The Week in Review

Latin America and the Caribbean

This week Ecuador kicked Defense Department officials out of the country, the State Department cleared the way for Mexico to buy 18 Black Hawk helicopters, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promoted increased training with Mexican forces and we found out that the State Department needs to update its list of wanted drug traffickers. Here's a roundup of these stories and other highlights from around the region this week.  

  • Members of the FARC's negotiating team in Havana say the inclusion of many of the group's leaders on the U.S. State Department's list of wanted traffickers known as the "Narcotics Rewards Program," is detrimental to the peace process.

As Adam Isacson noted, the list is also inaccurate. It shows Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán (captured), along with Zetas leaders Heriberto Lazcano (dead) and Miguel Treviño (captured), as "at large." FARC leader Henry Castellanos alias "Romaña" is listed as "deceased," although Colombian security forces currently describe him as a "high-value target." The most flagrant mistake is that the FARC's Fabián Ramirez is also listed as "deceased" on the list, despite the fact that he has been one of the guerrilla group's negotiators in Havana for the past two months. According to the State Department however, he was killed in 2010.

  • On Thursday the Colombian government and FARC started the 24th round of peace talks, discussing the third item on the agenda – drug trafficking. President Santos and several analysts insist the two sides are close to signing an agreement on the issue. This week the government's chief negotiator also reiterated the future on the country's military is not on the agenda of the peace negotiations.  
  • Colombia’s President Santos made yet another call for alternatives to the drug war in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. According to Santos, "We have arguably been the most successful country in learning how to dismantle these organizations, so we speak with a certain moral authority on this." He also noted an agreement with the guerrilla group would be a key step forward in the global fight against narcotrafficking.
  • An analysis in the Global Post described how the peace talks could mean the end for U.S.-backed aerial fumigation as “a disarmed FARC would remove the justification for aerial spraying since it would presumably be safe enough for manual eradicators to attack coca fields on the ground.” 
  • The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince announced Thursday that the U.S. government would hold up all aid money allocated for Haiti until the U.S. State Department certifies that the country is "taking steps" to hold legislative and local elections that are more than two years overdue. The U.S. allocated about $300 million to Haiti for fiscal year 2014.
  • Ecuador has ordered all U.S. Defense Department employees in the U.S. embassy in Quito to leave the country. Although U.S. assistance to Ecuador has significantly dropped under President Correa, the country still received about $7 million in security assistance in 2013.

The move is not without precedent -- in January President Correa complained there were too many U.S. military officers in the country. In November he asked U.S. Agency for International Development to leave by September 2014, once funding for its current programs expired. In 2007, just after taking office, he fired military officers considered to have close relations with their U.S. counterparts and in 2011 expelled several embassy employees, including the then-ambassador.  

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Mexico and Guatemala for a three-day visit this week. While in Mexico Hagel met with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts to discuss criminal networks, cyber security and natural disasters. He told reporters “over the years, we’ve probably never done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners.” He also said he was looking to deepen U.S.-Mexico ties, including increasing training exercises with Mexican security forces.

Hagel traveled to Guatemala late Thursday to meet with U.S. forces and Guatemalan officials to convey U.S. support for Guatemala as a “key partner in the region challenged by narcotics trafficking and transnational crime,” according to the Defense Department.

  • Hagel's visit coincides with the State Department's recent decision to clear the way for Mexico to purchase 18 Black Hawk helicopters for $680 million. The U.S. Congress now has 30 days to block the proposed deal. Sikorsky Aircraft Company and General Electric Aircraft Company are the principal contractors.  Senior U.S. officials have also reported that the United States is in talks about other military sales to Mexico, such as unmanned aerial vehicles.
  •  William Leogrande of American University created a matrix compiling threats cited by U.S. Southern Command generals over the past 14 years, highlighting changing trends in the military’s threat assessment for the region.
  •  Also of note: Bolivian President Evo Morales signed a law allowing the military to shoot down planes suspected of trafficking drugs while the country’s military fired 702 officers (roughly 7.5 percent of its armed forces); Paraguay is sending 75 officers to be trained in Colombia for three months of anti-guerrilla training; and Brazilians have taken to the streets to protest ongoing security force abuse, just as some 2,500 security forces have been deployed to yet another Rio slum. See the Security Assistance Monitor's Brazil news page for more links on the unrest.