Monday, August 13, 2012

U.S. Restricts Security Aid to Honduras

In a surprise move, the U.S. Department of State has announced that it will suspend aid to Honduran police units under the direct command of the country’s new national police chief while diplomatic officials look into claims that he ran a death squad in the early 2000s.

Citing a State Department report that doesn’t seem to have been made public, the Associated Press reports that the U.S. is aware of allegations against National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla, and has established a working group to investigate them.  The U.S. is also restricting its aid to police in the country, and until further notice will only provide funds to Honduran personnel “who receive training, guidance, and advice directly from U.S. law enforcement and are not under Bonilla’s direct supervision.”

The memo reportedly takes care to point out that, despite these allegations, Honduras meets the human rights requirements necessary in order to receive security aid. Thus, the State Department is not obligated to withhold a percentage of overall aid to the country, as was the case with Mexico in September 2010, when 15 percent of security aid was held back due to human rights concerns.

The AP notes that the decision was made in response to “a series of letters from Honduran and U.S. academics, activists and members of Congress [which] were sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to reconsider security aid to Honduras because of alleged human rights violations.” The article quotes a June 7 letter which stated, in part, that “Combatting drug trafficking is not a legitimate justification for the U.S. to fund and train security forces that usurp democratic governments and violently repress our people.”

But while the newly announced restrictions on aid will likely be hailed as a victory for Honduran human rights advocates, Mike Allison of Central American Politics points out that the move stops far short of most actual demands in the letter, which include cutting off all security aid and a local referendum on U.S. military bases in the country.  

Honduras Culture and Politics presents another drawback to the announcement: the fact that the new funding guidelines will likely not apply to a controversial proposed law enforcement unit.  Known as the “Tigres,” the elite unit will fall under the jurisdiction of both the Defense Department and Security Ministry, blurring the line between domestic policing and military operations.

News Briefs

  • The Houston Chronicle with the latest round of fear mongering over Venezuela-Iran links. The paper claims that American officials are concerned about a far-fetched and improbable scenario: that “Iranian-backed terrorists could reach to the rim of Latin America, pick up fake Venezuelan passports and sneak into the United States” via the Mexico border.
  • As noted in Friday’s Post, the Venezuelan government has detained an American citizen accused of being a “mercenary” hired to destabilize the government. President Hugo Chavez has since told reporters that the suspect was a former U.S. Marine, but little else has been revealed about the man or the evidence against him.
  • Milenio reports that the PRI mayor-elect of the town of Matehuala, in the central state of San Luis Potosi, was killed along with his advisor on Sunday morning by unknown gunmen. While San Luis Potosi has largely been spared the kind of bloodshed seen in northern border states, InSight Crime has suggested that a recent spike in violence there could be the result of a turf war between the Zetas and local allies of the Sinaloa Cartel.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled that a military colonel accused of covering up evidence of torture should be tried by a civilian court.
  • The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur of Indigenous Rights has called on Colombia to respect the rights of indigenous people in the southern Cauca department, where the local Nasa tribe has requested that federal forces and guerrillas alike withdraw from their land. McClatchy has an interesting profile of the local “indigenous guard,” an unarmed volunteer force tasked with keeping the peace in Nasa territory.
  • The Miami Herald looks at Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s request for asylum in Ecuador, and the surprising ideological overlap between the free speech advocate and President Rafael Correa, who has cracked down on independent media in his country.
  • Despite the recent slowdown in Brazil’s economy, an LA Times investigation suggests that average Brazilians have not been impacted. Economist Tony Volpon told the paper that economists are stumped by “how you can have an economy that was growing at 7.5% just over a year ago and is now at zero, but with unemployment still dropping.”
  • Organizers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, watched the closing ceremony of the London Olympics on Sunday with apprehension, reports the AP, kicking off “four years of pre-games jitters and a race against the clock to ready this notoriously laid-back beach city for the global sports showcase.”
  • The New York Times profiles the city of Buenos Aires’ recent decision to give pensions of up to $900 a month to retired writers. Beyond the fact that this is an attempt  at honoring the country’s proud literary tradition, the policy is a prime example of Argentina’s unique economic policies, marked by generous social investment at a time when governments around the world are embracing austerity.