Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Indigenous in Colombia call for demilitarization

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on August 2, 2011

by William Lloyd George for The Christian Science Monitor, August 2nd, 2011.

After a bomb exploded in the southern province of Cauca last month, local leaders issued a statement urging both the Colombian government and guerrillas to disarm and leave their communities in peace.

On most days Toribio can be described as a sleepy farming town of 4,000. Life revolves around the leafy central square, especially on Saturdays when farmers flock to the market to sell their produce. In recent years the town has been left in relative peace despite conflict raging between guerrillas and the Colombian government in the southern province of Cauca.

That changed on Saturday, July 9.

Like most Saturdays, Sara Munoz was at the bank to deposit money when she heard an explosion outside. She recalls the roof falling down around her, trapping her with her three children. Her father was running their meat stall in the busy market outside and was killed instantly as a gas cylinder from the homemade bomb hit his head. FARC guerrillas, who have waged civil war with the state since the 1950s, had detonated a car bomb outside the police station. While the police station was left intact, 25 homes were destroyed, nearly 500 damaged, and three civilians were killed with hundreds of others injured.

“Many innocent and good people are being caught up in a conflict we have nothing to do with,” Ms. Munoz said from her mother’s home, a week after the blasts.

While urban Colombia has seen a dramatic decline in politically-motivated violence in the past decade, in recent months the government has increased its military presence here in rural Cauca in order to flush FARC rebels out of strategic mountains where they are believed to be hiding key leaders. Countering the offensive, the FARC have increased bombings, attacks, and assassinations with little care for the native population, say the indigenous leaders who also criticize the Colombian military for establishing bases inside their towns. Colombian think-tank Nuevo Arco Iris has reported a 10 percent increase in attacks for the first half of this year by the FARC compared to the same period last year.

Fed up with innocent bloodshed, Colombian indigenous communities from Cauca have now called on all military groups to leave their territories and put an end to the violence coming from both sides. The demand was made by indigenous leaders following a meeting on July 20 with over 5,000 natives from neighbouring reserves, to find a solution to surging violence in their territory. They have also requested that the government and FARC begin a peace dialogue to end the conflict. (continue reading… )


By William Lloyd GeorgeContributor / August 2, 2011

Toribio, ColombiaOn most days Toribio can be described as a sleepy farming town of 4,000. Life revolves around the leafy central square, especially on Saturdays when farmers flock to the market to sell their produce. In recent years the town has been left in relative peace despite conflict raging between guerrillas and the Colombian government in the southern province of Cauca.


Colombia’s criminal networks consolidate around two forces

Posted in News and Articles by politicalrisklatam on August 1, 2011

by Jeremy McDermott for The Christian Science Monitor, August 1st, 2011.

As Mexico‘s criminal underworld fragments under pressure from the security forces, that of Colombia appears to be consolidating around two opposing criminal networks.

New criminal syndicates are continually forming in Mexico, as the bigger cartels are decapitated and middle ranking leaders step up to form their own organizations. In Colombia, however, the reverse seems to be the case, as the number of major league criminal gangs shrinks. However, the two names that are left standing in Colombia represent not integrated structures, but loose networks.

These two structures, called BACRIMs (criminal bands – “bandas criminales”) by the government, are the Rastrojos and the Urabeños. While there are other major players on the drug trafficking criminal scene, they are all in one way or another linked to the Rastrojos or their bitter enemies the Urabeños.

The Rastrojos have their roots in the Norte del Valle Cartel, born in the province of the same name on Colombia’s Pacific coast. They are now the biggest players on Colombia’s criminal scene, with a presence in at least 12 of the country’s 32 provinces or departments. Led by two brothers, Javier and Luis Enrique Calle Serna, known collectively as the “Comba,” they are the dominant organization along the Pacific coast, and have locked down a significant part of the border with Venezuela, the latter now being one of the principal transit nations for Colombian cocaine. (continue reading… )

Brazil’s new plan to beat poverty

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on July 7, 2011

by Taylor Barnes, Correspondent, Sara Llana Miller, Staff writer  for The Christian Science Monitor, July 7th, 2011.

Brazil just launched a new, multibillion-dollar program to aid the 16 million Brazilians still living in extreme poverty. The program is the latest in an effort across Latin America to stamp out poverty.

With a monthly stipend that she receives from the Brazilian government, Clemilda dos Santos can now keep the refrigerator stocked for her 10 kids, but life for the family is still precarious. At the top of a red clay hill in Japeri, the town with the lowest human development index in the state of Rio, the one-bedroom home she shares with her whole family still floods with rainwater. Her kids need winter coats.

In the past decade, Brazil has been touted for lifting 25 million people out of poverty, thanks to macroeconomic stability, high commodities prices, and a much hailed social program called Bolsa Familia that gives families monthly cash for families that adhere to conditions such as keeping kids in classrooms. But as the nation continues to rise – it became majority middle class in 2008, according to the Rio-based Getúlio Vargas Foundation– leaders say they are determined to do more, arguing that packed homes and uncloaked children have no place in today’s economic landscape.

Now Brazil has launched another multibillion-dollar antipoverty plan, called Brazil Without Misery, to reach the remaining 16 million Brazilians still living in extreme poverty. Expanding upon Bolsa Familia, it will increase cash transfers, improve public services, and create new job opportunities for the poor. Brazil’s new President Dilma Rousseff, who took office in January, says her aim is to eliminate extreme poverty within four years. (continue reading… )

Guatemala’s divorced first lady barred from running for president

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on July 1, 2011

by Mike Allison for The Christian Science Monitor, July 1st, 2011.

Critics said Sandra Torres’ divorce from President Colom was a scam to dodge a ban on relatives running for office. Her party promises to appeal, but the candidates’ list is due July 11.

On Wednesday, Guatemalan electoral authorities rejected Sandra Torres‘s presidential candidacy on the grounds of “supposed legal fraud.” The resolution from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) said that her divorce from President Alvaro Colom did not invalidate Article 186 barring relatives of previous presidents from becoming president.

The resolution also claimed that her candidacy was denied based on the grounds of legal fraud (Article 4 of the Judiciary Act) because the divorce was sought solely to get around the constitutional prohibition of Article 186 (Prensa Libre). The TSE must resolve the appeal of Ms. Torres and her party, the National Unity of Hope (UNE), within the next 72 hours and then the case will most likely move to the Constitutional Court for a final decision.

As I said in April, there didn’t really seem to be any good reason why the country’s courts would not grant the Coloms their divorce. However, having the electoral authorities accept the divorce and allow her to run for the presidency was going to be another matter. (continue reading… )

La Familia drug cartel defeated, says Mexico

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on June 22, 2011

by Sara Miller Llana for The Christian Science Monitor, June 22nd, 2011.

La Familia leader, Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, has been arrested and Mexican authorities contend that the group’s reign in the state of Michoacán has come to an end.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón can declare a decisive victory in his country’s brutal war on drugs.

Federal authorities have arrested the leader of La Familia, the drug trafficking organization that espouses religious ideals, but gained worldwide notoriety when it tossed five human heads onto a dance floor in Michoacán state four years ago. Since then, La Familia has made money and wielded influence through not just drug running but kidnapping, extortion, intimidation, and murder.

Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, also known as El Chango, or “The Monkey,” was arrested in the state of Aguascalientes, the government announced Tuesday.

IN PICTURES: Mexico’s drug war

“With this arrest, what remained of the structure of this criminal organization has been destroyed,” security spokesman Alejandro Poire said at a news conference.

His arrest follows the death of the group’s founder,Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, in December.

George Grayson, a professor at William & Mary and author of “Mexico: Narco- Violence and a Failed State,” says that the arrest effectively decapitates the organization. But with alliances that La Familia made with other groups, including the Sinaloa cartel, against the Zetas group, many secondary leaders could simply get absorbed into the Sinaloa group. “The Sinaloa cartel will spread into Michoacan,” he says.

It remains to be seen what the arrest means for Michoacán. (continue reading… )


Peru’s next president urges vigilantes to fight drug trafficking

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on June 15, 2011

by Hannah Stone for The Christian Science Monitor, June 14th, 2011.

To improve the security of Peruvians in far-flung parts of the country, President-elect Ollanta Humala has pledged to ‘protect and empower’ citizen self-defense groups. Is that a good idea?

President-elect Ollanta Humala has worked hard to build his image as a moderate, moving away from the more nationalist and left-wing positions he had been associated with in the past. His stances on drugs and security policy fit with those backed by Washington, and he has called for greater cooperation on drug policy with the US, as well as with Peru’s neighbors.

In another key move, he rejected a recent paper on drug policy that argued for decriminalization, stating that such a policy would be very dangerous for a country that is the world’s second-biggest exporter of cocaine.

Mr. Humala seems keen to acknowledge the scale of the challenges posed by drug trafficking in Peru, saying that he will create a ministerial post to head a presidential commission, charged with drafting an anti-drugs strategy. He has also called for a “mano dura” or “iron fist” approach to crime. (continue reading… )