15-May-2013 - Mexico: Mexico Plans to Re-Organize Attorney General’s Office
Bottom Line: Institutional shifts do not address the underlying factors that contribute to criminal violence.
29-Apr-2013 - Venezuela: What constitutes free and fair?
Background: Mexico is re-structuring its federal investigational and prosecutorial ministry, the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, or PGR). Assistant Attorney General Mariana Benitez said the change is necessary because under new judicial guidelines, trial courts are to rely less on testimony (including anonymous testimony) and more on evidence gathered by investigators.
On 8 May 2013, at the Fifth National Forum on Security and Justice, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam described the antipathy between the PGR and the Public Security Secretariat (SSP) under Felipe Calderón’s administration. According to Murillo Karam, that institutional enmity weakened the PGR’s investigational capacity; now he wants to revitalize it.
The PGR plans to develop a new Federal Bureau of Investigations (Cuerpo Federal de Investigaciones, or FCI). The agency will focus exclusively on intelligence and expert services. The offices for Expert Services (Servicios Periciales), Federal Ministerial Police (Policía Federal Ministerial, or PFM) and the Center for Planning, Analysis and Information for Combating Crime (Centro Nacional de la Planeación, Análisis e Información para el Combate a la Delincuencia, or Cenapi) will now fall under the purview of the FCI.
Instead of reporting to one centralized command, the 32 PGR delegations that represent the 31 states and the capital will be divided into five regions. Each region will have a fiscalía or lead District Attorney. The national-level Coordinación General de Delegaciones of the PGR will be abolished.
Benitez further anticipates that the Specialized Tax and Financial Crimes Unit of the Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delitos Federales (SIEDF) will merge with the Anti-Money Laundering Unit of the Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada (SIEDO), along with the newly created (December 2012) Coordinación General de Información y Análisis Financiero (CGIAF). But SIEDO will lose its police and intelligence branch, the Coordinación Técnica, which will be transferred to the new FCI.
There will be a new Special Prosecutors Office for Human Rights Violations. The Public Prosecutors for Crimes against Freedom of Expression and Violence Against Women will remain, but it is unclear whether those offices will be in the domain of the Human Rights Prosecutor, or will become part of SIEDF.
Commentary: Enrique Peña Nieto is ambitious in his plans to make over government security forces, but it is unclear how (or whether) shuffling agency hierarchies will impact actual law enforcement.
Facing a rising tide of violence, Calderon deployed military troops to the cities hardest-hit by organized crime. Peña Nieto campaigned on the idea of creating a new national Gendarmerie, a pseudo-military civilian police force to replace the Army on the streets, and those plans are in motion. The Inspector General of Public Security, Carlos Humberto Toledo, indicated that 8,500 troops from the Army and 1,500 from the Navy are in training to become gendarmes, and will begin operations this summer. The chain of command and jurisdiction between military, Federal Police and the Gendarmerie remains unclear. A month after Peña Nieto took office, the Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB) absorbed the SSP. Now the PGR is getting a make-over with another “new” agency, the FCI, that will pull agents from other government offices.
Peña Nieto is taking action, but most of the plans so far seem to be geared more toward a superficial change in agency names than on a real shift in Mexico’s anti-crime strategy. He’s been in office nearly six months. Citizens’ perception of security has increased, and the SEGOB released statistics showing a drop in murders related to organized crime, but it is really too soon to tell whether crime is abating and whether government operations had anything to do with crime trends.
On 14 April 2013 Venezuela held a presidential election, six months after President Hugo Chávez was re-elected and less than six weeks after the government announced Chávez’s death. Many of the questions about the fairness of the election relate not to the technical operation of the voting machines, but to the political machine operated by Chávez, and now his heir apparent Nicolas Maduro. Opposition candidates do not get airtime like the state-backed party does. If their speech becomes as fiery as the ruling party, they risk sanction. And the pervasive social programs created by Chávez make recipients of houses, jobs, and monthly stipends feel obligated to vote for the “Bolivarian revolution” despite the many problems facing Venezuela today.
23-Apr-2013 - Mexico: Cleaning up after Operation Limpieza
Hours after the polls closed, the National Electoral Council (CNE) called the election in favor of Chávez’s favored successor: Nicolas Maduro, who ran on a platform of carrying on with chavista politics and policies. In his campaign, Maduro followed the Chávez playbook, accusing El Salvador, Colombia and the U.S. of plots to destabilize the government. According to the CNE, Maduro beat challenger Henrique Capriles by a margin of 200,000 votes, pushing Maduro’s share to 50.8 percent of the vote.
Opponents of Chávez and Maduro cried foul. Opposition protestors in Venezuela took to the streets to demonstrate. Although the CNE said it audited some electronic voting machines, it has repeatedly changed its stance on the audit. The CNE initially agreed to an expanded audit, then backtracked, but now promises to audit 100 percent of the voting machines, if not the voter rolls and paper ballot confirmations. That review will probably not be complete until June at the earliest, according to the CNE chair, Tibisay Lucena.
In the most recent election, Capriles asserted that thousands of deceased Venezuelans were included on voter rolls. Southern Pulse heard an independent report from a woman who checked and found that her father, who died two years ago, had “voted” in the April 2013 presidential election.
In the meantime, Maduro was sworn in as President on 19 April 2013, and has taken the opposition to task. He claimed that opposition protestors firebombed and vandalized clinics across the country, but opposition activists mobilized to publicize photos showing that Maduro’s allegations were exaggerated or even in some cases, totally false. Yet Maduro ordered an investigation that may land Capriles in prison. (Capriles was jailed under Chávez in 2004 for his involvement in a protest following the 2002 failed coup against Chávez.) The head of the chavista-dominated legislature, Diosdado Cabello called Capriles a “fascist murderer,” and blamed him for the deaths of nine people in post-election violence. Some families of victims have come forward to say that Maduro is falsely labeling ordinary murders, in a nation with one of the highest murder rates in the world, as political violence.
Since the election, Maduro and his cabinet have continued to broadcast conspiracy theories, accusing Capriles of planning a coup to overthrow him. On 26 April authorities detained an American documentary film-maker in Caracas on charges of illegally funneling money to opposition groups in Venezuela. Then on 27 April police arrested retired general Antonio Rivero for conspiring against Maduro. Despite a deeply divided country, and laws that should protect political freedom, a number of high-ranking government officials appear prepared to penalize, or even criminalize dissent. The National Prison Director Iris Varela said she was preparing a cell for Capriles, and in a videotaped speech Ricardo Molina, Minister of Housing pledged to fire anyone who doesn’t support chavismo. In the video Molina says [in Spanish here] that labor laws don’t matter to him; he won’t protect or accept people who do not share his political views, labeling them “fascists.”
Bottom line: A Federal judge released two of the highest-ranking individuals under investigation for corruption in Mexico due to a lack of concrete evidence. Whether they are innocent or not, it is clear that authorities struggle to convict in corruption cases, and especially high-profile ones.
13-Apr-2013 - Venezuela: Venezuela’s Special Elections: Maduro to Capitalize on Memory of Chávez
Prosecutions of government corruption initiated under the Calderon administration are falling apart in the early months of the Peña Nieto administration, leading to accusations among Mexico’s political elite. On one side, PRI officials say the Calderon government abused its authority, relied on untrustworthy witnesses, and targeted politically convenient officials. On the other side of the debate are concerns that the PRI is allowing impunity for corruption and harming relations with US agencies that provided evidence and want corrupt officials out of government. Regardless of whether the officials named were or were not working with transnational criminal organizations, the Mexican government’s failure to successfully investigate and prosecute high-level corruption should be a source of concern. Rumors of high level corruption have only increased since ex-President Felipe Calderon declared a war on violent drug trafficking organizations in Mexico upon taking office in December 2006.
In 2008, the Calderon administration set into motion “Operacion Limpieza,” (Operation Clean-up) a major effort to take down corrupt high-level government officials in Mexico. Its most high-profile arrest came on 20 November 2008, when police detained Noé Ramírez Mandujano, the former head of head of SIEDO (the Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada or Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime), the very agency tasked with combatting major organized crime.
On 15 April 2013, at the behest of current Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, authorities released Ramírez Mandujano. He originally came under suspicion largely thanks to testimony from anonymous protected sources, including one known at that time only as “Jennifer.” Murillo Karam said his office could not find evidence to corroborate the informants’ information. We now know that Jennifer is actually Roberto Lopez Najera, a star witness cited in numerous prosecution cases, most notably the one against Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal, who faces charges of drug trafficking for the Beltran-Leyva Cartel in the U.S. pending extradition. Critics of the process note that Lopez Najera only had information about the Beltran-Leyva Cartel because he worked as an attorney for La Barbie, before turning on them in the wake of his brother’s murder.
Jennifer and another source, known by the codename “Felipe,” reported that the Beltran Leyva Cartel paid Mandujano and other SIEDO personnel to provide them with confidential inside information about SIEDO investigations. Along with Ramírez Mandujano, police arrested a SIEDO agent, Luis Manuel Aguilar Flores, and Ramírez Mandujano’s secretary, Beatriz Veramendi.
In December 2012, a judge in Nayarit freed Veramendi in a hearing that provided the first inkling of Murillo Karam’s opposition to the use of protected witness testimony as a basis for arrest. In Veramendi’s case, anonymous sources indicated that she was aware of Ramírez Mandujano’s corruption and sometimes held the cash from the cartel for her boss. A court released her after being jailed for just ten days, and Attorney General Murillo Karam said with respect to her case that statements made by protected witnesses without substantial corroborating evidence are not sufficient to convict. He also asserted that his office would move away from holding people in “arraigo” (temporary detention prior to the filing of formal charges). Courts started using arraigo in organized crime cases to prevent suspected criminals from fleeing during an investigation. Mexican media applauded Murillo Karam’s statement when Veramendi was released but if the Attorney General is unable to find and convict corrupt police, military and civil servants, public sentiment will certainly change.
On 17 April 2013, a judge also freed General Tomás Ángeles Dauahare, another person alleged to have aided the Beltran Leyva Cartel nabbed in Operacion Limpieza. Informants said Dauahare used his influence and resources in the military to protect the landing of drug-laden planes at the Cuernavaca, Cancun and Toluca airports. Police took Dauahare into custody on 15 May 2012, on information provided by Jennifer and another source, known as “Mateo.” Prior to his arrest, there was speculation that if Enrique Peña Nieto won the 2012 presidential election, he might select Dauahare as his Secretary of Defense. Some political analysts spread rumors that Dauahare’s persecution was a means of indirectly attacking EPN.
Jennifer swore that he served as a go-between when La Barbie wanted access to the Cancun airport, saying he met with Dauahare, who recommended contacting General Rubén Pérez Ramírez, in charge of that region. Jennifer says he gave Perez Ramirez US$30,000, to which the general responded that “he wasn’t asking for money, but that gifts are always appreciated.”
In the case of General Dauahare, not all the testimony against him came from anonymous sources. Major Arturo González Rodríguez was a member of the Presidential guard arrested in 2008 on information provided by Jennifer, alleging that González Rodríguez received US$100,000 a month to keep the Beltran Leyva Cartel leadership informed of Sedena operations. In turn, Gonzalez Rodriguez reported on the alleged corruption of Dauhare and General Roberto Dawe González. (The latter supposedly conspired to take possession of military vehicles, claiming to recycle them, and passing them on to criminal organizations.) Subsequent investigations could not locate proof of any of the specific allegations against González Rodríguez; an inventory showed that no arms were missing at the arms storage where he worked and alleged spirited away material for the cartel; a search of business registrations could not locate a private security business alleged owned by González Rodríguez; moreover, army records indicate that González Rodríguez, in fact, never had access to highly confidential information about Presidential security. Finally, when authorities arrested and questioned Beltran Leyva leaders El Indio and La Barbie, they did not recognize Major González.
Although Ramírez Mandujano believes U.S. authorities instigated Operation Limpieza (Clean-Up), providing some initial information to Mexico, he lay the blame squarely at the feet of his Mexican compatriots. Almost simultaneous with his arrest, the U.S. approved US$400 million in funding for the Merida Initiative to aid Mexico in combatting drugs trafficking, putting pressure on the Calderon government to find and prosecute high-level officials collaborating with transnational organized crime. Ramírez Mandujano argues that Marisela Morales, the previous Attorney General, conspired to offer him as a scapegoat simply to show progress to her American counterparts, a sentiment shared by Dauahare. Dauahare indicated he is considering legal action against members of the Calderon cabinet for his unjust prosecution.
In the meantime, the other officials taken down by Jennifer’s testimony are awaiting a ruling on their requests to be released. It appears extremely unlikely that a judge would decide their cases any differently.
It is clear that Murillo Karam is making a definitive shift in judicial procedure. He is against detention without substantive evidence. He is against anonymous testimony and testimony from witnesses who are paid by the government or have other conflicts of interest. In theory, this sounds like an improvement from the standpoint of human rights and criminal justice. However, the result may be fewer prosecutions and the liberation of more people tied to organized crime.
Now it will be up to Murillo Karam and his staff to ensure that they take positive steps in identifying and addressing public corruption, bringing cases from investigation to conviction. For Murillo and EPN it is going to be much easier to undo the work of Calderon and Morales than it will be to rid the ranks of corruption.
Bottom line: Maduro will defeat Capriles in the upcoming special presidential election, securing his power and cementing a continuance of chavista policies.
22-Mar-2013 - Mexico: Mexico Telecommunications Reform: A Whole New World
Background: When Hugo Chávez left Caracas to undergo cancer surgery in Cuba in December 2012, Vice President Nicolás Maduro took the reins of power. He has governed as President ever since. At that time, Chávez asked Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he failed to recover. That day is now here; the 14 April 2013 election will simply end discussion about the constitutionality of Maduro’s rule.
On 10 March 2013, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles agreed to run as an opposition candidate. In essence, it has been a second campaign against Chávez given Maduro’s propensity to invoke his deceased mentor. On the campaign trail Maduro has done his best to spark voter interest by leveraging chavista grief. He calls himself Chávez’s “son,” and more recently even told supporters that Chávez visited him in the form of a little bird.
State-owned television and radio stations flooded the airwaves with Maduro’s message: a vote for him is a vote for Chávez. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has ignored questions raised by Maduro’s opponents about the integrity of the electronic voting machines. Despite a campaign light on substance, Maduro is not blind to the problems facing the next President: massive government debt, runaway inflation, food shortages, blackouts, urban murder rates among the highest in the world, and stagnant oil production.
Commentary: Whether Maduro wins or “wins,” media is likely to report a margin of 10 percent to convey legitimacy and quash calls for a recount. Capriles will concede gracefully, even if the margin is closer. Instead, he and the opposition movement will wait for their next opportunity—the 2018 elections, if Maduro lasts in the Executive Office until then.
Maduro is a true believer in Chávez’s socialist ideology, so he will probably lobby his inner circle to continue with social welfare programs, including the consumer gasoline subsidy, as much as possible. Extreme rhetoric and conspiracy theories will remain constant. Still, Maduro will not pander to the most radical elements of the PSUV party, because he has little to gain from that.
If he does not address the financial and monetary crisis in Venezuela, inflation will continue to wreck the country. The bolivar will lose more and more value. Shortages and blackouts will become more widespread and common.
The most obvious path out of economic distress is pumping more oil. The easiest way to accomplish that would be for Maduro to swallow his pride and give partner companies better terms to develop new fields, especially in the Orinoco Belt. It won’t be Maduro’s first choice, but if he adopts the mindset of a President in a state of emergency, he may reach out to companies like China National Petroleum Corp. and Russia’s Gazprom. Pdvsa will have a window of opportunity this year to prove it can boost oil production; if it does not, Maduro may replace top management, including Pdvsa President Rafael Ramirez later in 2013.
Maduro’s survival as President will rest on his ability to encourage growth at the national level and improve the lives of average Venezuelans at the individual level. His wife, Cilia Flores, was a former Attorney General and may present new domestic security policies like harsher minimum sentencing standards.
Though Maduro does not have Chávez’s charisma, he will not encounter challenges from internal party rivals yet. Instead, a likely scenario is that his rivals, such as the head of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, will wait for Maduro to take the blame for economic and social policy failures, fall from grace, and then step in to claim the title of true heir to Hugo Chávez.
Bottom line: Mexico’s telecommunications sector reform will break up monopolies, creating greater competition and improve Mexico’s economy.
28-Feb-2013 - Paraguay: Counting on elections to showcase a credible democracy
Background: On 11 March 2013 at the Federal Electricity Commission Tech Museum, President Enrique Peña Nieto presented a telecommunications initiative to reform Article 71 of the Constitution, devised by the Pact for Mexico (a political party alliance including the PRI, PRD, and PAN). The reform will drastically change the telecommunication landscape by opening it up to new competition, affecting entrenched telecom monopolies.
The reform will create two new national television networks and require satellite and cable TV companies to retransmit broadcast television signals. Regarding telephones, it requires reformulation of cell and landline costs, and opens the sector up to foreign investment. Foreign businesses will be permitted to own up to 49 percent (up from zero percent) of radio firms, and can increase their stake to 100 percent (up from 49 percent) in other telecommunications operations. Finally, it includes the establishment of the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) with the authority to break up monopolies of 50 percent of the domestic market, revoke broadcast licenses, and implement new regulations favoring small telecommunications business.
While the industry is worth US$30 billion, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates US$129 billion was lost in overcharges and missed opportunities between 2005 and 2009, setting back Mexican economic growth by nearly 2 percent yearly. However, since the announcement, América Móvil shares fell more than eight percent, reaching lows that have not been recorded since 2009. Televisa shares were also affected, dropping 2.44 percent. Drops in both companies’ shares affected the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores, causing it to fall at least 1.33 percent. Yet, Standard & Poor indicated the perception of Mexico’s economy could increase by 33 percent in the upcoming months as a result, a change that would give Mexico greater access to credit at lower interest rates.
Even though the initiative took four months to negotiate amongst the Pact for Mexico, the President of the Chamber of Deputies Francisco Arroyo Vieyra believes the first round of voting will happen before Easter vacation on 28 March 2013 and it approved by the end of April 2013. Legislators want to push through the legislation quickly before the influential telecom tycoons water down reforms. On 13 March 2013, more than 300 deputies signed to support the bill when it was presented in the Commission on Constitutional Points, in the Chamber of Deputies. Both Chambers of Congress and more than 50 percent of state legislatures must approve the bill to amend the Constitution.
Commentary: Telecom reform is just another angle of Peña Nieto’s push to improve Mexico’s image through economic growth. For years the sector has been dominated by inefficient and costly monopolies, limiting cell phone penetration, which is rapidly expanding in the rest of Latin America. Breaking up monopolies and creating greater competition reduce costs for individuals and increase exposure to varied (political) viewpoints. During the last election, the dominant television monopoly Televisa broadcast coverage that heavily favored Peña Nieto.
Amending the Constitution in this instance provides more opportunities for foreign companies to enter the market. Spanish company Teléfonica stands to benefit the most from entering the market, and will likely seek to control 20 percent of the market share. However, Carlos Slim does not have to worry about losing his billions; these reforms could shift monopolies to other market segments. President of the Federal Commission on Competition (CFC) argued the amendments could allow América Móvil to enter the television market, which it was previously barred from entering. Access to new markets explains the celebratory response to proposed reforms by América Móvil and other monopolies.
Bottom-line: While the political parties fight it out for the executive power, the Superior Tribunal for Electoral Justice (TJSE) must achieve its ultimate goal of restoring international faith in Paraguay’s democracy.
18-Feb-2013 - Colombia: Peace talks amid violence
Background: After blundering a violent eviction of indigenous squatters (link to previous blog post on topic), then-President Fernando Lugo (FG) was impeached by Paraguay’s parliament (controlled by his conservative opponents in the Colorado Party) on 22 June 2012. Subsequently, Paraguay was suspended from Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) for what some labeled a coup ousting a democratically elected President. In August 2012, the Superior Tribunal for Electoral Justice (TSJE) called for new presidential elections in April 2013; in the interim, Lugo’s Vice President Federico Franco assumed power.
For the third time, Ret. General Lino Cesar Oviedo Silva entered the race for the party he founded, the Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Eticos (Unace), an alternative to Colorado on the right. On 2 February 2013, while returning to Asunción after a rally in Concepción, Oviedo was killed in a helicopter crash. It was ruled an accident, but Unace considers the circumstances suspicious, especially since it occurred on the anniversary of the overthrow of Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, in which Oviedo directly participated.
Other parties scrambled to find presidential candidates. Horacio Cartes won the primaries for the Asociación Nacional Republicana, also known as the Colorado Party.
| Political Party
Asociación Nacional Republicana (ANR) or Colorados
Right; conservative, republican, nationalist, property
Alianza Paraguay Alegre; coalition including Partido Radical Liberal Auténtico
(PLRA) and Partido Democrático
Center-Left; social democracy, development
Movimiento Avanza País; coalition including Partido Movimiento al Socialismo (P-mas),
Partido Revolucionario Febrerista (PRF), Partido Demócrata Cristiano (PDC),
Partido Paraguay Tekopyahú (PPT), Movimiento 20 de Abril (M-20A)
Unión Nacional de Ciudadanos Eticos (Unace)
Lino Oviedo Sánchez (Nephew)
Center-Right; conservative, “ethical politics”
Left; feminist, socialist
Partido de los Trajabadores (PT)
Eduardo "Coco" Arce
Left; socialist, agrarian reform, progressive tax,
nationalization, debt default, anti-imperialist
Frente Guasu (FG)
Aníbal Carrillo Iramáin
Left; socialist, social-democratic, progressive, agrarian
On 25 February 2013, four candidates (Cartes, Alegre, Carrizosa, Ferreiro), gathered at the Municipal Theater in Asunción for the first presidential debate. For now, Cartes and Alegre are neck in neck in leading the polls.
Cartes, a banker and tobacco man by trade, faces his own brand of problems as dirty laundry is aired during the campaign. Rumors are surfacing about Cartes’ involvement in shady business deals, including the purchase of property from suspected trafficker Fadh Jamil and a drug-laden plane which landed on his estate in 2000. One of Cartes’ banks was investigated for money laundering in 2007. The race is currently close, so he must maintain a good reputation to hold on to voters.
Alegre, a lawyer trained in Asuncion with higher degrees in political science from Spain, appears to be building momentum. Alegre jumped into politics in the 1980’s as a member of the PLRA, and in 2008 he held office as a Senator, until Lugo appointed him as the Public Works and Communication Minister.
Comments: In 2008, Lugo’s party (FG) won because Oviedo split the vote of the Colorado Party, which dominated Paraguayan politics for 61 years. They learned their lesson; the Colorados sought a popular candidate, Horacio Cartes, to unify the party this year.
Despite Cartes’ initially strong lead, Alegre has caught up and even slightly surpassed Cartes in recent polls, drawing support for his wide-ranging political coalition from groups including Colorado. Endorsed by current President Franco, Alegre hopes economic improvements will bolster his position even more by April 2013. Alegre faces a bumpy campaign trail, trying to consolidate voters from various socio-political backgrounds in the face of competing liberal candidates and a united Colorado party. However, other liberal parties, such as Lugo’s FG are trailing far behind in the polls.
No matter who wins, clean democratic elections are essential to restoring Paraguay’s credibility, removing sanctions, and reinstating its membership to Mercosur and Unasur. The TSJE is conducting legitimate elections, inviting more than 400 international observers, including missions from the EU and the Organization of American States. It also formed an inter-institutional cooperation pact regarding transparency with Paraguay’s National Anti-Corruption Secretariat (SENAC), the first agreement of its kind.
Bottom-line: The government is rightly cautious about the ability of FARC leadership to guarantee a cohesive peace.
06-Feb-2013 - Region: Iran: Expanding its Sphere of Influence in Latin America
Background: Amid a fourth attempt at peace negotiations between the government of Colombia and the rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC), the FARC implemented a unilateral two-month cease-fire starting on 20 November 2012 in a demonstration of good faith. FARC allegedly perpetrated 57 attacks during the ceasefire, and the government warned of a spike in violence levels after the termination of the truce. Six days after the cease-fire ended on 20 January 2013, FARC kidnapped two policemen, Cristian Camilo Yate and Víctor Alfonso González, in the municipalities of Pradera and Florida, in the Valle del Cauca department. On 31 January 2013, Colombian soldier Josué Meneses was captured by FARC in Policarpa in the neighboring department of Nariño, close to the Ecuadoran border. The government team called for their release and on 9 February 2013, FARC spokesman Rodrigo Granda confirmed the abductees would be released. The Colombians for Peace Organization and the International Red Cross oversaw the transfer of the three men on 15 February and 16 February.
Those three kidnappings are just a fraction of FARC’s recent violence against security forces and civilians. Since the beginning of February, FARC carried out 30 reported attacks nationwide against security forces, killing ten and injuring 35. In the Choco department, FARC implemented an “armed strike” from 1 to 9 February to highlight government exploitation and corruption in the region, disrupting travel and economic activity; transport companies refused to move goods or passengers (an estimated 200,000) to Quibdo, Medellin, and Pereira, citing the threat of FARC attacks.
On 10 February 2013, the 33rd Front of FARC attacked an Ecopetrol construction site in Teorama, in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. That assault destroyed a tractor, a cargo truck, and another vehicle. On the same day, it also attacked the Caño Limon Coveñas pipeline in Carmen, Norte de Santander. Just a day later, on 11 February, the 49th Front Guerillas blew up a section of the Trans-Andes oil pipeline (OTA) near Los Ángeles, in the municipality of Ortio, in Putumayo department. On 12 February 2013, authorities were ambushed by FARC, who threw a grenade, while responding to a fire in Miraflores. That skirmish killed two, including a 10 year old boy, and injured 27. On 13 February 2013, FARC killed seven more Colombian soldiers and injured five during a battle in Caqueta department. Though historically unremarkable, the recent FARC offensive is generating a climate of unease.
Still, as the fourth phase of talks came to a close on 11 February 2013, FARC noted the peace process was progressing at the rate of a “bullet train.” While government negotiators corroborated this characterization, one of them, Humberto de la Calle also expressed frustration with the rebels’ attempts to deviate from the mutually-agreed upon agenda by discussing themes such as mining and halting electrical generation megaproject construction. Despite these small set backs, both sides exude optimism for the future. After a short respite, talks are to resume on 18 February 2013.
Commentary: While the methods and ideals of FARC may not have changed, President Juan Manuel Santos believes the government’s position of power has changed. When former President Andrés Pastrana ended the previous negotiations on 21 February 2002, FARC controlled the discussions, carrying out high-profile attacks and gaining an extensive safe haven around the San Vicente del Caguán settlement. Now, the government believes peace is possible because FARC’s position has weakened, creating an opportunity for the government to lead negotiations and achieve its goals with minimal sacrifices.
Santos has set November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement. Since it has taken four months to address the first point alone (land reform/rural development), nine more months may not be enough time to address the remaining four points (the right to exercise political opposition, an end to the armed conflict, drugs trafficking, and victims’ rights), so Santos’ timeline could jeopardize the talks. On the other hand, a stiff deadline is necessary to demonstrate seriousness, and to prevent the talks from being drawn out for years.
Finally, even if both parties reach a final peace agreement, will FARC be able to control all its various factions throughout Colombia? The ceasefire was a test-run for a final agreement, to demonstrate a unified FARC leadership, but by our assessment it failed that litmus test. Even though a majority of members might demobilize and assimilate pending a final truce, more ardent members may continue to fight as fervently as ever. Santos must proceed with caution if the FARC cannot manage a better demonstration of restraint.
Bottom-line: Iran is successfully currying favor in an expanded audience in Latin America, enabling it to develop crucial economic ties and evade the consequences of the embargo.
23-Jan-2013 - Region: Anonymous Hacktivism
Background: State-sponsored terrorism and a covert nuclear weapons program placed Iran on international pariah status. Both the U.S. and the E.U. enacted stringent sanctions, so that neither permits trade with Iran except in very limited circumstances, requiring a waiver. Iran seeks to counter the effects of isolation by finding new allies and deepening state-to-state relationships with the few countries it counts as an ally.
Recognizing Tehran’s growing influence in its “backyard,” President Barack Obama signed the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012 on 28 December 2012. The bill calls for a “comprehensive government-wide strategy to counter Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” The legislation tasks various U.S. agencies with deterring the threat posed by Iran, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the IRGC’s Quds Force, and Hezbollah by collaborating with regional partners.
The number of potential anti-Iran allies is waning: since his election in 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has opened six additional embassies in the region for a total of eleven Iranian embassies in Latin America – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela. At the same time, trade between Iran and Latin America has more than tripled to around US$4 billion. After a steady four-year climb, the Brazil-Iran trade balance reached US$2.6 billion in 2011. Exports from Argentina to Iran, its second-largest trade partner in Latin America, grew from US$84 million in 2008 to US$1.2 billion in 2011.
Not surprisingly, one of Iran’s strongest relationships in the region is with fellow “anti-imperialist” Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The friendship between Chávez and Ahmadinejad opened doors for Iran in Latin America to develop diplomatic and economic ties to Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua—all staunch Chávez supporters.
In November 2009, Ahmadinejad visited Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who later defended Iran’s right to pursue a nuclear program. In 2010 Lula proposed a fuel-swap deal; those talks stalled. Yet Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota believes there is an opportunity to revive negotiations with Iran for a fuel contract in 2013, though the Dilma Rousseff administration decidedly keeps Iran at a distance.
In 2013 Iran will continue to provide technical and engineering services to the mining and hydrocarbon sectors throughout Latin America, a form of export but also a means of integrating Iranians into the Western Hemisphere. Chávez and his Bolivarian allies have issued hundreds of passports or national ID cards to Iranian citizens. (See Douglas Farah’s Testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Nov 2012) On 31 January 2012, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s (IRIB) launched HispanTV, a 24-hour international Spanish-language HD channel. Apart from such public overtures, Iran exerts influence indirectly through Hezbollah, a criminal-terrorist organization that maintains ties to criminal organizations in Paraguay and the Tri-Border region.
More recent events demonstrate an even greater expansion of Iranian influence:
- On 21 January 2013, German customs officials discovered a Venezuelan check for US$70 million in the bag of Tahmasb Mazaher, Iran’s former Central Bank Director. Mazaher failed to declare the funds, so German authorities confiscated the check while they investigate.
- On 27 January 2013, Argentina announced plans to establish a joint truth commission with Iran to investigate the 1994 car bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. Iran allegedly directed the attack, perpetrated by Hezbollah, though the Iranian government has not cooperated in investigations. Argentina requested the arrest of the current Minister of Defense for Iran, Ahmad Vahidi, and five other Iranians for their participation in the AMIA bombing in 2007.
Commentary: Although Iranian influence on a certain segment of Latin America, namely the Bolivarian Alliance (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, or “ALBA”), its burgeoning prominence in the politics of non-ALBA Latin states should worry the U.S. In 2009 the Argentine delegation walked out on Ahmadinejad’s speech at the U.N. In 2011, they sat and listened as he verbally attacked Western powers.
In the eyes of the United States, the Countering Iran Act is grounded in the precedents of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) and the Roosevelt Corollary (1904). Both axioms invoke the United States’ right to intervene in the event that a non-hemispheric actor disrupts regional peace and safety. That precept justified action against “Soviet” communism in Latin America during the Cold War, though since the 1990s, Washington’s perennial preoccupation with other areas of focus across the world significantly diluted any remnant soft power threat the Monroe Doctrine may pose in Latin America in 2013.
For its part, an Iranian military commander already predicted the failure of the Countering Iran Act, noting the legislation will not deter Iran from continuing to engage Latin America. For both Iran and its ALBA allies, U.S. annoyance is a motivating factor to move forward with cooperation, not a deterrence. So far in 2013, Iran is gaining ground as support for the U.S. and E.U. erodes.
Bottom line: Hacktivist groups like Anonymous are permanent fixtures in the international arena, and their activities and influence in Latin America are likely to increase during 2013.
22-Jan-2013 - Honduras: 2013 looking a lot like 2009
Background: Originating in 2003, Anonymous is a decentralized international collective of individuals that self-identify as “hacktivists.” The loose-knit group opposes Internet censorship and government corruption, among other issues, and frequently hacks various government websites to expose information and/or send a message. While the group, styling Guy Fawkes masks, has existed for nearly a decade, in the last few years this cyber group has made a major splash, especially in Latin America. Various “branches” of Anonymous have popped up throughout Latin America, including Mexico and Brazil, among others.
Famously in October 2011, Anonymous had a dispute with the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas, which resulted in the reported kidnapping of an Anonymous member in the state of Veracruz. Despite the subsequent standoff between the two groups, Anonymous remained active in the region. Although 2013 is young, on 16 January 2013, Anonymous Mexico hacked the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) website around 2pm and published text from the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional
(EZLN) rebel movement, begun in the state of Chiapas by Subcomandante Marcos to fight for indigenous rights. Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attack via the Twitter handle (@anonophispano), and indicated it copied the archives of Sedena. The websites for the Secretariat of the Navy (SEMAR), and the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN) were also knocked offline on the same day. Those organizations acknowledged problems with website access, but did not connect Anonymous to the disruption in service. The Mexican government claims there was no breach of security and no files were copied, however, Anonymous claims to possess the information for more than 25,000 Mexican military members.
During the same week, on 17 January 2013, Anonymous Argentina hacked the website of the Argentine National Institute for Statistics and Census (INDEC), which recently published its summary report of 2012, regarding GDP and inflation. Anonymous posted the message, “terminemos con sus mentiras” (we are finished with your lies), referencing the statistic that an Argentine can live off of less than six pesos (US$1.20) a day, but also the GDP and inflation statistics. On Twitter, the group posted a link to a game, where the player can throw tomatoes at the Argentine Interior Trade Secretary. In that attack, Anonymous highlighted the discrepancy between official statistics and reality.
In less than a week, Anonymous Mexico delivered another hit. On 21 January 2013, Anonymous Mexico leaked the private emails of Luciano Quadri, the son of former Mexican Panal Presidential candidate, Gabriel Quadri. The emails contained private conversations between Luciano Quadri and his father about the campaign, and other issues, such as organized crime in Mexico.
Commentary: Each year, Anonymous is growing in influence and carries out more visible “operations.” At the end of December 2012, Anonymous posted an ominous video on YouTube reviewing a sample of their 2012 operations and stating “expect us in 2013.” Hacktivism is here to stay; we should expect growing numbers in established groups, along with the birth of new groups, and an increase in attacks on both government and private targets. While the existence of such groups is frustrating for governments, especially when they compromise secret information, they also serve as a watchdog against Internet censorship and corruption. Anonymous at least claims to be humanist, but we must be wary of the broader consequences of hacktivism, such as violence, especially in Latin America, where governments are battling criminal organizations. Also, the possibility exists for their “voice” to be hijacked by criminals for their own purposes, with potentially dire consequences.
Bottom Line: In 2013, Honduras is headed down the same road that led to the 2009 political crisis. Crime and inflation are up, foreign investment is down, the government’s finances are in disarray, and the president is talking about polling the Honduran people to see if they want constitutional changes that could jeopardize the 2013 general elections.
Background: In 2009, Honduran President Jose Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales proposed polling the Honduran people to see if they wanted to vote on a Constituent Assembly during the November 2009 general elections. The poll to determine if the people wanted the “Fourth Urn,” as it was called, was declared illegal by the Honduran Supreme Court, but Zelaya decided to proceed with it anyway on 28 June 2009. In the week before the planned poll, intense negotiations between Zelaya and his chief political rival, President of the Congress Roberto Micheletti Bain, failed to produce a compromise on the Fourth Urn. (Note: During elections, Hondurans deposit their completed ballots in boxes called urns. There are three urns in an election: one for votes for president, one for members of congress and one for municipal officials.)
Concerned that Zelaya would manipulate the results of the poll to demand that Congress install the Fourth Urn, the Honduran Congress, Armed Forces, Supreme Court and Attorney General conspired to remove Zelaya from office claiming he had committed crimes against the constitution that made him ineligible to continue as president. In the hours before dawn on 28 June 2009, the Honduran Army removed Zelaya from his house and put him on an Air Force plane to Costa Rica. The world awoke to Zelaya on international news claiming he had been the victim of a coup d’etat. Roberto Micheletti claimed the move was a “constitutional succession,” and he assumed the presidency; no country in the world recognized his de facto government.
With the support of the international community, Honduras held democratic elections in November 2009, and elected Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa as its president.
Commentary: This year is starting off eerily similar to 2009 with a constitutional crisis involving the Supreme Court. In 2009, the question was what would happen if the National Congress didn’t name fifteen new Supreme Court Justices before the deadline specified in the constitution. The crisis was avoided when the Congress elected the fifteen magistrates minutes before the midnight deadline. In 2013, the question is what to do with four justices removed from the Supreme Court by a Congressional vote, and the four justices sworn in to replace them. The former judges have asked the Supreme Court to declare their removal unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court denied the request.
Once again, the Honduran president is directly involved in the controversy. In 2009, it was Jose Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales who argued for reelection of some of the magistrates so he could have some measure of influence over the court. Current president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa encouraged the Congress to remove the justices following several of their decisions that went against his administration. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the declaration by the Constitutional Court that the law allowing the Honduran Police to conduct polygraphs and other “confidence tests” on police officers was unconstitutional. Curiously, the decision came after the law’s six month validity had expired; the tests had already been administered and some police officers had been fired.
Of course, this is an election year, and there is a school of thought that the Honduran Congress removed the justices because the government was concerned about how the Supreme Court would rule on a request by National Party presidential candidate and Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez to recount, vote for vote, the results of the November 2012 primary elections. Alvarez lost those elections to President of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez, but demonstrated irregularities in the final reports provided by some polling stations that would indicate fraud in favor of Hernandez. International observers did not report widespread fraud but admitted that their observations were not located in the small districts where Hernandez is strongest and where Alvarez alleged the machinations took place. Hernandez is Lobo’s preferred candidate to succeed him in the presidency with general elections to take place in November 2013.
Judicial controversies are not the only problems plaguing Honduras in 2013. The government finished the year with a budget deficit that exceeded $1 billion (6% of GDP) and many public sectors did not receive their December salary or year-end bonus. Honduras has attempted to finance its budget deficit by offering sovereign debt but has been unable to find any buyers. The local financial system has refused to purchase bonds, and it is unlikely Honduras will find international banks willing to assume the risk despite the large interest rates being offered.
Crime increased significantly in the second half of 2012; even Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla admitted that Honduras experienced a spike in homicides in the 45 days ending the year with the police unable to stem the tide. The early advances in effectiveness and reduced corruption gained after the arrival of National Police Chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla (no relation to the Minister) in the second quarter of 2012 have leveled off, and the police seemed to have returned to their status quo of mediocrity.
President Lobo broached the topic of the Fourth Urn during the first Ministers Council meeting of 2013 in which he said there would definitely be a consultation of the people during the November elections. The 2009 Fourth Urn would have been a plebiscite to ask the people if they wanted to install a Constituent Assembly to reform the Honduran constitution. The Fourth Urn in 2013 will likely ask the Constituent Assembly question as well as other national interest questions such as should the government renegotiate the contracts with the large private energy generating companies with the idea of extracting more money from them for the government.
What is the difference between 2009 and 2013? Why the Fourth Urn now when it was denied then? The difference lies in the support for the president from the other branches of government. In 2009, Zelaya was isolated since the Congress was controlled by his rival Micheletti and the Supreme Court was loyal to former Honduran President Carlos Flores. Zelaya had popular support, and he maintained the loyalty of the Honduran Armed Forces until he fired Chief of the Armed Forces General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez four days before the 28 June poll. In 2013, Lobo has the support of President of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez who is also the National Party presidential candidate. The Supreme Court will not be a factor since the Congress has intimidated the justices. The Armed Forces are led by General Rene Osorio who was previously in charge of Lobo’s Presidential Guard.
What are the possible outcomes? Hernandez fully expects to win the presidency outright using the full economic and political power of his position as head of the Congress. The opposition is divided between the Liberal Party candidate Mauricio Villeda and Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro who heads the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) Party founded by Zelaya after his return from exile in the Dominican Republic.
The Fourth Urn serves two purposes for Hernandez. If he wins the November elections, he will assume the presidency in January 2014 and use the results of the Fourth Urn vote to justify convening the Constituent Assembly at the end of his first year or beginning of his second year. Hernandez’s objective would be to lengthen the presidential term from four to six years and/or change the constitution to permit reelection. Following the drafting of the new constitution sometime during Hernandez’s second year, the country will return to the polls where Hernandez will hope to win a second term with the structure in place to continue in power for many years to come. This is similar to what Rafael Correa did in Ecuador with successful results.
In the unlikely event that Hernandez does not win the November elections, the Fourth Urn gives him a viable Plan B. The total votes in favor of the Fourth Urn will likely outnumber the total votes of any single presidential candidate including the winner of the election. In this case, Lobo and Hernandez could declare that the true will of the people is the Constituent Assembly and not the results of the polls and convene the Constituent Assembly immediately. The government would either declare the election results invalid or ignore them. The delegates for the Constituent Assembly would be the current members of Congress, many of whom are not up for reelection and would not mind staying in power for a year or more.
In this scenario, Lobo knows he would not be reelected and Hernandez would probably not open Pandora’s Box to permit past presidents including Zelaya and the still-popular Carlos Flores to run again, so the Constituent Assembly would simply amplify the presidential term to six years and convoke new elections. Hernandez would hope to use his power as President of the Constituent Assembly to reverse the result of the previous election.
So, while some of the actors have changed and the final result may be different, what is certain is that Honduras is headed for another turbulent election year.