US prosecutors last month suffered a humiliating reversal in a Miami drug case involving two Colombian men amid accusations that evidence was improperly withheld from the defense. Defendants José Salazar Buitrago and John Finkelstein Winer, facing life in prison as their trial got underway, instead got a quick plea deal and terms of three years—with credit for nearly two years already spent in custody. The case turned suddenly after testimony that prosecutors knew about payments the Drug Enforcement Administration made to Colombian police in the case. Prosecutors said they didn't know about the payments—a claim dismissed as implausible by District Judge Marcia Cooke. The DEA payments, about $200 a month to at least 11 agents over some three years, apparently came from funds approved by the US under the Plan Colombia aid package. A tip about the payments was confirmed in cross-examination of the government's first witness, a Colombian National Police officer.
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.
The local anti-drug Fiscal (prosecutor) in Chachapoyas province, Amazonas region, has opened an investigation into 25 suspected of running an "opium mafia" within the security services. Among the 25 are six members of the National Police, a provincial prosecutor, and a pilot contracted by the DEA. The group is accused of overseeing the commercialization of poppy crops in Rodríguez de Mendoza province, a remote high jungle area of Amazonas. The pilot, whose name has not been released, worked for a local company used by the DEA. Opium production has boomed in Amazonas region over the past five years, and authorities say morphine laboratories have been established in the jungle. (La Republica, RPP, Aeronoticias, May 19)
A parliamentary Mega-Commission investigating corruption in the former administration of Álan García has shocked Peru with its findings that some 5,500 pardons and commutations were granted under his presidency—including to 3,207 convicted on drug trafficking charges, at least 400 in high-volume cases. More than 800 of these are said to have returned to crime and are now fugitives. Mega-Commission president Sergio Tejada has named Miguel Facundo Chinguel, head of García's Presidential Pardons Commission, as responsible in the fracas. But Mega-Commission member Carlos Tubino has called for García himself to testify. Former special anti-corruption prosecutor José Ugaz, who opened the first investigation into the "narco-pardons," likewise says that the probe must reach "the highest levels" of the former administration. In March, a bomb was found under his car. (La Republica, May 31; Andina, May 30; RPP, May 12; Correo, March 9)
Peru's coca-producing Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE), where a remnant faction of the Shining Path remains active, has seen growing protests over militarization and abuses by the security forces. On May 21, Fedia Castro, mayor of La Convención province (Cusco region), led a "March for Peace and Dignity" at the provincial seat of Quillabamba, to demand justice in a recent incident that left nine local residents wounded by army gunfire—including four women and a one-year-old infant. In the May 6 incident at Kepashiato village, army troops opened fire on a combi (commercial minibus) filled with local campesinos. The army says gunfire first came from the combi, and that a G3 assault rifle was later found on board. The passengers—including the wounded driver and owner of the vehicle, Rómulo Almirón Fuentes—deny that any firearm was found, challenging the army to produce it. They are also demanding compensation, including for damage to the combi. (Enlace Nacional, May 21; RPP, May 9; El Comercio, May 6)
Lebanon's hashish heartland of the Bekaa Valley, hit by rocket-fire from Syria on June 1, has become increasingly embroiled in the civil war raging across the border. The fertile valley, which was occupied by Syria from 1976 to 2005, is a patchwork of Sunni and Shi'ite areas, and during Lebanon's civil war in 1980s the hashish and opium trade there funded sectarian militias. There are now ominous signs of a return to this deadly rivalry. In late March, gunmen from the Sunni town of Arsal—a conduit for arms and fighters for the Syrian rebels—kidnapped a member of the powerful Shi'ite Jaafar tribe, who was absconded across the border to the rebel-held Syrian town of Yabroud, north of Damascus. The Jaafars retaliated by kidnapping six Arsal residents—ransoming them to raise the ransom money to free their comrade held in Yabroud. Lebanese security forces helped oversee the hostage exchange, and no charges were brought. Arsal has also been the target of occasional cross-border shelling, presumably by the Syrian military. On May 27, unidentified gunmen attacked a Lebanese border checkpoint near the town, killing three soldiers.
Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev declared a state of emergency in Dzhety Ohuz district of the Issyk Kul region May 31, after hundreds of protesters at the town of Barskoon stormed the facilities of the Kumtor gold mine, run by the Canadian-based Centerra Gold. Hundreds of villagers, some on horseback, blocked the road to the mine earlier in the week, to demand its nationalization, and more local social benefits. Villagers later seized a power substation and cut electricity to the mine. When security forces moved to clear the road, clashes erupted, with police using tear-gas and firearms; several protesters were injured and one reportedly killed. Some 80 have been arrested, and a curfew imposed across the district.
Police in Istanbul on the morning of May 31 raided a protest encampment that had been established in Taksim Gezi Park—one of the few remaining green spots in the city center, which authorities have slated to bulldoze to build a new shopping mall. Police set fire to the tents in which protesters were still sleeping, and used pepper spray and tear-gas. One student had to undergo surgery after injuries to his genitals. Street-fighting in the area continues, and protests have spread to Ankara. Tens of thousands have watched the demonstrations online at lifestream.com/revoltistanbul. The park had been under occupation since May 27, but the issue has gone beyond saving a green space to more generalized opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a "neoliberal Islamist" formation that has been tilting sharply right, establishing alcohol-free zones and advocating restrictions on abortion. Richard Seymour in The Guardian writes that "a struggle over a small park in a congested city centre has become an emergency for the regime, and the basis for a potential Turkish spring." (More coverage at BIANet, NYT, Euronews.)