The Week in Review

Latin America and the Caribbean

This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed target sanctions against Venezuelan officials, the FBI trained police officers in Sao Paulo ahead of the World Cup and U.S. lawmakers were worried about the deteriorating human rights situation in Honduras. Below are these stories and other highlights from around the region this week. 

  •  Led by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), 108 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking the State Department to review support and training for Honduran security forces due to the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. The letter highlighted targeted violence against journalists, land rights activists, human rights defenders, and opposition lawmakers with almost complete impunity.  Meanwhile El Heraldo reported the U.S. donated two weapon-destroying machines to Honduras, each with the capability to destroy over 50,000 firearms.
  • Although President Obama made virtually no mention of Latin America during his speech at West Point this Wednesday, Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group, offered a checklist of policy recommendations for how the administration could turn his words into action in the region. Haugaard encouraged the administration to enforce human rights conditions on security assistance, protect the rights of migrants and border communities, and find a new alternative to the Drug War, among other suggestions.
  •  Members of the  U.S. and Colombian navies met in Florida May 20-21 to discuss increased maritime security cooperation. According to U.S. Southern Command, the meeting focused on creating better mechanisms for information sharing.
  • During a five-day period last week, the FBI trained 50 members of Sao Paulo's police force—25 members of the military police and 25 civil police officers—on how to handle large-scale disturbances ahead of the World Cup. According to Spanish news agency EFE, some of the topics covered included the use of force, strategies for handling large crowds, how to use intelligence to identify possible acts of vandalism, and the role of the media during disturbances.  
  •  Seizures of U.S.-bound cocaine passing through the Caribbean have quadrupled since 2011, according to the New York Times. The article noted that while Mexico and Central America remain the most popular smuggling corridors, traffickers are increasingly funneling drugs through Puerto Rico.  Since the island is U.S. land, once packages concealing drugs enter, they no longer need to clear customs before moving up towards the East Cast.
  • The Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, CEDD) released a study on state responses to illegal drug consumption in eight Latin American countries: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. The report, "En busca de los derechos: Usuarios de drogas y las respuestas estatales en América Latina," found that countries continue to primarily deal with drug users through the criminal justice system, instead of viewing drug use as a public health issue.  
  •  U.S. Customs and Border Protection published its Use of Force, Guidelines and Policy Handbook. Adam Isacson noted that the report found “this fiscal year [October-May], the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector has apprehended more than 140,000 people, with 70 percent from countries other than Mexico, mostly Central Americans.”
  • During the week of June 16, Vice President Biden will travel to Brazil to attend a U.S.-Ghana World Cup match. He will then visit Colombia and the Dominican Republic to meet with those country’s leaders.
  • Next week Paraguay will host the Organization of American States' (OAS) 44th General Assembly meeting. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Heather Higginbottom, along with Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, will travel to Asuncion for the meeting. Higginbottom will also meet with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes and Foreign Minister Eladio Loizaga.
  • On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling on the Obama administration to assemble a list of Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses and then freeze their assets and deny them U.S. visas.
  • The Obama administration has opposed sanctions thus far, saying they would be counterproductive and only distract from UNASUR-mediated dialogue efforts. However, the talks have been stalled since last week and on Tuesday, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who introduced the bill, said, "I’m not saying that the State Department loves it, but this time they’re not actively against it." On Thursday, fourteen Democratic members of Congress wrote a letter to President Obama backing the administration’s opposition to the bill and urging an exchange of ambassadors. Several South American countries have also rejected the measure. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a similar sanctions bill last week, which according to Bloomberg News is unlikely to pass a final vote on the Senate floor.
  • This week Venezuelan government officials accused U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker of colluding with opposition lawmakers in a plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro. The State Department called the accusations “baseless and false.”