Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Centroamérica en el siglo XXI

During my 2013 Fulbright to Guatemala, I gave a series of lectures at the Rafael Landivar University on United States - Central American relations in the post Cold War period. While not perfect, the first talk covered eight years of Bill Clinton and the second eight years of George Bush. The third talk covered the first Obama term with an eye towards his second term.
“Barack Obama, América Central y el future de las relaciones EE.UU. – América Central.” June 2013.
“El Impacto de los atentados del 11-S en las relaciones EE.UU. – América Central.” May 2013.
“Las Relaciones EE.UU. – América Central después de la Guerra Fría.” April 2013.
Alberto Martin and I more fully developed the presentations and they were just published by the Landivar as "Las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Centroamérica en el siglo XXI" in La Politica Exterior de Estados Unidos, (Colección Cátedra de Coyuntura Internacional n.º 4, Guatemala, 2014: 103-176).

In addition to our entry, the university included contributions from Beatríz Zepeda on "Los desafíos de las relaciones internacionales en el siglo XXI", Josefina del Prado on "Obama y el cambio: política exterior de EEUU," Carlota García Encina on "¿Pragmatismo o debilidad? La política internacional del presidente Obama," Ana Esther Ceceña on "La dominación de espectro completo sobre América," and Claudio Katz on "Bloques y problemas de América Latina."

Click here if you'd like to take a read.

Guatemala's poor getting poorer

According to a recent report, Guatemala is the only country in the region where the poor have been getting poorer. In 2012, the poorest 40 percent of the country's people lived on $1.50 per day. That is worse than 2003 when the bottom 40 percent lived on $1.60 per day.

Last I read poverty had improved to where only 51 percent of the population had lived in poverty but then increased again following the global economic and food crises as well as insecurity, natural disasters, and other issues more specific to Guatemala. (Poverty in GuatemalaPoverty decreased by twenty percentage points - that's good, right?)

Go take a look at the brief article. No need for me to summarize it all here. However, what was really disappointing was the concluding paragraph.
According to World Bank simulations, if Guatemala's rate of growth were to rise to 5 percent over the next three years, by 2016 the poverty rate could fall by an additional 1 percentage point, thereby allowing 160,000 more Guatemalans to escape poverty.
I haven't read anything that indicates 5 percent over the next three years is possible. The Perez Molina government has been all about encouraging foreign investment and promoting economic growth but the results have been mixed.

Really makes me wonder how neighboring El Salvador has been able to decrease poverty by 10 percentage points over the last several years with horrible growth rates. Social programs help, of course, as due remittances (which Guatemala also enjoys) but there's something fishy going on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Latin America's Dirty Wars - a false equivalency?

The Economist had a not so great piece arguing that the Latin American “Dirty war” memorials should not be used to rewrite the past. Otto, Lillie, Steven and Colin all have good responses to the misinformed Economist article. I sympathize with The Economist's article but it's a mistake to look for balance where there is none.

The authoritarian right in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc.) carried out brutality on a scale that was disproportionate to anything that the authoritarian left has executed (Nicaragua, Cuba). I think that there has been a tendency to romanticize the revolutionary left, failure to investigate their human rights violations, and excuse/justify their crimes when uncovered. However, one needs to be careful with any false equivalency.

A friend and I were discussing some of the crimes of the FMLN last week in Berlin. We discussed Mayo Sibrian. He seems to have been responsible for hundreds of deaths of civilians and FMLN in the mid-1980s. However, when speaking with FMLN sympathizers, I was also told that the deaths were more in the dozens and was the work of a drunk commander one weekend. I don't know. The terror carried out by Sibrian seems to have been carried out over a much longer time period and to have involved many more than dozens.

The killings were also known at the time. According to some documentation and interviews, internacionalistas and other guerrillas knew about the massacres. They even spoke to the FPL about the allegations. The FPL, including its commander Salvador Sanchez Ceren, didn't seem to care and didn't bother to investigate.

The FMLN also engaged in forced recruitment, including youth, and the killings of mayors. The recruits and the mayors were both civilians. However, when I wrote that in my 2010 article on violence during the Salvadoran civil war, a reviewer kept trying to downplay the events. It was only the ERP that was engaged in forced recruitment, not the entire organization and it was only for a little while before they realized their mistake. It was again, an attempt to downplay the violence committed by the FMLN. The ERP, on the other hand, complained that they were the political-military organization that was most truthful about the crimes that they committed during the war. The other organizations were not as upfront and therefore did not look as bad in the country's truth commission.

Finally, the truth commission covers 1980-1991 which is convenient to the insurgents. The war started with the failure of the October 15, 1979 coup and the March 24, 1980 murder of Oscar Romero. It started after the fraudulent 1972 and 1977 elections. However, the guerrillas had already formed in the early 1970s. Some even traveled to Guatemala in the 1960s to engage in guerrillas warfare training (two even died fighting in Guatemala). They then carried out kidnappings, assassinations, and bank robberies during the 1970s. However, by marking the beginning of the war in 1979 and 1980, it does overlook a lot of what happened during the years before the outbreak of large-scale violence. It also explains why the Salvadoran right gets upset when the latter dates are used to explain the outbreak of the war. Many of them had been targeted prior to the official start of the war.    

In Guatemala, there have been documented massacres by the guerrillas, including one where a local commander was recently found guilty in a Guatemalan court. In interviews I've carried out with former guerrillas, two mentioned that their biggest regret was the way that they and their comrades treated people within their ranks. Revolutionary justice was carried out against guerrillas who gave away the group's position or somehow else endangered the political-military organization. There was little tolerance.

In Nicaragua, they Sandinistas led a broad-based coalition against the Somoza regime. However, while not entirely the Sandinistas' fault, they alienated pro-democratic (at least in the formal liberal sense) members of their coalition early on during the revolutionary government. They also alienated one of their key supporters during the downfall of Somoza - Costa Rica. They criticized their democratic ally as being a lackey of the US. I wouldn't say that makes them equally authoritarian to the region's right, not even close, as The Economist article would lead one to conclude.

Of course the guerrillas carried out violence against those within their own ranks, against the civilian population, and against government officials - acts that fall outside the rules of war. We have not paid enough attention to documenting, understanding, or explaining how and/or why the violence occurred. It's not clear that any of the revolutionary coalitions that did not come to power would have ruled in a democratic, human rights friendly fashion. Their behavior during the war leads me to think that they would not have ruled in a very heavy-handed fashion. Well, maybe except for the Shining Path and/or FARC.  

However, that's a far cry from drawing any false equivalency between the left and the right when it comes to their behavior in Latin America during the Cold War.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Border Disputes, Political Tensions Threaten Needed Cooperation in Central America

As Central Americans celebrate their independence today, Christine Wade has analysis on some of the difficulties that impede regional cooperation in the 21st century for the World Politics Review.

Here's the opening of her analysis on Border Disputes, Political Tensions Threaten Needed Cooperation in Central America.
In the first week of September, the Honduran military raised the Honduran flag over the disputed Conejo Island, quickly raising the ire of El Salvador’s government. The incident as well as other recent border disputes highlighted tensions within the region at a time when cooperation and collaboration are more important than ever. 
The timing of the flap was illustrative on a symbolic level as well: On Sept. 15, five Central American states—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—will jointly celebrate 193 years of independence. Once united in a short-lived federation, the domestic and international politics of these five countries remain deeply intertwined. Since independence, the region has suffered from its share of domestic turmoil and foreign intervention, at times both uniting and dividing countries in the isthmus. 
Go check it out.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Immigration in NEPA

I am quoted in this Scranton business article on the likely impact of immigration on northeast Pennsylvania. I'm in Germany until tomorrow night. At some point this week, I'll be back to regular blogging.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

CICIG: another game-changing arrest in Guatemala?

Mirte Postema has an article up at Americas Quarterly on CICIG Investigation Could be a Game-Changer for Guatemala. I don't know about a game-changer. Whenever I've thought that Guatemala might have turned the corner, it's all come crashing down in disappointment.

There are many things of interest to the recent Lima arrest however. The clear connections between organized crime and elected officials is all over this scandal, particularly with regards to Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party. But given that Lima built him empire over the Portillo, Berger, Colom, and Perez administrations, the scandal will reach many people across all administrations.

CICIG had announced that they were going to focus on organized crime and the political system, primarily campaign financing, during the last two years of its mandate. The recent arrests clearly fit this focus even though the arrests so far have fallen mostly in the organized crime camp rather than the public officials camp. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now back to the conference.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Guatemalan immigrant poised to win seat in US Congress

Norma Torres
Norma Torres sees herself in some of the Central American children who have flooded into the United States in recent months.
More than four decades ago in Guatemala, Torres' parents told her she was going to the United States on a vacation. They declined to tell her she would not be coming back. Now 49, Torres is the favorite in a race between two Democratic candidates to represent a Los Angeles-area district in the House.
"In many ways, I see the decision these children have made ... like the decision my parents made for me," Torres said in a recent telephone interview. "They wanted an opportunity for me to grow up and be a successful person."
Torres' candidacy takes place as Hispanics gain increasing political influence in the United States and as Congress struggles over how to proceed on immigration policy. Hispanics make up nearly 70 percent of the district that she seeks to represent, and nationally, Latinos overwhelmingly support Democrats. But in the House, Democrats are expected to remain in the minority after the November midterm elections.
Go here to read more about Norma Torres, a woman who might become the first person of Guatemalan descent to be elected to the US Congress.