…I’d see this headline from the U.S. military’s Honduras-based “Joint Task Force Bravo” component, and think “this should at least make up for a fraction of what corrupt officials in the Hernández government have probably stolen from the Health Ministry’s budget.”
The supplies, valued at approximately $39,000, under the U.S. Southern Command’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, will increase the local clinics ability to care for COVID-19 patients.
I wonder what size fraction of what’s been lost to corruption since March 2020 that $39,000 adds up to, and how much more effective Defense Department humanitarian aid would be if the U.S. government offered more aid and diplomatic pressure to help people in Honduras who are trying to target that corruption.
…I mean, I would wonder that, if I were a more cynical person.
Here’s a third WOLA podcast in which, as the United States pivots between two very different administrations, we step back and take stock of things. In this one, I talk to my colleagues Adriana Beltrán and Moses Ngong about the region’s fight against corruption: how unpunished corruption underlies so many other problems, who is fighting it, and how we must support them internationally with all we’ve got.
The United States is in a transition period between the Trump and Biden administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.
In this episode, a third in a series about the transition, we talk about corruption and efforts to fight it. WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán and Mexico Program Assistant Moses Ngong call corruption “endemic: a system, a network, a web of relations” that underlies many other problems in Latin America, from insecurity, to susceptibility to natural disasters, to forced migration.
Focusing particularly on Mexico and Central America, we discuss who the region’s anti-corruption reformers are, the challenges they face, and how the United States and other international actors can best support them. A key point for the Biden administration is that other policy goals in the Americas will be impossible to achieve without a determined approach to corruption that upholds reformers.
The work of WOLA’s Mexico and Citizen Security programs often takes on corruption. Resources mentioned in the podcast include:
This is the second of a series of discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. Last week, we covered migration, and the week before we talked about U.S. credibility and the tone of relations. Next week, the series’ final episode will take on the state of human rights and democracy.
Guatemala is selecting new supreme court justices. The stakes are very high: fighting the corruption that drives so much migration will be much harder if the country gets this wrong. Here, my colleague Adriana Beltran and I talk to three people who are leading the fight from civil society.
Last year at the US-Mexico border, authorities apprehended more undocumented migrants from Guatemala than from any other country. That’s mostly because of a combination of poverty and violence. That in turn is exacerbated by corruption, which drains national wealth and benefits networks of political and economic power that, too often, are above the law.
People in Guatemala are trying to change that. They’re the ones who made important justice improvements alongside the CICIG, the international commission against impunity in Guatemala, which was ejected from the country last year. They’re still fighting, and this podcast talks to three of them. They are:
Helen Mack, the president of the Myrna Mack Foundation. A longtime leader in Guatemala’s fight for human rights, Helen founded her organization in 1993, three years after the army killed her sister, anthropologist Myrna Mack. Helen is one of Guatemala’s principal experts on judicial and police reform.
Harald Waxenecker is a sociologist who investigates networks of power and criminality in Guatemala and El Salvador, which is dangerous but necessary work.
Claudia Escobar is a former magistrate of Guatemala’s court of appeals who played a central role in some of the country’s most high-profile corruption investigations during the mid-2010s.
They’re together with Adriana Beltran, the principal host of this podcast episode. Beltran is WOLA’s director for citizen security, has worked for many years in Guatemala, and played an instrumental role in building international support for the CICIG.
Guatemala has hit a key turning point for the fight against impunity the Congress is selecting a new slate of supreme court justices. There’s a real danger that some of the country’s most corrupt elements might choose those who will judge them for the next five years. Much is in the balance here: further erosion of the rule of law will mean more misery in Guatemala, and more migration away from Guatemala.
I’ve always enjoyed talking to Nina Lakhani over the years as she produced excellent reporting from Mexico and Central America for The Guardian. And I enjoyed recording this podcast with her two weeks ago, as she prepared for the release of her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet (2020, Verso).
Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions in the world to be a human rights defender. In March 2016, Berta Cáceres – a much-admired environmental and indigenous leader from Honduras – was assassinated. Cáceres was a courageous leader, winner of the 2015 Goldman Prize for her efforts to stop dam construction on a river sacred to her Lenca people. But the assassinations of leaders like Berta are rarely investigated or prosecuted all the way to the masterminds. Government, criminal, and economic interests work to silence activists like her.
In this edition of Latin America Today, Nina Lakhani joins Adam Isacson for a discussion on her new book out on June 2, Who Killed Berta Cáceres: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet (2020, Verso). Lakhani is a veteran journalist whose work has brought to light corruption, state-sponsored violence, and impunity throughout Mexico and Central America. She is currently the Environmental Justice correspondent for The Guardian U.S.
Here, Lakhani talks about why she chose to write about Berta and her lifelong activism, helps us understand the multifaceted Honduran context and why social leaders like Berta are targeted, and provides in-depth analysis of her investigations into Berta’s assassination. The conversation ends with Lakhani’s outlook on how the upcoming U.S. presidential elections may affect accountability on what she calls “impunity on every level.”
I’ll be going back to an interview format for tomorrow’s podcast (if all goes according to plan). Today’s episode, though, is the audio track of a March 20, 2020 WOLA webinar about criminality and corruption in Venezuela, and the viability of a political exit to the crisis. This event is based on a March 11 report by WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, who look at U.S. data and find that drug trafficking and other criminality and corruption, while big problems, are not so severe as to rule out negotiating a political solution with the Maduro regime.
In this event audio, Ramsey and Smilde are joined by Jeremy McDermott, the co-director of InsightCrime, and investigative journalist Bram Ebus, a consultant to the International Crisis Group.
Four podcasts in four days. I don’t know if I’ll keep up the pace, but I’ll stay close. Hopefully these are making life a bit more tolerable for some people out there.
In today’s conversation, Cynthia McClintock of George Washington University gives an overview of the current political moment in Peru, where an ongoing anti-corruption drive, spurred by the good work of investigative reporters and prosecutors, has been a relative good news story. The discussion also covers recent legislative elections, voters’ move, and the possible impact of COVID-19.
Here’s a podcast recorded last Friday with Adriana Beltran and Austin Robles from WOLA’s Central America / Citizen Security program. We talk mostly about setbacks to the anti-corruption fight in Guatemala and Honduras. Good thing we didn’t talk about El Salvador too much, because two days after this conversation, President Nayib Bukele set everything on fire there by bringing armed soldiers into the legislative chamber with an aggressive display.
Adriana Beltrán and Austin Robles of WOLA’s Citizen Security Program discuss the beleaguered fight against corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their Central America Monitor tracks progress on eight indicators and closely watches over U.S. aid.
Here’s a great conversation with two colleagues who really know Peru, about where the country is today after the suicide of a two-time president facing accountability for corruption.
Facing arrest in a corruption scandal, Peru’s two-time president Alan García shot himself to death on April 17. WOLA Senior Fellows Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers discuss the personal journey of a politician who loomed over Peruvian political life for the past 35 years.
Garcia started out as a leftist, ruled amid some serious human rights crimes and economic crises, and later became a seemingly untouchable power broker—until the Odebrecht corruption investigation.
Burt and Youngers explain Peru’s current judicial drive against corruption, reasons for hope, and the difficulty of predicting anything in Peruvian politics.
Only a few years ago, Guatemala was making historic gains in its fight against corruption and human rights abuse. Since then, the country has suffered a severe backlash. A “pact of the corrupt” in Guatemala’s ruling elite keeps pushing legislation that would terminate trials and investigations for war crimes and corruption. A U.S.-backed UN prosecutorial body, the CICIG, has been weakened. High-court rulings are being ignored. Things have gotten so bad that the U.S. government has suspended military aid.
And today, Guatemala has incredibly surpassed Mexico as the number-one nationality of undocumented migrants being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As a new presidential election looms, Adam talks about the situation with WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, just returned from one of her frequent visits to the country. See more of Jo-Marie’s recent analysis at:
Hoy creo que es mi deber ético transcribir —aunque parcialmente— las reflexiones que, a modo de testamento, Jorge Enrique Pizano dejó en mi teléfono, probablemente sabiendo que yo las publicaría. Estas son algunas
El ministro de Defensa Oswaldo Jarrín anunció el envío de nuevas leyes a la Asamblea Nacional para volver más estrictos los requisitos de ingreso a las Fuerzas Armadas, dados los últimos acontecimientos de militares vinculados a narcotráfico y tráfico de municiones
Desde antes de las 7:00 de la mañana se efectúan operativos a nivel nacional para desarticular bandas de narcomenudeo, delitos sexuales, delitos tributarios, contrabando, venta de drogas, extorsión, robo de vehículos y otros ilícitos
Prior to Bogota, Dobrich oversaw the DEA’s military-style FAST teams that battled drug traffickers in Afghanistan and Latin America, and were criticized for a series of fatal shootings in Honduras in 2012
Today’s student activists — and even the graying veterans of the 1968 democracy movement — acknowledge they now have free speech, something the ‘68 generation fought for. But they say the impunity remains the same
I was disappointed to see Guatemala’s military—which had briefly taken a reformist direction—aggressively, enthusiastically supporting President Jimmy Morales’s crackdown on the CICIG anti-corruption body. WOLA has just posted a piece I wrote about that. What’s happened with Guatemala’s army since August 31 obliterates a few halting steps that it had taken toward being a credible, accountable institution. It brings back the bad old days.
In the widest-angle photo available online of Morales’s defiant August 31 announcement, 75 people appear in the frame, including Morales. Sixty-eight of them are in uniform; at least fifteen wear the maroon beret of the Army’s feared Kaibiles Special Forces. The clear message: the high command supports Morales’s move against the CICIG in the strongest terms. Sixty officers standing behind the president is more than just checking a box to comply with an order from the commander in chief.
Even more blatant was a show of military force outside CICIG’s headquarters on the morning of the 31st. A convoy of military transport vehicles, helmeted gunners poised at their machine-gun turrets, drove through the CICIG’s prosperous, well-guarded Guatemala City neighborhood and circulated several times around its offices. Vehicles pulled up outside the U.S. embassy and those of other countries known to support CICIG, and near the homes and offices of prominent human rights defenders.
These vehicles were donated to Guatemala through U.S. Defense Department accounts legally authorized only to help the military and police interdict drugs or combat organized crime. Some bear the title “Trinational Task Force,” denoting a unit, created with U.S. assistance, meant to operate at Guatemala’s borders, far from the capital. At four points along Guatemala’s borders, military-police-prosecutorial Interagency Task Forces, created with over US$40 million in aid from the Defense Department’s Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime account, have been operating since 2013. The Pentagon has provided them with hundreds of vehicles like these.
…Unless something changes soon, the Guatemalan armed forces’ aggressive support for Jimmy Morales’s rollback of anti-corruption reforms has set their institution on a path back to its darkest periods. It extinguishes a hopeful moment in which Guatemala’s Army, with U.S. government accompaniment, took a few halting steps toward legitimacy.
La Fiscalía tiene interceptaciones en las que los supuestos protagonistas del entramado de chuzadas hablan del secuestro de los periodistas ecuatorianos, de bloqueos de cuentas bancarias y hasta de casos de infidelidad
Acompañado por el alto mando militar y solo tres ministros de su gabinete (Gobernación, Defensa y Exteriores), en una imagen que recordaba a las épocas más represivas de la guerra civil, Morales dijo que había notificado a la ONU que no renovaría el mandato
Valladares —who was a regional commander of the special criminal investigations unit (Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal – DNIC) in San Pedro Sula— committed murder for the once powerful Cachiros drug trafficking organization
Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gould, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, was arrested after Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 40 kilograms of cocaine in two backpacks on a military airplane in Colombia
En una decisión sin precedentes, Fernando Carrillo decidió abrir procesos contra tres altos oficiales, en medio del escándalo de desvío de fondos reservados y el presunto espionaje ilegal al interior del Comando de las Fuerzas Militares
The circle is nearly closed. Jimmy Morales, who won power precisely because of his predecessor’s corruption, is now facing down accusations that he committed some of the same transgressions. It was a biblical lesson he apparently missed
The Pérez Molina and Baldetti government clearly understood that in order to be in politics and make money in Guatemala, corrupt politicians and businessmen use what they call “quotas of power,” or favors, which open doors to contracts and government benefits
Powerful Guatemalan politicians and businessmen accused in the investigations have been repeatedly trying to undermine the CICIG and stop the investigations against them and their allies, including through recent overtures to Washington
In his latest column, the security analyst goes over some of the historical ties between opposition leader and former president Álvaro Uribe’s supporters and organized crime, and notes that even today Uribe’s party has introduced legislation that would help criminals keep land that they have massively stolen.
Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, an extradited leader of Honduras’s Cachiros drug-trafficking organization, has been implicating many Honduran politicians while testifying to a New York court. These include the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández and the son of the previous president, Porfirio Lobo.
U.S. agents acting on a federal indictment arrested Edgar Veytia, alias “Diablo,” the chief prosecutor of Nayarit state and member of the governing PRI party, for trafficking heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Nayarit is featured as the home state of the “Xalisco boys” heroin-trafficking ring in Sam Quiñones’s excellent 2015 book Dreamland.
Officials from the recently elected government of the U.S. border state of Chihuahua recognized that, during the previous governor’s term, many municipalities’ police forces and local officials passed into the complete control of organized crime and narcotrafficking. This is especially so in the state’s northeast (a dangerous zone near the Texas border east of Ciudad Juárez) and in the Sierra Tarahumara mountains. The ex-governor, Javier Corral, fled to Texas last week in a questionable attempt to evade corruption allegations.
This investigation looks at collusion between government officials and organized crime in the state of Puebla, east of Mexico City, where the practice of stealing gasoline from the national oil company’s pipelines is widespread.
A series of monographs detailing links between the state and organized crime in Venezuela. Found via a March 22 English overview by InsightCrime, which summarizes a January monograph by Mildred Camero, a former Venezuelan judge and “drug czar.” Camero argues that 2005 and 2010 reforms giving the armed forces a greater role in investigating and combating drug trafficking ended up corrupting them to the extent that they now control most large-scale smuggling.