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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections


Julissa Gomez-Granger
Information Research Specialist

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs


This fact sheet tracks the current heads of government in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It provides the dates of the last and next elections for the head of government and the national independence date for each country.


Date of Report: September 2
1, 2011
Number of Pages:
6
Order Number:
98-684
Price: $19.95

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mexico’s Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Rising Violence

June S. Beittel
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

The violence generated by Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in recent years has been unprecedented. In 2006, Mexico’s newly elected President Felipe Calderón launched an aggressive campaign against the DTOs—an initiative that has defined his administration—that has been met with a violent response from the DTOs. Government enforcement efforts have successfully removed some of the key leaders in all of the seven major DTOs, either through arrests or deaths in operations to detain them. However, these efforts have led to succession struggles within the DTOs themselves that generated more violence. According to the Mexican government’s estimate, organized crime-related violence claimed more than 34,500 lives between January 2007 and December 2010. By conservative estimates, there have been an additional 8,000 homicides in 2011 increasing the number of deaths related to organized crime to over 40,000 since President Calderón came to office in late 2006.

Although violence has been an inherent feature of the trade in illicit drugs, the character of the drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico has been increasingly brutal. In 2010, several politicians were murdered, including a leading gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas and 14 mayors. At least 10 journalists were killed last year and five more were murdered through July 2011. Mass killings including widely reported massacres of young people and migrants, the use of torture, and the phenomena of car bombs have led some analysts to question whether the violence has been transformed into something new, requiring a different set of policy responses. The DTOs have also fragmented and increasingly diversified into other criminal activities, now posing a multi-faceted organized criminal challenge to governance in Mexico.

U.S. citizens have also been victims of the security crisis in Mexico. In March 2010, three individuals connected to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez, two of them U.S. citizens, were killed by a gang working for one of the major DTOs operating in that city. In February 2011, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were shot, one fatally, allegedly by Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most violent DTOs. In the U.S. Congress, these events have raised concerns about the stability of a strategic partner and neighbor. Congress is also concerned about the possibility of “spillover” violence along the U.S. border and further inland. The 112th Congress has held several hearings on DTO violence, the efforts by the Calderón government to address the situation, and implications of the violence for the United States. Members have maintained close oversight of U.S.-Mexico security cooperation and related bilateral issues.

This report provides background on drug trafficking in Mexico, identifies the major drug trafficking organizations, and analyzes the context, scope, and scale of the violence. It examines current trends of the violence, analyzes prospects for curbing violence in the future, and compares it with violence in Colombia. For background on U.S. policy responses to the violence in Mexico and information on bilateral cooperation between the United States and Mexico see CRS Report R41349, U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond . For a discussion of the problem of violence “spilling over” into the United States, see CRS Report R41075, Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence. For general background on Mexico, see CRS Report RL32724, Mexico: Issues for Congress.



Date of Report: September 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: R41576
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mexico: Issues for Congress


Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship. As neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States and Mexico have extensive economic linkages, with bilateral trade valued at almost $400 billion in 2010. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral relationship, and the United States is providing more than $1.6 billion worth of training and equipment to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative to support efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona became the first state to enact a strict law against illegal immigration in April 2010.

Now in the fifth year of his six-year term, President Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is focused on strengthening the Mexican economy, which grew by 5.5% in 2010 after contracting by 6.5% in 2009, and combating organized crime and drug trafficking. The Calderón Administration has arrested record numbers of drug kingpins, but the brazen violence committed by the warring criminal groups, partially in response to government efforts, has led to increasing criticism of Calderón’s strategy.

Security and the economy are the top two concerns among the Mexican public, and are likely to be major electoral issues in the July 2012 elections. Surveys show likely Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, governor of the state of Mexico, leading all other potential presidential candidates. The PRI’s prospects for winning back the presidency in 2012 have improved since its candidates won by wide margins in gubernatorial elections held on July 3, 2011 in the states of Mexico, Nayarit, and Coahuila.

In recent years, U.S.-Mexican relations have grown stronger as the two countries have worked together to combat drug trafficking and secure their shared border, but tensions have emerged in the bilateral relationship. After a March 3, 2011 meeting at the White House, President Obama and President Calderón vowed to bolster bilateral security cooperation and announced a proposal to resolve a longstanding trade dispute regarding NAFTA trucking provisions. Behind the scenes, however, relations have reportedly been strained by the February 2011 shooting of two U.S. law enforcement agents working in Mexico, one of whom was killed, and the March 2011 resignation of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual. Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat, has recently been confirmed as the new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border, and trade issues dominating the agenda. Congress has appropriated more than $1.6 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, including roughly $143 million provided in P.L. 112-10 for the remainder of FY2011, and expressed concern about the slow delivery of that assistance. The Obama Administration requested $334 million in assistance for Mexico for FY2012, including $282 million in Mérida assistance. The 112th Congress is likely to maintain a keen interest in how implementation of the Mérida Initiative and related border security initiatives are proceeding. Congress may consider proposals for comprehensive immigration reform or initiatives aimed at resolving discrete migration or border security issues. On the trade front, Congress is likely to maintain interest in how the Obama Administration implements a new pilot trucking program with Mexico and seeks to facilitate commerce along the U.S.-Mexico border.



Date of Report: September 2, 2011
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Trafficking in persons (TIP) for the purpose of exploitation is a lucrative criminal activity that is of major concern to the United States and the international community. According to the most recent U.S. State Department estimates, roughly 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year. If trafficking within countries is included in the total world figures, official U.S. estimates are that some 2 million to 4 million people are trafficked annually. While most trafficking victims still appear to originate from South and Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union, human trafficking is also a growing problem in Latin America.

Countries in Latin America serve as source, transit, and destination countries for trafficking victims. Latin America is a primary source region for people trafficked to the United States. As many as 17,500 are trafficked into the United States each year, according to State Department estimates. In FY2010, primary countries of origin for the 449 foreign trafficking victims certified as eligible to receive U.S. assistance included Mexico, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic (along with India and Thailand).

Since enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA, P.L. 106-386), Congress has taken steps to address human trafficking by authorizing new programs and reauthorizing existing ones, appropriating funds, creating new criminal laws, and conducting oversight on the effectiveness and implications of U.S. anti-TIP policy. Most recently, the TVPA was reauthorized through FY2011 in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-457). Obligations for U.S.-funded anti-TIP programs in Latin America totaled roughly $17.1 million in FY2010.

On June 27, 2011, the State Department issued its 11th annual, congressionally mandated report on human trafficking. The report categorizes countries into four “tiers” according to the government’s efforts to combat trafficking. Those countries that do not cooperate in the fight against trafficking (Tier 3) have been made subject to U.S. foreign assistance sanctions. While Cuba and Venezuela are the only Latin American countries ranked on Tier 3 in this year’s TIP report, seven other countries in the region—Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Bahamas—are on the Tier 2 Watch List. Unless those countries make significant progress in the next six months, they could receive a Tier 3 ranking in the 2012 report.

Activity on combating TIP has continued into the 112th Congress, particularly related to efforts to reauthorize the TVPA and oversee TIP programs and operations, including U.S.-funded programs in Latin America. Congress may also consider increasing funding for anti-TIP programs in the region, possibly through the Mérida Initiative for Mexico, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) or through other assistance programs. Congress is likely to monitor new trends in human trafficking in the region, such as the increasing involvement of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in TIP and the problem of child trafficking in Haiti, which has worsened since that country experienced a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. For more general information on human trafficking and a discussion of TIP-related legislation in the 112th Congress, see CRS Report RL34317, Trafficking in Persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress, by Alison Siskin and Liana Sun Wyler.



Date of Report: September 9, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33200
Price: $29.95

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances


Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Restrictions on travel to Cuba have been a key and often contentious component in U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba’s communist government since the early 1960s. Under the George W. Bush Administration, restrictions on travel and on private remittances to Cuba were tightened. In March 2003, the Administration eliminated travel for people-to-people educational exchanges unrelated to academic coursework. In June 2004, the Administration further restricted family and educational travel, eliminated the category of fully-hosted travel, and restricted remittances so that they could only be sent to the remitter’s immediate family. Initially there was mixed reaction to the Administration’s June 2004 tightening of Cuba travel and remittance restrictions, but opposition to the policy grew, especially within the Cuban American community regarding the restrictions on family travel and remittances.

Under the Obama Administration, Congress took action in March 2009 by including two provisions in the FY2009 omnibus appropriations measure (P.L. 111-8) that eased restrictions on family travel and travel related to marketing and sale of agricultural and medical goods to Cuba. Subsequently, in April 2009, President Obama announced that his Administration would go further and allow unlimited family travel and remittances. Regulations implementing these changes were issued in September 2009. The new regulations also included the authorization of general licenses for travel transactions for telecommunications-related sales and for attendance at professional meetings related to commercial telecommunications.

In January 2011, the Obama Administration announced policy changes further easing restrictions on travel and remittances. The measures (1) increase purposeful travel to Cuba related to religious, educational, and people-to-people exchanges; (2) allow any U.S. person to send remittances to non-family members in Cuba and make it easier for religious institutions to send remittances for religious activities; and (3) permit all U.S. international airports to apply to provide services to licensed charter flights. These new measures, with the exception of the expansion of eligible airports, are similar to policies that were undertaken by the Clinton Administration in 1999, but subsequently curtailed by the Bush Administration in 2003-2004.

Interest on the issue of Cuba travel and remittances is continuing in the 112th Congress, with some legislative initiatives aimed at rolling back the Obama Administration’s actions to ease restrictions on travel and remittances and others designed to further ease or lift such restrictions. The House Appropriations Committee version of the FY2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, H.R. 2434, would roll back President Obama’s easing of restrictions on remittances and family travel, while the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved version of H.R. 2583, the FY2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, would require enforcement of travel regulations as effect on January 19, 2009. Another initiative, H.R. 2771, has the intent of curbing frequent travel to Cuba by Cubans who have recently emigrated to the United States. In contrast, several initiatives would lift travel restrictions. H.R. 1886 would prohibit restrictions on travel to Cuba. H.R. 1888, in addition to removing some restrictions on the export of U.S. agricultural products to Cuba, would also prohibit Cuba travel restrictions. Two initiatives that would lift the overall Cuba embargo, H.R. 255 and H.R. 1887, also would lift restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. H.R. 380 would prohibit funding to enforce restrictions on travel for educational activities in Cuba. (For further information, see CRS Report R41617, Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress.)



Date of Report: August 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL31139
Price: $29.95

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