Apr 29, 2013

Just the Facts' Week in Review

Friday, April 26, 2013

Source: Just the Facts

Week in Review

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

U.S. Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

    Here are the poll numbers:

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

This post was written with CIP intern Marissa Esthimer.          




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