Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Dubious 'Disarmament' in Michoacan

The Mexican government claims to have reached a breakthrough agreement to “disarm” the vigilante militias of Michoacan state, but the pact still leaves them with considerable degree of influence and firepower.

Yesterday, 34 different “autodefensa” heads met with Alfredo Castillo, the federal government's commissioner in Michoacan, to sign a treaty outlining their organizations’ future. The pact effectively ends a tense standoff between officials and vigilante leaders, many of whom had refused a government order to disarm and incorporate themselves into the military’s “rural defense forces.”  

El Universal has a copy of the agreement, which stipulates that autodefensas must register their firearms with the state by May 10, and incorporate by the following day into either the rural defense forces or a newly-created Michoacan police unit, to be called the “rural state police.”

While this is a victory for the federal government, in reality it is far from a disarmament. As vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles told newspaper Milenio yesterday, the groups will only surrender their heavier weapons (the paper claims this includes heavy machine guns, rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles), whereas the AK-47  and AR-15 assault rifles carried by many members will remain in use so long as they are registered. Translated from Milenio:
[The autodefensas] also agreed to register the heavy and smaller caliber weapons that have not been accounted for by the federal government; they will be put away and not be carried around in Michoacan territory or used to advance on to other municipalities.

Also, they will "institutionalize," or rather, their members will form part of the police or military state rural defense groups. Those who do not enter groups recognized by the federal and state governments "will hold onto" their weapons in communities or homes. Whoever fails to comply with these guidelines will be detained starting May 11.
Regardless of whether they are incorporated into legal police structures or not, any agreement that allows members to retain weapons in safehouses seems bound to encourage abuses like the torture and extrajudicial executions that rights activists have repeatedly criticized in recent years.

News Briefs
  • In The Daily Beast, Venezuelan journalist Marcel Ventura writes a biting critique of President Nicolas Maduro’s deepening of the role of the military in government, pointing to his record promotion of 200 generals in July and his nomination of multiple military officers to serve as civilian cabinet members. Due to allegations of involvement in drug trafficking, the rising profile of the military also may have worrisome consequences for corruption in the country, Ventura writes.
  • The Mexican government has announced that it will go after money laundering suspects by adopting “kingpin lists” similar to those used by authorities in the U.S. However, as the AP points out, the Mexican lists will remain confidential, available only to financial institutions, those accused of crimes and investigators.
  • Yesterday the White House confirmed that Uruguayan President Jose Mujica will meet with President Barack Obama on May 12. In a brief statement, the White House claimed the two would address mutual trade interests and collaboration on health and technology, while Mujica has said he plans on pointing out the U.S. and other wealthy nations’ “errors” in the region. Spain’s El Pais notes that Mujica has also strongly praised the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, Julissa Reynoso, for drastically improving relations between the two countries.
  • The New York Times reports on the damage that ongoing wildfires have wrought on hilltops around the Chilean port city of Valparaiso. At least 15 people were killed as a result of the fires and some 11,000 were left homeless, according to the AP. El Mostrador notes that President Michelle Bachelet has announced she will appoint three officials to head disaster relief efforts in the two northern areas affected by the earthquake last week as well as another to oversee things in Valparaiso.
  • In Foreign Affairs Latinoamerica, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter profiles U.S. involvement in the discussion around revitalizing the Organization of American States. Shifter points to ways in which the Obama administration could further American interests by engaging more actively in the OAS system, instead of treating it as a “relatively minor instrument” for foreign policy, as it currently does.
  • BBC Mundo reports on Bolivia’s uniquely strategic position as a result of the unrest in Ukraine. With the U.S. and European Union reducing reliance on Russia’s exports in response to the annexation of Crimea, Bolivia may have found new markets for its natural gas, though this is complicated by its lack of a maritime port.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America has a new report on the potentials and challenges of a post-conflict political atmosphere in Colombia. It contains a comprehensive update on the major sticking points of talks with FARC rebels, as well as recommendations for U.S. aid following an eventual peace accord. According to the report, the U.S. should increase aid aimed at improving state presence in rural areas and supporting transitional justice efforts, among other objectives. Spanish news agency EFE has picked up the report, and highlights remarks by author Adam Isacson, who calls for the level of U.S. aid to Colombia to return to its 2003-07 peak of $600-$700 million annually, more than double the current amount.
  • The Venezuelan government and opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) are set to hold talks again this evening. Unlike last Thursday’s dialogue, El Nacional reports that the meeting will be held in private, and that the MUD is expected to demand a law granting amnesty to individuals allegedly held prison for political motives since 1999.
  • The L.A. Times’ Vincent Bevins looks at the unique challenges posed by the decision to host World Cup games in the Amazonian city of Manaus, a city that critics say lacks the necessary infrastructure.
  • A new Ipsos poll suggests that the two main candidates ahead of Panama’s May 4 presidential election, Jose Arias of the ruling Democratic Change (CD) party and Juan Navarro, from center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), are in a dead heat. Both have 32 percent support, while current Vice President Juan Varela in not far behind with 26 percent.