drug wars

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: Autodefensas shaping up to be “greatest security-policy test” of Peña Nieto’s government

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 6 April to 12 April 2014

This week, the LA Times called the spread of vigilante groups in Michoacán and other states “the greatest security-policy test of the 16-month-old” government of President Enrique Peña Nieto – a telling statement when one considers the situation in Tamaulipas state discussed below. Since the Mexican government announced a plan to “legalize” the so-called self-defense forces, known as “autodefensas,” their presence has increasingly been a cause for concern.

While many were initially hopeful about the potential for the autodefensas to combat the influence of organized crime, it has become increasingly clear that the presence of loosely-regulated vigilante groups poses challenges of its own for the government. Allegations of cooperation with criminal groups, extortion of farmers and deadly internecine fighting among various factions have besmirched the autodefensas’ reputation as noble defenders of their communities. 

Despite these issues, the groups maintain strong community support, especially in the Tierra Caliente region, which includes parts of Michoacán, Guerrero and the State of Mexico. Nevertheless, Michoacán Federal Safety Commissioner Alfredo Castillo has given the self-defense forces in his state a choice: essentially, they can join the police or disarm.

José Manuel Mireles, the leader of an autodefensa in the Michoacán town of Tepalcatepec and spokesman for the General Council of Self-Defense of Michoacán (CAM), has pushed back against Castillo’s ultimatum. He threatened a blockade of the state if the government does not release detained members of the vigilante groups by May 10, the deadline for disarmament proposed by Castillo.

According to the self-defense groups, the government has detained more than 100 of their members. Protesters in Michoacán have already set up blockades as part of demonstrations against the government’s decision to disarm the autodefensas in their state. The demonstrators called for the ouster of Castillo, claiming that his decision to disarm the groups breaks with the earlier deal to incorporate them into the official security strategy.

Mireles hailed the recent arrest of former Michoacán Secretary of Government Jesús Reyna on allegations Reyna was linked to the Knights Templar cartel and said that the autodefensas would not disarm until the government “finishes cleaning the state of criminals.” He added that his group is not seeking the release of Hipólito Mora, the leader of an autodefensa in La Ruana, who was arrested in connection with the murder of two members of a rival autodefensa led by Luis Antonio Torres Gonzalez. Estanislao “Papa Smurf” Beltrán, the leader of an autodefensa in Buenavista, said that his group is seeking to integrate its members into the official security forces in order to avoid disarmament.  

Mireles claimed that the Gulf and Zetas cartels are plotting to take over Michoacán state, which is currently under the control of the Knights Templar. He reported that two days after Secretary of the Interior Osorio Chong spoke about disarming the self-defense groups, the autodefensa detected the presence of vehicles manned by assassins from the Gulf and Zetas organizations.

Meanwhile, in just the past week, more than 30 people have been killed in Tamaulipas state, signaling the possible fragmentation of the Gulf Cartel following the recent arrests of two of its top commanders. Clashes between criminal gangs on the Texas border killed 20 people on a single day. The violence is likely a continuation of a trend that began in 2010 when the Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel and turned against their former partners. Both groups have been splintering recently, leading to bloody succession battles and turf wars.

Similarly, IHS Jane’s traces the spike in violence in Tamaulipas to the recent arrests of Jesús Alejandro Leal Flores (alias “Metro 24” or “El Simple”), one of the main leaders of the Gulf cartelas well as Javier Garza Medrano (alias “El Porrón”), one of the cartel’s founders. The arrests may have created a power vacuum, exacerbating the existing turf war between the Gulf cartel and the Zetas with the addition of a secession battle among factions of the splintering Gulf organization.

Mexican attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam said that Tamaulipas needs a “specific security strategy” to combat the recent spate of violence in the state. However, he did not specify what that strategy would involve beyond sending more federal security forces, which is a relatively common response to increased violence. Mexican newspaper El Diario reports that drug gangs, primarily the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, “control everything” in Tamaulipas state, from hotels, casinos and entertainment companies to beer distribution and gas stations.

Headlines

José Jesús Reyna Garcia, the Secretary General of the Government of Michoacán, was arrested on suspicions that he has ties to the Servando Gómez Martinez (alias “La Tuta”), one of the founding members of the Knights Templar cartel. In February of last year, autodefensa leaders in Michoacán accused Reyna of ties to the cartel, but at the time those charges were denied. Reyna has been removed from office while the investigation is underway. Michoacán Federal Safety Commissioner Alfredo Castillo hinted that there may be more arrests of public officials in the near future, saying, “It is going to be a total cleaning, fall who may!”

IB Times has a short profile of La Tuta. Despite a $2.3 million bounty on his head, the Knights Templar leader maintains a visible public profile, styling himself as an “altruistic” Robin Hood-type gangster.

Extortion by criminal groups of the avocado business in Michoacán has brought them around $770 million since 2009 according to an estimate by avocado producers in the municipality of Tancitaro. Michoacán is the source for more than half of the global avocado supply. While autodefensas in the region have started to redistribute some farmland that had been stolen by the Knights Templar cartel, there are reports that some of the groups have failed to return confiscated properties and instead have set up their own extortion rackets.

The wife of Enrique Hernández, the leader of an autodefensa in Michoacán implicated in the murder of Tanhuato mayor Gustavo Gariba, has alleged that he was tortured following his arrest. Lornzo Corro, director of legal guidance for the State Human Rights Commission in Michoacán as well as a doctor working for the agency stated that Hernández had sustained injuries consistent with that story.

Mexican army forces killed four people in Tamaulipas who were suspected of carrying out an attack on a hotel last week. The troops seized 17 rifles, 11 grenades, two grenade launchers, three handguns, ammunition, tactical gear and marijuana from the suspects.

Organized crime groups have been stealing airplanes in northeastern Mexico. Luis Gerardo García Martínez , Director of State Airport Services, said he has asked the Army and the Federal Police to supply more security forces.

Colombian police in cooperation with the US DEA arrested Héctor Coronel (alias “Rincón”), the man believed to be the main emissary between recently-arrested Sinaloa cartel capo Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the Colombian rebel group known as the FARC.

A high-ranking member of the Zetas cartel, Ivan Velasquez-Caballero (also known as “El Taliban” or “L50”) pled guilty to money laundering and drug charges in Texas. Velasquez was arrested in Mexico in September 2012 on various charges, including drug and weapons conspiracy, as well as kidnapping, murder, racketeering and money laundering. He was extradited to the US in November 2013.

Jesus Vincente Zambada-Niebla, a high level member of the Sinaloa cartel, pled guilty to drug charges in Chicago. Zambada-Niebla’s father, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, is believed to be the current leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Some experts had speculated that Isamel may have betrayed his former boss, the recently-arrested Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Zambada-Niebla is reportedly cooperating with US authorities, making it more likely that he – not his father – was the one who “flipped” on the former capo. Still, it is not clear whether Zambada-Niebla gave up information that helped lead to the capture of “El Chapo.”

Mexican freedom of speech organizations released a document entitled “Control of Public Space: Report on the Steps Backwards in Freedom of Expression and Association in the Present Government,” which analyzes 11 legislative initiatives and reforms “aimed at the restriction and the criminalization of social protest.” [From Proceso magazine, translated by Mexico Voices:]

Among the proposed legislations that are under scrutiny, the following laws are emphasized: the General Regulation of Public Demonstrations; the Federal Law of Telecommunications and Broadcasting; the reform initiative of the Law of Industrial Property, the Federal Author’s Rights law, and the Federal Criminal Code.

Additionally, there is the reform to article 29 of the Constitution and its statutory laws; the anti-terrorism law contained in the Federal Criminal Code, and the phone geolocalization laws set out in the National Code of Criminal Procedure.

The NGOs also looked over the initiatives for regulating demonstrations promoted in the state Congresses of San Luis Potosí, Quintana Roo, Jalisco, and the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District (ALDF).

Hundreds marched in Mexico’s capital city, protesting internet censorship legislation currently being debated by the country’s congress. The legislation would allow internet service providers to “block, inhibit or reverse temporarily telecommunications signals in critical events and places for public and national security at the request of the competent authorities.”

Manuel Alejandro Aponte Gomez (alias “El Bravo”) was found dead at a factory in Sinaloa state. El Bravo was reputedly the head of security for the recently-arrested leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. El Bravo was trained at Mexico’s Military College and graduated as a second lieutenant in 1996, but was listed as a deserter in May 2004. 

Protests in the state of Oaxaca demanding government funds for public works, public safety and education programs turned violent when police moved in to control the crowd. Six police and one newspaper photographer were injured and 38 demonstrators were arrested.

A man ran over and seriously injured five teachers in the capital of Michoacán state, who were maintaining a blockade as part of a demonstration for education reform. Police pursued the suspect to his home and subdued him after a shoot-out. 

After denying knowledge of the incident, Mexican officials have now confirmed an “unintended border crossing [into the US] by two members of the Mexican Army” on January 26 of this year, but stressed that it was nothing more than a mistake. Previous reports have hinted that the incursion may have been evidence of cooperation between Mexican security forces and drug trafficking groups.

To Watch

According to a report from the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program, violence against women is on the rise in Mexico and Central America. The report blames “increased militarization, due in large part to the war on drugs”; “widespread corruption and complicity with organized crime”; and “discrimination and misogyny inherent in Latin American culture” for the increase.

Cyber crime is on the rise in Mexico. According to the head of Mexico’s Scientific Police Division, Ciro Humberto Ortiz Estrada, criminals made an estimated $3 billion from “cyber kidnapping” in 2013, up from $2 billion in 2012. “Cyber kidnapping” involves “taking hostage” the computer systems and databases of businesses and demanding payment for users to regain access. A 2011 survey by McAffee estimated that up to 80 percent of Mexican participants had been subject to cyber extortion.

Farmers in Mexico who previously grew marijuana appear to be replacing cannabis crops with opium poppies, potentially in response to a price drop in the marijuana market. According to the DEA, Mexico is now the top supplier of heroin to the US.  

Armed gangs are robbing mango producers in Oaxaca. Farmers say that the situation has grown worse in recent years, especially in the municipalities of Chahuites and Zanatapec. Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s top mango-producing regions.

According to Sonora’s Secretary of Public Safety Ernesto Munro Palacio, former DEA and FBI agents as well as specialists from Colombia and Israel will assist in the training of 500 cadets for the National Mexican Gendarmerie.

During a recent diplomatic visit by French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Mexican counterpart Jose Antonio Meade signed an agreement of cooperation between the countries to support the Gendarmerie.

Extra

Vocativ takes a look at Cartel involvement in human smuggling and the rise in the number of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border into the US, many of whom are fleeced by traffickers and abandoned. Mexican authorities recently found 370 children in the course of just one week who had been abandoned by traffickers.

Colombia: Citizens remember victims of conflict as peace talks continue ahead of elections

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 6 April to 12 April 2014.

Colombia commemorated the National Day of Victims this week, remembering those who have suffered in the country’s decades-long internal armed conflict between left-wing guerrillas, right-wing-paramilitaries, criminal gangs and state security forces . Many citizens took the opportunity to reflect on the progress of the Law of Victims and Land Restitution signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2011, which aims to return stolen and abandoned land to internally displaced Colombians and provide reparations to victims of human rights violations and infractions of international humanitarian law.

Ana Teresa Bernal, a tenured lecturer at the High Council for Victims Rights, Peace and Reconciliation said there are still “many issues to be corrected” with the law. According to Bernal, “compensations and restitution of lands [are happening] at quite a slow pace.” Even President Santos admitted in a  radio interview that despite a “monumental institutional and financial effort” by his administration, the state “does not have the capacity to attend to all the victims right now.” Most estimates put the number of victims of the conflict at 6 million or more.

The national director of the Liberal Party, Simon Gavaria Muñoz, said in a statement that he “[would] like to apologize to all the victims of Colombia’s internal conflict, on behalf of the Liberal Party, the historical party that has both victim and victimizer.” In the 1950s, Colombia experienced a period of unrest known as La Violencia (“The Violence”), during which Liberal- and Conservative-aligned paramilitaries battled for years, helping to the scene for the decades of armed conflict that followed.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court announced that President Santos – along with the inspector general, prosecutor general, peace commissioner and other officials – will be expected to make a public appearance before the court to provide details on the agreement reached with the FARC regarding their potential future political participation. In November last year, the negotiators came to an agreement regarding the FARC’s possible participation in the formal political process, but the details of the deal have remained under wraps. The court is expected to ask how that deal would be implemented in accordance with the 2012 Legal Framework for Peace, a law passed by congress that lays out some stipulations for the political incorporation of the FARC in the event of a final peace deal. The hearing will be held just five days before the country’s presidential election, which is scheduled to take place on May 25.

The FARC have ruled out pausing the peace negotiations with the government during the presidential election to be held next month. The group also reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process saying that “it is the majority will of the Colombian people that in Colombia there is peace.”

President Santos said he would “think twice” about ordering the killing of FARC leader “Timochenko,” although he claimed that military intelligence showed “more or less” the location of the rebel leader. Santos said that he was “not telling whether [he] would or would not take that decision.” The FARC issued a statement in response saying that the way to peace is not by “acting like bullies.”

Headlines

Over 10,000 displaced people are seeking refuge from Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict in the Caribbean state of Atlantico already this year. According to the US Human Rights Council, 4.7 million people – more than 10% of the country’s total population – were internally displaced, one of the highest rates in the world.

Three policemen were killed in an attack by FARC guerrillas, who took for themselves the prisoner the police had been transporting with them.

Repeated ELN (National Liberation Army) attacks on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oilfield have forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave. The site, which is Colombia’s second-largest oilfield, has been attacked dozens of times in recent months, causing significant damage.

Three hundred soldiers will be sent to Bogotá to assist with security operations in 10 areas of the city. The army has denied that this move represents a “militarization” of law enforcement in the capital.

President Juan Manuel Santos claimed that security forces had arrested 136 members of criminal gangs over the last month and a half in the pacific port city of Buenaventura. He also touted $100 million worth of investments in social programs aimed at helping the city recover from devastating violence caused by a turf war between the Los Urabeños and Rastrojos gangs.

The Colombian government seized $90 million worth of property linked to Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias “Comba” or “Combatiente,” the leader of the Rastrojos gang who surrendered to US authorities in October 2012.

Seven tons of cocaine were seized by authorities in the port city of Cartegena, bringing the total amount of cocaine seized this year to 30 tons.

Costa Rican authorities arrested four Colombian nationals who were allegedly transporting a ton of cocaine in the Gulf of Mexico.

A municipal judge ordered the Santos administration to publicly apologize for statements made by its predecessor hinting that some of the country’s unions and their members had ties to guerrilla groups. Although there have been some improvements in the protection of worker’s rights to free association and collective bargaining, 73 Colombian labor activists have been executed in the last three years, and nearly 1,000 death threats were registered in 2013 by the Escuela Nacional Sindical (National Union School, or ENS). 

Senator Juan Manuel Corzo accused Senate President Juan Fernando Cristo and his brother Andres Cristo of having ties to paramilitary groups. Cristo and dozens of his colleagues been investigated for links to paramilitary groups in the past. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, more than 11,000 politicians, officials and businessmen are suspected of having made pacts with such groups.

To Watch

Farmers are planning a national strike later this month, similar to the strike conducted during August of last year. Agricultural workers are upset at government policies such as free trade agreements, which they view as harmful to their livelihoods. They are also frustrated because the government has fulfilled less than half of the promises it made after last year’s strike. President Santos’s administration is pressing for a dialogue with the farmers to head off a major protest just weeks before the presidential election. Last month, tens of thousands of farmers took to the streets of Bogotá to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with government policies. Rice growers planned a national strike this week. The Colombian government has offered a promise to purchase rice at $52 per ton to avoid a strike by the farmers.

President Santos said that he will reinstate ousted Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro if he is ordered to do so by a Colombian court now considering the case. Petro was removed from office and banned from politics for 15 years over supposed “irregularities” that occurred during his attempt to de-privatize the city’s trash collection services. Santos’s recent decision to ignore an order from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights demanding that he reinstate Petro spurred the resignation of the entire government of the city of Bogotá.

President Santos announced that his government will begin demolishing and repossessing dozens of buildings being used as points-of-sale for drugs, saying that “We have recognized that if we manage to destroy these [buildings] – literally destroy them…we will be able to tackle the root of these mini-structures that are causing so much damage.” However, many experts believe that this effort will harm legitimate property-owners while causing only a small inconvenience to drug dealers forced to relocate their operations. Santos also announced the addition of 100 police to target “micro-traffickers” in Antioquia state, designating such criminals “high value targets.”

Spain extradited suspected Urabeños member Carlos Andrés Palencia (alias ‘Visaje’), who was wanted on multiple drug trafficking and murder charges.

President Santos signed an order approved by Colombia’s Supreme Court authorizing the extradition of seven gang members accused of an attempted kidnapping that resulted in the death of US DEA agent James Terry Watson in June 2013.

The family of Conservative politician Alvaro Hurtado Gomez, who was killed in 1995, plans to sue the Colombian government at the InterAmerican Court on Human Rights. The family alleges that the Prosecutor General’s Office has impeded the investigation into Gomez’s death causing “monetary and moral damages” to his family, constituting a human rights violation. Gomez, the son of former Colombian president Laureano Gomez, ran for president three times and was a media mogul who founded the newspaper “El Siglo,” the magazine “Sintesis Economica” and a TV news station. His family alleges that he was murdered for editorials he wrote claiming that contemporary president Enrique Samper’s campaign was funded partially by the Cali drug cartel.

Extra

The Red Cross presented a report documenting 207 violations of human rights in 39 Colombian cities. The spike in violence in likely attributable to the supposed demobilization during the mid-2000s of right-wing paramilitary groups known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, which were originally formed to protect wealthy landowners from attacks by left-wing guerrillas. Since then, many former members of those groups have integrated into criminal organizations, such as the Urabeños and Rastrojos gangs.

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.

Colombia: With election just weeks away, presidential campaign heats up

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

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

The preliminary round of Colombia’s presidential elections will be held on May 25 of this year. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes in the first election, a run-off between the two top-finishing candidates will take place on June 15.

This week, the Centro Nacional de Consultoria (National Consulting Center) published a poll showing former Bogotá mayor and Green Party candidate Enrique Peñalosa finishing 26% to 18% behind the incumbent president Jose Manuel Santos in the first ballot, but beating him in the June runoff 46% to 36%. These results are consistent with previous polling.

Also this week, Peñalosa accused president Santos of “playing politics” with the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC. Peñalosa has said that he supports dialogue but has also said that he would not support a military ceasefire between the combatants while the talks proceed.

Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga, backed by former president and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, has been critical of the peace process and has challenged Santos for not withdrawing from the talks following the torture and killing of two policemen by the FARC.

Conservative presidential candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez has said that, if elected, she would put a deadline of four months on the talks. Leftist candidate Clara López of the Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Poll) has been a consistent supporter of the peace talks.

Zuluaga and Uribe’s far-right party made a strong showing in Senate elections a few weeks ago, but it seems increasingly likely that the second round will be a closely-contested race between the relatively centrist candidates Santos and Peñalosa. Most Colombians support a diplomatic solution to Colombia’s decades-long civil conflict, but they are also increasingly skeptical about the prospects that a deal will be reached.

Headlines

Colombia’s Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, a member of the Conservative party, publicly criticized the peace talks between the government and the FARC, saying a possible deal with the government would be a “slap in the face” to the victims of the FARC’s crimes.

More than 6 tons of cocaine have been seized in Colombian ports so far this year. Shipping drugs through Colombia’s busy ports, through which millions of containers filled with a wide variety of goods travel each year, remains one of the most popular ways to smuggle drugs into and out of that country.

Two policeman were killed in southwestern Colombia early Friday morning, allegedly by elements of the FARC rebel group. No official evidence has been presented confirming the rebels’ involvement and the FARC has not taken credit for the attack.

Authorities in Bogotá arrested a man who goes by the alias “Machaco.” Machaco allegedly acted as finance chief to Henry Castellanos (alias “Romagna”), a major guerrilla leader of the Eastern Bloc of the FARC.

Six FARC guerrillas were killed, four captured and four surrendered as part of “Operation Maximus,” an army operation taking place in Nariño province. The army also seized various firearms and 50 kilograms of cocaine. Also this week, FARC guerrillas in that region used dynamite to blast a hole in a portion of the Pan-American Highway.

Police have arrested 14 people from the Cali-based gang known as “La Libertad,” who were accused of recruiting child soldiers by falsely promising to sponsor their pursuit of a future career in professional soccer.

More people were killed by land mines in Colombia during 2013 than in any other country, with 368 injuries, including 49 deaths. Vice produced a highly compelling documentary on this issue last year entitled “Colombia’s Hidden Killers.” You can watch it for free here.

FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez said that the rebel group is “willing to reach an agreement” regarding the use of land mines, which he pointed out are also used by Colombian government forces. According to official data, antipersonnel mines have killed at least 2,000 people since 1990, wounding thousands more.

Residents of the northeastern city of Cucuta took to the streets, protesting the worsening economic condition of the region, which is suffering from impeded trade with neighboring Venezuela. 80% of the city’s businesses were closed and 70% of the city’s public transport was forced to suspend the service. More than 450 riot police were called in to break up the protests, which Cucuta Public Security Secretary Ruby Johana Ascanio claimed were illegal because they didn’t follow the proper procedure to obtain legal permission.

A Colombian court struck down a rule allowing aerial fumigation of suspected coca crops in national parks. The court also ruled against the Ministry of Defense and the National Police, saying that the government can be held responsible for damage to legitimate crops, contamination of drinking water, and poisoning of local populations. Colombia’s minister of justice recently asked the United States to shift the focus of its anti-narcotics aid to Colombia away from crop eradication and fumigation efforts.

To Watch

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that Fundacion Karisma, a Colombian NGO focusing on human rights in the digital age, along with other Colombian NGOs, sent a letter to the Colombian President requesting the ability to participate in a high-level commission at the Organization of American States (OAS) responsible for revising and analyzing the national intelligence legal framework. According to the EFF, ‘This secretive committee currently includes government officials, national security experts and “selected” private sector companies—but no representatives from the NGO community.’

At the conference organized by the OAS, the Colombian Government released a report stating that they had discovered over 40 websites where illegal drugs are bought and sold.

In other cyber-security and surveillance news, a recent report from Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine contained a document that indicates that former Colombian president and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe was one of more than 100 world leaders selected as a target for NSA and GCHQ surveillance. According to the article, “An internal NSA description states that employees can use [the “Target Knowledge Database”] to analyze ‘complete profiles’ of target persons.”

FARC rebels continue to attack oil pipelines in the run-up to the presidential election next month. Complicating matters, the U’wa indigenous community will not permit repair crews to enter an area of eastern Colombia until the government cleans up environmental damage and provides more security assistance. The blockade is one of a wave of protests in recent months by rural and indigenous groups over oil companies’ environmental damages and hiring practices.

Extra

The department of Valle del Cauca, home to the cities of Cali and Buenaventura, was the most violent area of the country for the fourth straight year during 2013. With a homicide rate of 85 per 100,000 residents, Cali is one of the most murderous cities in the world, while Buenaventura has gained a reputation for horrific gang violence. InSight Crime reports that the battle between the Urabenos and Rastrojos gangs for control of the strategically-important port of Buenaventura is straining the resources of the Urabenos, who will likely fail to win the city. Nevertheless, the bloody war will almost certainly continue for some time, causing even more civilian casualties and displacements than it has already.

Dr. Ginny Bouvier’s blog “Colombia Calls” has a thorough round-up of political developments related to the most recent round of peace negotiations between the FARC and the government, which recently ended. The negotiators began a new session – their 23rd – on Friday.