Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Questioning Otto Perez’s “Iron Fist” Policies

President Otto Perez has primarily followed a “mano dura,” or “iron fist,” security policy during his first 100 days in office, argues IPS in a review of his first 100 days in office.

“Iron fist” policies were most prominently seen in other Central American countries like El Salvador and Honduras, in which the government focused primarily on punitive measures against suspected gang members. This filled the jails in these countries to the breaking point, and failed to do much to reduce violence.

As the first sign of an aggressive anti-crime policy, IPS cites the fact that Perez ordered the military to patrol the streets alongside police about a week after he was sworn in. At the time, the government said they deployed about 500 soldiers to man about 32 checkpoints across the country, with about 15 soldiers per checkpoint, reports EFE. Other checkpoints would have police officers present. So the security sweep did not apparently consist of the military accompanying the police on block-by-block street patrols; instead, it was presented as a series of checkpoints manned by officers from both forces.

Rather than these “joint” patrols, the most aggressive measure that Perez has taken with the military is likely the 30-day state of emergency declared last week in Huehuetenango province, which indigenous and community leaders have protested. Tuesday, in an open letter to Perez, local leaders asked that the state of emergency be lifted, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. During a visit to the region, Perez argued that the government will respect human rights, “but would not tolerate challenges to the rule of law.”

Perez has tried to present this argument as the core of his anti-crime policy. During the election, he presented himself as tough on crime, leading many observers to wonder whether he would enforce a hardline security strategy as president. His status as a former military officer also raised concerns that he would favor the “iron fist” approach. When Plaza Publica asked him last year whether he would have rather have an administration like Colombian ex-President Alvaro Uribe, renowned for dramatically improving Colombia’s security but arguably at the expense of protecting human rights, or the more moderate President Juan Manuel Santos, Perez said he preferred Uribe.

According to IPS, among Perez’s most noteworthy actions during his first 100 days in office is the creation of seven anti-crime special task forces -- meant to confront crimes like kidnapping, homicides, femicide, and extortion. The most recent task force is charged with intercepting drug shipments that enter Guatemala by sea, reports El Periodico. In theory, such task forces are supposed to bolster inter-agency cooperation, especially between the judicial and law enforcement sectors. In an encouraging sign, some of the task forces have ambitious goals which emphasize reducing impunity rather than meeting a quota of arrests. The head of the anti-homicide task force, for example, told ElPeriodico his primary goal is to reduce impunity in murder cases by 63 percent compared to 2011.

The Perez proposal most often described as rooted in an “iron fist” approach is Law 3189, a bill which he first introduced in 2005 while serving as a congressman. The Law to Prevent, Control, and Eradicate Juvenile Gangs would change the legal definition of an adult from age 18 to age 12. In a March 12 interview with local news source AGN, Perez said he intended the law to deter bullying, and to discourage youths from attacking or even killing one another as part of gang rituals. He said his inspiration to re-introduce the law to Congress came from one recent case involving an 11-year-old boy who was essentially bullied to death.

As IPS reports, Law 3189 has prompted some experts to say that it emphasizes punishment over violence prevention and rehabilitation. The law did not move very far through Congress when it was first introduced. Considering Perez’s 76 percent approval rating in one recent poll, the president may now have the traction to make the law a reality, likely feeding concerns that he has opted to use an “iron fist” after all.

News Briefs
  • The US Treasury Department added two sons of Sinaloa Cartel leader’s Joaquin Guzman, alias “Chapo,” to its “kingpin” list, which blocks US companies from doing business with them. The press release notes that Mexican authorities arrested one son, Ivan Guzman, in 2005 for money laundering, but he was later set free. The Treasury Department also includes a very basic chart of the Sinaloa organization, which includes photographs of the drug lord’s sons. 
  • IPS reports on conflict between indigenous groups in Peru and a Canadian energy company: the energy company argues that the government gave them permission to conduct oil exploration activities 25 miles from the indigenous group’s lands, and that they have the support and approval of other ethnic groups in the region. The article notes that conflict raises the question of what exactly constitutes the consent of indigenous communities affected by development projects: the agreement of all constituents, or the agreement of select community leaders.  
  • In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Venezuela opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup alleges that the Chavez government is creating and arming dozens of new urban militias with the aim of sowing discord, in order to eventually prompt a “military intervention” and allow the government to call off presidential elections this fall. 
  • Jamaica’s political parties are investigating claims that a man currently serving prison time for fraud donated large sums of money to both parties, reports the BBC
  • Conflict broke out once again in a Venezuelan prison, causing security forces to fire tear gas on inmates, reports the AP
  • Fox News Latino on an ambitious proposal by the Puerto Rican government to make the island fully bilingual by 2022. 
  • A Honduran journalist and activist for gay rights who went missing Saturday was found dead. Honduran human rights organization CONADEH counts 22 journalists or media workers who have been killed during President Porfirio Lopez’s administration, reports El Heraldo.

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