Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Colombia's top army commander linked to false positives (June 5, 2019)

Colombian senators are set to ratify country's top army commander, Major Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel, appointed by President Iván Duque. Supporters say the promotion will strengthen the country's internal security policies, but critics point to a wave of human rights concerns linking him to major violations committed by the army. (El Espectador)

Martínez Espinel has recently come under scrutiny for orders this year urging army commanders to increase their kill rates, a move critics say endangered civilians and could lead to human rights violations. (See May 20's post.) The case raises hackles in Colombia, where an army policy in the mid 2000's led to extrajudicial executions that were then passed off as guerrilla combatant casualties -- known as the "false positives." Between October 2004 and January 2006, Martínez Espinel held a top post in a brigade that is being investigated by prosecutors for at least 283 alleged extrajudicial executions in the Caribbean departments of La Guajira and Cesar, reports El País. At least 23 of the cases under scrutiny date back to the period when the general was second-in-command of the 10 Brigade. Martínez Espinel says he only served in an administrative capacity.

The Colombian Ministry of Defense said reports linking commanders to false positives are part of a smear campaign. (RCN Radio)

Human Rights Watch, which has exhaustively reported on the false positives cases, called on senators to reject Martínez Espinel's promotion. (El País) In February, HRW reported that at least nine generals in Duque’s military hierarchy, including Martínez Espinel, were under investigation for human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings that took place in units under their command from 2002 to 2008.

New Information came out recently that Martínez Espinel made payments to non-existent informants who claimed to have provided actionable information to the army in 2005, reports InSight Crime. It appears two of these payments were made to a soldier who is currently serving a 40-year jail term for his role in extrajudicial executions.

More Colombia
  • Colombian President Iván Duque must nominate candidates for attorney general -- his selection will be key for the implementation of the 2016 peace accord with the FARC and for the advance of Odebrecht corruption cases, writes Jorge Eduardo Espinosa in a New York Times Español op-ed.
News Briefs

  • Education and health sector protests against potential privatization in Honduras have morphed into broader demonstrations demanding President Juan Orlando Hernández's resignation, reports the Guardian. Thousands of protesters remain in the streets, even after the government withdrew the reform decrees that spurred the outcry. Security forces have cracked down on roadblocks and demonstrations. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Peru's Congress is debating a vote of confidence, called by President Martín Vizcarra regarding a series of anti-corruption political reforms he has proposed. It is significant because a no confidence vote would be the second time lawmakers have voted against this government, and would give Vizcarra the power to dissolve Congress and call new legislative elections. (Reuters) (Live updates at La República)
  • Authorities vary their responses to illicit migration, but migrants don't stop, they just change their paths. As Mexico's government cracks down on large groups of migrants traveling together for safety, increasing numbers are once again taking their chances on the freight train known as La Bestia, known for maiming the unlucky stowaways who fall under its wheels. (Guardian)
  • U.S. Republican senators voiced firm opposition to President Donald Trump's plan to slap a five percent blanket tariff on all Mexican goods in response to increased numbers of migrants crossing the border between the two countries, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Tariffs on Mexican products would only continue a pattern of bad U.S. policies that actually spur migration, argues Mark Weisbrot in the New Republic.
  • New polls show the tariff threat has boosted Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's support at home. (Reuters)
  • The leader and self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, a Mexico-based church with branches in the US that claims more than 1 million followers, has been charged with human trafficking and child rape, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela's oil exports dropped 17 percent in May, mainly in response to U.S. sanctions. (Reuters)
  • Economic penalties aimed at overthrowing President Nicolás Maduro have probably done all they can. Instead international actors should pressure the regime by bringing cases of Venezuelan corruption to their own courts, writes Fernando Cutz in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro accepted the ambassadorial credentials of an envoy sent by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by Brasilia as that country’s “legitimate and interim” head of state. (EFE)
  • Bolsonaro's controversial proposals to drastically cut education funding, specifically for public universities, led to massive street protests last week. (Conversation)
  • Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said the country's banks are reaping "excessive profits." He also told lawmakers that sectors such as banking, oil and postal services need more competition. (Reuters)
  • New U.S. travel restrictions ban the most popular ways for U.S. citizens to visit Cuba, includingt group educational and cultural trips known as “people to people” trips. Cruises will also no longer be permitted. (ReutersNew York Times, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Government austerity and taking on state debt impact gender violence and harm women, argues a Ni Una Menos leader in Argentina. (Al Jazeera)
  • Argentina’s Supreme Court upheld the country’s glacier protection law yesterday, a decision praised by environmentalists. Magistrates rejected an argument by mining giant Barrick Gold Corp. to have it declared unconstitutional, reports the Associated Press.
  • Chile announced plans to close eight coal-fired power stations over the next five years as part of a plan to switch entirely to renewable energy by 2040, reports AFP.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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