Apr 09

  • Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim is to sign a new defense agreement with the United States at the Pentagon on Monday. The agreement includes no bases or permanent U.S. military presence, but will streamline future cooperation. Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata joked that Venezuela might shut off its trade with Brazil in retaliation, as it did after Colombia signed a defense agreement with the United States – one which did include use of military bases – last October. After signing the accord with Brazil, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is to travel next week to Colombia, Peru and Barbados.
  • In a big upcoming arms purchase, Brazil appears likely to buy Rafale high-tech fighter jets from France, instead of F-18s made by U.S. aerospace company Boeing. The deciding factor: France is willing to allow more technology transfer to Brazil.
  • Two Colombian presidential candidates, both popular former mayors and neither a part of President Álvaro Uribe’s coalition, decided to merge their candidacy this week. Antanas Mockus and running mate Sergio Fajardo now appear in second place in a poll published Friday.
  • Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva says to forget about peace talks with the FARC until the group is militarily defeated. Silva’s predecessor, frontrunning presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos, says the door is open to dialogue, but only if the FARC demonstrate “good faith and stop being terrorists.”
  • The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution (H.Res. 1224) calling on Colombia to fulfill its obligations to protect indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and to aid the internally displaced. See a statement from the Washington Office on Latin America and a suggested action from the Latin America Working Group.
  • As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speculated that his country might sell Venezuela US$5 billion worth of weapons, the State Department questioned Venezuela’s need for these arms and expressed concern that they could end up elsewhere in the hemisphere. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s response: “Don’t be stupid, Yankees.”
  • Czech playwright and ex-president Vaclav Havel published a column condemning the arrest of Venezuelan opposition politician Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, “because it demonstrates just how far President Hugo Chávez’s regime is willing to stray from democratic norms.” The New York Times ran a harrowing account of María Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who, after issuing a ruling that displeased President Chávez, was jailed in a cell near more than 20 inmates whom she had sentenced. She is still there.
  • Bolivia held mayoral and gubernatorial elections last Sunday. President Evo Morales’ MAS party performed well, but not as strongly as expected. Morales called for an investigation of electoral authorities in regions where the MAS lost. Good analyses from Miguel Centellas and the Andean Information Network.
  • In Chile, the Group of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared (AFDD) put out a statement questioning some of President Sebastián Piñera’s appointments and statements for their “authoritarian overtones.”
  • In Peru, six artisanal miners have died after clashes with police. The miners were protesting government efforts to restrict unregulated gold mining. Human Rights Watch called for an investigation of the incident.
  • The publisher of the Mexican magazine Proceso has come under fire for paying a clandestine visit to top narcotrafficker Ismael Zambada, having his picture taken with him and giving him a softball interview.
  • In my considered opinion, the second episode of “Isla Presidencial” is funnier than the first.
Apr 06
“United States plans new bases in Brazil and Peru to contain Venezuela,” says TeleSur.

During his stop in Quito yesterday, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, was asked about reports that the United States and Brazil are talking about creating a joint anti-narcotics facility in Rio de Janeiro.

Valenzuela responded that the United States and Brazil are discussing a bilateral security agreement. He insisted that this will not resemble the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the United States and Colombia last October, which granted U.S. personnel access to seven Colombian military bases. But he didn’t explain much more.

Below is a translation of the article that broke this story, a piece that appeared last Wednesday in Brazil’s O Estado de São Paulo.

This article tells us the following:

  • The facility will be under Brazilian command.
  • It will resemble the U.S. facility (Joint Interagency Task Force South) in Key West, Florida, where representatives of several Latin American countries, and several U.S. military and law-enforcement agencies, monitor the skies and waters of the Caribbean and eastern Pacific for aircraft and boats suspected of trafficking in drugs, arms or other contraband. It will also resemble a similar European Union facility at Lisbon, Portugal.
  • As such, it will not be a military base, but a building where people gather and share intelligence.

Put that way, the new facility sounds rather uncontroversial. But as media outlets all over the region start reporting about a “new U.S. base in Brazil,” the U.S. government’s public diplomacy apparatus has responded with … silence.

This lack of an official response is troubling because we’ve seen this before. In 2008, the Southern Command caused a regional outcry by suddenly rolling out a long-dormant “4th Fleet” for its operations in the hemisphere. Alarms went off again in mid-2009, after the first leaks about the Colombia defense agreement. In neither case did U.S. officials explain what they were doing. In the face of this silence, Latin American perceptions of both moves ended up being shaped by media outlets and governments that suspect the worst of U.S. motives.

In the Internet era, several days of silence are no longer an option. The vacuum will be filled quickly by others. The Venezuela-based TeleSur network, for instance, is already reporting extensively about the Brazil agreement.

Rather than let others define an agreement that may in fact be quite benign, the Obama administration must show us that it has learned the importance of a more agile public diplomacy effort in the Western Hemisphere. Explain this, please.

Here’s last Wednesday’s article.

O Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, March 31, 2010

Brazil discusses with the U.S. setting up a base in Rio

Goal would be to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and smuggling, all under the command of Brazilians

By Rui Nogueira and Rafael Moura Moraes

At the suggestion of the Federal Police, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva discussed yesterday with the commander of U.S. Southern Command, Lieutenant General Douglas Fraser, the proposed creation of a “multinational, multi-function” base headquartered in Rio de Janeiro.

The base would form, along with two existing ones in Key West (USA) and Lisbon (Portugal), the tripod of monitoring, control and combat against drug trafficking and smuggling, especially of weapons, and surveillance against terrorism.

Douglas Fraser spent the day yesterday in Brasilia. After meetings and a working lunch with Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, the U.S. commander met with the director general of the PF [Federal Police], Luiz Fernando Corrêa.

The PF already has an intelligence attaché working at the base in Key West, Florida [The Southern Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force South]. The Planalto [the Brazilian Presidency] is to decide whether the attache at the Lisbon base will be a federal delegate or an officer of the Navy.

The base in Rio, as well as the other two, does not allow operations under the command of foreigners. Countries who participate in cooperative programs to fight organized crime always send attachés who work under the supervision of the sovereign country’s agents on the base. The idea is that with the base in Florida, which closely monitors trafficking in the Caribbean, and Lisbon, which exercises control over the North Atlantic, the Brazilian base serves as an outpost for monitoring the South Atlantic.

Tragedy. Key West is a naval air base and that operates in cooperation with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, federal agencies and allied forces. Since 1989, it has housed an intelligence task force that conducts operations against drug trafficking in the Caribbean and South America.It was from there that the first airplane rescue flight departed after the tragedy of flight AF 447, Air France, last June, off the coast of Brazil near Fernando de Noronha. Notified of the accident, the base mobilized its Brazilian attaché, who initiated the rescue.

The group of agents at the Key West task force aims to curtail the cultivation, production and transportation of narcotics. The British, French and Dutch contribute by sending ships, aircraft and officials. The group includes representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American countries.

The U.S. presence in the region [Key West] began in 1823 with the objective of combating local piracy. It was initially used for patrol and submarine operations and as an air training station, used by more than 500 airmen at the time of World War I (1914-1918). In 1940, it earned the designation of a naval and air base.

In Lisbon, the naval base is on the bank of the River Tagus, the Alfeite Military Perimeter. It was established in December 1958.

Fraser also came to Brazil to organize the trip of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, planned for mid-April. The visit is the reciprocation of Jobim’s trip to New York in February. On the agenda is the two countries’ strategic military cooperation, the purchase of fighter planes by Brazil and the U.S. interest in acquiring training aircraft – Embraer produces the Super Tucano. The American Boeing makes the F-18 Super Hornet, which is among the three models being considered in the FAB [Brazilian Air Force] plan for a big purchase.

Apr 05
U.S. and Peruvian vessels perform tactical maneuvers last week in Peruvian territorial waters. (Source)
  • Two popular former mayors turned presidential candidates, Antanas Mockus (two terms in Bogotá) and Sergio Fajardo (Medellín), will combine on the same ticket for Colombia’s May 30 presidential election, making theirs the most formidable opposition (non-uribista) candidacy.
  • In the past 24 months, Colombian authorities have intercepted more than 6,000 arms and more than 3 million rounds of ammunition that were made in China. Nearly all belonged to “new” paramilitary groups.
  • China just donated US$2.6 million in vehicles and parts to Bolivia’s armed forces. A Chinese corporation is also building Bolivia’s first telecommunications satellite, which will cost La Paz about US$300 million. Chinese President Hu Jintao, meanwhile, will visit Brazil, Chile and Venezuela in mid-April following his attendance at the nuclear summit President Obama is convening in Washington.
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met in Caracas with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He agreed to expand Russia’s energy investment and defense ties with Venezuela. Morales said he asked Putin to “increase its presence in Latin America, to return in force to Latin America.”
  • Citing the Brazilian daily O Estado de São Paulo, Spain’s El País reports on a U.S.-Brazilian plan to open a joint drug-trafficking-monitoring center in Brazil. The center, the article indicates, would be modeled on Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South, a small facility in Key West that monitors suspicious air and boat traffic in the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific. According to the report, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Brazil in the middle of this month.
  • Senators Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) introduced legislation that would significantly change the priorities and strategies of U.S. counter-drug programs in the Americas. As Abigail Poe notes on the Just the Facts blog, this legislation bears little resemblance to the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act that the House of Representatives passed last year.
  • Thanks to stepped-up registration efforts that legalized 28,000 Colombian refugees in the past year, Ecuador now has 50,000 registered Colombian refugees in its territory (at least 100,000 more remain unregistered). Notes the BBC, “Colombia has given the UNHCR funding of US$600,000 over the past 10 years – an average 50 cents per refugee per year – to help pay for integration projects.”
  • Mexico’s army will begin gradually pulling its 6,000 troops out of violence-torn Ciudad Juárez. “This means the beginning of the end for the polemical military deploment to the zone, approved in 2006,” reported the BBC. March was the most violent month of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s more than three years in office, with 958 murders.
  • The U.S.S. Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier with more than 3,000 servicepeople on board, just spent a week in Peru carrying out joint maneuvers and other activities.
  • Costa Rica’s outgoing president, Nobel Laureate Óscar Arias, suggested in a TV interview that Uruguayan President José Mujica abolish his country’s armed forces, as Costa Rica did in 1948. Mujica said no.
Mar 27
El Tiempo’s website has very detailed results of the Datexco presidential-election poll in a PowerPoint file.
  • If all goes according to plan, Brazilian helicopters will pick up two soldiers who have been held by the FARC for years. The guerrillas are releasing Josué Daniel Calvo Marín on Sunday and Pablo Emilio Moncayo. Moncayo, whose father has become famous in Colombia for his campaign to free him, has been a FARC hostage since late 1997. He was 18 when the guerrillas took him after a battle in Patascoy, Putumayo; he is 30 now.
  • The head of Colombia’s armed forces, Gen. Freddy Padilla, told reporters that according to “high-quality intelligence,” the FARC are planning a campaign of high-profile attacks between now and the May 30 presidential election. This week saw several FARC attacks in southwestern Colombia: Cauca, Huila, a car bombing in downtown Buenaventura believed to be the work of the FARC, and a package bomb unwittingly delivered by a 12-year-old boy in Nariño.
  • Meanwhile violence attributed to “emerging” paramilitary groups escalated in the northwestern department of Córdoba. Seven people, among them three teenagers, were massacred in a bar in Puerto Libertador. Radio journalist Clodomiro Castillo, a critic of politicians tied to paramilitary groups, was gunned down on the front porch of his house in Montería.
  • The two pro-Uribe candidates lead the polling for the May 30 elections.
    • Gallup March 20-22: Juan Manuel Santos 34.2%; Noemí Sanín 23.3%; Antanas Mockus 10.4%; Gustavo Petro 6.4%; Germán Vargas Lleras 6.2%; Sergio Fajardo 6.1%; Rafael Pardo 5.1%
    • Datexco March 20-23: Juan Manuel Santos 34.1%; Noemí Sanín 21.7%; Antanas Mockus 8.9%; Gustavo Petro 7.1%; Germán Vargas Lleras 6.6%; Rafael Pardo 5.5%; Sergio Fajardo 4.4%
    • Both polls were taken before the first televised presidential debate, which took place the evening of March 23.
  • In Venezuela, you can now be arrested for offending the president, as Guillermo Zuloaga, the owner of opposition-oriented television network Globovisión, found this week. Zuloaga was arrested (and later released pending trial) for comments he made at the Inter-American Press Association mid-year meeting a week earlier. The arrest came days after the detention of opposition politician Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, a former governor of the western state of Zulia, for comments he made on Globovisión alleging that President Hugo Chávez’s government is aiding narcotraffickers and guerrillas.
  • A week after Cuban police roughly dispersed a protest by the Ladies in White dissident group, tens of thousands gathered in Miami for a demonstration led by musician Gloria Estefan. President Obama released a strong statement about the human rights situation in Cuba.
  • The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN party, apologized on behalf of the Salvadoran state for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed by an assassin linked to pro-government death squads 30 years ago March 24.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton headed a delegation to Mexico March 23 that included the secretaries of defense and homeland security, among other officials. The “Mérida High-Level Consultative Group” meeting made official some changes to the framework that has guided about $1.4 billion in U.S. aid to Mexico since 2008. From now on, the “Mérida Initiative” will be far less military in nature, reports Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations: “most of the requested $330 million for the program’s 2011 budget will be targeted to Mexico’s judicial reforms and programs on good governance.”
  • “Mexico is only one part, though probably the most important one, of a theater of operations that stretches from the Venezuelan-Cuban-Iranian alliance and the Andean Ridge, through Columbia and the FARC, up the cartel-controlled drug routes through Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, and into the United States,” writes Col. Bob Killebrew of the influential Center for a New American Security, on the Foreign Policy blog of former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks. “The Venezuelan alliance is almost a classic geopolitical attempt to deny the US access to Latin America — probably including Mexico — and to gain access to our southern border.”
  • José Miguel Insulza was reelected to a second five-year term as secretary-general of the Organization of American States. He faced no opponent.
Mar 19

  • The Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, presented his annual “Posture Statement” to the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, a week after doing the same in the Senate. This document (PDF), presented to the oversight committees every year, explains how the regional unified command views threats in the region, and how it plans to address them. This was the first such testimony for Gen. Fraser, who assumed command in July. (Video of his House testimony is here, and video of his Senate testimony is here.)
  • The two testimonies were most notable for conflicting responses on Venezuela — a country that is only mentioned in 2 paragraphs in Gen. Fraser’s entire 42-page Posture Statement. Asked about Venezuelan support for Colombia’s FARC guerrillas in the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11, the general responded that there was no solid evidence indicating that Caracas is, as a matter of official policy, supporting the group.

    “We have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We are concerned about it. I’m skeptical. I continue to watch for it. … But I don’t see that evidence. I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.”Yesterday, however, according to Reuters, “Fraser said Venezuela continues to provide the FARC a safe haven and ‘financial logistical support’ based on information found on a laptop computer of a FARC commander seized by Colombian soldiers during a raid on a guerrilla camp in Ecuador in 2008.”

  • More than his predecessors, the general’s statement directly links organized-crime activity with a potential terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland: “the same routes and networks by which illicit traffickers smuggle 1,250-1,500 metric tons of cocaine per year around the region could be used wittingly or unwittingly to smuggle weapons, cash, fissile material or terrorists.” This quote is also notable because it clashes strongly with State Department estimates, presented in the March 1 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, that the entire region produced only 705 tons of cocaine in 2008.
  • Colombia’s Supreme Court has refused to extradite Daniel Rendón, alias “Don Mario,” to the United States to face narcotrafficking charges. Rendón is the brother of Freddy Rendón (alias “El Alemán”), former head of the AUC’s Élmer Cárdenas Bloc, and is widely accused of being a chief sponsor of the new generation of “paras” that is proliferating throughout the country. The court denied the extradition because it determined that “Don Mario” is cooperating with prosecutors in the “Justice and Peace” process, which was designed for paramilitaries who demobilized willingly.
  • Two FARC hostages, Pablo Emilio Moncayo and Josue Daniel Calvo, could be released by the FARC sometime this week. Moncayo has been a guerrilla hostage since 1998. Brazilian helicopters are standing by near the Colombian border as they await coordinates for the handover.
  • Days after the murders of 3 people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, the State Department announced that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Mexico City on March 23rd for the “Mérida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group.” A long list of top Obama administration officials will join the Secretary. The Washington Post editorial board, however, writes that the United States is not doing enough to help Mexico, calling on the Obama administration and Congress to expand funding for the Merida Initiative and to make “stabilizing a neighbor and major trading partner” a higher priority.
  • At the behest of President Evo Morales, Bolivia’s armed forces are adopting a new coat of arms incorporating the wiphala, the checkered-rainbow flag used by the country’s indigenous groups. The new shield also includes the slogan “patria o muerte, venceremos” (“fatherland or death, we shall overcome”), a saying most frequently associated with Fidel Castro.
  • The Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing Thursday on “Next Steps for Honduras.”
  • Just days before the 30th anniversary of the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the “Latin Americanist” blog shares a video from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show depicting the Texas School Board’s recent decision not to include Romero in its history textbooks. Apparently Romero was not “famous” enough to make the cut.
Mar 06

  • On her six-country visit to Latin America this week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed support for Argentine-British dialogue over oil drilling in the Falkland Islands (a step Great Britain has resisted); failed to convince Brazil to cast a Security Council vote in favor of sanctions on Iran; and “un-froze” all remaining aid to Honduras, including military aid, that was held up after the country’s June 28 coup. The un-freezing occurred even though, as Human Rights Watch noted, violent attacks on coup opponents continued in the month of February.
  • A handful of articles about Chile’s devastating earthquake explore the meaning of sending out the Army on its biggest internal-security mission since Gen. Augusto Pinochet left power.
  • Spanish judge Eloy Velasco is accusing Venezuela of facilitating collaboration between Colombia’s FARC guerrillas and Spain’s ETA separatist group — both on the U.S. and EU terror lists — on a range of activities including plots to assassinate Colombian presidents on visits to Spain. The judge’s indictment (PDF) focuses on a suspected ETA member living in Venezuela since 1989, Arturo Cubillas, who as of 2005 was an employee of the Venezuelan government’s Agriculture Ministry. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez rejected the charges. The indictment, which relies heavily on files recovered from the computer of deceased FARC leader Raúl Reyes, isn’t clear about whether the Venezuelan government knew about Cubillas’ alleged activities. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe cautioned on Thursday against jumping to conclusions: “The fact that it’s necessary to investigate a government official for participating in terrorism does not mean that that government or that state, are terrorist, or that they are participating in terrorism.”
  • The State Department’s International Narcotics Control bureau released its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. The report only includes 2009 coca-growing data for Bolivia; Colombia and Peru will have to wait until later in the year. The report is strongly critical of Bolivia for an apparent 50% increase in coca-growing from 2007 to 2009. The blog of the Cochabamaba-based Democracy Center offers a succinct analysis. The report also criticized Colombia, but praised Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Praise for Mexico was tempered by concerns about cartels’ continued strength and the likelihood that narco-crime is moving increasingly south into Central America.
  • “The Obama administration’s newly released 2010 trade agenda gives little indication that the White House will quickly advance long-stalled pacts with Panama, Colombia or South Korea,” says CQ Politics.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, released her full report on the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia (PDF). She wrote that she is “deeply concerned about the widespread phenomenon of threats being made against human rights defenders and their families.”
  • After more than 11 years in captivity, FARC hostage Corporal Pablo Moncayo may finally be freed between the 12th and 14th of March. Colombia holds legislative elections on the 14th, though, and Defense Minister Gabriel Silva says that the military will not cease activities in any part of Colombian territory while electoral activities are occurring. So Moncayo may have to wait at least a few days more.
  • Thanks for Foreign Policy for publishing on Thursday a piece I wrote about Colombian politics now that President Uribe cannot run for a third term.
  • A little-noticed constitutional change last year could be interpreted as prohibiting former members of guerrilla or other armed groups from running for public office. The National Electoral Council must decide next week whether Gustavo Petro, the former M-19 guerrilla leader running a distant second in a February 27 opinion poll (PDF), can continue his campaign.
  • The Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV) found that only 9 people were arrested for every 100 murders committed in Venezuela between 2007 and 2009.
  • Ecuador’s El Comercio ran a very interesting analysis of how drug-trafficking corridors are shifting along the violent border between Putumayo, Colombia and Sucumbíos, Ecuador.
  • The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere will hold a March 10 hearing on  ”U.S. Policy Toward the Americas in 2010 and Beyond.” The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, will give his annual “Posture Statement” before the congressional Armed Services Committees next week; he will be in the Senate on the morning of the 11th.
Mar 04
Guatemalan National Police Chief Baltazar González was arrested Tuesday, along with the head of the U.S.-aided police narcotics unit, for plotting to steal cocaine. (Photo Source: El Periódico [Guatemala].)


“The Government of Guatemala (GOG) is actively working to strengthen its drug enforcement capability. Extensive training, and the provision of equipment and infrastructure for the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN), and the Narcotics Prosecutors, continues.”

— From the 2003 Congressional Budget Justification of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in May 2002.

“Corruption forced the dissolution of the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN), which was plagued by scandals ranging from extra-judicial killings in Chocon, to the theft of 200% more drugs than were officially seized by police. INL support for interdiction efforts will include the training of the new counternarcotics unit (the SAIA), as well as operational support and equipment maintenance. … After the dissolution of the DOAN, INL provided extensive training to the 400 new SAIA agents at the Regional Counternarcotics Training Center.”

— From the 2004 Congressional Budget Justification of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in June 2003.


“Three high-level members of the Guatemalan Anti-Narcotics Police (Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos, or SAIA) have been arrested on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States. … The three defendants named in the indictment are Adan Castillo Lopez, a/k/a ‘Adan Castillo Aguilar,’ Jorge Aguilar Garcia, and Rubilio Orlando Palacios. Castillo is Chief of the SAIA and the highest ranking anti-narcotics officer in Guatemala. ‘More than corrupting the public trust, these Guatemalan Police Officials have been Trojan horses for the very addiction and devastation that they were entrusted to prevent,’ said DEA Administrator [Karen] Tandy.”

— From a November 16, 2005 Department of Justice press release.


“FY 2010 funds will support GOG efforts to recruit and vet new SAIA (anti drug police) by providing polygraph examiners and investigative training, and training that incorporates an anticorruption component. INL provides equipment and logistical support for SAIA law enforcement and interdiction operations.”

— From the 2010 Program and Budget Guide [PDF] (successor to the Congressional Budget Justification) of the State Department’s International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement bureau, released in late 2009.

“The director-general of the Guatemalan police, the chief of its anti-narcotics unit and a third official were arrested Tuesday as suspects in a case involving the theft of a cocaine shipment and a handful of dead policemen. … [T]he five murdered policemen, five more under arrest and the three detained commanders formed part of a criminal structure dedicated to stealing drugs. [Arrested National Police Chief Baltazar] Gómez was, at the time, the chief of the Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos (SAIA), [Current SAIA Director Nelly] Bonilla the deputy director, and the ten policemen were investigators or agents from that unit.”

Associated Press, reporting the evening of Tuesday, March 2, 2010.

Feb 25

Yesterday the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has frequently been critical of the Colombian government, issued a very strong report finding fault with the human rights and democracy situation in Venezuela.

In response, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called the report “pure garbage” and announced that Venezuela will pull out of the Commission.

The report itself is 300 pages long; here is a quick summary prepared by CIP Intern Cristina Salas.

Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela

The last visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Venezuela occurred in May 2002, following the attempted coup that occurred in April and at President Chávez’s request.

To follow up on recommendations made in the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, which was published as a result of that visit, the Commission has tried unsuccessfully to get the State’s consent to visit the country. The Commission does not consider that these denials prevent it from analyzing the situation of human rights in Venezuela. The report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela reveals that human rights protected in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights are being constrained in the following matters:

Political Rights and Participation in Public Life

Among the factors that hinder enjoyment of political rights in Venezuela is the Comptroller General of the Republic’s administrative resolutions preventing opposition candidates’ access to power. These disqualifications contravene the Inter-American Convention, since they were not the result of criminal convictions and were ordered lacking prior proceedings. The State also restricts some powers of democratically elected opposition authorities.

The Commission notes excessive use of state force and the actions of violent groups to punish, attack or intimidate people who express dissent or demonstrate against official policies. Over the past five years, criminal charges have been brought against more than 2,200 people in connection with their involvement in public demonstrations.

Independence and Separation of State Powers

The independence and impartiality of the judiciary system is one of the weakest points in Venezuelan democracy. The vagueness of the Organic Law of the Supreme Court of Justice allows judicial officials to be appointed discretionarily and without being subject to competition. Also, since most of them have provisionary status, they can be removed if they make decisions contrary to government’s interests.

Freedom of Thought and Expression

Freedom of thought and expression is hampered by violent acts of intimidation committed by private groups against journalists and media outlets, by discrediting declarations made by high-ranking public officials against the media and journalists, and by opening administrative proceedings with high levels of discretion.

Serious violations of the rights to life and humane treatment in Venezuela as a result of the victims’ exercise of free expression include the deaths of two reporters. The report points out cases of prior censorship, the proceedings to cancel television and radio stations’ broadcasting concessions, and the order to cease 32 stations’ transmissions. The Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television, which governs freedom of expression, is vague and metes out harsh punishments decided by a body of the executive. Moreover, the offenses of desacato (disrespect) and vilipendio (contempt) introduced in the Penal Code in 2005 impose criminal liability for the exercise of freedom of expression.

President Chavez relies on the legal framework to broadcast his speeches simultaneously across the media, with no time constraints. The duration and frequency of these presidential blanket broadcasts could be considered abusive as the content might not always be serving the public interest.

The recent Organic Education Law, meanwhile, gives the state broad margin to implement the principles and values that should guide education. The Inter-American Commission is also concerned about the possibility that authorities could close down private educational institutions.

The Defense of Human Rights and the Freedom of Association

Human rights defenders in Venezuela suffer attacks, threats, harassment, and even killings. Authorities have opened unfounded judicial investigations or criminal proceedings against those who have criticized the government. Witnesses and victim’s relatives are also intimidated if they denounce to state authorities. The Commission has knowledge of six cases of violations of the right to life of human rights defenders between 1997 and 2007. Furthermore, high-ranking public officials undermine defenders’ and human rights NGOs’ authority and deny them access to public information.

The Right to Life, To Humane Treatment, and to Personal Liberty and Security

Public insecurity is an issue of gravest concern for the Commission. In many cases, the state’s response to public insecurity has been inadequate or incompatible with respect for human rights. The Commission considers that citizens who receive military training should not be involved in domestic defense, as is done in Venezuela through the Bolivarian National Militia.

In 2008, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Venezuela documented these staggering figures in relation to excessive use of state force: 134 complaints involving arbitrary killings, allegedly by state security agencies; 2,197 complaints of violations of humane treatment by state security officials; 87 allegations of torture; 33 cases of alleged forced disappearances reported during 2008, and 34 during 2007.

Homicides, kidnappings, contract killings, and rural violence are the most frequently security problems that Venezuela’s citizens face. In 2008, there were a total of 13,780 homicides in the country, an average of 1,148 murders a month and 38 every day. [That murder rate, 49 per 100,000, is higher than Colombia's - 34 per 100,000 - and one of the highest in the world.]

The Commission’s report also notes with extreme concern that in Venezuela, violent groups with police and military-like training such as the Movimiento Tupamaro, Colectivo La Piedrita, Colectivo Alexis Vive, Unidad Popular Venezolana, and Grupo Carapaica are perpetrating acts of violence with the involvement or acquiescence of state agents.

The report claims the main problems in Venezuela’s violent prisons include delays at trial, overcrowding, lack of basic services, failure to separate convicts from remanded prisoners, and presence of weapons. More than 65% of Venezuela’s inmates have not yet been convicted and remain in preventive custody. Impunity reigns in most cases of serious human rights violations.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

On a positive note, the report highlights Venezuela’s achievements in ensuring the literacy of the majority of the population; reducing poverty, unemployment and infant mortality rate; expanding health coverage among the most vulnerable sectors; increasing people’s access to basic public services; and great progress toward attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

However, one issue relating to economic, social, and cultural rights is the constant intervention and political control of the State in the functioning of trade unions, hampering the right of free association.

Feb 13
Presenting his cabinet, many of them business leaders, Chilean President-Elect Sebastián Pinera hung a thumbdrive containing policy plans around the neck of each minister-to-be. (Article and photo source.)
  • Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva visited a snowbound Washington this week and was told that the Obama administration remains firm about cutting 2011 military aid, and that 2010 ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement is unlikely. “A high-ranking State Department official had assured him the reduction in aid was part of across-the-board belt-tightening in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal,” Reuters reported. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd told Silva that the free-trade deal’s approval must wait because “this is a complex electoral year with a very heavy domestic agenda.” Meanwhile President Obama, interviewed by Bloomberg, “said he would press for passage this year of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, though he cautioned that ‘different glitches’ must first be negotiated with each country.”
  • Eight years is too little time for a country that has had only 47 years of peace in 200 years,” Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said Friday. But Semana magazine looks at what remains to be done to legalize Uribe’s candidacy for a third consecutive term, and concludes that he has run out of time, that “it doesn’t fit in the electoral calendar.” A Centro Nacional de Consultoría poll found 54 percent of Colombians now opposed to a third term for Uribe; this is the first poll to show a majority against re-election. Politically, the president has had a tough two weeks; Semana documents seven threats to Uribe’s continued popularity.
  • The VoteBien website is doing a solid job of documenting organized-crime influence and other irregularities in the campaign for Colombia’s March 14 legislative elections. Its latest report outs a Conservative Party senator whose office marked World Press Freedom Day by giving envelopes containing 150,000 pesos (~US$75) to twenty reporters in Meta department.
  • A group of prominent Medellín citizens, working with government authorization, brokered a truce between factions of the “Envigado Office,” the network of drug-running gangs responsible for a recent upsurge of violence in the city. The “La Silla Vacía” website worries that while the pact may reduce violence in Medellín, it may signal a return to the time when the government tolerated organized crime in exchange for social peace, as occurred in the mid-2000s when since-extradited paramilitary boss “Don Berna” ran the Envigado Office. It is unclear what the gangsters got in return for agreeing to the new pact, though El Tiempo notes that the group’s jailed top hitman was abruptly moved from prison to house arrest.
  • Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica’s current vice president and a former security minister, was elected president Sunday with nearly 47 percent of the vote, more than 20 percent ahead of her nearest rival. Her party, the PLN, controls only 23 of 57 seats in the Congress, which means her political agenda may end up being modest.
Feb 11
U.S. oil prices since January 2007, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In a February 7 piece on AOL’s DailyFinance blog, reporter Vishesh Kumar foresees a drop in world petroleum prices this year. Led by slowing Chinese demand, sluggish U.S. economic growth, and more production in Iraq, Kumar cites analysts who predict that oil prices could slump from their current $70 per barrel (closer to $75 today after U.S. snowstorms) to as low as $50.

Other analysts, particularly those who see a stronger U.S. recovery, aren’t as convinced that oil will drop so steeply. But whether the price drops or stays the same, there is a consensus that world oil markets are currently glutted and the price is unlikely to rise in 2010.

Kumar’s prediction would be a disaster for Venezuela, whose oil-dependent economy is already battered by a deep recession, water and electricity shortages, high inflation and scarcities of several basic foods. President Hugo Chávez is facing economic discontent as the country inches closer to September 26 voting to elect a new National Assembly. The Assembly elected in 2005, in a vote boycotted by all opposition parties, ended up being almost unanimously pro-Chávez, eliminating a critical check on executive power. There will be no boycott this time, so the next Assembly will have far greater opposition-party representation — perhaps even a combined majority if trends continue.

As Venezuela’s economic and political problems mount, President Chávez needs a fresh infusion of cash to keep his revolution going (dipping deeply into government reserves is a poor and risky option). In Venezuela’s undiversified economy, that cash can come from only one source: rising oil revenues.

But since oil prices don’t look like they’re about to rise, and may in fact fall further, we have to conclude that Venezuela’s 2010 outlook is bleak. The period between now and the September elections is going to be tense.

Feb 05
Jorge Noguera, President Uribe’s former intelligence director now standing trial for murder, testified that he gave information about labor union activity directly to the president.
  • We have added a podcast to the “Just the Facts” website. The first episode discusses the debate in Colombia over President Álvaro Uribe’s apparent desire to run for a third term in office, which just suffered a setback in the justice system. Download or listen to the 12-and-a-half-minute .mp3 file here or at our podcast page. Keep in mind that we’re new at this. They will get better.
  • Cambio, one of Colombia’s two main newsmagazines, is going to stop publishing on a weekly basis. Instead, it will be a monthly devoted to lifestyle issues. This is a loss for Colombia; in 2009 Cambio broke two big stories: the existence of military-base talks between the U.S. and Colombian governments, and the use of an agricultural subsidy program to give cash to some of the country’s biggest landholders. The “La Silla Vacía” website speculates that the magazine’s abrupt retreat owes to indirect pressure from Álvaro Uribe’s government.
  • The recently formed Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) will meet in Quito on Tuesday the 9th to discuss responses to the earthquake in Haiti. Colombia’s President Uribe, who doesn’t always attend these meetings, plans to go to this one. He is not expected to meet bilaterally with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, even though Colombia and Ecuador appear to be nearing the end of a two-year break in diplomatic relations. Though they’re unlikely to have a bilateral meeting, this will be the first time in many very tense months that Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will be in the same room.
  • Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told a congressional panel that the Obama administration would “absolutely” work with Congress to pass the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in 2010. He was quickly contradicted, however. Reuters reports: “Both the Treasury Department and U.S. Trade Representative’s office later issued statements clarifying Geithner’s comment. They said U.S. trade officials still had to resolve outstanding issues with the three countries before Obama would send the FTAs to Congress for a vote.”
  • Columbia University Colombia expert Aldo Cívico interviewed Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) for Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper. English here, Spanish here.
  • Colombian police trained counterparts from 23 countries last year, including 4,500 Mexicans.
  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, spent three days in Honduras. At the end of his trip he told reporters he disagreed with the Obama administration’s call for the Honduran government to nominate a “Truth Commission,” which would investigate crimes committed since the June 2009 coup. It’s better to “close the book,” Rohrabacher concluded.
  • President Obama called Chilean President-Elect Sebastián Piñera to congratulate him on his recent election win. Piñera asked Obama for a bilateral meeting.
  • Ecuadorian authorities seized 63 tons of cocaine in 2009. That is by far a record, showing the country’s increasing use as a narcotrafficking corridor. By comparison, Colombia seized 203 tons in 2009 (Excel file).
  • Costa Ricans go to the polls Sunday for a presidential election. Laura Chinchilla of President Oscar Arias’s PLN party has a comfortable lead in the polls, though it is not clear whether she will beat the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Feb 01

Lea una versión de este artículo en español.

This afternoon, the Obama administration made public its 2011 budget request to Congress, including its proposal for next year’s foreign assistance. This is the first “real” foreign aid request for an administration that had barely arrived in power a year ago.

Congress will use this request as the guideline for its State and Foreign Operations budget funding bill, which provides about three-quarters of all military and police assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. (The Defense budget bill provides nearly all of the rest.)

The Obama administration’s foreign aid request differs significantly, if not radically, from what came before. For Latin America, the difference is notable, as this slideshow indicates.

2011 Foreign Ops

(Note: estimates of military and non-military aid in the slideshow are exactly that: estimates. One program, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE), pays for both military and economic aid, and we don’t yet know how the administration plans to divide it between those priorities. Therefore we had to estimate INCLE military and non-military aid by prorating based on previous years. Our estimate, while not exact, is likely very close.)

Here are a few things we’ve observed after entering the new aid numbers into the “Just the Facts” database.

  • A sharp decrease in military and police assistance, while economic aid levels hold steady. Two-thirds of this request is non-military aid. (Keep in mind, though, that additional military aid comes through the Defense budget.)
  • Reductions for the region’s two largest aid recipients, Mexico (-30%) and Colombia (-11%). With most equipment deliveries already funded, the “Mérida Initiative” is winding down. Similarly, “Plan Colombia” programs are increasingly being turned over to Colombia. Most of Colombia’s aid cut comes from the State Department-managed International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement account, which funds the aerial fumigation program and the maintenance of aircraft belonging to the Colombian security forces.
  • Notable increases in assistance, both military and economic, to Central America.
  • No major increase yet in aid to earthquake-battered Haiti; after donors’ conferences conclude, more Haiti aid will likely be included in a supplemental request for 2010.
Jan 29
Para-politicians and their “avatars,” from Pequeño Tirano
  • Colombia’s biggest political controversy of the week came from President Uribe’s proposal, apparently unconsulted with Medellín authorities, to fight gang violence by paying the city’s students who serve as informants passing intelligence to the authorities.
  • President Obama’s brief “State of the Union” mention of trade with Colombia raised hopes in Bogotá that the White House might seek congressional ratification of the free-trade agreement signed in 2006, even though U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield warned a week ago that trade agreements never win approval in legislative election years. Colombian Ambassador to the United States Carolina Barco counseled patience, and former Bush Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega noted that Obama’s language did not state clearly that he intends to act for the agreement’s ratification.
  • The Colombian non-governmental organization CODHES reported its estimate of the number of Colombians newly displaced by violence in 2009: 286,389 people. That number, while shockingly high, is actually lower than the group’s 2008 estimate of 380,863 newly displaced people.
  • A very strange story in El Tiempo covers an event the armed forces held for the accused Soacha “false positives” defendants, who were recently released from jail as they await trial for killing Colombian civilians. The 46 soldiers participated in aromatherapy and psycho-social workshops, while their visiting family members were entertained: clowns for the children and massages and makeovers for the women.
  • Of every 100 guerrillas that the Colombian government has taken out of commission, estimates José Fernando Isaza, the FARC manages to recruit 83 new ones.
  • The VerdadAbierta.com website has a long and disturbing interview with “Jorge Pirata,” one of the leaders of the paramilitaries who dominated Colombia’s eastern plains in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In text and video, he tells the history of the AUC’s brutal rise in the region south and east of Bogotá.
  • The “Pequeño Tirano” cartoon is back, this time mocking the relatives, or “avatars,” of jailed para-politicians who are running for office in Colombia’s March congressional elections.
  • As Porfirio Lobo takes over the presidency of Honduras and Manuel Zelaya leaves for exile in the Dominican Republic, the Tegucigalpa government’s treasury is down to its last US$50 million. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela warned yesterday that Washington will not support Honduras’ return to the OAS until President Lobo takes steps foreseen in the San José Accord, like forming a “unity government” and establishing a “truth commission” for crimes committed after the June 2009 coup.
  • “Bloggings by Boz” excerpts all references to Latin America in the draft Quadrennial Defense Review that leaked this week. It’s definitely not too much to read in one sitting.
  • Recently re-inaugurated President Evo Morales just named a new high command and now wants to change the Bolivian armed forces’ doctrine. “My great dream, my great desire,” he said, “is that our armed forces be internationally recognized as anti-capitalist.”
  • Chile is buying 18 F-16 fighter planes from the United States for $270 million. “We don’t want to go out and hit anybody” with the country’s fleet of 44 F-16s, said Chile’s armed forces chief, Ricardo Ortega. But “everyone who is watching us, everyone around us, now knows that we have the capacity to hit hard, that is, it’s best that they leave us alone.”
  • A USA Today/Gallup poll finds 63% of Americans favoring a longer-term U.S. military presence in Haiti, going beyond the emergency phase until “basic services are restored.” Meanwhile U.S. military logistics authorities estimate that most troops will pull out of Haiti within three to six months.
  • In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez’s vice president and defense minister, Ramón Carrizález, abruptly quit on Monday, citing “personal reasons.” Some Venezuelan analysts speculate that he quit over disagreement with the role of Cuban officers in the Venezuelan military’s high command, or that it was part of a “loyalty test” amid rising internal discontent within the armed forces.
  • New America Media reports on Latin American militaries’ increasing use of unmanned drone aircraft, most of them purchased from Israel.
Jan 25

Chileans didn’t elect Sebastián Piñera a week ago Sunday because of their antipathy for Hugo Chávez. Bolivians didn’t re-elect Evo Morales in December out of admiration for Venezuela’s president. Nor will Chávez be an issue on February 7, when a center-left and a rightist candidate face off in Costa Rica.

If you read Jackson Diehl’s column in today’s Washington Post, though, you might come away with the impression that Latin American politics today are “all Chávez, all the time.” That the region is lined up, cold-war style, in monolithically opposed blocs, with ideological tides ever advancing and receding.

Latin America has quietly passed through a tipping point in the ideological conflict that has polarized the region — and paralyzed U.S. diplomacy — for most of the past decade.

This is true in a few politically polarized flashpoint countries, such as post-coup Honduras, increasingly authoritarian Nicaragua, or Colombia, whose war of words with Chávez continues. But in most of Latin America today, elections are quietly and undramatically ratifying presidents or parties in power (Bolivia, probably Costa Rica), or uneventfully bringing oppositions to power (Panama, Mexico’s legislative elections, Chile, probably Brazil later this year). There is no regional cold war.

Instead, it’s hard to discern any pattern in the current set of polls and political outcomes. To the extent that there is one, Latin American voters’ mood is turning against angry, extreme, polarizing leaders of all political stripes. Approval ratings seem to favor moderate pragmatists of the right and left (Martinelli in Panama, Funes in El Salvador, Bachelet in Chile and Lula in Brazil). They are less kind to more combative, partisan leaders (Ortega in Nicaragua, Fernández in Argentina, and even Chávez and Colombia’s Uribe who, while still quite popular, has seen a modest decline in his ratings). An exception is Morales in Bolivia, who won a landslide despite a very combative political style.

Whatever the regional pattern, it seems to have little to do with the personality or influence of Hugo Chávez. In fact, as Diehl points out, Chávez is in trouble at home, facing rising crime rates, power shortages, inflation and a steep currency devaluation. The Venezuelan leader has reacted by hardening still further, nationalizing retail stores, pulling the plug on cable TV networks, and other steps that risk misfiring politically in advance of September legislative elections. As the Venezuelan leader’s direction appears more erratic, the Colombian magazine Semana notes, one ally, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, is visibly distancing himself.

Diehl writes that “Hugo Chávez’s ’socialism for the 21st century’ has been defeated and is on its way to collapse.” That may be. But if true, it would be a huge error to imagine a significant change in U.S. relations with Latin America as a result.

As president of a country of 28 million people, Hugo Chávez’s ability to determine his neighbors’ political destiny was never great. His influence may be less of a concern than what he leaves behind: if the Chávez government should implode under the weight of its mounting economic and social pressures — a possibility that can’t be dismissed within the next five years — it could leave a chaotic competition to fill a power vacuum, making the whole region less secure.

Meanwhile, the popular anger and aspirations that first elected Chávez could easily manifest themselves among voters in another country, sending new leaders of the left to power. And as this happens, still other countries may move rightward.

There are no cold wars in Latin America, no rising or falling tides to be fostered or contained. Just democracies going in different directions, occasionally directions quite distant from the United States. Here in the United States, we have to get used to that, and stop viewing each electoral outcome as a harbinger of triumph or tragedy.

Jan 22
The Colombian Army is carrying out an offensive against the FARC’s powerful 48th front in Putumayo this week. (Colombian Army photo)
  • Of Colombian officers and soldiers facing trial for the 2008 murder of young men in the Bogotá suburb of Soacha, the number now freed from preventive detention because of lapsed prosecution deadlines now stands at 38. The men are accused of presenting their victims’ bodies as those of armed-group members killed in combat, an alarmingly frequent practice that has come to be known in Colombia as “false positives.” Mothers of the victims — whether in Soacha or in other cases — are furious. “We want truth. They let them go so they can go and kill more boys,” said one.
  • The La Silla Vacía website has a very useful – and troubling – interactive timeline of the judicial delays and procedural maneuvers that caused the accused soldiers’ legal processes to drag on so long that, under the rules of Colombia’s new oral justice system, they had to be set free pending trial.
  • For similar reasons, ten soldiers implicated in the 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre could be freed in February.
  • The “false positives” scandal was among the topics in a debate Wednesday between two opposition presidential candidates, Rafael Pardo of the center-left Liberal Party and Gustavo Petro of the leftist Democratic Pole party. Interestingly Pardo, a former defense minister, took a harder line against soldiers found guilty of committing extrajudicial executions, calling for “severe punishment,” while Petro said he would favor reduced sentences for those who “collaborate with truth.”
  • Francisco Leal of the National and Andes Universities published a concise but thorough evaluation of the Uribe government’s “Democratic Security” policy on the “Razón Pública” website.
  • Colombia’s Army found a cache of brand-new weapons in southeastern Córdoba department, which it believes to be part of an arms-for-cocaine barter arrangement between the FARC and “new” paramilitary groups in the region.
  • Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation released an interesting report [PDF] on emerging paramilitary groups and “the consolidation of a third generation of paramilitaries.”
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court is reviewing the legality of scheduling a congressionally approved referendum on whether to change the Constitution to allow President Álvaro Uribe to run for a third straight term. The court’s new chief justice — a one-year rotating position — served as President Uribe’s legal secretary until 2007.
  • If you had invested $100 in Colombia’s stock market index on December 31, 1999, it would be worth $1,529 today.
  • The OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission released an extensive report on the human rights situation in Honduras since the June 28 coup d’état.
    • “The report states that along with the loss of institutional legitimacy caused by the coup d’état, serious human rights violations have occurred. These include deaths; the arbitrary declaration of a state of exception; the repression of public demonstrations through the disproportionate use of force; the criminalization of social protest; the arbitrary detention of thousands of individuals; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and poor detention conditions; the militarization of the territory; an increase in situations of racial discrimination; violations of women’s rights, arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression; and serious infringements of political rights.”
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a letter to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa accepting his invitation for eventual dialogues between the United States and UNASUR, the recently formed Union of South American Nations. Correa said that U.S. use of bases in Colombia must be part of any such dialogue’s agenda.
  • Chilean President-Elect Sebastián Piñera promised that his government will “collaborate” with judicial investigations of past human rights abuses, and said he will seek to do away with the Pinochet-era provision that gives the armed forces 10 percent of the state copper company’s revenues.
  • The Mexico-based Consulta Mitofsky took a “poll of polls” of Latin America’s leaders’ approval ratings, coming up with this ranking. The list does not include Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
    • Ricardo Martinelli, Panama: 91%
    • Mauricio Funes, El Salvador: 88%
    • Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil: 83%
    • Michelle Bachelet, Chile: 81%
    • Álvaro Uribe, Colombia: 64%
    • Tabaré Vázquez, Uruguay: 61%
    • Evo Morales, Bolivia: 60%
    • Felipe Calderón, Mexico: 55%
    • Fernando Lugo, Paraguay: 50%
    • Barack Obama, USA: 48%
    • Álvaro Colom, Guatemala: 46%
    • Óscar Arias, Costa Rica: 44%
    • Rafael Correa, Ecuador: 42%
    • Stephen Harper, Canada: 32%
    • Alan García, Peru: 29%
    • Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua: 25%
    • Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina: 19%