Thursday, July 17, 2014

Honduran President Wants a ‘Plan Colombia’ for Central America

In an interview with Mexican paper Excelsior on Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez hinted that he believed his country deserved the kind of U.S. security aid programs implemented in Colombia and Mexico in recent years. Since floating this initial trial balloon, he has been much more direct.

At a forum on regional migration issues in Tegucigalpa yesterday, Hernandez called for a surge in aid to the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, saying “one has to recognize that our countries can't do it alone.” From Reuters:
Honduran Foreign Minister Mireya Aguero told the conference efforts to step up security at the U.S. border were not working and that U.S. aid would be better spent in Central America. 
"It's much more practical for the United States to launch a mini-Marshall plan, as they did after World War Two, to create opportunities and really get to the root of the problem in Central American countries that is fueling migration," she said. 
Hernandez, who took office in January after pledging to crack down on crime, said U.S.-backed battles against cartels in Colombia and Mexico have pushed drug traffickers into Central America, increasing violence, which is causing the exodus. 
Yet he underlined the success of U.S. efforts in Colombia. 
"Today, for example, Plan Colombia is showing major success. It was worked on together, those generating demand for drugs in the north and those producing drugs in the south assumed joint responsibility and it was effective," he said.
According to El Heraldo and La Tribuna, a U.S. aid package was the first item of Hernandez’s four-point proposal to stem the northward flow of Central American migrants, and one of two which would require action by U.S. policymakers. The other is the adoption of a “clear” immigration policy in the United States, and a regional communication campaign to explain it to Central American residents (potentially like the one currently being funded by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol). Hernandez also proposed taking apart migrant smuggling routes and border "blind spots," and the implementation of a plan to re-settle deported migrants in their countries of origin.

For the moment, it does not seem that there is any political will in the United States for a major aid push in Central America. Of the $3.7 billion in funding that the Obama administration has requested to address the immigration crisis on the border, less than $300 million would go to address the root causes behind immigration in Central American countries. Rather than promising new aid, Reuters reports that Simon Henshaw, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said international and regional development banks should take on the task of spurring development in the region.

News Briefs
  • Following up on yesterday’s post, it appears that Ecuadorean national drug agency CONSEP on Monday released updated regulations (.pdf) for the country’s reformed penal code which lay out four categories of drug possession, based on certain quantities for each substance and corresponding with sentences ranging from two months to 13 years.  Somewhat surprisingly, the new regulations are significantly tighter than the guidelines published by CONSEP last year, which recommended pressing no criminal charges against offenders caught with “minimal” quantities of illicit substances (e.g.  less than ten grams of marijuana, one gram of cocaine, or one-tenth a gram of heroin). While these guidelines still apply, under the new regulations those who possess minimal quantities could still face between two and six months in prison. Ultimately, it seems Ecuador’s 2008 constitutional reform which redefines drug use as a public health problem rather than a security issue is still far from being a reality on the ground.
  • On Tuesday, Mexican security forces in the southwestern state of Michoacan raided a shelter in the city of Zamora, freeing nearly 500 children and some adults from appalling conditions, including imprisonment as well as physical, sexual and psychological abuse. As the BBC reports, families of children housed in the shelter had long complained about conditions there, and Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam has announced an investigation into these allegations. Animal Politico points out that the case highlights a lack of government oversight over the work of such shelters around the country.
  • News site Plaza Publica reports on Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s approach to anti-mining protests in the country, which has essentially framed the mining opposition as a part of a national security strategy.
  • The upper house of Chile’s Congress voted on Tuesday to approve a tax reform measure, a pillar of President Michelle Bachelet’s campaign for office. The Wall Street Journal describes the 33-1 vote as “a return to a more traditional consensus approach in Chilean politics.”
  • An anonymous military source has confirmed to the AP that Pentagon officials have notified Congress of plans to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay. If the plan holds, Uruguay will become the first South American country to accept detainees from the U.S. military base.
  • NACLA has a good overview of the efforts by Uruguayan activists to fight a push from conservative sectors in the country to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16, a proposal that has considerable support in Uruguay and will be on the ballot in this October’s general election. This week brought good news for the “No a la baja” campaign, led by a coalition of Uruguayan human rights organizations. While past polls have consistently shown majority support -- ranging from 57 to 65 percent -- for the ballot initiative, a new survey suggests the campaign may be having an impact. A poll published this week by Factum shows that for the first time, public opinion over lowering the age of criminal responsibility is split nearly evenly: with the number of those firmly decided either in favor or against tied at 39 percent.
  • Writing for Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog, Juan Nagel offers a snapshot of the Venezuelan opposition. While recent weeks have seen a flurry of reporting regarding potential splits in the ruling United Socialist Party, Nagel paints a picture of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable that reveals just as many internal disputes, with the main dividing issue being whether or not to fuel street protests in a bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro.  
  • Following his visit to Haiti earlier in the week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traveled to the Dominican Republic yesterday, where he urged legislators to adopt a more comprehensive solution to last year’s ruling effectively denying citizenship to thousands of people of Haitian descent. While a law promising to resolve the legal status of those affected was passed in May, human rights advocates in the country say its impact will be limited. In his statement, Ban urged lawmakers to go further, saying doing so would require them to use their “compassion as human beings and as leaders of this country.” Both EFE and the AP note, however, that some lawmakers were indignant at his remarks, describing them as interference in the country’s internal affairs.
  • In exchange for Russia’s decision to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s Cold War-era debt, officials in Havana have reportedly agreed to allow the re-opening of a Russian electronic surveillance post on the island. The New York Times reports that Russian lawmakers have confirmed the news, since issuing statements praising “what seemed to be a step by Russia toward re-establishing a military presence in Cuba.”