Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 31, 2015


There are several assessments of the sex revelations of DEA agents in Colombia from last week. Insight Crime (3/30) suggests that the report gives "little indication that sexual misconduct by the DEA and other agencies overseas is a systemic issue. While the numbers will certainly raise some eyebrows, the report itself states that the number of allegations is 'relatively few'." 

However, the weekly Semana (3/28) conducted their own investigation (including video-taped interviews), and found several of the prostitutes involved in the matter and concluded that "what happened in the country is far more shocking than it is published in the report." Reports in the daily El Tiempo (3/28) focus on the parties that included DEA agents and their legal counsel.

Separately, Colombian Dairo Úsuga's career from being a soldier in the Ejército Popular de Liberación to working security for the Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá (ACCU) and finally emerging as "one of Colombia's most powerful crime bosses,"(aka, 'Otoniel', or 'Gallo') is profiled in El Colombiano (3/30). "Copying the model of both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, he distributed troops into blocks and fronts, and created strongholds in Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba and Sucre," with cells in Venezuela and Spain.

Colombia's high court ordered the expansion of the current Victim Law to protect victims of abuse from neo-paramilitary groups, rather than just the FARC and the AUC, according to Colombia Reports (3/28) and Semana(3/25). However, a columnist for La Nacion (3/30) writes what is needed "is not a law but a strong state." Separately, members of the FARC have suggested creating a 'Día Nacional de Contrición y Reconciliación' according to El Pais.

  • Peru’s Congress voted to remove Prime Minister Jara (the count was 72-42) as opposition leaders expressed their anger over the country's spy agency gathering information on well-known Peruvians, according to the Wall St Journal and Reuters (3/31) . The spy story stemmed from a cover article in Correo's weekly magazine in mid-March. She was Peru's first Protestant Prime Minister and tweeted last night: "I thank the Lord Jesus for giving me this opportunity to serve my country. It's an honour that this Congress censured me." Government Members of Congress suggested that this move was an attempt to destabilize the government by the opposition parties of APRA and Fujimori, according to an essay in La Mula (3/31).  The WSJ speculated that the new PM could be Production Minister Piero Ghezzi or Housing and Construction Minister Milton von Hesse.  
  • Guatemala's El Periodico (3/30) makes an unequivocal endorsement of CICIG as does a columnist in PubliNews, while a column in the PanAm Post (3/30) does so with less enthusiasm. Pres. Medina doesn't want to be pressured into renewing CICIG, according to El Periodico. Separately, CICIG is participating as a financial fiduciary in the upcoming elections, according to La Prensa and El Periodico (3/30), which reports that political party LIDER (Libertad Democrática Renovada) handed over their financial documents for their evaluation. 
  • The U.S. and Cuba begin their first meeting on human rights today in Washington, according to EFE (3/27), in order to "discuss the methodology and structure of future conversations on the subject." These talks were announced first by the Cuban Foreign Ministry, according to the Miami Herald. "No one meeting will produce immediate results," notes a WOLA essay (3/30), but "a human rights dialogue can contribute to important changes." The Cubans will likely bring up Ferguson and police abuse, and the lack of access to education and health care, so "the U.S. should not approach this human rights forum from a position of moral superiority or self-righteous lecturing." The writer concludes that "it is the economic reforms underway in Cuba now that are most likely over time to help open political spaces, and generate greater internal debate." On a related note: European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited as long as the U.S. embargo lasts, according to Joaquín Roy (European Union Centre, University of Miami) in an op-ed in Inter Press Service (3/30). "Even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments."
  • Venezuelan Pres. Maduro has not "benefited in any way from U.S. sanctions," according to Jose Cardenas (USAID, Bush Administration) in a counter-intuitive essay in Foreign Policy (3/30). "Venezuela under chavismo remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries ... turning ever more nasty and brutish." Separately, Leiver Padilla Mendoza, accused by Pres. Maduro of assassinating a Congressman last October, is profiled in the Miami Herald (3/30), through a phone interview from a maximum security prison in rural Colombia, where he’s awaiting extradition. Maduro has suggested that Padilla was part of a Colombian paramilitary gang, hired by Venezuela’s opposition, "to shock the state, society, and the country." The paper says "his alibi is complicated" and Padilla "does have a connection to the crime scene" and the congressman's security detail.
  • Mexico's 43 students missing from the Ayotzinapa School​ in Guerrero are highlighted in a New Yorker video (7min) through voices from their mothers, community police, and human rights leaders in the area (including Abel Barrera, Tlachinollan Human Rights Center). The Daily Beast's Mexico correspondent (3/30) accompanies members of the Committee In Search of the Other Disappeared of Iguala in their search for their children.
  • Mexican authorities keep capturing drug lords, but violence is spreading in new, dangerous ways, according to the Daily Beast (3/30) which names El Chapo, El Teo, La Barbie, El Amarillo, El Chango, and Tony Tormenta among the 25 of the 37 most wanted men in Mexico that former Pres. Calderón either captured or killed. However, the article concludes that Mexico has not been able to reduce drug-related crime nor "return the rule of law to those areas corrupted and terrorized by drug gangs."  
  • El Salvador's electoral tribunal is slowly making progress with election data, according to La Prensa Graficaand El Mundo (3/31), a process that has taken over a month, according to PanAm Post (3/26) as two parties battle for the final contested seats in Congress. Academics Scott Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán make their case that El Salvador is leaving behind an authoritarian political system and is emerging as a stable democracy, according to their essay in El Faro (3/30).  Part of their argument is that political actors have triumphed over structural factors.  (Their recent book is Democracies and Dictatorships in Latin America Emergence, Survival, and Fall, Oxford Press, 2014)
  • A long review in NACLA (3/28) anticipates the evolution of Bolivian Pres. Morales' MAS from a party of the social movements to a 'big tent' hegemonic power after his re-election to a third term with 61% of the vote last October. (The author does not acknowledge the regional elections from over the weekend where MAS was defeated in several prominent races - some in response to corruption, according to a Presidential press release, 3/30.) According to Bolivia Rising blog, "the aspirations of Bolivians today have less to do with ethno-cultural values than with education, entrepreneurship, and access to the more material aspects of de-colonization." A separate NACLA-related essay that questions the trade-off between social redistribution and socio-environmental impacts in Bolivia, was published on Global Voices (3/30).
  • Thousands of laborers in Mexico's Baja California have returned to the fields over the weekend after nearly two weeks of being on strike," according to the LA Times (3/30). "Talks on Friday ended in acrimony after labor leaders rejected an offer by agribusinesses to boost wages by 15%. But after growers offered the raise to anyone who returned to work, the fields filled with pickers."
  • Extractive industries in Central and South America are damaging much more beyond the environment, as a result of a lack of transparency and accountability, according to an Oxfam blog (3/30).  "The boom on investment in extractive industries is having a deep socio-economic and political impact in the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in the region,” said Felipe Agüero (Ford Foundation). Oxfam will convene a related forum, 'Extractive Industries and Civil Society in Latin America' on March 20 in Washington DC. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 30, 2015

James Stavridis, a retired four-star US Navy admiral and current Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, argues that the United States should implement a 'Plan Central America' based on lessons learned from 'Plan Colombia,' according to an essay in Foreign Policy (3/18). According to an assessment in Insight Crime, this is "a tenuous proposition that relies on oversimplified analogies and a questionable understanding of current conditions in the region." Stavridis says he is not calling for a new 'War on Drugs' but rather a 'smart power' approach: "a combination of diplomacy, and economic, financial, security, and development aid." Insight Crimes identifies significant differences between Colombia's situation in the late 1990s and the Northern Triangle countries of Central America today that Stavridis fails to mention. A post on CEPR (3/27) takes another tack: "Child Rapes and 'Sex Parties' by US Forces are Latest to Tarnish Plan Colombia’s Image." (Separately: U.S. Counter-narcotics operations in Colombia and Afghanistan are compared in a blog post on International Affairs Review, 3/24).

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said that West African governments should decriminalize narcotic drugs to avoid wasting scarce resources fighting a war that cannot be won, according to a press release in the Cameroon Concord (3/30). "The region has become an important trans-shipment point between Latin America," and Annan's own Ghana "recently dissolved its board in charge of fighting narcotics over suspected complicity of officials aiding drug cartels to escape security checks at the country’s airport."

Venezuela's Pres. Maduro announced he is ready to shake Pres. Obama's hand (El Universal, 3/26) even as his Foreign Minister delivered a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, "energetically rejecting" the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration (El Universal and Tal Cual, 3/27). Opposition leader Henri Falcón also published a letter to Pres. Obama categorically rejecting the sanctions but also asking for reconciliation between the two countries. In a twist, Cuba will be losing half of its oil supply from Venezuela, according to Mexican daily Excelsior and the Associated Press (3/27).

Washington’s sanctions on Venezuela "have been great for Pres. Maduro," writes a columnist in Foreign Policy (3/27) and it’s unclear what broader U.S. strategy the economic measures are meant to serve. The author asks if the U.S. "risks entering another long and fruitless campaign like the one against Havana, which only served to empower Fidel Castro’s anti-U.S. bona fides." Barbara Kotschwar (Peterson Institute for International Economics), adds "Venezuela is a national security threat only to itself" and that their "four-tier currency system benefits corrupt insiders but hurts the poor and middle class," in a blog post (3/24). (Kotschwar is the author of Economic Normalization with Cuba: A Roadmap for US Policymakers, 2014). And the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail has a long essay on how Venezuela went from being a regional powerhouse to a pauper (3/27).

A columnist for Colombia's El Tiempo wonders if Venezuela no longer qualifies in being labelled a competitive authoritarian country (3/30) while Andres Oppenheimer (3/28) argues that Maduro to show he is still a democrat has a chance in the upcoming elections. Jorge Castañeda, meanwhile, wonders if the sanctions on Venezuela are all about Cuba, in his essay in the Huffington Post (3/27): "Obama may be trying to force these countries to choose sides: either support Venezuela explicitly or support the U.S. in opposing its leaders' policies."

  • PRISONS  The Brazilian incarceration system allows prisoners to use hallucinogens during short  furloughs as a way to "ease pressure on Brazil’s prison system," according to the NY Times (3/29). The article profiles Acuda, a prisoners’ rights group, that offers therapy sessions in yoga and meditation to the inmates. "Two years ago, the volunteer therapists at Acuda had a new idea: Why not give the inmates ayahuasca as well?" (A similar story ran last year in the Folha do Sao Paulo.) Separately, women's prisons in Mexico are often overcrowded and run by mafias, with inmates suffering extortion, sexual abuse and sometimes even forced prostitution, says a 'Mujeres Privadas de la Libertad en los Centros de Reclusión,' a report by the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, according to their press release (3/29), a lengthy assessment in Sin Embargo and a summary in the Associated Press.  "The commission said that a serious problem in the female prisons was self-rule by inmates, with gangs controlling cell space, privileges, conjugal visits, carrying out punishments and demanding extortion payments." 
  • Brazilian corruption waves grow larger as auto manufacturers Ford and Mistubishi and banks Bank of Boston, Bradesco, Santander, and Safra are among the companies investigated in a widening tax fraud scheme, according to Estadao do Brasil (28/3).
  • Bolivian opposition candidates won the La Paz governor's race and El Alto's mayor’s seat, according to the Associated Press and Reuters (3/30). Pres. Morales was re-elected in October but his party has been set back by "beset by corruption scandals."
  • Peru's GDP almost doubled between 2004 and 2014 and now "boasts one of the world’s most spectacular long-run growth spurts since the 1990s," but Wall St Journal columnist Mary O'Grady (3/30) says that nationalism and populism are threats in the 2016 elections. Some "chavistas," she suggests, "make the spurious claim that corruption and the market economy are somehow linked."  Separately, Peru is part of the free-trade Pacific Alliance, which together with Mexico, Colombia and Chile, "is a bigger economy than Brazil, and they're expected to grow three or four times faster than [Brazil] over the next few years," according to CNBC (3/26).
  • Mexico's spending on defense equipment, intended for use in combating organized crime, "has skyrocketed the past year, raising doubts about the Mexican government's willingness to scale back militarization of the country's drug war," according to a cover article in Mexico's Proceso (3/28) and a focus in Insight Crime (3/25).
  • Mexico's freedom of the press is an important issue in the firing of investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui, according to the NY Times (3/29).  "Even her critics ... argue that her dismissal removed one of the few broadcast journalists in Mexico who openly challenge authority." Outside the capital, the situation is worse where "reporters face reprisals from organized crime and local officials."
  • Mexico's union leaders are using tactics from their efforts in U.S. agricultural fields, in their continued labor strike in Baja California, according to the LA Times (3/30). "Farmworker strikes of this scale and duration are rare. The walkout began March 17 and is the first in decades in Baja California."
  • Clarín investigation (3/30) peers into whether Argentina's ex ambassador to Venezuela had bank accounts in Iran w/ nearly $50 million. Separately, Pres. Kirchner's 'human rights policy' is praised by many but what is usually meant is "a well-publicized determination to make military men ... pay for crimes that were committed over thirty years ago, according to an op-ed in the Buenos Aires Herald by James Nielson (3/29). "The human rights business is dominated by relatives of the 'disappeared' or the youngish men and women who were killed fighting for the Montoneros or some Marxist-Leninist-Peronist combat unit."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 27, 2015


There are a myriad of stories related to drugs in Latin America.

In Uruguay, the report, Regulación del Mercado de Marihuana. Evidencia desde Uruguay a las Américas (12pp), was presented this week (see power point) at the Universidad Católica del Uruguay, according to a press release (3/25), La Red 21El Observador, and a wire report in Diario Las Americas. The English version of the report, Marijuana Legalization in Uruguay and Beyond was released at Florida International University in February.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had "sex parties" with prostitutes hired by drug cartels, presumably in Colombia, according to a Justice Department’s watchdog report (131 pp), and reported by many media including the Miami HeraldWashington Post and Politico.

"Hezbollah is among the terrorist organizations that are benefiting from the illegal drug trade in Latin America," said U.S. Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo (Southcom), at a Senate hearing on Understanding and Addressing the Root Causes of Central American Migration to the United States which was reported out in conservative website Breitbart.

Finally, former Colombian Pres. Pastrana (1998-2002) resurrected his accusation that former Peruvian Pres. Fujimori used money from a Brazilian drug trafficker to purchase Jordanian arms which were then given to the FARC in 1999, according to EFE. He made his comments at a conference in Lima, organized by the Fundación Internacional para la Libertad.  

  • The Human Rights Council will appoint a new Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, according to the Electronic Frontier FoundationAmnesty, and Access Now (3/26).  This was in response to calls from civil society, and the leadership of Brazil and Germany and recognizes the need for "a long-lasting, singular authority to guide governments and companies on how to protect and respect privacy rights," according to one expert.
  • Political reform "has moved to the top of the regional agenda" in Latin America, according to The EconomistBrazil's dysfunctional "coalitional presidentialism" with 13 parties in parliament is a case in point - Pres. Rousseff heads a coalition of nine parties and "an absurd cabinet of 39 ministries to accommodate them." A forth-coming study recommends measures "to strengthen parties and to reform their financing to reduce corruption and influence-peddling." Separately, Francis Fukuyama asks, Why is Democracy Performing so Poorly, in a short essay (9pp) in the Journal of Democracy (Jan 2015). He argues that there is "little evidence that current donor and NGO efforts to promote good governance through increasing transparency and accountability have had a measurable impact on state performance."
  • An Argentine appellate court dismissed a criminal case against Pres. Kirchner that accused her of conspiring to hide Iranian officials’ involvement in a bombing here in 1994, according to the NY Times and the Christian Science Monitor (3/26). The Times says the case was "thrown out" because evidence presented by the late Alberto Nisman "was too flimsy to open an investigation." Still, it was not a unanimous ruling as one of the three judges voted in favor of pursuing Mr. Nisman’s allegations suggesting that the controversy may not recede quickly.
  • The upcoming Summit of the Americas will include the Vatican, though they denied this was "an attempt to smooth over the tensions between Venezuela and the U.S.," according to the Associated Press (3/26).  Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, will attend next month's event.  Parolin was as the Holy See's ambassador to Venezuela until 2013. Separately, the Summit's civil-society events will include Cuban dissidents, including blogger Yoani Sánchez, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Farmworkers in Mexico's Baja California marched "in a peaceful but angry show of force after growers refused to meet their demands to boost wages," according to the LA Times (3/26).
  • China and the Group of 77 have added their names to opposing Obama's executive decree on Venezuela, according to El Universal (3/26). 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 26, 2015


Colombian Pres. Santos proposed judicial reforms that included electoral reforms and "cutting the link between politics and justice," in a televised address (see transcript) that highlighted five main points (3/24). An explanatory essay in Silla Vacia (3/25) assesses Santos' reforms into 'The Good, The Risky and The Uncertain'. 

Unspoken but looming large in Santos' address was "the corruption scandal that has challenged the credibility of the Constitutional Court," according to EFEOne of the proposals is to create a Tribunal de Aforados, according to Radio Caracol, which is already being debated among Colombian Senators and rapidly gathering critics (Pulzo).  One thing that does not appear to be on the table: a Constituent Assembly, something sought by the FARC.

Separately, the Miami Herald and The Guardian write about the land-mine legacy and in particular HALO Trusts' work in mine eradication.  The Guardian has richer, contextualized report while the Herald includes a harrowing 3-minute video of ex-combatants doing humanitarian mine removal.

How Did Guerrilla Violence Shape the 2014 Presidential Election in Colombia?, asks an essay in Political Violence at a Glance (3/25). The authors are three professors, Michael Weintraub (Binghamton University)Thomas Flores (George Mason University), and Juan Vargas (Universidad del Rosario) who publish their findings in Research and Politics (Jan 2015). The article concludes that Santos (the peace candidate) "performed better in communities with moderate levels of insurgent violence and poorly in communities with both very high and very low violence."

  • U.S. soldiers raped over 50 Colombian children between 2003 and 2007, according to Contribución Al Entendimiento Del Conflicto Armado En Colombia (809pp), published by the Comisión Histórica del Conflicto Armado y sus Víctimas en Colombia, reports Colombia Reports (3/23) and El Espectador (3/25). The specific charges are found on p. 745ff, starting with the section, "Imperialismo Sexual."  The newspapers reports that "all cases have gone unpunished thanks to bilateral agreements and to diplomatic immunity of US officials." The report was published in February but this revelation seems to be new.
  • The Mexican government lacks an accurate, comprehensive tally of bodies found in mass graves, according to a 2-month investigation by Buzzfeed (3/25) which has "filed public records requests to all 32 states and the federal government, asking for a list of mass graves discovered since December 2006." The article includes a graphic mapping out how local, state, and Federal governments disagree on how many mass graves have been found, state by state.
  • Venezuelan Pres. Maduro's popularity rose slightly to 25% in a Datanalisis  poll, according to Reuters (3/24), which suggests that Obama's executive order from earlier this month may have given him "an unlikely helping hand." Separately, poverty is increasing in Venezuela, suggests the Christian Science Monitor, citing person-on-the-street interviews and experts like David Smilde and Mark Weisbrot, though no recent specific data or report. In unusual language for diplomats, Costa Rica "fired" its ambassador in Venezuela after he defended the Venezuelan government, according to Reuters (3/26).
  • Cuba's human rights record could be a sticking point in developing relations with the EU, according to Vice (3/25). "The shifting US policies will likely create stiff competition for Europe in the Cuban market, but ... the EU is not contending against the US." A related piece in EFE says the EU representative said negotiations were accelerating, before finishing her visit to Havana. Separately, talks in Cuba with the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Commerce Department are ongoing, according to the Associated Press.
  • Cuban-American politics in Florida hasn't changed too much as the state's Senate voted almost unanimously to oppose the opening of U.S./Cuban relations, according to the Miami Herald (3/25).
  • Brazil's Solicitor General denies the government is trying to strike a "grand bargain" with construction and engineering firms implicated in the kickback scandal at Petrobras, according to Jornal do Brasil and Reuters (3/25). "Prosecutors say such leniency deals will hinder criminal investigations to punish corrupt executives." One of the challenges for the companies is that while they are under investigation, they cannot bid for contracts.
  • Striking farmworkers in Mexico's Baja California were offered "only a 6% wage hike," and labor negotiations appear to be coming apart, according to the LA Times (3/25). "The highly anticipated offer was made by an attorney for the Agricultural Council of Baja California, and was met with stunned silence from dozens of farmworkers."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 25, 2015

A bipartisan group of U.S. congressional leaders wrote a letter yesterday to Guatemalan Pres. Pérez Molina urging him to renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when its mandate expires in September, according to a press release from Rep. Engel's (D, NY) office. The letter was widely covered in Guatemala including by La Prensa GraficaEl Periodico, and La Hora, among others. The issue continues to raise passion: only monkeys would support the CICIG, writes a columnist in this morning's El Periodico while another columnist for the same newspaper argues the current government is scared of CICIG because it would likely imprison them.

Two new reports outlined CICIG's importance. The Informe Alternative (8pp) was signed by 24 civil society groups, according to El Periodico (3/24) and included recommendations to CICIG, to the international community and the private sector.  And last week, 'Una Labor Inacabada: CICIG' (9pp) (published by the Open Society Justice Initiative) concluded that despite significant advances made by the agreement, they were "fragile and reversible." Separately, CICIG responded to confusion about their finances and said that most all of their funding came from international organizations, according to EFE (3/24). 

Asst Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson testified yesterday before two congressional committees - the House Foreign Affairs Committee on stated funding priorities in Latin America as well as the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations on assistance to Central America. (She stayed off her Twitter account during this time.) The Obama administration's proposal includes $2 billion in aid to Latin America and the Caribbean, half of that earmarked for the 'Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle,' according to EFE (3/24).  It also includes includes $119 million for the Merida Initiative, $288 million for Colombia "to continue supporting development and law enforcement," and "$95.9 million to the anti-drug trafficking effort in Peru."
The 'Plan of the Alliance' fails to "articulate a credible plan to address weaknesses in local governance, controls on corruption, and political commitment," according to Jose Cardenas (USAID during George W. Bush admin) in a Foreign Policy blog (3/24).

  • Brazil's Pres. Rousseff has again been invited for a state visit to Washington, "a diplomatic breakthrough," announced late yesterday, according to Reuters (3/24). Brazil should imitate India in their relationship with the U.S., writes Peter Hakim, in an oped in Info LATAM (3/25), who identifies specific policy changes he thinks Pres. Rousseff should make.
  • The U.S. government removed 28 Cuban companies, 11 boats and six persons from its list of entities and individuals linked to terrorism or drug trafficking, according to the Miami Herald (3/24) and are listed in a Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) press release. An OFAC official said "the measure was not related to the relaxation of some sanctions against Cuba" but rather that it was intended "to reduce the burden of compliance" of sanctions. Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov praised the thaw in U.S./Cuban relations during a visit to Havana, according to Reuters (3/24) and Cuba Debate, while the EU is accelerating bilateral negotiations with Cuba, according to the BBC (3/24). 
  • Are Radio and TV Martí still relevant?, wonders a long story in the NY Times (3/25). The Obama administration has proposed consolidating the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America’s Spanish-language programs, turning them into a nonprofit. The Cuban American National Foundation's influence "remains strong" and The Times concludes there is little danger that the Martís will lose funding altogether. 
  • How long does it take to buy basic goods in Venezuela? A BBC reporter (3/24) videotapes his answer in an intimate view on shopping in Caracas.
  • A violent confrontation between the Colombian military and the FARC left a soldier dead and three others injured in Guaviare, according to the army in a story in El Espectador (3/24). Last week, Colombia's Ombusdman had reported no "military actions, hostilities or armed attacks" that violate the cease fire, according to a press release (3/21). Separately, Michael Shifter (Inter American Dialogue) writes about the tricky negotiations between Pres Santos and former presidents Pastrana and Uribe, in the World Politics Review (3/24).
  • Reporters Without Borders is "very disturbed" by Mexico's MVS media group’s decision to fire investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui, and connects her dismissal to the issue of free speech, according to a press release (3/25).  This is becoming the 'Big-Money Scandal Rocking Mexico,' according to The Daily Beast (3/24) which says, "the facts remain stark: the journalist who ... exposed a massive conflict of interest deep within the upper echelons of Mexican politics has been fired." MexicoLeaks was the catalyzing element in Aristegui's firing, reminds an article in Proceso. Separately, journalism advocacy group Article 19 released 'Estado de Censura' report this week declaring that "threats and attacks against journalists including murder have risen in the first two years of Mexican President Pena Nieto's administration," according to Reuters (3/24). Aristegui said that one of the challenges with Mexican media is government advertising, according to Proceso.
  • A coalition of Mexican farmworker groups in Baja California are on strike ("the first in decades") for higher wages, government benefits and the halt to alleged workplace abuses, according to the LA Times and the Associated Press (3/24). "Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission said Tuesday it has started an investigation into possible human rights violations, after protesters complained of police abuse and detentions." El Diario de Coahuila explains the challenges on surviving with existing market wages.