This Week in Conflict in the Americas… January 23rd- February 2nd, 2012.

  • The Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council adopted proposals to strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday. Included in the non-binding proposals were three recommendations that threaten the reach and independence of the Special Rapporteurship.
  • Last Monday, security forces in Mexico reportedly arrested 11 alleged members of the most powerful drug gang, the Sinaloa cartel, during a helicopter raid of a ranch in the north-west. On Tuesday, six people, five of them policemen, were killed in a failed attempt to free two detainees in the central region.  A new study released this week suggests that the Zetas cartel has become the biggest drug gang in the country, overtaking the Sinaloa cartel. This Monday, police in the northern region captured an alleged member of the Zetas drug gang who had confessed to killing at least 75 people.
  • The Mexican ambassador to Venezuela was briefly kidnapped on Sunday night after being seized from his car with his wife in Caracas. Kidnapping is reported soared in recent years.
  • Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary for Republican Presidential candidates in the United States on Sunday, overthrowing favorite Mitt Romney; while the Occupy Oakland protests were halted, resulting in nearly 400 arrests. On Monday, the UN human rights chief said the US government must close Guantanamo Bay prison as President Obama promised over a year ago. On Wednesday, the director of the documentary Gasland was arrested and escorted out of a Republican-dominated Congressional hearing for refusing to stop filming the hearing; the only US marine to face sentencing for the murder of 24 unarmed Iraqis was acquitted of all charges; while President Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech to launch his 2012 re-election campaign. On Thursday, prosecutors subpoenaed the Twitter records of an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested in October. On Friday, Pentagon leaders outlined a plan for absorbing $487 billion in defence cuts over the coming decade by shrinking US ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter jet and retiring older planes and ships; while Republican candidate Newt Gingrich promised to build a colony on the moon should he become President. On Saturday, Occupy Oakland protesters clashed with police as they tried to take over downtown buildings, including city hall, resulting in more than 300 arrests; while the Pentagon announced that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s heavily fortified underground facilities and that they are stepping up efforts to make them more powerful.  On Monday, Occupy protesters in Washington vowed to remain peacefully entrenched in two parks near the White House after a police order demanded they stop camping on federal land, defying the noon deadline to remove their camps. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican presidential primary, improving his chances of receiving his party’s nomination. An interesting report on a controversial project treating alcoholic homeless persons in Seattle caught my eye. Several discussions about drone strikes made the news this week, after many called Obama’s comments on them misleading.
  • President Rual Castro defended the one-party system in a speech this week at a conference of the ruling Communist Party, saying that allowing other political parties would threaten the independence of Cuba and the socialist system. He also reaffirmed plans to limit political terms to 10 years. Fidel Castro called the American Republican presidential race the greatest competition of “idiocy and ignorance” the world has ever seen and also criticised the news media.
  • On Wednesday, Argentina accused Britain of militarizing a sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands, after they sent a warship and the country’s future king to the islands. British diplomats accused Argentina of plotting an economic blockade on the Falklands amid fears that Buenos Aires is attempting to stop all flights from Chile from reaching the islands.
  • Authorities in Peru said they are struggling to keep outsiders away from a previously “isolated” Amazon people, as the river has become more popular with environmental tourists, loggers and mining companies who are encroaching on their land.
  • A new study was released analyzing how Brazil has assumed the visible leadership of peacekeeping operations in Haiti and Timor in order to increase its international status in a bid to gain a permanent seat at the UNSC. Last Sunday, riot police in the country stormed an illegal settlement of landless workers in Sao Paulo state to reclaim the land for its private owners, evicting some 6,000 residents who had recently lost a legal battle and resulting in intense criticism.
  • Transgendered persons and supporters in Canada were outraged this week as new screening regulations for airlines went viral. The new regulations stipulate that an “air carrier shall not transport a passenger if… the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents”, effectively banning transgendered persons from boarding.
  • The Clingendael Institute and Impunity Watch released a new report entitled “Breaking the wave: critical steps in the fight against crime in Guatemala.”  On Monday, at least 8 people were killed and at least 20 wounded in an attack at a nightclub in Villa Nueva. On Friday, former military leader Efrain Rios Montt appeared in court to face accusations of genocide and other human rights crimes allegedly committed during his 17 month long rule in the early 1980s.
  • Last Monday anti-government fighters in Colombia attacked a radar installation in Cauca province, killing a guard and delaying several flights. On Wednesday, the FARC rebels agreed to exchange 6 hostages for jailed guerrillas. On Friday, the UN warned that the country needs to do more to prosecute against forced displacement, after hundreds of thousands of people continue to be pushed from their homes each year by armed groups. On Wednesday, the FARC rebel group announced they would delay the release of six hostages due to military activity in the area. On Thursday, seven people were killed and more than 70 injured when a motorcycle packed with explosives was driven into a police station in the city of Tumaco.
  • Nine gold diggers were killed in a gunfight between rival gangs in French Guiana on Saturday. The two groups were allegedly fighting for control of the area.
  • A court in Ecuador suspended the appeal hearing lodged by newspaper editors facing charges for allegedly libelling President Correa. The suspension was reportedly the result of an ill judge.
  • The UN announced that it is investigating two alleged cases of sexual exploitation of children by UN staff in Haiti. The allegations come just four months after Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of rape. On Monday, a judge in the country announced that he is recommending that “Baby Doc” Duvalier face trial on corruption charges but not the more serious human rights violations during his brutal 15-year rule.
  • A wave of protests in Santiago, Chile forced the government to abandon its plans to force journalists to hand over images to police under a controversial new legislation. The bill would have granted new power for the law enforcement and security forces and criminalized expressions of opinion.
  • The President of El Salvador is being heavily criticized for naming an army general as the new head of police, with many calling the move “unconstitutional” and in violation of the 1992 peace accord.

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