Haitian national police confirmed on Monday that nearly three dozen detainees escaped from a prison in the provincial city of Saint-Marc, 100 km (60 miles) north of Port-au-Prince. According to reports, the detainees sawed through a cell window and jumped out. The five guards on duty at the time have been detained on suspicion of aiding the escape, and one guard has been arrested.
Police Commissioner Berson Soljour said four of the escapees had been recaptured and security measures around the city have been put in place in efforts to find the others. Authorities in the Dominican Republic have been working with Haitian police to prevent the fugitives from crossing the border.
Similar prison breaks have occurred across Haiti in recent years. In August, 329 inmates escaped from a prison in Croix-des-Bouquets using weapons allegedly smuggled in by guards. Following the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, nearly all 4,000 inmates held in the National Penitentiary escaped. Many remain on the run.
Prisons in Haiti, like most in Latin America and the Caribbean, are notoriously overcrowded. The Saint-Marc prison held nearly 500 prisoners, with 36 prisoners occupying a cell designed to hold eight. Many inmates, including those that escaped, spend years in jail awaiting trial. In Haiti, 67.7 percent of the total prison population is pre-trial detainees, one of the highest percentages in the Americas.
Demonstrations in Mexico intensified on Tuesday as protesters in Guerrero state took a police chief prisoner and set fire to the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) state headquarters in two separate protests related to the disappearance of 43 students missing since September.
Protests have escalated after last week’s announcement that Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug cartel members had confessed to killing the students after they were handed over to the cartel by municipal police in the southern city of Iguala. On Monday, thousands of protestors clashed with police and blocked access to Acapulco’s airport.
Yesterday, the families of the missing students met with Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong and Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam for two hours to discuss the latest developments in the investigation. The presumed remains of the students have been sent to a specialized lab in Austria for identification. However, because the remains were burned for 14 hours, Murillo says that the chances for positive identification are slim. The parents of the students have repeatedly stated that they will presume their children alive until conclusive tests prove otherwise.
The students’ disappearance has intensified the debate over the effectiveness of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security strategy in the country. Both the UN and international human rights organizations have expressed concern over the government’s response to the crisis.
In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian government enacted a policy to have special units of police occupy favelas in Rio de Janeiro. As of last week, one of Rio’s most dangerous shanty towns, Complexo da Maré, was taken over by close to 3,000 Brazilian troops. The shift—from using the elite Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (Police Pacifying Unit—UPP) forces to bringing in the military—marks a new stage of Brazil’s “pacification” policy. Up until now, the UPP had been responsible for sweeping and occupying the favelas.
Many of Rio’s 1,000 favelas are controlled by criminal groups like the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and the Terceiro Comando Puro (Third Command), which are embroiled in a battle to control more of the city. Turf wars between rival gangs have consistently led to high levels of violence and crime. Brazil is fraught with crack cocaine use, and ranks second in consumer use of the drug and its derivatives. The country also has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
To add to this, criminal gangs in Brazilian cities do not have a problem attacking law enforcement. For example, in 2009, a police helicopter was riddled with bullets by gangs from the Morro de Macaco favela. In order to control such aggressions, the government has increased the firepower of armed forces.
Before, when police were attacked, the UPP would be sent in. Now, when the UPP is attacked, the military is sent in. Consequently, Brazil’s policy toward its favelas has become increasingly militarized.
A debate dominates the end of my dinners at my parents’ house: how to get home? I live a mere seven blocks away, a brief walk across a park. Though I’m an independent urban type, in the labyrinth of subjective insecurity that is Buenos Aires these days, the answer is not as obvious as it seems.
When I walk to my bus stop in Buenos Aires, I zip my purse shut and clutch it tight to my body, like a football player running toward the end zone. When I play Candy Crush on the subway, I hold my phone in a two-handed death grip, lest it be snatched away. After a girls’ night out, I ask my friend to text me when she’s safely home. On warm spring days, my car windows remain shut because robberies have been known to happen at red lights.
And those deeper down the rabbit hole consider me foolhardily naïve in my lack of precaution. I know people who drive from their guarded apartment building garage to their office parking lot, and who avoid setting foot on the street even in broad daylight. Iron bars cover many ground floor windows on Buenos Aires streets, and increasingly the next floor up, too. Barbed wire wraps around some houses’ entrances like ivy. And then there are those who move to gated communities, where they can finally leave these quotidian safety measures behind—but instead end up living in a sort of custom-designed Truman Show of safety from “others.”
But the higher the walls, the more upper-middle-class porteños seem to be afraid. How necessary are these measures, and the correlated paranoia that seems to seep into every step we take?
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with regional leaders on Wednesday, including one of his staunchest opponents, Henrique Capriles, following the assassination of former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear and her ex-husband, and the shooting of their five-year-old daughter. The meeting, originally scheduled for late January, convened governors and mayors from the 79 municipalities with the highest crime rates in the country to discuss how to stem the tide of violence sweeping Venezuela.
While acknowledging the rise in crime, during the meeting Maduro said it wasn’t the time to politicize violence, but rather work together. Capriles, who ran against Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections and has publically denounced the election outcomes as well as the integrity of his opponent, also supported collaboration, stating that he was willing to put their political differences aside to "fight the lack of security” in Venezuela.
However, not all oppositional leaders are so willing to work with the administration. The former mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas, Leopoldo López, is blaming the government for Spear’s death, tweeting that “(t)his government is an accomplice of armed groups, judicial corruption, (and) arms trafficking.”
The death of 29 year-old Spear, who was shot and killed in an attempted robbery on Monday, caused a nationwide outcry in Venezuela. The South American nation claims the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations. Five individuals have since been arrested for their alleged participation in the slaying.
Mexicans are used to hearing this: “in spite of the violence and insecurity, the Mexican economy is booming and attracting foreign direct investment.” After a recent visit to Monterrey, even Thomas L. Friedman wrote for The New York Times about this in “How Mexico Got Back in the Game,” providing a positive outlook on Mexico’s ability to compete in the global market. Then again, macroeconomics is just part of the story.
Yes, Mexico is becoming an attractive place for U.S. and Europe to invest. The commercial and technical factors to take advantage of are there. However, our current competitive position vs. China and other manufacturing countries should not downplay the fact that drug-related violence is directly affecting certain hotspots in the country. While the flow of foreign direct investment may continue and even flourish, both the reality and perceptions of violence in Mexico are damaging tourism. Brand Mexico is tail-spinning and losing value when it comes to vacation destinations. This should matter to a country that the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) called the eighth most visited nation in the world in 2007.
Las cifras policiales oficiales indican que durante los últimos meses la cantidad de asesinatos registrados en El Salvador ha disminuido en aproximadamente 50 por ciento. Esto es especialmente significativo considerando que un informe elaborado por Naciones Unidas, publicado el año pasado, ubica a dicho país como el segundo más violento del mundo. No obstante, atrás del aparente logro se identifican elementos que pronostican una crisis en el aparato de seguridad gubernamental del país centroamericano.
La reducción en homicidios antes mencionada se deriva de una brumosa iniciativa que implicó negociar el cese de hostilidades entre las principales pandillas rivales que operan en El Salvador, pacto desarrollado bajo condiciones desconocidas y mantenidas en total secreto por el Estado. El decremento, por lo tanto, no es el resultado del fortalecimiento del sistema de justicia penal o de la ejecución de una estrategia integral implementada para controlar la criminalidad, sino que está en función de la buena voluntad de las estructuras delictuales por mantener un acuerdo ajeno a la institucionalidad estatal.
Contrario a la interpretación ordinaria que provocaría una reducción tan acentuada en la incidencia de homicidios, la fuerza policial salvadoreña está en su peor momento. El Gobierno, en medio de una crisis fiscal, mantiene al personal policial trabajando en condiciones precarias, según consta en diferentes reportajes periodísticos publicados el año pasado, con equipo e instalaciones deterioradas. La falta de liquidez del Ejecutivo también lo ha llevado a retrasar varios meses el pago de los salarios complementarios devengados por policías, quienes denunciaron públicamente la situación a finales del 2012.
Honduras’ Congress has approved a law that prohibits the public possession and transportation of guns in the province of Colón, located on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Colón has been one of the most affected departments in a country with the world’s highest murder rate—86 homicides per 100,000 residents.
The region of Colón has seen dramatic levels of violence due to heightened narcotrafficking activity as well as a simmering agrarian conflict, which pits poor farm workers against agricultural businesses and the private guards they employ. The land conflict alone has led to 78 murders in the last three years in Colón.
This new law is seen as a victory for Honduran forces trying to crack down on organized crime. Honduran Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla was pleased with the measure, noting that “the bloodshed that continues taking place must stop and the disarmament of the local population is needed.” The gun law applies to public citizens only, and exempts police, soldiers and private guards.
José Mujica’s administration plans to send a bill to Uruguay’s Congress legalizing the sale of marijuana as a crime-fighting measure, unnamed lawmakers told local press yesterday. Latin American news agency Efe and Uruguayan newspaper El Pais were among the media outlets citing “official sources” detailing President Mujica’s upcoming announcement of the bill.
Under the proposed measure, lawmakers familiar with the draft bill said that only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana—in the form of cigarettes—and only to registered adult users. The government would take responsibility for the quality of the cigarettes and levy a sales tax, revenues from which would go toward financing rehabilitation programs. Purchase amounts would be regulated, and those who surpass those amounts would be mandated to enroll in a drug rehabilitation program. The government hopes that moving the sale of marijuana into the open will remove the profit incentive for drug dealers and divert users from harder drugs, including the highly addictive cocaine paste known as pasta base or paco.
President Mujica’s office did not immediately confirm the reports, although he told The Associated Press in an email that an upcoming announcement of a series of measures to combat public insecurity could include “the marijuana issue.” Other measures include a plan to combat the sale and use of pasta base, with severe fines and penalties and greater regulations on broadcasting images of violence on television.
There are no laws against marijuana use in Uruguay. Personal consumption has never been criminalized, and last year lawmakers from President Mujica’s Frente Amplia (Broad Front—FA) proposed a bill to decriminalize its cultivation. Uruguay is also considered one of the safest countries in Latin America, but rising violence has become a concern for President Mujica, who went on national radio and television on Tuesday to give a call to action. According to Uruguay’s Interior Ministry, the number of homicides during the period from January to May jumped to 133 this year, up from 76 during the same period in 2011.
En Bolivia, los policías destinados fuera de su lugar de origen pagan un “diezmo” (10 por ciento de su salario) a sus superiores. Llaman “saludar” cuando pagan por obtener determinado cargo; “aceitear” cuando exigen dinero para agilizar algún trámite; y “formar” cuando piden a un funcionario presentarse a su superior para ofrecerle dádivas. Hay otros también: “cupo” es el dinero que deben reunir para “comprar” el destino al que quieren ir; “sanción” es el monto que pagan para pasar por alto sus faltas; “toco, teque” dicen, cuando pagan por un cargo u otros beneficios; y “vía rápida” llaman al soborno necesario para agilizar los trámites de licencias de conducir o documentos de identidad. Al mismo tiempo es muy común otras formas de pagamiento: “tres días” es el nombre y apellido de un hecho delictivo cometido por ellos mismos; “rayar” es el verbo que divide el dinero recaudado en algún trabajillo; y “filo” es la ganancia que exige el superior por el botín obtenido entre policías y ladrones.
Lo cuenta el propio presidente Evo Morales que en los seis años de su gobierno ya ha cambiado a siete comandantes generales de la Policía, tres de ellos en menos de dos años. Todos juran al cargo prometiendo erradicar la corrupción y lavar la tan deteriorada imagen institucional. Y todos terminan embarrados. Atrapados en el lado de los bandidos.
Un caso memorable es el del coronel Blas Valencia, líder de una banda delincuencial que el año 2001 atracó a un automóvil blindado con varios millones. De película. De ahí para adelante, rutina. Por eso casi ya no sorprende que el ex jefe de la Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico, general de la Policía, René Sanabria Oropeza, quien hasta el año pasado dirigía el Centro de Inteligencia y Generación de Información antinarcóticos, sea más bien un gran narcotraficante, según acusación de la Oficina Antidrogas de los Estados Unidos donde fue extraditado luego de ser aprehendido infraganti en Panamá.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.