- - Monday, October 8, 2012

PUNTA DEL ESTE — Latin American nations must use their police and not their military forces to enforce the law, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday, telling defense ministers here that the U.S. will help them build their capabilities.

Speaking to a conference of defense ministers from the Americas, where militaries are often used to battle drug traffickers and other guerrilla groups, Mr. Panetta said the U.S. realizes it’s sometimes difficult to decide if a threat requires the use of the military or law enforcement.

“In some cases, countries have turned to their defense forces to support civilian authorities,” Mr. Panetta said in prepared remarks. “To be clear, the use of the military to perform civil law enforcement cannot be a long-term solution.”

Mr. Panetta’s comments were aimed at several Latin American countries that turn to their militaries to fight crime or help restore order, particularly for counterdrug operations or other instances to quell violent criminal cartels.

But countries here also have been critical, at times, of the U.S. for what they see as a similar blurring of the enforcement lines by America — particularly the detention center at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists have been held since not long after the Afghanistan War began.

The U.S. can help countries ensure that they improve their abilities while still respecting human rights, laws and civilian authorities, Mr. Panetta said.

“We can and we will provide a helping hand, but ultimately civilian authorities must be able to shoulder this burden on their own,” he said.

In his remarks during the opening session of the 10th Conference of Ministers of Defense of the Americas, Mr. Panetta also encouraged the ministers to approve a new plan to set up a database that will allow the nations to better coordinate their responses to disasters.

This is Mr. Panetta’s second trip to South America this year as he works to expand U.S. military cooperation in the region and build on relationships that also can help shore up America’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region.


Magnitude-6 earthquake hits Gulf of California

MEXICO CITY — A magnitude-6 earthquake has shaken the Gulf of California coast in Mexico, but there were no reports of damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake hit at 11:26 p.m. Sunday local time and was centered 63 miles southwest of Los Mochis.

Local officials reported some panic but no known damage.


1 dead in plane crash in Antigua

KINGSTON — A tiny Caribbean airline’s plane crashed Sunday during takeoff at Antigua’s airport, killing the pilot.

The status of the three passengers aboard the FlyMontserrat plane was not clear after the accident at V.C. Bird International Airport.

FlyMontserrat spokeswoman Karen Allen said she could only confirm the death of the pilot, whose name was not released.

In the early evening, Ms. Allen said the airline was gathering information about the crash and would issue a statement later.

But hours after the crash, the airline still had not released anything.

A police spokesman in Antigua did not immediately return calls.

The twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander plane crashed off a rain-slicked runway at about 4 p.m.

It was headed from Antigua to the nearby island of Montserrat, where the tiny airline is based.

Antigua’s airport was closed for at least an hour as emergency officials responded to the crash.


First vote held under ‘Clean Record’ law

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s nationwide municipal elections Sunday may have been most notable for who won’t be taking office.

A newly effective “Clean Record” good-governance law bars people convicted of a wide range of crimes from serving in political office.

This was the first full nationwide election held under the measure since it was upheld by Brazil’s Supreme Court.

Observers say the bill is a watershed in Brazilian politics, long dominated by strongmen who milk the system for personal gain and that of their cronies, and who often resort to shady tactics to hold onto power.

Under the measure, those convicted of charges such as fraud, drug trafficking, money laundering, sexual assault and murder are barred from running for public office for eight years.

Previously, those with criminal records were only ineligible if their cases could no longer be appealed to a higher court, a glacial process in Brazil’s overstrained justice system in which appeals can run on for decades.

The law was the fruit of a rare show of grass-roots organizing. Supporters flooded lawmakers with some 4 million emails and a petition with 1.3 million signatures.

The mobilization was so effective that even those legislators who spoke against the measure ended up voting for it, and it passed the Senate unanimously in 2010.

Already, kinks have emerged.

Out of the roughly 480,000 candidates running for mayor or city council in 5,565 cities and towns across Brazil, 2,969 are being examined by Brazil’s top electoral court in connection with the Clean Record law.

The volume of red-flagged candidacies is so high that the court has processed only 764 of them to date — and it has not released a list of the candidates it has barred from taking office even if they win their races.

A spokeswoman for the court said the list will be released in coming days and that the court hopes to get through all the cases by December, before the newly elected officials take office.

If the court disqualifies a winning candidate, the second-place finisher would take office instead.

The two biggest races Sunday were for mayors of Rio de Janeiro and of Sao Paulo, South America’s biggest metropolis.

In Rio, Mayor Eduardo Paes won in the first round, with 65 percent of the vote.

In Sao Paulo, two-time presidential candidate and former Gov. Jose Serra will face former Education Minister Fernando Haddad in a runoff Oct. 28.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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