Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Trump to label Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations (Nov. 27, 2019)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. He made the comment in an interview with with the former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, posted online yesterday. The move would represent a significant shift in U.S. policy towards Mexico. Mexico's López Obrador administration seemed caught off-guard, and said yesterday it was reaching out to understand the scope of Trump's statements. (New York Times, Reuters)

The proposal comes on the heels of an ambush by an illegal group in northern Mexico that killed nine dual Mexican-U.S. citizens. But, there have been calls to designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) since earlier this year. And, experts have argued strenuously that using such a tool might well hinder the fight against organized crime, which sometimes uses tactics similar to terrorist organizations, but with different goals. 

FTO status subjects groups to immediate U.S. sanctions. It would permit the U.S. to seize or block all assets presumably related to the cartels, and to increase the government's ability to antagonize those under suspicion of abetting the cartel, wrote León Krauze in a recent Washington Post piece. It could well lead to an increase in deportations. FTO designations can also adversely affect humanitarian aid, charities and broader communities who fear prosecution for unwittingly aiding terrorist groups, warned Brian J. Phillips in a March Washington Post Monkey Cage article. In fact, treating organized crime as a terrorist group has backfired elsewhere in Latin America, he noted, and could significantly limit the Mexican government's policy options for reducing bloodshed.

FTO designation for Mexican cartels could also have broader impact trade and economic relations between the two countries, Arturo Sarukhán, told the Washington Post. The U.S. government could go so far as limiting cooperation with a country that is home to designated terrorist groups, reducing imports or refusing to vote for loans for that nation from multilateral organizations.

News Briefs

  • Chile’s national police, Carabineros, committed serious human rights violations, including excessive use of force in the streets and abuses in detention, since massive anti-government protests started on Oct. 18, according to a new Human Rights Watch report. HRW met with President Sebastián Piñera, yesterday, and recommended a series of reforms directed to help prevent police misconduct and strengthen oversight. The report exhaustively documents allegations of abuse, torture, and excessive use of force by security forces against protesters.
  • Despite the evidence of abuse, yesterday Piñera asked lawmakers to allow troops back on the streets to defend key public infrastructure, reports Reuters. He sent a bill to Congress that would to allow the military to protect transmission lines, electric plants, airports, hospitals and other public infrastructure in order to assure “basic services” -- freeing up police to protect citizen security, he argued.
  • Colombian unions and student groups will hold a national strike today -- the second in a week -- in honor of Dilan Cruz, a teenager who died after being struck by a police projectile during ongoing protests. They are also demonstrating against potential economic reforms, police violence, and corruption. (Reuters, New York Times)
  • Indignation at Cruz's death is a huge motivation, but protesters are also focused on a list of demands that range from rolling back proposed economic, labor and tax reforms, strengthen the implementation of peace accords with the FARC, and anticorruption measures. But though the Duque administration began negotiations with the national strike committee yesterday, an agreement will not be easy to come by, warns La Silla Vacía.
  • Latin America's protests have varied national causes, but across the region there's a clear theme of pent up demand from indigenous communities, and reactionary backlash against the expansion of their privileges under leftist governments, according to the Washington Post
  • Polarization has undermined the credibility of politicians and their parties across the region, regardless of ideology. With institutions in flux, "the only thing that remains intact is the repression," writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times op-ed. "Armies don't stop, the murders are always more."
  • Speaking of terrorism, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said protests in the region are "terrorist acts" and asked the National Congress this week for the authority to use the military to stop any violence that might arise in Brazil, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian police arrested four  volunteer firefighters and accused them of starting wildfires to raise international funding, yesterday. They also raided the Health and Happiness Project headquarters. The award-winning Brazilian NGO which works with remote communities in the Amazon is known by its Portuguese initials as PSA. It has close links to the Alter do Chão volunteer fire brigade, which in September helped battle huge wildfires raging through protected areas in this popular tourist region. (Guardian)
  • Brazilian authorities formally asked Paraguay to extradite former president Horacio Cartes to face money laundering charges related to Odebrecht. It is the first time a country in Latin America has requested the extradition of a neighbor’s former head of state, which suggests that Brazilian prosecutors have strong evidence, according to InSight Crime.
  • Iparapé Institute launched a new data visualization platform on sexual and gender based violence in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The numbers are grim: 1.23 million women in Brazil report suffering some form of violence between 2007 and 2013; 71 percent of sexual violence victims in Colombia last year were under 14-years-old; 80 percent of violence against women in Mexico in 2018 was committed by their partners.
  • Venezuelan energy executive Alejandro Betancourt López hired Rudolph Giuliani, also U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney, to help him contend with an investigation by the Justice Department into alleged money laundering and bribery. The Washington Post reports on the convoluted case that also ties in to the Ukraine scandal.
  • Maracaibo gangs are taking extraordinarily violent measures against business owners who refuse to pay extortion fees: grenade attacks -- InSight Crime.
More Colombia
  • A Colombian investigation serves as compelling evidence of the links between Mexican cartels, Colombian gangs and their Venezuelan counterparts, according to InSight Crime.
More Mexico
  • The challenges Mexico's government faces -- drug violence and attacks on freedom of speech -- existed before Andrés Manuel López Obrador assumed the presidency. But "the bigger concern now is the way his government is seeking to address them," writes Paul Imison at World Politics Review.
  • AMLO's administration must legally recognize victims of internal displacement, whose lives are in limbo. The phenomenon is so under-recognized that there isn't even a definitive statistic, though officially there are an estimated 338,405 victims, writes Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza in the Post Opinión.
  • The proposed Honduran budget for next year reduces support for the country's poorest and protects security forces' funding. The bill "risks exacerbating already high political tensions and chronic economic mismanagement," according to an analysis by Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales  and the American University's Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. (AULA Blog)

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


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