Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guatemalan Left Looks to Unite

El Periodico ran an article yesterday on the Frente Amplio in Guatemala. The Frente Amplio, or Broad Front, is an attempt by the left to present a unified party in the 2011 elections.

The left has never successfully competed in post-war politics. In 1995 while the war continued to linger, the FDNG (a collection of civil society organizations) competed in elections for congress and won six out of eighty seats. The URNG and the FDNG then attempted an form alliance for the 1999 elections, but internal differences prevented the alliance from being realized and the FDNG withdrew. The URNG went on to win  9 seats in the elections while the FDNG failed to win a single seat.

In 2003, the URNG (mostly ORPA) and Pablo Monsanto's ANN (mostly former FAR) ran separately. The URNG won two seats here while the ANN captured six.

The URNG (now with MAIZ) again won two seats in 2007 while the ANN disappeared after failing to win a single seat. Like 2003, the URNG won a district seat in Huehutenango and one on the national list.


Today, the left looks to survive through the Broad Front, an alliance that brings together the URNG-MAIZ,  Monsanto's ANN, Congressman Anibal Garcia's Movimiento Nueva República (MNR), and another sixty or so social organizations including the Frente Nacional de Lucha (FNL). It's possible that Rigoberta Menchu's Winaq might enter the alliance at some point as her political party was recently recognized by the TSE.

The URNG's Secretary General, Percy Méndez, says that while the alliance is built around this year's election, they do hope that it will be the basis for something more permanent.
“La idea es ir más allá de nuestro voto duro, tenemos que buscar el voto desilusionado de la UNE, el de los ecologistas… Podemos crecer mucho en San Marcos, donde faltaron 300 votos para lograr un diputado, en Suchitepéquez, en Retalhuleu…”, expresó. Según la proyección de Méndez, el Frente luchará por entre 25 y 35 alcaldías. En la actualidad la URNG tiene 7.
This isn't unreasonable. While the URNG has little electoral support, it is probably the party that is most involved with its supporters in between elections.


Blue are seats won by the URNG. A coalition might have won seats in the purple departments as well (plus another one in Solola and on the national list).
It's quite possible that the Broad Front will build off the URNG's 2007 performance. I would imagine that the URNG, ANN and other left parties performed strongly in the same departments, thereby splitting the vote, in the last two elections and that had you combined their votes at the department level, they would have picked up a handful of additional seats.

In a paper that I presented at the International Studies Association two weeks ago, I looked at what might have happened had the alliance in 1999 held. Here's what I wrote
By most indicators, the fracturing had very little impact at the presidential level, but a significant impact on legislative elections. In the first round of the presidential elections, the ANN won 12.4% and the FDNG 1.28%. For congressional elections, the ANN captured nine seats with 8% of the vote while the FDNG failed to win a seat, capturing only 2.87% of the national vote.
If the FDNG had remained a member of the ANN coalition for the 1999 elections, it is possible that the larger coalition would have picked up an additional five seats, finishing with fourteen. The ANN with the FDNG would have picked up additional seats in Chimaltenango, Sololá, Alta Verapaz, and Petén and one on the national list. This would have been a 55% increase. The inability of the FDNG and the URNG to maintain an electoral alliance in 1999 was a lost opportunity for the left in Guatemala.
A pickup of a few seats in 2011 would not be unreasonable for the URNG and the Broad Front. With Sandra Torres' ambition leaving a bad taste in peoples' mouths, I wouldn't be surprised if the Broad Front picked up some former UNE voter as well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

News from Central America

Here are a few English-language stories related to Central America, most of which should be interesting to you I hope.

On Tuesday, the people of El Salvador celebrated Missing Children's Day with a variety of activities throughout the country. The day´s activities included a moment of silence in schools, the issuing of a commemorative stamp, a university essay contest award ceremony, and signing performances.

Pro-Busqueda is an organization that remains at the forefront of helping to locate children who were disappeared during the war.

In Big Fish Eat the Small Fish, Danilo Valladares discusses the difficulties confronting "Thousands of small-scale fishers in Central America [are] fighting for survival in the face of free trade deals, transnational corporations, mega tourism projects and pollution that is harming marine life." Large-scale commercial fishers have mainly benefited from recent trade deals.

Valladares also has the story of Guatemala: Forced evictions - peasant farms razed to the ground, a story about the displacement of indigenous farmers in Alta Verapaz.
Eleven Guatemalan women are suing Toronto-based HudBay Minerals and its subsidiarity, HMI Nickel, for $55 million dollars. The women claim that they were assaulted and gang-raped by security and police forces near the company's operations in 2007. Some of the attackers were wearing company uniforms.

Emily Ruiz, a 4-year-old US citizen who was deported along with her grandfather, to his (and her parents') native country, Guatemala, has finally returned to New York. When her grandfather with whom she was travelling was denied entry to the US, she was sent back to Guatemala with him.
 
Albright College and Alvernia University, two Pennsylvania colleges, are working with Salvadoran filmmakers on a Documentary To Focus On Violent Gang With Ties To Reading.
 
Fox News Latino has a brief blurb on weapons entering Mexico from Central America that appeared in US cables released through Wikileaks (Mexican cartels get heavy weapons from CentAm, U.S. cables say).

Ex-Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann appeared before a Spanish court to fight his extradition back to Guatemala. He stand accused of a variety of crimes, including the 2006 summary executions of seven inmates at the Pavon prison and the killing of three inmates from another jail a year earlier.
Also check out two recent Hemispheric Briefs for coverage of event in Honduras (one and two - halfway down each post). And since I don't comment much on Honduras, you should always check out Honduras Culture and Politics for insightful commentary.

Now back to one of my "favorite" books on El Salvador, Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuria and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador by Teresa Whitfield.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Dos Erres Murderer Arrested

On Friday, Guatemalan authorities arrested Daniel Martinez Mendez in Quetzaltepeque,Chiquimula. He was a Kaibil instructor during the conflict. Martinez is one of sixteen soldiers accused of having been involved in the 1982 massacre of over two hundred fifty people of Dos Erres, one of the worst massacres during the military's scorched earth program of the early 1980s.

Of the sixteen sought for their involvement in the massacre, seven have been arrested in Guatemala, one in the United States, and one in Canada. His arrest is good news indeed. I can't help but hope that Guatemalan authorities move quickly to apprehend the seven remaining participants before September's elections.

Should Otto Perez Molina win, I don't envision a radical departure from Colom's social and economic policies. Both support CAFTA and strong relations with the US. Both support a militarized solution to the country's social, political, and economic problems. Finally, both support some version of the First Lady's social programs.

Perez Molina just wants wants - more militarization in fighting crime and more transparency in administering government programs. Of course that is a bit of an oversimplification.

However, one area where we would likely notice change from a Colom / Torres administration to one led by Perez Molina is in the area of the prosecution of formers soldiers accused of having participated in human rights abuses during and after the war. The former general could prove me wrong, but I just don't see it being a priority of his.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March Poll Numbers in Guatemala

El Periodico released March poll numbers today for the upcoming presidential elections. The results are based on a Borge y Asociados survey of 1,008 Guatemalans over the age of 18 between March 15-19.
In the encuesta, Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party increased his lead over Sandra Torres, the governing party's candidate. The poll was carried out a few days after Torres was announced as UNE's official candidate, but before the brouhaha over her impending sacrifice for the country divorce.

Perez Molina is inching up on a first round victory over Torres and third party candidates are beginning to  lose their "lustre."

(More coverage can be found here, here, and here. From what I can tell, Menchu's support decline 0.1% (which means absolutely nothing), but several stories have it the other way around. I also haven't been able to get a more comprehensive read on the survey results anywhere.)

El Periodico also has a number of responses from the country's political parties to the recent poll results here. UNE wonders why the results do not match up with other surveys that has its candidate doing a little better and that they are also pleased with the 2.6% bump for Torres. They to comment on the other question where 47% of those polled said that Torres should get out of the race or the 56% that say she used public funds to advance her image.

The PP, on the other hand, is looking forward to a first round victory.Finally, the UP is surprised that a candidate from its party, Alvaro Arzu, is in third place. Arzu is constitutionally barred from running and divorce does not seem to be a solution to his problems.

I opined last week that Torres' numbers would probably drop to below 10% after her announcement that she and the president were getting a divorce so that she could legally run for president. We'll have to wait until April for those results.

Keep the DREAM Alive!

Daniel Altschuler at Americas Quarterly has an update on new momentum behind the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act.

While the details of the various proposals differ, the DREAM Act would basically provide a path to legal residency and eventually citizenship for minors who were brought to the country illegally by their parents. Among other things, they would have to successfully complete a few years of military service or college education.

After passing the House late last year, the legislation failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The Dreamers are now preparing for round two after the United We Dream (UWD) network held a national congress earlier this month.
Now, their movement is larger than ever—over 200 DREAM activists from over 30 states gathered at UWD’s national congress. Felipe Matos, a Dreamer from Florida, proclaimed to his peers: “The lame duck vote was just a setback…Now we’re going to build power.”

The Memphis event aimed to solidify a national network in which local and state leaders learn from one another and coordinate efforts. Such capacity building is part of working toward consolidating individual organizations and fighting together to achieve three movement goals.

First, like other immigrant rights groups, Dreamers will focus on state and local legislative battles. With dozens of states considering anti-immigrant bills—copycats of Arizona’s SB 1070, challenges to birthright citizenship, and cutting undocumented immigrants from public services, including primary education—mobilizing immigrant communities and allies will be critical.
Second, with deportations under President Obama outpacing President Bush’s tally, Dreamers have launched the Education Not Deportation (END) campaign to help undocumented students fight deportation and stay in school. UWD hopes that END will protect undocumented students while, in Felipe’s words, “unveil[ing] the moral crisis caused by the current enforcement, detention, and deportation policies.”
But Dreamers also see hope in immigrant-friendly states. Already, 10 states, including Texas, Utah, and Kansas, offer in-state college tuition to undocumented students. Legislators in certain states, like New Mexico, are calling for repeal. But, with strong organizing, Dreamers hope to repel these opponents and expand the number of states that offer them an affordable college education. Winning even one or two such state-level fights would be a huge accomplishment.

At the heart of the Dreamers’ strategy will be efforts to raise up their powerful stories.
Supporting the DREAM act is both the right thing to do for these kids and for our country.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Top 5 places to visit in Guatemala

Dani and Jessica come up with the Top 5 places to visit in Guatemala at Hostelbookers.com.
  1. Antigua
  2. Lake Atitlan
  3. Tikal
  4. Flores
  5. Chichicastenango

Nothing surprising on the list except separating Tikal and Flores since I imagine most people combine these two on a trip to the Peten.

Update: I meant to link to Danilo Valladares' article on Alternative Tourism Seeks to Overcome Obstacles that appeared on IPS last week as well. The article discusses efforts to develop rural tourism in Central America as well as some problems that have prevented the region from becoming a prime tourist destination.

According to a study by the World Economic Forum, Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica are at the top of the region's rankings while El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are near the bottom.
The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) this month, says there are two distinct realities in Central America in terms of tourism development. While El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are in the last places in the ranking in Latin America, Costa Rica and Panama are at the head of the region.
Guatemala is ranked 86th, out of the 139 countries included in the report, followed by Honduras (88), El Salvador (96) and Nicaragua (100).
Of this group, Nicaragua moved up eight spots and El Salvador two, from the last ranking by the Switzerland-based WEF. But Honduras fell nine places, and Guatemala dropped back 13.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, is ranked second in Latin America and 44th overall, while Panama is fourth in the region and in 56th place overall.

The top-ranking Latin American country is Mexico, which is 43rd overall, and Brazil is third in the region and 52nd overall.
It's really a shame as the region has so much to offer.

Protesting Obama's Visit

If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to check Tim's entry on Protesting the Empire as Obama visits.

The US press didn't cover many of the protests that greeted Obama during his trip to Latin America. Honestly, I don't think that they covered much of his trip at all, especially the television media. There was a Miami Herald article last week that said the same thing. It was from the Spanish edition, but I haven't been able to relocate it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arrest in Tamaulipas Case

Salvadoran authorities arrested Carlos Ernesto Teos Parada, a man allegedly responsible for leading a human smuggling ring. Several of his smuggled migrants were among the seventy-two migrants murdered by Los Zetas in August 2010.
Carlos Ernesto Teos Parada, along with two others detained in December, allegedly arranged trips to the U.S. for at least six of the 14 Salvadorans who died in the attack blamed on Mexico’s Zetas cartel, said Attorney General Romeo Barahona said.
Authorities said victim interviews and documents linked Teos Parada and Salvadorans Francis Erick Escobar and Jose Raul Alegria to the ring, which charged migrants $6,000 each for trips to the U.S.
The group allegedly communicated with similar smuggling operations in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, said Howard Cotto, subdirector of investigations for the national police.

Teos Parada was captured in the state of Usulutan 75 miles (120 kilometres) east of the capital, carrying a credential identifying him as an official with the San Salvador-based professional soccer team Atletico Marte.

Club officials told The Associated Press, "he was only a collaborator who helped transport the reserve team."

El Salvador Cartoon

Melgar can come out now. From NetoRivas.
The people there don't always link back to me in their stories, but I try to give credit to the people that I get ideas from.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Good-bye Mr. Obama, Hello Mr. Chavez.
Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes confirmed on Thursday the likely visit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to take part in the opening of a fuel storage facility in El Salvador.
The fuel storage facility was built in Acajutla port, 52.8 miles (85km) from the capital by Alba Petroleos, a joint venture of the Venezuelan government and El Salvadorâ�Ös ruling party, the FMLN. Its opening is expected to be next April 29.
Funes said that the joint venture, created in 2006, is interested in extending an invitation to Chavez to the ceremony.
He told the press that it is possible that Alba Petroleos asks him to invite Chavez to be present at the opening, and that if he is so requested, he will.
The president added, though, he has not been invited to the opening of the plant and is aware of the matter through comments made to him by the ruling party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
He said that he will attend the request of Alba Petroleos to invite Chavez, because the venture has an interest in the participation of the Venezuelan president in its opening.
Funes commented that there are suspicious sectors that are saying that President Chavez's visit is designed to placate left-wing sectors after the visit of President Obama. He added that the visit would be for the opening of the plant, and would not be an official visit nor a state visit.
Funes also announced that he will travel to Caracas in the coming months in response to an invitation Chavez made to Latin American presidents. (Prensa Latina)
There appears to be some confusion whether President Funes will, might, or has already invited Chavez to the opening of the facility. The FMLN already has, but Chavez hasn't responded it sounds like. Or he hasn't been officially invited by the government of El Salvador, but maybe some else has invited him. Saber. Funes also said that he is likely to travel to Venezuela as well.


On the one hand, Funes and the FMLN have the right to invite anyone they want to El Salvador and Funes has the right to visit other heads of state as he sees fit. Funes just returned from a trip to visit President Santos in Colombia and more recently hosted President Obama. That sounds like a non-aligned foreign policy to me.

On the other hand, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. I thought that the importance of Obama's trip to El Salvador was more symbolic than anything else. However, I had also hoped that the symbolism of the state visit would lead to a more productive relationship between the two countries (specifically the FMLN) built on mutual respect. We would then be able to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform, tinkering with CAFTA, regional security, etc. All of which require sacrifice from Obama and the US and Funes and El Salvador.

I wasn't overly optimistic before the visit and now with this announcement, I am less so. I hope I am wrong though. (It's still a developing story but Funes seems to have made enough contradictory statements that it's not going to turn out well for him.)

Significance of Obama Visit to Romero's Crypt

Professor Greg Gandin at The Nation writes
By lighting a candle for Romero, Obama, it might be said, was tacitly doing in El Salvador what he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do in Chile: apologize for US actions that resulted in horrific human tragedy.
That's a quite a stretch in my opinion. I think that it was important for Obama to visit Romero's crypt particularly so close to the anniversary of his death. It would have been a huge story had he not planned to visit, enough that it probably would have been worth changing around his scheduled visit to Latin America.

However, I don't in any way read it as some sort of apology on behalf of the US government. In many ways his visit and the meaning behind it is probably no different from the White House statement on March 25, 1980.
The President strongly condemns the tragic assassination of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero of San Salvador yesterday. It is a shocking and unconscionable act.
Archbishop Romero spoke for the poor of El Salvador, where their voices had been ignored for so long. He spoke for change and for social justice which his nation so desperately needs. Terrorism cannot silence the message of compassion of the Archbishop. It cannot and should not intimidate those who seek social justice and democracy.
An important visit, but not an apology for supporting a military and paramilitary that was responsible for the majority of human rights violations committed during the Salvadoran civil war.

Obama didn't take questions from reporters at the cathedral so we'll have to wait for his next book to find out what he wants us to take away from his visit.

31st Anniversary of Romero's Death - corrected

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed while saying Mass at the chapel of the Divina Providencia. Romero had spent the last two-plus years of his life as Archbishop working tirelessly to prevent the country from falling into open civil war.

The National Security Archive recently posted several declassified documents from the US government related to Romero's and his death as well as links to Alvaro Saravia's interview with Carlos Dada of El Faro where he lays out "How We Killed the Archbishop.”

Here are some of my posts from last year
When looking through some of the declassified information posted by the National Security Archive, I was surprised by something the Department of Defense wrote immediately after Romero's murder.
Impossible to place blame for this attack as both left and right could obtain goals by carrying it out. El Salvador now has it's Chamorro.
This document was written on March 25th and probably is very different from the one that must have come from Robert White, the US Ambassador to El Salvador at the time. The right had killed several priests in the late 1970s and had been primarily responsible for extrajudicial killings throughout the country. While the guerrillas were disappointed that Romero had not come out more strongly in support of the cause (instead denouncing the violence primarily being committed by the military), there just doesn't seem to be any reason for what would become the FMLN to have ordered his death. At best I can come up with is that it might have been in the FMLN interest to kill the Archbishop and make it look like the work of death squads so that public support continued to move in its favor.

The second sentence refers to Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, the newspaper editor killed in Nicaragua upon the orders of Somoza in 1978. While his killing led to massive protests in the streets (similar to Romero's murder), we refer more to Chamorro's killing in some ways as the spark that caused "excluded" Nicaraguan elites to rally against Somoza. If the DoD was referring to the violence that was likely to erupt following Romero's murder, that's one thing but if they seriously thought that the elites were going to abandon the "civil-military" regime in office at the time because Romero was murdered, I'm not sure what he or she was thinking.

Then, take a look at Cable 8 entitled “Archbishop's Assassination: Peaceful Procession” from the Department of State - "There were no incidents of violence" and "no security forces in sight at the cathedral." Here is what no incidents of violence looked like.



The cable also said 10,000 while other reports place the number of mourners at 100,000.

Cable 8 refers to the movement of Romero's body from the basilica to the Cathedral on the 26th and not to the funeral Mass itself on which occurred on the 30th and is where the video footage comes from.
 (Thanks Tim)

And one last thing from Obama's visit to Romero's crypt, I kept getting chills every time I read about government sharpshooters being located around the National Cathedral. It came up several times in stories talking about all the security that was needed with Obama and Funes at the church. I kept thinking back to the sharpshooters firing upon those attending Romero's funeral in downtown San Salvador.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Under is Looking Pretty Good

On Monday, we learned that Alvaro Colom and wife Sandra Torres are divorcing so that she can run for president of Guatemala and honestly, I think that is pathetic I wrote that I didn't think that the announcement would help her standing in the 2011 election. I bet that the percentage of people supporting her candidacy would drop below ten percent in the next survey.

Well, if preliminary indications are anything I am looking good. Within twelve hours of letting people call in to voice their opinion, Prensa Libre received 32,414 phone calls. It's headline best sums up the results - Separación de Torres y Colom provoca repudio en Voto Libre. Out of the 23 or so thousand valid votes, 98.02% rejected the move.

Internet polls were more favorable to Torres. There 19% supported the Colom's decision. And to be fair, most calls were from the capital and department of Guatemala while only a few hundred calls were from the countryside. Therefore Torres' support is probably a bit higher than the nonscientific survey would let on.

Here's an interview where Colom speaks about his impending divorce that is a sacrifice for the "governability" of the country.



It's going to be tough for supporters to switch from Torres to Perez Molina so maybe Caballeros will be helped by the divorce.

Update: NPR also carried out an English-language interview with Guatemalan journalist Julie Lopez.


Finally, El Periodico interviews with several Guatemalan public officials, including Roxanna Baldetti, vice presidential candidate for the Patriotic Party, about Torres' campaign from CNN.

Presidential Approval Ratings

I started to write a post on Mitofsky's compilation of presidential approval ratings around the hemisphere this morning, but fortunately Boz beat me to it. Check out his website for more discussion.

Here's how Central American leaders stand.
  • Mauricio Funes 72%
  • Ricardo Martinelli 65%
  • Porfirio Lobo 51%
  • Laura Chinchilla 45%
  • Alvaro Colom 41%
  • Daniel Ortega 40%
Now back to work on an R and R.

Obama's First Day in El Salvador

El Faro
President Obama arrived a little early in El Salvador on Tuesday, but at the same time he will be cutting his trip a few hours short to deal with the events in North Africa. Today, Obama spoke about hope and money.

During today's news conference, Obama told Salvadorans that he was committed to reforming US immigration policies (approximately 2 million Salvadorans live in the US) and to helping to keep the country on a "path of development."
"There are few better examples of both the opportunities and challenges facing the Americas today than here in El Salvador," Obama said at a joint news conference with Funes...
But Obama praised Funes for what he said were smart investments in education, rural development and infrastructure, and political efforts to build consensus in a historically divided society.
"As El Salvador's largest trading partner, we'll help identify reforms that can mobilize private investment, increase trade, and create opportunities for the Salvadoran people," Obama said.
He announced plans for a $200 million regional security program to help countries in the region strengthen their courts and other institutions that foster the rule of law.

Obama said he told Funes that he remains "firmly committed to comprehensive immigration reform in the United States" that would give those in the United States illegally a path to legality while strengthening controls on immigration.
Obama also toured the national cathedral and visited Archbishop Monsignor Romero's crypt. He was supposed to visit the crypt and Joya de Ceren on Wednesday but the visit to the cathedral was pushed up and Joya de Ceren cancelled.

In the article, Obama is said to have called Romero an "inspiration." However, El Faro reports that the President did not speak to reporters. (WOLA has a podcast up on the significance of President's Obama's visit to El Salvador and the Archbishop's crypt here that is worth listening to.)
AP
Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Ciudad Mujer, a comprehensive care center for women southwest of the capital. Ciudad Mujer "has a day care center for special needs children, a clinic, a micro-credit office, small-business workshops and legal and psychological help for domestic abuse victims."

In the same article, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced that the US was providing $10 million to fight child labor in El Salvador, a country where an estimated one in ten children is in the work force.

Here are some videos from the visit.






See Tim for coverage as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

US Apology to Latin America?

President Obama is on to El Salvador as part of his three-country trip to Latin America. During his visits, Obama has tried to compare the Latin American transitions to democracy with those that today he hopes are taking place across the Middle East and North Africa. Unfortunately, once you start to do that, people start asking what the US did to help Latin America, and Brazil, Chile, and Brazil in particular, take part in that transition.

The sanitized version is that the United States "helped" all three countries, more so in Chile and El Salvador than Brazil, move from military rule to electoral democracy. Sorry, but it's also a little long since I needed a break from grading and it is spring break.

Chile
In 1980s Chile, the US helped the No Coalition defeat General Pinochet's plebiscite on extending his term in office. We also made it clear that we would not accept any effort on his part to go back on his word to step down should he lose the plebiscite.

However by focusing on US efforts in the late 1980s, it covers up our government's role in overthrowing Salvador Allende and the political, economic, and intelligence support we provided to the military government led by Pinochet.

Brazil
In Brazil, I am not really familiar with any significant US support that helped bring about the transition from military to civilian government in 1985. Neves and other civilian politicians seem to have successfully convinced the military to voluntarily surrender office without much coordination or assistance from the US. (Correct me if I am wrong.). US support was more significant in bringing civilian government to and end during the April 1, 1964 military coup that removed Goulart from office.

Like Allende nine years later, Goulart was removed by a military that deemed his too far left. While the US played an active role in Allende's removal, our role in Brazil was more one of encouragement and diplomatic cover. We met with the plotters in the months before the coup and gave them our blessing. We also began to move assets into play should they need our assistance, but none was required. We had also funded opposition candidates in the early 1960s and late 1950s (not unlike Chile), but to little effect.

El Salvador
Finally, in El Salvador, the US was helpful in pressuring or reassuring the Salvadoran military and economic elites that a negotiated settlement to the war between the state and the FMLN was in their best interests. This was mostly in 1991. During the 1970s and 1980s, the US helped to arm and train a Salvadoran military to defeat the Marxist-Leninist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

The army that we supported was engaged in a highly-indiscriminate campaign of violence against anyone perceived as a threat to the security of the Salvadoran states. The victims included campesinos, priests, nuns, teachers, workers, pro-democracy and agrarian reform activists and, of course, guerrillas. They were all labeled terrorists, subversives, or communists.

While repression of the nonviolent opposition would continue throughout the 1980s, it was worse in the cities between 1978 and 1981/1982 and in the countryside thereafter. From my reading of the situation, the US continued to encourage the military to respect human rights to the extent possible as long as it did not get in the way of defeating the communists. When they continued to violate human rights (which was frequently), we provided political cover for the regime. However, the 1989 massacre of the Jesuits notwithstanding, the military was a better trained and more respectful military by the end of the 1980s.

On the civilian side, we were mistrustful of the military and civilian moderates in the October 1979. (This was El Salvador's last chance to avoid a civil war. Romero would be assassinate four months later and Reagan would come to office in January 1981. Most civilians had also given up hope for serious reforms after the coup and then Romero's death.) The US then pushed Jose Napoleon Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party as a political component to the counterinsurgency war. However, for a variety of reasons, Duarte lost power to ARENA and Alfredo Cristiani who then entered into negotiations with the FMLN. (I know I skipped a lot).

With this history, what's sort of apology could the US offer?
  1. We are proud that we assisted Brazil, Chile and El Salvador in their transitions to electoral democracy in the 1980s and 1990s. (Then duck all questions about our efforts to undermine or overthrow democracy, prop up dictatorship, and support human rights abuses - this seems to be the path Obama has taken).
  2. We regret our contribution to the violence that unfortunately characterized the region's transition from military rule to civilian rule and then go to point 1. Vague enough and makes it sound as if everyone was equally responsible. 
  3. We are proud of our defense of democracy and freedom against the forces of tyranny (godless communism might work too) and make no apologies whatsoever.
  4. We apologize for our support for military rule and the repression of the nonviolent left in the 1970s and 1980s.
  5. While we do not wish to re-open up debates, we are committed to helping the people of the Americas learn the truth about the dead and disappeared.
I'm not that creative, but in the current environment I think the best Obama can do is number 1.

Obama in El Salvador

Here are several links to President Obama's visit to El Salvador (some with comments and some without).

Jin Kuhnhenn at the Associated Press writes about immigration, narcotics wars and gun trafficking In Central America, Obama's worries closer to home. In the story, he writes
Obama also prodded the region to fight poverty, lauding countries that have pushed more of their population into the middle class.

"We'll never break the grip of the cartels and the gangs unless we also address the social and economic forces that fuel criminality," he said Monday.
While connected, I do hope that Obama's visit refocuses US-Central American relations on poverty reduction rather than trade, democracy promotion, immigration, and drug trafficking, etc. It's not that we should neglect the other issues. I just think that it would be helpful to re-frame our approach to the region.
  • How can we improve our trade relationship so that it better reduces poverty?
  • How can we work together to strengthen democracy in El Salvador so that its government is more responsive to the needs of the poor?
  • How can we design an immigration system that is more humane and, in the medium- and long-term, reduces the the factors that drive immigration from El Salvador (i.e., poverty)?
See also Obama visits violence-plagued El Salvador from the AFP, Oppenheimer's Obama’s biggest challenge – Central America and Obama to visit region beset by drug smuggling at the Washington Post.

Tracy Wilkinson focuses on drug trafficking in El Salvador in Mexican drug cartels making ugly mark on Central America and El Salvador becomes drug traffickers' 'little pathway'.
Police and intelligence sources say several businessmen and mayors are on the traffickers' payroll and serve as their money launderers...
Law enforcement officials say the exorbitant drug profits flow mostly to the same small group of businessmen and political elite who have always controlled this and other Central American nations.
I thought these two lines from Wilkinson's second article were important because we usually read about crime and violence in El Salvador linked to the MS-13 or M-18. Given the polarized political system in El Salvador, I imagine some regional or US-backed assistance would really be helpful (maybe even necessary) in going after businessmen, elites, politicians, and military and police officials involved in drug trafficking.

Tim Johnson focuses on the moderate and pragmatic Funes in Leftist leader steers middle course for McClatchy. In it, he cites several analysts and political figures who are pleased with Funes' moderate approach to politics.
"Funes has done well," said Carlos A. Rosales, a former Cabinet member in previous right-wing governments. "Many people like myself were mistaken. We thought he'd be a pushover" for hard-line former guerrillas.

"This is a guy who's in the middle," Rosales added. "I think he's done a good job, and I'm not the only one. Look at the polls."
According to opinion polls, seventy-plus percent of all Salvadorans support Funes. While it's true the public supports Funes, I don't get the impression that the more radical members within his coalition (who want closer relations with Chavez, Ortega, and the Castros, etc.) or those on the right are willing to endorse his governing style.

While the murder rate declined marginally last year, Funes has three more years to deliver in order to convince others that a more moderate center-left / center-right approach to politics is in the country's best interest. I am thinking something like Chile's post-Pinochet governments perhaps rather than Lula/Rousseff in Brazil.

Back later.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Torres and Colom seek divorce so that Torres can succeed Colom

Well, at least Sandra Torres (and husband President Alvaro Colom) is not violating the constitution by running for president. Instead, she and Alvaro are making a mockery of it by seeking a divorce so that she can postulate as UNE's candidate later this year. Here's the AP story.
A court official says Guatemala's first lady is ending her eight-year marriage so she can seek to succeed her husband as president.
Guatemala's constitution prohibits members of a president's extended family from running for the presidency.
Judiciary spokesman Edwin Escobar says divorce proceedings began Monday between Sandra Torres de Colom and President Alvaro Colom, who cannot run for re-election.

If both parties agree, the divorce could be final in about a month.
Torres announced March 8 that she will be the presidential candidate of the governing National Unity for Hope party in the September election.
Torres' spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party says that they are engaging in fraud while Eduardo Suger of CREO is calling the Colom's a "cheap soap opera." The former President of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala described their end around as a "mockery," "deceitful," "immoral," and "lacking ethics."

The Catholic Bishop of San Marcos, on the other hand, didn't seem to get too worked up about the divorce. He expressed "surprise" and said that the Church does not accept divorce. However, they were never married in the Church.

Like I said. It was wise not to invite the other Central American heads of state to the Obama-Funes get together in El Salvador.

And if you haven't read Daniel Altschuler and Javier Corrales' post on Torres and Perez Molina at Americas Quarterly yet, I would encourage you to do so. Here's the takeaway in my opinion.
But the Iron Fist and conjugal continuismo actually exemplify the same vicious cycle: unhealthy institutions breed unhealthy politics, which in turn further damage institutions. Perez’s candidacy shows how weak institutional capacity to contain crime spurs demand for a more coercive apparatus, which can further weaken civilian control of the military. Torres’ candidacy shows how weak institutions of checks and balances allow for an over-concentration of power in the executive. This, in turn, further undermines checks and balances, makes the ruling party more obsequious, and polarizes government-opposition relations.
I have just one quick thing to add. Sandra and Alvaro's decision to divorce so that she can run for president is another example of the weakness of Guatemala's political parties. UNE was established in 2002. While Colom was its presidential candidate in both 2003 and 2007, the party won thirty-two (20%) congressional seats in 2003 and forty-eight (30%) in 2007. Even though its representation in congress down to forty, it still is eight seats larger than the Patriotic Party. It is sad that the party could not come up with a candidate that did not confront constitutional barriers to office.

I am going out on a limb here to bet that the next Borge y Asociados poll has her come in under ten percent. Does anyone think that the announcement of her candidacy and then her divorce is going to help her in the polls?

The Odd Couple is Back in Nicaragua

Daniel Ortega has now officially registered to run for another term. He will be joined on the Sandinista ticket by former army chief, Gen. Omar Halleslevens. Ortega leads all candidates with 36% support and is followed by former President Arnoldo Aleman with 23% and radio station magnate Fabio Gadea with 17%. It looks like Ortega's share of the vote will once again end up where it always does and if the opposition splits the remaining vote, Ortega might possibly win a first round victory. As a  result, Andres Oppenheimer says that that Nicaragua is "headed for one man rule once again."

Aleman and Francisco Aguirre Sacasa were recently selected to lead the binomial ticket supported by a coalition of the Liberal Constitucionalista, Conservador and Indígena Multiétnico parties. Aleman was released after serving two years of a twenty-year sentence after appealing his corruption charges.

Maybe Gadea or another challenger can build momentum between now and November, but in a more likely contest between Aleman and Ortega, wouldn't you have to go with Ortega?

Now on to Oppenheimer's annoying style. First he pulls a Mary Anastasia O'Grady and starts his post with
Venezuelan-backed President Daniel Ortega has only 36 percent of the vote in the polls, and is facing growing accusations of abuse of power and corruption. But in a three-day visit here, I didn’t find anybody who doubts that he will easily win the Nov. 6 elections.
The WSJ's O'Grady usually threw in Chavez where ever possible in stories that were unrelated to Venezuela. Just look at her most recent story - Why Obama Went to Brazil: There's a chance to build a new foreign policy alliance that disdains dictators like Hugo Chávez. After reading it, I'm not sure how she keeps a job with the prestigious WSJ.

Can't it ever just be about Nicaragua (or Brazil)? There are enough reasons to be critical of Ortega that you do not have to try to scare readers by saying that Venezuela and Chavez back Ortega.

Second, yes it's problematic that Ortega can win the presidency in the first round even if he only captures 35% of the vote (with a 5% margin separating him from the second place finisher). I would prefer the threshold at 45% (with a 10%) margin or a pure majority runoff myself. But some presidential systems do utilize electoral rules that don't pass the smell test. We don't even require our president to win a plurality of the vote. Now, how democratic is that?

Instead, you could write something to the effect that "unlike other Latin American electoral systems that virtually ensure a runoff between the top two candidates, the Nicaraguan system is designed to make a first round victory much more likely."

Oppenheimer's not the only one leery of another Ortega term. Both ex-militaries and the Church have recently spoken out against his likely victory. Ortgea doesn't seem very good for democracy, but as the Miami Herald even mentions, the economy is growing better than the Central American average and poverty seem to be declining.

In addition, Nicaragua has so far been able to keep the maras at bay and is a country much safer than neighboring Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. While imperfect, there's not the level of repression directed against social movements as there is in Guatemala and Honduras. I'd love for Ortega and the remaining FSLN to more fully develop the country's democratic political system obviously, but it's a pretty complicated country that requires a little nuance to understand. And nuance is not something our media is known for here in the US.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Guatemala News and Links

The Guatemala Solidarity Network posted a link to a website for The Bamaca Case. This is the case surrounding the disappearance and death of Efraín Bamaca during the armed conflict. Bamaca is Jennifer Harbury's husband.




The Guatemala Times posted Ban Ki-Moon's remarks at CICIG during his visit to Guatemala earlier in the week. Ban said he wanted to visit CICIG to express his strong support for the organization's work against impunity and to learn more about its operations. His second reason caught my eye.
My second reason for visiting is to learn more about your activities.  Your work is having a profound and positive impact on the future well-being of Guatemala.  But it also has important implications for our work well beyond this country’s borders – in other post-conflict transitions where we are engaged in supporting and reforming justice systems, and in our efforts to advance international criminal justice. 
While Ban may not have been referring to Central America, it appears that the UN is at least considering the creation of additional international commissions in other countries. Ban also announced a $10 million contribution from the UN Peacebuilding Fund to support efforts to entrench the respect of human rights and strengthen the security and justice systems in Guatemala and inaugurated a memorial in honor of Guatemalan soldiers who have died while serving in UN peacekeeping missions.


Finally, Ban met with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla while in Guatemala. Chinchilla requested "help fighting drug trafficking" and told the Secretary General "Central America needs more help from the main drug-consuming nations in order to reduce drug trafficking in the region." Ban met with representatives from the other countries in the region as well except for, you guessed it, Nicaragua




Guatemalan authorities had a big catch this week in decommissioning about 320 acres (130 hectares) of opium poppies near the country's border with Mexico. However, according to the police, the owners were not very happy with the operation. (Sounds a little fishy to me.)
National police spokesman Donald Gonzalez says locals in western San Marcos province resisted the eradication raid and threw rocks at elite police squads and soldiers.
The residents apparently make a living planting poppies. The government has launched a plan to help farmers switch to potatoes and other legal crops.
Police say the plantations would have yielded opium or heroin worth about $238 million on the street.
Finally, Sandra Cuffe has a report on  Violent Development: Communities Defending Lands and Resources Face Ongoing Repression in Guatemala at Upside Down World. This article deals with the ongoing gold mining problems in San Marcos, the same department cited in the previous article. Cuffe details a February 28 protest organized by local community organizations in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacan.

The protest against Goldcorp's Marlin mine was was met violently by gold mining supporters (both governmental and non-governmental). The goal of the most recent "demonstration was to pressure the Guatemalan government to comply with precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in May 2010, and particularly the temporary suspension of the Marlin mine."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Public Security Minister Melgar

Apparently one of the main challenges to the relationship between the US government and the Funes administration was the appointment of Manuel Melgar as Minister of Public Security. While there is little direct evidence of his involvement, one defector from the FMLN identified Melgar as the individual primarily responsible for the 1985 Zona Rosa attack that killed four off duty US military personnel and eight civilians.


According to the informant, "The Zona Rosa attack was Melgar's idea" and "Melgar collected information for the attack, including data on the Marines; coordinated with other perpetrators; and designed each team's tasks."

Funes must have known how Melgar's appointment would have been received by the US.
Melgar's rebel past is well-known among El Salvador's 6 million people, and there was barely a ripple when Funes tapped him for the public security post.
U.S. diplomats saw it differently, however, branding his appointment as an imposition of FMLN hard-liners, according to a July 2009 cable released by the WikiLeaks website. His naming froze U.S. law enforcement cooperation as the U.S. Embassy sought guidance from Washington on "how best to work around Melgar," whom it described as "an individual with blood on his hands."
For whatever reason, Funes must have decided that appointing Melgar to this position was worth the headache it would bring between his administration and the United States Embassy.

Just like the US realizes that when it appoints people like John "death squads? what death squads?" Negroponte as US ambassador to the UN, John "take a little off the top" Bolton as US ambassador to the UN, Robert "Iran-Contra Scandal" Gates to Secretary of Defense, and Colin "Operation Just Because" Powell to Secretary of State, other countries have the right to be offended.

Obama to Visit Romero's Crypt

Romero's Residence
President Obama is scheduled to visit the tomb of Monsignor Oscar Romero while on his visit to El Salvador this week. Romero was struck down by an assassin's bullet on March 24, 1980. As I mentioned in January, I thought that this was a no-brainer place for Obama to visit.

Here's former guerrilla Lorena Pena and former US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White's takes on Obama's visit to Romero's crypt.
“It’s historic,” said Congresswoman Lorena Pena, a former guerrilla fighter with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a rebel group-turned-political party. “It’s a recognition of our pastor who was killed for fighting for justice, for democracy and human rights.”
Robert White, who was the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in the early 1980s, said that the visit by Obama to Romero’s tomb “is like a U.S. stamp of approval on the positive influence Romero’s life and death have had on Latin America and the world.”
The visit “is a declaration that the United States is no longer identified with oligarchic governments,” added White, who is now director of the Washington-based Center for International Policy, a foreign policy think tank.  
It's true that Romero was fighting for justice, democracy, and human rights when he was killed. He spent the last few months of his life doing everything he could to prevent all out war between the government and the rebels in the country.

While he was sympathetic to the rebels in terms of what they were fighting against (the oligarchy and government repression), however, he did not support their use of violence to bring about change in the country. Violence would only beget more violence. Maybe his stance would have changed had he not died, but as of March 24, he had not come out in support of the guerrillas.
The Cathedral
While Romero has been adopted as a hero on the extreme left to the moderate right, not everyone is happy with Obama's tribute to Romero.
I imagine that (Obama) is doing something natural ... a courtesy visit to someone who is supposed to represent some measure of national spirit, (but) half of Salvadorans do not believe Romero is worthy of sanctification,” Mario Valenti, a former president and member of the right-wing party Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena, was quoted by El Mundo newspaper as saying in its Friday edition.
Obama “should also go to the grave of Major Roberto d’Aubuisson,” Valenti said, referring to the notorious death squad leader.
This is just disgusting and a reminder that some on the Salvadoran right don't have a democratic bone in their body.
Romero's Crypt in the Cathedral

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Obama to Latin America Links

I am at the International Studies Association annual conference in Montreal so I haven't been following the news very closely. Here are some links to check out in the meantime.

Two Weeks Notice has Obama in Latin America.

Bloggings by Boz has Items for POTUS trip to Latin America.

Hemispheric Brief has Obama in America Latina.

Tim has Obama's upcoming visit to El Salvador.

EWTN has a story on Church In El Salvador Presses President Obama On Immigration Reform.

Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guatemala's presidential election - All in the family

The Economist has a decent rundown on Sandra Torres de Colom's entrance into the race in Guatemala's presidential elections scheduled for later this year. 
Opinion polls suggest that even if Ms Torres manages to make it onto the ballot, she faces stiff competition from Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who now leads the right-wing Patriot Party. He promises a crackdown on the organised crime and corruption that has come to stalk Guatemala, where the murder rate has doubled since 2000. Althouhg Mr Pérez lost the 2007 election to Mr Colom, he is currently polling 43%, against Ms Torres’s 11%.
However, such findings probably underestimate Ms Torres’s chances. First, she had not publicly declared her candidacy until last week. Moreover, Guatemala has a particularly crowded field of candidates—the most recent presidential election attracted 14 hopefuls. The result of a run-off, which takes place if no one wins an outright majority, is extremely difficult to predict.
Finally, Guatemala is one of Latin America’s most rural societies, which makes it a nightmare for pollsters. Ms Torres is unpopular in the capital, the country’s only major city, but does better in the impoverished countryside, where her social programmes, such as Mi Familia Progresa (My Family Progresses), a  conditional-cash-transfer scheme, have had the most impact. Pollsters rarely venture out to such areas. Ms Torres’s candidacy faces an uphill battle, in terms of both legality and popularity, but it’s still too soon to write her off.
Yes, the results of a runoff are hard to predict. But even with 14 candidates in 2007, there were only three (UNE, PP, and GANA or maybe four (FRG?) parties that had any reasonable chance of advancing to a second round.

Colom (28%) and Perez Molina (23%) finished one-two in 2007 and then Colom won 53%-47% in the runoff. Heading into this year's election, it would be a shock to see anyone outside of Colom, Perez Molina, Suger, or Caballeros advance to a second round - and this year we are likely to have even more candidates. And even the last two are real dark horses.

And it is important to remember that polls that rely primarily on urban respondents (Borge y Asociados) probably under report Torres' support. The poll that apparently does a better job with rural voters' intentions is the CID-Gallup poll. Last November it had Perez Molina at 29% and Torres at 25%.

I'd say that the three most likely scenarios heading into September's elections are (1) Perez Molina / Torres runoff, (2) Perez Molina victory in the first round, and then (3) Torres / Perez Molina runoff. A lot can happen in a few months, but there's nothing standing in the way of one of these three outcomes (other than the Constitutional Court).

However, the CC can't rule on the legality of Torres' candidacy just yet because, officially, there are no candidates for the presidency until the TSE says campaigning can begin..

Youth Victims in Guatemala

In recent years (2005-2010), 400 youth have been killed each year in Guatemala. According to NANA, a nongovernmental organization, during the first two-plus months of 2011, 106 minors have been killed. Twenty nine girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are included in those numbers. As of last week, 127 women had been murdered so far this year.

Many of the young victims previously had been victims of sexual assault, torture, and child labor. Meanwhile Interior Minister Carlos Menocal does not deny that death squads engaged in social cleansing exist today.

According to the Interpeace Regional Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Programme,
over an 11 month period last year, 433 children under the age of 17 suffered violent deaths. 3,337 young people between the ages of 28-35 also died due to violence.

INTERPEACE is a Geneva-based international peacebuilding organization founded in 1994 "that plays a discrete role in helping societies war-afflicted societies to build lasting peace." It has just published a report that outlines "12 clear strategies and associated objectives and actions to combat youth related violence" in Guatemala.

The violence against children continued this weekend with Six dead in latest Guatemala crime wave. The bodies of six youth, including three brothers ranging in age from 9 to 18, were found in a community 30 kilometers northeast of Guatemala City.

Meanwhile, Carlos Mendoza has posted murder statistics broken down by municipality, department, sex, and weapon between 2000 and 2010 at The Black Box. Hopefully the availability of this data will be used to better understand the complex nature of violence in Guatemala today.

Finally, as if murder was not all Guatemalans had to fear, 56 kidnappings have been reported so far this year, double last years total. Ten of the 56 involve minors as the victims.
Una Centroamérica violenta, infestada por el narcotráfico y el crimen organizado, con estados débiles y dominados por la impunidad recibirá a partir de mañana al secretario general de las Naciones Unidas, Ban Ki-moon.
This is the situation that Ban Ki-Moon will hear and see when he arrives in Guatemala on Tuesday.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Obama’s card in Latin America: Education

I'm not expecting any dramatic policy announcements during President Obama's trip to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador later this month. Although imperfectly applied, the US seeks an international system based on democracy, the rule of law, and free markets.

The US government sees these as indispensable to solving problems of good governance, economic development, and domestic and international peace. I can't see this emphasis changing anytime soon. Unfortunately, we just aren't very good at getting ourselves or others there.

That's why I like Andres Oppenheimer's suggestion to make education, science and innovation into a "hemispheric cause."
My opinion: Obama should announce an Education Initiative of the Americas that would include large scale student and teacher exchanges with U.S. universities (there are currently 128,000 students from China in U.S. colleges, compared with only 13,000 from Mexico), as well as sending English teachers and providing free Internet English courses to tens of millions of Latin Americans.

And Obama could offer to share his experiences with his Race to the Top program, which offers money to states that change their laws to allow teacher evaluations and merit pay, so that teachers are paid by results in their classrooms rather than only by their seniority. It’s a plan that would revolutionize education in Latin America.

It’s time for Obama to move beyond feel-good rhetoric and build concrete bridges with the region so that the whole hemisphere could better compete with the emerging Asian and European trading blocs. Much like in the United States, education would be a good place to start.
While I don't know how all the details of such an initiative would work out (I haven't followed Obama's education policy; honestly, I couldn't tell you one specific from it), I would also include a renewed commitment to push the US Congress to pass some variant of the DREAM Act. We could also work to increase the number of student visas allotted to students from Latin America. The US could probably help with school uniforms and books.

I'd also like to see initiative as more of a partnership and not "let's show you how it's done" that sometimes comes across in this Oppenheimer article. Not the sexiest proposal, but perhaps a transformational one that even the Salvadoran Minister of Education support.

However, history tells us that a joint US-LA education initiative is going to be a tough sell. Andrew J. Kirkendall recently published Paulo Freire and the Cold War Politics of Literacy. In his book, Kirkendall explains how international literacy education in Latin America ran up against a variety of challenges during the Cold War.

The US and some Latin American governments supported educational reforms as a means of promoting economic development and reducing the allure of socialism. Others like the 1960s Christian Democrats in Chile sought to promote economic development and a new generation of party loyalists. However, the newly literate were a little too radical for the Christian Democrats and they started to have second thoughts about promoting education.

Finally, while the Sandinistas in Nicaragua produced some impressive accomplishments in terms of reducing illiteracy, but their emphasis seemed to be political indoctrination rather than an education that would liberate people. The long-term effects of the literacy reforms also was more likely to be found among those who went out to teach rather than those who did the learning.

The easy part is for the US and Latin America to agree that education is important. The content of any such initiaitve is obviously the hard part.

Here's a few more items of interest. If you are interested in learning about popular education in El Salvador during the civil war, I would encourage you to take a look at John Hammond's Fighting to Learn: Popular Education and Guerrilla War in El Salvador.
Popular education played a vital role in the twelve-year guerrilla war against the Salvadoran government. Fighting to Learn is a study of its pedagogy and politics. Inspired by Paulo Freire's literacy work in Brazil in the 1950s, popular education brought literacy to poor rural communities abandoned by the official education system and to peasant combatants in the guerrilla army. Those who had little education taught those who had none. Popular education taught people skills, raised the morale that sustained them in unequal combat, and stimulated the creation of an organizational network to hold them together.
Finally, Danilo Valladares has a new article "Yes I Can" Say Illiterate Adults in Guatemala at IPS that details some of the Cuban literacy programs that seem to be working (it looks pretty Freirian).