Monday, May 20, 2019

Colombian army ordered to boost "surrenders, captures and deaths" (May 20, 2019)

Colombia's army head instructed commanders to step up assaults against criminals and militants -- even if this comes at the price of higher civilian casualties, reports the New York Times. The policy raises the specter of the "false positives" scandal, in which the military killed innocent civilians in the mid 2000s in order to boost body counts of alleged guerrillas. The documents that have come to light, focused on raising body counts, are enough to raise concerns of a new "false positives" policy, according to La Silla Vacía.

Officers interviewed by the New York Times said Colombian soldiers were under intense pressure yet again — and that a pattern of suspicious killings and cover-ups had begun to emerge this year. Though Colombia's army chief stressed that respect for human rights is paramount, the written order from earlier this year reads: "You must launch operations with 60 to 70 percent credibility or exactitude." This significantly lowers the standard for operations (previously 85 percent) and leaves room for error that officers say has already led to questionable killings. In January, officers were asked to double the numbers of "surrenders, captures and deaths" this year.

The incentives put civilian population at risk, said Human Rights Watch Americas Division director José Miguel Vivanco on TwitterIndeed, the move demonstrates the army has not learned from the mistakes of the past, Vivanco told Semana.

Colombia's Defense Ministry rejected the NYT report and said it was full of inconsistencies. (AFP)

In December President Iván Duque replaced top army officers -- and appointed nine officers credibly implicated in extrajudicial executions and other abuses to key positions, according to Human Rights Watch. Colombia's top army commander, Major Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel, who ordered the policy change, is among the commanders linked to the "false positives" killings. (Semana reports on Martínez and previous human rights violations allegation against him.) 

Last week, a group of U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Duque voicing concern over high level military appointments of commanders accused of human rights violations, citing the February HRW report. (See last Thursday's briefs.)

More from Colombia
  • Former FARC guerrilla leader Seuxis Paucias Hernández Solarte -- better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich -- was redetained immediately after being released from prison on Friday. (Wall Street Journal) The Colombian attorney general's office said he was released in accordance with a transitional justice court ruling from last week, but re arrested due to new evidence demonstrating he committed crimes after the 2016 peace deal. The arrest warrant is not aimed at extradition, as was his previous detention, reports El País. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • The FARC political party, which replaced the now defunct guerrilla group, reconfirmed its commitment to the peace accord following the arrest. (EFE)

CFK announces VP candidacy

Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner threw Argentina's electoral season into flux on Saturday, with a surprise announcement that she will run for vice president on a ticket headed by Alberto Fernández -- a veteran political operator who has been a Kirchner ally and critic over the years. 

The move shocked Argentines, who were focused on whether she would run for president herself. CFK is a divisive figure, with strong popularity figures matched by strong rejection. She portrayed the decision as an attempt to create a broad alliance and bridge polarization between herself and current President Mauricio Macri, who is expected to run for reelection. The question is whether voters will be swayed by Fernández, who has connections with non-Kirchner Peronists (sometimes dubbed moderate by the international press), and is viewed as a consensus builder. 

Macri's fortunes themselves depend in large part on voter rejection of Cristina, as she is called in Argentina. Thus her announcement is believed to impact his strength heading into the October election. He has not formally declared his candidacy yet, the deadline is June 22, and some analysts believe his Cambiemos alliance will nominate an alternative candidate. The move could also undercut a potential "third alternative" candidate, such as former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna. Moderate Peronist Sergio Massa has said he could consider supporting the Fernández-Fernández ticket.

Some economists believed the move could help sooth markets which are jumpy about a potential return to power by leftist CFK. Disagreements between Fernández and Fernández might help shield Alberto from accusations that he would be a mere figurehead for Cristina. (The two candidates are not related.)

Fernández said that she was "convinced that personal expectation or ambition must be subordinated to the general interest," and called the country's current economic situation "dramatic."
Cristina's announcement came days before she is set to go on the first of a slew of corruption trials. Supporters say the charges are politically motivated.
(New York TimesAssociated Press, and Reuters)

News Briefs

  • Former attorney general Thelma Aldana was left out of Guatemala's presidential race last week -- undermining the potential survival of the country's U.N. backed international anti-corruption corruption commission, the CICIG. (See last Thursday's post.) But efforts to roll back Guatemala's anti-corruption efforts will have impact beyond the country's borders, in a region that has increasingly looked at the CICIG as a model, reports the New York Times.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra urged Congress to debate a series of campaign finance reforms aimed at rooting out political graft ahead of the 2021 elections, reports Bloomberg.
  • Vizcarra said China could  partner with Bolivia and Peru on a massive intercontinental railway project, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's economic collapse is among the worst outside of a war context in decades, according to the New York Times.
  • "The military may be the principal powerbroker in the country, but many elements within its ranks and at the highest levels are now beholden to organized crime, along with the political and economic elites," writes Jeremy McDermott in a Semana opinion piece. (In English at InSight Crime.)
  • The end of subsidized Venezuelan oil is affecting Haiti's ability to generate enough electricity, reports the Associated Press. Much of Haiti’s population only has power for three hours a day.
  • The death of a Dominican man on the northern U.S. border is drawing attention to migration crossing to and from Canada, reports the Washington Post.
  • A 10-year-old Guatemalan girl who was migrating to the United States with her mother died in Mexican government custody last week, reports the Washington Post.
  • The United States sanctioned eleven people and ten groups in Mexico - including a judge and a former state governor --on Friday. They are accused of involvement with drug trafficking and links to the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Los Cuinis Drug Trafficking Organization. U.S. officials said that government corruption had allowed Mexican drug gangs to grow and operate with impunity, reports Reuters.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales launched a term-limit defying campaign for a fourth mandate on Saturday, reports Reuters.
  • A severe drought in Panama is affecting shipping in the country's famous transoceanic canal, reports the New York Times.
  • Eleven people were killed in gun attack in a bar in Brazil’s northern Pará state, yesterday, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Brazilian televangelist is giving gang members a novel path out of crime -- and protection against retribution from rival gangs and their own -- social media broadcast conversions. (Washington Post)
  • Latin American women deal with dual obstacles when it comes to abortion: social stigma and legal prohibition. One of the worst failures of public health in the region is the idea of maternity as a social mandate, not a choice, writes Colombian Manuela Lopera in a #YouKnowMe piece in New York Times Español

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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