Monday, February 28, 2011

Central Americans Cautiously Optimistic

Central Americans hope that President Obama's March visit to El Salvador will bring "tangible benefits" to the region in helping to resolve problems of international migration and organized crime.

Guatemalan analysts are disappointed with the Obama administration's failure to grant TPS to Guatemalans in the US and that he has so far failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Julio César Grijalva, an ARENA representative to PARLACEN, said that "the region is hoping for concrete responses in the areas of security and migration from the meeting between Funes and Obama."


The agenda for the Funes / Obama meeting is scheduled to center on the fight against poverty, security, migration, trade, and climate change and clean energy. I continue to think that the trip is primarily about US - El Salvador relations and that the rest of the region should not look for much in terms of progress on key regional issues. If that were to be a focus of the meetings, other heads of state would have been invited.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Election News in Guatemala

Danilo Valladares wrote Elections Unlikely to Bring Change to Guatemala last week for IPS. In it, Danilo interviews a number of analysts in Guatemala that claim that significant change will not come to Guatemala's political system unless a constituent assembly is convened and the constitution is rewritten.

I'm not convinced that rewriting the constitution will seriously transform the country. The same five percent of the population that controls eighty percent of the country's land, along with others that have fought to keep the system weak, would be heavily involved in manipulating any new constitution to their advantage. Change, if it does come, is more likely to be incremental with uneven developments across the entire political scene. There's also the terrible precedent by the May 1999 attempt to reform the constitution.

In other election news, since I last made fun of the paltry fines that political parties pay for violation that country's electoral laws, the TSE has begun fining parties for each infraction. Therefore, the fines are beginning to add up - CREO (~$3,000), LIDER (~$1,000), and the UP $500,

 
The Integration Movement has taken to putting up its own signs criticizing the country's politicos and government officials are not that happy. Suger (CREO), Estrada (UCN), and VP Estrada are all worried about the insults and how they might not be healthy for Guatemalan democracy.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has an interview with Héctor Cordero on Threats, bribes and other challenges of reporting on Guatemala's elections. Cordero is a correspondent with Guatevisión TV in Quiché.

Here's Cordero's response to a question about what happens to reporters while covering the country's election.
Expulsions from assemblies when it does not suit the politicians for it to be known how they are organizing the different lists of people participating in the elections. For example, 15 days ago we were kicked out of the UNE party headquarters by two bodyguards of a deputy on the grounds that the meeting was private, clashes with security forces of candidates for local congress members and mayors, all basically because the official election campaign has not begun but all parties are already campaigning throughout Quiché.
The money being spent now is tremendous, at the end of a press conference several candidates -- especially for congress -- started handing out money. They said it was to cover the journalists' expenses, and a lot of journalists accept it because they do not understand that it is a commitment so that later on if these politicians make a mistake the journalist won't publish anything. It is very difficult to deal with this. Thank God I count on the unconditional support of Noticiero Guatevisión, and this means they don't offer me money because they know I will publish it.
It is important to note that much of the responsibility of receiving money in exchange for favors in the mass media lies with the media outlets, or at least the large ones,because the salaries are very low and that makes many journalists accept bribes. This is no excuse, but politicians take advantage of this, because if an event is in faraway places, they offer transportation or fuel, plus food, plus a supplementary payment. And because the election season is just starting, it is important to note that not all journalists have this kind of attitude to accept money.

And Cordero has some troubling comments on how candidates get on the ballot.
The positions (on the ballot) for congress members and mayors have converted into a big business. In Quiché, the top place on the ballot for a congress member if the party is well-represented costs up to 2 million Quetzales (roughly U.S. $250,000), which means these spots go to businessmen or ex-Congress members who have gotten rich with government money.
Of course, the consequences are disastrous, because people are elected who perhaps are successful at a particular business but don't know anything about the Republic's Congress. There have been cases of persons who barely know how to read and write and eventually they become merchants of the law, charging to approve a law, and forgetting the promises they made during the election campaign.
In the end, I believe this will all collapse if there are not profound changes made to the electoral law and political parties, because the people who are real community leaders generally don't participate in politics because the costs are too high.
There is talk of financing by drug trafficking in the election campaigns, however as it is never said where the funding is coming from, we will never know who is doing this. But generally journalists don't touch this because it is highly sensitive and their families run a lot of risk.

All troubling indeed

Finally, the left's ANN, URNG, and several social groups will participate as the Frente Amplio (or Broad Front) in this year's elections.
The Frente's objective is to be a political and social instrument of dialogue and partnership in order to construct a pluricultural, multiethnic, and multilingual nation with social justice and gender equality with economic development oriented towards the common good, in defense of land and cultural property.
Running separate candidates in 2007, the ANN and URNG won less than 3% of the presidential vote. In the congressional elections, the URNG won 2 seats with 3.27% of the national vote while the ANN did not win any.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another Big Loss for Democrats in PA

While PA faces tough redistricting decisions,
Little changed in the big races this week, except that Republican Pat O'Malley got back in the Lackawanna County commissioners race - for real this time, he says - and Frank Adamo switched to the Republicans for the county coroner race
Democrats must really be in trouble if Adamo believes that he needs to run as a Republican to win in the county coroner's race.
Mr. Adamo said he met over the weekend with county Republican Party chairman Lance Stange.

"They welcomed me with open arms," he said.

Mr. Adamo said he has always been a Democrat, but has long harbored conservative Republican beliefs, so the switch seems natural.

"It feels like a huge weight off my shoulders. I'm truly relaxed," he said.
Why in the world do we have to elect a county coroner? And even if we do, why in the world does it matter whether he or she is a Democrat or Republican?

Friday, February 25, 2011

El Salvador Links

JBS Opinión Pública recently surveyed 400 Salvadorans over the age of 18 about their thoughts on President Obama's trip to the country in March. The survey has a 5% margin of error.

While I wouldn't place too much faith in the survey, 84% of the population supports Obama's visit. 42% thought the visit might do some good while 53% said that the visit wouldn't do any good. 14% supported his visit because they thought that it might help the 200,000 Salvadorans on TPS in the US.

A French news program has a new ten minute video on gangs, extortion, and organized crime in El Salvador. Nothing ground breaking, but good reporting nonetheless.

Contrapunto is running a series of interviews with Julio Flores. Flores is a former leader of the People's Revolutionary Bloc and the Democratic Revolutionary Front in El Salvador. (Part I and Part II).

Netoviras also has an interview with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte.

Finally, the Legislative Assembly is moving towards changing the law regarding municipal council elections. Currently, the political party that wins the popular vote in each of the country's 262 municipalities is awarded the mayor and all the seats on the municipality's council.

Under the proposed rule, the victorious party will capture the position of mayor and a majority of council seats. The remaining seats will go to the losing parties. The parties are now trying to ensure that party switches do not change the composition of the majority party on the council. It's not law yet, but people seem optimistic.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reinforcing the Border - The Guatemala / Belize Border, that is

Although several Peten mayors recently requested a new state of siege in their department, Interior Minister Carlos Menocal today dismissed that possibility. According to Menocal, the government lacks resources to carry out sieges in other departments. While true, it's probably not what people want to hear given the positive evaluation most Guatemalans (though obviously not all, especially indigenous organizations) have showed towards the Alta Verapaz siege.

On the other hand, Belize's Ambassador to Guatemala is warning his countrymen of potential spillover effects from drug trafficking into their country. That spillover might come sooner rather than later as Belize says that the Guatemalan government is preparing for military operations in the Peten.
Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala, H. E. Alfredo Martinez, told Amandala on Monday that there is already evidence that Guatemala’s narcotics problems are trickling to this side of the border. Martinez informed our newspaper that the Government of Guatemala is about to dispatch Special Forces soldiers to conduct regular foot patrols in the southern areas of Peten, near the border, while Belize military will do coordinated patrols on this side of the border.
I can't imagine that this is going over well with Belizeans. They already have one of the world's highest murder rates.
2010 was a record year for murders - and the new high mark for homicides is far, far higher than the previous record holder.
That would be 2008 when 103 murders were recorded; unofficially 2010 has seen 132.
That is 29 more than the previous record in 2008 - an increase of 29% - which is the greatest year to year increase since 2001 when the number of murders surged by 40%.

And even more alarming is that the 132 murders pushes Belize's murder rate per one hundred thousand to 40. That puts Belize officially among the highest in the world - and most likely in the top 10 worldwide.
And like Guatemala, there has been a "spike" in the killing of women (17 in 201). There were also 9 victims under the age of 16.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Norma Torres Lobbies TPS for Guatemalans

California State Assemblywoman Norma Torres, originally from Guatemala, wrote another letter to Secretary Napolitano requesting an extension of TPS to Guatemalan nationals living in the US.

The February 15th letter draws attention to the people still suffering from last year's natural disasters.

Land-wise, about half of the country of Guatemala felt the impacts of the volcano, the storm, or both. A recent analysis by the Guatemalan government reports that from a primary population of 338,543 in the directly devastated areas, over 260,000 people have become victims of evacuations, loss of homes, injuries or loss of life.
Among major sectors, 36% of the nation's infrastructure (transportation, energy, water and sanitation) has suffered damages or losses. The social sector (housing, health, education, and culture) has experienced damages or losses of 20%. The production sector (agriculture, industry, commerce and tourism) suffered 13% in damages or losses.
All damages and losses amount to $982 million dollars, a staggering sum for a small sized country and economy like Guatemala.
Eight months and counting. I hope that I am wrong, but the lack of urgency on the part of the US government cannot be a good sign.

PBS NewsHour on Women and Public Health in Guatemala

PBS News Hour is running a series of articles related to public health in Guatemala. Here's the preview that they've released about upcoming stories.



Here's a blurb from Talea Miller at NewsHour about the upcoming broadcasts.
On March 7-8, the global health unit will air two stories from Guatemala on the NewsHour, focusing on family planning and maternal health and violence against women. The NewsHour will also air follow-up discussions with representatives of NGO groups working in Guatemala and government officials. President Obama will visit Central America in mid-March as part of a three-nation trip.

It's great that PBS NewsHour is bringing attention to the problem of poverty and violence in Guatemala so that people in the US and around the world are more aware of the problem and more likely to do something about it. However, I am getting worried about the quality of the programming.

For example, in the blurb above, they say that they will be covering public health in Guatemala at the same time that President Obama is visiting Central America. They do know that he is visiting neighboring El Salvador, not Guatemala right?

Then there's this Violence Against Women is Epidemic in Guatemala article from Imani M. Cheers.
The trend towards socialism in the 1950s concerned the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, as the Cold War against Soviet communism played out in other countries around the world.  In 1956, the CIA backed a military coup and the country fell into a decades-long civil war that left more than 200,000 civilians dead. During that time, the U.S. helped train Guatemala's military in counter-insurgency techniques
The coup was obviously in 1954, not 1956.

Then there's this quote as well.
The PBS NewsHour global health team recently returned from Guatemala reporting on the femicide crisis and violence against women. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission estimated that in 2008, over 700 women were violently murdered. 

What year are we in? If you are spending January and February 2011 in Guatemala to prepare stories for March 2011 broadcasts, you need to do better than 2008 statistics. Approximately 838 women were killed in Guatemala in 2010.

Sorry for the bit of a rant. I just think that it's a really important topic that needs greater exposure and do not want it to be done half-arsed. These aren't the biggest mistakes, but when you neglect these details they do throw your entire work into doubt. (I know I make mistakes as well, but they have editors.)

You can find several stories on their website here.

(I am hoping that they ask why officials and activists think that the total number of women murdered in Guatemala increased from 2009 to 2010 while the overall murders declined)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Obama's trip to El Salvador

Here are a few reasons that no one has yet mentioned as to why President Obama is traveling to El Salvador in March.

First, President Obama's trip is designed to show that we support democracy in El Salvador, not any particular political party. As part of the 1980s counterinsurgency campaign, the US built up Jose Napoleon Duarte and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). When the PDC and Duarte failed to end the war and they were deemed too corrupt by the people of El Salvador, ARENA was voted into power.

We then supported ARENA through its fifteen years in power. After ARENA was deemed too corrupt and failed to resolve the problems such as poverty and crime, Salvadorans voted the FMLN into power. The US now has a very close with relationship with Mauricio Funes. Our government-to-government relationship goes well beyond any single political party (a nice slap in the face to all those US officials who warned what would happen if Salvadorans voted for the Frente).

Second, El Salvador is one of the US' strongest regional allies. Salvadoran troops were deployed to Iraq in 2003 and its last soldiers did not return home until 2009. In all, five Salvadorans were killed and dozens more injured while serving in Iraq. I imagine that there are dozens if not hundreds of Salvadoran Americans who have also been serving our country overseas these last ten years.

Funes and the Salvadoran government also worked closely to respond to the coup in Honduras. As the Wikileaks cables documented, the Funes and Obama administrations tried to coordinate their responses to the coup. (There's also CAFTA and the International Law Enforcement Academy in SS.)

A third reason, and one that cannot be stated publicly, is that the trip is designed to shore up Funes and other moderate forces in the country. It's in the US' interest that Funes succeeds and either a similar center-left or center-right government follows him into power as there's uncertainty both on the left and the right. In that sense, the trip is about domestic politics, just not US domestic politics.

ARENA is still the second largest political force in the country, but it has been hurt by divisions and the creation of the GANA bloc in congress. It's not clear how ARENA or GANA will do in next year's legislative elections and neither is in good shape to win the presidency in 2014. Obviously, that's three years away and a lot can happen between now and then.

The relationship between the FMLN and Funes does appear stronger than it did a year ago. However, there's no guarantee that the relationship will last through 2012 and into the 2014 campaign. If the FMLN wins the presidency in 2014 with one of its own candidates, it's like that relations with the US will worsen as one can envision an FMLN government seeking greater ties with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Even if the FMLN's goal is to pursue a non-aligned foreign policy, whereby the US is just one of many relationships, and not a complete break with their northern neighbor, relations with the US will probably not be as strong as they have been recently.

Finally, I imagine that Funes and Obama get along pretty well. Funes said good things about Obama and Lula during his campaign and after his elections. The two also met in March 2010 at the White House and it's likely that the two enjoyed each other's company. Granted you don't get a visit from the president of the US just because he likes you personally, but it probably played some role.

Finally one more time, I read somewhere that Obama wrote about Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Central American civil wars in one of his books and that the events of the 1980s were influential in getting him into grassroots activism. I don't know if this is true (I didn't read his book) but, if it is, he might not have had to have been talked into the trip especially as he'll be there just around the time of the anniversary of the Archbishop's murder.

So these are some of the reasons that might explain why Obama is heading to El Salvador in addition to security, trade, energy, poverty, etc.

Do you buy any of these Greg?

(Just fixed a few typos this morning.)

February Poll Numbers in Guatemala

Borge y Asociados carried out a nationwide survey of 1,000 between February 5 and 11 about their voting intentions in September's elections. The biggest mover and shaker is General Otto Perez Molina. The percentage of people indicating that they will vote for Perez Molina increased 4% from December's poll. Perez Molina has a comfortable advantage over his main rival, Sandra Torres.

To I am sure UNE's consternation, Torres' numbers have not budged since December. However, it's still possible that her numbers are low because the survey was not a representative sample of the population and relied too heavily upon responses from urban areas of the country. Her numbers might also be low because she has yet to be announced as UNE's official candidate.

In what will likely turn out to be a two person race between Perez Molina and Torres, a runoff does not help Torres' chances. When given a choice between Perez Molina and Torres in a runoff election, 61% favored the General while 20% favored Torres. The governing party gets more bad news when respondents are asked if there is a candidate that they would not vote for under any circumstances. 
Twenty-three percent (23%) of the respondents said that they would not vote for Torres, 8% for Arzu, and 8% for Perez Molina. While the elections remain seven months away, there's no reason to think that Perez Molina will not be the next president of Guatemala.
(See here for December's poll.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alta Verapaz State of Siege Lifted

On Friday, President Colom lifted the two month state of siege in Alta Verapaz. The siege gave Guatemalan security forces the right to conduct searches without warrants and to detain suspects without them as well. The measure also prohibited gun possession, limited freedom of association and freedom of the press. While the emergency powers will no longer be in effect, hundreds of soldiers and police will remain in the department for the foreseeable future.

At the end of the two months, security forces supposedly arrested at least 20 suspected members of the Mexico-based Zetas, seized 230 guns, and 5 planes. According to Interior Minister Carlos Menocal, crime dropped 50 percent during the state of siege. He also argued that the state of siege led to a reduction in the number of homicides (28 in the two months preceding the state of siege and 6 in the two months since the siege began)

I would be more impressed if the government had more tangible results from the two-month operation. The arrests of two dozen Zetas (even if we generously give the government the benefit of the doubt that they are all Zetas), a few hundred guns, five planes, and some airstrips doesn't impress me. Either the Zetas were tipped off and left the department prior to the siege or the intelligence was wrong - this was not the nerve center for the Zetas in Guatemala.
 
Obviously, I am happy for the people of Guatemala and Alta Verapaz that murders dropped since the state of siege began but I will be more impressed if the low murder rate continues after the state of siege ends. However, given that hundreds of police and military are remaining in the department, it's a bit disingenuous to say that it has ended.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guatemalan Mayoral Candidate Killed

The Guatemalan Human Rights Office recently released a report warning that 42% of the country's municipalities (140 out of 333) are likely to suffer election violence this year. Sixty percent of the country's municipalities (201) will suffer from criminal violence and organized crime.

A TSE worker was killed in January, a former congressman in December, and a mayor in November. However, things have gotten worse this weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, eight people were killed in an attack on Mayra Lemus, a mayoral candidate for the UNE-GANA ticket in Moyuta, Jutiapa (on the southern border with El Salvador). The armed men came for him while he was dining in a restaurant.

Authorities are obviously investigating political motivations behind Mayra Lemus' attack. Her brother and former mayor of Mayuta, 48-year old Magno Lemus Pérez, apparently died of a suspicious heart attack in October 2009. It doesn't look like anyone thought much about it until his name popped up on wiretaps related to the Rosenberg murder. Magno's name was found on a list of people to be killed.

While not related to election violence, gunmen also shot and killed the vice-president of a last-place soccer team in the country's national league. Authorities are investigating death threats that the man received several weeks ago after his team's poor performance.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wikileaks Guatemala

Here are links to the other Wikileaks cables dealing with Guatemala .
Summary: In a March 14 meeting with the Ambassador and Pol/Econ Counselor, CICIG Commissioner Carlos Castresana discussed progress in establishing the CICIG office and beginning its first investigations. He outlined concerns over the extent to which some Guatemalan law enforcement organizations have been compromised by organized crime and corruption, and discussed the status of CICIG's current investigations, including progress in its investigation of the recent killings of bus drivers, organized crime rings within the police, and the high-profile February 2007 murder of three Salvadoran representatives of the Central American Parliament.
Castresana underscored the need to collaborate with the U.S. and other donor countries to provide reliable witness protection. Among other challenges, he cited the lack of coordination between the Ministry of Government and the Public Ministry, CICIG's lack of third-country security officers, and the lack of counter-surveillance expertise among Guatemalan security officers.
CICIG Commissioner Provides Update (May 2008). This cable relates to a briefing that Castresana gave to foreign ambassadors at a luncheon hosted by the Swiss Ambassador.
Relations between CICIG and the GOG - Castresana characterized them as good...
Castresana lauded Chile, Mexico and Uruguay for seconding professionals to work with CICIG. He hoped that the U.S. and Colombia could also provide personnel. CICIG was still very much in need of criminal investigators. Also important would be establishment of a winess protection program outside of Guatemala for Guatemalan witnesses.
Castresana said that law enforcement in Guatemala is essentially non existent and CICIG is in a sense doing an autopsy of collapsed institutions...
Castresana noted that the murder rate in Guatemala is decreasing. He attributed it to a drop in extra-judicial killings after Adela Torrebiarte took over the Ministry of Gobernacion in March 2007. Castresana estimated that at that time almost 6,000 people were being murdered in Guatemala every year; 25 percent of that total were extra-judicial executions. Comment: While the murder rate is declining, it is not clear to us that this is due to a decline in extra-judicial killings nor that previously 25 percent of all murders were extra-judicial.
Summary: Confronted by the threat from three narcotrafficking groups, including recently arrived "Zetas" from Mexico, the local Rule of Law (ROL) apparatus in the northern city of Coban is no longer capable of dealing with the most serious kinds of crime. What is happening there is typical of many rural areas of Guatemala. Sources tell us that Coban's police are corrupt and allied with traffickers, and sometimes even provide them escort. Some judges and prosecutors are too frightened to do their jobs properly; others are in league with the traffickers. Asserting that security is not his job, the mayor is turning a blind eye to the narco-violence in Coban's streets. Wholesale restructuring of the ROL apparatus -- not mere personnel changes -- would be required for the state to adequately reassert its authority.
And here's part of Ambassador McFarland's final comment:
The process of loss of state control now underway in Coban has already occurred in other parts of the country, including Zacapa and Izabal Departments, as well as parts of Jutiapa, Chiquimula, San Marcos, and Peten Departments. Without outside intervention, Coban will join the growing list of areas lost to narcotraffickers.
With Encouragement from the Ambassador and CICIG, President Colom Approves Judicial Reforms (September 2009)
On September 2, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom signed into law two important pieces of criminal legislation that had been supported by the international community. The two laws, one for plea-bargaining and one for &high-impact8 courts with additional security measures, would create new tools to help prosecutors successfully try and convict criminals. Colom had hesitated to approve the measures due to strong opposition from his General Counsel, Carlos Larios Ochaita. However, a last minute meeting on September 2 with the Ambassador and CICIG Commissioner Carlos Castresana convinced Colom to sign the reform bills into law. The entire episode speaks poorly of Congressional-Executive coordination. That said, the approval of the laws continues progress on judicial reform.

Summary: Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, indicted in the U.S. on money laundering charges and a fugitive from justice, was captured Jan. 26 as he was about to flee to Belize. The capture was the result of a joint operation involving CICIG, the Attorney General's Office, the Army, and the Police. The NAS helicopters provided critical support by ensuring that Portillo was brought before a judge in the capital within the six-hour constitutional limit. CICIG told Portillo he had the option of accepting an expedited proceeding that would lead to his quick extradition to safety in the U.S. Portillo refused, saying he preferred to face justice in Guatemala. Portillo's arrest is a powerful message for Guatemalans that no one is above the law.
And here are two quick reports from El Periodico and Siglo XXI.

A few comments.

In the March 2008 cable, Castresana said that bus companies were hiring gang members as security chiefs in order to protect them from other gangs extorting them. and in the May 2008 cable, there seems to be some confusion as to whether 25% of the country's 6,000 murders were the result of extrajudicial killings.

Castresana appears to have been shocked by the corruption and the absence of the rule of law, but there's no indication that he was overly frustrated with the international community or Guatemalan government's support for CICIG's work. Obviously, he wanted more assistance but there's no signs of desperation or frustration as related in US Embassy cables. In September 2009, we was frustrated with the inability of the executive and legislative branches to work more closely together, but so far there's little to indicate that he's contemplating resigning, which he does in June 2010.

The dominant theme in each of the cables is the concern for the absolute lack of a rule of law in Guatemala. Some judges, prosecutors, police and mayors are clearly intimidated by drug traffickers, organized crime and gangs. Others are in cahoots with those groups (it's unclear whether their relationship is simply based upon their interest in surviving or its their preference).

A source close to former President Alfonso Portillo gave CICIG and Guatemalan authorities the intelligence needed to nab Portillo shortly before he made his escape into Belize and shortly after a leak from "a state source" led him to evade authorities a day earlier. Castresana thought that members of the La Cofradia "might seek to murder him in order to ensure he does not collaborate with Guatemalan or U.S. authorities."

Castresana also said that Colom had been helpful throughout the investigation even though he thought that Portillo had helped to fund Colom's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2003. It's good to know that Castresana and Ambassador McFarland thought that Colom was being helpful at this time.

In Guatemala, people liked to say that when you win the presidency in your third attempt, you not only owe the people who helped you in the last campaign, but you also owe all those who funded your first two losing campaigns. Colom was going to spend the rest of his life paying people off.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wikileaks Guatemala - Reynoso Visit

Four Wikileaks documents related to Guatemala were recently released on El Pais. Here's one from December 24, 2009. In it, US Ambassador McFarland reports on Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Julissa Reynoso's visit to the country. The cable's subject is WHA DAS Reynoso's Visit Reaffirms Partnership with Guatemala.

Here's the summary:
During her December 13-16 visit to Guatemala, WHA DAS Julissa Reynoso met with President Colom, First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom, senior members of government, CICIG Commissioner Castresana, and representatives of civil society, the press, and the business community.
Colom focused on the situation in Honduras and Guatemala's pending tax legislation while the First Lady noted the positive impact of the many social programs which fall under the Social Cohesion Council, which she leads. Colom also expressed interest in making an official visit to Washington to meet President Obama and the Secretary.
CICIG Commissioner Castresana detailed the continuing challenges his commission faces in prosecuting cases in Guatemala and sought support for a U.S.-based CICIG office in Houston.
DAS Reynoso also visited various USG-supported projects which are decreasing rates of malnutrition, supporting microenterprise, and making the judicial system more efficient.
She also met with Otto Perez Molina, the principal opposition leader, who explained his party's platform for the upcoming 2011 elections.
DAS Reynoso's visit received wide and positive press coverage indicating interest on the part of Guatemalans in seeing high-level USG engagement.
With regards to Reynoso's visit with the Colom and Foreign Minister Rodas, it was interesting to read that Colom agreed with Reynoso that Honduran President Porfirio Lobo "seems like a well-intentioned interlocutor and someone who can restore peace to the country." It's unclear whether Colom was just being diplomatic or that's actually how he felt at the time. Anyway, his foreign minister interjected with
Guatemala will have to wait and see what happens. Rodas asserted that Guatemala could not accept that a coup, followed by elections, would somehow justify the illegal overthrow of the government. Rodas also noted that the USG's continued role in Honduras is critical to ensure a smooth recovery. According to Rodas, the economic and social impact of the crisis will only begin to be felt once a more stable government is in place.
In Reynoso's meeting with the First Lady, Sandra Torres de Colom highlighted the important accomplishments of her "My Family Progresses" program and said that she hopes that it will be "permanently institutionalized within the government." The Patriotic Party's presidential candidate, Otto Perez Molina, told Reynoso that he and his party also have a plan similar to My Family Progresses that will be part of their governing program. However, their program will incorporate "additional elements of transparency and accountability."
Another interesting meeting was one that Reynoso had with a dozen representatives from private industry and the influential coordinating Committee for the Chambers of Agriculture, Commerce, Industry, and Finance(CACIF). Similar to a recent cable on Mexico, the US government shows its disappointment with unelightened elites in Guatemala.
When DAS Reynoso pressed the private sector to focus on making practical solutions, they pushed the blame onto Colom and said that without a credible partner, they could not accomplish anything. DAS Reynoso pressed back, urging the private sector to take some responsibility for bridging Guatemala's extreme wealth distribution gap.
Finally, former CICIG Commissioner Carlos Castresana sought support for a U.S.-based CICIG office in Houston.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

State of Siege to Expand to Peten?

On Tuesday, Judge Eddy Caceres Rodriguez was shot and killed by unidentified assailants in the Peten Department. The three assailants shot at the judge from a vehicle and then drove off. Police have no motive for the attack.
Peten's governor, Rudel Alvarez, has asked the government to declare a state of siege, similar to the one currently being administered in Alta Verapaz, in his department . In the past, Colom has said that he would be open to extending states of siege to other departments but it just not at that time.

Honestly, I have no idea how one would work in the Peten. It's country's largest department and accounts for 1/3 of the country's entire area. It also borders both Mexico and Belize.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Threats against the Media in Guatemala

Christopher Toothaker of the Associated Press has a story out today on NGO: Press freedoms threatened in Latin America. In it, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that "a rise in censorship can be seen throughout Latin America, caused by government repression, judicial interference, and intimidation from criminal groups."

The CPJ's 2011 report found that violence against journalists in Mexico and Central America is linked to drug gangs and that the violence is "striking fear into reporters and self-censorship within the media."

Last week, the CPJ reported on a series of threats against Oscar de León, a television journalist with the Guatevisión TV network. The CPJ is calling on Guatemalan authorities to investigate the source of the threats and to take steps to protect De León.

Mr. De León and his family have received multiple death threats via text messaging and landlines. On January 28, his van was also van peppered with bullets while his brother was driving it . These threats started after he received a folder documenting alleged police corruption in a southwestern municipality of Quetzaltenango. After receiving the material, he did published any of it, but instead approached the mayor. The mayor then brought the issue up for all the town to see when he met with the town's Municipal Council. At that point, the threats began.
De León said he believes the shooting and threats are related to his investigation into allegations of corruption against the city's transit police chief, Manuel Adolfo Blanco. Quetzaltenango-based daily El Quetzalteco quoted Blanco denying accusations of corruption. Blanco's contract with the transit police, which expired on January 31, was not renewed, local news media reported.
According to the CPJ, seventeen journalists have been killed in Guatemala since 1992 .

Guatemala's Political Parties

Prensa Libre published two interesting articles in the last few days that relate to the upcoming September elections. In the first one, Francisco Mauricio Martinez discusses the tendency for Guatemalan political parties to emerge, persist briefly, and then disappear.

La Hora 2008
When competitive elections returned to Guatemala with its founding elections of November 1985, twelve political parties competed. All twelve have subsequently disappeared. The last to disappear was the Christian Democratic Party (DCG) after the last election.

PAN Website
Today, the political party that lays claim to being the country's oldest is a party founded in 1989, the National Advancement Party (PAN). Alvaro Arzu, formerly of the PAN and now of the Unionist Party, was president of the country during the signing of the peace accords. The second oldest is the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) of General Rios Montt, a party who is most likely presenting his daughter as its presidential candidate this year.


It's quite possible, even likely, that a dozen or so of the twenty-four or -five political parties will cease to exist after the elections later this year. Both the PAN and FRG have fallen on hard times in recent years. In the congress, the PAN has seen its members switch to GANA and the Unionist Party while those of the FRG have switched to the Patriotic Party. The FRG maintains 9 seats (down from 14 at the start of the congress) and the PAN 2 seats (down from 3 at the start of the congress).

In a couple of academic articles, Omar Sanchez characterizes the Guatemalan political system as "exceptionally inchoate" (2008) so much so that it makes more sense to call it a "party nonsystem" (2009). These systems are "characterized by persistently high transfers of votes away from the main parties towards new and small parties (i.e. high extrasystemic volatility), an ever-changing constellation of parties without a stable ‘core.’" It's not just that today's winners amongst Guatemala's parties are tomorrow's losers, it's that today's winners are likely to disappear and tomorrow's winners haven't even been created yet.

It's a little too early to tell, but perhaps Guatemala is in some ways moving beyond this aspect of its party system. UNE, GANA, PP, and the FRG had the four largest legislative blocs at the beginning of the current congress and they finished 1, 3, 2, and 4 in the presidential election. GANA and UNE have formed an alliance in 2011 against the PP front runner. Perhaps we'll have a rematch of the 2008 runoff election between the UNE and PP parties. In that sense, it will be unusual for the two main political parties from the last elections to be the two main political parties in this election.

I'll try to get to the other article projecting violence in this year's election and two Wikileaks cables (one old and one new) sometime this week. Read ahead if you'd like

Monday, February 14, 2011

Violence against Women in Guatemala

There are a few recent stories about women in Guatemala that you might be interested in taking a look at. The first is by Danilo Valladares at IPS on Surviving the Sexist Genocide in Guatemala. The other reports are by Talea Miller at PBS News Hour on Opening Horizons for Guatemala's Girls and Violence Against Women in Guatemala. The global health unit of The NewsHour is preparing a more complete report for March.

All three articles highlight the horrific violence committed against women in Guatemala (838 women were murdered there last year). They also discuss the work of NGOs, including Norma Cruz's Fundacion Sobrevivientes or Survivors Foundation and Abriendo Oportunidades or Creating Opportunities, in stemming the violence and assisting the victims

Two of the articles discuss the life and death of Mindy Rodas. Here is a video about Mindy from last year. Mindy's husband had slashed her face with a machete in July 2009. Mindy's tortured, strangled body was found in the capital on December 18th.



The second video highlights the work of Creating Opportunities. This organization is "providing the most vulnerable indigenous Mayan girls and young women in Guatemala with personal and professional development skills, mentorship, and leadership opportunities."


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Colom's Not Invited to the Party

A few days ago, President Colom said that he was going to El Salvador to meet with Presidents Obama and Funes even though an official invitation had not yet been extended. Turns out, he won't be getting an invitation anytime soon.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela put an end to any speculation that other heads of state would be invited to El Salvador saying that this trip is for President Obama to meet with the people of El Salvador and its government officials.
Obama and Funes in the Oval Office, March 2010, Enduring Relationship
President Funes has said that he will use the occasion to request that permanent residency be extended to the more than 200,000 Salvadorans living in the US under TPS. In Guatemala, some are speculating that President Colom was not invited because President Obama is not interested in discussing an extension of similar TPS to Guatemalans living in the US (supposedly we might hear something soon). It's also possible that since Colom has less than one year in office remaining, there was little reason for Obama to meet with him.

I think that it's wise to not invite Colom. As I've said before, this is an important meeting between the presidents of the US and El Salvador that doesn't need the baggage that other heads of state would bring.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if the reason that Colom is not invited is not so much because of him but because Funes and Obama also would have had to invite the other Central American heads of state. You can't just invite Colom, or Colom and Chinchilla. You'd also have to invite Porifirio Lobo and Daniel Ortega which I don't think is in anyone's interest. That, or spend the entire trip answering why they weren't invited.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Political Scientist Makes a Difference in Chimaltenango, Guatemala

CNN has a great story on Anne Hallum and her work in Guatemala. Hallum is a political scientist from Stetson University in Florida who has spent the last two decades improving the lives of the people of Chimaltenango and rural Guatemala.

Hallum co-founded the Alliance for International Reforestation, a nonprofit whose mission is to help villagers protect themselves from deadly mudslides. Since 1992, the organization has helped has helped 110 rural villages plant more than 3.8 million trees.
"Deforestation -- or the absence of trees -- causes mudslides to occur...Trees are cut for firewood and to make room for the crops, and without realizing it ... they've taken away their protection. Where it used to be rainforest becomes an open space for the mud to come right on through."
"With the help of a former student, she researched rural resources and learned that many local Guatemalan tree varieties could be strategically replanted to provide fruit, fertilizer, coffee, food and medicinal herbs where resources were failing or nonexistent...
"When we started, it was all about fighting poverty," Hallum said. "We wanted to help families farm better and feed their children better. But we started to notice that in the areas where (pine) trees were planted, the mudslides were no longer occurring. So that brought a new focus for us. Food, shade, fertilizer and mudslide protection -- the trees can do it all."...
Local Guatemalan staff -- all trained agroforestry technicians -- are assigned six villages each and provide free weekly instructional courses on topics like tree planting, sustainable farming and air quality. Each technician remains in his or her assigned communities for five years. Hallum credits her group's success to this commitment of staying within a community until the community itself can see and reap benefits.
"It's a lot of work," Hallum said. "We don't come in, plant some trees and leave. We do that, and they'll cut them down. It's a step-by-step process that starts with education. In a little time, they notice their crops are doing better; mudslides aren't happening. And the behavior changes: They start to protect the trees. We say: 'All right, you've got it. You know how to do this now.' Then we leave ... on to the next village."

 
 
In addition to providing agricultural classes and planting trees, Hallum and her team donate and install ecofriendly and safe fuel-efficient cooking stoves to families based on economic need. You can see a brief clip on CNN's website as well. 
 
Inspiring stuff. Definitely beats political scientists in The Onion.

McCain and Palin Still Lost

Earlier in the week, there was a story that Tom Loertscher (R-Iona) of Washington didn't know where Guatemala was located on a map. Turns out the writer had the story wrong and Loertscher was speaking about his hairdresser. She didn't know Guatemala's location until meeting her future husband who was from there.

We'll look for more evidence next time. Like now. Here are some recent gaffes from Senator McCain, 1/2-term Palin, and the American public. Sometimes you just feel bad for the Senator.



To be fair, I can't correctly identify all 200 or so countries in the world. And when I do mix up countries and leaders in class, I correct myself.

On the other hand, I don't recall too many video clips where McCain or Palin actually seemed to know what they were talking about in terms of foreign policy. Must be the media's fault.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sandra Torres Contemplating a Run

Before a crowd of 10,000 women (really?) beneficiaries of Mi Familia Progreso in Japala, First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom said that she was considering a run at the presidency. She said that the decision to to participate is a very difficult decision and one where she will have to consult with her husband, her family, and her God. Last month the President said it was her decision alone. She also thanked those who were asking her to run for the presidency.

The suspense is killing me.

Hundreds of people attended the event carrying UNE banners several hours after the governing party agreed not to promote the party during public works projects carried out by the government.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Obama's El Salvador Trip

As I wrote before, Funes' trip to El Salvador is historic and hopefully the presence of other heads of state will not distract people from the important relationship between the US and El Salvador.


Well, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom isn't waiting for a formal invite. He says he's going.

At least it's not all about organized crime, gangs, drug trafficking. Funes and the US will also be discussing how to better tackle poverty.

Sigfredo Reyes and Salvadoran Congress

I kept meaning to get around to Sigfredo Reyes and the FMLN assuming the presidency in the country's Legislative Assembly. Even though the FMLN has held a plurality of seats on the Assembly for the last few years, Reyes became the first member of the FMLN to occupy the presidency on February 1st.

Omar Nieto has a nice round up at Global Voices from around the spectrum on the event's importance and expectations for the enxt fifteen months.One of Reyes' promises was to increase transparency in the operations of the Assembly. As a result, we now have some information on salaries at legislative staff.



(See here for the rest of the speech.)

Prior to assuming the presidency, Reyes gave an interview to ContraPunto's Nelson Rentería/Fernando de Dios. In the interview, Reyes talks about how he became political aware of the conditions in El Salvador with the February 1975 electoral fraud that prevented Jose Napoleon Duarte from winning the presidency. He was eleven years old at the time. There's also his involvement in student protests, the importance of Archbishop Oscar Romero, study abroad in Moscow, and his capture on the morning of the FMLN offensive in November 1989.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Party all the Time

On Sunday, the URNG convened its National Assembly and reelected Hector Nuila as its Secretary General. During the meeting that included representatives from 101 municipalities and 16 different departments, Nuila took the opportunity to criticize the presence of mining activity in Guatemala. 

The URNG probably has been the party most outspoken against international mining in the country. However, its minimal representation in Congress (2 seats) has limited its visibility. Here is the URNG and Frente Amplio's most recent public announcement

Twenty-one political parties signed an Ethics Pact this morning whereby they agreed that (1) their campaigns would focus on the issues and would not attack each other, (2) they would not not incite violence, and (3) they would provide the TSE with monthly campaign contribution reports. All signed the pact except for the Unionist Party (UP), the Progressive Liberator Party (PLP), Social Good (Bien), and the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

UNE representatives also promised not to promote the party during the inauguration of public works projects carried out by the Colom administration.

In a move that surprised no one, Otto Perez proclaimed that the Patriotic Party will win in the first round of the presidential election. However, a surprise did come when Aristides Crespo, a former congressman from the FRG, took a step back in time and came out in support of the wrong general. (You can listen to the clip here).
"Escuintla is present in this patriotic holiday (...)" "to tell Roxana Baldetti and General Ríos Montt that we are ready to rule Guatemala, we are ready for the Patriotic Party in the first round."
Oops!

The 29th Anniversary of the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG)

While everyone was celebrating what would have been Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday yesterday, today the URNG is celebrating an anniversary. On February 7, 1982, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA), and the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT) formed the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG).
Over the next decade, the guerrillas were weakened by a series of military defeats and assassinations, the apparent failure of Marxism-Leninism as a viable alternative to the liberal-democratic order, and their failure to develop a broad based opposition to the military, and then civil-military, regimes. After nearly fifteen years of war, the URNG signed the Firm and Lasting Peace Agreement with President Alvaro Arzu of the National Advancement Party (PAN) on December 29, 1996. The URNG officially began the legal process of becoming a political party in June 1997 and was formally inscribed as a political party eighteen months later.
In 1999, the URNG prepared to form part of the New Nation Alliance (ANN) along with the Democratic Front for a New Guatemala (FDNG), the Democratic Leftist Union and the Authentic Integral Development Party for legislative and presidential elections. The alliance would have allowed the URNG and the Guatemalan left to capitalize on the previous electoral success of the FDNG which had elected six deputies to the Congress in 1995. But the leftist coalition fractured when the FDNG withdrew from the alliance in the midst of the 1999 campaign.

In the presidential election, the ANN candidate, Álvaro Colom Caballeros (Guatemala's current president), won just over 12% of the vote and finished in third place, well behind the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) and the (PAN). In the congressional elections, the URNG as part of the ANN won nine congressional seats. This accounted for 8% of the congress’ total of 113 seats.
For many new political parties, 8% of the seats would be quite an accomplishment. But given that the party led by former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt (FRG) captured sixty-three seats (56%) and the second most successful party (PAN) captured thirty-seven seats (33%), many were disappointed with the URNG’s electoral results. Some said that elections' outcome “essentially translated its military defeat into political defeat.”

Between the 1999 and 2003 elections, the URNG continued to have problems with maintaining its party unity and, eventually, Jorge Soto resigned from the party. The URNG remained distant from civil society and many of its former combatants at this time as well. By the time of the 2003 elections rolled around, the URNG was in a significantly weaker position than it was in 1999.

Like the FMLN, the URNG presented one of its historic leaders as its presidential candidate in its second attempt at the presidency after choosing an individual loosely tied to the insurgency in its first attempt. In November 2003, the URNG selected Rodrigo Asturias (aka Gaspar Ilom), the son of Nobel Literature Laureate Miguel Angel Asturias. After a disappointing campaign, Asturias captured 3% of the national vote and finished in sixth place. As the URNG’s performance dropped from 12% to 3%, so too its vote total dropped by some 200,000, leaving it with fewer than 70,000 votes.

The elections for the country’s legislature were similarly disappointing as the URNG captured 4% percent of the national vote and two seats in the congress. Its performance was considerably worse than simply capturing fewer seats relative to 1999, as the total number of seats available had increased from 113 to 158 in the intervening years.


In 2007, fourteen candidates vied for the presidency with only three (Colom 28.23%, Pérez Molina 23.51%, and Giammattei 17.23%) attaining electoral support in the double digits. The URNG-MAIZ ticket captured a disappointing, but not unexpected, two percent of the vote. The ex-guerrillas in the ANN captured less than 1%. Finally, the Encuentro por Guatemala-Winaq, with Rigoberta Menchú as its candiate, received 3.09% of the national vote. Colom defeated Pérez Molina in a second round contest to become the sixth consecutive civilian president of Guatemala (53% to 47%). At the same time, the URNG-MAIZ captured two seats in the congress with 3.27% of the vote.

Today, the URNG-MAIZ is working to form a broad front to contest the 2011 elections with Pablo Monsanto of the ANN and other political and social organizations on the left. There's no clear presidential candidate (Pablo?) and the party has little ability to affect this year's presidential election. At the legislative level, the URNG and allies could pick up a seat in perhaps Chimaltenango, Sololá, Alta Verapaz, or Petén. and also hold its Huehuetenango (Walter Felix) and from the national list (Hector Nuila).
 
Happy anniversary and here's to a successful bounce back campaign in September.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Recent Videos on Central America

AFP has a brief three-minute clip on the military siege of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala here.

The BBC 2 is presenting Toughest Place to be a Paramedic is on BBC 2 at 9pm tonight.
A WELSH paramedic has swapped her normal beat for one of the toughest in the world – dealing with gang shootings in Guatemala.
Angie Dymott spent two gruelling weeks swapping the streets of Cardiff to work with bomberos, who carry out paramedic and fire fighting duties in Guatemala City.
Here's the preview:



The Des Moines Register also has a story on Luis Argueta's documentary "Abused: The Postville Raid." The story talks a little bit about Mark Bennett, a federal judge who participated in court hearings and afterwards called the 2008 legal proceedings "a travesty." Here's the trailer for the film:




Finally, in El Salvador, Contrapunto has also started ContraPuntoTV. Check out 79 años de historia for some coverage of the 1932 matanza and the 1982 Calabozo massacre.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Poverty in Guatemala

The Guatemala Times recently summarized 2010 poverty data from the country.
Poverty in Guatemala increased from 51% to 54.1% -55%, according to the latest data published by the Central American Business Intelligence, CABI. CABI informed that poverty, infant and maternal mortality have increased in Guatemala due to the global economic crisis between 2009 and 2010. This has severely affected local efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In their study, CABI reported that the fall in economic growth in Guatemala caused the poverty level to rise from 51 percent to 54.1 percent and in some cases to 55 percent. Among the causes that increased poverty, the agency cited the loss of formal jobs, reduction in real wages (inflation) and bankruptcy of small businesses.
The agency stressed that the annual cost to address maternal and child mortality in Guatemala is not high, it takes only 0.25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). If the investment in health is reduced it will adversely affect progress recorded in the field. The decrease of remittances of 9.3% in 2009 (Bank of Guatemala) had a very negative impact in the fight against poverty in Guatemala, in addition, despite the boost from programs like Social Cohesion, which distributes 300 Quetzals, (approximately US $ 38.4 depending on the exchange rate) per family, poverty has risen since 2007.
While the decline in remittances was one of the causes for the recent increase in poverty figures, there is some grounds for optimism given that Guatemala recorded a 15.1% increase in January 2011 remittances compared to January 2010.
The Bank of Guatemala revealed yesterday that January 2011 showed revenues of $ 283.3 million. Although this amount is higher than January 2010, when revenues where at U.S. $ 246.1 million, it has not yet reached the levels of 2009, revenues of US $ 290.2 million, or U.S. $ 314.6 million of January 2008.
While not as strong as 2009, it is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it's nowhere near the MDG's 2015 goal of 31.4% and really only returns the country to its 2006 poverty level.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Support for Democracy in El Salvador

Tim linked to a report from El Faro that showed that 45.6% of Salvadorans would support a military coup if the economic and security situations in the country are not resolved. The poll was conducted between November 8 and 13 with 1,200 people and has a margin of error of +/- 2.8%.



That's not great news, of course. The good people at LAPOP carried out surveys in 2008 and 2010 that ask basically the same question. You can find the details in Political Culture of Democracy in El Salvador, 2010

According to their research, Salvadoran support for a military coup declined from 43.1% in 2008 to 40.9% in 2010. In that case, while it's a pretty high number of Salvadorans who would support a coup, it's down from recent years.

In another series of questions, Salvadorans were asked “Democracy may have problems, but it is better than any other form of government. To what extent do you agree or disagree with these statements?”Support has bounced around a bit over the last six years from 68.8% in 2004 to 61.3% in 2006, back up to 68.4% in 2008, and finally settling at 64.1% in 2010.

On the one hand, citizen support for democracy is pretty low, especially compared to other countries in the region, and support for a military coup is still alarmingly high. On the other hand, the survey results do show that support for democracy is higher today than it has been in the recent past.

LAPOP's 2010 data was collected in February 2010, eight months before the new survey reported in El Faro. You can't directly compare the two surveys so I don't want to draw any strong conclusions about trends in support for democracy  between February (LAPOP) and November (EL Faro). We're just going to have to wait a bit until we get additional survey data.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Clinton Meets with Guatemala Foreign Minister

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently met with her Guatemala counterpart, Haroldo Rodas, in Washington, D.C. The video really just has your basic diplomatic pleasantries.


However, in the write-up of the meeting, Rodas reiterated the Guatemalan government's request that the US extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) benefits to its citizens living here in the US. In recent years, TPS has been extended to citizens of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Haiti. Several months have passed since Guatemala petitioned for TPS, providing all the necessary documentation to justify its request.

As time goes on, it becomes harder to see the US extending TPS to Guatemala. They requested it in June and nothing. There was no earthquake (Haiti and El Salvador). There was no single storm like Hurricane Mitch (Nicaragua and Honduras). Unfortunately, I think that this makes it difficult for decisionmakers to quite get a handle on the effects of several smaller disasters - tropical storms and volcanic eruptions.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where's Guatemala you ask?

Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who chairs the State Affairs Committee and the House Ethics Committee investigating Phil Hart's tax problems, doesn't know where Guatemala is, according to Dustin Hurst of the Idaho Reporter.
 Hurst was reporting on a State Affairs Committee when Chairman Loertscher dropped the bomb shell about 15 minutes ago. In a self-deprecating manner, Loertscher provided a recount of a conversation he had with his hair stylist.
Seems the hair stylist said she was bad at geography and didn't know that Idaho Falls is north of Pocatello. As they continued talking, Loertscher learned that the woman's husband was from Guatemala. Which Loertscher thought was in Europe. Rather than Central America. Seems he can't see Guatemala from his kitchen window in Iona (wherever Iona is). (The Spokesman-Review)
Maybe he was just joking. I imagine that he was thinking of Central Europe and not Central America.

"Granito"

"Granito," was presented at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Pamela Yates's first film about Guatemala was her award winning film When the Mountains Tremble (1982). In Granito, Yates documents how her first film and related outtakes are being used as evidence in the international war crimes case against Efrain Rios Montt in Spain. 
In GRANITO our characters sift for clues buried in archives of mind and place and historical memory, seeking to uncover a narrative that could unlock the past and settle matters of life and death in the present. Each of the five main characters whose destinies collide in GRANITO are connected by the Guatemala of 1982, then engulfed in a war where a genocidal “scorched earth” campaign by the military exterminated nearly 200,000 Maya people. Now, as if a watchful Maya god were weaving back together threads of a story unraveled by the passage of time, forgotten by most, our characters become integral to the overarching narrative of wrongs done and justice sought that they have pieced together, each adding their granito, their tiny grain of sand, to the epic tale.
Skylight Pictures provides both two- and ten-minute trailers.


Granito trailer from Skylight Pictures on Vimeo.



GRANITO 10min from Skylight Pictures on Vimeo.


See also the National Security Archives's Guatemala Project with details on Plan Sofia and the genocide case in Spain.

Here's a review of the film by Stephen Farber.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Poll Numbers in El Salvador

Where's Paul when you need him? RIP
New poll numbers are out (LPG Jan. 14-16). The FMLN continues to lead ARENA by 10% points in congressional elections (30.3% vs. 20%) and 6% in elections for mayor (29.2% vs. 23.%). It's tough to tell how good these numbers are for the FMLN. First, municipal and congressional elections do not happen for another year. Second, there's another 50% of the population that intend to vote for a third party or they simply haven't made up their mind.

The survey also has a bit of a geographic breakdown. ARENA leads at the local level in the Western part of the country with 26%. The FMLN comes in at 22%. In the east, the FMLN leads 22% to 17%. In the central area, the FMLN leads 32% to 22%. Finally, the FMLN leads in the Metropolitan zone with 36% to ARENA's 28%.

Funes remained popular but his approval ratings continue to decline. Fifty-seven percent approve of his performance while 16% disapprove. Support is down from LPG's November survey that had him at 71%. (I wonder if Funes will get a bump from Obama's visit?)

Forty-seven percent see insecurity as the country's principal challenge while 40% name the economy.
In other news, President Funes has changed his mind and no longer appears to be interested in purchasing Brazilian Super Tucano jets. He needs some cash for investments in education and public health.

Voices from El Salvador has an action alert for help in protecting mining activists in Cabanas. Voices also has an update on the recently concluded one week strike of workers from the judiciary and the delay in the country's new transparency law.