Thursday, February 28, 2013

Despite Security Measures, Violence in Honduras Remains Unchanged

On Wednesday, the Honduran National Autonomous University’s Violence Observatory released its annual report, based on data from the Security Ministry and the medical examiner's office. According to the Observatory, Honduras saw 85.5 homicides for every 100,000 residents last year, about ten times the global average of 8.8 per 100,000.

The report suggests that the level of violence in the country remained essentially unchanged despite new security policies enacted by President Porfirio Lobo, with the 2012 homicide rate seeing only a one percent decrease from the year before.

In late 2011 Lobo deployed the military throughout the country to assist law enforcement in an effort to crack down on violent crime, and again sent soldiers to the country’s most violent cities earlier this month in a high-profile operation.

The country’s security situation is made worse by its notoriously corrupt police force. In July 2011 the vice president of the Honduran Congress estimated that as much as 40 percent of Honduran police had ties to organized crime, and researchers from the Violence Observatory say at least 149 people have been killed by police agents over the past two years.

While Lobo promised to launch a complete overhaul of the Honduran police force in 2011, progress has been slow, and only a fraction of the force has been assessed by the commission tasked with vetting police.

News Briefs
  • Milenio reports that Mexico’s Elba Esther Gordillo, the powerful teachers’ union boss who was arrested on Tuesday on embezzlement charges, appeared in court yesterday after spending the night in a Mexico City jail. According to Animal Politico, the judge in the case has six days (144 hours) to analyze the merits of the charges and decide whether to formally indict Gordillo.  President Enrique Peña Nieto touched on the arrest in a speech last night addressed to the teachers’ union, warning that investigators plan to pursue anyone linked to the case. Meanwhile, El Universal takes a look at some of the opulent real estate owned by the millionaire union leader. The paper also attempts to put Gordillo’s allegedly illicit income into perspective by listing off some of the things that could be paid for with the $153 million she is accused of pilfering from the union, including an entire overhaul of Mexico City’s public bus system.
  • As noted in yesterday’s post, Gordillo’s arrest has caused many in the country to wonder if Peña Nieto will go after other political bosses in the country. Both the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have called on the government to investigate the wealth of another powerful union leader, Carlos Romero Deschamps of the oil workers’ union. El Investigador reports that Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told reporters that his office is not pursuing an investigation into Romero at this time, however.
  • The L.A. Times offers a haunting overview of the abandoned towns that litter rural Guerrero state, which have been cleared out in response to drug-fueled violence in Mexico.
  • The AP reports that Mexico’s military has begun selecting and training officers for a new federal police force, the proposed National Gendarmerie which is to be a hallmark of Peña Nieto’s security strategy. According to one of the officials overseeing the project, Manuel Mondragon, the new force will begin operating by the end of the year with an initial ten thousand men.
  • The Colombian government has announced that it will meet with the organizers of the ongoing coffee growers’ strike today in order to address their demands for greater government subsidies. According to  El Tiempo, the announcement comes as a reversal for the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, which announced early yesterday that it would not meet with protestors until the strike ended.
  • The Guardian reports on the unusual decision by former US Department of Justice attorney Robert Feitel and ex-Drug Enforcement Administration agent Bonnie Klapper to “switch sides” in the drug war, quitting their jobs and defending alleged Colombian drug traffickers. The two claim that they changed professions after realizing the “human cost” of U.S.-led drug policy in the hemisphere.
  • The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a measure proposed by Guatemala on Monday to establish "Alternative Strategies for Combating Drugs" as the theme of the 43rd OAS General Assembly, to be held in Antigua, Guatemala from June 6-8. Surprisingly, Siglo21 reports that the proposal was supported by the United States, a traditional opponent of alternative drug policies.
  • The lead investigator of femicide in Guatemala, Alba Trejo, resigned on Monday after three years on the job, Siglo21 reports. Trejo claims she has received repeated anonymous death threats, and quit out of concern for her family.  The Central American country has witnessed a spike in violence against women in recent years, and has the third highest femicide rate in the world.
  • An investigation by El Salvador’s El Faro reveals that a firm owned by Salvadoran businessman Miguel Menendez, who was a major source of funding for President Mauricio Funes’ election campaign, has received 47 percent of all private security contracts issued by the government since Funes took office. The news has extra weight in light of the recent attempt by the legislature to pass a bill which would allow politicians to accept campaign donations without disclosing their source.
  • The New York Times is the latest media outlet to profile Cuba’s new vice president, Miguel Diaz-Cane. Because several individuals have been named as potential successors to the Castro brothers only to fall by the wayside, the NYT notes that experts describe Diaz-Cane’s vice presidency as “the most scrutinized leadership role in the country since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.”
  • Former Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, who has announced that he will run for re-election in 2014, is preparing to run on a more centrist platform this time around, Uruguay’s El Observador reports. The paper notes that Vazquez’s public positions have become more moderate of late, and stand in stark contrast to some of the more radical elements of the governing Broad Front coalition.
  • Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier is once again slated to appear in court today at a hearing over whether he can be tried for crimes against humanity. Because his defense team has managed to postpone three times,   it’s unclear whether the former leader will show. According to The Miami Herald, court officials have ordered a police escort to ensure Duvalier is present this time around. The AFP profiles the 26 victims who filed the suit against the former dictator, who say their struggle is not about revenge but about helping the country come to terms with its past.  
  • Argentina’s legislators have approved a controversial agreement with Iran to set up a "truth commission" charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, La Nacion reports. The commission will be comprised of experts from other countries, and the accord grants them the right to travel to Iran to question officials about the bombing.  The BBC points out that the agreement has not yet been approved by the Iranian parliament.
  • Peru 21 reports that the latest mining conflict to break out in the country, a protest against the Lagunas Norte gold mine in the northern Trujillo province, has cooled down for now after the Barrick mining corporation agreed to meet with protestors and discuss their grievances.
  • Hugo Antonio Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde of Venezuela Politics and Human Rights present a comprehensive summary of the controversy surrounding the Venezuelan government’s recent decision not to invite opposition TV network Globovision in the switch over from analog to digital broadcasting.

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