Friday, March 21, 2014

Mujica Volunteers to Receive Gitmo Detainees in Uruguay

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has told journalists that his government is in talks with the U.S. over a proposal to accept five prisoners from the detention center in Guantanamo. If the deal holds it would make Uruguay the first South American country to accept detainees, as well as putting it in a position to request a favor in return.

Weekly magazine Busqueda was the first to break the story, reporting that the Obama administration first approached Mujica about the issue last week. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly called Mujica on Monday, and the two discussed the proposal, which would require the detainees to stay in the country for two years, in greater detail. Yesterday, Mujica confirmed the report, telling local press that he said yes to the deal out of sympathy, remembering the years he spent locked up in prison under the civic-military dictatorship.

If a deal is struck, Uruguay would join El Salvador (which accepted two prisoners in 2012) as the only two Latin American countries to serve as transfer nations for Guantanamo detainees.

According to U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, however, there has been no final agreement on the matter. “We’re in consultations and dialogue, but there is no agreement on a process in Uruguay. We are still in conversation,” Reynoso told Radio Espectador.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Mujica seems to take the proposal personally:
"He asked a whole bunch of countries if they could offer refuge," Mr. Mujica, 78 years old, who was a leftist guerrilla in his youth and spent 14 years in prison, said in televised comments to journalists. "I said yes because I was imprisoned many years.""It's a human rights issue," said Mr. Mujica, who was visibly moved as he talked to reporters. "There are 120 guys who have been prisoners 13 years that haven't seen a judge, prosecutor, anybody. The president of the U.S. wants to get rid of this problem."
Subrayado has video of his remarks, in which he does in fact appear quite passionate about the issue. He is also emphatic that the individuals would be admitted as refugees, and not be detained.

However, even Mujica admitted that altruism is not the only factor at play, remarking that he does not “do free favors” and hinting that he would expect something in return. As Uruguayan foreign policy experts consulted by El Observador note, the biggest potential return favors include building on the recently expanded U.S. market for Uruguayan meat exports, or (more imaginatively) support for the country’s marijuana regulation law in the United Nations.

News Briefs
  • Information technology news site TechCrunch has an overview of Brazil’s internet neutrality bill, which is slated for a vote next Tuesday. But while much of the article’s praise is for the inclusion of a provision guaranteeing net neutrality, this has been amended somewhat. After negotiations with opposition lawmakers, language laying out which authority would be in charge of providing exceptions to net neutrality has been removed and left to regulation, G1 reports. As Agencia Publica has notes, telecommunications giants in the country have been leaning heavily on lawmakers to oppose the bill, or at least make it more favorable to their interests.
  • At least one Rio de Janeiro police officer was wounded last night after gang members in the Rio favela of Manguinhos launched an attack on three Police Pacification Unit (UPP) bases there, as the AP reports. In addition to the conflict in Manguinhos, where a UPP was installed in October 2012, O Globo reports that similar shootouts occurred last night in two other neighborhoods in the city. In response to the violence, Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral has asked for federal assistance in implementing security measures.
  • David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights have more on the controversial decision by leading daily Ultimas Noticias to withdraw an investigative article that profiled similarities between the makeup of the student opposition movement and the National Guard. As noted in Wednesday’s brief, the article was allegedly pulled over “political” considerations. Smilde and Perez cite Venezuelan media scholar Carolina Acosta-Alzuru as saying that the piece’s attempts to humanize both sides of the current political debate “isn’t a message the government wants Venezuelans to hear right now.”
  • Following the official ouster of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro on Wednesday, and his replacement by Labor Minister Rafael Pardo as provisional mayor, Colombia’s FARC rebels have spoken out against Petro’s removal. When the latest rounds of dialogue between guerrillas and government negotiators kicked off yesterday in Havana, El Universal reports that it began with the rebels making a statement that the President’s decision “has a negative impact and affects confidence in the talks.” La Silla Vacia, meanwhile, takes a look at Petro’s accomplishments while in office, noting that while homicide rates and infant mortality fell under his administration, he failed to make significant progress on infrastructure, waste management and his promise of providing housing to victims of violence.
  • A new Human Rights Watch report on violence in the Pacific Colombian port city of Buenaventura has focused attention on the pervasiveness of paramilitary influence in parts of the country (see the BBC, AP and Christian Science Monitor). The 30-page report highlights murder and acts of torture committed by the two dominant neo-paramilitary groups, the Urabeños and the Empresa, which has also displaced thousands of city residents. The L.A. Times took the opportunity of the report’s release to profile the Urabeños, which in recent years have climbed to the top of Colombia’s criminal underworld and have drug trafficking connections throughout the country.
  • InSight Crime looks at the intersection of organized crime, indigenous rights and environmentalism, reporting on the ongoing struggle between the Wounaan people of Panama and illegal loggers in the area. The conflict escalated in 2012 when loggers killed local leader Aquilo Puchicama, a crime which has not been prosecuted. The site links to a new short documentary on the Wounaan by filmmaker Ian Bell.
  • Honduras’ La Prensa reports on growing support to reform a recently passed law to expand classified information in the country, which has been criticized by transparency organizations there as a major blow to accountability. The drive to repeal the law has been backed principally by the opposition LIBRE and Anti-Corruption parties, as well as a coalition of civil society groups known as the Alliance for Peace and Justice.  Yesterday, the controversial law also received condemned by a coalition of 23 transparency advocates in the hemisphere, the Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression and Information, which called it a “serious setback” for freedom of information in Honduras.
  • Yesterday the Economist’s Americas View blog published briefs on Petro’s removal and its potential to fuel calls for a new constitution and the improved relationship between Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and Pope Francis, as well as an update on police violence in Brazil, which made headlines this week when a woman died after being dragged behind a police car for more than 1,000ft.
  • Gustavo Gorriti, director of Peru’s IDL-Reporteros, writes a scathing critique of the Peruvian government’s stated goal of eradicating a record 30,000 hectares of coca crops in 2014. According to Gorriti, the Humala administration’s dogged insistence on military-led forced eradication operations in the VRAE region -- which it carries out while attempting to publicly minimize the security forces’ role -- is political folly on par with the Vietnam War. He argues that these operations will only fuel resentment towards the state, pushing locals to side with the remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla army.