The Week in Review

Latin America and the Caribbean


This week Cuba was still considered a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the U.S. Congress looked at the effects of budget cuts on drug war operations, Colombia deployed the military to deal with rural protests and several countries in the region got a failing grade for press freedom. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around Latin America this week.  

  • There were two hearings this week on the drug war:
    • Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) chaired a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Some of the topics touched on: increased cooperation with Mexican security agencies, Mexico’s efforts to stem heroin trafficking, and the arrest of Colombian nationals who invested in a “marijuana business” in Colorado. Senator Leahy requested the DEA take additional precautions to ensure civilians are not harmed in special operations, as occurred in Honduras in May 2012. See here for Senator Leahy’s statement and here for a video of the hearing and DEA Chief Michele Leonhart’s testimony.
    • The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing, "Confronting Transnational Drug Smuggling: An Assessment of Regional Partnerships." The discussion mostly focused on the effect of budget cuts on Coast Guard and Southern Command (Southcom) operations, but also touched on Colombian security forces' training of foreign forces throughout the region. 

According Southcom Commander General John Kelly, Colombia has been “such good partners with us, particularly in the military realm, that when we ask them to go somewhere else and train the Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, they will do it almost without asking, they'll do it on their own. They are so appreciative about what we've done for them.”

He went on to say that it “was important for them to go” because he was “restricted” from working with many countries for past human rights abuses. See here for a video of the hearing and here for witness testimonies.

  • The U.S. State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2013. The overview of the Western Hemisphere can be found here. According to the report, the FARC was responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in the region. Furthermore, Cuba was still listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, meaning that in the eyes of the United States, the Cuban government has "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism." Despite the designation, the report found, "There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups." Cuba has been on the list since 1982. More from the Pan-American Post.
  • The New Yorker published a masterful account of Sinaloa leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s capture. The article provides a nuanced look at the complicated U.S.-Mexico manhunt and offers detailed insight into Guzmán’s character and last days of freedom. The magazine also released an accompanying interview with author Patrick Radden Keefe.
  • The new U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, has posted a video to YouTube introducing himself to the country. Using the Baltimore Orioles stadium as a backdrop, Whitaker described his family history, career path, and his passion for baseball.  
  • Last week U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel travelled to Mexico and Guatemala, where he said that Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina “has really upped the human rights game” in the country. See here for a recap of his trip. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hagel’s trip “highlights the increasingly blurred line between military activities and law enforcement.”
  • Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police Annual Meeting. He also met with government officials to discuss regional security.
  • This week a unit from Florida’s National Guard was in Grenada to provide trainings on leadership and disaster relief to security forces. National Guard teams from various U.S. states have paired up with forces from partner nations like Guyana, Tonga, and Haiti to carry out trainings on everything from dressing wounds to urban search-and-rescue to ammunition assessments since 1993.

Also of note in the region:

  • Freedom House released its annual report on global press freedom. The report showed declining scores across the world, and Latin America was no exception. See this map for a country-by-country breakdown.
  • Guatemala’s intrepid Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is no longer being considered for re-election after being left off the final list. The Pan-American Post has a helpful run-down of events and InSight Crime has an excellent special on Paz y Paz. President Peréz Molina interviewed the candidates on Friday and will make a selection by Tuesday.
  • Mexico’s lawmakers passed a bill mandating that members of the military be tried in civilian courts for human rights abuses committed against civilians.
  • Colombia deployed its military following several days of rural strikes led by campsinos who say President Santos has failed to deliver on promises he made during similar agrarian strikes last year.
  • Here’s a map showing where anti-mining protests are criminalized.
  • Peru is now also considering allowing its military to shoot-down planes suspected of drug trafficking