Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Dec. 12 a federal judge in Mexico City acquitted Raúl Salinas de Gortari, brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), of corruption charges in a case that has been argued in the courts since 1996. The Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) charged Raúl Salinas with unlawful enrichment involving some 224 million pesos—about US$14.7 million at the time—that had gone missing from a secret presidential discretionary fund between 1990 and 1994. Salinas was cleared by a federal court on July 31, 2013, but the PGR appealed that decision. The Dec. 12 ruling, which is final, concludes that the PGR failed to prove the charges, bringing the high-profile case to a conclusion after nearly 19 years. Once he had delivered his verdict, the judge left for a vacation.
Police agents in San Fernando in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas aided Los Zetas drug gang in carrying out massacres of hundreds of Central American migrants and others in 2010 and 2011, according to a partially redacted document declassified by Mexico's Attorney General's Office (PGR). Although collusion between local Tamaulipas police and criminal gangs was already well known—US diplomatic cables released by the US government in 2013 discussed it, and locals refer to the police as "polizetas"—this is first time that the PGR has been required to release a document from an ongoing criminal investigation. Previously federal prosecutors had insisted that Mexican freedom of information laws didn't apply to open investigations. The document is now available on the website of the Washington DC-based National Security Archive, along with other relevant documents, including reports from US government agencies and US diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks group.
According to a secret study released by the WikiLeaks group on Dec. 18, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) considers the killing of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) second-in-command Raúl Reyes by Colombian forces in Ecuadorian territory on Mar. 1, 2008 an example of ways that assassinations of rebel leaders "can play a useful role." In addition to the Reyes case, the paper reviews the use of "high-value targeting (HVT)"—the killing or capture of top leaders—in fighting rebels in Afghanistan, Algeria, Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Peru, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka. HTV can have "negative effects," the study concludes, but the practice can "contribute to successful counterinsurgency outcomes" if used strategically. The July 9, 2009 study, marked "secret" and "NOFORN" ("no foreign nationals"), is entitled "Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool"; it apparently forms part of a "Best Practices in Counterinsurgency" series.
Victims and survivors of the 1989 invasion of Panama by the US held a public ceremony on Dec. 20 to mark the 25th anniversary of the start of the military action. As they have for 25 years, the ceremony's participants called for the US government to acknowledge the damage from the invasion, indemnify the victims and their survivors, and reveal the location of mass graves where some of the dead were buried. "There were bodies that were thrown in the sea, and there are bodies scattered in different places, so we can never finally offer them a tribute," Trinidad Ayola, whose husband died defending an airport, told AFP. "Without justice there can't be peace or reconciliation, and we can't turn the page." President Juan Carlos Varela attended the ceremony, announcing that the government would form a commission to consider the families' demands, including the declaration of Dec. 20 as a national day of mourning. He is the first Panamanian president to attend the annual commemoration.
In a surprise move, Cuban president Raúl Castro and US president Barack Obama announced in separate television appearances on Dec. 17 that their two countries were now working to renew diplomatic relations, which the US broke off nearly 54 years earlier, in January 1961, under former president Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961). The two countries were releasing a total of 58 prisoners in the agreement, officials said, and the US will loosen some restrictions on contacts with Cuba by US residents; however, the US government's 52-year-old embargo against trade with Cuba will remain in effect.
US president Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement that the US would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba was "an historic triumph for the society and the government of the island," the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada asserted in an editorial the next day. "[T]he hostility converted into Washington's government policy has arrived at its end—although the repeal of the blockade laws is still pending—and this occurred without Havana's having made any concession in its political and economic model." The paper added that the policy change demonstrated "the correctness of the position of the Latin American governments, which advocated for decades for an end to the official US hostility to Cuba." (LJ, Dec. 18)
On Dec. 17, less than a week after the Associated Press reported on a failed effort by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to co-opt Cuban hip-hop artists, agency administrator Rajiv Shah announced that he was leaving his post in February. Shah's announcement came the same day as news that the US was moving towards normalizing relations with Cuba and that the Cuban government had released imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross. Shah didn't give a reason for his resignation but said he had "mixed emotions." In a statement released that day US president Barack Obama said Shah, who has headed the USAID since December 2009, "has been at the center of my administration's efforts to advance our global development agenda." (AP, Dec. 17)
On Dec. 18 President Barack Obama signed a bill into law to impose sanctions on Venezuela officials that the US government decides were involved in repressing demonstrators during right-wing protests last spring. The measure, which Congress passed the week before, would deny visas to the officials and freeze any assets they hold in the US. Diplomats in Venezuela said dozens of officials could be affected, although the US is not expected to publish their names. A total of 43 people were reportedly killed in the three months of demonstrations, including government supporters, government opponents and security agents.