conflict

Three reasons “Plan Colombia” won’t work in Central America

General John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern Combatant Command, told an audience at the National Defense University on October 8 that Central American governments should seek to replicate “the miracle of Colombia” when it comes to security. Colombia is “a great example,” said Kelly, “of what can be done so long as a government and a people, along with some help from the United States” cooperate on security issues.

Kelly made similar comments in a recent interview with Military Times and in an interview with the Daily Mail, the four-star general warned of the potential for “mass migration into the U.S.” if the African Ebola epidemic were to somehow spread to Central America. “It’s literally, ‘Katie bar the door,'” the general said, describing the hypothetical situation along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gen. Kelly is not the only policy heavyweight to have fear-mongered about Central American refugees, and he is not the only one to have proposed Colombia’s experience as a model for Central America to follow. On both accounts, he has been joined by Dan Restrepo, currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and previously President Barack Obama’s top advisor on the Americas during his first term. The same can be said of former SOUTHCOM Commander Admiral James Stavridis.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and his Guatemalan counterpart Otto Perez Molina have both called for the implementation of a”Plan Colombia” for Central America, hinting that increased assistance from the United States might enable them to ameliorate the politically-problematic flow of migrants through Mexico and into the United States.

There are a number of problems with the Colombia model, but below are the most important reasons why its application could have especially negative consequences for Central America – particularly in the violent “Northern Triangle” region comprising El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras:

1.) Central American countries have weaker institutions than Colombia. While Colombia’s civil conflict continues in tandem with ongoing peace negotiations, Central American countries signed peace accords ending their civil wars years ago. Nevertheless, post-conflict political institutions and security forces in Central America haven’t had fifty years to adapt to the soaring levels of violence seen in the region in recent years. In fact, although it is still the tenth-highest in the world, Colombia’s murder rate has been in steady decline for a decade.

2.) This weakness manifests itself in susceptibility to corruption and intimidation. The criminal underworld is alive and well in Colombia, though not in the same shape and form as it was during the initial years of Plan Colombia. Instead, the militarized crackdown on guerrillas and narco-traffickers drove many of these groups further underground, diffusing them into smaller and more widely disbursed networks and pushing them into new markets and geographic areas.

In fact, there is compelling evidence that Colombian criminal organizations are using Central American “transportista” groups as middlemen in the trafficking of drugs from South to North. Transnational criminal organizations, often based in Mexico and Colombia provide the huge amounts of capital necessary to supply large amounts of illicit goods and to pay off the police and political officials as well as any “sub-contractors.”

3.) Central America has a plan Colombia and it isn’t working. The essence of the “Plan Colombia” strategy is a heavy-handed, zero-tolerance approach to crime. The U.S. has provided more than half a billion dollars in military and police aid to Central America since 2009. That may not sound like much compared to the $7 billion investment made in Plan Colombia, but in both cases, the thrust of assistance efforts has been toward tactical and operational capacity rather than addressing the institutional weaknesses and corruption that lie at the root of the violence.

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Colombia is not a good model for conflict resolution (yet)

The multi-billion dollar US-backed “Plan Colombia” initiative that began in the late 1990s and continued in various forms throughout the 2000s has been cited by a number of officials and commentators recently as an example of a counter-insurgency/anti-narcotics operation that has achieved significant progress in dismantling criminal and paramilitary groups operating within that country.

Dan Restrepo, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and the former principal adviser on the Americas region to President Barack Obama, recently contrasted the “political and economic elite” of Colombia with the elite of Honduras, who he says “haven’t gone about the hard work of working toward a state that functions” like their Colombian counterparts have.

Soon thereafter, Restrepo co-authored a report for CAP suggesting that Colombia cooperate with Mexico and the United States to replicate their supposed successes in Central America. The presidents of Guatemala and Honduras have also called on the United States to implement a “Plan Colombia” for Central America to help the countries of the “Northern Triangle” deal with the gang violence that has made those nations among the most dangerous on the planet.

Speaking of war zones, Dr. James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and current Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University who was the Commander of USSOUTHCOM during the later iterations of Plan Colombia from 2006 to 2009, authored a piece in Foreign Policy on Friday suggesting that Colombia’s transition from “the basket case it was a decade ago” to its present peace and prosperity could be a seen as a model for “the Arab world” to emulate. Stavridis starts off by characterizing the Colombian conflict as follows:

A 50-year ideological struggle, hundreds of thousands killed, millions displaced, mass graves, murder, rape, torture, a virulent insurgency threatening the overthrow of the entire social order, a rebel enclave carved out of the heart of a big nation. Sounds a lot like the Middle East today.

Stavridis never explains specifically how the situation in “the Middle East today” is similar to the one in Colombia. The Middle East is obviously not “a big nation” and it is misleading to characterize Colombia’s rebel groups as a “virulent insurgency threatening the overthrow of the entire social order.” Though I am not an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, it is my understanding that tensions in that region exist among a large number of countries and groups whose alliances are tangled in an ideological and geopolitical web much more convoluted than that of the combatants in the Colombian civil conflict.

Stavridis concedes that “there are big challenges ahead” for Colombia but says “[c]learly, something has changed over the past decade. ” What is that “something”? He explains:

The strength of the major insurgency group, the FARC, has been halved between 2002 and 2010, from 16,000 fighters down to 8,000. Between 2002 and 2012, the murder rate dropped from 70 deaths per 100,000 people to 31 per 100,000. Kidnappings have dropped by more than 90 percent since 2002. And there are other successes to crow over: There are ongoing peace talks for a lasting settlement between the government and the FARC; the country has re-elected President Juan Manuel Santos on a platform of conflict resolution; trade and the GDP are up; Medellín, the nation’s second-largest city, is lauded as the “most innovative city in the world“; and Colombia is popping up on tourist “top 10” lists everywhere. [Ed. note: one of which is the “top ten” nationwide murder rate list, as discussed below.] The country even made the final round at the World Cup. [Ed. note: Colombia’s squad was knocked out by Brazil in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup. It was the first team the country has fielded at the tournament since 1998.]

How did Colombia achieve these “successes to crow over”? According to Stavridis, a $7 billion militarized crackdown on Drugs and Terror under Plan Colombia played a significant role. Also, “Interagency cooperation [was] key…In Plan Colombia, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Agency for International Development, the Department of State, the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Agriculture, and the Drug Enforcement Administration all had parts to play.” Stavridis does not mention the contributions of Colombian institutions aside from an earlier fleeting reference to “the vigor and determination of the Colombian people.”

Oddly, Stavridis also cites the free trade agreement between the US and Colombia, which went into effect just over two years ago in May 2012, as part of the reason that Colombia has an “economy that is rapidly expanding [Ed note: there has been no ‘rapid’ increase in growth over the last decade] as a result of lower violence, greater political stability, and the effects of the FTA.” The hyperlink on the word “effects”, which appears in the original article, connects to the US Department of Commerce’s Export.gov website, which lists the “benefits” of the FTA:

Over 80 percent of U.S. industrial goods exports to Colombia became duty-free including agricultural and construction equipment, building products, aircraft and parts, fertilizers, information technology equipment, medical and scientific equipment, and wood. Other benefits of the TPA include:

  • More than half of U.S. exports of agricultural commodities to Colombia became duty-free, including wheat, barley, soybeans, high-quality beef, bacon, and almost all fruit and vegetable products.
  • Stronger protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in Colombia.
  • Increased access to Colombia’s $180 billion services market for highly competitive American companies.

Note that this list does not highlight “benefits” accrued to the Colombian economy. Just as the contributions of the Colombian military, law enforcement and judicial system in reducing violence and crime were of little concern to Stavridis, so are the “effects” of the FTA on the Colombian people.

In the first year after the FTA went into effect, exports from Colombia to the US fell by 15% while imports rose, hurting the competitiveness of local small businesses. Labor rights activists and union members continued to be killed with impunity. In August 2013, demonstrations organized by small-scale farmers to protest the government’s agricultural policies turned deadly in Bogotá. In March 2014, tens of thousands of farmers participated in similar demonstrations in the capital city.

Violence in Colombia has indeed been reduced from its peak, but it remains a major issue in Colombian society in all its permutations, whether it be homicide, suicide, sexual or domestic. Last year, the United Nations found that Colombia had the tenth highest murder rate in the world. Cali, the capital of the gang-ravaged Valle del Cauca department, was ranked the 4th most dangerous city in the world in 2013 by a Mexican NGO, with a homicide rate of 83.2 per 100,000. Palmira, Santa Marta, Cúcuta, Pereira and Medellín also fell within the top fifty.

Stavridis correctly notes that “often the youth of a region take to the streets and fall under the sway of violent messages because there are very few real alternatives.” He claims that “private-public projects are vital,” without referring to a single specific instance of such a project producing positive results in Colombia. One example that came to my mind was the multi-million dollar “shock plan” recently proposed for Buenaventura – a combination of increased private investment and a militarized, Plan Colombia-like public safety strategy.

But as early as 2007, Ana María Mercedes Cano, who was then the director of the Buenaventura Chamber of Commerce, warned in a New York Times interview about the connection between economic hardship and violent crime. “There is no other viable industry here, so there are no other viable jobs,” Cano said. “So we live in a situation with violence all around us.” Despite its economic potential as one of Colombia’s primary Pacific ports, unemployment in the city is currently estimated to be above 60% and it remains one of the country’s most violently contested drug trafficking areas. Some recent reports suggest that gang violence on the Pacific coast has superseded the civil conflict as the primary driver of internal displacement.

Stavridis writes that tackling corruption should be another priority for those seeking to mimic the Colombian model:

In Colombia, frustration with inequality and corruption created the spark that set off larger anti-government movements such as the FARC. To be legitimate in the eyes of the people, governance has to be evenhanded, relatively transparent, oriented toward human rights, and free of corruption. The work done in Colombia by anti-corruption task forces coached by U.S. interagency teams from the Department of Justice, FBI, and DEA, for example, had an effect.

Historical reductivism aside, Colombia today remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, and while “the work” of US agencies may have “had an effect,” corruption also remains a major issue. As Colombia Reports wrote in 2012:

From the beginning of 2005′s controversial Justice and Peace Law until the end of April 2012, prosecutors and officials have requested the investigation of 943 politicians, 870 military members, 330 public servants and 9,036 civilians, including several business owners suspected of contributing to paramilitary organizations in some fashion.

Major companies in the mining and agriculture sectors have similarly been accused of colluding with – or claimed to have been intimidated by – paramilitaries and drug traffickers in recent months and years. Just weeks before the first round of the presidential election this spring, President Juan Manuel Santos’ campaign chief was forced to resign over allegations that he took a $12 million bribe to pitch his boss a surrender proposal from some of the country’s most powerful drug lords. The Colombian Senate recently declined to debate former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe’s alleged connection to paramilitary groups, possibly for fear of exposing their own ties.

The “false guerrillas” (also known as “false positives”) scandal, which reached its peak during the second Uribe administration (2006-2010), is another example of stunted progress in terms of corruption and human rights. Stavridis claims that “the apprehension, prosecution, and conviction of military members for reporting ‘false guerrillas’ in order to cover up extrajudicial killings also showed the public that officials would be held accountable.” However, according to another Colombia Reports article from June of this year:

Seven years after the scandal originally broke, only 27.6% of those members of the public security forces believed to have participated in the false positives practice — in which civilians were murdered and disguised as guerrillas slain in combat — have been investigated, while only 15% have been charged with a crime, according to the latest figures, which cut off in January 2014.

The Prosecutor General’s Office informed Colombia Reports that there have been at least 4,212 victims of “false positives” and that at least 4,774 members of the public security forces are believed to have been responsible.

Of the 722 Army personnel convicted of false positives charges, 90% fall below the rank of lieutenant, and none rises above the rank of colonel. Of the five generals whose units produced the highest incidence rates of false positives, three were named commander general of the Armed Forces. [emphasis added]

Finally, echoing Mr. Restrepo, Stavridis leaves us with the following nugget of wisdom: “Success depends on the people.”

Even if the international community does everything above perfectly, will Iraq right itself? Will Syria suddenly stabilize? No. It will ultimately depend on the will of the people of the Arab world — or any other nation or region — to wrench their society back from the destructive influence of violent extremism. But we can certainly help — with financial, political, educational, developmental, and limited military support, much as we did in Colombia — and we should, despite the intense frustration.

In truth, US assistance to Colombia has not been primarily “financial, political, educational, [and] developmental” in conjunction with “limited military support” – it has been just the opposite. Needless to say, the Colombian conflict has next to nothing in common with those in Iraq and Syria, either historically or politically. The situations in each country have vastly different causes and compositions and will likely require unique solutions. Colombia is an extremely flawed model for conflict resolution to begin with, but it is utterly asinine to attempt to apply it to Iraq or Syria – not to mention “the Arab world” in general.

To his credit, Stavridis did mention an important point made by President Santos in a pre-election interview with Der Spiegel. According to Santos, “it’s not possible to exterminate [the FARC].” As the retired admiral puts it, “There are no purely military solutions to pulling a nation or region out of the death spiral of violent extremism. We cannot kill our way to success.”

Hopefully, if the current peace process with the FARC manages to succeed, Colombia can one day be an example of how even the longest-running, bloodiest and most deeply divisive conflicts can be solved with words and not weapons. But, right now, it has a long way to go.

Mexico: Arrival of UN Special Rapporteur puts spotlight on torture and impunity

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 20 April to 26 April 2014.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Juan Méndez, arrived in Mexico to begin an investigation into the country’s penal reforms and other aspects of the country’s law enforcement and justice systems. His visit is expected to last until May 2.

Despite thousands of reports of torture committed by Mexican security forces over the past decade, not a single person has been found guilty of the crime. A report presented to Méndez claimed that “despite [the Attorney General’s office] having found evidence of torture in 128 cases, there were no convictions.” The Attorney General’s office confirmed that from 2002 to 2012 there were only 39 preliminary investigations into torture and that no criminal proceedings or warrants were issued.

Earlier this month, Enrique Hernández, the leader of an autodefensa in Yrécaro, Michoacán was arrested along with 18 others on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Gustavo Garibay, the Mayor of Tanhuato. The State Human Rights Commission in Michoacán said that Hernández had sustained injuries consistent with his claims that he was tortured by the police.

Mexico’s Senate unanimously approved legislation that would allow military personnel accused of crimes against civilians to be tried in civilian rather than military courts. The legislation still has to be approved by the lower house, but it is widely considered a step in the right direction. A study from the Wilson Center released last month concluded that 90% of Mexican citizens feel they cannot trust the police. This lack of trust likely contributed to the rise of vigilante self-defense groups known as autodefensas, which are proving to be a major security challenge for the government.

Michoacán Federal Safety Commissioner Alfredo Castillo said that 44 “pseudoautodefensas” were arrested. Those who were detained were allegedly linked to organized crime groups, but were attempting to pass themselves off as members of the self-defense forces.

Federal police and military intelligence documents obtained by Proceso show that the government believes many autodefensas are infiltrated by criminal groups, something a number of observers have long suspected. Documents the magazine reported on last week indicated that the low-profile leader of a self-defense force in Michoacán, Miguel Ángel Gallegos Godoy (alias “El Migueladas”), is “the real boss” of the Knights Templar organization.

Following an agreement reached by leaders of the self-defense groups and the government last week, Castillo announced that the process of disarming unregistered autodefensas in Michoacán will begin on Monday. For more on the agreement, see our previous post.

Headlines:

97 police in Michoacán were fired this week for failing confidence exams.

Mexico’s public safety agency reported a continuation in an upward trend of serious crimes, including homicides, kidnappings and violent robberies. A new report from the Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security modified homicide statistics from Veracruz state to account for 299 previously-unreported murders. The report also noted that kidnappings in Veracruz increased by 51% over the first quarter of 2013.

According to business groups in Monterrey, extortion in the area rose by 49% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2014.

Mexico has experienced a dramatic increase in domestic heroin consumption, likely due to increased production of the drug in that country. Farmers who previously grew marijuana appear to be replacing cannabis crops with opium poppies, potentially in response to a price drop in the marijuana market.

The Director General of Mexico’s National System for the Comprehensive Development of the Family, Laura Vargas, said that according to a study by the UN, nearly 70,000 children in Mexico have been victims of sex trafficking.

The government closed a saw mill and a steel plant in Michoacán that allegedly belonged to organized criminal groups.

The arrests of the two highest-level members of the Los Rojos gang, Antonio Reina Castillo and Ismael Castillo Marino, earlier this month probably won’t ameliorate the ongoing violence in Guerrero state, where the group is based. Los Rojos are one of several groups that grew out of the Beltran Leyva Organization and have been vying for dominance in an increasingly bloody turf war.

An attack by armed civilians on security forces in Mier, Tamaulipas left one civilian dead. Government troops seized various weapons and tactical gear and arrested two people in connection with the attack.

Federal and regional forces, working off of an anonymous tip, rescued 60 migrants who were captured by organized crime groups in Tamaulipas, near the Texas border. According to the National Commission on Human Rights, some 10,000 migrants have been kidnapped in Mexico over the last six months.

Seven people were killed in separate shootouts between police and armed gunmen in Tamaulipas.

Arturo Gallegos Castrellón, alias “El Farmero,” was handed 10 life sentences by an El Paso court for his role in the murders of three people associated with the US consulate in Juarez in 2010.

According to the Institute of Social Security for the Mexican Armed Forces, the government spent roughly $110,000,000 on life insurance for military personnel between 2008 and 2012, putting a strain on finances.

The Gulf Cartel launched a campaign in the streets of Mexico City to recruit youths to join their group.

To Watch:

Mexico’s National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia said that the newly formed Gendarmerie will not be infiltrated by organized crime groups, claiming that the selection process for cadets was “very careful.”

In the wake of anti-censorship protests, Mexico’s ruling party appears to be stepping back from proposed legislation that would have given authorities the power to “temporarily block, inhibit or annul telecommunications signals at events and places deemed critical for the public safety.”

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed a desire to expand defense cooperation between the US and Mexico during a visit to the later country. The US  State Department announced the planned sale of 18 Black Hawk transport helicopters to Mexico.

The Council of the European Union is mulling an agreement between the European police agency Europol and Mexican authorities to cooperate on issues of organized crime and violent radical groups. However, the European Parliament recently rejected such a proposal due to concerns about the security of information that would potentially be shared with Mexican law enforcement, which has a reputation for corruption and infiltration by criminal elements.

Extra:

Two articles this week highlighted the dangers facing migrants traveling on “La Bestia” (“The Beast”), a freight train that many migrants from Mexico and Central America ride illegally in an attempt to reach the United States. Fusion and Vocativ both take a look at some of the migrants’ stories, which often include injury, kidnapping, robbery, rape and even death. Migrants from Central America marched to the presidential residence in Mexico this week and requested a meeting with President Peñã Nieto to demand that the government “ensure the right to free passage across the country without humiliation or violence, on our way to the northern border.”

Colombia: Peace talks with FARC enter 24th round

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 20 April to 26 April 2014.

On Thursday, the 24th round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC commenced in Havana. The previous round ended on April 11 without an agreement on the issues of illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking, which are expected to be the focus of the new session. President Santos said earlier that he expects to reach a deal with the FARC regarding their involvement in the drug trade “in the near future.”

The FARC reiterated their desire for the government to commit to forming a truth commission “to clarify the history of the conflict” before they will discuss reparations for victims. The government has previously said it is willing to form such a commission only after a final deal is reached.

The chief negotiator for the Colombian government in the ongoing peace negotiations, Humberto de la Calle, pushed back against reports that the government was negotiating a drawdown of military and police forces or a demilitarization of the “peasant reserve zones” as part of the talks. “I say categorically that none of this is true,” he said during a statement to the press.

Messages obtained by El Universal appear to show the top leader of the FARC, “Timochenko,” venting his frustration with the “apathy and indolence” of some of the group’s members to other guerrilla leaders. The messages seem to acknowledge that the government’s military efforts against the rebels are succeeding. The FARC “are being beaten every day,” reads one message.

A pamphlet allegedly produced by the FARC was discovered, which threatened members of former President and Senator-elect Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center party as well as a radio station and workers for multinational corporations in the department of Arauca.

The Colombian government claims that emails found on confiscated FARC computers indicate coordination between the FARC and the ELN for attacks planned in the next month. According to one message the plan was “to select feasible military objectives and that they impact…and seriously affect the economy.”

Headlines:

The closure of the Caño Limon-Coveñas pipeline in northwestern Colombia due to a series of attacks allegedly carried out by the ELN has cost the government $136 million in royalties, taxes and dividends. The U’wa indigenous group have refused to allow workers access to their land in order to repair to the pipeline. Negotiations with the group ended in failure for the government with the group’s spokesperson saying “The proposals they offered weren’t close to what we were demanding…We will continue to not authorize the repair of the oil pipe.”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reinstated ousted Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro following a court order requiring him to do so. However, Santos has promised to challenge the decision in a higher court. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights lauded the ruling in favor of Petro, noting that the organization will “continue to monitor the situation.” The IACHR previously made a similar ruling, which was ignored by Santos.

One Colombian soldier was killed and thirteen others were wounded when an army convoy set off mines allegedly laid by FARC guerrillas in the Norte de Santander region.

Colombian rancher and union leader Luis Alberto Álvarez, who was kidnapped by the ELN last week, was found dead near the Venezuelan border. Álvarez’s death may have an impact on the agricultural strike planned for April 28.

Two Hondurans, two Venezuelans and one Colombian national were detained by Colombian security forces in Caribbean waters. They were carrying 750 kilos of cocaine as well as fuel, communications equipment and firearms. Authorities claimed the cache belonged to Víctor Ramón Navarro, alias “Megateo,” a member of the People’s Liberation Army (EPL).

To Watch:

The ministers of Interior, Agriculture and Finance held a meeting to discuss new efforts to head off a strike planned by Colombian farmers on 28 April. Some of the proposals included subsidy policies, debt refinancing plans, a halt to confiscation of debtors’ farms and social investments. Colombia’s Coffee Federation (Fedecafe) has announced that it will pay stipends to 74,000 coffee farmers who had not received the payments promised after a nationwide strike last August that resulted in five deaths and hundreds of injuries as police clashed with demonstrators. Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón claimed that organized crime groups are involved in the organization of the planned agricultural strike.

Colombia may do away with its aerial cocaine eradication program as part of its efforts to reach an agreement with the FARC over the drugs issue. The United States suspended its fumigation program last year after two US pilots were shot down by FARC guerillas.

Colombia’s largest daily newspaper, El Tiempo, has reported in further detail on how recently-reinstated Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro’s lawyers received government contracts in the lead-up to his dismissal. Petro has consistently denied that the contracts had any link to his legal defense.

Chiquita Brands International, a multinational fruit and vegetable company, has asked a US Federal Court to dismiss a lawsuit against the company brought by families of victims of paramilitary violence, arguing that the company cannot be directly linked to the killing of over 4,000 people by the illegal armed groups. In 2007, Chiquita was found guilty of paying paramilitaries $1.7 million from 1997 to 2004 and was fined $25 million.

Colombia: Vitriol, violence and threats of strikes as election approaches

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 13 April to 19 April 2014.

report from the Washington Office on Latin America entitled “Ending 50 Years of Conflict” expressed confidence in the potential of ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC to realize a final deal by the end of this year. The report also called on the US to increase financial and diplomatic support to ensure that Colombia can meet post-conflict challenges, such as “bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims.” US aid to Colombia has been declining by an average of 10-15% per year for the past few years.

Colombia’s military spending rose by 13% in 2013, one of the largest increases in the region. Military spending throughout all of Latin America increased by 2.2% in 2013, bringing the total regional increase since 2004 to 61%. Colombia spends more than any other country in the region on its military as a percentage of GDP, and is second only to Brazil – the largest country in the region – in total expenditures. The majority of Colombia’s military spending is directed at fighting armed groups like the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as violent organized crime groups.

President Santos reaffirmed his commitment to the peace negotiations with the FARC in an interview with W Radio. He criticized the FARC for ongoing attacks during the negotiations, saying “What objective are you seeking? What military advantage does it give you? None, it only undermines the confidence of the people in the peace process.” The FARC were suspected of bombing another section of the Panamerican highway this week after a similar attack on April 1. Last week, three policemen were killed in an ambush by FARC forces.

Santos also criticized opponents of the peace process as “lords of fear,” perhaps referring to one of his main rivals in the upcoming presidential election, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who (along with his highest-profile supporter, former President and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe) has been critical of the negotiations.

In an interview with a Colombian news outlet, the leader of the ELN, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (alias “Gabino”), said that his group is seeking peace talks with the government. The ELN is not party to the ongoing negotiations between the government and the FARC. Gabino slammed the Santos administration and Colombia’s “oligarchy” saying that they have “no desire” for peace, “they are thirsty for blood and violence” and they “get rich with war…They are selfish, arrogant, warmongering. They despise the humble and only look at them as a work force that enriches [the powerful].”

Two policemen were killed in the northeastern department of Arauca. RCN Radio attributed the attack to the ELN, which is known to be active in the area, but neither that group, nor the FARC have claimed responsibility for the killings. An unidentified group intimidated a work crew making repairs to an oil pipeline in the northeastern region of the country and torched their truck. Last week, repeated ELN attacks on an oil field in that area forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave.

In the interview, Gabino also expressed outrage over the political dismissals of former Senator Piedad Cordoba and former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro and admitted that there were minors associated with his group. Colombia’s Ombudsman’s office demanded that the ELN disclose the number of minors in their ranks.

The ELN is Colombia’s second-largest armed group after the FARC, with about 2,000 troops. President Santos has indicated his willingness to begin a peace dialogue with the ELN in the past.

Headlines:

According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Colombia has the 10th highest murder rate in the world, even though the country’s homicide rate has dropped by nearly half since 2002.

Colombia is the eighth-worst country in the world for impunity in attacks on the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Members of the U’wa indigenous group met with Colombia’s ministers of mines and energy, the interior and the environment after refusing to allow repairs to the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline following attacks from rebel guerrillas that had damaged it.

Four members of the Colombian military were sentenced to decades in prison for killing civilians and presenting them as combat fatalities in order to boost their “body count” in the country’s armed conflict. The ongoing “false positives” scandal has involved hundreds of members of Colombia’s military. In an July 2013 report, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it had found that the armed forces and civilian collaborators had killed 3,896 civilians since 1986.

Two young men were found dismembered in Buenaventura, the port city considered to be one of the most dangerous areas of Colombia. The deaths were the first murders reported since the army took over security operations in the city in late March. For more on the situation in Buenaventura see our previous post.

Seven members of the Urabeños gang were killed in an army operation in the department of Antioquia.

Colombian miners said they will join with farmers in a nationwide strike planned for April 28, less than a month before the country’s presidential elections. For more on the planned strike, see our previous post.

Colombian authorities arrested 15 members of the criminal group known as “La Línea” who were accused of assassinating a businessman last year for failing to make a $50,000 extortion payment.

Colombian police arrested 5 men wanted for extradition to the United States to face charges of cocaine trafficking.

Members of a neo-Nazi group known as Tercero Fuerza (“Third Force”) allegedly vandalized a Bogotá graffiti mural honoring the thousands of victims of violence committed against the Union Patriótica (Patriotic Union or “UP”), the political party co-founded by the FARC in the 1980s. The UP performed better during the 1986 elections than any other leftist party in Colombian history. However, after the election, a brutal campaign of assassination and murder by right-wing paramilitaries brought about the massacre of 4,000-6,000 UP members, including the party’s leader, Jaime Pardo.

To Watch:

Colombia’s success in combating the production of cocaine within its borders is likely pushing drug traffickers to use product sourced from Peru. “We are seeing the same phenomenon as 30 years ago, when coca base arrived from [Peru and Bolivia] and they produced [cocaine] hydrochloride here,” said the chief of the Anti-Narcotics Police General Ricardo Restrepo. Restrepo said that the port of Cartegena is particularly affected because of its status as a major point of departure for containers, especially those destined for European markets.

One of the oldest crime syndicates in Medellín, the Oficina de Envigado, apparently wants to lay down its weapons. According to two of the group’s self-proclaimed leaders, the demobilization “won’t happen overnight” but their desire to dismantle the gang is fueled by the feeling that “those who have been victimized most are [their] own families.”

The FARC may be selling coca plantations and cocaine labs to the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel in anticipation of a peace deal with the Colombian government. The FARC are estimated to control a majority of the country’s cocaine trade.

Extra:

Acid attacks against women in Colombia are receiving increased attention after a wealthy woman was victimized. According to Colombian officials, more than 900 cases of acid attacks have been recorded in the last 10 years.

Criminals in the US, Central America and even Colombia appear to be using homemade guns more often. As Fusion puts it, these weapons are “unserialized, unregistered and totally legal – and they’re being used to kill people.”

World-renowned Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away this week. President Santos declared three days of national mourning for the “most loved and most admired compatriot of all times.”

Mexico: Questions and doubts surround deal with autodefensas

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 13 April to 19 April 2014

The Council of Self-Defense Forces of Michoacán (CAM), made up of leaders from 20 autodefensas, has agreed to a deal with the government, but as InSight Crime noted, “[t]he deadline is so far the only clear point” of the agreement. Despite the characterization of the deal in many reports, La Jornada clarified that the actual text does not make any explicit reference to the groups’ “disarmament.” Instead it states only that “[s]elf-defense groups are obligated to register their weapons with the Secretariat of National Defense no later than May 10, 2014, determining their possession and use, according to established legal parameters.”

CAM spokesman José Manuel Mireles had previously strenuously resisted calls for the vigilantes to disarm. Estanislao “Papa Smurf” Beltran, the leader of an autodefensa in Buenavista, also denied that the groups were disarming, saying that instead they would continue the process of integrating with official security forces under the existing legal framework. According to Mireles, “We are not going to surrender the weapons [to the government]. We are going to put them away.” Mireles said that the only weapons that would be given up were “superheavy” ones, such as “land-air missiles, M-60 and M-70 rifles and grenade launchers.” For his part, Michoacán security commissioner Alfredo Castillo said, “On May 10, the legitimate autodefensas will disappear and those who say ‘we are autodefensas and we will continue’ will be arrested as false autodefensas.”

Also in contrast to some reports, the deal does not necessarily guarantee the release of autodefensa members who were detained for carrying weapons. Instead, the text states that “[i]ndividuals belonging to self-defense groups who, in addition to carrying a weapon, are being prosecuted for other serious crimes, will continue their criminal proceedings in accordance with the law.” Security commissioner Castillo pushed back against suggestions made by autodefensa leaders that the deal included a promise to release members of the vigilante groups who are suspected of having committed “serious crimes,” such as Hipólito Mora, the man accused of orchestrating the killing of two members of a rival self-defense group.

The deal also includes provisions for the protection of militia leaders and promises by the government to continue the fight against criminal groups that have terrorized the state. However, the government’s inability to provide adequate security was the original impetus for the formation of the vigilante groups. Many top figures in the area’s main cartel, the Knights Templar, have been arrested or killed recently – some with the help of the autodefensas – but the group remains very powerful.

It is basically impossible to predict how all this will play out. As long as citizens feel they cannot trust the government and official security forces, they will seek other means of defending their communities. Self-defense militias have begun to spring up in urban areas of Guerrero state, where the presence of the Gulf Cartel-linked criminal group “Los Rojos” has been blamed for an increase in assaults and kidnappings. Last week, the mayor of Chilpancingo, the state’s capital, said that 70% of the municipal police in the city had failed certification exams.

Despite the deal, the presence of vigilante groups is all but certain to remain an ongoing challenge for the Mexican government. This week, 17 members of an autodefensa from Yurécaro in Michoacán were charged with “organized crime in the category of terrorism” for the murder of Tanhuato mayor Gustavo Garibay Garcia on March 22. Enrique Hernández, who is not mentioned in the article linked above, was also implicated in Gariba’s murder and has alleged that he was tortured following his arrest.

A report from Mexico’s federal intelligence services obtained by Proceso magazine indicates that the low-profile leader of a self-defense force in Michoacán, Miguel Ángel Gallegos Godoy (alias “El Migueladas”), is “the real boss” of the Knights Templar organization. José Manuel Mireles, the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Michoacán, has claimed in the past that the autodefensa movement is split between those who “fight against drug trafficking” and “criminal infiltrators.”

While the recently-announced agreement provides a sliver of hope, the preponderance of evidence suggests that dealing with the autodefensas could indeed be “the greatest security policy test” of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration.

Headlines:

Members of an autodefensa took over the town of Tingambato in Michoacán. The vigilantes detained the town’s mayor and eight members of the municipal police who reportedly attacked the group earlier this month. Suspected Knights Templar gunmen later attacked members of the autodefensa that had taken the town.

An autodefensa led by José Manuel Mireles took the town of Nuevo Urecho. Mireles called for the people of the town to join his movement.

The mayor of Apatzingan in Michoacán state, Uriel Chavez Mendoza was arrested on extortion charges. Prosecutors allege he pressured city councillors to hand over $1,500 of their monthly salaries to the Knights Templar cartel, more than one-third of their pay. Chavez Mendoza is the nephew of now-deceased Knights Templar leader Nazario Moreno (alias “El Chayo”) who was killed by Mexican security forces on March 9.

In an interview with Milenio, Jose Martin Gomez Ramirez, Apatzingan’s councilor for industry and business, claimed that when city councilors protested the extortion, they were taken to a remote area where they met with Chavez Mendoza and local Knights Templar boss Rigo Diaz Sato, who were accompanied by armed men and a municipal police patrol. The former mayor allegedly introduced Rigo as “more than my friend, he is my brother.” Rigo told the politicians that they would have to acquiesce to the extortion demands. According to Ramirez, he lived in fear for the next two years, with criminals and municipal officials making threats against his family and anyone “not supporting the movement.”

A former legislator from the state of Michoacán, José Trinidad Martínez Pasalagua, was released from custody for a lack of evidence. Martínez Pasalagua remains under investigation for possible links to the Knights Templar cartel, as does the Secretary General of the Government in Michoacán, Jesús Reyna, who was arrested last week. Both men are suspected of having attended meetings with Servando Gómez Martinez (alias “La Tuta”), one of the founding members of the Knights Templar. 

Police reportedly arrested “La Borrega,” the leader of the Gulf Cartel-linked gang known as “Los Rojos” (“The Reds”), in the municipality of Martir de Cuilapan in Guerrero state. According to the police, Borrega’s group was “one of the principal producers and distributors of drugs” in the municipality and was also responsible for kidnappings and extortion in the area.

Mexico’s finance minister Luis Videgaray announced a plan to develop a “black list” of drug traffickers to block them from the country’s financial system. The list will include individuals designated for sanctions by the US and the UN as well as those designated by Mexico’s own government.

Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam confirmed that the American government has not made a formal request for extradition to the Mexican government for the extradition of recently-arrested Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and that the Mexican government has “no intention of sending him [to the United States].” Guzman is wanted on multiple indictments in the US.

Guatemalan police arrested Rafael Atilano Baños Macdonald, a suspected member of the Sinaloa cartel who had been wanted by authorities since 2013.

Another associate of El Chapo, Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega, pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in Chicago, further indicating that Vincente “Mayito” Zambada-Niebla may be providing law enforcement authorities with information on Chapo loyalists who could pose a threat to his father, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, the man assumed to have taken Chapo’s position as kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Colombian rebel groups known as the FARC may be selling coca plantations and cocaine labs to the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel in anticipation of a peace deal with the Colombian government.

Mexican authorities captured Arnoldo Villa Sánchez (aka  Erick Rene Calderón Sánchez), the man considered to be the number two leader of the Beltran Leyva cartel. The current boss of the organization, Hector Beltran Leyva is considered to be still at large. The fact of the arrest runs counter to rumors that the Peña Nieto administration “plays favorites” with the Beltran Leyva organization.

The Zetas, an organized crime group engaged in a bloody turf war with its former partner, the Gulf Cartel, issued an online message promising to turn Tamaulipas state into “hell itself” as they fight a “battle to the death” against their rivals. This week, hundreds of residents of Tampico in Tamaulipas marched in protest against the recent wave of violence that has left dozens dead in their state. For more on the Tamaulipas turf war, see our previous post.

Four people were killed in various shootouts following law enforcement operations in eastern Mexico. According to officials, there were “no reports that policemen or civilians were affected.”

Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense said that 410 members of the armed forces have died since the escalation of Mexico’s drug war in December 2006. The Mexican Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI) has reissued its request for a complete list of military personnel killed since that time, saying the original request was not limited solely to deaths attributable to the drug war.

Lupe Trevino, the former sherif for Hidalgo County, Texas on the Mexican border, pled guilty to money laundering for covering up campaign contributions paid by Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez, a convicted drug trafficker. In January 2013, Trevino’s department came under scrutiny when members of its drug task force, including Trevino’s son Jonathan, were accused of possessing and distributing illegal drugs.

The Secretary of National Defense’s office claimed that the Mexican Army destroyed nearly 15 tons of marijuana in March alone.

Migrants traveling on a train known as “La Bestia” (“The Beast,” also known as the “Train of Death”) were robbed and killed in Oaxaca. Three of the victims were identified as Mexicans and the fourth was identified as a Honduran. Mexican federal prosecutors recently filed a criminal complain against Mexican rail line Ferrosur, alleging that the company’s employees may be complicit in such attacks.

In a series of operations across Tamaulipas state, security forces rescued 179 undocumented immigrants from Central America who had been kidnapped and arrested five people in connection with the crime.

Kidnapping in Mexico remains a major problem, with the number of kidnappings increasing fourfold since 2007. Because many wealthier Mexicans have the means – and the motivation – to hire private security to protect themselves, middle- and lower-class Mexicans are increasingly being targeted by criminals.

Mexico’s prosecutor general, Jesús Murillo Karam, met with US senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) to discuss cooperation between the two countries to combat illegal human trafficking.

According to Juan Martín Pérez García, director of the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (REDIM), tens of thousands children have been victims of various crimes at the hands of members of organized crime groups, including most frequently rape and sex trafficking, but also forced labor in the drug trade.

A new study released by the University of San Diego reports that “the total number of homicides [in Mexico] appears to have declined by 15 percent in 2013…[but] these findings should be viewed with caution” due to questions raised by analysts over “possible withholding or manipulation of data.” President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration recently claimed that the country’s homicide rate had fallen by 16% in 2013, but questions about the government’s figures were also questioned by Mexican journalist Alejandro Hope, who called the statistics “more confusing than illuminating.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexico falls behind only Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Philippines, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in impunity for attacks against the press. By the groups count, 16 journalists were killed with “absolute impunity” in the past ten years. Mexico ranks 152nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Border’s press freedom index and by the group’s count 89 journalists have been killed in that country since 2000, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. For more on the press freedom situation in Mexico, see our previous post.

To Watch:

Police around Mexico staged demonstrations against what they consider the unfair dismissal of officers for failing loyalty tests.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture will visit Mexico next week to investigate and evaluate the implementation of new legislation intended to reform the penal system. He will also look into the used of forced confesssions and “arraigo” detention, by which citizens can be held without charge for weeks.

So-called “narco-deforestation,” the felling of trees to make way for illicit airstrips or overland drug smuggling routes – or simply for the money to be made from illegally-felled timber – is creating an “ecological disaster” in Central America, according to Ohio State University geographer Karen McSweeney.

Mexican authorities seized 10,000 tons of illegally logged timber in Michoacán worth more than $1 million. Security forces also confiscated 13 sawmills, two wood shredders, 11 vehicles, and other machinery and equipment. While the seizure has not been officially attributed to a specific criminal group, the Knights Templar cartel controls much of the illegal activity in that state, including having a major stake in the iron and steel industry, which lost over $1.3 billion to theft and illegal mining in 2013.

Organized crime groups in Mexico, especially the Knights Templar cartel, are deeply involved in the mining industry, either by selling “security” to corporations or illegally conducting their own mining operations. As a previous report from Vice put it, “what the gang now earns from illegal mining and mineral smuggling makes its illegal drug profits look like chump change. ”

Despite a string of legislative successes including reforms in the country’s energy, banking and education sectors, President Enrique Peña Nieto remains unpopular with Mexico’s citizens, with a favorability rating in the low 40 to high 30% range. Many commentators blame slow economic growth combined with tax hikes on middle-class Mexicans for his unpopularity.

Extra:

InSight Crime profiles Rafael Caro Quintero, a man once described by a Mexican newspaper as the “narco of narcos.” Caro Quintero headed the Guadalajara Cartel during the 1980s, which at the time was the only drug trafficking organization in Mexico. He was arrested in 1985, but released last year when his conviction was overturned on a technicality. In June 2013, shortly before his release, the US Treasury Department released information linking Caro Quintero to Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul,” an alleged high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Federation, suggesting that Caro Quintero may still be a major player in the country’s organized crime scene. According to agents who spoke with recently-captured Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the fallen cartel boss recently had a meal with Caro Quintero, who expressed his desire to stay out of the drug trafficking game. Nevertheless, a former DEA official recently told the El Paso Times that ruling out Caro Quintero as the “jefe de jefes” (boss of bosses) was impossible given the influence he had in the past. The US State Department has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Caro Quintero’s capture and the Mexican Attorney General’s Office also issued a new warrant for his arrest.

Truthout reviews the story of Juan Francisco Kuykendall Leal, better known as Kuy, a long-time activist who died in January, more than a year after being shot with a rubber bullet while taking part in a mass demonstration against the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. 

Criminals in the US, Central America and even Colombia appear to be using homemade guns more often. As Fusion puts it, these weapons are “unserialized, unregistered and totally legal – and they’re being used to kill people.”

A little-known Mexican terrorist group known as Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (Individuals Tending to Savagery) had gone quiet for about a year, but appears to have resurfaced recently. The group released a manifesto online last month reiterating its longstanding opposition to bio- and nanotechnology, which it believes to be an existential threat to humanity. The group has claimed responsibility for multiple violent attacks against researchers working on such technology in the past.

Vice takes a look at the booming demand for bullet-proof cars and clothes in Mexico.

Mexico: Judicial ineffectiveness, attacks on human rights defenders, media still major concerns

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 30 March to 5 April 2014

According to the president of Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), the vast majority of violent crimes in Mexico go unreported – upwards of 90% by one estimate.

A study produced by the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE (now the National Election Institute, or INE), found that 66% of Mexican citizens believe the rules of the judicial system are followed rarely or not at all, with nearly a third saying they are not followed at all. 70% of those surveyed think that there is institutional discrimination based on social class, skin color, or ethnicity and the same percentage believe that it is not possible to trust others.

Gun ownership in Mexico grew by more than 50% between 2009 and 2012, from 2 million guns to 3 million, a trend experts say is the result of rising perceptions of insecurity in the country. The average annual rate of growth in civilian gun ownership was 15%, which is higher than the 10% annual increase in crime rates during the same period. Mexican law allows for citizens to keep certain types of firearms in their home for self-defense, but a special license is normally required to carry them in public.

In a statement issued by the Latin American Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America, Peace Brigades International and Front Line Defenders, the organizations expressed deep concern with the implementation of Mexico’s Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Citing funding issues, lack of leadership and the general ineffectiveness of the program, the groups joined with Mexican civil society organizations to call for the government to urgently address the crisis with the Protection Mechanism.

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom advocacy group, wrapped up a four-day conference in Mexico by calling on the country to strengthen protections for journalists. Mexico ranks 152nd out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index and by the group’s count 89 journalists have been killed in that country since 2000, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Mexico’s secretary of interior affirmed the government’s “full determination” to carry out a “complete overhaul” of the federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, “the results of which have not been satisfactory.”

Headlines

The chief of Mexican newspaper Noroeste, Adrián López Ortiz, was robbed and shot in Sinaloa. While the paper has reported a series of threats and attacks in the past, Sinaloa Attorney General Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez said the attack on López Ortiz was unrelated to his work as a journalist. Five youths were arrested in connection with the incident, but the suspected gunman remains at large.

A Mexican federal policeman was kidnapped and killed in Tláhuac.

US federal agents discovered two drug-smuggling tunnels equipped with rail systems beneath the US-Mexico border, both of which surfaced in San Diego warehouses. A 73-year-old woman accused of running one of the warehouses was arrested in connection with the operation. The discovery brings the number of tunnels discovered in the San Diego area up to seven in less than four years, according to the task force handling the case. Earlier this year, GQ published a worthwhile piece on the use of underground tunnels for transporting drugs across the border. You can read it here.

The killing of an employee at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, Gregorio Serna, sheds light on the extortion of the university’s staff and students by the Zetas cartel. According to an anonymous source who spoke to Proceso newspaper, Serna may have been killed because he refused to get involved with criminal activities associated with the gang. While the Zetas organization is known to control many “above-ground” businesses as well as underground markets in Tamaulipas, incidents like this, which seem to confirm rumors of their infiltration of the university and its staff, show just how insinuated the group is with everyday life.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart criticized the legalization of recreational marijuana in the US states of Colorado and Washington, claiming that Mexican drug cartels are “setting up shop” in those areas in anticipation of a black market. Leonhart suggested during testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee that voters in Washington state and Colorado were duped into legalizing marijuana and implied that Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision in August to allow marijuana regulation to proceed largely unchallenged was misguided.

In an interview with El Universal newspaper, former president Vincente Fox explained why he believes Mexico should legalize marijuana and pardon the cartels’ “capos” in order to lessen the power of organized crime in the country.

The mayor of Texistepec, in Veracruz state, and his wife were shot by four unidentified gunmen. Both were taken to the hospital and were reported to be in stable condition. Veracruz, a state coveted by cartels for its strategic location relative to the United States, has been plagued by the violence of a turf war between the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel and the Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel, as well as the Knights Templar.

Germán Ceniceros Ibarra (alias “El Tigre”) was killed along with three others in a clash with the Mexican army. “El Tigre” was a former police officer, but authorities allege that he switched sides to work as a lieutenant of the recently-arrested kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán.

Enrique “Kike” Plancarte Solis, one of the leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, was killed in an operation carried out by the Mexican Navy. Plancarte’s death comes after Knights Templar founder Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” was killed by troops in Michoacán on March 9.

Mexican authorities arrested autodefensa leader Enrique Hernandez Salcedo over the March 22 killing of Gustavo Garibay, the mayor of Tanhuato in Michoacán state, who opposed the vigilante groups. Hernandez Salcedo was among 19 people detained in connection with the murder of the mayor. More than 50 vigilantes have now been arrested in the state for committing various crimes.

The government launched a website to promote and explain the “Plan Michoacán,” a social development program based on the “Todos Somos Juarez” (“We are all Juarez”) program that many view as having been successful in reducing crime-related violence in the latter area. The program will focus on economic development, education, infrastructure and housing, public health, and social development and sustainability.

Mexican federal prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint against Ferrosur, a Mexican rail line that is a subsidiary of the US-based Kansas City Southern. The complaint alleges that the company’s employees have been complicit in crimes committed against Mexican and Central American migrants headed toward the US, who are frequently beaten, robbed or kidnapped by criminal gangs after they board the trains.

To Watch

Mexican president Enrique Peña Neito announced a regional initiative to combat organized crime during a recent trip to Honduras.

Michoacán federal safety commissioner Alfredo Castillo has given self-defense forces in his state a choice: essentially, they can join the police or disarm. He said that the disarming of unregistered autodefensas in that state will begin within weeks. Castillo also stated that the registration of those who want to register for the bodies of rural defense and the Unified Command will resume.

The U.S. State Department said it is asking Mexico to investigate an incident in which three US citizens were fired upon by Mexican army troops. Mexican military officials reportedly told American law enforcement that the victims were trying to evade a checkpoint, but the young men who were shot dispute this account.

According to documents obtained by the LA Times, on January 26, two Mexican soldiers crossed the US border and drew their guns on US Border Patrol officers, resulting in a tense standoff. The Mexican soldiers claimed to be pursuing drug smugglers, but when the Border Patrol called for backup, the soldiers retreated back across the border.

In a letter to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske cited nearly two dozen other such incidents since 2010, but said his agency “does not have intelligence that directly connects (Mexican military) personnel to criminal activity.” Nevertheless, James Phelps, a border and homeland security professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas who was quoted in the LA Times article said, “Many [Mexican soldiers] are essentially a functional asset of the cartels.” Officials at the Mexican Embassy in Washington have consistently denied that Mexican soldiers were involved in the incident, suggesting instead that the men were smugglers disguised in military uniforms.

After the governor of the State of Mexico declared that a recent crime wave in the area was “rare and temporary,” the Secretariat of Public Security of the Federal District and the Department of Public Safety of the State of Mexico announced that the agencies will work together to combat crime in both areas.

Police arrested Ukrainian national Steven Vladyslav Subkys in Mexico on suspicion that he has ties to a Europen and Asian criminal syndicate known alternatively as “organitzatsja,” “mafiya,” or “bratva.” Two other men identified as members of Subkys’ network were arrested in the same area earlier this month. According to InSight Crime, “[i]t is not known if Subkys was in Mexico to buy drugs, meet associates, or simply escape prosecution by US authorities.”

Extra

Mexico’s consumer protection agency filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against parties who may have helped push the price of limes up 200% since December. According to Latin America Herald Tribune:

The candidatus liberibacter bacteria, which causes “yellow dragon” disease, affected lime trees in some parts of Mexico in 2013, analysts said.

Torrential rains last year, gouging by middlemen and extortion rackets run by drug cartels against growers have also caused lime prices to soar…

Mexico is the world’s largest producer of lemons and limes.