The Week in Review

Latin America and the Caribbean

This week Venezuelan and Mexican security forces came under fire for human rights abuses, Guatemala considered legalizing poppy and marijuana and Argentina said it was going to ramp up cooperation with the DEA due to increased drug trafficking in the country. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region this week.  

  • Honduras extradited Carlos Lobo, a drug trafficker who worked for Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, to the United States. Lobo is the first Honduran ever to be extradited to the United States for drug trafficking. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the extradition "an important affirmation of the rule of law in Honduras and a strong signal that President Juan Orlando Hernandez is fully committed to stopping the use of Honduran territory for illicit activity."
  • The Obama administration announced it would replace its ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske and intends to nominate James Nealon (Bio, pdf) for the post, current Foreign Policy Advisor with U.S. Southern Command. Bolivia rejected Nealon as a proposed ambassador last July, over accusations he made in 2011 that President Evo Morales was trying destabilize then- Peruvian President Alan Garcia, with the support of Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • Mexico is in early discussions to set up its own Border Patrol force along its northern border with the United States, according to U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (D-TX). “We want Mexico to have its own version of the Border Patrol so the U.S. and Mexico can coordinate and control the border,” Cuellar said. The lawmaker also noted the U.S. was "hoping to put some assistance" into helping Mexico patrol its southern border with Guatemala. Cuellar met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during his trip to the region.
  • Al Jazeera published a piece on the increased militarization of U.S. Border Patrol efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border, while the New York Times reported on widespread abuse committed by border patrol agents. The article noted, "Of 809 abuse complaints against agents within 100 miles of the Southwest border from January 2009 to January 2012, only 13 led to disciplinary action, and typically that meant counseling."
  • Guatemala is considering legalizing poppy and marijuana production and using the tax revenue to help fund drug prevention programs and other social programs, Reuters reported Wednesday. The country might also de-penalize low-level drug offenses and offer amnesty to those convicted of small-scale drug possession and sales. In an interview with the news outlet, Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, a former lieutenant colonel with Guatemala's special forces, said the United States had initially been critical of the plan, but has since entertained further discussion.
  • The London School of Economics published a report on drug policy, “Ending the Drug Wars,” documenting the failures of the War on Drugs and signed by Nobel Prize-winning economists, a former U.S. secretary of state and the deputy prime minister of Britain, among others. The report's editor, John Collins, argued, “Measuring numbers of deaths is a much better gauge of success than number of kilos of cocaine seized.” Mauricio López Bonillo, Guatemala's interior minister, attended the report's launch.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the annual Council of the Americas' 44th Conference on the Americas on Wednesday where he touched on U.S.-Latin America relations, trade, and education. Kerry went on to say that the United States was “deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Venezuela,” and that the protestors had "legitimate grievances." He also highlighted U.S. support for ongoing talks between the government and opposition protest movement.
  • Human Rights Watch released a report documenting 45 cases of abuse and torture carried out by Venezuelan security forces. The report also found that have in some cases security forces worked with armed pro-government gangs known as colectivos, or permitted the gangs to attack unarmed civilians. See our Venezuela news page for more on the report and the ongoing protests.
  • Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson expressed concern that domestic drug consumption in Argentina had "increased very dramatically." The country's Security Minister Sergio Berni said that Argentina would be ramping up cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to "share information and organize training courses." La Nacion also noted that more provinces in the country are reaching out to the DEA and FBI to collaborate on counternarcotics initiatives. This week several outlets reported that the Argentine government is divided about how to handle the rising crime rates and increasing drug trafficking activities.
  • Although the U.S. Congress moved closer to imposing economic sanctions on Venezuela this week, the Obama administration continued to insist that doing so would damage ongoing negotiations between the government and members of the opposition.

On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on human rights in Venezuela. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson testified, as did another State Department official and several civil society members. All testimonies can be found here, as can a video of the hearing. Chairman Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) opening remarks can be found here.  U.S. officials, including Jacobson, and several analysts have noted that sanctions would likely fuel the Maduro administration's narrative that the protests are a result of foreign meddling.

  • Some upcoming Latin America-relevant visits that were put on the radar this week:
    • Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Mexico to meet with President Peña Nieto May 21-22, despite being subpoenaed for a hearing on Benghazi on May 21.
    • Chilean President Michele Bachelet will meet with President Obama at the White House on June 30th
    • Vice President Joe Biden will meet with Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff June 16 while in the country to watch a U.S.-Ghana World Cup match. Here’s the readout from their call this week.

Also of note:

  • Honduras added 1,000 more soldiers to its military police force, which will eventually have 5,000 members.
  • Mexico deployed marines to the border state of Tamaulipas in an effort to curb the spiraling insecurity. There are now around 1,200 marines in various posts across the state. 
  • This week Mexico’s security forces came under fire for ongoing human rights abuses. A report by the Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde), the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) and the Northwest Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) documented the astronomical increase in cases of security force abuse between 2006-2012, just as a United Nations report decried the widespread torture of detainees and citizens.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America also published an extensive report on corruption within Mexico’s police force, despite numerous reform efforts.