The Salvadoran foreign ministry announced Tuesday that it has reason to believe an armed gang abducted some 50 Central American migrants traveling on a cargo train in Southern Mexico almost one week ago. According to the foreign ministry’s statement, cited in Al-Jazeera’s coverage, by-standers witnessed the aggressors striking migrants with machetes and robbing many of their belongings before taking away a number of women, men and children of Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan nationalities. At least seventeen individuals say they escaped and arrived one day later (Dec. 17) at a migrant shelter run by Father Alejandro Solalinde in the Oaxaca town of Ixtepec.
The act may have been carried out by los Zetas, Father Solalinde alleged Wednesday – adding that multiple individuals, claiming to both represent the Zetas and Mara Salvatrucha, have paid visits to his shelter during the last week. The groups, he says, demand that the survivors be handed over.
The Zetas are believed to have been responsible for the kidnapping and murder of 72 migrants at a ranch near the US-Mexico border last August.
El Faro adds to the coverage, writing that the Mexican government has thus far denied the alleged abductions ever occurred. In fact, just hours after the Salvadoran government had issued their demand for an investigation, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) had put out a response, claiming “no evidence existed” regarding a train being attacked in Oaxaca on the night of Dec. 16. Curiously, the INM did say that they had carried out an operation in the area that same night in which 92 undocumented migrants were arrested.
Father Solalinde responding to the Mexican government’s statement: “About whether or not there were abductions, yes, there were abductions. It’s a shame the federal government continues to worry about preserving its image.” More details in a good report from BBC Mundo.
· Los Zetas continue to be the principal target of military operations in the Guatemalan province of Alta Verapaz. EFE this morning with the latest on the state of siege there, saying security forced seized a small plane, 150 AK-47s, and the equivalent of U$S 63,000 in the province Tuesday. Guatemala’s defense minister, Abraham Valenzuela, in a press conference, also said the army is considering permanently stationing a “counternarcotics detachment” in Alta Verapaz. Meanwhile, President Colom said Tuesday the government has plans to expand the size of the Guatemalan military next year from 17,000 to 21,000 members, bringing back memories of the country’s militarization during 35+ years of civil war. As BBC Mundo points out, the initial military moves taken by the Guatemalan government look eerily similar to those of the Mexican government. However, a significant difference may be Guatemala’s parallel fight against impunity by the CICIG – notable for its absence in the Mexican case. The BBC report also suggests the fight against organized crime is uncovering some old political rivalries among the country’s elites. Carlos Menocal, the country’s current interior minister, said Tuesday former president Oscar Berger’s decision to reduce the size of the military by 66% (rather than the 33% ordered under the country’s peace accords) is a root cause of the recent boom in cartel activity. Eduardo Stein, Vice President under Berger, responds, saying the notion is based on a “false premise” that the military is better prepared than the police to fight organized crime.
· Extending beyond Guatemala, Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario looks this morning at how the state of siege may affect other Central American countries, particularly El Salvador and Honduras who have already activated new security measures along their borders to prevent cartels from moving operations across state boundaries.
· Both the LA Times and the AP report on an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling this week, which said the Mexican government violated the rights of two anti-logging activists who were arrested and tortured by the Mexican army in 1999 for allegedly growing marijuana and carrying illegal weapons. The men, Teodoro Cabrera and Rodolfo Montiel, have long proclaimed their innocence and say they were targeted for their political activism. The IACHR appears to agree and says the Mexican government owes both men $27,500 damages. Human Rights Watch’s Jose Miguel Vivanco says the ruling “lays bare all of the reasons the military should not investigate its own soldiers for human rights abuses.” Those reasons, he says include “the manipulation of evidence, the military's use of torture to elicit confessions, and the completely inadequate investigations into serious violations.” Beyond the specific case, the human rights group says the IACHR decision “shows that President Felipe Calderon’s proposed reform of the military justice system, which would only subject three types of abuses by military personnel to civilian jurisdiction, is inadequate.” The case of the two ecologists was successfully litigated by Centro de Derechos Humanos "Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez" A.C. (Centro Prodh) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).
· The AP with more on the murder of anti-crime activist Marisela Escobedo Ortiz – a killing which was preceded by her daughter’s slaying in 2008 and followed by the murder of her brother-in-law just days later. No definitive relation between the crimes has been established, although, as the AP notes, the killings have set off new national frustration about citizen insecurity.
· In Ecuador, IPS reports on an alternative strategy for combating citizen insecurity: a public referendum. While the date and exact wording of the referendum have not been set, President Rafael Correa announced Friday he will allow citizens to vote on reforms to the constitution and to the country’s criminal law to contend with rising worries over public security. IPS, on what may be up for public discussion:
“The proposed constitutional amendments will be on issues of law enforcement, such as the possibility that convicts should serve sentences consecutively (rather than concurrently), which has been unconstitutional for decades, and the organization and management of criminal courts.”
While some criticize the method (a referendum), more serious concerns seem to be about the proposal itself. Lawyer Jorge Crespo Toral, head of the Confraternidad Carcelaria del Ecuador, a non-governmental organization working for prison reform and rehabilitation of prisoners, says the idea that sentences should be “accumulated” and then served sequentially is “absurd.” The solution to citizen insecurity, he says, is not to extend sentences but “to help offenders turn over a new leaf and rebuild their lives, along with their families, by recuperating their capacity for productive and honest work.” And then this very bizarre end to the IPS report, indicating President Correa has thus far only mentioned one item that will be part of the referendum process. Correa:
“In response to the demand by thousands of young people who marched to the government palace, we will also ask the Ecuadorian people if they are in agreement with holding spectacles, like bullfights, in which animals are tortured.”
· Colombia Reports says a city known to be one of the region’s most dangerous, Medellin, has seen homicides drop 30% over the last three months. The reason could be more complicated than the numbers let on, however. Colombia Reports: “Jose Giron Sierra of Medellin think tank Instituto Popular de Capacitación explains the decreased violence by the fact that the war has been won - and not by the government.”
· Bloomberg with more on the on-going United States-Venezuela spat over ambassadorial nominee Larry Palmer. If approved and not allowed into Venezuela, the Obama administration is threatening unspecified “consequences.” Larry Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs says one form of retaliation would be the expulsion of Venezuela’s ambassador in the US, Bernardo Alvarez, who was sent back to Venezuela once before, in 2008.
· Interestingly, Peruvian foreign minister José Antonio García Belaunde, speaking in Caracas Tuesday, said his government will back former Venezuelan oil minister Ali Rodriguez to be the new head of UNASUR. Consensus is required among UNASUR members to replace the late Nestor Kirchner.
· AFP reports US Sec. of State Hillary Clinton will be in Brasilia on New Year’s Day for the inauguration of Dilma Rousseff.
· And finally, a mixture of opinions. In The Guardian, Middle East analyst Nima Khorrami Assl comments on Brazil’s attempt at Middle East diplomacy – a strategy he says is based on a belief in “asymmetry” and a “near-equal insertion of developed and developing countries into the global market.” Also in The Guardian, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN and chief climate negotiator, Pablo Solon, on “why Bolivia stood alone” in opposing the Cancun climate change agreement. Council on Foreign Relations fellow, Joel Hirst, with the case against new legislative moves in Venezuela, including the recently passed Enabling Law. Jaime Daremblum, in the Weekly Standard, with a rather provocative US to-do list for 2011, vis a vis Latin America. And Michael Shifter, in El Colombiano, with a short recap of Latin American politics in 2010.
*So concludes this last bulletin of 2010. A Happy Holidays to all. Back Jan. 3, 2011. JFS