Monday, October 25, 2021

Otoniel captured in Colombia (Oct. 25, 2021)

Colombian armed forces captured the country's most-wanted drug lord, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, widely known by his alias, Otoniel, in a rural area of Colombia's Uraba region, Antioquia province. The operation involved more than 500 members of Colombia's special forces and 22 helicopters. Colombia's government promised to swiftly extradite Úsuga to the United States, and said the process could take a month to complete. (Reuters, Washington Post)

Úsuga is accused of sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the United States. He is also accused of killing police officers, recruiting minors and sexually abusing children, among other crimes. The Clan del Golfo uses violence and intimidation to control drug trafficking routes, cocaine-processing laboratories and clandestine airstrips, according to the U.S. State Department. (New York Times)

Colombia’s military presented Úsuga to the media in handcuffs and wearing rubber boots preferred by rural farmers, reports the Associated Press. The leader of the drug-trafficking group Clan del Golfo, or Gulf Clan reportedly told security forces: "You beat me." Colombia's police chief, General Jorge Vargas, said much of the information leading to Otoniel's capture came from Clan del Golfo members.

Colombian President Iván Duque likened Úsuga’s arrest Saturday to the capture of Pablo Escobar three decades ago. Experts caution that the capture is hardly likely to reduce violence: such captures of kingpins often lead to violent power struggles to replace them and fragmentation that increases bloodshed.

“This is not going to move the needle in terms of the war on drugs. … What happens next is different pieces of the puzzle aligning to fill the vacuum of power left by Otoniel,” Sergio Guzmán told the Washington Post. And his successor will have cause to demonstrate power by force, both within the criminal group and outwards, warns International Crisis Group's Elizabeth Dickinson in BBC.

More Colombia
  • The FARC’s inclusion on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations restricts U.S. officials from funding programs aimed at advancing the peace accords in which former combatants participate or benefit -- which has significantly impacted the implementation of the 2016 peace deal between the guerrilla group and the Colombian government, reports the Washington Post
News Briefs

  • Haiti is in the midst of an acute fuel crisis linked tu surging insecurity: fuel deliveries have been interrupted for over two weeks by gang blockades and abductions of fuel truck drivers. Drivers responded with a strike last week, protesting insecurity, and angry motorcyclists locked down the capital with fiery barricades. The fuels are widely used to run generators needed to compensate for the country’s unreliable electrical system. (Associated Press,  Miami Herald)

  • An ongoing fuel crisis in Haiti, linked to surging insecurity that has affected petrol deliveries, is likely to lead to a loss of lives if fuel doesn’t arrive at hospitals and health clinics by tomorrow, warned the United Nations. Hospitals over the weekend began refusing admissions and shortening the stay of patients over the lack of fuel, reports the Miami Herald

  • Some 165 gang factions operate in Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of Haiti’s crime wave. This year, gangs conducted at least 628 abductions — more than a threefold increase from last year’s total. Today, collusion between armed groups and political elites and the Haitian police's shortfalls have allowed Haiti’s gangs to supplant the state, writes Paul Angelo in a New York Times guest essay.
  • The Guatemalan government declared a month-long, dawn-to-dusk curfew Sunday and banned public gatherings in the northern coastal province of Izabal, following two days of protests against a mining project, reports the Associated Press. Security forces clashed with Indigenous groups protesting the Fénix mine. Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas expressed concern over police repression of Indigenous communities and said the mine functions illegally. (Deutsche Welle)

  • Guatemalan spiritual guide Domingo Choc Che, a member of the indigenous Maya Q’eqchi community, was tortured and burned by neighbors who accused him of witchcraft last year. Though three people were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their part in the killing, indigenous spiritual guides and herbalists say that the judge reduced the charges from murder to homicide, ignored Choc Che’s status as a spiritual leader and downplayed the influence of Christian extremism in his killing, reports the Guardian.
  • About 3,000 migrants from Haiti, South America and Central America set off from southern Mexico headed north on Saturday, clashing with law enforcement trying to hold the caravan back, reports Reuters
  • Many of the migrants say they have been stuck in legal limbo, waiting for asylum applications to be processed for as long as a year. The bottleneck in Tapachula — the main point of entry into southern Mexico by land — reflects the country’s struggle to manage the number of migrants arriving in recent months, reports the Washington Post.

  • A record 1.7 million migrants from around the world, many of them fleeing pandemic-ravaged countries, were encountered trying to enter the United States illegally in the last 12 months, reports the New York Times. It was the highest number of illegal crossings recorded since at least 1960.
  • Interest rate increases are expected to continue across Latin America as the region reacts to inflation pressures, even as economies operate below their potential, the International Monetary Fund said last week. (Reuters)
Regional Relations
  • Argentine Secretary for Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo Beliz met with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington last week. Ahead of this week's COP26, they focused on joint efforts to address the climate crisis and leveraging international financial institutions to promote a sustainable and equitable economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the White House. (See also Infobae.)

  • A central figure in former US president Donald Trump’s bid to create a new social media platform is a Brazilian parliamentarian and self-proclaimed prince, Luiz Philippe of Orléans-Braganza, who has put forward the idea of creating an unelected head of state with powers to veto the legislature’s decisions, reports the Financial Times.
  •  Chilean right-wing presidential candidate José Antonio Kast got 23 percent of voter intention in a new Cadem poll released yesterday. That is an increase over the 21% in last week's survey, while leftist favorite Gabriel Boric remained at 20 percent. (Bloomberg)

  • Kast's surge largely builds on a drop of support for Sebastian Sichel, a conservative candidate from outgoing President Sebastian Piñera's ruling coalition. Sichel spoke out against a measure Congress passed that allowed citizens to withdraw a portion of their pension funds, yet when the measure was approved, he himself withdrew the maximum permitted. Sichel has also been affected by the government's unpopularity, including its response to violence in this week's protests, reports AFP. (See last week's Chile Constitutional Updates for more analysis.)

  • Chilean Constitutional Convention delegates started drafting a new magna carta last week. Opening speeches by delegates were light on actual constitutional proposals, but a couple, including Convention Vice President Jaime Bassa, advocated ending Chile's presidential system in favor of a parliamentary one. (LaBot Constituyente, see last week's Chile Constitutional Updates for more.)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's lawmakers banned mass gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid-19 for 45 days— but exempted sporting and cultural events, reports the Associated Press. The new rules basically ban demonstrations, on the heels of large anti-government protests, say critics. Lawmakers loyal to President Nayib Bukele said protests would still be allowed with social distancing, full vaccinations and face masks. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Argentina's government sent national security forces to aid Rio Negro province, in the wake of several arson vandalism attacks allegedly carried out by self-identified Mapuche groups. Long-simmering tensions regarding land and Indigenous rights in Argentina's Patagonia region have been exacerbated by political parties ahead of next month's midterm elections and the upcoming expiration of a law that shields Indigenous communities from eviction. Many Mapuche groups reject any link and many communities have vehemently rejected the use of violence. (InfobaePágina 12)
  • Alex Quiñónez, one of Ecuador's most famous athletes, was killed Friday evening along with another person outside a Guayaquil shopping center. The motives for the killing are unclear, but the death prompted an outpouring of grief -- and put the country's rising drug violence in relief. Official figures suggest the number of murders in the first eight months of this year are double those in the same period last year, and last week President Guillermo Lasso declared a two-month state of emergency. (AFPBBC, see last Monday's post)
  • Mexico's government said that it has established a working group to investigate allegations of forced labor at two tomato export firms, after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it would bar imports from those companies, reports Reuters.
  • Peru’s President Pedro Castillo challenged the constitutionality of a recently approved law that left him even more politically vulnerable by limiting his power to dissolve congress. Last week lawmakers passed a law that makes it harder for the government to invoke a constitutional mechanism known as vote of confidence. The president can dissolve congress if lawmakers twice deny him such vote. At the same time, lawmakers ignored a bill presented by the government that would restrict their ability to impeach the president, reports Bloomberg. (See also La Política Online)

  • Peruvian Vice President and Minister of Development, Dina Boluarte, has been implicated in an investigation into illicit campaign financing for the ruling Free Peru party, reports La República.

  • Cabinet head Mirtha Vásquez is presenting Castillo's new cabinet to Congress today for a confidence vote. (La República)

  • A few months into his government, Castillo is navigating tricky political waters. His own party's lawmakers turned against him after a recent cabinet reshuffle, and many of the conservative opposition parties that dominate the 130-member legislature are viscerally hostile to the new government. "That’s a risky position for any leader in a political system that established the precedent ... that presidents can, effectively, be impeached without cause," explains Simon Tegel in Foreign Policy. (See Oct. 15's briefs and Oct. 7's post.)

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