Just the Facts has an excellent breakdown on security in Latin America in a variety of areas. Among the numbers:
- Only one in every 300 guns circulating in Mexico is legal and documented.
- Bolivia is spending $35-40 million US dollars on anti-drug programs this year, providing a reminder that coca legalization and anti-drug measurements are separate matters.
- Landmines killed 13 children in Colombia last year.
- Cuba has 90 political prisoners, up from 45 just 9 months ago.
- 168 explosive devices have detonated since 2005.
As they say, read the whole thing here.
-Former president and convicted human rights violator Alberto Fujimori is planning on asking for a pardon from his prison sentence due to health issues in a move that would undo years of efforts for justice for the victims of his regime. Meanwhile, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested Peru annul a Supreme Court ruling from this past summer that could lead to Fujimori’s early release from the 2009 conviction that found him guilty of ordering death-squad killings.
-An alleged leader of the Paraguayan Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Army of the Paraguayan People; EPP) released a series of videos that called for the elimination of private property in the name of Paraguay’s poor, highlighting the ongoing social and economic inequalities and ongoing social dissatisfaction and unrest over land distribution in one of Latin America’s two landlocked countries.
-In a move to streamline urban planning and familiarity, San José, Costa Rica, home to 1.5 million of the country’s residents, is finally installing street signs in the city. Prior to this, all addresses were based on landmarks (I don’t remember the exact address of where I lived in Costa Rica 11 years ago, but part of that address was “100 meters north of the school, on the right”). While this seems like a good idea for those visiting such a large city, cab drivers familiar with the old system are among those critical of the decision.
-With student protests and educational reforms causing serious problems for his government, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced his 2013 budget, with increased spending on education making up 20% of the budget. Although the move is no doubt likely designed at least in part to address criticisms Piñera has faced over education, it is unlikely to satisfy a student movement that wants institutional reforms and free public education for all.
-In Honduras, rights activist Antonio Trejo, who represented peasants in their struggles against wealthy landowners and who was opposed to recent plans to privatize three cities, was assassinated while attending a wedding last week.
-In a decision that should have happened decades ago, Brazil has formally outlawed the formation of and participation in militias and paramilitary organizations. While the law is an important one to have on the books, it certainly seems like a case of “too little, too late” in a country where police militias have resorted to extrajudicial executions of children, the poor, and others in Brazil’s cities since the 1980s, and the 4- to 8-year sentencing seems light for what is a very real security problem in Brazil. Meanwhile, a former officer who served over 25 years in prison for his role in leading a death squad that killed more than 50 people was himself gunned down in the state of São Paulo last week.
-With one week to go before national elections in Venezuela, a suspect has been arrested in the murder of three opposition activists at a rally last week. Though the suspect’s identity has not been released, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles spoke out against the killings and the violent climate in Venezuela that they say allowed the killings to take place.
-Thousands of Haitians took to the street to protest against President Michel Martelly’s government, blaming it for rising food prices and the cost of living and accusing it of corruption.
-Bolivian miners who had been in conflict with each other over possession of a mine have agreed to end their conflict, with both sides having access to the Colquiri mine. Earlier struggles had led to months of protests and strikes and even turned violent, with one miner dying in clashes last month.
-In a macabre landmark, a new report says that landmines have killed or maimed 10,000 Colombians in the last 22 years. Leftist guerrillas are responsible for a majority of the mines, a defense mechanism they’ve employed during Colombia’s 48-year (and counting) civil war.
-Speaking of mines, Chile is set to de-mine a path leading to the Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean-Argentine border. Both countries heavily mined their respective territories in 1977-1978 when a maritime border dispute over some islands at the southern tip of the continent nearly led to war, with ultranationalists in Argentina particularly aggressive in their declarations. The conflict revealed that, while the dictatorships of South American countries collaborated on human rights abuses via Operation Condor, not all relations between the dictatorships were cordial.
-Margaret Myers has another edition of her “Chinese News Coverage of Latin America” posts up, with Chinese headlines reflecting a preoccupation with eco-tourism, diplomatic ties with the Pacific Alliance, and tariffs, among other items.
-At the UN meetings last week, Argentina and Iran met and agreed to begin talks over prosecutions for those connected to the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, which left 85 dead and to which Iran had been connected.
-Uruguay claimed to have deactivated a bomb placed at the Venezuelan embassy in Montevideo. Though pamphlets claiming ties to a left-wing group were found near the bomb, it is unclear who actually planted the bomb or the pamphlets – though it may have been leftists, it could also have been from the right in an attempt to discredit the Chávez government, if not something altogether different.
-Finally, Curação’s ex-Prime Minister, Gerrit Schotte is saying he has been removed in a bloodless coup. Schotte accused governor Adeel van der Pluijm-Vrede of illegally swearing in a new government, though the Dutch government, whose kingdom Curação is still a part of, has said the interim government is legal.
Tired of the violence that has plagued their lands for decades, the indigenous population of the town of Toribio, Colombia, has taken matters into its own hands.
An indigenous leader in Colombia has urged the security forces and Colombia’s largest rebel group, Farc, to take their fight elsewhere.
The indigenous leader of the town of Toribio, Marcos Yules, said the civilian population was tired of bearing the brunt of the fighting.
On Monday, about 1,000 members of the Nasa, Guambiano and Paez tribes destroyed trenches built by the police to defend their police station.
They said the presence of the security forces was attracting rebel attacks.
“We do not understand how strengthening the security forces would defend the population,” Mr Yules said.
“To the contrary, the strengthening of the security forces increases the fighting,” he added.
An indigenous commission also marched to Farc camps in the mountains surrounding Toribio to demand the rebels leave the indigenous ancestral lands.
“One thousand of us went to see the guerrillas, to tell them to leave, that we don’t need them, that we want them to leave us alone,” Feliciano Valencia of the Cauca Indigenous Committee said.
Mr Valencia said they had given the rebels a two-week deadline: “If they don’t pack up their camps, we’ll pack them up for them,” he said.
The story cuts at the heart of one of the bigger tragedies of sustained guerrilla warfare in Latin America in the late-20th and early-20th century: many civilian populations, including in this case these indigenous communities, are caught in the middle of an increasingly militarized area and confronted with increasing violence from both sides. Hopefully the people of Toribio are able to convince the FARC and Colombian military to leave and allow them to return to living their lives without facing any reprisals.
Although Brazil’s military regime officially ended in 1985, the transition to democracy was not instantaneous. The first presidential election was an indirect election, with the Brazilian Congress (rather than the population) choosing Tancredo Neves, a member of the opposition who was moderate enough that the military would not oppose his inauguration. However, Neves died before taking office, leaving the vice-president José Sarney, a bridge-building pick who had previously been a member of the pro-military party during the dictatorship, to assume the presidency; thus it was that, from 1985 to 1990, Brazil did have a civilian president, but one that Brazilians had not chosen and who had been an advocate for the military regime for much of the dictatorship era. It was only in 1989 that Brazilians were able to elect their president for the first time since 1960.
Even with these civilian elections, however, the influence of the military did not disappear. As the work of Jorge Zaverucha has shown, the military continued to exercise a considerable amount of influence on democratically-elected presidents, particularly under the administrations of Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992) and especially under Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994-2002). Thus it was that, although Brazil had officially returned to democracy by the 1990s, the degree to which it was free of military pressure on politics was murky at best well into the twenty-first century.
A new report out of Brazil reinforces the murkiness of that democratic transition. Intelligence agencies apparently followed and regularly reported on the activities of former opponents of the military regime, including Dilma Rousseff, the current President of Brazil, who was just a state-level official at the time and who had been involved with a leftist opposition group during the military dictatorship. According to the report:
Nos anos 1990, na vigência da democracia e com presidente eleito por voto direto, os órgãos de informação do governo continuaram monitorando pessoas, partidos e movimentos sociais, entre outros alvos. Funcionária da Prefeitura de Porto Alegre e depois do governo do Rio Grande do Sul, Dilma Rousseff não escapou. Seu nome aparece em alguns registros produzidos pela Secretaria de Assuntos Estratégicos da Presidência da República.
In the 1990s, in the midst of democracy and with a directly-elected president, the security establishments of the government continued monitoring people, political parties, and social movements, among other targets. Dilma Rousseff, a Functionary of the Porto Alegre Prefecture and later governor of Rio Grande do Sul state, did not escape [such monitoring]. Her name appears in some registers that the Secretary of Strategic Topics of the Presidency of the Republic produced. [Translation mine.]
The report goes on to say that other members of anti-dictatorship opposition movements also fell under the security and information networks’ gaze well into the 1990s, during both the administrations of Fernando Collor and of his successor, Itamar Franco. Most of the targets were former leftists who worked for the government in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southern-most state. There doesn’t seem to have been a response from Rousseff’s administration yet, and the military and security apparatuses in Brazil are notoriously protective of security documents even today. Still, the new report shows how, even in the midst of a “full democracy,” Brazil’s military and security apparatuses continued to employ tactics that monitored past perceived “threats, tactics that civilian presidents appear not to have discouraged. This latest report reveals yet another way that the military continued to influence politicians behind the scenes long after the military regime officially ended and reminds us that transitions from military dictatorships to democracy are rarely cut-and-dry.
Given the eventful and busy week and light blogging, this is the second update on news stories from around Latin America today. (You can read the first one from earlier today here.)
-The Dominican Republic held elections this weekend, with Danilo Medina defeating former president Hipolito Mejia in a hotly-contested election.
-A loophole in Chilean electoral law has allowed over 1,000 people whom the dictatorial state of Augusto Pinochet “disappeared” to vote. A new law that does not require people over 18 to register to vote in person has led to rights activists registering the victims of the regime, creating a new space and arena in which the ongoing struggles over human rights and nation and efforts to remember the regime’s repressive past can take place in Chile.
-Subway workers in São Paulo have gone on strike, demanding a pay raise for their work and leading to a shutdown of a subway system that serves more than four million people each day in what is South America’s largest city.
-Meanwhile, in Canada, nearly 4,800 railroad workers have walked out on negotiations, leading to a shutdown of the Canadian Pacific Railway. While the walkout’s causes are as yet unclear, the move will certainly impact the Canadian economy, which depends heavily on railway transportation to transport goods.
-Argentine police found and disarmed a small bomb that was left in a theater where Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe was set to talk. The discovery came less than one week after another bomb attack that wounded 39 people, including Uribe’s former Secretary of the Interior, and killed two more.
-A Brazilian pilot ejected a passenger who made sexist and offensive remarks upon learning that his pilot was a woman. One can’t help but think that, of all the people you might want to anger, the person in charge of safely flying the jet you are in is not one of those people.
-Three Guatemalan prosecutors and four police officers have been arrested based on allegations of having ties to the drug cartels that are increasingly expanding in Guatemala. (H/t to Mike.)
-Brazil’s Congress has passed a new slave labor law that allows for harsher punishments for landowners who force poor Brazilians to work in slave-like conditions. The new law allows the government to confiscate the property of, fine, and even imprison for eight years those found in violation of labor codes in Brazil.
-Colombia and Venezuela are working together to strengthen the militaries’ presence in the border region between the two countries in an attempt to track down Colombian guerrillas who attacked and killed 12 Colombian soldiers this week.
-The UN is attempting an investigation of Cuba regarding the deaths of prisoners and repression of opposition groups in Cuba and is demanding the country provide information on its prison system and its treatment of prisoners and dissidents.
-In the ongoing struggle over citizenship rights of Brazil’s urban poor, Rio de Janeiro’s government is finally giving land titles to residents of favelas for their homes.
-In a process that continues to go through fits and starts, Brazil’s Congress has begun investigating human rights abuses that the military committed during its 1964-1985 dictatorship. Though President Dilma Rousseff authorized the creation of a Truth Commission late last year, it has yet to get off the ground, and earlier this year, a judge declared that torturers could not face prosecution after federal prosecutors tried to treat the ”disappearances” of dozens of people as “ongoing” crimes in order to try to get around the amnesty law of 1979.
-After escape attempts, gun battles, and irreparable structural decline, Venezuela has begun relocating prisoners from the La Planta prison in Caracas. However, the Venezuelan NGO Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window to Freedom), which focuses on prisoners’ rights, has expressed concerns about transfers from the prison (where a fire killed 25 prisoners in 1996), claiming it will only add to the already-overcrowded prisons in other parts of the country.
-Fourteen people have died in a fire at a rehab center in Peru after they were unable to escape from behind locked doors. The fire is the second of its kind to take place in the last four and a half months. In late-January, a similar fire took the lives of 29 people seeking treatment. The fires are yet another reminder of the very real challenges and limitations facing private drug treatment centers, which make up an overwhelming majority of the country’s rehabilitation centers.
-Brazil’s Supreme Court has approved the use of racial quotas in university admissions. The decision is designed to address the gross inequalities between Afro-Brazilian descendants and “white” Brazilians, inequalities that Henry Louis Gates explored in a PBS series and that I discussed (including the issue of affirmative action and the tensions over it) here.
-A new report claims IKEA relied on the labor of Cuban prisoners to produce its furniture in the 1980s.
-After announcing Venezuela may leave the IACHR, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Madura called on Latin American countries to create their own human rights organization that would operate independently of the United States’ influence.
-Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina is staying true to his campaign pledge to be tough on crime, but the new strongarm tactics have some wondering about the fate of human rights in Guatemala.
-Let the “Hugo Chávez’s successor” speculation begin again in the wake of his recent appointment of 10 members to the Council of State
-Massive floods in the Brazilian state of Amazônas are threatening the homes of thousands, even while the Northeastern part of the country continues to suffer from major drought.
-Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has named Miguel Galuccio as the new head of YPF, finalizing the reappropriation of the oil-producing company.
-Peruvian authorities are cautioning people to stay away from beaches after hundreds of pelicans have washed up dead. The pelicans only add to the mystery of dead animals on beaches; in the last few months, 877 dolphins and porpoises have also been found dead on Peru’s beaches.
There are several posts/articles on security and international relations in the Americas that are very much worth checking out.
- Over at LatIntelligence, Gabriela Aguilera provided a discussion of the military’s role in Ecuador and how it might shape electoral politics.
- Meanwhile, Brazil’s government, citing the need to protect its national natural resources, has pledged to increase its military presence in the Amazon.
- Guatemala’s government has declared a state of siege along its border with Mexico after citizens overtook an army outpost, angered at the murder of a local man.
- Interpol has launched a region-wide effort to combat piracy throughout the Americas, basing its decision upon a supposed connection between piracy and drug cartels.
- Adam Isaacson has a brief-but-important observation on distinguishing the tone/words of different US officials who recently spoke out about Iran’s relations with Latin America.
- Finally, the Inter-American Dialogue recently held a working group on “China in Latin America: Unitary actor or ‘fragmented authoritarian’ state?” with a focus on how Chinese commercial interests are operating in Latin America and what that might mean for both China and Latin America going forward.
Twenty years ago today, a car bomb exploded in front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 29 nine people, injuring 242 more, and becoming the deadliest attack on an Israeli mission ever.
At nearly 3PM, a suicide bomber drove a pickup truck loaded with explosives into the front of the embassy. The explosion destroyed not only the embassy, but also a Catholic church and a school, both near the embassy. The attack killed only four Israelis, with Argentine civilians, including many children, making up the remaining dead.
In the wake of the attack, the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming Israel’s assassination of a Hezbollah official in February 1992 as the motive for the suicide bombing. Intelligence surveillance from US security agencies also suggested Iran was aware of the attack in advance, and in 1998, Argentina expelled seven Iranian diplomats over evidence of Iranian involvement in the bombing. However, no charges were ever filed, although the late former President Nestor Kirchner declared that the Argentine government’s failure in the 1990s to investigate the bombing was a “disgrace,” and reopened the case. With twenty-nine civilian victims, the bombing was also the worst in Argentina’s history up to that date, although the 1994 bombing of the AMIA building that claimed 85 lives would later become the deadliest terror attack in the country’s history.
When Rio de Janeiro police went on strike last week over wages and working conditions,joining their brethren in Bahia, there was real concern that the strikes might threaten Carnaval in two of the cities most important to the festival. That worry came to an end in the last week; the Bahian police ended their strike a week ago after being offered a 6.25% raise in wages, and on Monday, Rio’s police voted to suspend their strike in advance of Carnaval and with the government providing a nominal raise in wages.
However, that does not mean an end to all police and firefighter activity in Rio, where both groups agreed to hold separate meetings once Carnaval ends in order to determine what paths to take in the short- and long-term.
Boz is right that the end of the strikes is a massive victory for the governments in the short-term; while the workers did get raises, they were nowhere near high enough to actually address the very-real problem of poor pay for police forces and firefighters. The fact that a majority of the police forces also is a moral victory for the state government of Rio de Janeiro for the same reason it is troubling for the movement itself; a failure to get broader adherence to the movement inevitably cripples the movement’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength and gives the government the upper hand by allowing it to disregard the substance of the police’s demands, something that this strike’s short-lived nature only reinforces.
But this victory may be Pyrrhic for the state and city governments. The nominal raises in no way address the issues of poor pay for officers, and so long as those issues are not addressed, it is increasingly likely that those in the police force will look to supplement their incomes in drastic ways, most notably by turning to militias and entering in the drug trade (and drug wars) in urban centers. Just because the strike has ended does not mean the problems within the police force, or the threat of another strike, have disappeared forever, and it will be worth watching to see what (if any) moves the police and/or firefighters take after Carnaval, when the eyes of the world are not as focused on Brazil and the national festivities are over and no longer at risk of increased crime.
Yesterday, police in Rio de Janeiro voted to go on strike, demanding better pay. The move comes in the wake of a similar strike that erupted in the Northeastern state of Bahia, where police had occupied the state legislature in protest, demanding better wages before the 300 or so officers finally left the building yesterday (though their strike continues). Meanwhile, Cariocas (citizens of Rio de Janeiro) are worried, as Carnaval is set to begin next week. Additionally, other police forces throughout the country are considering joining their Bahian and Carioca brethren. With police striking, there are real worries that violence threatens Carnaval. These threats are not without basis, either, as the murder rate in Bahia more than doubled while the police strike. The fact that the police are striking in both Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, two of the most popular and important sites for the national cultural celebration, has many worried. Although authorities insist the festivities will continue as planned, the strike unquestionably has an impact, as people are already cancelling plans to travel to (and in) Brazil for the holiday, fearing more extreme violence as well as an increase in smaller crimes. Indeed, the strike affects Brazilians at even the most basic level, as it is the police who control traffic during the blocos that populate the streets of Rio and elsewhere. The strike has the potential to severely disrupt life during the most important cultural celebration in Brazil.
However, the police are absolutely justified in their strike. For years, the state and city governments responsible for police wages have underpaid their police forces, even while the cost of living in Brazil has gone up with the country’s economic successes. Compared to other public servants, the wages for police are inadequate, reflecting the broader gap between the rich and poor in Brazil, a gap that increased in the latter half of the twentieth century. As the New York Times article points out, the monthly income for most police who patrol the streets is $1100-1300 a month. That’s $13,200-$15,600 a year. By contrast, the average income for police and detectives in the United States is $51,410 a year (based on 2008 data). Thus, even while the cost of living between the two countries is increasingly similar, Brazilian police continue to make 1/3 less than their U.S. counterparts. Indeed, in comparison to the $80,000 a year some judges make, police continue to be woefully underpaid, to put it mildly. Yet state and municipal governments have failed to address the issues over the years, even as police made it clear their situation was worsening. At this point, striking before Carnaval is the most powerful tool left to police forces that have for too long been overlooked and underpaid by their governments.
The fact that police are underpaid in Brazil is not exactly a secret, either, and the low pay has had a direct impact on the violence of the drug wars in the favelas. Many police who have not been able to support themselves with their low pay have turned to paramilitary activity, forming militias that take over the drug trade from gangs they force out of the favelas. As a result, the drug wars have taken on an even more violent turn, as paramilitary police forces enter the fray with competing drug gangs, adding to the warfare that affects the lives of millions on a daily basis. This activity has also led to extrajudicial contract killings both for drug lords and against judges and officials who investigate this activity.
Thus, the police are absolutely justified in their actions. Improving police pay to live-able wages will improve Brazil in the short-term, as Carnaval can go off without a hitch; far more importantly, however, it will hopefully improve Brazil in the long-term, as police can have salaries that actually allow them to support themselves and their families in such a way that they do not have to turn to other, illegal methods to supplement their incomes. Failure to address these issues will not be the fault of the police. Rather, responsibility and blame should fall squarely on the municipal and state governments that have failed to financially protect the very people who are supposed to protect the government and civilians.