Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"New" Portillo Information

The Alfonso Portillo news is a few days old, but I can't remember it posted on someone else's blog.
Alfonso Portillo stashed millions of dollars in embezzled public funds at his private residence during his 2000-2004 tenure as president of Guatemala, Prensa Libre daily said Wednesday, citing the account of a former presidential aide turned state’s witness.
Retired army Col. Jacobo Salan Sanchez, who was Portillo’s security chief, said he saw more than 100 million quetzales ($12.5 million) in cash in the then-president’s home, the paper said.
Salan, arrested Sept. 5 after more than 15 months as a fugitive, demanded consideration in exchange for revealing how more than 120 million quetzales in public money was stolen during the Portillo administration.

The former colonel was charged with covering up the corruption, but insists he was only following orders, and his bargain with prosecutors includes a promise of freedom and of protection for him and his family.

After directing money to the defense ministry, Portillo would have government vehicles take cash from the ministry to the vaults of state-owned mortgage lender Credito Hipotecario Nacional, where it was deposited in accounts belonging to officials, their families and friends, Salan told prosecutors.

The embezzled money was later transferred to foreign banks after being “laundered” through Credito Hipotecario, according to Prensa Libre’s account of the testimony.
Hopefully, I'll get back to regular posting tomorrow of Friday.  Anyone going to LASA in Toronto next week?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Drug Trafficking News

An illegal drug trafficking organization operating between Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama was shut down last week when authorities arrested 2/3 of its alleged members including drug mules, attorneys, police, and government officials.  The organization was involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder, among other crimes. 

According to authorities, the organization would pay individuals $400 to travel to Panama with money to be laundered.  After delivering the cash, they would travel to Nicaragua to pick up drugs before returning to Guatemala.  Every few months, there would be stories in the Guatemalan newspapers about an arrest at La Aurora International Airport involving someone traveling to Panama with thousands of dollars in cash.  While it's not entirely clear, it looks like the authorities have finally arrested some of the intellectual authors behind these crimes. 

And in other news...

While solutions to illegal drug consumption in the US generally focuses on what the US can do and what the countries of Latin America must do (see here for President Chinchilla and President Martinelli's calls for help), leaders from several Latin American states are calling for a more effective global approach to eliminating drug production, trafficking, and use.
Colombia, the world's biggest cocaine producer, has received billions of dollars of U.S. military aid, and Santos offered to share his country's experience in fighting drug cartels with other countries.
I don't know, but something about Colombia sharing advice with other countries on how to tackle their drug problems does not instill confidence.

Timeless Advice

Just change a few words here and there and send it to every incoming administration.  Here is an Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. New York Times Op-Ed from June 1987. 

Central America is another example of the superpower fallacy. Our policy of military intervention seeks to save the other countries from the wicked Sandinistas. But most Latin American governments think that policy increases desperation and chaos and is far more likely to promote than to check the spread of Marxist revolution.

If a Marxist Nicaragua is such a threat, it is a considerably more dire threat to Latin America than to the United States. Latin American countries are far more vulnerable politically and militarily than we are, they are closer to the scene and vastly more knowledgeable about it, and their leaders are just as determined as the United States is on their behalf to resist their own overthrow. Once again the people on the spot don’t see the threat as apocalyptically as we do, and once again we plunge on, idiotically confident of our own infallibility.
So here we go again. What on earth do we think we are doing? What warrant does experience give us for supposing that we know the interests of other countries better than they know their own interests?
Let us rid ourselves of the superpower fallacy before the superpower fallacy rids us of more American lives, American influence and American credibility.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Deportations and Violence in the Caribbean

In case one thought that deportations from the US were only adding to the problems of Mexico and Central America, the tiny island country of Grenada (yes, the one Reagan liberated) is lobbying the US government to assist them in the handling of deported convicted felons.  
The United States has deported thousands of convicted criminals to the Caribbean annually since 1996, when Congress mandated that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be kicked out of the country upon release. In all, the U.S. is responsible for about three-quarters of the region's returning criminal deportees, with the United Kingdom and Canada accounting for most of the other ex-cons arriving in the islands...
The United States is attempting to defuse tensions with island governments by exploring programs to help them reintegrate deportees. During a visit to Barbados in June, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. is no longer ignoring complaints that have topped the Caribbean's diplomatic agenda for more than a decade.
U.S. officials say privately that the deportations cannot be blamed for the increase in violent crime, but declined to discuss the issue on the record, saying the U.S. does not want to hurt relations with Caribbean governments with which it cooperates on other issues.
While the US denies any responsibility for the increase in violent crime in Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, and St. Lucia, it's good to know that we are "no longer ignoring complaints."  However, we are not going to speak honestly about the issue because we might hurt their feelings.

Mexico Killed In Drug Deal

Leave it to the Onion
In the latest incident of drug-related violence to hit the country, all 111 million citizens of Mexico were killed Monday during a shoot-out between rival drug cartels...
At press time, U.S. drug dealers said they were not sure how or when the vast supplies of marijuana left behind by the Mexican cartels would reach their intended consumers, but they wished to assure the American public that they are doing all they can.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nicaraguan Diplomat Found Dead in NYC

From CNN
A Nicaraguan diplomat based in New York was found dead in his apartment in the Bronx on Thursday, his throat slashed, police said. The victim is not being identified pending family notification.
The body of the diplomat was found by his driver, said Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.
A knife was found at the scene, Browne said.

He said it is too early in the investigation to classify the death as a murder or a suicide.

"It's not known yet," he said.

The diplomat's driver may have been picking him up to take him to meet with the Nicaraguan delegation attending the United Nations General Assembly, police said.

Murders Decline in El Salvador

The government of El Salvador reports that homicides have decreased since President Funes sent the army into the country's most dangerous municipalities last November (El Diario de Hoy). 

Between January and mid-September of this year, 2,921 Salvadorans were murdered.  During the same time period last year,  3,038 people were killed.  September is also on pace to be the month with the fewest murders this year (improving upon July's low).  Government officials credit the increased deployment of military personnel (good) as well as the three-day shut down of the country caused by gang threats (not so good). 

The deployment of 2,500 troops (added to the 1,500 already on patrol) probably helped, but there has to be more to the story.  Not all municipalities where the army were deployed experienced a decrease in murders.  For example, murders declined in San Salvador, Apopa, and Quetzaltepeque.  On the other hand, murders increased in Olocuilta (soccer game attack killing six), Mejicanos (bus attack killing sixteen), Soyapango, and Opico.  Mejicanos would have experienced a decrease in the number of deaths except for the bus attacks.  However, Olocuilta would still have experienced an increase in the number of murders not counting the soccer game.

According to the government, there has also been a noticeable decrease in crimes committed from the country's prisons since the army has become more involved their management and has increased patrols around them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Arrests in the Musa Murders

Today, three or four suspects were arrested for their involvement in killing Khalil and Marjorie Musa (Siglo XXIPrensa Libre).  One of the suspects, Mario Luis Paz Mejía, had previously been arrested for killing Rodrigo Rosenberg.  However, he assisted the police and CICIG investigation and helped to identify the Paiz brothers.  He was later released. 

Khalil and Marjorie Musa were murdered in April 2009.  Prior to her death, Marjorie Musa had a romantic relationship with Rodrigo Rosenberg.  Following her death as well as those of his mother, Rosenberg descended into depression.  As we all know now, Rosenberg then contracted with the Paiz brothers to have himself killed (they, of course did not know he was the target) and produced a videotape blaming the president and his wife.  Rosenberg's murder almost brought down the government. 

Guerrilla Tourism in El Salvador

Here's a CNNi Report from Percy von Lipinski on guerrilla tourism around the area of Suchitoto.
iReport — During my visit to El Salvador, my amigo Miguel introduced me to Luis, a former FMLN revolutionary. Luis belongs to the small community of La Mora, located on the edge of Guazapa Volcano just outside of Suchitoto, a region that was once one of the world’s most dangerous places when it was filled with FMLN guerrillas in revolt. Rural La Mora is currently populated by a mere 74 families who, like Luis, are former guerrillas who have integrated back into society since the 1992 peace agreement. Luis hiked with me into the trenches, exposing his former hideouts. I even found a “guerrilla café”! The area, though still filled with FMLN supporters, is no longer dangerous as the FMLN is now a civilized, un-armed, official political party.

It was Heaven that they Burned

Greg Gandin has an article up at The Nation called "It was Heaven that they Burned."  Gandin takes a look book at some of the controversy surrounding I, Rigoberta Menchu.

Another Call to Unite the Left

The Alianza Nueva Nacion (ANN) recently selected its National Executive Committee and, to know one's surprise, selected Pablo Monsanto (aka Jorge Soto) as its Secretary General.  Now that the ANN is an official political party (once again), Monsanto is ready to embark on a project that will unite the left in Guatemala (Prensa Libre).
We hope to unite all organizations of the left - political parties, civil, peasant, popular, indigenous organizations and trade unions - with our eyes on the upcoming elections," he commented
The URNG and Winaq (an indigenous movement that allied with the Encuentro por Guatemala in the 2007 election) sent representatives to the meeting.  Deputy Héctor Nuila represented the URNG while Rigoberta Menchu represented Winaq.  The FMLN and the FSLN were present at the meeting as well.  It's not clear what's going on with the Movimiento Amplio de Izquierda (MAÍZ) (a group formed in 2006 by Guatemalan social movements that allied with the URNG in 2007).

Monsanto said that it is now time to unite the left because they are all looking for the same thing.  They simply need their differences to disappear (Siglo XXI).  We'll see.  While it is easy to say that success for the left requires them to find middle ground and that they work together, the Guatemalan left has never succeeded in this regard.

In the 1999 elections, the left failed to unite.  The social sectors of the left ran as the Frente Democrático Nueva Guatemala (Democratic Front for a New Guatemala, or FDNG) while the URNG competed in the ANN coalition (along with the DIA and UNID).  The FDNG withdrew from the electoral alliance prior to the election. 

While the division didn't make much of a difference in the presidential elections, the ANN and FDNG split of the congressional vote might have cost them five seats in the congress (seats in Chimaltenango, Solola, Alta Verapaz, Peten, and one on the national list).  Instead, the ANN (including the URNG) captured nine seats and the FDNG zero (out of 113).   

In 2003, the left again ran divided.  The URNG supported Rodrigo Asturias while other ex-guerrillas joined a new political party, also called the ANN (not to be confused with the ANN electoral alliance of 1999) headed by Pablo Monsanto.  Each ran competing lists of candidates.   

Finally, in 2007, the left was spread out in the URNG, EG, and ANN.  Many of their potential supporters also voted for Colom, the presidential candidate of the ANN in 1999. 

While the left is not ready to compete for the presidency, an allied front might help them pick up a few congressional seats around the country.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gov. Brewer on Immigration

Matt Yglesias has a post up on Gov. Jan Brewer.  I'm really surprised that Brewer continues to make statements to the effect that most migrants coming over the border are trafficking in drugs.  She continues to push this "opinion" weeks after dozens of Central American migrants were killed for refusing to work for the cartels.  That's pretty heartless.  I haven't seen any criticism or backlash against Brewer on this matter, but I can't say I follow Arizona politics.

From an interview with Brewer on Univision.
When Ramos challenged Brewer on her statements that most undocumented immigrants are drug mules, Brewer defended her remarks. “Well, if you know; if you are coming across with the drug cartels, and you’re hauling drugs, then you are,” said Brewer. “We can’t assimilate it,” Brewer told Ramos in reference to the number of undocumented immigrants coming to the U.S. “Those people that are coming across are now under the control of the drug cartels,” she affirmed.
See the entire interview here.

Univision coverage of TPS

Univision has a four-minute clip on Guatemala's search for TPS from the US Government (in Spanish, of course).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

US Marines and Guatemalan Kaibiles Training Together

Check out DVIDS if you'd like to read a little about US Marines currently training with Kaibiles in Guatemala. 
At a remote training camp nestled deep within the Guatemalan countryside, a small detachment of U.S. Marines from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Continuing Promise 2010 conducted a week-long subject-matter expert exchange with Guatemalan Special Forces soldiers or “Kaibiles,” near the vicinity of Poptun, Guatemala.
 You can also check out the following stories:
Continuing Promise Marines teach martial arts to Guatemalan Marines
Marine Leaders Interact With U.S., Guatemalan Marines during Continuing Promise 2010
2nd MAW Commanding General visits USS IWO JIMA, Guatemala

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Zaira Navas update

Voices from El Salvador has an update on the investigation into Zaira Navas, the Investigator General of the National Civil Police (PNC).
During the legislative session last Thursday, the 45 votes in favor of the Special Commission were enough to move ahead with the investigation of the Inspector General. While no left-wing FMLN diputados voted in favor of the special commission, 45 right-wing ARENA, PCN, PDC, and Gana legislators supported it.
Yesterday, President Funes expressed his support for Navas, confirming that she has only followed the guidelines he gave her in conducting a thorough “cleaning’ of the PNC. Simialrly, the Minister of Justice and Security, Manuel Melgar, has claimed that the commission may be unconstitutional and should not be permitted to go forward. Even Carlos Ascencio, the Director of the PNC, defended Navas, saying that she was simply following the lines of investigations that President Funes had ordered. The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights has also stated “we must respect the work of the Inspector General.”

In case you missed it

In case you missed it, the former Guatemalan kaibil Gilberto Jordan was given the maximum sentence for lying to US immigration officials in his naturalization application about his military service and his participation in various US-sponsored massacres of his own people.

Guatemala had asked for his extradition, but US officials decided to try him here.  He will be deported to Guatemala when his prison term expires in ten years, unless he gets off early for good behavior I guess. 

There was also a shootout at the Tikal Futura mall and hotel on Wednesday in which two police officers and a bystander (a reverend) were killed.
The battle raged for nearly 30 minutes inside the Tikal Futura mall, where suspected drug trafficker Mauro Salomon Ramirez was spotted in the company of at least four other men and a woman...

Though Ramirez managed to flee, police captured four of his bodyguards as well as his wife, Maria Isabel Gonzalez Guzman.

Police have intensified the search for Ramirez, who is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
You might remember that one of the decapitated heads from June's violence was left on the walkway to the Tikal Futura.

Update - Here's the Reuters video.

As should be the case, the media is asking lots of questions.  Who in their right mind would plan an operation to capture a known drug trafficker in the middle of the day in a really popular mall in the capital city?  The government still hasn't responded.

Guatemala and the Millennium Development Goals

Alvaro Colom will announce Guatemala's progress on fulfilling its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the UN on Monday.  According to the report, the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty (the percentage of the population living on less than $1 per day) fell from18.1% to 15.2% between 1989 and 2006.  I can't say that anyone is happy with this decline of 2.9%.

However, it gets worse when you see that in recent years, extreme poverty was reduced by only 0.5% in recent years (2000-2006).  I would venture to guess that the corruption from the Portillo years (2000-2004) that we read so much about is largely responsible for that. Unfortunately, the country is nowhere near reaching its goal of reducing extreme poverty to 9% in 2015.      

While the Colom Administration pins its hopes on Mi Familia Progreso, the effects of the ongoing food crisis, the global economic crisis, and recent spate of natural disasters are likely to have increased the percentage of the population living in poverty.

You can see the entire presentation here.

Mother Nature Puts a Stop to Tourism

The tourism industry in Guatemala is really feeling the effects of mother nature.  Tourists are canceling their trips because the highways are impassable or they fear that they will be caught in landslides.

Sololá is among the most severely affected departments since eighty-percent of its revenue is derived from tourism.  Tourism first diminished following Agatha and then following the August collapse of the Sololá-Panajachel highway. 

As a consequence, the annual influx of Salvadorans traveling Sololá during their August vacations never materialized.  Several businesses have laid off employees while others are closing, some temporarily and others permanently.  Hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and artisans are all affected.

It appears that tourism in Guatemala City and Antigua won't be hurt to the same extent as Sololá because travelers are choosing to stay in those cities rather than venturing out into the more distant areas of the country.  However, it's unclear whether that will make up for the overall decline in tourism.

New York Mets Commercial - Now Hiring

Thursday, September 16, 2010

FMLN Support

Let me just add a little to Tim's comments from last Saturday about the FMLN and ARENA.
The second number was the 50.2% of Salvadorans polled who say they do not consider themselves a part of any political party. The FMLN was the strongest political party, but still only 27.2% of Salvadorans considered themselves part of the FMLN.
In the past, there was a tendency to portray El Salvador as sharply divided between left and right, between the FMLN and ARENA. In fact, most Salvadorans are in the middle. They are not attracted by the extremes of either party. And so they strongly approve of their president who is trying to govern from a position much more towards the center.
The FMLN and ARENA have been the two dominant political parties of the postwar period increasing their share of the first round vote in presidential elections from 74% in 1994 to 100% in 2009.  We tend to focus on these electoral results when discussing El Salvador and neglect any remaining support for the other political alternatives. 
However, what the LPG surveys show is that a little over 50% of the population do not identify with either the FMLN or the ARENA.  Azpuru has a paper on "The Salience of Ideology: Fifteen Years of Presidential Elections in El Salvador" (Gated) that attempts to traces the ideological orientation of Salvadorans over time which gives us some understanding of how Salvadorans see themselves.

According to Azpuru's analysis of 2008 data from IUDOP and the AmericasBarometer, Salvadorans are amongst the most ideologically extreme citizens of the Americas with large percentages identifying themselves as "Extreme Left" (19.9%) or  "Extreme Right" (17%).

El Salvador has the highest percentage of Salvadorans who identify as extreme left (Nicaragua and Uruguay are tied for second with 15%).  The country also ranks fifth in the percentage of people who identify as extreme right (Dominican Republic 29%, Costa Rica 21%, Nicaragua 20%, and Colombia 18%).  That leaves 63% of the public that self-identify somewhere in the middle (center-left, center, center-right, and don't know or won't answer).

When looking at 2009 numbers, the percentage of Salvadorans who self- identified as "extreme left" increased to 26% while those who self-identified as "extreme right" remained steady at 17%.  If you add the 26% of the population that identified themselves as extreme left to the 13% who self-identified as "center-left," that brings you to just under 40% of the population in the center or center-right. 

The increase in the percentage of Salvadorans who identified themselves as "extreme left" or "center-left" in both 2008 and 2009 helped Funes win the presidency.  However, even with the sharp increase, Funes and the FMLN still needed votes to capture votes from the "center" and/or the "center-right" to win which is what they did.  It's also the same thing that ARENA did (capturing the center) on its way to victory in 1994, 1999, and 2004.

Of those voters who identified themselves in the center in 2009, 68% of them voted for Funes.  In previous elections, the FMLN won much smaller percentages of the center vote - 17% (1994, 24% (1999) and (41%) 2004.

While it is pretty clear that the centrist vote was imporant to Funes' victory, it's unclear, to me at least, why these centrists voted for the FMLN and whether they will vote for the FMLN in 2014.
  • Did they vote FMLN because they now lean FMLN rather than ARENA?
  • Did they vote FMLN because of Funes and in spite of his party?
  • Did they vote FMLN because, unlike in previous elections, neither the PCN, the PDC, nor the CD presented candidates? 
Scenario 1 would be good for the FMLN while scenarios 2 and 3 are more uncertain.  We don't know who the FMLN is going to support and we don't know what the role of small parties will be.  The answer to these questions are obviously going to be important for the FMLN in 2014.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

US Citizen Deported to Mexico for not wearing a seatbelt

A ridiculous story on MSNBC about a US citizen deported after being pulled over for a "seatbelt violation" and only carrying his birth certificate, Social Security card, and his state's ID.
A Texas-born U.S. citizen who was detained, questioned and deported to Matamoros, Mexico, in the middle of the night has been allowed to re-enter the United States, ending a nearly three-month ordeal.
Luis Alberto Delgado, 19, was carrying his American birth certificate, Social Security card and Texas ID when he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop on June 17, according to Houston immigration lawyer Isaias Torres, who represented him in his legal battle for repatriation.
A South Texas sheriff’s deputy who apparently believed the documents were not authentic handed Delgado over to U.S. border agents. After eight hours of questioning, Torres said, Delgado felt pressured to sign a document agreeing to voluntary removal from the country and waiving his right to a lawyer. The Border Patrol then drove Delgado to Matamoros and left him, he said...
According to Torres, Delgado and his brother, 21, were pulled over by the deputy in Elsa, Texas, about 150 miles north of the border, purportedly for a seatbelt violation
Reminds me of yesterday's story on the innocent confessing to crimes that they did not commit in the NY Times.

Bus Extortion in Guatemala

The Miami Herald had an interesting read on the challenges confronting bus drivers in Guatemala.  As you know, the transport system has been one of the most targeted businesses for extortion rackets.  In the last five years, six hundred drivers and assistants have been killed, many for not paying a "protection tax to pass through gang-controlled neighborhoods."

The lack of investment in the country's transport system can be explained in part by the absurd tax that drivers and owners pay to gangs.  The protection tax limits their ability to make a sustainable living and to make necessary improvements in the country's deteriorating transport infrastructure.
Overcrowded and aging, the buses -- some of them defunct U.S. school buses bought cheap -- belch black diesel exhaust into the air while clogging streets. Inside, seats crumble: sometimes they are replaced with pieces of plywood, other times they aren't replaced at all.
If you've taken the buses in Guatemala City, you know that sometimes a quarter or more of the seats are empty because the seats are wet or missing.  The windows might or might not be there as well. 

Drivers rent their buses and pay their assistants and the protection tax.  The owners pay protection taxes as well with one own supposedly losing "more than $9,000 a week, dropping off the cash to unmarked vehicles in gang-controlled neighborhoods."  Even with millions of dollars in subsidies, they claim that their is little remaining to reinvest in the business.

While hundreds of drivers have quit in recent years because the costs of operating their buses doesn't leave them with enough to support their families, there will be no shortage of drivers to replace them as salaries are still nearly double the minimum wage.

Fortunately, things might be looking a bit better.  According to the Mutual Support Group (GAM), overall murders in Guatemala have declined twenty-one percent during the first eight months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009.  They attribute a reduction in violence to the government's security policies, particularly in the capital.

Teens and Crime

Some information on violent crime and teenagers in Guatemala.
Guatemalan authorities have stated that teenagers are more and more involved in gangs dedicated to commit serious crimes.
The Public Ministry (PM) and the Civil National Police reported that the most common crimes are extortion, murder, rape and conspiracy, according to El Periodico newspaper.
Guatemala is the department with more adolescents captured for these types of crimes so far this year: 758 young people from 13 to 17 years old compared to 550 in 2009. Most of them are arrested carrying weapons or sharp objects.

Violence against human rights activists continues

The national and international artistic community, indigenous, farmers´ and social organizations
We all manifest
our total indignation and repulse faced with the abduction and cruel killing of Mayan Kaqchikel artist Leonardo Lisandro Guarcax González, coordinator of the Sotz´il Jay Cultural Centre and group, with which he performed all over Guatemala as well as at Latin-American and European festivals. He was responsible for a serious, conscious work of high quality within different disciplines like music, dance, poetry and theatre; investigating the Mayan pre-Hispanic art, generating dreams and creating action for the transformation of our country and society, through the reclaim of the Mayan peoples and their culture. He was a noble educator, greatly committed to his work with children, youngsters as well as his work for the collective rights of indigenous peoples through art. Lisandro was a spiritual guide, a wise companion, brother and friend.
We all denounce
that Leonardo Lisandro Guarcax González, from El Tablón, Sololá, was abducted on the 25th of August, while on his way to the Official School of the Chuacruz community, in the municipality of Sololá, where he worked as a headmaster and teacher. His body was found hours later with severe signs of torture. This inacceptable criminal act against a defender of Human Rights strongly affects the cultural and artistic life of our country, and shows once again the climate of violence and restlessness in which we live, the degree of repression and criminalization of our people and the voices generating conscience, the intolerance of a different world.

We fervently demand
that the Guatemalan State, the national and international judicial system, do not leave this case in impunity, we demand that it be followed up on and that the appropriate investigations are put into action and that the ones responsible for this terrible crime must be punished. At the same time, we show our solidarity with the Guarcax family and the Sotz´il Jay Cultural Centre, who already lost two other family members and collaborators, due to the killings of Ernesto and Carlos Emilio Guarcax González in 2009, crimes which until now have been left in impunity. Lisandro Guarcax returns to mother Earth as a giver of life. His wisdom is alive amongst us and in his community. It is preserved as a seed of constant growth at the Sotz´il Jay Cultural Centre, as a treasured heritage for the present generation and the ones to come.

Your heart blooms.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TPS is in "active consideration"

On Tuesday, US Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland told reporters that Guatemala's request for TPS is in "active consideration" in the US.  The US Government is currently reviewing country conditions following the eruption of the Pacaya Volcano and the flooding from various tropical storms.
However, McFarland said that he doesn't know when there will be a response by the US to Guatemala's request. 

Keeping up with the Joneses

On Friday, the Patriotic Party introduced a law that would criminalize gang membership in Guatemala.   Gudy Rivera said that the initiative is needed "because their neighboring country is applying controls against these groups and Guatemala cannot remain behind."

The proposed law would punish adult gang members with two to five years in prison.  Youth members, on the other hand, would be housed in separate "special centers" where they would be given an opportunity to separate from the gangs.   Additional years would be added for carrying a weapon,

The Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Menocal said that the PP's proposed law was "unnecessary" and that Guatemala did not need to "replicate" the repressive policies of El Salvador.  However, it sounded as if the administration was readying to make the Guatemala-El Salvador border more secure to prevent Salvadoran gang members from fleeing to Guatemala to avoid the application of the law.

It's also unclear whether the reaction to yesterday's attempted car bombing will influence the position of members of congress.  We do know that members of congress have been taking precautionary steps to protect themselves.  They travel with multiple bodyguards and in armored cars.  Ccongressmen or their drivers have also completed defensive driving courses offered by private businesses in Guatemala or in the US.

Harbury Interview

World Video News has an interview with Jennifer Harbury online.  In the interview, she provides some background on her husband's death and the legal efforts underway to bring his torturers and murderers to justice.

Quezada Calls for National Unity

On Sunday, Archbishop Rodolfo Quezada made a call for national unityand solidarity following the recent mudslides that have killed dozens in recent weeks.  The call also comes as the country prepares to celebrate its independence from Spain.
"The nation is the entire geographic, cultural, ethnic, and spiritual framework that a man or a woman has as a person. This is not an abstract concept; it is something that is real." He added that the country's independence from Spain brought in years of dictatorships, misgovernment, and war besides the marginalization of the indigenous peoples.
Said the cardinal, "It was independence for the Creoles. As long as we do not incorporate the indigenous and their values, we will not truly be a nation."

Monday, September 13, 2010

No Salvadoran Among Massacre Survivors

Last week, President Mauricio Funes announced that a Salvadoran survived the massacre in Tamaulipas, México.  Today, however, the Human Rights Solicitor Oscar Luna announced that that information appears to have been incorrect. 
"According to the information that they have over there (Mexico), it appears that the person named as a possible survivor is not related to the case of Tamaulipas," said Luna, who held a meeting last week with the chairman of the committee of the Federal District Human Rights, Luis González Plancencia.

Car Bomb in Guatemala City

The PNC deactivated a car bomb in Zone 1 at 3:00 A.M. this morning. Menocal speculated that the car bomb might have been an "act of intimidation" by gangs to protest the movement of prisoners to prisons where they can no longer oversee criminal networks.  Prensa Libre and Siglo XXI reported that
The vehicle was equipped with gunpowder, fuel, propane, mortars, a box with tacks, pins and screws, all connected to a cellular phone, device that would serve as a trigger.

The car bomb was found in front of the downtown headquarters of the Penitentiary System.  Fortunately, the bomb did not go off.  Let's hope that today's event does not indicate an escalation of the violence along the lines of Mexico.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

El Salvador Stories

Voice from El Salvador has a story on Zaira Navas, the Inspector General of the National Civil Police (PNC).  José Antonio Almendáriz, a congressional deputy from the National Conciliation Party (PCN), has requested that a special commission be formed to investigate Navas' "failure" (my word) as inspector general.
Diputado Almendáriz justifies the need for a special commission claiming that 20 of the police officials that she is investigating have been cleared of the charges against them, and that she is targeting them because they are all former members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces.
Tim has excerpts from an interview Mauricio Funes gave in Los Angeles last week.  The entire interview transcript is here.  Funes does not believe that the cartels have penetrated the army based on flimsy evidence "The grenades and the arms that these people have, they have not gotten them through the army."  However, they have penetrated to varying degrees the National Civil Police and the courts.

The AFP mostly quotes Salvadoran analysts who question the new anti-mara law in El Salvador. 
  • Will is the Supreme Court declare the law unconstitutional as it did with the 2003 legislation criminalizing membership?
  • After years of criticizing the ARENA government's failed security-heavy approach to gangs, is there anything different about this legislation that leads one to believe it will be more successful?
  • The government does not have money to build new prisons or house the 9-20,000 suspected gang members on the streets of El Salvador and the 21 prison are already over capacity (23,000 prisoners already occupy space designed for 8,000).
El Faro has an article on the recent gang happenings in El Salvador.  In it, Funes highlights his administration's success in bringing violence somewhat under control.  Funes highlighted the flimsy evidence that only four people were murdered on Thursday whereas on that same day last year nineteen people were murdered.  There is some evidence that violent crime has actually gone down over the last month, but I just found that statistic pretty ridiculous.  Funes also said that instead of seeing the country paralyzed for three days as a success for the gangs and organized crime the PNC, army, and his administration succeeded in preventing any gang-related attacks against the civilian population this week. 

There is also the story of Antonio Rodríguez López, a Jesuit priest, who was removed from his government position working to find children still missing from the war. Rodríguez López received a communique from the MS-13 and Mara 18 and read their "peace" offer on TV Wednesday night.  Maybe there's more to the story, but I find this absolutely outrageous.  For all the times that the Church and the Jesuits put their life on the line relaying messages from the FMLN guerrillas to the government, the US Embassy, and other groups in society during the war, to now fire a priest for simply relaying a message? 

CISPES has a new security alert entitled Security Crisis Racks El Salvador, Funes and FMLN Point to Media-fueled Destabilization Campaign where they, Funes, and the FMLN blame the media and the country's economic elite for contributing to the destabilizing actions of the past week.  I couldn't find a link to the alert but you can read it below

Flooding continues in Guatemala

270 lives lost.  Homes lost.  Crops lost.  Potable water lost.

TPS sure would be nice right about now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I had a Letter to the Editor in this morning's Scranton Tribune calling on President Obama to extend TPS to Guatemalan citizens living in the United States.

Hard-hit nation deserves break
Editor: On May 28, the Pacaya Volcano outside Guatemala City erupted, killing two people and leaving thousands homeless. President Alvaro Colom declared a state of public calamity in this country where nearly three-quarters of the population lives in poverty. Two days later, Tropical Storm Agatha left more than 250 people dead or missing.
Following these devastating natural disasters, President Colom asked the U.S. government to suspend the detention and deportation of Guatemalans living in the U.S. for 18 months. He also requested temporary protected status, which would provide a temporary reprieve for the nearly 1.7 million Guatemalans living in the United States, perhaps as many as 60 percent without the proper documentation, until the country has recovered from these back-to-back disasters.

In recent years, TPS has been granted to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Haiti following natural disasters. In July, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called on the president to grant TPS to Guatemalans. However, President Obama has so far failed to respond to this dire situation.

Recently, Guatemala was struck by another natural disaster. Over 50 Guatemalans died when a tropical depression struck. Buses were overturned by landslides and first responders, and civilians who raced to the scene to rescue potential victims were themselves killed when the mountainside gave way again. Monday was a day of national mourning in Guatemala.

The country suffered through a serious drought in 2009 that forced thousands more Guatemalans into poverty. This year Guatemala is suffering through its worst rainy season in over 60 years.

As a caring and compassionate neighbor, the U.S. should grant the Guatemala government's request so that its people can better recover from these three consecutive natural disasters without the additional challenge of dealing with the deportation of thousands of their nationals from our country
In case you are interested in what the letter looked like before editing, you can check below the fold.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Paris anyone?

It looks like the French are jockeying for position as to who gets to try Alfonso Portillo following his Guatemalan trial. 
France has accused former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo of money-laundering and he also faces embezzlement charges in Guatemala, prosecutors said.
Anti-corruption prosecutor Francisco Sandoval said Wednesday that the French government asked Portillo to testify, but the former leader refused. France claims Portillo laundered $1.5 million through French accounts using relatives' names. France has frozen 491,000 euros in accounts allegedly linked to Portillo.
 Portillo is also accused of he stealing $15 million from the Guatemalan defence department. His trial on the Guatemalan charges is set to begin in September.

Portillo defence lawyer Telesforo Guerra said Portillo was within his rights not to testify.

Perhaps Portillo can move into Noriega's old cell when he is eventually released.

I'm with ARENA on this one

The FMLN led forty-eight members of the Legislative Assembly in passing the Law of Alcoholic Beverages (Ley de Bebidas Alcohólicas) this afternoon.  The law will increase the beer tax and reduce those on brandy and vodka in the name of fairness.

The motion was not supported by ARENA and the PDC.

The FMLN hopes that the reform will raise $4.4 million in revenue.

Barletta Loses Appeal

Another loss for Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta.
A federal appeals court has largely affirmed a district court ruling that found Hazleton's controversial anti-illegal immigration ordinances unconstitutional. The 188-page opinion by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was handed down a little more than three years after U.S. District Judge James M. Munley ruled Hazleton's immigration law was unconstitutional.
The case grew out of Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta's attempt to clamp down on illegal immigration through city ordinances that punished landlords who rented to aliens or business that employed them.
In affirming Judge Munley's ruling, the appeals court said Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance and Rental Registration Ordinance were pre-empted by federal immigration law and unconstitutional.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is Garcia testing the waters?

In a story reported in the Miami Herald, Peruvian President Alan Garcia gives the impression that he is seriously considering commuting Lori Berenson's sentence. 
President Alan Garcia says he doesn't consider Lori Berenson a threat to Peru, suggesting he may be inclined to commute the New Yorker's accomplice-to-terrorism sentence so she can go home.

A three-judge panel returned the 40-year-old Berenson and her toddler son to prison on Aug. 18 after prosecutors objected to her May parole, calling her a danger to society.

Garcia said in an interview with CNN broadcast Tuesday night that while he understands many Peruvians feel Berenson should complete her 20-year term, he personally has sympathy for the activist and her 16-month-old son, Salvador.

"How much can Peru really fear a woman who spent 15 years in prison?" Garcia said. "She has a little boy, and that moves me a lot."

She "is not a threat to Peru. That's over. It's part of the past," he added.

In a response to a question about the case's political sensitivity in Peru, Garcia noted that he has the power to commute Berenson's sentence and expel her and mentioned three factors that, to his mind, argue for clemency.

In addition to his belief that Berenson is not a threat and his feelings of compassion for mother and child, Garcia said that relations with Washington and U.S. public opinion must be weighed as well as the ordeal's effect on Berenson's parents.
While Garcia is barred from running for re-election next year, he has shown interest in running again in 2016.  He is only 59.  I am sure that he is wondering how a Berenson commutation would effect his chances in 2016.  That could be a scary election - Garcia vs. Fujimori. 

Some are worried that Alberto Fujimori will be released from jail because of a recent law passed in Peru that says that the international convention on crimes against humanity came into effect in 2003, years after Fujimori's crimes.  I'm not sure how likely this is.  He has several corruption charges as well.  He's committed enough crimes so that even if you dropped those related to crimes against humanity, there should be enough to keep him in jail for several years. 

On the other hand, his daughter might be elected president next year.

English-only ordinance dies in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania

Good for the Forty Fort borough council president. 
Borough council refused to name English as the official language for borough business Tuesday night, heeding council President Joe Chacke's call to avoid a fight far larger than Forty Fort.

As council prepared to vote on the proposed ordinance, Mr. Chacke drew upon a 1998 Arizona Supreme Court decision that ruled unconstitutional a 1988 referendum tabbing English as Arizona's official language. That ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court's subsequent refusal to hear an appeal on it, formed the framework of Mr. Chacke's belief Forty Fort could invite a battle inappropriate for the small West Side borough to fight.

Councilman Dave Williams lobbied for the proposed ordinance's approval, arguing it would serve as a pre-emptive measure that could save the borough the cost of translating documents into languages other than English if anyone made such a request.
Speaking of politicians that don't like it when the constitution bars them from saving money or bringing down crime, Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazleton, PA will be speaking at the University of Scranton Thursday afternoon at 2:30 P.M.  As you might remember, Barletta is nationally known for having introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act designed to keep illegal immigrants out of Hazleton.

Here is Barletta's Wikipedia entry
The ordinance allowed the city to deny a business permit to employers who hired illegal immigrants and gave the city authority to fine landlords up to $1,000 for leasing to illegal immigrants.[6][7] The act also made English the official language of Hazleton, prohibiting city employees from translating documents into any language without official authorization.[8] Barletta was criticized and sued for the act in Federal Court by the ACLU and Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.[8] In July 2007, Judge James M. Munley ruled that the act was unconstitutional for interfering with Federal immigration laws and violating the due process of individuals, employers and landlords.[6]

Barletta is now running for the U.S. Congress against Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski of the Pennsylvania 11th Congressional District.  Kanjorski has been in trouble before for allegedly funneling earmarks to his family's company, a company that produced nothing and eventually went bankrupt. 

Now, Kanjorski represents a pretty corrupt district as you can see in the video, but that doesn't excuse his behavior.  We've had several other scandals

While neither Kanjorski nor Barletta will represent my district, they will represent where I work.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Massacre in San Pedro Sula

AP Photo
Horrible news out of Honduras as gunmen stormed a shoe factory in San Pedro Sula and killed eighteen young men and women. 

According to CNN
The incident began at 3:45 p.m., when two men carrying AK-47 assault rifles burst into the factory and began shooting, said Chief Hector Ivan Mejia of the San Pedro Sula Police Department. By the time police arrived a few minutes later, 13 people were dead in the building. Five others died at a hospital, he said.
The victims were in their teens and 20s, he said.
While the police chief doesn't seem to have speculated as to the motives for the attack, the media leads one to believe that the killings were related to the Mara 18.  Canadian Press reporting also makes it look like the massacre might have been related to drug traffickers or gangs, but the authorities still don't seem to know.

Getting Rid of the Witnesses

Yesterday, the AP reported that three suspects in the killing of seventy-two migrants in the state of Tamaulipas were recently found dead.
The bodies of three men suspected of participating in the massacre of 72 migrants last month were found by the side of a road in northern Mexico after an anonymous caller told authorities where to find the cadavers, federal officials said Monday.

Prosecutors' spokesman Ricardo Najera said authorities have no information on who made the call, but in the past suspects in especially brutal killings that draw too much attention to Mexico's drug gangs have been "handed over" to authorities.

Federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire said the bodies of the three men - along with two women not identified as culprits - were found by marines last week after an anonymous caller on Aug. 30 tipped authorities off to the presence of the bodies in Tamaulipas state. It was unclear why authorities waited almost a week to announce the discovery.

The caller said the dead people participated in the Aug. 23 massacre.  (Italics mine.)
Well, this might be good news.  While authorities might have more to go on, all we have is an anonymous caller with anonymous information.  There doesn't seem to have been much coverage of this development in the English language news. 

The deaths of the three suspects also leads to the question of who killed them - the Mexican authorities or Zeta members who sought to silence them.

While it's unclear why authorities waited so long, it's probably true that they wanted the information kept secret until they finished their investigation - the same reason that they didn't announce that there were second and third survivors.

Where do those helicopters come from?

The US Ambassador has requested $50,000 in emergency aid from USAID the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance as an "initial response" to the devastation and the US government has reallocated over $4 million dollars in economic assistance to aid in recovery efforts.

No word on TPS for Guatemalans.  With our press corps asking all the tough questions, don't expect it anytime soon.  Let me just say I was pretty ticked off and leave it at that after I went to see whether Guatemala was discussed during today's State Department Briefing. 

Here's the relevant transcript from today's State Department Briefing with Assistant Secretary Phillip Crowley.  Actually it's the only time Guatemala came up.
MR: CROWLEY: ...Turning to Guatemala, obviously, we are very, very concerned about the disaster there. Over the weekend, Ambassador McFarland exercised his disaster declaration authority and requested $50,000 from USAID and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance as a U.S. initial response. We have since reprogrammed 4.38 million in Economic Support Funds to assist Guatemala’s recovery efforts. Our Embassy is providing helicopter support for ongoing surveillance and rescue missions, and we’ll continue to look for additional ways to provide support to the people of Guatemala.

QUESTION: Where do those helicopters come from?

MR. CROWLEY: They’re INL helicopters that are already in Guatemala.
Turning to Lesotho...
Seriously, the best you can come up with is "where do those helicopters come from?"

Guatemala Video

Al Jazeera has another good video clip of the damage from flooding in Guatemala. The scary news comes at the end as Mariana Sanchez reminds viewers that September and October are the two worst months of the rainy season.

See also here for a story on recovery efforts being halted and here for photos.

Monday, September 6, 2010

TPS for Guatemalans

Given the events of the last few weeks and months in Guatemala, let me just say that I would fully support an extension of Temporary-Protected Status to citizens of Guatemala.  Carly Steinberger at COHA argued for an extension of TPS to Guatemala last week.

However, given that Guatemalans and Central Americans in general live in an area of the world where natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, and tropical storms) occur quite regularly, we need to come up with a better system.  Here are some concerns.

First, we are running into the problem where it is never the right time to let TPS expire.  As Steinberger points out, nine years have passed since a series of earthquakes led to the extension of TPS to El Salvador and twelve years have passed since Hurricane Mitch led to TPS for Nicaragua and Honduras.  Yet all three countries have seen TPS extended (USCIS).    More recently, the US "awarded" Haiti TPS designation on January 21, 2010 following its devastating earthquake.  Will conditions on the ground call for an expiration of TPS in July 2011 when it is set to expire?  For how many decades should Haitians receive the benefits of TPS?

Second, former President of El Salvador, Tony Saca, seemed quite open about the fact that one of the reasons why his country sent troops to supoport the US mission in Iraq and kept them there was that he thought it would help convince the US to keep extending TPS to Salvadorans nationals.  A humanitarian gesture to extend TPS should not be based upon a country's willingness to contribute to US miltiary invasions.

Finally, for now, who should receive TPS?  As of right now, undocumented immigrants who are in the US at the time of a natural disaster in their homeland can qualify for TPS (illegal immigrants).  Would it make more sense to extend TPS to those whose legal status is current but set to expire?  Increase the number of green cards available to citizens of affected countries?  What I am thinking about here is similar to those who argue that the US should continue to crack down on undocumented immigrants while simultaneously making it easier for people to migrate to the US legally.

Just some thoughts... 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Salvadoran is 3rd Massacre Survivor

According to the AP
A third man survived last month's massacre of 72 migrants by suspected drug traffickers in Mexico and is now in the United States, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said Sunday.
"We know of a Salvadoran who is in the United States and who fortunately avoided getting killed," Funes said. "His testimony will be key in solving the case."
President Funes made the remarks as the remains of eleven Salvadorans killed in the attack were returned to El Salvador. 

Two additional Salvadorans, aged 15 and 16, are believed to have been killed as well.  The authorities, however, are awaiting DNA tests to confirm their identities before repatriating the remains.

Flooding in Guatemala

Guatemala is suffering through some of the worst flooding in recent memory.  Dozens of Guatemalans (perhaps one hundred and fifty) have died in recent days due to flooding, including twelve people who were killed in Chimaltenango when their bus was overturned in a landslide.  A second bus appears to have been hit by another mudslide and both passengers and first responders appear to be among the victims.

Among the sixty bridges that have been destroyed due to the weather are several connecting the country with Honduras.  Trade and travel between these neighbors have been curtailed. 

Al Jazeera has the video:

One wonders how the breakdown in transportation is going to impact next year's election.  Smaller political parties with limited financial resources (i.e., the URNG) are likely to be adversely effected as are those parties that rely heavily upon support in rural areas of the country (i.e., the governing UNE). 

While the rains and volcanic eruptions have hit the capital, the damage remaining at the time of next year's vote should not be as much of a problem.  The Patriotic Party of Otto Perez Molina should do fine as should the Encounter for Guatemala with Nineth Montenegro as they have historically relied more upon urban voters in and around the capital.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tamale Road

Marcos M. Villatoro is working on a new project to find his family in El Salvador.  He and his family spent summer 2009 gathering footage for Tamale Road.  Here's the trailer.

You can also check this page on his website for a few more clips.  There are some really interesting stories in the short clips.  In one story, General Martinez had postcards made up following the 1932 matanza.  The postcards included pictures of the dead and said "Feliz Matanza."

The film is scheduled to be completed in spring 2011.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Guatemalan Presidents in the News

President Alfonso Portillo's embezzlement trial has begun in Guatemala City.  Portillo is accused of stealing $15 million and sending the funds to personal accounts in the US and Europe.  Because he hid the money in overseas accounts, the US will ask for Portillo's extradition following his acquittal or time served.  France is still investigating and hasn't yet decided whether they will also seek his extradition.

[In other Guatemala - Europe news, Swiss authorities have opened an investigation of Swiss-Guatemalan national Erwin Sperisen.  Sperisen is an ex-police chief accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings along with Alejandro Giammattei during the Berger administration.  According to a spokesman for the Swiss Justice Ministry Sperisen cannot be extradited because he is a Swiss citizen.]

Finally, Alvaro Colom, the current president, requested a budget increase to deal with the country's economic crisis brought about because of the recent natural disasters that have struck the country.  The budget request is meant to cover "the effects of the worst rainy season in the past 60 years in Guatemala."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Some Cool Pics of Suchitoto Falls

It's Official

Following two months of negotiations, the Salvadoran Legislature finally passed legislation that makes it a crime to belong to a gang (and to a death squad like la Sombra Negra).
A law approved by Salvadoran lawmakers makes gang membership punishable by four to six years in prison. Gang leaders face up to 10 years.
President Mauricio Funes introduced the law in July, a month after suspected members of the Mara 18 gang opened fire on the bus and set it on fire. It passed Thursday.
The law passed with overwhelming support as 78 out of 84 deputies voted in favor.  Legislators insist that the law will not be overturned by the courts as have been previous attempts to criminalize gang membership.  While it's unclear how successful the law will actually be in reducing violent crime, politically speaking, the deputies needed to support the legislation following the June bus attack that killed seventeen Salvadorans and the recent deaths of 72 migrants in Mexico.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Updates on the Migrant Massacre

The NYT has an English article up that writes about two Guatemalan families that lost sons in the migrant massacre in Mexico.  It looks like the author also read the Prensa Libre story that I wrote about in my post earlier today.

In El Salvador, the Archbishop of San Salvador Jose Luis Escobar Alas "demanded that agreements be established to protect the undocumented."
The archbishop rejected the idea of mounting a campaign to discourage immigrants from traveling to the United States, saying they are doing so because of the lack of opportunities in their own countries.
“It’s not tourism, it’s survival.” “If the government could provide enough jobs and opportunities so that no young person would have to leave their own country, that would be great,” the archbishop said.
He called on the governments of the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador to establish an agreement protecting the rights of the undocumented.
I'm wondering how the massacre will impact immigration policy in the US.  Will it just reinforce the argument that we need to continue to militarize the border (what Obama is currently doing) or will the tragedy heigthen calls for comprehensive immigration reform?

Volunteer Firemen in Guatemala

Daniel LeClair documents Guatemala’s Bomberos; volunteer firefighters who are saving lives in an increasingly violent country.

Warning: graphic content

Guatemalan Victims

Five Guatmalans were found among the 72 migrants killed in Mexico last week.  Gelder Lizardo Boche was one of the Guatemalans killed.  He leaves behind an eighteen year old wife, Yéssica Esmeralda Catalán, who is three months pregnant.

Gelder dreamed of traveling to the US in hopes of earning enough money to buy a house and a car.  However, he didn't leave until his wife became pregnant.  He told her that a family couldn't live on 50Q picking beans.  He borrowed money and then set out for California.

Yéssica who says that she has never heard of the Zetas is now a widow at 18. 

Several stories have noted that the number of migrants killed by gangs in Mexico is most likely much higher.  In the days following the discovery of the 72 deaths, relatives came forward seeking information on missing loved ones.
hundreds of people [who] streamed to government offices in Central America after news of the massacre spread, searching for news of relatives who went missing after setting out through Mexico hoping to reach the United States.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, family members' descriptions did not match the bullet-ridden bodies found in heaps at a ranch in the state of Tamaulipas. Instead, rights workers say, the missing migrants may be part of a huge toll of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of migrants killed by organized crime gangs and whose bodies may have been hacked up, dissolved in acid or buried in unmarked paupers graves.
Relatives have come forward asking for information on missing family members including 200 Hondurans, 30 Guatemalans, and 90 Salvadorans.

Ecuadoran President Correa recently announced that there was a second survivor to the massacre.  A Honduran somehow escaped unharmed, was returned to Honduras, and is now in a witness protection program.  Authorities are not too happy with Correa right now for revealing this secret.