Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Central America’s dirty drug wars

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on July 26, 2011

Financial Times Editorial, July 25th, 2011.

Last week, Mexico seized more than 800 tonnes of precursor chemicals – enough to make several billion dollars worth of methamphetamine. The week before, the Mexican army also discovered the biggest marijuana field ever found in the country: a 120 hectare farm, yielding an average crop of 120 tonnes, worth $160m a year. These were rare triumphs in Mexico’s four- year assault on organised crime, which has so far cost 40,000 lives but done little to slow the flow of illegal drugs north to the US.

Of course, the idea that drug problems are caused by illegal drugs themselves is an illusion. Such problems are caused instead by the desire to consume drugs and the illicit industry that arises to meet that desire. Interdiction can only achieve so much. Even if the US built a 50ft wall around itself, drug traffickers would simply build 51ft ladders. What fighting organised crime can hope to do, however, is to raise the standards of law and order in the producing country, a good in its own right. It can also boost – if only slightly – the cost of illegal drugs. (continue reading… )

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The drug war hits Central America

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on April 14, 2011

by The Economist, April 14th, 2011.

For most of the 20th century, the small countries of Central America were a backwater, a tropical playground for dictators and adventurers. In the 1970s and 1980s they turned briefly into a violent cockpit of the cold war as Marxist-inspired guerrillas battled US-backed tyrants. Places like El Salvador and Nicaragua generated daily headlines around the world and bitter partisan battles in Washington. When the cold war ended, peace and democracy prevailed and Central America slipped back into oblivion. But its underlying problems—which include poverty, torpid economies, weak states, youth gangs, corruption and natural disasters—never went away.

Now violence is escalating once more in Central America, for a new reason. Two decades ago the United States Coast Guard shut down the Caribbean cocaine route, so the trade shifted to Mexico. Mexico has started to fight back; and its continuing offensive against the drugs mafias has pushed them down into Central America.

Whatever the weaknesses of the Mexican state, it is a Leviathan compared with the likes of Guatemala or Honduras. Large areas of Guatemala—including some of its prisons—are out of the government’s control; and, despite the efforts of its president, the government is infiltrated by the mafia. The countries of Central America’s northern triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) are now among the most violent places on earth, deadlier even than most conventional war zones (see article). So weak are their judicial systems that in Guatemala, for example, only one murder in 20 is punished. (continue reading… )

Hillary Clinton: Mexican drugs war is Colombia-style insurgency

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on September 9, 2010

by Rory Carroll for The Guardian UK, September 9th, 2010.

US secretary of state angers Mexican politicians and raises indignation with idea of sending in American military.

Hillary Clinton has sparked anger in Mexico by comparing its drug-related violence to an insurgency and hinting that US troops may need to intervene.

The US secretary of state said Mexico’s level of car bombings, kidnappings and mayhem resembled Colombia a generation ago. She floated the prospect of US military advisers being sent to Mexico and central America.

“It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country,” Clinton said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “These drug cartels are showing more and more indices of insurgencies.”

Signalling growing concern at events south of the Rio Grande, with 28,000 dead in Mexico from drug-related violence in four years, Clinton said the Obama administration was considering a type of “Plan Colombia” for Mexico and central America where Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are also plagued by drug-related violence. (continue reading… )

Watch the Video: Hillary Clinton – Mexico is facing an insurgency.

Costa Rica expected to elect first woman president

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 4, 2010

by Marianela Jimenez and Alexandra Olson, for The Washington Post, February 4, 2010.

Laura Chinchilla‘s election would mark another political triumph in the storied career of outgoing President Arias, who has been regularly called on to put out Central America’s political fires.

Chinchilla was Arias’ vice president before launching her campaign. If victorious, she has pledged to continue Aria’s moderate free-market policies in what is considered the most politically stable country in the region.

Costa Rica “got on the right path four years ago and now is the moment to stay the course,” Chinchilla said during a recent debate. “It’s not the moment for some change that will take us down a road we don’t know.”…(continue reading)

Guatemalan police arrest ex-president wanted in US

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on January 28, 2010

by Luis Angel Sas, for Yahoo News, January 26, 2010.

GUATEMALA CITY – Police captured ex-President Alfonso Portillo at a beach preparing to flee Guatemala by boat Tuesday, a day after U.S. authorities charged him with laundering money stolen from foreign donations to buy children’s books.

Dozens of police, soldiers and federal agents arrested Portillo during a raid on a house in the coastal province of Izabal, said Carlos Castresana, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, a U.N. agency created to battle corruption and crime in this Central American nation.

“They had hired a boat to leave from a beach at 9 a.m., but before that, police and soldiers surrounded the house where he was hiding out,” Castresana said. Portillo, 58, was believed to be heading to neighboring Belize…(continue reading)

New Honduran leader to take office, ending turmoil

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on January 27, 2010

by Juan Carlos Llorca and Alexandra Olson, for The Washington Post, January 27, 2010.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras — A conservative rancher is being sworn in as Honduras’ new president Wednesday, ending months of turmoil and the quest by ousted leader Manuel Zelaya to be restored to power after a coup that drew international condemnation.

President-elect Porfirio Lobo said the first thing he would do after taking office was escort Zelaya from his refuge at the Brazilian Embassy to the airport, where the deposed leader planned to board a flight to the Dominican Republic and start a new life in exile.

Zelaya, who was ousted in a dispute over changing the Honduran constitution, said he would leave the Central American country as a private citizen under a deal signed by Lobo and Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

The left-leaning Zelaya said he would accept that he was no longer president – but only the moment his four-year constitutional term officially ended Wednesday…(continue reading)

Opinion Briefing: Latin America’s Leftists

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on January 21, 2010

by Steve Crabtree and Jesus Rios, for Gallup, January 21, 2010.

Issue at Hand: Strengthening U.S. alliances with Latin American countries in light of the region’s increasingly leftist politics.

As in other regions around the world, the United States currently has strained relations with several of Latin America’s leaders and an image problem among many of its populations. The perceived failure in the 1990s of “Washington Consensus” prescriptions for market-driven reforms set the stage for a leftward shift in the region. The flag-bearer for this trend has been Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who over the past few years has fed Latin Americans a steady diet of anti-U.S. rhetoric, regularly calling for resistance against the U.S. “empire.”

Obama’s Stance: Barack Obama‘s general approach to Latin America seems to be one of cautious engagement. During last year’s presidential campaign, Obama criticized the Bush administration’s “negligent” policy toward Latin America, saying it is one reason “demagogues” like Chavez have been successful in the region. Obama has indicated he is willing to open a dialogue with such U.S. adversaries as Chavez and Cuba’s President Raul Castro — but he has also opposed the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, citing ongoing violence against Colombian labor leaders.

Latin Americans’ Perspective: First, it’s important to distinguish between Chavez’s polemics and the general leftist sentiment that holds sway in most Latin American countries. Any U.S. policy toward Latin America needs to recognize that “socialism” is not a dirty word in the region — though Chavez’s conception of it is controversial…(continue reading)

Massachusetts Senate election has implications for Latin America

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on January 20, 2010

by Eric Farnsworth, for Americas Quarterly, January 20, 2010.

Yesterday’s election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat had little to do with Latin America, but the implications of Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley will nonetheless resonate across the region. That’s because the victory of the Republican candidate breaks the Democrats’ super majority of 60 votes in the Senate, and will likely require renewed negotiation and accommodation in order to pass the massive health care bill that has been the top priority of the White House and Congressional leaders since early 2009. Further delay on health care means that other agenda items will have to wait even longer for the political attention required to address them, and the mood on Capitol Hill could well become still more partisan and sour.

That’s doubly true for controversial legislation, particularly as we move further into 2010, which is a midterm election year. Since President Obama was inaugurated one year ago today, three out of the four special elections have been won by Republicans (the Massachusetts Senate seat and the Governorships of Virginia and New Jersey). Only an upstate New York Congressional seat was won by the Democratic candidate, and that was after the Republican vote split over two candidates. Looking ahead to the elections in November, many observers predict that Democratic losses will mount, which means the White House and Congressional leadership will do whatever they can to improve the midterm prospects by juicing the economy, creating jobs and strengthening the support of the Democratic base, particularly organized labor…(continue reading)

Latin American Insiders Forecast Economic Outlook for 2010

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 17, 2009

by McDermott Will & Emery, for The Earth Times, December 17, 2009.

HOUSTON – (Business Wire) 2010 promises to be a year of economic progress and new business opportunities in Latin America. That’s the latest forecast from some of the leading law firms in Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

U.S. trade with Latin American countries totals some $600 billion a year, and the region’s role in the overall global economy is gaining ground. China now does more than $100 billion in trade with Central and South American countries — up 20 times from just a decade ago. At the same time, China is also making substantial sovereign wealth investments in the region’s energy resources, as well as other infrastructure.

Regional Opportunity

“Latin America has successfully weathered the economic storms of the past year,” said José Luis Vittor, partner in the global law firm McDermott Will & Emery, which sponsored a recent two-day Latin America Forum, bringing together some of the top players in the legal and business community to focus on outlook, policy, and opportunities in Latin American markets today.

“Because Latin America has been largely insulated from the impact of the global recession in the past two years, there should be even more opportunities for such economic development in the coming year,” said Vittor, who coordinated the Forum program…(continue reading)

Otto Reich on Honduras’ vote

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 1, 2009

by Foreign Policy, December 1, 2009.

This weekend, Honduran citizens voted Porfirio Lobo president, months after a coup ousted Manuel Zelaya. Here, Foreign Policy contributor and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Otto J. Reich replies to criticism of his FP article on the coup.

How does one rebut so many errors and distortions as those in Christopher Sabatini and Daniel Altshuler’s response (“Calling a Coup a Coup,” from Nov. 2) to my Foreign Policy article on Honduras (“Honduras is an Opportunity,” from Oct. 27). Let us deal with just some of them.

By my count, Sabatini and Altshuler (hereafter, “SA”) repeat the term “coup” 11 times, an incantation designed to cast a spell over the reader. But no matter how many times the liberal duo recite the mantra to misidentify the events that removed Manuel Zelaya from office, it was not a coup. Since the entire letter is based on that false premise, its conclusions are equally false.

SA accuse me of “ideological revisionism,” for saying the U.S. should recognize the transitional government that is based on Honduran law, while they insist on calling a constitutional removal of a law-breaking president by a unanimous vote of a nation’s Supreme Court, a “coup.” Curiously, SA dismiss the Supreme Court action by citing two obscure U.S. academics’ papers which portend to rebut a U.S. Law Library of Congress report that supported the legality of Zelaya’s ouster. Is that ideological on their part, or just plain confused?

The ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, had violated several articles of the Honduran Constitution (as documented in the aforementioned Supreme Court decision), and therefore according to Honduran law (not my opinion) he was no longer president of Honduras when he was deported (the deportation was not legal, but it occurred after the legal removal from office). Further evidence that Zelaya’s removal was not a coup was the ratification of his removal by a nearly unanimous vote of the Honduran Congress. SA gloss over Zelaya’s violations of the law and focus instead on his subsequent — and inexcusable — deportation…(continue reading)