Chinese government requests protection for citizens in Venezuela

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry shared on 19 December 2016 that the Chinese Government requested protection for its citizens residing in Venezuela, following recent episodes of violence and looting due to cash shortages. According to Fernando Cepeda, the President of the Bolívar state Chamber of Commerce, hundreds of businesses were looted in Ciudad Bolívar, and many were Chinese-owned (Efecto Cocuyo). Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated the Chinese Embassy in Caracas activated an emergency mechanism to issue security warnings to Chinese residents in Venezuela and urged the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to take measures to protect Chinese citizens (La Patilla).

Venezuela-Colombia border to gradually reopen

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on 19 December 2016 agreed to gradually reopen the frontier beginning on 20 December. Maduro first shut down the border on 13 December for a 72-hour period to prevent alleged economic attacks from Colombia, and had stated the border would be closed until 2 January 2017. However, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López announced via Twitter that the pedestrian crossing, the Simón Bolívar International Bridge between San Antonio del Táchira in Venezuela and Cúcuta, Norte de Santander province, would reopen, followed by the eventual normalization of all border crossings (Efecto Cocuyo). Colombian Communication and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas also took to Twitter to report that the president instructed the Banco Central de Venezuela and Colombia's Banco de la República to discuss a solution to the problem of instability in Venezuela's money supply (Panorama). 

The border reopened after the Colombian Foreign Relations Ministry announced on 19 December it summoned Iván Rincón, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia, to Bogotá to hand Rincón a statement. The declaration expressed the Colombian Government's disagreement with Venezuela's accusations that Colombia has caused economic instability in Venezuela (El Nacional). Santos commented on 19 December that Venezuela's economic problems are not on the Colombian border, and stated he would travel to Cúcuta on 20 December to speak with local authorities (El Nacional). Maduro's decision to blame "cash mafias" and currency exchange houses in Colombian border cities such as Cúcuta for soaring inflation and currency hoarding have led to strained relations with Colombia since 11 December, when Maduro announced that all 100-bolivar notes would be removed from circulation. Maduro has since reversed the policy, and the decision to gradually reopen Venezuela's border with Colombia could help to repair relations with its neighbor and ensure Venezuelans can cross into Colombia for much-needed supplies of food and medicine. 

Authorities dismantle criminal group linked to Sinaloa Cartel in Guatemala

Guatemalan security and police forces captured thirteen people, including a Chief Commissioner and an Assistant Attorney for the Public Prosecutor (MP), on 18 December 2016 for the crimes of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, passive bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of authority (El Periodicio, Emisoras Unidas). According to El Periodico, the group, led by Mynor Fabricio Oajaca Quiroa, is part of an investigation implicating them in customs contraband as well as arms and drug trafficking. El Periodico linked the group to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and reported they orchestrated the arrival and departure of drug shipments along the Pacific Coast from the beaches of Mazatenango. Interior Minister Franciso Rivas said the group terrorized the western part of the country through drug trafficking, extortion, contract killings and kidnapping (El Periodico).

Public Ministry denounces Lula, others in Operação Lava Jato

The Brazilian Federal Public Ministry on 15 December 2016 denounced former President Lula on corruption and money laundering charges related to the Petrobras corruption scandal (Folha de S. Paulo, Valor). The crimes involve US$22.4 million in eight contracts between the state oil firm and Odebrecht, a major construction firm that has admitted to its involvement regarding bribes and cartel activity in the scandal. Lula stands accused of accepting US$3.7 million worth of land, used for the headquarters of his Instituto Lula in São Paulo, and a penthouse addition to his apartment in São Bernardo do Campo (SP) valued at US$150,000. The Ministry also cited Marcelo Odebrecht, Lula’s wife, and others on money laundering.

Mexico among most dangerous countries in the world for the press

The organization of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released its annual report on 19 December 2016 and found Mexico to be the third deadliest country in the world for journalists during 2016 (Zócalo Saltillo). In 2016, there were nine reported murders of journalists in Mexico, only behind Syria (19) and Afghanistan (10) (Zócalo Saltillo). The organization listed Mexico as the most lethal country for journalists in Latin America as well as the deadliest among countries not at war (Veracruzanos and La Vanguardia). RWB accused the criminal organization Los Zetas for using violence to dissuade journalists from meddling in their affairs. RWB also pointed to corrupt police and judicial authorities who turn a blind eye to the repression of reporters when not involved in direct violence against journalists themselves (La Vanguardia).

Mexican interior secretary urges states to strengthen police forces

Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong requested that Mexican states and municipalities to strengthen their police forces on 20 December 2016, and suggested the army would not be used as a long term solution (Milenio). The Interior Secretary commented on security issues during the 41st Session of the National Public Security Council which also featured President Enrique Peña Nieto and other government officials (La Jornada and Milenio). Osorio Chong warned the armed forces should be used as a last resort in emergency situations and said the accusations of excessive force and a lack of legal framework have lowered morale in the military (Milenio). The Interior Secretary also highlighted the establishment of special anti-kidnapping units in every state and reported the Security Cabinet authorized the arrangement of operations in 50 of Mexico’s most problematic municipalities (La Jornada).

Currency shortage in Venezuela causes protests, looting and violence

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on 16 December 2016 to protest cash shortages after the government announced the 100-bolívar bill would no longer serve as legal tender. Although President Nicolás Maduro on 17 December postponed the date by which the 100-bolívar note would be valid until 2 January 2017, citizens have already deposited or exchanged the notes and a new set higher-denomination bills had not yet arrived in Venezuela. Maduro stated on 18 December that his government had arrested over 300 people for causing violence in recent days (Panorama). The southern state of Bolívar experienced a high level of violent incidents, and the city of El Callao Mayor Coromoto Lugo reported 40 injuries and one firearm-related death (La Patilla). In Ciudad Bolívar, approximately 600 businesses were looted, 90 percent of food purveyors were robbed or destroyed, and over 3,000 state security officials were deployed (Efecto Cocuyo).

Brazil sends committee to assist 37 citizens trapped at Venezuelan border

A delegation from the Brazilian state of Roraima was sent to the Venezuelan border on 19 December 2016 to assist 37 Brazilian citizens who were trapped in Venezuela. The Brazilians, the majority of whom hailed from Roraima and Amazonas states, were stuck at the border city of Santa Elena de Uiarén following President Nicolás Maduro's extension of the border closure between Venezuela and Brazil until 2 January 2017 (El Nacional). According to Claudio Bezerra, Brazilian Vice Consul in Santa Elena de Uiarén, the Brazilians requested help due to cash and food shortages after Maduro ordered the 100-bolívar bill taken out of circulation (El Universal). The Brazilian Foreign Relations Ministry announced later on 19 December that the Venezuela-Brazil border will be opened once per day for Brazilians to cross back into Brazil, but did not state how long the border would stay open per day (O Globo).

Mining camp attacked in Ecuador's Amazon region

The Ecuadoran government called the armed forces and police units into action after an incident occurred on 15 December, when an illegal armed group unexpectedly attacked a mining camp located on the Amazon region, which is currently being explored by Chinese company ExplorCobres (El Universo, 16 December 2016). The attack left a policeman dead and several wounded. Chinese International Relations Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang commented that the incident is being monitored, and China is willing to work with Ecuador to take necessary measures to create a good environment for bilateral cooperation (El Diario). 

PRD mayor murdered in Mexican state of Oaxaca

The PRD Mayor of Ocotlán de Morelos municipality in Oaxaca, Mexico José Villanueva Rodríguez, was shot and killed on 17 December 2016 (Excelsior). Villanueva Rodríguez received at least eight shots from point-blank range and witnesses reported the culprits fled a red explorer-type vehicle (Excelsior and Proceso). Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat condemned the attack and called for an immediate operation to secure surrounding areas and apprehend those responsible (Excelsior and Proceso). Villanueva Rodríguez died en route to hospital due to the severity of his injuries and was set to complete his term as Mayor on 31 December 2016 (Proceso). 

Veracruz governor announces creation of regional police

Governor of the Mexican state of Veracruz Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares announced a plan for the creation of regional police force on 11 December 2016 (La Razón). The proposal includes the formation of new security institutions called Regional or Inter-Municipal Police, which will be responsible for providing an immediate response to local incidences of violence (Sin Embargo). Yunes Linares sent a warning to criminals that the new regional police forces would be supporting security operations in the area and targeting illegal activities (La Razón). The Veracruz Governor made the announcement as he convened the start of a security operation in northern Veracruz targeting the municipalities of Tihuatlán, Coatzintla, and Álamo (La Razón).

Salvadoran president denies judge’s accusations of armed forces participating in threats

Salvadoran Judge Rodolfo González announced on 10 December 2016 that he and three other judges of the Constitutional Court would present evidence to the Attorney General connecting the governing party and armed forces to protests where judges were threatened (La Prensa Grafica). President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces (FFAA), denied that the FFAA had an agenda to attack the Court and accused the Court of trying to destabilize the FFAA (El Diario de Hoy). Defense Minister David Munguía Payes denied giving orders for FFAA members to participate in marches, as the judges suggested (El Diario de Hoy). González said he would present proof that state vehicles assigned to Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) party members were present at the protests. Furthermore, the judges referenced pamphlets and posters circulating calling for their death with photos of their faces (La Prensa Grafica). Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has ordered an investigation into the alleged death threats. Additionally, the government and FMLN accused the magistrates of blocking state financing and pushing the government into a liquidity crisis.

Bolivian, Colombian, and Brazilian prosecutors join in LaMia crash investigation

Attorney Generals from Colombia and Brazil arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia on 7 December 2016 to meet with Bolivian Attorney General Ramiro Guerrero investigate the circumstances of the LaMia crash. The commission of attorneys decided to arrest the airline's General Manager, Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, after raiding the company's offices (Los Tiempos). The LaMia plane crash took place on 28 November and left 71 dead near Medellín, Colombia. Among the dead were members of the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense. In Bolivia, attorneys are investigating the crimes of breach of duty and threats against security from a means of transport. Several of the accused also include Celia C., a Bolivian aviation authority employee who noticed irregularities in the flight, but failed to report them to her superiors. In Colombia, officials have also initiated charges against airport operators for culpable homicide (La Razón).

Two transborder tunnels uncovered in Tijuana, Mexico

Mexican authorities discovered two hidden tunnels in Tijuana leading under the U.S. border on 13 December 2016 (Aristegui). The Attorney General’s Office (PRG) reported the tunnels were found in the Garita de Otay neighborhood of Tijuana and were thought to belong to the Sinaloa Cartel and used to transport drugs. The PRG also revealed one of the tunnels led to San Diego, while the other was still under construction. Sources at the U.S. consulate confirmed they had obtained information about the reactivation of the tunnels, which led to further investigations by the Mexican Criminal Investigation Agency and ultimately their discovery (El Sol de Tijuana and Aristegui).

Public Ministry indicts Lula, son for influence peddling and money laundering

The Federal Public Ministry (MPF) indicted former President Lula da Silva and his son Luiz Cláudio Lula da Silva on charges of influence peddling, money laundering, and criminal organization on 9 December 2016 (Globo G1). The MPF made the announcement after investigations pointed to the involvement of Lula, his son, and the owners of a consulting firm in irregular transactions made by the federal government to purchase 36 Gripen military jets. According to the MPF, the crimes were committed between 2013 and 2015, after Lula’s mandate as president. The MPF suspects that Lula promised to use his influence in the federal government to benefit automotive clients of consulting firm M&M by way of government purchases. In return, Mauro Marcondes and Cristina Mautoni, owners of M&M, agreed to pay US$747,836 to Lula's son’s business, LFT Marketing Esportivo (Folha de S. Paulo). The indictment was made as a part of Operação Zelotes, a probe into corruption in federal, state, and municipal governments.

Odebrecht executive cites Temer, dozens of other politicians for bribery and illicit campaign funds in plea deal

Cláudio Melo Filho, former Vice President of Investor Relations at Odebrecht, the embattled construction firm under investigation for its involvement in bribery and cartel activity in Operação Lava Jato, cited dozens of politicians in a testimony as a part of a plea deal on 9 December 2016 (Folha de S. Paulo, Valor). Melo Filho said the company paid politicians to influence the passage of a bill that would provide tax concessions to producers of ethanol and the chemicals industry, allowing Odebrecht to save on taxes. The list of politicians includes President Michel Temer, to whom Melo Filho said the firm paid nearly US$3 million in bribes and illicit campaign funds, Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha (US$1.2 million), Geddel Vieira Lima (minister under both Temer and Lula, US$1.75 million), former President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha (US$3.4 million), current Chamber President Rodrigo Maia (US$178,000), Senate President Renan Calheiros (US$1.8 million), Senator and leader of Temer’s government in Congress Romero Jucá (US$5.7 million), and Jaques Wagner (minister under Dilma Rousseff, US$6.1 million). Melo Filho stated Romero Jucá may be considered the front man for the solicitations. Many of the politicians have denied the accusations, including Temer (Valor). 

The accusations will have significant consequences for the Temer administration, which took power after the opening of the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff in May 2016, finalized in August 2016. The Temer administration began with low public support, and polls from 7 December show a sharp decrease in support for the new administration. Datafolha, Folha de S. Paulo’s polling service, revealed that 63 percent of Brazilians want Temer to resign so the country may hold a direct presidential election. Temer would need to resign by 31 December 2016 for this to be possible under Brazilian law. Datafolha reported that 51 percent disapprove of the administration, up from 31 percent in July 2016. The testimony also comes as new economic data from the Brazilian Central Bank has continued to revise down growth projections given at the start of the new administration’s mandate. With low support and mounting evidence of corruption, on top of weak economic growth and fragmented support in Congress, the administration’s mandate has become even more complicated.

Mexican President assures military will continue security tasks until civilian institutions can take over

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on 9 December 2016 acknowledged the country’s security situation was not ideal and goals had not been met, but publicly thanked and recognized the Mexican military for carrying out security tasks which are beyond the scope of the country's civil institutions (24 Horas, Noticias MVS). Peña Nieto also revealed the Mexican armed forces will continue to work on security details until the civil institutions tasked with public security are fully professional and modern. The President’s remarks came after National Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos suggested the military was not trained for work in chasing down criminals (24 Horas).

U.S. renews travel warning to Mexico

The United States Government renewed its travel alert to Mexico on 8 December 2016 following recent violence in the country and included detailed warnings for U.S. citizens who intend to visit any of Mexico’s 32 states (Debate, Forbes México). The travel alert replaced the April 2016 version and gave special mention to the risk of visiting the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Guerrero, areas with a strong presence of criminal organizations linked to drug trafficking (Forbes México). Baja California, the State of México, and Tamaulipas were also included as areas where law enforcement is limited or does not exist. Mexican states listed without alerts include Campeche, Chiapas, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, Yucatán, and Veracruz (Proceso). 

Venezuela and Russia sign economic and military cooperation agreements

During the twelfth meeting of the Venezuela-Russia Intergovernmental Commission in Caracas on 6 December 2016, the two countries signed economic and military cooperation agreements. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro stated that after meeting in person with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rozogin and speaking over the phone with President Vladimir Putin, the leaders agreed Russia will provide Venezuela with its wheat supply in 2017 (Globovisión). Maduro reiterated wheat mafias are causing shortages, warned the Venezuelan Bakery Federation he will take legal action against the organization, and added Russian imports will end the scarcity of flour and long bakery lines (Tal Cual). Maduro also announced that in 2017, Russia will bring agricultural specialists to Venezuela, as well as modern anti-missile air defense systems, and artillery and infantry units (Efecto Cocuyo).

Honduras and Israel increase cooperation in security

After a meeting between Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 8 December 2016, officials signed an agreement to amplify security cooperation between the two countries with a focus on equipment, training and technology sharing (Terra Mexico). The agreement increases F5 and A37 planes, as well as the Honduran’ Air Forces’ helicopter Fleet (La Prensa). The Presidents agreed on the construction of an Offshore Patrol Vessel with the capacity for helicopter landing and take-off, as well as introducing a sophisticated land communication system with national coverage (La Prensa). Hernández stressed this additional equipment, technology and training will allow the country to focus on threats from organized crime, terrorism and drug trafficking (La Prensa). The agreement builds on and deepens previous security cooperation agreements between the two countries.