Friday, April 29, 2011

Former Costa Rican President Sentenced to 5-Years

On Wednesday, a Costa Rican judge found former President Miguel Angel Rodriguez guilty of instigating corruption. He was sentenced to five years in jail and barred from any government jobs for 12 years.
Rodriguez and other former government officials were charged with taking bribes in exchange for giving the Latin American branch of the French telecom company Alcatel a $149 million cellphone contract with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute while he was president in 2001. Seven others charged in the case were sentenced to between five and 20 years in prison.
Rodriguez was only found guilty of instigating corruption. The judge absolved him on the charges of illegal enrichment because there was not enough evidence that Rodriguez personally benefited from the scandal. Even after the verdict, Rodriguez continued to maintain his innocence.
Tico Times
We will appeal. We will defend ourselves,” Rodríguez said. “What happened today is just another step forward down the same road… I want any one of you to tell me one illegal thing I did to merit these charges.”
“How can I consider to be fair a sentence that does not explain what happened. I am not upset. I am in the middle of the process I voluntarily came in for. If we have to appeal, then we will appeal,” Rodriguez said as supporters applauded.

Perhaps Rodriguez can share a cell with his predecessor, Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier. Calderón is also serving five years in jail on corruption charges. 

Meanwhile, in Guatemala, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz is expecting a guilty verdict and ten years in jail for former President Alfonso Portillo.

Prensa Libre Funnies

From today's Prensa Libre. They're just not fans of the former first couple.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guatemalans Disapprove of Torres-Colom Split

In a recent poll commissioned by El Periodico, Borge y Asociados asked whether Guatemalans agreed with Sandra Torres and Alvaro Colom's decision to divorce so that she could run for president.

According to the results of the survey conducted during the first week of April, 77% of respondents disagreed with their seeking of a divorce. At the time that the survey was carried out (April 1-9), the Coloms had announced their intention to divorce, but the court had not yet granted it. Fifty-nine percent also agreed that the divorce constituted fraud and that the decision will harm her.

In that sense, it looks like Torres has maxed out her political support. She's now at 21%. However, I imagine that the percentage of people who disagree with her divorce will decrease should the courts decide that she can still legally run for president.

The survey also showed that Guatemalans were not very supportive of either Patricia Arzu (PU) or Zury Rios (FRG). Both candidates are seen negatively by approximately 60% of the population.

Yesterday, I mentioned that the URNG was going to support Yuri Mellini for the presidency. However, it's still unclear who the Frente Amplio will finally choose as its presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Miguel Angel Sandoval, Walda Barrio, and Rigoberta Menchu remain possible candidates.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Poll Numbers in Guatemala

Following Sandra Torres's announcement that she and her husband were divorcing so that she could run for president, I ventured to guess that her decision would probably not play too well in the next poll carried out by Borge y Asociados.

Well, El Periodico just published the results of the April survey and it looks like Sandra Torres might have closed the gap with Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party. Instead of falling below 10%, her support appears to have increased to 21%, up from 13% in March. Perez Molina still leads by a comfortable margin at 43%.
Why did Torres' numbers go up instead of down? Well, it could be that she was polling low in previous polls because she had not officially been nominated. Once nominated, UNE supporters rallied around her. Given the time between the last poll, her announcement as candidate, and this April poll, it's possible that after an initial decline in support she has recovered to over 20% national support.

Finally, we can't really compare the poll results month to month because the manner in which the polling company posed the questions were too different. In the April poll, Borge y Asociados used a simulated ballot with all the candidates listed. whereas the February and March polls the question on voting intention was open. Respondents apparently had to come up with their own candidates without prodding.

Things could still change, but Perez Molina remains the strong favorite.

In other election news, GANA is proposing Roberto Alejos as Torres' running mate. As of today, GANA and UNE are working together to compete in September. However, the alliance might not hold as it has already broken down in the departments of Guatemala and El Progreso where each party will present its own congressional list.

Meanwhile the executive committee of the URNG is proposing the environmentalist and leader of the Center for Environmental Legal and Social Action (CALAS) Yuri Mellini as its presidential candidate.It's not clear whether Mellini will be acceptable to the other members of the Frente Amplio.

Finally, Alvaro Arzu looks set to be reelected as mayor of Guatemala City. Forty-six percent favor Arzu over his nearest competitor, Alejandro Sinibaldi of the Patriotic Party with 22%.

Watson Update

Robert Watson provided an update about his arrest on the floor of the Rhose Island House this morning say that he was not intoxicated when he was pulled over on Friday night. Connecticut police simply had it out for him when they somehow realized that he was a member of the Rhode Island legislature. His ID must have accidentally slipped out when he was handing the police his driver's license.

Oh and about the marijuana - it was to treat flare-ups of the pancreatitis that had landed him in the hospital several months ago. He somehow thought it would be less embarrassing to get caught illegally purchasing and smoking marijuana than to be the 3,429th Rhode Islander "legally authorized to use marijuana under the state’s medical-marijuana program because he feared his personal medical information would somehow leak out of the state Department of Health."

I still don't understand, however, why there only remained trace amounts of marijuana in his possession if he hadn't smoked any that day. Is "trace amounts" enough to reduce the pain from a peacreatic attack? I'm obviously not an expert.

I've had my own run in with CT cops so I am sympathetic to a certain extent, but his story still doesn't add up.

Watson Can't Hold his Liquor

Two months ago, Rhode Island House Minority Leader Robert Watson infuriated Guatemalans, Latinos, and many others for insensitive remarks he made about the operations of the Rhode Island legislature.
Watson plays the role of minority leader for the 10 hugely outnumbered Republicans in the House with tremendous zeal, a passion that sometimes sounds to the uninitiated like anger, and a talent for the cutting, albeit, occasionally politically incorrect phrase.
He drew fire, for example, in February when he said, “I suppose if you’re a gay man from Guatemala who gambles and smokes pot, you probably think that we’re onto some good ideas here,” referring to the General Assembly. Watson refused demands to apologize.
Of course on Friday, he was arrested for marijuana possession and driving under the influence after being stopped at a police checkpoint in Connecticut.

According to Watson, he only had a drink or two. According to police, he had blood alcohol level of .05 (below the state's .08 level) and failed several field sobriety tests.
According to the police report, Officer Vincent Ferrara stopped Watson’s Ford Ranger pickup truck about 9:36 p.m. on Friday and “immediately observed that the operator’s eyes were extremely glassy and bloodshot.” When asked if he had been drinking, “Watson said he had one or two drinks, but was OK to drive.”
After detecting “a distinct odor of alcoholic beverages emanating from his breath,” and noticing that Watson was “slurring his words when he spoke,” Ferrara asked Watson to submit to some field sobriety tests and Watson agreed.
“While speaking with Watson,” the officer said he also “smelled the distinct odor of marijuana on his person.”

Ferrara said Watson failed to perform a number of the tests up to sobriety-test standards, including the “one-leg stand.”

The officer said he observed Watson “bend his knee, raise his arms several times for balance, raise his foot lower than the six inches instructed and count incorrectly.”
Fortunately, no one was hurt. It's possible that he failed the tests simply because he had been helping a friend move all day, he was tired, he's 50-years old, and/or there was too much pressure performing with so many officers watching. The marijuana will be more dificult to explain away but there's probably some family member or friend out there who left the weed and pipe in his right pants pocket without his knowledge.

Watson also said that “At the proper time, I look forward to the opportunity to explain and comment further.” I wonder if that explanation will include an explanation about how he was not returning from helping a friend move but instead returning from a weekend getaway at Foxwoods resorts and casino with his male partner. Doesn't it just feel like the story should end that way?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lorenzana Captured in Guatemala

According to Interior Minister Carlos Menocal (Associated Press, Siglo XXI, Prensa Libre), Waldemar Lorenzana Lima was arrested Tuesday afternoon in El Jicaro, a municipality 65 miles east of Guatemala City in the Department of El Progreso. 

Lorenzana is wanted by the US government for his alleged involvement in trafficking cocaine from Colombia to the US via Guatemala. The U.S. claims that that the Lorenzana family has control of drug trafficking in Zacapa, Chiquimula, Izabal, El Progreso, and Jalapa, and has ties to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. The family also owns 15 companies, including construction, transportation lines, fruit exports, and gas stations in the east regions of the country.

Lorenzana is nicknamed "the patriarch" because his sons Eliu, Haroldo and Waldemar, as well as several other family members are alleged to be involved in the business operations. While a son or nephew was arrested along with Waldemar, most of the remaining family members remain at large.

There had been a $500,000 reward for information leading to Waldemar Lorenzna's arrest, but it's not clear whether the police acted on a tip and someone is going to get a nice payday. It's an important arrest for Guatemala and the US, but it's also obviously too early to tell whether it will make much of a difference to the security situation in Guatemala.

Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera

On this date in 1998, Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera was found bludgeoned to death in his residence in Guatemala City. Gerardi was killed just days after the release of the Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) project that documented human rights abuses committed during the country's civil war. (Check out the GHCR's timeline of Gerardi life and death.)

On June 8, 2001, Colonel Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, Captain Byron Lima Oliva (his son), and José Obdulio Villanueva were convicted of having murdered Gerardi and were sentenced to 30 years in prison. Father Mario Orantes was sentenced to 20 years as an accomplice. 

The Catholic Church and the people of Guatemala are still waiting for justice in the bishop's death. According to the Archdiocese's Human Rights Office(ODHA), at least twenty people (mostly military officials) participated in the bishop's murder and its coverup.

Although he did not provide details, Nery Ronedas, the director of the ODHA, said that "We believe that some 20 people participated in the planning, monitoring and execution of Gerardi and the disinformation campaign that followed the crime."
I do hope that one day Bishop Gerardi is remembered in the same way as Oscar Romero is in El Salvador. Maybe it's just me, but most Americans who are interested in Central America know Romero's story. However, only those whose research or interest is specific to Guatemala have heard about Gerardi.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Poverty in Argentina

Both Argentina's Catholic University (UCA) and the government use the same 2010 census conducted by the Statistics and Census National Institute (INDEC) to analyze the country's social and economic conditions. While they agree that poverty has declined between 2006 and 2010, the university's analyses produce much higher rates of poverty and extreme poverty than do official government figures.

According to government reports, approximately 4 million (9.9%) Argentines are poor. The UCA report, on the other hand, says that approximately 10 million (29.6%) people are poor. The UCA also estimates that 11% of the population lives in extreme poverty compared to the government's 2.5% estimate. Of the country's 10 million poor, 3.5 million are homeless.

The difference between government and UCA's statistics is based primarily upon how each calculates the cost of the basic food basket. The government estimates that by the end of 2010, an average family needed $303 to avoid falling under the poverty line. The UCA estimated the amount to be $436.

Discrepanices between governmental and other organizations' poverty figures is nothing new in Argentina. Here's a 2009 Al Jazeera report on poverty in Argentina.

Argentina is not the only country where official and unofficial poverty figures are in dispute and I wonder whether these differences are playing into the discussion at Two Weeks Notice over what Peruvians want from their government (see hereherehere, and here).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Zetas Return to Coban?

Plaza Publica recently published an article on the return of the Zetas to Coban that was translated and posted at InSight Crime

Less than two months after the state of siege ended in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, the Zetas appear to be moving back in. 
Everyone warns that the Zetas have returned. Walking around after eight o'clock at night gives the sensation of visiting a city in a coma: a small group of people eat meat tortillas in the corner of a park. Afterwards, nothing. Silence.
"Before it was lively. There were places kept an eye on people on motorcycles, but not now," says a hotel employee.
The Zetas came back. But no longer with their double traction vehicles or their guns with 30-round magazines or their Norteño ballads sung in tuneless voices and the pricey sound equipment in their cars set to maximum volume.
Now they move in sedans. They try, in their own way, to go unnoticed.  
The Zetas are moving back into Alta Verapaz so that they can control the drug routes from Honduras and the Caribbean. The shipments then cross Izabal and into Alta Verapaz before continuing west through Quiche and Huehutenango or north through the Peten before crossing into Mexico and moving on to their final destination in either the US or Canada.

No one thought that the state of siege was going to work miracles, but more than a few weeks would have been nice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wikileaks and Otto Perez Molina

Rachel Hatcher at the National Security Archives summarizes two recent Wikileaks reports from the US Embassy in Guatemala. Both cables details meetings between US Ambassador McFarland and Otto Perez Molina and Roxana Baldetti of the Patriotic Party.

Here is the summary from the September 2008 meeting.

2007 presidential runner-up General Otto Perez Molina told the Ambassador September 4 that he is concerned about Guatemala's deteriorating security situation and the GOG's apparent inability to follow through on institutional reforms. The state is institutionally unprepared to confront rising security challenges posed by narcotrafficking, corruption, and violent crime. President Colom announced a substantial expansion of the army, but the GOG's draft budget makes no provision for such an expansion.
Perez and his party's bench leader, Roxana Baldetti, also discussed the GOG's social agenda and the ongoing congressional finance scandal. Baldetti predicted that Congress would pass the pending Freedom of Information Bill. Greater political will is needed to address rampant criminal penetration of the state's rule of law institutions.

And the summary from the February 2010 meeting.

The Ambassador met February 17 with rightist opposition leader General Otto Perez Molina. Perez said the First Lady and her associates are preparing a smear campaign to falsely accuse him of human rights abuses during the internal conflict, and are trying to manipulate the judiciary to disqualify his presidential candidacy. Nonetheless, he was confident of winning the presidency in 2011.
Perez Molina's Patriot Party is prepared to work with the government in Congress to pass important rule of law reform legislation and would even consider supporting controversial tax reform, though the increasingly charged political environment threatens to derail the legislative agenda. The Ambassador thanked Perez Molina and Baldetti for their support for a new election of the head of the public defender's office.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Argentina Disappearance Update

Hemispheric Brief has an update on the suspicious disappearance of Argentina's Victor Oscar Martinez that I mentioned on Wednesday.
Fifty-two year-old Argentine rights activist Victor Oscar Martinez re-appeared late Wednesday after disappearing three days prior. After leaving his home in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo on Monday, Martinez’s lawyer said Thursday that her client was abducted, heavily sedated, and held in an unidentified location. Martinez says his captors threatened him and his family, saying he should leave the country and not testify in a new human rights investigation against a former military official he has long said was involved in the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de León over thirty years ago.
 Good reason to be worried.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Food Crisis in Guatemala

On Tuesday, Alvaro Colom's government declared a nationwide "nutritional risk alert" to avoid a food crisis in the country's poorest areas. The goal of issuing an alert is to prevent an "emergency."  The country's "dry corridor" and southern coastal communities (heavy rains) are the areas that have been most affected by extreme weather.

According to the UN, 49% of Guatemalan children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. Guatemala has the highest percentage in all Latin America and the fourth highest rate in the world. Unsurprisingly, chronic malnutrition approaches 70% in indigenous communities.

The Colom administration is trying to use the food crisis to again push for a tax reform. That was going to be a problem any day of the week. More so after the vice president comes out and says that 45,000 tons of food donated by the international community recently went missing! 

Fortunately, President Colom later clarified that the vice president should have said 45 tons, but now those are accounted for as well. Just a minor exaggeration. 

Guatemala Fall Fashion Line

Do Otto Perez Molina, Roxanna Baldetti and the Patriotic Party make you feel sexy?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Missing Dirty War Witness in Argentina

According to the Associated Press
Argentina's president ordered all federal forces Wednesday to search for a key witness against a former military officer in the death of a bishop who tried intervene on behalf of victims of the dictatorship.
Victor Oscar Martinez, 52, disappeared Monday, his wife said in a formal missing person's complaint.
"The fact that we have no details of his whereabouts is highly worrisome for the national government," Justice Minister Julio Alak said.
Martinez was the sole witness to the death of an Argentine bishop who was killed in 1977 while delivering evidence of the military junta's human rights violations to Vatican officials. Martinez survived the "accident" but was then tortured for additional information surrounding the bishop's other activities. The material that they were delivering disappeared after the accident.

While several Argentine Catholic priests were complicit in the military's crimes, it's important to remember that not all of them were giving last rights as unconscious prisoners were thrown out of airplanes and into the Atlantic.  

Unfortunately, there is good reason to suspect foul play in Martinez's disappearance as he was threatened two years ago if he continued "bothering" with the case. Other witnesses have also disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances in recent years.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Rosenberg Murder

I finally got around to reading "A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy" by David Grann at the New Yorker. Grann tells the incredible story surrounding what everyone thought was Rodrigo Rosenberg's murder. Ultimately his murder just turned out to be a not so run of the mill suicide.

Rosenberg was a Guatemalan businessman who was murdered on May 1, 2009. Days after his murder, a video appeared in which he claimed that if he were dead it was because President Alvaro Colom, his wife Sandra Torres, and his personal secretary Gustavo Alejos had killed him. The article gives a good behind the scenes description of Rosenberg's murder, CICIG's investigation, and the eventual clearing of the president's name with the shocking announcement that Rosenberg had been the one who had arranged him own death.

A lot of good stuff in the article, but I just wanted to say that Guatemala paid a terrible price with Rosenberg's death. Rosenberg thought that Colom and his wife were somehow behind his girlfriend and her father's death (the Musa family) and had hoped that implicating Colom in death murder would somehow propel the country forward on a path to greater democracy and stability. During the press conference to announce Rosenberg's suicide, Castresana said of Rosenberg, "He was an honorable person...He wanted to open up a Pandora's box that would change the country."

Well, he did open up a Pandora's box that almost brought down the president. However, I can't imagine how bringing down a president that you thought was guilty but didn't have enough information to prove anything against would have helped Guatemala in any way.

In addition, while CICIG cleared Colom's name, one gets the feeling that neither CICIG nor Colom recovered. Solving Rosenberg's murder, which wasn't even a murdered, has been one of its most important successes. Solving the murder was necessary, but it distracted CICIG from its real work of uncovering organized crime and building a credible criminal justice system. It also seems to have crushed Castresana as both he and CICIG came under attack.
As the targets mounted against Castresana, he became increasingly paranoid, and appeared to conflate legitimate critiques with dirty reprisals. He accused a highly regarded Spanish CICIG agent of being a spy. And he alleged that one of Guatemala's most respected journalists was part of a criminal network. "He was seeing conspiracies everywhere," Francisco Goldman, the author of "The Art of Political Murder," told me. "I think he started to go mad."
Castresana then "escalated his long-standing feuds with colleagues at the U.N." before abruptly resigning on June 7, 2010. During a recent November 2010 meeting with Grann, Rosenberg
said of the attacks on his reputation, "They have hurt my image forever." He and his wife were divorcing, and he had not been able to see his children. "I have nothing," he said. "I lost my family while in Guatemala. It almost took my life."
And while Colom was cleared of the Rosenberg's murder, his administration was never able to take advantage of the situation once his name was cleared in January 2010. While Colom had a point when he said that people were out to destroy his goverment following Rosenberg's murder, people were tired of his continuous playing of the victim card. People wanted leadership and results and Colom was unable to deliver. By May, he had already appointed a new attorney general linked to organized crime.

Check out the entire article if you have time or you can check the Wikipedia entry for much of the same basic information. Even better, you can wait for the movie. Paramount and India Paintbrush recently purchased the rights to make a film off the New Yorker article. I can't say that it will be a very interesting movie. In many ways, it's "great" that Rosenberg killed himself. Alternative scenarios whereby President Colom had him killed or parallel powers had him killed so that they could execute a coup against the government would have had much uglier endings. Rosenberg being responsible for his own death was surprising, but, at the same time, anti-climactic.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vides Casanova Deportation Trial

On Monday, a deportation trial for General Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former Salvadoran Defense Minister (1983-1989) began in Florida. Vides Casanova is supposedly the "highest ranking military member to face possible deportation" as a result of human rights abuses committed prior to settling in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security' human rights division has deported over 400 human rights abusers since its creation in 2003.

Vides Casanova was acquitted of civil charges in a 2000 trial for failing to stop his subordinates from raping and killing four US churchwomen in December 1980. In that case, the defendants got off partly because there were no victims to confront the accused in court and partly because the plaintiffs' lawyers had presented such a chaotic situation in 1980 El Salvador that the jury was convinced Vides Casanova and General Jose Guillermo Garcia (his co-defendant) were not in control of anything and therefore could not be held responsible.

However, in 2002, Vides Casanova and Garcia were forced to pay $54.6 million to three Salvadoran citizens who suffered torture during the civil war. In that case, the torture survivors told their stories in open court. After appealing the ruling, Vides Casanova had to surrender more than $300,000 of his assets in 2006.

Senators Dick Durbin (IL-D) Tom Coburn (OK-R) were the ones responsible for pushing the Department of Homeland Security to deport the generals beginning in 2009. The US Government is seeking to deport Garcia as well.

I wonder why the US government is not trying to put them in jail for lying on the immigration papers. That's what the government is doing with the former kaibiles involved in the Dos Erres massacre. While Vides Casanova and Garcia probably couldn't have lied about their military background, they must have lied about something related to having overseen a military involved in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. That's got to count for something.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recent Guatemala Videos

Al Jazeera recently posted two videos related to Guatemala. The first deals with the issue of illegal abortions. Here's the description.
Today, illegal abortions are the leading cause of death among young women in Latin America. Whether they are performed in major cities or in the isolated countryside, these 'back room' abortions are leaving thousands of young women dead each year. Guatemala has the highest fertility rate among women and yet it remains the poorest country in the region where women can ill afford large families. Unwanted pregnancies, couple with the forces of tradition and politics, leave few options for these families. Through the work of an activist and the medical team she leads, this film explores the questions of family planning, which many see as the right to life.

I couldn't help but think of comparisons between drugs and abortion throughout the video. Everyone wants to see the number of abortions and drug users reduced to zero. The criminalization of abortions and recreational drugs doesn't seem to have reduced the number of people seeking abortions or using illegal drugs.

At the same time, criminalization has increased the violence associated with both - illegal abortions that kill too many women in both Guatemala and the world and cartel violence that Guatemalans and Central Americans know all too well.

The second video is a much shorter one and covers a bit of the Colom divorce. However, I don't know who was shocked by the divorce. Disappointed. Disillusioned. Angered. Sure. Surprised or shocked? Probably not so much. Not in this country where anything is possible.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Honduras on Alert for Al Qaeda

Honduras has been on alert for two Afghans suspected of being members of al Qaeda. Three weeks ago the UN Security Council asked the Honduran government whether two Afghans (Khalil Al-Rahman Haqqani and Said Jan Abd Al-Salan) had entered or tried to enter the country as businessmen. According to Honduras' La Prensa, the Security Council also asked the Supreme Court of Justice in Honduras to freeze their accounts.

Given that the government was asked to freeze their accounts, the government's public statement that it has no record of these men in the country or trying to enter the country sounds a bit odd to me. We'll just have to wait on additional details to come to light.  

This isn't the first time that Al Qaeda and Honduras have been connected. In 2004, Honduras "tightened security at foreign embassies and declared a national terror alert after receiving information that al Qaeda was trying to recruit Hondurans to attack embassies of the United States, Britain, Spain and El Salvador." That was when many were afraid that al Qaeda might link up with gangs in Central America.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ortega Leads in Nicaragua

According to a recent survey, 48% of all Nicaraguans polled indictated that they are willing to vote for Daniel Ortega in November. Without reading the exact question, it doesn't exactly say that they intend to vote for Ortega, only that the would be willing to vote for him. From that perspective, 48% would look like the upper bound of his electoral support.

While the election is still months away, none of the other candidates come close to challenging him.

Fabio Gadea Mantilla of the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) has approximately 13% support.

Former president Arnoldo Aleman of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC) captures 6%.

The ex-contra Enrique Quiñonez Tuckler of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) maintains 1.2% support.

Finally, the former Minister of Education Miguel Ángel García of the Alliance for the Republic (APRE) comes in with less than 1%.

The poll was carried out by Consultores M & R between March 31st and April 3rd and has a margin of error of 2.5%

Here are two other recent Nicaragua articles that might interest you as well.

Central American free-trade pact a major success in Nicaragua - I don't know how true it is but only relying upon pro-free trade pact US and Nicaraguan officials gives me pause.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Visitors to Central America up by 10% in 2010

According to numbers reported by the tourism ministries in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, the number of tourists to the region increased by 10.8% in 2010 compared to 2009 numbers. (I have no idea why the article rounded down to 10% rather than up to 11%).

Belize - 1,035,577 visitors arrived in 2010, 10% more than the previous year.
Costa Rica - reported a total of 2,485,191 visitors, an increase of 8.6% on the previous year. 
El Salvador - received 1,604,358 visitors, 8.34% more than in 2009.
Panama - received 1,685,295 visitors, 7.83% more than the previous year.
Nicaragua  - 1,071,660 visitors, an increase of 6%. 
Guatemala - 1,875,776 visitors in 2010, up by 5.57%. 
Honduras - an increase in visitors of 2.92%.
The report doesn't give total numbers for Honduras, but it's probably an indication that the 2009 coup impacted Honduras as a tourist destination.

The Other Wall

Prensa Libre

Malnutrition, Violence, and Investment

Several recent reports do not put Guatemala in a positive light. First, the European Union published a study that found that Guatemala has the highest rate of child malnutrition in all of Latin America. Almost 50% of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. The EU's Rafael Señán Llarena added that Guatemala's malnutrition rate is higher than that of Haiti and among the five worst in the world.

Second, the Mutual Support Group (GAM) voiced its preoccupation with the continued violence in the country. During the first three months of the year, there were a total of 1,240 victims of violence, including 116 women and 3 girls. 874 of the victims were killed while the remaining 366 were "only" injured.

On the positive side, this number is a decrease from the 909 deaths reported during the first three months of 2010. However, on the negative side, both February (295) and March (304) murders increased after a "calm" January (275). GAM is also worried about the increase in massacres and the number of lynchings.

These numbers include some of the 22 police officers who have died so far this year (some off duty). At least 60 officers were killed last year.

Finally, Guatemala fell eight places (86th to 94th) in the World Economic Forum's Global Information Technology Report's rankings. 138 countries were in the survey.
According to the report, the country is at a disadvantage in terms of the number of days to enforce a contract, the perception of the effectiveness of the laws, the preparation of ICT staff, the quality of education in mathematics and science as well as the quality of the educational system in general.
[The country] also received low scores on the issue of the importance of these technologies in the vision of the Government, intellectual property rights, the acquisition of technologies, production of computers as a percentage of imports and the number of procedures to open a joint-stock company.
One last thing - Rigoberta Menchu's Winaq Political Movement officially became the 27th political party certified by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for this year's election. I thought that this had already occurred, but I guess not. Menchu sees Winaq's successful formation as a poltical party as an achievement for the indigenous people of Guatemala and all the Americas.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stations of the Cross in Honduras

Hermano Juancito has a nice post up describing how the people of Santa Rosa de Copán in Honduras are remembering Jesus' death and resurrection as we approach Easter.

Each station of the cross (first half) reflects some aspect of their everyday life (second half). Here are a few of this year's themes:

1. Jesus is condemned to death - Maladministration of Justice

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus - Corruption at every level

7. Jesus calls the second time - Violence, hired assassins, drug-trafficking, insecurity

9. Jesus falls the third time - Coup d’état, polarization, reconciliation

12. Jesus dies on the cross - Attacks on life (Climate change, Mining, human rights, [disappearances, assassinations, abortion, drug-trafficking])

13. Jesus is taken down from the Cross - Those who have fallen in the struggle

15. Jesus is raised from the dead - The resurrection of the people

You'll have to click through to see the entire list.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crime and Investment in Guatemala

Here are two quick reads on Guatemala. The first comes from Abraham Samuel Perez on Presidential Divorce, Investment and Economic Growth in Guatemala at the Guatemala Times. He argues that macroeconomically speaking, Guatemala is relatively attractive compared to its peers for foreign direct investment. Where Guatemala fails relative to its competitors is in terms of its scores on socioeconomic indicators.

A second article to take a look at comes from Elyssa Pachico at InSight - Organized Crime in the Americas. In How Much Is Guatemala Arming the Zetas?, Pachico takes a stab at how many weapons the Guatemalan army is providing the Mexican Zetas. The short answer is no one really knows.
Mexican groups have doubtlessly obtained AK-47s and grenades from Cold War arsenals in Guatemala, and even El Salvador. But breaking down the origins of Mexico's arms supply, in order to assign political responsibility for the gun trafficking problem, will likely prove fruitless. What is clear is that the U.S. has a set of laws that are indirectly feeding weapons into the hands of Mexican gangs, while in Guatemala the problem is more akin to a lack of proper law enforcement.
Two thoughts. One it probably doesn't matter. Should we somehow successfully cut off weapons from the US flowing south, I can't imagine that it would severely limit the cartels ability to aquire high-powered weapons. I'm not an expert here, but I can't imagine that it would do more than bring about a marginal increase in the cost of purchasing these weapons.

Second, it sounds like the Cold War all over again. The Salvadoran guerrillas purchased weapons from the East Bloc and other Soviet-aligned nations, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the Salvadoran military, anti-communist Guatemalans, and US-based arms dealers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Guatemalan Women Running for the Highest Office

Guatemala has had women compete for the presidency in three of the last four elections. In 1995, Flor de María Alvarado was the presidential candidate for Popular Democratic Force (FDP). In 1999, the New Guatemala Democratic Front (FDNG) supported Catalina Soberanis Reyes. And Rigoberta Menchu Tum was the candidate for the Winaq Political Movement in 2007. None of the women fared exceptionally well on election day.

This year, while most of the world's attention is on Sandra Torres' sacrifice, several other women competing for the highest office.

Former Minister of the Interior Adela Torrebiarte leads the Accion de Dessarrollo Nacional (ADN). Rigoberta Menchú is again likely to be a candidate for Winaq, a political party as of a few weeks ago. Patricia Arzú will represent the Unionist Party. She is the wife of the current mayor of Guatemala City and former president of the country, Álvaro Arzú. Finally, Zury Ríos is the daughter of former dictator Efraín Ríos. Like her father before, she will represent the Guatemala Republican Front (FRG).

Flor de María Alvarado is supposedly running again, but I can't find details. Perhaps she is running with the FDP again. Nineth Montenegro of the Encounter for Guatemala was sought after for the VP slot, but I think that she has settled on going back to congress.

The scholars interviewed in the El Periodico article seem to agree that Guatemala is ready for a female president but would like to see the women develop a platform that includes the empowerment of women.

Virgilio Alvarez from FLACSO divides the women into two divisions. Those who have used their personality and work ethic to make a name for themselves (Menchu, Torrebiarte, Montenegro and Torres) and those who are riding the coattails of men (Baldetti, Rios, and Arzú).

As of today, Torres appears to be the only woman likely to have a fighting chance at the presidency. However, given that Roxana Baldetti is Otto Perez Molina's vice presidential runningmate for the Patriotic Party, Guatemala is almost guaranteed to have a woman occupy the presidency or vice presidency after September's election. 

(See also Eduardo Villatoro)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Election happenings in Guatemala

Prensa Libre
UNE and GANA claim to have successfully collected over one million signatures in support of Sandra Torres's candidacy in recent days. I can't imagine that the numbers are accurate - ~8%  of the entire population? She is going to need all the help that she can get as lawyers and other political parties are preparing to challenge her nomination with the TSE and in the Constitutional Court.

Anyway, at a rally in the Plaza de la Constitucion, Torres announced that her administration will tackle insecurity, unemployment, and poverty "with the same thrust and strength" as she has administered the country's social programs.

Juan Guillermo Gutiérrez and Carlos Zúñiga will represent the PAN in this September's election. The PAN has gone down hill after occupying the presidency with Alvaro Arzu (1996-2000). It currently counts on 13 mayors and 2 congressmen.

Zúñiga was all set to be CASA's presidential candidate up until last week. He left the party because the other members were not interested in forming electoral alliances to compete this year.

Viva is going all in with Harold Caballeros for president. Enrique Godoy was to be its candidate for Guatemala City, but the party has decided to instead focus on the presidency and the congress. Godoy is now being support by the Citizen Compromise civic committee.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Now the real challenge begins

On Friday, a Guatemalan judge granted Alvaro Colom and Sandra Torres their divorce. Several groups had tried to persuade the courts against granting them their divorce.

I'm not a lawyer but it didn't sound like they had a real case to prevent the couple from divorcing. On the other hand, I think that they'll have a much stronger case trying to persuade the TSE, CC, and others to prevent her candidacy for the presidency.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Siglo XXI Interview with URNG's Sandoval

Siglo XXI published an interview with Miguel Angel Sandoval yesterday. Sandoval was the URNG's presidential candidate in 2007, finishing in seventh place with 2% of the national vote.

Here are three quotes that Siglo XXI highlighted.
"Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán has been the only President who had a national project that went through land reform, national sovereignty and independent development as a country."

"We are tired of politicians who hide behind religion to commit outrages of any kind;" for example, the murders he committed Efraín Ríos Montt, in the name of the cross; "or politicians like Harold Caballeros, who made a wonderful business cheating all parishioners and that religion should be condemned, not the fact of being a freethinker"

"The date the business sector has been a drag for this Government." There are three examples: it has closed the way to rural development policy, it has opposed a tax reform, and has manifested a thousand loves with the sale and misuse of natural resources of the country. "That is why I think that the Government should not have as an advisor to the business sector, but at an adequate distance"
While I wouldn't be surprised to see the Broad Front pick up a few seats in September's election, it probably won't be enough to make a large impact on the make-up of the congress. That's a shame. The URNG/Broad Front is one of the few political parties that speaks consistently on indigenous and women's rights, rural development, gold mining, and the environment.

Political discourse would benefit from a stronger left, represented in both congress and at the municipal level. For that reason, I hope that those participating in the Broad Front are going into the project with realistic expectations for 2011 and that a weak electoral showing does not doom the party's long-term development.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

El Salvador's Missing

While yesterday's post dealt with the missing from Argentina's dirty war, El Salvador still has its share of families searching for missing loved ones from its civil war. Christopher Roulin is one person who recently reconnected with his Salvadoran family with whom he was separated thirty years ago.
In 1979, Roulin [then known as Porfidio Lopez] was living in Tenancingo with his parents and three siblings as the conflict between El Salvador’s military-led government and a coalition of left-wing militias ravaged small towns. He still remembers the day when, at age 7, he walked outside and found his father dead on the side of a dirt road; he’d been attacked by national guards and left to die.
His mother died of natural causes shortly afterwards and he and his three younger siblings were left orphaned. Roulin was then adopted by a single mother from Syracuse, New York.

In 1993, Roulin returned to El Salvador on what would be an unsuccessful trip to to find his relatives. He did, however, find that his adoption paperwork had been forged. While Roulin was searching for his family, his Salvadoran family was also searching for him. In 2007, his grandmother approached Pro-Busqueda for help in finding the whereabouts of Porfidio.

Finally, Pro-Busqueda reunited Roulin with family members who had resettled in another area of Cuscatlan during the war. Roulin met his grandmother, aunt and cousins in January 2011 (no word on his three younger siblings in the article).
For the past sixteen years, Pro-Busqueda has been the Salvadoran organization most active in trying to find the missing.  To date, 881 people have registered missing-persons cases and 363 have been resolved, including 52 in the United States. Some of the resolutions have reconnected family members, as in the case of Roulin. Others have simply brought about closure through the confirmation of the missing individual's death. Finally, there is another group of cases where the individual decides not to reconnect with their Salvadoran families.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

DNA test IDs Dirty War Victim in Argentina

According to the AP, DNA test IDs 103rd stolen baby in Argentina.
The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo say the young woman was born in 1976 to Cecilia Beatriz Barral, who was nine months pregnant when kidnapped with her partner, Ricardo Horacio Klotzman. The couple were militants in the Revolutionary Workers Party, prime targets for elimination after Argentina's military coup.
A court forced the woman to take a DNA test against her will and released the results to the involved parties Tuesday. The Grandmothers announced the results Wednesday.
The Grandmothers say the woman's half-sister has never stopped looking for her.
It's obviously great for the half-sister and her family to find out what happened in 1976. She has finally found her sister. However, it must be devastating for the woman who did not agree to the DNA test and now is confronted with this life-shattering news.
In other Argentina and the disappeared news, I haven't seen the the film yet but I did receive a few promotional emails this week about Peter Sanders' The Disappeared. It looks like it's worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

US-based Central America Events

If you are in the New York or D.C. area on Thursday, there are some great events scheduled. In New York, The Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College, CUNY has put together a conference on New Pathways to Justice: An International Conference to Stop Violence Against Women in Central America.
The conference will feature more than a dozen speakers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as the United States, representing a panoply of institutions and organizations, from "cold case" detectives and forensic specialists to prosecutors, judges, and human rights advocates...
The aim of the conference is to stop violence against women in Central America, including feminicide (the murder of women), promote human rights, and enhance women's participation in their respective societies. Crime-scene investigations, forensic methods, and prosecutor investigations will be discussed.
The conference includes an impressive list of US and international speakers and is free and open to the public. It will also be broadcast live at

However, if you can't make the NY conference but are instead fortunate enough to be in the Washington, D.C. areaon Thursday, the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the World Bank are hosting

You'll be able to view the webcast here.

It looks like you won't go wrong with either event.

Funes Remains Popular

After two years in office, a strong majority of Salvadorans still support President Mauricio Funes (Contrapunto). According to a CID-Gallup poll conducted the last week of March, 83% hold a favorable opinion of the president.

Favorable opinion of Funes increased 5% points since January's CID-Gallup survey (La Prensa Grafica). While we can speculate that the increase is the result of President Obama's visit to the country, we don't know for certain.

Fifty-one percent say that he is a strong leader, 34% a moderate leader, and 14% a weak leader.

A majority also remain confident that he will help resolve the country's economic (59%) and crime (60%)problems. The Salvadoran armed forces also get good marks from the citizens with 80% responding that it has performed "well or very well" in the area of security.

This is good news, but another article in Contrapunto this week worries about the uptick in murders and the overall deterioration in security that occurred during the month of March.
Finally, the survey reports that the FMLN and ARENA remain the two most popular political parties in the country with 38% supporting the FMLN and 18% ARENA.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kaibil to Face Charges in Spain?

Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz has issued an international arrest warrant seeking the extradition from Canada of Jorge Sosa Orantes (here and here). Sosa is a former Guatemalan Kaibil allegedly involved in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. He is currently being held without bail in Canada while they decide what to do with him. He also faces charges of lying on his US citizenship application.

Sosa is the ninth person sought by the Spanish National Court in connection with crimes committed during the Guatemalan conflict. The courts seek to try Sosa and others under the legal concept of universal jurisdiction — "the idea that crimes such as torture and genocide are so heinous they can be prosecuted here if the government of the country where those crimes were allegedly committed fails to probe them."

While I would prefer to see Sosa face charges in his native Guatemala where his crime were committed, trying him for crimes against humanity in Spain sure beats using an immigration violation to punish him (see kaibil Jordan).

And in other Guatemala news, a group of independent lawyers has become the second group to challenge the Colom-Torres divorce which will probably delay the judge's decision several days.

Perez Molina Popular Everywhere

Last week's Borge y Asociados poll that had Otto Perez Molina comfortably ahead of the competition in the race for the presidency, also provided a breakdown of the major candidates' support by region.

Somewhat surprisingly, Otto Perez Molina is equally popular in both rural and urban areas of Guatemala (47.2% urban support and 47.3% rural support). In 2007, he performed much better in the cities. He now polls strongest in the north and the highlands, followed by the central region (including the capital). However, even where he is less popular, the south and the east, he easily finishes ahead of the second place finisher.

Less surprisingly, Sandra Torres de Colom is more popular in rural areas (20.3%) than she is in urban areas (9%). Her husband performed well in the rural communities in 2007. Torres' management of the government's social programs in the countryside is also likely to cause her support in rural areas to remain above her urban support. Her strongest support is in the south and north.

Eduardo Suger (CASA), who polls third nationally, has more support in urban areas, the Altiplano and the central while Mario Estrada (UCN) counts with nearly 5% in the eastern region of the country.

Perez Molina remains Guatemala's next president. Hopefully, if he wins, his name will not be added to the billboards popping up around the country.
Sent in by a reader (S)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guatemala Ends State of Emergency

According to a brief article on Inside Costa Rica
Guatemala lifted the state of calamity it adopted in 2010 to cope with the destruction caused by several natural disasters, although reconstruction continues, said Press Secretary Ronaldo Robles.
A spell of storms, floodings and the eruption in late May of the Pacaya volcano forced the government of President Alvaro Colom to adopt this measure and extend it eight consecutive times.
The inclimency of the weather left more than $1.5 billion in losses, 274 dead and damaged 700,000 people.
That's good news, of course. However, I wonder how much the decision to end the state of emergency will undermine Guatemala's application for an extension of TPS to its citizens living in the United States. I wasn't optimistic in February and this does nothing to change that.

Colom - Torres Divorce Halted

El Periodico
Mac Margolis at The Daily Beast has a brief rundown on Sandra Torres and Alvaro Colom's selfless act of divorce in Guatemala's Political Telenovela: First Couple Divorces.

On Friday, a Guatemalan judge temporarily blocked the divorce proceedings. The judge has also stated that she has already received death threats warning her about the consequences should she grant the divorce. Specifically, the "group defending the constitution" intended to kill a member of the judge's family should she grant the divorce which is obviously despicable.

The judge is likely to grant the First Couple a divorce. Given that it is a mutual request, it appears that there's little legal reason to stop it. However, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has the power to prevent her candidacy if they believe that Torres divorced simply to get around Article 186 of the Constitution. At that point, we'll probably hear the Constitutional Court rule on the matter.The head of the TSE, Maria Villagran, and her staff have already been receiving death threats. However, it's unclear whether the threats are directly related to a decision on Torres.
El Periodico
In other election news, it's looks like we won't have to worry about Alvaro Arzu violating the constitutional prohibition on reelection. Arzu served as president from 1996-2000 and is barred from running again. Instead, it looks like his wife Patricia Escobar de Arzú will be the Unionist Party's presidential candidate.