Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Celebrity Rehab - Central America Edition

Who knew Central America would become the destination for celebrities looking to rehabilitate their images?

Apparently, LiLo is on her way to Guatemala.
Lindsay Lohan is planning to undertake charity work in Guatemala, her mother has said.
Earlier this month, Lohan visited India to film a BBC documentary, but she was criticised after claiming on Twitter that she had helped to save 40 children.

Speaking to the New York Post, Lohan's mother Dina said that her daughter is a "changed woman" since her trip.

She added that Lindsay was "humbled and moved" by her work and continued: "Lindsay definitely wants to give more back.

"We are now planning a trip to help the children of Guatemala - which will be filmed by Oprah's network." (Digital Spy).
While the Guatemalan people look forward to LiLo's visit, El Salvador is recovering from another celebrity on  the rebound.
Former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, whose political standing crashed and burned with his admission of an extramarital affair, may have found a new calling. Edward spent three days in El Salvador the week before Christmas helping to build homes for the needy, Politico reports.
It was Edwards' third trip to the Central American nation this year to help with the project, launched by Homes From the Heart, a Christian housing organization. "I think he's pretty damn sincere," said Michael Bonderer, the group's founder. "There's nothing to lead me to believe he's phony about any of it."
Edwards worked with American college students who were also volunteering at the site, located about 30 miles outside San Salvador, the capital. (Politics Daily)
Typically, I get a little worried when celebrities venture down to Latin America.  My initial thoughts turn to Sean Penn cozying up to the Castros or Harry Belafonte to Hugo Chavez.  Perhaps Lohan and Edwards will make me think of Roberto Clemente next time.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Associated Press: Bus drivers fall victim to brutal Guatemalan gangs

Earlier this month, about 2,000 new members of the National Civlian Police force took to the streets as part of Alvaro Colom's plan to increase security throughout Guatemala.  About four hundred police were assigned to the capital, with many of them patrolling bus routes.

While it is too early to determine the long-term effects of the additional police, the short-term impact has not been encouraging.  Several bus drivers have been killed in the last few day's for failing to pay extortion money.

GUATEMALA CITY — Bus driver Mynor Gonzalez ignored the threats: "200 quetzales a week, or we'll kill you." He knew drivers who didn't pay the roughly $24 "protection" fee had been murdered, but always on other routes. He knew his job — once considered secure and well-paying for Guatemala's poor — had become deadly.
Then it happened on his route. The gangs used his friend, driver Miguel Angel Chacon, 34, to show they meant business.
"He saw them approaching the bus, so he jammed on the brakes and started running toward the back," said Gonzalez, 30. "They shot him twice in the back, right there in the aisle in front of all the passengers."

Gunmen have killed more than 170 bus drivers this year to scare them and transportation companies into paying extortion fees that fuel the country's multimillion-dollar organized crime network. (The Associated Press)
During this holiday season, the extortionists are now asking for a Christmas bonus as well.
The gangs that extort protection money from bus operators are demanding a “Christmas bonus” of $240,000, an association representing Guatemala’s transit companies said Friday.
“The amount demanded is greater than what has been paid in previous years,” Gamaliel Chin, president of the Intercity Routes Transport Association, told reporters, adding that his group started paying the “bonus” to the gangs more than three years ago.
Chin spoke of the murder of four bus drivers this week in less than 24 hours as “acts of pressure” aimed at getting the owners association to pay up.
So far this year, according to bus owners’ statistics, 148 drivers and 50 assistants have been slain for refusing to make protection payments.
This “Christmas bonus,” according to Chin, is in addition to the protection money that these groups damand on a daily basis of the close to 800 buses that make up the association he directs.

Drivers pay between $20 and $40 per day for the right to circulate in gang territory. (LAHT)
One of the sadder (?) stories in the two articles comes from Congressman Anibal Salguero (Partido Patriota) who is upfront about how much he shells out to pay off - about $60 each week per bus.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Killed in the line of duty

Latin American Herald Tribune - Guatemalan Policeman Gunned Down by Robbers

GUATEMALA CITY – A municipal police officer was gunned down on Thursday while trying to prevent a robbery, Guatemala’s PNC national police force said.Pedro Gomez Sanchez, 21, “was murdered by a group of criminals who tried to carry out a robbery,” a PNC spokesman told Efe.

He cited witnesses who said Gomez was escorting municipal employees as they collected money from parking meters when he noticed a group of armed males robbing pedestrians....
Three other police officers died on Thursday as well during an attempted hijacking of a fuel tanker on the Escuintla-Puerto Quetzal highway.  Escuintla is one of the more crime ridden departments of Guatemala and one that was supposed to receive additional PNC officers at the beginning of the month.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Some Florida State athletes helped by 'learning disability' diagnosis - ESPN

Some Florida State athletes helped by 'learning disability' diagnosis - ESPN

This Sunday, Dec. 13, the series looks at Florida State University, where 61 athletes allegedly were involved in an academic-fraud scandal that included, in some cases, access to test answers and tutors who edited and typed papers. The NCAA ruled Florida State guilty of major violations, announcing it would reduce scholarships in football and other sports, and force Bobby Bowden's team to vacate as many as 14 victories from 2006 and 2007.
If these violations only occurred between 2006 and 2007, how do you explain that defensive back in my comparative government class in 2002 who failed three in-class exams yet somehow managed to earn A's on every take-home assignment?

Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation?

Three recent articles detail the efforts by Guatemalans, Argentineans and Brazilians to bring about some combination of truth, justice and reconciliation surrounding the events of the dirty wars in the three countries.  

Guatemalan Exhumations Bring Hope by Uncovering Past (Voice of America)

A pair of recent court decisions went so far as to convict military collaborators for their role in disappearances. Dozens of other cases are pending around the country. The sea change in the approach towards dealing with the past has also opened the door for the exhumations, says Jose Suasnavar of the Foundation for Forensic Anthropology of Guatemala.
Suasnavar says more than 1,000 exhumations have taken place in the past years, and the remains of more than 5,000 victims have been located. Though a large percentage of those victims are yet to be identified, DNA testing is making it increasingly possible to determine the identity of remains found in unmarked graves.
Using the new technology, victims' rights organizations in Guatemala hope to now examine entire cemeteries in areas where massacres were concentrated, Suasnavar says.
Memory and Justice: A Photo Essay on Argentina's Human Rights Movement (Latin American Activism via Upside Down World)

The ESMA trial is one of the biggest human rights trials in Latin America’s history. Among those on trial include Alfredo Astiz, Jorge Acosta, Ricardo Cavallo and Adolfo Donda, referred to by Human Rights groups some of the most sinister repressors among the ranks of the military. In total, thirteen marines, two police, one coast guard, and one Army official are on trial.
RIGHTS: Brazil's Turn for Truth and Justice? (Mario Osava)
The National Human Rights Conference approved the proposed Commission in December 2008, for inclusion in the Third National Human Rights Plan, which will be presented Monday, Dec. 21, but the latest draft of the plan uses the phrase "Truth and Reconciliation."
"It's a contradiction for the government to propose reconciliation, when it has done nothing to make information available, and has refused to declassify its archives," said Elizabeth Silveira e Silva of the Torture Never Again Group in Rio de Janeiro, the sister of a student who was forcibly disappeared.
"It's not possible to reconcile people without the recovery of the victims' bodies, and without the truth," said Beatriz Affonso, head of the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) in Brazil. The reconciliation that is needed is between state and society, but Brazil has not yet officially admitted the crimes committed during the 1964-1985 dictatorship.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Leonel Gómez, Salvadoran human rights activist, dies - washingtonpost.com

There is an interesting obituary in Tuesday's Washington Post about Leonel Gómez, Salvadoran human rights activist.  Gomez was born in 1940 in Santa Ana, El Salvador to a coffee growing family.  He was later involved in the land reform program of the late 1970s that the US and the moderates pushed in hopes of heading off revolution.  Both the oligarchy and the FMLN saw land reform as a threat, but it was members of the National Guard that killed Gomez' boss at the Institute for Agrarian Transformation, Roldofo Viera, and two American advisers, Michael Hammer and David Pearlman, in 1981.  Fortunately, Gomez was late to the meeting at which the three others were killed.

Gomez lived in exile in the US for most of the 1980s and appeared before Congress several times.  During one piece of testimony early in the war, he made it clear to Congress who they were supporting in El Salvador's civil war.
"In conclusion, I ask you: Is this the kind of government you want to support?" he told the Senate subcommittee on inter-American affairs on March 11, 1981. "I ask you to think about the corruption, the bloodshed, the killings that have been perpetuated by the Salvadoran army time after time. This is the same army that once tried to sell 10,000 machine guns to the American mafia. This is the same army that raped and killed four American missionaries. What more do you need to know? How long will you have to wait until the American people rise up and tell you what everyone already knows?"

Gomez later went on to assist the Moakley Commission as well as investigations into death squads, organized crime, and Gilberto Soto in the postwar period.  Rest in Peace.

Please take a look at the entire obituary, it's less than two pages.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Repression in Honduras Continues

Honduran police promised Tuesday to thoroughly investigate the killing of a gay rights activist who joined in protests against the June coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The anti-coup National Resistance Front said gunmen in a car shot Walter Trochez on Sunday as he walked in downtown Tegucigalpa. Friends rushed him to a hospital, where he died.
"Trochez was an active militant in the resistance and an example of the fight against the dictatorship," the group said in a statement released on the day the victim was buried.

The front, which until recently staged daily protests to demand Zelaya's restoration to the presidency, blamed the attack "on the repressive forces that the oligarchy uses to stop the demands of the Honduran people for liberty and democracy." (Yahoo News)

Trochez is one of three dozen Hondurans executed since the June 28th coup. 

Guatemalan Remittances Decline

Inside Costa Rica - Costa Rica's Daily News
GUATEMALA - The arrival of family remittances felt to 9,7 percent until November, pointed out a Guatemala Bank report published on Thursday.
That fall compared with the first 11 months of 2008 is still a consequence of the economic crisis developed ion the United States, where the most of Guatemalan émigré lives suffering the unemployment created by that situation.
According to the report, the family remittances amounted to 587,7 million dollar until November 2009, while there were received 975,4 million dollar in the same period last year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Good-bye Tony



On Monday afternoon, Alfredo Cristiani announced that ARENA had expelled former President Antonio Saca from the party.  This has been an ongoing saga for the last few months following ARENA's historic loss to Mauricio Funes of the FMLN in the 2009 presidential elections.

Saca was let go for "conduct contrary to the principles, objectives, statutes and rules of the party."  Saca violated party principles by intervening in the selection of ARENA's 2009 presidential candidate, Rodrigo Avila.  Saca also engaged in inappropriate conduct that divided ARENA by his association with the Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA).  GANA is comprised of twelve deputies from the National Assembly inially elected on the ARENA slate.

On Monday as well, GANA called on the Attorney General and the Court of Auditors to investigate corruption in the three ARENA administrations prior to Saca (Cristiani 1989-1994, Armando Calderón Sol 1994-1999 and Francisco Flores 1999-2004) .

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The killings continue in Guatemala

Latin American Herald Tribune - 10 Suspected Extortionists Found Slain in Guatemala

GUATEMALA – The bodies of 10 suspected criminals who supposedly engaged in the extortion of shopkeepers and bus drivers were found in different parts of Guatemala’s interior, authorities said on Saturday. (LAHT)

Guatemala will end the year with a greater number of overall murders than it ended 2008.  It will also see a greater increase in the number of vigilante killings that have spread throughout the country in recent months.
Guatemala City.- Humanitarian organization, Group of Mutual Support, GAM, Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo de Guatemala, has released the latest data on lynching's and mob violence in Guatemala. According to GAM in 2008 there where 8 deaths caused by mob violence and 102 injured. In 2009, to this date, there are 44 deaths and 151 injured. The Supreme Court of Guatemala states the figures as 41 deaths and 211 injured. (The Guatemala Times)
The lynchings are the results of several factors including Guatemalans lack of trust in the police and the courts.  Several analysts also argue that while the motivations and actors involved in today's lynchings are different from those of earlier times, the root cause of these events can be found in the history of the country's internal armed conflict.  According to Nery Rodenas from the Office of Human Rights of the Archbishop of Guatemala, ODHAG
The lynching's have their origins in the times of the armed conflict in Guatemala. During the civil war, the military used the system of lynching of insurgents or suspects of being insurgents in the home town squares of the insurgents. They forced the people of the villages to participate in the killing and beating of the members of their own community, including family members of the insurgent or suspected insurgent and the priests.
During the civil war, extrajudicial killings were carried out by both the guerrillas and the government's official and unofficial security forces.  In the postwar period, there were several instances where Guatemalans lynched presumed robachicos (child snatchers).  Today, the majority of lynching victims appear to be suspected extortionists.

More Salvadorans Content with President Funes: Angus Reid Global Monitor

According to a poll conducted by LPG Datos / La Prensa Gráfica between November 20 and November 22, 2009 and reported by Angus Reid Global Monitor, over seventy-five percent of the Salvadoran people approve of President Funes's performance.

Do you approve or disapprove of Mauricio Funes’s performance as president?

                     Nov. 2009      Aug. 2009
     Approve        78%                71%
     Disapprove    14%                16%

The November poll comes two months after Funes was identified as the most popular president in the Western Hemisphere when his approval rating was at 85%. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

U.S. Deports Lou Dobbs | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

U.S. Deports Lou Dobbs The Onion - America's Finest News Source

WANTAGE, NJ—Acting on anonymous tips from within the Hispanic-American community, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday deported Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, who for the last 48 years had been living illegally in the United States under the name Lou Dobbs.
I initially found this story pretty funny.  However, one of my students just discussed the story for a class assignment without realizing what the Onion does.  Now I'm really worried.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Visit Guatemala

Here's a nice overview of some of Guatemala's greatest tourist attractions.

Guatemala in seven minutes MOON TRAVEL GUIDES

Truth and Justice in Guatemala

Following the thirty-six year conflict in Guatemala, two reports documented thousands of human rights abuses carried out in violation of the laws of war. The Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) found that the Guatemalan state was responsible for 93% of all human rights violations committed during the war. The Recovery of Historical Memory (Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, or REMHI) also found that the state was responsible for over 90% of all documented human rights violations. The truth has been there for all those willing to listen.  Unfortunately, Bishop Juan Gerardi was murdered shortly after presenting the REMHI findings. 

According to REMHI (1999:134), the state and its agents were responsible for over four hundred massacres which involved “collective murders associated with community destruction.” Most of these massacres were carried out as part of the military’s scorched-earth policy between 1980 and 1983. During these operations,

"The army launched a series of large-scale, indiscriminate massacres against their civilian support base. The army routed these civilians out of their hiding places in the hills and forests; it terrorized them; it laid siege to them to starve them out, after having burned their homes and stored crops, destroyed their household utensils, and stolen their belongings. In this way, people were forced to surrender and subsequently clustered into ‘special camps.’ This practice of massacres, pursuit, burning, and siege is known as the scorched-earth policy" (REMHI 1999: 133)
Recently, however, several steps have been taken in pursuit of justice for those that suffered during the war.



The National Security Archive recently tesified in an international genocide case against three former military presidents and five senior army and police officials with genocide, state terrorism, torture and other crimes against humanity n Spain.  Kate Doyle was responsible for validating the authenticity of several military documents detailing the military's role in carrying out genocide.
"The appearance of the original “Operation Sofía” documents provides the first public glimpse into secret military files on the counterinsurgency campaign that resulted in massacres of tens of thousands of unarmed Mayan civilians during the early 1980s, and displaced hundreds of thousands more as they fled the Army’s attacks on their communities. The records contain explicit references to the killing of unarmed men, women and children, the burning of homes, destruction of crops, slaughter of animals and indiscriminate aerial bombing of refugees trying to escape the violence."

You can also read about the story in the NYT (Documents Detail Killings by Guatemala’s Military - NYTimes.com).  The second important story to emerge this week is the conviction of several ex-military in Guatemala for crimes committed during the conflict.  According to the Guatemala Times,
Guatemala's historic second war crime trial is about to conclude with the convictions of 4 ex - military. The trial against five ex-military involved in forced disappearances in Guatemala ends with a call for a 560-year sentence of imprisonment against four former military (one has passed away). This trial involving former military officers accused of forced disappearance of eight members of the village El Jute, Chiquimula, concludes with a high expectation of both the international community and hundreds of survivors of the crimes committed by the army during the armed conflict. This trial is taking place 28 years after the crimes where committed in 1981...
This is the first time in Guatemala's history that an ex-military of high rank is convicted. Usually only common soldiers of low rank in the military or the members of the PAC, Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, paramilitary members have been put on trial and have been convicted."
Unfortunately, the lives of those who have brought the case to trial are in danger.  According to GAM, veterans groups have been
"taking pictures of the family members of the victims, witnesses of the trial, human rights activists, staff of the Public Ministry and ambassadors present. They also organized banners outside the building that stated in Spanish>"Mister Judge. We beg you to apply impartial justice and don't allow yourself be pressured by foreign undesirable people or pressure groups. They are thirsty of vengeance and wish to continue with the war that only divides and impedes the development of our society.
Gam also informed that Prosecutors of the Public Ministry have been subjected in recent days to intimidations and have been followed by suspicious vehicles.
Members of the Association of Military Veterans of Guatemala present in the room where the trial takes place also made improper remarks against witnesses and family members of the victims."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A lull in the violence?

According to the PNC in El Salvador, the total number of recorded murders decline in November from October highs (Latin American Herald Tribune).
El Salvador ended November with 333 murders, or an average of 11.1 per day, a decline with respect to October, when on average 14 homicides were registered per day, the National Civilian Police, or PNC, said Wednesday.
Obviously, a decline in the murder rate is good news.  It's also positive that the defense minister doesn't jump to any conclusions as to whether a pattern has been established.
The crime indexes have fallen slightly. I can’t ensure that this is going to continue, but we’re making the effort so that it may,” Defense Minister David Munguia Payes told the Prensa Grafica newspaper.
On the other, I hope that the apparent success of putting troops on the streets does not encouage a further militarization of Salvadoran society.  Here there is room for concern.
The troops are stationed in 12 municipalities in five of the country’s 14 provinces, and Munguia Payes did not rule out extending their activities to 29 municipalities.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Robin Williams


According to an AP story picked up on various news outlets, comedian Robin Williams joked about Brazil's efforts to win the 2016 Olympics. 
Some citizens and officials in the Brazilian city are upset with comments the comedian made on a recent appearance on the “Late Show” with David Letterman, saying Rio received the 2016 Olympics because it sent “50 strippers and a pound of blow” to compete with Chicago’s entourage that included President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Williams’ comments have been replayed several times on news shows across Brazil on Tuesday. Mayor Eduardo Paes says Williams is envious of Rio’s achievement.
Rio’s Olympic Committee said its lawyers will see whether legal action against Williams is possible.
Obviously, I don't think that William's joke about Rio demands legal action.  Mostly, I think that it is embarrassing that someone is even considering legal action.