009 coup. The blog Honduras Accompaniment Project summarizes the reports findings: "In total, the Truth Commission received “1,966 reports from citizens about human rights violations by state agents and armed civilian apparatuses protected by state institutions” between June 2009 and August 2011. Based on these reports, the Commission analyzed 5,418 human rights violations and categorized 87 forms of aggression."
In Brazil several convictions have been handed out to officials in former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government-- including his then chief of staff Jose Dirceu-- who were found guilty of using public funds to pay monthly installments to opposition congressmen in return for their support, known as the "Mensalão" case, in which about 40 officials were implicated. The case is historic in showing a strengthening of the rule of law in the country as Brazil has a long history of impunity for political corruption.
In another landmark legal proceeding, a federal judge in Sao Paulo agreed to charge a soldier and two officers with the kidnapping of a dissident during Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship, marking the second accusation of a top military officer for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship, despite a 1979 amnesty law.
On October 28th, Brazil held run-off municipal elections, with President Rousseff's and former President Lula's Workers’ Party (PT) winning the majority of the mayoral races, including Sao Paulo. Analysts say this puts the party in a favorable position for the 2014 presidential elections.
According to government statistics, 40 people have been killed since last Thursday, 124 in the past 23 days, with a large part of the murders being carried out by men on motorcycles or in cars. A spokesman for the Sao Paulo police force denied the operation was launched in response to the recent wave of murders, saying they "received intelligence that there were criminals, weapons and drugs" inside the favela and that "there will be more actions like this in the coming days."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez replaced Defense Minister General Henry Rangel Silva, appointing Navy Admiral Diego Molero Bellavia to the post. Rangel, a close ally of Chavez, will be the candidate for Chavez' United Socialist Party (PSUV) for governor of Trujillo in state elections on December 16. The US accused Rangel in 2008 of "materially assisting" the drug trafficking operations of Colombia's Farc guerrillas.
President Chavez said on Thursday he will be attending the upcoming Mercosur presidential summit set for December 7 in Brasilia. Venezuela became a full Mercosur member July 31 following the group's decision to suspend Paraguay, whose Senate had barred Venezuelan participation. Brazil's foreign ministry noted the benefit of Venezuela's inclusion to the regional trade bloc saying, “With the entry of Venezuela, Mercosur has now a population of 270 million inhabitants (70% of South America population), GDP at current prices of 3.3 trillion dollars (79.6% of South American GDP) and a territory of 12.7 million km2 (72% of South American area), extending from Patagonia to the Caribbean and asserting itself as a global energy power.”
Last Wednesday (July 25) the UN Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report with its latest findings about coca, the plant used to make cocaine, in Colombia.
The 112-page report explains that, from 2010 to 2011:
the area cultivated with coca in Colombia increased, from 62,000 to 64,000 hectares (1 hectare = 2 1/2 acres).
because traffickers were able to extract a bit less cocaine per hectare of coca, the country’s production of cocaine dropped slightly, from 350 to 345 metric tons.
The UN agency has not yet produced estimates for the world’s two other coca-growing countries, Bolivia and Peru. Its report got a lot of press in Colombia, though, because for the first time since 2007, it did not show a decrease in coca cultivation. Despite over 100,000 hectares sprayed with herbicides and 34,000 hectares of coca bushes physically uprooted by eradicators, the amount of coca left over actually increased last year.
Estimates of coca and cocaine production are only produced by two sources: the UNODC and the U.S. government. Washington had not issued any estimates for 2011 cocaine production when the UNODC released its report. However, five days later, Monday July 30, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy produced a press release.
This 600-word document explains that, from 2010 to 2011:
the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia fell by 25 percent, from 270 to 195 metric tons.
The press release doesn’t say how much coca was grown in Colombia last year, or even whether the land area increased or decreased. Nor does it say whether growers were extracting less cocaine from the coca they harvested, and if so why or how much less. The document did tell us that Colombia, the world’s largest cocaine producer since the mid-1990s, has now fallen behind Peru (325 metric tons) and Bolivia (265 metric tons).
This is mysterious because in 2010, the last year for which the U.S. government and UNODC have coca-crop estimates for all three countries, Colombia and Peru show nearly the same amount of coca, and Bolivia shows about half as much as the other two. For Bolivia to be producing more cocaine than Colombia from half as much coca is difficult to fathom.
(All available coca and cocaine data from the U.S. and UN since 1999 is at the bottom of this post.)
The Bolivia result is especially surprising because the country’s coca cultivation, in both U.S. and UN estimates, had stayed about the same in 2008-2010. Why would cocaine producers be getting so much more of the drug from the same land area planted with coca?
Asked that very question by a Bolivian interviewer in mid-July, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires John Creamer explained that Bolivian cocaine producers are using “Colombian methods.” These methods, however, are apparently not at work in Colombia.
Here, using the data below, is a chart of how much cocaine the U.S. government believes that producers are deriving from each hectare of coca. It shows producers in Colombia getting less than half as much of the drug out of coca bushes than their counterparts in Bolivia and Peru. A hectare of coca in Peru produced 6.1 kilograms of cocaine in 2010. In Bolivia, it produced 5.7 kilograms of cocaine. In Colombia, it produced only 2.7 kilograms. (The difference may be even greater in the 2011 estimates, but since the U.S. government has not issued coca cultivation land-area estimates for 2011, we can’t calculate it.)
This discrepancy may be a result of frequent eradication in Colombia, which may force growers to replant more often and thus harvest from smaller bushes. However, the UNODC doesn’t reach the same conclusion. The UN estimate of how much cocaine Colombian producers extracted from coca in 2011 (5.4 kilograms per hectare) is closer to the Bolivia and Peru estimates, and more than twice the U.S. figure. (The UNODC, meanwhile, has not even ventured a guess for Peru’s and Bolivia’s cocaine tonnage since 2008.)
Since the U.S. government is not at all transparent about how it gets its cocaine production numbers, this kilograms-per-hectare discrepancy leaves a strong impression that a political agenda is involved. Washington has a strong incentive to reward close ally Colombia and to show that the billions spent on forced coca eradication since 2000 are “working.” It has a strong incentive to prod Peru, whose center-left government may be tempted to take a nationalistic, independent course, to toe the line of the current strategy. And it has a strong incentive to punish Bolivia which, though controlling illicit coca cultivation far better than neighboring Peru, has a government that sharply (and sometimes unfairly) criticizes the United States and is perceived as opposing other U.S. interests.
We want to think that these numbers are not pulled from the U.S. anti-drug bureaucracy’s nether regions, and are based on a considered, reasoned process. But with no transparency at all over how these tonnage estimates are derived, the U.S. cocaine-production numbers are wide open to charges of politicization.
In just the past week, the armed forces were given, or are on the verge of getting, new internal security roles in four Latin American countries.
In Peru, President Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency over the weekend in the Cajamarca region, where protests by affected communities have halted the largest mining project in the country’s history. President Humala’s emergency decree “allows the military to help police reopen roads, schools and hospitals shut down for days by rallies and marches against the proposed mine,” reports Reuters.
In Bolivia, soldiers were deployed to support police in high-crime areas of Santa Cruz and El Alto. The decision came after several days of deliberations. Bolivia’s constitution allows the armed forces to support the police when the latter’s capacities have been “surpassed.” A vice-minister of Interior, Roberto Quiroz, had opposed the deployment, arguing that poorly trained conscripts (“17 and 18 year old kids”) might not be up to the job.
In Honduras last Wednesday, the Congress quickly approved a temporary constitutional reinterpretation allowing the military to “take on policing roles” in the fight against violent crime. The El Salvador-based website El Faroobserved that the turn the armed forces was in part a response to the virtual collapse of Honduras’s poorly trained, abusive and corrupt police. President Porfirio Lobo said that an earlier temporary deployment of the military to support the police – “Operation Lightning,” which began on November 1 – brought a 36% drop in homicides since October.
In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes defended a 2009 decision to give the military a greater crimefighting role and, as the La Prensa Gráfica newspaper put it, “softened the ground for a possible reform to give new functions to the army to fight organized crime, narcotrafficking, gangs and state corruption.” Funes, whose political party (FMLN) was once a guerrilla group that fought the government in the 1980s, warned that the country is in a “new war” whose “enemy” is “strongly armed criminal bands.” Funes added that critics who worry about “militarization” have “prejudices” that are “anchored in the past.” The speech came a week after Funes moved Defense Minister David Munguía Payés, a former general, into the position of minister of justice and security, making him the first official with a military background to head the Salvadoran police since the end of the country’s civil war. Meanwhile the new defense minister, Atilio Benítez, argued that the military needs new internal crime-fighting functions. Gen. Benítez said that El Salvador should follow the example of the steps that Honduras just took.
All articles linked from this post are from November 30 or later. Military roles are expanding very quickly.
(Note as of October 6: This post has been updated to reflect a U.S. estimate of 34,500 hectares of coca cultivation in 2010 in Bolivia, revealed in President Obama's September 15 determination (PDF) "decertifying" Bolivia for failure to cooperate in counter-drug efforts. Production in Bolivia remains flat, or slightly down, according to both the U.S. and UN estimates.)
With the mid-September release of its report on Bolivia, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has now completed its estimates of how much coca -- the plant used to make cocaine -- was under cultivation in South America in 2010.
Here are the last 12 years of UNODC coca-growing estimates, measured in hectares (1 hectare is about 2 1/2 acres):
The UN figures show a drop in coca-growing after 2002, then eight years of stasis: regional cultivation has remained within the range of 150,000-170,000 hectares per year. During this period, cultivation decreased in Colombia, while it increased in Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia. According to the UN, Peru may have eclipsed Colombia last year as the world's largest coca-growing nation.
With 2010 incomplete, here are the last 12 years of U.S. coca-growing estimates:
The U.S. government finds far more coca under cultivation in Colombia, and significantly less in Peru, than the UNODC does. The U.S. data show a 66,000-hectare gap between Colombia and Peru in 2009; it is unlikely that the 2010 U.S. estimates, when they become available, will join the UN in showing Peru as the region's number-one coca-growing country.
The U.S. chart appears to show a jump in 2005; this is the result of a readjustment made after officials determined that they had been under-estimating the area of coca in Colombia.
As it stands, though, the U.S. chart shows little fundamental change in coca cultivation amounts over the past decade. The 2009 estimates bear a striking resemblance to the estimates for 1999, the year before Plan Colombia began.
The following chart combines the previous two, juxtaposing the U.S. and UN estimates.
Plainly, the U.S. and UN estimates often fail to correspond -- a reminder that these coca statistics are, in the end, merely educated guesses. Both, though, seem to show some decrease in cultivation -- principally in Colombia -- after 2007, which was an unusually high year. 2007 was also the year in which the U.S. government funded the most aerial coca fumigation in Colombia. This herbicide-spraying program has since been reduced -- yet coca cultivation in Colombia has not increased at all.
The two charts are also notable for their Bolivia estimates. Neither shows an explosion of coca cultivation after the 2005 election of coca federation leader Evo Morales to the Bolivian presidency. Coca has increased slowly under Morales -- continuing a trend that began several years earlier -- and the UN figures actually show Bolivian cultivation to be flat between 2008 and 2010.
Finally, here are the U.S. and UN estimates of how much cocaine, in tons, was produced from all of this coca. Both charts are notable for the steadiness of supply. Also note how much lower the recent U.S. estimates of Colombian cocaine production are compared to the UN estimates. The recent U.S. estimates of Bolivian production, meanwhile, are much higher than the UN estimates.
Ollanta Humala was inaugurated as President of Peru on July 28, the country's 190th anniversary of independence. In his remarks before Congress, the new president, who is already being tentatively hailed as the "Lula of the Andes," promised that "Peru's peasants and the poor in the countryside in general will be the priority." Humala angered supporters of Peru's former dictator, Alberto Fujimori, by pledging to rule in the spirit of the 1979 constitution rather than remain loyal to the one passed under Fujimori in 1993. While the Peruvian economy is growing steadily, President Humala faces a number of challenges, from rampant social unrest stemming from unequal development in the rural departments to a suspicious elite and upper-middle class in Lima. On the Just the Facts blog, Adam Isacson has the full list of Humala's cabinet appointees.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned to Caracas from Cuba, where he received treatment for cancer, to celebrate his 57th birthday this week. Despite joking that his chemotherapy treatments will soon leave him bald like Yul Brenner, Chavez told a crowd of supporters “I had said I’d leave in 2021. Well, I’m not going away in 2021 or anything. Maybe in 2031."
InSight Crime reports that as coca production rises in Bolivia, the department of Santa Cruz is rapidly becoming a hub for narcotics trafficking, with 20 drug-related shootings so far this year.
Angel de Jesus Pacheco, commander of the Colombian criminal gang "Los Rastrojos," was killed by his own bodyguards in Antioquía.
More than 1,000 people were arrested in Ciudad Juárez in a massive crackdown on human trafficking.
Four former Guatemalan soldiers are finally standing trial for the massacre of more than 250 people during the civil war in the 1980s. The trial is a victory for the families of the victims, who have campaigned for justice for 17 years.
According to a study by Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography, homicides in Mexico rose 23% in 2010.
Mexican federal police announced that they will leave Ciudad Juárez in September, having determined that the city is "under control."
Ricard Marosi of the Los Angeles times has a four-part series investigating the Sinaloa Cartel's distribution network in California.
On the Just the Facts Blog, Lucila Santos has a new piece on the debate over illegal immigration titled "Perception vs Reality: Illegal Migration in Decline."
Elyssa Pachico of InSight Crime reports that the death of the leader of "Los Rastrojos" will be a "game changer" in Colombia.
José Rubén Zamora of Guatemala's El Periódico alleges that Guatemalan military leaders allowed drug traffickers to obtain U.S.-donated firearms.
U.S. Southern Command Updates
The USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) and the Continuing Promise 2011 (CP11) mission team departed El Salvador on July 24 and will now continue on to Costa Rica and Haiti. The medical team treated 8,257 patients at three sites in El Salvador, while the engineering and construction team completed projects at two schools.
Undersecretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal arrived in Honduras to begin a week long tour of Central and South America. In addition to touring bases and meeting with American service members, Undersecretary Westphal will meet with diplomatic and military leaders in each country he visits.
The State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee marked up draft legislation that would make fiscal 2012 appropriations for department, agencies, and programs under its jurisdiction. A summary of the bill's most important provisions is available here, and a subcommittee draft text of the FY 2012 State and Foreign Operations Bill is available for download as a PDF. The opening statement of Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas), in which she expresses her support for continued aid to Mexico, is available here.
This blog was written by CIP Intern Claire O'Neill McCleskey
Adam looks at a new Senate report on U.S. weapons' illegal flow into violence-wracked Mexico, next week's citizen security conference of Central American governments and donor nations, and security and coca-growing developments in Bolivia.
Subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast here and on iTunes. Thank you for listening.
McClatchy's Tim Johnson writes about the growing presence of cartels in Central America.
The Economist reports on the spread of Mexico's organized crime in "The drug war hits Central America."
Carnegie's Moises Naim and LAWG's Lisa Haugaard both have good pieces about Mexico in The Huffington Post this week. Also, CIP's Laura Carlsen wrote about Mexico and the United States' failed "Operation Fast and Furious" in Foreign Policy in Focus.
As Mexican forces continue to find more bodies in mass graves in the Taumalipas state (now totaling 177), The Washington Post published an article and video on "Mexico's Highway of Death." According to William Booth and Nick Miroff, "The highway is so forbidding that even the news these past few weeks of the largest mass grave found in Mexico’s four-year drug war cannot lure TV trucks or journalists onto the road."
Victor Oscar Martínez, a key witness against a former Argentine military officer in the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de Leon, who tried to intervene on behalf of victims of the dictatorship, disappeared on Monday. After President Cristina Fernandez ordered all federal forces to search for Martínez, he was freed and found early Thursday, though he was warned by his kidnappers to back down from testifying in the trial. Argetina's Pagina 12 published the first interview with Martínez after his abduction here.
On Tuesday, Haiti's electoral commission officially declared Michel Martelly as the country's president-elect. This announcement came on the same day that Martelly met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of a three-day visit to Washington. "The people of Haiti may have a long road ahead of them, but as they walk it, the United States will be with you all the way," Secretary Clinton told Martelly. The two held a press conference after their meeting, the transcript of which can be found here.
Prior to President-elect Martelly's meeting with Secretary Clinton, 53 members of Congress sent a a letter (PDF) to Clinton calling on the U.S. to "dedicate significant attention to the critical and urgent task of improving the appalling conditions in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps."
The International Crisis Group's Bernice Robertson and Kimberly Abbott list five tasks for Haiti's new president in this Christian Science Monitorarticle. The list includes: ensure economic stability; rebuild communities; find Haitians jobs; restore law and order; and put the country before politics.
The Center for International Policy released a new report last week. "Stabilization and Development: Lessons of Colombia's 'Consolidation' Model" summarizes the discussion that took place at CIP's December 2010 conference and outlines the past successes and future challenges of Colombia's Consolidation, of "Integrated Action," program. The report is available in HTML, as a PDF in English, and a PDF in Spanish.
According to Nacha Cattan and Taylor Barnes, in the Christian Science Monitor, at least nine Latin American nations are developing drone programs as a way to tackle drugs, gang vilence, and activities such as illegal logging throughout the region. This increase in use of drones has led to calls for a code of conduct that will assuage concerns over potential misuse.
A new ECLAC review finds that Latin America is rapidly becoming a middle-class continent. According to the report, Brazil experienced the greatest expansion of the middle class, with 38 million people climbing above the poverty line in the last ten years. Argentina and Colombia, however, were the two countries in the region that experienced a decline in their middle class populations.
The latest issue of ReVista, the Harvard Review on Latin America, focuses on media and press freedom in the region.
Bolivia's Vice Minister of Social Defense, Felipe Cáceres, announced that the United States and Brazil will contribute to Bolivia's efforts to combat narcotrafficking. Apparently, Washington will contribute $250,000 for the purchase of GPS systems to help modernize the monitoring system currently in place. Brazil will contribute $100,000 to provide courses for Bolivian technicians who specialize in collecting data on the number of coca plantations in cultivation and the number eradicated.
On Tuesday, Brazilian police swept through Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha favela, hoping to capture one of the city's most wanted drug kingpins. Instead, they only came away with 11 suspected foot soldiers for the "Amigos dos Amigos" drug gang, 3 tons of marijuana and 60 stolen cars. According to the Associated Press, questions of whether word of the raid had been leaked were raised after officers met no resistance from gang members.
Last week, Ecuador named U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges persona non grata, prompting the United States to retaliate and name Ecuador's Ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos, the same. This week, Ecuador's Minister of Exterior Relations announced that he would call Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, to ask if the United States is interested in naming a new Ambassador. It is unlikely that the U.S. will take Ecuador up on this offer so soon after Ambassador Hodges' expulsion. During a hearing on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary Valenzuela called Hodges' expulsion "scandalous" and "counterproductive."
Three U.S. Navy ships and one U.S. Coast Guard Cutter arrived in Salvador, Brazil late last week for the start of UNITAS Atlantic phase 52. The three-week long exercise includes navies from Brazil, the United States, Argentina and Mexico. According to Southcom, "the partner countries will operate and train together in scenario-based environments, which include theater security operations, anti-terrorism and anti-narcotic operations, live-fire exercises, humanitarian assistance and disaster response."
Continuing Promise 2011 is currently in Jamaica, and has set up two locations with "60 pallets of medical, dental and other supplies, which several practitioners will use to examine, diagnose and treat hundreds of patients."
On Monday, a bipartisan group of six members of Congress traveled to Colombia to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement with President Juan Manuel Santos, his Cabinet, and labor leaders and employers. Upon their return, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) issued statements on their fact-finding mission to Colombia, which can be read here.
The White House announced that Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and President Obama will meet for the first time in Washington on April 28th. The pending free trade agreement is likely to be high on their list of things to talk about.
The second-in-command of Colombia's armed forces, General Gustavo Matamoros, resigned this week. According to El Colombiano, there are two versions that explain this abrupt departure: 1) General Matamoros himself decided to resign, or 2) Admiral Edgar Cely, first-in-command of the armed forces, requested the departure to President Juan Manual Santos. General Matamoros' resignation comes in the middle of rumors that there exists a division within the armed forces between members of the Army and the Navy - a rumor which Admiral Cely denies.
A project of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in cooperation with the Center for International Policy and the Washington Office on Latin America
Project Staff: Adam Isacson (Senior Associate WOLA aisacson[at]wola.org) / Abigail Poe (Deputy Director CIP abigail[at]ciponline.org) / Lisa Haugaard (LAWGEF Executive Director lisah[at]lawg.org) / Joy Olson (WOLA Executive Director jolson[at]wola.org)