The Week in Review

Latin America and the Caribbean

This week lawmakers in the House proposed a review of U.S. drug policy in the region, Guatemala's Congress denied that there was ever a genocide and Costa Rica was still waiting for answers as to why the U.S. ran a covert Twitter-like program in Cuba from within its borders. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region this week. 

  • This week marked the two-year anniversary of the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. A piece in the Miami Herald highlighted the many shortcomings since the agreement's implementation, from Colombia's failure to improve labor rights to the seemingly one-sided benefits in favor of the United States. Some lawmakers released statements calling for greater protection of workers' rights.
  • Seven members of the House's Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights, charged with overseeing that the FTA's labor rights provisions are implemented, sent a letter to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos this week. The letter called on the Colombian government to investigate the recent bombing of a public sector union headquarters in Cali and to protect workers rights. 
  • A group of 245 legislators from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and North Ireland sent an inter-parliamentary letter to the FARC and Colombian government negotiating teams in Havana supporting the peace process. The letter encouraged both sides  “to consider the possibility of a ceasefire and take the necessary measures to minimise the human cost of the conflict.” Despite the calls for a ceasefire, President Santos made clear this week that he will continue a hardline military offensive against the rebels until a peace agreement is signed.
  • U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-NY) penned an op-ed for Al Jazeera America criticizing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for failing to respond to calls for an investigation into a botched anti-drug operation in May 2012 that ended with the killing of four civilians in Ahuas, Honduras. According to Johnson, "It’s time for the DEA to come clean about the Ahuas operation and release all relevant documents, including any transcripts and videos that can shed light on how the killings occurred."
  • Twenty-four police officers and three prosecutors from Panama and Honduras completed an elite federal training program conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and funded by the State Department.
  • At a meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, and the assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, Salvadoran President-elect Sanchez Ceren said he would maintain a U.S. counternarcotics outpost at Comalapa, about 90 miles south of San Salvador, for the duration of his presidency. The agreement for the base, which has been operating since 2000, will expire in 2015, while Sanchez Ceren's term ends in 2019.
  • The leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Congressman Matt Salmon (R-AZ), introduced legislation to evaluate U.S. drug policy in the region. The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2014 would create an independent commission that would ultimately make recommendations for future counternarcotics policy in the Western Hemisphere. Additional cosponsors of the bill include Representatives Albio Sires (D-NJ), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX). A similar bill passed the House in 2009, but was ultimately struck down in the Senate.
  • Costa Rica's new president, Luis Guillermo Solis, said he is still waiting for the U.S. to explain why it operated the covert "Cuban Twitter" program from the Central American nation without informing any Costa Rican government officials.
  • The U.S. Department of the Treasury has levied sanctions against eight people and 20 companies tied to Jorge Fadlallah Cheaitelly, an Iranian-Colombian man accused of leading a money laundering organization linked to Mexico, Colombia and Panama. As InSight Crime noted, the move to do so highlights Panama's key role in laundering illicit funds for organized crime in the region.
  • This week Guatemala's Congress voted to deny that genocide occurred, with the stated goal of promoting "national reconciliation." BBC Mundo has an analysis of the vote. Although the resolution is non-binding and will not legally impact whether former dictator Efaín Rios Montt may be tried again for genocide, it has extremely negative implications for justice and democracy in the country.
  • In an excellent op-ed for the New York Times, Guatemala expert Anita Isaacs looks at a series of democratic setbacks in the country and warns, "Guatemala’s hard-won progress is starting to falter; if nothing is done, it could easily slip back into authoritarianism, violence and disregard for basic human rights." Isaacs highlights the recent effort to push former Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz out of office and replace her with a woman accused of having close ties to a political party once run by Ríos Montt. Isaacs also notes that the international community has been relatively silent on these issues, and that the United States has not even replaced its ambassador to the country, a post which has been open since October.
  • Vice News highlighted labor rights abuses in Guatemala, noting that the country has become “the deadliest place on Earth to be a trade unionist.” 
  • Uruguayan President José Mujica met with President Obama this week. The visit garnered more attention for what it did not cover, like Uruguay's marijuana legalization and Mujica's willingness to accept Guantanamo detainees, than what it did cover, such as education exchanges and agricultural exports. Mujica also received attention for telling President Obama that the United States should stop smoking and that the country will have to become bilingual, “Because the strength of Latin women is admirable and they will fill this country with people who speak Spanish and Portuguese, too.” More coverage, including remarks from Secretary Kerry and President Obama, can be found on our Uruguay country page.