Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mexico to Legally Recognize Vigilante Groups

Despite recent criticism of militia groups by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the federal government has signed an accord granting institutional recognition to the so-called “self-defense” groups in Michoacan state.

Federal and state officials signed an agreement with several vigilante leaders in Michoacan yesterday which will allow them to be recognized as part of the Rural Defense Corps, a little-known volunteer force under military jurisdiction. According to the text of the agreement, members of vigilante groups may also join municipal police as long as the legal requirements are met and prospective members have the support of local officials. In exchange, the militias will have to turn over lists of their members to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and register their weapons.

As El Universal reports, the government is emphasizing that the accord states these groups will be temporary. But neither the length of operation nor the terms of their service are specified in the text.

The move comes in the wake of the Peña Nieto administration’s repeated calls for the groups to disarm themselves and allow security forces to take up responsibility for law enforcement in the state’s volatile Tierra Caliente region. Just last week in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the president said that if the vigilantes were genuinely interested in improving security, they should join the police.  “The Mexican government cannot be permissive nor tolerate the presence of [these] groups, even if they may be genuine about wanting to defend themselves,” Peña Nieto said.

The unexpected recognition of the militias demonstrates that the government is still grappling with an embarrassing Catch-22: while the vigilantes showcase officials’ inability to provide security, their popularity makes it difficult to disarm them without public backlash. The announcement coincides with the arrest of one of the four top Knights Templar Cartel leaders, Dionisio Loya Plancarte. As the AP points out, the timing of this may help the government save some face, distracting from its concession to the self-defense groups.

News Briefs
  • The International Court of Justice at the Hague yesterday issued a long-awaited ruling on the maritime border dispute between Peru and Chile. The court sided mostly with Peru’s claim, although it kept rich coastal fishing grounds within 80 nautical miles of the border in Chilean hands, the New York Times reports. Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced that while he disagreed with the ruling, he would abide by it, though it would be implemented “gradually.” Peru’s El Comercio reports that Piñera and his Peruvian counterpart, Ollanta Humala, are set to meet tomorrow on the sidelines of the CELAC summit in Havana.
  • After roughly a year and a half of serving as an advisor to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on security issues, Colombian police chief Oscar Naranjo is returning to his home country in March. Noting his popularity in Colombia, Semana questions whether his return will boost President Juan Manuel Santos’ reelection campaign, with the magazine even speculating that he could be poised to be the next vice president.
  • Honduras’ new president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was sworn in yesterday after delivering a speech which directly addressed the United States at several points. During his address, Hernandez urged the U.S. to continue support for his country’s counternarcotic efforts (see the AP) while also pointing out what he described as a “double standard” in the U.S.-led war on drugs (Reuters). According to the president: “It strikes us as a double standard that while our people die and bleed, and we're forced to fight the gangs with our own scarce resources, in North America drugs are just a public health issue. For Honduras and the rest of our Central American brothers it's a case of life and death.”
  • Immediately after swearing in, the president announced a new law enforcement operation involving the military and police, known as “Operation Morazan.” While the operation seems to differ little from previous operations involving military patrols in the country, La Prensa notes that the controversial military police force (the “Tigres”) has now officially gone into operation.
  • On Friday, the FARC gave a rare public rebuke to some of its own soldiers. In a statement published on their official website, the guerrilla group’s leadership said that a bombing that occurred in the western Valle de Cauca region earlier this month had shown a “lack of foresight,” and that “appropriate disciplinary action” would be taken against the FARC unit responsible. The AFP chalks up the statement as the latest sign of the group’s fragmentation. Marisol Gomez Giraldo of El Tiempo, however, claims the statement marks the first time the FARC have recognized their own error in killing civilians instead of dismissing them as “collateral damage.”
  • Brazilian authorities have launched an investigation into the shooting of a young protestor at the hands of police during a Saturday demonstration against the World Cup. Fabricio Chaves, 22, has been hospitalized and is in critical condition. O Globo reports that police say Chaves was carrying an explosive device in his backpack, and attempted to assault one of the officers when stopped.
  • The New York Times looks at the inauguration of the first phase of the Mariel Port renovation project in Cuba, which is being financed by Brazil, as well as the surrounding “special development zone.” Cuban officials hope the area around the port, which will allow foreign companies to operate with far less bureaucracy than usual on the island, will help bring in much needed foreign investment. So far the popularity of the project is difficult to determine, but the paper notes that companies in China, Malaysia and Angola have expressed interest.
  • The NYT also features an interesting profile of Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, a rising star in Argentine politics. While President Cristina Fernandez has been avoiding the public eye in recent month, Kicillof has been steadily raising his profile since he was appointed in November.
  • The Washington Post editorial board has a column in today’s paper on the European Union’s consideration of normalizing relations with Cuba. The editorial argues that an upcoming February 10 meeting of EU representatives should be used to solidify a position showing the Cuban government that any investment in the country must be linked to progress on  democracy and human rights.