Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Indictment of Salvadoran High Command for Murder of the Jesuit Martyrs

On Monday, a Spanish court indicted 20 Salvadoran soldiers for their involvement in the murders and subsequent cover-up of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in November 1989. Among those indicted are former defense ministers General Humberto Larios and Colonel René Emilio Ponce (recently deceased), General Juan Rafael Bustillo, Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, and Colonel Francisco Elena Fuentes. 
These men were members of the military high command that ordered the massacre in the midst of a FMLN offensive. Judge Eloy Velasco Nunez accused these officials of murder, terrorism and crimes against humanity. While a 1991 trial convicted two military officers, the judge said that their trial was "flawed" and "failed to bring the perpetrators to justice" (CNN). 
Several of those who admitted to having participated in the crime were found not guilty. From what I remember, of the two that were convicted, one was an officer. He was allegedly convicted because lower ranking military would have rebelled had they been the only ones to have taken the heat for the murders. The other soldier was found guilty because he shot and killed both Celina and Elba Ramos. 
According to Judge Velasco, the military wanted to kill Ignacio Ellacuría, the UCA’s rector, in order to put a stop to the negotiation s between the FMLN and the president of El Salvador, Alfredo Cristiani. Ellacuría had been pushing for a negotiated solution to the conflict for nearly ten years. This is interesting for several reasons. 
First, the FMLN supposedly launched its final offensive because it was frustrated with the pace of negotiations. While there had been some progress immediately following Cristiani’s election, negotiations stalled in September and October. Had the military not carried out the murders of the Jesuits, it’s possible that the offensive would have undermined international and domestic support for the FMLN and derailed the peace process indefinitely. Even though the FMLN was unhappy with the negotiations, they persisted. Launching a nationwide offensive in the middle of the negotiations might have given the government and the military an opportunity to put an end to the peace process. The Salvadoran military might have gotten what it wanted had it not killed the Jesuits. 
Second, the military leaders responsible for giving the order to kill Ellacuría and to leave no witnesses were driven primarily by self-interest. They had become politically and financially powerful throughout the war and feared that a negotiated solution would put an end to their privileged position in society especially if any agreement called for a total restructuring of the armed forces. In this sense, the military was not driven by a disagreement with Cristiani as to the wisdom of negotiating with the FMLN. Those communists, terrorists, and subversives could not be trusted. They would never accept democracy. Instead, they feared that negotiations might work and that they would lose control. 
Third, there were several coup rumors in the late 1980s and early 1990s coming from the right. What happened within the Salvadoran high command that they launched an attack against Ellacuría and the UCA as well as other pro-democracy advocates, rather than Cristiani? Did they give equal consideration to removing Cristiani? Did they consider other means of squelching negotiations? Was murdering Ellacuría and the other Jesuits in the midst of chaos brought on by the FMLN offensive an opportunity too good to pass up? 
The reactions to the indictments have been as expected. Abraham Abrego, deputy director of the Foundation for the Application and Study of Law (FESPAD), an independent human-rights organization, says that 
"It is a powerful and symbolic message against impunity and sends a clear message to the military that were involved in human rights abuses and crimes against humanity...It restricts the possibility of these military officers fleeing to other countries, because if they try to escape, other countries that have judicial cooperation with Spain can arrest and send them to a tribunal in Spain.”(LA Times)
 The Director of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador (CDHES) Miguel Montenegro says that 
The judge's decision "gives us encouragement to continue the fight against impunity." (AFP
On the other hand, several individuals were not so happy to receive the court’s decision. ARENA member Donato Vaquerano said that 
"We think it is disrespectful to the independence of each country, starting with that. The resolution is disrespecting the General Amnesty Law. That is part of a grand bargain that allowed Salvadorans to take a giant step, of being in an armed conflict to enter into a process of peace and coexistence in a democracy, that we allowed the law.” (Contrapunto)
What happens next? Lawyers involved in the case have three days to file a petition to amend the rulings and five days to begin an appeal. The Spanish indictment calls for the twenty officers to be found and brought before a Spanish court to be tried for the murders. The defendants have ten days to voluntarily appear before that court. After those ten days are up, international arrest warrants can be issued for those who do not voluntarily appear before the court. All states, including El Salvador, are required to act upon such warrants. If Spain asks El Salvador to extradite the accused, it will be up to the Salvadoran Supreme Court to decide.
 In November 2009, I wrote
 "While I am not convinced that the accused will ever see a Spanish courtroom, I am somewhat hopeful that the Spanish investigation as well as Funes' election will help to restart a movement in El Salvador to deal with the human rights violations committed during the 1970s and 1980s…
 Pressure from the international community and civil society might provide Funes with political cover to backtrack on his campaign promise not to push the Legislative Assembly to revoke the amnesty law.” 
I stand by what I said eighteen months ago. I think that it is unlikely that the nineteen surviving officers will see the inside of a Spanish courtroom. Today, the UCA remains opposed to trying the accused in Spain. They support justice as long as it is brought about by a genuinely Salvadoran process. I agree. However, I do hope that this indictment will continue what has been an excruciatingly slow movement towards revisiting the history of El Salvador’s civil war.  
It’s not enough to say both sides committed human rights violations and that both sides agreed to an amnesty that would allow the country to move forward. Even if members of the FMLN, ARENA, the military and the US prefer to keep the amnesty in place, that not’s what the Salvadoran people deserve.
 [See also Tim and El Faro for additional coverage of the indictment. You can also read the judge’s ruling in Spanish here.]

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mexico's southern border awash in crime and violence

Tim Johnson of McClatchy Newspapers has an article up on Mexico's southern border awash in crime and violence.  He provides a decent description of the porous border between Mexico and Guatemala. However, I don't really care for the introduction.
If the border that separates the United States and Mexico is fairly easy to penetrate, then Mexico's other border - the southern one, abutting Guatemala - is virtually a sieve.
If the US-Mexico border were actually "fairly easy to penetrate", immigrants from Latin America and around the world would not be paying $5,000 or more for people to take them across Mexico and into the United States. Years ago, migrants could cross the border on their own or pay a coyote a small amount to help them.

If the US-Mexico border were actually "fairly easy to penetrate", several hundred people would not be dying each year from a variety of causes including murder and exposure to the elements (heath stroke, dehydration, hypothermia). And the number killed crossing the border does not include the hundreds, most likely thousands, that are killed each year crossing Mexico on their way north.

A lot of people successfully cross the US-Mexico border each day. However, I guess I just don't agree with the description that it's "fairly easy to penetrate."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sino-Argentine War of 2021?

Matthew Yglesias had a post on Friday asking Why Is China Buying Latin American Land? According to a story by Alexei Barrionuevo in the New York Times, Brazil, Argentina and several other Latin American countries are passing laws so as to restrict land purchases by foreigners. China is buying up huge tracts of land so as to ensure access to agricultural products needed to feed a one billion and growing population. Yglesias then speculates as to what might happen if some future Latin American government nationalizes the land that China owns.

Indeed, if the Chinese government wants my advice it seems to me that large-scale purchases of foreign land are a uniquely unsound investment since it would be so easy for some future Brazilian or Argentine government to expropriate the land. Indeed, maybe the Sino-American War of 2021 will be specifically sparked by Argentina nationalizing Chinese land-holdings on a large scale, prompting the dispatch of the People’s Liberation Army Navy on its first real blue water mission which, in turn, prompts President Jeb Bush to invoke the Monroe Doctrine and come to Argentina’s defense.
Let's see. Do you think that there's any historical event that might provide us with any insights as to what might happen in 2021? Maybe even a war involving Argentina and a non-hemispheric power. 
Twenty-nine years ago, Argentina of course, launched an invasion to recover the Falkland Malvinas Islands. These islands are located off Argentina's eastern coast but had been in British possession for over 150 years.After a failed mediation attempt, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a British naval task force to recover the islands. Nearly two and one-half months later, the war was over and the Falklands were once again in British hands.
What happened to that 150-year old Monroe Doctrine?
The United States initially tried to mediate an end to the conflict. However, when Argentina refused the U.S. peace overtures, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both Houses of the U.S. Congress passed resolutions supporting the U.S. action siding with the United Kingdom. 
The US also supported Britain in the UN in voting for UN resolution 502, a resolution that called for Argentina's retreat from the islands. The US also assisted the the UK with military equipment including submarine detectors and missiles (Wikipedia). So much for that Monroe Doctrine. It's definitely not how Argentina expected us to thank them for helping to train Honduran death squads.
So what would happen one decade from now if Argentina nationalized property owned by the Chinese and the Chinese then sent a military force to recapture that territory? Again the US would probably try to negotiate. We get along with both China and Argentina and would prefer that they settle their differences nonviolently.
Let's say that mediation failed similar to 1982. While some would cry out for the US to invoke the Monroe Doctrine, as long as a Chinese military force was tasked solely with retaking the land that it previously owned, I don't foresee see the US invoking the doctrine. If the US invoked the doctrine, it would have to do something about it or lose credibility. However, getting into a war with the Chinese over Argentina is probably worse than losing credibility.
Argentina? I think that in 1982 Argentina learned that the Monroe Doctrine is not about the United States' absolute commitment to defend the Western Hemisphere against aggression by non-hemispheric powers. It is a doctrine that the US applies selectively to further its own interests. The alliance between the US and UK in 1982 was much stronger than today's US relationship with China. On the other hand, the US and Argentina were probably stronger allies in 1982 than today. The US and Argentina haven't really gotten along for the first two hundred years of Argentina's independence and that probably won't change in the next ten years. If the US wasn't willing to defend our dirty war committing Argentine allies in 1982, we probably wouldn't do it today.
How did other foreign powers react?
France provided political support, voting for UN resolution 502. The French also provided dissimilar aircraft training allowing Harrier pilots to train against French aircraft used by Argentina. French and British intelligence also worked to prevent Argentina from obtaining more Exocets on the international market.
New Zealand sent a frigate to relieve a British ship in the Indian Ocean, thus assisting the Royal Navy to meet its commitments in the South Atlantic.
Chile gave support to Britain in the form of Intelligence about Argentine military and radar early warning.
On the Argentine side, Peru and Venezuela sent aircraft spare parts, Brazil leased two P-95 maritime patrol aircraft and Israeli IAI advisors already in the country continued their work during the conflict. The Soviet Union provided intelligence on British military movements, and facilitated the supply by Libya of strela 2 missiles.
Chile's support for Britain wasn't much of a surprise. Argentina and Chile have had several confrontations over the years and had almost gone to war as recently as 1978 in the Beagle Conflict. However, I would venture to guess that today's Latin America would more rally more strongly behind Argentina than thirty years ago.
In 1982, some Latin American nations sent spare parts and diplomatic support. In ten years, one could envision Latin American naval, air, and land support for Argentina against a more formidable Chinese military. Latin American solidarity and the capabilities to act together against a common external enemy would be one of the most significant in the last thirty-years.
I was surprised to read about Soviet and Libyan support for Argentina given that the US support to that same government was based upon their strict anti-communism and pro-Western and Christian ideology. A recent book by Russian Sergey Brilev makes some interesting claims about Soviet support to Argentina.
Brilev writes that in spite of the risks of a world conflict because of Soviet support in the war involving a NATO member, Moscow handed to the Argentines and their most ‘anti-communist’ leader General Leopolodo Galtieri crucial satellite information which helped with some of the greatest coups of the Argentine forces in sinking Royal navy vessels...
Brilev concludes that in the early eighties the Soviet Union power structure was already under strain. The strategic aid was a decision of the Generals at military command level as a logical support for “the enemy of my enemy”. He then recalls that only two countries did not join the 1979 US sponsored international embargo on the Soviet Union, Argentina and Uruguay and “the military were very thankful for that”. 
The Soviet military acted on its own to support Argentina. They must have kept supporting Argentina because thirteen years later some guys that I was playing ball with in Buenos Aires were all wearing CCCP baseball uniforms. The Israelis? Another US ally during the Cold War who, like Argentina, had no problem selling arms and helping to train murderous regimes (i.e., Guatemala) when the US congress got squeamish some backbone and suspended US assistance.
Here's hoping that a Sino-Argentine war is not on the horizon. If it does come about, however, there's no reason for Argentina to expect the US enforce the Monroe Doctrine. 
 "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Non-aligned foreign policy in Nicaragua?

During the Cold War, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas stated that they intended to follow a non-aligned foreign policy. For some, a non-aligned foreign policy meant a policy of "equidistance" from both the Soviet and American empires. For others, a non-aligned foreign policy (consistent with the natural alliance tendency) viewed the world 
more along the lines of class analysis, in which the world is divided into imperialist, colonial and reactionary countries on one side and neo colonial, colonized and progressive countries on the other. From this perspective a natural alliance is seen between positions of the countries of the Non Aligned Movement and those of the socialist countries. This natural alliance is precisely that natural and therefore arises spontaneously and requires no formal structure. It sees the imperialism of the U.S. and its major allies such as Great Britain as the greatest threat to the development of the Third World. (Envio 1983)
While theoretically separate, the two visions were blurred in early revolutionary Nicaragua. The Sandinistas of 1979 and the early 1980s pursued both policies simultaneously. They requested and received aid from countries across the world (US, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and a variety of Latin American and European allies). The Sanindistas did not want to cut off relations with the United States. If anything they wanted more aid from the US to make up for being an "enemy of humanity." They increased trade with both democratic and non-democratic nations. They were neither in the Soviet nor the American camp.

At the same time, the Sandinistas were clearly more comfortable in the Soviet camp, improving the country's relations with Cuba, the Soviet Union and East bloc nations, Vietnam and revolutionary and anti-imperialist movements around the world. They criticize the imperialism of the United States, but not that of the Soviet Union. Inevitably, the non-aligned policy of equidistance from the US and Soviets gave way (if it ever really existed) to a non-aligned policy more consistent with the natural tendency.

In many ways, today, we see the same approach to Sandinista, or more accurately Ortega, foreign policy. Ortega's Nicaragua is a member of DR-CAFTA, a free trade agreement with the Dominican Republic, other Central American states, and the United States. Nicaragua is also a member of the Venezuelan and Cuban-led Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (click here for an Americas Quarterly report on ALBA). While the stakes are not nearly as high as the Cold War, Ortega is again playing both sides.

There are a few potential scenarios which might affect Nicaragua's simultaneous participation in DR-CAFTA and ALBA. First, their might be a new occupant in the White House following the US presidential election in 2012. If the next US president takes a more hard-line approach to its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere (one that does not look kindly on Nicaragua's support for Chavez, Castro, Gadhafi, or Ahmadinejad), Ortega might be forced to choose. A second scenario might come from a deterioration in the relationship between the US and Venezuela. Recently, the US levied sanctions against Venezuela's state-run oil company, PDVSA. While the sanctions are relatively weak, it's not hard to imagine events spiraling out of control.

Finally, another scenario that could force Ortega to choose comes from his likely victory in next year's presidential election. A recent Nicaraguan poll, this one by New Century, has Daniel Ortega comfortably in the lead with 50% of the respondents in favor of reelecting Ortega. Ortega's support is up slightly from April's survey. While things could always change, there's a very good chance that Ortega will win another five-year term even though that constitution sure seems to have barred him from running.

Should Ortega need to manipulate the vote like he has been accused of in the past or have to send out his enforcers to break up anti-Ortega protests movements, one can see the US government take a stronger stance towards the Nicaraguan government. And like the Cold War, Nicaraguan will no longer be able to pursue a foreign policy that seeks to take advantage of what both the United States and Venezuela have to offer. And Nicaragua and Ortega will, in all likelihood, look south and choose a policy more consistent with the natural tendency vision of a non-aligned foreign policy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May Poll Numbers in San Salvador

Two years into Mauricio Funes' five-year term in office, 65% of San Salvador's residents approve of the job that he is doing.* Fifty-eight per cent characterize his administration's performance as "good" and 7% as "very good." On the other hand, 27% say that Funes is doing a "very bad" job and 7% a "very bad" job (Funes recibe apoyo del 65% de la población).

Sixty per cent also say that they do not believe that the FMLN and Funes are resolving the country's problems. If that's the case, it's truly surprising that Funes' approval numbers have remain so high. I don't know for sure but Salvadorans might be comparing his performance to that of former President Tony Saca or to what might have happened had ARENA's candidate been elected. 

In that sense, Funes isn't doing a great job tackling the country's economic and crime problems but he is doing a better job than his predecessor and to anyone else who might have been elected in 2009. Either way, unless country conditions improve, it's hard to imagine his high approval numbers lasting for the next three years. That's not good for him or the FMLN heading up to the 2014 presidential elections. 

While Funes has his job for another 3 years, the country's mayors and members of congress stand for reelection in March 2012. Nine months out from the elections, the FMLN maintains a slight lead over ARENA. Twenty-seven percent of those polled indicated that they would vote for the FMLN if mayoral elections were held tomorrow while 25% would vote for ARENA. Thirty per cent said that they did not know for whom they would vote (FMLN y ARENA en cerrada lucha).

Approximately 10% said that they did not plan on voting. That leaves another 10% split among the remaining political parties. In mayoral elections, GANA has the support of 4.2%. While it remains unclear whether the PCN or the PDC will be allowed to participate in the March elections, neither is likely to make much of a splash. The two parties combined received 6% of the public's support (PCN - 3.6% and PDC - 2.4%). The CD and a generic independent candidate both receive 0.1%.

In terms of the Legislative Assembly, the FMLN's lead is more significant. Twenty-eight per cent said that they would vote for the FMLN if the elections were held tomorrow while 21% chose ARENA.  The survey results are roughly the same for congressional elections (GANA - 4.5%; PCN - 3%; PDC - 2%). 

Today's newspaper focus on Funes' high approval numbers is masking what appears to be a highly vulnerable FMLN heading into next year's elections. Given the problems in ARENA and the high approval numbers for President Funes during the last two years, I am a bit surprised that the distance between the FMLN and ARENA in voting intention isn't greater. In fact, while not entirely comparable, the FMLN's advantage over ARENA has declined in recent months (Poll Numbers in El Salvador). The FMLN used to have a 10 point advantage in voter intention for congress and 6 points for mayors. It's now at 7 and 2 points respectively. That can't be good heading in to the summer months. 

*The survey was carried out by JBS Opinión Pública for El Diario de Hoy during the week of May 14-18, 2011. The survey has a margin of error is +/-3.5% and a level of confidence of 97.5%. The survey was carried out among 1,193 residents of San Salvador. While San Salvador is the capital and comprises nearly 50% of the country's population, it's not a nationwide poll and shouldn't be taken as such.

Forecasting Poor Economic Times in El Salvador

Berlin, El Salvador 2004
Poverty trends in the 2000’s can be divided in two periods: a poverty reduction phase until 2006 and the reverse of the tendency in 2007-2008. In the first phase of the cycle poverty fell 8.6 percentage  points. This phenomenon was even stronger in rural areas (decreased 17.4 percentage points), and also lead to a more equal income distribution. In 2007-2008, the food crisis hit El Salvador hard, and almost all the gains in terms of poverty reduction were lost. The poverty headcount rate increased from 35.5 percent in 2007 to 42.3 in 2008, reaching the highest ratio since 2002...
And then there's this.
The debt sustainability analysis (Table A.l) indicates that the public debt to GDP ratio is expected to continue on an increasing path until 2011, when it will reach 50.1 percent o f GDP before starting to decline to reach 46.2 percent in 2014.
These paragraphs were published by the World Bank in 2009. Maybe President Funes hasn't handled the economic crisis in El Salvador that well (O'Grady). However, economic conditions worsened beginning in 2006. (See Tim's post and my earlier post on the subject).

The World Bank even predicted, well before Funes took office, that conditions were likely to deteriorate well into the next administration's five-year term. One needs to evaluate Funes' handling of the economy from the baseline that conditions were bad and getting worse. O'Grady sort of does this by blaming Saca as well but that is not what the story's headline indicates.

Given the worsening economic situation that Funes inherited upon taking office (heck, it's one of the issues that got him elected in the first place), how well has he done to stop the bleeding and turn things around. He might not get high marks, but it's a different story than "he's ruining everything good that ARENA had built up over twenty years in office."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Poverty and other El Salvador links

FMLN Supporters in Berlin, El Salvador
Locavore del Mundo writes about the cycle of poverty in rural El Salvador. Gloria Moran at ContraPunto looks at Fundación Círculo Solidario's attempt to break that cycle of poverty. And finally Carin Zissis at the Americas Society has a report on Latin American Childhood Poverty under the Lens. According to a recent joint survey from the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) and the Caribbean and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over two-thirds of Salvadoran children live in poverty.

Tim has posts on Aeroman aircraft maintenance in El Salvador, the Texis cartel in El Salvador, and Desperate lives packed into a tractor trailer that are each worth a look. While most of the migrants in the tractor trailers were from Guatemala, nearly fifty were from El Salvador.

Here's the El Faro video that accompanies the Texis cartel story.

And if you'd like to read a horrific story about why the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America need to design a migration policy that puts people first, you can read The Horror Filled Journey of an 8-yr Old Attempting to Reunite with U.S.-based Parents at Hispanically Speaking News.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Taking the Blame in El Salvador

The Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady had an opinion piece last week entitled El Salvador Quits the Market Model that Tim tried to take apart over the weekend. O'Grady's argument is that in the last two years, Mauricio Funes and the FMLN have destroyed what was once a thriving economy in Central America. Tim, on the other hand, argues that O'Grady is "simply dishonest with her use of statistics." I'll give this bout to Tim, but in a split decision.

O'Grady's main problem is her lack of evidence. If I were going to put together an article on how Funes has dismantled the free market system in El Salvador, I would have actually tried to come up with some evidence of how he actually dismantled the free market system. Instead, she writes that the level of foreign direct investment increased in almost every country in Latin America except El Salvador in 2010. That might or might not be good, but that doesn't say anything about quitting the market model.

Then O'Grady states that both the Saca and Funes administrations failed to grant operating permits to the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation. Funes maintaining a policy that first started with the previous ARENA administration is again weak evidence of his quitting the market model. There are some worrisome economic indicators in El Salvador that O'Grady mentions (debt-to-GDP ratio and an expanding fiscal deficit), but no evidence that Funes or the FMLN have given up on the market.
While O'Grady is selective in the use of her statistics, so is Tim unfortunately. O'Grady reports that El Salvador fell from ninth (2000) to thirty-ninth (2010) on the World Index of Economic Freedom. Tim says that it is important to know that El Salvador still ranks second in the 2010 index even though O'Grady reports that it has fallen seventeen points under Funes. That's not what she said. O'Grady said that while El Salvador fell from ninth to thirty-ninth over the last decade, it fell seventeen of those places under Tony Saca's administration.

If my math is correct, that means it only fell thirteen under Funes. If El Salvador's score is both valid and reliable, then we can see that El Salvador still ranks pretty well in terms of economic freedom - just less so than in previous years. We can then try to figure out why the perceived drop in economic freedom. Was it because of Saca and/or Funes' approach to economic policy or something else.

Here's another issue. Both Tim and O'Grady seem to agree that poverty has declined significantly since the end of the war. Officials statistics indicate that the percentage of households below the poverty line declined from approximately 60% in 1991 to 35% in 2007 and that the percentage of households living in extreme poverty fell from 28% to 10%. While I am not totally confident in these estimates (Dean Brackley at the UCA believes that rate is more like two-thirds), the big debate is what explains the decrease in poverty.

O'Grady argues that El Salvador grew considerably between 1989 to 2008 (at least to 2006) as a result of the neoliberal policies of successive ARENA governments. ARENA's policies promoted growth and led to a tremendous reduction in poverty rates. Tim, on the other hand, says that she under appreciates how much poverty was reduced through both the peace dividend and remittances. Tim then links to a Proceso article from the UCA that credits remittances with much of the growth and poverty reduction.

O'Grady is probably basing her arguments off of the same statistics that Juan Carlos Hidalgo's uses in his report on El Salvador A Central American Tiger? for CATO (2009). Hidalgo argues that El Salvador's growth during the postwar period is even greater than government figures indicate once you accurately control for the country's population and that the economic policies implemented by ARENA fueled this growth.

Hidalgo does try to tackle non-ARENA-related causes of the growth and decline in poverty. Hidalgo's not very convincing in terms of measuring the peace dividend's impact on growth and/or poverty (not all post-civil war societies experience the same level of growth that El Salvador did following the conclusion to its civil war). However, he does cite two studies, one by the World Bank and another by the UN, that found remittances lowered poverty in El Salvador by 5.1% and 4.5%. An important factor in poverty reduction, but not enough to explain the 25% drop.
Who's right? I don't know. From the table above (Hinds uses the same data as Hidalgo from what I can tell), it looks like the number of households living in poverty had been steadily improving since the early 1990s but it worsened beginning sometime in 2006. By all indications, poverty has probably continued to worsen since then.

I'm with Tim here when he says that O'Grady neglects the effects of the worldwide economic crisis of the last few years. El Salvador was struck particularly hard given its dependence on the US. Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fell into poverty in 2009 because of the economic crisis. While O'Grady likes to blame Funes, she also blames Saca, because that's where the weakening of the Salvadoran economy appears to have begun, in 2006. If several of the country's economic indicators began to worsen halfway through Saca's term in office, it probably makes better sense to look there than midway through 2009 when Funes took office.

The worsening of the poverty situation in 2006 and 2007 coincided with the global food crisis. The World Food Programme believes that between September 2007 and June 2008, 100,000 Salvadorans fell below the poverty line. In 2008, the Inter-American Development Bank predicted that the poverty rate in El Salvador was likely to increase from 35% to 42% in the coming years. Unfortunately, the worsening economic situation that El Salvador is currently experiencing, was predicted well before Funes was elected president. It's hard to then blame him for the dire situation two years into his term in office.

Like Tim said, "My point is simply that O'Grady helps no one in understanding the issues facing El Salvador when she continues to distort her information. O'Grady is a right-wing ideologue with an agenda, plain and simple."

Heck, I was just impressed that she put together an entire story without once mentioning Hugo Chavez.. She did blame a Brazilian "advertising hotshot" but at least it isn't Hugo's fault this time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Guatemala News Links

Just trying to play a little catch up with news in Guatemala.

Sandra Colom's candidacy took another step forward when the Constitutional Court overturned a lower court's ruling that temporarily suspended her divorce from President Alvaro Colom. (Guardian, Nuevo Herald, and IPS). The IPS article provides additional information on women in Guatemala politics in general. 

Kara Andrade writes about the rough week for law and order (Giammattei, Portillo, and Colom) in Guatemala at Americas Quarterly.

Rebecca Tran looks at Guatemala’s Crippled Peace Process: A Look Back on the 1996 Peace Accords at the Council on Hemispheric Relations. For earlier looks back at the peace agreement, you should check out William Stanley and David Holiday' “Broad Participation, Diffuse Responsibility: Peace Implementation in Guatemala” in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements. The collection's edited by Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth M. Cousens and was published in 2002. (CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.  Pp. 421-462.)

Journalists are under attack in several Latin American countries, including Guatemala. Yensi Roberto Ordoñez Galdámez, a television journalist and teacher, was knifed to death Wednesday night or early Thursday morning in southern Escuintla province. Ordoñez had told his family that he was being extorted and had been receiving death threats.

According the the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Guatemalan government has agreed to compensate and apologize to the family of President Juan Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz was removed in a CIA-organized coup in 1954 bringing an end to a democratic, social, and economic experiment in Guatemala. The government will offer the family monetary compensation and an apology. They will also provide public recognition of official responsibility in the coup that removed him from office. While the CIA gets most of the blame, Guatemalan church officials, military officers, and landholding elite were also supportive of the coup. (Taiwan News, Nuevo Herald)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chavez Skips El Salvador

Following President Obama's state visit to El Salvador in March, there was a little controversy about whether President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela would go to El Salvador in April or March to celebrate the opening of a new oil refinery. Would the President Funes invite Chavez or would it just be an FMLN-only invitation?

At the time, I said that I didn't think that it was a good idea for El Salvador to be extending an invitation to Chavez within hours of Obama's visit. 
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.
Well, yesterday Chavez did not make the trip to El Salvador. According to the mayor of Apopa and one of the managers of Alba-Petróleos company in El SalvadyLuz Estrella Rodríguez, doctors did not Chavez permission to travel abroad just yet due to health concerns.

Chávez was scheduled to attend the inauguration of Alba-Petróleos's $120 million storage plant in Acajutla, Sonsonate. The plant has a capacity of 350,000 barrels of oil. Alba-Petroleos El Salvador is a joint venture owned by municipalities controlled by the FMLN and Venezuelan state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa). 

This is the second time that Chavez did not make an expected trip to El Salvador. He also did not attend Funes' inauguration in 2009. Chavez was not the only one absent at the inauguration. El Salvador's own president, Mauricio Funes, did not attend either.

Funes has tried to maintain a cordial distance from Chavez, the Venezuela government, and the international Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), which consists of Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia. However, FMLN General Secretary Medardo Gonzalez took the opportunity to call the inauguration of the refinery as the the "realization of ALBA" in El Salvador. 

Gonzalez also took the opportunity to criticize ARENA and the country's oligarchy. Their relationship with petroleum-based multinational corporations never had the social development of the country in mind. Instead, he seems to hope for a relationship with Alba-Petróleos and Venezuela more along the lines of the relationship that Nicaragua. For example. Nicaragua currently sells livestock, meat, coffee, and other products in return for fuel. 

While FMLN leaders clearly want to strengthen the country's political and economic ties with Venezuela, it's pretty clear so far that that will not happen while Funes is president. However, his term ends in 2014 and, as of right now, the FMLN has a good shot at retaining the presidency because of the discord within the right. The 2014 elections are a long ways away, but we should have a better picture following the 2012 legislative and municipal elections.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Developments in the Peten Massacre

Then if his wife and father went to pay the Q400k ransom, they must have been killed because they did not have enough money to cover the entire payment, right? However, the police also believe that Salguero was being extorted for both money and drugs. Maybe he only paid the money and not the drugs? That would have infuriated the Zetas and led to their attack upon the ranch. The ransom only amounts to $52,000. Given the amount of money involved in the drug trade, I guess I don't see such an escalation of violence coming out of such a small amount. It's likely that the murders involved more than a $52,000 ransom gone bad and involved drugs or Salguero's land.
That's what I wrote yesterday. Well, it turns out that I am mostly correct. There's more to the story than meets the eye. There are now two explanations for the killings.

First, according to a report in today's El Periodico, Salguero Morales had problems with a drug trafficking organization from Izabal. According to an unnamed rancher in the Peten, Salguero Morales refused to sell his land to the traffickers. The Zetas went looking for him and when they could not find him they massacred 27 workers on his ranch.

Second, according to a report in the Guatemalan daily, Prensa Libre, Otto Rene Salguero Morales, the owner of Los Cocos where the remains of twenty-seven victims were found over the weekend, stole more than 2,000 kilos of cocaine from this group of Zetas in April. In early May, the Zetas went looking for him. They wanted him to hand over the drugs, the money, and his land.

When they couldn't find Salguero Morales, they kidnapped his nephew. He then sent the nephew's wife and father to pay the ransom. It's possible then that the three relatives were killed because Salguero Morales agreed to pay the ransom (from all accounts that's what was happening when the two were killed), but he refused to return the drugs and hands over his land. We don't know if that's the case, but it sounds like a much more plausible motive for the massacre at the ranch than a failed $52,000 extortion.

Salguero Morales does not look like an ordinary farmer who happened to be extorted by the Zetas. According to authorities, his land in the Peten was not suitable for what he allegedly grew (zacate) and while he has been describe as a cattle rancher with several hundred cattle (doesn't sound like much to me, but I'm a city guy), there were no cows on his ranch. The stalls were empty and they did not appear to have been used in some time.

Investigators claim that Salguero Morales is involved in a Izabal-based drug trafficking organization and the cocaine that he intercepted was on its way to Mexico and then, presumably, north to the United States. He owns four properties - one a short distance from the Honduran border and a second (Los Cocos) a short distance from the Mexican border.

Yesterday, I also said that we shouldn't try to point to this one massacre as evidence of Guatemala becoming a narco-state or a failed state. I also don't know which of these two stories are true if either of them are. We all remember too well what happened after Rodrigo Rosenberg was murdered. A video tape emerged posthumously  in which Rosenberg accused President Alvaro Colom and other government officials of causing his death. It turned out that Rosenberg had concocted an elaborate suicide. There's also the story of Bishop Juan Gerardi. Following his murder in 1998, all sorts of rumors were flying around. At one point, a German Shepherd was arrested.

There are likely to be several more twists and turns especially as investigators look more closely at twenty former army officials allegedly involved in the Zetas and connections between Salguero Morales and current and former elected officials.

The Peten Massacre in Context

Today we are fortunate enough to have a guest post from Hal Brands.  Hal is an assistant professor of public policy at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. As an historian, he writes on U.S. foreign policy, Latin American security issues, and international crime and gang violence.He is also the author of Latin America's Cold Warreleased by Harvard University Press in 2010  
He recently published "Crime, Irregular Warfare, and Institutional Failure in Latin America: Guatemala as a Case Study" in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (March 2011) and therefore has some keen insights into the significance of the recent massacre at Los Cocos in Peten, Guatemala.

The Peten Massacre in Context
The massacre in Peten last Sunday stands out for its brutality—at least 27 civilians murdered in a most horrific way—but not, unfortunately, for its originality.  The basic outlines of the recent massacre must be depressingly familiar to those who count themselves Guatemala-watchers, because the attack underscores several of the underlying issues that have subjected the country to such rampant violence over the past several years.
The first of these is the fact that Guatemala’s turmoil is inextricably linked to that of its neighbors.  This is obviously true in a broad sense, in that Guatemala is only part of a regional (and increasingly global) system of drug flows; it just happens to have the misfortune of sitting halfway between Colombia and the United States. 
It’s also true in a narrower sense.  Current indications are that the attack in Los Cocos was carried out by Los Zetas, the Mexican enforcer-gang-turned-cartel.  The Zetas have been moving into Guatemala over the past five years in an effort to increase their earnings at a time when they are under heavy pressure from the Calderon government in Mexico.  As they have made that move, they have brought with them their trademark propensity for savage violence against their competitors, of whom Otto Salguero is rumored to be one.  In effect, Guatemala is getting caught up in something that more and more approximates a broader regional drug war.
The second issue that the massacre underscores is the problem—intangible but incredibly corrosive—of citizen insecurity.  It doesn’t appear that the victims of the massacre had much to do with the drug trade, although it is always possible that some did.  Rather, they were killed because Los Zetas wanted to send a message.
Killing innocent civilians to make a point is an increasingly common tactic in Guatemala these days, and it has created a widespread perception that no one is safe from the violence, that the state can neither capture the guilty nor protect the innocent.  This perception, in turn, has pernicious consequences of its own: it decreases faith in democracy, makes solutions like vigilante or paramilitary violence more attractive, and thereby undermines Guatemala’s already –weak institutions.
This brings me to a third issue, which is that the massacre underscores the essential reason why the violence continues to rage: the impotence of the Guatemalan state.  Colom has responded to the massacre by declaring a state of siege in Peten. But given the size of the region, and the weakness of the Guatemalan police and military, it’s not clear that this measure will have much of an effect.   This goes to the heart of Guatemala’s problems: the fact that state institutions are simply too weak, too underfunded, and too corrupt to do the things—protecting the people, providing education and basic services, and so on—that we expect democratic governments to do.
All of this is to say that there isn’t an easy solution, or even a moderately difficult solution, for the violence that has once again been dramatized by the massacre in Peten.  Dealing with this problem requires concerted action along a variety of fronts, from social policy, to strengthening the forces or order, to anti-corruption measures.  (I’m reminded of this last issue by the apparent presence of a current or former Kaibil at Los Cocos.)
As I wrote in a recent article, there has been limited progress on some of these issues since Colom took power, but the overall results have not been encouraging.  If the most recent atrocity serves as a catalyst for the political class to deal more earnestly and urgently with Guatemala’s entrenched problems, it could lead to more imaginative and effective efforts to cope. If not, we may well see more such massacres in the future.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Witch Arrested in Peten

On Tuesday, President Colom announced that Guatemalan authorities captured Hugo Alvaro Gomez Vasquez, a former kailbil and accused leader of the Zetas known as the "witch". He is suspected of having taken part in the weekend massacre in Peten as well as the murder of three relatives of the ranch owner, Otto Salguero. Colom also admitted that other former officers might have been involved in the murders but they don't know that yet.

Authorities are still working under the assumption that Salguero did not pay the extortion demanded of him by the Zetas for the release of his relatives. The group of Zetas then went to the ranch looking for Salguero. The killing then began when they could not find him. Other stories still report that the killing could have come about because of fighting between rival drug traffickers. It's possible, but given that authorities know where Salguero is and the fact that they have not released any information connecting Salguero to drug trafficking, that avenue is becoming less likely.

The details about the initial kidnapping and ransom also remain unclear from what I have read. Luis Carlos Bardales Chacon was kidnapped May 10th. His wife and father went to pay the ransom but they were found dead on May 13th. Bardales's remains have not been found in most of the articles, but in some of the others Gomez is being charged with three murders. I am going with Bardales' being dead because a recent Prensa Libre article stated cellphones, weapons and money found with the remains of the three bodies led them to Gomez. 

Then if his wife and father went to pay the Q400k ransom, they must have been killed because they did not have enough money to cover the entire payment, right? However, the police also believe that Salguero was being extorted for both money and drugs. Maybe he only paid the money and not the drugs? That would have infuriated the Zetas and led to their attack upon the ranch. The ransom only amounts to $52,000. Given the amount of money involved in the drug trade, I guess I don't see such an escalation of violence coming out of such a small amount. It's likely that the murders involved more than a $52,000 ransom gone bad and involved drugs or Salguero's land.

Interior Minister Carlos Menocal also announced that the Guatemalan authorities' investigation into the killings is bringing them to the departments of Zacapa, Izabal, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Quiché and Petén. They are also working with partners in Mexico, Honduras, and Belize to ensure that the remaining suspects do not successfully flee the country. One of the vehicles found at the camp where the suspects resided had Belizean plates. In addition to the car with plates from Belize, the Guatemalan security forces found hammocks, cooking equipment, generators, military uniforms, food, and high-powered rifles.

The Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) is also calling on the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to assist in the investigation in order to determine whether clandestine security groups participated in the massacre.

I know that it is tough, but don't jump to any conclusion just yet about the future of Guatemala. The violence is obviously bad and one should be concerned. However, this is the first large-scale massacre in a few years. There is no indication that it is turning into another northern Mexico. There is also no evidence that this one event means that Guatemala is headings towards becoming a failed state or a narco-state or that we need to put together a multi-national force like what was done in Haiti.

(AP, AFP, AP, BBC, Miami Herald)

Tourism Worries in Guatemala

Ball courts at Tikal
Guatemala is one of the best tourist destinations in the Americas. There are beautiful beaches, ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal, and picturesque towns such as Antigua and Panajachel. That's in addition to the stunning beauty of the country's highlands. US and European backpackers, Spanish-language learners, missionaries, and tourists from other Central American countries are everywhere.

Tourism is the country's second largest source of international currency. It's no surprise then that Guatemalans are worried about how this weekend's massacre will impact the tourist industry and the general economic conditions in a country where approximately 3/4 of the population lives in poverty and over one-half live in extreme poverty.

Last year, several natural disasters (volcanoes and tropical storms) were thought to affect tourism in the country. Tourists were also scared away because of the high rate of murder and overall level of crime. However, even with the crime and natural disasters, tourist visitors Guatemala in 2010 showed a 5.57% increase over the previous year.

On Tuesday, Mariano Beltranena, the president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce voiced his concerns about how the massacre at Los Cocos ranch in the Peten will impact tourism to the country. And on Tuesday afternoon, the National Tourist Assistance Program issued a warning to foreign diplomats, Guatemalan nationals and foreign tourists to avoid travelling to the Peten while the state of siege remains in effect for the next month.

However, Deputy Director Guillermo Novielli of the Guatemala Tourist Institute said that the violence is nowhere near the Tikal and Flores and that tourists should continue with their plans until things change. Hotels, restaurants, and tourist agencies in Flores are the businesses most likely to suffer from the Peten massacre. Peten is the jumping off city for Tikal. Everyone hopes that this weekend's event is a one-shot occurrence. However, they are also aware that Acapulco suffered a 25% drop in visitors once open warfare broke out between rival cartels in that Mexican city.

And it's not just the violence that leads Guatemalans to fear about the future of the tourism industry. Danilo Valladares has an article about the threat posed by iron and gas operations to the country's beaches at IPS. Environmentalists, academics, and local communities are all worried about the damage to the country's ecosystem and are calling on the government to take a stronger stance against unsafe drilling and exploration in the country.