Thursday, July 7, 2011

Colombian Security: Rhetoric vs. Reality

As reported in Tuesday’s brief, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that the FARC’s commander, Alfonso Cano, just barely escaped an air raid on his camp located in the south of the mountainous Tolima department last week.  Since then more details have emerged about the attack, which officials are claiming forced Cano to abandon his usually heavy security contingent. According to El Tiempo, the rebel leader is now on the run with only twelve men, with at least a thousand Colombian security forces hot on his heels. This has led President Santos to make some of his boldest statements yet concerning the guerrillas, saying "Sooner or later, Cano will fall -- just like all the other FARC leaders."

However, there is reason to view this announcement with skepticism. With nearly three quarters of Colombians believing that the security crisis in the country is getting worse, the government has found it increasingly difficult to sell its security policies to the Colombian public. According to Colombia Reports’ Gaary Leech, the military has stepped up its propaganda campaign against the FARC, making statements that come off as entirely illogical. This includes recent remarks made by Admiral Edgar Cely to El Tiempo, in which the armed forces commander dismissed a recent round of FARC attacks as consequences   The paper reported that there have been 142 “terrorist attacks” so far this year while there were a total of 144 in 2010.

Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera added to the official claim on Wednesday, claiming that these attacks are only acts of desperation.  Rivera said the FARC attacks, rather than a show of strength, should be seen as ndicators that the FARC are “Pablo Escobar-izing,” and becoming more involved in criminal activities.  

But this argument amounts to an attempt to sweep rising insecurity under the rug, and clashes harshly with the lived reality of Colombians. As El Espectador’s editorial board points out, the FARC conducted five major bombings on highways in the last two weeks of June, killing six police officers. While the incidents are a far cry from the assaults that the rebels carried out during their heyday in the 1990s, they demonstrate that the group still has capacity to carry out debilitating attacks security forces in the country.

According to a military report cited in El Espectador yesterday, the Colombian armed forces have killed 3,500 people engaged in criminal or rebel activity, 1,137 of which were FARC, ELN and EPA guerrilla fighters. Only 353 were members of the so-called BACRIMs (“bandas criminales”), the second generation paramilitary groups in the country that are believed to be the principal generators of violence.

News Briefs

·         The Wall Street Journal recently sat down with Santos, to discuss the Colombia’s new Victims’ Law, which aims to give $20,000 in restitution to victims of the war and has potential to return nearly 16 million acres of land to those displaced by the violence. Although the president expressed optimism about the new law, whether it can be fully implemented remains to be seen.

·         Despite widespread speculation that his agenda was too full to meet with Ollanta Humala, President Obama  made ​​a brief and unexpected visit  with the Peruvian president-elect during a meeting with meeting at the White House with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. AFP says Peru’s Ambassador Luis Chuquihuara called it a surprising breach in protocol which demonstrates “high political courtesy,” as the U.S. does not usually meet with elected officials, but only sitting heads of state. As expected, Humala pledged cooperation on drug trafficking and regional security with U.S. officials, with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela saying that the White House is “very willing” to work with the incoming leader.

·         In an interview recorded by Mexico’s Ministry of Public Safety, the Zeta leader captured earlier this week -- Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar alias “El Mamito” – claimed that the group obtains much of their arms from the U.S., and said that their Gulf Cartel rivals bring them in freely. Borderland Beat has more on these allegations.

·         The Miami Herald offers a profile of the main opposition in Venezuela: Miranda governor Henrique Capriles Radonski and former Chacao mayor Leopoldo López . The article says the two are hoping for Chavez’s recovery in order to beat him in the 2012 elections, but the two will face an uphill battle against the Venezuelan president’s high popularity, which has been repeatedly placed around 50%. According to the polling firm Interlaces, Capriles currently has a 23 percent approval rating, followed by Lopez’s 14 percent. On top of this, Lopez is currently banned from office due to corruption charges, although he is challenging the development in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

·         Damien Cave of the New York Times published the first piece in a new series on immigration, entitled “Immigration Upended.” According to Cave, undocumented migration has reduced in recent years, due mostly to economic growth in the country. The Obama administration has also aided this process, granting nearly 250,000 H-2A agricultural guest worker visas from 2006 to  2010, which amounts to a 75% increase over the previous five years. The article also cites a drop in the number of illegal crossings in recent years, because of changes to the visa application process which now allow those who have been in the United States illegally to re-enter. In 2010, immigration records show that most of the 52,317 Mexican workers granted H-2A visas had previously crossed the border illegally.

·         NPR yesterday aired the first in a three part series on the trials that undocumented immigrants face in traveling northward. In 2010, hundreds of migrants went missing or were killed in Mexico, and more than 20,000 were kidnapped, according to the country’s Human Rights Commission.

·         The U.S. agreed Wednesday to end a two-year ban on Mexican trucks entering the U.S, in exchange for Mexico easing tariffs on a myriad of U.S. products, the Wall Street Journal reports.

·         Veteran Honduran journalist Adán Benítez was killed on July 4th, making him the third journalist killed in in less than two months in the country, Honduras’ Prensa Grafica reports.

·         AP says that Brazilian Transportation Minister Alfredo Nascimento resigned yesterday, after four officials in his ministry were tied to a kickback scheme.

·         Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has banned classified newspaper ads by sex workers in the country, saying that the ads are degrading and encourage human trafficking. Although the Wall Street Journal claims that the move “takes a swipe” at media groups in the country, the ban is not likely to have a significant impact on revenue for newspapers, and is comparable to a recent ban in the U.S. on sex advertisements in Craigslist.

·         Elba Esther Gordillo, president of a major teachers’ union in Mexico –the largest union in the country—is now facing charges that she met with the former head of the Mexican social security agency to demand 20 million pesos  per month in order to finance the activities of her recently founded New Alliance Party.  According to the Miami Herald, the development has implications for the upcoming presidential elections in 2012, widely expected to go to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI's national leader Humberto Moreira, has recently spoken of an alliance with Gordillo.  

·         Haitian President Michel Martelly named another appointment to Prime Minister yesterday before leaving on a three-day visit to Spain. Bernard Gousse, a former justice minister, has a controversial record in the country, and was accused of being unable to tackle organized crime and corruption in the country. Because his nomination is widely expected to be rejected, the Miami Herald reports that the move could be a tactic to re-appoint caretaker Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who has been previously rejected by Haitian lawmakers. However, some in the country will open old wounds as Gousse was an ardent critic of ex-president Aristide , and imprisoned several of his supporters while in office.

·         An investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has found that, despite an improved record on freedom of the press in recent years, the Cuban government continues to persecute critical journalists. From March to April 2011, the CPJ found that journalists were targeted in more than 50 instances of arbitrary arrests, short-term detentions, beatings, smear campaigns, and surveillance.