Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guerrilla Kidnappings Put Humala in a Tight Spot

As noted in yesterday’s Post, Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla group kidnapped dozens of natural gas workers in the southern region of Cusco on Sunday. There appear to be conflicting reports about the number of people being held by the rebels. While some sources claim that 23 of the workers had been released early Monday, local officials maintain that none of the victims have been freed thus far. Meanwhile, El Comercio reports that the guerrilla group released only three individuals, and is holding on to 36 hostages in total.

The kidnapping took place in the Apurímac Ene River Valley (known in Spanish as the VRAE), which is known as a rebel outpost. After the February capture of alias "Comrade Artemio," who led a guerrilla bloc in the Upper Huallaga Valley to the north, the VRAE Shining Path are believed to be the last remaining armed front of the Maoist group.

The guerrillas have reportedly released a rather unrealistic list of demands for the hostages. According to El Correo, it includes a $10 million ransom fee, radio equipment to keep in touch with authorities, explosives and detonation devices, as well as an annual “quota” of $1.2 million. The administration of President Ollanta Humala has so far not responded to the ransom, although it has declared a 60-day state of emergency in the area.

The Shining Path is no longer a major threat to the stability of Peru, and their near-absurd demands seem to reflect more desperation than any kind of real bargaining power. Still, this incident could create a credibility gap for Humala, who has sought to portray the group as practically defunct.  Combined with the fact that he has taken a firm stance against negotiating with the group in the past, this suggests that the president will likely pursue the VRAE Shining Path determinedly in the coming weeks.  

However, this would have its own set of political pitfalls for Humala. As a Reuters piece published this morning points out, human rights groups in the country have filed a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that the president ordered the forced disappearance of two civilians during his time as an officer fighting in the country’s  brutal civil war. While Peruvian officials are confident that the commission will turn down the case, Humala could be reticent to wage an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign for fear of drawing attention to his military past.

News Briefs

·         After an article in Time magazine quoted him as saying “I love Fidel Castro,” Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen found himself facing the wrath of Miami’s Cuban exile community. Although he swiftly apologized for his remarks, the baseball team has suspended Guillen for five games. Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating argues that Guillen’s observations about Castro’s impressive ability to stay in power (and live) for so long are actually spot-on, and notes that the manager has made plenty of controversial comments in the past. Colombia’s El Espectador has another interesting take on the incident, pointing out the contradiction between the calls for Guillen to resign and the fact that the US is the hemisphere’s most outspoken advocate for freedom of speech.

·         La Razon and Reuters report that Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced that he is terminating a contract with Brazilian company OAS to build two sections of a controversial highway through the Amazon rainforest. The proposed connecting section between the two, which was to pass through the Isiboro-Secure reserve (TIPNIS) - was suspended last year after a series of massive protests.

·         After hours of deliberation, the Haitian Senate has approved President Michel Martelly's nominee for Prime Minister, current Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Lamothe. The AP notes that Lamothe will still have to gain approval in the Chamber of Deputies before he can take office.

·         With only seven months left in office, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is making his first official visit to Cuba today. Reuters claims that Calderon’s visit is aimed at “patching up” relations between the two countries, which were considerably warmer during the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s 71 years in power. When the center-right National Action Party won the 2000 elections, however, this began to change. The Global Post questions whether Calderon will raise human rights concerns during his visit, which would likely not go over well.

·         Eight taxi cab drivers were gunned down within minutes of each other yesterday in the northern Mexico city of Guatalupe. Milenio notes that the men were all unlicensed drivers, and suggests that they may have been working as lookouts for drug gangs in the area.

·         A new Gallup poll has found that support for the military in Mexico (widely seen as the “least corruptible” component of the country’s security forces) has declined since over the past four years, from 64 percent in 2007 to 58 percent in 2011.  The poll also showed that more Mexicans reported feeling less safe walking alone at night in 2011 than they did in 2007.

·         Colombian Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín told Reuters that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is slated to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas. The news agency suggests his attendance could serve to convince Venezuelans of his recovery, as well as give him a “chance to challenge President Obama openly before dozens of regional leaders.”

·         The Washington Post takes a look at the growing support for alternative drug policies in Latin America, noting that the governments of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico are all likely to challenge the United States’ war on drugs at the Summit this weekend.

·         Spanish newspaper El Pais published a piece on violence in Medellin over the weekend, claiming that the city is home to some 5,000 sicarios belonging to around 300 different gangs. The article also cited gang sources who claimed that “hits” could be ordered for as little as 5,000 pesos (about $2.75). In response, both the national and Medellin governments have called the piece unrealistic, emphasizing that violence has declined tremendously in the city. Editor-in-chief of the Medellin-based Colombia Reports, Adriaan Alselma, attacks El Colombiano (also headquartered in the city) for publishing government criticism of the El Pais article in rather colorful language, referring to the newspaper as the “local rag.”

·         La Silla Vacia checks up on the status of Colombia’s historic Victims’ Law three months into its implementation. As the news site points out, the law may not be living up to its initial hype.  

·         RNS at Honduras Culture and Politics offers a tidy assessment of Honduras’ efforts to clean up its notoriously corrupt police force. The committee charged with the task has only been partially named, and only 18 police officers have had their file turned over to the public prosecutor’s office. 

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