- The Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Douglas Fraser, presented his annual â€œPosture Statementâ€ 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 isÂ here, and video of his Senate testimony isÂ here.)
- The two testimonies were most notable for conflicting responses on Venezuela â€” a country that is only mentioned in 2 paragraphs in Gen. Fraserâ€™s entire 42-page Posture Statement. Asked about Venezuelan support for Colombiaâ€™s FARC guerrillas in the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11, the generalÂ responded that there was no solid evidence indicating that Caracas is, as a matter of official policy, supporting the group.
â€œWe have continued to watch very closely for any connections between illicit and terrorist organization activity within the region. We are concerned about it. Iâ€™m skeptical. I continue to watch for it. â€¦ But I don’t see that evidence. I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not.â€Yesterday, however, according to Reuters, â€œFraser said Venezuela continues to provide the FARC a safe haven and â€˜financial logistical supportâ€™ 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.â€
- More than his predecessors, the general’s statement directly links organized-crime activity with a potential terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland: â€œthe 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.â€ This quote is also notable because it clashes strongly with State DepartmentÂ estimates, presented in the March 1Â International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, that the entire region produced only 705 tons of cocaine in 2008.
- Colombiaâ€™s Supreme Court has refused to extradite Daniel RendÃ³n, alias â€œDon Mario,â€ to the United States to face narcotrafficking charges. RendÃ³n is the brother of Freddy RendÃ³n (alias â€œEl AlemÃ¡nâ€), former head of the AUCâ€™s Ã‰lmer CÃ¡rdenas Bloc, and is widely accused of being a chief sponsor of the new generation of â€œparasâ€ that is proliferating throughout the country. The court denied the extradition because it determined that â€œDon Marioâ€ is cooperating with prosecutors in the â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ process, which was designed for paramilitaries who demobilized willingly.
- TwoÂ 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,Â the State DepartmentÂ announced that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Mexico City on March 23rd for the “MÃ©rida U.S.-Mexico High Level Consultative Group.” A long list of top Obama administration officials will join the Secretary. TheÂ 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, Boliviaâ€™s armed forces areÂ adopting a new coat of arms incorporating theÂ wiphala, the checkered-rainbow flag used by the countryâ€™s indigenous groups. The new shield also includes the slogan â€œpatria o muerte, venceremosâ€ (â€œfatherland or death, we shall overcomeâ€), 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 â€œLatin Americanistâ€ blogÂ shares a video from Jon Stewartâ€™s Daily Show depicting the Texas School Boardâ€™s recent decision not to include Romero in its history textbooks. Apparently Romero was not â€œfamousâ€ enough to make the cut.