Friday, July 30, 2010

Kidnappings are Down

According to the Guatemalan Human Rights Office, during the first half of 2010 kidnappings fell more than fifty percent from the same 2009 period.  Between January and the end of June, 60 people were kidnapped compared to 124 in 2009.  Overall, 200 people were kidnappedlast year which means the decline has been since the middle of last year.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that many people will consider this entirely positive.  One of the main reasons why kidnappings have gone down is because criminals have instead turned to extortion.  As I mentioned in May, "Criminals have increasing relied on extortion because it requires less risk and sophistication compared to kidnapping."  Until we see a decrease in all violent crime, I wouldn't get too excited.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

President Wyclef?

Grammy-award winning singer Wyclef Jean said on Thursday that he has taken legal steps toward running for president in quake-devastated Haiti, but has not made a definite decision to run.
Jean, who said he is qualified to run for Haiti's highest office, was in Haiti to work with lawyers and have his fingerprints taken by the judicial police as part of the legal process of preparing to run for president...
"There are a lot of rumors that I am running for president. I have not declared that," said Jean, 37. "If we decide to move forward, I am pretty sure that we have all our paperwork straight."

Haiti, which was ravaged on January 12 by a deadly 7.0-magnitude earthquake, is scheduled to vote on November 28 to elect a new leader to replace President Rene Preval, whose term ends in February...

Many analysts predict Jean -- who is very popular among Haitians, particularly the young -- would easily win the presidential election if his candidacy were approved.

Jean immigrated to the United States at the age of 9, but has maintained his Haitian citizenship, a prerequisite for running. He showed his Haitian passport to Reuters reporters as he was going through Haitian immigration on Thursday.

News of his possible candidacy has created panic among traditional politicians and power holders who have long planned to run. They fear Jean's popularity and financial resources would give him a campaign advantage they could not hope to match. (Yahoo)

Guatemala News Roundup

Guatemala tries Mexican massacre suspects: The trial of 14 alleged members of the Zetas has begun in Guatemala City.  They stand accused of  killing 11 people in Zacapa in eastern Guatemala in March 2008.

Climate extremes fuel hunger in Guatemala: Drought and flooding continue to kill. 

CICIG claims that Jorge "El Gordo" Paredes, a drug lord imprisoned here in the US, ordered Victor Rivera killed in 2008 after Rivera failed to get Paredes' kidnapped child freed.  Rivera was a former Interior Ministry security advisor. 

Guatemalan Indians are suing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Erick Alvarez, for what he did nine years ago as a private attorney involving mining operations in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacan.

I don't know if there's been an increase in drug laundering in Guatemala, but every few days someone is arrested carrying large quantities of cash. 

A more detailed look at the recent asylum ruling that asked whether Guatemalan women constituted "a particular social group" at the LA Times.

Guatemala becomes the world's fifth largest coffee exporter.

Too much success for me

So, let me get his straight. 

Success in the war on drugs in Peru and Bolivia led to more production and violence in Colombia.  Success in Colombia led to more shipments through and violence in Mexico as well as shipments through Venezuela (I'm not sure anyone has a good idea how much of the increased vioence in Venezuela over the last several years is related to drugs, but let me know if there's something out there.)  Now success is Mexico is leading to the escalation of drug-related violence in Central America, especially Guatemala.

I'm not sure how much more success I can take.

Immigration Backlash

This article on the difficulties of getting legal status is not really interesting but just check out the comment from number 2 - Donald.  Somebody might be getting a visit from these guys.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Colom's Approval Numbers

Vox Latina carried out a poll for Prensa Libre and published the results about two weeks ago.  Surprisingly, 46% of all Guatemalans approve of Colom's performance.  Given all the media conspiracy bad press and calls for him to resign if he doesn't somehow get the violence under control, I would have expected his support to be somewhat lower.

Colom's support is strongest among women, the indigenous, those with lower incomes, and those with less schooling.  Obviously, men, ladinos, those with higher incomes, and those with some university education are more disgruntled with the Colom administration.  These are the people who write and read the newspaper and that is part of the story as to why the press is so critical of Colom. 

Much of what drives his relatively high approval numbers (all things considered) is his support in the countryside.  These areas carried him to the presidency in 2007.  Today, they still support him because the government's social programs are popular.  Those surveyed say that Colom's major achievement has been to help poor families with Mi Familia Progreso and Bolsa Solidaria getting high marks. 

The press often covers Mi Familia Progreso through the lens of government waste, the lack of transparency and accountability, and its impact on Sandra Torres de Colom's electoral chances.  For example, Nineth Montenegro is a deputy from the Encuentro por Guatemala.  While Nineth is popular in the capital and has a following amongst the country's human rights community and the left, she only leads a bloc of 1 in the congress. Yet, the media cover her investigations into Mi Familia in a way that is highly disproportionate to her legislative influence.  They don't report, to the extent that Colom wants, on the program's positive impact.

Key Facts on the Poor in Guatemala

Researchers from the University of San Carlos carried out a survey of 1,584 households throughout Guatemala in March 2010.  Among the findings reported in the Latin American Herald Tribune

Nearly 98% of low-income households risk going hungry

80% of the families interviewed have incomes below the poverty line.

52% are at moderate risk, 42.7% at slight risk and 2.8% at severe risk of having enough food all the time.  Only 2.5% of households are certain of having enough food all the time.  
The measurement adds that only 2% can afford to buy food, with the rest dependent on what they can grow for themselves in a period when Guatemala’s farmers have been battered by the weather.

The areas where hunger looms largest are in the “dry corridor” of eastern Guatemala, which in 2009 suffered a severe drought.
According to the Guatemalan Government, 52% of the country's population lives in poverty.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Call to Arms

From What Every American Needs to Know by Blake Hall
Every day is a national tragedy. This is not hyperbole. Eighteen veterans kill themselves every day, a figure that represents twenty percent of the suicides in this country, and veterans constitute twenty-three percent of this nation's homeless population. Veterans represent nine percent of America's population, so those numbers, to me, are staggering...
When you go to sleep tonight, eighteen more veterans will be gone by their own hand. Many more will lay their heads down without shelter, because they have lost their way. The thought that one day David and Jonathan could join their ranks is more than I can bear.
Veterans need to know that it is okay to admit weakness after dealing with the trauma of war. They need to know that they won't be judged for opening up about their pain. They need to know that Americans care.
Hall is a former Army captain and a member of the Army Rangers who served in Iraq.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What is it with Serbs?

PKK hired Serb assassins in plots to assassinate Turkey’s top politicians

Serb Mercenaries See Prospects in Latin America

Bring Back the Death Penalty!

The Guatemalan police are inadequately trained and poorly prepared to battle narco-traffickers, organized crime, and gangs throughout the country, let alone more ordinary crime. Government expenditures on law enforcement are low and there are questions about the government’s intentions to provide the police with adequate resources. As a result, Guatemalans generally have a low level of confidence in the police who they often seen as part of the problem, not the solution to the country’s problems. They are just as corrupt as other institutions in the country. In 2008, 40% of the population expressed confidence in the PNC, a little more than they gave the congress.

Guatemalan police have also been criticized for lacking basic police skills. For example, “numerous studies continue to uncover deficiencies in crime scene preservation, collection and handling of evidence, and collection of witness reports, among other areas. More specialized training (for investigating organized crime, drug trafficking, etc.) is limited, and although international aid agencies offer some specialization courses, they are not open to all personnel” (WOLA, Protect and Serve p. 33). The lack of skilled police goes beyond these rank and file officers to investigators to “mid- and high-ranking officials” (WOLA, Protect and Serve, p. 17).

Judges and prosecutors are regularly removed for corruption only to be replaced by new corrupt officials.  The CICIG chief resigns because the government is dragging its feet.  The solution?

Deputy Ricardo Villate (LIDER) wants to reactivate the death penalty!  Yeah, that sure sounds like a swell idea.

Update: As of 8:30 Monday morning, Prensa Libre's online poll has 92% in favor of the death penalty with 2363 votes submitted.  I still don't think it's wise to adopt the death penalty when police officers lack basic skills and a large percentage of the police force, public prosecutor's office, and judges appear to be corrupt or just as lacking in basic skills.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Army Takes to Guatemala City Streets

On Thursday, President Alvaro Colom ordered 500 troops to join with the PNC to help bring crime under control in Guatemala City.  As the Latin American Herald Tribune reports
President Alvaro Colom ordered soldiers deployed Thursday on the streets of the Guatemalan capital to aid police in quelling violent crime, the government said.
“President Colom on Wednesday instructed the Defense Ministry for the army to collaborate with the civilian security forces,” presidential press secretary Ronaldo Robles told Efe.

He said troops and police will conduct joint patrols in high risk areas of Guatemala City with an emphasis on protecting buses, targeted by youth gangs running protection rackets.

The defense minister, Gen. Abraham Valenzuela, told reporters 500 soldiers are taking part in the operation and that they would remain on the streets as long as necessary.
The decision follows several weeks of particularly brutal attacks that while gaining international coverage has probably still been overshadowed by the violence in Mexico.  The business community has been clamoring for Colom to send in the military while others are calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

According to the article,
The army deployment follows several horrific attacks in recent weeks, including one in which a bus was set ablaze with the passengers still aboard. 
Did anybody hear about this one?  I'm not sure whether they are confusing Guatemala and El Salvador.  The have been recent grenade attacks, but I haven't heard this happening in Guatemala.

Anyway, Interior Minister Carlos Menocal repeats the line that "the mayhem is part of a strategy by organized crime to terrorize the population." President Colom characterized the attacks on the transport system as "terrorist attacks."

First, how do we know that the attacks against public transportation in Guatemala (and El Salvador) are part of a conspiracy to "terrorize the population" carried out by organized crime?  When I think organized crime in Guatemala, I think the hidden or parallel powers.  Organized crime's goal isn't necessarily to terrorize, but perhaps to maximize profits by destabilizing the country and/or discrediting Colom and CICIG.  If the attacks were part of some conspiracy to terrorize the population, I would expect somewhat random attacks against the bus system, businesses, and other soft targets.

On the other hand, these attacks might simply have been carried out by street gangs who seek "stability" in public transport operations - pay the damn rent.  If this is the motivation, one would expect the attacks to be carried out against drivers and companies who refuse to give in to the extortion demands.  The drivers and companies who pay should be left unharmed.

I'm doubtful one can track these things, especially in Guatemala, but perhaps someone in the Interior Ministry is tracking information on attacks and extortion and this gives them greater confidence in their assertions.  However, I don't have that information and it's really difficult to determine whether the attacks are part of a plan to destabilize the country or simply to put pressure on the buses to pay up.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Marine Life Deaths

Nearly three dozen sea turtles have washed up on the Pacific shores of Guatemala in recent days.  Government officials are worried because breeding season has just begun and it does not appear that local fishermen are using their nets nets properly (or at all) so that sea turtles caught in the nets can escape.  Instead, many of the turtles are drowning or bleeding out from their wounds.  (See also Sify News)

While we know the answer as to why the sea turtles are dying in Guatemala, no one yet knows why upwards of 500 penguins have died in Brazil.  Researchers speculate that the penguins might have died because of starvation (many had empty stomachs) caused by stronger than usual currents and lower than ususual water temperatures or simply overfishing.

Hope for Nicaragua dump residents

BBC News has a short one-minute video on a $40 million dollar program funded by the Government of Spain to close a dump in La Chureca and to relocate and employ those people "displaced" by the closing of the dump. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Salvadoran Behind the Arizona Immigration Law

Not all Arizonans are happy with Steve Montenegro, one of the proponents of both Arizona's proposed immigration law and its ban on ethnic studies courses.  According to the Tucson Citizen,
Would you believe that he is a co-pastor of a church in Surprise? If not, then Surprise!

Montenegro is actually an immigrant from El Salvador. It was exactly his church, the Apostolic Assembly, a close cousin of the Pentecostal church, that brought Montenegro to the USA. This church sponsored his family to come to Arizona to become church leaders.

In case you don’t know anything about his church, the church pretty much dominates most of one’s daily life. Suffice it to say, church is a big deal.
And yet, not only the parishioners, but also his fellow pastors are calling for Montenegro’s resignation. Why?
Because most of his church, just like he was at one time, is made up of immigrants. The Pentecostal church is pseudo-segregated. The Apostolic Assembly gets the Latino believers and services are in both English and Spanish, but Montenegro’s church is mostly Hispanic.

A significant number of them are undocumented.


Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced

While in Guatemala, I came across Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced by June Carolyn Erlick, the Publications Director at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. 

Erlick tells the story of Irma Flaquer, a remarkable Guatemalan journalist who was disappeared nearly twenty years ago, on October 16, 1980.  Irma spent her entire career life speaking out against injustice.  Among other things, she wrote a column called "Lo que otros callan" or "What others don't dare write" for several newspapers and founded the first Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. 

Irma criticized both the revolutionaries and the Guatemalan government for being naive to think that violence would solve the country's problems.  She repeatedly called on the government to promote political and economic reforms to stave off revolution.  However, at some point before her disappearance and after a beating and car bombing, she lost faith in her government and joined the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR).

The book is really a great easy read and I'd encourage everyone to pick up a copy today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rosenberg Convictions

In case you missed it last week, eight men were convicted for their roles in the murder/suicide of Rodrigo Rosenberg.
A Guatemalan judge has convicted and sentenced eight men to prison for the 2009 killing of a prominent lawyer who accused the country's president of his murder in a video made before his death...

Four of the accused men were sentenced to between 38 years and 48 years on homicide and other charges, and four other co-consipirators received eight-years sentences for "illegal association."

But sentences for two of the men were reduced to two years and to 12 years in return for the suspects' cooperation with prosecutors. Another suspect was released after turning state's evidence.

The eight were members or collaborators of a gang of hit men that planned and carried out the killing, allegedly for a payment that originated with Rosenberg himself.

Two more men are facing charges of having arranged the payment to the killers.

Is that a Monkey in your Pocket?

From Yahoo
Customs officials at Mexico City's airport detained a Peruvian man carrying 18 baby monkeys, including two which had died, hidden under his clothes, federal police said.
"The Titi monkeys were found hidden in a band tied around the man's body," a statement said.
The discovery was made when the 38-year-old man appeared edgy during random checks on passengers off a flight from Lima, Peru, it said.

Funes and the FMLN

In June, several stories discussed the apparent divisions between President Funes and the FMLN.  Some of these reports were linked to in an earlier post.  Over my break, I read through a few of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reports on El Salvador that follow the same narrative.  In many ways these reports are accurate, but I also think that they leave out a bit of context.

Over the last fifteen years, most of the FMLN leadership that held "moderate" social democratic views left the party (Villalobos, Martinez, and Sancho in 1994, Guardado and Jovel in 2001, and the June 2005 revolt).  At the same time, the FMLN reitereated its commitment to socialism. 

In a doctrinal document drafted in 2004 by order of the National Council, the FMLN established a strategy of transition to socialism that passed through a first phase of state takeover and the deepening of democracy (FMLN 2004). To achieve power, they raised the possibility of concluding a series of broad political alliances with non-revolutionary sectors in the short-tem. This policy is a tactical partnership with those political forces that the FMLN leadership considered democratic, but not left.

In the words of José Luis Merino one of the party’s historic leaders:

"The road to socialism passes through the democratization of the country, in that sense all the democratic forces are our potential allies ... We have a strategic objective that might take ten, 20 or 30 years, because until one arrives at conscience: one arrives at socialism. To get there you have to consolidate democracy" (El Faro 2005).
A colleague and I argue that this strategy is very similar to that taken by the PCS in the seventies: the seizure of power through elections in alliance with other political forces and, from there, the transformation of the country’s political and economic system.  On the road to some sort of socialist state, the FMLN entered into a temporary alliance with a non-revolutionary candidate, Mauricio Funes, in 2009.  Therefore, the political differences between Funes and the party and the talk of a president without a party isn't really news. 

What I think is more interesting right now are the efforts by both Funes and the FMLN to test the waters for going it alone in the future.  Funes would not be president today without the FMLN nor would the FMLN occupy the presidency were it not for the moderate and reassuring Funes.  Today, however, Funes has his Movimiento Ciudadano Por El Cambio.  This movement could easily transform itself into a party and propel someone in the Funes mold into the national spotlight.  On the other hand, some FMLN have talked about promoting one of their own - a revolutionary candidate - in 2014. 

2012 and 2014 could be interesting elections with ARENA, GANA, FMLN, and Funes going head to head!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guatemala News Update II

Last Post for a few days - going on vacation.  Thanks for following.  Why don't you check out the Seattle International Foundation and its Central America Network while I'm away.

Several  English and Spanish-language news stories have appeared in the last few weeks covering the political instability in Guatemala.  You might want to check out

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

CC: Reuters

It looks like Nicaragua is getting ready for a 2011 rematch.
Former President Arnoldo Aleman accepted his party's nomination for president Sunday, setting up a likely showdown next year with his longtime political rival, current President Daniel Ortega.  (Miami Herald)
On July 9, Time Magazine published an article on how the Nicaraguan left and right were joining forces to defeat Daniel Ortega.  We'll have to wait a few days for a new article on how the left and the right are joining forces to defeat Arnoldo Aleman.  This isn't going to be good.

See also Alemán intenta regresar a la presidencia and Partido de Alemán protesta contra vicepresidente nicaragüense.

Boz also just posted some scenarios for 2011.

Guatemala News Round Up

I'm trying to clear out my draft box before heading on vacation tomorrow.  So here it goes:

Food Insecurity in Guatemala

Another short clip from Al Jazeera on food insecurity in Guatemala following Tropical Storm Agatha.

Kind of scary looking photo.  I'm not sure why this shows up as the lead.

Economic Growth in Central America

Boz linked to a NYT story on Latin American economic growth two weeks ago. In the story, analysts from the World Bank forecast that the region's economy will grow by approximately 4.5% in 2010.

Simon Romero reports that smaller countries like Peru are growing fast. Sorry, but Peru has the fifth largest population in Latin America. Peru doesn't really count as small. Bolivia, another small country, is close - 11th in terms of population.  Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have fewer people than Bolivia and none are doing that great economically.

Central America is expecting much better growth than 2009, but still not great.  Here's a table from DesdeGuate

When using an average, there are obviously data points above and below it.  Unfortunately, Central American is expected to fall on the wrong side of that average in 2010.

A Call for Tourists

The Guardian has a recent story on Honduras: Central America's road less travelled that's worth checking out.  I haven't been to Honduras since 1998 but Utila and Copan Ruinas were two of my favorite travels in Central America.  By the sound of it, they still are.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Particularly Gruesome Saturday

Guatemalans suffered through a particularly violent day on Saturday leaving twenty-three people dead (Latin American Herald Tribune).
An attack on a microbus caused the deaths of five women, among them two minors, as well as that of a prison guard, in a neighborhood in the northern part of the capital...

In the administrative center of the eastern province of Zacapa, meanwhile, three men, among them a 32-year-old Honduran, Jose Angel Campos Perez, were murdered during an armed attack by unknown gunmen.

Another 12 people were killed in the province of Guatemala, which includes the capital, and two others died in the interior of the country, police and prosecutors said.

Among those victims were two women and the driver of a taxi, who were killed by unknown gunmen in San Julian, a neighborhood in the northern part of the city, in an attack that also resulted in two girls being injured by gunfire.

In the El Paraiso neighborhood, also in the northern section of the capital, the owners of a store were murdered by suspected gang members when they refused to pay extortion demands.
I spoke to several taxis drivers while in Guatemala City.  I asked why we don't read more about extortion and taxis like we do with the buses.  The small sample of drivers said that almost all drivers are extorted.  They pay gangs based on where they live or where their taxi stand is located.  They pay 25Q-50Q each day.  However, since they don't drive routes like buses they don't get extorted in several different parts of town like the bus operators.  There are fewer extortion points so to speak.

There are some areas of the capital where the taxis will not go under any circumstances.  One characterized these areas as "Iraq."  In other areas, the drivers will be allowed in to drop off the passenger, but then their exit will be blocked.  One has to pay a 25Q departure "tax".  Now that the drivers know where these tax collectors are stationed, the passenger is dropped off outside the "gate" (at the bus stop or store instead of the home) or the taxi driver will negotiate for the passenger to pay the "tax."  He just passes the tax along to the customer.

One driver with whom I spoke made 125Q the day before I spoke to him (before the 25Q tax).  On the one hand, the number of Guatemalans taking taxis had definitely increased because of all the violence associated with the buses.  On the other hand, he thought that there were fewer foreigners traveling to Guatemala out of fear.  The increased revenue from Guatemalans did not make up for the lost revenue from fewer foreign visitors.  Finally, they can really only work half a day.  It's too dangerous to work at night.  Either the pandillas will rob you or the passenger will.

Part of the "hidden" costs of the violence in Guatemala and Central America today.

Mining Activist Killed in Guatemala

From the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission / USA
On June 25th, Colom declared suspension of Marlin Mine operations, in compliance with a recent Inter-American Commission ruling. Two weeks later, Diodora Hernandez was shot in the head, and others were physically intimidated.
Doña Diodora Antonia Hernández Cinto is part of the resistance movement in defense of indigenous rights, including land and water rights, against the Marlin mine and the violent aggressions committed by the Montana subsidiary of Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company. She has been threatened several times for her participation in this movement. In June 2009, she was part of the group in Saqmuj that fought for the right to water, when the Goldcorp Company tried to take over the land and water sources from the community.
Other community members who have been actively resisting mining operations have received threats and been victims of physical intimidations.

This can't go on. As part of the international community, we denounce the violence against Diodora and others who dare to speak out on behalf of their communities against the harmful mining operations.
We urge the Guatemalan government to:
1. Guarantee the safety of community members in opposition to the Marlin mine

2. Comply with the precautionary measures provided by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect communities defending their rights

3. Hold the Montana/Goldcorp Company responsible for any acts and threats, the great majority of which have been made by company workers.

4. Carry out a thorough and timely investigation of the above stated incidents and bringing those responsible to justice.

Coming to a Court Near You

Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo is one step closer to extradition to the US after an appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling.  Portillo first needs to answer for some crimes in Guatemala, however. 

It's sad.  Portillo and other FRG that followed him into government are seen by many people as the main reason that Guatemala is in such bad shape today.    

Knowing your Interviewee

Does David Mercer really think that this is funny?

Okay, let's talk about organized crime, impunity, former military involved in nefarious activities, and an escalating murder rate in Guatemala?  Who should we interview?  That's right Otto Perez Molina, the leader of the Patriotic Party and hands on favorite to win the 2011 presidential election.  That sounds like a good interview except for his background which isn't mentioned in the video.

Perez Molina is a retired general from the Guatemalan Army.  While he was one of the Guatemalan "moderate" army officers partly responsible for preventing Serrano's autogolpe in 1993 and negotiating an end to the war with the URNG in 1996, he has been involved in enough shady activities to be listed as the head of El Sindicato, one of the hidden powers most likely being investigated by CICIG.  Pérez Molina has been implicated in a number of human rights violations.
According to the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala (ODHAG), there is evidence that links the EMP with the 1994 assassination of Judge Edgar Ramiro Elías Ogaldez. Pérez Molina was head of the EMP at that time.
He has also been implicated in the murder of guerrilla leader Efraín Bámaca. According to press accounts, a detailed document delivered to the U.S. Embassy in 1996 revealed that Bámaca’s fate was weighed by military leadership. The document stated that it was Pérez Molina, then head of the EMP, who ordered two of his officers “to make Bámaca disappear.”

Pérez Molina’s role as a leader of the network of current and retired military officers known as the El Sindicato has put him in the company of men, such as Gen. Roberto Letona Hora, who have been accused of corruption.
Perez Molina has also been connected to Bishop Juan Gerardi's murder.  I don't know, it just doesn't seem right not to let your audience know this. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Charges Dropped Against Aleman

Obstacles preventing Arnoldo Aleman's return to politics keep dropping.
A Panamanian court has dropped money laundering charges against former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman.
The court has ruled that the case against Aleman violated his right to only be tried for a crime once.
The court argued the charges against Aleman were similar to charges he has faced in Nicaragua. The July 2 decision was released to The Associated Press on Friday.
At first, I was thinking about Noriega's future once his sentence is completed in France.  He would have done time in the US and France on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.  Panama wouldn't bring charges against him again for these crimes.  However, there's still a few murder charges open I believe.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Young Victims of Violence in Central America

Danilo Valladares has an article on "Rampant Violence Means Childhood Interrupted" up at IPS News that takes a look at the violence suffered by youth in the Northern Triangle of Cetral America, three of the most violent countries in the world (not including those countries currently at war).
In Guatemala alone, 189 children 17 and younger were killed between January and May[2010]. In other words, 7.8 percent of the 2,413 violent deaths -- 16 daily - - reported in that period, according to the research and analysis board of the Human Rights Prosecutor's Office and the National Civil Police...
In 2009 in El Salvador, 606 children under 18 were killed -- 284 more than in 2008...
According to Casa Alianza, by May at least 157 children and youths under age 23 had been murdered so far this year [2010] in Honduras, where an average of 14 people die violent deaths each day...

It's tought to figure out what this all means other than being young in Central America is dangerous. 
  • For Guatemala and Honduras, the author uses 2010 numbers.  In El Salvador, 2009 and 2010 figures are tallied.  Presenting 2009 numbers for each country would be helpful.
  • The cutoffs for youth are also different.  It looks like El Salvador ("under 18") and Guatemala ("17 and under") use the same age to identify youth, but if so, why not use the same terminology for both.  I don't understand the point of 23 and under in Honduras!!!
  • 12 murders are committed each day in El Salvador - two of those killed are children.  We don't get comparable numbers for Guatemala or Honduras.
  • Youth are youth, but is there anyway to separate out innocent victims from those youth involved in criminal activities?
  • Is it more dangerous to be 0-18 than 18-34 (I think those are the normal cutoffs)?  How about male versus female?
Just some prelimnary thoughts.

Ex-UNE Diputado Assassinated

At 9:30 P.M. Thursday night, Obdulio Solórzano Montepeque (ex-congressman for UNE in the 2003-2007) was killed while traveling in his automobile in Zona 13.  Solórzano was also the former director of FUNDAPAZ (Fondo Nacional para la Paz) and a member of UNE's National Executive Committee (CEN). 

As of yet, there is no motive for the crime that killed Solórzano and his bodyguards.  They were attacked by men with AK-47s.  (La Hora, Siglo XXI)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dear Former Friends

Dear Manny, Gil, Hector, Bobby, Efrain, Gus, George, and Al,

Given the legal troubles that have surfaced for Manny, George, and Gil in the past few days, we thought we should send out this reminder.  We want to thank you again for the service that you performed in the fight against communism in Central and South America during the Cold War.  We even understand that in defending Western civilization you might have committed numerous war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly even genocide.  However, some people in the US are just learning about what went during the second half of the twentieth situation and we are in a really tought predicament.

We are well aware that the fight against the communists required you to engage in torture (Mechanics School), mass rape (Dos Erres), disappearances (all), death flights (Argentina), drug trafficking (Noriega, Contras), human trafficking (Argentine, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan militaries), terrorist attacks on US soil (Letelier), the murder and rape of US citizens (US Churchwomen, Sr. Diana Ortiz), the murder of babies and even the unborn (Kaibiles), and civilian massacres of entire villages (El Mozote and Guatemala). 

We might even have trained you, given you moneyand weapons, provided political cover for you, given you medals, hosted you at the White House, sent senators to support you, treated you medically, given you teaching gigs and rewarded you with commencement addresses at Fort Benning, and/or allowed you to resettle in the US after your job was done.

While our presidents and most members of congress have no qualms with what you did, the American public and our courts sometimes do not understand the sacrifices that you made for your country and for ours.  Therefore, we must remind you that countries do not have friends, only interests.  It is now in our interest to downplay the support that we gave to you and to deny knowledge of what you did to help us.  We are going to have to act surprised when we hear about the things that you are alleged to have done so long ago.  We might even be forced to prosecute you, revoke your citizenship and/or deport you, and share incriminating information with your government and the international community once the activities become public.  Again, we are sorry.  If it makes you feel better, you are not the first to receive this letter and you will not, unfortunately, be the last.

But please do not share this letter with anyone.  If others knew, it might make it more difficult for us to recruit loyal allies in the future.


The US

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Portillo on the Move

Former President Alfonso Portillo is being moved to the Matamoras military base because CICIG has information about a plan to assassinate him (El Periodico).

In other CICIG news, Portillo's security chief, Napoleón Rojas Méndez, was arrested almost two weeks ago for his involvement in a conspiracy to embezzle over $100 million dollars.  After evading authorities for a year, he was arrested in Belize and extradited back to Guatemala.  He, of course, was released on bail!!!

Something sounded fishy.  CICIG has launched an investigation into the judge that granted Rojas bail - Mario Efraín Najarro - accusing him of obstruction of justice and violating the constitution (Prensa Libre).

Does anybody else want Noriega?

According to Reuters, former Panamanian president Manuel Noriega was given a seven-year prison for money laundering.  French authorities also confiscated 2.3 million Euros and fined him an additional 1 million Euros. 

Given time served and French law, we'll be having another extradition hearing in the not so distant future.
Under French law Noriega, who served 20 years in a U.S. prison including almost three years pending extradition, can apply for parole in mid-sentence, meaning he could be released in about a year...
Panamanian authorities have also issued an extradition request. If returned to his home country, Noriega faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence for various crimes, although given his age he would serve his sentence under house arrest.
That doesn't give us much time to find another country to take him.

Dos Erres case

Here is an update to the Dos Erres case.  From the Miami Herald

Gilberto Jordán, a former Guatemalan military commando, admitted in Fort Lauderdale federal court Wednesday that he lied in his U.S. citizenship application because he concealed his participation in a massacre that left 251 men, women and children dead in 1982.
Minutes after Jordán, 54, pleaded guilty, U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch classified him as a danger to the community, revoked his $100,000 bond, told him the court intends to revoke his U.S. citizenship and warned him that his plea may lead to his deportation back to his homeland.
Then two U.S. Marshals took Jordán into custody, ordered him to remove his belt, frisked, handcuffed and escorted him out of the courtroom through a side door.

The dramatic scene in Courtroom A on the second floor of the Fort Lauderdale federal court building closed a chapter in one of the worst massacres in Guatemala's history: the killing of the 251 victims in December 1982 at the Guatemalan village of Dos Erres during the Central American country's long civil war.

During questioning by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents before his arrest, Jordán admitted that one of his first victims at Dos Erres was a baby. An ICE affidavit in the case said Jordán ``readily admitted that he threw a baby into the well and participated in killing people at Dos Erres, as well as bringing them to the well where they were killed.''
I wouldn't say that this decision "closed a chapter in one of the worst massacres in Guatemala's history."  Instead, the decision to revoke Jordán's citizenship and deport him to Guatemala means that we have one less war criminal living amongst up.  It also leaves open the possibility that he will face justice in Guatemala.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Guatemalan Conspiracy Once Again

From the AP
Guatemala's government says opponents are conspiring against it and could be preparing to oust President Alvaro Colom.
In advertisements published in local newspapers Thursday, Colom's administration says Guatemala could face a "break with institutional order equal to what they did in Honduras."
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a June 2009 coup.

The ads did not specifically mention a coup, or identify the purported plotters.

But the ad said "there are groups of businessmen, politicians, mafias and criminals that have joined in a common strategy" to "erode" and "wear down" the government.

Colom has faced criticism over violent crime, and an anti-poverty aid program that critics say lacks transparency.
Three questions/thoughts:
  1. From what I understand, Zelaya moved further to the left as he lost support from the middle and upper classes.  It was more of a calculated move than an ideological one. BTW, I'm not positive that this is entirely accurate - maybe RAJ can weigh in. Is the recent attack against the media and the economic elite the first indication (not really the first, but oh well) of Colom's shift to the left in preparation for next year's election?
  2. For Zelaya, there was fear that he was attacking the privilege of some members of the economic elite.  In Guatemala, Colom talks about taking on the economic elite (tax reform anybody?), but he hasn't been able to accomplish much and probably won't for the remainder of his term.  It just seems like they have to wait him out.  Interestingly enough, this is what I was told in 2007.  Should Colom win, the elites are simply going to obstruct and wait him out.
  3. Things are more than likely to escalate if Sandra Colom is nominated as UNE's presidential candidate rather than someone like José Roberto Alejos Cámbara (the president of the congress).
  4. If there is a coup attempt, will the people, the military, the US, and the rest of the international community stand by the rule of law like they did with Jorge Serrano's autogolpe in 1993?

Colom and the Destabilization Complot

Last week I mentioned that President Alvaro Colom had publicly condemned a conspiracy led by certain elites (Dionisio Gutierrez in particular) and the media to destabilize his government.  For the most part, the proof is that the media appears to harp on the negatives while not giving his administration any credit for the good works that it has completed. Obviously, there is more to the story than that and I'll try to touch on a few of the issues here.

First, it's easy for me to say that I wouldn't be surprised if there was some sort of conspiracy by certain elites and the media to destabilize the government.  However, it's another thing for President Colom to publicly announce such a thing.  He still needs to come forward with credible evidence of such a conspiracy.  It's not enough to say that the media has been unfair to him and that there exists some "right wing conspiracy" a la Clinton.  That doesn't really sound like much of a nefarious plot to me.  As that famous guy once said, "Show me the money." 

Second, one shouldn’t be surprised that media coverage of the Colom administration in the print, television, and radio media has been so negative. The major media is located in the capital. Colom was the first candidate to win the presidency without winning Guatemala City or the Department of Guatemala.  His support is in the rural areas of the country, views that are rarely reflected in the mainstream media.

Third, the announcement might be more of a political calculation on Colom's part. Attacking the business sector and the media without, at the moment, presenting any solid evidence of a conspiracy leads me to believe that Colom has given up on building consensus and passing any significant legislation between now and next year's election.  In January 2008, UNE maintained 51 out of 158 seats (32%) in the Congress.  Since November 2009, its contingent has stood at 33 (21%).  Colom and UNE are in no position to push through significant legislation without the cooperation of the other political parties. However, at least two factors work against cooperation going forward.

First, no one is really impressed with Colom’s ability to govern. He lacks a vision for where he believes that the government and society should go. Instead, some critics claim that he is pulled between different members of his administration - some from the left and some from the right.  Guatemalans are guessing that by taking the offensive against the media and business community, the left have won this battle within the administration.  There have been grumblings from UNE's congressional bloc that Colom and other party leaders make decisions that ultimately make it impossible for them to build consensus in the congress.  Both the UNE vice president and the head of congress have criticized Colom handling of the conspiracy giving one a little hint of the discord within UNE.

Second, the country and opposition political parties are now entering campaign mode. They are forming electoral alliances to compete against UNE and its presidential candidate.  They don’t appear willing to give UNE any legislative victories between now and then.  The Patriotic Party came out and said that they are the ones that are being persecuted by a government whose goal is to persist in power.  They say that attacking other political parties, the media, the business sector, and civil society are all part of his totalitarian plan.  Colom might have concluded that he is going to have to go to the people instead of the congress to get things done.

Finally, some people seem to be tired of Colom’s playing the victim card.  In the Rosenberg case, Colom was vindicated.  He was the victim of a conspiracy,  However, a few analysts have said that Colom has been very confrontational as president.  He is more of a populist (us against them) than a leftist.  When others fight back, Colom plays the victim card about how everyone is out to get him and he is just standing up for the common folk.

I am reluctant to say that Colom needs our support.  I think that the US Government, the OAS, and the international community need to call on all political actors - the president, the congress, the courts, the political parties, media, business sectors, etc. to respect the Guatemalan people and the rule of law.  Let the war of ideas determine who will win next year's elections.  Guatemalans deserve better.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Death Threats Against Guatemalan Journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release denouncing recent death threats against Marvin del Cid Acevedo, a Guatemalan investigative journalist with el Periodico, involved in uncovering cases of corruption, human trafficking, and police brutality.  According to the CPJ
On June 25, two unidentified assailants broke into Marvin del Cid Acevedo’s home in Guatemala City around 10:30 a.m. while the journalist was at work, the local press reported. The attackers stole two computers and left a message written on a mirror saying, “You will die,” del Cid told CPJ.

Shortly before the attack, del Cid received several anonymous phone calls that were insulting and aggressively questioned his reporting, the journalist said. Security personnel at elPeriódico told the journalist that they saw a suspicious car following him on Monday, he said.

Del Cid filed a complaint with the police, and the prosecutor to investigate crimes against the press and union leaders. Local authorities have not disclosed any possible motive for the attack or identified any suspects.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Plan to Destabilize the Country

Earlier in the week, President Colom and UNE leaders denounced a destabilization campaign directed against the government.  They said that these people were connected to the media and to organized crime.  Fernando Barrillas (UNE) compared the destabilizing actions to those carried out during the Rosenberg murder and investigation.  Colom and UNE are prepared to present their proof to the CICIG.

Today, Colom again denounced the campaign without really providing any further details - no individual names, no groups, no specific news organization (Siglo XXI).  He did say, however, that these economic and political groups are trying to break the country's "institutional framework" similar to the events in Honduras (La Hora).

Colom blames the media for a lot of what is going on.  Reporters "sell their pens to the highest bidders" (Prensa Libre).  The media lies every time it claims that more people live in poverty today than when he took office.  Colom has complained the the media only highlights the government's failures and not its successes.  They are spreading misinformation to destabilize the government. 

Roxanna Baldetti from the Patriotic Party (that of Otto Perez Molina) argues that the administration has failed and that Colom is only looking for someone to blame.  The media would publish positive stories if the government had actually done anything good (La Hora).

I wouldn't be surprised if everything that Colom said was true.  In the past, wealthy individuals (and president's for that matter) have used their power to influence news coverage through a combination of economic incentives and threats.  I also expected some push back against CICIG by those connected with organized crime.  They are not going to go quietly just because a Spaniard or Costa Rican told them too.  I also wouldn't be surprised if the beheadings and attacks against prison guards of the last month were connected with organized crime and a campaign of destabilization rather than pandillas.  On Tuesday, La Hora had a story questioning whether pandillas were behind the crimes.  It's possible, but the facts of the case just didn't add up.

Another problem is that we are beginning to see political parties position themselves for next year's elections.  The 2007 electoral campaign was a pretty brutal one with over fifty killed.  I'm afraid we might see more of this instability over the next fourteen months as it appears that some political parties believe that their electoral fortunes will improve with a deteriorating security situation.


Morris Panner of WOLA has an opinion piece up at Americas Quarterly.

War on Dengue

On Tuesday, Guatemalan authorities held an event in the Parque Central in order to raise awareness of dengue fever.  There was music, free t-shirts, and food as well as approximatel 100 soldiers in the audience.  Dengue has been a serious problem this year.

Guatemalan health authorities issued a red alert and began a drive to reduce the rising number of dengue cases and growing Aedes Aegipty mosquito population reported in the first six months of the year.
As of June 19, official statistics recorded 4,391 confirmed cases, including 98 of the hemorrhagic strain, compared to 1,133 in a similar period in 2009.
The largest numbers of cases were reported in the departments of Jutiapa, Zacapa, Santa Rosa, Chiquimula, Escuintla, Suchitepequez, Guatemala, San Marcos and Quetzaltenango.
The government campaign, which consists of fumigating and eliminating the mosquito's breeding sites, involves every institution and the population, plus training medical personnel and paramedics to deliver timely, life-saving diagnosis and treatment.

Bureaucracy at work during Argentina's Dirty War

From Yahoo News
In a revelation that is reverberating across Argentina, a survivor of the detention center where Sosa was held has presented a list of 293 detainees, part of a trove of evidence he rescued from destruction decades ago and hid away.
There, in neat columns typed by a police functionary, each "subversive delinquent" is listed alongside a terse decision on their fate. In the last column beside Sosa's name are the letters "DF," military shorthand for "disposition final" — death...
The 259 pages of documents are evidence in a provincial trial of four men charged with the disappearances and torture of 22 people in the early years of the 1976-1983 dictatorship...

The documents — copies of which were obtained by the AP — include handwritten notes made during torture sessions, reports about spying efforts, the names of intelligence agents and the identities of bodies. Many bear the stamps and signatures of police and military agencies and officials.