Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso on Nov. 18 extended the country's state of emergency by a second 30 days. The decree is ostensibly an attempt to combat the insecurity generated by drug-related crime and re-establish public order. It provides for the mobilization of military forces in certain provinces to assist the functions of the National Police in several provinces.
Colombia's most wanted fugitive, the notorious paramilitary commander Dairo Antonio Úsuga AKA "Otoniel," was arrested by security forces following a years-long manhunt, the government announced Oct. 23. The chief of the outlawed Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) was apprehended in a joint operation by the army and National Police in Necocli, a municipality of Urabá region on the Caribbean coast. The raid on Necocli involved hundreds of troops and some 20 helicopters. The US government considers the AGC Colombia's largest drug trafficking organization, and offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel in 2017, eight years after he was indicted by a federal court in New York. It is unclear if the Colombian government intends to extradite.
In Episode 94 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg presents a special cannabis harvest season interview with Karla Avila in Northern California's Emerald Triangle. A licensed producer of artisanal outdoor cannabis for the legal market through her homestead-based company Flowerdaze Farm, Avila is an advocate for small-scale "legacy" growers through her work with the Trinity County Agriculture Alliance. She is also a founding member of the statewide Origins Council, which is seeking to establish official "appellations" for cannabis, certifying a strain's regional origin. Avila discusses the challenges now facing small legacy growers who are struggling to keep alive heirloom genetics and ecologically sound cultivation methods in a legal market increasingly dominated by large-scale enterprises on an agribusiness model. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Tensions are fast mounting in Mexico's conflicted southern state of Chiapas following a new outbreak of paramilitary violence. Protests have been held in the state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez over the past weeks to demand the return alive of 21 residents of the highland village of Pantelhó, who were abducted July 26 amid raids by a self-proclaimed "self-defense force" in which houses and vehicles were also set on fire. On Aug. 10, the state prosecutor who was assigned to investigate the case, Gregorio Pérez Gómez, was himself gunned down on a street in the highland city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. An anonymous defector from "El Machete" self-defense force told national TV news program En Punto on Oct. 7 that 18 of the 21 missing men were publicly beaten to death in the Pantelhó village square. He said their bodies were buried near San José Tercero, the outlying hamlet that is the paramilitary group's principal stronghold. Family members of the abductees have adopted the slogan from the infamous Ayotzinapa case, "They were taken alive, we want them back alive."
Of more than 24,000 asylum seekers and migrants intercepted at sea this year by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard, only 6,000 are accounted for in Libya's official detention centers, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told the Associated Press last week. The fate of thousands of others returned to the country remains unknown, and it is suspected that many are being sold to human traffickers.
Protests have repeatedly erupted in El Salvador over the past week as the country became the first to make Bitcoin legal tender. The US dollar also remains official currency, but the law pushed through by President Nayib Bukele mandates that all vendors also accept Bitcoin. Small merchants and especially those in the informal sector complain of problems in trying to download the official phone app needed to use the currency. Protesters say the new law will deepen poverty by further excluding the already marginalized from the economy. They also assert that it will further enable corruption. "This is a currency that's not going to work for pupusa vendors, bus drivers or shopkeepers," one protester told Reuters. "This is a currency that's ideal for big investors who want to speculate with their economic resources."
Details of an investigation into negotiations between the government of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and violent gangs, which involved trading fewer murders and electoral support for improved prison conditions, were revealed by El Faro, an online news site. The talks were carried out by a special unit created by attorney general Raúl Melara, who was ousted in May. Officials apparently conducted discussions with Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18 Revolucionarios, and Barrio 18 Sureños, which the government considers terrorist groups. El Faro published audio files and text messages documenting what took place over at least a year beginning in June 2019. Gang violence has been one of the main drivers of migration from El Salvador to the United States. The US State Department recently accused several Bukele officials of corruption, which has cooled efforts to engage bilaterally on migration strategy.
More than 500,000 people are in need of emergency assistance in Haiti's southern peninsula, where last week's 7.2-magnitude earthquake has killed more than 2,100 people and injured more than 12,200. Aid and medical efforts are hampered by debris-strewn roads, rain from Tropical Storm Grace, a shortage of working hospitals, and gang violence. The private Bernard Mevs Hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where some of the injured have been sent, was closed Aug. 19 as part of a two-day shutdown to protest the kidnapping of two doctors. In recent years, Haiti has been beset by violent gangs who patrol many of the country's transport routes. Some villagers were also reportedly blocking aid shipments, saying they were also desperate for help. The southern peninsula has yet to recover from Hurricane Matthew, which killed at least 546 people in 2016. Prime Minister Ariel Henry has promised to speed up aid efforts—more than 30,000 families have been displaced, and there are fears of cholera due to lack of safe water, sanitation, and shelter. The United States has deployed several helicopters, aircraft, and the USS Arlington to help with relief efforts. France also sent a ship with humanitarian cargo, a helicopter, and more than two dozen soldiers.