Paramilitary leader Hernán Giraldo

Paramilitary leader and serial rapist Hernán Giraldo, sentenced March 10 to 16 years in U.S. prison for drug trafficking, at the height of his power in the mid-2000s. Photo from Verdad Abierta.

  • William Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (and one of the only assistant secretaries to survive the Trump transition) was in Colombia March 7 to discuss the bad news about coca cultivation. Interviewed by Colombian media outlets, Brownfield assured them that a resumption of the U.S.-backed aerial herbicide fumigation program, which Colombia suspended in 2015 citing health concerns, “isn’t even an element of a bilateral dialogue between the United States and Colombia.” (I have heard secondhand—from a source who spoke recently with Colombian officials—that Brownfield did raise the fumigation issue in private.)

  • Brownfield also tried to assure Colombia that “a direct request” from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the White House, and action in the U.S. Congress, might help soften the blow to U.S. aid to Colombia resulting from President Trump’s proposed 37 percent worldwide foreign aid cut. We’ll see more about that tomorrow, when the administration releases its initial 2018 budget proposal documents. (Probably at this link.) At this early phase, these documents probably won’t include much detail, like country amounts.

  • Of the 13 Colombian paramilitary leaders summarily extradited to the United States in May 2008, one of the last to be sentenced for drug-trafficking crimes was Hernán Giraldo, whose Tayrona Resistance Bloc once dominated the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region. A federal court in Washington gave the 69-year-old Giraldo 16 years in prison on March 10. For the first time in one of these U.S. trials, some of Giraldo’s victims were given an opportunity to face him and speak at the sentencing. Giraldo’s defense lawyer called the paramilitary leader, who stands accused of raping dozens of underage girls, “a patriot.”

  • An extradited Honduran narcotrafficker, Devis Rivera of the “Cachiros” drug-trafficking organization, implicated many Honduran politicians in his testimony before a New York federal court. Rivera says that the politicians, including Fabio Lobo, son of Honduras’s last president Porfirio Lobo, were on the Cachiros’ bribery payroll.

  • The current frontrunner for Mexico’s 2018 elections, leftist former Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, paid a visit to the United States this week. In a Bloomberg interview in New York, the politician known as AMLO “blasted Trump’s ‘campaign of hatred’ against Mexican immigrants, accused him of violating human rights laws, called his border wall plan a ‘propaganda’ tool and said he couldn’t wait to handle the renegotiation of Nafta himself.”

  • “You have stood with us during the darkest hours of press freedom in Mexico and, although we never could believe this day would come, we now stand with you,” reads a March 6 letter to U.S. journalists from dozens of Mexican journalists, organized by PEN International.

  • U.S. airlines are already cutting back on regularly scheduled flights to Cuba, which began six months ago. It appears they either overestimated capacity, or didn’t realize so many competitors would be rushing in to Havana at the same time.

  • After Edward Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency leaks revealed a surprising amount of electronic U.S. espionage aimed at the government of Brazil, then-President Dilma Rousseff moved to build its own broadband telecommunications capacity. Its first “Geostationary Satellite Defense and Strategic Communications Satellite” is scheduled for launch next week.

  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has generally avoided strong criticism of Donald Trump, said to “expect surprises” in the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship. According to Fox News, “‘Comrade Trump is offering me [basic food products] at a good price,’ Maduro said Sunday on his weekly TV show.”