Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Guatemalan Congress

Here's something that I forgot to mention last week. The Prensa Libre and Prodatos poll from earlier this month also provided some insight into the likely composition of the congress that is to be elected in two weeks. Unsurprisingly, no single party is likely to gain an absolute majority in the 2011-2015 congress.

According to political scientist Franco Martínez, the Patriotic Party is likely to capture approximately 40% of the 158 congressional seats and the National Unity of Hope (UNE) and Grand National Alliance (Gana) coalition is likely to capture another 25%. Not having a presidential candidate will obviously hurt UNE-GANA's congressional performance. 

Manuel Baldizon's LIDER, Eduardo Suger's CREO, and the "narco" Union of National Change (UCN) fill out the top five. These three parties and the remaining smaller political parties such as the EG, PAN, PU, and Frente Amplio, will share approximately 35% of the seats.

The Guatemalan congress' website is down so I don't if the number have changed recently, but here's what the distribution of congressional seats have looked like over Colom's entire term in office.

UNE-GANA will likely lose some seats after September 11th compared to what they currently have. There's also a good chance that they will lose some of those seats that they do win next month when those elected defect to other parties or become independent. 

LIDER didn't exist at the beginning of the last congress and according to a recent Wikileaks on Plaza Publica's website, it helped amass 28 congressional seats by offering $61,000 to any member of congress that switched to its bench. And, no, that's not illegal. Given Baldizon's rising support, the party should do well in congress, but perhaps not quite as well as it is doing right now.

Again, be careful to read too much into these numbers. It's much more difficult to extrapolate from these surveys to the composition of congress than it is to the likely outcome of the presidential contest.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Murders in Guatemala

I know that I got a couple of angry voice mails the last time I said this, but the number of murders committed so far this year in Guatemala is down from the same period last year.

Initially, Prensa Libre reported that murders increased during the first seven months of 2011 compared to the first seven months of 2010. A few days, later, however, they had to retract that headline to instead read that murders actually declined. Oops.

During the first seven months of 2011, 3,366 people were murdered. While that number is still alarmingly high, it is down from the 3,434 murders committed during the same period in 2010. If the numbers remain steady for the rest of the year, Guatemala will finish the year with roughly 40 homicides per 100,000 people.

This rate would be lower than what it was the first year that Alvaro Colom took office when Guatemala had a murder rate of 43 per 100,000 in 2008 and much better than 2009 which had a rate of 46 per 100,000.

Now again, it's not to say that things are rosy in Guatemala. We know that they are not. And focusing on the total numbers of murders might not be the best way to measure citizen insecurity or to assess the effectiveness of the current government in combating crime. However, and this is where President Colom and his wife really are to blame for not having a candidate to represent UNE-GANA, two of the country's largest political parties.

They have no candidate out there talking about how 2008 and 2009 were terrible in terms of the country's murder rate, that 2010's murder rate improved slightly, and that the improvement seems to be continuing this year.

Maybe then there could have been a serious discussion of what has and has not been working over the last twenty-four months. Is police training working? Is CICIG working? Are people and businesses paying the extortion and no longer being killed? Or are the numbers wrong and the PNC has been incorrectly counting the number of murder victims?

Instead, Guatemala has a bunch of candidates and political parties demonstrating how tough they can be on an out of control crime situation and an international community ready to call Guatemala a failed state because of the escalating levels of violence in the country at exactly the moment that the murder rate is improving. Again, the murder rate is just one measure of crime. You would want some multidimensional measure of crime to better measure overall crime. And the Mutual Support Group (GAM) is always quick to say that it is not just the number of murders but their gruesomeness that is really sickening.

Unfortunately, if you want to find a country where the murder rate appears to be going up you only have to look south to El Salvador. As a result of a violent August, murders are up nearly 2% from the same period last year. As of last week, 2,755 Salvadorans had been murdered in a country with about one-third the population of Guatemala.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cold War Sunday

Old history exposes new dirty tricks talks about how US and Guatemalan governments "created bogus provocations as a way of tarring Fidel Castro and his young Cuban revolution." Most of the tricks seem to have never been implemented including a staged Cuban invasion of Guatemala. These provocations were designed to make Cuba and Castro to look bad and to generate support for US and Cuban-exile attacks against the country. Yes, the Bay of Pigs was a total fiasco for the United States. But one would probably make the argument that it was much worse for Guatemala.

In November 1960, the Guatemalan military rose up against President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes’s government because of his collusion with the United States in trying to overthrow a fellow Latin American government in Cuba. They were also frustrated his government’s corruption. Ydigoras called it a Cuban-back uprising and appealed to the CIA for help.

Following the failed uprising, several military officers fled to neighboring countries, specifically El Salvador and Honduras. Over the next two years, many returned to Guatemala. Some joined vehemently anti-groups while others joined up with members of the Guatemalan communist party. They then formed the backbone of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and launched a three-plus decade long guerrilla struggle against the government that would costs the lives of over two hundred thousand people. (See also CIA’s Bay of Pigs foreign policy laid bare from the Miami Herald.)

It’s quite possible that had the Ydigoras government not assisted the United States, the army would not have rebelled. There would be no rebellious military officers to form the backbone of the guerrillas. Perhaps the Guatemalan communist party would have continued to nonviolently challenge the regime through strikes, protests, and elections.

And in another bid of Central American Cold War history, Luis Carrion told that AP that the Sandinistas were behind a 1984 bombing in Costa Rica that was designed to kill Eden Pastora (Commander Zero). The bombing killed two Costa Ricans, four Nicaraguan contras, and a US journalist (Linda Frazier). At the time, many argued that the CIA was behind the attack.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Guatemala Links

Several presidential candidates in Guatemala recently protested that their electoral campaigns have suffered from media censorship and other barriers to access. 
In a paid advertisement published in Prensa Libre on August 19th signed by Gutierrez as well as other candidates Alejandro Giammatei, Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, Mario Estrada, and the Nobel-prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, the blocked candidates denounced the manipulation of opinion polls by pressure groups that led to the distorted limitations on TV debates.
The statement argued that it was unacceptable and unconstitutional for self-appointed private groups with their own political interests to deny 7 out of 10 candidates the opportunity to present their platforms to Guatemalan voters. The ad requests immediate action from Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, as well as action from the Human Rights Ombudsman to stand up for freedom of expression for all across the political spectrum.
There's obviously something to the candidates' complaints about media coverage. These candidates don't get the media access that they need because they're not polling well and one of the reasons that they're not polling well is that they're not getting much media coverage. How they are covered shouldn't be determined by how well they are polling since poll results are quite variable in Guatemala given all the difficulties of carrying them out well. 

However, even with Torres out of the race, the seven candidates combined barely manage to total 20% of the likely vote. With only two weeks to go before the election, it makes sense now to narrow the focus to those with a chance at winning. The seven left out candidates should be upset for the media's lack of coverage because it's likely to hurt their parties in congressional races and might not be good for democracy. 

El Periodico

The three candidates who do get media access (Manuel Baldizon of LIDER, Eduardo Suger of CREO, and Otto Perez Molina of the PP) squared off in a debate co-hosted by CNN en espanol on Thursday night. From the early coverage, security was the main theme.
Candidate Manuel Baldizon of the Leader Party proposed creating a new national guard to take the lead on fighting drug syndicates that he said were increasingly coming across Guatemala's border with Mexico.
Suger -- whose CREO Party acronym stands for commitment, renewal and order -- disputed that approach, arguing that existing forces must develop more sophisticated operations.
"The population cannot wait ... years would go by before anything happened," he said.
Candidate Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party called for a "firm-handed" approach. The former military general called for "elite units of the army" to play a larger role. 
"We are proposing the change that is necessary in Guatemala and we are ready to propel it forward," Perez Molina said when asked to summarize his candidacy in a few words.

I'm not sure that adding a new national guard will help. Guatemala needs to add more police and military while improving their training and capabilities. Add a new institution just doesn't seem the wisest allocation of resources right now. However, adding more police and military is not likely to do much as long as the economy and institutional reforms drag.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

El Salvador recognizes Palestine as independent state

From Reuters via Yahoo 
El Salvador on Thursday recognized Palestine as an independent state in the midst of a drive by the Arab League to upgrade it to full membership status in the United Nations.
"This decision was made in the context of the profound respect El Salvador has for sovereign decisions by members of the United Nations, the majority of whom have recognized the Palestinian state," El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes told a news conference.
I don't have much to say here. I just found the announcement pretty interesting. There were discussions about El Salvador's relations with Palestine and Israel during the 2004 presidential election when two men of Palestinian ancestry (Antonio Saca and Schafik Handal) vied for the presidency. 

Latin American recognition of Palestine is more Greg's terrain at Two Weeks Notice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jesuit Murder Suspects "Released"

Inocente Orlando Montano, a former colonel and vice minister of public security in El Salvador, was arrested on immigration charges Tuesday in Boston, MA. On Wednesday, a judge agreed to release him on $50,000 bail. He will now wear an ankle bracelet and live with his sister in Saugus while he fights the immigration charges. According to his lawyer, the 69-year old Montano is recovering from bladder cancer and an infection. He has also been working since 2003 and living in Everett, MA with his wife. 

It's not that unreasonable to release Montano while he fights the charges. While alleged to have done much more, at this time he's only accused of having lied on immigration forms. However, 
Federal prosecutor John Capin said in court Tuesday that Montano left Massachusetts late last week, apparently intending to make his way back to El Salvador through Mexico, but was intercepted by federal agents in Virginia.
That sure makes it sound like he’s a flight risk. It’s probably why he’s wearing an ankle bracelet. But it gives you a good idea what he thinks his chances of being extradited from El Salvador are. And maybe he's right.

The news out of El Salvador this evening is that Supreme Court has refused to order the detention of nine men accused, along with Montano, of having been involved in the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their house keeper and her daughter at the University of Central in San Salvador in November 1989. The nine men had turned themselves in last week.
The court said it would consider an extradition request if one was received. But at present all that is pending against the men in El Salvador is an Interpol request that they be located, something that has already been accomplished.
"The supreme court cannot deliberate on whether it will decree the detention (of the men) or not, because Spain has not requested it," Justice Ulises De Dios Guzman told the government-run Radio Nacional station.
Guzman said the men "are not really" being released, because they were never detained.
From what I understand, no one should get too excited one way or another about today's events. Montano was arrested, processed, and released on bail. He'll now await his day in court.

The nine men in El Salvador were never under arrest and, at this time, will not be arrested. The Salvadoran government did what was required of it. Interpol sent out a request that the men be located. They have been located. If things change, like an extradition request is officially received, then the Salvadoran government will consider the request. They can't rule on whether they would act on such a request until they actually receive one.

I'm not really in favor of extraditing the men to Spain. Their crimes should be dealt with in El Salvador. I still hope that President Funes uses this opportunity to encourage the assembly to repeal the amnesty law or to at least begin to move the country in that direction.

Front Runner Otto Perez Molina

Several stories have come out in recent days if you'd like to catch up the front runner in Guatemala's presidential elections, Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party.

Danilo Valladares has an article that presents some concerns that people on the left have about what a Perez administration might mean in Activists Worried that Clenched Right Fist Will Take Power. The former general was involved in the 1980s scorched-earth program and still denies that genocide occurred. That doesn’t bode well for the prosecution of military officers and government officials involved in civil war era crimes nor does it bode well for dismantling criminal elements in the military and police today.  

A second story comes from a recent Wikileaks cable (See InSight Crime) describing a 2007 meeting that Otto Perez Molina had with the US ambassador. In the meeting, Perez admitted to having a relationship with members of the Medoza family, a family that the US and Guatemalan authorities have linked to drug trafficking.

Perez had denied any relationship with the family as recently as a month ago. (InSight also has a translated version of Plaza Publica's interview with the General.) In his defense, he said that he only had minimal relationship with the good Mendoza brother, not the one linked to drug trafficking in the Peten. It’s never good to be linked to drug traffickers, but there’s not much to the story yet. Obviously it’s not good that he lied about the relationship but unless there’s more to the story than that it won’t make much waves.

Nicaragua would consider Gadhafi asylum


From the AP 
An adviser to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Tuesday that his government would consider giving asylum to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi if he asked for it, but acknowledged it would be difficult to arrange...
But Arce said "if someone asks us for asylum, we would have to consider it positively, because our people got asylum when the Somoza dictatorship was killing us," Arce said, referring to the 1979 uprising that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza.
In Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafis, you have a man that has been in power for several decades, plundered the country's wealth, refused to give in to popular demands for political reform, and responded with the full weight of the country's military.

I'm sorry, but wouldn't giving Gadhafi asylum be more like giving Somoza asylum?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guatemala Videos

Here are two videos that I recently came across and thought that I would share.

Guatemala fights to keep crime bosses out of elections

Otto Perez Molina and the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi. (2007)

Inocente Orlando Montano Arrested

Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano, former vice minister of public security and one of the men allegedly behind the assassination of six Jesuits at the UCA in 1989, was arrested earlier today on charges of lying on immigration documents. 
According to a complaint unsealed this afternoon, Montano wrote in federal documents that he never served in the El Salvadoran military when he applied for special protection under federal immigration laws.
In fact, according to the complaint, Montano served in the Salvadoran military from 1963 until 1994 when he retired with the rank of colonel. Immigration agents searched Montano’s Everett apartment two days after the Globe’s story and discovered a 1983 Salvadoran military identification card in his name showing he had the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Prosecutors said they are seeking to detain Montano unless he agrees to electronic monitoring, a requirement his attorney said he is wiling to live with. Montano’s initial appearance in court is expected to resume later this afternoon. It's pretty bad that such a high ranking officer implicated in such a heinous crime could so easily hide his past. 
So, what's next? Montano will go before the judge this afternoon. After that, who knows?

I imagine that authorities could prosecute Montano and give him jail time for immigration fraud. They could deport him to his native country, El Salvador, and then let Salvadoran authorities deal with him. Finally, they could extradite him to Spain to stand trial in the deaths of the Jesuit martyrs which would put additional pressure upon the Salvadoran courts. 

This could get really uncomfortable for the US, Spain and El Salvador.

Monday, August 22, 2011

General Perez Leads Another August Poll

Prensa Libre and Prodatos published August poll results today. These are their first poll results since former first lady Sandra Torres was definitively barred from competing in next month's election. What do today's poll numbers tell us?

Otto Perez Molina still maintains a sizable lead over his main competitors. Forty percent of those polled responded that they intended to vote for the General on September 11th. Perez's support increased by two percentage points from Prensa Libre's July poll. On the one hand, it's surprising that he did not pick up more votes following the dismissal of Torres. I speculated that strategic voters might switch to Perez even if he wasn't their preferred candidate once Torres was knocked out of the race. It's still possible that on election day that will happen however.

According to today's poll, UNE-GANA supporters have switched their loyalties to Manuel Baldizon of LIDER. Baldizon increased his support from 8.4% in July to 18.5% in August. Support for Eduardo Suger (CASA) increased as well from 9% to 11%.

Boz has a list of how all the candidates fared in the poll. Each candidate saw his or her support increase following the end to Torres' run for the presidency. I am a little surprised that Menchu didn't get a bigger bump considering many of those on the left side of the political spectrum supported Torres and she is the only left or even center-left candidate in the race. Some also expected Adela de Torrebiarte to get a bigger increase in support given how hard she worked to get Torres off the ballot. However, she only came in with less the one percent of the vote as usual.

As of right now, it still doesn't appear that Perez will be able to win a first round victory and will instead need to compete in a runoff. Last week's El Periodico / Borge y Asociados poll had Perez firmly in the lead as well but had Suger slightly ahead of Baldizon in the battle for second place. It's still unclear whether Baldizon or Suger will emerge as Perez' main competitor and, for now, I'd still say it's a toss-up between the two.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Funes Disappoints the Left

Edgardo Ayala at Latinamerican Press has an overview of why Salvadorans are frustrated with President Mauricio Funes in El Salvador in his article on Funes veers from the left.
But two years later, the euphoria has worn off. Funes’ promises to improve the economy, issue policies that would create jobs and stem violence have fallen short...
And as Funes’ government was very careful about handling the business sector which always opposed structural changes that sought to benefit the majority, the president created more distance with what was once his base: labor unions and civil society organizations that had historically been left-leaning.
One major area of disagreement between Funes and the FMLN both before and during Funes candidacy involved economic policy and this disagreement was certain to continue following their 2009 victory.

Funes and the Friends of Mauricio coalition (a group outside the FMLN that helped him to get elected) were not anti-neoliberalism / anti-free market. In many ways, they believed that the free market did not exist in El Salvador as successive ARENA administrations privileged some businesses and sectors over others. They wanted to improve the neoliberal economic system and as well as increase spending on social programs so that more people could benefit from it.

Labor and civil society were not Funes' base. They were and are the FMLN's base. The FMLN as well as several unions and members of civil society are more interested in socialismo cuscatleco and that is not something the President Funes has shown any interest in pursuing.

El Salvador Impressive!

Looks like a great place to visit.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Costs of Saying No to Spain

At various times President Funes, former President Cristiani, ANEP and others have voiced their concerns about the potential consequences of extraditing the nine former military officials involved in the murder of the UCA martyrs or opening old wounds in the Salvadoran courts, Gerardo Arbaiza at Contrapunto begins to tackle the question of what happens if El Salvador does not.

What happens to El Salvador's relationship with Spain? Spain is one of El Salvador's largest foreign aid donors. Between 2006 and 2009, Spain donated over $200 million to fund a variety of development projects in the country. The Spanish government has supported projects related to the courts, government institutions and NGOs that could be adversely affected by how El Salvador handles the proceedings. And it's not just relations with Spain; a decision by El Salvador to not do anything about the alleged war criminals might have reverberations throughout the rest of the European Union.

Benjamin Cuellar at the UCA says that whatever decision the court makes might affect how El Salvador is seen throughout the world especially given what has been going on in Guatemala where the Colom administration has taken important strides to advance the cause of justice by arresting and bringing perpetrators of civil war massacres before the courts. How bad does it look for El Salvador when its neighboring "failed state" is strong enough to bring human rights violators before the courts? That says nothing about the trials that have been held or are ongoing in Argentina, Peru and Chile.

As I said the other day, I hope that Spain's judicial proceedings will kick start a process in El Salvador. Not everyone who committed a human rights violation before and during the conflict has to spend the rest of their life in prison, but there needs to be a good faith effort on the part of the government to hold the intellectual authors of the violence to account. And I said much thing the same two years ago on the twentieth anniversary of the Jesuit murders.
 While I am not convinced that the accused will ever see a Spanish courtroom, I am somewhat hopeful that the Spanish investigation as well as Funes' election will help to restart a movement in El Salvador to deal with the human rights violations committed during the 1970s and 1980s...
I have no idea whether Funes' intentions are to recognize previous administrations' culpability in these two crimes and leave it at that or to use these two cases to rally support for a repeal of the 1993 amnesty law and a more comprehensive reconciling of past acts. However, the actions on the part of the Spanish judge might put pressure on El Salvador to pursue an accounting of the past similar to what happened to Augusto Pinochet in Chile.  While the attempt to extradite Pinochet from Britain to Spain to face trial failed, the movement to prosecute Pinochet in Chile gained momentum as a result.  President Funes' two acts and that of Núñez might start El Salvador down a similar path.
Pressure from the international community and civil society might provide Funes with political cover to backtrack on his campaign promise not to push the Legislative Assembly to revoke the amnesty law.
I hope that the actions taken by the Spanish judge, judicial proceedings in Guatemala, as well as support from US congressmen and senators (in addition to disgust brought upon by the knowledge that former Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano lives in Massachusetts) gives the Salvadoran courts and politicians the international support needed to reopen those wounds that never did heal.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August Poll Numbers in Guatemala

El Periodico and Borge y Asociados published August poll numbers for the upcoming presidential elections in Guatemala. The poll was carried out between August 5 and 11. They polled with and without Sandra Torres but these are the results without her on the ballot.. 
Otto Perez Molina maintains a sizable lead over his nearest competitors. 45% of those polled responded that they intended to vote for Perez. Second-place is still too close to call but slightly favors Eduardo Suger (CREO) over Manuel Baldizon (LIDER). 11.7% would vote for Suger and 10.7% for Baldizon. Mario Estrada (UCN) came in fourth with 3.1% and Patricia de Arzu fifth with 2.3%. 18% did not respond or responded that they did not know.

It's unlikely that anyone will overtake Perez between now and September's election, but we have to expect some movement. The Constitutional Court decided Sandra Torres' fate right in the middle of when the survey was in the field. Harold Caballeros (Viva-EG) only received an ok from the CSJ today (8 in favor and 5 against) so he will be on the ballot unless someone appeals the decision to the CC. Sandra Torres is encouraging her supporters to vote for UNE-GANA's congressional and municipal candidates but to vote null for president. These issues will effect September's poll and determine whether a second round is needed.

As so here is the ballot for Guatemalans on September 11 (the binomials are listed in the order that their candidacies were accepted).
Siglo XXI
In other news, Julián Acoj Morales is the fifth person arrested for participating in the Plan de Sanchez massacre and Plaza Publica has begun publishing more Wikileaks documents, the first of which deals with a meeting between the US Ambassador and Otto Perez Molina in September 2007 between rounds one and two of that year's presidential elections.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Al Jazeera on Central America

Al Jazeera has posted several stories and videos on Central America this week that are worth checking out. 
Fear and Loathing in El Salvador
An interview with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes 
Elite troops take sides in Mexican drugs wars (Guatemalan kaibiles)
Guatemala: A narco state?
Surge in cocaine trafficking through Honduras
Definitely check out the interview with Mauricio Funes. It's nearly twenty--five minutes long, but has English subtitles.

Monday, August 15, 2011


One reader recently brought it to my attention that he has had trouble posting comments. Has anyone else had a problem?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Salvadoran people never had a say

Nine former Salvadoran soldiers turned themselves into authorities one week ago. The men are wanted by a Spanish court for the killing of six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central American in November 1989. Five of the six Jesuits were born in Spain. Not everyone is happy about the turn of events obviously. From the Tico Times
Meanwhile, local business leaders, in the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), called the judge’s request a “step backward” for the Salvadoran democratic process Tuesday.
“The business sector considers this a setback for our democracy and the reconciliation reached after the signing of peace accords, which says that attempts to prosecute acts that have already been judged are violating our own constitution by failing to respect an amnesty accord,” ANEP said in a statement.
Members of ANEP believe that reopening the wounds of the past by prosecuting human rights violators will destabilize democracy in the country. To ANEP I would say that the estimated 55,000 civilians killed during the war and their families were not involved in passing the amnesty. Their wounds have not closed and will not begin to close until there is justice.
Compare ANEP’s response to what President Funes had to say prior to his election.
"I cannot promote war crimes trials until the country stabilizes. After 17 years of peace, the country has not been reconciled. If other countries of Latin America make judgments about the past, that does not mean that El Salvador is ready. We have not reached democratic institutionalization and reconciliation." 
I hope that the first two years in office have changed his mind. If not, I would tell President Funes that democracy and reconciliation will not arrive in El Salvador until there is some justice for crimes committed before and during the country’s civil war.
2012 marks the twenty-year anniversary of the Peace Accords that ended El Salvador’s war. What better time to announce that they will not honor Spain’s extradition request because the government intends to open cases against those suspected of having war crimes and crimes against humanity.
If Guatemala can prosecute those involved in the Dos Erres and Plan de Sánchez massacres, El Salvador can prosecute those involved in the Rio Sumpul, el Mozote, and El Calabozo massacres.

El Salvador Links

She Responded on El Salvador's national reality.

Violence Plagues El Salvador from Americas Magazine. 

Approximately 500 Salvadorans showed up to support the nine military officials awaiting word on Spain's extradition request.

Salvadorans comprise more than a quarter of Maryland’s Hispanic population.

InSight on extortion in the US and El Salvador.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Plan de Sanchez Massacre

Four members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation recently testified at the trial that resulted in 6000-year sentences for four kaibiles involved in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. Since then they have been receiving death threats. (CNN) And as I mentioned last week, the Dos Erres massacre was just one of 669 documented massacres that occurred during the thirty-six year conflict.

Four men were arrested last week for their alleged involvement in another gruesome massacre from 1982. This massacre involved 268 men, women and children in Plan de Sanchez in the department of Baja Verapaz.. The massacre occurred on market day, July 19, 1982, so as to maximize casualties (BBCAFPPrensa Libre, Channel 6). In addition to killing as many people as possible, a massacre on market day was also designed to break down group identity and to send a message that it was not safe for the indigenous people of Guatemala to get together in large numbers or to engage in commerce.  
Witnesses said the victims were rounded up, had grenades thrown at them, and those who tried to flee were shot...
The survivors were forced to bury the victims, many of whom had been set alight.
The villagers were targeted because the military accused them of supporting the guerrillas in part because their men would not serve in the "self-defense patrols." More arrests are expected.

I still would rather see prosecutors go after the intellectual authors of these crimes. Sixty soldiers and an unspecified number of military commissioners and civil patrollers participated in this one massacre alone. Most patrulleros were forced to participate in these self-defense groups. The Plan de Sanchez massacre is an example of what happened to entire villages when male citizens did not volunteer to participate in the PACs. 

While that does not absolve them of their crimes, it really makes it hard to separate out those who joined and killed willingly from those who were force to kill or be killed. It’s easy for me to say that I would rather be killed than forced to kill someone else. It’s not so easy to say that I would rather my family and community killed than be forced to kill.

Many but by no means all of the patrulleros who participated in massacres were victims of one kind or another as well. They were victims and victimizers. The same cannot be said for the intellectual authors of the crimes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rigoberta Menchu on CNN

Frente Amplio presidential candidate Rigoberta Menchu was interviewed by Ismael Cala Wednesday night on CNN. Here's the interview.

I didn't think that Menchu was an inspiring candidate for a left that was trying to reinvigorate itself in Guatemala. She ran poorly in 2007 and only captured 3% of the national vote. She was well-known throughout the country at the beginning of the campaign and therefore there was little chance that she was going to bring new voters to the party. At best, she was going to keep Winaq in the alliance.

It's too bad. The left could have capitalized to a certain extent on the governing party's self-inflicted wound.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sandra Torres' Plan B

Prensa Libre
I know that I've said this a few times but
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. 

UNE and GANA possess two-thirds of the country's congressional seats and were the only ones capable of mounting a serious challenge against Otto Perez Molina. So Plan B is that UNE and GANA have no presidential candidate but that they are going all in in support of the coalition's congressional and mayoral candidates. The leadership is asking the rank and file to remain calm, to await instructions, and not to partake in the Guatemalan past time of party switching. Sandra Torres is going to continue to travel the country drumming up support for their candidates.

Will it work? I don't know. Not having a presidential candidate is certainly going to hurt. There's only one month remaining before the elections so it's a little late for candidates to switch parties. What about the voters? They have plenty of time to switch loyalties?

Initial reactions from analysts are all over the place. Not having Torres on the ballot is going to help Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party. When the second most popular candidate gets knocked from the ballot, it's hard to see that as anything other than a winner for the front runner.

On the other hand, there's a good chance that not having Torres on the ballot is going to help the smaller parties. Programmatically, it's hard to envision UNE-GANA voters defecting to the PP. They're either going to stay home or vote for one of the smaller parties. 

Which smaller party might they vote for? Nobody really knows except that it’s not likely to be Adela de Torrebiarte’s ADN. UNE's voters might go to Eduardo Suger of CREO.  Some leftists within the UNE coalition might throw their vote to Rigoberta Menchu and the Frente Amplio. GANA's voters might go to Manuel Baldizon of LIDER. Others will support the Mario Estrada of the UCNThere's no clear consensus on who is going to reap the benefits of not having Torres in the race.

I'm wondering whether the Patriotic Party is going to be the beneficiary of strategic voting on the part of UNE's supporters, particularly in the countryside. UNE has amassed a lot of support in the countryside in no small part due to the government's social programs. The PP has said that it is going to continue the programs but that a PP administration will ensure that it is more effective and transparent. They are not going to use the programs’ resources to benefit the governing party (like UNE did), just the people of Guatemala.

If you are a voter living in a rural community heavily dependent upon government social programs, doesn't it make sense for you and other members of the community to throw your vote behind the candidate that is nearly certain to emerge victorious? That is, of course, if you have no qualms voting for someone who might have committed war crimes not too long ago.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Torres - four strikes and she's out!

Plaza Publica
As you probably already know, the Constitutional Court in Guatemala upheld prior Citizens Registry (RC), Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), and Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) decisions barring Sandra Torres de Colom Casanova from participating in September's presidential election.

The justices' 7-0 decision was based on the fact that even though she was divorced from the president, it was still too close of a relationship for her to avoid Article 186 that bars close relatives of the president from running for office. You don't have to be a blood relative. Spouses and former spouses fall within Article 186. The justices didn't agree, however, that Sandra Torres had committed fraud by divorcing her husband in order to run for president.

I hope that Boz is right and that the court's unanimous ruling is evidence that the "the Guatemalan election and judicial institutions held their ground on this issue." Maybe this is a key juncture in the country's institutional development and that it is a sign of good things to come. However, like the massacre in Peten or the murder of Cabral, I don't think we should read too much into a single event.

Broadly speaking, these are the courts that recently found Alfonso Portillo not guilty. In May, they released  Alejandro Giammattei because of a lack of evidence. Giammattei is now running for president on the CASA ticket. While it was important for the CC to support the earlier courts' decisions, I can't get too excited about the courts' overall performance these last few months.

On the political side, the Guatemalan people are left with voting for an alleged war criminal or wasting their vote on another candidate. UNE, one of the country's largest parties, has a questionable future. And, really, the only people to blame are the former first couple.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Constitutional Court gives Torres another No - Updated

Initial reports indicate that the Constitutional Court in Guatemala voted 5 to 2 against Sandra Torres's appeal tonight. The result is not much of a surprise and probably has little effect on September's outcome.

On the one hand, Torres was the only candidate likely to mount a serious challenge against Otto Perez Molina.  On the other hand, she was likely to lose anyway.

It's still unofficial, but the reported result is consistent across several twitter accounts.

***Update - The Court voted unanimously. 

Court President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre said her candidacy still violates a constitutional ban on relatives of the chief executive running for the office because she was his wife for most of his term. Torres had appealed earlier decisions by election officials and lower courts that banned her candidacy.
Maldonado noted late Monday that the constitutional court decision was unanimous and final. Several women supporters of Torres cried outside the court when they heard the decision over the radio.
There was no immediate comment from Torres.
The ruling avoided the question of whether she committed fraud when she divorced Colom in March.

Jesuit massacre suspects go before Salvadoran judge

According to the AP

Nine former soldiers and officials have turned themselves over to a court in El Salvador after being indicted in Spain in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests and two other people during the Central American country's civil war.
The Defense Department said Monday the nine soldiers turned themselves in at a military base and were handed over to a Salvadoran court.
A tenth suspect in the Spanish case has since died, and 10 other suspects have not bee located.
Salvadoran officials have said it is unlikely that El Salvador's supreme court will vote to extradite the men to Spain.
Spanish courts have used international jurisdiction doctrines to prosecute the killings of the priests, five of whom were Spaniards.
See also Contrapunto which has been following the news all day.

Campaign Violence in Guatemala

Two individuals connected to UCN and UNE political campaigns were killed over the weekend in Guatemala. These deaths once again bring attention to the violent electoral season in Guatemala. However, there are a few ways to look at the campaign violence. The list isn't exhaustive obviously.

  • Guatemala is a pretty violent country in general and one shouldn't expect campaigns in particular to be much different.
  • While several candidates and campaign workers have been killed, it's not at all clear that a candidate or campaign worker has a greater chance of being killed than any other Guatemalan.
  • This year's campaign has seen fewer murders compared to 2007 (~35 to ~55).
  • Campaign season has been pretty violent, but there were fewer murders in May, June and July 2011 than those same three months in 2009 and 2010. 
  • There's no indication that murders have gone up during the heat of this year's campaign season or that it did during the 2003 and 2007 elections. Statistically speaking, campaign months are no more violent than non-campaign months.
  • I can't find any links but even though El Salvador is a much more violent country in terms of the murder rate, it doesn't experience the same level of campaign violence.
Again, I don't want to give the impression that everything is rosy in Guatemala and that we shouldn't be worried about the levels of political violence associated with the campaign. It's worrisome, but there is some evidence that things are getting better. And the violence associated with the campaigns is just one of the many problems surrounding Guatemalan politics unfortunately.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Guatemala Links

Sambobby at the Guatemala Solidarity Network is thrilled with the ruling but disappointed that the US continues to fund kaibiles in its war on drugs. Kevin D has more.

Amnesty International issued a press release. In it, survivors say that the massacre was carried out to cover up the rape of a local woman. The BBC gives the more common explanation that the village was targeted because of its support or suspected support for the guerrillas. 

Prensa Libre has the place where the massacre happened.

A Guatemalan judge ordered an American couple to return their adopted daughter because the girl had apparently been stolen prior to her adoption. The girl was kidnapped in 2006.

Formerly conjoined Guatemalan twins celebrate their tenth birthday.

Finally, El Periodico has more about Otto Perez Molina.

And we should soon know whether Sandra Torres can stand as candidate for the UNE-GANA coalition. I picture a little chaos one way or another.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Democracy Now and Guatemala

Amy Goodman interviews Annie Bird about the recent Dos Erres court case and the candidacy of General Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Justice for the remaining 668 massacres

The Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) for Guatemala documented 669 massacres during the thirty-six year conflict. The CEH attributed 626 collective killings of defenseless populations to the state. 

And as is known from the Dos Erres case, it's not just the number of people killed.
The CEH has noted particularly serious cruelty in many acts committed by agents of the State, especially members of the Army, in their operations against Mayan communities. The counterinsurgency strategy not only led to violations of basic human rights, but also to the fact that these crimes were committed with particular cruelty, with massacres representing their archetypal form.
In the majority of massacres there is evidence of multiple acts of savagery, which preceded, accompanied or occurred after the deaths of the victims. Acts such as the killing of defenceless children, often by beating them against walls or throwing them alive into pits where the corpses of adults were later thrown; the amputation of limbs; the impaling of victims; the killing of persons by covering them in petrol and burning them alive; the extraction, in the presence of others, of the viscera of victims who were still alive; the confinement of people who had been mortally tortured, in agony for days; the opening of the wombs of pregnant women, and other similarly atrocious acts, were not only actions of extreme cruelty against the victims, but also morally degraded the perpetrators and those who inspired, ordered or tolerated these actions.
There's still a need to go after the intellectual authors of the slaughter, not just those who carried out the orders.