I wasn’t planning to get too far ahead of yesterday’s news suggesting that a more unified, US-backed regional security plan for Central America may be in the works. But Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez seems to have opened the door. Minister Alvarez, speaking to reporters yesterday about the arrival in Honduras of US Assistant Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Bill Brownfield today (my translation):
“Brownfield’s visit is going to bring some very important announcements. What we seek to push forward is the idea of a ‘Plan Centroamérica’ for our country, in the same way there has been a Plan Colombia and a Plan Mérida.”
“We want a Plan Centroamérica for Honduras in order to help everyone in the Central American isthmus confront the scourge of narco-trafficking, which has incredibly powerful tentacles.”
At this point, using the term “Plan Central America” to describe whatever new initiative might emerge out of Brownfield’s visit to region, Arturo Valenzuela’s three-day visit to El Salvador (which begins today), and next March’s visit from President Obama to that same country (March 22-23), looks more like a desire – and arguably a long-standing one – of the current Honduran government. But there's reason to believe such a name may be appropriate. Here’s what reports tells us so far:
First, in Guatemala Monday, Brownfield said that his trip intended to find “synergies” in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Colombia so as to improve coordinated operations against organized crime. According to AFP, he cited “international mafias,” specifically narcotraffickers, as the principal target of such operations. But Brownfield’s words moved in the direction of a new US-backed program, rather than simply better coordination of existing initiatives. Brownfield (again, my translation):
“After this trip, and if we are find an agreement of perspectives in the region, we hope to be able to design a new structure that might arise to generate more collaboration between the countries of Mesoamerica and also among other countries of the hemisphere who might want to give their support and participate.”
After mentioning the existence of Plan Colombia, Plan Merida, and CARSI, Brownfield said the objective would not be to eliminate any old initiatives but rather to “construct an umbrella under which both the countries inside and outside [that umbrella] can build an infrastructure.”
In El Salvador yesterday, Brownfield appears to have been less loquacious about any future plan. For example, the only thing I’m seeing El Faro reporting this morning about the visit is the assistant secretary’s defense of the International Law Enforcement Academy – a US-run police training center in San Salvador, which came under criticism from Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman last week.
But in a separate AFP report yesterday, there are indications that Colombia, the last country to host Brownfield this week (and the country to which Brownfield served as US ambassador from 2007 to 2010), will play a key role in a potential Mesoamerican security corridor. Colombian Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera, during his visit to Washington last Thursday had the following to say, suggesting perhaps an expansion of a recently created initiative by which Colombian officials are now training their Mexican counterparts to other parts of Latin America:
“We keep responding on a case by case basis [to organized crime], but now what we want to do is create a plan that corresponds to a strategic logic, with a portfolio capacity and with services, that will be able to reach out to other countries.”
I’m unclear about what the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border dispute had to do with drug trafficking or organized crime, but Kevin Casas-Zamora of Brookings, tells AFP such talks of a unified security structure for Mesoamerica have been on-going since that conflict began.
Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said he’d like a “Plan Central America.” But the addition of Colombia and Mexico may suggest something even larger, at least geographically: the beginning of a coordinated Mesoamerican security corridor, bookended by Mexico and Colombia, the two countries who are already the principal recipients of US military aid.
To other stories:
· Interestingly, reports on both Arturo Valenzuela’s trip to El Salvador and the President’s trip there next month seem to now be downplaying security issues and emphasizing social and economic concerns. The DOS press release on the Valenzuela trip says “the purpose of his trip is to engage the government of El Salvador on ways to deepen and enhance our bilateral partnership through the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development.” Indeed, Valenzuela will be joined by the face of public foreign aid to the region, USAID Asst. Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mark Feierstein, and a face of the private investment world, Mimi Alemayehou, the Executive Vice President the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s (OPIC). For his part, Mauricio Funes seems to be taking a similar approach. In a statement yesterday, the AP says Funes wants the “fight against poverty” to be the central issue discussed during Obama's visit. Security on the inside, talk of aid and trade on the outside and shades of the Alliance for Progress grow clearer?
· Speaking of trade, the Wall Street Journal today has the following to report on the Obama administration’s evolving position on pending Colombia and Panama FTAs:
“The Obama administration is accelerating efforts to revive stalled trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, aiming to resolve outstanding issues this year and send the pacts to Congress for ratification immediately thereafter, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is expected to tell a congressional committee Wednesday.”
Kirk says he has received a directive from the president to “immediately intensify engagement with Colombia and Panama,” although the Journal says the timetable remains “contingent upon their success in resolving outstanding labor and related issues that originally stalled the agreements.” The paper does note, however, that Mr. Kirk’s comments on Colombia and Panama (as well a deal with Russia) “go beyond previous administration statements and will be presented in the context of the administration's effort to win spring ratification of a trade agreement with South Korea.” More commentary from the Journal’s editorial board.
· Adam Isacson, in a new and comprehensive post at Just the Facts, looks at a number of the human rights concerns which persist in Colombia (as well as the security situation and much more), six months after President Juan Manuel Santos took office.
· Undersecretary of the Army, Joseph Westphal resurrected the word “insurgency” to describe the activity of Mexican drug cartels while speaking at the University of Utah on Monday. He then went further, saying the problem in Mexico “isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” but rather about “a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.” On Tuesday, Westphal said he regretted making such comments, which were, in his words, “inaccurate statements.” The Undersecretary of the Army is the No.2 civilian leader of the US Army.
· Also on Mexico, the New York Times with an interesting report from Ciudad Juarez on the impact violence and migration are having on the composition of the family unit – specifically the decline of men, and conversely rising proportional presence of women. The AP reports on the beginning of investigations into the disappearance of three relatives of slain human rights activist, Josefina Reyes. Reyes was killed in Juarez last year after leading protests against alleged abuses by Mexican soldiers in the Juarez valley. Al-Jazeera says 47 migrants – 44 Guatemalan and 3 Mexican – were freed in Reynosa by Mexican security forces this week. No arrests were made, but, says AJ, suitcases with 108 packages of cocaine (weighing about 100kg) were found nearby. And EFE on new approval numbers for Felipe Calderon show the Mexican president hanging on to a 52% approval rating. That’s down slightly from November (55%) and down 10 points from last February.
· The AP confirms that Ira Kurzban, the lawyer to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has received a diplomatic passport for his client, still in exile in South Africa. Kurzban flew from Miami to Port-au-Prince on Tuesday to pick up the passport which would allow Mr. Aristide to pass through a third country on his way back to Haiti. Mr. Kurzban did not say when he thought Aristide might return but it now appears that, at least administratively, the stage is set.
· In nearby Cuba, Reuters on the Cuban government’s surprise decision to unblock island access to dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s “Generación Y” blog. In a post on Twitter, Sanchez said the following about the decision: “In the long night of censorship, a small hole has opened. My blog Generation Y returns to the insular light.”
· America.gov posts US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s talk at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Sao Paulo Monday.
· Boz posts the Pentagon’s new, two-paragraph National Military Strategy for the Western Hemisphere, released yesterday.
· The Trans-Border Institute with a new report, authored by Viridiana Ríos and David Shirk, on drug violence in Mexico. According to a report summary, one of the things it underscores is “the geographic concentration of violence, with 84% of all homicides from organized crime in 2010 occurring in just four of Mexico’s 32 states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California) and over 70% occurring in 80 of the country’s roughly 2,450 municipalities.” Diego Valle also has some new and useful maps that chart the geography of drug violence around the country.
· The Small Arms Survey, a project of Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, with a new report by Professor Aaron Karp on the distribution of small arms and light weapons in South America.
· Without citing actual numbers, Venezuela’s Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said the country experienced a homicide rate of 48/100,000 inhabitants last year, acknowledging that rate was “very high” while speaking in front of the National Assembly Tuesday. As the AP notes, the Chavez government has not released comprehensive homicide statistics for five years, but officials said previously there were more than 12,000 murders in the first 11 months of 2010.
· And finally, strong words of criticism for OAS Sec. General José Miguel Insulza from the US’s permanent representative to the inter-American body, Carmen Lomellin. In a Feb.1 interview with the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor, Lomellin says this of Insulza: “We would like it if the secretary general were a lot more forceful in his defense of democracy. He is not.” She would later, temper her criticism, however, saying this problem is “not a failing of the secretary general as much as it is of the system.” No comment from Insulza.