Posts tagged ‘drug smuggling’
Honduran commandos demonstrate their sniper and camouflage skills before a graduation ceremony in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 19, 2014. Soldiers from the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group and Colombian national policemen trained the commandos to succeed at missions like capturing high value narco-trafficking and criminal targets.
Among the distinguished guests at the ceremony was Brigadier General Sean Mulholland, the head of Special Operations Command South — the command that oversees Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and other special operations forces attached to U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for all of Latin America south of Mexico.
With shrinking defense budgets and more and more crises developing around the world, Pentagon planners have said the United States will have to rely more and more on partner nations like Honduras to defend themselves against insurgencies, narco cartels and terrorists.
To see more photos of this awards ceremony and some of the skills the Honduran commandos learned, click here.
Needs and Wants, Part II
TAMPA, Florida – At the National Defense Industry Association’s Special Operations Industry Conference (SOFIC), the generals and admirals who oversee Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Air Force combat controllers and other Special Operations Forces explained what they need to operate in vastly different environments. Today we focus on another of the three world regions the 4GWAR Blog follows closely: Central and South America.
In some ways, the special operators of U.S. Southern Command (SOCSOUTH) have it easy. Most people in Latin America speak one of two languages: Spanish or Portuguese, although there are 31 countries and numerous cultures from the Andes to the Pampas. (French is spoken in Haiti and several current and former French territories like Guiana.)
But South and Central America is another vast area with climates ranging from bone dry desert, ice covered mountains and equatorial jungles to teeming cities. Four of the world’s top 25 cities by population are in Southern Command’s area of responsibility. Two of them, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are in Brazil.
While most of the region’s countries are democracies and the region’s economy is booming – like Africa’s — there is “a technology gap” between U.S. forces and partner nations who don’t have the air or computer power of their neighbors to the north, according to SOCSOUTH commander, Army Brigadier General Sean Mulholland. But Mullholland notes there is no silver bullet solution. “In SOUTHCOM, we need workable solutions,” he said, adding that solutions must be simple enough to work for foreign partners while being interoperable with existing U.S. systems. “In essence, in SOUTHCOM we are always looking for the next AK-47,” he said referring to the Soviet designed automatic assault rifle that has been manufactured and sold all over the world.
The region is plagued with landmines from past wars and insurgencies – especially in Colombia, which has the second highest land mine problem in the world after Afghanistan. Other technology priorities include riverine patrol boats, persistent intelligence, surviellance and reconnaissance (ISR) through manned surveillance aircraft or drones. And non-lethal technology to deal with the speed boats and semi-submersible drug smuggling vessels that ply the Atlantic and Pacifc coasts of South and Central America. “We have a very serious problem in SOUTHCOM with the rise in drug trafficking,” Mullholland says. While U.S. ground troops can only advise Latin American militaries in counter narcotics operations, U.S. air and naval assets help in tracking and intercepting drug dealers at sea.
TOMORROW: The Arctic
Mexican and U.S. authorities have arrested the world’s most powerful narcotics kingpin – Joaquin Guzman Loera, the Associated Press reported early Saturday (February 21).
Known as “El Chapo Guzman” (Shorty Guzman), the billionaire drug lord headed Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and was wanted by authorities on both sides of the border since he escaped from Mexican custody in 2001.
A senior U.S. law enforcement official told the AP that Guzman was taken overnight by Mexican marines without any shots being fired in the beach report town of Mazatilan. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the arrest and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Marshals Service were “heavilly involved” in Guzman’s capture.
Guzman became infamous in 2001 after escaping from a high security prison and building up the Sinaloa Cartel – named for his home state and known for beheading its enemies or hanging their bodies in public places, said Bloomberg News, adding that a retired top DEA official said Guzman’s arrest is “100 percent confirmed.” Mike Vigil, a retired head of DEA’s international operations spoke with Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Washington.
Another former DEA official told CNN that arrest represents a huge blow to the Sinaloa cartel’s operations.
Phil Jordan, who headed the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center, told the cable network: “if you talk to any cartel member, they’ll say that he’s more powerful than Mexican President [Enrique] Pena Nieto. This would be a significant blow to overall operations not only in the Americas, but Chapo Guzman had expanded to Europe. He was all over the place.”
But the 30-year DEA veteran cautioned that the arrest will only stay significant if Guzman is “extradited immediately to the United States.” He added: “If he is, in fact, incarcerated, until he gets extradited to the United States, it will be business as usual.”
The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and other leaders of the U.S. Intelligence community, known in Washington as the IC, were up on Capitol Hill this week to present their assessment of the global and regional threats facing the country.
But Clapper’s less-than-honest testimony before Congress last year about cell phone data collection seemed to gather most – but not all – of the news media attention – along with his continuing concerns about the disclosures of rogue National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
So 4GWAR would like to focus on the range of threats the IC – which includes the Office of National Intelligence, the NSA, CIA, FBI, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center – believes are facing the United States as of January 15, 2014 (when their assessment report was completed).
Global threats listed by the 31-page public report include cyber attacks by hostile nations like Iran and North Korea, terrorist organizations and criminals; homegrown and international terrorist plots by groups like al-Qaeda branches like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; transnational organized criminal groups like the Mexican drug cartels that are expanding their influence across the Atlantic Ocean to West and North Africa.
“Competition for and secure access to natural resources (like food, water and energy) are growing security threats,” the report states. Risks to freshwater supplies are a growing threat to economic development in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia and that could have a destabilizing effect not only on local economies but on governments and political institutions in many places where democracy is fragile or non-existent.
As polar ice recedes in the Arctic, “economic and security concerns will increase competition over access to sea routes and natural resources,” according to the report. Vast deposits of oil and natural gas – as much as 15 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum and 30 percent of its natural gas may lie beneath Arctic waters where the ice is receding more and more each year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The report predicts Sub-Saharan Africa will “almost certainly see political and related security turmoil in 2014.” The continent has become “a hothouse for the emergence of extremist and rebel groups,” threatening governments in Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania.
The report also notes the attacks in Somalia and East Africa by the extremist Islamic al-Shabaab movement as well as sharp ethnic/religious/economic divides that are causing death, destruction, starvation and and mass migration in Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
4GWAR will have more on this report this weekend.
Shooting at LAX
A shooting at an airport security checkpoint in Lose Angeles has left one Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer dead, wounded two other TSA agents and a bystander, according to the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets.
Panic and hysteria spread through Los Angeles Airport’s (LAX) Terminal 3 Friday (October 31) following gunfire that killed 39-year-old Gerardo Hernandez. He was the first TSA employee killed in the line of duty since the agency was created shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Police chased down and shot the suspected gunman in the leg and head. He is being treated for his injuries at an area hospital. He was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, originally from New Jersey. Authorities are still trying to determine why Ciancia pulled a semi-automatic rifle in the security lane and began shooting.
Federal authorities charged him with murder of a federal officer and committing violance at an international airport. Both crimes are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty, the New York Times reported.
The incident disrupted air travel at the nation’s third busiest airport for hours. The disruptions had a ripple effect across the United States and elsewhere around the world as police searched the airport to make sure the gunman had no accomplices or had left booby traps in the busy transportation hub.
Authotrities said Ciancia had no apparent links to any terrorist group but the attack underscored the threat posed by a lone wolf gunman – whatever the motive.
Drug Gang’s Super Tunnel
U.S. officials in California have uncovered a tunnel running under the U.S.-Mexico border from Tijuana to San Diego – packed with marijuana and cocaine.
The tunnel stretched for the length of six football fields end-to-end and had lighing, ventilation and an electric rail system, officials said. The tunnel, which authorities described as a “Super Tunnel” was 35 feet below the surface, four feet tall and three feet wide. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy told reporters it was built by Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, CNN reported.
Three people are in custody charged with drug trafficking. If convicted they face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison, according to Reuters.
Members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force — numerous tunnels for smuggling people, drugs and weapons have been discovered between the United States and Mexico in recent years – found the subterranean passageway Wednesday (October 27) night in the course of a long-term investigation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Authorities also seized about 325 pounds of cocaine along with more than eight tons of marijuana associated with the would-be operators of the tunnel, San Diego TV Station XETV reported.
It was the eighth large-scale smuggling tunnel discovered in the San Diego area since 2006, according to ICE. In total, federal authorities have detected more than 75 such tunnels in the last five years, mostly in California and Arizona.
Considering COCOM Consolidation
At the Aspen Security Forum in mid-July, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the recently retired head of U.S. Africa Command said he thought most countries in Africa had a more positive view of the regional command now than when it was created in 2007.
Since then, the military and civilian workers of AFRICOM “have done so much to diminish the fears and anxieties of many African countries,” Ham told your 4GWAR editor during a question & answer session at the four-day conference in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. “We don’t go anywhere without the consent of the host nation government” and the consent of the U.S. ambassador to that nation, he added.
When then-President George W. Bush created the U.S. military’s sixth geographic combatant command there was a pretty large outcry in Africa that this was just another imperialistic move by a Western power seeking to grab all the oil, gold or other natural resources it could. Others saw it as an attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
As an example of the hostility to the concept of U.S. troops in Africa, only one country – Liberia – offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters, which still remains in Stuttgart, Germany. Many other African nations opposed having a U.S. military presence anywhere on the continent.
But Ham, who was AFRICOM’s second commander, said “many nations – not all – have found it to be in their best interests to have a military-to-military relationship with the U.S. through Africa Command.”
So we were a little surprised when reports began surfacing that AFRICOM might be folded into European Command or one of the other six regional combatant commands as a money-saving venture driven by the budget constraints of sequestration.
Defense News, a Gannett publication, reported August 12 that the Pentagon was considering “a major overhaul” of the commands that could include “dissolving Africa Command” and splitting its responsibilities between European Command, which is also headquartered in Stuttgart, and Central Command, based at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. AFRICOM is responsible for U.S. security, humanitarian and diplomatic operations in all of Africa’s 54 countries, except Egypt, which is overseen by Central Command.
As it says on its website, AFRICOM has four main roles in Africa: to deter and defeat transnational threats; prevent future conflicts; support humanitarian and disaster relief and protect U.S. security interests. AFRICOM has a very small permanent presence in Africa – a former Foreign Legion base in Djibouti where about 2,000 personnel are based and an airbase in Niger with a little over 100 personnel to support surveillance drones flying over northwest Africa where an affiliate of the al Qaeda terrorist network has been active. The bulk of AFRICOM’s small personnel force remains in Europe.
All of the services conduct training exercises with African militaries like Africa Lion and Flintlock. Other missions offer naval and police training as well as medical clinics, emergency response training and small construction projects.
“We didn’t really see ourselves as a fighting command,” Ham said at the Aspen event … until Libya happened.
AFRICOM found itself leading air and intelligence operations during the early days of the United Nations-sanctioned intervention in Libya’s revolt-turned civil war. AFRICOM also supplied military transport and air refueling assistance to French and African forces intervening earlier this year in the Islamist revolt in Mali. Later, AFRICOM reached an agreement with Niger to base unarmed surveillance drones there. AFRICOM has also played a role in battling pirates off the east and west coasts of Africa. And U.S. special operations forces conducted a hostage rescue mission in Somalia and provided assistance to African militaries hunting for renegade warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.
That increasingly military role may have undercut AFRICOM’s original, largely non-miltary role in the eyes of some Africans, according to the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
But summing in up his answer in Aspen to 4GWAR’s query about whether Africa was now more accepting of AFRICOM, Ham said: “If the United States were to say ‘We’re interested in relocating the headquarters to the African continent. Would you be interested in hosting [it]?’ I think there are a number of nations that would say ‘Yes.’”
LATIN AMERICA: Colombia Defense Industry, Ecuador Border Clash, Cocoa Growing Down, Kerry to Visit Brazil, Colombia
Colombia Defense Industry
After decades of a brutal insurgency by Marxist rebels and equally violent battles with narcotics cartels, Colombia is looking to regenerate and expand its defense industries, according to UPI.
Quoting the Bogota-based newspaper, El Espectador, UPI reports that South Korean defense company LIG Nex1 said it will help Colombia’s armed forces develop sonars and radars for the country’s defense sector. Colombia recently bought 16 missiles from LIGNex1 to be deployed on four Colombian Navy vessels, according to the newspaper.
LIG Nex1 will work with the Colombian defense industry installations in Villavicencio in central Colombia to develop projects to design, develop, manufacture, assemble, integrate and test the operation of sensors, UPI reported.
Colombia has long had close ties with the U.S. military — especially in battling illegal drugs and improvised explosive device technology. But according to the Colombian business magazine, Dinero, South Korean corporations — like LIGNex1′s parent, LG Group — have been increasing investments in Colombia from $30 million in 2007 to $160 million last year. However, the magazine also notes Brazil, Chile and Mexico do much more export and import business with South Korea than Colombia.
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Colombia-Ecuador Border Clash
An Ecuadorean soldier was killed and another wounded in a firefight with guerillas at the border with Colombia. A Colombian army general identified the shooters on the Colombian side of the border as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym, FARC.
FARC, has waged a violent insurgency against the government in Bogota since the 1960s that has claimed thousands of lives. FARC guerillas often seek refuge in Ecuador’s forests when being pursued by Colombian troops. here have been clashes in the past between the rebels and Ecuador’s army, but this was the first known instance of an Ecuadorean soldier being killed in a clash with a Colombian irregular, the Associated Press reported.
Ecuador’s top military leader said the two-hour firefight errupted when his troops surrounded FARC rebels on Ecuador’s side of the San Miguel River, which separates the country from a cocaine producing region of Colombia. Colombian authorities say many FARC units finance themselves through cocaine trafficking.
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Colombia Cocoa Production
Cocoa growing in Colombia — the world’s biggest cocaine producer — fell by 25 percent in 2012, according to a United Nations report.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said farmland under cocoa cultivation shrank from 64,000 hectares (xx acres) last year from 135,000 hectares in 2011. A survey jointly conducted by Colombia’s government and UNODC shows that coca bush cultivation affected 23 of the country’s 32 departments; decreased in 17 departments; increased in the 3 departments of Norte de Santander, Caquetá and Chocó; and remained unchanged in the remaining 3.
Bo Mathiasen, UNODC representative in Colombia, said government efforts to eradicate the illicit coca crop were having a visible impact but that farmers often simply replant bushes in new or previously cleared fields, Reuters reported.
Peru, Colombia and Bolivia are the world’s biggest coca producers. (See story below)
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Bolivian Cocoa Down, Too
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime says cocoa cultivation is down again in Bolivia for the second year in a row.
Bolivia’s coca production dropped by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the UN report. This follows an 11 percent reduction from the year before, according to analysis by InSight Crime and reported in the Christian Science Monitor.
The biggest drop came in the largest coca growing region of the country known as Yungas de la Paz, which went from 18,200 hectares to 16,900 hectares, according to the UNODC. The agency says that two major factors played a role in the drop: 1) the government’s efforts to “eradicate/rationalize” the size of the fields and 2) the drop in yield due to the long periods in which the fields have been cultivated.
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Kerry to Colombia, Brazil
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to travel to Colombia and Brazil next week (August 12-13) to improve “cooperation and dialogue with important regional partners,” according to the State Department.
Kerry will visit Bogota, Colombia, on August 12. From Bogota, he will travel to Brasilia, Brazil, where he will spend the day on August 13.
The leader of the notorious Mexican drug gang, the Zetas, has been captured by the Mexican military near the border with Texas, officials announced late Monday (July 15).
Miguel Trevino Morales was wanted by Mexican and U.S.. authorities. Both countries posted multi-million dollar rewards for him. Known as Z-40, he was captured by Mexican Marines using a helicopter, who intercepted him in a pickup truck outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, according to the Associated Press. Morales and two others, believed to be an accountant and a bodyguard, were taken into custody along with $2 million in cash and eight guns.
Trevino Morales is the highest-ranking crime boss taken down since President Eneique Pena Nieto took office in December, according to the BBC. More than 60,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since December 2006.
Pena Nieto promised to change the policy of the previous government by tackling cartels through law enforcement on a local level rather than the capture of big-name targets. His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, had deployed the army across the country and pursued cartel leaders. That policy eliminated many senior criminal figures, but it also created power vacuums that helped fuel the violence.
The Zetas have been linked to some of the most violent crimes in Mexico’s battle with drug cartels, including massacres of immigrants passing through Mexico on their way to the United States and a casino fire that killed 52 people in Monterrey in 2011.
The Zetas originally were deserters from Mexico’s special operations forces hired as bodyguards and enforcers by the Gulf Cartel. But they split off to form their own gang in 2007 and have terrified Mexico –especially along the U.S. border — with unbelievable violence and brutality – including torture, beheadings and massacres, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In advance of the Confederationss Cup soccer (football) tournament going on now at stadiums across Brazil, Latin America’s biggest country launched its biggest military exercise to secure its enormous border.
Called Operation Agatha, the exercise sought to halt the flow of drugs and weapons into Brazil, which will see a papal visit next month, Soccer’s World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The Brazilian government called out 33,500 troops and police to secure the country’s 10,492-mile border, which it shares with 10 other nations. Unmanned aircraft as well as planes, helicopters, river patrol boats and all manner of ground vehicles were used in the effort to impede cross-border drug, weapon and human trafficking.
Up to 90 percent of the narcotics entering the world market are trafficked into Brazil from Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia, according to Brazil’s ministry of defense. Over 25,300 tons of marijuana and 1,448 pounds of cocaine, crack, and hashish were seized.
During Operation Agatha, the Brazilian Army seized almost five tons of explosives coming into the country from Paraguay. According the military, the dynamite would likely have been used in the Amazon region to extract gold in the remote areas of the jungle by illegal miners, according to the Monitor.
The focus of the $20 million exercise was “about the protection of our people, which benefits our country as a whole. It is also about building good relationships with our neighbours as we help to protect their citizens as well,” General José Carlos De Nardi, Brazil’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, told The Independent.
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Meanwhile, massive demonstrations continued in several Brazilian cities where Confederations Cup games were held, the Associated Press reported.
Originally sparked by a planned rise in Sao Paulo bus fares, the protests have taken on a life of their own – much like protests in Turkey, although have mostly been peaceful – and have drawn students, urban poor and middle class liberals protesting government corruption and the billions being spent on sports venues instead of funding improvements to schools, hospitals and transit systems.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – previously one of the country’s most popular leaders – has seen her government’s approval rating plunge by 27 percent, since the unrest started, to just 30 per cent according to an opinion poll published Saturday, the Irish Times reported.
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Iran Influence Waning?
The U.S. State Department says Iran is not actively backing terrorist cells in South America and Iran’s influence in Latin America is waning, Bloomberg reported.
A State Department report says Iran’s interest in Latin America is a “concern,” but sanctions have undermined efforts by the Islamic republic to expand its economic and political toehold in the region.
But some Republicans in Congress were unimpressed by the report’s findings. “I believe the Administration has failed to consider the seriousness of Iran’s presence here at home,” said Congressman Jeff Duncan, a South Caroloina Republican who wrote the legislation requiring the State Department report, told Bloomberg He said he questioned “the methodology that was used in developing this report.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced in May that three surveillance drones built with Iran’s help had been launched as part of an initiative to curb drug trafficking, FOX News Latino reported.
LATIN AMERICA: (UPDATE) OAS-War on Drugs; Colombia on NATO; Brazil-U.S. Meeting; Ex-Guatemala Dictator
OAS Pushback on Drugs
The Organization of American States (OAS) is holding its annual general assembly meeting in Antigua, Guatemala and the War on Drugs will be Topic A.
According to the Los Angeles Times, several Latin American governments are expected to call on the United States to find “alternatives to what is seen as an approach to fighting drugs that leans heavily on law enforcement — a strategy that has cost tens of thousands of mostly Latin American lives.”
The hemispheric organization recently issued a report that urged governments to decriminalize some drug use. Latin American nations like Mexico, Honduras — and host nation Guatemala — have been battered by drug-related corruption and violence that has left thousands of civilians, soldiers and police dead.
While the OAS study calls for discussion on legalizing marijuana, it makes no specific proposals and found there is “no significant support” among the 35 OAS members for legalizing cocaine or other drugs, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. delegation, headed by Secretary of State John Kerry, isn’t expected to accept the concept of decriminalizing marijuana use. At the Summit of the Americas last year, President Obama said he believed drug legalization was “not the answer” to the problem of drug-related violence and narco terrorism.
A senior State Department official in the U.S. delegation told reporters Tuesday (June 4) in a background briefing that Kerry “wants to contribute to a really good conversation” about counter narcotics strategy because “last year when this started, there was a lot of buzz about legalization, but there really wasn’t much behind it. There weren’t a whole lot of facts in that conversation.”
“No” to NATO
Colombia’s defense minister says the South American nation may sign a cooperation agreement on human rights, justice and troop training with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – but has not intention of joining NATO.
Juan Carolos Pinzon told a radio station that Colombia “cannot be a member, does not want to be a member of NATO.” His remarks came after President Juan Manuel Santos said his nation and NATO were going to sign an agreement “to start a whole process of reaching out, of cooperation, also with a look at entering that organization.”
That report caused an uproar among Colombia’s neighbors, especially leftist governments in Bolivia and Venezuela. But NATO officials, quoted by the AP said no membership deal is in the works. Colombia, which has been fighting a 60-year insurgency by leftist guerillas’ aligned with narcotics cartels, has been a key U.S. ally in the war on drugs.
Meeting in Brazil
Tom Kelly, the Acting U.S. Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs is in Brazil this week for the 2013 U.S.-Brazil Political Military Dialogue.
The meeting – which seeks to strengthen defense and security relations between the two countries comes in advance of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit to Washington with President Obama later this year.
Brazil, South America’s largest country by population and area, is also home to the continent’s largest economy. In recent years, Brazil has enlarged its military and military equipment – submarines, aircraft and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets – as part of a new security strategy to protect both its water resources in the Amazon and energy resources in the South Atlantic.
Last month, the former dictator of Guatemala was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in the Central American country. But just a few days later (May 21), the country’s highest court overturned the verdict. Because of a jurisdictional dispute in the case dating back to April 19, Reuters reported.
Efrain Rios Montt, 86, was convicted May 10 of overseeing the killings of more than 1,000 of the Maya Ixil population in the early 1980s. But the Constitutional Court threw out the verdict and ordered the proceeeding void going back to April 19 when a jurisdictional dispute arose after one of the presiding judges suspended the trial — because of a dispute with another judge over who should hear it.
It was unclear when the trial might restart.