Sunday, August 29, 2010

Monsanto on Giammattei

Pablo Monsanto (Jorge Soto) of the New Nation Alliance (Alianza Nueva Nacion) and former comandante of the FAR and URNG has an editorial up at Albedrio (spanish) and People's World (english) about the current situation in Guatemala. 

After criticizing Giammattei for making "a fool of himself by going on a hunger-strike in an attention-seeking effort to evade justice", Monsanto goes on to note how all those who have historically been clamoring for a stronger state and respect for the rule of law in Guatemala have recently changed their tune now that the Colom administration and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) are arresting and prosecuting political and economic elites tied to organized crime.
It is sad and even ridiculous that the same media outlets, columnists and institutions that have always called for the strengthening of a state of laws, for absolute respect for the law, and who have argued that each of us, without exception, ought to be subject to the rule of law, and that no individual is above the law, are now changing their tune.
Now that representatives of a government that they were part of or felt part of are being investigated and/or jailed, they rush to defend the accused, spinning the facts and questioning the impartiality of a Supreme Court of Justice chosen in an electoral process that they, themselves promoted and watched over.
Now they are even questioning the quality of the National Commission against Impunity investigative work, when just recently they were offering it their total confidence and support when they saw it as an ideal instrument for bringing down their political opponents.

Following Giammattei's arrest, more than one hundred of his supporters took to the streets in protest.  Giammattei himself went on a hunger strike and criticized the political witch hunt that had landed him in jail.  The media speculated whether his arrest was motivated by political considerations because Giammattei finished third in the 2007 presidential elections and was likely to run again in 2011.

Monsanto also throws out this interesting teaser about potential political motivations behind a number of killings in Guatemala in recent months.
It is alleged that individuals who were aware of these links have been systematically murdered, one by one, in order to erase any evidence of state involvement with organized crime under previous governments.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 15

Alejandro Giammattei has just completed the fifteenth day of his hunger strike.  According to authorities his health remains stable.  Giammattei is awaiting trial for his role in extrajudicial executions and other illegal activities including corruption and embezzlement. 

Meanwhile, the Unión Democrática (UD) is still throwing his name around as its 2011 presidential candidate.

Two Priests Murdered in Peru

Two Catholic priests were stabbed and killed in Lima, Peru early Friday morning in a suspected robbery.
The victims are identified as Ananias Aguila of Peru and Linan Ruiz of Puerto Rico...

The two clerics ran a soup kitchen for the poor, and Ruiz directed religious youth groups.
They were slain at the San Francisco monastery. It is a popular tourist stop with religious paintings, sculptures and ornamentation dating to the 16th century.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reaching the Students

Some strong language in pats, but worth it. 

In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?

Good News for Guatmala

3,500 people recently voted on the Lonely Planet Awards and one site in Guatemala made the list - Tikal.  The Mayan ruins were voted the "greatest historical experience" finishing ahead of the more well-known Taj Mahal and Egyptian Pyramids.

In other news, the USA Today Science section had a really interesting article on the Mayans earlier in the week.  Archaeologists working at Kiuic on the Yucutan Peninsula of Mexico are more convinced than ever that the Mayans there rapidly abandoned the area.  
The careful packing of homes at the Stairway to Heaven points to a methodical retreat, not a plague or war, as well as another riddle. The whole ancient Maya way of life centered on ritual destruction of old homes and goods (smashed bits of pottery underlying the floors of structures serve as one of the handiest dating devices available to archaeologists) as a starting point for building anything new.
The ruins at Kiuic are approximately 200 north of those at Tikal.

Another Conviction in Guatemala

From the Latin American Herald Tribune
Former national police director Baltazar Gomez was sentenced to five years and fined more than $50,000 for embezzling $2.5 million in public funds, a spokesperson for the Guatemalan Supreme Court said Thursday.
Judges accepted the prosecution’s claim that Gomez was part of a scheme that saw money appropriated for fuel purchases diverted to private bank accounts abroad.
With the help of CICIG, Gomez was arrested in March of this year one day before Hillary Clinton's visit to the country.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Migrants Deaths

Another horrible discovery in Mexico.
The bodies of 72 people believed to be migrants heading to the United States were found after a shootout on a ranch in northeast Mexico, officials said.
Marines found the bodies of 58 men and 14 women after a clash with armed attackers in Tamaulipas state in which one marine and three gunmen were killed, the military said.
While the location where the bodies were found was close enough to the border, I'm not sure how accurate and/or responsible it is to say that the bodies were found near the U.S. border with Texas just a few days after stray bullets came across the border into El Paso.

Crime against US Citizens in Guatemala

According to the US Government, its citizens were victimized eighty-two times in Guatemala between January and July of this year.  The victims include tourists and those with temporary residence in Guatemala.

Most of the crimes involved stolen passports, money, or other personal items.  Interestingly enough, there seems to have been an increase in telephone extortion against US nationals beginning in June.  I guess that should be expected given that this type of extortion has risen dramatically in both Guatemala and El Salvador in recent years.

In terms of where the crimes were committed, 43% occurred in the capital with most in Zones 1 (downtown) and 10 (Zona Viva) and the airport.  Citizens were also the victims of crime in the heavy tourist areas of Antigua, Panajachel, and Solola. 

The Guatemalan authorities only have records on 28 robberies which is most likely explained by citizens reporting the incident to the embassy and not to the police - but that's just a guess.

Using US numbers or Guatemalan numbers, Guatemala appears pretty safe for US citizens.  What's your impression?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Guatemala / Mexico Frontier

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has a recent article on "Immigration and Drugs Along the Mexico/Guatemala Frontier."  Research Associate Andrew Eller discusses how drug traffickers (and traffickers in illegal goods and people more generally) have fueled the violence along the border and have caused many Guatemalans to flee northward towards Mexico and the United States.  

The article would have been more helpful had it remained true to its title and focused on the frontier rather than the nation as a whole.  Using national statistics to enlighten us as to the situation along the frontier is not that helpful given that we think that there are important difference between the border departments and the rest of the country. 

Obviously, carrying out departmental and municipal level anlyses in Guatemala isn't the easiest thing to do but we need to be careful using the national statistics.  We would also want to know
What is the quantity of drugs estimated to cross via land versus sea?
What is the level of violence along the frontier relative to the rest of the country?
Are immigration flows significantly greater from the frontier relative to non-border departments? 
How many migrants tend to flee north?  How many flee south towards Guatemala City?
With a little theory, it might be a good dissertation.

NISGUA Needs (Paid) Human Rights Witnesses for Guatemala

NISGUA is looking for paid volunteers.  I'm not endorsing NISGUA, but some of you might be interested in the opportunity.

Human Rights Accompaniers Needed in Guatemala
Next training: January 2011 in Bay Area, CA
Application Deadline: October 31st, 2010

For more information and an application, please visit our website:
Six-month minimum commitment required

The role of human rights accompaniers
Accompaniers work as human rights observers, providing an international presence to Guatemalans organizing in defense of their rights in a variety of contexts, including precedent-setting genocide cases and local opposition to mega-projects. Accompaniers work in pairs, travel between the capital and an assigned region, share in rural life, observe and report on conditions, monitor the human rights situation and provide a link to the international community. NISGUA trains volunteers and matches them with groups in the U.S. that support the accompanier’s stay both financially and personally.

Candidates should have:
o The ability to document and analyze events and conditions in order to produce quality written reports and educational materials
o Cultural sensitivity; excellent judgment skills; physical stamina; ability to work flexibly in dynamic, changing situations; resourceful in self-care and relational dynamics
o A high level of verbal and written Spanish or the ability to develop it with six weeks of intensive study
o A familiarity with the history of Central America/U.S. relations, the current situation in Guatemala, and a basic understanding of human rights/accompaniment
o Previous experience in Latin America (especially rural areas) strongly preferred
o Awareness of security issues, willingness to work in a situation which might involve risk, interest in individual and team analysis

Benefits include:
Accommodation and food covered by a small monthly stipend; health insurance, a re-entry stipend, and a contribution toward international airfare also provided.

About G.A.P.
The Guatemala Accompaniment Project (GAP) of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) trains and places qualified candidates as human rights accompaniers. NISGUA is one of many organizations around the world that employs accompaniment as a vital tool in the global struggle for the respect of human rights. In the Guatemalan context, accompaniment is one tool used in response to the threats, harassment, and violence faced by survivors of Guatemala's 36-year-long civil war, grassroots organizations working for justice, and indigenous communities combating destructive mega-development projects on their land.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Religion and Politics in Latin America


Mexican Catholics and gays squared off on Saturday and Sunday with dueling protests in Guadalajara.  Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez most likely got the demonstrators riled up when he suggested that the Supreme Court must have been bribed to uphold a Mexico City law allowing adoptions by homosexual couples.

El Salvador

Last Thursday, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources in El Salvador (Ministerio del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, MARN) decreed an environmental emergency in the area around an old car battery factory in San Juan Opico that was closed in 2007.  The owner of the factory, Baterías de El Salvador, produced batteries under the "Record" label.   

Lead from the factory's battery production has contaminated the soil and water in the town of Sitio del Niño.  The decree of an environmental state of emergency is unprecedented in El Salvador.  It is the first time that such a decree has been issued since the Law of the Environment went into effect in 1998.   The decree allows the Government to move immediately to assist those affected by the disaster.  

The Archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, praised the ministry for issuing the alert following Mass on Sunday.  However, he also demanded justice.


Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño again expressed his displeasure with the Colom administration.  Quezada is upset with the administration's spokespeople.  He was also bothered by some members of the press that cover his beat.  Quezada has spoken out against several of the administration's actions including the Pavon case involving Michelletti (still on a hunger strike) and Marlin mine (see an earlier post).


Finally, the Archdiocese of Havana responded to a letter sent by 165 dissidents to Pope Benedict XVI.  In their letter to the pope,
The dissidents stated that they are not in agreement with “the position the Cuban Church hierarchy has taken in its intervention in support of political prisoners,” which they call “unfortunate and embarrassing.” They believe that if the bishops had offered the “right mediation,” they would have listened to “the complaints of both sides” and would have reconciled them.
“However,” they continued, “the solution of exile, accepted by those who have been unjustly imprisoned for seven years only because of their ideas, only benefits the dictatorship,” as this “exodus” prevents them from continuing in their struggle for democracy in Cuba.
As you probably know, the Catholic Church has been heavily involved in negotiations between Cuban political prisoners and the government.  The agreement has resulted in the release of dozens of prisoners, many of whom have gone into exile in Spain.  In response, the Catholic Church issued a press release
that pointed out that when the Church “accepted the mission of mediating between the family members of the prisoners ... and Cuban officials, it knew that this mediation could be interpreted in different ways, provoking various reactions: from insults to defamation, to acceptance and even gratitude. Remaining inactive was not a valid option for the Church because of her pastoral mission,” the statement said.
The archdiocese also noted that “the Church’s actions supporting respect for the dignity of all Cubans and for social harmony in Cuba has been ongoing for 20 years” and “has never and will never be based on political tendencies, whether of the government or of the opposition, but rather on her pastoral mission.”
The statement also indicated that “the Church in Cuba will not divert her attention from that which motivated her to act in this process: the humanitarian complaint from families who have suffered from the incarceration of one or more of their members.”

I'm not really a big fan of the Church's response.  Social harmony?  The Church will work to ensure that millions of Cubans with little recourse to demand freedom, democracy, or whatever against an authoritarian regime don't upset the island's politics.  Great.
It is possible that the Church is responding to its interests - maintain good relations with the government so that Catholics can freely practice their religion on the island.  Or perhaps the Church was responding to the interests of the recently released political prisoners.  However, in doing so, the Church worked against the larger goals of the dissident community on the island - radical political change - by helping to silence dozens of political prisoners.  Some have even tried to portray the release of the prisoners as a humanitarian gesture by the government and one that should be applauded.
On the other hand, I'm not convinced that the criticism by the island's remaining dissidents should have been directed towards the Church.  No one wants to criticize political prisoners, but they were the ones who accepted release and exile.  They had to have known that accepting such an outcome to their incarceration would undermine the efforts of Cuba's remaining dissidents.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Guatemala Happenings

A brief Guatemala news roundup
Rains Cause Flooding in Coastal Areas of Guatemala: Guatemala is getting struck by mother nature once again.  Flooding along the southern coast of Escuintla has force more than a dozen families to evacuate.  While the damage as of yet has not been that bad, the rain was supposed to continue though Sunday.

Guatemalan Army to Expel Drug Traffickers from National Park: In a theme running throughout Colom's administration, he is once again calling out the army.  In July, Colom sent an additional 500 troops to the capital to patrol.  This time the president is sending the army to Peten along the borders with Mexico and Belize to take back Laguna del Tigre from drug traffickers.  The troops will deploy to the region sometime in September.  I don't imagine that the action will be very successful.  Even if the troops are initially successful at rooting out the drug traffickers who have disguised themselves as cattle ranchers, there are no plans to leave the the troops there permanently.  Any gains they make will be given back once they redeploy from the large wilderness of Peten.

In extortion news: According to Consejo Asesor de Seguridad (a group comprised of members of civil society), approximately 1 in 10 Guatemalans have been subjected to extortion.  Government statistics, on the other hand, indicate that 30% have suffered some form of extortion.  Gangs that carried out these extortion rackets against the transport system, small business owners, and ordinary Guatemalans bring in about $9 million per year and and increase the price of basic goods by approximately fifteen percent. Two-thirds of those extortions reported to authorities have occurred in the capital (uthorities El Nuevo Herald, Inside Costa Rica).

In response to the ongoing extortion crisis, the Colom administration has created a new program called "Stop Extortion Crime."  The program's
objective is to promote a culture of denouncing such crimes, since at present pressures from criminals, including death threats, encourage the victims to remain silent, and this perpetuates the crimes.

Guatemalan youth campaigned on a similar theme last month
3,000 Guatemalan youth campaign for a better Guatemala (Jóvenes impulsan una campaña para mejorar Guatemala) by overcoming violence through "punctuality, cleanliness, order, and courtesy and excellence in the workplace."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Violence through July

Hopefully, there is some truth to sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.  From the LAHT
Guatemala registered 3,434 violent deaths in the first seven months of this year, an average of 16 per day, according to statistics released Thursday by police.
The majority of the murders, 2,921 cases, were perpetrated with firearms, 300 of them with sharp instruments, 100 with blunt objects and 92 by strangulation.
The total also includes 13 victims of lynching by vigilantes.

The statistics compiled by the security forces also include 4,377 people wounded during violent incidents in the first seven months of the year, an average of 21 per day.
While Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras get a great deal of international attention about the violence in their countries, it makes you wonder how horrible things are in Venezuela.  The murder rate appears to be significantly higher and few outsiders voice any concern.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just what El Salvador Needs

Starbucks seeks to conquer Central America
The tropical highlands of Central America grow some of the world’s finest Arabica coffee - much of it imported by Starbucks, which accounts for some 20 per cent of the Guatemalan crop alone. Yet the inhabitants of the isthmus have yet to experience a cup of Starbucks coffee, much less an iced caramel macchiato or frappuccino.
But coffee drinkers won’t have to wait much longer; by the end of this year, a franchised Starbucks will open in El Salvador, the first in a chain of stores expected to spread throughout Central America.
I can't remember the name right now, but I found several packed coffee shops in Guatemala two months ago.  Free wi-fi, good coffee, and the opportunity to add liquor to your drinks.  While La Ventana in San Salvador wasn't a bad coffee shop, they probably made more on alcohol and food.

While we probably won't see as many Starbucks as the dizzying number in NYC, they should do fine in Central America.

Wyclef's Campaign is Off to a Shaky Start (to say the least)

While I can't imagine that this is the end of the story, Reuters is reporting that the Haitian electoral council has rejected Wyclef Jean's application to run for president.  The nine-member council most likely were unconvinced about his residency as Jean left Haiti when he was nine years old.

Portillo to Stand Trial in Guatemala

It appears that former president Alfonso Portillo will first be tried in Guatemala on embezzelment charges before he faces extradition to the United States.  The trial will begin sometime in September.

Portillo will be tried for embezzling $15 million from the Department of Defense.  Following the trial and any time served, Portillo will likely be extradited to the US to face charges of embezzling foreign aid contributions intended to buy school library books.  That's pretty low.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Salvadoran Archbishop calls on the Government to Do More

Following the heinous killing of a six-year old girl, the Catholic Church in El Salvador is calling on the government to do more to stop the violence.  (BBC)
Archbishop of San Salvador Jose Luis Escobar Alas said he thought the security forces were well-meaning, but needed to do more...
But, he said, they needed to do more to "purge the bad elements in the police, the armed forces and the prison system".

Berenson back to Jail


Put this one in the files of I didn't see that one coming.
US woman convicted of being part of a Peruvian guerrilla group was Wednesday ordered back to prison in Peru to serve the rest of her 20-year sentence after being paroled five years early...
On Wednesday, a Lima court ruled in favor of the appeal, revoking Berenson's parole which had been given on the basis of good behaviour and her expressed remorse for her actions.
"The criminal division which heard the case annulled the court decision that had allowed Berenson's release, and therefore ordered her immediate detention in a penitentiary," Deputy Justice Minister Luis Marill said.  (Yahoo)
That's horrible news for Berenson and her family.  I'd have to imagine that the negative reaction of the Peruvian people to her parole played a large part in overturning the decision.

Update - The Miami Herald gives a little more information.
The court accepted Galindo's [the prosecutor] arguments that there were errors in the May 27 ruling that granted parole - including that her time served in prison was incorrectly calculated - and in Berenson's failure to promptly notify of the police of the address where she was living upon her release.

Here's the announcement from Peru.


Al Jazeera has a short video up on Argentina: Hunting Argentina's stolen children (via Mike Hitchens Online.)

You should check out Mira Zaki's blog at for some neat photos of her travels through Guatemala.

Free View Documentaries also has a 1983 video about Nicaragua up for viewing on its website
John Pilger’s 1983 film about the small nation of Nicaragua and its right to survive investigates the corruption in Central America. In 1979, the Sandinistas won a popular revolution in Nicaragua, putting an end to decades of the corrupt US-backed Somoza dictatorship. They based their reformist ideology on that of the English Co-operative Movement, but was to prove too ‘radical’ for the Reagan administration. In this film, Pilger describes the achievements of the Sandinistas and their “threat of a good example”.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Women of El Salvador

Remembering Women in El Salvador from the Share Foundation via Tim.

Funes Plans Trip to Cuba

The US is not the only country in the hemisphere taking steps to improve bilateral relations with Cuba.

President Funes of El Salvador is tentatively scheduled to travel to Cuba for three days during the first two weeks of September.  Upon taking office, Funes re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba on June 1, 2009.  Funes' trip will be the first time that a Salvadoran president travels to the island in fifty years.  While the details of the trip are still being defined, Funes and Raul Castro will most likely sign a variety of bilateral trade agreements and an agreement to begin direct flights between the two countries. 

When asked if he was going to meet with Fidel Castro, Funes said that he did not know.  If Fidel has time they're meet.  If not, it's no big deal.  Funes interviewed him several years ago.

If Funes does travel to Cuba during the first two weeks of September, his scheduled trip to Florida International University on September 14th might get really interesting.

(El Nuevo Herald, RIANOVOSTI)

Sports will bring us together

From Inside Costa Rica
Guatemalans were invited today to join a massive race for 22 days to cover the 22 departments of the country in favor of national unity.
Under the name of "A Thousand Miles around Guate", the so called ultramarathon seeks to unite all the social sectors, cultural and political, and to create in the population a sense of integration and citizenship through sport, organizers said.

It will begin next 25th, in Tikal National Park in northern Petén, and ends on September 15th at Mateo Flores Stadium in this capital...
This activity is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Department of Physical Education, the Autonomous Sports Confederation of Guatemala, the Guatemalan Olympic Committee and the National Council of Sport and Recreation.  

Let's get to Work Congress

Rightly so, Colom is often criticized for failing to push through CICIG-recommended reforms and nominating individuals with shady backgrounds to a variety of government posts.  However, I've also mentioned that congress shouldn't get a free ride as it is the institution responsible for approving many of these reforms. 

Recently, the Guatemalan Congress has started to take more heat for its obstructionism.
The Guatemalan Congress continues receiving criticism for its passivity in the approval of laws to strengthen the fight against violence in Guatemala, including accusations that the deputies lack the will to do so.

The urgency of deciding on several pending projects was expressed a few days ago by the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Francisco Dall o Anese, when meeting with the maximum leadership of the legislative organ.

Dall o Anese stressed the need for parliamentary blocks to define several proposals that still do not have the necessary backing, in order to use them as tools in the fight against organized crime and delinquency.

The opposition parliamentarians use delaying tactics to block most of the government's initiatives; one of them is the interpellation to ministers, which Congressional rules require must be handled as a priority, regardless of whether it is urgent or not.

That is what they have been doing since last week, when they sought to begin the interrogation of the Interior minister, Carlos Menocal, which was frustrated because the government block caused the session to be suspended for lack of a quorum.

Meanwhile, civil society organizations called for the acceleration of legislative approval of several regulations, some of them proposed by the CICIG, that have been languishing in parliamentary drawers for months.
I'm not sure that we should be optimistic that the congress will suddenly pass the recommended reforms.  Maybe the international community can hold out on an extension of CICIG's mandate until the congress passes several reforms.  However, if congress' goal is to wait out CICIG and the Colom administration, this strategy probably isn't going to work.

Rodolfo Quezada Toruño

Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño has been in the news recently for criticizing Goldcorp, a Canadian mining operation in Guatemala.  Like many in Guatemala and throughout the region, Quezada is concerned about the environmental and social consequences of Goldcorp's mining, particularly on the indigenous.  Following Quezada's outspokenness, a website ( criticized him for not appreciating the benefits that would accrue to the people of Guatemala through the exploitation of its mines.  Quezada was acting "imprudently."  (See also Prensa Libre)  Quezada brought the issue up during his homily this weekend, saying that he is "unafraid" in the face of economic and political powers that seek to silence him. 

He also questioned whether the arrests surrounding the Pavón prison case were a "smokescreen" designed to distract attention away from the Colom administration's failures.  Giammattei was a former presidential candidate who had remained outspoken critic of the government.  He also remaintained interested in running for the presidency again.  Therefore, there are concerns in Guatemalan that his arrest was politically motivated and Quezada added a bit of fuel tothe fire.

The Cardinal also called on the president to "stop being useless and take the measures necessary which they are obliged to do to provide us peace, the peace to which we all have a right."  

None of the criticisms against Quezada seem that out of line.  However, in a country with a history of violence against outspoken members of the Catholic Church, even the "soft" criticisms need to be taken seriously.

Brief Economic News from Guatemala

Promoting cruise ship tourism: The Guatemalan Tourism Institute has been formed to promote the country as a destination for Caribbean ports-of-call.  Guatemala already has sixty-two stops booked for the new cruise season "which will generate foreign exchange and boost the economy of communities and provide an incentive for tourist services in the area."  Unsurprisingly, one of the factors holding Guatemala back from becoming an important destination is public insecurity.

This season's blackberries have begun export to the US, EU, and other states of Central America.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Berenson Publicly Apologizes

Lori Berenson apologizes once again in hopes that a Peruvian appeals court will not overturn her parole and force her to complete the remainder of her sentence.
U.S. citizen Lori Berenson publicly apologized on Monday for collaborating with a Marxist guerrilla group during Peru's civil war and pleaded with judges to let her stay out of jail on parole.
It was the first time since going to jail about 15 years ago that Berenson, who was at court hearing, was seen on television speaking about her affiliation with Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.
"Yes, I collaborated with the MRTA. I was never a leader or a militant. I never participated in violent or bloody acts. I never killed anybody," she told a panel of judges.

"If my participation contributed to societal violence I am very sorry for this," she said during the televised hearing.
Berenson was calm and sounded contrite, unlike when she was arrested in the 1990s and shouted angrily at TV cameras while clenching her fists at her side.
Here's the clip of Berenson's apology.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Giammattei on hunger strike

Following his failed asylum request and surrender to Guatemalan authorities, Aljandro Giammattei began a hunger strike.  On Sunday, he completed day two.  It's really unclear what the purpose of his strike is. 

He claims that he is the target of political persecution.  Colom denies the accusation and pretty much says that this was CICIG's call.  Is Giammattei going to be on a hunger strike until he is released?  Is he looking for better conditions? Conjugal visits?

Glass half full or half empty?

Fitch Ratings recognizes the glass half full / half empty nature of Guatemala.
Fitch Ratings said it was affirming the Central American country's local and foreign currency Issuer Default Ratings, which are used to measure risk, at "BB+."
It said Guatemala's rating outlooks on both local and foreign fronts are stable...
The Fitch assessment of a stable outlook for Guatemala means that, while large questions loom on the political situation, the government is seen by the international financial community to be managing adequately after the negative effects of the global economic and financial crisis...
Guatemala's track record of macroeconomic stability, low public and external debt burdens relative to peer medians, as well as the government's solid commercial debt repayment history continue to support the sovereign's ratings, Fitch said.
The country's key credit weaknesses including its low tax base, high level of poverty and income inequality, as well as its weak social and governance indicators, continue to weigh on Guatemala's ratings. "These factors will take time to address and are likely to constrain Guatemala's ratings to sub-investment grade over Fitch's rating horizon," the ratings agency said.
Paiz Fredel said Guatemala's current political and economic environment and its fragmented, multi-party political system has derailed fiscal and tax reform initiatives. She indicated that social and tax reforms could help make Guatemala more attractive for investment.
I've always thought that the economic elites in Guatemala have wanted the government to do better with less (better delivery of public services, less corruption, more transparency, etc.) before they consider giving more in taxes.  Even then it's not a guarantee. 

Well, at least the Arabs are impressed enough to begin construction on a a major hotel in Guatemala City.
Yet, in its busy commercial area, construction has begun on a downsized replica of one of the Middle East's most iconic modern structures, Dubai's sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel. The 16-story office building won't match the luxury of the Arabian Gulf's only seven-star hotel. But in an urban center dominated by aging, monolithic office buildings and hotels, the tower is sure to bring some style to Guatemala City's skyline.

Don't ask me why.

The El Salvador Lobby?

El Salvador hires a lobbyist
Gephardt Group Government Affairs has signed a $420,000 one-year contract to represent the Government of El Salvador, according to lobbying disclosure documents filed with the Department of Justice.
The contract began on Aug. 1. It also includes a $16,800 fee for expenses. The contract gives little detail about the work the firm will do for the country, saying only that it will consist of lobbying and government relations services "ordinarily and customarily provided in representing a foreign sovereign before the United States Congress and Executive Branch." In response to a request for comment, a spokeswoman for the firm said it would not discuss client work.
Here's a little information about the Gephardt Group
Richard "Dick" Gephardt founded Gephardt Group in 2005 following a twenty-eight year career in the United States Congress. Gephardt Group is a multi-disciplined consulting firm with its primary focus on developing and promoting leading edge thought and best practices in the areas of labor management and labor relations. Gephardt Group's Principals, advisory board members, and partners are widely recognized for their expertise within the labor management discipline and bring years of experience in business consulting, labor negotiations, politics, and media relations within industries such as automotive, retail, healthcare, aerospace and energy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Will the UN expand CICIG's Mandate?

According to the AP
President Alvaro Colom on Friday said he will ask the United Nations to extend the commission's mandate for four more years.
I would be surprised if they didn't extend the mandate.  In what form, I don't know.  New responsibilities?  More of a regional character?  Anyway, there has been a lot of action in the last few weeks since Castresana's resignation.  Hopefully, it is a sign that the Colom administration and the congress have become more helpful to investigators. 

Giammattei also surrendered to authorities when his petition for asylum was denied by the government of Honduras.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Guatemala - Eternal Spring - Eternal Tyranny

I meant to write a post about a really important photo exhibit that I visited while in Guatemala City in June.  The exhibit highlights photos from the 2010 edition of Eternal Spring - Eternal Tyranny by Jean-Marie Simon.  Here's the book's description.
Guatemala: Eterna Primavera, Eterna Tiranía (2010) is the Spanish-language edition of Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny, which was originally published in 1988 and sold 20,000 copies. The book is a unique melding of war photography and deeply-informed historical text by the only photojournalist, Guatemalan or foreign, who covered the 1980s Guatemalan civil war in its entirety. It is a singular photo book and a singular narrative history. This Spanish-language edition contains 150 digitized photographs, including 50 new images; a meticulously edited text; and prologues by Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute, and Juan Luis Font, managing editor of elPeriódico. Each of the book's six chapters depicts the height of Guatemala's civil war, from 1980 to 1988, which the author covered in her capacity as a photographer for Time, The New Republic and Geo, and as a human rights consultant to Human Rights Watch/NY.
The exhibit was scheduled to travel throughout the country, tincluding some of the some of the towns most severely effected by the violence.  Unfortunately, the Spanish Cultural Center/Guatemala unexpectedly pulled its funding and support after the exhibit had only been shown in five of twelve locations.  Nebaj, which I wrote about last week, was one of the towns that the exhibit was schedule to go, but never made it.

If you'd like to know more about Jean-Marie and her work, La Cuadra recently posted an English-language interview with her on its website.  I highly encourage you to take a read.  There are "funny" stories about fleeing gun-toting thugs with Francisco Goldman and ending up at Vinicio Cerezo's house.  Cerezo would soon be president.  There's also an odd image of Simon unknowingly dancing with Otto Perez Molina in Nebaj.  On the other hand, there are heartbreaking stories including one about Lucky, the girl to whom Simon dedicates her book.  There's also the story of a US soldier teaching English counterinsurgency at a time when that was illegal to do.  While just about everybody in the world knew that US soldiers were in Guatemala (and El Salvador and Nicaragua) doing things that they were not supposed to, somehow the US congress remained in the dark.

You can purchase the book at Amazon or view the photos on-line here.

Berenson Back to Jail?

Apparently, the Peruvian prosecutor involved in the Lori Berenson case wants tthe appeals court to revoke her parole and send her back to jail.
Julio Galindo, the government's lead anti-terrorism prosecutor, said he would tell the national criminal appeals court Monday that the 40-year-old New Yorker still poses a threat to society and that there are doubts about whether she has cut all links to the leftist rebel group Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement...

Galindo argued she was wrongly granted parole and should be returned to prison for the remaining five years of her sentence.
"I don't think anyone can guarantee that someone convicted of terrorism isn't going to re-enter this world of terrorism," Galindo said at a news conference.
He argued the decision to grant parole was riddled with errors.
If you can't "guarantee that someone convicted of terrorism isn't going to re-enter this world of terrorism," is five more years of jail really going to convince Galindo?

For earlier coverage on her release see herehere, and here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


The government of Honduras has denied Alejandro Giammattei's request for political asylum and now has until Friday to leave its embasssy. 

International arrest warrants have also been issued for some of his co-conspirators presently living in Europe.

A Reflection of Change in US Policy towards Cuba?

Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela has a new staff member on the Western Hemisphere Affairs desk at the Department of State.  Daniel P. Erikson will be involved with US-Cuba affairs in some capacity although it's not entirely clear yet how.

Erikson comes to State from the Inter-American Dialogue where he had been a senior associate.  Erickson has been critical of Cuba's political, social and economic system, but he promotes further engagement with the regime in order to bring about policies that are in the interests of both the American and Cuban peoples.
The Inter-American Dialogue favors a policy ``which basically says remove all the barriers to communication, travel, and exchange . . . and have the trade-and-investment embargo be a subject of discussion between the two governments. I think that's a pretty good starting point,'' he added.
The best policy ``is to allow a range of actors in American society to engage with a range of actors in Cuban society, not for the purpose of democratizing Cuba, but for the purpose of trying to create a more open environment between the two countries that will lead to more openness in Cuba,'' Erikson told the Council.
Obviously, one's personal preferences aren't always reflected in public policy, but appointing someone with these beliefs is a good sign for a change in US policy towards Cuba.  Now we just need the Castro brothers to appoint someone who thinks along the same lines.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mr. Uribe Goes to Washington

How about them Jesuits?  They sure know how to pick'em. 
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is taking his political expertise to Georgetown University in Washington, where he has been named a distinguished scholar.

The university announced Wednesday that Uribe will hold seminars and work with faculty on international issues during the 2010-11 academic year.

Carol Lancaster, dean of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, said in a statement that Uribe "will bring a truly unique perspective to discussions of global affairs."
Steven wonders how much teaching Uribe will actually be doing in Hoya country.  I'm not sure teaching students is going to be the focus of his time in-residence.  The AP says that he will "hold seminars and work with faculty on international issues."  That sounds like guest lecturing once and awhile and having drinks at department functions most of the time.  Nice job if you can get it.

Home Stay in San Juan La Laguna

Seth Kugel has a story about his homestay in San Juan La Laguna on Lake Atitlan at the New York Times.

It sounds like a really interesting opportunity to spend some time in Guatemala.

The Costs of Violence

In May, I noted some hidden costs of the violence in El Salvador.  Today, the Latin Business Chronicle puts the costs of doing business in El Salvador in some context. 
Losses due to theft, robbery, vandalism or arson represent 2.6 percent of company sales in El Salvador. That’s the highest rate in Latin America and the 10th highest in the world, according to a Latin Business Chronicle analysis of World Bank data for 111 countries. The countries that are worse than El Salvador include Egypt and eight African nations.
The rest of the article is gated.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Former Guatemalan Presidential Candidate Holed up in the Honduran Embassy

In 2007, Alejandro Giammattei was the presidential candidate for the Grand National Alliance (GANA).  As the candidate for the ruling party, he finished third with 17% of the vote while Colom and Perez Molina advanced to a runoff. 

Prior to running for the presidency, Giammattei was prison chief during the Berger administration.  Some of his actions as prison chief have finally caught up to him.  CICIG has accused him of being involved in the execution-style deaths of seven prisoners at the Pavon prison in 2006 and other illegal activities including abuse of authority, murder and extrajudicial execution.  During operation "Pavo Real" to retake the Pavon prison, the authorities targeted seven inmates who were alleged to be running criminal activities both inside and outside the prison's wall.  They were involved in drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, etc. (Prensa Libre)

Former President Alfonso Portillo was arrested in January while trying to flee the country by boat.  Giammattei thought that he would try something new and sought asylum in the Honduran Embassy.  He fears that his life is in danger (Latin American Herald Tribune).

Guatemalan authorities issues arrests warrants for eighteen people yesterday, including Giammattei.  Six are currently in custody.  The accused were allegedly involved in murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, and stealing drugs.  They ran this racket out of the Interior Ministry and the PNC beginning in 2004 (Prensa Libre).

Monday, August 9, 2010

CICIG's biggest challenge? picked up an AP story on some remarks given by Carlos Castresana, the former head of CICIG.

The former head of a United Nations anti-crime and corruption commission in Guatemala says it will take at least a decade to root out gang influence from the Central American country's law enforcement.

Carlos Castresana of Spain says the gangs are the biggest challenge that will face his successor at the U.N.-mandated commission, Francisco Dall Anese of Costa Rica.

Castresana resigned the post earlier this year, saying the commission was getting poor cooperation from Guatemalan authorities.

Dall Anese says he will "start from zero" with Guatemalan officials and hopes not to inherit the problems Castresana had.
Just a couple of quick hits. 
  • A decade sound like a nice round number - 10 years.  Fine.  Castresana is saying that it's possible to root out gangs but it is going to take several years.  I wouldn't bet on ten years.
  • Why does he think that gangs are the biggest challenge?  I would disagree.  Organized crime (there's obviously some overlap) is a bigger problem.  Organized crime undermines all efforts at strengthening the criminal justice and political system (prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, police, prisons, elected officials, the bureaucracy, etc.).  Gangs are a symptom of Guatemala's problem, not the problem.
  • Starting over and hoping not to inherit Castresana's problems sure make it sound like Castresana was the problem.  I'm hoping this is just a political statement meant to solicit greater cooperation rather than an indictment of Castresana.  Otherwise, he's just throwing him under the bus.
  • There's nothing the commission can really do without greater cooperation from the congress and the president.  However, with elections scheduled for next year and CICIG's mandate set to expire at approximtely the same time, does anyone really think that Guatemalan authorities are going to be more inclined to cooperate?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Migration from Nebaj, Guatemala

David Stoll (2010) had a provocative article published earlier this year in Latin American Perspectives.  I typically don't find much interesting in LAP, but I liked this one. 

Here's the abstract for "From Wage Migration to Debt Migration? Easy Credit, Failure in El Norte, and Foreclosure in a Bubble Economy of the Western Guatemalan Highlands" (Gated)
In the 1990s there were two new ideas to make the Ixil Mayas of Nebaj, Guatemala, self-sufficient. The first idea, conceived by microcredit consultants, was to make it easier for the Ixils to borrow money so that they could become entrepreneurs. The second idea, conceived by Ixils, was to use the credits to smuggle themselves into U.S. labor markets. In the process, Ixils turned many of the credits into loans to other Ixils at 10 percent interest per month. By 2006-2007 many stateside Ixils were failing to find enough work to pay their loans, and their serial debts were collapsing back in Nebaj. Currently an association of Nebaj women is asking international organizations and the Guatemalan government to save their houses and land from foreclosure. The stories that Ixils tell suggest that migration is a highly competitive process not just in U.S. labor markets but in the sending population, where people are being forced to go north by remittance- and credit-driven inflation. Their stories also suggest that migration is a process that runs on debt, with migrants indebting themselves and their relatives to the migration stream in ways that many are unable to repay. The debts not only enable migration but require more people to migrate north, in a chain of exploitation that may suck more value from the sending population than it returns.
Migrants typically have to pay approximately $5,000 to get from Nebaj to the United States.  In order to pay the costs of the trip, they typically need to borrow the money.  In recent years, credit has become more easily available in Guatemala.  While people are not supposed to receive loans to finance a journey north, they have found a way.

However, the migrants who successfully made it to the US and their families back in Nebaj have to make interest payments of $500 per month on their $5000 loan.  Much of the money that they make in the US is sent home to pay interest (especially for the first year or two), not to be used to help the family.  When the US economy slowed, so did their ability to make timely payments.

What do families do?  Obviously, they fall behind on their payment.  In response, some double down - they borrow an additional $5,000 and send another family member north.

The same outcome occurs following deportation.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, approximately one-third of those deported to Guatemala have been in the US between one and five years.  Many were unlikely to have paid off their debts before being deported.  What happens when they return to Guatemala and it is now impossible for them to repay their debts?  Borrow another $5,000 and head north again.

While it's not really clear how representative Stoll's findings are for the rest of Guatemala and Central America, he does a really important job highlighting this aspect of immigration that is often overlooked.  Many of those heading north, particularly those on their second or third attempt, do so because it is the only way that they and their family can escape the debt cycle.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Death in the Desert

Here's a recent Al Jazeera clip on the dangers of migrating to the US.

Deportations to Guatemala

For obvious reasons, Guatemalans are worried about an increase in deportations from the US.  During the first six months of 2010, 16,125 Guatemalans were deported from the US.

Given the recent natural disasters that have struck the country (Agatha, Alex, and Pacaya), President Colom asked the US Government to suspend the detention and deportation of his countrymen for eighteen months.  As of earlier in the week, Guatemala still hadn't received a response to the request.

The number of deportees is on pace to exceed 2008 (28,051) and 2009 (27,222).

There was another news story that had some interesting facts on some of those deported.  The numbers are only based upon 228 interviews (with even other limitations) so take them for what they are:
  • 70% left family in the US
  • 25% came from Texas, 11% from Florida, 7% from Nebraska, 6% from Georgia, and 5% from Iowa, New York, and Ohio, 4% from North Carolina, Mississippi and New Jersey.  
  • 36% had lived 1 - 5 years in the US, 27% had between 6 and 10, and 20% less than 1 year.
There's no reason to believe that these are representative of all Guatemalan deportees and I have no idea how they compare to deportees to other countries.  No one came from California (large border state) or Arizona (apprarently the most dangerous place in the US) - that seems like a bit of a surprise.

Train of Death

CNN has a video on "World's Untold Stories: La Bestia" up on its website.  It's worth checking out.  There are three parts to it but each is only a few minutes long.

La Bestia tells the story of Jessica Ochoa, a young girl from El Salvador (If the video doesn't work try here).  Jessica was seriously injured in Mexico in February 2009 while attempting to make it to the United States.  (Parts II and III)

There are several interesting stories depicted in the clips.  One of the things that stood out for me is the fact that the young people traveling north frequently said that they were heading to the US so that they could send money home to help their parents, typically to buy them a house or to cover medical bills.  They weren't coming to live the American Dream.

I'm sure that is part of their motivation, but it should just remind everyone that it's not all the pull of the U.S. that is forcing people to embark upon a journey north that they know might lead them to be robbed, beaten, raped, or killed, but conditions in their home country.  How to square this with how happy the people in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are is beyond me.  

The danger depicted in the video is also a reason why some of the NGOs I met with in El Salvador were trying to convince people to reconsider making the trip to El Norte.

The story reminds me of De Nadie.  I've shown this film at the university (80 minutes) and it's pretty powerful for students.  However, the Bestia clips might work better for 50 and 75 minute classes.

How are you feeling?

Gallup released the results of its happiness survey this week.  Gallup interviewed thousands of people in 155 countries between 2005 and 2009 to measure two types of well-being. (Forbes)
First they asked subjects to reflect on their overall satisfaction with their lives, and ranked their answers using a "life evaluation" score between 1 and 10. Then they asked questions about how each subject had felt the previous day. Those answers allowed researchers to score their "daily experiences"--things like whether they felt well-rested, respected, free of pain and intellectually engaged.
Subjects that reported high scores were considered "thriving." The percentage of thriving individuals in each country determined our rankings.
El Salvador (34th), Guatemala (38th), Honduras (42nd) finished pretty high on the list which I would say is pretty surprising given what we read in the news everyday. (Prensa Libre)

Costa Rica finished first among all the Latin American nations and 6th overall while Belize finished in 30th place.

Check here for the complete list.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's Official - Sort of

Wyclef Jean has thrown his hat into the ring and now it is up to the electoral authorities to decide whether he can run in the November 28th presidential election.
Haitian hip-hop star Wyclef Jean registered as a presidential contender on Thursday, in a move into politics that generated an outburst of popular enthusiasm in his poor, earthquake-ravaged homeland.
"I would like to tell (U.S.) President Barack Obama that the United States has Obama and Haiti has Wyclef Jean," the three-time Grammy award-winner, who is 40, told cheering supporters in a downtown area of Port-au-Prince (Yahoo News)
While Jean appears to be popular in Haiti, he has spent most of his life in the United States.

It was an extraordinary homecoming for Jean, who had flown into Haiti with his wife and young daughter and other relatives on a private jet from their home in the United States.

Singer-songwriter Jean has never held elective office but is widely admired in Haiti and credited with never having forgotten his Haitian roots.
Eduardo Gamarra, a political science professor at FIU, provides the best input into Jean's candidacy.
One potential Jean's lack of management skills in a country with weak institutions that is in dire need of rebuilding.

"Whoever is president, he's going to have to be an excellent manager," Gamarra said. "The fact is, the only thing he's managed is his band."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Letter to President-elect Santos II

Yesterday, I posted a letter from international academics and members of civil society.  I thought that it was a non-starter and waste of time.  While I don't follow Colombian politics too closely, here's a little bit of what I would have included.  It's not a complete letter, but you get the idea.

Congratulations on your recent election. (How do you leave this out?)
We recognize the security gains that have been made against the FARC over the last several years of the Uribe administration.  However, as you are aware, these gains have come at a great cost to the Colombian people and its neighbors (civilian deaths, displaced people, corruption, threats to the rule of law, human rights violations committed by the military and security forces, violations of international law, political tension, etc.).
We ask you to prioritize the protection of Colombia's civilian population, to compensate those adversely effected by the violence, and to prosecute those responsible...
A succesful demobilization and disarmament of the AUC, prosecution of those responsible for the most egregious crimes, and a selective amnesty will go a long way towards convincing FARC leaders and militants to reintegrate into Colombian society.
We ask that you work more closely with your neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela to reduce the transnational threat that the FARC poses.  We understand that the transnational threat posed by the FARC complicates relations with your neighbors.  However, we ask you to do your part to prevent the FARC's activities from threatening regional stability...
We also ask that you do everything possible to bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict that will bring lasting peace to the Colombian people and its neighbors...

The Colombian voters have placed their faith in you...
Obviously a lot more could be included, but I think this is a start.  What do you think?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Haiti's Next President?

Introducing President Wyclef
Haitian-American hip hop star and humanitarian activist Wyclef Jean will announce his bid for his native country's presidency this week, CNN reported on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera on Humane Borders

Vandalizing water stations so that undocumented migrants have a higher probability of dying in the desert is not my way of showing one's disagreement with the US immigration policies.

Not Safe for Those Living in Pennsylvania

Stimulus work outside the US

References to US federal government stimulus spending and El Salvador kept popping up in Google Reader, so I figured I had to read it as some point as apparently a lot of people are really upset. 

[Ohio] Gov. Ted Strickland said he's disappointed that federal stimulus money went to a company that outsourced work to an overseas call center, and he pledged better oversight of future contracts.
A Texas company hired to administer Ohio's popular appliance rebate program used hundreds of workers in El Salvador to process applications and to answer customers' calls...
Several Republican congressmen from Ohio...said this week the stimulus-funded work should not have ended up in Central America.
Strickland, a Democrat, said Thursday the state will do a better job of vetting companies that get stimulus contracts...

President Barack Obama's stimulus package gave Ohio $11 million to provide rebates to consumers who buy energy-efficient appliances, including clothes washers, dishwashers and water heaters.

Parago received the highest score among nine companies that bid on the contract, and its $171,300 proposal was the second-cheapest, Patt-McDaniel said.

Two Ohio companies, Twenty First Century Communications and Focus on Ohio's Future, were the most expensive, at $467,238 and $493,763, respectively.
Upon learning of the El Salvador call center, Ohio officials immediately contacted Parago and asked the company to process the Ohio calls within the United States, she said.
But Parago, which has no domestic call centers, had already grabbed thousands of rebate applications, and disrupting the program would have jeopardized rebates to consumers, Patt-McDaniel said...

"For a government-run program, with all due respect, it's running very, very smoothly," said Bob Bloom of Bloom Brothers Supply, a retailer in Chesterland, about 20 miles east of Cleveland.

Bloom said he hired two more workers to handle the extra sales. They will keep their jobs after the program ends...
Well, I can understand some of the frustration with federal stimulus money going to a company that employs hundreds of workers in El Salvador to process applications and answer calls.

On the other hand, do you really want to interrupt a program that helps retailers (business is booming and we are hiring), was awarded to the business with the best proposal (highest score among all bidders), gets generally good reviews from the participants ("running very smoothly"), and costs nearly one-third the price of doing it in Ohio (171k vs. 475k)?

Letter to President-elect Santos

In case you are interested in signing on to this example of how not to get an incoming president to listen to your concerns letter addressed to Colombian President-elect Santos, you can check out the following.

This is a letter to soon-to-be-inaugurated President Santos of Colombia to be sent to him on the day he is sworn in...To sign on, please send an email to Include your name and institution. The deadline for sign-ons is 5pm EDT, August. 5. Those who have signed on so far are listed at the bottom of the letter.

Kathy Hoyt

Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice

President Juan Manuel Santos
Casa Nariño
Carrera 8 No.6-26;
Edificio Administrativo: Calle 7 No.6-54
Bogota, Colombia

August 7, 2010

Dear President Santos,

We, the undersigned, wish to express our strong support for progress in the establishment of a constructive regional dialogue around the internal conflict in Colombia and its impact on neighboring countries.  We consider this dialogue - based on mutual trust and respect - to be essential to the construction of a lasting peace in Colombia and to regional stability.

Civil society organizations in the United States and in Latin America, as well as regional bodies including the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), have worked tirelessly to open doors for dialogue and seek a more comprehensive approach to Colombia's bloody 60 year old civil war. Unfortunately, Colombia, under the Uribe government, focused instead on a policy of increased militarization that has claimed an enormous human and material toll, especially for Colombia's Afro descendant and indigenous communities. We urge you, as president, to open a new chapter in Colombian history, its relationship with its citizens, and with its neighbors.

The Uribe administration left behind it a dismal human rights record that is the direct product of the so-called democratic security policy first implemented in 2003. Along with over 20,000 deaths of combatants, thousands of civilian non-combatants have been killed according to human rights groups. Over 2,000 extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated by Colombia's armed forces are currently under investigation by the country's Prosecutor-General. Meanwhile, the number of internally displaced in Colombia has reached the millions and hundreds of thousands of Colombians have sought exile in neighboring countries.

Former President Uribe also has left a sad record in the foreign policy realm given the troubling actions his government has taken in the regional arena and his refusal to consult affected countries before taking these actions. His government's decision in 2008 to invade and bomb Ecuadoran territory without any regard for that country's sovereignty led to a regional crisis that continues to have repercussions to this day. His decision in 2009 to sign an agreement with the United States that greatly enhances the US military presence in Colombia, has led to further tensions with countries throughout South America that are historically wary of any form of US military buildup in the region.

In the final days of his government, President Uribe once again chose to provoke a neighbor - in this case Venezuela - rather than engage in much needed dialogue. With his government's decision to make unsubstantiated accusations before the OAS against the Chavez government at a crucial moment of transition that should offer a unique opportunity for putting relations with Venezuela on a new path, Uribe once again demonstrated his preference for conflict over dialogue.

Yet we wish nonetheless to express our hope that Colombia’s internal situation and external relations can and will improve. President Santos, you undoubtedly bear a share of the responsibility for the security policies implemented by Uribe, given that you were Colombia’s defense minister from 2006 to 2009. However, your pre-inaugural statements suggest that you may be willing to turn a new page,to begin writing a new chapter. It is our hope, both for Colombia and for the future stability of the region, that now that you are in office you will seek to significantly revise the harmful security policies put in place by former President Uribe and to work in earnest to rebuild relations with the rest of the region.

Hope for real change in Colombia lies on the horizon. We strongly urge the new Colombian administration to foster improved dialogue, and a negotiated peace, within Colombia as well as with neighboring countries as Colombians move forward in constructing a more peaceful and democratic nation. Nothing less is owed to the thousands of Colombians who have been victims of this bloody conflict or who have been displaced or exiled in foreign lands for more than half a century.


[see partial list]

cc: UNASUR President Nestor Kirchner
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza

Signers (list open until Aug. 5, 5pm EDT)

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Founder, SOA Watch

Blase Bonpane, Ph.D., Director, Office of the Americas

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and Deputy Secretary

General of International Association of Democratic Lawyers

Daniel Kovalik, Senior Associate General Counsel, United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO (USW)

Judy Somberg, Attorney, Cambridge, MA, National Lawyers Guild*

Chuck Kaufman, National Co-Coordinator, Alliance for Global Justice

Katherine Hoyt, Ph.D., National Co-Coordinator, Nicaragua Network

James Jordan, National Coordinator, Campaign for Labor Rights

Dale Sorensen Director, Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas

Tim Jeffries, Bend-Condega Friendship Project*

Erin Cox, 8th Day Center for Justice, Chicago, IL*

Barbara Larcom, Casa Baltimore/Limay

Diana Bohn, Co-Coordinator, Nicaragua Center for Community Action (NICCA), Berkeley, CA

Gunnar and Xiomara Gundersen, Oregon Bolivarian Circle

Edward L. Osowski, St. Francis Xavier church, La Grange, Illinois,

Peace and Justice Committee*

Debra Evenson, Attorney

Rev. Ann Marie Coleman, Chicago, IL

Chris Benson, Loves Park, IL

Colleen Rose, Novato, CA

Monday, August 2, 2010

Labor Consultations

From Yahoo News
U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced that the U.S. government has requested labor consultations with the Government of Guatemala under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). This is the first time that the United States has requested consultations under the labor chapter of a U.S. free trade agreement.

"We are sending a strong message that the Obama Administration will vigorously enforce labor obligations under U.S. free trade agreements," said Secretary Solis. "We are committed to ensuring that U.S. businesses and workers compete on a level playing field and that labor rights are respected in our trading partner countries."

In April 2008, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan worker organizations filed a public submission under the CAFTA-DR alleging that the Guatemalan government violated its CAFTA-DR labor commitments, including failing to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, the Labor Department issued a public report finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala's enforcement of its labor laws.

Since then, the U.S. government has conducted an extensive examination of Guatemala's compliance with its commitments under the CAFTA-DR labor chapter. It appears that Guatemala is failing to meet its obligation with respect to enforcement of labor laws on the right of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and acceptable conditions of work.

By launching labor consultations with Guatemala and formally putting the issue on track for possible dispute settlement, the U.S. government hopes to see the problems effectively resolved.

The U.S. government also has grave concerns about labor-related violence in Guatemala, a problem which is serious and apparently deteriorating. The United States has repeatedly raised this serious problem with Guatemala and will examine and take this issue up with Guatemala in the near future.
See also Fox, NYT, WOLA, and CounterPunch.

Just a few thoughts.
  • It's sad that a complaint against Guatemala really has little to do with Guatemala.  Guatemala has always been a dangerous country for labor.  The US knew that when it signed CAFTA.  I'm not sure that it's much worse today.
  • The complaint is more likely to placate some members of the left wing of the Democratic Party opposed to free trade agreements in general.  Going after Guatemala might gain support for the passage of free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.
  • When do we start talking about the US' special relationship with Colombia?  Colombia is ranked the second most dangerous country for labor.
  • Even if you have good intentions ("encouraging" the Guatemalan Government to improve labor protections), do you really win the PR battle by talking about levying economic sanctions against one of the poorer countries in Latin America?
On Monday, Guatemala rejected the accusations and "would pursue an existing request for technical and economic assistance to improve workplace inspections during consultations with the United States over the complaint."