Thursday, June 12, 2014

El Salvador Backs Off Gang Truce

Newly-elected President Salvador Sanchez Ceren has come out more forcefully than he has in the past against salvaging a faltering gang truce that led to a major drop in homicides in El Salvador, just as the country’s attorney general accused one of authorities responsible for facilitating the truce of selling arms to the gangs.

At a ceremony after naming the new head of National Police earlier this week, Sanchez Ceren told reporters that his government “will not make a truce with organized crime,” giving his strongest signal yet that he will not continue his predecessor’s unofficial support for the gang pact.

Security Minister Benito Lara, however, left some flexibility for the government. In subsequent remarks, Lara said that while the administration would not negotiate a truce, it would also refrain from interfering if the gangs agreed to a new ceasefire between themselves.  

Ultimately, the president’s statement is not the best indicator of his government’s intentions. As InSight Crime points out, ex-President Mauricio Funes supported the truce even after publicly distancing himself from it.

But recent days have seen another sign that suggests the Sanchez Ceren administration is putting the government’s past role in facilitating the truce behind it. On Tuesday Salvadoran Attorney General Luis Martinez revealed that Defense Minister David Munguia Payes, who was one of the main coordinators of the truce during his time as security minister under Funes, was under investigation in connection with an arms trafficking case.

While Mungiua has not been officially charged, Martinez remarked that “it would not be at all surprising if the weapons obtained by gang members had to do with this illegal arms trafficking.” El Faro notes that, in the same press conference, the attorney general took a swipe one of the most visible mediators of the gang truce, Raul Mijango, calling the former congressman a “manipulator of homicides.”

News Briefs
  • As the Wall Street Journal notes, a potential strike by São Paulo metro workers today, the first day of the World Cup, was avoided after the union backed off its threats out of concerns of public backlash.  But while Brazil’s largest city has been spared a major transportation crunch today, Rio de Janeiro may not be so lucky. Workers at Rio’s two main commercial airports are staging a 24-hour strike to demand wage increases today, though Globo reports no major delays because staffing has been kept at 80 percent. The city is also seeing its first Word Cup protests, with members of the Homeless Workers Movement staging a demonstration which has partially blocked the flow of traffic to Rio’s international airport.
  • Brazilian authorities, specifically in Rio de Janeiro, are once again coming under fire for an alleged heavy-handed approach to dealing with World Cup protests. Yesterday at least 10 activists were detained by police for questioning related to local “black bloc” anarchist groups and alleged plans to promote violent demonstrations in the coming days, G1 reports. These included Elisa Quadros, a high-profile young activist who received significant media attention during last year’s wave of demonstrations. Her lawyer has accused the state of repressing freedom of speech, and the detentions caused the local chapter of Amnesty International (which put the total arrests at around 20)  to issue a statement condemning actions which “may intimidate protestors” during the Cup, Estadão reports.
  • As La Republica and the AP report, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its latest study of coca cultivation trends in Peru, finding that the area of land used for coca fell 17.5 percent last year. The reduction is the largest drop in cultivation in the last 14 years, and UNODC representative Flavio Mirella chalked it up to “significant public investment and the presence of Government entities in the main areas of coca crop cultivation,”  as well as eradication and alternative development efforts. The notable achievement will likely be used as a metric to judge the efficacy of the Humala administration’s recent decision to suspend eradication efforts in the coca-growing VRAE region in favor of crop substitution programs.  
  • Three years after Colombia’s historic Victims’ Law was signed, Semana magazine takes a look at the law’s implementations. While it has been credited with creating new political space for victims groups, analysts say that the institutions tasked with implementing the law do not coordinate sufficiently, and that victims do not have enough access to psychological treatment.
  • Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes has signed a law into effect that restored the country’s Sawhoyamaxa indigenous population’s claims to its ancestral land, La Nacion reports. The law fulfills Paraguay’s obligations under a 2006 Inter-American Court ruling which found that the 1991 displacement of the Sawhoyamaxa by cattle ranchers violated their claim to the land.
  • Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz has ordered the arrest of three opposition activists after they refused to appear in court to testify in an investigation into an alleged assassination plot against President Nicolas Maduro. According to El Nacional, Ortega said that all three are believed to be outside the country. Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado is expected to testify on Monday regarding allegations of links to the plot.  
  • The U.S. Supreme Court is meeting today to decide on whether to take on Argentina’s appeal of a lower court ruling s ordering it to repay over $1.3 billion in defaulted bonds to international lenders. The WSJ notes that the decision, which could come as early as Monday, may ultimately decide whether the country stages a massive multibillion-dollar default.
  • Guatemala’s Prensa Libre has an interview with the head of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Ivan Velasquez, in which he discusses the organization’s agenda for the coming months. According to Velasquez, the CICG is investigating the penetration of organized crime into state institutions, and plans to publish a report linking politicians to drug trafficking.
  • Today’s NYT features an op-ed by Kevin M. Koenig, Ecuador program director for Amazon Watch, on Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s controversial decision to open up the Yasuni Amazon reserve to oil drilling. Noting the threat that drilling poses to the reserve’s biodiversity and indigenous communities, Koenig presents alternative policies that Correa could pursue to offset the revenue lost by halting drilling, including increasing corporate taxes and ending domestic fuel subsidies.

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