miércoles, 8 de mayo de 2013

Extortion rife in Honduras as government "fails" on security

The Honduran daily La Prensa reported on 7 May on the apparent ease with which street gangs extort money from thousands of businesses and individuals in Honduras - even the Church - raking in the equivalent of over 62 million USD or over 47 million euros a year to finance their organizations. It observed in a separate report on 6 May that certain observers estimated extortion could be earning the gangs twice that amount annually, though this was difficult to measure as most acts of extortion went unreported. Those forced to pay include bus drivers, taxi drivers, shopkeepers, owners of stalls and kiosks and businessmen from whom money was demanded in person or by phone; money was paid in forms including cash, bank transfers and re-charged mobile phones. In Tegucicalpa, members of the Mara gangs were said to collect money in the capital's 16 covered food and grocery markets, and in bus and taxi stops and small shopping centres. In the northern city of San Pedro Sula - one of the most violent cities in the Americas - likewise "all taxi and bus stops" pay, the daily observed. The country formed a National Anti-Extortion Force (Fuerza Nacional Antiextorsión) in March 2013, but the daily observed many individuals did not report extortion, fearing reprisals from gangsters who might or might not be caught and punished. La Prensa cited a driver from San Pedro Sula as saying that "members of the Maras and gangsters have killed hundreds of bus drivers, assistants and taxi drivers since 2009. We do not report because you do not know if the person you are reporting to is part of the extortion or a hired killer." A study cited claimed that some 17,500 small businesses closed in 2012 under the pressure of extortion, La Prensa reported on 6 May. Separately a coalition of Honduran rights bodies concluded on 7 May that the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa had failed to assure public security since taking power in 2010, in spite of its pledges, actions and claims. The Human Rights Alliance (Alianza por los Derechos Humanos) including several rights bodies held a press conference that day and issued a communiqué to denounce this failure, but also the alleged complicity of certain officials, which assured the impunity of criminals, EFE reported.

Army reports desertions from Colombia's ELN, FARC guerrillas

The army reported a total of 20 desertions from Colombia's two guerrilla forces the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in the days 4 to 6 or 7 May, the most recent defections being of seven ELN fighters and two from the FARC, the broadcaster Caracol reported on 7 May. The ELN guerrillas - four of them aged between 14 and 17 years - surrendered to the army in the district of Bagadó in the west-coast department of Chocó, handing over assault rifles and ammunition; the three adults among them were identified as junior chiefs and an operator of the ELN's radio station, Occidente Rebelde. The two FARC fighters surrendered in the district of Vigía del Fuerte in the northern department of Antioquia. Authorities attributed the desertions to military "harrassment" of guerrillas and to the alleged mistreatment of the guerrilla rank-and-file by superiors. The ELN separately issued a communiqué stating conditions to hasten the release of a Canadian hostage held since 18 January, Jernoc Wobert, Caracol radio reported on 8 May. The ELN urged the government to revoke mining concessions given to firms in the south of the department of Bolívar, northern Colombia, and restore "these Titles to their legitimate owners, who are the traditional miners in that zone." The communiqué stated that five were killed on 22 April when the ELN fought a gun battle with a "paramilitary group" trying to rescue Wobert in the district of Montecristo in southern Bolívar, Caracol reported.