International roundup

Por Agencies
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Officers wade through rows of abandoned wooden homes teetering above a mangrove-cloaked river – one of the key channels used by gangs to move drugs and weapons through this long-neglected swath of Colombia’s Pacific coast.

Each step for them is a reminder: Control here remains not with the law, but with those whose names are spoken in whispers in their city. Los Shottas and Los Espartanos.

The two gangs are the latest to lay siege to Buenaventura, Colombia’s busiest port and the crown jewel of narcotrafficking routes, the jump point from which drugs pour out to the rest of the world.

Upon his historic election last year, Colombia’s rebel-turned-president Gustavo Petro promised to cement “total peace” and end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. But as his government moves to fulfill that bold promise, Buenaventura has grown to exemplify the tangled mess the ex-rebel leader must unravel.

Petro aims to rewire how the South American nation addresses endemic violence, replacing military operations with social programs tackling the conflict’s roots, including poverty in violence-torn areas like Buenaventura. He’s also negotiating with the most powerful of Colombia’s mutating armed groups – from leftist guerrillas to smaller trafficking mafias – in an effort to get them to demobilize simultaneously.

More than a year since Petro took office, his “total peace” plan has inched forward. More than 31,000 armed fighters make up the militias that have come forward to begin peace talks, according to government estimates. Programs for the young people that gangs recruit are planned in Buenaventura and other cities. But the country’s most powerful armed groups have grown stronger, according to experts, and bloodshed between rival groups has skyrocketed.

Critics say the criminal groups are only taking advantage of ceasefires with the government. They describe strong criminal economies and law enforcement officials unable to pursue perpetrators. And many people, from victims to the armed groups seeking a deal, view Petro’s plan with distrust begot by decades of violence and failed promises.

“The idea behind ‘total peace’ is right on the money. You know, let’s look at the social issues behind these conflicts,” said Jeremy McDermott, co-founder of InSight Crime, a Colombia-based think tank. “The great challenge Petro faces is: How do you talk peace without strengthening these groups?”

No group is yet close to signing a full peace agreement. In Buenaventura, Los Shottas refuses to demobilize until “every armed group in Colombia sets down arms, too,” a delegate for the gang told The Associated Press.

“Do you know how many groups want to take control of Buenaventura? Tons,” said the man, who declined to give his name and spoke on condition that he be identified by his nom de guerre, Jeronimo. “And if they hand over their power, what will happen? Those groups are going to come and exterminate us.”


Ovidio Guzmán López, a son of former Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, pleaded not guilty in Chicago this week to U.S. drug trafficking, money laundering and other charges during his first court appearance since being extradited to the U.S. from Mexico.

Guzmán López was extradited on Friday, five months after U.S. prosecutors unsealed sprawling indictments against him and his brothers, known collectively as the “Chapitos.” 

The indictments allege that following their father’s extradition and eventual life sentence in the U.S. in 2019, the brothers steered the cartel increasingly into synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and the powerful opioid fentanyl.

During Monday’s 15-minute arraignment with a larger-than-usual contingent of security inside the courtroom, Guzmán López pleaded not guilty through a translator. 

He stood before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman in an orange jumpsuit and matching orange slippers, with his legs shacked at the ankles.

The short, slight 33-year-old, whose nickname is “the Mouse,” hunched forward, answering questions from the judge softly and politely, presenting a picture that sharply contrasted with the reputation for extreme violence of the cartel he allegedly helps lead.

His arrest by Mexican security forces in January in Culiacan — the capital of Sinaloa state, the cartel’s namesake — set off violence that left 30 people dead, including 10 military personnel. 

Mexico’s army used Black Hawk helicopter gunships against the cartel’s truck-mounted .50-caliber machine guns. 

Cartel gunmen hit two military aircraft, forcing them to land, and sent gunmen to the city’s airport, where military and civilian aircraft were hit by gunfire.

Three years earlier, the government tried to capture him, but aborted the operation after similar violence.

The U.S. indictments against the brothers that were unsealed in April said their goal was to produce huge quantities of fentanyl and sell it at the lowest price. 

The brothers denied the allegations in a letter.

“We have never produced, manufactured or commercialized fentanyl nor any of its derivatives,” the letter said. 

“We are victims of persecution and have been made into scapegoats.”

Some of the five charges against Guzmán López carry maximum life sentences, including conspiracy to import drugs and conspiracy to distribute them. 

A conviction on one of the counts, engaging in an illegal enterprise as a leader, carries a mandatory life sentence. 

Money laundering has a maximum 20-year sentence.

Coleman set Nov. 17 as the next court date for Guzmán López.


This week, Argentina welcomed a decision by a United Nations conference to include a former clandestine detention and torture center as a World Heritage site.

A UNESCO conference in Saudi Arabia agreed to include the ESMA Museum and Site of Memory in the list of sites “considered to be of outstanding value to humanity,” marking a rare instance in which a museum of memory related to recent history is designated to the list.

The former Navy School of Mechanics, known as ESMA, housed the most infamous illegal detention center that operated during Argentina’s last brutal military dictatorship that ruled from 1976 through 1983. 

It now operates as a museum and a larger site of memory, including offices for government agencies and human rights organizations.

“The Navy School of Mechanics conveyed the absolute worst aspects of state-sponsored terrorism,” Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández said in a video message thanking UNESCO for the designation. “Memory must be kept alive (…) so that no one in Argentina forgets or denies the horrors that were experienced there.”

It is estimated that some 5,000 people were detained at the ESMA during the 1976-83 dictatorship, many of whom were tortured and later disappeared without a trace. 

It also housed many of the detainees who were later tossed alive from the “death flights” into the ocean or river in one of the most brutal aspects of the dictatorship.

The ESMA also contained a maternity ward, where pregnant detainees, often brought from other illegal detention centers, were housed until they gave birth and their babies later snatched by military officers.

“This international recognition constitutes a strong response to those who deny or seek to downplay state terrorism and the crimes of the last civil-military dictatorship,” Argentina’s Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla Corti said in a statement.

The designation “is a tribute to the thousands of disappeared individuals in our continent,” Pietragalla said, adding that “this is an event of unique significance within Argentine and regional history, setting a precedent for continuing to lead by example in the world with policies of Memory, Truth, and Justice.”

Argentina has done more than any other Latin American country to bring dictatorship-era crimes to trial. It has held almost 300 trials relating to crimes against humanity since 2006.

Among the reasons for deciding to include the ESMA in the World Heritage list was a determination that the site represents the illegal repression that was carried out by numerous military dictatorships in the region.

The designation of a former detention and torture center as a World Heritage site comes at a time when the running mate of the leading candidate to win the presidential election next month has harshly criticized efforts to bring former military officials to trial.

Victoria Villaruel, the vice presidential candidate to right-wing populist Javier Milei, has worked for years to push a narrative that the military junta was fighting a civil war against armed leftist guerillas. Milei rocked Argentina’s political landscape when he unexpectedly received the most votes in national primaries last month.

When Coleman asked Guzmán López on Monday if he was on medication, he said he was — for depression, anxiety and a stomach ailment — but that it didn’t impede his ability to understand the proceedings.

Some of the five charges against Guzmán López carry maximum life sentences, including conspiracy to import drugs and conspiracy to distribute them. 

A conviction on one of the counts, engaging in an illegal enterprise as a leader, carries a mandatory life sentence. 

Money laundering has a maximum 20-year sentence.

Coleman set Nov. 17 as the next court date for Guzmán López.

Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall said in statement Friday that the extradition of Guzmán López “is testament to the significance of the ongoing cooperation between the American and Mexican governments on countering narcotics and other vital challenges.” Sherwood-Randall made multiple visits to Mexico this year to meet with President Andrés Manuel López-Obrador, most recently last month.