Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Costa Rican AG to be New CICIG Commissioner

(cc La Prensa Libre)
Today, the UN announced that Francisco Dall’Anese Ruiz, the current Attorney-General of Costa Rica, will succeed Carlos Castresana at CICIG.  From the AP (via Mike Hitchens)
Since becoming Costa Rican Attorney-General in 2003, Mr. Dall’Anese has waged campaigns against narco-trafficking and organized crime, led major investigations against corruption and helped introduce prominent legislation against organized crime.
Mr. Dall’Anese has also served as an alternate magistrate in the Supreme Court, taught criminal law at university and co-authored numerous books and articles on criminal, judicial and procedural law. In 2005 he received a prize from the National Values Commission for his work against organized crime.
Some members of Guatemalan civil society have already welcomed the announcement (Prensa Libre).  However, as of this evening Dall'Anese still hasn't accepted the offer.  President Chinchilla is excited about the appointment as it reflects upon not only Dall'Anese, but all of Costa Rica.

The people I have spoken with this week have praised CICIG's work and admitted while imperfect, Guatemala would have been much worse without it.  We also weren't convinced that CICIG had successfully dismantled any of the organized crime rings in the country.  Individual successes have occurred, really important ones like the arrest of Portillo and Napoleon Rojas, his security chief who was taken into custody today, but I don't know how far CICIG's work has dismantled the hidden powers.

CICIG isn't what I am focusing on so I didn't have much more than that.

I was surprised that Dall'Anese's announcement did not come with an extension of CICIG's mandate.  The mandate ends in September 2011, giving him little time remaining on the job.  While the UN needed a name to fill the position, I wonder whether there was someone already working with CICIG in Guatemala who could have been promoted instead.

Here's hoping he takes the job and does remarkable work.

Talking to the Terrorists

An interesting op-ed in the NYT on Why We Talk to Terrorists by anthropologist Scott Atran and political scientist Robert Axelrod.

No end to the violence in Guatemala

On Monday, a former prison guard was shot and killed while his wife, another prison guard, was kidnapped, torured and killed (BBC).  Her remains were left in four separate bags in front of a radio.  One of the bags contained a message for government and prison officials.
"If you continue violating our rights, this will go on."
The latest attack comes three weeks after four severed heads were found throughout Guatemala City with similar messages for prison and government officials.  The government has promised not to cave into the gangs' demands.  (See also Prensa Libre)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rosenberg Murder Update

The Paiz brothers, wanted in connection with the Rosenberg murder, turned themselves in.  From the BBC
Two Guatemalan brothers who allegedly helped a prominent lawyer organise his own murder, and then blame the president of Guatemala for the crime, have turned themselves in.
Francisco and Jose Valdes Paiz were said to have hired a contract killer to murder Rodrigo Rosenberg.
An international commission found in January that Mr Rosenberg had organised his own killing.

He is said to have wanted to highlight unsolved murders in Guatemala.

Before he was shot dead in May 2009, Mr Rosenberg had warned in a video that he would be murdered on the orders of President Alvaro Colom. Mr Colom was later exonerated.

Police had been searching for the two brothers since December, when they first linked them to the murder of Mr Rosenberg.

Honduras and Moving On

Boz has a new commentary on the coup in Honduras. 
I am someone who believes Honduras needs to move forward today. I think the hemisphere would be better off if governments recognized the Lobo presidency with its flaws rather than tried to isolate it from international institutions. But I’ve never said it would or should be easy. It’s going to take time and effort....
Whether it’s a coup against a democratic government or a defense of democracy against an autocratic executive or some place in between, nobody should overthrow a government outside of an election and expect things to return to normal the following week. It’s going to be hard. It should be hard. For the good of the hemisphere, anyone who thinks otherwise needs to look at Honduras one year after the coup and learn that lesson.
I can't say that I agree.  In the short-term, I think that moving beyond the coup might be good for the hemisphere.  The US and Latin American could concentrate on trade and development issues, drug trafficking, migration, etc. 

On the other hand, the long-term damage might be disastrous.  Some US officials hoped that Zelaya's removal would convince other regional leaders not to use extraconstitutional means to prolong their stay in power.  I'm not sure that that's the primary lesson. 

If the countries of the region as a whole come around to recognizing the new government without further steps towards reconciliation on its part, I think the lesson learned will be that you are going to pay a price for overthrowing a democratically elected president, but it is going to be one that you can bear.  

In addition, putting the coup behind so that the hemisphere can move forward doesn't really take into consideration a large percentage of the Honduran people want.  I don't know, I can't say that I'm convinced.

Seeking Asylum from Gangs

In recent years, the number of Central Americans seeking asylum from gang violence has risen dramatically.  The New York Times identifies several challenges that applicants must overcome in order to win their hearing.
Asylum seekers must show they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or “membership in a particular social group.”
Being a former gang member or resisting gang recruitment has not been very successful and in most cases, the petitioner has been denied asylum.

In two cases that the NYT highlights, two young men fled gang violence (one a former gang member and one who fled instead of joining), were denied asylum, and returned to El Salvador.
One man is dead, shot in the mouth by a gunman in El Salvador, presumably for speaking ill of a gang. Another man lives in hiding in the Salvadoran countryside, hoping his former gang will not mete out a similar punishment to him.
An appeals court recently overturned the second young man's denial of asylum application.  He is still in El Salvador while his lawyer works out the details of his client's return.

Sharing Deportees' Information

According to the Washington Post, the US and El Salvador have recently agreed to share more information about criminal deportees.
The agreement, signed Wednesday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez, is designed to combat transnational crime, including crimes committed by Salvadoran gang members who come to the United States.
"As a region, as a hemisphere, we have to share information," Martínez said Thursday. "Now, they will be coming not just with travel documents but also with any information of any crime they may have committed."
Previously, El Salvador received very limited information about its citizens who are deported each year, Martínez said, adding that about 20 percent are involved in "serious crimes."

The title of the article and the agreement might be a little misleading.  I can understand the Salvadoran government requesting background information on those deported from the US. 

What information, however, is the Salvadoran government providing about gang members who go to the US?  They don't easily fit into the deportee category.  That is, unless, the US requests criminal records from El Salvador about the accused gang members they are about to deport.

Anybody have other ideas?

Letter to Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Rodolfo Pastor F.

Originally posted at Quotha and translated into English at Honduran Politics and Culture
In the face of the informality of my communication, you might ask-- before reading me-- Who is this? Giving me an excuse for vanity. I write as an historian and as a chronicler of what occurred in my small homeland, Honduras. I could presume on the basis of my curriculum vitae: honorary degrees that have been given me for my professorships or the seat of honor that has been conceded to me in some of the best universities in the world. Or I could boast to you of the high offices that have been entrusted to me, such as president of CERLALC, a decentralized organism of UNESCO, president of the Consejo de Integración Social de Centroamérica, which brings together the ministers charged with social policy. I could weigh my titles of Minister of Culture, Arts and Sports (two times) and coordinating minister of the Social Cabinet of my country in the recently passed administration. But I write as a historian.

I have listened to you today condemn roundly the magnificent reception that some politicians and businessmen gave, in your country, to R. Micheletti, who came to be dictator of Honduras, under whose government and with continued military and police repression, covered up and justified and with the suppression of media of communication of the opposition, there were carried out last November, the elections in which emerged elected the present President Porfirio Lobo. This condemnation of yours is important, given that Micheletti declared that, on the contrary, your government had offered him all security and your minister of governance had hinted at honors of a man of state. (Don't worry since no one believes the liar.) And I am not reaching out because I know that you have those who can inform you better and can confirm the repression before and after those elections, that only malice could describe as "the most free and fair elections in the history of Honduras" as H. Llorens declared.

I understand your celebrated pragmatism, President, and the urgency that you have to turn your back on this problem, in order to get on with your goals of governing for the benefit of the brother people of El Salvador. (My father received his doctorate in that country that he taught me to love, without delusion. Although it has had unjust wars, many times those of us who know this material have commented that it is difficult to encounter two peoples more similar to each other, in culture, religion, language and custom; which should make us more close.) I also understand that you wanted to take advantage of the fact that those elections were carried out within a formal framework to recognize President Lobo, which you have done diligently and amiably, and to procure for him the recognition of others. But when you justly accuse Micheletti of being a dictator, recognize that he committed a coup, and I am not going to presume to teach you that this situation will only be remedied by bringing about peace and forging a new legal order.

Nonetheless, you declare, sir, according to the press of your country: "Now that Honduras has recovered political and social stability, after the presidential triumph of Porfirio Lobo, El Salvador supports its re-entry in the multilateral organizations, that it lost owing to the Coup d'Etat".

Honduras has not recovered any stability, Sir. WOLA itself (Washington Office for Latin America, closely aligned with the State Department) recognized in a press communique today that "political instability and violence against the opposition continues". The golpista members of congress selected the current attorneys and judges. The military and congressmembers who supported the coup continue in power and the same Supreme Court that justified it a posteriori and that finished by granting impunity to their partners. Right there, in El Salvador Micheletti has hinted again, and even though there are those that disbelieve it, Lobo himself has disclosed a conspiracy to overthrow him. In Honduras, they are assassinating journalists at a rate of half a dozen a month and the leaders and relatives of leaders of the opposition every day.

I want to defend this rationale of yours and agree with ex-President Zelaya in the thesis that, if Honduras comes to comply with various difficult conditions, President Lobo will have to be recognized, in order to make firm a route to a future without war, without blood. (I understand you and your companions in arms in the Frente Farabundo Martí know about blood, understand the suffering of war and want us to avoid it.) The continued repression must cease, which will not end, Mr. President, while the present Attorney and the Justices of the Supreme Court that direct the system of justice continue in their positions, who just fired six justices and a magistrate that opposed the coup and while the same military group that committed the coup continues in arms.

When Mrs. Clinton-- with whom you have had a useful friendship-- asks "what are the rest of the countries of the continent waiting for to recognize Pepe Lobo?" the response is simple: they are waiting for him to remove from office the officials who led the coup and the repression and change the attorneys and judges who have given those repressors judicial impunity while they refuse to protect the rights of the Honduran people.

They are not, counted out, many things; nor are they easy to obtain. But only if we achieve a unified voice of the international community can there prevail in peace the good intention to convene a Constituyente that will bring us peace. For this end, Mr. Lobo will need the recognition of the Resistance, that only the FNRP can give, that today recognizes the leadership of ex President Zelaya. It may appear paradoxical, but the worst that you could do for President Lobo is award him the unrestricted and unconditional support that Doña Hillary asks, because that will put him in the hands of the same golpistas that, in a show similar to that which you witnessed, pass here boasting that, if he does not respect their bizarre interpretation of the constitution that they throw in the trash, they will also commit a coup against him. For the Señora it will be difficult to understand. But perhaps you do not see the danger for your country in the instability of ours? I am sure you have studied history.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

March Against Violence in Mejicanos

According to the government in El Salvador, last week's bus massacre "was a settling of scores by one street gang against another, and the original idea was apparently not to hurt the passengers."  In response to the killings, Congress declared Friday and Saturday days of mourning. 

ARENA and GANA also introduced a bill in response to Sunday’s attacks in Mejicanos.  The bill proposed to make any attack on buses and transit terminals a terrorist offense punishable by a forty to sixty-year prison sentence.  The bill passed overwhelmingly and it is now on President Funes' desk awaiting his signature. 

The reisdents of Mejicanos also responded to last week's violence by taking to the streets in protest.
More than 500 Salvadorans from three municipalities around the capital marched Saturday to demand an end to the violence following last Sunday’s attacks on two city buses, one of them set alight with passengers inside.
The march, in which demonstrators wore white clothing and carried banners demanding no more violence, took place in the municipality of Mejicanos, the area some 3 kilometers (2 miles) from San Salvador where the attacks occurred.
Residents of Cuscatancingo and Ayutuxtepeque joined the protestors from Mexicanos
The march ended on some land of the Mejicanos suburb of Zacamil, where the nation’s vice president, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, arrived along with the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, Gregorio Rosa Chavez, and lawmakers of the ruling party, the leftist FMLN. (Latin American Herald Tribune)
In the meantime, two more Salvadorans were shot to death on a bus in Soyapango.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Marlin Mine Stops Production

From the Vancouver Sun

The Guatemalan government said it would suspend mining at Goldcorp Inc.'s Marlin mine in response to concerns raised about the company's environmental and human rights performance.

But Goldcorp, which denies the allegations, says the suspension process will take time and for now the mine is operating and expects to continue operating.

The allegations -- which include drying up and contaminated water sources, negative health effects and a lack of prior consent to the mining -- were brought by 18 local Mayan communities to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States.

Last month, the IACHR asked Guatemala to shut down the mine until it had time to look into the merits of the complaints.

On Wednesday, the government said it would comply with the IACHR's request.

But Fernando Barillas, an adviser to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom told Bloomberg News that the country had to give Goldcorp time to shut down.
The Guatemala Solidarity Network has more background on the conflict.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

El Salvador honors Micheletti - UPDATE

Okay, so it's not President Funes and the GOES honoring Micheletti. 


Norman Quijano of ARENA, Mayor of San Salvador, made Roberto Micheletti an "Honorable Visitor" in recognition of his tireless effort in promoting democracy in Honduras. 

I'm sure his photo will look splendid next to another pro-democracy hero from El Salvador. 
As of 2004, Roberto D'Aubuisson's photo was featured prominently in ARENA's party offices in the Legislative Assembly.

[The] Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) Party declared persona non grata visiting Honduran de facto President Roberto Micheletti.

"Because of his anti-democratic behavior, violatory of human rights and disrespect of international organizations, the FMLN declares Roberto Micheletti persona non grata in El Salvador," reads the communiqué.

OAS Statement on the Massacre in El Salvador

From an Organization of American States (OAS) news release
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today expressed profound concerns about the treacherous crimes committed in the capital city of El Salvador and agreed with President Mauricio Funes that “the violence generated by common crimes should be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
Insulza lamented the tragedy that caused 18 deaths and wounded more than 15 people and was the result of gang aggression against public transportation buses. He also warned against the dangers posed by groups “that seek to disrupt the government’s efforts to improve the living conditions of the weakest and most vulnerable sectors of Salvadoran society."
In this respect, the topmost representative of the General Secretariat of the OAS offered his support to President Funes in “strengthening public policies that confront organized crime in a country that fights hard to lift itself out of poverty."

Street Vendors in El Salvador describes the ongoing conflict between the San Salvador mayor's office and street vendors in the capital. 
The mayor of San Salvador started the re-organisation of the capital in May with violent expulsion of street vendors and confiscation of goods. The situation degenerated in a series of violent protests, acts of vandalism and clashes between anti-riot police and the vendors. More than 30 people were arrested.
Bishop Rosa Chavez condemned the use of force by the police as a solution to the problem: “It is indispensable to distinguish between demonstrators and others who appeared to follow a well orchestrated plan, in which violence was an essential element”. According to Bishop Rosa Chavez this protest is a “desperate cry” a call for sincere dialogue in a spirit of social sensitivity, “to achieve the formation of public policies based on justice” for the overall solution of the problem.
This battle has been going on for over a decade regardless of whether the FMLN or ARENA has been in charge of the capital.

Funes at the One-Year Mark

Tim already linked to the advanced edition of Expectations for Change and the Challenges of Governance: The First Year of President Mauricio Funes from the Center for Democracy in the Americas.  Yahoo has a summary of the report that includes the following
"He has taken El Salvador from the brink of bankruptcy, apologized to the nation for crimes committed during the civil war, demonstrated good governance with a rapid response to natural disasters, and begun to change the composition of the national budget to address more directly the problems of the poor. His police appointees are reforming the security apparatus, tackling corruption and organized crime. This is real progress."
For a more negative assessment of Funes' first year in office, check out Alex Renderos at the LA Times
"The Salvadoran people asked for change, and change starts now," he proclaimed in his inaugural speech. His election was greeted with high expectations and celebration by many Salvadorans who had long felt disenfranchised.
A year later, Funes faces an avalanche of criticism, from opponents and supporters alike, over broken promises, corrupt management and a failure to halt rising violence that threatens to turn the nation into "a criminal state."
While, unsurprisingly, Funes hasn't solved all of the country's problems, Renderos makes it seem as if the entire country has lost faith in Funes' ability to deliver.  That just doesn't square with his approval numbers that have remained among the highest in the Western Hemisphere. 

As I noted the other day, Funes' approval rating stood at 65% as of May while those who disapprove of his government increased from 16% to 26%.  Perhaps Renderos could have more accurately framed the article as "Not everyone likes Mauricio."

Several stories about Funes' first year were printed in the last few weeks.  Sorry I didn't get around to them earlier.
Overall, most people approve of Funes while they might disagree with some specific policies (the Minister of Agriculture, Roque Dalton, etc.).  I'd say it's a pretty remarkable year following twenty years of ARENA rule.

Prison News from El Salvador

Torrie Bosch at Slate looks at the difficulties (and successes) in providing medical care to inmates with HIV in El Salvador. In the article, Bosch also cites a number of interesting statistics about prison violence

Bad food is among the least pressing of the problems facing the Salvadoran prison system: It is famously violent, with riots killing 31 in 2004 and 21 in 2007. Murders are not uncommon—an inmate was slain just last week...The overstretched prison system has the sixth-highest occupancy rate in the world, as it houses more than 250 percent of the population it was constructed to hold: There are approximately 24,000 inmates—one-third are affiliated with a gang—crammed into a system meant for 9,000 people. The country also ranks among the top 20 out of 217 nations when it comes to incarceration rates.
President Funes recently announced that he was sending troops to help control the nation's prison system. The first troops were sent to a prison in Ciudad Barrios on Wednesday.  He hopes that they will reduce the level of violence within the prison's walls as well as disrupt criminal activities planned and executed from within the prisons' walls.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Funes still wildly popular

From Angus-Reid,com
The popularity of Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes remains high but has dropped significantly, according to a poll by LPG Datos published in La Prensa Gráfica. 65 per cent of respondents approve of Funes’s work, down 13 points since November...
On Jun. 1, celebrating his first year in office, Funes noted that, before his election, people warned that his eventual government would "scare capital away", "end democracy," and bring "chaos," and added, "None of that happened. On the contrary, from the first moment we generated confidence, tranquility, and created a climate of co-existence and freedom that this country had not experienced for a long time."
Do you approve or disapprove of Mauricio Funes’s performance as president?

                  May 2010      Nov. 2009      Aug. 2009

Approve          65%             78%             71%

Disapprove      26%             14%             16%

Speaking of the children of illegal immigrants...

Joey Wong's parents fled Nicaragua in 1985 during the Contra war.  According to the Associated Press
A 1997 law allowed Wong's parents to gain legal status, and Wong's father then petitioned for a visa for his son in 2001. The application only recently became eligible for consideration, Kohler said.
In the meantime
Growing up in America, Wong ran into trouble: he has a juvenile offense, now sealed; three misdemeanors — including gun possession, for which he spent about six months in jail, and one for possession of half a marijuana joint — and for infractions like driving without a license, his lawyer said.
Kohler said the violations don't prevent Wong from applying for legal status. Wong, who has worked construction and other jobs, is the sole financial support of his girlfriend, a 3-year-old daughter and a 1 1/2-year old son. He also has two older children in Florida.
"I've seen a lot worse, and these judges have seen a lot worse," Kohler said.
I don't know.  He's not the most attractive visa candidate.  I can't say that the last quote is very comforting either . 

However, the article is much more interesting for its discussion of how the number of immigrant detainees has increased from approximately 150,000 to 350,000 (2008 figures) forcing authorities to continuously move detainees.
Of those held in 2008, nearly 30 percent had been moved once, more than 14 percent moved twice, and 4 percent moved four or more times.
Transfers are based upon prison space and the inmates' medical needs, not access to lawyers or proximity to family.  The criteria make it difficult for the detainees to mount a legal challenge because they might be held in one state, the trial/appeal in a second, the lawyer in a third, and their family in a fourth.    

ICE has recently begun to adopt policies that will be it easier for detainees to be housed near their lawyer or family.  However, it's just another area of our immigration system that needs reform.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

FSU Eliminates UF

It's worth skipping to the one-minute mark to hear the FSU 1B talk about how Gator players gave up and congratulated the Noles before the game was even over (Seminoles).

FSU next plays TCU in an elimination game on Wednesday at 7:00 P.M.

Now, how hard would it be for to remove College Basketball or College Football for a few weeks and put a College World Series link on its front page?

Two Favorites - Wine and El Salvador

It's nice to read a story about Salvadorans who fled the civil war and traveled to the US to make a better life for themselves.  In spite of what we read, many of them have.  Unfortunately, most references to children who fled civil war El Salvador are found in news stories about illegal immigrants and Mara Salvatrucha.

Not this time.  The Monterey Herald published a story last week about Thomas Perez.  Tomás left La Union in the middle of the war (1984) at age thirteen and made a name for himself in the wine business.
To truly understand Perez, wine director for Aubergine and Cantinetta Luca in Carmel, and winemaker for his own Kristi-Lynn label, one needs to look beyond the Italian suits, the Latin locks and the Carmel charm. Go back to 1984, when two humble farmers in El Salvador sent their 13-year-old son Tomás to America to escape the civil war that was tearing apart their country.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Paraguay News

Paraguayan officials announced last week that two police officers were killed in a confrontation with the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) in the north of the country (Miami Herald).  It's the first news that I've come across since President Lugo ended the state of emergency a few months ago. 

While it doesn't really make sense to call the EPP an insurgent or guerrilla group at this point in time (all they seem to have carried out is a series of kidnappings), it is important to remember that many guerrilla groups, including those in Central America in the 1960s and 1970s, begin with bank robberies and kidnappings.

In other news, a New York man was arrested in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay for providing support to Hezbollah.
Moussa Ali Hamdan, 38, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is accused of trafficking in stolen cell phones, video games, computers, cars and clothing with the aim of financing and supporting Hezbollah with counterfeit money and documents. He faces 25 years in prison if convicted of 31 crimes detailed in an indictment filed in November in Philadelphia.
During the Bush Administration, one would read news stories every few months about Islamic fundamentalists operating in the tri-border region in South America.  It always seemed a bit overhyped and which is why I was surprised that this story didn't get a lot of press.  Then one reads that the man holds dual US-Lebanese citizenship and was carrying a US passport and that he has been under "surveillance" since 2007.  We don't get as excited when US citizens do such things.
Prosecutors say Hamdan began buying what he thought were stolen goods from a U.S. government informant in late 2007, and the alleged conspiracy grew from there.

Hamdan and nine other suspects allegedly agreed to sell the informant counterfeit currency and buy and sell stolen goods to raise money for Hezbollah, which forms part of Lebanon's coalition government as a political movement.
Specifically, Hamdan is accused of fencing and exporting more than 1,700 cell phones, 400 Sony PlayStation 2 systems, and three used cars. He also allegedly met with the informant to discuss the sale of counterfeit U.S. currency to support Hezbollah. (Yahoo News)
One wonders how much the conspiracy existed before an informant began selling Hamdan stolen goods.  I also wonder, why now?  The indictment came down in November and he was in the area for over a month before being apprehended.  Did they just find him or gather enough evidence to secure a conviction?  Did he already implicate enough other associates or was he about to move on to something bigger?
The US is seeking his extradition (Miami Herald).

Centros de Servicios para los Emprendimientos de las Mujeres

Danilo Valladares of the IPS- Inter Press Service has a story up at The Global Realm on the work Centros de Servicios para los Emprendimientos de las Mujeres (CSEM) in Guatemala.
CSEM, a network of centres providing technical and financial services for women entrepreneurs, is sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in association with Guatemalan institutions.
CSEM is helping nearly 3,300 women throughout Guatemala (with other programs in El Salvador Honduras, and Nicaragua) in a variety of micro-enterprise activities by "offering loans, organisational training, assistance in improving products, marketing techniques and other support."

Brutal Bus Attacks Kills 15 in San Salvador

On Sunday night, unknown assailants killed eleven passengers on two Route 47 microbuses while they were passing through Colonia Jardin in Mexicanos.  From CNN
At least 11 passengers were killed and eight others injured Sunday night when assailants set fire to a mass transit bus in San Salvador, El Salvador, police said.
Witnesses said people on motorcycles intercepted the bus, doused it with gasoline and closed the doors with the passengers inside.
Authorities tried to break windows to help people escape from the burning bus, El Salvador's National Civil Police said. Emergency crews transported 13 passengers to a nearby hospital.

Ten minutes later, a group of attackers opened fire on another bus blocks away, police said, killing an 11-year-old girl and the bus conductor.
Mara 18 is blamed in some of the reports while the generic "delincuentes" and "pandilleros" are used in others. 

It's unclear what motivated these specific attacks.  According to Roberto Villalobos of the PNC, "It seems that the gang wanted to prove something to authorities, for the actions being taken against gangs and crime."

El Faro has a dozen photos from the bus attacks and places the number killed at 15.  See also Yahoo and El Diario de Hoy for coverage.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Guatemala News Roundup

  • Economy may grow 2% in 2010 (Bloomberg Businessweek).
  • Canadian mining continues in Guatemala in spite of IACHR ruling (The Huffington Post) while the Government claims that there is no evidence of environmental damage at the mine (Bloomberg Businessweek).
  • Residents in the neighborhood surring the sinkhole worry about future sinkholes.  According to the story, one person dies in the May 20th sinkole (Philadelphia Examiner).
  • Tropical storm Agatha will likely cost upwards of $1 billion (Reuters) and it will take nearly five yewars to rebuild (Latin American Herald Tribune).  President Colom hopes that a tax hike will help to offset the costs (Tico Times)
  • Waiting on another storm (Straits Times, CNN).
  • Pollo Campero to open in Tampa (St. Petersburg Times) (just another reason to move to Tampa)
  • Myrna Mack Foundation comments on the state of affairs in Guatemala, in light of Castresana's resignation (WOLA)
Happy Father's Day to all the dads and granddads out there.

Academic Request on Environmental Behavior

Javier Urbina-Soria ( is looking for recent work on environmental issues in Latin America.

Friday, June 18, 2010

More Castresana

Concerning Carlos Castresana's resignation from CICIG (Stabroek News)
“There is criminal activity including drug trafficking, murders, contraband, people trafficking and (authorities) enable criminal activity by guaranteeing impunity,” Castresana told a news conference.
He stepped down saying it was impossible to do his job with counterparts who protected criminals.
“The country’s institutions are infiltrated,” Castresana said. “We have to get rid of the corrupt public servants one by one. We have to get rid of people from the attorney general’s office, from the judiciary, from the interior ministry but this is scarcely the tip of the iceberg.”

Castresana seems to have been frustrated with the fact that everytime CICIG had a success, a new person with a shady past was appointed to a government position.  Colom's selection of Reyes was the final straw.  While it is good news that the Constitutional Court removed Reyes, we still need to see the administration take CICIG's recommendations more seriously.  That's why I had hoped that the international community would have put more pressure on the Guatemalan Government to make a show of good faith before moving on to appoint Castresana's successor.

A Sad End to a Salvadoran Immigrant's Life

From the Chicago Tribune
He lived under another man's name.
He will be buried in another man's suit.
One of the few things Jose Armando Ramos ever truly owned was his role as provider for his wife and five children in El Salvador. When the immigrant began losing that, he fell into a dark, desperate place, friends and relatives said.

Ramos, 45, was found hanged in his South Chicago apartment two weeks ago. With no known family in the U.S. and with his Salvadoran relatives living in poverty, Ramos rests in a funeral home as the final funds are raised to send him home.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CICIG and Guatemala

On Monday, Carlos Castresana presented some of CICIG's evidence implicating Conrado Reyes in corruption and a variety of other illegal acts (El Nuevo Herald).  Castresana accused Reyes of being involved with organized crime both with regards to drug and human trafficking (illegal adoptions). 

In addition, Castresana pointed to the fact that Reyes fired twenty members of the AG's office the day after he assumed office in an obvious attempt to undermine the office's ability to carry out its responsibilities.  Reyes also sought to oversee all wiretaps. (The Economist)

In his resignation, Castresana also claimed that there was a movement by some within Guatemala to discredit him and CICIG.  On Monday, Castresana claimed that Francisco José y José Estuardo Valdés Paiz (two individuals involved in the Rosenberg murder) attempted to divert attention from the case and contacted the deputy judge (Roderico Pineda) of the Constitutional Court for help in impeding CICIG's investigation.  Rumors were also planted that he was involved in a romantic affair with a colleague.

While Castresana's resignation has come as a surprise, his frustration with CIGIC's work in Guatemala should not have.  He has given several presentations over the last few months calling for more international assistance and for greater effort on the part of the Guatemalan government to implement CICIG's recommendations.  Even with CIGIG's successes, it seemed pretty clear that they remained frustrated with the lack of cooperation coming from within the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

In the last bit of news, Colom apparently has a preliminary list of four poetential Castresana replacements.  While there are no names, it is believed that a Peruvian, Mexican, Costa Rican, and Chilean are among the finalists (La Hora).

More bad news for those evil Canadians

When his nine-minute documentary on a Canadian company’s alleged human rights abuses in Guatemala was disparaged by Canada’s ambassador to that country, a York University filmmaker took the federal government to small claims court.
And won. After three years of chipping away at a federal “wall of silence,” Steven Schnoor emerged victorious Wednesday in a slander case against former ambassador Kenneth Cook.  (The Star)

Woodrow Wilson Center

The Woodrow Wilson Center is holding two interesting events in Washington, D.C. later this month.

The first event is "CRIME AND VIOLENCE IN CENTRAL AMERICA: A HUMAN DEVELOPMENT APPROACH."  It will be held June 24, 2010 from 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM.

The second event is "THE FUNES ADMINISTRATION IN EL SALVADOR: A REVIEW OF THE FIRST YEAR."  It will be held June 25, 2010 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM.

More Berernson News

Accorind to the AP via Yahoo News, Lori Berenson almost apologized for her "crime of collaboration with terrorism" the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).
"I assume my penal responsibility for the crime of terrorist collaboration," Berenson wrote in the letter. "At the same time, I would like to express that I regret greatly the harm that I may have caused Peruvian society and I ask forgiveness of those who may have been affected by my words and actions."
Doesn't sound very contrite to me.

In earlier news stories, it was reported that residents in the area around which she planned to live were not that happy to have her living amongst them.  A recent poll finds that they're not the only ones.
Peruvians widely disapproved of Berenson's release.

In a poll released Monday, 75 percent of Peruvians said they opposed her parole. The same percentage said, however, that they wanted her sentence commuted.
I have no idea what the survey questions were (maybe something was lost in the translation), but wouldn't reducing time served (hence her early release and parole) and/or shortening her parole (to let her return to the US) qualify as a commutation of her sentence?  Is someone confusion a pardon and a commutation?  Me?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guatemalan Army Trafficking in Heroin

From the Latin American Herald Tribune
Two Guatemalan soldiers were arrested at the El Salvador international airport as they were apparently intending to travel to New York with a kilogram of heroin hidden in two pairs of boots, the local press reported Sunday...
He said that the two men had managed to insert a total of 154 capsules of heroin into the soles of the jungle boots, which are part of their standard military equipment, and they had covered them with socks.
The press report said that the two men had entered El Salvador by land but appeared nervous as they waited to catch a flight to the United States at the El Salvador, or Comalapa, international airport.
It's not exactly how I pictured Guatemalan soliders trafficking in drugs.  They seem like opportunists to me and not part of a large-scale operation.  Then again, you wonder how many the Salvadoran authorities have missed.  These two soldiers were carrying $72,000 worth of heroin.

The Butcher of the Balkans?

Really, it had to be Guatemala?  From AOL News

"Nearly 86 years after her newspaper debut, it really is the hard-knock life for "Annie."
In her final appearance in the funny pages today, the gutsy redheaded orphan didn't receive a happy ending or a warm reunion with her deep-pocketed benefactor, Daddy Warbucks. Instead, the last "Annie" comic strip left readers with a murky cliffhanger: the plucky, pupil-less girl is stuck "somewhere in Guatemala" with a dangerous war criminal named the Butcher of the Balkans."

Photo: Tribune Media Services / AP

El Salvador to Consider Repealing the 1993 Amnesty Law?

On Thursday, ContraPunto ran a story about the possibility of repealing the 1993 Amnesty Law. 

In February, the UN Human Rights Council reviewed El Salvador during its Universal Period Review Countries are now reviewed every four years.  The Salvadoran Ambassador Byron Fernando Larios Lopez said that El Salvador had received 118 recommendations as part of its UPR, had accepted 78 of the recommendations, and had set up a commission to consider the remaining 40. 

Argentina asked whether the Government of El Salvador might consider repealing the Amnesty Law.  In adopting the document, GOES did not challenge Argentina's request. At an earlier date, UN Committee Against Torture also asked El Salvador to repeal the amnesty law.  Mexico brought this up again. 

The fact that the government did not reject the recommendation with regards to repealing the Amnesty Law is an interesting development.

Nothing to Laugh At II

El Faro has a video from last week's clown protest that I higly recommend.  Since the protest, I have read several English language links covering the killings committed by the two clowns.  While in many ways the entire event sounds pretty silly, it's not really a laughing matter.

Thousands, perhaps millions, of people in El Salvador survive because of their work or that of a family member in the informal sector.  When you use public transportation in El Salvador, you come across all sorts of people making a living jumping on and off public buses - kids selling newspapers and drinks, women selling fruits, peanuts, and other snacks, men selling homemade and/or expired medicinal products, a variety of born-again preachers, and, of course, clowns. 

Anything that threatens these peoples' livelihoods, like delinquents dressed as clowns shooting passengers, could have serious consequences on their ability to make a living - being denied passage on the buses, fewer "tips", trigger happy passengers and/or bus personnel.  It's bad enough that they have to overcome the challenges posed by traffic, heat, pollution, and the maras.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Walk-on Sherman Johnson's eighth inning bases-loaded double provided the winning margin as Florida State advanced to the College World Series for the 20th time.

Civil Society in Post-Conflict Guatemala

Mathijs Van Leeuwen has an article in the Journal of Latin American Studies on civil society in post-conflict Guatemala. Here's the abstract from "To Conform or to Confront CSOs and Agrarian Conflict in Post-Conflict Guatemala" (Gated):
This article is about the role of civil society after violent conflict. It argues that the transformations that civil society organisations (CSOs) make are more ambiguous than supporting donors and NGOs presume. The article analyses how, ten years after the 1996 peace agreements, Guatemalan CSOs deal with agrarian conflict. It discusses in detail the case of a church-related organisation assisting peasants with agrarian conflicts and the challenges it faced in defining its strategies. The article argues that supporting donors and NGOs should stop seeing the difficulties of organisational change in post-conflict situations exclusively in terms of the internal incapacities of civil society. Instead, they should re-politicise their analyses and focus on the importance of broader social and political processes in post-conflict settings for the strategic options open to CSOs.
While reading the article, I kept thinking about debates within the FMLN about whether to "confront" the ARENA-led government (through protests in the streets and obstruction in the Assembly) or to "conform" (work to ceter-left and center-right political parties and social movements make government policy more progressive, but not revolutionary). 

Van Leeuwen argues that outsiders have spent too much time criticizing civil society organization's inability to adopt to postwar politics in Guatemala and don't take the difficult operating environment into account nearly enough.
The case of Guatemala shows that, despite the common conception that peace building is an ongoing process, the idea of a turning point implicitly continues to inform the way in which international organisations conceptualize interventions.  After the signing of peace agreements, it is assumed that there is peace.  It is supposed that conflict and political discussion on societal development and change are over, and the implementation of the agreements becomes a technical or legal affair.  After the peace agreements, international development organisations and donors tend to assume that functioning state institutions exist, and that there are opportunities for civil society actors to effectively participate in the democratic process. (117)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ideology and Postwar Elections in El Salvador

Dinorah Azpuru has a new article in Latin American Politics and Society that's chock full of interesting tidbits about politics in postwar El Salvador.   Here's the abstract of "The Salience of Ideology: Fifteen Years of Presidential Elections in El Salvador" (Gated):
The victory of the FMLN in El Salvador's presidential elections of March 2009 has been considered remarkable, given the dominance of ARENA in four consecutive presidential races from 1989 to 2004. Using individual-level data, this article examines the determinants of electoral support for both parties over the past 15 years. Several statistical models illuminate some of the factors that led to ARENA's dominance and ultimate defeat. A combination of variables associated with different theoretical models of voting helps explain the choices made by Salvadoran voters over the years. The most consistent predictors of vote have been voters' self-reported ideology and their evaluation of the incumbent government's performance. The 2009 turnaround relates to fundamental changes in the national and international context, and also to the selection of candidates.
From the hometown Citizens Voice
SCRANTON - An eye clinic in Lima, Peru, founded by Wilkes-Barre eye surgeon Dr. Frank A. Bucci Jr. was visited by former President Bill Clinton this week.
Dr. Bucci's Eye Institute of the Sacred Heart received a $5 million grant from two charities: the Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative and the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. The money will help fund 50,000 cataract surgeries in Peru.
Dr. Bucci established the clinic in 2008, and he and his team of surgeons spend a week each quarter doing marathon cataract surgeries at no charge. While simple to cure, cataracts remain a leading cause of blindness in developing countries.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Killer Clowns are Nothing to Laugh At

From the Deseret News
About 100 professional clowns who make money by performing on public buses marched through Salvadoran capital Thursday to protest the killing of a passenger by two imposter clowns...
The protesters — wearing oversized bow ties, tiny hats and big yellow pants — marched down San Salvador's main street in an effort to both entertain and educate passersby. Several held signs insisting that real clowns are not criminals.
"We are protesting so that people know we are not killers," said professional clown Ana Noelia Ramirez. "The people who did this are not clowns. They unfortunately used our costume and our makeup to commit a monstrous act."

Clown-union leader Carlos Vasquez says he plans to issue IDs to all real clowns and urge police to detain those who do not have them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Decapitaciones in Guatemala

Earlier today, four severed heads were found scattered in different parts of Guatemala City.  One head was found on Congress' dorrstep (Zone 1), another at a shopping mall (Zone 11 where I was planning on staying in two weeks), a third in front of a fire house (Zone 11), and the fourth on a highway passing through a residential neighborhood leading into the city (Zone 18).  Two bodies to go with the heads have been found so far in Zones 1 and 8 .  (See CNN, Yahoo, BBC, Siglo XXI, Prensa Libre)

The violence comes just three days after Carlos Castresana resigned from CICIG.

Today's beheadings were meant to send a message.  What the messages mean and who they were really meant for, I can't say that I know.

Messages were attached to two of the severed heads.  One was addressed to Interior Minister Carlos Menocal and the other to the head of the penitentiary system, Eddy Morales. 

Most of today's stories were written to lead one to believe that gangs or drug traffickers were responsible for the violence.  One message said, "Put the jails in order or these horrific acts will continue" (Yahoo). 

Another (or part of the same message) said "This is happening because of the mistreatment and the injustices in the country's jails...If you don't do anything about these mistreatments, what happens from now on will be the fault of the government and the prison system, who are the ones abusing their authority" (BBC).

The Yahoo story went on to report that 

Imprisoned gang members often run criminal enterprises from their cells, using cell phones obtained with the help of corrupt jailers to order kidnappings and murders.

President Alvaro Colom launched a crackdown on jailhouse gang activity earlier this year, in which gang members are frequently transferred without warning to different prisons to prevent them forging strong ties with prison officials.

"The criminals are hurting because of the actions we've taken in the jails," police spokesman Donald Gonzalez said.
I have a hard time reconciling "Put the jails in order or these horrific acts will continue" with the the gangs demand to return control over the prisons to them.  It's not exactly clear.  However, referring to mistreatment and injustice in prison does give credence to the belief that gangs were responsible. 

While there have been numerous attacks against prison officials in recent months (See my earlier post), something here just doesn't seem right however.  Another message found today read "no more impunity" (BBC).  No more impunity doesn't really seem to jive with typical gangs.  I don't remember reading stories about beheadings carried out by Guatemalan gangs in recent years and none were mentioned in today's stories.  However, the gangs in El Salvador and Honduras have resorted to beheadings in the not so distant past. 

Could it have been narcotraffickers?  The spokesman for the PNC, Donald Gonzalez, seems to think so.  He blamed the beheadings on the Zetas or some other narcotrafficking organization (CNN).  While beheadings have been carried out by the cartels in Mexico, this would be new to traffickers in Guatemala.  It wouldn't be that far-fetched for the traffickers to have carried out such brutal killings given a few recent high-profile arrests of traffickers.  I'm not sure, however, how to square this with a call for "no more impunity."

Other suspects?  Samuel Logan (author of This is for the Mara Salvatrucha) says that it is possible that the killings were carried out by death squads working for local businesses in a sort of social cleansing (CNN).  He doesn't exactly endorse the argument, he just mentions it.  This fits the no more impunity and put the prisons back in order angles, but I haven't read anything about tatoos or gang affiliations of the victims.  God help the people of Guatemala if vigilante groups / death squads declared war on the on gangs and/or drug traffickers.

Finally, the killings might have been carried out by organized crime, members of the hidden or parallel powers that exist in Guatemala and have been the target of CICIG.  Those are the groups that people initially thought were behind Rodrigo Rosenberg's murder.  I wouldn't be surprised if at the end of the day, members of these organized crime groups were responsible for today's killings.  Last week I mentioned how I was worried about "retaliation from shadowy forces as CICIG continues its work."  These are the groups that I was talking about.  While not necessarily fighting back against CICIG, they might be looking to capitalize on Castresana's resignation, using the uncertainty surrounding his absence and the appointment of an Attorney General allegedly tied to narcotraffickers, to plunge the country into chaos. 

Given that Rosenberg's murder turned out to be a complex suicide, I am going to wait before placing my bet.  However, a little while ago the Constitutional Court annulled Conrado Reyes selection as Attorney General meaning the process of selection another AG will have to start from the beginning.  Here we go.

Congressman Engel (NY-D)

A statement from Rep. Engel on Resignation of the Head of CICIG in Guatemala was recently posted on the Washington Office on Latin America's website:

News from Congressman Eliot Engel
Representing the Bronx, Westchester, and Rockland Counties
Offices in the Bronx, Mount Vernon and West Nyack
2161 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515

Contact: Eric Jacobstein or Jason Steinbaum, 202-226-9980
For Release: Thursday, June 10, 2010


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, issued the following statement regarding the resignation of Carlos Castresana as Commissioner of the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG):

“Carlos Castresana took on one of the most challenging jobs in the world in becoming head of the U.N. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. He has been an outstanding Commissioner, and I was saddened to learn of his resignation earlier this week. Significant progress has been made under Carlos Castresana’s leadership in standing up to organized crime and routing out impunity.

“I urge U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to swiftly appoint a new CICIG Commissioner. The CICIG cannot afford to lose momentum. A new Commissioner must have the prosecutorial and investigative expertise that Castresana possesses, so that CICIG’s cases – including the case against former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo – can quickly move forward.

“I also urge all branches of the Guatemalan government – the executive, congress and the judiciary – to fully support the CICIG at this critical moment. The Guatemalan people and government demonstrated tremendous political will and courage in supporting the creation of the CICIG. As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I believe that progress in reducing crime and violence in Guatemala depends in large part on the success of the CICIG. Now is not the time for the Guatemalan people to be discouraged. Instead, they must understand that ultimately justice can prevail.”

Mike: If you believe Castresana has been an "outstanding commissioner," require the Guatemalan Government to take the recommendations of CICIG more seriously and implement them.  I know, easier said than done.

Colom and Congress failed to carry out Castresana's recommendations.  This led to his frustration and, ultimately, his resignation.  What kind of message does it send to the people of Guatemala when the renowned international commissioner of CICIG "throws in the towel" (A Guatemalan congressman used that term yesterday, but now I can't find it.).

The UN and US simply saying "Thanks.  Great job Carlos.  Who wants the job now?" just doesn't cut it.

Obsession for Jaguars

Credit: Reuters/Stoyan Nenov

From Reuters
Biologists tracking jaguars in the Guatemalan jungle might smell nice but it's all in the name of science, with researchers finding the Calvin Klein cologne Obession for Men attracts big cats.

Clinton in Colombia

Today we are all Georgians Colombians?

Then, in an apparent reference to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, she [Secretary of State Clinton] added, "But I want to underscore for anyone who is listening or watching that the United States will stay a strong partner with Colombia in meeting the security needs that Colombia faces."
Did the US just commit to come to Colombia's defense in any militarized altercation with Venezuela?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jennifer Harbury asks for help in Guatemala


War Crimes Trials At Risk                June 8, 2010

“In many ways these cases represent “Nuremberg trials”. They MUST continue if we are serious about ending the impunity in Guatemala.” (Jennifer Harbury)

  • Urgent Appeal from Jennifer Harbury ( describing her on-going efforts to prosecute those responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murder of her husband, Efrain Bamaca
  • A what to do list
  • A how to support list 

This is a nasty time in Guatemala. In April, we reported that war crimes trials were finally moving ahead – however so slowly - in Guatemala.

Since that time, there has been a huge backlash (described below). The ‘same old, same old’ military/economic/political sectors, that planned, carried out and benefitted from the state repression and genocide of the 1970s, 80s, 90s, are now pushing back against any possible justice being done for the political crimes of the past.

Since 1995, Rights Action has funded and support countless community based efforts to seek justice for the crimes of the past. These groups – along with Jennifer Harbury – are again under attack.

 Plase redistribute this information

To get on/ off Rights Action’s listserv:

FOR MORE INFO: Annie Bird (202-680-3002, & Grahame Russell (860-352-2448,

  * * * * * *


 Dear Friends:

Looks like we have reached a crisis point in Guatemala. There is a fierce campaign going on to shut down the ten paradigmatic war crimes cases against the army leadership from the genocide era.

Conrado Reyes, the newly appointed prosecutor has ousted all of the pro human rights lawyers in his office as a first step. Castresana, head of CICIG, has resigned in protest, asserting that Reyes has close ties with the military.

In many ways these cases represent “Nuremberg trials”. They MUST continue if we are serious about ending the impunity in Guatemala.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Missed Opportunity?

From Tuesday's UN press release
Mr. Ban stressed in his statement that the success of the commission “requires that the international commitment be matched by an equal commitment on the part of the national authorities.

“The Secretary-General expresses his hope that critical policy recommendations of CICIG will be implemented soon, and that the Government ensures that key positions in the justice sector are filled with qualified candidates.

“The United Nations is strongly committed to the success of CICIG, and calls for a determined effort by national authorities to take full advantage of the assistance it can provide during the remaining period of its mandate.”
We hope you try harder - is that the best the UN can come up with?

Round up of Guatemala News

Sorry, too much news going on.
  • A Guatemalan man received several life terms for his participation in the November 2008 bus attack that killed several Nicaraguans and a Dutchman.  Another suspect was arrested on Tuesday and the authorities seek seven more.
  • Tracy L. Barnett has a new story up at the Huffington Post on Agatha's impact around Lake Atitlan.
  • The former manager of a slaughterhouse in Pottsville, Iowa was cleared of charges that he knowingly hired underaged workers.  While everyone agrees they were working there, the prosecution couldn't convince the jury that the manager knew they were minors.  The former manager, Rubashkin, was already convicted in federal court on charges of bank fraud that could lead to him serving twenty-five years in prison.  He will be sentenced later in the month.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Goldcorp Inc. to shut its Marlin mine in Guatemala until an investigation into human rights and environmental issues is complete. 
  • Geologists and Guaatemalans brace for another sinkhole given that the city is built on pumice fill.
  • DNA testing in Guatemala hopes to resolve civil war crimes.
  • Mexican cartels continued to recruiting Guatemalans and other Central Americans.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Castresana Calls it a Day

Carlos Castresana, the chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), announced his resignation Monday afternoon. 

Castresana explained that his resignation was a result of the Guatemalan government's half-hearted commitment to eradicating impunity in the country.  He also cited personal attacks that have been leveled against him thus undermining his work for Guatemala.  The appointment of the new attorney general appears to have been the final straw. 
"Nothing that was promised is being done," he told reporters, without offering any specifics. "On a personal level, I feel I cannot do anything more for Guatemala." (Yahoo News)
On Sunday, Castresana called on Colom to dismiss Conrado Reyes.  CICIG claims that Reyes has ties to drug traffickers and organized crime.
Castresana called the nomination the result of a pact among lawyers for criminals who traffic in drugs and illegally adopted children, and he urged President Alvaro Colom to replace Reyes. "He is not the person that Guatemala deserves."  Yahoo News
Of course, Reyes rejected the accusations.

In addition to the Guatemalan government's failure to fulfill its responsibilities, 
Castresana also cited what he called a smear campaign against him following the capture of ex-president Alfonso Portillo on U.S. money-laundering charges in January.
"Marketing professionals" have been spreading rumors about his private life and trying to discredit the commission's work, Castresana said.

Last week a local radio program alleged Castresana was romantically involved with a staffer. Castresana did not directly address that Monday, but denied any "improper conduct." (Yahoo News)
Castresana thanked civil society, the press, judges, police, lawyers and the donor countries for their efforts during his work with CICIG. 

Interestingly enough, the Colom administration didn't initially respond to Castresana's resignation and some believe that there is more to the story than we now know.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accepted the resignation, thanked Castresana, and said that a replacement would be named soon.  While he did not say who would replace Castresana, Ban did say that he would be an "honorable and independent" person (Prensa Libre).

I'm a little disappointed that the UN and Ban are apparently moving forward so quickly to name a replacement.  If what Castresana says is true, it doesn't make sense for the UN and international community to push ahead without a reliable partner in Guatemala.  Given CICIG public support, withholding the appointment of its next head might have forced the Colom administration to take Castresana's frustrations more seriously.

Instead, I don't get the impression that the UN is on the same page as Castresana.  I'm sure that there will be more to come with the story in the days and weeks ahead.  As I mentioned last week, there are good reasons to worry about political instability in Guatemala.  And that was before the Pacaya Volcano eruption, tropical storm Agatha, and Castresana's resignation.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

INVITATION: Join the US Honduras Solidarity Network

In case your organization is interested (no individual membership for some reason)

Since the June 28, 2009 coup in Honduras that overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and then held sham elections to “select” defacto President Pepe Lobo, a strong and courageous citizens’ movement has united to struggle for democracy and justice in Honduras. Members of the Resistance have been murdered, beaten, raped, disappeared, threatened and jailed and yet they struggle on.

An international solidarity movement is rising up to follow their lead.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Funes to Cuba - well, some day

From the Havana Times
The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, announced to the Central American nation’s parliament that he will travel to Cuba this year, although the date has still not been set. Funes expressed his interest in taking advantage of the island’s progress in areas such as science, technology, medicine and sports. This would be the first visit by a Salvadoran president in the last 50 years, reported IPS.

Noriega to Panama?

From the Miami Herald

Panama requested Friday that France extradite ex-dictator Manuel Noriega, bringing hope to those who have demanded for two decades that he face justice at home for alleged tortures and killings of their relatives.

Authorities in France, where Noriega faces money-laundering charges, are reviewing the request, said Vladimir Franco, judicial affairs chief with Panama's Exterior Relations Ministry...
An extradition would provide closure, said Alberto Almanza, who led a commission created to investigate crimes committed under military dictatorships from 1968 to 1989.
"This is what is best for our country, for the soul of our country," he said. "We have to see him here in Panama, humble, incarcerated either by prison or house arrest."

Last I heard, neither the US nor France wanted former President Manuel Noriega exrtadited to Panama because they feared that he would somehow return to politics based upon his charisma and connections.  That was a few years ago and I'm not sure how accurate it was or is today.  Does anyone who follows Panama more closely have any updates?

I found a Miami Herald article from 2007 that reported the results of a poll that found 62% of those Panamanians interviewed wanted Noriega returned so that he could be tried there.  However,
Some say the presence of Noriega followers in the current government might mean he won't pay for his crimes, the newspaper said.
The president is Martin Torrijos, son of Gen. Omar Torrijos, for whom Noriega professed great loyalty. Gen. Torrijos led Panama from 1965 to 1981, when he died in a plane crash.
This last bit is odd as well given the rumors that persist about how Noriega was involved in Torrijos' plane crash.  Anyway, from my non-legal perspective, Noriega should have been extradited to Panama to face charges since that is both his home and the place where his alleged crimes were the gravest. 

Either the US and France are looking to avoid potential theatre with Noriega's return to Panama by sending him to Paris against Panama's wishes or the Panamanian Government is also involved in a little theater of its own.  They don't want him back but are afraid to say so.  They're going through the motions of asking for his extradition with really no desire to have him back.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Presidents

Jose Mujica, Uruguay's new president
Uruguay's new president may be one of the world's poorest sitting leaders: Jose Mujica formally declared that his entire wealth amounts to a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.

The 23-year-old car is valued at about $1,900...

Mujica's only reported income is his presidential salary, about $11,000 a month. He gives 20 percent of this to his political movement.
And then there's the General Pinochet
Chile's late dictator amassed a fortune of $21 million, of which less than 10 percent is justified by his military salary.

That's the conclusion of a University of Chile study ordered up by the country's Supreme Court to support an investigation into allegations of illegal enrichment.

Prof. Carolyn Forché

Last Sunday, May 30th, the University of Scranton held its undergraduate commencement ceremony at Mohegan Sun Areana in Wilkes-Barre.  While the administration likes to punish the faculty by scheduling commencement ceremony on Memorial Day Weekend each year, at least we were privileged to have the opportunity to listen to Carolyn Forché's commencement address this time.

Forché is an "award-winning poet, translator, essayist and human rights activist who coined the term 'poetry of witness' to describe her politically engaged poetry." 
At the intersection of expression and humanity, you’ll find Carolyn Forché. It’s there where she has found a voice – especially, an artistic one – that can accumulate so much passion and momentum to make an impact on and on behalf of humanity.

For more than three decades, this decorated poet, translator, essayist and self-described “poet of witness” has been a steadfast human rights activist. From a young age, she was attracted to cases of social injustice. During a fellowship in El Salvador early in her career, she worked with human rights activist Archbishop Oscar Romero to locate missing persons. The effect of the experience was profound and clearly evident in her work The Country Between Us, which incorporated the atrocities against humanity she bore witness to in Central America.

To most of her contemporaries, Carolyn eradicated the line between art and politics. Humans debated her “right” to do so. Meanwhile, humanity greatly benefitted from the new path she traveled. Her mission to bring wide understanding of the struggle of individuals has taken her to
some of the world’s “hot spots” for social injustice, including South Africa and the West Bank.

Carolyn’s illuminating “voice” has gained worldwide acclaim. In 1998, she was presented the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award for Peace and Culture in Stockholm for her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture.

Much like her work in the human rights arena, Carolyn’s artistic work has also been decorated.  Each of her four books of poetry earned distinction, and she became a trustee of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, Canada’s premier poetry award, in 2004.

Carolyn Forché is an artist and human rights activist, who, through her creativity, perspective and wisdom, has strived to bring attention and a voice to injustice.
During her commencement address, she spoke about her journey through life, weaving together stories about almost not graduating college (enough credits, but no major), her time with Oscar Romero and Ignacio Ellacuria, and the challenges confronting our country and the world today. 

Forché related one story about the last few days of Oscar Romero's life as well.  Approximately, one week before his death, he told her that her time in El Salvador had come to an end and that she should return home to "her people" because things were getting too dangerous.  When she said that he should go with her since being in El Salvador was even more dangerous for him, he said that he needed to stay with "his people." 

Prof. Forché challenged our graduates with "You might become the most important generation that ever lived, given the challenges you have been asked to accept."  The faculty and administration seemed to enjoy the speech.  Hopefully, our students did as well.

If I find a video clip of her commencement address, I'll post it.  In the meantime, here is a reading of her poem "The Colonel" with photos from El Salvador.

If you're looking for a commencement speaker next year, I would highly recommend Prof. Carolyn Forché.

Rethinkg the Phys Ed Requirement

Just as we're thinking about getting rid of our physical education requirement.  From CNN

Twenty minutes of daily vigorous physical activity among college students may lead them to have grade point averages about .4 higher, on a scale of 4.0, compared with students who do not exercise.
A study presented Thursday at the American College of Sport Medicine's annual meeting demonstrated the relationship and reinforced the notion that exercise reduces stress, improves performance and increases a sense of well-being.
Joshua Ode supervised the study at a university in the northern U.S., of students ages 18-22. Ode said, "If the students are improving in the classroom, it may create a better campus environment. You're creating more successful students, which is the goal of universities."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Argentine Dirty War Trial

The AP has a story on ongoing trials of Argentines involved in Operation Condor

From the street, it was an unremarkable auto-body shop in a busy middle-class neighborhood.

Behind its metal garage door, Automotores Orletti was a tactical operations center for Operation Condor, a coordinated effort by South America's dictatorships to eliminate dissidents who sought refuge in neighboring countries.

Bound, blindfolded prisoners were scattered on the oil-stained concrete floor among disabled cars and machinery. Engines ran to mask the screams as prisoners were given electrical shocks and hoisted on pulleys, then submerged headfirst in water - torture they called "the submarine."

US Citizen Killed in Israeli Raid

I don't have any groundbreaking commentary on the Israeli commando raid but let me throw a few things out there.
  • If the Israelis had intelligence that the protesters were affiliated with Al Qaida and were delivering weapons to terrorists in Gaza, why would they order their soldiers not to use deadly force unless attacked?
  • When are we going to hear the media characterize the events as a US citizen on a humanitarian aid mission was shot five times (four at close range in the head) by Israeli commandos while traveling on a ship in international waters flying under the flag of our NATO ally, Turkey?
  • Are we likely to see copycat flotillas in the Caribbean?
    • What would the US do if a ship delivering humanitarian aid and with the explicit purpose of calling attention to the illegal and immoral US embargo on Cuba sailed from a US port?