Friday, May 11, 2012

2 Cabinet Ministers Resign as Peru Falters in Fight Against Shining Path

Peru’s Defense and Interior Ministers both resigned Thursday over criticism of their handling of the latest offensive against rebel group the Shining Path. Congress was threatening to remove them by vote this Saturday, and with President Ollanta Humala absent on a state visit to Asia, it created the impression of his government under serious threat from critics.

The security forces have been struggling to respond to the Shining Path’s kidnapping of dozens of gas workers last month. Since then, ten members of the security forces have died during the jungle offensive intended to track the rebels down, in the remote valley known as the VRAE. Public opinion of the offensive turned sour after the father of a slain police officer had to travel personally to the jungle to recover his son’s body.

One former defense minister told AFP that this latest political firestorm reflect the failures of the state’s militarized policy against the Shining Path. “We picked the wrong strategy thinking that what happens in the VRAE can be solved by military and police,” he said, adding that the area was in more need of housing, health, and education funds.

Humala appointed the two ministers last December as part of a wider reshuffling in his Cabinet, which included naming a former military officer as his prime minister. At the time, the reshuffling was seen as an attempt to create a cabinet that was tougher on security issues.

With the security forces’ campaign dragging, it seems as though Congress intended the vote against the Interior and Defense Ministers as a means to indicate they too could take action in other ways. Along with the resignation of the Vice President in January in response to corruption charges, this is only the latest upheaval within Humala’s inner circle.

The other question is whether the resignations will be enough to cause a serious shift in Humala’s security policy in the VRAE, where some 500 rebels are thought to operate.

News Briefs
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on unhappy military officers in Haiti, expectant that President Michel Martelly will keep his campaign promise of reinstating the island’s army, or at least give them nearly 20 years of backpay, dating back to when the force was disbanded in 1995. As the article points out, Martelly’s campaign promise has backfired on him. In light of criticism from the international aid community, when he came to power he chose instead to create a commission to debate whether his plans for a reinstated military should go ahead. Since then, retired groups of military men have been a thorn in his administration’s side, setting up training camps and even storming Parliament in protest. The Journal notes that one of the main challenges is not so much the elderly military retirees, but the young, unemployed men who have latched onto the movement, presumably due to lack of other opportunities. As the chief of police told the newspaper, "It's a bunch of old guys that have surrounded themselves with young people. There are maybe 200 noncommissioned officers. They can be paid their back pay and they'll go away, but what do we do with all these new recruits?"
  • Foreign Policy on an interview given by a former Venezuelan official who alleges that rival elements of the military are fighting one another for control of drug trafficking routes. “The mounting revelations paint Venezuela as a budding narcostate -- a country where big-time drug trafficking money has not just bought this and that judge, or this and that prosecutor, but has taken control of the state as a whole,” the article declares. Another former official in exile, the former head of Venezuela’s main anti-drug agency, made similar allegations of a military war over drug routes in an interview with El Universal last week. But as InSight Crime points out, both these former officials “have an axe to grind, and an interest in casting the Chavez administration as deeply infiltrated by criminals.”
  • The New York Times on a small Colombian town that was destroyed by mudslides last year, due to heavy rains, accompanied by a slideshow. Gramalote was once an important farming town near the Venezuelan border, the article notes, but now residents are returning in order to practice another trade: collecting scrap metal and stones from the ruins. The fact that President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration has not yet reconstructed the town raises questions over Colombia’s ability to respond and rebuild after its increasingly destructive rainy seasons. 
  • In another indication that Asia is becoming a more important trading partner for Latin America over North America or Europe, President Santos signed a series of oil deals with China during a visit week, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Mexico has cited the improvements in New Mexico’s prison system -- once subject to the break-outs and riots commonly seen in Latin America -- as an example for improvements in their own penal system. InSight Crime observes, “In at least one sense, the US is an inappropriate model for Mexico. The US has the largest prison population in the world, both in per capita and in absolute terms... Not surprisingly, much of the US advice to other nations appears to be how to better imprison large numbers of people.”
  • The Economist reviews El Salvador’s gang truce, and points to Belize as an example of how short-lived these deals can be. Belize came to an agreement with gang leaders last September, and met their demands for jobs, costing the government $20,000 per week. Not only did such measures prompt criticism from other interest groups that the government was ignoring their demands in favor of criminals, but the truce did not last. After a wave of gang killings, March was Belize’s most violent month in two years. 
  • A Haitian has testified that six UN peacekeepers from Uruguay sexually assaulted him, reports Reuters.  It is the latest allegation of UN misconduct on the island: notably, a force of Nepalese peacekeepers were found to have brought cholera to Haiti, causing the 2010-2011 deadly outbreak. 
  • Argentina passed a law which allows people to change their gender identity without undergoing a medical procedure first, giving it some of the most liberal laws on transgender issues in the world, reports Reuters
  • The New York Times reports on the finding of ancient Mayan calendar writing and astrological recordings in Peten, Guatemala. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the calendar will likely garner a strong amount of public interest, thanks to the well-publicized fact that the Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012. Rest assured, however: one of the newly discovered calendars projects the world will continue for another 4,000 years. A more detailed look at the findings is set to be published next month in National Geographic.
  • The Economist with analysis on Argentina’s nationalization of oil company YPF, noting that the government’s poor record of managing expropriated firms does not bode well. This is especially the case of the national airlines and water company, which are run badly and do not make profits, the magazine reports. However, the magazine notes that with a respected oil engineer now charged with running YPF -- and with Brazil’s state-run company Petrobras as an example of success -- the oil firm may prove more successful.