Sunday, July 31, 2011

Guatemala Links

Insight Crime has English-language excerpts from Plaza Publica's interview with Guatemala’s next president Otto Perez Molina. Maybe Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party will stop spending campaign money now (they’re already over the limit) that they have no real challenger. On the other hand, now is the time to concentrate on congressional elections. As of right now, support its congressional candidates is lagging support for its presidential candidate.

AFP has the latest on Guatemala top court rejects Torres presidential run that I noted yesterday. So what does Sandra Torres do one day after being disqualified from the presidential race once again? First, she complains that the thirteen judges came to their conclusion too quickly. Then she and UNE said that they plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court which is the last, seriously last, judicial body that can save her.

Finally, Perla Trevizo has several interesting stories that document the complex relationship between the people of Tennessee and Guatemala after decades of migration between the two countries. Her reporting is part of the Times Free Press' Between Two Worlds project. Browse the website for stories, photos and videos.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sandra Torres can not register

Sondra Torres appears before CSJ

Less than twenty-four hours after Sandra Torres appeared before the Supreme Court of Justice(CSJ), the justices returned their verdict. Twelve out of thirteen judges voted against her appeal.

Again, she and her ex-husband have no one but themselves to blame. Unfortunately, the Guatemalan people might have to pay for their mistake. I don't know whether Otto Perez Molina will be a good president. However, it would have been nice had the Guatemalan people had an opportunity to vote for another candidate that actually had a chance at winning.

Suger becomes Perez Molina's main competitor now but he's still about 40 points behind.

Sexual Violence in Central America

Three recent news stories on sexual violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are worth taking a look at. The first article comes from The Guardian and talks about the 100,000 women raped during the 36-year conflict in Guatemala. A Spanish court has recently agreed to investigate 
mass rapes and gender violence as part of the generals' alleged strategy to wipe out a large part of the Mayan population. The investigating magistrate Santiago Pedraz said on Wednesday the rapes appeared to be part of a campaign of terror designed to destroy Mayan society – with soldiers instructed to carry them out.
As is, the survivors of the genocide in Guatemala get little support. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to change with the election of a candidate who doesn't believe that genocide occurred during the conflict and that the EGP is to blame for all the women and children killed. The EGP involved entire families in the war unlike ORPA. He doesn't say it directly, but all the women raped and fetuses and babies killed deserved it because they had been knowingly and unknowingly into the conflict. On the positive side, he does say
So here, the truth of what happened in the armed conflict ... II think that Guatemalans should have a scientific team, responsible, accountable, and on time today since the end of armed conflict, in order to do serious research and could tell the Guatemalans what had happened.
Guatemalans should hold him to this suggestion as president. 

The second article comes from El Faro and is called La Violada. The article tells the sickening story of a young Salvadoran girl who was taken from school and raped by at least 15 members of the 18th Street gang for three hours.

While the story is about a young girl's rape, this paragraph about the generalized level of violence stood out.
But the violence that characterizes Salvadoran society is not just about numbers. El Salvador is a country where they serve you in stores through a fence, a country where you are cached entering a bank, a country where they shoot you for refusing to give up your cell phone, a country that shamelessly recommends that if you hit someone it is best to flee the scene, a country where there are more private security guards than policemen, a country denouncing a fraction of what is happening and will prosecute only a fraction of what is alleged, a country in which teachers know their students are brutally raped and the most they do is help them pass the grade.
It's a terrible story and one that is repeated all too frequently in El Salvador and around the world. In some ways, it also answers why so many young women attempt the trek from Central America to the United States when they know that there is such a high likelihood that they will be raped along the way.

And in Nicaragua,
According to official figures, between January and August 2010; 1,259 women reported having been raped. Two-thirds were girls under 17 years old.
Local human rights activists, however, believe the true numbers are much higher. Many women and girls do not report the abuse they suffer and most of those who commit the crimes are never taken to justice.
Central America is one of the most violent regions in the world, not just because of the high murder rates in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. It's also because of the high level of sexual violence both inside and outside the home. And it's disappointing that when candidates and political officials refer to additional measures to increase citizen security, rarely do they ever talk about it in terms of tackling sexual violence. That has to change.

Friday, July 29, 2011

One last shot for Torres

Five marches in support of Sandra Torres will arrive in front of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) this morning to pressure the court into overturning prior court and electoral body decisions that banned her from registering as a candidate for president. UNE-GANA is expecting some 50,000 supporters to show up in support of Torres. The CSJ will hold a public hearing at which Torres is supposed to attend and might make a decision over the course of the weekend.

In other news, Rigoberta Menchu was officially inscribed as the Broad Front's presidential candidate. You can read more about the Broad Front's campaign and a profile of Menchu at Prensa Libre. There's a lot of excitement on the left for the party in this year's election. Unfortunately, it's not going to translate into widespread support for their presidential candidate. 

Reuters has a piece on Return of Guatemalan military looms as left falters that is okay. I wouldn't really call Colom "leftist." He has some leftist credentials has promoted greater social assistance programs than his predecessors, but at the same time he has rely heavily upon mano dura security solutions. He strongly supports CAFTA. He's calling for a regional NATO-type force. He seems to have no qualms using force to dislodge campesinos and to resolve land conflicts. He seems to be more interested in resource extraction than the environment. 

Anyway, it would totally surprise me if the CSJ overturned prior decisions and inscribed Torres. As we know, stranger things have happened however. I wish there were a serious candidate that could challenge Otto Perez Molina in September, but even if Torres is somehow inscribed, she's not going to be that person. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dos Erres is one of so many

I totally agree with what Sonia Pérez Díaz at Plaza Publica had to say about the Dos Erres trial. 
El caso de Dos Erres es solo una pequeña fracción no solo de las violaciones a los derechos humanos y la crueldad cometida en la guerra, sino una fracción de la gente que debe pagar por esas muertes.
La lista es larga: militares, ex militares, patrulleros civiles, ex policías y ex guerrilleros deben ser juzgados por los crímenes cometidos. Todos, absolutamente todos, los responsables deben de pagar por las muertes, violaciones, desplazamientos y no solo los ejecutores materiales, también aquellos que ordenaron tantas muertes.
The case of Dos Erres is only a small fraction not only of the human rights violations and the cruelty committed in the war, but a fraction of the people that should pay for these deaths.
The list is long: military, former military, civil patrols, former policemen and former guerrillas should be tried for crimes committed. Everyone, absolutely everyone, those responsible should pay forthe deaths, rapes, displacement and not only the material executors, but also those who ordered so many deaths.
I know that it probably sounds like I go back and forth about this, but that's not really the case.I think that all those who committed human rights violations during the war (and the postwar) should be held to account for what they did. However, not everyone is equally responsible and not every should obviously suffer the same punishment. And while it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not.

Guatemala's Presidential Election

Alex Renderos has a story at the Los Angeles Times entitled Guatemala presidential election campaign heats up. It obviously gives a bit of an overview as to what is happening just over one month before this year’s elections. Sorry, I'm not a big fan to today's article and it starts with the first paragraph.
Plagued by Mexican drug cartels that have steadily eroded the authority of the national government, Guatemala faces a presidential election in a few weeks that pits a former military officer against a former first lady, but offers little solution to epic problems.
The national government's authority was limited prior to the arrival of the Mexican cartels. Guatemalan organized crime was responsible for eroding the state's authority and the Mexican cartels are just a new competitor. It also doesn't make sense to talk about an electoral battle between the former military officer Otto Perez Molina and former first lady Sandra Torres. With one month before the election, there's no indication that she'll be on the ballot. As Renderos makes clear later in the article, Torres continues to campaign even though the electoral authorities and courts have rejected her candidacy.

Then there's the problem of electoral violence. 
The campaign for the Sept. 11 elections, which include congressional and mayoral posts, has been violent and tense.
More than 30 people have been killed in campaign violence, according to the human rights ombudsman office. 
It's possible that the general level of violence surrounding this year's election is worse than previous ones, but I can't really say that I'm convinced. Granted I'm just reading the news and not actually in Guatemala right now. Given that over 50 people related to the various campaigns were killed in 2007, the number of deaths from this year's election looks like it will come in lower. 
Then there's the fact that June saw the lowest number of homicides in six years and the 2011 murder rate is on pace to be the same or better than last year's which was better from the previous year. None of that indicates that the violence surrounding this year's election is worse this year. That's not to say that Guatemalans perceive this year's election as more violent given the high profile murder of Cabral and the mayoral candidates of San Jose Pinula. 
I was also worried about that statement that sicarios on motorcycles are shooting people for no reason. Guatemala passed a law that tried to reduce the number of murders carried out in this manner by legislating against two people riding on a motorcycle (a driver and shooter). Has this not been effective? The higher profile killings that have made the news (former UNE congressman shot and killed and Cabral's murder) have involved SUVs with tinted windows and not motorcycles from what I remember reading. Is this another issue of perception versus reality?
I don't want to make it come across as the electoral campaign hasn't been violent or that people are not getting killed by hit men. It's just that while the perception of insecurity has increased which is very real, objective measures don't capture it.   
Finally, a minor point. Renderos also mentions a thirty-five year civil war. It's difficult to pinpoint the start of the country's civil war. Did it begin with the overthrow of the Arbenz government in 1954? The November 1960 military uprising? The creation of the first guerrilla forces in 1962? Typically, we talk about a 36-year conflict (60-96), but 34 is probably more accurate (62-96). I just haven't seen it referred to as 35 before.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ortega looking to secure first round victory

A June poll in Nicaragua indicates that Daniel Ortega will win a first round victory in November's scheduled presidential elections. Fifty-seven per cent of those polled claimed that they would vote for Ortega of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. Fabio Gadea of the UNE alliance finished in distant second with 14% while Arnoldo Aleman of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party finished a distant third with 6% (Inside Costa Rica). Not much of a surprise here. Ortega’s definitely not perfect and his run at re-election doesn’t appear to be legal, but there’s no denying his support within the country.

Meanwhile, according to El Nuevo Diario in Nicaragua, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee indefinitely postponed its vote on Jonathan Farrar's nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. Farrar's nomination is being held up because Republican committee members (Sen Marco Rubio) believe that he did not do enough to support pro-democracy groups in Cuba when he was chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. They worry that his appointment is not what the US needs in Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua, a determined and autocratic President Daniel Ortega is corrupting and weakening Nicaraguan institutions to extend his grip on power. He has manipulated elections, corrupted and manipulated the courts, and threatened opposition members with mob violence.
Mr. Farrar’s nomination is problematic because of its broader applications to every embassy and diplomatic mission we have around the world. It goes to heart of the question: What is the proper role of the United States around the world when it comes to advocating for freedom? In countries where people live in the oppressive darkness or feel increasingly powerless in the face of authoritarianism, is the United States going to be a shining light that people can turn to for support? Are we going to be a voice for the powerless?
I believe that whether it’s people in Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else around the world, the United States must be a voice that will speak clearly and unmistakably for freedom. Our diplomatic corps — from the ambassadors all the way down to the Foreign Service officers on their first assignments — should be doing everything they possibly can to vehemently support democratic movements around the world. We certainly shouldn’t be shunning them, diminishing them, or undermining them in any way.
I am deeply troubled by the message the president is sending not only to Nicaragua and Cuba but the entire Western Hemisphere through this nomination. I am concerned about what it says to the rest of the world. At this time, we need a forceful and unequivocal voice for democratic values and the rule of law in Nicaragua. Mr. Farrar is not the right choice for this post and he should not be approved by the committee.
I don’t know that much about Farrar’s term in Cuba. However, (whether it was his choice, that of the Secretary of State, or the President) he withdrew support from people and programs that were not working in Cuba. The pro-democracy groups that the US was working with were not well-known inside Cuba and didn’t seem to have much of a future. And the ticker just seemed to antagonize the Cuban government both Cuba and the US look bad.
In sum, while in Havana, Mr. Farrar adopted a “give no offense” approach to U.S. policy in Cuba, unilaterally dismantling or weakening U.S. pro-democracy initiatives in order to placate the Castro regime. More importantly, the measures taken under his direction failed to produce any demonstrable improvement in the Castro regime’s human rights record or its willingness to engage the Cuban people in a path towards meaningful political openness.
If Farrar’s changes in dealing with the Cuban government did not succeed, that shouldn’t be held against him. The same could be said for just about every section chief and US administration since the start of the Cuban Revolution.

Rubio's audience is obviously Floridians and other US citizens. However, I wonder whether he really understands how detrimental US ambivalence towards the coup in Honduras and support for the de facto government have been to US pro-democracy efforts in the region. It's not enough to speak out in defense of democracy in Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, and Syria. You need to do it even when the anti-democratic actions are carried out by US-friendly governments.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trial begins in Dos Erres Massacre

The trial of four men accused of having participated in the massacre at Dos Erres in December 1982 began Monday in Guatemala City. Daniel Martinez, Carlos Carias, Manuel Pop and Reyes Collin are accused of having killed 201 people from the village of Dos Erres in the Peten department. Over the years, authorities have recovered 171 victims, including at least 67 children under the age of 12.

While the four men claim that they were not in Dos Erres on the day of the massacre, two fellow soldiers testified via satellite from Mexico that at least two of the four were indeed present and had participated in that day's brutality.

Regardless of how the trial ends, there will be other trials related to the Dos Erres massacre. Seven of the 18 alleged perpetrators are in custody (these four men plus three others arrested in the United States). This trial has been delayed since 2000. It is the second "massacre trial" related to the civil war. The first one in 2004 resulted in convictions but was later overturned on appeal.

I am hoping for justice to be done, but I am not optimistic.

(Al Jazeera, Miami Herald, and Yahoo)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Can I be the Ambassador?

On a positive note, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Engel and Mack that calls on the State Department to open embassies in five small Caribbean countries —  Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines — where the United States has no diplomatic missions.
Under this amendment, five of the more than 800 U.S. diplomats currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq would open one-person missions in these countries as they are phased out from their current posts in coming years, at no cost to taxpayers. Cuba and Venezuela already have embassies in these small Caribbean nations.
Please don't tell me that the House wants to open embassies in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines just because Cuba and Venezuela have embassies there. That sounds like a terrible reason. 
If US interests are better served by opening missions in these countries, do it.. There are issues related to migration, transnational crime, and trade where having personnel on the islands would probably be useful. There's also a need to assist US citizens on the islands. Those reasons work for me. (But if those are the actual reasons, why just one-person missions?)
What doesn't work is some argument about the need to open embassies on the islands based upon the threat that comes from Cuba and Venezuela already having embassies there. If we fail to station a single American on each island, we are somehow going to lose Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines? It'll be like Carter losing Nicaragua all over again.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

More on Crime in Guatemala

On Saturday, I wrote that crime was down in Guatemala. I should have said that murders were down. I have no idea whether the overall level of crime is up or down compared to last year. As we know in the US, measuring crime is difficult. So many crimes go unreported that we have educated guesses. In Guatemala, as elsewhere, we focus on murder because it is the ultimate crime and they tend to be reported.* The authorities might not uncover the murderer or convict anyone for the crime, but they can tell if a person has been murdered or not. It's not perfect. I'll try to be more careful in the future.

And we should all be careful when we refer to the Northern Triangle of Central America as the world's most violent region (at least when one does not include countries suffering from civil war). Here are the murder rates for the Northern Triangle between 2000 and 2010 from Carlos Mendoza at CABI.
Guatemala - 38 per 100,000
Honduras - 51 per 100,000
El Salvador - 53 per 100,000 
Guatemala looks better in terms of murders per 100,000 population than it does when we look at total murders. Guatemala's total murders comprise 37% of Central America's total for the 10-year period.  Honduras makes up 27% and El Salvador 24%. Guatemala's first place ranking is driven by the fact that its population is roughly equal to that of Honduras and El Salvador combined. On average, violence has been worse in Honduras and El Salvador during the last decade, including the most recent 2010 numbers.

And while Guatemala's national murder rate is obviously very high, there is a variation within the country as well. Take a look at this figure from Plaza Publica on the murder rate by department. While the departments of Guatemala, Peten, Santa Rosa, Jutiapa, and Izabal are alarmingly high, several other departments' murder rates are well below 10 per 100,000. Like every other country in the world, there are some areas of Guatemala that are very dangerous and others where the violence is much less pronounced.

*Disappearances do throw the numbers off a bit. You don't know if the victim has been kidnapped, has fled, or has actually been killed. It reminds me of the dirty wars in Latin America particularly Argentina's film The Official Story where some of those disappeared were not disappeared at all. They had, of course, gone abroad for whatever reason.  

Guatemalan Election Links

Louisa Renolds at Latinamerica Press has the story on Eduardo Suger's vice presidential running mate Laura Reyes. Reyes is a Mayan Kaqchikel woman from the municipality of Tecpán, Chimaltenango. Indigenous candidates from the Frente Amplio also don't have kind words for indigenous running for positions with the Patriotic Party.

Twenty women currently serve in the 158-member congress. Only 11 of them are competing for reelection

Renata Avila at Global Voices Online has the story of under-30 candidates running for congress in Guatemala.

Luis Ángel Sas has more on El "extraño" candidato de San José Pinula who killed two of his competitors for mayor.

Finally, Paola Hurtado at El Periodico looks at the case of the missing vice presidential candidates. Colom ran for president three times with three different VPs. Perez Molina has his second go around at the presidency with his second VP candidate. Suger is actually competing for the third time with his third VP candidate. Menchu is two for two.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crime down in Guatemala

While the murders of the San Jose Pinula mayoral candidates and that of Facundo Cabral brought international attention to the violence in Guatemala once again, final numbers for June show that it was the least violent month in six years.

According to Carlos Mendoza at CABI, the National Civilian Police reported that 407 people were murdered during the month of June. This number is significantly lower than the 500 people murdered on average for the year's first five months. Should the total number of deaths for the first six months of the year be repeated for the second half, the year's homicide rate will end up at 40 per 100,000 - lower than both 2009 (46) and 2010 (41). That's a big if but it is promising.

40 per 100,000 isn't great, but it is better than the last several years and much better than neighboring Honduras and El Salvador. While Colom can't hype how great things are, I'm surprised that he hasn't put a better spin on what's going on his administration's progress.
The Peten massacre was terrible as was that of Cabral. However, we are making progress in the fight against drug traffickers and organized crime...
We are doing our best with the limited resources that we have and have recently received promises from the US Secretary of State that more aid will be forthcoming...
My government's policies are working and if only UNE had a candidate for this year's presidential election, I would strongly encourage you to vote for her.
Colom and his ex-wife have only to look in their separate mirrors to find those to blame.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A NATO Force in Central America?

In late June, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom brought up the matter of international military support in the fight against crime. His remarks came just before the presidential debate in which several candidates talked about the possibility of increasing the level of US troops in the region to fight drug trafficking. In an interview with the Guardian,
"This is a war without quarter," Guatemala's president, Álvaro Colom, told the Guardian. "There is a lot of infiltration, a lot of corruption. We need a Nato-type force to fight back."
And later in the interviewed
He suggested the region form "a type of Nato" to fight organised crime.
I meant to write up his call for a NATO-type force at the time, but I didn't exactly know for what he was calling. It just looked like Colom was simply calling for a military force comprised of soldiers from neighboring countries.that could confront common external enemies. They would also have the authority to cross each other's borders. His use of NATO was just confusing things.

Anyway, he brought it up again this week in an interview with Adam Thompson of the Financial Times.
Mr Colom, who is now in his final year in office, told the FT that while the region’s governments have learned what sovereignty means, the drug traffickers have not: while they travel through Central America almost at will, the region’s national armies and police forces cannot cross international borders without the permission of each country’s congress.
“What good is it if the forces of one country are pursuing drug traffickers who cross a river but then have to stop to avoid an international incident?” he said. “Why not have a type of Central American Nato?”
As it is, he says, too many security operations are hampered by having to communicate between authorities to solicit and then obtain the appropriate permission. “There are procedures that interrupt operations,” said Mr Colom. “Sometimes it is just a question of minutes but that can make all the difference.”
It sounds like President Colom is stating that the Guatemalan army has been handicapped by an inability to pursue drug traffickers and organized crime across its international borders (Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras).As the army closes in on them, they dart across an international border to safety. It sounds plausible, but I can't say that I've come across a story where this has happened. The closest is the near miss on former President Alfonso Portillo who was arrested just before boarding a boat to Belize. If this has been a problem, the armies and border police could probably work something out short of forming a new Central American Treaty Organization (CATO).

If hot pursuit is a problem, they might be able work something out where there's a 24-hour hotline in place to authorize cross border operations. Another possibility might be joint operations or mixed-units that operate within so many miles of the frontier. These mixed units or operations would probably limit each population's reluctance to have another country's army operating within its border.

The region's armies need to increase their intelligence sharing capabilities, modernize their weapons (ships, planes, etc.), and increase their number of soldiers, among other things. If each country's army presently cannot handle drug trafficking and organized crime within its borders, combining these poorly prepared and equipped forces isn't going to do much good.

And this says nothing about the needed investments in social programs, the police, the courts, and state, local and federal government, etc.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Central America Links

Here are several links to Central American stories that might be of interest.
·         Guatemala's tale of two societies (Mail & Guardian)
·         Guatemalan journalist keeps secrets of drug killings for posthumous video (Guardian)
·         Like Water for Gold in El Salvador (The Nation)
·         How Nicaragua made the most of Hugo Chavez's riches (Global Post)
·         Ortega’s rhetoric worries Nicaragua bishop (Miami Herald)
·         Thousands of Migrant Kids Trapped Inside the World’s Border Politics (Color Lines)
·         Central American Migrants Preyed on By Organised Crime, Police  (IPS)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Campaign Commercials in Guatemala

Given all the polls leaning in it favor, Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party are looking to score a first round victory in September's election. Since the country's return to civilian government in the 1980s, no candidate has ever secured a first round victory. Alfonso Portillo of the FRG is the only candidate to have come close. He captured a first round 48% and eventually defeated Oscar Berger 68% to 32% in a second round.

Here's how Perez Molina is winning with slick campaign commercials about the Guatemala that he wants.

You can check out El Periodico for other campaign commercials including Juan Gutierrez' talking fish.

Alfonso Bauer Paiz

Alfonso Bauer Paiz (“Don Poncho” or "Poncho Bauer") died last week at the age of 93 in Guatemala City. Bauer held positions in both the Arevalo and Arbenz progressive governments of the ten years of spring. Following the 1954 CIA coup, Buaer fled into exile in Mexico (Guatemala Solidarity - see also MiMundo for a photo homage). He returned years later before fleeing in 1971 following an attack on his life that left him in the hospital for five months. Bauer then spent time work with the revolutionary governments in Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua before returning to Guatemala to help those who had been displaced by State repression.

As a trained lawyer, Bauer helped with the return of Guatemalan refugees from southeast Mexico. In postwar Guatemala, he was elected to congress as a member of the New Nation Alliance (the alliance formed by the URNG and other leftist parties and social movements) in 1999. (See also Alfonso Bauer, revolucionario ejemplar.)

Here's Alejandro Flores in El siglo de Alfonso Bauer at Plaza Publica.)
Strength, struggle, resistance, disobedience, bravery, courage, stubbornness of life, intelligence, is his inheritance to Guatemalans.
One of his highest virtue was to return to the people at the time, most interesting times. He could make them understand that the past gave them a wounded and sad country. His story is history of twentieth century Guatemala: an era polarities, hopes, dreams, ideologies, war, defeat and rebirth.
You go, Poncho, one of the moments in urging thousands like you. Now you can ride relaxed and happy, you did your thing like few others. There will always be a light with your name from the horizon of history that shines on the battles to come in this new century.
When I interviewed Alfonso Bauer in 2007, he started off by saying that he was going to be honest with me. 
Guatemalan politicians only work to enrich themselves and to attain positions of power. They don't think of the country. The country is being handed over to the empire of the United States.  That's the crude reality of Guatemala.
That was before I even got to ask my first question. Rest in peace Don Bauer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Zipping from Guatemala to Mexico

From CNN
It may not be legal, but it's definitely popular. For just 10 Guatemalan quetzals, or 15 Mexican pesos (the equivalent of just over a U.S. dollar), you can pay to ride a zip line across a river and into a new country.
A news team from Mexico's Televisa network, a CNN affiliate, found four zip lines crossing over the Suchiate River, which serves as part of Mexico's southeastern border with Guatemala. They observed people crossing into Mexico in broad daylight, apparently not worried about immigration authorities posted not far from there.
Guatemalans on both sides of the border are in charge of the zip line and collecting money from people willing to cross.
I wonder if they charge tourists extra.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why not prosecute former guerrillas?

Francisco Mauricio Martinez has an article up at Prensa Libre asking why haven't any former guerrillas been arrested and/or prosecuted for war crimes in Guatemala. He says that this issue always comes up at campaign time and that this year's election is no different. I don't think that he was saying that they should prosecute former guerrillas. He was just stating the obvious that nobody seems particularly concerned with going after them.

The guerrillas that comprised the URNG (FAR, ORPA, EGP and PGT) committed many crimes during thirty plus years of war. That's true. The Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) found that the guerrillas were responsible for about 3% of all violations committed. Three percent is a small share of the human rights violations committed, but that includes thousands of incidents of extrajudicial killings, sixteen - thirty two massacres, and kidnapping. They killed several foreign diplomats (civilians) including the US Ambassador in 1968. And the person believed responsible for killing the US ambassador is FAR Commander Pablo Monsanto. Monsanto was the presidential candidate for the ANN in 2007 and has been an adviser to President Colom's administration.

Obviously, one main reason why former guerrillas are not being arrested and brought before the courts is that they committed so few human rights violations compared to the state's other security forces. However, it's not just that they committed fewer acts of violence. It's also the intensity of the violence. Here's a bit of what I wrote for Moving From Violence to Sustainable Peace in 2009.
The Guatemalan soldiers were encouraged to be as violent as possible. Soldiers were promoted and praised based upon “the ability to kill, to take initiative during massacres, and to demonstrate cruelty in the course of operations” (REMHI 1999: 129). The army educated its recruits to believe that the guerrillas were the cause of the country’s problems, that the army was the “victim,” and that “the act of serving in the army was in itself a direct asset for the good of the country” (REMHI 1999: 128). This mindset was used to justify horrendous atrocities.
They engaged in wide-scale murder, torture, rape, forced disappearances, collective punishment, and forced recruitment of soldiers (including minors) in order to control society and to break the social fabric of communities (REMHI 1999). The military turned communities and families against each other by forcing them to take part in torture and killings. At one point, roughly one million citizens participated in Civilian Self-Defense Patrols (PACS) which the military relied upon to search for guerrilla units and to keep the rest of the civilian population under control. No one was safe from the violence as “soldiers or patrollers frequently refer to the killing of children as a way of eliminating the possibility of rebuilding the community and of circumventing the victims’ efforts to attain justice” (REMHI 1999: 31). According to REMHI (1999: 134), the state and its agents were responsible for over 400 massacres which involved “collective murders associated with community destruction.”
The guerrillas, on the other hand, were more selective and humane in their use of violence. They sometimes killed, with or without substantial evidence, those that they suspected of cooperating with the military. They killed several within their own ranks for disobeying orders and for putting
the lives of the other rebels in danger. The guerrillas put communities in danger even after it was well-known how the military would respond and were not prepared or willing to defend those that they had put in the army’s crosshairs (Montes 2007). The rebels were also found responsible for having committed at least 16 massacres (REMHI 1999: 140). Unlike the state,  however,
Techniques such as the use of informers, congregating the people in one place, separating them into groups, and orgies were not reported in massacres attributed to guerrilla forces. There are, moreover, no cases of obligatory participation, rapes, repeated massacres, or razed hamlets.(REMHI 1999: 14)
None of these killings, by the government’s security forces or the guerrillas, were traditional in the sense of having been committed in the midst of battle. Human rights violations attributed to the guerrillas must be condemned, but it would be a mistake to put them on par with those for which the state was responsible.
If you had to choose one group to prosecute for crimes committed during the conflict, it's clearly the armed forces. What the military did in order to protect an unjust system was far worse than anything the guerrillas did in their attempt to revolutionize it. However, that doesn't mean that the guerrillas should not be held to account for the crimes that they committed in the midst of the conflict.

I tend to agree with what Cesar Montes suggests at the end of the article. They should prosecute army officers and guerrillas who committed human rights violations. I'm not convinced that's going to happen anytime soon and I do worry about Guatemala's capacity to investigate, prosecute, and punish thousands of individuals fairly.

Perhaps, instead, they should pass a law that permanently bans these individuals from public office. The evidence required to ban someone would be lower than what is needed to find them guilty of war crimes. And obviously the punishment would not involve jail time.

For the most part the ban would be symbolic (except maybe for the country's next president), but that symbolism would be pretty powerful.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Vote for the Guatemalan Congress

On September 11, Guatemalans will also go to the polls to elect its 158-member Congress. Voters mark two ballots in order to elect members of congress - one for the national list and one for the department in which they live. There are 31 seats available from the national list and another 127 seats from the country's departments and Guatemala City.

Here is what the composition of the congress looked like since September 2007 and as of today..
In Vox Latina and Siglo XXI's most recent survey, respondents were asked for which political party they would vote in the upcoming elections. Here's the breakdown in the likely vote for each party.

  • PP - 21.2%
  • UNE-GANA - 11.2%
  • CREO - 7.1%
  • Lider - 5.9%
  • Viva - 5.3%
  • UCN - 1.7%
  • Unionista - 0.9%
  • PAN - 0.5%
  • ADN - 0.3%
  • Winaq - 0.2%
One of the interesting things for me here is that the PP only gets 21% of the vote even though 40% of the public is likely to support its presidential candidate. I'm not sure if that speaks more highly of its candidate or poorly of the overall party.

Given the support for each party, the folks at Siglo XXI then distributed the 31 seats from the national list to the winning parties using the D'Hondt method.
  • PP - 13
  • UNE-GANA -7
  • CREO - 4
  • Lider - 3
  • Viva - 3
  • UCN - 1
  • Unionista - 0 
  • PAN - 0 
  • ADN - 0
  • Winaq - 0
Otto Perez Molina's Patriotic Party is likely to pick up an addition 13 seats in addition to whatever they win at the department level. Alvaro Colom's party and its ally are likely to pick up 7. 

In order for some of the smaller parties to win their remainder seats from the national list (Lider, Viva, UCN), they'll either have to win a seat outright from any single department or attain at least 4% of the national vote. Somewhat disappointingly, the Unionista, PAN, ADN and Winaq (Frente Amplio) aren't likely to win a seat from the national list even if they somehow attain 4% of the vote or win a department seat outright. 

Now these numbers are just estimates so I wouldn't get too worked up about these numbers. Forty-six percent of those surveyed said that they would not vote for any of the parties listed. These people may or may not vote on election day. 

The candidates for UNE-GANA and Viva-EG are, as of today, not on the ballot. If their candidates don't appear on the ballot, I would venture to guess that their supporters will either stay home or vote for parties other than the PP. That's likely to help the smaller, leftist political parties like the Frente Amplio / Winaq

Plus we don't really have a good idea as to how each party is going to do in each department. These 31 seats only come from the national list. Another 127 seats have to come from each department's vote. Given that six parties performed well enough to pick up these remainder seats, I would say that that extreme fragmentation in the Guatemalan congress is not likely to go away in the next few months.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Former Guatemalan VP Villagrán Dies

The New York Times ran an interesting obit on former Guatemalan vice president Francisco Villagrán Kramer.
Mr. Villagrán was a left-of-center politician whose act of defiance against the military government he had joined reverberated across the country in the grip of a civil war that stretched from 1960 to 1996.
“Death or exile is the fate of those who fight for justice in Guatemala,” he said.
Although he had leftist sympathies, he ran for and won the post of vice president, agreeing to serve under a president, Gen. Romeo Lucas García, who was known for taking a hard line against leftist insurgents. Mr. Villagrán believed that as an insider he might achieve political reforms, his son later wrote.
But in September 1980, after just two years, Mr. Villagrán announced his resignation, accusing the military leaders of covering up assassinations and other crimes. 
Villagrán died on Tuesday at the age of 84.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Retreat from Justice in Guatemala

Guatemalan officials backtracked Thursday on plans to extradite the country's former interior minister from Spain, saying justice would be better served if he is tried in Spain.
Former Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann faces 10 murder charges stemming from incidents at two prisons in Guatemala. A Spanish court approved his extradition in May.
But on Thursday, Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz told CNN that the country planned to end its extradition request because of "a lack of guarantees in the process." (CNN)
CICIG even supported the Guatemalan government's decision. I don't know.

Portillo was found not guilty. Giammattei was released because they did not have enough evidence to try him.  And now the government and CICIG have thrown in the towel with regards to Vielmann.

On the one hand, it's a wise decision. It just didn't look like they were going to secure a conviction given recent court decisions in Guatemala. If the choice is between justice in Spain and no justice in Guatemala, I understand where they are coming from. But don't tell me that justice would be better served if he is tried in Spain. Justice is best served in the country where he committed his alleged crimes.

However, I wonder how much of this decision was also driven by the strong possibility that Otto Perez Molina will be the next president of Guatemala. There's just too much uncertainty surrounding his administration's approach to prosecuting human rights violators and former officials implicated in shadowy activities. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Something's working in Guatemala?

Steven Dudley has an article at Insight that is worth checking out (Guatemala Arrests Show Something is Working). It details some of the recent successes that the Colom administration has achieved in the recent fight against organized crime in Guatemala - the arrests of Zetas, three suspects in the murder of Facundo Cabral, and three suspects in the San Jose Pinula murders.

Claudia Paz y Paz, the attorney general appointed in December 2010, is credited with much of the recent success. However, Dudley rightfully questions whether a Perez Molina administration will keep her on as AG.
Torres is already lagging in the polls behind a former military officer, Otto Perez Molina, whose possible connections to human rights abuses during the war and current political connections make it clear that he would remove Paz y Paz as soon as he took office.
But no matter what happens to the current attorney general, in her short time in office Paz y Paz has shown Guatemalans that change is possible, and that there are dedicated and determined officials in the Public Ministry. In other words, she has been a ray of light in a dark situation.
I wonder whether the potential backlash from removing Paz y Paz from her position will prevent Perez from replacing her, at least immediately. He might instead obstruct re-prioritize the office's mission so that it focuses on contemporary crimes rather than civil war-era crimes or crimes committed by military and former military officers.

This might be a good time for the US ambassador and others to highlight the important work that Paz y Paz and her office have achieved. They might also issue a statement that any attempt to weaken the office following the September 2011 elections would be seen in a very negative light and might result in a reduction of aid and/or some sort of punishment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Guatemala is not a hopeless case

On Monday, Arturo Valenzuela stated that
"Guatemala is not a hopeless case, quite the opposite. It is a country with many resources and will to overcome this problem, but obviously their challenges are great." (Prensa Libre)
And according to today's news, solving the country's problems is likely to fall upon Otto Perez Molina's shoulders. Vox Latina came out with a new poll for Siglo XXI. Perez now has a thirty-six point lead over his nearest competitor, Eduardo Suger of Creo.

Forty-four per cent of the Guatemalans questioned said that they would vote for Perez Molina. Thirteen per cent said that they would vote for Sandra Torres, but the CSJ rejected her appeal and she's now moved on to the Constitutional Court where hundreds of her supporters we gathered this afternoon. Since she isn't on the ballot, Suger is now in second place with 8%. Harold Caballeros (Viva-EG) is supported by 6.3% of the population, but he can't run either.

While we still have to wait for things to shake out, it's now looking like Perez Molina will win a first round victory on September 11.

Dos Erres Murderer Deported to Guatemala

The US government deported Pedro Pimentel Rios to his native Guatemala on Tuesday. Pimentel was one of sixty or so kaibiles who carried out the murder of approximately 200 Guatemalans in December 1982 in what is known as the Dos Erres Massacre. He was turned over to Guatemalan authorities and is scheduled to have his first hearing on murder and human rights abuses on Thursday. (Yahoo)

It's great that the US arrested Pimentel and deported him to Guatemala to face charges for the crimes he committed in 1982. As I've mentioned before, I rather see accused war criminals arrested and deported to face charges in their native country rather than punished in the US on immigration charges.
"Our government basically supported all these goings on and now, you know, 20 years later, our government is trying to say, gee, no, we would have never done that, and all these people are terrible," Selph [Pimentel's attorney] said. (Yahoo II)
No he was not the only person responsible. But even if the intellectual authors of the scorched earth program and those who covered it up in the US government have not been brought to justice, that doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate Pimentel's arrest and deportation to face charges in Guatemala.  

The goal now should be to ensure that the legal proceedings initiated in the last few years do not die with the election of a new president in Guatemala.  I can't imagine that the prosecution of former military officers and PACs will be at the top of an Otto Perez Molina administration.  

Torres and Caballeros are still out of the running

From the AP
Guatemala's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal filed by former First Lady Sandra Torres to let her run for president.
She recently divorced President Alvaro Colom and Guatemalan law forbids close relatives of the president from running for office.
The court's decision on Monday uphold a lower-court ruling that the presidential couple's divorce was a ruse aimed at getting around the law.
Sandra Torres had filed her ballot application by Monday's deadline, and continues to hold campaign events.
Her last legal recourse is to appeal to the country's highest court to allow her on the ballot. Guatemala's Constitutional Court is the final court of appeal.

Harold Caballeros' (Viva-EG) candidacy was rejected by the TSE again as well. The two decisions were not unexpected, but they are news nonetheless.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Facundo Cabral Killed in Guatemala

Los Angeles Times

Argentine songwriter and singer Facundo Cabral was shot and killed early Saturday morning while traveling from his hotel to La Aurora International Airport.  Cabral had just carried out two performances in Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City and was traveling to Nicaragua for additional concerts.

Cabral had intended to take the hotel bus to the airport but on Friday night he accepted a ride from Nicaraguan promoter, Henry Fariñas. Fariñas was critically wounded in the attack and authorities believe that he was the intended target of the ambush that took Cabral's life. The gunmen were traveling in three vehicles. One forced Fariña to slow down and then the two other vehicles opened-fire. Interior Minister Carlos Menocal said that they are holding back some details and that CICIG is involved in the investigation.

Tico Times

Condemnation of his murder and calls for justice came in from around the hemisphere. In Guatemala, about 300 people gathered at Constitution Plaza in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral to express their repudiation of the violence that claimed Cabral's life. (Prensa Libre)
"Sadly we are outraged by yet another violent crime that is causing terror, fear, and I cannot help thinking that his ideals cost him his life," said Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, at the scene of the crime. "He loved Guatemala so much."
"I am deeply saddened by this shameful murder," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa called the killing "such bad news."
"Oh such pain," Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez tweeted. "Long live Facundo Cabral! We are crying with Argentina" and Latin America, Chavez said.
Argentina's top diplomat Hector Timerman echoed the "great sadness" on Twitter, and said "farewell, friend." (Tico Times)

The Argentine-born Cabral became famous in the early 1970s as a protest singer. However, he fled Argentina in 1976 during the country's dirty war. In 1996, Unesco declared him a "world messenger of peace” and he was later nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. (Global PostLAHTAPAFP)

There's really nothing good to say about this. I can only hope that this shameful act that has caused Guatemala so much international embarrassment will be the beginning of better times in the country.