Thursday, May 17, 2012

DEA Commando Teams Spark Controversy in Honduras

Authorities have confirmed that a DEA commando team was present during two shoot-outs with drug traffickers in Honduras this month, which may have left four civilians dead, reports the New York Times. The incident has drawn increased attention to the role of these commandos, known as Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Teams (FAST), and is already prompting a backlash from some Honduran communities, who demand that the DEA exit the country.

The first firefight took place on May 6 and the second one of May 18, according to the Times. The FAST teams, whose primary mission is to train the local security forces in combating drug traffickers, were accompanying the Honduran anti-narcotics police at the time. When discussing the May 18 shoot-out, the Honduran government initially said that two drug traffickers were killed and a load of cocaine seized. But a local mayor later contradicted the government’s account, stating that four innocent civilians were killed after the Honduran police opened fire on a boat they thought was smuggling drugs.

These incidents calls attention to the increased role of the US in providing anti-drug aid to Honduras, which includes the creation of three “forward operating” bases in remote parts of the Central American country, meant to act as a launching pad for anti-narcotics operations. But the violent episodes also highlight some of the inherent risks of the FAST teams -- often surrounded in secrecy, when they are involved in anti-drug operations that go wrong, they risk prompting a nationalistic backlash, in part fueled by memories of US intervention in Central America during the Cold War. The AP reports on the first signs of this backlash, as rural communities where the botched anti-drug operation took place have attacked several government offices, demanding that the DEA leave Honduras.


News Briefs
  • Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that two army generals, including the former assistant defense secretary, are being questioned for allegedly protecting the Beltran Leyva drug cartel, reports Reuters. Excelsior reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) provided some of the intelligence which helped build the case against retired general Tomas Angeles Dauhare. Dauhare initially raised suspicion among Mexican media when he quietly left his post of assistant defense secretary in 2008, a sudden and unannounced departure for a man whose name was previously mentioned as a possible Secretary of Defense. The other active duty general, Roberto Dawe Gonzalez, is being investigated for links to organized crime during the brief term (September 2009-December 2010) of former attorney general Arturo Chavez. He also once held posts in two of Mexico’s most violent states, Sinaloa and Chihuahua.
  • The New York Times on Brazil’s controversial environmental bill, which activists say is too lenient on farmers who clear woodlands for agriculture. The proposed law also decreases the amount of forest that farmers must preserve. Congress passed the bill on April 26, but it will only become law if signed by President Dilma Rousseff. If she instead chooses to veto it, it could become a defining moment of her presidency, the Times argues.
  • The Miami Herald speaks with Haiti’s new prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, the fourth to be sworn in so far in just over a year. The newspaper notes that while Lamothe has faced some criticism for his lack of political experience, there is “collective goodwill” hoping that he will succeed in staying on in Haiti’s second-most important political job. 
  • The AP with a profile of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduros, one of President Hugo Chavez’s closest political allies and a rumoured successor should Chavez have to pull out of his presidential campaign due to health issues. The profile outlines Maduros’ background, rising from a union organizer for metro workers to president of the National Assembly to foreign minister. The article also notes that “Maduro is considered by some observers the aide with the closest links to the Cuban government within Chavez's inner circle.”
  • The seven members of Brazil’s truth commission were officially sworn in Wednesday, reports Al Jazeera. The commission is charged with investigating human rights abuses conducted from 1946-1988, with a special focus on the military dictatorship of 1964-1988.
  • InSight Crime considers an alternate theory for the May 15 bombing in Bogota, wondering whether Colombia’s far-right could have had reason to conspire such an attack, in order to cast the blame on rebel group the FARC and bolster their argument that President Juan Manuel Santos is weak on security issues. Nevertheless, the FARC still appear to be the prime suspect for the case. Elsewhere, Time magazine has analysis on the blast as a reminder of Colombia’s unresolved security problems. 
  • Ecuador continues its investigation into the drug-flight which crashed in the rural north last weekend, killing two Mexicans on board. The plane drew attention towards Ecuador’s increased importance as a transhipment point in the drug trade, after authorities announced the aircraft carried at least $1.3 million in cash on board. In the latest development, El Comercio reports that the plane crashed just 35 kilometers away from a cocaine processing lab, raising questions over whether the plane and the lab are linked. 
  • The AP with a feature on the financial burden faced by Chilean students, who must borrow heavily in order to afford university education. The news agency observes: “Despite more than a year of mass protests that raised hopes across Chile for education reform, few students have seen any real benefits. Politicians and students have hardened their positions, but the system is still failing families with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and banks that still make huge profits on loans that most Chileans can ill afford.”
  • Haiti and the Dominican Republic have agreed to increase their anti-narcotics cooperation, comitting to share technology used for tracking suspect smugglers, reports Infosur
  • NACLA with a fine article from its new issue reviewing President Ollante Humala’s time in office, noting that during his presidential campaign, he was seen as the left’s most promising option in contrast to the right wing’s candidate, Keiko Fujiori. So far, however, his term has mostly been a disappointment to those hoping he would support popular mobilizations against Peru’s many controversial development projects. 
  • Eight people have been charged with sacrificing three victims to the Santa Muerte cult, reports the AP. Authorities first announced the cult killings in early April, which were described as the first confirmed reports of human sacrifices to the deathly saint.