In the Washington Post this morning, William Booth looks at the “brutal passage” Central American migrants facing traveling through their northern neighbor, Mexico. The piece cites human rights groups who, in the Post’s words, report that migrants are “routinely robbed, raped and kidnapped by criminal gangs that often work alongside corrupt police” and display an overt xenophobia toward their neighbors to the South. According to Mexico’s National Migration Institute, some 64,000 undocumented migrants were detained and deported in 2009. That number is down from over 200,000 just a few years ago – a change which the Post attributes to a combination of factors, including “tougher enforcement on the U.S. border, the global economic slowdown and … the [risk of] robbery and assaults migrants face in Mexico.” Approximately 20,000 more Central American migrants are suspected of being kidnapped annually as well, says Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission – many at the hands of drug gangs operating together with corrupt officials.
Here’s one such migrant, interviewed by the Post, who’s experienced first-hand the horrors of being kidnapped by a drug gang (the Zetas):
“They put a plastic bag over your head and you can't breathe. They tell you if you don't give them the phone numbers" [of family members the kidnappers can call to demand payment for a migrant's release] … next time we'll just let you die.”
The United Nations, meanwhile, has described the kidnapping of migrants in Mexico as “an epidemic.” Women, in particular, have faced the most troubling sort of violence. Six out of every ten migrants traveling through Mexico are believed to be sexually assaulted during their trip. And for its part, Amnesty International, which published a report on the matter in late April, says some hypocrisy is embedded within Mexico’s response to draconian immigration laws in Arizona. “We have a government in Mexico that emphatically criticizes the new immigration law -- which is perfectly valid, to criticize a law with widespread consequences -- but at the same time doesn't have the desire to address the same problem within its own borders,” says Alberto Herrera, executive director of Amnesty International in Mexico.
Behind the headline:
· The Economist this week has a piece on the resignation of Carlos Castresana from the UN-backed CICIG in Guatemala. The magazine writes that the decision came as a “shock” after a “string of [CICIG] successes” which included the arrest of former president Alfonso Portillo, the apparent resolution of the Rosenberg case, and the forced removal of over 2,000 corrupt police officers, ten prosecutors, and an attorney general. On the prospects for the future, the Economist writes:
“As Mexico and Colombia crack down on them, drug gangs are finding refuge in Guatemala. In the jungle state of Petén, the Zetas, a Mexican drug-trafficking group, have hung up signs recruiting soldiers. A report from America’s state department says that “entire regions of Guatemala are now essentially under [their] control.” The country’s lawlessness exposes it to the appeal of a strongman. Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who promises an ‘iron fist’ against crime, leads the opinion polls for the next presidential election in September 2011. Much-needed change is unlikely to come from the left: the candidate most likely to run for Mr Colom’s party is Sandra Torres, his wife.”
· Also on the impact of organized crime, globally, UN Sec. General Ban Ki Moon spoke yesterday on the matter, at a meeting organized by Mexico and Italy. The Sec. General insisted on more “severe” legal instruments to fight global organized crime.
· In Nicaragua, the AP reported Thursday on the arrival of Colombian Ruben Dario Granada to Managua where he was granted political asylum. Granada is the brother of the FARC’s “foreign minister.” Infolatam also has a piece on Daniel Ortega and still simmering “institutional crisis” in the country he governs. One of the interesting points the piece highlights: the possibility that Ortega could anoint his wife, Rosario Murillo as his successor, should he be unable to find a vehicle for re-election. A new trend in Latin America?
· AQ reports that OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has put together the “high level commission” that will study the possibility of Honduras’s re-integration into the organization. The group will apparently include “two members from South America, two from Central America and one each from the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean” (although no names have yet been released). The commission is expected to meet separately with both representatives of the ousted Zelaya government and the current government of Pepe Lobo Sosa.
· Meanwhile, on the still deteriorating human rights situation there, Adrienne Pine posts the translation of a recent interview (by Sirel) with COFADEH national coordinator, Bertha Oliva. On the general state of human rights under Lobo Sosa, Oliva says:
“What we have managed to piece together over the past four months under Porfirio Lobo's government is terrifying. It is another testimony to the fact that human rights in Honduras continue to be systematically and selectively violated and this is in line with the state's subtle and silent policy which is very dangerous and worrying.”
“Before the coup d'état there was repression, but it was mainly through the abuse of authority. Now the majority of human rights abuses are politically motivated and the perpetrators have perfected their methods. It is getting more and more difficult for human rights organizations to work in such a violent atmosphere. The tactics of the perpetrators are far more systematic and they are more vigilant about covering up their tracks.”
· In the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor, a discussion with four analysts about last week’s OAS meetings in Lima – at which the issue of Honduras was center stage.
· In an interview with the Financial Times, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa warned he would respond militarily to another Colombia cross-border raid of any suspected FARC camp in his country’s national territory.
· IPS has an update on US-Bolivia relations, which appeared to be on the road to recovery. However, the report says that may have changed. “At the inauguration of a congress of coca farmers in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba Jun. 5, [Evo] Morales complained that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is financing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and foundations that actively oppose the government.” The president has threatened to expel USAID.
· There’s optimism in Cuba where the Catholic Church is holding a major conference and where the Vatican’s foreign minister, Dominique Mamberti, sat down for talks with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez , this week. Blogger Yoani Sánchez offers her thoughts on developments, by way of the Huffington Post.
· WOLA, the Latin America Working Group, the US Office on Colombia, and CIP have just released a new report on the DAS spy scandal in Colombia. Entitled “Far Worse than Watergate,” a short release accompanying the report says “Research…indicates that operations did not target alleged terrorists, but rather people carrying out legitimate, democratic activities, including: Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges, presidential candidates, journalists, publishers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations and human rights defenders in Colombia, the United States and Europe.”
· Lastly, an opinion today from Mark Weisbrot at the Guardian on electioneering in Brazil. The piece looks at the Brazilian opposition’s attempt to make the country’s Lula’s foreign policy an election issue. PSDB candidate José Serra recently remarked that “eighty to ninety percent of the cocaine [here] comes from Bolivia” and accused the Bolivian government of “being complicit in the drug trade.” There have also been new attacks on Mercosur, Lula’s Iran talks, and the country’s relations with Venezuela. Weisbrot see’s Lula’s economic success as the reason behind the opposition’s electoral strategy:
“José Serra is not a rightwing politician by nature; as health minister he stood up to powerful foreign pharmaceutical companies backed by the US in order to secure lower prices for generic essential medicines. So why would he, and his party, promote such a rightwing foreign policy?
The answer is most likely that the economy has done much better during Lula's eight years than during the previous eight years of the PSDB, including its growth. With major real increases in the minimum wage, an expansion of the bolsa familia programme for the poor and a mortgage credit for home buyers of modest means, it won't be that easy to campaign against Dilma and the Workers' party on economic issues.”