Friday, April 18, 2014

Guatemalan president promises to investigate trade unionist crimes

The economic model needs to change. Reform the justice system and increasing physical security for those threatened will help but won't quite cut it.
The Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has promised to continue investigating crimes against trade unionists and to provide them with more security if they consider their lives to be in danger.
The pledge follows increasing international pressure to end impunity in the Central American nation and seek justice for the 73 trade unionists murdered there in the past few years.
On a per capita basis, Guatemala remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist.
Workers and their unions face widespread violations of the most basic rights, such as the right to organise and to negotiate on behalf of the workers they represent.
A number of the trade unionists killed for campaigning for better labour rights had previously sought government protection after receiving death threats.
However, the protection was not given and they were subsequently murdered.
Under international pressure, the government has consequently created protection programmes to provide trade unionists with security if they feel they are at risk.
But many trade unionists say this response alone is not enough.
As long as a relatively small number of Guatemalan and international businesses benefit from the economic model and utilize the political system to defend their privileged position to the exclusion of nearly everyone else, promises of increased security for trade unionists is not going to be that effective.

In other news, Guatemalan authorities arrested a suspect in the killing of prominent chef and restaurateur Humberto Dominguez of Kakao.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

To join or not to join - gangs and the police in El Salvador
From Reuters
El Salvador's government on Wednesday said it would charge gang members who attack police and military personnel under anti-terrorism laws, which impose longer prison sentences, to crack down on rising homicides in the poor Central American nation.
Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo blamed a faction of the country's Barrio 18 gang for ordering attacks against government troops, saying there had been 60 so far this year.
I don't necessarily have a problem with imposing stiffer penalties on individuals, whether connected to a gang or not, who assault and/or kill security officials. I'm just not a fan of having them fall under the country's anti-terrorism laws - the same laws, I believe, that were used by ARENA to round up anti-water privatization protesters in Suchitoto in 2007.

While attacks by gangs against the police are up over 50 percent, not all police appear to be the target of the gangs. In Santa Ana, officers arrested one of their own for drunk driving. The officer was arrested along with his four driving companions - all allegedly members of the Barrio 18 gang.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear

Christine Wade and I have a post in today's World Politics Review on To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear. Here's the kicker:
While ARENA demonstrated that it can still get voters to the polls, doubts remain as to whether the party will conduct the self-reflection required to modernize itself. Following the 2009 loss to the FMLN, several ARENA members also sought to renovate the party. While acknowledging that they had accomplished much after occupying the presidency for 20 years, they also admitted that ARENA had sometimes failed to protect low- and middle-income Salvadorans against the abuses of the state and some of the country’s wealthy businessmen. They called for an ARENA that would represent all those in support of democracy and individual freedom, regardless of their political inclinations, not a party that only defended the interests of a select few. However, as in the past, would-be ARENA reformers’ calls for renovation fell on deaf ears. Unless ARENA embraces such reforms moving forward, its appeal will continue to be driven by fear, rather than the offer of a credible political alternative.  
I'm not optimistic, at least in the short-term, but I am rooting for a renovated ARENA that emerges from this recent electoral loss as a pro-democratic and pro-capitalist political party that many Salvadorans desire.

Divergent views on the failed Salvadoran gang truce?

Steve Dudley looks at 2 Divergent Views on El Salvador Gang Truce, 1 Sad Conclusion for Insight Crime.
1. A means for the gangs to strengthen their political, social and military standing in an attempt to become a sophisticated narco-criminal-political movement.
2. A way for the gangs to better incorporate themselves into society via social and economic programs while lowering levels of violence amongst themselves and against authorities.
It's a bit of a chicken or an egg problem. Has the truce failed in El Salvador because national (the gangs themselves, the PNC, government, society, the business community) and international actors (the United States) failed to support it or was there never a truce in the first place (hidden graves, continued criminal activity) so there was no reason for national and international groups to support it?

I'll just stick with what I said in June 2012.
Earlier this week, the truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang in El Salvador reached the 100-day mark. The truce has reduced homicides from approximately 14 to 5 per day. In recent weeks, that number has climbed a bit to 7.
The truce provides an important opportunity to reduce overall levels of violence in El Salvador. While most of the reporting is on whether 60,000 or so gang members can change, the truce won't stick if we are just asking the men and women who are members of gangs to change.
The state needs to change and make reforms that move its public security institutions away from mano dura and super man dura. The policies were critical to the expansion of gang-related crime. (I will have more on this at Al Jazeera probably this weekend).
If death squads that are eliminating gang member and former gang members continue to operate with impunity in El Salvador, the truce is bound to fail. If police continue to abuse gang members, whether they are in the process of arresting them or just harassing them, the truce is unlikely to hold. As long as prison conditions remain inhumane and authorities keep rounding up young men and women, the truce is unlikely to hold.
Finally, US foreign policy towards El Salvador, including economic, immigration, and security assistance, needs to change. El Salvador needs foreign direct investment and jobs. American businesses should be encouraged to invest in El Salvador to take advantage of the Millennium grants and the US' Partnership for Growth. Businesses or politicians that redirect investment to El Salvador should not come under political attack.
President Obama's decision to withhold deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants is a good start, but won't substitute for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for most of those living in the US illegally. President Obama could move to make TPS for Salvadorans permanent instead of two year extensions that look like they will go on forever.
Finally, the US needs to change its security assistance / approach to El Salvador - more financial and human resources need to be dedicated to gang prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies. The US could provide more support to the country's criminal justice system. Perhaps, at this time, there could be a serious discussion as to how to better assist gang members who want to leave the violence behind. Historically, it doesn't look like the US and Salvadoran governments have been able to deal effectively with gang members who want out or those who have gotten out.
I don't expect all 60,000 gang members in El Salvador to miraculously change their lives around. How do we assist those that do (10k, 20k, 30k?)? Experience has shown that many are going to fail on their first effort at transforming their lives. Are Salvadoran and US authorities ready to work with these young men and women, some not so young, so that as many as possible can turn their lives around?
So just to be clear, the truce gives the gang members a chance to reclaim lives of dignity for themselves and their families. However, it's not just the gang members that need to change. US policy and the Salvadoran state and people also need to change. They are getting a second chance as well.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dancing one's way out of Central America's gangs

Anna-Claire Bevan has the write-up on BBoy for Life, a new film about young Guatemalans who have turned to break dancing in order to give meaning to their lives and to help escape the country's gangs.
Guatemala City´s ghettos are renowned for their gangs, drugs and violence, but when US-born director Coury Deeb stayed in one, he saw a different side to life in the slums – one of people trying to escape their surroundings, through dance.
“We met with some B-Boys and learned that though they look like gangsters, many of them are not gangsters or involved in criminal activities. Yet they live next door to gangsters who often pursue them to join their gangs.
“What we saw with the B-Boys was a group who desire to be a part of something good, to express themselves through art, through B-Boying, which is an element of hip hop. Their threat is very real so they dance largely to stay out of the gangs,” says Coury whose film production company, Nadus Films, believes in using what you´re good at to serve and empower people.
Shining a light on the breakdancing subculture of Guatemala City, BBoy for Life showcases the struggles and triumphs of Cheez, Gato and Leidy as they contend with dance and gang life in some of the roughest ghettos of Central America.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Radio Progreso employee murdered in Honduras

Radio Progreso marketing manager Carlos Mejía Orellana was found murdered in his home in the northern city of El Progreso on the night of 11 April. He was stabbed several times in the chest.
Mejía had worked for the past 13 years for El Progreso-based Radio Progreso, one of the many Honduran media that criticized the 2009 coup d'état. According to he station's manager, Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, around 15 of its employees have received death threats since the coup.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) formally asked the Honduran government to protect Mejía in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Father Moreno has accused the authorities of ignoring these requests and the threats Mejía received, although his life was clearly in danger.
Let me just say that I don't have a lot of faith in the Honduran police who are allegedly leaning towards chalking up Mr. Mejia's murder to "a crime of passion."

Does Torture Work? Evidence from Guatemala

Christopher Sullivan, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan and a Fellow at Yale University’s Program on Order, Conflict, and Violence, has a guest post up at Political Violence @ a Glance based on a recent article he published in the Journal of Peace Research.

I haven't read the original article (you can read it here) but it does look very interesting. There's a lot of quantitative data out there on the Guatemalan civil war that is available to scholars who are interested in trying to answer questions about the local level dynamics of the conflict. 
In a new article at the Journal of Peace Research, I bring to bear micro-level data from Guatemala to generate a systematic evaluation of how torture affects violence within the context of an organized insurgency. This is a case in which highly skilled military personnel tortured with near impunity. Among other tactics, agents of the Guatemalan military forced the victims to stand hooded for hours or days, forced them to eat excrement, forced them to stay awake for days at a time, refused to give them food or water, subjected them to electric shocks, stripped them naked, burned them with cigarettes, suspended them from chains, sexually abused them, submerged them in water, cut them and broke their fingers. Combining data from Guatemala’s Commission for Historical Clarification with a research strategy designed to overcome many of the hurdles associated with causal inference, the analysis identifies how local-level dynamics of violence change in the aftermath of torture. The study examines torture’s impacts on subsequent killings perpetrated by both insurgents and counter-insurgents.
Two trends emerge from the analysis:
  • First, torture has no identifiable systematic association with decreases in insurgent perpetrated killings.
  • Second, torture is shown to be robustly associated with increased killings perpetrated by counterinsurgents.