amnesty international

Colombia: Ousted Bogota mayor continues legal fight

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 23 March to 29 March 2014.

Days after President Juan Manuel Santos rejected an order from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to reverse the decision to remove the now-former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, from office, he and interim mayor Rafael Pardo announced an “emergency plan” for the city.

Petro’s firing brought tens of thousands into the streets protesting against the decision back in December. This week, Petro filed another appeal for a court to overturn the decision to remove him from office and ban him from politics for 15 years. A poll released this week showed 57% of respondents said Santos’s decision will affect the upcoming election “a lot,” but the poll did not ask how the decision would affect their vote.

Another recently-released poll showed the incumbent Santos and Green Party Enrique Penalosa advancing to the second round of Colombia’s upcoming presidential election, with Penalosa winning the second round by a small margin. Polling results published last week had similar results.

General Secretary of the Mayor of Bogotá Susana Muhamad called for the legalization and regulation of the marijuana trade in Colombia. While it is unlikely that such a move would do much to curb violent crime in Colombia, Muhamad’s statements align somewhat the FARC’s position in the latest round of peace talks with the FARC, which have focused on the issue of illicit drugs.

In the past, President Santos has also expressed support for such a policy. Despite recent tensions, the FARC said they were “optimistic” about the negotiations with the government, saying that they “have without a doubt advanced the construction of peace accords.”

Headlines

General John Kelly of the US Southern Command released a statement saying the US will do “everything in our power” to help the Colombian military fight “terrorism,” presumably referring to the FARC, which is designated by the US as a terrorist organization.

Police blamed the FARC for a bomb blast that killed 1 police officer killed and injured 9 people injured in the Guapi municipality of the southern state of Cauca.

Two soldiers were killed and two civilians injured in a bomb attack attributed to the FARC in the Amazonas department.

A ton of cocaine, with an estimated value of $13 million, was seized in Buenaventura just 24 hours after Colombia’s Defense Ministry sent additional security forces to the city. The cocaine is believed to have belonged to the Urabeños gang.

Hector Castro, alias “Hector Largo”, a member of the Urabeños who controlled the largest synthetic drug distribution ring in the country, was arrested. In addition to drugs charges, Castro was also wanted for a number of homicides.

87 homicides have been reported in the port city of Buenaventura so far this year and more than 1,000 have been displaced due to violence stemming from the presence of drug gangs. The city is widely considered to be the most dangerous place in Colombia.

Authorities in Medellin imprisoned four alleged drug traffickers with ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office seized $7.5 million worth of assets from Victor and Miguel Angel Mejia, alias “Los Mellisos” (The Twins). The brothers were considered to be among the country’s primary narco-traffickers. Victor was killed during his arrest in 2008 and his brother was subsequently extradited to the United States.

A report from watchdog group Amnesty International said Colombia has “failed spectacularly” to guarantee the human rights of its citizens during the country’s decades-long civil war ahead of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual review. The group plans to deliver a statement to the Human Rights Council highlighting its concern with forced displacement, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, abductions, and enforced disappearances.

A spokesman for the International Office for Human Rights in Colombia criticized the ongoing peace talks with the FARC for not allowing “direct participation” by victims of the guerrillas. The spokesman also voiced his concern that negotiations will end in impunity for FARC.

A report by Oxfam estimates that almost 50,000 children have been victims of sexual violence during Colombia’s civil war. However, the report claimed that many acts of sexual violence have become normalized to the point where they are no longer considered crimes or even wrong and therefore may go unreported. Other reasons these crimes may be unreported include shame on the part of victims and fear of retributive attacks by perpetrators.

To Watch

Coffee farmers are considering an agrarian strike to protest unfulfilled promises made by the government after demonstrations last year. The farmers say that a new crop subsidy program has not been fully implemented, causing farmers to take losses on their harvests, and that a debt forgiveness program has not been realized.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the FARC to hand over the guerillas responsible for the murder of two policmen last week. President Santos said the “cowardly assassination…will not go unpunished.”

Kidnappers appear to be opting for the “express kidnapping” technique more often as of late. The technique involves asking for smaller amounts of money and releasing victims more quickly.

Carlos Arnoldo Lobo, alias “El Negro,” a drug trafficker with links to Colombia’s Rastrojos gang, was arrested in Honduras.  The US Southern District Court of Florida is seeking El Negro’s extradition under a 2012 Honduran law that allows for the extradition of Hondurans charged with drug trafficking, terrorism, or organized crime. If he is extradited, “El Negro” would be the first person to whom this law has been applied.

According to Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, the United States has approached the Colombian government about receiving some of the prisoners currently held at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. It was reported that Uruguay was contacted with a similar proposal. [CITE]

Extra

Colombia reports published part one of a planned three-part series that was highly critical of many of the US-led policies of the Drug War. Part one criticized the extradition of over 1,600 criminals to the US since 1997, claiming that extradition feeds the US “prison industrial complex” while simultaneously allowing Colombian government officials to avoid investigating crimes they might be linked to.

Mexico: A flurry of new reports highlight persistent security, free speech problems

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 17 March to 22 March 2014.

A draft report released this week by Christof Heyns, special rapporteur for the United Nations on Extrajudicial Executions, concluded that Mexico has experienced “numerous extrajudicial executions by the armed forces and the cartels, often without any accountability” as a result of the militarization of the drug war. The report warned that “soldiers who perform police duties have a hard time renouncing the military paradigm…[U]sually the way they have been trained makes them unfit to maintain public order. The main objective of a military force is to subdue the enemy by taking advantage of their superior strength, while the human rights approach only considers the use of force as the last resort.”

The watchdog group Amnesty International called on Mexico to address “ongoing patterns of disappearances, torture, arbitrary detentions as well as routine attacks on men and women defending human rights, journalists and migrants.” Among the 176 recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council to the Mexican government is the cessation of “arraigo” detention, a form of pre-charge detention where a suspect can be held for up to 80 days without being brought before a judge.

The international press-freedom organization Article 19 claimed in a new report that public officials accounted for 60 percent of the 330 acts of aggression against journalists and media outlets documented in Mexico last year. Impunity for attacks on the media is rampant in Mexico. In the eight years since its inception, despite an annual budget of more than 30 million pesos ($8.2 million), the government’s “office of the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression” has yet to secure a single conviction. Attacks against journalists in Mexico skyrocketed by 59% last year. The number of attacks rose from 207 in 2012 to 330 in 2013, nearly 90% of which were against individuals. Article 19 said 2013 was the most dangerous year for journalists in the country since 2007, estimating that the media face an act of aggression every 26.5 hours. The group also said public officials were behind the majority of the attacks.

Journalists investigating the apparent murder of one of their colleagues, Gregorio Jimenez, claim that they have had to take the investigation into their own hands because Mexican authorities have failed to act on evidence that Jiminez’s killing was related to his reporting, which had linked a powerful Veracruz businesswoman to an alleged kidnapping ring.

Unidentified suspects broke into the Mexico City home of Dario Ramirez, regional director of Article 19. The burglars stole documents and computers just two days before Article 19 presents its annual report on violence against journalists and the news media. Ramirez and his colleagues had received death threats and reported a number of other security incidents to Mexican authorities over the past year. Last week, Balbina Flores Martínez, a correspondent from international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, was threatened by someone claiming to be Omar Treviño, leader of the Zetas cartel.

Headlines

The United States is seeking to extradite the former governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington, for trial on charges of racketeering, money laundering, and conspiracy to import narcotics. According to the indictment, Yarrington used the bribe money to purchase a luxury condo in Texas and illegally used Mexican public funds to buy a private jet and other property. Fernando Alejandro Cano Martinez, the owner of Mexican construction firm, is listed as co-defendant on some of the charges. Yarrington is not currently in custody and the extradition request still has to be approved by a Mexican judge.

Former intelligence chief Monte Alejandro Rubido will replace Manuel Mondragon as the new chairman of Mexico’s National Security Commission, the country’s top anti-crime post. Rubido also served as head of the Cisen intelligence agency (a sort of Mexican NSA) and as deputy public safety secretary. Manuel Mondragon will “withdraw from the operational field and become part of strategic planning tasks” according to Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.

Mexican police arrested Manuel Plancarte Gaspar, nephew of Knights Templar kingpin Enrique Plancarte Solis. He is “suspected of killing several minors to extract their vital organs for sale.” While it is possible that some Mexican cartels have expanded their operations to include organ trafficking, the evidence is thin. Speculation about organ-trafficking by criminals has a long history, but it often turn out to be rumors propagated to sow anti-Americanism or fear of criminal groups.

According to the Attorney General’s office, Mexican authorities freed five kidnapping victims and arrested 10 suspects in three separate raids in the central state of Mexico.

Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde, a prominent leader of an autodefensa in Michoacan, strongly criticized the government for arresting Hipolito Mora, the leader of another autodefensa.

To Watch

Spanish police claim that Mexican cartels, namely Sinaloa, Los Zetas and the Knights Templar, have established a presence in the European country, possibly attempting to challenge Colombian criminal operations that have historically dominated the country’s cocaine trade. One reason Mexican groups are moving in may be that cocaine consumption in the United States has been falling, while in Europe consumption is on the rise and the drug sells for a higher price. The increasing fragmentation of Colombian organizations could provide an opportunity for Mexican groups to move in, but both they and the Colombians will also face competition from European organizations looking to diversify and globalize. As InSight Crime concludes, ” the future of drug trafficking in Spain is more likely to involve decentralized and fluid transnational networks, within which Mexicans, Colombians and Europeans all have a role to play.”

Transnational criminal networks in Latin America make more than $3 million per week on the illegal cell phone trade, according to a report from Interpol.

Extra

Popular Science has an excellent long read on the fascinating story of Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, the man who set up a massive secret radio network for the Zetas cartel.

Vice took a deeper look at the Knights Templar cartel’s involvement in the iron ore trade, which we reported last week. According to the article, “what the gang now earns from illegal mining and mineral smuggling makes its illegal drug profits look like chump change.”

Truthout highlighted the story of Yakiri Rubi Rubio, a 20-year-old Mexico City woman who was recently incarcerated for killing a man who she alleges kidnapped, raped and attempted to murder her.