Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What To Do About Mexico’s Villager Vigilantes?

With more and more rural Mexicans taking defense against organized crime into their own hands, the emerging movement has sparked a national debate on their legitimacy.

While unofficial “community police forces” have existed in Mexico’s rural interior for decades, the recent spike in violence has seen a rise in the formation of new groups across the country. According to Animal Politico, media reports suggest that self-defense groups have emerged in some of Mexico’s most violent states, including Michoacan, Veracruz, Guerrero, Mexico State and Jalisco.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has been critical of the groups, pointing out that their possession of unregistered arms and frequent detention of individuals suspected of drug links is unconstitutional. Last week CNDH president Raul Plascencia Villanueva released a statement stressing that the vigilante movement represents a threat to the rule of law, and is symptomatic of a lack of adequate state presence.

The conservative National Action Party (PAN) has also strongly opposed the trend. On Sunday the party’s leadership urged the government to crack down on the self-defense organizations, calling for an investigation into the sources of their funding and weapons.

The left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), on the other hand, has been more open towards engaging with the movement. Yesterday, PRD members of the Senate introduced a bill which would allow the government to officially recognize community self-defense groups. El Universal reports that if passed, the bill would incorporate them into the Mexican security apparatus and allow them access to federal funding.

As unconventional as the idea is, the vigilante movement has already demonstrated the potential to cooperate with formal law enforcement.  According to Milenio, the armed self-defense group in the town of Ayutla, Mexico -- which gained fame for holding more than 50 people accused of drug ties captive since January -- turned over 20 of its prisoners to Guerrero state police and released the rest yesterday.

It is unclear how many of these will face charges, however. Excelsior reports that authorities only had warrants out for 11 of the suspects held in Ayutla.

News Briefs
  • The Guatemalan Supreme Court has ruled that pre-trial hearings can move forward against eight of the thirteen judges identified as corrupt by the Public Ministry and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Prensa LIbre reports that the Court has not yet revoked their legal amnesty from prosecution, however, and will do so only if clear evidence of wrongdoing is found.
  • In a new article for Foreign Affairs, The Council on Foreign Relations’ Shannon K. O'Neil describes a different Mexico than the one most commonly found in international headlines. Despite widespread violence in the country, O’Neil claims that Mexico has made underestimated progress on the social, political, and economic development fronts in recent years.
  • The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at growing public skepticism towards peace talks in Colombia. A survey released on Monday by Datexco suggests only 20 percent of Colombians polled are optimistic that the government’s ongoing dialogue with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas will result in an eventual peace accord. By comparison, opinion polls taken when the talks were first announced in September showed that 57 percent of the public believed the negotiations would result in a lasting peace.
  • A little over a year after Colombia’s historic Victims’ Law went into effect, La Opinion and the AP report that President Juan Manuel Santos gave an overview of the law’s implementation yesterday in a speech aimed at encouraging businesses to help fund victim reparation efforts. According to Santos, more than 158,000 victims of Colombia’s armed conflict have received payments from the government since the law went into effect in January 2012, costing the state some $518 million so far.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro looks at the potential for prosecutors to re-open the case of the 1981 massacre of over 1,000 people in the town of El Mozote. While investigators are blocked from prosecuting the killings by a 1993 amnesty law, the fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the law to be invalid in a December ruling has increased pressure on the government to punish those responsible for the massacre.
  • In response to President Hugo Chavez’s surprise return to Caracas, El Nacional reports that the Venezuelan opposition is once more calling for the leader to be officially sworn in, or, if he is unable to serve in office, for new elections to be called. Chavez is currently being treated in a military hospital in the capital, and has yet to make a public appearance.   
  • Venezuelan authorities announced on Saturday that prosecutors will bring corruption charges against opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, claiming he accepted campaign donations from state oil company PDVSA in 1998 when his mother worked there as head of public relations. Officials say the donation, which allegedly went to finance his Justice First party, was a violation of Venezuelan campaign finance law, but Lopez claims he is the victim of political persecution.
  • Foreign Policy’s Phil Gunson looks at the uneasy transition ahead of Venezuela in Chavez’s absence. Gunson argues that if the ruling PSUV party wins elections, inevitable economic decline and internal divisions will be difficult for the party to overcome.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to Caracas yesterday, and while he expressed a desire to meet with Chavez he was unable to, according to La Opinion. Morales made the stop on his way north to New York, where he is scheduled to kick off a United Nations-backed campaign to promote quinoa cultivation.
  • On Monday the Bolivian government sent a letter to the United Nations formally charging Chile of violating international law (specifically the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations) by arresting three Bolivian soldiers on January 25. The soldiers were detained by authorities after crossing the border into Chile, allegedly in pursuit of a smuggler.  
  • Grenada held general elections yesterday, and the government of Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was dealt a major blow by the opposition New National Party (NNP). According to the Jamaica Observer, the NNP won all 15 of the contested seats in Parliament, ensuring a return to power for the NNP’s Keith Mitchell, who led the country from 1995 to 2008. The BBC reports that the island country’s lagging economy was one the main issue at stake in the election, and Mitchell has promised to lower Grenada's 30 percent unemployment rate.

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