Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Venezuelan Prison Minister Announces Controversial Anti-Crowding Measure

The new Venezuelan Minister of Correctional Services, Iris Varela, has put a hold on the admission of inmates into prisons in the country, with the exception of "highly dangerous prisoners."  Varela, who made waves last week when she announced her ministry’s intentions to free 40 percent of Venezuela’s prison population, issued an order last Thursday suspending the admission of new inmates into prison by both the judicial branch and the country’s various police agencies until further notice, according to El Nacional. Varela claims the move is necessary in order to cut down on overcrowding in Venezuela’s prison system, noting that there are many inmates who have been imprisoned for "three years awaiting a hearing for minor offenses."

El Nuevo Herald reports that last week, Supreme Court president Luisa Estella Morales announced that 2,000 prisoners had been released so far by the government, all in cases where the inmates had been sentenced to prison terms under five years.

According to EFE, President Hugo Chavez has supported the policy, but requested that the minister lift the suspension in a month, remaining in place until “early September.” In the meantime, the president directed the minister to “coordinate alternatives with various centers and agencies” of the Venezuelan government.
So far it is not yet clear how the new directive will influence police work in the country, or what it will do to the country’s already soaring crime rate. El Universal cites anonymous police sources as being taken aback at the announcement, with one officer saying that they had been “put in a very difficult situation."

The Venezuelan murder rate stands at 48 per 100,000 people, making the country one of the most dangerous places in the world. With police and judges alike having been explicitly ordered not to send suspects to jail, criminal elements could be emboldened to take greater risks, which could potentially make the security situation in the country far worse than it already is.

Note: the above brief initially appeared at Insightcrime.org, the premier source of English language news and analysis related to organized criminal activity in the Americas.

News Briefs

·         Hugo Chavez is in Cuba once again for a second round of chemotherapy treatment. Still no updates on the exact nature of his cancer, or on the specifics of his prognosis.

·         The Mexican government has suspended $102 million in anti-crime grants to some of the most dangerous municipalities across the country because, according to AP, they “haven’t shown enough progress.” El Universal has more on the resulting outcry from local politicians.

·         Immigration from Mexico has fallen to almost nothing, according to the Mexican government’s National Statistics Institute.  Milenio reports that the Institute found that Mexico lost only 9 out of every 10,000 residents to migration last year, a figure which is six times lower than the migration rate in 2006.  In the first three months of this year, the figure has dropped to 5.8.  Considering that the percentage of those living in poverty rose to 46.2 percent during this period, I’d say the decrease is due more to security reasons than economic factors.

·         AP says a package bomb detonated in the offices of two Mexican professors at the Monterrey Technological Institute yesterday, injuring two professors. Excelsior has photos of the bomb, and reports that it is still unclear whether it was sent from a former student or criminal organization. The professors received second- and third-degree burns but are in stable condition.  

·         The AP reports that nine former soldiers in the Salvadoran army have turned themselves in to a military base in the country after a being indicted in Spain in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests.  According to the L.A. Times, the men have requested that the Salvadoran Supreme Court block their extradition, but it is unlikely that the court will do so. Officials are still searching for ten other suspects in the case.

·         After several appeals, Guatemala’s highest court has ruled that former first lady Sandra Torres is ineligible to participate in the country’s September elections.  According to the Prensa Libre, the Constitutional Court final ruling was unanimous, although three justices issued partially dissenting opinions to the decision. The ruling made no mention of whether Torres’ March divorce from current President Alvaro Colom constituted fraud, but did find that the move violated the constitution, which stipulates that family members of former heads of state cannot run for office.

·         According to Peru’s La Republica, President Humala called on the country’s armed forces yesterday to step up efforts against the Shining Path in the embattled Apruimac and Ene Valley region (VRAE). Humala announced that he plans on holding commanding officers in the army more accountable for casualties.

·         El Tiempo has published an interview with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos which recaps the first year of his administration. During the interview Santos paused and repeated the mantra of “Nopecu, nopecu, nopecu…” which apparently stands for “Don’t fight with Uribe” (No pelear con Uribe). The paper has also prepared this helpful graphic, which lists the top ten moments of his presidency thus far.  Meanwhile, Santos has announced a new strategy meant to address the deepening security crisis in the country, calling for increased intelligence sharing and smaller, more mobile army patrols.  BBC and Semana have more.

·         Colombia Reports claims that ten members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community in northern Colombia have been assassinated this year, and are under constant threat from paramilitary groups despite the community’s support from international human rights groups and members of the U.S. Congress. According to Revista Semana, 29 human rights defenders and community leaders have been killed in the country during the first half of 2011, and three more have been “disappeared.”

·         Chile’s student movement has called for a national referendum on their demand for free, quality education in the country. The students have rejected President Sebastian Pinera’s list of 21 proposed reforms, due to the fact that it will not require private educational institutions to invest their profits in educational improvements. AP cites student leader Giorgio Jackson as saying that the situation is becoming critical for students, as the 40 or so students on hunger strikes are weakening and many students now stand to lose a year’s worth of education because of the protests. The wire agency says that more than 900 protestors were arrested in last week’s mobilizations, and notes that a major march has been planned for today in Santiago. Meanwhile, El Ciudadano reports that the movement has called on former president Michelle Bachelet to take a stand on the issue.

·         Folha.com reports that Celso Amorim, Lula's ex-foreign minister, has been named Brazil's new defense minister after Nelson Jobim's sudden resignation last week.  AFP notes that Amorim is best known for his efforts to improve ties among developing nations in Latin America and helping to organize the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). In October 2009, Foreign Policy magazine called Amorim the "world's best foreign minister."

·         The head of Brazil's indigenous protection service is scheduled to make an emergency visit to a remote outpost in the Amazon amid fears that members of an isolated tribe may have been "massacred" by drug traffickers, The Guardian reports.

·         Latin American stocks plunged yesterday, amid fears that the U.S. and European debt crises would hamper growth in the region.  Reuters reports that the MSCI Latin America stock index plummeted by 5.52 percent, in its worst day in over a year. Brazilian, Mexican and Chilean stock indices all registered major losses.

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