Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Investigation into the 2011 massacre in Allende, Mexico (June 13, 2017)

An in-depth investigation by ProPublica and National Geographic looks at a March 2011 massacre in the Mexican town of Allende. Zetas cartel gunmen demolished homes and businesses, kidnapped and killed dozens, possibly hundreds, of men, women and children, in retaliation for information about the gangs leadership leaked to the U.S. DEA. They destroyed the town where they'd lived and done business.

For years the Mexican government did little to investigate, and U.S. authorities did not recognize the cost of the operative that eventually succeeded in capturing kingpins Miguel Ángel and Omar Treviño.

"A year ago ProPublica and National Geographic set out to piece together what happened in this town in the state of Coahuila — to let those who bore the brunt of the attack, and those who played roles in triggering it, tell the story in their own words. They did so often at great personal risk. Voices like these have rarely been heard during the drug war: Local officials who abandoned their posts; families preyed upon by both the cartel and their own neighbors; cartel operatives who cooperated with the DEA and saw their friends and families slaughtered; the U.S. prosecutor who oversaw the case; and the DEA agent who led the investigation and who, like most people in this story, has family ties on both sides of the border."

"When pressed about his role, the agent, Richard Martinez slumped in his chair, his eyes welling with tears. 'How did I feel about the information being compromised? I’d rather not say, to be honest with you. I’d kind of like to leave it at that. I’d rather not say.'"


Trump's polemic Cuba policy announcement

U.S. President Donald Trump's advisor's are preparing options on how to rollback policy with Cuba, including restrictions on U.S. citizen travel to the island and limits on partnerships between U.S. businesses and the Cuban military, reports Bloomberg. Trump had not yet seen the final recommendations following a lengthy review and has not made a decision, reports el Nuevo Herald.

Though the new policies would be framed as pressure on the Cuban government to respect human rights, critics say the real goal is achieving political support in Washington.

The new guidelines could aim to restrict tourism by requiring U.S. citizens to formally explain how their travel to Cuba benefits the U.S. and the Cuban people, as well as increased scrutiny of travelers and the frequency of their visits. This could significantly impact the tourism industry, including U.S. airlines with newly created direct flights to Cuba and cruise lines.

Sanctions aimed at restricting business with the Cuban military could impact potential deals because of the deep involvement of the armed forces in any number of companies on the island, including the hotel industry.

"If you're a U.S. traveler in Cuba and you buy a bottle of water in the supermarket or a souvenir in a store, or you rent a car or a hotel room, it's very likely that you're putting money into the pockets of the military-run GAESA, which experts say controls nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy," according to the Miami Herald.

Trump is expected to announced the new policy in Miami on Friday, according to media reports. (See yesterday's briefs.) He promised to rollback the rapprochement that was his predecessor's signature foreign policy towards Latin America, a demand from conservative Cuban Americans.

However, the new policies appear to be opposed by pretty much everybody else.

Lawmakers from both parties and businesses are concerned about the impact to potential economic growth. James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group lobbying to end the 55-year old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, said that changes to Obama’s policy could have unintended consequences for U.S. businesses and jobs. "This is the opposite of 'America First.' This is America last," he said.

Engage Cuba has estimated that a reversal of the Obama administration's policies would cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect more than 12,000 American jobs. That statistic was cited in a Chicago Tribune editorial, which criticized the potential rollback. "Havana hasn't budged on human rights reform despite five decades of embargo and diplomatic blackout. Economic and political engagement holds more promise. Through the exchange of information, people and commerce, lines of communication open up, and prospects for influencing Cubans and their government improve. Shut down those lines, and those prospects fade." (See June 6's briefs for a similar New York Times editorial.)

Polls suggest a majority of Americans support greater engagement with Cuba, reports NPR. Last month, 55 senators sponsored legislation that would further relax travel restrictions. (See June 1's post.) Last week, two pro-Cuba Republican groups in the House and Senate sent letters to the White House asking for trade and relations with Cuba to remain open, reports the Hill.

Most government agencies also recommend maintaining Obama's more open policy, notes Quartz. "The Department of Agriculture tends to back anything that would increase US farm exports; the Department of Commerce takes a similar approach to opening up foreign markets. The Department of Homeland Security wants to keep up its cooperation with the Cuban government on drug interdiction, which the restoration of diplomatic relations made possible. It also wants to maintain Obama’s abolition of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which gave Cubans nearly automatic asylum and complicated immigration enforcement. Since the policy was revoked in January, the number of Cubans trying to reach the US by sea has slowed to a trickle."

U.S. tourism to Cuba has more than tripled since 2014, notes Vice News.

The Friday announcement puts Trump on a potential diplomatic collision course with the  Central America summit organized by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department -- to be held in Miami on Thursday and Friday. The conference, to focus on security issues, drugs, violence and poverty is co-convened by Mexico and will be attended by three Central American presidents. A rollback on Cuba could upstage the events and present a policy countries in the region are unlikely to support, reports the Miami Herald.

In the context of the conference, "Central America is bracing itself for a return to military-led US foreign policy amid rising fears that sweeping aid cuts and mass deportations could destabilise the region," according to the Guardian. The Trump administration seems to be cutting funding to foreign aid aimed at stemming violence and migration from Central America, and favoring the military. The piece cites WOLA's Adam Isacson, who calls a return to "war on drugs" funding a "worst case scenario." Daniella Burgi-Palomino, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group also voiced concern about the incursion of the Department of Homeland Security into foreign policy decisions.

News Briefs
  • La pregunta del millón: ¿Por qué no bajan de los cerros? International press coverage of the Venezuelan protests have made much of poorer sectors joining in -- though the extent to which that is true has been questioned. The protests have been multitudinous, and more diverse than on previous occasions. But nonetheless, the divide between popular sectors and the opposition is maintained, argues New York Univeristy historian and Venezuelan national, professor Alejandro Velasco in an interview with Nueva Sociedad. Though there is some truth to the opposition narrative that poor sectors are afraid of retribution by the government or the colectivos, he believes that explanation is given too much weight. The opposition has failed to create a believable message for sectors that don't believe it will fight for its interests in the future, he says. He also explores diverse protests within the poor neighborhoods that have not been taken into account -- noting that there have been ongoing demands for better public services and against the effects of inflation. The opposition has obtained good results when it focuses on these concrete demands, but less when the scope is more political, he argues. He delves into what he characterizes as a perennial mistrust between socio-economic classes in Venezuela.
  • The protests entering their third months have a predictable daily pattern -- starting with peaceful marches and followed by clashes between youthful "resistance fighters" and security forces, reports the Guardian, but the violence they encounter is increasing.
  • Government officials have been attacking chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega this week, accusing her of insanity and promoting violence, reports Reuters. And she says her family has been threatened, according to the BBC. It's backlash against her increasingly critical stance towards the government. Ortega has come out strongly against a plan to rewrite the constitution, a stance shared by 85 percent of the population, according to a new Datanalisis poll reported on by Reuters. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • Venezuela's Supreme Court rejected Ortega's motion to stop the constitutional rewrite, reports the Associated Press.
  • Jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López appealed to soldiers to defect, an attempt to crack the regime from within, reports InSight Crime. There have been increasing reports of dissent within security forces.
  • Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have fled their country since Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, but the exodus has accelerated in recent years. A physician brain drain is straining an already weakened public health system, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Venezuelan Federation of Doctors estimates that some 16,000 doctors have left in 12 years.
  • Guatemalan prosecutors will seek to lift President Jimmy Morales' immunity in order investigate him in connection with a children’s home fire that killed 41 girls, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer's acquittal in a case that could have nullified his mandate (see yesterday's post) has emboldened him to take a harder stance on pushing austerity measures through Congress, reports Reuters. And a key ally -- the PSDB -- intends to maintain its support of the government, reports Bloomberg.
  • Three workers at an offshore drill rig contracted by Petrobras died following an explosion Friday, raising concerns that cost cuts are impacting safety, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Colombian government has started training 300 former FARC fighters as bodyguards, to protect fellow demobilized guerrillas considered at risk, reports the BBC. Former fighters are concerned about violence from right-wing paramilitaries. The newly trained bodyguards will be given a gun and paid three times the minimum wage.
  • A very contrarian view: The Colombian peace deal -- particularly the the agrarian reform policies aimed at ensuring rural development in former FARC territories -- is part of the Colombian government's ideological surrender to Havana, writes Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal. She likens the new policies to Hugo Chávez's in Venezuela, and says the deal "is almost certain to destroy Colombian liberty and impoverish the nation."
  • Elections earlier this month in Mexico show how the political system "is unable to adequately filter out candidates whose questionable pasts should be disqualifying," according to InSight Crime.
  • U.S. marshals detained former Panamanian President Richard Martinelli, who is wanted in Panama as part of multiple investigations of corruption and illegal wiretapping of political opponents while in office, reports the Wall Street Journal. He will appear in a Miami court today. He is being sought in relation to an illegal spying case, but is also enmeshed in the Odebrecht bribery scandal sweeping the region, notes the New York Times.
  • Chile's water crisis is a lesson in the pitfalls of privatized water and sanitation systems reports the Guardian.
  • U.S. troops will be carrying out military training in Central America, reports TeleSUR.
  • There has been a surge in reports of gender violence in Peru, a reminder of the need for urgent reform according to the Minister for Women. She noted in particular high levels of impunity, and called for a reexamination of the system from police officers to judges, reports TeleSUR.
  • An archeological dig in the middle of Mexico City is revealing the remains of a major Aztec temple, reports Reuters.
  • A youth program in Medellín uses hip hop to combat violence, reports InSight Crime.

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