Monday, January 6, 2014

Argentine Government Promotes Army Chief with Contentious Past

Over the past two administrations the Argentine government has made a name for itself as a champion of human rights, ending impunity for those responsible for torture and other abuses. But Cristina Fernandez, like her deceased husband Nestor Kirchner before her, is a deft politician, and has demonstrated flexibility on this front for her own political gain.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this was the June 2013 appointment of Major General Cesar Milani to army chief of staff, despite evidence linking him to dictatorship-era human rights abuses. Milani had served as head of army intelligence since 2007, and eventually became an important ally of the Kirchners.

The Center for Legal Studies (CELS), an influential local human rights group, opposed Milani’s appointment. While the military official has never been charged for any abuses, in July 2013 CELS released a report  documenting his alleged participation in human rights crimes during his career. The organization found that Milani had authored a case report on the “desertion” of a soldier from his unit in Tucuman province in 1976, though the man had actually been forcibly disappeared. Additionally, CELS unearthed testimony linking Milani to the arrest of a dissident in La Rioja province, which led to his subsequent disappearance. On these grounds, the human rights group opposed an attempt by Kirchner’s Front for Victory (FPV)Senate majority to promote Milani to lieutenant general. The report generated a wave of controversy, and the FPV was forced to put his promotion on hold.

This only proved a temporary victory for human rights advocates, however. On December 18, the Senate voted 39 to 30 to promote Milani, triggering backlash from local and international human rights organizations.

CELS has challenged the move, releasing a more comprehensive, 17-page report on the allegations against Milani.

News Briefs
  • The Miami Herald reports on the growth of charter flights to Cuba, which have skyrocketed in the wake of the Obama administration’s 2011 reauthorization of people-to-people trips. Interestingly, while the move authorized Cuba-bound flights to depart from 15 gateway cities, the boom in charter services has not spread outside of Florida, according to the Herald.
  • Despite questions over the constitutionality of his re-election bid, La Opinion reports that supporters of Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the office for his campaign ahead of October elections. In response, the AP notes that electoral officials have released a statement advising the public that it is illegal to carry out political campaigns outside of the designated 90-day period before the vote.
  • Honduras’ El Heraldo reports on President-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez’s plans for organizing his administration upon taking office on January 27. Members of his transition team have told the press that Hernandez will split up the majority of the current government institutions  into seven “sectorial ministries,” including one which would oversee the work of the armed forces as well as law enforcement authorities.
  • Although his political opponents have continued to batter him over his call for a legislative debate on media consolidation in Peru, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has doubled down on his position on the issue. Nevertheless, Peru21 reports that he has been careful to tell reporters that submitting an anti-media monopoly bill to Congress is not a priority of his.
  • In a column published in Semana magazine, Aura Patricia Bolivar Jaime of the Bogota-based human rights group Dejusticia critiques the dominant model of rural development being furthered by the Colombian government. According to Bolivar, recent agricultural reform initiatives presented by the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos have favored the interests of large landowners over traditional small-scale farmers, contradicting preliminary agreements at the peace talks in Havana as well as an accord reached with rural campesino groups in September after weeks of protests.
  • Foreign Policy’s Passport blog has a good roundup of Brazil’s announcement last month that it would award a multi-billion dollar contract to supply planes to the Brazilian Air Force to Swedish defense contractor Saab instead of the U.S. company Boeing. While the government cited the lower price of the Swedish offer as the main reason, officials have privately told members of the press that the decision was primarily a reaction to the revelations of potential U.S. economic espionage leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Meanwhile, in an open letter published by Folha de Sao Paulo on December 18, Snowden offered to assist Brazil’s investigations into U.S. spying initiatives, although he said he could not speak freely unless he was granted full political asylum.
  • Just as a planned expansion of the Panama Canal has hit a stumbling block, work on its anticipated rival in Nicaragua has been delayed as well. On Friday La Prensa reported that the head of the canal authority, Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz, announced that more time would be needed to determine the project’s feasibility and route. According to him, construction will not begin until 2015.
  • InSight Crime looks at the recent discovery of some of the largest mass graves seen in El Salvador since the country’s civil war, and questions whether the finds are a sign that the MS-13/Barrio 18 gang truce is failing. The site also points out that the number of disappearances doubled in 2013 and the homicide rate crept upward, which also seems to support this conclusion.
  • On Friday the Washington Post published an op-ed by Elliott Abrams, a former national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration, on the danger that drug trafficking poses to Central America, and particularly to El Salvador. Abrams alleges that the main candidate of the leftist FMLN party ahead of El Salvador’s February elections, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, has ties with drug-running intermediaries associated with criminal elements in Colombia’s FARC.