Friday, August 12, 2016

Operación Jaque aftermath, El Salvador doubling down on "extreme measures" (Aug. 12, 2016)

A Salvadoran crackdown on street gang Mara Salvatrucha's financial network last month was a departure from the general operations against individual gang members, writes El Faro's Carlos Martínez. (See July 29's post.) Prosecutors and police are attempting to prove that gang leaders carried out lucrative businesses that were undeclared to their rank and file. Operación Jaque promises to be "an adult investigation," he writes, "it promises to be an investigation that has led authorities closer to understanding -- finally -- the organizational interior of the MS-13; its internal conflicts and its balance of power ... But it's important to remember, that it is, for now, just a promise."

Martínez analyzes the inner workings of the MS-13, which he notes has never been a monolithic organization. It more closely resembles a federation of organizations, he says, and backs the authorities' strategy of attempting to foment divisions between the leadership and the rank and file. (See July 29's post.)

El Faro published a very detailed account of wire-taps related to Operación Jaque that reveal divisions in the MS-13 leadership. Conversations between Ranfla leadership reported by El Faro also appear to show that former gang-member Dany Romero, who worked for a violence reduction NGO with foreign funding, was actually involved in carrying messages from incarcerated gang members. (See Monday's post on Dany Romero.)

But whether or not Romero was currently involved with the MS-13, it's not clear what will happen with the information he was collecting on alleged abuses of gang members by security forces. Media reports say he gathered reports of 140 extrajudicial killings of alleged gang members, notes Revista Factum. Prosecutors accuse him of attempting to destabilize the government with such reports. (See Monday's post on Dany Romero.) Outgoing Salvadoran Human Rights Prosecutor David Morales emphasizes that denouncing violations cannot be considered attacks on the State.

Also in the context of Operación Jaque, Salvadoran prosecutors say MS-13 leaders sought to create an elite unit of 500 fighters armed with powerful weapons from Mexico and Guatemala, in order to carry out "selective and simultaneous" attacks against high-profile targets such as business owners, security forces, judicial workers and politicians, reports InSight Crime. Though its unclear how far advanced the plan was, it sheds light onto the potential impact of the criminal organization's transnational connections. InSight notes that all firearms in El Salvador -- legal or otherwise -- must be imported at some point as there is no local manufacture.

This week El Salvador's Security and Justice Minister Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde announced the beginning of second phase of "extraordinary measures" aimed at cutting off incarcerated gang leadership from the outside world. The doubling down comes despite increasing questions over whether measures such as intensified security measures, especially in communities surrounding prisons, infringe on citizen rights, reports InSight Crime.

News Briefs
  • A  $750 million in aid package approved by Congress last year to help El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras combat the violence and poverty has been held up due to questions over those country's human rights record. Funding is dependent on State Department certification that the three nations have taken steps to reduce migration and human trafficking, bolster human rights and improve their justice systems, reports Reuters. Lawmakers are particularly concerned with the March assassination of a prominent Honduran environmental activist. Berta Cáceres' family is pushing to suspend U.S. aid to Honduras. The Huffington Post makes the case that Cáceres' killing in March has catalyzed international awareness of human rights violations in Honduras the way the Ayotzinapa 43 called attention to Mexico's rampant disappearances problem. 
  • Mandatory pre-trial detention has been bloating Honduras' prison population and adding to the system's overcrowding problem, according to new government data. The new information lends support to a recent Congressional decision to allow judges more discretion in incarcerating people charged with drug trafficking, extortion and sexual assault, explains InSight Crime.
  • A U.N. internal report that was suppressed for months found U.N. peacekeepers blatantly violated their own sanitary rules for containing cholera Haiti, even as the U.N. touted its efforts to contain the epidemic that was likely started by its own forces, reports Fox News.
  • A Haitian human rights lawyer says cases of U.N. troops accused of sexual misconduct point to systemic failures of U.N. involvement in Haiti, reports CBC news.
  • As the peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government draws closer, and as proponents and opponents launch campaigns for the plebiscite in which voters will be asked to ratify the accord, Human Rights Watch America's director José Miguel Vivanco argues in a Semana op-ed that the agreement will bring impunity for the FACRs sexual crimes, which include rapes, forced abortions and forced sterilization. In English at the HRW site. (See Monday's and Tuesday's posts on the plebiscite.)
  • There are reports of FARC splinters establishing new criminal structures in Ecuador, according to InSight Crime, raising questions of what might happen when an eventual peace deal is reached between the guerrilla leadership and the Colombian government.
  • A pillar of that peace involves the FARC giving up its involvement in illicit drugs, and supporting coca substitution. "However, ending the FARC’s involvement in the cocaine trade is not the same as ending the cocaine trade," notes Paula Martínez Gutiérrez at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. She explores what the impact of peace could mean for Venezuela's role as a drug trafficking bridge for Colombian cocaine heading abroad. Her piece notes that while Colombia is a major cocaine producer, and Venezuela has no local manufacture, the latter plays a key role in international distribution of Colombia's coke.
  • Venezuela's and Colombia's governments agreed to a gradual reopening of their shared border, after it was shut down last year by Venezuela in a crackdown on smuggling, reports the Associated Press.
  • A group of 15 OAS member states called on Venezuela's government to speed up the timetable for a referendum on President Nicolás Maduro's mandate, after authorities announced a protracted timetable that would avoid an election to choose his successor in the case of voters ousting him, reports AFP. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on regional leaders to back the recall referendum, reports Reuters.
  • Chinese firms are seeking to revive an $11 billion project to build a high-speed railway link between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, postponed because of Brazil's recession and political turmoil, according to Reuters
  • The Associated Press has an interview with the survivor of  the 1982 Las Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala. Ramiro Osorio Cristales was 5 years old when his family was killed, and said he was abusively raised by Santos Lopez Alonzo, a former soldier deported by the U.S. this week on charges of participating in the killing of more than 200 people in the Guatemalan village. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Argentine Madres de Plaza de Mayo held their 2,000th weekly rally in Buenos Aires' central plaza yesterday, even as the country's history of human rights abuses and activism comes under question by President Mauricio Macri's administration, reports the BBC. Human rights activist Estela de Carlotto, of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, criticized Macri for saying he did not know how many people were disappeared under the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship, calling his stance an "involution," reports La Nación.
  • Macri is also pushing a "rehabilitation" of the armed forces, a notable turnaround from the ostracism they faced under 12 years of Kirchner governments. He is seeking to involve them in the country's fight against drug trafficking, reported La Nación last week, though rights groups say such involvement is incompatible with Argentine law, notes Página 12.
  • Fidel Castro turns 90 tomorrow, and Cuba has changed vastly in the 10 years since he stepped down, according to the Associated Press. And his legacy remains unsettled: "The government and its backers laud his nationalism and his construction of a social safety net that provided free housing, education and health care to every Cuban. Less is said about decades of economic stewardship that, along with a U.S. trade embargo, has left Cuba's infrastructure and its economy cash-strapped and still dependent on billions in aid from abroad."
  • Panama has announced it will let 800 migrants stranded at its border with Colombia a humanitarian pass to continue their journey north towards the U.S., a gesture that has caused concern for Costa Rica, which is already struggling with thousands of migrants stopped at its border with Nicaragua which isn't letting undocumented migrants through, reports the Tico Times.
  • Joseph E. Stiglitz and Mark Pieth elaborate in Time Magazine on why they quit the commission Panama appointed to recommend transparency measures for its financial and legal system in the wake of the "Panama Papers." (See Monday's briefs.)
  • A new report on Mexico's Comprehensive Plan for the Southern Border, found the program was unsuccessful in its aims of reducing migrant flow through Mexico towards the U.S., according to Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. "Mexico and the United States have to continue exerting pressure on Central American governments to do something internally to stem the flow of migrants," writes researcher Luis Arriola Vega. "At the same time, they must coordinate efforts to help these countries to improve internal, local-level economic and public-safety conditions. In addition, Mexico should enforce measures that protect migrants transiting through the country and ensure that its enforcement policies are more compassionate in their approach to migrants instead of the current securitized conditions that victimizes migrants and enables those who would abuse them. Policy should respond to the particular plight of 'humanitarian migrants' and the conditions that expel them from their communities."
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's family is again in the public eye for apparent conflict-of-interest involving use of a Florida luxury apartment owned by a businessman, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Offspring of Mexico's political elite are attracting anger from a public that criticizes their entitled behavior, sarcastically calling them "lords and ladies," reports the Guardian.
  • Rising popularity -- and prices -- of avocado are driving deforestation in central Mexico, reports the Associated Press. Farmers thin out the native pine forests to plant avocado trees, affecting the monarch butterfly population's wintering grounds. And the crops are providing a lucrative business for drug gang extortion, adds the Guardian.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is defying expectations of presidential behavior -- bringing informal, spontaneous good humor to the post -- and the public loves it, according to the Washington Post. Though he faces a legislature led by his opponent in the presidential campaign, Keiko Fujimori, PPK's good spirits seem to be infecting his electorate with a "cautious optimism," according to the piece.

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