- A big aid request for Mexico, which nearly everyone is referring to as “Plan Mexico,” is due to be rolled out at any moment. The details of the package are still not clear, though the most recent media reports seem to indicate a billion dollars (or more) over two (or more) years. (Washington Post – Reuters – Dallas Morning News)
- The White House “drug czar,” John Walters, held a press conference this week to prepare the ground politically for the big Mexico aid request. Walters announced findings of a DEA intelligence study (which we discussed two weeks ago) indicating that, thanks entirely to Mexican anti-cartel efforts, the price of cocaine in many U.S. cities has spiked up this year. At his press conference and in materials [PDF] sent to the U.S. Congress, Walters neglected to mention a less convenient DEA finding: that seven years into Plan Colombia, cocaine production is unchanged in Colombia and other countries where the drug is made. USA Today caught it, though:
[DEA] analysts found that Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the main source countries for the U.S. cocaine supply, are growing and shipping the same amount of cocaine as in previous years.
â€œThere is not more or less cocaine entering the pipeline,â€ [DEA intelligence chief Tony] Placido says. Instead, he says, Mexican authorities apparently are stopping the cocaine before it gets to the USA.
- Robert Gates paid his first visit to Latin America since succeeding Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. In Colombia, the army made clear for him its opinion about ongoing efforts to negotiate FARC hostages’ release, treating Gates to a showy demonstration of a mock hostage rescue operation. Gates handled it prudently, though, the Associated Press reported.
While Gates said he was greatly impressed by the exercise, he later said he would not readily advise using such an operation to rescue the three Americans currently being held by Colombian leftist rebels.
“The first objective is the safe return of the hostages, and so I think that any attempt at a rescue would have to be very, very carefully thought through,” Gates told reporters later while flying from Colombia to Chile. “It’s a very iffy proposition. Everything has to be just right.”
Gates’ visit to Colombia and other countries was rather low-profile, with little advance notice or press work done beforehand. Many speculated that he had come to talk to countries considered to be candidates to host a U.S. anti-drug base after 2009, when Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa says he will not renew the ten-year U.S. lease on an anti-drug “Cooperative Security Location” in Manta. Gates insisted, though, that he did not plan to bring up the subject during his visit.
- An unnamed defense official accompanying Gates made one of the most open acknowledgements that an ominous policy shift is underway: the U.S. government is beginning explicitly to embrace a greater law enforcement role for Latin America’s armed forces. Reuters reports:
The Pentagon sees crime, drugs and street gangs as Latin America’s top security problems and it wants the region’s soldiers, rather than police, to tackle them.
The U.S. military is generally prohibited from law enforcement at home but for Latin America, where many countries have had periods of military dictatorship, U.S. officials view the armed forces as the only institutions capable of responding to crises and combating organized crime.
“There was a line of thinking in the 1980s and the early 1990s that we needed to divorce militaries from police functions and try to push that within the hemisphere because the model that we have, of course, we believe is the model that everybody should have,” said a U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
- If you care about citizen control over military assistance programs, read this required report to Congress that the Bush administration issued in July. It will make your hair stand on end. In the name of giving the president “flexibility,” it argues forcefully for fewer controls over U.S. military aid (like human rights conditions), and for reduced reporting to Congress and the public. We’ll post more about this soon.
- We give our highest, utmost recommendation to read the WOLA-USOC-LAWG report on an August trip to Bucaramanga, Cali, Barranquilla, MedellÃn and BogotÃ¡. Three of the country’s principal Colombia experts give a quick, readable but alarming summary of the troubling trends they discerned.
- In Colombia’s Magdalena Medio region last week, authorities arrested several leaders of the Cimitarra Valley Campesino Association (ACVC), one of the region’s best-known non-governmental organizations, and have charged them with helping guerrillas. We are very distrubed by this news: while the ACVC is certainly known for its radical politics, it is absolutely not a guerrilla front. We fully associate ourselves with the words [PDF] of the widely respected Magdalena Medio Peace and Development Program (PDPMM).
We want to make clear that the Cimitarra Valley Campesino Association, which among other has been freely critical of the PDPMM, has sought to defend campesino rights through legal channels. With the European Union and the United Nations it has carried out transparent human development activities. And its men have been serious workers for a political and negotiated solution to the conflict.
We are worried by the political context of this arrest because the ACVC has been a great opponent, and a brave public and international opponent, of the paramilitaries. Their denunciations have angered the government and the security agencies.
- After Bolivian President Evo Morales recommended that the UN’s headquarters be moved from New York, U.S. Ambassador to La Paz Philip Goldberg responded, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they also want to move Disneyland.” The Bolivian government didn’t think that was funny.
- Speaking of Evo Morales: Charlie Roberts of the Washington-based Colombia Human Rights Committee is an incredibly skilled interpreter. And there he was last week translating for Morales on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Stewart even poked gentle fun at Charlie on the next day’s show.