Thursday, May 11, 2017

Salvadoran police promote self-defense groups (May 11, 2017)

Salvadoran police officials are suggesting in community meetings that civilians arm themselves (with the appropriate permits) and form self-defense groups, according to the head of El Salvador's Procuraduría para los Derechos Humanos (PDDH). Raquel Caballero de Guevara said an investigation found police decided to support communities seeking to arm themselves, though National Civil Police director Howard Cotto has distanced himself from self-defense groups, reports La Prensa Gráfica.

In an interview last week Cotto said such groups should be legally regulated. He defended such an approach, saying citizens arming themselves without regulation would likely lead to poor results, reported La Prensa Gráfica. Last month a self-defense group based in the town of San Nicolás Lempa said it was seeking legal recognition. (See April 27's briefs.)

The report comes as El Salvador's executive and legislative branches debate having the state arm community groups to combat street gang crime, reports InSight Crime. Proposals that have been floated lately include creating "citizen security committees" with legal empowerment to "guarantee security" in the territories where they operate. And reforming secondary laws to permit civilian groups to "carry arms on a permanent basis in their communities to safeguard their lives, integrity, and property, as well as those of their neighbors."

The head of the country's legislative assembly likes the idea so much he personally donated funds to the San José de la Montaña community to buy low caliber fire arms and file for carry permits, according to la Prensa.

"In general, ideas like this one of arming civilians or tolerating actions by paramilitary groups, among others like the proposal to reinstate the death penalty in El Salvador, have formed part of a handbook of populist responses to violence seen in the past three decades. ... In a country where cycles of violence were further heightened following the country's 1980-1992 civil war, in which the corruption of public officials has been highlighted as one of the principal causes of impunity (among others by the US State Department), and in which officials of both governing and opposition parties have not hesitated to negotiate votes in exchange for benefits with the same gangs that they so zealously say they want to combat, giving arms to civilians would seem to only add more fuel to the flames of violence," argues InSight.

News Briefs
  • Argentine human rights groups say they gathered 500,000 people in Buenos Aires's Plaza de Mayo to repudiate a Supreme Court decision that would reduce abusers' sentences, reports La Nación. Demonstrators knotted white handkerchiefs around their necks in honor of the Mother and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, notes AFP. President Mauricio Macri has been criticized for a lack of response. But yesterday -- a week after the original decision -- he joined the chorus against the decision yesterday, saying he opposed impunity, especially in human rights cases, reports La Nación separately. Argentina's Senate unanimously approved a bill that would limit the reach of the Supreme Court decision, reports La Nación in another piece. In the meantime, a series of appeals based on the decision from convicted human rights violators have been blocked in various lower courts, reports La NaciónChequeado has more details on how courts are responding. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) called on the Honduran government to capture suspects in a public health institute fraud case, reports Proceso. There are ten fugitives from justice in the mega-fraud case at the Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS).
  • Venezuelan protesters lobbed glass bottles filled with feces at security forces during protests yesterday. Two deaths were reported, bringing the total up to 39 so far, reports Reuters. (Photo gallery.) (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Mexico is among the most violent countries in the world -- and was widely reported on, and even retweeted by U.S. President Donald Trump. (See yesterday's briefs.) But Mexico's government rejected the characterization, pointing to higher homicide rates in other countries in the region. And Mexican analysts cast doubt on the IISS methodology and questioned why the country was singled out in the ensuing coverage, reports the Guardian. “I hope these morons are happy. Their idiotic report was already retweeted by @realDonald Trump,” tweeted Alejandro Hope.
  • Last year, the most violent in Mexico during President Enrique Peña Nieto's tenure, Mexico's federal government reportedly spent 23 times more on public and national security than last year's budget allowed, reports InSight Crime. "... But there is no public information on where any of that money is going -- or what kind of impact it's having on rising levels of crime and violence."
  • Security camera footage appears to capture soldiers carrying out an extrajudicial killing of a suspected fuel thief in Mexico's Puebla state, reports the Los Angeles Times. Three separate videos show how soldiers apparently shot a wounded man at close range -- one of the videos ends when soldiers dismantle the security camera filming them, reports Animal Político. The videos was recorded last week, and was made public yesterday. It comes as legislators debate formalizing the military's role in public security, despite reports of human rights violations. (See last Friday's briefs on shootouts in Puebla last week.) Fuel theft has shot up in Puebla this year by over 200 percent, reports Animal Político separately. (See April 27's briefs.)
  • Colombia's congress approved a law permitting FARC members to become a formal political party, reports the AFP. The bill ratified a key provision of the peace agreement, which grants the former fighters seats in both houses of congress.
  • About 160 FARC dissidents who have refused to lay down arms are terrorizing the jungle town of San José del Guaviare and seek to enrich themselves through drug trafficking, illegal gold mining and extortion, reports NPR.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was questioned by a judge in a corruption case for over five hours yesterday. He gave an impassioned speech upon leaving the Curtiba courthouse yesterday, accusing the Brazilian media of bias against him, reports the Guardian.
  • A year after Michel Temer took over the Brazilian presidency, most of his promises are on hold or lost, according to an Associated Press analysis.
  • A long feature in the Associated Press on how the U.S. Coast Guard is deploying advanced intelligence and technology to intercept cocaine shipments in the Pacific Ocean. About 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the U.S. is transported by boat via the Pacific, and the remainder comes in through the Caribbean. The task has grown in recent years thanks to Colombia's coca production boom.
  • A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report analyzes lesser-used drug smuggling methods -- such as underground tunnels, ultralight aircraft and maritime smuggling using open-hulled "panga" boats and recreational vessels. The findings further undermine claims that a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico will stem the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S., according to InSight Crime. "...while these alternative methods remain relatively uncommon, they are also a reminder of the ingenuity and innovation of drug trafficking networks. This ability to react to the challenges posed by law enforcement also undermines the logic of Trump's wall. While a physical barrier may impact another lesser-used, although still common form of smuggling -- backpackers carrying drugs across on clandestine overland trails -- traffickers are more than capable of adapting new methods to compensate." (See Tuesday's briefs on how smugglers would obtain higher profits the wall.)
  • Chile started selling cannabis based medication in pharmacies, the first Latin American country to do so, reports the Associated Press. The pilot program launched yesterday allows two pharmacies in Santiago to sell T100 and TC100, chronic pain-relief medicines made in Canada.
  • Peru's poverty rate decreased by 1.1 percent in 2016, continuing modest declines over the past years after a sharp reduction in previous years. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pledged to halve poverty by the end of his term in 2021, reports Reuters.
  • Victims of Peru's forced sterilization program under dictator Alberto Fujimori took their case to the United Nations this week, reports TeleSUR.
  • And a legislative commission discarded a bill that would allow Fujimori to finish out a prison sentence at home due to poor health, reports TeleSUR.
  • Paraguayan Vice President Juan Afara is distancing himself from President Horacio Cartes with an eye toward the April 2018 general election, according to EFE.
  • The Chinese foreign ministry highlighted upcoming visits from the Chilean and Argentine presidents as an opportunity to further strengthen ties with those countries, reports EFE.
  • Thousands of Puerto Rican students are demanding that the interim president of Puerto Rico's largest public university resign amid looming budget cuts, reports the Associated Press.

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