Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guatemala Dream Project

How about some uplifting stories for the next few days.  Here's a pretty cool story out of New Mexico
Peyton Young and Harry Shapiro, owners of Harry's Roadhouse, attribute their restaurant's success to their employees.
That's one reason why over the last year they've been working on the Guatemala Dream Project, which provides financial support to college-bound Guatemalan students in Nueva Concepción Escuintla, Guatemala. Most of the staff at the southeast Santa Fe restaurant is Latino, and many of its employees are from Guatemala, the couple said.
"They've been a big part of building this restaurant," Young said.

"We've been lucky to have such hard-working, loyal employees," Shapiro said. "We started thinking, how can we give back?"

The restaurant will hold its first official fundraiser for the Guatemala Dream Project on Saturday. Harry's will allocate 10 percent of the sales that day to the scholarship program and will include Guatemalan coffee, Guatemalan pork and chicken tamales on the menu.
Thank you and good luck.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

14 Years after the Acuerdos de Paz

As Guatemalans doubt the efficacy of the government's state of siege in Alta Verapaz and worry about a potential escalation of the conflict to malls, schools, and police stations, today they are also remembering the end to their last war.

Today, December 29, 2010 marks the fourteenth anniversary of the historic Firm and Lasting Agreement that officially ended the country's thirty-six year conflict / civil war.  The accords were signed by Alvaro Arzu of the National Advancement Party (PAN) and the high command of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG). 

Here's is what I concluded in a chapter (Opportunity lost: The Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit) that I prepared for an edited volume entitled Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding: Moving From Violence to Sustainable Peace (2009). 

"While there has not been a return to political violence by any of the warring parties, the goals of the peace process have not entirely been fulfilled. The peace process called for more than simply an end to the war. The URNG, the government, civil society and the international community spent ten years designing a lasting agreement that some hoped would radically transform Guatemala’s political, social, and economic systems. At best, progress on these goals has been mixed.

No doubt, the peace process contributed to the further democratization of Guatemala, a process that had begun ten years earlier. The period of the peace process witnessed the successful mobilization of historically marginalized groups. Since then, however, these groups have lost much of their ability to influence the country’s political structures (García 2004). The URNG also has competed in three elections (1999, 2003, and 2007) since its reinsertion into the formal political system. However, after finishing a distant third in 1999, it is now on the verge of irrelevancy as it only captured 3 percent of the vote in the most recent election and former combatants occupy positions in no less than three other political parties.

One of the primary factors that contributed to the outbreak of war in the first place was the country’s dire economic situation. Today, Guatemala remains one of the poorest countries in the region. According to the World Bank, 56 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2006. As of 2004, 80 percent of those living in the countryside and 76 percent of the indigenous people lived in poverty. As part of the peace accords, the government promised to significantly increase tax revenues and health and education expenditures. While these commitments were less than many had hoped for, the government has not even attained these modest goals.

Finally, the parties reached agreements on human rights that led to investigations by the UN (and the Catholic Church) into wartime abuses. These reports remain a critical contribution to the historical record. However, the investigations failed to hold anyone accountable for crimes committed during the war. This impunity most likely has contributed to today’s crisis where violence has reached wartime levels. If one takes the number of deaths attributed during the 36 year war, an estimated 4,167 to 6,944 people were killed each year. Today, roughly 5,000 Guatemalans are murdered yearly. This makes Guatemala one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere. While much of the violence is related to organized crime, drug trafficking, street crime, and violence against women, the victims also frequently include human rights workers, labor leaders, judges and lawyers. The failure to resolve any of the historical structures that led to the war, except perhaps political exclusion, is one of the greatest failures of the peace process.

Why have the results of the peace agreement been so disappointing? First, the two parties that signed the final agreements were relatively weak. The URNG demobilized roughly 500 combatants and had much less popular support than years earlier. Alvaro Arzú’s governing PAN party had a relatively minor presence in the congress. The ASC, while it had an advisory role in the peace process, did not have a definitive say in any agreements. Several agreements were signed without its support which led to some animosity, especially with the URNG. The weakness of these three actors was critically important as several agreements required constitutional amendments, Congressional approval, and support from a national referendum. Sadly enough, some complain that the organized group most vocal in its support for approving the reforms was the international community which had staked a great deal of its reputation and resources on the peace process.

What lessons can one take from the example of the URNG? First, it is critical to understand the ratification process of any agreements signed. As ORPA commander Rodrigo Asturias told me, it is a mistake to count on the government and other political actors to expend political capital to push through reforms without outside pressure. Second, the guerrilla group needs to focus greater attention upon the process through which it can transform itself into a competitive political party in the postwar period. This is necessary so that it has the clout to pressure for the implementation of the agreements. While the URNG did receive some educational scholarships and reinsertion stipends for former combatants, it woefully neglected the building of a vehicle to carry out its political program once the accords were signed. As a result, those who struggled with the URNG for over three decades continue to suffer the consequences."

Cuba News

Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban five currently serving a life sentence, now claims that the Cuban Air Force shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996 in international airspace.  According to Hernandez, the two planes were not in Cuban airspace when its four passengers were killed as the Cuban government continues to insist. 
But now, spymaster Gerardo Hernandez, serving a life sentence, has made a startling about-face: In a last-ditch appeal, he suddenly agrees that the Feb. 24, 1996, MiG assaults on two Brothers to the Rescue planes happened over international waters.

With that argument, Hernandez is fundamentally contradicting the stand of the regime he has sworn his loyalty to, and which has declared him a modern-day hero of the revolution.
Honestly, I don't really understand why Hernandez's change of story is so "startling."  He must have concluded that at no point in the future would he be part of a prisoner exchange and that this change in his story was his last opportunity to avoid a life-sentence.

In other news, Cuban media publishing translated Wikileaks cables.  Cubadebate said that while only 62 Wikileaks cables relevant to Cuba (out of 2,080) have been published, the Cuban government will publish Spanish language translations of the released cables for those on the island to read for themselves. 

Apparently, seven cables have already been translated and released.  Several of the recently released Cuba documents deal with the US's take on dissident groups on the island (Opposition 'Needs to Reflect' on U.S. Criticisms Revealed by Wikileaks).   

In cables sent to the U.S. State Department, USINT chief of mission Jonathan Farrar does not so much disparage the Cuban dissidents as note their lack of influence on Cuban society, particularly young people, because their messages don't have much youth appeal.
The dispatches also indicate that the opposition groups waste energy "boycotting" each other, lack programmes for attracting a broad spectrum of Cuban society, and although they claim to represent thousands of citizens, USINT said it had seen little evidence of such support.
Another indictment in the cables is that "the greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organisers and their key supporters living from day to day." Farrar cited the case of one who presented a USINT official with a budget to pay his group's salaries...

According to the diplomatic cables, Washington "should look elsewhere, including within the government itself, to spot likely successors to the Castro regime." They mention in particular that young people are disillusioned with the system, such as bloggers, musicians and artists, who take "much better" rebellious stances with a greater public impact.
The last sentence is pretty telling.  The US should probably look within the existing Cuban government "to spot likely successors to the Castro regime."  I would agree wholeheartedly and I probably would have agreed with that insight ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years ago.

However, if this is news to the US government, they need to find better analysts on the island.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Thank you all for taking time each day to stop by Cenral American Politics.  I have to go put some gifts under the tree for the kids and then we're off to Beantown tomorrow.

Merry Christmas everyone and I'll check back in next week.


The Economist on Funes - So Far, So Good

The Economist recently highlighted the first eighteen months in office of today's most popular president in Latin America.
THE mess faced by Mauricio Funes when he was elected president of El Salvador last year suggested he was in for a bumpy ride. Rampant gang violence produced the world’s highest murder rate in 2009. Amid the global financial crisis the economy shrank by 3.6%, one of the biggest drops in the region. El Salvador is not an easy place to govern. Yet 18 months later 79% of voters back Mr Funes, making him Latin America’s most popular leader.
His support does not come from any great success over crime or the economy. The murder rate dipped after Mr Funes ordered the army onto the streets and banned gang membership, but has since bounced back. And in the past year 5% of Salvadoreans suffered an extortion attempt, often orchestrated by mobile phone from prisons. Meanwhile the economy has barely limped back to growth. It is not expected to reach its pre-recession level until 2012 because of the country’s dependence on the United States, whose recovery has been weak.

My question for readers is why do you think Funes remains so popular?

  1. The Economist argues that Funes' "centrist approach has won over voters who had tired of El Salvador’s polarised politics."
  2. He's actually doing a really good job in managing the economy and public insecurity.
  3. He's not really doing a good job (most people think that the economy and public security situations have worsened), but he's doing better than expected.
  4. (Related to number 2) He's not really doing a good job, but he's doing better than any ARENA candidate would have done. 

You're wasting your time

The Economist has a story on Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time that highlights many problems confronted by those pursuing a doctorate in the United States and around the world.
Academics tend to regard asking whether a PhD is worthwhile as analogous to wondering whether there is too much art or culture in the world. They believe that knowledge spills from universities into society, making it more productive and healthier. That may well be true; but doing a PhD may still be a bad choice for an individual.
It is well worth reading for those in academia or hoping to crack into the profession.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alta Verapaz Update

President Colom has voiced his satisfaction with the state of siege "Carlos V" in the Department of Alta Verapaz.  Authorities have arrested fourteen to eighteen individuals (put it as less than two dozen), decommissioned properties, several small planes, and nine cars and a truck, retaken an airstrip, and recovered over 220 weapons including AK-47s and M-16s since Saturday.  They also recovered police uniforms and badges and some cash (~$65,000). 

The numbers are all over the place so we'll really have to wait until they are confirmed.  Authorities have said that five planes have been recovered, but it's unclear whether they were all involved in drug trafficking.  Some appear to have registered owners while others do not and some have permission to be in the country while others do not.  In addition, on the same day that Prensa Libre was reporting nine cars and a truck were recovered, this Fox Latino story was reporting twenty-eight.   

While there have been few arrests so far (at least in my opinion), Colom and the authorities are confident that any remaining Zetas will not escape because the police have established roadblocks leaving the targeted areas.  They also reassigned 335 police officers with "uncertain loyalties" from Verapaz to the capital.

It's really too early to tell how successful the operation has been.  Granted it's better than nothing, but I'm just not sure how much better.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The CIA is preparing to combat any damage to the agency and its assets from the release of WikiLeaks documents by establishing W.T.F.
In a move that couldn't be more ironic, and made for headlines such as the above, the CIA adopted a task force. And like all things involving the military, or secrecy, acronyms are huge. So when the CIA developed the WikiLeaks Task Force, naturally, it was likely thinking of the KISS method Keep It Simple Stupid.
But in doing so, the CIA has proved it either has a really good sense of humor or was trying to send a snarky message, or perhaps someone at the agency just didn't think hard enough about the name choice.
"Officially, the panel is called the WikiLeaks Task Force," The Washington Post reports. "But at CIA headquarters, it's mainly known by its all-too-apt acronym: W.T.F."
It couldn't be reason number three.  Too many people would have had to pass off on the name before it became official, right?

Wikileaks El Salvador VII and VIII - McDonalds

The subject of the seventh and eighth Wikileaks cables on El Salvador relate to McDonald's efforts to prevent anti-US FMLN judges from hearing its cases get a fair hearing in court.

The seventh cabled is entitled "Appeals Court Awards Former McDonald's Franchise $24 Million." The document was written by US Ambassador Hugh Barclay on December 21, 2005 during the second year of President Saca's administration.

Here's the summary:
In an unexpected twist in McDonald's ten-year legal battle with former franchisee Servipronto, the Second Court of Appeals ruled on December 7, 2005, that the U.S. fast-food giant had illegally terminated its franchising agreement with Servipronto on July 1, 1996, and therefore owed the local firm $24 million in damages for unrealized earnings during what would have been a 20-year extension, to June 30, 2016. One other case involving McDonald's and Servipronto has been resolved in favor of McDonald's, while two others are unresolved. The Salvadoran Courts are inefficient, politicized, and occasionally corrupt. Their inability to effectively enforce commercial law detracts from the country's ability to attract investment. Post will continue to encourage the Government of El Salvador to press for meaningful judicial reform.
The eight cable is an "Update on McDonald's Contractual Dispute."  This document was also written by US Ambassador Hugh Barclay on February 16, 2006.

Here's the summary for this cable:
On December 7, 2005, an appeals court ruled that McDonald's had illegally terminated its contract with a local franchisee on July 1, 1996, and therefore owed him $24 million in losses and damages. McDonald's is appealing the decision, but the composition of the chamber that will hear the case makes it unlikely that justice will be served. On February 10, McDonald's corporate representatives outlined for the Ambassador the company's strategy to pressure the Salvadorans to ensure a fair hearing by linking the case to CAFTA-DR implementation--an approach the Ambassador suggested would be counterproductive. They also outlined efforts to convince Salvadoran government officials of the importance that the case get a fair hearing, which the Ambassador agreed to support vigorously.
The Guardian has the story here.  In reading the cables, it appears that McDonald's was successful in several court cases against a former franchisee, Roberto Bukele.  Bukele lost his franchise rights after not abiding by the terms and conditions set by McDonald's.  However, in 2005 another appeals court found for Bukele.  McDonald's continued to engage in lobbying campaigns in both El Salvador and Washington in hopes of attaining a positive outcome to the case as it moved to the Supreme Court.

The Guardian labeled the story McDonald's used US to put pressure on El Salvador, but it could just have easily been written as "McDonald's Disappointed with Support from US Embassy." 

The US Ambassador and others mentioned the McDonald's case to President Saca and other members of the government, "emphasizing the stakes at play for a government in desperate need of foreign investment."  Depending on how this statement was conveyed, it could obviously be taken as a threat or simply a statement of fact.

However, the ambassador disagreed with some of the steps taken by (or threatened by) McDonald's and warned them that the actions would be counterproductive to McDonald's efforts to get a fair hearing in El Salvador and that they would undermine US economic interests in the country (the passage of CAFTA-DR).  From the February cable,
On February 10, McDonald's Vice President for Government Relations Dick Crawford and Maria Legett briefed the Ambassador on the company's efforts to see a fair resolution of the case. They explained that the company has engaged in a Washington-focused advocacy effort to put pressure on the Salvadorans to resolve the case according to the rule of law, suggesting that CAFTA-DR implementation should be delayed pending resolution of the case. The Ambassador, however, voiced concern that McDonald's strategy ran directly counter to U.S. interests in seeing CAFTA-DR implemented as soon as possible. Emboffs also noted that McDonald's invocation of CAFTA-DR in the lead-up to legislative elections would play into the hands of those who have resisted CAFTA-DR by alienating senior government officials who are already working to see that the case is resolved according to the rule of law and by complicating efforts to get additional CAFTA-related reforms through the Legislative Assembly. It would also unnecessarily thrust the case into the public spotlight, creating just the kind of negative publicity that McDonald's representatives have said they seek to avoid. Crawford acknowledged these concerns and agreed to tone down, but not cease, his company's efforts on this issue.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Alta Verapaz?

Prensa Libre has why President Colom selected Alta Verapaz for a state of siege this past weekend.  Colom agreed that his government could just as easily have targeted San Marcos, Petén, Zacapa or Izabal. 

However, it was the overwhelming presence of the Zetas in Alta Verapaz that pushed it to the top of the list.
“En Alta Verapaz, la presencia de los Zetas es fuerte. Precisamente por eso, y para optimizar mejor el mecanismo de poder allanar, capturar y confinar personas sin orden judicial, era importante”, refirió el gobernante.
From reading Siglo XXI, it sounds more like Alta Verapaz was chosen first and operations in the other departments are to come.  They are also "candidates."

Hemispheric Brief has more links on the recent developments.  However, I just want to add that the shooting of seven people in a bar in La Libertad was in the Peten, not Alta Verapaz.

CICIG Extended to 2013

On Monday, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to extend the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala's (CICIG) mandate another two years until September 2013.  The resolution to extend CICIG's mandate was co-sponsored by seventy nations and approved unanimously.

Colom requested the extension because he did not believe that the justice and security sectors would be able capable of standing on their own by September 2011 when the current extension expires.  He also did not want CICIG's mandate to expire at the same time that the country was conducting national elections, also scheduled for September.

While I am not sure that the government of Guatemala deserves an extension of CICIG's work, the people of Guatemala do.

Here's what I wrote one month ago.
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.
    1. Guatemalan leaders and the international community reach an agreement to extend its mandate for five or more years.
    2. Next year's presidential candidates come out publicly in support of CICIG and commit to making its recommendations a priority of their administration.
    3. 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.
    4. Increase CICIG's staff and resources - specifically, protect Guatemalans working with the organization.
    5. Provide a realistic update on the status of the prosecutor's office - when will it be ready to stand on its own two feet.
    6. How much can CICIG accomplish without internationalizing the commission to include all of Central America and Mexico (or at least El Salvador)?
Well, I guess there's been a little movement on point number two.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Peten - the next target?

One of the reasons why we should be skeptical about this weekend's state of siege launch in Alta Verapaz, at least when it comes to the country as a whole, comes from a story in today's BBC News.
Visit Guatemala's Peten region on the border with Mexico and Belize, and it soon becomes clear why Mexican drug cartels are moving some of their operations into Central American nations.
The Peten, a scarcely populated rainforest covering more 30,000 sq km (11,500sq miles), was the cradle of Mayan civilisation.
Today it is widely considered a haven for criminal activities ranging from human trafficking to illegal logging, and, principally, drug smuggling...
Only 250 young soldiers are in charge of patrolling a 5,000sq km area of the Peten.
No matter how successful (or not) the Alta Verapaz operation is, there are plenty of other areas in Guatemala where the DTOs can operate with near total impunity.

And even if the Guatemalan and Mexican authorities somehow close off the land and air routes, there are always the sea routes.  Fox News (see here, here, and here) has had several stories in recent days about the lack of security in the Peten and Alta Verpaz and the two regions were also the focus of a Mexico Wikileaks cable (See here and here).

State of Siege in Alta Verapaz

As I am sure that you've heard by now, Alvaro Colom has declared a state of siege in northern Guatemala.  Hemispheric Brief has a pretty comprehensive write-up on the operation so I'll just quote a bit and send you there.
The Guatemalan military declared a state of siege in the northern province of Alta Verapaz Sunday, allowing the army to “detain suspects without warrants, conduct warrantless searches, prohibit gun possession and public gatherings, and control the local news media.” The AP reports that the measure comes amidst growing concerns over Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) active in the region, specifically los Zetas. For now it appears the state of exception will be in effect for at least one month, but President Alvaro Colom indicated Sunday that he would consider extending it for “as long as necessary.”
The president’s spokesman Ronaldo Robles, meanwhile, said the measures were intended to “bring peace to the people and recover their confidence in the government.”
So far, the Guatemalan Government is saying little about the siege.  Last night, the offensive might have led to the arrest of fifteen people linked to organized crime, but neither the Minister of Defense Abraham Valenzuela nor the Interior Minister Carlos Menocal has confirmed the arrests (Prensa Libre).

Claudia Samayoa (Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Udefegua) has criticized the state of siege by arguing that that last seven states of prevention have failed.  On the other hand, the Archbishop of Guatemala Óscar Julio Vian considers the siege necessary in order to bring security to the people of Alta Verapaz (Siglo XXI).  Colom also said that he did not like the idea of a state of siege but he believes that it is necessary to search homes, to obtain information, and to capture people (El Periodico).

Obviously, I don't think that anyone views the state of siege in Alta Verapaz for thirty days or so a long-term solution to the insecurity lived by the inhabitants of the department or the country.  In the short-term we're likely to see (hopefully?) some high profile arrests and a period of calm in the department while members of organized crime, particularly the Zetas, go underground or simply relocate during the siege.  That would be good for the people of this department, but not so much for those living in neighboring areas. 

On the other hand, we could see an escalation of violence in Alta Verapaz (Ciudad Juarez anyone?) as drug traffickers and organized crime dig their heels in against a poorly trained and equipped Guatemalan military.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No News on TPS for Guatemala

California State Assemblywoman Norma Torres of  recently sent a letter to President Obama asking him to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Guatemalans living in the United States.  According to Torres's Wikipedia entry, she was born in Guatemala and relocated to Los Angeles at the age of five along with her father and two brothers when her mother died.  Torres has also been credited with rallying the other hispanic members of the California Assembly to support Guatemala's request for TPS protection. 

In September, US Ambassador Stephen McFarland said that TPS for Guatemala was under "active consideration."  In that sense, the recent Torres story in Prensa Libre has nothing new to report.

Perhaps it posisble that the president thought that by taking a tough stance against illegal immigration during his first two years in office, congress would come around and be more inclined to support some version of comprehensive immigration reform.  However, the president has not received "credit" for putting more guards on the border, spending more on border enforcement, and deporting a record number of illegal immigrants.

Now that Congress has killed the Dream (Act) because anything that doesn't round up and deport eleven million illegal immigrations is regarded as amnesty, let's hope that the executive branch will be more inclined to use its powers to push immigration reform at the margins.  Granting TPS to Guatemalans living in the US would be one small step in the right direction.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

US and Britain Lose Soccer Friendly

On Saturday, US and British ambassadors Stephen McFarland and Julie Chapell took part in a friendly soccer game against Otto Perez Molina and other mayors of the the Patriotic Party (PP).  McFarland and Chapell played alongside media professionals from Chichicastenango.

Perez Molina scored on a penal for the 1-0 victory.  According to McFarland, Chapell and Perez Molina, the game was meant to convey a message of friendship and against the violence in Guatemala, particularly as the country prepares for next year's election.

According to a report released earlier this months, eighteen journalists have been murdered in the last seven years.  While no journalists have been murdered so far this year, there have been fifteen attacks on freedom of expression.  In terms of politics, over fifty people related to the political process were killed in the last electoral campaign and many are worried about the potential for an upsurge in violence during next year's campaign.

The Egomaniacal Alan Garcia

Wikileaks recently released a US diplomatic able that suggested Peruvian President Alan Garcia had "a colossal ego."  The cable also noted rumors that Garcia could be afflicted by manic depression or bipolar disorder.  Understanding the mental state of world leaders seems to have comprised a large percentage of the recently released Latin America cables.

However, what surprised me in the case of Garcia was his response.
"This is gossip, information you tend to get from your family, your spouse, at work from bosses, opinion, rumor," he said in a radio interview Thursday with Radioprogramas. "I don't feel offended, nor do I give it importance. But I will say there's a lot of poor-quality diplomacy."
If your spouse and family go around saying that you have a collossal ego or suffer from manic depression or bipolar disorder, you really have a problem.

The Allende Family

Gonzalo Meza Allende, a forty-five year old grandson of Salvador Allende, committed on Wednesday.
It is the fourth suicide in the Allende family. Salvador Allende shot himself moments before he was to be captured during the 1973 military coup. A daughter, Beatriz, shot herself in Havana in 1977, and his sister Laura, terminally ill with cancer by 1981, jumped from a Havana hotel.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Guatemala News Roundup

Here are some Guatemala stories from the last few days that I found interesting.
Fugitive Guatemalan minister arrested: Former Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann turned himself in to Spanish authorities on Thursday.  He faces charges in both Spain and Guatemala related to the 2006 murder of seven inmates at El Pavon prison.  CNN also has a story about photos allegedly placing Vielmann at the Pavon prison when the inmates were executed.  Vielmann was released on bail later on Thursday with instructions not to leave the country.
Peligra importante asistencia de EEUU a Guatemala: Guatemala is at risk of losing $126 million from the United States for failing to meet the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).  Clare Ribando Seelke has the Congressional Research Service report on Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean
Migrants risk a river of woes: The Houston Chronicle has a new story on the risk that Central American migrants take in crossing into and through Mexico on their way to the United States.  Among some of the interesting tidbits from the story is a statement by El Salvador's ambassador to Mexico, Hugo Carrillo - "I thought that with the massacre there was going to be at least a temporary drop in the migration. But it hasn't dropped at all... Their situation, their need to improve their lives, makes them run the risks. They are terrified, but they are still coming." 
WOLA and the Miguel Augustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh) have a new report on "A Dangerous Journey through Mexico: Human Rights Violations against Migrants in Transit."  Here's the press release and the report.
Danilo Valladares also had a new report entitled Allegations Taint Anti-Corruption Commission's Efforts.  In it, Valladares reports that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to travel to Guatemala in March or April and is expected to extend CICIG's mandate for two more years.

People Who Mattered in 2010 - Jan Brewer

The Onion has named Arizona Governor Jan Brewer one of the People Who Mattered in 2010.  Congrats Governor.
Like the growing tide of up and coming conservative politicians, Brewer understands that real change—the disturbing, almost surreal kind of change that drives a wedge between Americans, increases fear and xenophobia, and makes Arizona, and by extension the nation as a whole, seem impossibly backward—has to start at home.
The loon.

Guatemala and Wikileaks - Sandra Torres

The first Wikileaks cable on Guatemala was recently released.  The entire report is about Sandra Torres de Colom and comes with the subject line is First Lady Prepares Controversial Bid for Presidency.  The cable discusses Sandra Torre's intention to run for president in 2011, praise of her skill in administering the government's social welfare programs, and her abrasive personality.  The cable was sent by the US Embassy in Guatemala to Washington on September 28, 2009.

Here's the summary:
Although she has not publicly stated her intentions, it is clear that First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom intends to run for the Guatemalan Presidency in 2011. Torres, who is to the left of her husband, President Alvaro Colom, is a controversial figure. She is the most able manager in the government, and also the most abrasive. Many poor, rural Guatemalans, ignored by previous governments, are grateful for her Conditional Cash Transfer and other social programs. Many middle- and upper-class urban voters tend to see Torres as a radical populist. Her sex and middle class provincial origins reinforce the upper class' distrust of her. The Guatemalan Constitution bars presidential family members from running, but Torres is likely to challenge that obstacle. Her efforts to do so would generate considerable controversy, given the politicization and corruption in judicial institutions. The First Lady's likely candidacy means that the current GOG is balancing governance with preparing for the 2011 campaign.
Most of the talk is pretty harmless and won't cause any problems between the US Embassy and the Guatemala Government.  Most people believe Sandra Torres is interested in running for president.  As of September 2009, the US saw her as one of the best managers in the government who played a very powerful role behind the scenes in all areas of her "husband's" administration. 
we believe the First Lady is by far the best senior manager in government (albeit not a transparent one): She is smart, hard-working, and demands results. At the same time, her abrasiveness has lost her some allies, and we suspect that her subordinates are reluctant to give her or the public bad news.

While there are questions about the constitutionality of her candidacy, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court will likely be sympathetic to permitting her to run.  Having this document now available publicly will likely speed up the discussion of who is allowed to run and who is not (See here).   

From my quick read, the most damaging / controversial sections of the cable are going to be the following.
There is some element of sexism and classism in the upper and middle classes' opposition to Torres. Guatemala is a conservative society, and the large, indigenous society to which Torres is appealing for support through her social programs is very male-centered...
Sandra Torres de Colom's assertive personality does not sit well with everyone in male-dominated Guatemalan society.
That's probably not going to play well.

The second quote is going to be read by some as evidence of Alvaro Colom's intention to remain in office beyond his term or to support his wife's candidacy even though it is unclear whether the constitution permits her to run.  It's not clear that is what he is saying, but I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a headline.
Colom has also told the Ambassador that Guatemala's deep-rooted poverty, violence, and impunity could be resolved by the continuity of having the same party in power for two to three presidential terms.
Finally, one last quote stands out.
Much will change between now and Fall 2011, but different parties' plans for that distant event are already taking shape and impacting the political landscape. Guatemala's current electorate is distinct from that of many Latin American countries in that it ranges from center-left to hard-right.
Either the US does not see the URNG as hard-left or it does not even consider them a part of the political landscape in Guatemala.  It reminds me of something the Rodrigo Asturias told me in 2004.  He said that the press didn't say anything bad about the URNG in the papers.  The problem was that they said nothing about the party at all. 

Prensa Libre, El Periodico, and Siglo XXI have additional coverage while President Colom has already stated that the release of this document and others will not cause problems between our two governments.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Narcotrafficking is Gautemala's New Enemy

BBC Mundo has a short video and story El narcotráfico es el nuevo enemigo de Guatemala that's worth checking out.

2010 Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50 - We have a Winner

I know everyone has been waiting anxiously to hear who would be crowned the 2010 Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50.  Well, like the Cliff Lee saga, the wait is over.  Unfortunately, our friend Hermano Juancito did not win.  Instead, a Westerly lawyer has been named sexiest vegetarian.

Does choosing to eat no meat or animal products make you sexy? PETA would like you to think so, and to help sell the idea, they've picked their Sexiest Vegetarians Over 50 for the year. A Westerly lawyer, Robert L. Lombardo, Jr., was picked for the men's division.

Congratulations and enjoy your five-night trip for two to a vegetarian and ecologically-oriented resort in Guatemala.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Guatemala News Roundup

Here are links to a few Guatemala stories from the last week or so:
Guatemalan Police Make More Arrests in Jailbreak: Sixteen people have so far been arrested in last week's jailbreak in Malacatan.  The prison break freed Elmer Celada Galdamez who was accused of having taken part in the abduction and subsequent murder of Carlos Mercedes Vasquez, a professional soccer player.  Celada has not yet been found.  The police believe that the accused are members of the Zetas.
Guatemala has 1st Female Attorney General: Claudia Paz, a 54-year lawyer, plans to start her four-year office evaluating her staff and maintaining co-operation with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig).  Paz replaces Conrado Reyes who was rejected by the Constitutional Court. for supposed links with powerful groups involved in drug trafficking and for acting in their favour in the Ministry of Justice.
Guatemala passes property seizure law to fight gangs: Congress finally passed a bill that would allow the government to confiscate property from convicted criminals so that it can better target the wealth of powerful drug traffickers. The bill, which was passed after months of debate during which some lawmakers allegedly were threatened, will allow the state to use, donate or auction goods seized from convicted criminals, according to lawmaker Mariano Rayo.  The URNG posted a list of those deputies who voted agains the law on Facebook.

Forgotten Promises Leave Indigenous Peoples Poorer and Hungrier: "The situation of the native peoples may be even worse than before. Poverty has increased, the quality of education is very poor, and there is no intercultural perspective in health services," Eduardo Sacayón, director of the Interethnic Studies Institute at Guatemala's University of San Carlos, told IPS.
Anthropologist Slain in Guatemala: Emilia Margarita Quan Staackmann was a young anthropologist working with the the independent Center for Research and Documentation on the Western Border of Guatemala.  Last Tuesday Quan and her driver were intercepted while traveling to Todos Santos from the city of Huehuetenango.  He was released a few hours later.  However, Quan was killed and her body was recovered on Wednesday.  Two of the alleged murderers were lynched by residents of Todos Santos Cuchumatan.  WOLA sent out a press release condemning her murder on Monday.
Extradition request filed for former Guatemalan minister: Last week the Foreign Ministry filed an extradition request with Spain so that former interior minister Carlos Vielmann may face charges of alleged extrajudicial killings.  Vielmann had been released a few weeks ago after Guatemalan authorities failed to properly request his extradition from Spain.

14 Killed in Bus Accident in Guatemala: Fourteen people were killed in a bus accident when their bus plunged into a 984 foot ravine after the the driver lost control on a curve.  The accident occurred last Monday in Yoltzicap, located about 252 miles west of Guatemala City.  This accident follws the November 28 accident that killed ninteen coffee workers in Zunil.
Legal Battle Over Wetland Oil Drilling: Danilo Valladares has an important write-up on the fifteen-year extension of an oil-drilling controct in Laguna del Tigre National Park.
Guatemalan journalism increasingly threatened by organized crime: The Knight Center's blog has links to several recent stories concerning the threat to Guatemalan journalists in this post.
UN commission finds irregularities still exist in Guatemalan adoptions despite tougher law: CICIG reported that it found cases where children were given to foreigners who were listed as their "foster parents" to circumvent a ban on international adoptions.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks El Salvador V

The subject of the fifth released Wikileaks cable on El Salvador is "Scenesetter for DoD Visit to El Salvador, March 8-9." The document was written by the US Charge d'Affairs Robert Blau on February 23, 2010, two weeks before a US Department of Defense delegation arrived to El Salvador.

Here's the summary:
Embassy San Salvador warmly welcomes the March 8-9 visit of Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Paul N. Stockton and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Frank Mora. Your visit comes while the GOES is in the midst of combating a public security crisis of the first order. It also comes at a time when the ESAF has emerged as a major player in President Funes's anti-crime strategy and his efforts to pursue a center-left, generally pro-U.S. agenda. Your visit will help reinforce the U.S. policy of active engagement with the GOES, which strengthens the moderate, pragmatic elements in the current administration.
Recent polls show President Mauricio Funes with an 80 percent approval rating and overwhelming public support for a strong bilateral relationship with the U.S. Funes has fostered strong ties with the U.S. and Brazil, though some in the FMLN have pushed him to strengthen ties with Venezuela and Cuba while de-emphasizing the U.S. relationship. President Funes' non-FMLN campaign support group, the Friends of Mauricio (now the Citizen Movement for Change), is largely in control of the economic apparatus of the government. Similarly, Defense is in the hands of a formerly-retired, recently-promoted military officer and Friend of Mauricio, Brigadier General David Munguia Payes. FMLN members control security, education, and intelligence elements of the GOES. Foreign policy is in the hands of a loyal FMLN member, but has thus far been characterized by pragmatism and outreach to the U.S. Combating violent crime and rejuvenating the economy are the GOES's top priorities, but the Funes administration has made little progress on either issue since taking office last June.
Again, the US Charge d'Affairs is just trying to paint a picture of events in El Salvador for the incoming delegation.  However, it's not entirely helpful to state that Funes controls economic policy and defense while the FMLN controls security, education, and intelligence without providing any context whatsoever.  Perhaps it is in other cables, but presumably one would want to know how this division of labor impacts both the design and execution of government policy.  Blau makes it sound as if Funes has no control of FMLN members in charge of education, for example when I'm not certain that that is the case.

The third section of the cable is confusing.  It begins by explaining that President Funes told Secretary of State Clinton that "his government needs a good relationship with the United States."  The paragraph then continues with a list of reasons why El Salvador needs a good relationship with the US.  However, the list of reasons appears to come from Blau and not Funes. 
Three out of every ten Salvadorans live in the U.S. and those who remain at home are avid consumers of all manner of American products, media, and culture. Nearly half of all Salvadoran exports are to the U.S. Given transnational crime links to and from the U.S. via Central America, there are no serious alternatives to cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies. The Salvadoran military admires and trusts our armed forces, and naturally look to us for training, equipment, and mentoring. USAID and MCC are prominent actors in social and conomic development and are held in high esteem by the GOES and the people of El Salvador. As a result, the Salvadoran public is among the most pro-American in the hemisphere. Even the hard-line FMLN recognize these points, if at the same time they do not forget our role in preventing them from seizing power with violence during the country's protracted and bloody civil war.
After giving an overview of the political situation in El Salvador (divisions within the left - getting worse - and the right - getting better), Blau emphasizes military-to-military cooperation between the US and El Salvador (Iraq, counter narcotics efforts, USNS Comfort, and natural disaster relief).  I'm surprised that the cable didn't go into more detail about how the supposed divisions within the Funes government are effecting (or might effect) military-to-military relations.  These insights would be particularly helpful to the visiting DoD delegation since much of the rest of the cable didn't seem that pertinent to their visit.

Blau then lays out US goals in El Salvador.
Our work in El Salvador is focused on (1) promoting improved public security; (2) supporting stable, democratic governance; (3) broadening economic prosperity; and (4) investing in people.
None of these are really controversial.  Obviously, the controversy results when you have to determine the best way to promote improved public security (greater use of the military? more police? legal authority?), broaden economic prosperity (increase tax rates and/or collection), invest in people (government spending on education and health? an increase in the minimum wage? greater labor protections? safeguard the environment?), and support democracy (is the hard-line FMLN supportive/capable of stable democratic governance?).

Finally, I'll leave you with Blau's conclusion.
Although the Salvadoran electorate granted President Funes a mandate for change, by all appearances the voters expect him to work with the country's dynamic private sector, and to maintain good relations with the United States. Despite continuing problems with crime and a weak economy, the public is pleased with Funes's work thus far - his approval rating is above 80 percent in recent polling. Tensions between Funes and the FMLN could undermine governability and potentially damage the bilateral relationship with the U.S. Meanwhile, transnational organized crime and violent street gang activity pose as serious threat to the stability of the country. Your visit will help reaffirm our commitment to assisting the GOES in combating this non-traditional national security threat while continuing our traditionally-strong military-to-military relationship.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wikileaks around the Americas

Here are a few other Wikileaks stories of interest.
Venezuelan missile purchases worried U.S.: WikiLeaks: The US tried to prevent Russia and Spain from selling a variety of weapons to the Bolivarian Republic over the last five years.  I don't find that really surprising.  While the official rationale is that the US didn't want any of these weapons to fall into the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, I can't imagine that the US would have been any more supportive of the arms sales if we were convinced that the weapons would remain in Venezuela.
Wikileaks: Data on what Cuba sacrifices for Venezuela oil:  Each year approximately 200 Cuban doctors serving in Venezuela leave the program and end up fleeing to the United States.
WikiLeaks cable: Diplomats predict bleak economic future for Cuba and US cable: Cuba to be insolvent within 2-3 years:  The US met with with commercial and economic counselors from five of Cuba's largest trading partners -- China, Spain, Canada, Brazil and Italy -- plus key creditor nations France and Japan - in February 2010.  Most representatives seem to have concluded that (1) Cuba would not make serious reforms in the near-term, (2) could survive this year, but (3) 2011 could be a rough year.  Within months, the consensus on number 1 was undermined by the government's slashing of 500,000 public sector jobs. 
Uribe proposed capturing guerrillas in Venezuela: In one December 2007 cable, Uribe supposedly "likened the threat Chavez poses to Latin America to that posed by Hitler in Europe."  While I am sure that this statement was meant to get the US to pay more attention to the threat that Chavez poses to all the Americas (if that were possible), for me it makes me not take the threat or source seriously.
Charles II of Mercury Rising, RAJ, and Quotha provide commentary on outgoing US Ambassador Charles A. Ford views on Mel Zelaya (see here for the May 2008 cable).  In some ways, for me, the cable answers why the United States did not put a diplomatic full-court press on following the coup that removed Zelaya.  The ambassador believed that Zelaya (and those around him) was corrupt, involved in organized crime and drug trafficking, not a friend to the US, and too cozy with Chavez.  Ambassador Ford also relates that "Zelaya also has been quite erratic in his behavior."  This is the same accusation / frustration that it many officials seem to have had with Zelaya following the coup.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why manipulate immigration numbers in the first place?

Mike Munger at Kids Prefer Cheese and Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice have commented on a recent WaPo story on the Obama administration's manipulation of immigration numbers.  It looks like the administration implemented a host of accounting gimmicks to ensure that last fiscal year's deportation numbers exceeded the previous one.
But in reaching 392,862 deportations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement included more than 19,000 immigrants who had exited the previous fiscal year, according to agency statistics. ICE also ran a Mexican repatriation program five weeks longer than ever before, allowing the agency to count at least 6,500 exits that, without the program, would normally have been tallied by the U.S. Border Patrol.
I don't really understand why the administration is trying so hard to make it look like it deported more illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2010 than it did in fiscal year 2009 (each ends September 30).  Well, I do understand, but if the administration wanted to be honest present a perfectly reasonable explanation for why 2010's deportation numbers were down from 2009, it could just have said that as a result of increased deportations during Obama's first year in office (as well as increased deportations during the Bush administration), a slower U.S. economy, and stricter border enforcement, there are fewer illegal immigrants living in the United States.

The estimated number of illegal immigrants living in the United States fell from 11.6 million in 2008 to 11.1 million in 2009 (Pew Hispanic Center estimates).    As the total number of illegal immigrants living in the US declines, we are also likely to see fewer people deported.

Just take a page from the drug war playbook and say that fewer deportations is a sign of success.  The when the number of illegal immigrants in the country increases (again) and a greater number of people are deported (again), you can call that success.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny

Julio Godoy has a nice write-up on Jean-Marie Simon and the publication and presentation of her book Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny.  The exhibit has had some difficulties staying open in Guatemala.
The very fact that the book is now available in Spanish to Guatemalan readers is already a significant step in the writing of country's modern history in Guatemala itself. It offers local society the irrefutable evidence of the crimes committed by the army.
This proof is necessary, for Guatemala has never openly discussed its recent history, least of all the involvement of the ruling oligarchy in the army's campaign of scorched earth in the countryside and of systematic killings of political opponents, students and unions' leaders in the cities.
The few attempts to debate modern history -- such as the report by the Catholic Church's office of human rights, published in 1998 -- were smothered to silence by more ruthless violence. The church report's leading author, Juan Gerardi, was assassinated only a few days after the document was made public.

Furthermore, army officials still justify these crimes arguing that the Guatemalan military during the civil war only fulfilled its constitutional role and was protecting the rule of law.
You can check out some of the photos on the book's website here or Jean-Marie's blog here.  You might also be interested in an earlier blog post of mine.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wikileaks El Salvador IV

The subject of the second fourth released Wikileaks cable on El Salvador is "With ARENA Fractured, Funes is FMLN's Only Rival."  The document was written by the US Charge d'Affairs Robert Blau on January 26, 2010. 

Here's the summary:
Eight months into the Funes presidency, the GOES can best be characterized as schizophrenic. The part of the government that Funes controls is moderate, pragmatic, responsibly left-of-center and friendly to the USG. The part he has ceded to hard-line elements of the (left-wing) Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) is seeking to carry out the Bolivarian,
Chavista game-plan, including implacable hostility towards the USG.
Divisions on the right have given the FMLN a dominant position in the Legislative Assembly. However, the FMLN does not have an outright majority in the legislature, and it faces strong opposition in the popular and independent-minded President Funes. Funes's popularity could erode quickly if his administration does not start showing visible results in reducing violent crime and reviving the economy. The government's long-run inability to tackle crime or produce economic growth, coupled with petty infighting and corruption within the country's political parties, raises questions about the future of democratic governance in El Salvador.
A few quick hits - First, I don't think that it is accurate to say that the hard-line elements of the FMLN are "seeking to carry out the Bolivarian, Chavista game-plan, including implacable hostility towards the USG."  The hard-line elements of the FMLN were Chavista before Chavez and will probably remain so when he is gone.  While they share affinity for Chavez and might receive support from him, it's not all about Chavez.  It doesn't allow policymakers in Washington to objectively weight matters in El Salvador when one side is characterized as Chavista.  Similarly, it doesn't make sense to characterize ARENA as center-right (which Blau does latter in the cable).

Second, I also don't think it is helpful to characterize Funes' foreign policy as "a moderate, pro-U.S. foreign policy."  I imagine that Funes is pursuing a foreign policy that he believes is in the national interests of El Salvador.  Fortunately, for the US and I would say the people of El Salvador, he deems economic and political cooperation on issues such as free trade, democracy promotion, and comprehensive immigration reform to be in the interests of the country.  It's not a "pro-U.S. foreign policy" but a "pro-El Salvador policy that seeks strong ties with the US."

Third, schizophrenic?  I'm not a doctor (well, not that kind) but here is Google health on schizophrenia:
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
All I see from the cable is a description of intraparty rivalries.  The president and vice president represent different factions of the FMLN-Friends of Mauricio coalition that came to power in 2009.  The two factions are competing to guide the country over the next 3+ years and beyond.  Funes has control over foreign and economic policy as well as the military.  Ceren and other hard-line elements of the FMLN are in charge of labor and education. 

Finally, how different would the cable have read during the twenty years of ARENA rule?  There are serious divisions within the party over the government's economic model and its approach to crime.  There are leadership battles within the executive branch and the party in preparation for the upcoming elections.  At the same time, the opposition (FMLN) is in chaos and the moderate members have been purged (Villalobos, Guardado, etc.). We might never know what those cables said, but they might not have been too different from the recent revelations.

Most of the remaining analysis in the cable is mere speculation.  The embassy is trying to work to understand the divisions within ARENA and the FMLN.  ARENA's division led to the creation of GANA.  There's some serious disagreement between Cristiani (and others) and the corrupt Saca.  One of the interesting tidbits here was Cristiani's orders to ARENA last January.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said that ARENA president Alfredo Cristiani has instructed party leaders to focus their criticism on the FMLN and avoid attacking GANA or President Funes, both of which ARENA views as potential allies. Until the 2012 legislative elections, however, ARENA will remain a marginalized force in national politics.
I'm not sure about a potential alliance.  It seems like smart politics to not attack a president with a near 90% approval rating.  At the same time, don't attack GANA because all new political parties that have splintered from ARENA and the FMLN have failed.  There's good reason to believe that the same would occur with GANA.

Wikileaks El Salvador III

The subject of the third Wikileaks cable on El Salvador is "FMLN Affirms Socialist Course; Leadership Acknowledges Need for Strong Relations with U.S."  The document was written by the US Charge d'Affairs Robert Blau on December 15, 2009.

Here's the summary:
At its 25th annual convention December 13, the FMLN, without President Funes present, voiced solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela, repeated opposition to "the Empire," and voted to join the Fifth Socialist International. It decided to devolve authority to select candidates for local office to local party organizations. Senior FMLN leadership told us December 14 there had been no change in the FMLN's stated desire for good relations with the U.S. and attributed some of the anti-U.S. rhetoric by FMLN members (including VP Sanchez Ceren) to events outside of El Salvador, and an inability to adapt to new circumstances.
The cable starts off with a summary of the XXV 2009 Convention where the party reaffirmed its socialist platform.  That's nothing new (as I'll mention in the next post). 

Blau then goes on to summarize a meeting help between Embassy officials and FMLN representatives Medardo Gonzalez, Sigfrido Reyes, and Oscar Ortiz on December 14.
Medardo Gonzalez, FMLN General Coordinator and head of legislative bloc, Sigfrido Reyes, FMLN Spokesman and Assembly Deputy, and Oscar Ortiz, Santa Tecla Mayor. Gonzalez atated categorically there had been no change in the FMLN's stance of seeking a constructive relationship with the U.S. Noting recent statements by VP Sanchez Ceren criticizing the U.S., the three were quick to say there was no anti-U.S. policy in the FMLN and, on the contrary, the FMLN and the Funes Government saw strengthening U.S.-Salvadoran relations as a priority.
In many ways, I think that the FMLN representatives are just telling the US Government what they want to hear.  The truth is that there is a split within the party.  There are some who see a strong relationship with the US as crucial to the stability and future of El Salvador while others see the FMLN's future aligned more closely with ALBA and other leftists governments in Latin America.  It's not uncommon for members of a political party to be divided on such issues of foreign and economic policy.  Granted, in the case of El Salvador, the polarization between parties (the FMLN and ARENA) and within parties (the FMLN) is a little more extreme than most. 

Ortiz explains that extreme rhetoric coming from the Convention and the VP as a reflection of some failing to adapt to new times.
Ortiz suggested much of the anti-Imperialist commentary still emanating from the FMLN was, in part, a function of the party's slow adaptation to a new world of governing and the difficulty of setting aside long-held political rhetoric.
I'm sorry, but this sure sounds like Villalobos and the ERP/RN cadre in the early to mid-1990s.

And the final comment from Blau
The FMLN's historic, guerrilla roots run deep, and the rhetoric of years on the battlefield and two decades in opposition will not disappear quickly, or maybe ever. While our outreach to the FMLN during the 2008-2009 campaign and since Funes' inauguration has paid off in open channels of communications, we continue to combat old suspicions of U.S. motives in El Salvador and the region. On the other hand, good relations with the U.S. enjoys a 90 percent approval rating. If the FMLN overdoes its radicalism, it will have a hard time sustaining its current electoral advantages.
Blau analysis seems accurate.  There are good reasons why the FMLN and the US government do not get along and the relationship might never improve to the extent the people of El Salvador and the US would like. 

However, the last sentence is a little difficult to understand without additional information.  I'm not sure what it would mean for the FMLN to overdo its radicalism - start nationalizing businesses and property?  emphasizing popular democracy?  strengthening ties with Communist Cuba and China?  joining ALBA? 

And with regards to "sustaining its electoral advantages,"  there is little that the FMLN can do in the next five to ten years that will cause it to lose enough popular support so that it is no longer the first or second largest party in the country.  I don't know, it's just not a really helpful insight.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks El Salvador II

The subject of the second released Wikileaks cable on El Salvador is "Wave of Protests May Signal FMLN Effort to Undermine Funes."  The document was written by the US Charge d'Affairs Robert Blau on August 28, 2009. 

Here's the summary:
A recent wave of protests organized by a so-called environmental group, "La Coordinadora Nacional de Medio Ambiente (CNMA)", are likely part of a movement by hard-line elements of the FMLN to undermine President Funes. Over the past several weeks, the CNMA has carried out large-scale, coordinated protests throughout the country ostensibly protesting GOES plans to continue with the construction of the hydroelectric dam "Chaparral" and perceived inequities in the seed disbursement program to farmers. It seems that hard-line members of the FMLN party are using this relatively unknown organization to vent their frustration about the direction of economic policy and directly challenge the President.
Blau then comments:
Mass street protests are part of the traditional FMLN play book and are one battlefront in an ongoing struggle for power between the orthodox FMLN and President Funes. Funes said at a meeting Thursday August 27 that his administration will not yield to blackmail. There is broad public support for the need for Funes to prevail.

Sorry, but I don't know anything about these strikes and neither does it appear from the cable that Blau does (or at least he isn't saying). 

Blau argues that these protests were "sophisticated" because they involved a simultaneous "series of road blocks at nine key points in the highway" while "past CNMA protests consisted of no more than small-scale demonstrations outside of the Presidential Palace." 

Therefore, they must have been organized by the FMLN and they must have been an attempt by hard-liners to undermine Funes.

Anybody have any more information?

Some additional Comments on Wikileaks El Salvador I

Let me just add to the first leaked cable why I didn't find that much revealing from it.

For much of the FMLN's existence as a political party, the orthodox wing of the FMLN has continually forced out the "moderates" (those that eventually formed the PD and the FDR, among others).  Finally, in 2004 the orthodox wing adopted a plan to eventually realize socialism in El Salvador - a plan that ended any debate within the party about social democracy (or a more socially conscious capitalism) versus socialism.  From an unpublished paper with Alberto Martin, we wrote
In a doctrinal document drafted in 2004 by order of the National Council, the FMLN established a strategy of transition to socialism that would first pass through a phase of state takeover and deepening of democracy (FMLN 2004). To achieve power, they raised the possibility of concluding a series of broad political alliances with non-revolutionary sectors in the short-tem. This policy is a tactical partnership with those political forces that the FMLN leadership considered democratic, but not left. In the words of José Luis Merino one of the party’s historic leaders:

"The road to socialism passes through the democratization of the country, in that sense all the democratic forces are our potential allies ... We have a strategic objective that might take ten, 20 or 30 years, because until one arrives at conscience: one arrives at socialism. To get there you have to consolidate democracy" (El Faro 2005).

The FMLN's avowed goal of socialism (and thereby stronger relations with Venezuela and Cuba) is not compatible with Funes' social democratic vision for the country (with strong US ties).  Instead, the FMLN sees Funes as a bridge to a time when Salvadorans would accept a true FMLN candidate.

The Friends of Mauricio and the Citizens Movement for Change were created because Funes lacked support among the FMLN party leadership.  These friends' groups give him some organized support within the country and maybe leverage within the party. 

These organizations were also created to convince non-FMLN (both domestic and international) of his administration's moderate / pragmatic approach to the country's problems, hopefully as a counterweight to the orthodox VP.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks El Salvador

Cables between the US Embassy in El Salvador and Washington, D.C. have begun to leak out.  Spain's El Pais has coverage here .  There are links to the cables at the bottom of the page.  I am in the middle of grading, so I'll probably just take a stab at one cable per day.

The first cable is dated August, 21, 2009 and deals primarily with relations between President Funes and the FMLN.  The cable's subject line is "FRIENDS OF MAURICIO: FUNES NEEDS YOUR HELP."  While Funes did not write it, I can't imagine how this is going to win him friends among the FMLN.

First, the cable enters in to a bit of a discussion about the then recently constituted Citizens Movement for Change, formerly the Friends of Mauricio Movement.  It's unclear who the US Charge d'Affairs Blau met with, but the source concluded that
the near-term goal of the organization was to accompany President Funes as he governed and to provide him non-FMLN political support during his term.
A second area of the cable dealt with Funes' concerns about his physical security and that of the integrity of his officials' communications.  Funes is worried about the physical security of the president's house.  In one failure, intelligence officials did not provide him with advanced warning of protestors camping out in front of the presidential compound.  Funes was disappointed that Eduardo Linares (aka Douglas Santamaria), the Director of the Salvadoran State Intelligence Organization (OIE), failed to learn of the protestors ahead of time.  Linares also withheld information from the president including daily intelligence briefings and even information about a visit to the country by the Venezuelan Foreign Minister shortly after the Honduran coup. 

Funes was also concerned that hard-line members of the FMLN were listening in on his phone calls as well as those of other non-FMLN members of the Government.  Interestingly enough, he was asking the US Government for assistance and the US was open to the request.

Funes also wanted US assistance in interrupting phone calls from prisons, presumably involving extortion rackets.  However, the US was reluctant to work with the Manuel Melgar, the Minister of Public Security and Justice.  The source told Blau that
Melgar's appointment was not taken to display any disrespect to the U.S., but had been a compromise with the FMLN, which had sought appointment of FMLN hard-liner Jose Luis Merino (aka Ramiro Vasquez) as Public Security Minister.

Funes, he said, had pushed back and preferred to name Melgar to that position because he had developed a certain rapport with Melgar during the campaign. XXXXXXXXXXXX described Melgar's behavior around Funes during the campaign as compliant and loyal to Funes, characteristics he said would not have been the case with Merino. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Funes would consider new information on Melgar and take appropriate action, fully cognizant of Melgar's linkage to the 1985 Zona Rosa killings.
From this August 2009 cable, it's clear that Funes' relationship with the FMLN was a clear concern for the US Embassy just a few months into his administration.  This isn't much of a surprise.  I think that this was (and is) a topic that everyone was interested in learning as much about as possible.

The information is nothing extraordinary, but the extent to which Funes was reaching out to the US for help and his mistrust of FMLN hardliners are likely to increase tensions between him and the FMLN.

Enrique Alvarez

John Lamperti has a fascinating story about Enrique Alvarez at Truthout.   Alvarez was the president of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) when he was killed in 1980.  Tim already mentioned Alvarez' story last week so I'll just reproduce a little of what I wrote about the FDR-FMLN relationship in "Armed Opposition Groups and Political Parties: A Little Help, Please."  A Spanish version of the paper is forthcoming in La Izquierda Revolucionaria Latinoamerica (The Latin American Revolutionary Left), (Mexico: Universidad de Colima)

The international press and the Salvadoran government frequently referred to the FDR as the political wing of the FMLN, although others describe the relationship more as one of an “uncomfortable alliance” (Ribera 1996: 42). The FMLN and FDR indeed shared common goals such as the reform of the Salvadoran state and the dismantling of its ruthless security forces. They also proclaimed that they were “fighting for a democracy and a more just society” (Wade 2008: 45). The FMLN and FDR also coordinated sending their representatives throughout the world, “aggressively seeking out government ministers and legislators as well as talking to the media and citizens groups on a daily basis” (Montgomery 1995: 114).
In mid-1980, FDR leaders traveled Europe and Latin America to bring attention to the plight of the opposition in El Salvador.  The FDR was successful in gaining support from a small number of European countries and the Socialist International, as well as the right to establish political offices in Mexico (Montgomery 1982: 33-34; 1995: 111).  Months later, however, several FDR leaders were kidnapped and assassinated by Salvadoran security forces, forcing the surviving leaders to flee into exile in November 1980.  Following the extreme repression of the masses and leadership of the FDR, its more radical members joined the FMLN, leaving only moderates remaining (Ribera 1996: 41-42).  In January 1981, the FMLN and the FDR formed a Political-Diplomatic Commission that succeeded in garnering international support, including recognition by France and Mexico as a “representative political force” in August of that year.
There was significant cooperation between the two organizations, yet there remained critical differences. Ideologically, the FDR was more social democratic than the FMLN, and did not entirely share the idea of a revolutionary society that was favored by many in the FMLN. Unlike the revolutionary FMLN, the FDR was characterized as “authentically moderate and truly centrist.” It was also open to dialogue with the civilian government at a much earlier stage than the FMLN. In 1987, FDR leaders Zamora and Ungo returned from exile to take advantage of the new political opening that had accompanied the election of Duarte to the presidency in 1984. Later that year, the MNR headed by Ungo and the Movimiento Popular Social Cristiano (MPSC) headed by Zamora joined with the Partido Demócrata Social (PSD) to form the Convergencia Democrática (CD) with hopes of competing in the 1988 legislative and municipal elections. While the limited time before the 1988 elections prevented them from participating, they were able to mount a campaign and candidacy for the following year’s presidential elections. However, the relationship between the FMLN and FDR grew increasingly tenuous as FDR leaders criticized the human rights abuses that were increasingly committed by the FMLN in the latter half of the 1980s. In the 1989 elections, the CD captured 3% and finished in fourth place with Guillermo Manuel Ungo as its presidential candidate. When the CD participated in the 1989 presidential elections, the FMLN did little to support its candidates. The 1989 election and the FDR’s criticism of the FMLN’s less discriminate use of violence led to the permanent break between the FDR and the FMLN that had formed roughly one decade earlier.
Though the “official” alliance had been broken, the two continued to cooperate on important issues. In the 1991 elections, the CD captured eight (out of eighty-four) seats with 12% of the nationwide vote. During the legislative term, the CD coordinated negotiations between the FMLN and the executive branch within the Legislative Assembly. The CD also worked with the FMLN to negotiate “the many hurdles in adjusting to civilian political life, in particular in dealing with complicated governmental and accords machinery.” Later, as the FMLN prepared for the 1994 elections, the FMLN chose Rubén Zamora of the CD as the presidential candidate of a leftist coalition. Zamora had experience in running for political office and was well known throughout the country. The FMLN hoped he would be a moderate face on their revolutionary program. In the end, Zamora helped the FMLN force a runoff election for the presidency before finishing in second place behind the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista’s (ARENA) candidate. However, while the CD and the FMLN agreed on a single slate for the presidency and vice presidency, each ran its own slate of candidates for the legislature and, for the most part, municipal office.
Overall, the FMLN’s relationship with the FDR helped bring international and domestic attention and much needed political and economic support to the cause of the armed movement. In addition, the CD helped the FMLN during peace negotiations and in directing legislative matters to prepare for the FMLN’s “arrival.” Finally, the CD provided useful experience and even the presidential candidate of the left at the time of the FMLN’s insertion into electoral politics. This relationship that the FMLN maintained with a political wing also provides support for the political party hypothesis. In addition to its own experiences, the FMLN used the CD’s prior electoral experience to make a relatively smooth transition to political party and to transform itself into a major political actor in El Salvador.

Efrain Rios Montt - Mal Bicho [Los Fabulosos Cadillacs]

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Valenzuela heads to Central America

From the State Dept.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo A. Valenzuela will travel to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador December 5-9 in a visit designed to discuss ongoing security cooperation, strengthening of democratic governance and renewed efforts to advance coordination on citizen security.
In his first stop in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Sunday, December 5, and Monday, December 6, he will meet with Honduran President Lobo and other government officials and political, business, and civil society leaders; in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Monday, December 6, and Tuesday, December 7, Dr. Valenzuela will meet with President Colom and Francisco Dall’Anese of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala as well as members of civil society and the business community.
In San Salvador, El Salvador, on Wednesday, December 8, and Thursday, December 9, he will discuss with President Funes and other officials the broad range of bilateral issues of interest to both countries. Additionally, in each country, he will meet with officials and community leaders to discuss bilateral and regional issues, such as our cooperation to promote inclusive economic opportunity.
Kind of weird press release.  Valenzuela is going to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to "discuss ongoing security cooperation, strengthening of democratic governance and renewed efforts to advance coordination on citizen security."  We're okay there.

So in Honduras, he'll meet with President Lobo, other government officials, and political, business, and civil society leaders.  In Guatemala, he'll meet with President Colom, Dall’Anese of CICIG, as well as members of civil society and the business community.  In El Salvador, he'll meet with President Funes and other officials.  Finally, in each country, Valenzuela will meet with "officials and community leaders." 

Wouldn't it have been more clear to announce that he'll meet with each country's president, other political leaders, and representatives from business and civil society?  Where do military leaders and police officials fit in?

Second, where's the Valenzuela is going to the region to discuss the Honduras memo and to prepare them for the release of other damaging memos related to Central America over the last several decades?