Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jimmy Carter Defends His Record

In a recent letter to Foreign Policy, President Jimmy Carter lays out what what he sees as his administration's foreign policy accomplishments.

There's not much Latin America-related material in the letter except for the Panama Canal. 

This extremely unpopular but requisite task had been promised since the time of President Lyndon Johnson but delayed because of the obvious negative political consequences. For instance, among the 20 brave men who faced re-election in 1978 after supporting this action, only seven returned to the Senate. This decision strengthened greatly our nation's ties with the people of Latin America and many others within the Non-Aligned Movement who had former ties with the Soviet Union.
I "know" that US control over the Panama Canal was a source of division between the US and Panama as well as the rest of Latin America.  But, how do I "know" that we got any additional support from Latin America and the Non-Aligned Movement because the US returned the canal to the Panamanians? 

Were Torrijos (probably) and Noriega (not so sure) more supportive of US foreign policy in the region because of the canal's return?  It's possible that Carter received assistance from other states because of the way that he handled the canal issue but it is hard to imagine that any of that good will extended to Reagan.  Campaigning against the canal is one of the most important issues that led to his win against Carter.  In addition, Torrijos was dead by mid-1981.

Had Carter, Torrijos or both been able to stick around for a few more years, the return of the canal might have provided longer-term dividends.  What do you think?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Digging up the past

Guatemala digs up graves in search for disappeared -

Guatemalan authorities have begun digging up mass graves at a cemetery where hundreds of people who disappeared during the Central American country's civil war are believed buried.
An official from the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation says 889 people could be buried at the Verbena Cemetery. Jose Suasnavar says investigators hope DNA testing will identify them.  
Some 240,000 people, mostly Mayan Indians, vanished or died during Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Some of the victims were buried in the Verbena Cemetery's mass graves when no relative came forward to claim their bodies.  
Suasnavar says the exhumations and testing could take up to a year. He spoke Friday after the exhumations began.

Hopefully, identifying the remains, determining the cause of death, and using that information to prosecute those involved in extrajudicial killings will be important steps forward for those seeking thurth and justice in Guatemala.  While one can't expect a short AP blurb to be that comprehensive, that third paragraphs irks me a bit.

I guess Guatemalans "vanished," although I can't say that I've ever heard it explained that way.  Many of the missing were abducted by the government's security forces, tortured, murdered, and then had their bodies disappeared.  Bodies were buried in unmarked graves, dropped into volcanoes, or thrown in the sea.

There was no official record of their arrest nor of their deaths.  Police, military, and government officials denied that the state had anything to do with the supposed disappearance of an individual in question.  On the other hand, if the individual was picked up by government forces, it was because the person was a subversive.  The only person looking for a subversive would be a friend or family member of the subversive.  That's not really something one would want to advertise.

Anyway, while I'm no expert on exhumations, how in the world to they expect to exhume and use DNA testing to identify close to 1,000 bodies in twelve months? And to carry it out in a way that treats the area like a crime scene leaving open the possibility of future prosecutions?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Counterinsurgency in El Salvador

Marc Peceny and William Stanley have a really interesting article in Politics & Society.  In "Counterinsurgency in El Salvador," the authors argue that
contemporary U.S. policy makers often characterize the U.S. countrerinsurgency experience in El Salvador as a successful model to be followed in other contexts.  This article argues that these characterizations significantly overstate the positive lessons of El Salvador, and ignore important cautionary implications.  (Politics & Society)
The article is part of a special edition of Politics & Society where several analysts look more closely at  historical counterinsurgency campaigns that have been used (for better or worse) to understand the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  While I would have liked to see the authors delve into the lessons for Afghanistan and Iraq in greater detail, their discussion of El Salvador is top-notch.  These are two of the best analysts on El Salvador.  Elisabeth Wood (co-organizer of the project) and David Holiday provided comments on the paper and they are two other Salvadoran experts.  (David used to run Central America and Beyond, a site that I really enjoyed.)

One of Peceny and Stanley's key findings is
that indiscriminate violence against civilians early in a conflict can create dynamics that are very difficult to overcome in subsequent stages.
In El Salvador, a traditional counterinsurgency campaign did not really begin until 1984.  By that time, the indiscriminate violence carried out by death squads and the military had already left their mark.  A successful strategy aimed at winning the "hearts and minds" of Salvadorans after such brutal violence is extremely difficult to achieve.  In El Salvador, government-directed violence against civilians in the early years of the war continued to provide recruits and good will towards the FMLN for the entire conflict.

In "The Legacy of Violence on Post-Civil War Elections: The Case of El Salvador" (2010), I argue that the legacy of violence that Peceny and Stanley discuss carries into postwar elections. 
Over the last several decades, numerous civil wars have ended as a consequence of negotiated settlements. Following many of these settlements, rebel groups have made the transition to political party and competed in democratic elections. In this paper, I assess the legacy of civil war on the performance of rebel groups as political parties. I argue that the ability of rebels to capture and control territory and their use of violence against the civilian population are two key factors explaining the performance of rebels as political parties. I test these hypotheses against the case of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador using one-way ANOVA and multivariate regression analyses. In analyzing the FMLN’s performance in the 1994 “elections of the century,” I find that, as a political party, the FMLN benefited both from the state’s violently disproportionate response and its ability to hold territory during the war.
Peceny and Stanley do a much better job of looking at the changing nature of the civil war in El Salvador.  In that sense, it is similar to Hugh Byrne's El Salvador's Civil War: A Study of Revolution (1996).  Repression varied both temporally and spatially.  In my paper, I use a crude measure to operationalize whether a municipality was a conflict zone during the war.  Someone pursuing their Ph.D. right now might want to try to improve our understanding of the level of violence in each municipality and how it varied over the ten plus years of the war.  Maybe each municipality can get a score that takes into account both the intensity and duration of the violence in that particular area. 

I also think that the papers in Politics & Society, especially this one, are part of what we are looking for in political science.  Through their research on El Salvador, the authors are engaging in the current debate on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I do wonder, however, how receptive the paper will be or has been to those making policy. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Clinton goes dancing

The State Department recently announced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's travel plans to Latin America.  She will to Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala at the end of February. 

In terms of how this will play out in the US media, Clinton will go to the left (Uruguay).  Then to the right (Chile).  Back to the left (Brazil).  To the right again (Costa Rica).  And, finally, back to the left (Guatemala).  Obviously, those are all simplifications, but we don't deal in complexity here.

I'm not sure what to make of the translation on People's Daily Online.   
She will meet with President Alvaro Colomemala.
That doesn't sound good.

Layover in Managua

Senators Christopher Dodd and Robert Corker visited Nicaragua for three hours on Tuesday .  During their breif stay, they met with the current vice president as well as opposition political figures from the Constitutional Liberal Party (and its off shoots) and the Sandinista Renovation Movement. 

Apparently, some political analysts are worried that the visit is more than it appears.
Some local political circles are wary of the apparent innocence of the quick visit, as its true objectives could be far beyond the apparent.
I imagine Dodd is taking somewhat of a farewell tour.  Does anyone know what his post-Senate plans are?

Corker's visit is tougher to figure out.  While he is a minority member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, his subcommittee assignments do not appear to have much relevance to Nicargua and Latin America other than the being a member of the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection.  Who comes up with these committee names anyway?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ecuador's Money Laundering Problem?

So, on the one hand, Correa argues that Ecuador is on a money laundering list because of the country's ties to Iran.  (Yahoo)
Ecuador's inclusion on an international list of nations accused of lagging in the fight against money laundering is a hypocritical punishment for its relations with Iran, Ecuador's president said on Saturday.
"What arrogance! And why? Because we have relations with Iran. That's it," Rafael Correa said at his weekly town hall meeting. "This is imperialism in its most base form. ... This has nothing to do with the struggle against money laundering."

On the other hand and in the same breath, Correa questions why Brazil isn't included on the list as it also strengthened ties with Iran under Lula.
Drawing cheers from his audience, Correa asked why nobody had mentioned Brazil, which also has growing ties with Iran and hosted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad late last year.

While obviously not overwhelming evidence, doesn't that lead one to believe that it takes more than relations with Iran to get on the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force list?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Family ties

Another remarkable story from the dirty war in Argentina (Argentine stolen at birth, now 32, learns identity)

"For the first time, I know who I was. Who I am," the young man said, still marveling at his new identity: Francisco Madariaga Quintela, a name he only learned last week.


I last went to ISA in 2002 when the conference was also in New Orleans.  I hadn't gone back because there never seemed to be enough Latin America-related panels to justify the trip.  ISA does seem to have improved in that regard.  At least twenty-three papers included Guatemala and/or El Salvador in their abstract.  What's your favorite non-LASA conference for those who study Latin America?

I've never been asked to be a discussant at a conference.  I don't envy the job of having to provide critical feedback on three-to-five papers received approximately seventy-two hours before the conference begins.  In addition, you're supposed to somehow highlight how those papers go together. 

For the most part, however, I can't say that the discussants that I heard did a very good job this weekend.  One discussant called out a presenter for not submitting a paper even though the discussant had actually confirmed having received the paper well in advance.  After listening to four presenters apologize for the incomplete nature of their papers, another discussant couldn't stop praising how great each paper was.  Finally, on other panels, the discussants made it obvious that they hadn't read the papers at all.  They asked really basic questions that would have be answered had they simply listened to the presenter.

Is there any way to improve the performance of discussants (or panelists for that matter)?  Would it be possible to limit one's participation to a paper presentation or a discussant role?  While some can handle both responsiblities, it doesn't appear to be a skill that many have.  To do this, universities would have to cover the costs of discussants and not just presenters.  At my school we are reimubrsed 100% as a presenter and 75% as a discussant.  One would also have to further factor in the discussant role in tenure and promotion deliberations.  Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Off to ISA

I will be MIA the next few days.  I will be in New Orleans at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association

[UPDATE - Don't bother with the COHA piece.  It's not really worth it.  I do apologize if you unfortunately read it.]

Meanwhile, check out "Is El Salvador’s first left-leaning president changing the country’s internal political realities for the better? Are U.S. policy makers about to make a major mistake?" by COHA Research Associate Katya Rodriguez.  The title doesn't make me want to read it, but I guess I'll have to at some point.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Alvaro Colom on tour

President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala is scheduled to arrive tomorrow on a state visit to the United States. 

He will hold a series of meetings with U.S. officials, Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton, Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki -moon, as well as the Secretaries General of the Organization of American States and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), among others. (Guatemala Times)

The trip is most likely important simply to show support for Colom following the report of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala's (CICIG) implicating Rosenberg in his own murder suicide and clearing Colom of all suspicions.  There doesn't really seem to be much substance to his trip.  The only news is that Colom will help to inaugurate Guatemala's new consulate in Maryland. 

And on the final day, Colom will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss
the issues of bilateral relations, including: the strengthening of security and justice in Guatemala, the Merida Initiative, and Guatemala's efforts in combating drug trafficking, comprehensive immigration reform, investment, trade and climate change, among others.
Oddly enough, the Russian Foreign Minister is in Guatemala right now meeting with a variety of dignitaries. 
According to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrei Nesterenko, this is going to be the first visit by the Russian foreign minister to this Central American state. He emphasized that Russian-Guatemalan contacts at various levels were characterized by growing dynamism and intensity. Vladimir Putin’s visit to Guatemala City in July 2007 to attend the 119th session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that chose Sochi as the venue for the 22nd Winter Olympic games in 2014 contributed to the development of bilateral ties. (ITAR-TASS)
All I remember of Putin's visit, was that his motorcade held up traffic for about an hour just so that he could cross the street and go from his hotel to the IOC conference center. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Minors Serving Time

From the Latin American Heral Tribune,

The Salvadoran Congress voted to increase the maximum prison sentence for adolescent offenders from seven to 15 years in an attempt to control violence by teens linked to gangs.
The new maximum will apply to convicts between the ages of 16 and 18.
All 76 of the lawmakers present for Thursday’s session of the Legislative Assembly voted in favor of the measure.
I can't say that this inspires confidence.  Granted, sentencing reforms are probably one of many justice system reforms needed to deal bring the violence below epidemic levels.  However, the FMLN's decision to use troops to patrol violent municipios and to double the maximum prison sentence for juvenile gang offenders is not what people expected from the FMLN.

It's not even clear how strongly the FMLN supports the law.
For her part, the lawmaker of the governing leftist FMLN, Margarita Velado, said that her party “doesn’t find it agreeable to increase jail sentences,” but “right now it’s a necessity.”

Campus shooting in Alabama

Terrible news out of Alabama.
A Harvard-trained biology professor is facing murder charges in the shooting deaths of three faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, police said early Saturday.

Authorities said Amy Bishop wounded three other employees Friday. She was arrested outside the sciences building where the shooting occurred, authorities said. (CNN)
While the motive hasn't been shared with the public, it must have something to do with the fact that the professor is "Harvard-trained."  Why else would that appear in the first sentence?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Anna Get Your Gun

Yet more evidence that Guatemalans have little confidence in their police, courts, and elected officials to guarantee an adequate measure of security, Guatemalan women take up arms amid climate of insecurity:

The official newspaper said an increasing number of women of different professions are acquiring weapons and registering them with Guatemala's Arms and Munitions Control Office.
Some 9,200 weapons have been registered at that agency in the name of women, representing 4 percent of the total weapons registered.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Charlie Wilson

On February 10, Charlie Wilson died at the age of 76 in Texas.  Wilson was a Texas Democrat who served in the US House of Representatives between 1973 and 1996.  Wilson was most well-known for his involvement in supporting the Afghan resistance fighters against Soviet occupation during the 1980s.  His actions were made rather well-known through Tom Hank's portrayal of Wilson in "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007).

While reading up on Wilson for a class discussion on Afghanistan this morning, I came across his history in Latin America prior to supporting the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. According to Wilson's entry on Wikipedia,
Wilson saw Somoza as an abandoned and betrayed U.S. ally, and he ran a rearguard action in the House appropriations committee attempting to save Somoza's regime, at one point threatening to wreck President Carter's Panama Canal Treaty if the U.S. did not resume supporting Somoza.
Wilson later arranged a meeting between Somoza and Ed Wilson (a CIA agent) who offered to form a 1000-man force of ex-CIA operatives to fight on Somoza's behalf. The meeting collapsed when Somoza fondled Tina Simons, Wilson's girlfriend, and the deal proved impossible after Somoza declined to pay $100-million for the 1000-man force.
There aren't any other details in the entry related to Wilson and Somoza.  I guess I'll have to get around the the book one of these days.  However, what struck me is Wilson's contempt for Carter's foreign policies and the extent he went to undermine it. 

In Nicaragua, the Carter administration supported Somoza while encouraging him to adopt a variety of basic reforms to stave off revolution.  Eventually, Carter pulled US support for Somoza and tried to broker a transition to his vice president.  Wilson appears to have threatened to squash the Panama Canal negotiations (or treaty ratification - the date is unclear) if Carter did not increase the US's support to Somoza. 

When that failed, Wilson brokered a meeting between a CIA agent and Somoza.  The purpose of the talks were to create a mercenary army to fight on behalf of the Somoza government.  Something just doesn't sound right about a sitting congressman acting as the middle man between former CIA operatives and the head of state of another government. 

I can't imagine that there were any repercussions for Wilson.  He later went on to carry out additional backroom deals between the CIA and Afghan resistance during the 1980s.  While Reagan and Wilson were both engaged in supporting the the mujaheddin, their relationship isn't exactly clear.  Was Wilson acting with Reagan's knowledge and support or was he negotiating US foreign policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan from the halls of Congress?  If that's the case, and I'm not sure it is, then his behavior in Afghanistan was pretty similar to his behavior in Nicaragua.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guatemalan Ambassador Goes to the Vatican

Recently, the new Guatemalan Ambassador to the Holy See, Alfonso Alberto Matta Fahsen, presented his credentials to Pope Benedict.  Matta was recently the Guatemalan Ambassador to the UK.  

The pope "urged the nation to fight against corruption, poverty and hunger" through the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law (  It was also interesting that Pope drew attention to those Guatemalans who are suffering because of climatic effects of drought that have made life exceedingly difficult for the most vulnerable in a country which had already been suffering from high malnutrition and poverty rates (Vatican Radio).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pollo Campero has Arrived!

Pollo Campero is a Guatemalan fast food chain that serves fried chicken and has over three hundred restaurants in twelve countries around the world, including over fifty here in the United States.

Pollo Campero is prepared to open a new restaurant in Downtown Disney Market Place at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida in late 2010.    

If you've ever flown from Guatemala or El Salvador to the United States, then you're familiar with Campero.  There are usually at least a dozen people on each flight carrying fried chicken back for family and friends living in the US.

I've had their chicken several times in the last ten years in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.  While I really enjoyed the chicken the first few times, especially in El Salvador on Boulevard de los Heroes, the quality of the chicken has been much more hit or miss lately, particularly in Guatemala City. 

Interestingly enough, the Campero at Disney Market Place will have a hybrid menu and serve other menu items not typically available at Campero.
"This is an exciting opportunity for Pollo Campero to introduce its famous chicken, along with our newest fresh restaurant concept of salads and wraps, to visitors from all over the world," said Adam Cummis, president of Levy Campero. "We are thrilled to collaborate with one of the strongest brands in the world to showcase our Latin delicacies and look forward to a long working relationship."
Walt Disney World guests will be able to savor combinations of freshly prepared Campero Latin chicken, unique, flavorful side dishes such as yuca fries and sweet plantains, and Latin drinks including horchata and tamarindo. The menu also will include nutritious and delicious meals such as chef-prepared salads, sandwiches and wraps using simple recipes derived from only the freshest ingredients.
As long as Campero is not replacing Ghiradelli's at Market Place, it can't be a bad idea.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Search for the Rio Sumpul Massacre Victims

The following excerpt is from the United Nations Truth Commision for El Salvador carried out at the end of the war.
On 14 May 1980, units of Military Detachment No. 1, the National Guard and the paramilitary Organización Nacional Democrática (ORDEN) deliberately killed at least 300 non-combatants, including women and children, who were trying to flee to Honduras across the Sumpul river beside the hamlet of Las Aradas, Department of Chalatenango. The massacre was made possible by the cooperation of the Honduran armed forces, who prevented the Salvadorian villagers from landing on the other side.
The Salvadorian military operation had begun the previous day as an anti-guerrilla operation. Troops advanced from various points, gradually converging on the hamlet of Las Aradas on the banks of the Sumpul river. In the course of the operation, there had been a number of encounters with the guerrillas.

There is sufficient evidence that, as they advanced, Government forces committed acts of violence against the population, and this caused numerous people to flee, many of whom congregated in the hamlet, consisting of some dozen houses.

Troops attacked the hamlet with artillery and fire from two helicopters. The villagers and other people displaced by the operation attempted to cross the Sumpul river to take refuge in Honduras. Honduran troops deployed on the opposite bank of the river barred their way. They were then killed by Salvadorian troops who fired on them in cold blood.
According to a report in Prensa Libre, Guatemalan forensic anthropologists are heading to El Salvador to assist in the search for and exhumation of victims from the Salvadoran civil war.  One of the more well known and atrocious massacres on which they will be assisting occurred in May 1980 near Arcatao, Chalatenango and is noted above. 

Ana García, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center for Human Rights, is asking for witnesses and family members of possible victims to come forward with any information.  I am wondering whether the political climate in El Salvador has changed enough so that people with information about the killings from the war (as witness or participants) now feel free to come forward. 

A few years ago, a former soldier, José Wilfredo Salgado, spoke rather candidly about what his fellow soldiers had done at El Mozote and how it haunted him.  However, he recanted soon thereafter saying that he was misinterpreted and tricked.  Perhaps with a new administration in power, those who have something to share will feel more empowered to come forward with any information that they might have.