Tuesday, November 30, 2010

El Salvador Links

Some unrelated news stories out of El Salvador:

Contrapunto has a new video about Christian Poveda, a French filmmaker killed on September 2, 2009.  Poveda was is well-known for the film La Vida Loca.

Funes is trying to revive the Salvadoran economy by allocating $1.2 billion towards public investment in 2011.  At the same time, violence erupted in the capital last week when ARENA mayor Norman Quijano ordered the eviction of downtown vendors.  Funes has given his support to Quijano's reorganization plans but says that Quijano must do more to help those dislodged find new work. 

The Funes administration is also considering a plan to purchase eight-to-ten Super Tucano military aircraft from Brazilian Aeronautics (EMBRAER) for $100-110 million.  The planes would replace several planes in the air forces' ailing fleet that date back forty years.  The government last bought three new Israeli-made planes in 2008.  While the new planes could be used for combat, they would primarily be used during natural disasters and in the fight against drug trafficking. 

The National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) is one of many groups questioning the proposed purchase.  ARENA, if you can believe it, is criticizing the administration for even considering a $100 million loan for the purchase of these planes during such tough economic times.  Instead, the government should consider investing in additional social projects.  Funes has responded that he has already proposed 1.2 billion in next year's budget for social projects.

Keeping the Birther Story Alive

Is there any particular reason CNN keeps this conspiracy alive?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Guatemala and Wikileaks

Following Steven on Colombia, Prensa Libre reports that the Wikileaks dump includes 1,488 US Reports on Guatemala.

I'm all for increased transparency and less government secrecy.  However, I can't imagine how this massive breach of US security is going to end well for the United States Government, its people, and its allies.

CICIG on the Defenseive

CICIG's string of bad news continues.  Francisco Dall'Anese recently accused the Guatemalan Government of impeding justice in the country by sabotaging efforts to have Carlos Vielmann extradited from Spain where he is supposed to face charges of extrajudicial killing.
Guatemala's institutions "are working to make justice impossible and to let impunity continue to reign," Francisco Dall'Anese said in an e-mail, responding to questions from The Associated Press.
Spanish authorities released Vielmann last Tuesday after the Guatemalan government failed to formally request his extradition.  Carmen Aida Ibarra of the Pro-Justice Movement in Guatemala said that "The entire society, the whole country, is being denied the truth about what happened in Pavon" because the case was "aborted due to the negligence of judicial officials and the Foreign Ministry." 

Guatemalan authorities, on the other hand, blamed bureaucracy and the difficulty in getting several signatures from the Spanish embassy in Guatemala.  While Vielmann has been released by Spanish authorities, Guatemala still has until December 13th to formally request his extradition.  From what I can tell, they'll just have to take Vielmann him into custody once again.   Amnesty International has called on the Guatemalan government to bring Vielmann to justice.

Meanwhile, the trial of former president Alfonso Portillo has been delayed until January at the earliest, the Guatemalan Human Rights Procurator Sergio Morales is asking for Dall'Anese to investigate his predecessor, Carlos Castresana, and we might have some news tomorrow about a CICIG investigator who is accused of sexually harassing a subordinate.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Disappeared Journalist Alaíde Foppa

The family of Alaíde Foppa, along with CERIGUA and other organisations, are calling on the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice to demand that authorities launch an inquiry into who disappeared Guatemalan journalist and writer Alaíde Foppa. Foppa was kidnapped in December 1980 and has been missing since then.
Alaíde Foppa is a Guatemalan poet, journalist, academic and women's rights activist. She lived in Mexico for many years, having fled there with her life partner, Alfonso Solórzano Fernández, who was wanted by the Guatemalan authorities. On 19 December 1980, soon after Foppa returned to Guatemala, she was detained and then "disappeared" by the State security forces.
CERIGUA recalls that at the time, Guatemala was living under one of the worst dictatorships, which resulted in thousands of disappearances and extrajudicial executions. As such, it is possible that individuals linked to powerful interests may have been behind Foppa's disappearance.
Foppa was abducted near the Placita Quemada craft market in Zone 1, Guatemala City. The journalist was in a vehicle owned by her mother, Julia Falla, which was being driven by Leocadio Ajtún Shiroy. The chauffeur also disappeared that day.
Add journalist Irma Flaquer and thousands of others to the list.

Lori Berenson in the NYT

Simon Romero at the New York Times had a piece on Lori Berenson over the weekend.



I can't add much from this article to my previous posts on Berenson.  She has served the requirements of her sentence.  She has apologized for the most part.  She doesn't appear to be a threat to anyone.  Let her fulfill the requirements of her parole and make the best of the rest of her life.

And I still don't think that she should be speaking to reporters (Peruvian or American) until her case has been resolved. 
Reflecting on the challenges that await her, she said she often remembers a book she read in prison, “The Pig’s Deed,” a novel by the Argentine writer Marcos Aguinis. It is about the Spanish Inquisition as it unfolded in colonial Peru, focusing on the persecution of a doctor who acknowledged his Jewish origins.
“It’s very vivid in the way things continue in society,” said Ms. Berenson, reflecting on the fate of outcasts then and now. “I think the difference is, people who were accused of terrorism weren’t burned at the stake. I wonder if we had been, maybe we would be less interesting. I think for some reason it’s useful that people still be considered dangerous.”
I'm not entirely sure what she means, but I don't think that comparing your plight to that of a Jewish doctor persecuted under the Spanish inquisition in colonial Peru helps your cause while your case is still in legal limbo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving everyone. 
I'll be back after the holiday weekend.

2010 Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50

Really, is this what Guatemala needs from the US?
A Massena man is hoping to be named a “2010 Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50” contest and win a trip to Guatemala.
Be sure to vote.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yes we can

While it would be incorrect to say that the US is doing nothing to combat drug trafficking and corruption in Central America, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes to the other extreme in saying that the US is doing "everything we can."
The U.S. government has pledged $165 million to a project known as the Central American Regional Security Initiative, according to the State Department.
In August, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. was committed to promoting security in Central America.
"We are doing everything we can in the fight against corruption and impunity, in providing the equipment and the support that law enforcement and the military require and helping to build civil society to stand against the scourge of drug trafficking," she said at a meeting of Central American leaders.
Seriously, it sounds like a campaign slogan.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guatemala Gears up for 2011


While campaigning cannot officially start for a few more months, parties and candidates are beginning to position themselves for the contest. IPS had an article last week that discussed the early start to elections in Guatemala.  Early starts are nothing new and no one should be surprised that this campaign season has already begun. 

At times, the TSE fines political parties for beginning their campaigns before the official start but the fines are typically inconsequential so no one pays much attention.  UNE was fined $100 for using Sandra Torres de Colom image in May and it was recently fined another $125 for promoting her image even though she is not a candidate.  The TSE has asked for the authority to raise the maximum fine but, as you can imagine, politicians aren't enthusiastic about do it.

Another problem is that it's difficult to distinguish between proselytism which is allowed and campaigning which is not.
The electoral law recognizes proselytism as the obligation of parties to train, educate their members and invite citizens to participate.
On the contrary, campaigning begins after the call to the elections, which will be on 2 May and at that stage parties can proclaim and elect candidates for Office.
Another other interesting discussion from the article is that, as of today, several of the most likely 2011 candidates are barred from running under existing rules.  Article 186 of the constitution would seem to ban Sandra Torres de Colom and Zury Rios Montt.  Torres should not be able to run because she is related to the current president. Zury Rios Montt, on the other hand, should not be able to run because her father came to power in a military coup.

Former president Álvaro Arzú is a third candidate who will have trouble running.  Article 187 bans presidential reelection under any circumstances.

The IPS article does not talk about Harold Caballeros of Visión con Valores (Viva).  Caballeros might not be able to run because Article 186 also prohibits the leaders of religious groups and cults.   I'm not sure that anyone knows what is going to happen next year, but I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of them find a way to run.

The uncertainty about Sandra Torres de Colom's candidacy has not prevented UNE and GANA from establishing an alliance heading into next year's elections.  UNE describes itself as a social democratic party while GANA is a party on the right of the political spectrum.  In the 2004 presidential election, Oscar Berger of GANA defeated Alvaro Colom.  However, the two legislative blocs have been working together in congress in recent times.

While the alliance has not identified its presidential or congressional candidates, it has identified 250 mayoral candidates.  However, UNE and GANA said that they are just naming the candidates that they will support in the future, nothing more, because any more would be in violation of the rule that outlaws campaigning until May.  President Alvaro Colom also replaced thirteen cabinet-level posts, including five regional governors, so that they can campaign prepare for next year's election as UNE candidates.

In other election news, several parties are trying to convince Nineth Montenegro to run as vice president or to head their national list of congressional candidates.  These parties include Viva, the Centro de Acción Social (Casa), and Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Creo).  In other news, a policeman in Montenegro's security detail was killed this weekend.  Initial indications are that he was killed during a robbery in Chiquimula, but given the threats against Montenegro over the last several years, authorities are continuing to investigate.

Elections are still several months away.  I'll start trying to make sense of the two dozen parties at the end of the year or in January.  However, all we know right now is that Otto Perez Molina is the front runner to be the next president of Guatemala.  Polls consistently place Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party ahead of don't know / not saying.  In January, twenty-nine percent said that they would vote for Perez Molina and in August thirty-four percent favored him.  I've also seen references to an October poll that has over fifty percent supporting him.

In the January poll, of the individuals named, Suger and Colom tied for second at 6.3%.  In the August poll, Perez Molina was followed by Giammattei with 5.5% and Alvaro Colom with 4.7%.  Giammattei is currently in jail and neither Colom nor his wife should be able to run.  But, who knows? 

Other than saying that Perez Molina is the front runner, there's not much one can say with certainty about next year's election.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Vielman's Extradition Blocked

On Saturday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court blocked a request for the extradition of Carlos Vielman for his role in extrajudicial executions.  Vielman is a former interior minister from the Berger administration (2004-2008) who is accused of having conspired to create a criminal structure within the interior ministry.  He was arrested in Spain in October.
According to Cicig, that structure was responsible for the extrajudicial killings of at least 10 inmates in two Guatemalan maximum-security prisons...
The case against Vielman and other senior officials centers on the deaths of seven inmates in 2006 at the Pavon prison farm.

The men were executed amid a joint military-police operation to wrest control of Pavon away from inmate gangs, an occasion investigators say the conspirators used to eliminate criminal rivals being held at the prison farm.
The CC's suspension of the request for Vielman's extradition is another strong blow against CICIG.  Many, including Guatemala's civil society, are worried about the increasing attacks against CICIG in both the media and in several recent court decisions. 

On Sunday, they called on the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) to investigate Judge Carol Flores.  Flores is the judge who decided to drop the charge of extrajudicial execution against Giammattei.  They also called on the Constitutional Court to reinstate the extradition request for Vielman. 

Finally, they called on the country to support CICIG's work and for the government to request that the international community extend CICIG's mandate.

I don't know.  I'm not optimistic.  Why should the international community agree to extend CICIG's mandate when it appears that the courts, the executive, and the legislature are all working against it?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Posting for a reader

Please contact Jeff at munsch121@yahoo.com if you have any information about a family member of his.
I am a family member of Father Earl Gallagher, or "father beto" as his Honduran families knew him.Ironically, He lost his life in NYC while visiting family for 2 weeks 11 years ago, while simply crossing the street. My wife and I have been searching for as much information as possible to share with our friends and children. He kept much of the goings on in Honduras to himself, but it became clear when talking to his people who knew him as "father Beto" that we have all realized he was far from an ordinary man, but more a living angel to some.
His name has more than once been attached to the events of may 18th 1980, anyone who can give us more information about what he has done for so many, we would be truly grateful, please contact me munsch121@yahoo.com
Father Beto might have somehow been been at the Rio Sumpul massacre in May 1980. 

Here is a summary of Julio Ernaldo Rivera's testimony surrounding the that he provided at an International Tribunal established by the Human Rights Institute of El Salvador’s Central American University (IDHUCA) in March 2009.

Living History

Please check out Alayna Wood's work in Rabinal, a town that suffered heavily during the Guatemala's civil war.  It looks like a really great project.
Living History is a community project which was created to help comprehend the reality of the indigenous people in Rabinal, Guatemala, who have continually been victims of unspoken acts of violence. Sadly throughout history this has continually been repeated i.e. Darfur, Nazi Germany, Ecuador, etc. We believe that by analyzing post-conflict areas and compiling information with collaboration of the survivors, we are attempting to generate a conscience understanding.
Through working with the survivors and creating a photographic, oral and written archive, we are able to use this information to construct educational tools to further awareness. Memories and images of their loved ones must be chronicled, in order that the world may become aware of the historical events that transpired in the 1980’s. In Rabinal, Guatemala people have almost no documentation or record of their lost family members; their faces live on only in the survivor’s memories. LIVING HISTORY will bring reconciliation to the people of Rabinal and Guatemala so that these torturous acts will not be repeated.
LIVING HISTORY’S research will be the platform for creating a gigantic photographic montage on the walls surrounding part of the local cemetery in Rabinal, Guatemala. Creation of this photo documentary will be the culmination of my envisioned project which will be accomplished through interviews, educational workshops and participatory activities. This artistic research is imperative for the people of Rabinal to understand that THEY are part of history and can play a part in helping this from happening again. This work is monumental and GROUNDBREAKING!!!
And check out the photo gallery.

Guatemala Human Rights Commission

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission is asking for signatures on two petition.  In the first petition, they are collecting signatures to pressure the Guatemalan government to better protect labor leaders.

Guatemalan unionist Mateo Lopez was recently attacked as a result of his work against corruption in the health sector.  Although he survived the attack, he and his family remain in grave danger. Take action now to support Lopez and his family, and urge an immediate investigation.
In the second petition, the GHCR is asking for support of community radio.
Despite promises made in the Guatemalan Constitution and the Peace Accords, the telecommunications law does not allow licenses for nonprofit community radio. Only mainstream commercial radio and government-run radio are allowed. The country's 205 community radio stations, which broadcast locally in Spanish and Mayan languages, provide a crucial venue for educational programs, local and national news, preventative health care, and emergency relief. GHRC, with Cultural Survival, supports the legalization status for the community radio stations that are so important to indigenous communities.
Visit the GHCR and Cultural Survival for more information.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Carlos Dada Speaks at UT

Carlos Dada, the editor and founder of El Faro, recently spoke at the University of Texas at Austin as part of its ongoing "Central America: Broken Democracies?" speakers series sponsored by the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the Harte Lectureship on Latin America and the Media.

Here are some of the highlights from Knight Center's coverage:

"At El Faro we don't like to count dead bodies.  We've found the only way to respond to violence is with long-format journalism -- narrative and investigative journalism."
As such, he said, El Faro is looking for resources to set up a special newsroom just to cover violence in Central America because "our first mission is to understand what's going on, and that's not easy."
"This is violence for the sake of violence, so what do we do with these people?" Dada asked, then went on to say: "We need stronger institutions, we need more resources, we need efficient tools to have justice and a better way of life. When you turn 15, you have three choices: become a victim, become a victimizer, or you come to the United States."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Drug Cartels Infiltrate the Catholic Church in Mexico?

Al Jazeera reports that officials in Mexico are concerned that drug cartels have used the Catholic Church to launder profits from the drug trade.  While US authorities have a $7 million reward for Heriberto Lazcano, one of the leaders of the Zetas gang, his plaque is predominantly displayed in one church's chapel.

San Sebastián Huehuetenango Murder

Last Wednesday, I mentioned that Juan Hernández Fabián, the mayor of San Sebastián Huehuetenango, had been shot to death by unknown gunmen.   On Friday, El Periodico reported that police investigators raised the possibility that political motivations might have been behind his murder. 

Several political competitors were unhappy with community work carried out by the mayor's office.  After the initial audit came back clean, they asked the authorities to audit the projects a second time.  These political competitors had a meeting scheduled with other community members and auditors on the day that Mayor Hernández was killed.  However, they cancelled the meeting earlier in the day giving rise to speculation that they knew something was in the works.  I haven't found any additional details about the killings in any of the major media since earlier in the week so I don't really know if anything has changed.

According to UNE, Hernández had not reported any acts of intimidation.  However, there authorities are most likely taking another look at his son's murder.  His son was murdered in December 2009 while on vacation.  

Since January 2008, fifteen crimes have been committed against mayors and other government employees.

A Little Partisanship, Argentine Style



According to the AP
A budget spat erupted into fisticuffs Wednesday when opposition legislator Graciela Camano punched fellow lawmaker Carlos Kunkel in the mouth.
Two television news channels broadcast the melee live as Camano got out of her chair to confront Kunkel during a session of the Upper House's constitutional affairs commission.
The two exchanged words, Kunkel gestured with his arms and Camano socked him then left the chamber.
.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guatemala News Round Up

President Colom removed his finance minister, Edgar Balsells, while in the middle of budget negotiations with Congress.  Colom stated that Balsells was removed because he increased the nation's budget by nearly 200m dollars without seeking authorization from the president or cabinet.

Congress is once again considering approving a bill that would allow authorities to confiscate money and property obtained from illegal activities.  The bill contains a list of 47 crimes (including embezzlement, drug trafficking and activities of organized crime, such as exporting stolen vehicles) for which confiscation would be applicable.

The Missouri Surpreme Court is reviewing a custody battle between a Guatemalan woman and a couple from Missouri.  Encarnacion Romero was arrested during an immigration raid at a chicken plant in Barry County.  Romero's sister ended up taking care of her son following the raid and her two-year prison sentence for using forged documents.  At some point the sister could no longer care for the baby and the baby boy was adopted by a Missouri family, the Mosers.  Romero's attorneys are seeking to have the adoption reversed and her parental rights reinstated. They won a major battle in July, when the adoption was overturned by the Missouri Court of Appeals in Springfield. Last week, the case was argued in front of the Missouri Supreme Court. 

The Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama have begun the First Round of Negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement in Lima (FTA).  During this first round that will last until Friday, leaders will discuss access to goods markets, origin rules, sanitary measures, obstacles to trade, intellectual property, among others.

Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team

Marcela Valente highlights the important work of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team in Reading the Bones
The Argentine forensic crew, known by its Spanish acronym EAAF, was established as a non-governmental, not-for-profit scientific organisation in 1984, the year after the dictatorship came to an end. Between 15,000 (the official figure) and 30,000 (the estimate by human rights groups) people fell victim to forced disappearance during Argentina's seven-year de facto military regime.

The EAAF is comprised of anthropologists, archaeologists, DNA experts, physicians, dentists, computer specialists and others.  The team has carried out investigations in forty countries throughout the world.  They have helped to identify the remains of victims of political violence, crime, and natural disasters.  There is also some discussion of the teams work in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

21 Years after the Jesuit Murders

After several large university-wide events to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Jesuit Murders in El Salvador last year, we were only able to gather about a dozen students and faculty for a brief ten-minute prayer service this afternoon at the University of Scranton.  So, instead, here are some videos from last year's celebrations.

Here is Rodolfo Cardenal, S.J. speaking to our university last year.



And here is Dean Brackley, S.J. speaking last April at the university last year when he was awarded the Pedro Arrupe, S.J.  Award.



How did your school or organization remember today's anniversary?

The Guatemala Times Defends Itself

The English-language Guatemala Times has issued a statement defending and clarifying its stance towards the admirable work done by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.   Here's its position:



We applaud, support and believe in CICIG´s work, both under Carlos Castresana and under the new commissioner Francisco Dall´Anese.
CICIG is the only hope for justice that Guatemala has had and will have for the future. Is CICIG 100% perfect? No. But there is nothing 100% perfect in Guatemala and in the world. And for anyone to pretend that an institution has to be 100% perfect in order to be useful and constructive, is plain idiocy.
 The concept of justice managed by Guatemalan who benefits from an ineffective justice system is self-serving; they only want justice tailored to their benefit. And that is not justice that is prostitution of justice.

Well, that is what we had before CICIG came to Guatemala, Justice was a prostitute, and it still is in many instances.

In Ex-president Portillo´s case, his friends, allies, ex-members of his government and business associates where attacking CICIG and they keep at it.

In Ex- minister Vielman´s case, his friends, allies, business associates, ex-members of the Berger government are attacking CICIG and they will not stop. The best example is ex-vice president Eduardo Stein, who was an active promoter and supporter of CICIG until it touched some of his friends and ex-members of the government he was part of.

In the Rosenberg case, where CICIG actually saved Guatemala’s democracy, the anti government sectors attacked CICIG because the findings of CICIG prevented President Colom from going down.

Critics of CICIG are people who consider themselves to be from the right wing, from the left wing and whatever else they call themselves (including the dark forces).

By logical deduction, the sectors that have the most to loose by a functional, independent justice system are by default the sectors who want to destroy CICIG. That includes all the sectors that now make more money and have more power be it economic or political, because justice has not reached them (yet). The current government of President Alvaro Colom has to be included in the list of sectors that are actively obstructing CICIG´s work.

By the way, resistance to functioning judicial systems is not just a Guatemalan phenomenon, or a Guatemalan problem. What makes Guatemala somewhat different is that there are always several Guatemala’s, never a nation.

The best example I can give of another very notorious place where the enforcement and strengthening of “Lady Justice”” is very unpopular, is on Wall Street. Guess why.
I agree with the editors at the Guatemala Times.  CICIG appears to have done a very good job.  Those criticizing its work, though not all, happen to be many of the same people that it is targeting for prosecution.  For the sake of the people of Guatemala, I really want to see CICIG work.

However, given that individuals in the congress, the courts, the executive branch, the military, the police, and in the business world are working to undermine it, I'm not that optimistic that we are about to turn a corner anytime soon.  Here are a few things that would make me feel better.
Guatemalan leaders and the international community reach an agreement to extend its mandate for five or more years.
Next year's presidential candidates come out publicly in support of CICIG and commit to making its recommendations a priority of their administration.
Congress passes several of CICIG's recommendations.  The president stops trying to appoint people who CICIG has flagged as potentially corrupt to positions of authority.
Increase CICIG's staff and resources - specifically, protect Guatemalans working with the organization.
Provide a realistic update on the status of the prosecutor's office - when will it be ready to stand on its own two feet.
How much can CICIG accomplish without internationalizing the commission to include all of Central America and Mexico (or at least El Salvador)?
These are just a few thoughts.  I haven't finished reading everything that's come out about CICIG in the last few days so maybe some of this has been taken care of.  So forgive me.

What about you?  How are you feeling about CICIG today?

Monday, November 15, 2010

UN Recognizes Romero

The United Nations General Assembly recently recognized Monsignor Oscar Romero by declaring March 24th as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.  From the UN General Assembly
The Committee took action on a draft resolution entitled Proclamation of 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims (document A/C.3/65/L.59), which was introduced by the representative of El Salvador.
Recognizing the importance of promoting the memory of victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and the importance of the right to truth and justice, the General Assembly would, by the terms of the draft, proclaim 24 March as the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.
It would also ask Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and others to observe the International Day in an appropriate manner. The draft would recognize, in particular, the work of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, of El Salvador, who was actively engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in his country.
The representative of El Salvador asked for the Committee to adopt the resolution without vote and by consensus. He added that he had been informed that Paraguay wished to be a co-sponsor.
The Chair of the Committee then, approved the resolution without a vote.
The resolution co-sponsored by 45 countries, including Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

And if you are looking for a Christmas gift, Damian Zynda has a book on Romero recently published by the University of Scranton Press.  Damian is a faculty member of the Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University.  The book is entitled Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Disciple Who Revealed the Glory of God.  Here's the book's description from Amazon.
During his lifetime, Archbishop Oscar Romero chose to live the Christian Gospel in a radical way, defending, supporting, and serving the poor, and confronting the oppressive and murderous violence of the Salvadoran dictatorship. As a result, in March 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in El Salvador, he was assassinated.
With Archbishop Oscar Romero, Damian Zynda offers a compelling examination of the bishop’s eventful life. Zynda delves into the psychological and spiritual depths of Romero’s faith, tracing its progression from age thirteen up to the episcopacy and his prophetic stand against the government.
I have not yet read the book but I enjoyed Damian's talk at the University of Scranton last month.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

CICIG and Guatemala

Some recent stories about CICIG from Prensa Libre (in Spanish) and the AP (in English).  NPR also has a short audio clip.  This weekend's news all follows the same script - document several successes and then note push back from those that CICIG is in pursuit of.

CICIG notable successes include trials against former President Alfonso Portillo, a son of ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, an ex-defense minister, two former interior ministers, a prisons director, three national police chiefs and two anti-narcotics police commanders.  It has helped to bring about several important convictions against murderers, drug cartel enforcers and kidnappers, including members of Mexico's notoriously violent Zeta narco gang.  CICIG has also helped to remove 1,700 police officers, several senior prosecutors, and six judges from the Supreme Court.  Then there's that Rosenberg case.

However, the arrests of  former Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann and former prison chief Alejandro Giammattei have brought with them it significant disgruntlement from important and powerful sectors of Guatemala.  The criticism has recently even come from former vice president Eduardo Stein (2004-2008), an individual who helped bring the commission into Guatemala in the first place. 

Stein has accused CICIG of "going out of control" in pursuing charges of extra-judicial execution against Giammattei and Vielmann.  While photos place the men at the scene of the crime, the judge wasn't convinced and dropped the charge of extra-judicial execution for the lesser charge of illicit association.  Since then, "Stein and other businessmen have suggested the commission be put under local political control, arguing that it has overstepped its mandate and even operated outside the law."

I'm not sure what to make of this.  As I wrote in July I expected push back against CICIG.  Those with connections to organized crime were not going to go quietly away just because a Spaniard or Costa Rican told them to.  While we get these stories about elites unhappy with CICIG every few months, everyone is playing up these recent accusations.

So, what do you think?  Is this a sign that CICIG is working and should have its mandate extended two more years or is it another sign that the political and economic elite in Guatemala are not serious about rooting out corruption?  Or are these recent events a sign that CICIG should pack up and move to a country where there is legislative, executive, and business support for reform?

The FMLN in El Salvador

While municipal and legislative elections are not scheduled until 2012, the FMLN is getting ready to compete.  Two weeks ago, the FMLN held its XXVI national convention where it elected its 57-member National Council and 19-member Political Committee.  The party reaffirmed Medardo Gonzalez as general coordinator while Violeta Menjivar, the former mayor of San Salvador and deputy minister of health, was elected assistant coordinator.  The new members of the National Council and Political Committee will serve five-year terms and will carry the party through the 2012, 2014, and 2015 elections (Inside Costa Rica).

In preparation for the 2012 elections, the FMLN is calling for a "national pact to transform El Salvador."  Jose Luis Merino (nom de guerre Commander Ramiro Vazquez) emphasized the necessity of maintaining the unity of the people and the party so that they have the energy and force to continue with the transformation of this nation and to prevent the right from regaining power (Inside Costa Rica).  Merino has clearly stated that in 2009 Funes was chosen simply to alleviate the country's fears of an FMLN victory.  Now that that fear has been overcome, the FMLN is ready to push an FMLN militant as president to lead them on the path towards socialismo cuscatleco in 2014 and beyond. 

And in case you wanted to know more about what Joaquin Villalobos is up to these days, you can read a story about his newest consulting gig.  He has been providing expert advice to the Mexican government since 2005 on confronting drug traffickers.  I was surprised to hear speculation about a return to Salvadoran politics for Villalobos.  I can't find any polling information, but I don't get the impression that he's a popular figure in El Salvador.  In fact, I didn't really think that anyone liked him.  The LA Times article even states as much at the end of its report.  
Villalobos has dismissed speculation that he is biding his time for a return to El Salvador and a run for president, something many there suspect he is planning to do. It would be a challenging campaign, as he has little obvious support base. The onetime hero of the armed left is mistrusted by the right he fought and the left that feels betrayed by him.

Crazier things have happened.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary - Movimiento Revolucionario 13 de Noviembre!

The CIA-installed government of Guatemala faced its first severe test since it came to power in 1954 when several military officers revolted on November 13, 1960.  They revolted against what they considered to be the government’s excessive corruption and its complicity in allowing the United States to train and launch an invasion of a fellow Latin American country from its soil. 

President (General) Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes had been allowing the CIA to train Cuban exiles and other mercenaries and use of landing strips for its April 1961 invasion of Cuba, more famously known as the Bay of Pigs invasion.  While the Movimiento de los Juramentados (what those who are known as the MR-13 called themselves) had been planning a rebellion for over one year, they launched the revolt on November 12 because they thought that Ydigoras Fuentes' spies had discovered them.

The rebellion was quickly put down by the Guatemalan government.  Most of the surviving military officers fled into exile in Honduras and El Salvador.  The government offerred a $1,000 quetzal reward for information about the MR-13's surviving members.

Over the next two years, these officers, now known as the Movimiento Revolucionario 13 de Noviembre (November 13th Revolutionary Movement, or MR-13), failed several more times at spurring a successful uprising.  Some tried to join forces with ultrarightists (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN) while others moved closer to ultraleftists. 

MR-13 members Marco Antonio Yon Sosa and Luis Augusto Turcios Lima joined forces with the Partido Guatemalteca del Trabajo (Guatemalan Workers Party, or PGT) after a meeting in Cuba in September 1962.  The PGT had been made illegal again following the 1954 coup and primarily worked underground with mass-based organizations.  Turcios Lima and Yon Sosa's military organization joined with the PGT's armed wing and another armed student group to create the Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (Rebel Armed Forces, or FAR).

For some, the November 1960 uprising marks the beginning of Guatemala's internal conflict that ended with the 1996 accords (1960-1996).  However, the 1960 revolt was a nationalist uprising against corruption and a repressive government rather than an ideological one.  In many ways, it make more sense to mark the beginning of the war in 1962 with the launch of the FAR or the 1954 coup as I sometimes do.  

See La Hora and Movimiento Revolucionario 13 de Noviembre (MR-13 for more information.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

CICIG

Two weeks ago, Judge Patricia Flores substituted the charge of extrajudicial execution for that of illicit association in the case of Alejandro Giammattei.  In her opinion, there was no direct evidence that put Giammattei (and Roberto Garcia Fresh) at the scene of the crime - Pavon Prison.  As a result, Francisco Dall’Anese has had to defend CICIG's faillure in recent days. 

Dall’Anese, more or less, exonerated the Ministerio Publico and laid blame on the judges and the congress.  The proescutors present the evidence and it is up to the judges to act on that evidence.  He also reiterated how important it was for congress to pass legislation regarding the Amparo Act, criminal code, code of criminal procedure reforms, and the forfeiture law.  While Roberto Alejos (UNE) was reelected to preside over Congress for a third consecutive year,  there's no indication that congress is going to be quick to act on these bills or any other.   

On Tuesday, the international community came out in support of CICIG's work.  The Italian and German ambassadors said that they would be inclined to extend CICIG's mandate another two years.  While the ambassadors recognized the good work of CICIG, they were concerned the the judge threw out the extrajudicial charge when, in CICIG's position, there was more than enough evidence to pursue the charge.  An extension of CICIG's mandate would began at the end of its current term - September 2011. 

As I said a few months ago, I wasn't convinced that Congress would pass the laws that CICIG requested.  Passage would become even less likely as campaign season got underway.  While the official campaign hasn't begun, all the parties are acting as if they have.  Just this week, the "center left" UNE formalized its alliance with the "rightist" GANA.  President Óscar Berger (2003-2007) represented GANA.

As of right now, I would be reluctant to extend CICIG's mandate unless the major candidates for the election all agreed to support its work regardless of next year's election outcome and they passed at least some of the legislation under consideration in the congress.  I thought that the international community should have withheld Dall’Anese' appoint until progress was made - that didn't happen.  Here's another opportunity to force Congress to show that it is serious about making systemic changes. 

Fiambre

Read more about fiambre, a Guatemalan dish prepared and served on the Day of the Dead and All Saints Day.
On November first, Fiambre is served in Guatemalan homes, this is a traditional food eaten every year on November 1 and 2. It’s a salad, served chilled, and may be made up from over 50 ingredients. Guatemala, being a very religious country and like many other Catholic countries, celebrates the Day of the Dead (Día de los Difuntos) and the All Saints Day (Día de los Santos).

I know I'm a little late, but this was sitting in my draft box.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mayor of San Sebastián Huehuetenango Killed

Juan Hernández Fabián, the mayor of San Sebastián Huehuetenango was shot to death this afternoon by unknown gunmen.  Three men opened fire on him as he exited his vehicle.  The men then escaped on foot.
Hernández (UNE) was elected in 2007 with 28% of the municipality's vote.  San Sebastián Huehuetenango is located in the department of Huehuetenango, along the Mexican border.
No other information has yet been made public.

URNG Website

It's been awhile, but the URNG-Maiz finally has its website back up.  It's not the prettiest one around and not all the links work, but it's an improvement nonetheless.  You can also follow the URNG on facebook (although that link doesn't work either).

Lori Berson Speaks (for some unknown reason)

I can't understand why Lori Berenson spoke with the AP and other press outlets shortly after her release from prison.  Not that what she said was so inflammatory, but it still doesn't seem to be the wisest course of action when the prosecutor is attempting to overturn your parole.
"Right now my freedom is on the line," she told The Associated Press in an interview, her curly-haired 18-month-old son, Salvador, playing beside her in a rented apartment as her mother, Rhoda, looked on.
Released just 24 hours earlier from a woman's prison, Berenson expressed profound worry that Peru's top anti-terrorism prosecutor would succeed in sending her back to prison until 2015 to finish out a 20-year sentence for aiding leftist rebels.
 "I believe I am the face of terrorism," the bespectacled Berenson, who turns 41 this week, said in measured tones. "I think I'm useful as the face of terrorism."
And in an interview with Time, she states
"It is scary, I really feel that I am being singled out. So many people have been released and it has not been a problem, but now that Lori Berenson is out the world is about the end. I don't understand why this continues to be the case. It has been 15 years."...
"There is nothing like my case.  It has always been so high profile. I think it is fascinating, but I don't understand it."

It's true that several convicted terrorists have been granted early release after serving 75% of their sentence. However, it doesn't help Berenson's case that she calls the prosecutor out on that fact. It's best to leave that legitimate criticism up to others, such as JosÉ Antonio Nique, president of Peru's bar associations.
"Lori Berenson is not a danger to the country, but she is unlike others in her condition. She is a foreigner, a gringa, and it has been easy to make her a scapegoat. There are sectors that are trying to win political points with her case."
Judge Jessica Leon granted Berenson parole in May.  However, a three-judge panel sent her back to prison in August because her post-prison address had not been verified by authorities.  Judge Leon again granted Berenson parole on Friday.  The prosecutor was not too happy with Leon's decision and let her know.
He lashed out at Leon, calling her the patron saint of terrorists and alleging that she might be a terrorist herself, infiltrated into the judiciary system to set free dangerous criminals.

And the prosecutor is not the only Peruvian upset with the decision to release Berenson.
Justice Minister Rosario Fernandez has joined the prosecutor in berating Judge Leon, saying the judge made a serious mistake twice, which is unforgiveable.
Berenson's problem now is that her parole has been appealed to the three-judge panel that originally revoked her May parole.  They will decide whether she has actually completed 75% of her term.  Their decision will partly depend upon how they understand "work and study credits." 

If her parole is overturned, she will return to prison until November 30, 2015.  She will not have another opportunity to appeal because that provision of the law was eliminated in 2009.

That's why I don't think that Lori Berenson should be speaking to the press.  She can't say anything that will help her case.  Only things that will hurt.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lori Berenson



On Friday, a Peruvian court paroled Lori Brenson after she had completed a few more months of her sentence.  Today, she left prison on conditional release.   

President Garcia said that he would only made a decision regarding the commutation of Berenson's parole once all legal maneuvering had been exhausted.  However, the prosecutor in the case is now working to overturn this most recent parole decision.  An appeals court could make that decision within a month, so we are unlikely to hear from Garcia for at least a few more weeks..

Monday, November 8, 2010

Journalism and Political Science

I thought that I'd reproduce this John Sides post in its entirety.
A week ago, I did a long interview on the subject of the economy and elections, which was to be condensed into a podcast for public radio. After it never appeared, I inquired as to its fortune and got this response:
"Unfortunately, we decided not to cover the economics of elections. We were having trouble finding the tension in the piece, because everyone we talked to agreed with you - economics was going to matter in 2010. We were finding it difficult to build 20-25 minutes around the topic."
You probably can't find a better encapsulation of why political science research doesn't make the news. No drama!

The Invisibles - Amnesty International



Marc Silver & Gael Garcìa Bernal have a film "The Invisible" posted at Amnesty International that highlights the suffering of Central Americans traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States.  This is the trailer above.  There are four clips on Amnesty's website.
Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel through Mexico without legal permission. As "invisible" migrants they head for the US border in the hope of finding a new life far from the poverty they've left behind. Their journey is one of the most dangerous in the world.

Amnesty is asking for your help to encourage the Mexican government to do more to protect these vulnerable migrants.  See Emilio Godoy's piece on IPS for more information about the dangerous journey through Mexico. 

I can't help but think that in fifty or one hundred years, our children and grandchildren are going to wonder why facilitating the free movement of people between the US, Canada, Mexico, and Central America wasn't a higher priority.  Instead, we set up roadblocks to make travel as dangerous as possible.

Guatemala News Roundup

The Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) held its National Assembly last week.  During the assembly, Efrain Rios Montt stepped down as the party's secretary general.  He was, however, named honorary president as a going away gift.  Well, maybe not so much going away.  His daughter, Zury Ríos Montt, might be the party's 2011 presidential candidate.  And should he not be reelected to congress in 2011, he will no longer maintain his immunity.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved $250 million in financing to help Guatemala's government prepare, supervise, strengthen and monitor its national climate change agenda and to develop an institutional framework for the plan's implementation. 

In the Peten, over 7400 acres of forest were seriously affected by tropical storm Richard last weekend.  And this week in the Peten, a “green battalion” comprised of 250 specially trained soldiers has begun operations to protect a national park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.  The government claims that the soldiers are there to combat drug trafficking, natural resources, and archaeological sites of that region of the Laguna del Tigre National Park.
Laguna del Tigre National Park, a protected area measuring more than 334,000 hectares (1,290 sq. miles) that is part of the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, is home to some 50 archaeological sites and more than 3,000 species of flora.
Euronews has an eight-minute video on food security in Guatemala and the work of a Portuguese NGO. 

The National Institutes of Health awarded the three-year, $2.7 million grant to study a possible connection between contaminated corn products and birth defects in Guatemala.  Creighton University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Duke University and Centro de Investigaciones en Nutricion y Salud (CIENSA) will collaborate on the study.

A human smuggling ring sending Indian nationals to Guatemala and then on to Mexico, the United States, and Canada  was discovered about ten days ago when Adil Vali Mohammed (38) was taken into custody at the Delhi airport with thirty-one passports.  

Finally, according to Center for Central American Studies, the number of Guatemalans living in the United States increased 700% between 1999 and 2010.  Today, there are an esimated 1.6 million Guatemalans living in the country, up from 225,000 just ten years ago.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Costa Rican Mudslides and Climate Change

While most of the region's attention is on the river dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Costa Rica is also suffering through the worst natural disasters in recent memory.  As I mentioned Thursday, two consecutive days of heavy rains caused a mudslide in San Antonio de Escazu.  
The death toll has now risen to twenty-three with one more person unaccounted for.  Two thousand people are now in temporary shelters.  The nationwide extent of the damage is unclear.  The National Emergencies Commission has been distributing food, water and supplies to areas of the country isolated due to destroyed bridges, highway damage and roads blocked by landslides. 
Flooding has caused severe damage and loss of life this year in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico as well.  For this reason, the region's government officials are planning to voice their concerns at the 16th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held a the end of the month in Cancún.

"What we are most concerned about is the issue of vulnerability and adaptation, taking into account that the region contributes little to the greenhouse effect but we are very vulnerable to climate change," Carlos Mancilla, coordinator of the climate change unit at Guatemala's Environment Ministry, told IPS.

All told, the countries of Central America contribute less than 0.5 percent of the total greenhouse-effect gases at the global level, according to "The Economics of Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean 2009," a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)...

In Mancilla's view, Central America must be recognised as one of the world's regions most vulnerable to climate change in order to obtain financing for adaptation, capacity building, and technology transfer...

According to the national climate change coordinator for Honduras, Mirza Castro, "There is shared opinion and agreement to declare the isthmus as one of the regions that is most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change."
Climate Change Vulnerability Index 2011
According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, most of Central America is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change   Unfortunately, Haiti is among the world's extremely vulnerable.  The index
evaluates 42 social, economic and environmental factors to assess national vulnerabilities across three core areas. These include: exposure to climate-related natural disasters and sea-level rise; human sensitivity, in terms of population patterns, development, natural resources, agricultural dependency and conflicts; thirdly, the index assesses future vulnerability by considering the adaptive capacity of a country’s government and infrastructure to combat climate change.
So while the last few years have been hard on Central Americans (Hurricanes Mitch 1998, Stan 2005, and Agatha 2010, and the 2009 drought), things are likely to get worse unless there are significant national and international reforms aimed at mitigating against the effects of climate change.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

October Uptick in Murders - Guatemala

While October was a bloody month in El Salvador, it was a gruesome month in Guatemala as well.  Five hundred thirty-eight people were killed, the highest number since March 2009. 

While there might have been a slight reduction in the number of murders between January 1 and September 30 compared to last year, 2010 will most likely end the year with a similar tally to 2009.

                    Year   Homicides (per 100,000)
                    2003      32.11
                    2004      33.22
                    2005      41.26
                    2006      41.06
                    2007      30.84
                    2008      37.67
                    2009      42.61
                    2010         ?

October Uptick in Murders - El Salvador



Last month, the Funes administration celebrated a decline in the country's homicide rate.  Salvadorans and others hoped that the country had turned a corner in the fight against crime.  Contrapunto wrote that we should be skeptical. 

Well, the PNC now reports that murders increased from September to October.  Two hundred twelve people were murdered in September (~7 per day).  Unfortunately, October recorded three hundred forty-four murders (~10 per day). 

While the PNC and government officials need to track murders on a monthly basis, we should hesitate before we jump to any conclusion based upon a single month's increase or decrease in the murder rate.  In fact, we should resist any effort to celebrate an increase or decrease in murders from one year to the next.  A change from one year to the next does not indicate a medium- or long-term change in the murder rate.  Second, there's no really good reason why the comparison should be January 1 to December 31 rather than any other arbitrary cutoff.  Finally, El Salvador will have to achieve several years progress towards decreasing the number of murders committed in the country before it is no longer of epidemic proportions.  

In case you were wondering

I haven't nearly been paying enough attention to the Costa Rica - Nicaragua border dispute, but I'm not sure that the Onion's Wayne Madsen's summary of events really helps. 
Borrowing its war plan against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua from Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, and Oliver North, the Obama administration has given a green light to two neighbors of Nicaragua -- Costa Rica and Honduras -- to ratchet up tensions on their borders with Nicaragua.
Feel free to take a look at how the US (CIA, Dyncorp, George Soros), Israel (Mossad), Honduras, Costa Rica (the Chinchilla-Lieberman regime and intelligence agents) and Russia (well, Israeli agents dressed as "Russian Martial arts" trainers) are conspiring against Ortega.

On, and one more thing.  The Chinchilla-Lieberman regime is also flooding El Salvador with cocaine so as to destabilize that country as well.

Lori Berenson Paroled Again


On Friday, Peruvian courts once again granted Lori Berenson parole after having completed fifteen years of a twenty year sentence (Reuters and AP). 
President Alan Garcia has previously stated that he would consider commuting the remaining years of her sentence so that she can can return to the US.  However, he wouldn't do so until the legal process in Peru had been exhausted.  Given that prosecutors are expected to appeal the court's ruling, a decision by Garcia will have to wait.
I know this will sound insensitive, but I have this picture in my head of the Peruvian and US governments negotiating an exchange of Berenson for Inca relics. On the same day that Berenson was paroled, Garcia led thousands of protestors demanding that Yale return thousands of artifacts that Hiram Bingham took from the country nearly a century ago and never returned.  
For earlier Berenson coverage, see here, here, herehere, here, here, and here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guatemala - TPS

Guatemala's Minister of Foreign Relations states that his country has done everything it can to press its case before the Obama administration for an extension of TPS benefits. 

Haroldo Rodas claims that Guatemala has the support of migrant organizations and the other countries of Central America.  Rodas doesn't seem concerned that the recent takeover of the House by Republicans will make much of a difference.  While they are still negotiating, it's up to the executive branch to make a decision. 

Guatemalan officials  hopes to meet with President Obama later this year at a meeting in the Dominican Republic.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Death in the Americas

A landslide in Costa Rica earlier today has killed at least 20 people, with another 14 missing as of 9:00 P.M.  Hopefully, the death toll lowers in the morning, similar to recent stories from Mexico where initial estimates were too high.  As is the case with most natural disasters, the poor were likely to have suffered disproportionately.
President Laura Chinchilla said at least 20 bodies had been pulled out the debris, including four minors. She declared Friday and Saturday as days of national mourning because of the tragedy.
The landslide in the suburb of San Antonio de Escazu followed two days of heavy rains that flooded a river near the town and sent 1,500 people to shelters across Costa Rica...
Flory Quintero, who lives nearby, said: "I know 20 families lived there together. Some were very poor and had settled near the banks of the river. When it happened, it sounded like a turbine."
And in Cuba, a plane carrying 68 people, including 61 passengers and 7 crew members, crashed en route from Santiago de Cuba to Havana.  Twenty-eight foreigners were on board. 
The AeroCaribbean Santiago de Cuba-to-Havana flight crashed about half way, going down in the village of Guasimal in the area of Sancti Spiritus...

The plane was an ATR twin turboprop aircraft that belonged to Cuba's state-owned AeroCaribbean airline.

The pilot radioed that the plane was having problems before it plummeted to the ground, said NBC News, monitoring Cuban media reports.
A terrible accident (we hope).  This seems like a great opportunity for the US to work with Cuba on a joint investigation into the crash.  We have a highly regarded NTSB that's had to deal with too many crashes and I don't remember hearing too much about recent Cuban plane crashes.  That would make too much sense.  However, I can't see it happening given the state of our bilateral relations.

Colom Vetoes Death Penalty Bill


I'd like to that that this was unsurprising (see here and here), but one never does know.  From the AP
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has vetoed legislation that would have reinstated capital punishment while giving the president the power to commute death penalty sentences.

Colom vetoed a similar law two years ago.

He said Thursday that his government doesn't think the death penalty helps improve security.

While reinstating the death penalty, the vetoed measure would have given Guatemala's president the authority to commute a prisoner's death sentence to a prison term of up to 50 years.

Nineteen Guatemalan prisoners have been caught in a death row limbo since the country's high court suspended executions in 2002. It ruled that presidential reprieves on death penalty cases were unconstitutional.

Government Secrecy

Recently, the issue of government secrecy has been in the news with Wikileaks and its dump of Iraq war documents.  Matt Yglesias is obviously concerned with the tendency of our military and bureaucrats to overclassifiy information that really has no justification being classified.
Obviously some degree of military secrecy is necessary, but it’s clearly much less than the degree we’ve now got. Instead a lot of stuff seems to be kept classified merely because it’s convenient to stamp everything that way, or else because sparing the citizens the gory details of war is better for home front morale. Or something.
I would agree that some degree of secrecy is necessary as well.  However, government secrecy works to undermine democracy in numerous ways and we all know how well our government's need to keep secrets turned out in Latin America during the Cold War. 

Here's Kate Doyle from the National Security Archives recently writing about her experience providing expert witness testimony in the case of the disappearance of Edgar Fernando Garcia in Guatemala in 1984.  He disappeared while the US was providing political cover to the Guatemalan Government.  However, to no one's surprise, declassified State Department and Embassy cables written at the time that we were defending the Guatemalan government against scandalous lies speak more openly about what its government was actually doing.
They describe a planned campaign on the part of the Guatemalan government to kidnap and kill trade union activists and student leaders linked to the opposition. In a secret analysis written on February 23, 1984, for example, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported a “new wave of violence” launched by military and police under head of state General Oscar Mejía Víctores, targeting a broad swath of Guatemala’s legal and clandestine opposition. “Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation,” wrote U.S. officials, pointing in particular to the army’s “notorious presidential intelligence service (archivos)” and the National Police, “who have traditionally considered labor activists to be communists.” This and other U.S. documents provide context for Fernando García’s kidnapping as well as describe a pattern and practice on the part of Guatemalan security forces to use forced disappearance in their war against their political opponents.
Two soldiers were recently found guilty for abducting Garcia.  I'm sorry, but I'd prefer that we err on the side of disclosure.

A related argument to the case is that bureaucrats might simply classify material simply because that's what bureaucrats do (See Bernstein).  They're not necessarily trying to hide anything.  Fortunately, in the Guatemalan case, military bureaucrats also did what bureaucrats do - they kept meticulous notes that documented their surveillance of the victim and his and associates ultimate disappearance.  These documents were invaluable to bringing about a conviction.

Another issue that I come across and sometimes think about myself is that secrecy was vital during the Cold War.  When things return to "normal," we won't have as much government secrecy.  I haven't convinced myself of that yet.

As Boz mentioned earlier in the week, the CIA was involved in the shooting down of a civilian plane in Peru in 2001 that killed a US missionary and her daughter.



Instead of admitting that a mistake had been made, the officers tried to cover up their actions by, among other things, lying to congress.  While too little too late, the CIA handed out administrative punishments to 16 retired and current officers for their role in the killings.

In the end, the US government fought the Cold War in our name.  It has been fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in our names.  And it has been fighting the drug war in our name.  Civilians, including Americans, have died, sometimes at our hands.  The American people are entitled to the truth behind our government's activities no matter how embarrassing.  That's how democracy works.