The week at a glance...Americas


Progreso, Mexico

Zetas cartel leader killed: As the Mexican government confirmed the killing of one of the country’s most feared drug lords this week, armed gunmen stole his corpse. Mexican marines gunned down Los Zetas leader Heriberto “the Executioner” Lazcano outside a baseball game and handed the corpse over to local authorities. Hours later, armed men burst into a funeral home and forced the undertaker to drive the body to another location. Lazcano, a deserter from an army special forces unit, led the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel until he split off and formed the Zetas. The ruthless group, which controls the drug trade in much of eastern Mexico, is responsible for some of Mexico’s bloodiest massacres.

Caracas, Venezuela

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Chávez re-elected: After a year spent battling cancer, President Hugo Chávez handily won re-election this week to a fourth term. It was the first time the fractured opposition rallied around a single candidate, and challenger Henrique Capriles gave the incumbent his narrowest margin of victory yet: 11 percentage points, compared with 26 in Chávez’s 2006 victory. The opposition participated freely in election monitoring, and Capriles did not dispute the results. An outspokenly anti-American socialist, Chávez is popular for pouring oil profits into anti-poverty programs, but Venezuela’s inflation rate is the fourth highest in the world.

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Soldiers are not policemen: Latin American countries should use their police forces, not their armies, to break up protests and combat drug gangs, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week. At a meeting of defense ministers from the Americas, Panetta said that while governments sometimes had to turn to soldiers in emergencies, “the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution.” He told the group that the U.S. would help them beef up their police forces. It was unclear whether Panetta’s remarks were specifically aimed at Mexico, where civilian deaths and injuries have soared since the military was deployed across the nation in 2006 to battle drug cartels. Last week, seven protesters in Guatemala were killed after soldiers were called in to help police break up a demonstration.

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