Friday, July 28, 2017

Sessions in El Salvador to combat MS-13 (July 28, 2017)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in El Salvador for a series of meetings with law enforcement officials about a transnational anti-gang task force aimed against violent street gang MS-13, reports the Associated Press

Sessions' is touting the meetings with Salvadoran officials, including his counterpart Attorney General Douglas Melendez, as the convening of a transnational anti-gang task force, according to the AP. The U.S. administration has sought to justify its crackdown in illegal immigration to incidents of gang violence carried out by migrants. 

Critics note that the gangs in question originated in the U.S. and took root in Central America due to previous governments' deportation policies. (See last Friday's briefs, for example.) Some law enforcement officials argue that the Trump administration's deportations are at odds with the goal of eradicating MS-13 locally. MS-13 preys largely on immigrant communities, and cracking down on undocumented migrants can have a chilling effect on reporting of gang crime. And the police chief of Los Angeles, announcing a major arrest of nearly two dozen MS-13 leaders, said the trust of undocumented victims was essential to that investigation, reports NPR.

In San Salvador, Sessions emphasized the scope of MS-13's reach in the U.S., saying the gang has affiliates in 40 states and the District of Colombia, reports La Prensa Gráfica.

Sessions' visit comes as he has been increasingly criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump. From San Salvador Sessions lamented that the president’s broadsides were "kind of hurtful" – but he intends to remain on the job, reports USA News and World Report.

News Briefs
  • More than 40 percent of Salvadorans would approve of torture as a tool to combat gang members, according to a new opinion poll by the Universidad Centroamericana together with the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center. Nearly 35 percent would approve of extrajudicial executions, while over 17 percent would approve of "social cleansing practices," reports El Nuevo Diario. These attitudes are more prevalent among the country's youth and people of higher socio-economic status, notes the study. The armed forces are the public institution with the most public trust, at 65.2 percent, followed by municipal governments. The police come in third, with justice, the presidency, and the National Assembly all trailing under 50 percent, reports El Diario de Hoy. Community policing initiatives have reduced perceptions of insecurity in areas where they have been implemented, but do not appear to have actually reduced incidences of crime.
  • Last week the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) announced an investigation into potential corruption related to the Aguas Zarca dam project. The development company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) behind the polemic project is suspected of ties to the killing of environmentalist Berta Cáceres last year, reports El Faro. Last year a DESA employee was arrested in relation to the homicide. Earlier this month, the international backers project pulled out. (See July 11's briefs.) A group of Honduran business leaders condemned the investigation. A group of international organizations, including WOLA, announced their support for the OAS backed commission, and denounced a smear campaign in the Honduran press, reports EFE
  • Honduras and Guatemala are advancing in customs integration between the two countries -- though it has been a goal for decades, its never been fully carried out, reports El Faro.
  • Bolivia would desist in a legal case against Chile in the International Court of Justice if Santiago agrees to enter good-faith negotiations regarding sea-access, reports EFE.
  • The constitutional assembly election to be held on Sunday in Venezuela represents the solidification of a slide towards authoritarian government, reports the Washington Post. Though the government is still a far cry from the massive repression of past dictatorships in the region, the opposition denounces hundreds of political prisoners. The assembly would have the power to keep President Nicolás Maduro in power indefinitely. 
  • Venezuela's government banned protests that could affect Sunday's vote, with potential prison terms of five to 10 years for violators, reports the BBC.
  • Ahead of the vote, Americas Quarterly analyzes the key stakeholders and how they're gearing up for Sunday. "The position of the military establishment – the National Armed Force, or FAN, in its Spanish acronym – is a decisive factor for the course of the conflict in Venezuela. It is directly involved in the fighting, and its official position is that it will defend the regime. Currently, 38 percent of Maduro’s cabinet ministers are retired or active military officers. They also distribute – and are accused of profiting from – food, and control the significant and questionable exploration and certification of gold, copper,  and other minerals. While the pressure of people in the streets can make FAN’s position uncomfortable, the large interests they have at stake have made them guardians of the status quo – so far. While there is speculation about discontent within middle-ranking officers of FAN, this is an institution whose command chain was transformed by the late former President Hugo Chávez into a labyrinth intended to hinder joint action. The FAN’s course in the next few days will weigh heavily on Venezuela’s future. No one wants a military government, but their support, if they keep to their institutional role, could be the determining factor in Venezuela’s turn toward democracy."
  • Yesterday the U.S. State Department ordered family members of American employees at the U.S. embassy in Caracas to leave, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill known as the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act of 2017, or Nica Act, yesterday. The bill, which seeks to seeks to add conditions to the provisions of aid from international financial institutions to the country, in response to alleged authoritarianism and corruption by President Daniel Ortega, reports TeleSUR.
  • Jamaica has passed a law allowing the army and police to launch special operations in crime hotspots, but the approach could lead to security force abuses and shifts resources from preventive measures, reports Insight Crime.
  • "In Colombia, as in much of Latin America, the overuse of pretrial detention has fueled an overcrowding crisis: Colombia's prisons stand at 154 percent of their capacity, and around a third of inmates are on remand. Authorities struggle to maintain control of these jails' tens of thousands of prisoners, a significant number of whom are innocent or only guilty of minor crimes. Inmates routinely endure prolonged physical and mental suffering as well as exposure to hardened convicts and organized crime networks," InSight Crime reports.

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