There can no longer be any doubt: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has gone from criticizing his predecessor’s “kingpin strategy” to actively embracing it. And while he has touted a drop in homicides under his administration, high rates of kidnapping and extortion persist.
Certainly, officials’ announcement of the arrest of Beltran Leyva Organization head Hector Beltran Leyva is an important achievement for law enforcement. But it is only the latest in a string of high-profile catches made under the Peña Nieto administration. Since he took office, Mexico has captured Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, arrested the Sinaloa Cartel’s “Chapo” Guzman, and killed La Familia’s Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, to name a few big fish.
Yet the government’s continued emphasis on arresting top cartel figures as a security strategy is ironic, given that in December 2012 top officials in the Peña Nieto administration specifically blamed the approach for fragmenting criminal groups and turning them “more violent and much more dangerous.”
Compare this to a Washington Post interview published last week, in which the president held up big-name arrests as one measure of success: “At the beginning [of my term], we had 122 targets we identified as leaders of criminal organizations; 84 have been detained. This is quite encouraging, but there is a lot to do still,” Peña Nieto said.
Also in the interview, the president pointed to a drop in homicides under his administration, an achievement he has boasted about in the past. State statistics agency INEGI has found that the total number of homicides in 2013 stands at 22,732, compared to 26,037 in 2012. Peña Nieto has also claimed that the murder rate for the first half of 2014 is 27 percent below the same period in 2012.
Even with these numbers, however, Mexico’s security situation remains in dire straits. As Reuters and the Wall Street Journal report, a new INEGI survey of crime trends in 2013 found that kidnappings had risen to 123,470 reported cases, roughly 30 percent up from 94,438 the year before. And the overall crime rate, excluding homicides, has risen 19 percent to 33.1 million crimes. According to INEGI, less than 10 percent of these crimes were reported to police, due to widespread lack of faith in law enforcement.
However much Peña Nieto wants to cast his administration’s security strategy as a radical break from the past, it can’t be done honestly. With citizen security indicators faltering and the president deemphasizing them to focus on kingpin arrests, the administration’s security approach increasingly resembles that of ex-President Felipe Calderon.
- Venezeula’s youngest lawmaker and a rising star in the ruling PSUV, Robert Serra, was shot dead yesterday in Caracas. Ultimas Noticias reports that Serra and his partner were found dead in their home yesterday night. Attorney General Luisa Ortega has charged a special prosecutor with investigating their deaths, and El Universal notes that President Nicolas Maduro released a statement via Twitter lamenting the loss.
- Also in Venezuela, opponents of President Nicolas Maduro have begun the monumental task of collecting signatures from 15 percent of the electorate -- roughly 3 million people -- in order to trigger a recall referendum. However, as the AP notes, most analysts have low expectations for the initiative, as it lacks the full support of the MUD opposition coalition and many are skeptical of the impartiality of Venezuela’s electoral institutions.
- The AP looks at Venezuela’s more colorful version of the Mexican “Santa Muerte:” a pantheon of long-dead criminal figures known as the “Santos Malandros.” The cult has risen in popularity in recent years, and the figures are revered by believers as protectors of the poor from crime.
- Days ahead of Brazil’s first round presidential vote on October 5, the Washington Post reports on the recent Petrobras scandal that Dilma Rousseff’s opponents have used to fuel allegations of corruption against the Workers’ Party and its legislative coalition. But the WaPo story does not mention the fact that, as The Economist noted when the allegations were first made, Marina Silva’s deceased running mate Eduardo Campos was also accused of receiving kickbacks.
- Throughout his re-election campaign, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos insisted that his second term would be devoted not only to ending the country’s armed conflict, but also to improving development and public education. One of his cornerstone promises was to fund 400,000 new scholarships at the university level. However, El Espectador notes that yesterday the president announced plans to fund just 10,000, and it remains unclear if the other 390,000 will be paid for.
- Yesterday the government of Ecuador issued an historic apology to the indigenous Sarayaku people, stemming from its 1996 concession of drilling rights to a foreign company without first consulting with the Sarayaku community living on the impacted land. The apology, which was delivered by Justice Minister Leidy Zuñiga, was mandated by an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling in 2012.
- Writing for NACLA, Emily Achtenberg has an excellent overview of the upcoming Bolivian national elections on October 12. She offers a thorough explanation of why dissatisfaction with authoritarian elements of Evo Morales’ MAS party is far outweighed by popular support for its economic policies, despite the campaign efforts of the badly fractured conservative opposition.
- Outgoing OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza called on Latin American governments this week to receive Guantanamo Bay detainees from the United States, saying the continued detention of individuals at the base without criminal charges was a “serious humanitarian” issue.
- With Uruguay’s narrow presidential race and the ruling Frente Amplio coalition’s continued slim majority in Congress in doubt, the exact future of the country’s marijuana law is somewhat unclear, as this author has detailed at InSight Crime. Now, even President Jose Mujica has conceded that there is some uncertainty about the law’s future. As El Pais reports, Mujica said it was impossible to know the future of the law, but he called for the public to have faith in the authorities working on its implementation, saying: “While many may not be convinced, I will ask respect for the people who have worked on the issue, and -- at least as a testing ground -- Uruguay is making a very serious effort.”
- Also on drug policy, this week Jamaica is one step closer to decriminalizing marijuana. Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding announced on Tuesday that lawmakers will vote to legalize marijuana use for religious purposes and make possession of 2 ounces or less a petty offense before the end of the year, with regulations for medical marijuana and scientific research to follow.
- Confirming what analysts of Haiti’s legislative gridlock around an elections law have long predicted, Haitian Prime Minister Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe conceded before the UN last week that long overdue local and legislative elections will not occur this year. Still, he reassured the international community that a vote would take place by early next year, as the lawmakers holding up the vote will see their terms expire in January.
- In an op-ed for Fusion published yesterday, well-known Latin American security analyst Douglas Farah warns of increasing Russian influence in the region, noting Putin’s increasingly close relations with the governments of Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba.