Monday, January 31, 2011

Who's Fining Who?

El Periodico has a rundown of the 45 sanctions that have been levelled against political parties in recent months. The fines are for between US$100 and US$125. Here we go.
Partido Patriota (8)
Libertad Democrática Renovada (7)
Partido Unionista (6)
Vision con Valores (4)
Accion de Dessarrollo Nacional (3)
Frente Republicano Guatemalteco  (1)
Gran Alianza Nacional (3)
Encuentro por Guatemala (1)
Movimiento Integral de Oportunidades "Pais" (MIO) (1)
Victoria (3)
Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (3)
Compromiso, Renovacion y Orden (Creo) (2)
Partido de Avanzada Nacional  (1)

Two mayors have also been fined - José Antonio Coro (Santa Catarina Pinula) and Flavio José Jojcom (San Juan la Laguna, Sololá).

Out of all the parties listed above, Otto Perez and the PP probably need the least publicity. Perez finished second in 2007. He has strong name recognition. The PP now has the second largest number of seats in the congress (30). More people feel a connection with the PP than any other party. Yet, there they are plastered throughout the entire country and suffering through those US$100 fines.

Guatemalan Left Seeks a Broad Front

Representatives from the Guatemalan left met in Zona 2 of the capital on Saturday to discuss the possibility of creating a broad front to contest September's elections. Party leaders from the URNG and the ANN met with representatives from the country's social organizations, unions, and peasant and environmental groups.  In addition to the URNG and the ANN, a broad front might include Winaq (Rigoberta Menchu's party) and the Encuentro por Guatemala (Nineth Montenegro's party).

It's possible that the left can form a broad front to compete in the upcoming elections. They tried in 1999, 2003, and 2007 to varying degrees of failure.I can't say that there's much hope for them in this year's presidential elections, but they could pick up a few diputados and alcaldes so that the media might actually begin to cover their activities. As of today, the ANN, URNG, and EG maintain 3 seats (out of 158) in the congress - two for the URNG and one for the EG.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Economic Pessimism in Guatemala

According to a survey carried out by Latinbarometer, Guatemalans are more pessimistic about their economic future than any other country of Latin America. Some 62% fear remaining unemployed this year.

In 2009 and 2010, the country's GDP grew at rates of 0.5% and 2.6%, less than what is needed to improved the livelihoods of the 51% of the country that lives in poverty. As a result of the slow economic growth, analysts are predicting that both the Costa Rican and Panamanian economies will surpass that of Guatemala within the next 50 years.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Obama's heading to El Salvador

As everyone has heard by now, President Obama announced that he will be traveling to El Salvador in March. There appears to be some confusion, however, as to what will be on the agenda - immigration, organized crime, drug trafficking, etc. From my perspective, it doesn't really matter. The significance is that he is going.

US President Barack Obama is going to with his counterpart President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and representative of the governing FMLN party. After a decade of working to prevent the FMLN from coming to power via revolution and another seventeen years of trying to prevent it from coming to power through elections, Obama is now going to El Salvador to meet with Funes and other FMLN leaders in El Salvador(how can he not?).

This is a momentous occasion in post-Cold War US-LA and US-ES relations. Some observers have been disappointment with the Obama administration's stance towards Latin America during the first two years of his administration and have found little differences between his and his predecessor's approach. But does anyone think that this would have happened with a Republican or most other Democrats in the presidency?

It's such an important moment that I really hope that other Central American leaders are not invited. Who wants to hear whether Ortega gets a cold and cancels at the last minute or whether the Guatemalan First Lady is told to stay home so that her appearance is not used in a campaign photo. Let the US and El Salvador, a country that has come to be one of our most important allies in Central America, share the spotlight.

The US and ARENA had a good working relationship and I hope that the US and the FMLN can continue that relationship (Our Enduring Relationship). Even if Obama and Funes do talk immigration, crime, and drug trafficking, I don't think that they'll able to announce anything significant. That's why I'd love to hear some announcement about an agreement on health care (near and dear to both our hearts), education (probably not as he obviously have to meet with Sanchez Ceren), or maybe the environment (renewable energy related perhaps? can't seem him meeting with anyone about gold mining as we wouldn't want to upset our northern neighbors).

Now we need to give him some advice about where to go. While I'd love to have him go here (I am a bit partial), here are the three stops he should make.
    Romero's tomb in the Cathedral (it is March).

The Wall of Memory and Truth in Parque Cuscatlan

From what I remember, there's a plaque with the names of US service members killed in
El Salvador located on the Embassy's grounds
Credit: Rick Steves
These are places to go and pay respects. What's your take? Got better ones?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's Your Favorite Party?

Vox Latina recently carried out a nationwide survey in Guatemala between January 5 and 11. To no one's surprise, the nation's political parties did not come out looking too good.

Guatemalans were asked whether they sympathized with any political party or whether one was most convincing to them this campaign.
49% of the respondents answered none. Otto Perez Molina's PP came in second with 22.4%. While Vox Latina warns that one should not infer from these numbers how Guatemalans are likely to vote in September, I can't imagine that UNE is feeling good right now.
As some of the analysts cited in the article make clear, the lack of identification with political parties is nothing new in Guatemala. Dinorah Azpuru argues that parties do not look to promote participation in the political process beyond elections and that, in return, citizens show little interest in parties.
While it will be strange for the first and second place finishers from the 2007 election to finish first and second in 2011 (typically the governing party suffers dramatic losses and primary opposition party emerges victorious in the next election), it's not because Guatemalans have come to identify with either party and that we are witnessing the creation of a two-party system. At least, not yet.
Finally, the percentages only add up to 98.2%. I am thinking that the ADN, ANN, EG, MIO, UD, BG and another three political parties have the other 1.8% support. That still leaves three political parties missing. Anybody have the names of the remaining three?

Elections News in Guatemala

A few notes on the 2011 elections

The TSE recently fined three political parties $125 each for violating campaign rules - the Patriotic Party, CREO, the PAN. A fourth political party, Victoria, was admonished for distributing flyers but since it was its first offense, the fine was waived. The PP, CREO, Victoria, and PAN now join UNE, Unionista, GANA, FRG, Lider, and EG, each of which was fined earlier this year or late last year. There are still thirteen parties to go before the TSE has fined everyone. Let's get a move on.

That's 45 sanctions so far. We're probably going to see an increase in the number of fines as campaigning really seems to have picked up in recent days and congress has been unwilling to increase the maximum penalty that the TSE can levy. Working against more sanctions, however, is the fact that the TSE just doesn't have enough personnel to oversee each of the twenty-five political parties.

Manuel Villacorta foresees a violent campaign season in an interview Prensa Libre and fears that the campaign will only serve to further discredit the political system. As most do, he sees UNE and PP as the two strongest parties heading into the September 4. What was interesting is that he believes that the PP might have made some inroads in the rural vote compared to 2007 that might make a difference in 2011.

While it's not certain that Sandra Torres will be the UNE candidate, three of her allies were just selected to lead the party heading into this year's elections. While most parties have accepted September 11 as the day of the vote, UNE is still unhappy. According to UNE representatives, they do not believe that it is appropriate to hold the election in Guatemala on a day when so many people died in New York. Others believe that UNE doesn't want anyone to make fun of the Colom sisters (Sandra and Gloria), portraying them as two burning towers, during their campaign.

Recently Colom and civil society have warned about organized crime infiltrating the electoral process. Barring any radical changes in the next two weeks, the country's political parties will sign an ethics pact on February 7 to try to address these concerns. The pact will add some transparency to how campaigns are financed by requiring each party to submit a monthly list of the names of their donors and their financial contributions. They will provide this information to the TSE. I can't remember where I read it, but there seemed to be some concern that this won't do much for municipal elections where the influence of organized crime is of the greatest concern.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Missouri Court Rules in Favor of Guatemalan Mother

The Missouri Supreme Court has sided with a Guatemalan immigrant in a child custody case, ruling the state failed to follow its laws in terminating her parental rights and allowing her son to be adopted by someone else.
But Tuesday’s decision does not automatically return the child to the mother. Instead, the court ordered the state to follow proper procedures and hold a new trial on whether the mother’s parental rights should be terminated. (Kansas City Star)
Encarnacion Bail Romero was arrested during an immigration raid in May 2007 at a chicken plant in Barry County, Missouri. Romero's family in the US ended up taking care of her son while she served a two-year prison sentence for using forged documents. At some point, the family could no longer care for the baby and the baby boy was adopted by the Mosers, a Missouri family. Romero said that she was okay with her son staying with the family temporarily, but that she did not agree to his adoption.

The seven-judge panel agreed that Romero's parental rights should not have been terminated by the state. However, they were divided over whether Romero should have been given immediate custody of the child. According to one of the judges,
"Every member of this Court agrees that this case is a travesty in its egregious procedural errors, its long duration, and its impact on Mother, Adoptive Parents, and, most importantly, Child.
The dissenting members of this Court rely significantly on information outside the record to find that Mother has been victimized repeatedly and that her rights have been violated. The dissenting members believe passionately that custody of Child should be returned to Mother without further proceedings. That result can be reached only by disregarding the law."
Unfortunately, for all involved, the case will again have to be heard by a trial court.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Murders up in Guatemala

Prensa Libre
On Sunday, I noted the perceived violent start to the year in Guatemala. Unfortunately, Prensa Libre presented some statistics today to back up that inital perception. Guatemalan officials report that 393 homicides occurred during the first three months of the year (January 1-23). During the entire month of January 2010, 365 murders were carried out.

Carlos Menocal, the Interior Minister, agreed that there have been more murders so far this year than last January but that the government is working to counter the violence.

According to Édgar Guerra, the President of the Association of Urban and Rural Transport Users, while the police have cracked down on crimes against urban buses, criminals have turned their attention towards more rural routes, attacking passengers and committing other violations.

I hoped that last year's decline in the murder rate was the beginning of a long-term downward trend. I had no evidence of that, just hope, and actually thought that there would be a surge in violence because of the potential extension of states of siege to other departments and the upcoming elections.

For UNE to maintain the presidency, it will have to show some tangible improvements in public security or at least make it look like the party has a plan and is implementing it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Berenson to Remain Free

On Monday, a Peruvian appeals court rejected the prosecutor's attempt to revoke Lori Berenson's parole. Berenson had been released in May but the prosecution had been trying to have her returned to jail because he did not believe that, as a convicted terrorist, Berenson should have been able to apply work and study credits towards the completion of her sentence.

Berenson says that she wants to return to NY to raise her son Salvador. However, she will have to remain in Peru until 2015 unless President Garcia commutes the rest of her sentence. I didn't think that it was wise of her to open up to reporters upon her release from prison earlier this year. Nothing good would come of criticizing the prosecution while her case was being appealed. I still don't think that it was smart but fortunately, for Berenson, the appeals court ruled in her favor.

Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in April so we probably won't have to wait too long to hear from the outgoing president, Alan Garcia.

Bloody weekend, better month in El Salvador

El Salvador also suffered though its most violent day of the year this weekend. The PNC reports that there were twenty-one murders on Sunday. Sunday surpasses back-to-back violence of January 7 and 8 when seventeen people were killed each day (Contra Punto).

Seven murders occurred in San Salvador, four in Santa Ana, three in both Usulután y La Libertad, two in Sonsonate and one in La Unión.

However, murders are down compared to last year. During the first twenty-three days of 2010, three hundred and two people were murdered whereas "only" two hundred and sixty-seven have been murdered so far this year.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Violent Start to Year in Guatemala

La Hora
While January is not yet complete, it is shaping up to be a pretty violent one in Guatemala. On Sunday, three young men were shot and killed and five others were seriously injured during a funeral service in a Protestant Church on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The funeral service was for a young man who had been murdered on Friday. Police are blaming the killings on youth gangs.

On Saturday night, one person was killed and another four injured during a shootout at a disco in Zona 1 of the capital. And in a particularly bloody day, twenty-three people were murdered on Friday. Six of the victims were women and one was five months pregnant.

On Thursday night, four people were killed (including a ten-year old boy) and another fourteen wounded during an attack targeting youths playing basketball or soccer in the Guatemalan capital. Like the Sunday killings, police are speculating that the motive for the shooting may have been score-settling between gangs.

In a survey earlier this month, seventy-eight percent of the respondents reported that violence and insecurity were the main problems facing the country. Last week's events are not going to change that.

Portillo Trial Begins

Former President Alfonso Portillo is currently on trial in Guatemala on embezzlement charges. He is accused of having stolen approximately $15-16 million dollars from the Defense Ministry in 2001. Portillo was president from 2000-2004. Two others former ministers are also on trial - former Defense Minister Eduardo Arevalo and former Finance Minister Manuel Maza.

CICIG and the US and French governments have provided some evidence against Portillo, including information on how money was transferred abroad in bank accounts registered to different family members. The trial was originally scheduled to begin in September, but defense lawyers have thrown up legal roadblocks along the way.

The trial is scheduled to last one month, but even Friday's opening got off to a rocky start. It was delayed a few hours while defense lawyers protested the presence of several CICIG bodyguards. They claimed that Portillo and his lawyers were intimidated by their presence. Prosecutors, on the other hand, were arguing that Arevalo and Maza should not have been been released and put under house arrest. They were flight risks as evidence by their previous flight from justice. They were also concerned that several of the fourteen witnesses have already been threatened. (BBC, Siglo XXI, El Periodico).

Portillo will be the first former president to stand trial in Guatemala, so it is an important test of the CICIG-improved justice system.  Hopefully, the trial will not prove as much of an embarrassment as the recent acquittal in Mexico of a man who bragged about killing his girlfriend.

Whatever the outcome, Portillo will probably have to stand trial in the US and/or France at some point as well.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Salvadoran Cuisine in New York

In case you're traveling through Queens, New York and need some traditional Salvadoran cuisine, stop in at La Joya de Ceren in my hometown, Rockaway Park. The restaurant looks to have a pretty extensive menu and be reasonably priced.

Nothing has ever survived in the location that they have so they are going to need your help. Hopefully, they'll be selling Gallo when I am there for the town's St. Patrick's Day parade.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team

The Economist recently published an interview with Mercedes Doretti, the co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team.

See here for an earlier post or check out their website.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guatemala News

Some unconnected news:

In a recent interview with Prensa Libre, President Alvaro Colom said that his wife "Sandra could be a candidate" for president in this year's election.  You can find the transcript here.

The TSE also announced that the election will most likely be held on September 11th. A runoff will be held November 4th if no candidate captures 50 percent in the first round.

President Colom has extended the state of siege in Alta Verapaz for another 30 days (Prensa Libre, El PeriodicoAP). Polls indicate that most Guatemalans support the state of siege. Activists and members of nongovernmental organizations were skeptical about the initial state of siege and remain so about its extension.

The government claims that 41people were arrested in the first month of the siege and crime has fallen approximately 30 or 45 percent (what's the difference, right?) in the region. According to the Interior Minister's office, of the 41 arrested, 18 are Zetas.

You'll have to take their word for it, however, because the prosecutor's office has only seen evidence confirming that 2 are Zetas.

Another Dos Erres Murderer Arrested

Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada was arrested on Wednesday in Calgary. Sosa is alleged to have been one of the military leaders involved in the Dos Erres massacre in 1982 at the height of the genocide in Guatemala. During the attack, over two hundred and fifty men, women and children were massacred.

Sosa's family says that he brought them to Mexico in the mid-1980s and then on to Canada in 1988 in order to escape violence and corruption in Guatemala, where he had served in the military (CTV.CA, has the story and a short video of his capture 1 minute in). After arriving in Canada, Sosa operated martial arts training schools in Calgary and Lethbridge and travelled the world competing. At some point in the 1990s, he relocated to the United States. After U.S. officials searched his home in Riverside County, California last spring, he fled to Mexico.

In one story, Sosa has apparently been open with his family in telling them that he was at Dos Erres when the massacre took place but he denied to them that he had participated in any way (The Toronto Sun). In another story, however, "While Sosa's army past is not a family secret, they say Sosa sought political asylum when he arrived in the United States in the mid-1980s. He told authorities of his past, they say." (Calgary Herald).
 When Sosa left Guatemala in the mid 1980s and arrived in the U.S. with a young family, he sought political asylum, his son said.

"He told the U.S. government everything. There are no secrets. He wanted to be free and live in happiness and in the American way," he said.

"I honestly don't think he would do that (make a false statement). What's the point of lying if you've asked for political asylum?" (The Province)
Unless Sosa told authorities that he feared for his life because he did not take part in the massacre, that doesn't make sense. If he told them that he took part in the massacre but now fears for his life, that's not really strong grounds for asylum.

The United States has asked the Canadian government to extradite Sosa so that he can face charges of lying on his US citizenship application. The case is drawing similarities to that of Gilberto Jordan (see here and here). Jordan also participated in the attack on Dos Erres, having admitted to killing a baby by throwing it down a well. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for concealing his part in the bloodshed when he applied for US citizenship. Zero-six months in prison and then deportation is the typical sentence for lying on one's application. However, Jordan got the max because his lie was so egregious. Jordan will in all likelihood be deported to Guatemala upon completion of his sentence. Sosa's case is a bit different because he holds dual US-Canadian citizenship.

Those close to Sosa are laying the groundwork for his defense - at least in terms of where he should stand trial. They do not want him extradited to Guatemala because he will in all likelihood be executed if found guilty. It's possible, but Guatemala doesn't have a very active death penalty. President Colom vetoed legislation in November that would have reinstated the death penalty (see here). Should UNE win the upcoming presidential elections (with Sandra Torres the most likely candidate), I don't see a change in the death penalty. Should Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party win the upcoming presidential election, a change in the use of the death penalty is much more likely. However, it's difficult to see an administration headed by General Molina apply the death penalty against a former kaibil.

They also don't want him extradited to the US. At least to me, it seems a tough sell to fight Sosa's extradition to the United States to answer charges for having lied on his citizenship application based on the fear that if he is convicted and serves his sentence in the US, he will then be deported to Guatemala to face trial for war crimes. First, while thousands of soldiers, police, paramilitary, and government officials were involved in human rights abuses (including rape, torture, murder, etc.) during the conflict, there's only a dozen or so that have faced or are facing charges. Second, Sosa is a dual US-Canadian citizen. Unless Canada also revokes his citizenship, wouldn't he then be deported from the US back to Canada after having served time?

The Canadian government and courts will have to decide what to do with Sosa first. Do they try to revoke his citizenship for most likely lying on his application as well? Or do they try him for war crimes in a Canadian court?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Former Congressman Assassinated in Guatemala

A former member of Congress from the Patriotic Party was murdered on Wednesday inside a shopping mall in the western part of Guatemala City (Prensa Libre, El Periodico, Siglo XXI). Edgar Antonio Almengor Pérez was a deputy from the Suchitepéquez Department for the Patriotic Party. He served during the 2004-2008 term.

While police do not as of yet have a motive for the crime, they do not think that it was random.  The shots were accurate and the suspect fled in a waiting car. Almengor died at the scene.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Election Panorama from the Guatemala Times

Barbara Schieber at the Guatemala Times posted an article last week on "A glimpse at Guatemala's election panorama 2011" that identifies several important issues that are already taking shape before September's vote.

Shieber comments on the campaign violence that has already broken out with the murder of a senior election official in Jutiapa last week. The mayor of San Sebastian Huehuetenango was killed in November allegedly by political competiors. I never came across an update on the story, but that might have been the first (loosely defined) campaign death.

The 2007 election witnessed the deaths of over 55 people associated with the various campaigns and polittical activists, civil society groups, human rights groups, the press and the politicians are worried that this campaign might be even more violent. According to the post, the primary factor is "the unknown magnitude of illegal financing of the political parties and what that might represent." Illegal financial has been a problem as has campaign violence, although I'm not yet convinced that this campaign will be worse than previous ones.

She also discusses the "illegal" candidacies of Sandra Torres, Alvaro Arzu, and Zury Rios Montt (see here). The legality of their candidacies will likely be decided by the Constitutional Court whose members will be chosen in the upcoming months. 

Then there's the illegal campaigning that is going on.  As I mentioned before, the fines are so small that nobody really pays attention to the ban. That's unfortunate but expected.

Prensa Libre has another story online today about the illegal early campaigning. The TSE has cited and fined the Unionist Party and the Patriotic Party three times for premature campaigning. They were also ordered to remove their signs. Instead, they paid their $375 and kept the signs.

Just eight more months to election day.

Travel to El Salvador

I generally like to encourage students and others to travel to El Salvador, Guatemala, and other locations throughout the Americas to learn about the region's people and history or simply for a great vacation. 

El Salvador is s a wonderful country with a lot to offer and that's why I like to post stories once and awhile about its tourism. So here's another story entitled Welcome to El Salvador (Central America) : the Country of Your Life! 
This country has got the lot : from exotic restaurants, luxury hotels, notable museums, and churches to statues and clubs.
El Salvador is one of Latin America's most stable and peaceful nations. This Central American nation is a democratic country since 1984. Because of this, ES is destination of choice for tourists and business travellers alike.
It's not how I would characterize the country, but that's neither here nor there.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wikileaks and Guatemala II

Wikileaks cable number 2 on Guatemala has just come to light. The subject of the second cable is the US  "Ambassador's Farewell Call on President Colom." The cable was written by outgoing US Ambassador James M. Derham on July 9, 2008.

The first revelation from the cable is that President Colom had decided to sign an agreement with PetroCaribe, but rejected overtures to join ALBA.

Colom defended his decision to sign a PetroCaribe deal with Venezuela and argued that the deal would help to alleviate rising fuel and food prices. The foreign minister added that the decision to join PetroCaribe was strictly economic. The Venezuelan government had pressured them to join ALBA anti-American trade block, but Colom was not interested and would not accede to any Venezuelan political conditions.
"We're Social Democrats, but we're not fanatics, and we're aware that radicalism in governance leads to failure," Colom said. [Italics mine]
I'm sure that the US was happy to hear this.  However, I'm not so sure how much ALBA members are going to appreciate being called fanatics. Maybe, he just meant Chavez.

President Colom lamented the recent deaths in a helicopter accident of Minister of Government Vinicio Gomez and Vice Minister Edgar Hernandez Umana and expressed confidence that newly appointed Minister Francisco Jimenez would continue to reform the police. Regarding the new Attorney General, Juan Luis Florido, Colom said he was amicable and was making a sincere effort. However, he expressed frustration at the office's inability to show advances with certain kinds of prosecutions, such as corruption, the murders of two union leaders, and the recent scandal over the illicit investment of congressional funds.

Colom also said Commissioner Carlos Castresana (CICIG) was very demanding and that CICIG was making some progress in helping the Attorney General's Office to put its house in order.

Colom called Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu a "fabrication" and said that she had incited indigenous residents of San Juan Sacatepequez to oppose local construction of a cement plant. Colom said that Menchu was at least partly responsible for inciting local opposition to the proposed plant and that during the opposition to the plant, at least one person had been murdered.  The US Ambassador seems to have been concerned with the impact that murder would have on foreign investors. 

In the statement that will most likely get the most foreign press, Colom called Menchu a "fabrication" of Elizabeth Burgos, the French anthropologist and author of "I, Rigoberta Menchu." (Colom has already responded that he respects Menchu even though he often disagrees with her and that he didn't say those things about her to the US ambassador).  While I don't think that fabrication is an accurate term to describe Menchu, Colom isn't the only person to have reservations about her story (See David Stoll). From what I understand, while Menchu and Burgos present the information in the book as purely biographical, some incidents did not occur as as Menchu and Burgos related them. Given the outrageous claims in book, I've always thought that it's held up pretty well against criticism.  I would hesitate to comdemn Colom's use of the word fabrication until I better understood the overall context in which he was using the term.

Finally, Colom said that Menchu is widely disliked by Guatemalan indigenous people, as demonstrated by her poor showing in the 2007 presidential election. I don't know about disliked. He's right that Menchu does not have a lot of political support. She has always been more popular internationally than domestically, so that's not much of a revelation.  In December's poll by Borge y Asociados, Menchu only captured 3% support for the presidency. And it's not a problem of name recognition, as in January 2009 96% of the population knew who she was.

All in all, I imagine that the left in Guatemala is not going to be too happy with what has been revealed whether or not Colom said such things or not, but it's not likely to be that significant. More to come, perhaps.

New FMLN Publication

I'd just like to draw your attention to a new publication on the FMLN.  The paper is by Alberto Martin Alvarez from the Universidad de Colima in Colima, Mexico.  "From Revolutionary War to Democratic Revolution" is one of a series of case studies produced as part of the Berghof research program on transitions from violence to peace.

Here is an abstract of the paper.
In the context of an authoritarian regime, controlled by the military in alliance with a powerful landowning oligarchy, Salvadoran political-military organizations sprang up throughout the 1970's. Political and economic exclusion were the basis from which a wide popular movement arose. Faced with the closing of arenas for political participation, huge numbers of activists joined the ranks of the guerrilla army during the 1970's.
The five Salvadoran revolutionary organizations formed the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in October 1980, with the joint aim of both procuring the government's defeat as well as creating a socialist project. Following the defeat of the "final offensive" launched by the FMLN to oust the government in 1981, the conflict turned into a longstanding civil war that only came to an end when the main leaders from both sides became convinced it was impossible to attain military victory.
This work analyzes the emergence, dynamics and the transformation of the FMLN into a political party. the work pays particular attention to the causes that led to the armed struggle in El Salvador and the factors that made a negotiated solution to the armed conflict possible.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Civi Literacy Report

See how you compare here (h/t from Kids Prefer Cheese and The Monkey Cage).  My 93.94% wasn't too bad (31 out of 33).  Like several others I missed #33.  Embarrassingly enough, I also tanked on #7.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Immigration Books

Two new immigration books are out.  The first one comes from Greg (Two Weeks Notice) and John (Weeks Population) Weeks.  Here's the excerpt for Irresistible Forces: Latin American Migration to the United States and its Effects on the South.
The politics, social issues, and cultural impacts of Latin American migration to the United States are often studied by historians and political scientists, but the regional focus is typically on the Southwest and California. This study examines the phenomenon of the impact of Latin American migration on the southeastern United States, a region that now has the nation's fastest growing immigrant population.
Incorporating a political demography approach, this study seeks to provide a clear understanding of the complex dynamics of migration with particular emphasis on the unique demographic fit between the United States and Latin America. This fit arises from one region needing young workers while the other has more than its economy can absorb. Although a relatively simple concept, it is one that has largely been ignored in the political discussions of migration policy. This study argues that the social and political ramifications of and policy responses to Latin American immigration can best be understood when viewed in light of these circumstances.
The second book, Shattering Myths on Immigration and Emigration in Costa Rica, is a volume edited by Carlos Sandoval-García and translated into English by Kari Meyers.  The book
...provides the first comprehensive examination of transnational migration patterns into and out of Costa Rica. This impressive edited volume brings together the work of 18 top scholars from diverse social science backgrounds to analyze Costa Rican migration patterns in the era of globalization.
The first section focuses on immigration in Costa Rican history, including chapters on Nicaraguan, North American and European immigration to the country as well a chapter on transnational migration within Central America.
The second part centers on the social and political status of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica that make up a sizable portion of the working-class similar to Mexican immigrants in the southwestern United States.
The third section of the book analyzes outmigration of Costa Ricans with chapters on the role of international remittances sent back to Costa Rica (a major source of income in contemporary Latin America) and particular migration patterns of Costa Ricans living in the northeastern United States.
The fourth part of the collection examines the timely topic of gender and cross-border migration with emphases on women in the actual migration transit process and the vulnerability of immigrant women in different industries including agriculture and sex tourism.
The concluding chapters emphasize the social and symbolic images of immigrants to Costa Rica including the construction of in-group and out-group identities, the use of symbolic violence and racism against immigrants.
While travelling and teaching in Costa Rica in 1998 and 2001, some Costa Ricans liked to say that they understood the US' "Mexican problem" better than anyone since the Ticos had "their own Nica problem."  They look like two promising books on interesting and important topics within the larger study of transnational migration.

Jesuit Alumni take D.C.

Fifty-three members of the 112th Congress are alumni of the nation's twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and universities.  Thirty-five attained graduate or professional degrees from Jesuit universities. Twelve serve in the Senate and forty-one in the House.

Here are the Senators:
  • John Barrasso, (R-WY) Appointed 2007, Elected 2008, B.A. Georgetown University (1974) and M.D. Georgetown University (1978)
  • Scott Brown, (R-MA) Elected 2010, J.D. Boston College (1984)
  • Robert P. Casey, Jr., (D-PA) Elected 2006, B.A. College of the Holy Cross (1982)
  • Richard J. Durbin, (D-IL) Elected 1996, B.S.F.S. Georgetown University (1966) and J.D. Georgetown University (1969)
  • Michael (Mike) Johanns, (R-NB) Elected 2008, J.D. Creighton University (1974)
  • John F. Kerry, (D-MA) Elected 1984, J.D. Boston College (1976)
  • Patrick J. Leahy, (D-VT) Elected 1974, J.D. Georgetown University (1964)
  • Mark Steven Kirk, (R-IL) Elected 2010, J.D. Georgetown University (1992)
  • Robert Menendez, (D-NJ) Appointed & Elected 2006, B.A. Saint Peter's College (1976)
  • Barbara A. Mikulski, (D-MD) Elected 1986, B.A. Loyola University Maryland (1958)
  • Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK) Appointed 2002, Elected 2004, B..A. Georgetown University (1980)
  • Jim Webb, (D-VA) Elected 2006, J.D. Georgetown University (1975) 
Jesuit alumni also serve as House leaders.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) graduated from Xavier University and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) graduated from Georgetown.  You can see the rest of the house alumni by following the link.

Georgetown University leads the way with eighteen alumni, followed by Boston College (7), and the College of the Holy Cross (4).  Four schools (Creighton University, Fordham University, Marquette University, and the University of Detroit Mercy) each have 3.

Not bad. Unfortunately, neither my alma mater not current employer make the list.

At least another thirty alumni serve in the Obama administration including
  • Department of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates (Georgetown University, 1974, PhD)
  • Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano (Santa Clara University, 1979, BA)
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon E. Panetta (Santa Clara University, 1960, BA)
  • White House Chief of Staff William Daley (Loyola University Chicago, 1970, BA)
A few questions come to mind.
First, how does the percentage of Jesuit alumni serving in Congress today compare to previous sessions?  Is ten percent high? low?
Second, do individuals interested in public service choose to attend Jesuit colleges and universities or does the Ignatian experience cause them to pursue a life of public service?  Maybe we're doing something right.
Finally, how important is the Jesuit alumni network (current and former congressmen) in getting elected?  Are members of congress, in any way, more likely to work with each other because of their shared college experiences?  
You can see a global list on Wikipedia that includes Externado San Jose and UCA alumnus Mauricio Funes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

$150 to Murder a Woman

While homicides were down last year, 2011 is not starting off so well. The bodies of three women were discovered in a ditch in Zone 8 of Mixco, outside Guatemala City on Wednesday. Authorities had found another woman's body in the same area the day before.  The bodies were in such bad condition that authorities could not establish the physical characteristics of the women.

Last year, an average of two women were killed each day in Guatemala.  The 838 women killed in 2010 is double the total from 2003 (416).  

While we don't know who killed these women, the public prosecutor's office has determined that that former husbands, former colleagues and even boyfriends need only pay a sum of $150 for having a woman murdered.

It should come as no surprise that violence and insecurity are at the top of Guatemalan concerns.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Death Toll up to 9 in Guatemala

The death toll from last week's bus bombing in Guatemala rose to nine after Berania Lopez died of his wounds at Roosevelt Hospital. 

The eighth victim had been buried on Tuesday when Jorge Efraín Cac Gutiérrez said good-bye to the last of his three sons that died in the bombing.  Following the death of his sons and wife, as well as attempted extortion following their deaths, Cac tried to commit suicide on Monday.  US Ambassador McFarland attended the funeral and reported that the US would provide FBI assistance should the Guatemalan government request it.

Eswin Carol Gálvez, a surgeon at the Retalhuleu hospital, was recently murdered in front of his home.  The suspects fled after shooting Dr. Gálvez in the back of the head and made no attempt at stealing anything.

Finally, in other news, former Interior Minister Raul Velasquez surrendered to authorities on Tuesday. Velasquez has been wanted since March on corruption charges.
Fired March 1 by President Alvaro Colom, Velasquez is accused of collecting a 50-percent kickback on a 40 million quetzal ($4.9 million) contract to supply fuel to the national police.
The then-minister stashed the money at banks in Panama, Brazil and the United States, prosecutors say.
Velasquez also faces a separate indictment in connection with a contract for renovations at a maximum-security prison.
Here's the cartoon from Prensa Libre wondering why it took him so long to turn himself in.  Apparently, he wanted to spend the holidays with his family.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Poll Numbers in Guatemala

In spite of those hefty $125 fines, campaigning continues before September's general elections in Guatemala.  Campaigning can't officially start until May 2nd. 

When we last looked at poll numbers for the various presidential candidates in November, Otto Perez Molina (PP) was the front runner.  He has been consistently beating don't know / not saying.  In January 2009, 29% of those surveyed said that they would vote for him.  However, in January 2010 his support fell to 21%.  A survey conducted by a different company in August 2010 had him back at 34%.  Given that three of the last four polls had Molina between 30% and 40%, I am more comfortable saying that his support is somewhere between those two numbers rather than the 21% he received in January 2010.

New numbers came out last week from Borge y Asociados, the same organization that conducted the last two January polls.  The poll was conducted nationwide between December 5 and 10th of last month (there is no mention of the poll's margin of error).  Here's what they found.
  • 39% support Otto Perez Molina (PP)
  • 11% support Sandra Torres de Colom (UNE)
  • 6% support Eduardo Suger (Casa)
  • 5% support Harold Caballeros (Viva)
  • 3% support former president Alvaro Arzu (PAN)
  • 2% support Nineth Montenegro (EG)
  • 1.4% support for Manuel Baldizon (LIDER) and Zury Rios Montt (FRG)
Perez Molina increased his lead over all other candidates probably picking up some of the don't know, not saying, Giammattei, and Portillo supporters from last year's survey.  They are both preoccupied.  Twenty-two percent said that they didn't know how they would vote while another 7% kept their opinion to themselves.

First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom was the person with the second highest level of support, having improved from 9.5% in January 2010 to 11% in 2011.  That seems pretty low to me especially when her husband's support fell from 6% to near zero.

As of right now, we are most likely to see Perez Molina and Torres (or another representative of the UNE - GANA alliance) go head-to-head even though it's not clear that the constitution will permit her to run.

While former President and current mayor of Guatemala City Alvaro Arzu is barred from running and is trailing badly with 3% support, nearly 50% of the respondents would be okay if he were to be elected again. 

One way to read this is that people do not strongly support the constitutional prohibition on reelection.  If they don't support this part of the constitution, I don't imagine that public opinion would be against allowing Torres, Zury Rios Montt, and Caballeros to run.  That doesn't mean that there won't be an uproar, just that majority public opinion won't be behind the protests.

Update: Apparently there was also a poll carried out between November 2 and 10 by CID-Gallup.  This poll was commissioned by the Colom government.  In this poll, 29% supported Pérez Molina while Torres came in at 23%.  It's possible that Colom's numbers dropped significantly from the first week of November to the first week of December.  However, such a drop is unlikely. 

Instead, Gustavo Berganza speculates that CID-Gallup's survey of 2,902 respondents more accurately reflected a nationwide sample of Guatemalan voters (including the Peten and the rural areas) while the Borge and Associates poll of 1,008 might have drawn a larger sample from the cities. 

A poll that oversampled the country's urban areas would have the effect of overestimating Perez Molina's support (he carried the more urban areas in 2007) and underestimating Colom's support (Sandra's husband carried the rural areas in 2007 and her popularity through government social programs is likely to be stronger in these areas as well).

Berenson Appears Before Peruvian Court

Lori Berenson once again appeared before a Peruvian court on Monday pleading with them not to revoke her parole and send her back to jail.
"I reaffirm everything said in the Aug. 18 hearing: That I believe I am not a danger to society, that I acknowledge my responsibility in the crime I committed and that I feel repentant about it," Berenson told the judges.

The court has fifteen working days to to decide whether to send her back to jail or to let her remain free on parole.  If the court decides that Berenson should remain on parole, it will be up to President Garcia to decide whether to commute the remaining years of her sentence which would allow her to return to the United States.  Months ago, Garcia said that he would not make a decision until all legal remedies had been exhausted. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Recognizing William Ford, Ita's Brother

William Ford, the late brother of Sister Ita Ford, was recently honored for his 28-year pursuit of justice for the four U.S. churchwomen murdered in El Salvador thirty years ago.
The 30th anniversary commemoration of the women's kidnapping and murder featured the presentation of the Maryknoll Sisters' Justice Award to Bill Ford's wife, Mary Anne. Other Ford family members and relatives of the other women also attended the reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, as did several members of Congress, former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., many members of different religious orders and representatives of the Obama administration and the Salvadoran ambassador to the United States.
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, head of the department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, presented Mary Anne Ford with a Salvadoran-made plaque commemorating her husband's work to shed light on the women's deaths and on the U.S. role in supporting the repressive Salvadoran government.
Posner recalled that at the time of their deaths, he was part of the fledgling Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights when he got a call from the Maryknoll Sisters informing him about the women's deaths and asking for legal help...
"We never felt we completely got justice," Posner said. But with the help of Dodd, former Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and others in Congress who pushed for an investigation and prosecution, the trial of the guardsmen in El Salvador was "the first break in a culture of impunity," he said.
A well-deserved honor for Mr. Bill Ford, who died of esophageal cancer in 2008 at the age of 72.

It's said that two US Senators considered friends of Latin America were lost in the most recent election.  Senator Dodd retired and Senator Specter lost his primary race.  I'd much rather have Dodd and Specter making a five country tour of Latin America (Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Panama) than McCain and Barrasso.  We all know how McCain's 1985 trip to Chile went. 

Okay, that was a bit of a cheap shot.

Women in Latin America and Guatemala

Earlier this month, much of the world turned its attention to Brazil for the inauguration of the country's first woman president, Dilma Rousseff .  Rousseff joined Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina as one of the region's three female heads of state in Latin America.

Today, the region ranks second only to Nordic Europe in terms of the percentage of women elected to parliamentary-level positions as seen in the figure above.  While not democratic, Cuba counts an even larger share of female representatives with 43%.

It's possible that Sandra Colom de Torres or Zury Rios Montt will join the ranks of Latin American heads of state later this year, but even if neither of them does, Guatemala had made important strides in recent weeks as it relates to women occupying positions of power.  In the last few weeks, women were appointed to the critical positions of Public Prosecutor and Comptroller General.
Claudia Paz y Paz was named Public Prosecutor and head of the Public Ministry for four years and will be in charge of the agency for criminal investigation and prosecution, while Nora Segura is the new Comptroller General, with a five-year term and will be in charge of auditing government expenditures, beginning with the 2011 budget, of 6.8 billion dollars.
Paz y Paz and Segura join Blanca Stalling who President Colom reappointed as director of the Criminal Public Defense Institute, an institution that oversees the legal defense of accused criminals, and Heydi Gordillo, the secretary of the National Council for Migrant Services.

While these are important appointments, women unfortunately still comprise only 12% of Congress and 2% of the country's mayors (as of 2009).  In addition to the relative and absolute low number of female elected officials, Guatemala remains one of the most dangerous countries in in the world when it comes to violence against women. 

El Periodico has a followup on the death of Emilia Margarita Quan Staackmann, a young thirty-three year old anthropologist killed in Huehuetenango last month (see here).  Quan was one of 838 women killed under violent circumstances in Guatemala last year. According to CONAPREVI, violence against women has increased each of the last ten years in the country and they fear that the numbers will continue to rise.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Guatemala Bus Outrage

Some criminals have no shame.
A man who lost his wife and two of his children in this week’s bus bombing in the Guatemalan capital has fled his home after receiving extortion demands, the Survivors Foundation said Friday.
The criminals approached cab driver Jorge Cac on Wednesday during the funeral for his murdered kin, foundation director Norma Cruz said at a press conference.
Cac was told he had to hand over a portion of the money that humanitarian groups collected to pay for the funeral and defray the medical costs for another of the cabbie’s children who was hurt in Monday’s attack on the bus, Cruz said.

She said Cac has already abandoned his residence on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

Veterans on the Move

In Guatemala, thirteen or fourteen former members of the Self-Defense Patrols (PACS) active during the war were killed in a bus accident in between Tejutla and Concepcion Tutuapa in the Department of San Marcos west of Guatemala City.  Another forty-three were injured. 

According to witnesses and survivors, the driver was not familiar with the road.  He was also going excessively fast and lost control of the bus rounding a curve.  The brakes failed and the bus was sent off the road and down into a 164 ft. deep ravine (BBC, UPI, Herald Sun, Prensa Libre).
The paramilitaries were on their way to collect their salaries after having taken part in a government reforestation program.
There were about 60 passengers on the bus, all of them former members of the paramilitary civil patrols set up by the military to combat left-wing rebels during Guatemala's 1960-1996 internal conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans from rural communities were forced to join the civil patrols, and veterans have since campaigned to receive payment for their service.
The reforestation project the victims of the accident were working on was part of a government programme to create employment for ex-paramilitaries.
In El Salvador, on the other hand, disabled veterans from the war recently agreed to leave that Cathedral that they had been occupying since December 20.  Veterans from both the Armed Forces (ESAF) and the FMLN (though mostly from the former guerrillas) had been calling on the government to act on their proposal to extend pensions ($143-$230 monthly) to the mothers and fathers of roughly 7,000 soldiers and guerrillas killed during the war. 
While the protesters still seems upset the the new government, the Catholic Church, and the Human Rights Office for their general lack of support, the Funes administration has agreed to study the proposal (Nuevo Herald, Contra Punto).

When we talk about the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, we tend to measure the human costs into terms of the dead and the disappeared.  We forget that there are thousands of people, if not millions, who carry the wounds of war with them on a daily basis.  That's less so when it comes of the families of the disappeared, but it's pretty accurate when we are referring to the soldiers from all sides who live each day missing limbs, PTSD, and other scars of war.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Alta Verapaz again

From the Guardian in the UK
Security forces detained 21 suspects and seized small planes and 150 weapons, including grenade launchers, in what authorities called a major blow to the Zetas, considered one of Mexico's bloodiest narco organisations.
"These individuals were not just preparing to confront the security forces, they were preparing to take control of the country," Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom, told reporters. Drug gangs were "invading" central America to move contraband from Colombia to Mexico and the US, he said.
I don't want  to put too much behind this statement, but I've read it too many times.  If the Zetas were "preparing to take control of the country" and you were only able to detain 21 suspects in total (not even all Zetas), either you've done a lousy job or you're overestimating the Zetas.

For more skepticism on the Alta Verapaz operation (here's my post), I would encourage you to read this new piece from Annie Bird on  Guatemala: State of Siege, Two Steps Backwards.
Social movement organizations in Guatemala live first-hand the terrible violence, and know how desperately Guatemalans want something done to combat violence. However, organizations fear that handing over blanket powers to the very same forces that have shown, incident after incident, that they are pervasively compromised or controlled by organized crime networks, is not the path to turning back the siege of violence in Guatemala.
Community organizations and human rights activists point out that Alta Verapaz has one of the highest levels of agrarian conflict in Guatemala. Much of this conflict is between campesino and indigenous communities and large landholders, often with ties to organized crime that control and manipulate the justice system and the security forces; forces that could take advantage of a State of Siege to repress human rights and community defenders.
It is also significant that over the past several months, municipalities in Alta Verapaz have been carrying out community consultations, expressing their opposition to hydroelectric dam projects that are planned throughout Alta Verapaz, without the consent of affected Qeqchi communities. The State of Siege prohibits assembly, making such consultations impossible.
She also has information on Guatemala's new Attorney General and three decade history of organized crime.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

El Salvador News

Tim has an update on the eviction of street vendors in San Salvador (here's the story from June), the country's slightly improving homicide rate, and a weak economy.  Just a few thoughts. 

First, while we mention these murder statistics each year, we have to remember the violence is not equally distributed throughout the entire country.  While it seems pretty obvious, some areas of each country are much safer than other areas.  That's why Ciudad Juarez can be the most dangerous city on the planet, but Mexico's overall numbers are not that alarming.  Likewise, the Department of Guatemala accounted for nearly 60% of the country's murders even though it possesses just over one-fifth of the entire population.   

Second, I'm not sure that there's much qualitative difference between a murder rate of 72.8 (Honduras), 71 (El Salvador), and 67.6 (Venezuela) per 100,000.

Third, while many of the murders are the result of gang on gang activity, too many are also attacks on journalists, mining activists and witnessespublic officials, and women.

Finally, projected economic growth of 2.5% is not that good even if attaining it will surpass anemic growth rates from 2009 (-3.3%) and 2010 (0.7-0.8%).  While those who intend to vote for the FMLN (36%)outnumber those who intend to vote ARENA (28%), the FMLN would probably feel much better if the economy could somehow hit 3% this year.

The good news is that with a slow economy and marginally improved security situation, 51% of all Salvadorans still support Funes - the same percentage he won with in 2009.

Guatemala Bus Bombing Update

Two leaders from the Little Sayco Criminal clique along with three other individuals are being held in connection with Monday's bus bombing that left seven people dead in Guatemala.
Gustavo Pirir and Eulogio Escobar managed the attack on the bus from the jail where they were being held prior to their transfer Wednesday to a maximum-security prison, the prosecutor said.
Pirir and Escobar are the leaders of a Mara 18 faction known as Little Sayco Criminal that is behind an extortion racket targeting bus companies in the western section of the capital, Lopez said...
"Gustavo Pirir managed and directed all the operations from jail, not just the extortion, but he also coordinated the attacks" on buses, the prosecutor said.
Pirir was involved romantically with Sonia Veliz, the 20-year-old woman arrested Tuesday for planting the bomb on the bus.

Veliz was "captured using a robot photo prepared with the testimony of a survivor of the attack," Lopez said.

Another jailed Mara 18 member, Carlos Rodriguez, detonated the bomb from prison using a cell phone, Lopez said.

Rodriguez, who was also transferred to a maximum-security prison on Wednesday, "communicated with other people outside (the prison) who made the bombs that he detonated from jail with a call," the prosecutor said.
Esvin Rolando Avendaño Monzón, a partner and ex director of the Rutas Qutzal, the transport compnay targeted in the attack, was the fifth person arrested.  The Public Prosecutor's office has accused Avendaño of conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of transit, and money laundering. 

They say Avendaño was responsible for delivering the extortion payments from the bus company to the gang.  However, he never delivered the October, November and December payments.  Instead he deposited the payments in his own account.  The attack was ordered as a result of the non-payment.  (Siglo XXI, Prensa Libre).

Life Goes on in Alta Verapaz

From Al Jazeera's Christopher Arsenault comes a story on A Mayan fire ceremony for land and freedom

Santa Cruz, Guatemala - The road winds through a steep mountain pass, as our pick-up truck swerves around debris from rockslides on the way to a reclaimed farm in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.
We are traveling to a large farm or finca that has been abandoned by absentee German landlords, after the main owner died in the 1970s. The peasants, who used to work for the landlord, now work for themselves.
Today, families on the Prima Vera farm are performing a Mayan fire ceremony, asking god- or the creator – for the right to stay.

They recently received an eviction notice, telling them to get off the land that sustains them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Siege in Alta Verapaz

There have been several recent news stories about the Zetas in Guatemala and the state of siege in Alta Verapaz.  So far,
police have arrested at least 22 "traffickers" and confiscated five small planes, 239 assault weapons, 28 vehicles and explosives in a series of raids...
I don't think that there is much evidence (yet?) of the siege having produced lasting calming effects and I don't think that we should expect any.  I hope that I am wrong, but given the strength of narcotraffickers in the region and the weakness of Guatemala's police, military, and political and judicial institutions, I am not optimistic.

Aside from my concerns that the operation in Alta Verapaz will be totally ineffective, Chris Arsenault writing for Al Jazeera reports on how some locals are skeptical that the operation was even launched to take on the Zetas.

No one disputes the power, corrupting influence or horrific violence projected by the cartels. "You could see them walking in the mall [in Coban] before the siege," says Cesar Bol, a leading activist with the National Indigenous and Campiseno Coordination Organisation (CONIC).

"They openly carried pistols on their belts, wore brand new clothes, drove brand new trucks and spoke with Mexican accents."

But in farming villages, church halls and independent research offices, there is deep scepticism about the government's actions.

"The state of siege is a strategy of the government to attack social movements," says Carlos Morales, who works for farmers' rights with the Union of Campiseno Organisations of Verapaz.

At least two activists, Chabil Utzaj and Pablo Sacrab, have been arrested in Alta Verapaz under the pre-text of the siege, another farmers' rights groups says.

Sitting beside bags of fertiliser and posters of the revolutionary Che Guevara in a warehouse-turned-office, Morales says the Zetas don't live in his municipality of Santa Cruz, a 15-minute drive from Coban.

He thinks the siege is staged and simply an excuse for repression, rather than a legitimate attempt to battle traffickers.

"There are agrarian conflicts in much of Alta Verapaz," he says. "The government is trying to silence groups organising for land reform and against mega-projects like hydro-electric dams and palm oil plantations."

While many urban Guatemalans do not share Morales's analysis, there is scepticism about why a state of emergency would be declared in Alta Verapaz, as it is not the country's most violent area.
On Monday, Interior Minister Carlos Menocal announced that in addition to the cash, suspects, and planes seized in the lat two weeks, the government has been able to disrupt the Zetas "base, their hiding place, their operations center in Alta Verapaz."  Menocal's quote would provide one reason why authorities conducted the siege in Alta Verapaz rather than the capital or other departments.

The Guatemalan Solidarity Project has more information on one of the indigenous leaders, Pablo Sacrab Pop, arrested during the siege.

Given Guatemala's history, people should be skeptical about the government's motivations and its capacity to carry out such a siege.  While I have no reason to doubt that the the central government's primary target is the Zetas, the siege also provides a perfect opportunity for some to use the siege to further their own economic interests by leading the police and military to target local labor, human rights, and indigenous community leaders.