Monday, October 19, 2015

U.S. reduces Mexican security aid for failure to achieve human rights goals (Oct. 19, 2015)

The U.S. government cut off millions of dollars of aid to Mexico's drug war as a result of the country's failure to reach certain human rights goals. Though the reduction is only a small portion of the annual funds given to Mexico to help fund security initiatives, it's a major sign of State Department frustration, reports the Washington Post.

The U.S. Congress has appropriated $2.3 billion since 2008 for the Merida Initiative, which has helped  Mexico purchase equipment such as helicopters and border sensors as well as training programs for thousands of Mexican officials. This year funding is $148 million -- but five million has been diverted subject to provisions demand Mexico make progress on protecting human rights, including enforcing rules against torture and prosecuting people for forced disappearances.

It's a strong signal, says WOLA's Maureen Meyer, and shows U.S. concern over human rights in Mexico. Nonetheless, it's a subtle message, which was carried out without overt criticism of the Mexican government, observes the Wilson Center's Eric Olson in the Post piece.

In the wake of a string of reported human rights abuses, including the alleged massacre of 22 suspected gang members at Tlatlaya by security forces and the disappearance of 43 teacher's college students last year, "it’s impossible to make the case anymore" that Mexico is progressing on human rights, Stephanie Erin Brewer, coordinator of the international department at Centro Prodh, a human rights group in Mexico City told the Washington Post.

El País notes that the State Department already noted "significant" problems in its annual Human Rights report, especially with cases of "impunity" and the involvement of police and army in grave abuses.

Military forces have been deeply involved in providing internal security in recent years in the midst of sky rocketing drug violence, an arrangement that has come increasingly questioned. (See Oct. 8th's briefs.) Human rights organizations, and even the military itself, are arguing for a return to the barracks, reports the Christian Science Monitor. There have also been promising advances in potentially holding soldiers accountable for their actions on duty. The case of the Tlatlaya massacre is a prime example, but the piece notes that the case also shows the difficulties that lie ahead for civilian oversight of the military. If nobody is convicted (see last Wednesday's post) it will be an important setback, according to the CSM piece.


Almost, but not quite. Mexican security forces tracked down the Sinaloa Cartel Houdini, drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán and almost caught him in the remote northwestern mountains of the country. But he managed to escape in the knick of time, reports the New York Times.

The legendary cartel leader, who escaped from maximum security prison a few months ago (see July 13th's post), has leg and face injuries, but government officials emphasize they are not a result of confrontation with security forces, reports El Daily Post.

NBC broke the story, reporting that Mexican Marines were acting on intelligence from U.S. drug agents who intercepted cell phone signals hinting that El Chapo was in a ranch in the Sierra Madre mountains. The Marines raided in helicopters, and were forced back by fire from suspected Guzmán operatives. They later entered on foot, but Guzmán and his entourage are believed to have escaped on ATVs. These events took place about a week and a half ago, and though authorities continued the chase, they are losing hope of an imminent recapture, according to the piece.

"The latest development leaves much unclear but it appears to establish that El Chapo is still in the country. It also looks like another case of the government letting the drug lord escape," explains El Daily Post. Already his escape from prison is a source of major embarrassment for the Peña Nieto administration, notes the NYTimes.

The whole operation means El Chapo or his inner circle are less cautious than previously believed, according to Alejandro Hope at El Daily Post. Though the authorities are clearly on his trail, this doesn't mean he'll be captured anytime soon. Hope notes that El Chapo was almost captured on numerous occasions during the last period he had broken out of jail (which lasted 14 years!). 

"And, as security agencies know all too well, every near-miss sets back the chase several months. Some of the informants are burned, communication lines are changed, and security protocols around the kingpin become tighter. So it might be a while before there is another chance to put him back in jail."
On the other hand, the 11 federal police officers in charge of monitoring prisoners at the Altiplano jail El Chapo broke out of, are in prison. Their lawyer is charging the Mexican government with stalling their case, reports Animal Político.

News Briefs

  • The Mexican migrant crackdown (see last Tuesday's post) has been accompanied by a surge in complaints of abuse by migration officials, including violent attacks and extortion, reportsReuters.
  • An attempt by U.N. officials to get member nations to decriminalize possession and use of all drugs has been quashed by pressure from at least one country, reports the BBC. A paper from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that argues argued "arrest and incarceration are disproportionate measures" was withdrawn before release on Sunday, according toTransform. The group said today that the unpublished briefing paper was "a devastating critique of the harms caused by criminalization".
  • Venezuela's bolivar is weaker than ever, and inflation is likely the highest in the world, reports the Associated Press. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced a 30 percent increase in the minimum wage, to take place a month before December's critical parliamentary elections. Maduro estimated inflation is at 80 percent, but the IMF says it's closer to 200 percent.
  • A piece in the New York Times explores the difficulties of the economic situation in Venezuela, compounded by the vast disparity between the official exchange rate and that which can be actually obtained on a black market where dollars are scarce and worth ever more bolivares. The crisis is such that there is even a shortage of paper money -- as increasing amounts of transactions are carried out in the black market, and the government resists printing higher denomination bills.
  • Yesterday Maduro urged legal action be taken against a businessman for a private phone conversation that considers the possibility of an international bailout to get Venezuela back on track. This week, state media broadcast a phone call between billionaire Lorenzo Mendoza and U.S.-based Venezuelan economist Ricardo Hausmann in which the latter says the country needs about $50 billion from the IMF and an "adjustment" plan, reports Reuters. Last week Mendoza did not dispute report, but said the call had been recorded illegally and was being exploited for political purposes.
  • Under former President José Mujica, Uruguay threw open its doors to 42 Syrian refugees, as well as a few former Guantanamo inmates. Now Uruguayans are angry at the vociferous complaints of their guests, who complain that the cost of living in this country is too high and demand to be sent elsewhere or assisted more. Earlier this month, one Syrian refugee doused himself in gasoline in protest when told Uruguayan authorities could not issue a visa to another country, reports the Associated Press. Earlier this year, the former Guatanamo inmates protested demanding more government support (see May 8th's briefs). Though Uruguay's acceptance of these refugees was largely symbolic, it does complicate the story of the world refugee crisis. Several Latin American countries have said they'd take in Syrian refugees (seeSept. 9th's briefs), but if refugees aren't happy in Uruguay, what will they think of Venezuela?
  • Incredibly, the Colombian military is saying crime and smuggling have gone down since Venezuela deployed thousands of troops along their common border two months ago, reports the BBC. The move was heavily criticized by Colombia and the international community, with concerns especially for Colombian migrants living in Venezuela who seemed to be the target of the crackdown. But a review published by Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas says the number of murders in the border area has dropped by 10 percent. "I can undoubtedly affirm that the border is safer today than 60 days ago," he said.
  • The Colombian government and FARC rebels have agreed on measures to find an estimated 50,000 missing people in the context of the country's decades-long civil war, reports theBBC. The two sides will work together in a specialised unit to recover remains of those killed from unmarked mass graves and locate those still alive, the International Committee of the Red Cross will also help.
  • Next Sunday is election mayhem across the region: Haiti, Guatemala and Argentina head to the polls for presidential elections.
  • In Haiti the 54 way presidential race is basically down to three contenders, though there's room for surprises when considering undecided voters, reports the Miami Herald. Private pollsters disagree as to whether government-backed candidate Jovenel Moise or Jude Celestin are in the lead, while others question their methodologies all together.
  • And in Guatemala, where on Sunday voters will decide between two candidates in a run-off election, the front-runner Jimmy Morales is accused of being a front for the military, reportsVICE. The former television comedian is expected to beat former First Lady Sandra Torres by as much as 40 percent. But though he's running on an anti-political establishment platform (with obvious appeal after the scandal that led to former President Otto Pérez Molina resigning last month), he's hardly a breath of fresh air for the political elite, according to the piece. 
  • In Argentina the governing Frente para la Victoria candidate, Daniel Scioli, is leading in the polls and might even get a first-round win over conservative candidate Mauricio Macri, reportsReuters. (Although as of last week the numbers were too close to call, see Thursday's post.)
  • A massive explosion in Rio de Janeiro reduced several buildings to rubble this morning, but so far no deaths have been reported. Authorities suspect a gas leak caused the blast, which was so strong it was reportedly heard by people living nearly 6 km away, reports the Associated Press.

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