Here’s a new “Week Ahead” podcast looking at an upcoming U.S.-backed coca eradication offensive in Peru’s VRAE region, a big delivery of U.S. anti-drug aid to Guatemala, and judicial and human rights activity lately in El Salvador.
Here’s the latest “Week Ahead” podcast. Topics include Rio de Janeiro’s favela pacification program, Nicolás Maduro’s effort to rule by decree in Venezuela, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s sudden brain surgery in Argentina.
“Here the center — including the president — must negotiate with the owners of power out in the regions. The state has never been able to exercise normal control over large parts of the country, and that creates an enormous vacuum, where there’s a lack of law, public policy, infrastructure. … This country functions in a very particular way. For example, in La Silla Vacía there was an article about how last Christmas President Santos went to Cartagena to eat sancocho with Piedad Zuccardi. Everyone knew that she was in trouble with the law. So, what was the President doing with her? The answer is that he was insuring his power in Bolívar department. Another example is the late Víctor Renán Barco. In Bogotá, he’d go around with The Economist under his arm, but in La Dorada he was the classic incarnation of a vote-buyer. I find this paradox very interesting, and it could be the origin of a response to the question of why Colombia never gets out of its troubles.”—Great interview in the Colombian newsweekly Semana with Harvard’s James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail. Very succinct explanation of a phenomenon that ties Colombians in knots. I didn’t realize Robinson was paying such close attention to the country beyond this Current History piece from early this year.
The Colombian government’s peace and land restitution efforts are meeting stiff resistance from elites in much of the country. I talk about this with Winifred Tate, professor of anthropology at Colby College.
Here’s the “Week Ahead” podcast I posted on Saturday. Topics include new data about migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, the upcoming Honduran elections, and how the U.S. government shutdown is being viewed in Latin American media.
I just got back from Colombia at midnight last night, so today’s “Week Ahead” podcast is a bit of a rush job. Only 2 topics: what Latin American presidents had to say at the UN General Assembly, and how Colombia’s peace process is going.
With Colombia potentially transitioning from civil war to peace, the U.S.-Colombia diplomatic relationship is on autopilot, as U.S. assistance to Colombia declines and the two countries diverge on issues from drug policy to Syria. But their close military-to-military relationship could be usefully repurposed to encourage Colombia’s armed forces to support their government’s peace talks with the guerrillas.
The latest “Week Ahead” podcast looks at Chile on the 40th anniversary of its military coup, the maritime border dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua, and Venezuela’s troubles with its electric power grid.
On September 11, 1973, democracy came to a violent end in Chile. Joe Eldridge, the chaplain of American University, was there. Here, he recounts the terror of those days, and the revelations of the U.S. role, which led him to co-found WOLA a year later.
This is one of our best podcasts yet. Joe hits this one out of the park.
“There seem to be confusion whether any US advisers were in the area at the time of the massacre. One story is that a US adviser disagreed with what the Atlacatl was going to do and made his way back to their capital on his own. In Mark Danner’s El Mozote book, at least one US official demonstrates his anger with the Salvadoran military. After months of US training, they were still doing the same hammer and anvil tactics and not anything that they had been taught by their US instructors.”—
In a new “Week Ahead” podcast, I talk about protests undercutting the popularity of Colombia’s president; a crusading Colombian prosecutor’s appointment to a UN anti-impunity office in Guatemala; and a survey of Latin American governments’ views of intervention in Syria.
Strange times in Colombia: the FARC may need to boost Juan Manuel Santos
Let’s assume for a moment that the FARC guerrillas’ leadership truly wants its current negotiations with the Colombian government to end successfully, with a peace deal that leads to the group’s demobilization. That hasn’t been a safe assumption in past peace processes. But the FARC negotiating team has pursued the Havana talks with a degree of seriousness — respecting ground rules, pulling few stunts, maintaining discretion — that indicates a real desire to reach a deal.
If it wants to reach a deal, then the FARC leadership no doubt quietly wants President Juan Manuel Santos — who launched the current talks — to continue in office. (Santos’s term ends in August 2014, and he must stand for re-election in May, less than nine months from now.)
The FARC may not like Santos. But of all 2014 presidential candidates currently considered viable (such as those backed by ex-President Álvaro Uribe, or perhaps the conservative former interior and housing minister, Germán Vargas Lleras), Santos is the least likely to pull the plug on the Havana talks.
Poll data released yesterday, though, show Santos in trouble. His Gallup approval rating plummeted from 48 percent in June to 21 percent now, the lowest measurement of any Colombian president in 11 years. The main reason is his administration’s handling of a wave of mostly rural protests. However, though a majority still supports them, patience is also wearing thin with the slow-moving FARC-government dialogues. A year after they were first announced, the talks have only completed one of the five substantial points on the negotiating agenda.
This leads to a bizarre situation. The leadership of the FARC — a group that has violently fought the Colombian state for 49 years — may now find it to be in its interest to prop up Juan Manuel Santos.
The guerrillas have enormous power to determine whether or not Santos is re-elected. If their negotiators maintain a hard line, such that the presidential campaign begins with only one or two agenda points completed and a sense of paralysis in Havana, public disenchantment with the talks will virtually guarantee that an already shaky President loses to a candidate who is more likely to call them off.
On the other hand, if the FARC negotiating team increases the pace, reaching agreement on more agenda items, the resulting impression that the talks have a healthy momentum will virtually guarantee Santos’s re-election. Even if they disagree with his government’s management of other issues, voters will not wish to interrupt the peace process by voting out the President who is guiding them.
So if the FARC leadership truly wants this process to succeed, it will have to swallow hard and make more concessions at the negotiating table. And, strange as it is, they will have to do so in order to give a political boost to their class and ideological enemy, Juan Manuel Santos, simply because he agreed to negotiate with them.
Obviously, none of this holds if the FARC leadership is prepared to ditch this peace process, or if a viable pro-peace opposition candidate emerges. But otherwise, the inescapable conclusion is that the FARC and Santos need each other’s help right now.
“I see the engine of this immigration ship not working. The bureaucracy is failing. But I also see on the ship that we’ve got a leak — we don’t know who is coming in and out across our borders. If you have a ship that has an engine that is not working and a leak in the bottom, what do you fix first? You fix the leak. My fear is we’re not really enforcing (immigration laws) right now.”
In fact, we do have a good idea of who is coming in and out across our borders — or at least, a better idea than we have ever had.
1. Who is coming in:
In 2011, Border Patrol estimated that 533,571 people crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Of these, 84 percent (448,104) were either apprehended or turned back into Mexico.
It is true that Border Patrol has not regularly reported the number of migrants it estimates to have turned back or eluded capture, and no such estimates are yet publicly available for 2012. But the agency publishes decades of data on its apprehensions of migrants, a decent indicator of the overall flow of “who is coming in.”
In 2012, Border Patrol apprehended 356,873 undocumented migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border. That was up slightly from 2011, but still the second-smallest number measured since 1973. According to this indicator (as well as others like migrant surveys and testimonies from shelters), undocumented migration has plummeted rapidly. As recently as 2006, Border Patrol was routinely apprehending a million or more migrants.
Better technologies may reveal a larger number of migrants who evade capture, especially in remote areas. But still, using current methods the percentage of those who are apprehended appears to be growing, as a December 2012 Government Accountability Office report attests. And recidivism rates — the number of apprehended migrants who had been apprehended before — are lower than they have been since measurements began, notes the Congressional Research Service [PDF].
2. Who is coming out:
In eight of the past ten years, including 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set a new record for the number of undocumented individuals removed [PDF] from the United States. Last year ICE totaled 409,849 removals, up from 165,168 a decade earlier and 43,671 in 1992.
If past years’ proportions are a guide, about two-thirds (perhaps 275,000) of these removed individuals came from Mexico and Central America. Add the number of individuals returned by Border Patrol last year (likely between 250,000 and 300,000), and you get over 525,000 undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America “coming out” of the United States.
That is quite similar to the 533,571 people whom Border Patrol estimated to have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 2011. With almost the same numbers going “out” as are going “in,” the “leak” to which Rep. Hultgren refers is actually a net of about zero migrants. In fact, after reaching a 40-year low, it could even be seeping outward.
Estimates of the population living here illegally bear that out. It has been declining, from a high of 12.4 million people in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2011.
3. We are “enforcing immigration laws right now.”
In fact, immigration laws are being enforced far more strongly than they ever have. In 2012, CRS reports [PDF], 86 percent of apprehended migrants had to go through some sort of “consequence delivery” (criminal trial, lateral repatriation, formal deportation proceeding, or others) instead of being voluntarily returned. Only 14 percent were voluntarily returned. As recently as 2005, 77 percent were voluntarily returned.
We can and should debate the effectiveness, and the humaneness, of these “consequence delivery” measures. But it’s impossible to dispute that they — and “immigration laws” in general — are not being “enforced right now.”
“Politically, Central America is characterized, with exceptions, for having small countries in which the business class is very, very strong, where there are political parties absolutely controlled by businessmen, where there is no ideological difference between the parties, and where there are still strong clientelistic relationships and vote-buying. Of course, Costa Rica and El Salvador escape this description. But look at Paraguay, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala: none of them has a left wing in the parliament. It’s shocking. None of them has a left wing! Not even a moderate one! There could be one or two deputies, symbolic, but… Those four cases, and maybe we could add the Dominican Republic, form a very concrete model of doing politics. And then there is Nicaragua, which I believe is an outrage of schizophrenia, because there is a governing party with the roots that it has, but absolutely handed over to the business class, which has more power than it has ever had and an impressive ability to do business, and also with a caudillo leadership, hardly institutional.”—From an interview with Spanish political scientist Manuel Alcántara in El Salvador’s El Faro.
I’m off before dawn on Sunday to take two members of Congress to Colombia. (This is the trip that Gustavo Gallón of the Colombian Commission of Jurists mentioned in his latest column in Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.)
It will be nice if I somehow find the time and bandwidth to post something here while I’m on the road — but if I don’t, this blog will be quiet until the week of September 2.
In a new “Week Ahead” podcast, I look at new laws giving militaries dramatically greater policing roles in Honduras and in Paraguay, and at Bolivia’s intention to buy surface-to-air missiles and other equipment from Russia.
Militaries are getting involved in policing throughout Latin America. I talk to Sarah Kinosian, my colleague at the Center for International Policy, who wrote a series of posts to the “Just the Facts” blog documenting this trend in Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela.
In a new WOLA Podcast, I talk to WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, who has just co-authored a new report on the March-May 2013 genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt. The case is currently stuck, she says, and there has been a backlash.
It’s a new “week ahead” podcast. I look at the Secretary of State’s visit to Colombia and Brazil, the early release of a Mexican drug-trafficker who killed a U.S. agent, and some recent episodes pointing to worsening political polarization in Venezuela.
“U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.”—An actual single sentence from our friends at the U.S. Southern Command.
It’s 3,000 words of unsolicited advice for people — especially young people — who might be considering doing the kind of work I do at WOLA. It boils down to six practices that have “worked” for me over the last 18 years:
Read constantly about the issue you want to work on.
Show up in person.
Learn a bit about fundraising.
"Ping" people meaningfully.
Collaborate with others.
It’s based on notes I threw together before hosting a “brown bag” lunch talk with our latest group of interns. They actually asked me for copies of my note-paper afterward, to my surprise.
So I thought it would be nice to spend some vacation downtime typing it up into proper prose, and putting them out there. Hope you like it.
According to multiple sources, these issues came to a head this summer, when the chief of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, rejected a key part of the plan after he was briefed on the idea of building a “regional SOF [Special Operations Forces] coordination center” in Colombia.
The center is a cornerstone of [Special Operations Command Commander Adm. William] McRaven’s plan, as it would serve as a place where military and civilian agencies can coordinate efforts while advising host nation forces.
The problem with the site in Colombia was that representatives from SOCOM [Special Operations Command] began discussions with Colombian officials about building the $15 million facility without working through SOUTHCOM first, according to several sources with knowledge of the situation.
“SOUTHCOM is saying no way, and SOUTHCOM has the trump card on that,” one former SOF officer said.
In a statement, Kelly took issue with reports of his opposition, saying that “I am absolutely for this concept and I talk with Bill McRaven all the time. There are things we need to work out with the State Department, but the more for this area of the world, the better.”
This piece tells us:
As part of its effort to be able to send Special Operations Forces (Green Berets, Navy SEALs, etc.) around the world more freely, Special Operations Command is talking to the Colombians about setting up a “coordinating center” in Colombia.
Special Operations Command started those conversations with the Colombians without checking with either the State Department or even the U.S. Southern Command.
That’s on hold for now. But it may just be a matter of time.
Adam looks at the Secretary of State’s upcoming lightning-fast visit to Colombia and Brazil, new UN estimates of coca-growing in Bolivia and Colombia, and new violence amid struggling police reform in Honduras.
John Kerry is about to make his second trip to Latin America as secretary of state. The first was in June, when he attended the OAS General Assembly meeting in Guatemala. This time, he is to go to Colombia on Sunday and Monday, and then to Brazil.
In Colombia, Secretary of State Kerry is expected to discuss with President Juan Manuel Santos the ongoing peace talks with the FARC guerrillas, for which the Obama administration has expressed support; the issue of security and Colombia’s provision of security assistance to third countries; and the state of bilateral trade two years after approval of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
In his 28 years as a U.S. senator with a strong interest in foreign affairs, John Kerry has a long record of positions on U.S. policy toward Latin America. He opposed the Reagan administration’s massive aid to abusive regimes in Central America, especially aid to the Nicaraguan contras, during the civil wars of the 1980s. He has criticized the U.S. approach to Cuba as “frozen, stalemated.”
During the past 15 years, though, Senator Kerry consistently supported the aid packages that made Colombia by far the number-one recipient of U.S. military assistance in Latin America.
His support for “Plan Colombia,” however, was neither full-throated nor wholehearted. While Senator Kerry supported assistance to curtail drug trafficking, he criticized insufficient emphasis on drug treatment to reduce demand at home. He expressed concerns about the possibility that counter-drug aid could evolve into a larger counter-insurgency mission (as it did during the 2000s). He criticized the Colombian government’s human rights record, and endorsed human rights conditions that his Senate colleagues applied to U.S. military assistance. He has even at times urged the State Department not to certify improvements in the Colombian military’s human rights record, as required by foreign aid law.
Here are excerpts from Senator John Kerry’s record on Colombia, the country that Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting in a few days.
Uruguay’s lower house has voted to legalize and regulate the production and sale of marijuana. Adam talks to John Walsh, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Drug Policy and the Andes, about what the law does and what comes next, domestically and internationally.
The director of DeJuSticia, a Colombian judicial-reform NGO, stakes out middle ground in the debate over how to strike a peace accord with the FARC while holding the guerrillas’ leaders accountable for their many crimes against victims. “The FARC must undrstand that those of us who support the peace process won’t accept an accord that humiliates victims’ just demands.”
A lengthy look at the ongoing favela pacification program in Rio de Janeiro. “After pacification, the biggest threat to longtime residents of the Rio favelas will come not from drug dealers, but from property dealers.”
One of Mexico’s most knowledgeable security analysts gives a “just the facts”-style overview of the Mexican armed forces’ border-security preparations along the country’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize.
In this latest “Week Ahead” podcast, I look at the foreign aid bill that’s moving through Congress, the state of the gang truce in El Salvador, and Venezuela’s latest effort to fight crime by sending soldiers into the streets.
This post was compiled by WOLA Intern Laura Fontaine.
In the final segment of the “Tradewinds 2013” exercise, the US Coast Guard and forces from six Caribbean nations, working in Port Castries, St. Lucia, simulated a takedown and boarding scenario as part of a counter-narcotics exercise.
Central American Regional
Joint Task Force-Bravo, a Honduras-based component of Southern Command, carried out multiple medical readiness training exercises (MEDRETEs) “with partner country militaries in underserved areas, as well as counter narcotics-terrorism, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and capacity building activities that promote enduring security cooperation,” reports International Health, a U.S. military website.
Chile, Colombia, El Salvador
In early June, Joint Task Force Jaguar, a Southern Command unit set up to coordinate the “Beyond the Horizon” humanitarian exercise in El Salvador, oversaw members of the U.S., Salvadoran, Chilean, Colombian and Canadian militaries as they completed construction, dental, medical, and veterinary assistance projects in a rural area of El Salvador. U.S. Army South, the Southern Command’s army component, reported that the logistical preparations that took place to get the 1,400 U.S. military personnel to El Salvador involved “the same procedures they’d follow for missions ranging from a wartime deployment to a disaster response in the homeland.”
As part of a training program, 350 Haitian female police recruits were selected to travel to Colombia to train with U.S. and Colombian police. The program is part of an effort by the Haitian government to try to increase its police force from the current 10,000 officers to 15,000 officers by 2016. Other training programs for Haitian women take place in Chile, Canada, and the United States.
A “multi-national C-TOC [counter transnational organized crime operations] mission using advanced sensors to detect allusive smugglers using littoral waterways to move illegal contraband, to include narcotics, drug money and people, across international borders” began in June in El Salvador, according to Southern Command. The Salvadoran Coast Guard worked with U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection officers to prepare for this activity, which is part of Operation Martillo, “a U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.”
During a command change ceremony on June 21, Joint Task Force-Bravo ushered in a new commander, Army Col. Thomas D. Boccard, at its headquarters at the Soto Cano airbase in Comayagua, with Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of Southern Command, officiating.
As part of a joint exercise, Joint Task Force-Bravo “simulated a two-fold scenario simultaneously, one a nonviolent demonstration and the other being an attack from a terrorist organization July 17.”
El Nuevo Diarioreports that between March and April members of the Nicaraguan Navy traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to receive training in communications and military tactics from U.S. military specialists. In June, U.S. personnel traveled to Nicaragua to continue and expand this training.
Southern Command reports that over the course of four months, U.S. military personnel along with medical professionals from Panama’s Ministry of Health, provided medical care to approximately 13,000 people as part of the “Beyond the Horizon 2013” exercise.
According to Southern Command, a June 18 ceremony marked the end of the “Beyond the Horizon 2013” humanitarian exercise during which “U.S. military engineers and medical professionals conducted real-world training while providing needed services to communities throughout the country.”
This post was prepared by WOLA Intern Laura Fontaine.
Much controversy has ensued after a North Korean ship traveling from Cuba through the Panama Canal was found to have missile, radar, and plane components hidden under several tons of sugar.
The development and use of drones is on the rise in Mexico, reports México Seguridad. They are used for surveillance, inspection, search, rescue, and protection of the environment. Mexican drone manufacturers include Jalisco-based Hydra Technologies and Monterey-based SOS Global. The Federal Police has the largest inventory of drones.
“Brazilian plane maker Embraer SA has sold six Super Tucano light attack planes to Guatemala to bolster its fight against drug trafficking, according to a senior executive.”
Of 6,000 confiscated firearms in a Guatemala sample, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms determined that at least 40 percent “had a nexus with the United States,” according to a Woodrow Wilson Center study.
The U.S. Army awarded Textron Marine and Land Operating Systems awarded a $5.5 million contract to provide 12 armored turrets, technical support services, vehicle repairs and spare parts for the Colombian Army’s Armored Personnel Carriers.
The Paraguayan Army developed plans to buy 20 refurbished trucks from Germany. They were bought for a “symbolic price” of $1 million.
In Paraguay, where illegal arms trafficking by military personnel has been a consistent problem in recent years, those who are accused of the crime are released before fulfilling their sentence or face a benign punishment.
As part of preparations for hosting a visit from Pope Francis, the World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics Brazil has made plans to buy 34 used anti-aircraft tanks from the German Army. The type of tanks they will be purchasing are “armed with two 35 mm guns mounted on a rotating turret atop a Leopard 1 tank chassis.”
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala participated in a ceremony of inspecting and sending 42 specially equipped trucks to a region, known as the VRAEM, where the remnants of the Shining Path armed group still remain.
The Law for Disarmament, Control of Arms and Munitions in Venezuela has granted an administrative and commercial monopoly of all arms to the Ministry of Defense.
A decree has been added to a law Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff signed into the books in March of last year regarding the Brazilian defense contractors and strengthening of the military industry. “The bill under the heading of ‘Law to promote the industrial base of defense’ is geared to incentivize Brazil’s arms industry so that it becomes the main provider of the Armed Forces; to develop technologies, produce at lesser costs, introduce the most added value to those products and increase exports.”
The thorough and devastating final report of the Colombian government’s Historical Memory Commission. Amazing that a country that produces this kind of scholarship, with such care for the narratives of victims, also produces the kind of brutality that the report documents, and that Colombia still suffers today.
An alarming and depressing look at Anáhuac, the town near the U.S.-Mexico border where Mexican marines arrested Miguel Ángel Treviño, the leader of the Zetas, almost two weeks ago. The narcos ostentatiously drive around in their SUVs while the municipal security chief gets a payoff of US$3,100 every 15 days.
Catatumbo, a conflictive coca-growing region near Colombia’s border with Venezuela, has three guerrilla groups. The most powerful guerrilla leader is, in fact, in charge of the smallest group: Megateo, head of a remnant of the EPL. In this rare interview he talks openly about drug trafficking, but not about his “Robin Hood” image in Catatumbo.
A look at the halting effort to get an El Salvador-style gang truce negotiated in Honduras. Notable for the outrageous descriptions of conditions in gangs’ prison cell blocks. “Several dozen gang members lounged by a large flat-screen TV or ordered drinks at the tiki bar under a sign that read ‘Casino.’”
Uruguay’s congress is to debate a comprehensive marijuana legalization/regulation plan next week. InsightCrime publishes several articles looking at what is at stake, and assessing the state of the drug policy debate in the region.
In a new “Week Ahead” podcast, I look at the Pope’s visit to Brazil in the wake of mass protests, a new report on Colombia’s conflict and the difficult effort to end it, and a wave of violence creating a dilemma for Mexico’s president.