Thursday, June 30, 2011

What good's a divorce if you can't become president?

Increased security around the TSE
On Wednesday, Guatemalan electoral authorities rejected Sandra Torres's presidential candidacy on the grounds of "supposed legal fraud." The TSE's resolution said that her divorce from President Alvaro Colom did not invalidate Article 186 barring relatives of previous presidents from becoming president. 

The resolution also claimed that her candidacy was denied based on the grounds of legal fraud (Article 4 of the Judiciary Act) because the divorce was sought solely to get around the constitutional prohibition of Article 186 (Prensa Libre). The TSE must resolve Torres and UNE's appeal within the next seventy-two hours and then the case will most likely move to the Constitutional Court for a final decision. 

BBCAs I said in April, there didn't really seem to be any good reason why the country's courts would not grant the Colom's their divorce. However, having the electoral authorities accept the divorce and allow her to run for the presidency was going to be another matter.

Then there's the question of what to do if Torres' candidacy is rejected again by the TSE and then finally by the Constitutional Court. Congressman Christian Boussinot (UNE) 
acknowledged that Colom's ruling National Unity of Hope party lacked a viable candidate to stand in the September 11 elections.
"We do not have a Plan B," he said, noting the party's executive committee planned to appeal the ruling. (AFP)
A few months ago I argued that Sandra Torres and Alvaro Colom's decision to divorce so that she can run for president is another example of the weakness of Guatemala's political parties. UNE's been around for a decade and is one of the larger party's in the congress yet it couldn't come up with a candidate that did not confront constitutional barriers to office. 

That's still the case and is made worse by the fact that even though there was a very good likelihood that Torres wouldn't be allowed to run for office, they hadn't thought through a Plan B. On the other hand, it's possible that Boussinot's statement was just for public consumption.

I also guessed that Torres' support would drop below 10% following her announcement that she was going to divorce her husband in order to marry her country. She's sitting at 15% right now so I am in a little trouble there.Perhaps the TSE's ruling is good news for Torres and UNE. She won't have to run and lose in embarrassing fashion to General Otto Perez Molina and UNE has the ability to select a candidate who, while he or she won't win this year, will have some name recognition for 2015.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Poll Confirms General's Lead

Yesterday I mentioned that General Otto Perez Molina had increased his lead over Sandra Torres in the most recent Vox Latina poll carried out for Siglo XXI. However, you don't want to jump to any conclusions based upon the results of one poll especially in the current context of Guatemala.

Well today Prensa Libre released poll numbers collected for them by Prodatos and the results are pretty similar to those of Siglo XII. General Perez Molina (Patriotic Party) now leads Sandra Torres (UNE-GANA) by 27 percentage points. 

Respondents were given a mock ballot in which the candidates were listed alphabetically and asked "If the election for president were held today, for whom would you vote?" Forty-three percent said that they would vote for Perez Molina while only 15% chose Torres. Siglo XXI's poll had it 41% to 15%. 

Eduardo Suger (CREO) came in third with nearly 8% and was followed by Manuel Baldizón (LIDER), Harold Caballeros (Viva-EG), Mario Estrada (UCN), Patricia Arzu (PU), Rigoberta Menchu (the Frente Amplio), Juan Gutierrez (PAN), and Adela de Torrebiarte (ADN).   

Meanwhile, campaign violence continues. Journalists continue to receive death threats. Candidates continue to die (this time from Viva-EG).

And Sandra Torres continues to pressure the TSE to decide – is she a candidate or is she not? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

General Extends Lead in Guatemala

According to the most recent poll carried out by Vox Latina for Siglo XXI in Guatemala, General Otto Perez Molina increased his already sizable lead over Sandra Torres in September's presidential contest. Forty-one per cent support Perez Molina (up from 37% in May) while only 15% support Torres (down from 21% in May).

Recently, there's been a lot of criticism about proposed solutions to the country's problems coming from Guatemalan political parties . I can' imagine that the recent presidential debate is going to change those criticisms.

During the debate, both Perez Molina and Torres agreed that they would be open to allowing US troops to operate in the country in order to reduce drug trafficking and organized crime. Torres went so far as to say locating US military bases in Guatemala. She also said that now would be a good opportunity because the US is in the process of removing its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Perez Molina, while open to additional US troops, reiterated that Guatemala shouldn't expect other countries to fight its battles. Going against growing sentiments in Latin America and the US, neither Perez Molina nor Torres were in favor of legalizing drugs.

I can't say that establishing US bases in Guatemala and other parts of Central America in order to fight organized crime and drug trafficking is at the top of my list of solutions.

The DREAM is still alive

According to Fox News,

Sen. Dick Durbin plans to make a full-court press Tuesday to revive the debate over a controversial proposal to give illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children a path to legal status, as the Obama administration moves on a separate track to grant what some describe as "amnesty" to the same group. 
Durbin, D-Ill., in announcing the first-ever Senate hearing on the so-called DREAM Act, said his proposal would "make our country stronger." Under the plan, which passed the House last year but died in the Senate, illegal immigrants who came here as children and complete two years of college or military service could earn legal status. 
It's a good start from the Georgetown alum, but it's unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House. While that doesn't mean that it's not worth doing, it just means that we shouldn't get our hopes up.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Voices from El Salvador

I highly recommend following the English-language Voices from El Salvador if you are interested in up-to-date news from the country. 

Here are some of their recent posts. Cabañas Anti-Mining Fight Featured on NPRInternational Organizations Condemn Activist’s Murder and Call for Investigation and Body of Young Anti-Mining Activist Exhumed from Common Grave detail the ongoing violence against civil society in Cabañas and El Salvador more generally. 

While you're at it, you should also take a look at this weekend's New York Times article on First a Gold Rush, Then the Lawyers.

Voices also has two posts on the issue of food security - Part 1 and Part 2.

And here is their write-up on Funes' declining poll numbers.

The End to a Comprehensive Approach to Immigration Reform

I'd say this is a step in the right direction by the Obama administration. However, I imagine it's going to create some bureaucratic nightmares different from but maybe not worse than those that already exist.
In a June 17 memo, Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton outlined 19 separate factors that could warrant the use of "prosecutorial discretion" and prevent certain immigrants from being deported, on a case by case basis.
According to the memo, there is a range of factors that federal agents, attorneys, and other officials should consider in deciding whether or not to pursue an individual undocumented immigrant for deportation. The list of "factors to consider" includes whether they are military veterans and their families, have family ties and "contributions to the community," act as caretakers of the infirm and disabled, are very young or very old, or are pregnant or nursing.
In addition, the Obama administration instructs federal officials to weigh the circumstances of immigrants' arrival to the US—especially if they came as young children—and whether they've graduated from high school, college, or are currently pursuing higher education. The memo explicitly states that no groups of immigrants are categorically excluded from deportation if they fit these criteria. But it emphasizes the need to "warrant particular care" when it comes to particular individuals, while advising officials to target serious felons, repeat offenders, known gang members and immigration fraudsters, and those "who pose a clear risk to national security."
Not that a comprehensive immigration reform push by the administration was likely to pass both the House and Senate anyway, but this signals to me that it is off the table for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps if Obama intends to go piecemeal on immigration reform, he might reconsider his administration's position on granting temporary protected status to Guatemalans living in the United States. At the very least, the administration should make a decision one way or the other.

Salvadorans Disappointed with Funes

President Mauricio Funes recently admitted that he is aware of citizen disappointment with his administration, but that he is confident that he is doing what he can with limited time and resources. He also said that the next administration will have the opportunity to carry out the reforms that he campaigned upon and began implementing during his term.

Well, Salvadorans have been pretty patient with the president. Neither the economic situation nor the security situation improved during his first two years in office, yet his approval rating had remained well over 60% the entire time (as high as 80%). The most recent poll, however, saw his numbers in free fall down to 41%. The honeymoon is over.

I don't know about you but it seems rather odd to talk about your successor fulfilling your campaign promises when you have another three years remaining in office.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Emerging Consensus on Taxes?

Following up on the US call for Central Americans to pay more in taxes so as to improve security in the region, Hannah Stone at InSight writes
But perhaps more significant that the offers of aid, or the promises to work together, were the signs that various countries in the region are moving towards increasing tax revenues in order to fund their own fight against crime, and strengthen institutions.
I hope this is the case, but I am not as optimistic as Stone. Presidents Funes, Colom, and Lobo want to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses. However, they will have to convince congress to raise revenue. None of them have an absolute majority needed to raise taxes and there's little evidence that the other political parties are ready to vote for increased taxation. It's not even clear that their own political coalitions will go along. 

In addition to skeptical congresses, there does not seem to be much support in any country's business sector to raise taxes (Guatemala, Honduras). And from what I can tell, no president has much power over the business community to convince them otherwise. Perhaps there's a consensus among the region's presidents to raise taxes to fund security (who would say otherwise), but I don't see much evidence that there is a broad based consensus emerging.

Finally, she ends with 
But a major stumbling block in the way of any plans to raise taxes in the region is the level of citizen distrust of governments. Any plans to spend more would have to be accompanied by efforts to make that spending more transparent and efficient, in order to convince the public that it is worthwhile.
I don't think that convincing the public is the main stumbling block. If she said elite recalcitrance rather than a general distrust of government among all citizens, then I might be more inclined to agree. And I'm just not convinced that Central American elites will come around on paying more taxes when the government becomes "transparent and efficient." Some of them perhaps, but there's little to indicate that Central American elites will ever be willing to increase government revenue through raising taxes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Taxes in Guatemala

So how is Guatemala's business community responding to the call by the United States to raise its share of resources to fight organized crime and drug trafficking through increased taxation? (The Economist, Christian Science MonitorIPS, Washington Post)

The same way they've always responded. Roberto Ardon, Executive Director of the Coordinating Committee of Agriculture, Industry and Finance (CACIF), says that there is no need to create more taxes on business and that
"there are many areas where we can improve (income), for example, smuggling, control and improvement of internal controls of public administration."
As is well-known, Guatemala has one of the lowest tax rates in the world and one of the poorest and most unequal societies in the Western Hemisphere Several presidents (with varying degrees of intensity) have tried to carry out some reform to expand the tax base and increase government revenues.  For the most part, each effort has failed.  

Any serious attempt at bringing the criminal violence under control and establishing a sustainable level of economic growth is going to take years of robust investments in health care, education, and job creation programs as well as private sector investment. It doesn't really matter how much the US and intergovernmental organizations are willing to provide this year or next.

As part of the 1996 peace accords, the government agreed to raise its tax revenues as a percentage of GDP (or tax ratio) up to 12% by 2000. Today, the tax ratio remains at approximately ten percent. President Alvaro Colom has pushed reforms that will marginally increase Guatemala's tax rate in hopes of increasing government revenue. In general, the opposition had been calling for Colom to carry out two reforms before they would consider any tax increase.  First, the government needs to implement greater spending cuts than those proposed by the Finance Ministry. Second, Congress and the private sector had called on Colom to go after those who evade taxes before adding any new ones. 

They also argued that when the economy was growing at a good rate any tax increase would stifle growth and undo years of productivity. In the last few years, however, they have taken the opposite approach in argued that the government cannot raise taxes in such a poor economic environment.  Jobs will be lost and the economy will deteriorate further. (They’re like US Republicans.) Now they won’t agree to pay more in taxes until the government puts an end to smuggling. Smuggling!!!

Regardless of any success the administration might have in reducing government spending and limiting tax evasion, the private sector will most likely not accept any meaningful tax reform. For the last decade, they have defeated almost every attempt at an increase even when the international community was more focused on the country. I don’t see how this situation is going to change during the last few months of Colom’s administration.

Will the next president push tax reform? If Sandra Torres wins, she probably will. However, Guatemalan elites were reluctant to add to the government’s revenue the last four years because they thought the money was going to go in to her social programs. General Molina? It’s possible, but I haven’t read anywhere that raising taxes is much of a priority to him.

If history is any guide, I wouldn’t be optimistic about the Guatemalan government raising additional revenue via taxation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sexual Violence in Guatemala

Margot Wallström, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, congratulated Guatemala on the arrest of General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes
“The apprehension of General Lopez Fuentes sends a strong signal to all perpetrators that conflict-related sexual violence is not acceptable, and that justice will ultimately prevail,” Ms. Wallström said.
“Sexual violence thrives on silence and impunity,” she added. “Women have no rights if those who violate their rights go unpunished.”
During the scorched-earth program carried out by the Guatemalan government in the early 1980s, entire villages were burned to the ground, women and girls were brutally raped, and unborn children were killed.
CNN also had a story today that focused mainly upon researchers who have spent much of their lives interviewing victims of rape. The first part of the article is based upon the work of Victoria Sanford and Daniel Rothenberg in GuatemalaSanford has been carrying out work in Guatemala for the last few decades and has spent numerous hours interviewing Guatemalan women who suffered wartime rape.  
The soldiers set fire to our villages. They shot our husbands and brothers, burned our houses. They stopped to wait for the sound of our babies crying. When they cried, the soldiers came toward the wailing.
They killed our babies. They raped us.
The stories are important for the world to hear and just as importantly for the victims to share. Unfortunately, violence against women did not start with the beginning the of conflict in Guatemala nor did it stop with war's conclusion. Women continue to be raped and killed at an alarming rate.

The government's most recent effort to reduce gender-based violence is to designate women-only buses.
According to the local Association of Urban Buses, an average of a dozen vehicles per day are attacked by armed assailants who rob passengers and regularly assault female riders. Congresswoman  Zury Ríos Sosa, who spearheaded the gender-segregated bus initiative, says the new system will protect women and enhance their safety on public transportation. Ríos has said she would also like to create a women-only taxi system similar to those already established in Mexico City and other Latin American cities.
A separate bus for women sounds like a good idea to me. It's not a solution to the problem, but perhaps it will make life a little safer for Guatemalan women until society comes up with one. 

Trying Harder in Central America

Here's Boz
While the situations are different, I think a lesson is that there is no amount of money that the US could put on the table and no amount of attention the US could give that would guarantee Central America's success in fighting organized crime. 
We should invest more in Central America's security and economic development. How that money is spent and how Central America invests in itself matter more than the raw number of US resources thrown at a problem.
It reminds me of the undergraduate papers I read every semester where the solution to any of the world's most intractable problems is simply to try harder. Every problem can be solved if we (or they) just tried harder. On the one hand, that's what makes the US great sometimes. We can solve any problem if we just put a little more effort into it.

On the other hand, it's really frustrating that many people think that we are not winning the war on drugs/organized crime/corruption/poverty/illegal immigration/terrorism, etc. simply because we're not trying hard enough.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Half Empty in Guatemala

In recent weeks and months, there seems to be a lot of good news coming out of Guatemala with respect to addressing crimes committed during the country's thirty-six year conflict.

We've had the arrests of former kaibiles in the United States and Canada. They may or may not be deported back to Guatemala to face justice.

On Friday, authorities arrested Retired Gen. Hector Mario Lopez. He was chief of staff of the Guatemalan military between 1982 and 1983 and one of the men responsible for carrying out a scorched earth campaign that killed tens of thousands. It took prosecutors nearly twenty minutes to read the names of the 317 victims for which he shall be tried. Legal proceedings are also moving forward in the case of the Panzos massacre. It's also possible that there will be more trials in Guatemala as the government recently opened 12,000 civil war era military files. 

These developments follow Guatemala's decision to compensate Jacobo Arbenz's family and to apologize to them and the nation for what was done in 1954. Sarah Chakrin also had a recent story on how the country plans to integrate lessons about Arbenz into the country's educational curriculum. 
Teaching about Arbenz and his pro-indigenous policies as relevant and heroic actions in schools represents a significant step toward redefining the meanings and values of a society still showing the scars of civil war and genocide. 
This public effort to right a wrong—to publicly honor a man once publicly disgraced—and to do so in schools, can potentially trigger an evolution of values that acknowledge and respect indigenous rights and help restore Arbenz’ legacy.  It can instill new values in a new generation and foster trust in state associations.  This kind of associational trust is a necessary condition for working toward social cohesion.
If you've read Daniel Wilkinson's Silence on the Mountain, you have a pretty good picture of how reluctant Guatemalans have been to talk about Arbenz. If you haven't, I highly recommend this book. I use it in my Central American Politics undergraduate seminar.

While Guatemala is making progress coming to grips with its past, the same cannot be said of its present. Here are this week's stories
In southern Mexico, a neglected frontier - 90% of South American cocaine goes through Guatemala and Mexico on its way to the US. See also A Dangerous Borderland.
Central American drug war, crime top agenda at regional summit - Guatemala is one of the region's most vulnerable countries and the one that the other Central American countries worry most about.
Mexican Gang Moves Into Guatemala - the Zetas are looking to set up a home in the Peten.
The Los Cocos massacre and the exoneration of Alfonso Portillo haven't helped. Most also expected a violent campaign season and recent events (See here, here, and here) are making that expectation a reality. The Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner in Guatemala has rightfully condemned the violence. 

There is concern about the corruption of public officials, especially mayors. Similarly, there are also concerns with campaign finance. Most of the parties had agreed to open their lists of campaign contributors but that hasn't been the case. Then there's the likelihood that the representatives Guatemalans elect won't be with the same party midway through the next legislative period. 

Then there are the two leading presidential candidates. One thinks so little of the institution of marriage that she left her husband to marry her country. Even her sister has tried to prevent her from running. It's still not clear that she can run. Then there's the former military general with a checkered past. I don't know details about a smoking gun, but I imagine that both CICIG and those who brought the recent case against Mario Lopez will continue to investigate the general.

I don't want to end with a glass half empty, glass half full conclusion. Unfortunately, that means that I am going to have to go with the glass being half empty.

Tom Hanks en Univision "Despierta America" (3/4): Hanks does the weather

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tackling Chronic Hunger in Quiché

The Maya Food Security Programme is an initiative designed to combat chronic malnutrition through the distribution of monthly food rations and the sponsorship of workshops, fairs and street theater on nutritional education. The program also "promotes best practices and services for livelihoods, natural resources and risk management, and for small business development."
Over ten thousand Guatemalan families in Quiché benefit from this program sponsored by Save the Children, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Frito Lay Foundation and various community organizations. 
Quiché was one of the department's most fiercely struck by the Guatemalan counterinsurgency project and is today one of the country's poorest departments. The six municipalities that they serve (Sacapulas, Cunén, Nebaj, Cotzal, Chajul and Uspantán) are especially among the country's most vulnerable.
In fact, between 86 and 95 percent of the area's population lives below the poverty line, while 29 to 41 percent are extremely poor, making them six of the 125 most poverty-stricken municipalities in Guatemala, according to the presidency's Secretariat of Planning and Programming.
It looks like a really successful program for the people of Quiché and one that hopefully can be replicated throughout other areas of Guatemala. However, I do wonder how much overlap there is between this mixed public-private initiative and those that are government run. US AID has photos of the various projects on its website.

Shopping with a dollar in Guatemala

How does one eat with seven quetzales?

Monday, June 20, 2011

El Salvador and Guatemala Links

Some interesting reads from the last few weeks. None of them are particularly optimistic about the situations in Guatemala or El Salvador.
The International Crisis Group has Learning to Walk without a Crutch: The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. Here's the press release. I’m still not optimistic about CICIG. 
I thought that the commission should have pressed for a stronger commitment from the Colom administration and the presidential contenders before extending the commission’s mandate for another two years. It’s possible that they got private reassurances, but it’s more than likely that the commission had its mandate extended so that if some unsavory character somehow won the 2011 election, the commission would already be in place.
Two articles at Upside Down World take on the irresponsible approach to environmental challenges in Guatemala and El Salvador. Emma Volonté (Translation by Alex Cachinero-Gorman) has a critical piece entitled Guatemala: Oil Companies and the Subservience of the Government and Angel Maria Ibarra Turcios, an environmentalist and President of Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña, has The March Toward Unsustainability in El Salvador Gains Speed
Mary Bellman describes the danger involved in union activism in Workers paying the ultimate price in Guatemala. Union organizing has always been dangerous in Guatemala and there's no sign that things are getting better.

Edgardo Ayala describes the perilous situation of independent journalists in El Salvador in Radio Station under Threat in Mining Region. Several journalists have received deaths threats or have been killed because of their coverage of local politics and anti-mining activism.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Murder in San José Pinula

Citizen Action is calling on Guatemalan electoral authorities to suspend the campaign in San José Pinula because of the recent attacks against three of the town's mayoral candidates. Augusto Enrique Ovalle Barrera (Uninionist Party) was shot and killed on Saturday, June 11. Enrique Dardon (CREO) was shot and killed on Thursday, June 16. And on Saturday, Luis Marroquin (LIDER) was shot and injured. A fouth candidate, Mario Solares (Patriotic Party), has received death threats and has had his property vandalized multiple times. Therefore, while he is going to remain on the ballot, he is suspending his campaign.
According to Citizen Action, the Electoral Act permits the suspension of a campaign in the event of sabotage or destruction. The recent violence in San José Pinula has sabotaged the fairness of the campaign and disrupted the climate of peace. Therefore, the campaign should be suspended until the state captures and prosecutes those responsible for the recent shootings. 
According to the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, 26 candidates and campaign workers have been murdered and another 15 injured since campaigning officially began on May 4. Twenty-seven have also reported having received death threats.

Sixty-eight candidates and campaign workers were murdered during the 2007 campaign. Everyone expected this year's campaign to be just as dangerous if not more so. It's too early to tell if 2011 will in fact be more violent, but it is clearly shaping up to be another violent campaign season.

Peten's State of Emergency

Friday, June 17, 2011

Genocide Trial in Guatemala

Important news out of Guatemala today.
Guatemalan police on Friday arrested a former military chief of staff in the mass killing of government opponents during the country's 36-year civil war, the highest-ranking official yet detained for massacres in the 1980s.
Retired Gen. Hector Mario Lopez, 81, was allegedly involved in about 200 massacres committed while he was chief of staff of the Guatemalan military between 1982 and 1983, said prosecutor Mynor Melgar. He faces charges of genocide and forced disappearance, a category of crime in which the victim has never been found.
Rios Montt apparently also told a local radio station that he would be willing to face justice for what he is accused of having done in the 1980s - genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc. However, as a congressman for the FRG, he is currently immune from prosecution. He could always voluntarily give up his immunity.

And an invitation from Plaza Publica should you be in Guatemala.

Two quick questions:

  • Will the arrest of such a high ranking official have any impact on current presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina? 
  • Will Salvadoran authorities feel any pressure to lift the 1993 amnesty and begin prosecutions?

Peten State of Siege Extended

President Alvaro Colom extended Peten's state of siege earlier this week. The state of siege was initially put in place following the massacre of twenty-seven people at the Los Cocos Ranch. According to Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemalan authorities have already arrested dozens of people connected to the massacre. Interior Minister Carlos Menocal, however, said that authorities need more time to improve the security situation in the department.

Call me skeptical. December's state of siege in Alta Verapaz also led to the arrests of several Zetas as well as increased repression against civil society organizations. However, once the state of siege ended, the Zetas moved right back in. They're a little less conspicuous now, but they're back. It's not clear that it had any impact whatsoever.

Alta Verapaz is also smaller than the Peten, located closer to the capital, doesn't really border Mexico, and is much more populated. The Peten shares a very long border with Mexico, is sparsely populated, and is not nearly accessible to the capital. If a siege couldn't work in Alta Verapaz, there's no way one will work in the Peten, a department that comprises one-third of the nation's entire territory.

The state of siege is unlikely to work (long-term reduction in drug trafficking and organized crime) in the Peten and might not even have been necessary. While the massacre of farm workers was terrible, violence in the Peten has been on the decline in recent years. According to Carlos Mendoza,
Homicide rates per 100 000 inhabitants in Petén reveal that violence was on the decline, compared to 2008 when it recorded a rate of 77, which fell to 71 in 2009 and reached 60 in 2010.That explains why, with a total of 366 homicides last year, ranking improved Petén department of homicidal violence, to occupy the 7th position out of 22.This means that in 2010 there were six departments even more violent than Petén.
The violence is extreme in Peten and Guatemala, but homicide rates have been surprisingly flat for the last several years.
That's why I said that one should not have concluded that Guatemala was on the verge of becoming a failed state even following the Los Cocos massacre. It was a horrible event, but one event does not make the country a failed state.

And while the state of siege probably won't work and might not have been needed, maybe it will make Guatemalan's feel better and make it look to the international community that Guatemalan authorities are taking the threat of organized crime and drug trafficking seriously.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Party Switching in Guatemala

One of the reasons why Guatemalans have such low confidence in their political parties and congress is that the people that they elect do not end up representing them for very long.

In Guatemala, voters mark their ballots for one of the twenty or so political parties competing for national elections. The parties have already presented their list of candidates so voters don't actually get to choose individual candidates.

In El Salvador, it's pretty unusual for deputies to switch parties after they've been elected to office.* In Guatemala, it's expected.

Last week the Patriotic Party converted into the largest political bloc in the Guatemalan Congress. While the PP had 29 members elected in 2007, it now has 37. UNE had the most members initially elected (51) but is now down to 34. Even though 51 members made UNE the largest legislative bloc, its members still only accounted for 32% of the congress' 158 members.    

According to the president of the congress, Roberto Alejos, this is pretty normal stuff. It happens every election year as legislators look to integrate into the party that will guarantee their reelection.

While it happens every election cycle, it does nothing to improve citizen confidence in their elected representatives. It does nothing to improve parties and legislators' ability to represent their constituents. It does nothing to help congress pass important legislation.  

It might be pretty typical, but it doesn't do much for Guatemalan's faith in democracy.

*You've had members leave their parties (the ERP-RN deputies who left the FMLN in 1995 and the ARENA deputies that left to form GANA), but they created their own parties rather than join existing ones.

All in the Family

I don't know. Maybe it's a great idea and they'll do a terrific job. However, it just doesn't sound right.
Nicaragua's newest television network is run by children of President Daniel Ortega.
Channel 13 "Viva Nicaragua" is being promoted in the Central American country as having a "youthful profile" with "news focused on social themes."
The station is owned by an Ortega family company and will be run Luciana, Camila and Maurice Ortega Murillo. They join an extensive family tradition of managing media in the nation of 5.9 million people.
Their mother, one-time Sandinista revolutionary and First Lady Rosario Murillo, is a government spokeswoman and Secretary of Communication and Citizenship.
Other Ortega children, including son Juan Carlos, manage Channel 8 television.
I don't know their politics but all these "kids" running media companies sounds a bit too much like the Chomorro family to me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Decree 743 in El Salvador

Voices from El Salvador has a great overview of the developments regarding the debate over Decree 743 that is really worth checking out so as to get even more confused caught up on what's going on.

As I said the other day, we don't really know why the different political parties in the Legislative Assembly voted the way they did (the first and/or second times). Did ARENA vote because of concerns about the Amnesty Law? CAFTA? Dollarization? All three? Were they "protecting" democracy in order to prevent the court from making the country so unstable that the military would carry out a coup?

Did the PDC and PCN vote for the decree just to get back at the court for invalidating them? Is the FMLN really against the decree or are they happy that it passed without its support so that it can now be the good guy in all this?

We also don't know what President Funes was thinking when he signed the legislation. Was he concerned about the court's involvement in executive branch operations, the amnesty law, and/or something else?
We know what each has said publicly but, that is different from knowing what they were actually thinking.

Boz wonders what the FMLN is thinking and whether they might be in a position to benefit electorally from the situation.
Is the FMLN falling in line behind Funes, who approved the law (and some say authored it)? Or are they just enjoying the political punishment being faced by ARENA for passing the law and want to prolong the issue? Is there about to be a split in both the right and left coalitions? Which side does civil society blame if the law remains in place?
I don't have the answer to those questions. I don't think that the FMLN is falling behind Funes. I'm not convinced that even if they take the same position on the decree that it is for the same reason. The FMLN is a party set on moving beyond a person many thought was a center-left presidential candidate. They want one of their own in 2014.

That brings up an interesting question about who voters will punish in 2014 if the economy continues to putter along and the security situation doesn't improve. One would presume that that wouldn't be good for the incumbent party. However, if Salvadorans do not evaluate Funes' policies (CAFTA, dollarization, strong relations with the US and an arms distance from Venezuela, mano dura security policies, etc.) positively by then, would voters want to return a party that supports those same policies to office - ARENA?

Or do they vote FMLN to punish Funes? While they might not make any or all these changes, the FMLN is against CAFTA, dollarization, and mano dura (to a certain extent). The FMLN is probably more open to repealing the 1993 Amnesty Law, but not by much. The FMLN would draw closer to Venezuela and Cuba and almost certainly join ALBA. 

I don't want to say a vote for ARENA is the same as a vote for Funes. However, if Salvadorans really want to make a drastic change from the current FMLN-led government, they might actually have to vote FMLN in 2014.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Catching up on El Salvador

President Funes has been busy lately as his administration just completed its first two years in office. Obviously, the big story revolves around the legislation passed by the PCN, PDC, ARENA, GANA, and President Funes. Voices on the Border, Tim, and Boz have some good posts on the developments. I'm not going to repeat them here since I am a little late getting around to the story. Here are links though:
Constitutional Conflict in El Salvador (Tim June 6)
Broad Opposition to Decree 743 (Tim June 8)
 Salvadorans Protest the Government’s Actions Against Constitutional Court (Voices June 6)
Institutional Coup in El Salvador (Voices June 4)
El Salvador Law Weakens Supreme Court I and II (Boz)
I think most are rightfully critical of Funes, the PCN, PDC, ARENA, and GANA for pushing this legislation that would handicap the court. The unanimity rule would last until several of the judges' terms expire in 2012. However, does anyone want to make the argument that the constitutional court has been too activist in its overturning of legislation passed by the assembly and the president? Here's Voices on the Borders' overview of everyone the court has ticked off in the last two years.
Since becoming magistrates in 2009, Belarmino Jaime, Florentín Meléndez, Rodolfo González y Sidney Blanco have chosen strategic cases to strengthen national institutions and target corruption within government agencies. Over the past two years, the four magistrates have passed down some very important decisions, while the fifth magistrate, Nelson Castaneda, has mostly abstained from votes. In one example, the Court condemned a law that reallocated funds left over from the general budget to the President’s discretionary account.  They also declared as unconstitutional the practice of limiting voters to elect only a political party and then allowing the party leadership to select the people who would fill legislative or other representative seats. In a related issue, the Constitutional Court struck down a ban on independent candidates, weakening the power that political parties have over the electoral process. Members of the Constitutional Court also declared unconstitutional the absolute control that the Attorney General’s Office has over what cases are investigated and prosecuted. The decision that caused the greatest controversy in recent weeks was their declaration against the 2005 reforms that allowed the PCN and PDC parties to continue participating in elections despite their in ability to secure the number of votes necessary to be put on the ballot or have representation on the Supreme Electoral Court.
They've interjected themselves into the executive branch's operations, party leaders' control over candidates, the Attorney General's Office, and the past and future existence of the PCN and PDC.

There was also concern that the court rule the country's free trade agreement with the United States unconstitutional. There's also the issue of whether to arrest and extradite military officers sought in Spain for the murder of six Jesuits at the UCA. Finally, there's the possibility that the court might invalidate the 1993 amnesty. In trying to assert its equal power, the Court has thrown out several key pieces of legislation passed by those members of congress elected to represent them.

Is it all about the amnesty law? Obviously, ARENA doesn't want to see the amnesty repealed as members of their party, including Cristiani, benefit with it in place. We also know that Funes has publicly stated that he isn't interested in pushing to have the law repealed.

Does the FMLN want the amnesty repealed? I'd venture to guess that many rank and file FMLN want the law repealed as do victims and those in the international solidarity movement. However, I doubt that the FMLN leadership wants it repealed. I imagine that Vice President Sanchez Ceren and members of the executive and legislative branches wouldn't mind seeing the law repealed as long as they are not investigated and tried for crimes committed during the civil war. Remember most of the FMLN leadership fought in the 1980s and while they did not commit atrocities along the lines of what the military and death squads did, that doesn't mean that they did not do things that are prosecutable. Are they willing to risk the present and future to repeal the law?

In recent years, both the left and right have been concerned about repealing the amnesty. You can take a look at these Wikileaks cable on GOES Concerned Romero Case at IACHR Would Undermine Amnesty: Considers withdrawal from Human Rights and Salvadorans discuss Cristiani Case in MadridI'm not certain that they are.

OAS to Send Election Delegation to Guatemala

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, Haroldo Rodas Melgar, today signed an agreement whereby the hemispheric organization will send an observation mission to monitor the general elections set for September 11, 2011, in that Central American country.
It seems a little late for this decision to be made as we are only three months out from the election.

The International Center for Journalists, the U.S. Embassy, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and Gracias Vida also recently held a workshop in Antigua to help prepare journalists for covering this year's election.

Does anyone know who's running volunteer electoral observer missions this year?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hugo calls Hugo a "bombastic autocrat"

In an August 2006 conversation with US Embassy officials, then FMLN congressman Hugo Martinez called Venezuela's Hugo Chavez a "a bombastic autocrat who uses a hypothetical invasion of Venezuela by the U.S. to manipulate public opinion and silence dissent." Martinez is now the Foreign Minister in Funes' government.
Here's the summary from the Wikileaks cable:
In a wide-ranging discussion with poloff, moderate FMLN Legislative Assembly Deputy Hugo Martinez commented on the deadly July 5 violence tied to the FMLN (reftel B), and speculated on his party's prospects for the 2009 presidential elections.  The conciliatory tone of Martinez's message, likely coordinated beforehand with the party's orthodox leadership, appeared to be an effort at mending relations with the Embassy, which have been strained recently by the July 5 events and in the face of FMLN opposition to CAFTA, the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), and the proposed Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) project for El Salvador.  Martinez's longterm future in the FMLN remains uncertain at best, but his Legislative Assembly seat appears secure until at least 2009. 
Martinez is one of the few remaining moderates within the FMLN given that the revolutionary socialists have been firmly in control since 2005. These more radical members are intent on the socialist transformation of the country and bringing the country closer to Venezuela, something which Martinez and Funes are trying to prevent. This makes the 2014 election all the more important for the FMLN and El Salvador.

Another Cold War Arrest in Guatemala

Guatemalan security forces on Thursday arrested a former national police chief wanted in the disappearance of a student union leader in 1984 during the country's civil war.
The arrest of Hector Bol de la Cruz, 70, at his home in Jutiapa, southwest of the capital, is the latest step in a government crackdown on officials accused of war crimes during the conflict that racked Guatemala between 1960 and 1996.
Bol de la Cruz, who was chief of police between 1983 and 1985, is accused of orchestrating the kidnapping and forced disappearance of Fernando Garcia, who was last seen when officers detained him as he left home in the capital on February 18, 1984.
Last October a court in Guatemala sentenced two of Bol de la Cruz's former agents to 40 years in prison for their role in the disappearance of Garcia, who many believe was murdered.
The center-left administration of President Alvaro Colom has been under pressure to bring war criminals to justice in Guatemala, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.
Pitting a string of right-wing governments against leftist insurgents, the civil war led to nearly a quarter of a million deaths, and many thousands of people are still missing. (Yahoo)
Come on Mauricio. If Guatemalan courts can prosecute war criminals, so can you. Even if you do not personally want to see the 1993 amnesty repealed, don't work against those who do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

General Molina Leads the Charge

El Periodico released May poll numbers a few days ago. Same old, same old. Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party retained a significant lead over his main competitor, Sandra Torres of the National Unity for Hope party. Thirty-nine per cent said that they intend to vote for the General while eighteen per cent intend to vote for Torres. Both candidates saw their support slip from April's survey (Perez Molina's four per cent and Torres three percent), but Perez Molina still holds a twenty per cent lead.

While Suger finished third in the Prensa Libre / Prodatos survey, Manuel Baldizon (4.3%) finished third in this one. He was followed by Suger (2.8%) and Harold Caballeros (2.6%). The remaining characters each came in with less than 2% support. The big mover was self-proclaimed undecideds. They came in at 23.4%, up from April's 18.8%.

The poll has a margin of error of 3.1%.

Celebrity Rehab - Mad Max is Back

"Amo a Guatemala... Mi idioma no es bueno."
(“I love Guatemala. My language is not good.”)

In March, Mel Gibson traveled to Guatemala to visit the El Mirador archaeological site in the Peten and to bring attention to environmental issues in the country. 

Well, Mr. Gibson is back in Guatemala right now with an organization called Mending Kids International. The organization "provides life-changing surgical care to children worldwide."

Yesterday, he brought diapers, toys, cookies and candy to the Spina Bifida Unit at the San Juan de Dios General Hospital. Today, he got a tour of the hospital and spent some time in Pediatrics and the Spina Bifida Unit.

Here are some stills from his visit.

Hopefully he'll bring not only needed attention to the work of the doctors and nurses at the hospital, but some money as well. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Guatemala's Minor Parties

Last month we took a look at some of the major parties in Guatemala. Out of the twenty-six parties legally registered to run in September, seven political parties captured over five per cent of the presidential or legislative vote in the 2007 election and I basically characterized as major political parties. It's not a perfect schema, but it's a start.
Minor parties, then, are those that participated in the last election but captured less than five per cent of the vote. We have four minor parties using that simple cutoff and two of the four are Guatemala's equivalent to El Salvador's ARENA and FMLN.
First, there is the National Advancement Party (PAN), the country's oldest party founded in 1989. Alvaro Arzu, formerly of the PAN and now of the Unionist Party, was president of the country during the signing of the historic peace accords.

The PAN had hoped to be El Salvador’s ARENA – a party to represents the country’s capitalist class. However, the PAN failed in that regard and its failure is one reason why so many political parties exist today as wealthy businessmen either found their own political party or throw their support behind one of the many existing parties. In the 2007 election, just about every vice presidential candidate was a wealthy businessman.
Juan Gutierrez is this year's PAN presidential candidate, but he has not been doing well in the polls. Gutierrez came in at 1.1% in May's Prensa Libre poll. There’s not much going on there. The PAN did have three members reelected to congress in 2007. However, it has been down to two congressmen since June 2010.
Then there’s the Democratic Union (UD) which was founded in 1993. It had one deputy, Edwin Armando Martínez Herrera, reelected in 2007.
After three-plus decades of war (about fifteen as a single entity), the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG) was officially inscribed as a political party in 1998 and competed for the first time in 1999. It had two members elected to congress in 2007, including one from the national list and one from Huehuetenango. 
In 2011, the URNG is competing as part of the Frente Amplio. They are supporting Nobel-laureate Rigoberta Menchu for president. Menchu is the leader of the Winaq party, one of the groups comprising the Frente. She performed poorly in 2007 (3%) and is likely to perform poorly again this year (polling at a steady 1.5%). Given the poor resources with which the Guatemalan left has to work with, Menchu is now connecting to Guatemalans by riding public buses.
While the Frente Amplio wasn’t going to make much of a splash in the presidential election anyway, I don’t find Menchu’s selection that inspiring. I don't know that she brings anyone new to the party. Menchu, however, said she was going to be a presidential candidate this year and if the Frente Amplio didn’t select her, Winaq probably would not have participated in the leftist alliance. At a minimum, her candidacy will get the Frente a good amount of national and international media coverage, the lack of which the left has complained about in the past.
Finally, the National Change Union (UCN) counts four members of congress after having five elected in 2007. The UCN is going with Mario Estrada for the presidency. However, he’s only polling at about 2% of the vote. After former president Alfonso Portillo’s acquittal, Estrada offered him a place within the UCN in the upcoming election. That surely would have helped Estrada and the UCN’s campaign had Portillo accepted.
Of the four, the URNG probably has the best chance to break out in 2011 - but by that I mean doubling its seat total to four or maybe even five.