Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Church and Central America

I'm starting my first week of class and my first semester as chair of the political science department so things are a bit hectic. Hopefully, I'll get matters figured out soon enough. Fortunately, we have a three-day weekend (four for me since I don't teach Tuesday) coming up. Now for the news.

W. Alejandro Sanchez writes on Pope pushes for beatification of Archbishop Romero. I still support Romero's canonization but I doubt that it will impact the violence and it might even make politics more divisive in El Salvador. I can't find the link but an opinion poll from a few years ago indicated that a majority of Salvadorans were unfamiliar with Romero.

Tim has a Pastoral initiative for peace coming from Christian and Catholic religious leaders looking to reduce gang-violence.

The Anglican-Episcopal Church in El Salvador has a new bishop, Juan David Alvarado.

The Guardian takes a stab at Pope Francis and liberation theology in a recent editorial. Here's what I wrote about possible changes in the Church should the Cardinals elect someone from Latin America.
Electing the next Pope from Latin America, or anywhere in the global south, would be symbolically important. Africa counts the fastest growing Catholic population, but Latin America is still home to the world's largest concentration of Catholics. While most Catholics today voluntarily profess their religion, Catholicism was violently imposed on the indigenous population that originally inhabited what we today call Latin America over five hundred years ago. And, it was only fifty years ago that Latin American bishops first travelled to Rome to participate in the Second Vatican Council after having been seen as second class for centuries. Given the large number of Catholics residing in Latin America and the global south, a successor from the south would be tremendously symbolic even if he were cut from the same conservative mold as his two most recent predecessors.
However, it is not all about symbolism. The selection of a Latin American pope might help to rejuvenate a Church that has lost ground in recent decades to Protestant and evangelical churches. It might help to heal the rift that occurred between those who supported a theology of liberation and those who preferred that the Church remain more traditional, some might say apolitical. Finally, the selection of a Latin American Pope might give added hope for the canonisation of the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.
However, in some ways, what might also change with the selection of a Latin American, African or Asian pope, is how the media, Catholics and non-Catholics listen to the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as their predecessors, have spoken very strongly not only on social issues, which get the most attention, but on issues such as the damaging effects of capitalism, poverty, inequality, climate change, the environment, migration, and war. Their stances on these important issues does not excuse them for the areas in which they have failed. But perhaps the selection of a pope from outside of continental Europe will force many to listen, not blindly of course, to what the Church has to say on many other important issues of the day.
In Guatemala, Elizabeth Bell writes about Francisco Marroquín: Guatemala’s first bishop and linguist. He has a park or two named after him in Antigua and a university in Guatemala City although I'm not sure what his connection to the individualistic thought of the university is. The community feeling at the Landivar and the UCA are just so much more appealing for my tastes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So how about some links from Guatemala?

Senator Rand Paul was on Meet the Press this weekend discussing his recent campaign trip medical mission to Guatemala. He might understand the actual causes of undocumented migration to the United States, but publicly he finds it more opportune to attack President Obama on bogus charges. I am hopeful that providing improved sight to hundreds of people outweigh the politics of the trip.

Victims and killers - niños sicarios.

US trade officials give Guatemala more time to install labor overhaul
Under the labor plan, Guatemala has agreed to strengthen labor inspections, increase labor law compliance by exporting companies, improve the monitoring and enforcement of labor court orders and establish mechanisms to ensure that workers are paid what they are owed when factories close, according to the USTR. 
At some point the US is just going to have to go to arbitration or give up. I'm not sure anyone thinks that labor conditions or enforcement of laws on the books is going to happen within the next four months or even four years.

Guatemala declares drought emergency
The Guatemalan government declared Monday a state of public emergency in the country's 22 provinces as a result of the prolonged drought that has affected more than 200,000 families and caused agriculture losses in the millions.
Central America is a beautiful region with picturesque volcanoes and beautiful coastlines. Unfortunately even the most well-intentioned development projects are going to be and have hamstrung by flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, and drought. There's a certain the US and Central American governments and agencies need to provide significantly more assistance to their populations not necessarily to improve conditions in the region but simply to prevent them from getting any worse.

Guatemala is in the final stages of purchasing two coastal patrol craft.

Guatemala: Inside the Border Crisis

And a not so atypical story - On Monday, Salvadoran police detained two Nicaraguans who were transporting nine Nepalese and three Bengalis on their way to the United States. They were apprehended while trying to enter Guatemala illegally.

Is Guatemala The Next Big Central American Must-See?
Everyone’s been to Costa Rica, most have hit Belize on a cruise ship, and let’s face it, the Yucatan Peninsula is pretty much been there, done that. Guatemala, however, is quickly becoming the new, fresh, must-see destination in Central America.
I only started going to Guatemala in the late 1990s when I heard the same thing. I imagine this is no different from what Guatemalans were saying in 1897. Here's Lisa Munro (maybe she'll post something on her blog or send it to me to post here)
The Central American Exposition flung open its gates to international audiences on March 15, 1897 in the capital city of Guatemala to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the nation’s independence. At the appointed hour, President Reina Barrios pressed a button that sent a telegraph over newly installed electrical wires with news of the exposition to distant regions of the globe. Parades and military bands played the new national anthem and accompanied the president, the exposition’s central committee, and other important guests to the fairgrounds.According to the official bulletin of the central committee, more than 40,000 people attended the exposition on the opening day.
Swept up in the global mania for world’s fairs, Guatemalan leaders and their fellow Central American counterparts seized on the idea of hosting an international exposition to refute their former colonial status, dispel prevailing stereotypes of their backwardness and barbarity and, in conscious imitation of the United States and Europe, promote their economic potential and draw foreign investment. World’s fairs allowed for the articulation of national ideals of progress, modernity, and visually illustrated a nation’s collective identity in an international context. Most expositions of the late nineteenth century attempted to promote a sense of national identity and pride by uniting citizens through exhibits that emphasized shared cultural values and important national symbols. 
Unfortunately, some things never change.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Canonization of Oscar Romero might not lead to peace but...

Tim Padgett argues for Saving El Salvador: Why The Vatican Needs To Make Archbishop Romero A Saint.
But this week Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, finally pledged a fast-track beatification for Romero. Let’s hope his canonization comes just as quickly, because Romero’s sainthood is a spiritual and social tonic that El Salvador and Central America desperately need.
It could, in fact, help the region pull out of its homicidal tailspin.
I'm all for canonizing Oscar Romero. He is truly a man of faith who was murdered for professing the Catholic faith. His outspoken support for the poor and the oppressed led directly to his murder.

I hope progress on recognizing Romero a saint will help reduce the violence in El Salvador, but I don't think that there's any reasons to link the two. I also wonder whether it might make things worse. In Guatemala, there was some support for improving the justice system and recognizing the crimes of the past over the last few years. That all stopped when it came to prosecuting those who ordered the scorched earth program of the 1980s.

Similar things have happened in El Salvador. President Mauricio Funes and the last FMLN government apologized on behalf of the state for a number of civil war era crimes. They recently set aside some money for victims of the war. However, there has been push back against efforts by the Spanish judiciary to prosecute those responsible for the murders of the UCA Jesuits and staff - a constitutional crisis. The military would not cooperate with efforts to release records on the disappeared youth - instead, Pro-Busqueda was attacked. And the military will not stop honoring those accused of massive human rights violations.

Recognizing Romero as a saint won't go over too well with those who see him as a communist and as a person who was leading the country down the path of revolution. The Nicaraguan Church's support for the removal of Somoza was important to convincing many Catholics to give the broad-based but Sandinista-led insurgency an opportunity. Romero wasn't at the point of throwing the Catholic Church's support behind the guerrillas (he had just supported the October 15 coup) but there was fear that he would eventually. That was unacceptable.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Drug war and pandilla articles in LARR

The Latin American Research Review has two articles of interest to readers.The first is Drug Wars Collateral Damage: US Counternarcotic Aid and Human Rights in the Americas by Horace A. Bartilow of the University of Kentucky.
Abstract: Existing case-study research suggests that the recent increase in human rights violations in Latin America is attributed to the US-funded drug war. This narrative, which is referred to as the collateral damage perspective, stands in contrast to US human rights law, which makes governments’ respect for human rights a precondition to receive aid. The apparent endogeneity between aid and human rights introduces bias that casts serious doubts on the validity of the collateral damage narrative. In addressing endogeneity, this article presents a simultaneous instrumental variable analysis of the human rights effects of US counternarcotic aid in the Americas.
The results show that while counternarcotic aid to regimes increases overall violations of human rights, this effect is greater among democracies than autocracies. And with the exception of torture, this finding is consistent when disappearances, political imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings are also considered. The implication of this research suggests that policy makers in Washington risk losing regional support for US drug control policies if US laws that govern the allocation of aid are not effectively implemented.
The second article is  Pandillas and Security in Central America by Thomas C. Bruneau of the Naval Postgraduate School.
Abstract: This article introduces the topic of pandillas (street gangs) and their implications for security in Central America. There is minimal scholarly literature on pandillas and security. In part this is due to serious challenges in analyzing pandillas. First, pandilla members consider truth to be situational; data derived directly from them is suspect. Second, those who know most about them are involved in NGOs that rely on foreign assistance for their work. The project reports they produce go to funders abroad and are generally not published. Third, to research and write on pandillas is dangerous.
I can't say that the articles excited me too much but maybe they'll work for you.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

MS-13 leader freed in Guatemala

I'm having a hard time following the story on Ángel Gabriel Reyes, one of the national leaders of Mara Salvatrucha in Guatemala (un ranflero (cabecilla nacional) de la clica Locos Centrales Salvatruchas y su principal zona de operación es el municipio y departamento de Chimaltenango). He had been in a Guatemalan prison since December. While out on a medical visit earlier this week, however, three armed men freed him. They also took the guards' AK-47 and 9mm pistol (not sure if plural).

According to this article from El Periodico, Reyes was expelled from El Salvador after completing a ten-year prison sentence for his involvement in the murder of 237 people. That sure seems like very few years for such a rap sheet. While life imprisonment is not always the solution, how does someone directly involved in the murder of 237 people only receive a ten-year sentence?

However, in this other article, Reyes, another Guatemalan gang leader, and five Salvadorans were arrested on November 20th as they traveled with false documents from Guatemala to El Salvador to meet with other gang leaders from Centrales Locos Salvatruchas. This particularly click is known for running arms trafficking and extortion rings out of San Salvador. After Reyers' arrest on lesser charges in El Salvador (illicit association), he was handed over to Interpol which handed him off to Guatemalan authorities. Prensa Libre reported in February that he had been arrested November 26th in El Salvador because of his tattoos which I imagine is their way of saying illicit association. The men were originally stopped, it seems, because they were driving with their headlights off. Finally, this Prensa Libre article makes no mention of the circumstances surrounding his arrest, just his escape.

I'm guessing that the El Periodico article simply had this (En septiembre de 2013, Reyes fue expulsado de El Salvador, luego de cumplir una condena de diez años por el delito de asesinato de 237 personas) wrong. He was wanted in Guatemala for assassination; he hadn't served anytime, other than preventive holding, in El Salvador.

Anyway, his arrest and deportation is a strong sign of cooperation between El Salvador and Guatemalan authorities. He could have been prosecuted on lesser charges in El Salvador and then simply disappeared but he was sent to the country where the charges were more serious. Bilateral cooperation and regional cooperation is another challenge that the Central American, Mexican, and US governments need to continue to improve upon.

However, the fact that one of the national leaders of the MS-13 in Guatemala can be freed within months of his arrest while going for some food during a medical exam is unacceptable. El Salvador and the US have their own problems but why are they going to trust the Guatemalan authorities and penitentiary system when individuals wanted in the murders of over 200 people can so easily escape?

Overcrowding, deplorable conditions, and too many people spending years in a jail without trial are three problems that get the most attention when looking at Central American prison conditions. However, it is clear in Guatemala that another problem is the fact the prisons do not have the resources to medically treat inmates. They need to transport prisoners to facilities in other parts of the country. That led to Reyes' escape and to problems related to Byron Lima leaving prison whenever he wanted. I can't say that we should expect prisons to be staffed with medical professionals anytime soon, but we are likely to continue to read stories about people escaping until they do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A speedy canonization for Oscar Romero

In May, there were conflicting reports from the Vatican as to whether or not the beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was entering its final stages. Those rumors came two months after we had heard that there was a good possibility that Romero would be recognized a saint within three years.

Now we hear that Pope Francis had lifted the ban on Romero's beatification which had been holding up the process. Beatification would move Romero once step closer to sainthood. The Pope made the encouraging comments on his way home from South Korea.
Francis told journalists traveling home from South Korea that Romero's case had previously been "blocked out of prudence" by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but has now been "unblocked." He said the case had passed to the Vatican's saint-making office.
The congregation launched a crackdown on liberation theology under then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, fearing what was deemed as Marxists excesses. The movement holds the view that Jesus' teachings imbue followers with a duty to fight for social and economic justice.
Francis said of Romero's case that "it is important to do it quickly," but that the investigation must take its course.
He declared that Romero "was a man of God" and suggested that he wanted to expand the church's concept of martyrdom to include a broader field of candidates.
Unlike regular candidates for beatification, martyrs can reach the first step to possible sainthood without a miracle attributed to their intercession. A miracle is needed for canonization, however.
Traditionally, the church has restricted the martyr designation to people who were killed out of hatred for the Catholic faith. Francis said he wanted theologians to study whether those who were killed because of their actions doing God's work could also be considered martyrs.
"What I would like is that they clarify when there's a martyrdom for hatred of the faith — for confessing the faith — as well as for doing the work for the other that Jesus commands," Francis said.
Questions over that distinction have been at the root of the theological debate over whether Romero was killed by El Salvador's right-wing death squads for professing the faith or because of his political activism in support of the poor.
I'm not sure there'll be an announcement before the 35th anniversary of Romero's death which will occur in March. However, it does sound that Francis is hoping to speed up the process. Perhaps an announcement will come before Francis makes a trip to the east coast next September.

While there has been no official announcement, it appears that Francis is interested in giving speeches at the United Nations in NYC, Family Day in Philadelphia, and Congress in Washington, D.C.

Joint US-Guatemala anti-drug program failure

The Washington Examiner has a report on the difficulties that the US confronts transferring responsibility in the war on drugs to Guatemala with Joint U.S.-Guatemalan anti-drug program jeopardized by Central American government's late payments. In 2013, the Obama administration encouraged the Guatemalan government to operate its own an anti-narcotic air wing rather than rely on the US. That also seems consistent with President Perez Molina's repeated calls for the US to provide his government with the support necessary to fight the war on drugs. However, the Guatemalan government's failure to pay for the program has resulted in such poor maintenance of the helicopters that, at times, only one of six have been capable of operating.
Washington donated six upgraded Huey II helicopters, a modernized version of the Bell UH-1, to serve as Guatemala’s new anti-drug air fleet.
The Obama administration heralded the program and assisted the Guatemalan government in an award of a three-year contract to the two companies.
Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina and U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon watched from a viewing stand Oct. 8, 2013, as the six helicopters flew in formation over Guatemala City's La Aurora air base.
Perez hailed the helicopter transfer as “a vote of confidence for Guatemala from the United States,” according to Dialogo, a military magazine published by U.S. Southern Command.
As early as December 2013, however, it became clear the Interior Ministry was having trouble making the monthly payments on time, according to a knowledgeable individual who was willing to speak only on the basis of anonymity.
The Guatemalan government was three and a half months behind in its payments by June of this year.
The failure to pay on time dramatically affected the availability of the helicopter air fleet by hobbling the company’s ability to maintain an adequate inventory of spare parts, according to a second knowledgeable individual.
Only two of the six helicopters were airworthy due to lack of parts on multiple occasions, and there have been times when only one of the helicopters was airworthy.
None of the helicopters met the 120 hours of flight time required for training purposes during the past three months. The contract required training for 12 Guatemalan Air Force pilots.
People rely on the military because they have little trust in the police. The US relies on its own counter-narcotic support because it has little faith in the region's capabilities and, at times, willingness.

We can't operate an a fleet of six helicopters so let's go out and purchase two patrol boats. That would bring our total number of patrol boats to two. Maybe that'll work.