Recently, in New York City, a group of public health professionals and crime experts came together at a conference to discuss how to apply public health concepts to the “epidemic” of mass incarceration in the United States. “Public health, incarceration and justice issues are inextricably linked, in both the causes of the incarceration rate, and in the solutions we need to put together,” Linda Fried, Dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told the group.
It was another example of the profound change in attitudes towards crime and punishment now underway in the U.S. With the world’s largest prison population—some 2.2 million adults—increasing numbers of people from all political ideologies have begun to realize that the “tough on crime” policies of previous decades have been counter-productive. They’ve destroyed families, sent some of America’s poorest communities into a cycle of decay and neglect, and have had a disproportionate impact on African Americans and Latinos.
There were almost no journalists at the Columbia University conference. And that’s a problem.
While a number of U.S. reporters have begun to deepen their coverage of these issues, too many news outlets still feed the public a daily sensational diet of murder and scandal.
I suspect that the situation is much the same in Latin America. Pablo Bachelet, in his recent Sin Miedos blog, set out the problem very well: journalists have a hard time convincing their editors (and sometimes themselves) that it is worth the extra effort and expense to go beyond the headlines to uncover the deeper stories of violence prevention.
El Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal, organización civil radicada en México, dio a conocer recientemente los resultados de su investigación “Las 50 Ciudades más Peligrosas del Mundo." El estudio calcula el promedio de homicidios entre la población total de cada ciudad, y persigue un fin mucho más que académico. De acuerdo con el Consejo Ciudadano, “lo que perseguimos es contribuir al reclamo que los diferentes pueblos del mundo hacen a sus gobernantes para que cumplan con su obligación de proteger los derechos de los individuos a la vida, la propiedad y la libertad.” Los resultados del estudio no deberían sorprendernos. Sin embargo, arrojan indicios de variables que hasta el momento, al menos en Centroamérica, no se daban a conocer.
Dentro de las 50 ciudades más violentas del mundo figuran 39 ciudades latinoamericanas—sin contar el Caribe. El resto se encuentra en Sudáfrica o Estados Unidos. San Pedro Sula, Honduras ocupa el primer lugar, llevándose el indecoroso reconocimiento como la ciudad más peligrosa del mundo. En cuarto lugar figura Tegucigalpa, Honduras, seguida de Ciudad de Guatemala, en doceavo lugar, y San Salvador en el puesto 44 detrás de ciudades como Baltimore, Nueva Orleans, Oakland y Detroit en los Estados Unidos.
Pero, ¿de qué sirven los rankings de este tipo? Los centroamericanos conocen de primera mano los retos a la seguridad ciudadana que afrontamos, pero información como ésta aporta lecciones valiosas que no podemos ignorar.
On November 5, if the threats posted are real, Mexico could be witness to a new kind of civil resistance to the status quo and political system. Mexican and international members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, have published through different media (interviews to news papers, YouTube videos and twitter accounts) that although #OpCartel has been cancelled, a former member of the network and independent journalist will divulge information of ties between specific high-level government officials and the criminal organization Los Zetas, initially in the state of Veracruz but potentially in all of the country.
Anonymous officially backed down from unleashing #OpCartel allegedly due to the fact that their kidnapped member was released by the Zetas, but also due to threats from this group of a tenfold retaliation against the families of members in the hacker organization. Barrett Brown’s (@BarrettBrownLOL) decision to reveal information on the drug cartel on his own volition might just be a way to protect the Mexican Anonymous members while continuing to carry out the hackers' intended agenda. If the campaign is successful, the actions initiated by Anonymous and supposedly continued solely by Brown, could lead to a nationwide political scandal at incisively interesting pre-election times for the country.
In recent articles published here, I’ve posited that regardless of the people in power, Mexico’s core problems are systemic. The political structure in place not only allows, but even invites corrupt practices to take place. Collusion between politicians and criminals is widely suspected. Mexicans know the story all too well and the constant element present in each of the challenges we face as a country is lack of accountability and immense impunity, which is now being challenged by the actions of a rogue hacker group who could open up Pandora’s box and shed some light on the subject.
Peter Smith’s classic text on U.S.-Latin American relations, Talons of the Eagle, posits a basic rule: the greater the perception of extra-hemispheric threat, the greater the attention to Latin America. This is particularly true in the U.S. Congress, where the region’s diversification of relations beyond the Western Hemisphere tends to arouse suspicion and competitive pressure.
China is the most obvious target, oft-mentioned in the debate over the free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. India has also become more active in the region, and even Russia is touting its renewed interest in Latin America. It is Iran, however, that is doing the most to raise congressional hackles—vividly so in a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Emerging Threats and Security in the Western Hemisphere.”
As Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recognized in her opening statement, the hearing could not have been more timely, coming two days after U.S. officials announced an alleged attempt by the Iranian Quds Force to hire the Zetas, a Mexican criminal organization, to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington.
No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.
The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.
Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.
Meeting Monday in Mexico City, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico promised to work closely to protect the human rights of migrants and combat organized crime in their countries.
In a joint press statement with President Funes after a private meeting at the presidential residence of Los Pinos, President Calderón said that Mexican and Salvadoran citizens travel north to the U.S. in conditions of secrecy that make them vulnerable to situations of violence and abuse “that worry and anger all of us, and that must be eliminated.” Both presidents also recalled that the last time Funes traveled to Mexico was in September 2010, following the killing of 72 migrants—among them 13 Salvadorans–in San Fernando in Mexico’s northeastern Tamaulipas state.
President Calderón said that, since that August massacre, Mexico had stepped up its efforts to protect the security and rights of migrants, including the recently approved Ley de Migración, which seeks to punish those who violate migrants’ rights, root out corruption among public authorities and decriminalize migrants’ status, granting them the possibility of a temporarily legal stay in Mexico.
Presidents Funes and Calderón also announced they will both attend this Wednesday’s meeting in Guatemala of the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA), a regional body. At the meeting, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also attend, they will put forth their plan for regional security—the first time in history that Central American states are proposing a common plan of action against security challenges. Funes emphasized that the battle to combat organized crime cannot be won by any single country, but rather, demands solidarity and coordination among multiple states.
El Salvador was the last stop in what probably seemed an eternal five days to President Obama. Amid increasing domestic pressure regarding the intervention in Libya, Obama had to reduce an already short stay (although just by a few hours) in San Salvador.
President Funes, hoping the U.S. President would stay longer, jokingly said: “It is a pity because if you had stayed a little bit longer we could have invited you to get to see the beaches of our country that are one of the best in the region.”
The coincidence of Obama’s trip and the Libyan intervention unfortunately downplayed the importance of what could have been an even more historic visit. Before the trip, analysts, scholars and civil society engaged in Latin American issues speculated as to whether Obama’s trip represented a new realignment of U.S.-Latin American relations. The accuracy of that hypothesis is yet to be tested.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Francisco Dall'Anese Ruiz the new head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its initials in Spanish as CICIG. Ruiz is a well-known advocate against corruption and, since 2003, he has served as attorney general in Costa Rica, where he has led major anti-corruption investigations against two former presidents and organized the passage of a milestone organized crime law.
For the first two and a half years of CICIG’s mandate, the commission was led by Carlos Castresana, but Castresana submitted his resignation in early June, citing frustration with the Colom administration and the appointment of an attorney general, Conrado Reyes, with alleged ties to organized crime.
The choice of a Central American for the post is significant, and reflects a growing sentiment—expressed most strongly by Costa Rica’s new president, Laura Chinchilla—that regional cooperation is needed in the fight against organized crime. While Reyes has already been removed from his post due to public outcry, Ruiz will face the repercussions of Castresana's allegations of a government plot to discredit CICIG and the appointment of a new attorney general in Guatemala.
Impunity remains rampant. In 2009, according to Castresana, there were 6,451 killings in the country, of which only 230 cases were solved.
El Salvador is a nation with more cell phones than inhabitants. In fact, according to the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones, there are 7,445,736 mobile telephone lines for a country of 5.74 million people. Of these mobile connections, 6,286,967 are pay-as-you-go and only 663,736 are based on a fixed payment contract.
These numbers speak for themselves. As can be reported from almost any other developing nation it’s difficult not to encounter someone with a cell phone even in the most remote regions of the country. The penetration of mobile telecommunications has brought incalculable benefits to the economy. This is especially for small and micro enterprises that can monitor prices and sell their goods by contacting suppliers and wholesalers. A cell phone, could be argued, has given them a sense of formality since now they can be contacted more easily.
However, there´s been an unforeseen consequence of cell phone penetration in
In advance of world leaders coming to Toronto and Huntsville, Ontario, on June 25, Canadian police have displayed the security measures that will be used to deter protesters, which will include thousands of federal, provincial and municipal police officers on horseback and motorcycles as well as officers in riot gear with SWAT and police snipers on high alert.
Police also have purchased Long Range Acoustic Devices, also known as sound cannons, to control the anticipated crowds. These are similar to those used at the last G20 summit held in Pittsburgh last year. Preparations in Toronto—the site of this month’s G20 summit—have included adding 77 closed circuit security cameras in downtown Toronto as an additional safety measure.
Some members of the Liberal party as well as of the New Democratic Party have called for an investigation into thee cost of security for the G20 summit. Slated to be the most expensive security operation in Canadian history, Auditor General Sheila Fraser will investigate the $800 million and rising price tag for the summit. Costs are estimated to reach nearly $1 billion at the summit’s conclusion.
Previous G20 meetings have each been expensive but have varied widely in cost depending on location. Security for last year’s summit held in London cost $30 million while the summit held in Japan two years ago cost closer to $300 million. Security expenses for this year’s summit increased when Canada agreed to host both the G20 and the G8 summit (in Huntsville).
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.