Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, April 22, 2015

El Salvador's intractable gang violence

A new wave of gang violence in El Salvador is prompting a more militarized approach to security in the wake of a two-year truce's failure. Homicide rates in El Salvador are the highest in the world, and have risen this year to an average of 15 per day. March had the worst statistics in over a century: 481 deaths.

About 30 percent of those murders were gang members killed in skirmishes with the national police, said President Salvador Sánchez Cerén on Monday. Since the beginning of the year 22 officers have died in attacks.

Last week the president announced the creation of three army battalions -- with 1,200 troops -- to combat crime in El Salvador's most dangerous municipalities.
InSight Crime says there is "essentially an ongoing crisis in the government about how to deal with the gang issue following the dissolution of the truce. There are no easy answers, and hawkish positions seem to be winning the day on all sides, especially since the violence seems to be getting worse."

This weekend, nine members of the Barrio 18 gang were killed following a shootout with soldiers. Later that evening, an army sergeant was found murdered in his home, reports El País.

Though the 2012 gang truce was internationally praised, the Los Angeles Times reports that it may have allowed gangs to consolidate and grow.
Salvadoran authorities are shuffling nearly 2,500 gang prison inmates as part of a revamped penal policy. They will be grouped based on the danger they represent, rather than gang membership. Eliminating gang specific jails aims at fighting criminal organization structures working from inside the penal system. An estimated 70,000 adults and youth are gang members in El Salvador, according to the AP.

The escalation of military involvement and the transfers might lead to a combined assault against the government by the country's largest gangs, though sources are conflicting regarding this rumor reports InSight Crime

The increasingly militarized approach and escalating violence continue to fuel an exodus of children and families out of the country, even though many of them may not make it as far as the U.S. border this year, reports the International Business Times.

News Briefs

  • Honduras' security policies are making a dent in murder rates, said President Juan Orlando Hernández yesterday. "In 18 months we have been able to dramatically reduce the homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants by more than 20 points," he said at the State Departments Conference of the Americas. The success has much to do with the "frank and close" relationship to the U.S., he said.
  • John Kerry sounded a similarly self-congratulatory note celebrating the regions diplomatic transformation and pointing to the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement as an example.
  • But the U.S.'s diplomatic success at the Summit of the Americas deserves to be reinterpreted, argues Gabriel Hetland at NACLA. The U.S. evolution on hot-button Latin American topics is due to enhanced regional unity and alternative diplomatic forums, he argues. "Recent mainstream media accounts of Latin America acknowledge the region’s increasing independence from the U.S., and note that this is one of the factors that pushed the U.S. to change its stance towards Cuba. These accounts do not, however, properly acknowledge the fact that Latin America’s increased independence is due to the actions of “anti-U.S.” leftist leaders, like the late Hugo Chávez, and, just as importantly, the popular movements that brought these leaders to power and have kept them in office."  
  • Mexico's Senate approved the National Anticorruption System yesterday, modifying 14 articles of the national Constitution. They seek to remedy an ongoing institutional crisis of credibility and to eradicate a problem that costs the country nearly 10 percent of it's annual GDP, reports El País. The reform creates mechanisms to seize corrupt politicians' wealth and forces public servants to declare their patrimony and interests (though these will not be made public). The law also targets companies and individuals who bribe officials.
  • Mexico's Green Party faces record 180m peso ($11.7m) in fines for breaching electoral campaign rules amid growing anger over its tactics ahead of midterm elections in June, reports The Guardian. More than 96,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that electoral authorities withdraw the party’s registration after it flooded the country with political advertising before the campaign period officially began. Despite the name, the party has little focus on environmental issues, but could play a key role in maintaining a working majority in congress for the governing PRI party.
  • What happened to the optimistic picture of a booming, oil rich Brazilian economy?, asks a BBC feature piece. The Petrobras corruption scandal -- in which dozens of high Workers' Party officials are accused of accepting bribes from the state oil giant -- has combined with stagnating commodity prices to tarnish Brazil's shining image, according to the piece. "After decades of low expectations, Brazilians had come to think in recent years that the nation was finally emerging into the world stage as a global power, only to see it again stuck with corruption and low growth."
  • West Africa's cocaine market has huge growth potential, warned the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Panama yesterday. Of the 40 tons of cocaine that arrive annually from Latin America -- mostly en route to Europe -- some 15 tons remain in the region. This is in part because drug dealers like to speculate with stock, but also has to do with the region's potential for consumption, reports EFE
  • Latin America will supply some 300,000 data analysts in the next five years, according to a SAS manager Juan Carlos Puente. That represents about 7.5 percent of Big Data's worldwide job supply, he explains in an EFE piece. 
  • President Juan Manuel Santos lashed out yesterday at opponents he accuses of fueling a wave of booing that has greeted him in the days since a deadly attack by leftist guerrillas dealt a major setback to negotiations with Colombia's biggest rebel movement, reports the AP.
  • Nearly 300 people suspected of sex crimes against minors were detained by Colombian authorities this week, according to AFP. It is part of a much needed crackdown: according to UNICEF nearly 90 percent of forensic examinations related to sex crimes in 2013 involved minors.
  • A Chinese ship carrying weapons illegally to Cuba has been released by Colombian authorities who say they don't have the capacity to unload, store or destroy the weaponry found aboard. According to Reuters, the ship was carrying over 1,000 tons of explosives, 2.6 million detonators, 99 projectile heads and around 3,000 canon shells -- though the ship's documentation said it was carrying grains.
  • The head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, said he will said he will sue news outlets that published stories in January saying his bodyguard had defected to the United States to testify that his former boss heads a drug ring of political and military officials, reports the AP.
  • The Jamaican University of the West Indies has planted several cannabis plants outside its medical school, just days after its effective decriminalization of marijuana. It's time to demystify ganja said the school's dean, according to EFE.

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