Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Colom in Russia II

As I mentioned in a post last week, President Colom traveled to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.  Colom and Medvedev are interested in increasing educational exchanges and tourism (RT) and preventing the deployment of weapons in space (Pravda), an issue of longstanding concern for the highlands people of Guatemala of course.

One of the areas would Colom would apparently like to see greater bilateral relations is in the area of military and police assistance against drug trafficking and organized crime.

Guatemala’s vice President Rafal Espada told Medvedev during the official meeting in the Kremlin that Guatemala would be interested in acquiring Russian arms in exchange for food.
"Guatemala is interested in acquiring planes, armored vehicles and other arms to struggle against organized crime in the country. We could pay for the arms with coffee and sugar,” Espada said.
Guatemalan officials already discussed the issue with Russian diplomats last week, Espada said. Guatemala’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Juan Jose Ruis and five other high-ranking officials of the nation’s defense department took part in the talks.

Espada said that Russia provided the information about the arms, which would be of interest for the armed forces and the national police of Guatemala. (Pravda)
I still understand Colom's interest in establishing economic, social, and cultural opportunities for Guatemalans throughout the world.  However, selling sugar and coffee in return for planes and armored personnel carriers isn't exactly what I had in mind. 

If anything develops with regards to this relationship, I wonder how the US Congress will react.  While Guatemala is not a big recipient of Merida Initiative funds, they have received millions of dollars from the US to fight organized crime and drug trafficking.  Will the US Congress preempt greater Russian-Guatemala relations by increasing funds directed towards Guatemala?  Was this Colom's plan all along?  Or will Congress "punish" Guatemala by cutting its funding?

(Voice of Russia)

On the one hand, I think that I might be blowing this meeting out of proportion.  The deal probably won't involved any sophisticated military equipment or really amount to that much money.  On the other hand, I get worried when heads of state praise Russia as a guarantor of international security.
Colom, who described Russia as “an international security guarantor,” considers his trip “as marking the start of important ties with our region.” “There is an enormous interest in Russia in Latin America, and I think it's time to stimulate it and take advantage of it,” the Guatemalan president said in an interview with RT.  (RT)
You can say nice things about Russia and Medvedev without calling them "an international security guarantor."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Rosenberg Case

Legal proceedings against those accused in the murder/suicide of Rodrigo Rosenberg continue in Guatemala.
A Guatemalan judge sentenced a man to two years in prison Monday for his role in the killing of a prominent lawyer who accused the country's president of his murder in a video made before his death.
Carlos Arago Cardona was convicted of illicit association, the first verdict among eight people on trial in the slaying of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg last May...
Judge Veronica Galicia said she refused defense requests to suspend the sentence for Arago Cardona, who turned state's evidence and informed on his alleged accomplices.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Politics behind “San Romero”

Many had hoped that the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination would bring with it news of Romero's beatification and/or canonization.  However, another year has come and gone without an announcement from the Church.  The Salvadoran people and many other Catholics (and non-Catholics) throughout the world were left disappointed once again.  Most people seem to believe that the decision to beatify and canonize Romero is being held up by political conisderations.

According to one line of thought, Romero's beatification has stalled because the Holy See does not want to make a decision that will divide El Salvador.  This shouldn't be a problem as the entire Catholic Church in El Salvador now supports his sainthood as do the two main political parties (ARENA and the FMLN).  Funes' apology most likely helps, but it would have been different had the apology come from the government of ARENA.  Either way, if this were the true reason for withholding an announcement, we could expect word on Romero's case at any time.

A second potential political problem is that Romero spoke out against injustice and called on nonviolent solutions to the problems of the poor in El Salvador.  However, in addition to the nonviolent left, the violent left adopted Romero as a leader in their cause.  It doesn't help Romero's cause to be celebrated alongside Che Guevara.  The Catholic Church does not want to canonize Romero because it will be hailed as a victory for the former armed left in El Salvador.  This concern might fade with the passing of time.

A third political problem seems to be the reluctance of the Catholic Church to recognize Romero as a saint because he was an archbishop, not an ordinary priest.  This holdup was new to me.
At the core of both his holiness and much of the controversy is that Romero embodied the "the church of the poor." And as the chief pastor of the Salvadoran church, a "St. Romero" would carry that model, or ecclesiology, into the international spotlight at a time when models for pastoral effectiveness and Gospel fidelity are critical for the global church. In other words, if canonized, Romero will be not be just another holy person or model for piety. He will be a canonized archbishop. In that capacity, he will be held up as an exemplar for the episcopacy and for the church itself.
Fr. Dean Brackley of the UCA puts it this way
"One has to suspect that if Romero were not a bishop, he might have an easier road to canonization. Because not everyone in the Catholic hierarchy is comfortable with presenting him as a bishop to be imitated."
Given the way that the Catholic Church has inexplicably protected its own, including bishops involved in cover-ups, during the child abuse scandals of the last several decades (Here and Here for recent op-eds - h/t Matthew Yglesias), its frustrating to see the Church's reluctance to beatifiy and canonize Romero.   As a Catholic, I would want my archbishop to act according to the Scripture even if it results in a falling out with one's fellow priests locally and in Rome or even in one's death.  While the Church might not want its bishops to imitate Romero, I can't think of a better role model.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Killer of Bishop Gerardi Linked to Zetas

From the Latin American Herald Tribune,
A former Guatemalan army officer convicted for the 1998 assassination of Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi has links to Mexico’s Los Zetas criminal organization, El Periodico daily reported Thursday, citing the contents of his diary.
The personal diary of Capt. Byron Lima Oliva was seized during an inspection of the Pavon maximum-security prison and work farm, where the erstwhile military man is serving a 20-year sentence for killing Gerardi.
Written in the diary are the names of two Mexicans whom authorities in Mexico identify as drug kingpins.

They are Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, known as “Tony Tormenta,” reputed No. 3 man in the Gulf cartel; and Daniel Perez Rojas, alias “El Cachetes,” alleged leader of Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned killers for hire.

Perez Rojas is currently behind bars in Guatemala.

One of the pages of the confiscated diary features a type of organizational chart that is titled “founders” – presumably of Los Zetas – and contains the words; “Cachetes, Cardenas 2nd, Me 3rd.”

The diary also refers to 120 Mexicans and 200 Guatemalans apparently involved in the organization, 20 attorneys, police stations and weapons, as well as to the purchase of luxury automobiles, jewelry, houses, plots of land and the extortion of prisoners in Pavon, among other information.
Seriously, who thinks that keeping documents such as these in one's jail cell is a good idea? While Colonel Byron Lima (the Capt.'s father) might still get an early release because of good behavior, it doesn't look like his son will be joining him on the outside any day soon.

Nicaraguan Baseball Prospects

Here's the story of one determined father from the Nica Times.
Mr. Cuthbert was always determined to help his son become the best player he could, despite the obstacles he faced growing up on Corn Island.
When Mr. Cuthbert would come in from the fishing boat each week, he would coach his son on the finer points of hitting and fielding. He cleared an area in the backyard to throw the ball around. And when that space became too small, he built a little league baseball field behind the municipal stadium.
And of course, his pro idol is a Yankee.
Despite his age, the strapping 6'1'' Nicaraguan player who idolizes Yankees third baseman Alex Rodríguez is considered today's top Nicaraguan baseball prospect, and a good bet to someday become the 12th Nicaraguan player to make the major leagues.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oscar Romero - Voice of the Voiceless

Episode II of the BBC's "Voice of the Voiceless" is now online. 

Episode I that I linked to last week can be found here as well.

Oscar Romero

The following post is part of a lecture I had put together on Archbishop Oscar Romero and canonization.  I'm not an expert on sainthood and many of the internal Church deliberations surrounding his beatification and canonization are only known through gossip.  If there is anything that I should change, please let me know in the comments or email.

I also didn't spend much time on proper citations.  Forgive me in advance.  I accessed several news stories, the Holy See's website on canonization, wikipedia, and some of Polycarpio's posts on Romero.

On March 24, 1980, Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was shot and killed while serving Mass at the Divina Providencia chapel in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. His murder came just weeks after he had called upon US President Jimmy Carter to stop sending military aid to his country. In his words, these weapons would only be used to kill his people. On the day before his murder, Archbishop Romero begged the Salvadoran military to stop killing its brothers and sisters. He told them that one must obey the law of God even if it is contradictory to the orders of one’s military superiors. Since his death in 1980, many Salvadorans and Catholics from every corner of the world have considered Romero a saint.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ambassador Robert White on Romero

There's an intertersting article by former Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White in Commonweal about his interaction with Archbishop Oscar Romero.  There's a lot of good or depressing quotes in the piece.

About Washington's ignorance about the Catholic Church in El Salvador and Latin America
Not for the first time, I marveled at Washington decision-makers’ lack of understanding about the new role of the church in Latin America, their ignorance of the unrelenting persecution of priests, nuns, and lay workers by the Salvadoran military and the already strained relations between the Vatican of Pope John Paul II and Romero.
About his first meeting with Romero in early 1980

Early in the conversation, Romero, with the hint of a smile, said he had long looked forward to meeting an American ambassador. Here Romero was making a not-so-subtle point. Although he had been archbishop since 1977, no American diplomat had ever called on him. So it was not only the military and the economic elites that ostracized the archbishop, but the American government as well.

Álvaro Saravia speaks out about how he and his accomplices assassinated Romero

In a recent interview with Carlos Dada of El Faro, Álvaro Saravia speaks openly about what he remembers of the events surrounding Archbishop Oscar Romero's murder.  Saravia is a former Salvadoran air force captain and close confidant of D'Aubuisson.  He is currently living in an undisclosed country.  In 2006, he admitted to his involvement in Romero's death (See Tim's El Salvador Blog), but now he is naming names and confirming much of what we already know. 

While Saravia denies that he ever murdered or kidnapped anyone, he does admit to providing the car used in the assassination.  According to Saravia, Roberto D'Aubuisson was indeed the intellectual author of Romero's murder and had asked Saravia to find a car, "to get it done". 

As Polycarpio notes in the comments at Tim's blog,
Saravia not only confirms D'Aubuisson's participation, but he implicates the son of President Arturo Armando Molina in having provided the assassin, and COENA member Eduardo Lemus O´byrne as having provided the killer's pay-off.
Here is a clip based on the report with English subtitles.

The article is twenty-four pages long in Spanish and looks to confirm most of the Truth Commission's report.  Two immediate differences:
  • While the commission found that Saravia was "actively involved in planning and carrying out the assassination," he downplays his participation.
  • Eduardo Lemus O´Byrne is also mentioned in Saravia's story, but not in the Truth Commission Report.  Saravia says that Lemus O'byrne paid off the assassin.  Lemus O´byrne is a businessman and a former president of ANEP (National Association of Private Enterprise).  He denies the accusation.
I'm sure there will be more written about the interview in the next few days.  Be sure to keep up on Tim's site or here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Colom in Russia

President Alvaro Colom is presently on a state visit to Russia.  From the Guatemala Times 

The visit is taking place at Dmitry Medvedev's invitation. The package of cooperation proposals includes oil and gas, telecommunications, transport and tourism. Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other Russian top officials will be discussing the possible cooperation mechanisms.
On Monday there will be the signing of a joint declaration and a draft of bilateral deals, including on military technical cooperation between the two countries.
I've always understood the need to establish strong diplomatic relations with as many countries as possible.  However, the timing of this trip seems out of place given Colom's recent visit to the United States and meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  There's also the question of "military technical cooperation" that might be a cause of concern.

If Guatemala is seeking to advance bilateral relations with the United States on immigration, trade, and security, I don't see how fostering stronger relations with Russia at this point in time is going to help them attain these goals.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Portillo Fires Back

According to former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, he is being extradited to the US as payback for his principled opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. (Democracy Now)
“I’m glad to tell Guatemalans I’m being chased for political reasons, for not following US policies in Latin America. I was the only Central American president who didn’t sign the letter supporting the US war and invasion in Iraq, and my argument was that my country had already been invaded in the past and signing a letter to support another country’s invasion was against my principles. I remember the ambassador and counselor’s words at that time: ‘revenge will come in the future.’ And the extradition request is the instrument of revenge.”
If Portillo is correct, we're going to need a lot more prisons.

Campaigning Priest Defrocked in Peru

From the IPS:
A priest who is touring the country in his bid to run for president next year, at the head of a leftist movement, was indefinitely suspended by the Catholic Church for getting involved in politics.

Banned from exercising any priestly functions, Marco Arana has continued campaigning as the leader of the Land and Freedom Movement (MTL), and is seeking alliances with other left-wing groups, with a view to the October 2010 municipal and regional elections and the April 2011 legislative and presidential vote.

Arana was suspended in February by the diocese of the highlands region of Cajamarca in northwest Peru on the grounds that his political activity was incompatible with the priesthood.
Unfortunately for Arana, he is running ninth in recent public opinion polls.

Attempted murder of Bishop Martín Barahona in El Salvador

Unknown gunmnen fired at Bishop Martin Barahona of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador and two other men in Santa Tecla on March 17th.
The incident happened in Santa Tecla, El Salvador, on March 17 when an unknown man approached and fired upon Barahona, a church musician and Francis Martínez, the bishop's driver, according to news reports. Barahona was unharmed, but Martinez was hit in the stomach and his arm was broken by one of the gunshots. He is in "grave but stable condition," said the Rev. Lee Alison Crawford, rector of Trinity Church in Rutland, Vermont, and a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, in a telephone interview with ENS.
"At this point we don't know if there was a particular motivation or whether this was random, which is symptomatic of the pervasive violence that affects all sectors of daily life in El Salvador," she said.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oscar Romero - Voice of the Voiceless

Check out this thirty minute audio clip Voice of the Voiceless on the life and death of Archbishop Oscar Romero from the BBC

The last five minutes are the most interesting when former President Alfredo Cristiani and the sister of Roberto D'Aubuisson's (the alleged intellectual author of the Archbishop's death).  Only one believes that Roberto D'Aubuisson was involved in the Archbishop's death.

Cautious Optimism in Guatemala

Kara Andrade at Americas Quarterly highlighst the positive developments that have occured in Guatemala within the last year.
- An ex-president went to jail to face money laundering charges.
- The murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg—the prominent attorney who appeared on YouTube in May 2009 accusing President Colom of killing him—is resolved by a UN entity with 300 investigators who use cellphone calls and private security camera footage to determine that Rosenberg plotted his own murder.
- The director of Guatemala’s national police force, Baltzar Gomez, is arrested on March 10 on charges of colluding with drug traffickers.

And now, Guatemala has begun to both, figuratively and literally, dig deep in the dirt of its past and enter a period of transitional justice. For decades, Guatemalans have been digging up bodies buried in mass graves located in the mountains—where government troops and death squads massacred indigenous Mayan villagers to eliminate guerrilla opposition—but exhumations are now underway in Guatemala City's Verbena Cemetery.
Unfortunately, Barbara Schieber at the Guatemala Times reminds us that the "dark powers" will not sit idly by while their livelihoods are threatened.
Too many things have been happening in a relatively short time period, from 2008 to date, concerning the discovery, documentation, investigation and prosecution of corruption in all sectors of society, flagrant abuse of power of local authorities, corrupt ex- government officials, corruption of members or ex-members of the current government, the congress, money laundering, captures of tax evaders, shadowy thefts of armament in the military of Guatemala, police authorities involved in drug activities, the list goes on and on.
The sectors who are fighting to eliminate impunity in Guatemala can measure their success by the massive counteroffensive of the perpetrators and guardians of impunity in Guatemala.
Death threats and intimidations for judges, magistrates, prosecutors, members of the press, prominent human rights activists, the pro-justice sector of Guatemala, a campaign to discredit and question the work of CICIG., increased extra judicial killings and torture of activist in the rural areas of Guatemala, killings of police officers, killings of tax evasion investigating officers, etc., are a show of force of the dark side that is escalating every day.

Bar Research from the University of Scranton in the

Congrats to my friend and colleague Jim Roberts for Monday's write-up in the New York Times.

I think my favorite part of the article is the following
Still, the language of academia and the atmosphere of the tavern are not a perfect match. His findings about “bivariate correlations” and the rest probably make for better academic research than great bar talk at McSwiggan’s Pub.
On the other hand, Professor Roberts has strong cred as a former Jersey Shore bartender, and as someone who teaches at a place where bar research can be taken seriously, as opposed to a snob-appeal campus. On this one, Scranton, yes. M.I.T., no.

"Strong cred as a former Jersey Shore bartender" - seriously?
Scranton is a "place where bar research can be taken seriously, as opposed to a snob-appeal campus."
It definitely beats my quote in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Insecurity Continues in Guatemala

Several stories have come out in recent days hat remind us about the terrible insecurity that continues to exist in Guatemala today. 

According to an IPS report, four human rights activites have been murdered in Guatemala so far this year.  Their deaths have come to the attention of the IACHR.
"The IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) strongly urges the Guatemalan State to maximise its efforts to investigate and legally clarify these crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators and masterminds," the Organisation of American States human rights body said in a Feb. 25 press release.
"The Inter-American Commission also calls on the state of Guatemala to urgently adopt all the measures necessary to provide adequate protection for human rights defenders in the country," the IACHR statement said.
Children also appear to be dying at an increasingly alarming rate. (LAHT)
At least 130 children and adolescents have been killed in Guatemala thus far this year, a news agency that covers that segment of the population said in a report.
That number eclipses last year’s total of 523 on an annualized basis and sheds “dramatic light” on the situation Guatemala faces in the remainder of 2010, according to the study, which was presented at an event attended by the heads of the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, in the country.

And finally (LAHT)
A former soccer referee and a strength coach were killed in Jalapa, a city in eastern Guatemala, the National Civilian Police, or PNC, said Sunday.
Francisco Antonio Ortiz, a former soccer official, and Arturo Cante, a weightlifting coach, were killed by unidentified gunmen Saturday while they were talking in a Jalapa neighborhood.
The 48-year-old Ortiz was retired from the Guatemalan National Soccer League, while Cante, 57, worked as a strength and conditioning coach in Jalapa...

Ortiz was working as a schoolteacher in a village in the eastern province of Jutiapa

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bishop Gerardi's Killer to go Free?

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune,

A Guatemalan court agreed Tuesday to grant parole to retired army Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, who is serving a 20-year sentence for the 1998 assassination of Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi.
The decision, announced to reporters by Judge Maria Antonieta Morales, is based on a law allowing a convict with good behavior to apply for parole midway through his or her sentence.
Chalk up a win for impunity in Guatemala if Lima Estrada's granting of parole is upheld.  Bishop Juan Gerardi was killed by Lima Estrada, his son, and a number of other military officials two days after Gerardi announced the Catholic Church's findings from its investigation into the human rights violations carried out during the country's thirty-six year conflict. 

I remember riding a bus across the Guatemala-Belize border when I came across the news of Gerardi's murder.  It was shocking at the time and remains so to this day.  I'm also saddened that so few US citizens know of Bishop Gerardi and his courageous work.  While I never met the man, I always think of him when my school celebrates the UCA Jesuit martyrs and Romero.  Honestly, there is probably no one at the University of Scranton outside of those enrolled in my Central American politics class or my colleague Lee Penyak's Latin American history classes that have ever heard of Bishop Juan Gerardi.

I would encourage all those interested in Gerardi's murder to take a look at The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? by Franciso Goldman.

Photo of Bishop Juan Gerardi

Padres SS Everth Cabrera

From Yahoo Sports:
The children in Nandaime, a small, poor town in southwest Nicaragua where the baseballs are plastic and the bats are sticks found in the streets, come to Everth Cabrera(notes).
He tells them his story, again and again.

Before he was signed by the Colorado Rockies for $5,000, before the San Diego Padres made him a Rule 5 prospect, before he stuck for the 2009 season and broke his hand and then returned to play in 103 major league games, he was them, he says.
For fantasy owners, ESPN ranks Cabrera as the 16th highest rated shortstop.  He's young and could use some more time in the minors but given that he plays for the Padres he'll be the starting SS again this year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Caring about El Salvador?

Linda Garrett of the Center for Democracy in the Americas had an article in the Huffington Post last last week on "Why Should We Care About El Salvador?"  The post was brought on by Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes was in Washington, D.C. on an historic trip to meet with President Barack Obama.

In terms of why "we" should care about El Salvador, I can't say that she persuades me.  The United States is more important to the people and government of El Salvador than El Salvador is to those of the US..  This is how things will be for the forseeable future.

I guess the saddest part is the quote that she uses to end the article:
So why should we - and President Obama - care about El Salvador? One Salvadoran analyst put it this way: "Our impoverishment and/or extinction can destabilize the entire region and this can affect you, Mr. President...For this reason we come to request your aid while we are still living."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Juanita Goggins

While Juanita Goggins has no connections to Central American politics, I flagged the article last week because I found it so depressing. 
When Juanita Goggins became the first black woman elected to the South Carolina Legislature in 1974, she was hailed as a trailblazer and twice visited the president at the White House.
Three decades later, she froze to death at age 75, a solitary figure living in a rented house four miles from the gleaming Statehouse dome.

Goggins, whose achievements included key legislation on school funding, kindergarten and class size, had become increasingly reclusive. She spent her final years turning down help from neighbors who knew little of her history-making past. Her body was not discovered for more than a week.

Citizen Perceptions of Police Misconduct

Jose Miguel Cruz has a new report in the AmericasBarometer Insights series on "Police Misconduct and Democracy in Latin America."  Using the 2008 Americas Barometer survey, Cruz analyzed how citizens perceived the police in their country and how those perceptions impacted support for democracy. 

When asked to answer whether police typically protect citizens or whether they are more likely to be involved in crime, 44% of respondents chose the latter.  In Central America, the percentages were as follows
  • Guatemala    66%
  • El Salvador    49%
  • Honduras      47%
  • Panama        36%
  • Costa Rica    31%
  • Nicaragua     25%
  • Belize           23%
The countries of the Northern Triangle occupy the top three positions.  Guatemala leads all countries with the highest percentage of its citizens possessing a negative perception of the police.  Costa Rica, Nicaragua are Belize are three countries with low perceptions of police corruption.

It will be interesting to compare the answers to these survey questions with those of the next LAPOP poll given the recent events in Central America. 

In Guatemala, you have the work CICIG and several profile arrests and resignations of individuals involved with the police.  Additional troops have taken to the streets and a new administration has uncovered several allegations of corruption in El Salvador.  Finally, you have the coup and increased repression in Honduras. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Chilean wineries

From the Miami Herald
Chile's strongest earthquake in 50 years may bankrupt smaller winemakers after vines collapsed, casks broke apart and millions of liters were spilled, a former Goldman Sachs Group banker-turned-winemaker said...
Wine is the fifth-largest export product for Chile, the world's 10th-biggest producer, according to the California-based Wine Institute. In 2008, the most recent year with official data, exports rose 9.6 percent to $1.4 billion, according to the nation's export promotion agency ProChile....
Damage from the earthquake to wine vats caused losses of 33 million gallons, or an estimated $250 million, Chile's association of winemakers said March 3...
``It is total destruction here,'' Renato Guerra, who owns two wineries in the Maule Valley, said in a telephone interview. ``All our 2009 harvest was in steel tanks and it represented the entire 2010 production. It is all lost.''
At the Balduzzi winery in San Javier, 171 miles south of Santiago, four 15-foot-tall stainless-steel tanks lay on their sides, crumpled like beer cans. Full of wine when the quake hit, they burst and sent a river of wine, some waiting since 2005 to be bottled, cascading into the streets.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Assorted Central America Links

Some links for the night while I figure out what to do after my APSA 2010 rejection.  Still waiting on LASA.

Glenn Beck and Social Justice

Tv and radio personality Glenn Beck has been warning people about the dangers of "social justice."

I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church web site," Beck urged his audience. "If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! (Washington Monthly)

Later, Beck held up cards, one with a hammer and sickle and other with a swastika. "Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That's what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: 'social justice.' They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy." (Politics Daily)

For anyone who followed events in Central and South America during this Cold War this has to be troubling.  This mindset is what justified the torture, rape, and murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians (both Latin American and North American) who worked to bring the Kingdom of God a little bit closer to all of us.
Let's pray that none of these "social justice activists" run a roadblock or get into a shoot out with the Salvadoran National Guard.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Portillo's Journey

According to the AP
Guatemala is a step closer to extraditing former President Alfonso Portillo to the United States to face money laundering charges.

Chief prosecutor Amilcar Velasquez says the Mexican government approved extradition. The OK was needed under terms of Mexico's extradition of Portillo back to Guatemala in 2008 to face domestic corruption charges.

The Montenegro Plot

Earlier in the week I mentioned that Nineth Montenegro was informed by representatives from the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) that they had uncovered a plot to murder her.  At the time, I didn't want to speculate about those potentially responsible.  Following the Rosenberg suicide/murder, just about anything is possible.

The threat could have come from drug traffickers and organized crime.  It could have come from the political right that has been unhappy about her activism on behalf of human rights.  Or, the plot could have come from some in or close to the Colom administration, specifically those involved in the activities of the social cohesion fund (Guatemala Times).  Montenegro has been at the front of Congressional attempts to hold the fund's overseers accountable for its operations. 

The Social Cohesion program is a cash transfer to the poor, similar to ones in Mexico and Brazil.  Sandra de Colom, the First Lady, is at the head of the fund.  Congress is unaware of the cash transfer beneficiaries and want more information.  The government, on the other hand, claims that the reicipients are private citizens and desrve their privacy.  Montenegro has led the Congress' efforts for greater transparecy in the fund's dealings.

While few seem to think that the president and first lady are embezzling the funds directly, there are concerns that they are distributing the funds along partisan lines so as to improve Sandra de Colom's chances of winning the presidency in 2011 should she be allowed to run.  In this scenario, the Montenegro plot might have come from individuals connected to the Colom administration in an attempt to remove a thorn in their side.

On the other hand, the plot it might have come from those to the right of Colom.  In this scenario, the intent of the conspirators would be to destabilize the government by making it appear as if Colom was involved in her death.  Following Rosenberg's death and the subsequent (fabricated) video that connected Colom to his "murder," protesters took to the streets in Guatemala City to demand his resignation.  While Colom survived the protests, some believe that the current threats have the same goal of destablizing the government.  Even if they are unsuccessful in forcing the government's collapse, the negative publicity might help opposition parties in 2011. 

We shall see.  As I mentioned at the start, anything is possible.  We should wait to see how this plays out.  No one predicted Rosenberg's killing was in fact an elaborate suicide and no one is sure what is going on with Montenegro

Monday, March 8, 2010

Diputada Nineth Montenegro

Nineth Montenegro is a deputy in the Guatemalan Congress for the Encuentro por Guatemala party.  The CICIG and Guatemalan Interior Minister recently informed her that they had uncovered a plot against her life.  (Latin American Herald Tribune)
The congresswoman, accompanied by political leaders, businessmen and humanitarian activists, did not provide details about who were allegedly planning to kill her, but she said she won’t be intimidated and that she has no plans to leave Guatemala.
Montenegro, a member of the congressional committee that oversees the social programs being pushed by the government of President Alvaro Colom, said the people who are intending to silence her “are those who are maintaining the anxiety” in the country.

“Being silent about something of such magnitude would be like being an accomplice and protecting those who want to remain anonymous and insistently cause anxiety to a country that is tired of so much violence and so much insecurity,” she said...

Montenegro said Castresana and Menocal told her that the plan to kill her is intended to create a rift and cause problems for the center-left government
Nineth is well-known in Guatemala and, from what I am aware, is a familiar face to North American solidarity organizations.  In the 1980s, her husband was abducted and killed by the state's security forces.  Nineth went on to help found the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), a Guatemalan human rights organization.

Granny get your gangja

As reported on CNN
A federal appeals court in Argentina has ruled that a grandmother must stand trial for growing two marijuana plants in her backyard.
Argentina allows personal consumption of marijuana, and a federal judge had issued a stay against prosecuting the unnamed woman, who swore she used the marijuana solely for herself, the government's Judicial Information Center said last week.
But the public prosecutor's office appealed the ruling, and a federal appeals court overturned the previous decision because the woman lives with her two sons and a grandchild. She could not prove the marijuana was solely for personal consumption, the three-page appeals court ruling said.
Seems like a pretty high burden for the defense to prove that no one else has ever touched the stuff.  Does the prosecutor not have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? 

While CNN only posted the story because it involved a grandmother and drugs, you would think that they would include a little more detail.  Is there any evidence that the sons and/or grandchild used the marijuana and is that even relevatnt to the prosecutor's case?

The US accepts responsibility

From the AP
Demand for illegal narcotics in the United States is fueling drug violence in Central America, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday, acknowledging a measure of U.S. responsibility for what she called a "terrible criminal scourge."

"The United States under the Obama administration recognizes and accepts its share of responsibility for the problems posed by drug trafficking in this region," she told reporters ahead of the talks in the Guatemalan capital.

"The demand in the large market in the United States drives the drug trade," she said. "We know that we are part of the problem and that is an admission that we have been willing make this past year."
That doesn't sound controversial at all and, if applied consistently, might help build support in the US and Central America for anti-narcotics operations in those countries.

Friday, March 5, 2010

In case you thought I handled health care poorly, get a load of this

So, Secretary Clinton is in Latin America criticizing several governments for not standing up for democracy and the rule of law. (Washington Post).
"We're going to be asking more of a lot of our friends," Clinton said during a stop in Costa Rica. "A number of them are not respecting democratic institutions. A number of them are not taking strong enough stands against the erosion of the rule of law because of the pressure from drug traffickers."
I understand death threats against a member of the government and her family might lead a legislator to rethink her support for democracy and the rule of law.

However, this news comes on the same day that the Obama administration decides not to stand up for democracy and the rule of law.  (Washington Post)
President Obama's advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City.
Why does the Obama administration appear to be heading down the path of giving in to the terrorists?
The president's advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said...
I would somewhat understand if the president came out and said "Look, they've all been tortured and there is not enough evidence that we solicited legally so as to guarantee a conviction in a civilian court."

I would also be sympathetic to an argument where one the president said that a civilian trial would expose classified information thereby endangering our personnel in the field and undermining ongoing operations.

However, political pushback from Republicans and Democrats is a pathetic excuse to avoid a civilian trial.
I'm also not really sure what to think of "near-universal opposition." 
But by February, there was near-universal opposition among activists and lawmakers in both parties to trying the case in New York.
CNN carried out a poll in November where only one-third of the public supported a civilian trial for KSM. (CNN Poll)  Is that the near universal opposition that they are talking about?  When sixty-six percent of the people are against some decision, I would have a hard time characterizing that as "near-universal."  Undergraduate research methods anyone?

And activists are united in their opposition to civilian trials?  That doesn't seem to jive with the last section of the article.
A decision to reverse course on Mohammed is likely to dismay civil liberties groups and human rights groups who loudly cheered Obama's election because they thought he would dismantle military tribunals developed during the Bush administration.
I was never a fan of a president having the power to appoint the country's top law enforcement figure.  The AG position should not be subject to political whim.  I am fairly certain of it now.  If the suspects are rearraigned to face trial in a military tribunal, Holder has no choice but to offer his resignation.

It's nice to be blunt when you've left government

In Guatemala, analysts and politicians expect no help from Clinton. "I think that her list of criticisms will include a scolding for local officials, asking them why they haven't done anything, and calling for tougher action against drug trafficking," former foreign minister Gabriel Orellana remarked to IPS.
"The United States finances many actions, for which we are required to show results," he said.
Clinton's Latin America tour "is circumscribed to having a presence here and sending out a signal of good will, but it will produce very few tangible results in terms of our agenda," said political scientist Carmen Ortiz, who argued that Central America should put its own priorities, like migration and the economic crisis, on the table. (IPS News)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Clinton says get over it already

I can understand why the US wants to get beyond the coup in Honduras and begin normalizing relations with the new Lobo government.  Honduras really isn't that important to US policymakers. 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Latin American leaders Thursday it is time to move forward on restoring relations with Honduras after last year's coup...
"Other countries of the region say that they want to wait a while," she said. "I don't know what they're waiting for, but that's their right to wait. We believe that President Lobo and his administration have taken the steps necessary to restore democracy. And we share the condemnation of the coup that occurred but we think it's time to move forward and insure that such disruptions of democracy do not and cannot happen in the future."
However, is there any reason why the US has to be so condescending towards the other countries in the region?  Several Latin American states are not quite ready to restore relations with a Honduran government that carried out a coup less than one year ago, forcibly exiled its elected president, and carried out a campaign of repression against those opposed to its actions.  Just say "The United States has decided to normalize relations with Honduras" and "we repect everyone else's right to wait."  Saying that we don't know what they are waiting for and calling them out just makes it more difficult for the remaining governments to extend recognition after they've been belittled by the US.  It's not something that plays well in domestic politics.

On the other hand, maybe the Secretary is right.  Zelaya is not returning to Honduras.  If there is nothing that the Lobo administration can do to satisfy the other governmnents in the region and it is just a matter of time before they extend recognition, what do they gain from delaying recognition three, six, or twelve months? 

Lastly, you would think that the Voice of America would be able to find a photo where Oscar Arias looks happy to be next to the Secretary.  A penny for his thoughs anyone? (Voice of America)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Corruption in Guatemala - No, really

The big news in Guatemala this week has involved several developments in the battle against corruption.
On Sunday, Alvaro Colom fired the country's Interior Minister.  The minister was removed amidst "accusations of embezzlement involving a company accused of stealing $6 million intended to buy fuel for the national police." (NY Times)

Alfonso Portillo, the former president, is facing corruption charges in Guatemala and the United States.  Portillo had been sent to the hospital last week.  I assume that he is in training for his "I am too sick to be extradited to the US or to stand trial in Guatemala" defense.  He was recently returned to prison and his television while awaiting his extradition hearing.  On Tuesday, the police arrested four individuals that tried to help Portillo flee from authorities back in January.  (Prensa Libre)

On Tuesday, the government "arrested the country’s national police chief and the head of its antinarcotics unit on Tuesday on drug charges."  Unfortunately, this isn't terribly surprising as "It was the second time in six months that a national police chief has been linked to drug trafficking." (NY Times)

The AP has a more detailed write-up about today's arrests if you're interested. 

Several of the stories this week have also mentioned that fact that the US State Department's annual narcotics report identified Guatemala as "the epicenter of the drug threat in the region."  I can't say that I've read the report, but it doesn't seem to make sense to me to identify a country that is neither responsible for the production of drugs nor the consumption of drugs as "the epicenter."

I've been thinking about how to characterize the corruption cases that has surfaced in recent days.  In the end, it's not really an either / or.  One has to see these recent developments as an example of how effective CICIG (the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) and maybe even the Rosenberg Administration has been as well as how thoroughly corrupt are the state institutions in Guatemala.

Here's a link to an interview that President Colom gave two weeks ago surrounding the issue of corruption.  I meant to comment on it earlier, but then I ended up reviewing a manuscript on corruption and just felt like avoiding the subject for a while.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Political Science Jobs

From the APSA Member Newsletter

Job Market at 64% of Last Year
The number of new assistant professor positions is perhaps the best indicator to use for a quick look into current academic job posting conditions. As of December 31, 2009, 360 assistant professor positions have been posted to APSA's eJobs database.
This is 64% of the number of listings posted at the same time last year, and 61% of the mean number of listings annually for the past 5 years. By this marker, the market is indeed tight...
Overall placement for AY 2008-2009 tracked placement of recent years: 864 new graduates were placed, with 464 in permanent academic positions, 198 in temporary positions, and 151 in positions outside of academia.
For comparison, in 2002, 297 were placed in permanent positions and 317 in temporary academic jobs.
Definitely not good news for those on the market this year or in the years to come.

Lula in El Salvador

Lula Visits Grave of Assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero

"When they learned of the death of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, it had a huge impact on all those who were fighting for democratic freedoms," said Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, when he visited the tomb of the late Salvadoran prelate together with the head of state of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, and the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, Gregorio Rosa Chavez.