Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lake Atitlan

Atitlan is indeed breathtaking, but nowadays it is leaving many visitors gasping for breath. A thick brown sludge is tarnishing its once blue waters. It is the result of decades of ecological imbalance, brought on by economic and demographic pressures. The unsightly and smelly layer, more than 100 feet deep in some areas, is chasing tourists away from Mayan towns in the area and posing huge cleanup expenses to a government already strapped for cash. Worse, the results of a University of California, Davis, analysis found that the bacteria is toxic. Scientists are urging residents to avoid cooking with, bathing in or drinking the water. Several towns get drinking water from the lake.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vigilante Justice

Via The Associated Press: Guatemala mob kills, burns 3 suspected criminals:

Police say a mob in Guatemala burned to death two men and a woman suspected of killing a local bus driver...
Police say the three were taken into custody for allegedly shooting to death the bus driver and wounding 2 passengers.
National Police spokesman Donald Gonzalez says about 400 residents later showed up at the police station, set fire to three patrol cars and forced the outnumbered officers to turn over the suspects.

The mob then beat the trio unconscious, doused them with gasoline and set them alight on Friday...
Even when the police have suspects arrested, Guatemalans continue to take matters into their own hands.  There is little faith that those arrested will ever being prosecuted and/or convicted.  The police force is perceived as one of the most corrupt in the hemisphere and there is little faith in the judicial system. 

One of the interesting pieces to this story is that the mob forced the police to turn over the suspects.  In previous cases, the mobs simply prevented the police from arresting the suspects before carrying out extra-judicial "justice."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

News roundup

Here are several recent news stories related to Guatemala that I haven't had time to comment on:
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The lobby against recognizing Honduras' elections

The following is a copy of a letter sent to Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs by over fifty scholars and practitioners involved in Central America.

Dr. Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Arturo:

As a group of scholars of Central America we ask that you seek to change the ill advised position taken by Mr. Thomas Shannon that would recognize the results of the Honduran election even though Pres Zelaya is not restored to office. This sets a terrible precedent that undermines the wave of democratization that has swept the region because it in essence legitimizes a coup. It is at odds with the other Latin American nations.

We ask also that the Department of State not fund election observation missions by the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, as announced by Senator Richard Lugar. This would legitimize a patently illegitimate poll. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, said he would not send observers to monitor the November 29th elections, while many of the OAS's member countries said they would not recognize the election winner unless Zelaya was reinstated. Will you push for reconsideration of the decision to send U.S. observers?

The issue is not whether technical election procedures are carried out, or if the ballots are counted accurately, but rather the effects on the election of the coup. Several candidates have withdrawn because they do not wish to legitimize an election sponsored by a coup government, including Carlos H. Reyes of the Independent Party and leader of the resistance movement against the coup. It is highly unlikely that the forces behind the coup would have allowed him to take office were he to win. The broad-based national resistance movement has called for a total boycott of the elections and a number of candidates have withdrawn. Press reports note that as many as 110 mayoral and 55 congressional candidates have withdrawn because they do not believe the elections will be free and fair.

We are concerned that there appear to be powerful forces (beyond the individual efforts of Senator Jim DeMint) pushing the United States in the direction of acceptance of efforts to roll back the democratic gains in Latin America because of the election of some or all candidates of the left. Could you tell us if you perceive these rollback efforts as a threat and, if so, what your plans are to minimize them?

Human rights violations continue. The Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) notes, in its second report since the coup, that the de facto government relies on:
“the use of excessive force on the part of military and police, control of the media and closure of media outlets that are not allies of the regime, use of paramilitaries to intimidate, threaten and kidnap those opposed to the coup, and the emission of illegal decrees that suspend the exercise of fundamental rights.... It is clear that a repressive apparatus is being mounted to intimidate and annihilate resistance to the coup. In the 115 days since the coup, thousands of human rights violations have been registered that reflect the evolution of state violence and the rupture of institutionality.”
The United States should forcefully condemn these human rights violations. We ask that it announce that the U.S. will not fund observers to the Nov. 29 elections, and that it not recognize the election results, and that we will work with other members of the Inter-American community to resolve this crisis in a way that reflects democratic processes and respects human rights.


Iran Contra

Crime History: U.S. 'fesses up to Iran Contra affair Washington Examiner

By: Freeman Klopott


"On this day, Nov. 25, in 1986, U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese makes public the details of the Iran Contra affair, in which profits from weapons sales to Iran were illegally diverted to aid anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.
Iran was subject to an arms embargo when U.S. officials agreed to sell the country weapons in return for the release of hostages. The cash, was then used to fund the Nicaraguan Contras fighting communists there.
Israel served as a go-between the United States and Iran by selling the weapons to Iran and sending the cash back the United States. The United States then resupplied Israel with the weapons the country sold.
Although some of those accused of being involved had the ear of President Reagan, it was never found that he was aware of the scheme."

It's never really been clear to me either.  Of which crime was Reagan unaware? 
  • Was it the selling of arms to Iran in violation of the arms embargo?
  • Was it the selling of arms in exchange for hostages?
  • Was it that his administration diverted the proceeds from the illegal sales to fund the Contras, thereby violating the Boland Amendment?
  • Or was it the coverup and lying to Congress that his officials engaged in following the exposed transactions?
It couldn't have been each and every one of them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Central American Taxes

While Guatemala's debate over raising revenues in these uncertain economic times through meaningful tax reform has been front and center in the country, the rest of the region's center-left governments are tackling similar challenges.  According to Presna Libre, the center-left governments are looking for ways to increase government revenue with higher taxes in order to finance a variety of social projects promised during campaign seasons.

In El Salvador,
the leftist government of Mauricio Funes is promoting a historic tax reform that will allow the government to increase revenue by 1 percent of GDP (240 million) to finance social programs next year and pay the debt.
In Guatemala, Colom's government
also urgently needs to increase revenues by at least 1.5% in Guatemala, where the tax burden represents 9.9% of GDP, far from 40 percent in the Scandinavian countries or 29% of Brazil.
Jonathan Menkos from the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) says that Guatemala's elites believe that the government should be more concerned with lifting the tax burdens on businesses and individuals rather than raising taxes. For them, taxes only increase corruption and line the pockets of politicians and government officials.  

A progressive tax base that is less dependent on the regressive IVA (value added tax) would be a step in the right direction as would better ways of going after tax cheaters and bringing transparency to both government revenues and expenditures.  Some have gone as far to say that the failure on the part of the Guatemalan government to enact "a ”fair and progressive” tax policy violates the social and human rights of its citizens" (Guatemala-based Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) and the United States- and Spain-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)).


Then/Now Special: Who's Still Kickin'? -

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

A lost year

It is really frustrating to witness the deteriorating social, political, and economic situation in Central America over the last two-to-three years. The economies are under tremendous stress from the global international economic crisis, incompetent leadership, the slowdown and decline in remittances, natural disasters, and political instability. The political systems are weak and the justice systems are overwhelmed. Corruption remains a problem. No country is content with its national police force.  As a result, Guatemala and El Salvador have sought the assistance of their militaries in the fights against drug trafficking, organized crime, and gangs. In Honduras, the Supreme Court used the military to remove the president.

There are several international programs providing glimmers of hope, most notably CICIG in Guatemala. However, the US government has been, for the most part, absent. The US' slow, weak, and ambivalent response to the Honduran coup is likely to have negative consequences for the region as a whole in the years to come.  They've given a green light to the militaries and other disgruntled actors in the rest of Central and South America to take things into their own hands.  Just hold elections at some point in the future so that we can move on.

Central America, like many areas of the world, lost ground in 2009. I am afaid 2010 is unlikely to bring about significant improvements in the region, but I hope that I am wrong. Am I being too pessimistic?

Violence in Guatemala

El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala have all been suffering through high crime rates for the last several years.  The three are amongst the most violent countries in the world (excluding those countries experiencing civil war).  In Guatemala, the murder rate has increased dramatically in recent years (Wikipedia)
  • 26 per 100,000 (2000)
  • 25          "         (2001)
  • 31          "         (2002)
  • 35          "         (2003)
  • 36          "         (2004)
  • 42          "         (2005)
  • 45          "         (2006)
  • 46          "         (2007)
  • 47          "         (2008)

No one has been spared from the violence.  Bus operators have been frequent targets.  Gangs are the principal actors in shaking down bus operators, perhaps earning $2 million this year alone.  As of mid-November, roughly 200 drivers and their assistants had been killed.

According to a report by Radio Internacional Feminista (RIF) and reported by the Association for Women's Rights in Development, Guatemala now ranks first in the killings of women in Latin America.  The epidemic with regard to rape is horrific as well.

The elderly are victims as well with the Latin American Herald Tribune recently reporting that
During the first nine months of 2009 no less than 181 people over 60 years old were murdered, an increase of 16 percent over the same period in 2008.
Guatemalans lack faith in the country's judicial system to resolve their insecurity.  In recent months, Guatemalans have resorted to lynching suspected criminals, including members of the National Civilian Police force suspected of extorting bus drivers.

A Guatemalan police officer accused of extortion was killed early Monday by angry residents of an Indian community in western Guatemala, authorities said...
[Officer] Curruchiche was disarmed and tied to a post, and for several hours was beaten and tortured “until he was soaked with gasoline and burned alive before dawn on Monday,” according to the spokesman.
Some PNC cops who tried to rescue their fellow-officer ware held for more than three hours by the enraged locals, who threatened to kill them if they insisted on freeing Curruchiche.

When it comes to Central America, most current attention focuses on Honduras (the coup), El Salvador (Funes' historic election and the Jesuit murders), and Nicaragua (Ortega's continuous disregard for democracy).  Guatemala briefly entered the world attention with the Rosenberg murder and his video implicating those close to the president.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Links to speeches and photos from annivesary celebration in El Salvador

These links were provided by Father Dean Brackley of the UCA.

  • Condecoración de Mártires jesuitas: Link discurso Mauricio Funes.
  • Condecoración de Mártires jesuitas: Link discurso P. Tojeria sj.
  • Condecoración de Mártires jesuitas: Link imágenes de la entrega del reconocimiento.
  • Link imágenes del XX Aniversario de los Jesuitas.
  • BBC 20th anniversary (photos).  
  • Dean Brackley’s article at
  • Co-Latino editorial written by P. Tojeira sj.
  • US Senate resolution.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nicaragua: official apology to the Netherlands

Catastrophe was averted when the Nicaragua government apologized to the Netherlands after its deputy foreign minister called it "a shitty little country."

Speeches from the 20th Anniversary of the Jesuits Deaths

The Washington Office on Latin America has posted two speeches from Monday's events in El Salvador.

The first speech is by Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-D).  In the speech, the Congressmen touches on a variety of issues, including
  • the importance of the UCA and the legacy of the martyrs, 
  • the momentous election of Mauricio Funes of the FMLN,
  • the "daunting problems" confronting El Salvador today,
  • the "need to develop a relationship with El Salvador in which we become true partners," and 
  • his special relationship with Congressman Joe Moakley (MA-D) who led the congressional investigations into the Jesuit murders.
The second speech is by President Mauricio Funes.  Funes says that
  • awarding the Jose Matias Delgago award is "an act of recuperating collective memory,"
  • it is not up to him to judge those who assassinated the Jesuit priests; the courts and other institutions have the constitutional authority to do that, not him
  • they can kill the teacher, but the seeds that they left in their students continue to grow exponentially after his death, and
  • there needs to be a knowledge of and acceptance of the past so that the past does not repeat itself. 
There is enough in both speeches to get people riled up in ARENA in El Savador and the Republican Party in the United States.  Both speakers took pretty moderate positions.  However, moderation in describing the events in El Salvador and the Jesuit murders generally satisfies nobody.    

I am disappointed that there was no mention of the events in the print editions of the New York Times or the Washington Post.  There were AP, Reuters, and stories in smaller market papers. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

The UCA Jesuits and me - a little introduction

On November 16, 1989, I was a sophomore at the Jesuit-run Regis High School in New York City.  I was in my guidance counselor's office when we first found out about the massacre of the six Jesuits priests at the UCA in San Salvador.  Over the next several months, we learned more about their work through an alumnus who had been working with Salvadoran refugees across the border in Honduras.

Oddly enough, I was already familiar with El Salvador when I first heard of their murders.  Sr. Maura Clarke, one of the American churchwomen killed in December 1980, was from my neighborhood.  We went to the same grammar school in Rockaway Beach, NY.  While I have no recollection of her death (I was six at the time), I do remember seeing her plaque in the school hallway.  When I arrived at the Jesuit-run Fairfield University for my undergraduate studies, I made friends with the dean of students.  It turned out that she had known Jean Donovan very well, a missionary killed alongside Maura Clarke.

The murders of the churchwomen and those of the Jesuits heavily influenced my decision to apply for a Fulbright to study in El Salvador following graduation from Fairfield University.  I spent 1997 in El Salvador studying the development of the political party system in the postwar period.  I even got to take classes at the UCA.  After returning from Central America is mid-1998, I applied for graduate school in political science and ended up at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

In graduate school, I hoped to study the transition of former rebel movements to political parties in El Salvador and Guatemala.  Unfortunately, very few faculty thought it was a good idea.  It took awhile, but I eventually convinced enough of them (I only needed four + one outside member) that I was on to something.  For the last three-plus years, I have been teaching Latin American politics at the University of Scranton in Northeast Pennsylvania.  Scranton, of course, is another Jesuit institution.

I honestly have no idea what I would be doing with my life had it not been for the tragic events of November 1989.  I do know, however, that one of the reasons that I became a professor was to share the stories of Salvadorans and Guatemalans, as well as those of the rest of the people of Latin America, with others.  That's what I do on campus and that's what I really hope to accomplish with this form of proyección social.

On Anniversary of El Salvador Jesuits' Slaying, Momentum for Justice - NAM

Mary Jo McConahay provides an overview of several legal cases in the United States and in Costa Rica (Interamerican Court of Human Rights) dealing with crimes committed during the El Salvador's civil war.

As several individuals in the McConahay piece explain, however, one goal of pursuing justice in the United States, Spain, and Costa Rica is to push for an ultimate accounting of the crimes in El Salvador.  That would be one way to give voice to the voiceless and to honor all those who lost their lives in El Salvador.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Worse than Scranton

It's taken a few months, but Biden has found a place worse than Scranton (about the 1 minute 30 second mark). 

Apparently, SNL Biden has no idea what he's talking about . named Scranton one of the top places to raise children.  (See here.)

 Best Place to Raise Your Kids: Pennsylvania


Nearest city: Scranton

Population: 71,539

Median family income: $50,365

Runners-up: Erie, Allentown

Scranton, once a hub for coal-and-iron production in the state's Pocono Northeast region, is probably best known today as the setting for the popular TV show, The Office. It also has a low cost of living, ski slopes, and colleges, including Scranton University.
Not to quibble, but it is The University of Scranton

And it probably doesn't help Scranton when you highlight the city with a photo of a dilapidated Dickson Manufacturing Co building, a place that stopped building locomotives here in 1909.  That doesn't scream family-friendly to me.  It reminds me that Scranton is better known as one of America's fastest-dying cities.

Strange news out of Quetzaltenango

I'm not sure which part of the AP story I find more interesting - the shooting or the law? 
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalan police say they have arrested a singer who fired a gun at a concert after he was told to get off the stage before playing. No one was hurt.
Police spokesman Sergio Garcia says Diego Lopez of the band Santa Cecilia fired eight shots in the air and at the stage Saturday night at a concert in the city of Quetzaltenango.

Garcia says Lopez was angry that the promoters asked his Guatemalan band to get off stage before starting to play because the Mexican norteno band El Trono de Mexico was ready to perform.

Garcia said Sunday there was panic among the audience but that El Trono de Mexico continued to play because no one was hurt.

By law, a Guatemalan band has to open concerts by foreign artists.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nicaraguan diplomacy

Given that my CP/IR colleagues focus primarily upon Europe, I found the following story amusing
On Wednesday, Mr van Baalen held a press conference and told reporters he had been invited to leave the country by the Ortega government. Later, Nicaragua's Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Coronel Kautz referred to Mr van Baalen as German and when informed that he was Dutch, the deputy minister said "that's even worse because the Netherlands is a paisucho (a shitty little country)".

El 13 de noviembre de 1960

The civil war in Guatemala is generally referred to having lasted from 1960 to 1996.  December 1996 marks the definitive end of the war with the signing of the Firm and Lasting Peace Agreement in Guatemala City although the war had really ended some years earlier.  The date November 13, 1960 generally marks the beginning of the country's thirty-six year civil war, although large-scale revolutionary violence does not break out for two or more years.
Guatemala’s rebel movement began with the failed military uprising of November 13, 1960. Although the majority of rebel troops accepted an amnesty offered by Ydígoras, 23 did not. Instead, they opted to form a movement to overthrow the government. In 1962, these ex-soldiers and officers formed an alliance with the clandestine PGT, the Guatemalan Workers’ Party, which would provide intellectual leadership for the rebel movement throughout the 1960s.  (Kobrak's Organizing and Repression in the University of San Carlos, 1999)

The soldiers initially rebelled against what they believed was a corrupt government that was involved in helping the US to prepare an invasion of another Latin American country.  The CIA was training mercenaries and Cuba exiles for what became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion / fiasco.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guatemala president faces tough fight on tax reform | Markets | Markets News | Reuters

As I mentioned in a post last week, I am pessimistic about the short- to medium-tem possibility of bring criminal violence under control in Central America. One reason is that the region's governments have failed to push through fiscal reforms that would raise revenue necessary to finance meaningful poverty reduction and job creation programs. For several years now, Guatemala has been criticized for its inability to bring its meager tax rate in line with those of other developing countries.

As part of the 1996 peace accords, the government agreed to raise its tax revenues as a percentage of GDP (or tax ratio) up to 12% by 2000. A US Agency for International Development Report stated that Guatemala had only been able to bring its tax ratio up to 10.28% in 2003.

President Alvaro Colom is again pushing reforms that will marginally increase Guatemala's tax rate in hopes of increasing government revenue to tackle a variety of problems in the country According to Reuters:

Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom is pushing for a fiscal reform package to boost dwindling finances needed to fight high crime and poverty, but stiff opposition threatens to kill the plan.
While previous Guatemalan presidents also pushed reform, Colom is under stronger pressures to achieve meaningful reforms following a failed effort this past August and because
This year, Guatemala's economy has slowed sharply because the global recession has crimped demand for exports like textiles.
Further weakening the economy, Guatemalans living in the United States are sending less money home after losing their jobs or getting deported.
Tax collection in Guatemala, which also exports sugar and coffee, could fall 8.5 percent this year, the finance ministry said in September.
According to Reuters, while the Guatemalan Finance Ministry has proposed reducing government spending by 3.7% of GDP this year, opposition parties are still calling upon the government to make greater spending cuts before considering any restructuring of the tax system.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guatemala: kidnapped Franciscan priest murdered

While much of the news in the upcoming days will commemorate the lives of the UCA martyrs in El Salvador, unfortunately Catholic priests and nuns continue to be murdered under a variety of cicumstances throughout the entire hemisphere.  From the Independent Catholic News
Guatemalan Franciscan priest Fr Miguel Angel Hernandez, who had been assigned to a parish in Ocotepeque, Honduras) and who had disappeared last weekend, was found dead yesterday, in a province of eastern Guatemala.

Yesterday, there was news of another priest who had been brutally murdered in Brazil, the fourth in five months.
On October 22, Rev. Ed Hinds was killed in Chatham, NJ.  Religious women have also been murdered including the recent killing of Sister Marguerite Bartz in New Mexico.

University of Scranton Event

The University of Scranton has several events planned to commemorate the anniversary of the deaths of the six Jesuit priests at the Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" in San Salvador. 

Spanish Judge Continues Investigation into Jesuit Case

A few weeks ago, Spanish judge Eloy Velasco Núñez sought the assistance of the president of El Salvador's Supreme Court of Justice, Belarmino Jaime, in contacting fourteen soldiers accused of involvement in the murder of the six UCA Jesuits.  Jaime had recently met with two high ranking officials (René Emilio Ponce and Juan Orlando Zepeda) accused of having orchestrated their murders.

While I am not convinced that the accused will ever see a Spanish courtroom, I am somewhat hopeful that the Spanish investigation as well as Funes' election will help to restart a movement in El Salvador to deal with the human rights violations committed during the 1970s and 1980s.  Recently, there have been several hopeful signs that things are moving in this direction.  In the last few weeks, the government has announced that it will make a public act of atonment for prior mistakes by awarding the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado to the martyred Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter and that it will comply with the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights's ruling.  The ICHR recommended that

the State carry out a complete, impartial, and effective judicial investigation, expeditiously, so as to identify, try, and punish all the perpetrators, both the direct perpetrators and the planners of the violations established, notwithstanding the amnesty decreed; that it make reparation for all the consequences of the violations set forth, including the payment of fair compensation; and that it bring its domestic legislation into line with the American Convention, so as to render null and void the General Amnesty Law approved by Decree Nº 486 of 1993.

I have no idea whether Funes' intentions are to recognize previous administrations' culpability in these two crimes and leave it at that or to use these two cases to rally support for a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law and a more comprehensive reconciling of past acts.  However, the actions on the part of the Spanish judge might put pressure on El Salvador to pursue an accounting of the past similar to what happened to Augusto Pinochet in Chile.  While the attempt to extradite Pinochet from Britain to Spain to face trial failed, the movement to prosecute Pinochet in Chile gained momentum as a result.  President Funes' two acts and that of Núñez might start El Salvador down a similar path.

Pressure from the international community and civil society might provide Funes with political cover to backtrack on his campaign promise not to push the Legislative Assembly to revoke the amnesty law.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mudslides in El Salvador

El Salvador has suffered some of the worst flooding in decades over the weekend.  According to MSNBC, at least 124 people have died so far and the tally is likely to rise.  Tim has been providing great coverage of the unfolding events (Part 1, Part 2). 

Here's some video of the damage:

UPDATED video from Contrapunto here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Latin American Herald Tribune - Army Joins Fight Against Crime in El Salvador

Latin American Herald Tribune - Army Joins Fight Against Crime in El Salvador

I understand Funes' desire to use the armed forces to help maintain public security, at least in the short-term. However, it just doesn't seem right to announce and implement such a policy in the same month that he is awarding the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado honor to the UCA martyrs killed by the Atlacatl Batallion in 1989, admitting to mistakes committed by previous administrations, and committing his administration to fully investigate the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero to comply with the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Antother University of Scranton Event

Please support the efforts of your fellow U of S students:

Soup & Substance: El Salvador

Who are the Jesuit Martyrs?  Who are the four churchwomen?  Who is Archbishop Oscar Romero?  What is the School of the Americas?  Why Do We Care?

University of Scranton Event

Latin American Studies and Women Studies [LA/W/S] will present a lecture by Dr. Angel Rivera, of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MA, on Tuesday, November 17th, at 7PM. The presentation is entitled "“The Body as Metaphor of Social and Political Concerns: Deformities and Community Formation in Works by Mayra Montero.”

Friday, November 6, 2009

Promoting Cooperation on International Security

On Wednesday, November 4, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, called on the OAS member states to work together to "fight crime and violence." Insulza was speaking at the Second Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (MISPA II) in Santo Domingo.

While it is understandable for the Secretary General to focus on police work to the exclusion of other issues in the fight against crime at a meeting such as this, I'm afraid I don't quite share his optimism:

During his speech, Secretary General Insulza expressed his "convictions that the security of our citizens is not a utopia or an impossible dream, but something that is increasingly demanding more work from our governments and security forces and police."
Any serious attempt at bringing the criminal violence under control in Central America is going to take years of sustained investments in health care, education, and job creation programs.  The governments of the region also need to manage fiscal reforms to bring tax rates into a range that provides an adequate revenue source to fund the necessary programs while not frightening away foreign and domestic investors.  In Central America, we are dealing with countries that have some of the lowest tax rates in the world.  These are in addition to any reforms to the security forces and judicial systems.  (Plus, obviously, dozens of other reforms.)

As I said, I'm not very optimistic in the short-to-medium term, particularly given the global economic environment and the worst region-wide political instability in years.  Between September 2007 and June 2008, at least one million people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras have fallen into poverty (see World Food Programme).  Since that period, things seem to have worsened.  Remittances are declining (see Guatemala).  Trade and economic activity has been interrupted (see Honduras).  Nor is it clear that Central American leaders are up to the test.  So far this year, there has been an attempted "technical coup d'etat" in Guatemala, an actual coup in Honduras, and the disregard for the constitution and the congress in Nicaragua along the lines of a self-coup.  While I hope that I will be proven wrong, there is little hope for optimism in 2010.

I also wondered about the "School of Higher Learning on Public Safety" initiative that Insulza discussed. 
One of the top objectives of the meeting is the approval of the creation of a "School of Higher Learning on Public Safety," which would offer training and education related to management of public safety to high-level police and civil officials in the hemisphere. The proposal for the School is based on a study of feasibility about the best ways of strengthening training and education of personnel charged with matters of public security in the region, a study that will be presented on the second day of the meeting.

Is anyone familiar with how this school differs from the International Law Enforcement Academy in San Salvador (ILEA)? 

ILEA, SS has as its objectives, supporting criminal justice institution building and strengthening partnerships among the regions' law enforcement community. The training focus is on transnational crimes, human rights and the rule of law with emphasis on trafficking in narcotics, trafficking in persons, terrorism, money laundering and other financial crimes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dean Brackley on the 20th Anniversary of the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador

Good news out of El Salvador

President Mauricio Funes announced that the Salvadoran government will award the nation's highest honor to the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter who were mudered by the military in November 1989 (in Spanish and in English).  The six priests worked at the University of Central America in San Salvador and were killed under orders of the military High Command in the midst of the FMLN's final offensive. 

The award will be for "por servicios humanitarios en combate a la inequidad y construcción de la democracia en El Salvador."  According to the AP story, Funes described the awards as a ""public act of atonement" for mistakes by past governments."  Funes will also hold a ceremony at the Casa Presidencial on the anniversay of the murders, November 16th.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What luck!

One thing that I also wanted to mention regarding the Corrales article is his read on how "lucky" the United States was in being able to resolve the crisis in Honduras.

The "condemned government" was ultimately a friend of the United States, respectful of democracy, embarrassed about the possibility of needing to repress, interested in preserving economic ties with the United States, and more important, uninterested in staying in office beyond the scheduled November elections. All of this boosted U.S. leverage.

In case you were wondering, the "condemned government" refers to the de facto government of Micheletti and the "leverage" led to a succesful US-brokered agreement.  I had to read his argument several times just to be sure.  Did I miss something these last four months?

Stretching it just a bit

Javier Corrales: Nicaragua: Déjà coup all over again?

I was surprised to see so many false statements in this article comparing the recent turn of events in Honduras and Nicaragua.  In Honduras, Corales incorrectly asserts that the "attorney general, the Congress, and the Supreme Court" acted within their constitutional right to authorize the military to kidnap remove the president.  Zelaya proposed some sort of non-binding poll to ask the people whether they thought it worthwhile to call for a constituent assembly.  From what I can tell, Zelaya did not explicitly call for a change in the constitution to permit him (or any one else for that matter) to run for re-election.  Maybe that was his intention all along, but we'll never know.  What was certaintly unconstitutional was his removal from office without "due process" and his forced exile (see this).

In Nicaragua, it seems prety clear that Ortega sidestepped amending the constitution via the National Assembly because he and his party did not have the required votes (fifty-six or more out of ninety-two).  Given that he also would have needed the next assembly to pass the same reform, the likelihood of reforming the constitution through the assembly was near zero.  Instead, Ortega sought the assistance of the Supreme Court of Justice to allow for his reelection.  Interestingly enough, Ortega might be manipulating the Nicaraguan courts by copying the playbook from Costa Rica where the courts were also responsible for paving the way for Arias' second term (see the report by Envio).

One of the more interesting and disheartening things about the events in Honduras and Nicaragua is the collaboration between two branches of government to subvert the authority of a third branch.  In Honduras, you have the congress and supreme court working in tandem to remove someone whose policies they did not support out of some fear that he might carry out a poll, that, if successful, might shame the congress into calling for a constituent assembly, that might refom the constitution, that might allow for reelection, that Zelaya might win.  No wonder they removed him in the middle of the night.

In Nicaragua, on the other hand, it is the executive branch that utilized a judicial branch packed with its supporters to undermine the authority of the legislative branch.  Ortega does not have the support of the public nor does he have the votes in congress.  It is highly unlikely that his constitutional reform efforts would have succeeded outside the court.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

GUATEMALA: Despite Flaws, Judge Selection Process Improved, Say NGOs - IPS

GUATEMALA: Despite Flaws, Judge Selection Process Improved, Say NGOs - IPS

One of the areas that the people of Guatemala and El Salvador have had the most difficulty reforming is in the area of justice. 

Each country's judiciary was complicit in the human rights violations carried out by government forces during their respective civil wars. In the post war period, the judicial branches have also been known to have turned a blind eye towards alleged crimes committed by the connected.

In recent news from Guatemala, while the legislature was still ultimately responsible for the approval of all Surpeme Court and appeals court judges, the legislature received input on the candidates from a nominating committee comprised of "presidents, law school deans, and delegates from the bar association and the Instituto de Magistrados (which represents judges)," civil society, the United Nations-sponsored International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), several NGOs, and the US Embassy. 

Several candidates were eventually dismissed because of the concerns voiced by these groups.  This was a positive development for Guatemala.  However, there remain problems with the selection.

Ramón Cadena of the International Commission of Jurists told IPS that the new process for selecting Supreme Court and appeals court judges was "a partial step forward in the fight against impunity."

The lawyer said civil society "rescued" the process of the designation of judges thanks to its oversight. But he said he was concerned that six of the 13 designated members of the Supreme Court had been questioned.
The ultimate decision, of course, still remains with the legislature.  In this case, legislators, for reasons that remain unclear, dismissed the outside recommendations. 

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Movie Announcement for University of Scranton Students

Latin American Studies Instructional Film Series

“Roses in December” (1982)

Wednesday, November 4th at 7:30 P.M. in Brennan 228