After a five-day showdown in West Kingston between Jamaican security forces and supporters of accused drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, at least 70 have been killed, 560 have been detained, and reports of “indiscriminate force” continue to rise. Jamaican police have yet to find their suspect, Dudus Coke, however. And on Thursday the police issued a public plea, asking that Mr. Coke and his brother turn themselves in peacefully. This according to the New York Times this morning. [More good Jamaica analysis at Foreign Policy, the BBC, and the Kojo Nnamdi Show with Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and Johanna Mendelsohn-Forman of CSIS].
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., officials from the 15 CARICOM member nations, the Dominican Republic, and several non-Caribbean partner nations gathered Thursday for the pre-planned launching of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). In AFP’s words, the CBSI is “aimed at boosting regional security by fighting drug-traffickers and other transnational criminal gangs” in the Caribbean. [Notably excluded from the invitation, as the Center for Democracy in the Americas points out, was Cuba]. The SBSI is intended to complement the Mérida Initiative, launched in 2008, and according to Ass’t. Sec. of State, Arturo Valenzuela, the convener of Thursday’s meetings, the US has pledged $45 million to the new security plan.
“Beyond narrow police and military responses, we must find ways to incorporate the whole range of local, national and regional institutions, multilateral organizations and civil society into our efforts to combat rising crime rates,” Valenzuela said.
The State Dept. also released a new “fact sheet” on its commitment to “citizen safety” in the Western Hemisphere this week. DOS claims that the CBSI, the Mérida Initiative, the Central America Regional Security initiative, and the Colombian Strategic Development initiative all embody an approach to citizen safety that focuses on “making advances at the neighborhood level while simultaneously countering emerging transnational threats.” As a new post at Just the Facts adds, “by covering several different regions of Latin America, the Obama administration believes it will ‘mitigate any balloon effect - criminal spillover resulting from successful reductions in drug trafficking and transnational crime elsewhere in the region.’”
But coming back to Jamaica, it appears that may be easier said than done. As the Economist suggests, as long as “outsiders’ demand for drugs” continues, there exist serious risks that progress may be short lived.
Below the headline today:
· Colombians head to the polls Sunday for what will likely be the first round of two to elect a new president [if no candidate wins over 50%, a second round will be held in mid-June]. I’ll have coverage of the results Tuesday, after the Memorial Day weekend, but for now the latest on where things stand going into the vote – still a statistical dead heat according to the most recent polls. The Wall Street Journal says the country “ponders two futures” with Sunday’s vote. Here’s how the paper frames it:
“They can pick a macho-style candidate who promises to finish what Mr. Uribe started. Or they can pick a philosopher who vows to clean up Colombia's politics, focuses on issues like education and cries in public.”
The AP poses its own binary. “The brainy outsider vs. the Uribe torchbearer,” is how the wire service sees it. Interestingly, the AP writes the following which I have not read in coverage of the Colombian election thus far:
“Mockus recently told an interviewer he thought Colombia should follow the Costa Rican model and dissolve its military. Backtracking later, he said he wasn't actually proposing dismantling Colombia's armed forces, still locked in a war with the FARC, which issued a communique Thursday calling on Colombians to boycott the vote.”
In an interview with Spain’s El País, Juan Manuel Santos tries to differentiate himself from his former boss, Mr. Uribe. “You have to take into account that I am not Uribe,” he tells the paper. “If Colombians are tired of a certain style of government [represented by [Uribe], they can remain calm, because I will bring my own [governing style].” At Global Post, Mauricio Cárdenas of the Brookings Institution argues that no matter Sunday’s results, the electoral campaign indicates that Colombians desire some sort of “change.” Interestingly, he is quite skeptical of Mockus winning a second-round vote. And with a Left perspective of the elections, Forrest Hylton, professor of political science at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, sees many similarities between the Mockus campaign and that of Barack Obama in the US. Besides the dichotomy of Santos/Uribe-style “democratic security” and Mockus’s “democratic legality,” Hylton writes that the vote will help answer the following question: “Is Colombia a democracy, in which citizens-voters decide the outcomes of elections, or is it what Barrington Moore, Jr., called a ‘semi-authoritarian parliamentary formation,’ in which overlapping networks of businesspeople, professional politicians, and regionally-rooted mafias determine said outcomes?”
· In Peru, the BBC reports that indigenous leader Alberto Pizango was released, one day after being arrested upon his return from 11 months of political asylum in Nicaragua. However, a Peruvian judge said Pizango still faces charges of conspiracy and sedition at an upcoming trial. The government holds Pizango responsible for leading protests in Bagua last year against extractive industries in the Amazon region of Northern Peru. The Peruvian alternative media outlet Prensa Alternativa has more on the press conference Pizango gave following his release yesterday. Pizango was joined by his lawyer, Dr. Marcos Barreto, AIDESEP vice-president Daisy Zapata who was recently in New York and Washington D.C. to talk about indigenous struggles against extractive industries in the Amazon, and the actress Qorianka Kilcher.
· US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced she’ll be heading to Ecuador from June 6 to 8, meeting with President Rafael Correa. Ecuador’s El Universo says both bi-lateral relations and regional relations [with UNASUR] will be on the agenda – relations which Ecuadorean foreign minister Ricardo Patino says must be “de-narcotized.” The trip will come after the OAS’s annual meetings in Peru and follows Ass’t. Sec. of State Arturo Valenzuela’s visit with Correa last April.
· At the Huffington Post, journalist Jeremy Kryt files a recent piece on Honduras, which looks at on-going debates over a writing a new constitution. The issue was used by the coup-backers as justification for the June 28, 2009 coup against Manuel Zelaya, but as Kryt writes: “thousands of Honduran citizens are signing their names to petitions demanding a Constitutional Assembly - and a series of massive, nation-wide demonstrations are planned for June 28,  including a peaceful march on the national Congress building in the capital of Tegucigalpa, to present the petitions and demand a national referendum on the issue.”
· The Economist examines how Mexico’s economic recovery is being hampered by the rising influence of organized crime in its manufacturing corridor. “Now that the American economy has stirred back to life, Mexico’s factories are whirring into action as well,” the magazine reports. “The country’s GDP grew by 4.3% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2010, beating forecasts. Industrial production rose by 7.6% in the year to March—the largest annual increase in nearly four years … But those businesses have a new hurdle to surmount: the country’s raging drug ‘war,’” which appears to be scaring away new foreign investment.
· At NACLA, a good piece by Prof. Kevin Gallagher from the most recent Report on the Americas looks at deepening Chinese-Latin American economic relations.
· Gunmen shot and killed a police chief in Northern Brazil this week, as he did a radio interview about the threat of drug trafficking in the region, from his car. “Clayton Leao Chaves, police chief in Camacari, was just finishing his interview with journalists on Bahia state's Lider FM station when the hosts and thousands of listeners heard the sound of gunshots and his wife's cries,” says one report on the shooting.
· The Obama administration unveiled its first “National Security Strategy” Thursday. Among the few Latin America mentions, the administration says it is working to build “deeper and more effective partnerships with other key centers of influence” like Brazil –a country whose “leadership” the US claims to “welcome.” The US, however, says it wants to take that relationship “beyond dated North-South divisions to pursue progress on bilateral, hemispheric, and global issues.” That may be more of a challenge in practice than in theory, as differences over Iran, for example, demonstrate. As Mercopress reports, Lula da Silva called on Southern allies Mexico and UNASUR this week to support the Iran enrichment agreement he and the Turks struck in Tehran almost two weeks ago.
· Finally, opinions for the weekend. Author Chris Salewicz writes in the Wall Street Journal on the “drug rebellion” in Tivoli Gardens. Andres Oppenheimer talked with Antanas Mockus recently and the charge of some critics who say Mockus’s policy prescriptions may be better suited and more realistic for Finland than Colombia. Like Mauricio Cárdenas, Oppenheimer is not very convinced Mockus can win a likely second-round vote either. Arturo Valenzuela, also in the Miami Herald, has more on the CBSI launch yesterday – what he calls “an important step forward for the prosperity, security and liberty of the region.” In the Washington Post, Jennifer Bernal-Garcia of the Center for a New American Security, says sending more National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border “smells of mission creep” if a broader US strategy for countering the instability created by drug violence and organized crime is not articulated first. And the New York Times editorial board also weighs in on the Mexico border “troop surge” arguing that “[A]dding a thousand or so border troops won’t stop the cartels or repeal the law of supply and demand. It won’t lessen American addicts’ hunger for drugs or Mexican traffickers’ appetite for sold-in-America guns.”