On Jan. 29 the administration of US president Barack Obama announced that its budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2016 (October 2015-September 2016) would include $1 billion in aid to Central America, with an emphasis on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The goal is to help "implement systemic reforms that address the lack of economic opportunity, the absence of strong institutions and the extreme levels of violence that have held the region back at a time of prosperity for the rest of the Western Hemisphere," according to a White House fact sheet. The New York Times published an op-ed the same day by Vice President Joseph Biden explaining the request as a way "to stem the dangerous surge in migration" last summer—a reference to an uptick in border crossings by unaccompanied Central American minors that peaked last June and quickly diminished in subsequent months.
US president Barack Obama hosted a meeting in Washington DC on July 25 with three Central American presidents—Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras—to discuss the recent increase in unauthorized immigration to the US by unaccompanied minors. About 57,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from those three Central American countries, were detained at the Mexico-US border from October 2013 through June 2014. President Obama called for joint work to discourage further child migration; the US would do its part by making it clear that the minors would be repatriated unless they could convince US officials they were in danger if they returned, Obama said. The left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada headlined its coverage with the sentence: "The US has great compassion for child migrants; they'll be deported: Obama."
US vice president Joe Biden made a one-day visit to Guatemala on June 20 for a meeting with regional authorities on the recent increase in Central Americans, especially underage minors, apprehended while attempting to enter the US without authorization at the Mexican border. Calling the influx of children "an enormous danger for security" as well as a "humanitarian issue," Biden said the US planned to continue repatriating the young immigrants but would provide Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras with $9.6 million to reintegrate the deportees into society. The US is also offering financial aid that officials say will help stop the flow of immigrants: $40 million to Guatemala to launch a five-year program to reduce youth recruitment into gangs; $25 million for a five-year program to add 77 youth centers to the 30 now operating in El Salvador; $18.5 million through the six-year-old US-sponsored Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) to support Honduran institutions in the fight against crime; and $161.5 million for CARSI throughout the region.
News accounts revealed in December that the US-funded glyphosate spraying in Colombia has been indefinitely suspended after presumed FARC guerillas shot down two fumigation planes—killing one US pilot. One plane came down Sept. 27, killing the pilot, whose name was not revealed. Reports were unclear where this incident took place. The Los Angeles Times on Dec. 17 named the village of Tarra, which is in Norte de Santander, along the Venezuelan border; Bogotá's El Tiempo implied it was in the southern jungle department of Putumayo. A second crop-duster was brought down Oct. 5, apparently at a location in Caquetá—also in the southern jungle. This prompted the US embassy to halt the spraying, according to anonymous sources. Neither the embassy nor the State Department would confirm the report.
The Washington Post on Dec. 21 ran an in-depth report exposing CIA oversight of the Colombian government's campaign of targeted assassinations of guerilla leaders. Forces from the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have also provided assistance to the program. The US assistance has transformed the Colombian military's "less-than-accurate" 500-pound gravity bombs into precision-guided munitions (PGMs) or "smart bombs" by attaching a "$30,000 GPS guidance kit" to the gravity devices. The bombs have been used to kill around "two dozen rebel leaders," including Luis Edgar Devia Silva AKA Raúl Reyes. He was "considered to be the No. 2 in the seven-member FARC secretariat" and was killed in Ecuador—an operation that Ecuador's government strongly condemned as a violation of its sovereignty. The White House viewed it as an act of "self-defense" because Ecuador would not attack the FARC within its territory.
Colombia's largest rebel group FARC on July 19 announced that their fighters have captured a supposedly retired US Navy seaman in the south of the country. According to a statement on the rebels' website, they are holding New York native Kevin Scott Sutay prisoner after capturing the retired US official in the southern department of Guaviare. The FARC offered to release the hostage in the same statement. According to the rebels, the American hostage told them he served in the US Navy between November 2009 until March this year and is an Afghanistan war veteran. According to the rebel statement, the captive said he served as an anti-explosives expert in a naval engineer battalion.
More than 160 civil society organizations—claiming representation of hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Central America and the United States—sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly meeting in the Guatemalan city of Antigua this week, calling for alternatives to the so-called "war on drugs" that guarantee respect for human rights. "Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations," the letter states. "While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region."
As the Organization of American States (OAS) summit opens under tight security in the historic Guatemalan city of Antigua—some 2,000 army and National Police troops deployed—fighting narco-trafficking is certain to top the agenda. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in attendance, with US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske—prepared to oppose initiatives to reconsider the "war on drugs," including from Guatemala's otherwise arch-conservative President Otto Pérez Molina. But it remains to be seen if the summit will take up the iconoclastic recommendations of a draft report on drug policy released by the OAS last month. When the ground-breaking report was issued, OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza asserted, "this is not a conclusion but only the beginning of a long-awaited discussion." As the Guatemala summit opened June 3, he reiterated that the report will not be officially adopted by the international body, but that "it will be only a platform for discussion." This equivocation will doubtless be welcome in Washington, given the report's open dissidence from generations of "drug war" dogma.