Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No Shift in U.S. Security Funding at SICA Conference

The Central American Integration System (SICA) hosts the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy today in Guatemala City. It will come to a close Thursday, when the region’s officials are expected to announce joint policy to transnational crime.

In the past several days, State Department officials have dismissed speculation that the conference will result in a major, U.S.-funded security package on the scale of the Merida Initiative. While officials may consider changing the specifics of how it is used, the U.S. is likely to pledge aid that Congress has already allocated to the region, according to the AP.

At a press briefing on Monday, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela told reporters not to expect any a major uptick in security funding for the region. "The secretary may announce how we're repackaging some of our own assistance. But ... this is not a donors conference," said Valenzuela.

Instead, the strategy will build off of a discussions held at previous meeting held last May, which was predicted at the time to cost around $953 million.

More on the conference will come later this week, after the full plan is disclosed.

News Briefs

·      Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced this week that he will meet with poet and anti-violence movement leader Javier Sicilia on Thursday.  According to CNN, Sicilia and other members of the movement will request specific changes in Mexico's approach to national security, as well as call on the government to devote more attention to victims of violence. El Universal has more on the meeting, which will allow five representatives of the victims of violence to speak, and may include testimony from the office of the UN High Commission of Human Rights.

·      A journalist, his wife, and their 21-year-old son were killed inside their home in Veracruz, reports McClatchy. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission claims that 70 journalists have been killed in the country since 2000, although it is not clear how they determine who qualifies as a journalist. They also say there have been 22 attacks on media organizations.

·      Mexican authorities announced they have captured Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias "El Chango," a leader of the once-mighty Familia Michoacana. It seems that officials took Mendez into custody in the central state of Aguascalientes, where he was detained at a roadblock. According to El Universal his arrest signifies the end of the Familia’s command structure, which has been hit hard since a major crackdown last December, when officials killed Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias "El Mas Loco.” However, the Familia has fractured into a number of cells, the most powerful of which is known as the Knights Templar and continues to operate in Michoacan.

·      Although rumors persist that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), director Kenneth Melson will step down in the wake of the “Operation Fast and Furious” scandal, he has yet to officially make such an announcement.  The Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee , Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), has repeatedly called on Melson to step down insists that responsibility for the operation, which allowed guns to flow south  across the border in an effort to track them, rests higher up in the Justice Department.  Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor reports on the issue that everyone seems to be ignoring in all of this: the role of U.S. gun shops in the region’s drug-related violence.

·      The Washington Post profiles the notoriously porous, 540-mile long Guatemala-Mexico border.

·      An important, yet underreported milestone occurred last week when Panama became the first Latin American country to recognize the rebel government in Libya. It is only the 15th country in the world to do so.

·      CNN reports that France began proceedings Monday to extradite former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, where he is wanted for money laundering. The U.S. has apparently signaled their tacit consent for the move.

·      El Salvador's El Faro reports that President Mauricio Funes claims members of the Zetas have gone on “scouting missions” to buy weapons from corrupt police officers and soldiers, which he says underlines the need for a regional approach to citizen security.

·      InSight is the latest to write about fears of violence impacting Guatemala’s political life. So far, 20 murders have been linked to the September elections.

·      According to Spanish news agency EFE, 2,000 inmates in five prisons in El Salvador are suffering from food poisoning, although none have apparently been seriously harmed. The wire agency reports that –like elsewhere in the region– the country’s prisons are overcrowded and may be holding nearly 300% more inmates than their intended capacity.

·      The bishop of the Colombian city of Monteria, Julio César Vidal, told Caracol Radio on Tuesday that some 5,000 members of criminal gangs across the country are willing to surrender to authorities. In response, General Naranjo told El Espectador that the authorities will not consider dialogue with them.

·      Peru’s Ollanta Humala said Tuesday in La Paz that Venezuela and Bolivia are "the same nucleus," and of "the same nationality," and called for more bilateral cooperation between the two countries, according to El Deber. He did not, however, respond to his Bolivian counterpart’s calls for Peru to join ALBA.

·      The Wall Street Journal reports that Ecuador’s total foreign debt in April was $14.07 billion, up 3% from $13.67 billion in the same month of 2010. The newspaper claims the figure is now equal to 23% of the country’s GDP. President Rafael Correa  has deflected mounting concerns about the debt, pointing out that it is only a pittance compared to the U.S. deficit. The U.S.-trained economist then called on China to finance the debt in his country, as well as invest more in the region, according to Mercopress.

·      Speculation continues about Hugo Chavez’s health. El Teimpo says that the opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity, (MUD) is demanding daily updates on his health as an issue of national importance. As the Wall Street Journal notes, suspicious about his health were first raised after Chavez told a Venezuelan television station two days after his operation that there were no "malignant" signs found, a possible indicator of cancer.

·      Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez, has officially announced that she will run for a second four-year term in the country’s Oct. 23 election, ending months of speculation about her presidential bid. As El Clarin notes, she has not yet mentioned who her running mate will be.

·      A lawyer for the Foundation of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo has admitted that there should have been greater controls over the group’s funds after Sergio Schoklender directed federal used intended for subsidized housing projects for personal enrichment. However, he blamed the recent corruption scandal on an abuse of trust rather than intentional corruption, says El Clarin.

·      AP says opposition lawmakers in Haiti on Tuesday rejected newly-elected President Michel Martelly's choice for the next prime minister of Haiti, adding to a culture of political uncertainty in the country.

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