Robert’s Latin America Round-Up


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Seized Barrett. AP photo.


Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited Washington last week to discuss bilateral security issues with his United States counterpart. There was little entirely new, however, outside of an agreement to allow Mexican container trucks to operate within U.S. borders. Nonetheless, the visit comes shortly after the death of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent at the hands of Zetas gunmen. Obama requested the extradition of a purported Zetas leader suspected to be involved in the shooting. The visit also comes after the ATF was revealed to have allowed weapons bought on U.S. markets to “walk” their way into the hands of drug cartels in order to build criminal cases against top cartel bosses. Although the possibility that some of the weapons were not actually tracked — and that a number of people were likely killed by such weapons in the interim — prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to order an investigation.

Arms trafficking is a serious point of tension between the two countries. Calderon used a visit to the offices of The Washington Post on Thursday to insist the U.S. do more to prevent it. Calderon said some 85 percent of more than 100,000 weapons seized in Mexico originated in the U.S., but did not specify further. (There is ongoing debate whether the number refers to all weapons seized or simply weapons submitted to U.S. authorities for tracing.) Calderon also singled out U.S. drug policy as inconsistent and that the U.S. should either increase penalties for marijuana or legalize it entirely. “But what you cannot do is have this incoherent policy, because it causes terrible damage,” he said. Calderon also said that classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks — which included comments critical of the Mexican army by Ambassador Carlos Pascual — resulted in “severe damage” to relations.

Record high gold prices, a U.S.-backed coca eradication campaign and the proliferation of armed groups has resulted in “a gold rush unlike any now under way in South America,” writes journalist Simon Romero in The New York Times; a war “both feeding off Colombia’s evolving conflict and keeping it alive.” A mixture of militias, warlords and the FARC fight over an archipelago of both legal and illegal gold mines, either through controlling the mines directly or through extortion schemes. Wasteful liquid mercury separation techniques and deforestation has also led to “lunaresque” destruction of the environment, particularly in northwestern Antioquia province.

Gold miners working in Antioquia, too, must pay thousands of dollars to bring bulldozers into the territory to rebels belonging to the FARC’s 36th Front, according to InSight, which has mapped several of the province’s strategic sites. The fighting has also become more complex with the introduction of new armed groups. Demobilized right-wing paramilitaries have surged into the gold trade, even at times working alongside the FARC, “illustrating the post-ideological nature of today’s conflict.”

Honduran soldiers deployed to major cities last Wednesday in an effort to combat street violence and drug trafficking. The exact number of deployed soldiers is unknown, but the Associated Press reported thousands. Honduras has very high rates of violent crime. Thirty-six thousand people were killed in the country between 2000 and 2010, about the same as the toll inflicted by Mexican cartels since December 2006. However, Honduras is, of course, a much smaller country. By population, it’s about 14 times smaller.

Meanwhile, the Honduran government is seeking to expand police powers; lengthening suspect questioning from 24 to 72 hours (criticized by human rights groups), and prohibiting people from riding on the backs of motorcycles (a technique favored by assassins). The government has also established a task force to investigate crimes against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Some 200 LGBT persons have been killed in Honduras in the past five years. This follows recent statements by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa which pressured the Honduran government to “take all necessary steps to protect LGBT persons, who are among the most vulnerable to violence and abuse in Honduras.”

Automated telephone calls urging listeners to support Haitian presidential candidate and popular musician Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly briefly forced the evacuation of several buildings at Fort Bragg last November, according to The Miami Herald. The “robo-calls” featured Martelly shouting political statements in Creole, and were aimed at building loyalty among members of the Haitian diaspora. “There were people who didn’t understand what it was and speculated it was a terrorist threat in a foreign language,” Fort Bragg spokesman Ben Abel said.

“I listened to it and thought: ‘That’s not Arabic. That’s not Pashto. That sounds like French,” he said. Haiti’s presidential run-off election is scheduled for March 20 and pits Martelly against former first lady Mirlande Manigat.


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