WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
20 Aug 2015 | Publication | News

WOLA Digest: June/July 2015

To receive the digest in your inbox each month, please visit www.wola.org/sign_up

U.S. Embassy Officially Reopens in Cuba

Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cuba to inaugurate the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, becoming the first Secretary of State to visit the island since 1945. WOLA’s Program Director Geoff Thale was on the ground for the ceremony, and described the embassy opening as a chance to embark “on a more mature relationship with Cuba.” According to Thale, most Cubans he spoke with were pleased the embassy reopened, and are hopeful for what the future of U.S.-Cuba relations will bring.
As WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson noted in a New York Times editorial, U.S.-Cuba engagement could have positive implications for the United States' relationship with the rest of the hemisphere as well.
The embassy opening comes amid significant changes in both countries. Cuba is undergoing major societal and economic reforms. In the United States, public opinion polls now show overwhelming support for normalizing relations, including among Republicans and Cuban-Americans. WOLA has been working to build bipartisan support in Congress to end the embargo on Cuba. Last month, a flurry of activity in Congress showed growing support among Republicans in the House of Representatives for lifting the trade and travel bans.

Cuban Embassy in Washington DC

Colombia’s Peace Process: Hurdles Remain, But Now is the Time for Optimism

On June 4, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released a plan to create a truth commission, a step that added a much-needed jolt of momentum to the peace process, according to WOLA Senior Associate Adam Isacson. And even though the peace processentered a rough patch in May after the FARC revoked its unilateral ceasefire, a peace accord is still likely, although getting there will be slow. Just recently, 65 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Secretary Kerry in support of the peace process, urging that it be made more inclusive. As WOLA has noted, the support of Afro-Colombian populations will prove crucial to the success of any lasting peace, especially since Afro-Colombians are disproportionately affected by the conflict.

Gun Trafficking Continues Unabated Across the U.S.-Mexico Border, WOLA’s New Report Finds

WOLA’s new report, jointly authored with the Violence Policy Center (VPC), found that an astounding 70 percent of guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States. While it is widely known that U.S. guns end up in the hands of Mexican criminal organizations, less known is the fact that many of these guns were imported from foreign countries into the United States in the first place. WOLA found that 25 percent of firearms recovered and traced in Mexico were first imported into the United States from countries like Romania and Bulgaria. This means that President Obama could use his authority under an existing ban on semiautomatic weapon imports that are not suitable for “sporting purposes” to ban the assault rifles that are currently being imported legally and then trafficked illegally to Mexico.

 Gun Trafficking Infographic 

Lessons from the CICIG in Guatemala: Could Other Central American Countries Benefit from a Similar Body?

After its mandate was renewed in April, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered a series of major corruption scandals in Guatemala’s government, as WOLA Senior Associate Adriana Beltrán wrote in the World Politics Review. This first case, dubbed “La Linea” (The Line), discovered massive fraud in the country’s national tax collection agency and customs office, which prompted the resignation of Guatemala’s vice president and other senior government officials. Five weeks later, the CICIG uncovered another scandal in the country’s Social Security Institute, which led to the arrest of that agency’s president and the president of Guatemala’s Central Bank.
WOLA has documented the phenomenal success of the CICIG over the last eight years in a new English-language report. The report details how the CICIG has provided basic investigative tools to fight organized crime and corruption in Guatemala, and focuses on the CICIG as a model to be explored by other countries grappling with organized crime, corruption, and impunity.

Mexico Still Struggling with Serious Human Rights Violation

The emblematic cases like the Tlatlaya massacre in Mexico State and the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero are indicative of a broader pattern of human rights violations in Mexico. 
In July, the Centro Prodh, a leading Mexican human rights organization, released military documents that clearly showed soldiers were instructed to “take out,” or kill, suspected criminals operating in the area of Tlatlaya, where 22 people were massacred on June 30, 2014. A week after those documents were made public, WOLA and partner organizations called on the U.S. government to withhold conditioned Merida Initiative funds that can only be released if Mexico fulfills certain human rights requirements.
In the Ayotzinapa case, a July 29 report from Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) found the investigation had serious shortcomings, including failing to collect basic evidence and follow simple leads. For instance, authorities have not yet pinpointed the geographical location of calls and texts made by the students at various times during the night of the attack.

Save the Date! The 10th Annual WOLA Human Rights Award

Join WOLA on Wednesday, October 28th, at the Mayflower Renaissance in Washington DC for our 10th Annual Human Rights Awards Ceremony and Benefit Gala. Each year, WOLA recognizes organizations and individuals who have worked tirelessly to promote human rights, democracy, or justice in Latin America. This year we will be honoring Justicia y Paz, the Inter Church Commission for Justice and Peace from Colombia; and Tim Rieser, Foreign Policy Aide to Senator Patrick Leahy.