Sunday, January 31, 2010

Rosenberg's Killers Will Stand Trial

GUATEMALA CITY – A Guatemalan judge has ordered eight suspects to stand trial in the killing of a prominent lawyer who accused the country's president of his murder in a video made before his death.
Judge Veronica Galicia said Friday she ordered the eight suspects to stand trial after hearing recorded telephone calls tying them to the killing of attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg. (Yahoo)

One strange case of assisted suicide, no?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo

Alfonso Portillo was president of Guatemala between 2000 and 2004.  He represented the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), the party headed by Rios Montt. 

Following the end of his presidential term, Portillo fled to Mexico and began work as a financial consultant.  Portillo was returning to a country where he had an "interesting" history.  He admitted to killing two of his students there in 1982.  He claimed self-defense.  Isn't that always the case?  Anyway, he was extradited back to Guatemala in 2008 on corruption and embezzlement charges.

On Monday, US authorities unsealed an indictment against Portillo in NY and Washington requested his extradition.  The indictment alleged that Portillo
embezzled $3.9 million from the Defense Ministry and stole at least $1.5 million in donations from the government of Taiwan intended to buy books for school libraries.  (NYT)
The Guatemalan courts approved his extradtion, but before authorities could arrest Portillo, who was out on bail after his extradition from Mexico, he disappeared.  They searched four of his properties without any luck.  Apparently, he wasn't as good at hiding as those witnesses who were scheduled to testify against him.  They've just disappeared without a trace. 

On Tuesday, however, Guatemalan police captured the former president while he was attempting to flee by boat into neighboring Belize.  Trying to flee Guatemala for Belize just isn't going to help him in the court of public opinion. 

Police captured ex-President Alfonso Portillo at a beach preparing to flee Guatemala by boat Tuesday, a day after U.S. authorities charged him with laundering money stolen from foreign donations to buy children's books.
Dozens of police, soldiers and federal agents arrested Portillo during a raid on a house in the coastal province of Izabal, said Carlos Castresana, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, a U.N. agency created to battle corruption and crime in this Central American nation. (Washington Post)

One of the interesting tidbits was that some of the money that Portillo allegedly laundered ended up in an institution once known as Riggs Bank.  In 2004, we found out that Riggs Bank had helped the self-less staunch anti-communist Augusto Pinochet hide several million dollars.  

In the latest turn of events, Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States need to work out additional details in order to legally execute Portillo's extradition to face charges in the US.  From several AP stories (See Miami Herald and Seattlepi)

Treaties allow extradition only for a stated purpose, and the 2008 extradition from Mexico sent Portillo back to face corruption charges in Guatemala, where he was freed on bail.
Portillo's lawyer, Humberto Castillejos, said Mexico's ambassador to Guatemala approved the detention of the former leader Tuesday on the U.S. extradition request, but the attorney argued that was not legally sufficient.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department disagreed. It said Wednesday that Mexico properly gave consent for Portillo's detention.

The department also said that sending Portillo to the United States would require a separate approval from Mexico, but it said no request for permission had yet been received. (Miami Herald)
I will be disappointed if Portillo is extradited to the US to face charges.  His arrest was a significant victory for the people of Guatemala and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).  His arrest and trial might spur the congress and the courts to implement several additional requests made by CICIG deemed necessary in the fight against impunity.

Doug Perlitz - Man charged with abusing more boys at Haiti school

I never met Perlitz.  He graduated a few months before I arrived at Fairfield University.  When the story first broke, I was obviously hoping that it wasn't true.  However, things seem to be getting worse. 

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A Colorado man charged with sexually abusing boys at a school he founded for street children in Haiti faces new charges that raise the number of alleged victims to 18.
Authorities accuse Douglas Perlitz of enticing children at the Project Pierre Toussaint school in Cap-Haitien into sex acts by promising them food, shelter, cash, cell phones, electronics and shoes. They say he also withheld benefits and threatened to expel the boys if they refused his wishes.
A new 19-count indictment incorporates old and new allegations against the 39-year-old Perlitz, federal prosecutors said Thursday. (Yahoo)

Does anyone know if they've found Fr. Carrier yet?


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Archbishop Romero

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, JAN. 26, 2010 ( The episcopal conference of El Salvador has expressed to Benedict XVI its hopes for the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

Archbishop Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980, when celebrating Mass. He was a staunch critic of the El Salvadorian government and defender of the poor.

Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez of San Salvador reported in a parish publication that the bishops decided at their first meeting of 2010 to make an appeal to the Holy Father.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cell Phones

Students have no reason to complain about my policy on cell phone use and texting in class.  From the headlines

Saudi girl faces beating over phone at school
Rights group: Teenager sentenced after being caught with banned device (MSNBC)
Honestly, the headline appears to be quite misleading.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A teenage girl has been sentenced to a 90-lash flogging and two months in prison as punishment for assaulting a teacher, a Saudi judge said in an interview published Sunday.
Human rights group Amnesty International said the assault happened after the girl was caught with a camera phone at school.
There are also questions about the age of the girl.  The school headmaster says the girl is "about twenty" years old while Amnesty International claims that the girl is 13. 

How does something like this get picked by the AP and appear on the front page of MSNBC? 
  • The headline appears to be grossly inaccurate.  
  • There is no agreement on the student's age.  Is she a child or an adult?
  • No one has been able to contact the victim. 
  • The victim's condition is unknown.  

Did they just pick up the story to make a Muslim country and one of our "strongest" allies in the Middle East look bad?        

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oscar Torres and Máncora

Oscar Torres has a new film that has just come to DVD.  Oscar Torres was the screenwriter for Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices), a film that chronicled his life growing up in wartorn El Salvador. 

Oscar has visited the University of Scranton twice in the 3 1/2 years that I've been here.  Oscar seems like a really great guy and the students love him.  If any of you are at a university, Oscar wouldn't be a bad choice to present his movie and to give a talk about El Salvador.

While I haven't seen the new film that he has been involved in, it is now on DVD.  (

“Máncora”: Also released this month is the Peruvian-American production “Máncora,” a film about the love affair between a man and his stepsister in a small Peruvian coastal town.
With a diverse set of actors from all corners of Latin America, “Máncora” is just a sample of the variety of points of view that exist in Latino cinema, said Oscar Torres, one of the film’s writers.
“ ‘Máncora’ gives a good way to show that Latin America is not only Mexico,” Torres said by phone from his Los Angeles home.
I guess I won't understand how a love affair between a man and his stepsister can be characterized as a "popcorn romance" until I see the film.

“ ‘Máncora’ is completely different,” he said. “It is a popcorn romance to have a good time.”
Anyway, take a look at Innocent Voices if you haven't had the opportunity.  It works well in courses realted to Latin America, El Salvador, revolution / civil war, and child soldiers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guatemala News in Brief

Some recent Guatemala news stories of interest:

  • Colom confident on Guatemalan war on drugs: It's an odd title, given that the war on drugs was only one part of the FT article.  Furthermore, the only reason Guatemala should be confident with regards to the war on drugs is that the vacuum that was created last year by the coup in Honduras most likely led traffickers to redirect their drug smuggling routes through the country where security broke down.

  • CICIG: Guatemala is dying: A CICIG "representative was emphatic when indicating that if the suggestions, which range from legal reforms to infrastructure and resources to fight against impunity, are neglected, things won't change in Guatemala."  I had heard that members of the economic elite were simply going to wait out the Colom years in hopes that the economic climate will improve once the "center-left" president leaves office.  Now it looks like congress is going to wait out the next two year's of CICIG's mandate.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Norma Cruz and la Fundacion Sobrevivientes

The United Nations recently condemned the threats against Norma Cruz that she has been receiving as a result of her work with la Fundacion Sobrevivientes.  (See Prensa Libre and the Guatemala Times)

The United Nations System in Guatemala condemns the recent threats against Mrs. Norma Cruz, Director of the Survivor Foundation, who reported having received intimidating phone calls related to her work at the organization. Fundacion Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation) is formed by survivors of violence that work as Human Rights Defenders for women's rights in cases related to domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking and murder of women.

As I mentioned last week, Mrs. Norma Cruz has been reconized by several organizations within the last few years for her work on behalf of female victims of violence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rosenberg orchestrated his own murder?

In May 2009, attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg was murdered in a drive by shooting while riding his bike in Zone 14.  In a video released after his death, Rosenberg implicated President Colom, his wife Sandra, and several other government officials of having orchestrated his killing.

After eight months of investigations, involving the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the FBI, and some three hundred investigators from eleven countries, it appears that it was all an elaborate suicide.  Rosenberg was simply a distraught individual.
Castresana said the commission's theory is that Rosenberg was motivated by a sense of guilt and frustration over what he believed was the government's involvement and failure to properly investigate the killing of his client and girlfriend, Marjorie Musa, along with her father, Khalil Musa.
Rosenberg had advised Khalil Musa to accept a seat on the board of directors of the private- and government-sponsored Rural Development Bank. In his video, Rosenberg said if he were slain, it would be to silence him for discovering the killings were linked to money laundering at the bank.
Castresana said that blaming Colom apparently was a way of shaking up the powers that be and "opening up a Pandora's box that would result on change in the country."
Rosenberg also appeared to be depressed about the recent death of this mother and losing custody of his children, the investigation said. (Yahoo)
The protests that followed the killing and the distribution of the video almost brought down the Colom government.  However, CICIG cleared Colom and matters settled down.

The first arrests were made in September and continued for the next few months.  In December, arrests warrants were issued for two of Rosenberg's cousins, Francisco and Jose Valdes Paiz.  (  In today's press conference, we learned that Rosenberg hired his cousins to carry out a hit, but they had no idea that the person to be killed was Rosenberg himself.

From Prensa Libre,

The Guatemala Times has a more extensive write-up on CICIG's evidence implicating Rosenberg in his own murder.  Given some of the details we learned today, one has to wonder how long CICIG has known that Rosenberg was behind his own death.  It has to have been several months.
After the murder of the Musa family members he tried to prove that the government and other officials he named in the video where responsible for Kalil and Marjory's Musa´s murder. He could not find any proof. To intimate friends he says repeatedly "I am disintegrating emotionally, I am in despair and there is no justice in Guatemala."
Previous to his death, he buys 2 graves, one for himself and one for Marjory Musa. He leaves all his personal and professional issues in order. He announces to his staff at the office that he will retire from the law office. He leaves lawyers in charge of legal issues of his children.
The only evidence that CICIG is missing, so far, is that an insurance policy was taken out by Rosenberg in the days before his death.  I'm kidding.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Brother James Miller

Here's an interesting story of Brother James Miller, a Lasallian Brother, who fled Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua only to be killed by the what appears to be the actions of the Guatemalan military in February 1982. 

Miller was assigned to Huehuetenango in 1981 after a brief exile in the United States.  There
He taught and worked on a farm that helped support an Indian school. And he helped Mayan Indians study their own culture and trained them to be teachers so they could go back to the villages and educate. But there was another reason for the education: to keep the Indians from being conscripted into the army.
While the Guatemalan government's official version was that Miller was killed by "subversive criminal elements," other evidence leads on to conclude that he was killed by the military because of a case of mistaken identification. 
Years later, a close friend of his with ties to the military confided to the brothers that Miller was misidentified.
“He said the priest we killed was by mistake,” Spellman said. “Brother James would have been the last one (to be assassinated), but to them, we all looked the same.”
The Catholic Church is currently exploring Brother Miller's candidacy for sainthood.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Game Change - 2008

There's been a bit of a discussion of Marc Ambinder's tease of the soon to be published "Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin at Two Weeks Notice and the Monkey Cage, among other places.  Ambinder calls the book a "gossipy chronicle of the 2008 campaign."

Heilemann and Halperin relate stories about Bill Clinton's philandering and how Hillary Clinton's staff prepared to defuse those stories as well as marital problems between John and Elizabeth Edwards.  Ambinder ends his post with this dig at the profession.
Political scientists aren't going to like this book, because it portrays politics as it is actually lived by the candidates, their staff and the press, which is to say -- a messy, sweaty, ugly, arduous competition between flawed human beings -- a universe away from numbers and probabilities and theories.
I don't know about that.  Most political scientists are people too.  We probably like unsubstantiated gossip as much as the next person and would enjoy the book after we finish with this week's National Enquirer. 

Honestly, I have no idea about the book and probably will never read it.  I focus more on international politics.  However, I'm not really convinced that the events Ambinder highlights had any bearing upon the final outcome of the 2008 election.  That would be why "political scientists aren't going to like this book."

Friday, January 8, 2010

There's just no stopping Mauricio

In a recent poll, 88% of all Salvadorans expressed a favorable opinon of Mauricio Funes and his job performance.

According to news reaching here, polling firm JBS Opinion Publica found that 54.2 percent of Salvadorians described Funes' performance as "good," 17.7 percent said it had been "very good" and 16 percent rated him as "excellent." (People's Daily Online)

Obviously this is good news for El Salvador and for Mauricio Funes.  However, while I'm not much of a betting man, I wouldn't be surprised to see more serious conflict develop between Funes and the party. 

As of a few months ago, there were stories about how Funes got along better with the business community that he did with members of the FMLN.  More recently, Funes had to distance himself from Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the vice president, for comments that he made while on a visit to Venezuela.  The Salvadoran public seems to agree that Funes needs to keep a healthy distance from his own party.

Seventy-Five percent of respondents said that Funes was wise in distancing himself with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the party that brought him to power.
This is going to be a long four more years.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Prensa Libre's Person of the Year

2009 was another dangerous year for Guatemalan women. 

GUATEMALA CITY – Some 708 women were killed in Guatemala in 2009, based on Interior Ministry figures released on Saturday.
According to official figures, murders of women last year were less than in 2008, when 773 women died violent deaths in this Central American country.
Most crimes against women have gone unpunished despite the existence, since April 2008, of a specific law against femicide...

Guatemala is second in the world in murders of women after Russia, which posts more than 10,000 crimes against women, according to the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office. (LAHT)

Fortunately, one of the Guatemalan women most actively involved in tackling violence against women was recently named Person of the Year by Prensa Libre

Norma Cruz heads la Fundación Sobrevivientes (the Survivors' Foundation), a foundation that provides assistance to abused women in Guatemala.  (Prensa Libre - Edición electrónica - Nacional).

Earlier this year, Cruz was recognized with one of The US Secretary of State’s 2009 International Women of Courage Awards. (


Friday, January 1, 2010

Murdering Americans

Here's an interesting and frustrating account of the murder and the apparent failure to seriously investigate the killing of an American reporter in Guatemala ten years ago from St. Louis Today.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the murder in Guatemala of Doniphan native and University of Missouri graduate Larry Lee. Not only has this crime not been solved, it has been virtually uninvestigated. Neither Guatemalan nor American officials seem too disturbed by that.
Larry, a decorated journalist, was in Guatemala as a full-time employee of BridgeNews, a division of St. Louis-based Bridge Information Systems, which went bust in 2001. He had been in Guatemala reporting on the country's coffee, sugar and financial industries for more than a year when he was found stabbed to death in his apartment on Dec. 27, 1999.
According to the story, forty-one Americans have been murdered in Guatemala since Mr. Lee's death with only a single conviction to date.  Unfortunately, the US State Department and the Guatemalan authorities have shown little interest in solving the crime.

The 2.5% conviction rate for the murder of US citizens is not very different from the estimated 2% conviction rate for all murders in Guatemala in recent years which is disheartening.  Here's a New Year's wish that the justice system in Guatemala finally makes substantial improvements at ending impunity.