Wednesday, April 4, 2012

US Should Minimize Anti-Drug Aid in Cent. Am.: Report

The US should focus its anti-crime strategy in Central America on strengthening the court system and the police force, rather than drug interdiction, according to recommendations by the Council on Foreign Relations. In a new report which examines criminal violence in Central America, report author Michael Shifter argues that the State Department’s Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs should assign two-thirds of its projected budget (some $36.7 million) to the strengthening of institutions in the region. Even though some presidents in Central America may be demanding more military aid from the US in order to buy equipment and upgrade their anti-drug technology, the US should be cautious of military assistance and only offer it “under the strictest of conditions.”

But shifting money around will not be enough to confront the problem, the report states, and goes on to recommend that the US double its total funding commitment to Central America. These new funds should be used to increase training and provide resources for judges, prosecutors and witness protection programs, rather than funding military and anti-drug agencies.

The US should also support the replication of UN-backed body the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in other countries in the Northern Triangle, Shifter writes. The CICIG was designed to support Guatemala’s public prosecutor's office, and since its creation in 2007, it has been one of Guatemala’s most effective institutions, helping to launch cases against public officials like the former head of the national police, and former President Alfonso Portillo. The CICIG does have limitations -- its mandate has already been extended several times and is now set to expire in 2015, and there are questions over whether the body is doing enough to strengthen Guatemalan institutions to survive on their own. But considering that El Salvador and Honduras have already expressed interest in establishing their own CICIG-type bodies, this could be one of the most effective approaches to strengthening rule of law in the region.

Not only does the report’s concluding recommendations do a thorough job of outlining how the US may best support institution-building in Central America, but it also emphasizes that Central America needs to be fundamentally responsible for coming up with its own security solutions. This could include working with other countries in the region, including Colombia, on security issues, and implementing reforms that would fix the broken tax system in the Northern Triangle countries, and help raise more revenue for the fight against crime.

One of the more effective ways that the US can help battle organized crime in Central America is by focusing on its domestic policies which have aggravated the problem, Shifter argues. This means taking a long hard look at immigration policies which have deported thousands of Central Americans overseas, as well as its domestic drug consumption and gun control policies.

News Briefs

  • A senator from the Dominican Republic is accused of using his political influence to win some $200 million worth of construction contracts in Haiti, reports the Miami Herald. The senator, Felix Bautista, is also accused of donating at least $2.5 million to Haitian President Michel Martelly’s 2011 presidential campaign. The Dominican Republic Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation against Mr. Bautista, who says that all the contracts were awarded legally, the Herald reports.
  • An Op-Ed in the New York Times argues that Brazil should lead the way in the nuclear nonproliferation debate by voluntarily ending its uranium enrichment program. Doing so could provide an example for other developing nations to do the same -- perhaps even Iran, which has long argued that its uranium enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes. If Brazil were to renounce its right to produce enriched uranium, this would “transform the nuclear debate,” the Op-Ed argues, and “would overnight catapult Brazil into a position of global leadership.”
  • The Washington Post examines Mexico’s growing auto industry, and asks whether it is enough to help launch more Mexicans into the middle class. The article profiles the city of Aguascalientes, where Japanese car company Nissan has built factories and provided hundreds of job openings along the assembly line. But given that Mexican workers earn dramatically smaller salaries and benefits compared to their US counterparts, the Post asks whether the auto industry will be enough to spur the mass development of a middle class, as happened in the US after World War II.
  • Mexico’s leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is struggling to reject criticism that Mexico’s left is stuck in the past, according to AP analysis. Even though Lopez Obrador has appeared to assume a much more moderate position in 2011 compared to 2006,, his party, the PRD, “seems out of touch with today’s Mexico,” says the AP. This is evidenced not only in campaign ads which rely heavily on images from the 1910-1917 revolution, but on Lopez Obrador’s proposed economic policies, which over-emphasize the role of state-owned companies, according to the article.
  • A Santeria priest is accused of leading a drug-smuggling ring in Puerto Rico, and laundering the profits with help of the national lottery system, reports the AP. The organization has reportedly operated since 2003, distributing about 1,850 pounds of cocaine a year in Puerto Rico and the US East Coast.
  • From the Frontera listserve, El Pais profiles a book containing on-the-ground reporting from Ciudad Juarez. Authored by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, a correspondent for the city newspaper, El Diario, the book narrates stories of teenage assassins and kidnappers from Juarez, among others. Rodriguez told El Pais that Mexico’s broken justice system is partly to blame for why Juarez saw such a rise in violence: “Without punishment, the message that these young people receive is that human life has no value.”
  • InSight Crime on the arrest of a Guatemala drug trafficker who helped the Zetas establish themselves in the country in 2008. Horst Walther Overdick is the fourth of Guatemala’s most high-profile drug traffickers to be arrested since 2011, following the captures of Juan “Chamale” Ortiz and two members of the Lorenzana family. Similarly to these other detainees, Overdick has not been charged with any crimes in Guatemala, although he has been indicted by a US court.
  • In light of the FARC’s hostage release, the Wall Street Journal asks what might happen to Colombian radio show “Voices of Kidnapping,” in which relatives of kidnap victims call in and send messages to their absent loved ones. The radio show host estimates that the FARC still holds about 200 civilians hostage, and consequently the program is unlikely to leave the airwaves any time soon (back in the day, This American Life also did a good episode on the Colombian show).
  • Argentine human rights activist Eduardo Luis Duhalde passed away Tuesday, reports the AP. Duhalde was a trained lawyer and journalist, who was forced to go into exile during Argentina’s military dictatorship in 1976. He moved to Europe, where he founded the Argentine Commission for Human Rights, and remained an outspoken critic of the military dictatorship until a civilian government took over in 1983. President Nestor Kirchner later appointed him the national human rights secretary in 2003, a position which he held until his death.
  • Reuters on the “crackland” neighborhoods which have emerged in Sao Paulo, thanks to the rising availability to crack cocaine in Brazil.
  • President Rafael Correa’s brother Fabricio (who has said he may run a campaign during the next presidential elections) had some harsh words for Correa’s presidency in an interview with El Nuevo Herald, calling the government corrupt and intent on the accumulation of power.
  • The New York Times cartography blog has an interesting retrospective on how Bolivia lost about half its territory to its neighbors: Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, and, in what the Times describes as the most “traumatizing” loss, its access to the Pacific ocean to Chile. But sometimes Bolivia’s losses were not so acutely felt. After a three-year war with Paraguay over an arid southern territory known the Gran Chaco, Bolivia conceded about 20,000 square miles of the region in 1938. The parts of the Gran Chaco area which remained under Bolivia’s control were later discovered to house the second-largest reserves of natural gas in Latin America.
  • The LA Times on a documentary which highlights the failings of Mexico’s public school system.
  • The Wall Street Journal on Rio de Janeiro’s $10 billion effort to improve its infrastructure in time for the 2014 World cup and 2016 Olympics.