Monday, October 10, 2011

U.S.-Mexico Gun Trafficking Scandal May See New Subpoenas Issued

Congressman Charles Issa told Fox News that he may issue subpoenas this week related to the Operation Fast and Furious investigation. This was a program by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) intended to trace gun trafficking networks from the U.S. to Mexico. U.S. agents allowed smugglers to purchase high-power assault weapons, some of which ended up in the hands of Mexican cartel operators. The most recent revelations concern a Sinaloa Cartel enforcer based in Juarez, whose arms cache included 40 rifles originally bought in Phoenix, AZ.

Issa’s announcement follows a letter that U.S. Attorney General Holder released last week, in which he argued forcefully against the “base and harmful” public discourse surrounding the ATF investigation. Republican critics say that Holder knew about the ATF program earlier than 2011, and have suggested he committed perjury, which Holder and the Justice Department has strongly rejected. Issa’s threat to begin issuing subpoenas indicates that the political catfight is far from over. So long as the investigation focuses on undigging Holder’s alleged misconduct, it’s unlikely that the core issues -- the problem of lax gun laws which allow hundreds of high-power weapons to end up in the hands of Mexican crime lords -- will ever be addressed.

News Briefs

  • Students in Chile say they will launch a new round of street protests on October 18 and 19, reportedly with support from some trade unions. A reported 250 students were arrested during demonstrations on Friday, following the government’s move to strengthen the country’s penal code, which would subject protesters to harsher punishments. The movement appears to be at an impasse: the protesters argue that, in pushing for full state control and free education for all, they represent the majority view. Meanwhile, Sebastian Pinera’s administration maintains that some of the students’ demands -- that education be entirely state-run -- are unrealistic and represent a small group of extremists. Students say they will not return to class, nor will they return to the negotiating table with Pinera and his government.
  • The LA Times takes a look at the problems assailing Tumaco, the southern Colombia port city (population 180,000) where the murder rate is nearly five times the national average. Tumaco is also one of the main recipients of U.S. military and development aid within Colombia; those looking for a critique on how that program is unrolling in Tumaco should read Adam Isacson’s report on the city, published by WOLA last May. The piece focuses on the growing problem of extortion in the city, which inspired a mass citizen protest in late September. The urban center is one of the few places in NariƱo department nearly totally controlled by the Rastrojos criminal gang; the countryside, meanwhile, has a strong FARC and ELN presence.
  • Four men were gunned down outside the Government Ministry in Guatemala City, among the most public acts of violence to take place near government buildings since last year, when four severed heads were left outside several public buildings, including Congress. The four victims, killed early Sunday morning, still had cash and IDs on them, meaning robbery is an unlikely motive. For a summary of a very specific type of violence in Guatemala -- specifically, the attacks and massacres carried out by Mexican group the Zetas -- ElPeriodico has a general tally of Zeta attacks seen so far this year. Of the 88 alleged Zeta members arrested since 2008, 75 percent were detained in 2011.
  • According to the World Bank, Venezuela is facing 18 pending arbitration cases, involving foreign companies demanding compensation for having their property seized, their stock forcibly sold and their assets taken over by the state, among other claims. Another Venezuelan official says there may be as many 28 cases pending. Companies that have tried to push claims against the Venezuelan government, in connection to the nationalization of assets in the telecommunications and oil industry, have included ExxonMobile, Cemex SAB and California-based firm Brandes Investment Partners, which saw its arbitration case dismissed by a World Bank panel earlier this year.
  • Argentina could see a landmark ruling concerning the covert adoptions registered during the military “dirty war.” The case is just in its beginning stages, and involves a young woman taken from her parents, killed for their alleged “subversive” politics, and raised by a military family. The trial could prove that such kidnapping of children -- with at least 500 known cases -- was a systematic effort by the military, done with knowledge and support of the Catholic Church.
  • In other Argentina news, poll numbers show President Christina Kirchner is projected to win during the October 23 elections, with over 50 percent of the vote.
  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog asks what U.S. foreign aid program, the Millenium Challenge Account, has achieved inside the country after four years of operation.
  • Tijuana’s reputation as a cultural and tourist center continues to improve in the international press, with another largely positive profile from the Washington Post.
  • The Strategic Studies Institute published a report on Mexico’s “narco-refugees” and the policy implications for U.S. security. The study considers how U.S. agencies should prepare to deal with a rise in asylum petitions from Mexico, and the challenges facing refugees who must prove they are unwillingly leaving Mexico due to drug violence.
  • El Faro visits one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Nicaragua’s capital and examines why transnational Central American gangs like the Mara Salvatruchas never gained a foothold here, even while common street gangs have flourished.
  • Confidencial interviews political opposition leader Eduardo Montealegre; the conversation focuses on the upcoming elections and the state of democracy in Nicaragua.
  • With municipal elections approaching in Colombia, La Silla Vacia visits Colombia oil town Puerto Gaitain, Meta, and explores how the oil boom has neglected to benefit the local indigenous communities.
  • Simon Romero at the New York Times profiles Colombia business mogul Julio Mario Santo Domingo, who died on Friday. Domingo held holdings in many of Colombia’s primary media outlets, including Caracol Radio and El Espectador newspaper. He also had investments in virtually every other industry: aviation, telecommunications, banks, cinema and so on.
  • In some briefer news briefs from over the weekend, Puerto Rico has rejected a U.S. Justice Department report on the failings of the island’s police forces; the World Bank issued a brief on indigenous populations and poverty in Mexico; the entire police force in a Nuevo Leon (Mexico) town was detained for links to organized crime; and Venezuela imitates a well-known policy used in Bogota, Colombia, and begins using mimes to control jay-walkers and traffic violators.

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