Monday, April 29, 2013

Mexico Weighs Violent Crime Prevention Over Kingpin Strategy

Sunday’s Washington Post featured a front-page article on Mexico’s apparent shift from going after drug kingpins in favor of emphasizing violent crime prevention under the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the consequences for U.S.-Mexico relations. The piece claims that the new president’s top security ministers were “stone-faced” when first told of the extent of United States involvement in the hunt for high-level cartel leaders, and asserts that Peña Nieto recently presented a security strategy to his U.S. partners that is a major departure from the policies of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. From the article:
In a visit to Washington two weeks ago, Mexico’s top security team shared the broad outlines of the plan with U.S. agencies, according to U.S. and Mexican officials. It contains many changes.
The president will not be nearly as directly involved in counterdrug efforts as Calderon was, the officials said. The interior minister will coordinate the relationships between various Mexican and U.S. agencies and other Mexican units. The director of the Mexican intelligence agency will decide which Mexican agency should receive and act on sensitive U.S. information.
 Additionally, Mexican officials have reportedly signaled that American citizens will no longer be permitted to work inside intelligence fusion centers in the country. This means that many DEA, CIA and military employees/contractors who have played key roles in the arrest and killing of drug kingpins over the past six years will be forced to take a back seat.

Meanwhile the government has apparently tweaked its approach to the drug war. In March the Peña Nieto administration unveiled a new crime prevention program which is meant to focus on 250 at-risk areas across the country, and earlier this month the president proposed a new security budget for 2014, over a third of would go towards prevention programs.

Despite these announcements, the extent to which Peña Nieto’s security strategy represents a major break from the past is unclear. As Steven Dudley of InSight Crime pointed out last month, the military is still at the forefront of the government’s security push, with troops deployed in roughly the same areas as they were under Calderon. Federal police continue to fill in for poorly-vetted local law enforcement, and the government is still struggling to implement important reforms to the justice system. One of the best indications of a change in tactics, Dudley writes, is that the number of arrests for “crimes against health” (drug-related crimes) has fallen to its lowest point in years, which could mean that the administration is consciously moving to target violent actors in the drug trade over low-level dealers. Nevertheless, the fact that the Peña Nieto administration is still relatively young means that it is difficult to predict whether this trend will hold.

The Washington Post article ends on a similarly ambiguous note for the future of U.S. involvement in Mexican security:
Several senior U.S. officials say U.S. agencies stand ready to help in any way the new administration allows.

They anxiously await further details.
Again, it is still too early to tell whether Peña Nieto’s stated emphasis on prevention will translate into a major policy shift. If it does, however, one potential method of U.S. assistance may be helping Mexican officials plan law enforcement strategies based on successful experiments with violence prevention in the United States. Examples include Boston’s Operation Ceasefire and the deterrence model adopted by police in High Point, North Carolina, both of which have been praised for drastically reducing gang violence and firearm deaths.


News Briefs
  • For the first time, The New York Times has simultaneously published an investigative piece on its web site in English and in Spanish. The article looks at the story of Mexican police chief Luis Octavio Lopez Vega, who served as an informant to the DEA on the activities of General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, a former drug czar who was arrested in 1997 on charges of colluding with cartels. Lopez, whose story inspired the 2000 crime film Traffic, now lives in the United States and fears retribution for his testimony. General Gutierrez was released from prison earlier this month, and Mexican officials are seeking Lopez’s arrest on corruption charges related to the case.
  • The L.A. Times reports on the foreign policy differences between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. While both leaders have sought to increase Brazil’s influence in the region and the world, Rousseff has been more restrained in guiding Brazil’s international relations, particularly towards traditional U.S. adversaries like Iran and Venezuela.
  • While Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) has agreed to carry out an audit of the past elections, on Saturday night CNE president Tibisay Lucena announced via a nationwide mandatory cadena broadcast that the conditions for the audit demanded by the opposition were “impossible.” These conditions included voter registries and fingerprint data, which the opposition claims were necessary to determine how many people voted multiple times. The announcement will likely deepen Capriles’ resolve to challenge the elections in domestic courts, and, failing this, in the Inter-American human rights system. More from El Universal and the BBC.
  • Writing for The National Interest, Jennifer McCoy and Michael McCarthy of the Carter Center provide further context for both the opposition and CNE’s positions on the audit, noting the government’s argument that “opposition technical experts have participated in sixteen different audits of the voting system before and after each election, and have repeatedly declared the automated machines to be secure and accurate, and the vote secret.”
  • After announcing the arrest of U.S. citizen Timothy Tracy last week, the Venezuelan government has brought formal criminal charges against him for allegedly fomenting anti-government violence. Bloomberg reports that according to Tracy’s lawyers, he is a documentary filmmaker who received accreditation from the CNE to observe the recent elections.
  • As the U.S. Senate debates an immigration reform bill presented earlier this month, The Migration Policy Institute has a useful side-by-side comparison of the bill to two recent immigration bills discussed in the Senate, in 2006 and 2007.
  • Guatemala’s elPeriodico reports that the first-instance judge who recently ruled in favor of annulling the proceedings in the war crimes case against former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt, Judge Carol Patricia Flores, has been ordered by the Constitutional Court to return the case to the tribunal overseeing the case by this afternoon.  The Open Society Justice Initiative has more on this development, which is a sign that the trial may resume this week.
  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has drawn criticism from human rights groups in recent months for statements he has made about the Rios Montt trial. More specifically, he has denied that genocide took place in the country’s armed conflict and lashed out against a witness in the case who mentioned his name while listing the state’s alleged war crimes. In interview with EFE over the weekend, he appeared to moderate these past remarks, potentially in a bid to distance himself from allegations of meddling in the trial. He told the Spanish news agency that he believed the trial is “historic,” and characterized it as part of Guatemala’s struggle with impunity. “What we hope is that justice is done. This has truly become an emblematic case that has polarized Guatemalan society and revived the climate of the armed conflict we had," he said.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released its annual report on Colombia on Friday, in which it documented ongoing displacement and disappearances related to the country’s armed conflict. El Espectador reports that ICRC country director Jordi Raich cautioned in his presentation of the report that the group does not expect the current peace process with FARC rebels to have an immediate effect on levels of violence in Colombia.
  • The Inter Press Service looks at the judicial reform debate in Argentina, providing an overview of the government’s rationale for the reform push as well as the opposition’s concerns that it will politicize the judiciary.
  • As mentioned in Friday’s post, sources within the World Trade Organization (WTO) say that the two top candidates for its next managing director are Brazil’s Roberto de Carvalho Azevedo and Mexico’s Herminio Blanco, meaning that the next head of the organization will definitely come from Latin America. The Guardian and the Financial Times offer analyses of what this means for the region as well and global south as a whole.