Thursday, September 1, 2011

Top Stories: September 1st, 2011

· In Colombia, the Supreme Court reinstated the 1989 conviction of a former justice minister, Alberto Santofimio, for the planning of the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan. According to a witness in the case, Santofimio urged the ‘late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar’ to order the murder of Galan, who was political rival of Santofimio and harsh towards drug cartels.

· New video footage released yesterday shows the brother of Monterrey’s mayor receiving a large quantity of cash from a casino just days before the massacre, suggesting that the attacks may be more than just ‘acts of terrorism’ and could be linked to extortion and government corruption. It is not clear what the payments caught on tape were for whether they were illegal, but the governor of Nuevo Leon, Rodrigo Medina, said Wednesday that ‘the images clearly show complicity and corruption.’ Authorities are investigating the growth of the casino network in Mexico, which is frequently operated illegally or used to launder money. Since Calderon took office in 2006, the number of casinos in Mexico has increased from 198 to almost 800. Following the attacks, the state of Nuevo Leon launched an aggressive campaign to shut down casinos over the weekend and announced initiatives to crack-down on betting operations.

· Amid increased rebel and criminal gang violence, Colombia’s defense minister abruptly resigned yesterday. As kidnappings of oil company workers and attacks on energy extraction facilities continue to rise, industry officials warn that the violence could have negative effects on foreign investment in Colombia. Juan Carlos Pinzon will take over as the new defense minister.

· The president of Brazil, Lula de Silva, met with Bolivian President Evo Morales recently in order to discuss indigenous protests of a Brazilian-funded highway construction project through a protected Bolivian rainforest. A STRATFOR intelligence report analyzes the broader issues arising out of the conflict—fragmentation of Morales’ indigenous political base and Brazilian efforts to increase diplomatic interests as a means of supporting economic expansion.

· The Pew Research Center released a report yesterday on public attitudes in Mexico regarding ‘crime and violence and government efforts to confront these.’ Eric Olson from the Mexico Institute analyzes the key findings of the report. According to Olson, Mexicans are ‘disenchanted with Calderon’ and his ‘failure to clearly articulate his strategy.’ Olson also criticizes the report for not focusing enough on regional differences in the polls, which may provide valuable information on varying levels of support. The conclusions of the report will likely have negative results for Calderon in the upcoming presidential election.

· A WikiLeaks cable obtained by the Salvadoran newspaper, El Faro, revealed that the Salvadoran government collaborated with the United States embassy to secure the extradition of William Eliu Martinez from Panama. El Salvador had been investigating Martinez on charges of money laundering and narco-trafficking since 2001, but opted to help the U.S. capture and extradite him from Panama. El Salvador’s constitution prevents the extradition of any national Salvadoran to other nations.

· Brazil’s central bank unexpectedly cut the country’s key interest rate to 12% from 12.5%, reports BBC and Wall Street Journal. The cut has spurred worries that the country may not be committed to cutting inflation and the central bank is susceptible to political pressures.

· Colombia’s government announced a ‘crusade’ against illegal logging in the country, a multi-million dollar trafficking industry which, according to President Santos’ administration, funds organized crime groups. In Sight Crime analyzes the extent of organized crime groups’ involvement in timber trafficking.