Monday, August 25, 2014

Mexico Launches Scaled-Down 'Gendarmerie' Police

Recent days have seen quite a bit of coverage of Mexico’s new gendarmerie in U.S. press, following the launch of the police force on Friday. In general, reception of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s initiative has been lukewarm at best.

Part of this, as the L.A. Times notes, has to do with the fact that it has been significantly pared down since Peña Nieto first proposed a 40,000-strong gendarmerie on the campaign trail in 2012. Instead of a massive force that would replace the involvement of the army and navy in providing citizen security, the newly inaugurated force has just 5,000 officers, and it constitutes a division of the Federal Police rather than an independent branch.

According to the Wall Street Journal, its downsizing was due in part to strong opposition from the military, which would have had to scale back operations considerably under the initial plan.

As it stands, the gendarmerie is slated to serve as a safeguard for commercial activity. The Washington Post reports that it will be used to protect rural commerce and key industries like mining and tourism. However, it’s worth noting that in Friday’s launch ceremony the president said the new police will also be deployed in urban as well as border areas, according to El Financiero. He also promised that the gendarmerie would be "absolutely respectful of human rights."

But despite these assurances, many skeptics aren’t convinced about the initiative’s usefulness. Both The Economist and The New York Times have particularly good rundowns of the main criticisms of the program, both of which quote Ernesto Lopez Portillo of security think tank Insyde, who likens the new police to “aspirin for a cancer.” In general, Lopez and other analysts argue that what is needed is a greater emphasis on improving law enforcement and judicial institutions, not simply adding more police to an already dysfunctional system.

Yet another criticism of the new police force was recently made by transparency advocacy group Fundar, which released a report on the initiative in July. While its authors applaud the Peña Nieto administration’s decision to keep the new force under civil authority, the report concludes that the gendarmerie operates under a strategic vision that “prioritizes eliminating the enemy over protecting the civilian population.” According to Fundar, the creation of the gendarmerie speaks to a chronic lack of prevention efforts and is ultimately an extension of militarized approaches of the past.

News Briefs
  • The government of Costa Rica has announced that it will open an investigation into the work of USAID contractor Creative Associates International, which used the country as a base to carry out secretive democracy promotion efforts in Cuba like the failed ZunZuneo initiative. Costa Rican intelligence chief Mariano Figueres told the Associated Press that the administration of Luis Guillermo Solis has found no record of government knowledge of the program, and that its only information comes from the AP’s own reporting.
  • On Saturday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced that the government would begin legally recognizing same-sex couples in civil unions. However, as El Universo and the AFP note, the president was careful to stress that he “never offered to support” same-sex marriages, and does not see the law as a first step towards marriage equality.
  • Now that a military commission has been sent to dialogue with FARC rebels in Havana to outline a potential ceasefire, and a panel of experts has been chosen to analyze the impact and origins of the conflict, Colombia’s peace talks are in what the government considers a “decisive phase,”  Reuters reports. News site La Silla Vacia has a very helpful overview of the makeup of both of these commissions, ranking the 12 members of the so-called “Historical Commission” in terms of their left-right political leanings, and noting that the military’s ceasefire research team is heavy on intelligence figures.
  • Writing for Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Michael McCarthy explains how lawmakers in the country are gearing up for a battle over nominations to the CNE electoral authority ahead of 2015 elections. Because the ruling PSUV lacks the two-thirds majority needed in Congress to approve new CNE members, McCarthy suggests that the party might delay a vote on the issue to ensure that it benefits from the current, pro-government CNE in the legislative elections.
  • The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has a new president. Former Colombian leader Ernesto Samper has been elected to serve as the head of the regional body for the next two years, according to EFE.
  • Uruguay’s Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) has announced the beginning of the next stage of the country’s marijuana law: allowing individuals to legally register up to six marijuana plants per household. As EFE reports, the registration process will begin on Wednesday, and the IRCCA will review all applications and issue the first legal home-cultivation licenses in 30 days.
  • The New York Times profiles the reaction in the Dominican Republic to the defrocking and upcoming trial of the former Vatican ambassador to the country, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski. While the case is the first time that the Vatican will hold a criminal trial for sexual abuse, the fact that Church officials helped Wesolowski avoid criminal prosecution in the Dominican Republic has sparked outrage there.
  • After a mass riot broke out in a prison in the southern Brazilian state of Parana yesterday, some 700 prisoners took control of the facility. O Globo reports that four individuals were killed and authorities are currently negotiating with inmates to improve prison conditions. Two of the victims were decapitated, as the BBC notes.
  • Over at InSight Crime, this author has an analysis of Rio de Janeiro’s “UPP Social” program, which was presented to the public in 2008 alongside the policing part of its pacification initiative. While extended occupation by military police was the stick, UPP Social was sold as the carrot, promising to establish a state presence in neglected urban areas. However, crime experts in Rio are largely critical of the program, and Mayor Eduardo Paes has recently changed its name to dissociate it from the police’s pacification strategy.
  • Argentina’s Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have successfully identified the 115th child who was taken from a Dirty War victim and adopted under a different name. The 37 year-old woman, it turns out, is the granddaughter of yet another of the founders of the organization, just weeks after Grandmothers President Estela de Carlotto was reunited with her long lost grandson.