Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mexico’s Peña Nieto Backs off Proposed Gendarmerie

Ever since Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto first announced he would create a “national gendarmerie” police force with military training, the administration has had to water its plans down considerably. Initially the president claimed the force would consist of 40,000 officers, and officials said it would start with 10,000 by the end of 2013.

Civil society groups immediately condemned the initiative. In March, nine leading public policy NGOs in the country (including the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, or IMCO, Causa en Comun and the Institute for Security and Democracy, or Insyde) sent a letter to the administration in which they criticized Peña Nieto’s plan to create the new force by administrative decree. They urged him to pass the measure through the legislature, and called on him to consult with experts before moving forward.  In response to this, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong met with representatives of these organizations in June before announcing a revised version of the president’s plan. He said the gendarmerie would be under the jurisdiction of Mexico’s Federal Police, and would begin with half the initially announced number, or 5,000 officers.  

Now the Peña Nieto administration is walking this back even further. Yesterday El Universal reported that National Security Commissioner Manuel Mondragon told reporters that just 1,710 members of the gendarmerie had been hired so far. He claimed the force would not be ready for roughly another year, saying: “The gendarmerie will be a division of the federal police, made up of 5,000, who will begin their mission in July 2014.”

On one hand, this announcement is good news for human rights advocates who, like WOLA Senior Associate Maureen Meyer, argue that government’s plan to recruit gendarmerie officers from the armed forces will only cement the military’s controversial role in providing public security in the country. It means that the government will have more time to properly train members of the gendarmerie in police work, something their military background would not prepare them for.

On the other hand, Mondragon’s statement leaves plenty of unanswered questions about the initiative. Perhaps the most basic of these are related to what new role the force will play in the Federal Police, and how the gendarmerie would fit into its administrative structure. As analyst Alejandro Hope wrote in June for InSight Crime, one of the initial goals of creating a new militarized force was to allow police operatives to take advantage of the comparatively positive public perception of the armed forces. Including the gendarmerie under the umbrella of the Federal Police, however, may ensure that its officers will be seen as police, regardless of their background.  Additionally, as Hope points out, the fact that it will be much smaller than previously announced virtually guarantees that the government has given up on easing its reliance on the military for security any time soon.

News Briefs
  • Although Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced he would negotiate with the campesino groups that have organized a nationwide rural workers’ strike in the country yesterday, the talks have not yet yielded results. El Tiempo reports that the negotiations stretched into the early morning hours today, but no agreement was struck and demonstrators will keep roadblocks around the country in place. In an op-ed for El Espectador, Cesar Rodriguez Garavito of Colombia’s Dejusticia legal studies center provides an interesting take on the recent protests. He argues that they point to a gap urban and rural Colombian society. “For the first time in a long while,” he writes, “we city-dwellers are realizing that the forgotten countryside -- with its poverty and wars -- affects us directly.”
  • The Washington Post assesses the prospects for transitional justice in Colombia, where the country’s Constitutional Court is set to issue a ruling on the country’s landmark law that allows for the prioritization of prosecuting human rights abuses and grants a degree of amnesty to FARC rebels not convicted of crimes against humanity. The Court is set to issue a ruling on the matter this morning, and Semana reports that sources in the judiciary say the law will likely be approved.
  • Meanwhile, the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) has released a Canadian mining company employee it held since January, a move which analysts expect will set the stage for the Santos administration to begin peace negotiations with ELN rebels.  
  • On Tuesday, a Boston court sentenced Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, who has been accused of orchestrating the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests in the Central American country, to 21 months in prison for immigration violations. The New York Times reports that the ruling may set up Montano to be extradited to Spain for the Jesuit priest case, as U.S. officials have said they are open to granting the extradition request.
  • The Mexican government has expressed an interest in taking up the second phase of the San Andres Peace Accords that it signed with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in 1996. The agreement aimed to set up new guarantees for indigenous rights in the country, but the federal government never committed to it. EFE reports that Mexican officials have expressed a willingness to free remaining EZLN prisoners and restart dialogues “incorporating international law.”
  • Iñaki Sagarzazu of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights applies statistical analysis to recent polls measuring public support for Nicolas Maduro. While support for the president has remained stable since he took office at an average of 46.5 percent, opposition to his administration is growing and may be a factor in the upcoming December municipal elections.
  • On Monday, Venezuelan Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez told reporters that police had arrested two hitmen allegedly hired to assassinate Maduro. While this is not the first time Venezuela has claimed to have broken up an assassination plot, Rodriguez directly linked the attempt to Colombian ex-President Alvaro Uribe, saying he was “the one giving orders.”
  • The Guardian provides an update on the diplomatic spat that erupted between Bolivia and Brazil after Brazilian diplomats snuck opposition Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto -- who is wanted on corruption charges -- out of the country over the weekend. According to the paper, Brazil has said it will not extradite Pinto, though La Razon reports that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has called the manner in which he crossed into the country “unacceptable.”
  • Brazilian legislators in the country’s lower house have voted to approve a measure which would limit the president’s ability to cut spending, requiring the administration to get congressional approval before freezing spending on certain programs added by lawmakers. Reuters reports that if passed, the law would fuel uncertainty about Brazil’s ability to pay off its debts.