Friday, September 30, 2011

El Salvador's New Disappeared

According to El Faro, the National Civilian Police registered 625 disappearances in five municipalities of San Salvador during the first eigth months of 2011. El Faro has a photo gallery of what those men, women, and children left behind.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

UNE-GANA Alliance Dissolves

On September 4th, I wrote
UNE and GANA are two of the country’s largest political parties and account for approximately one-third of the congress’ seats. The two parties have no presidential candidate and their short-lived electoral alliance will likely end in eight days. I wouldn't be surprised if one, if not both, were not around in 2015.
Well, it took a little longer than anticipated. The UNE-GANA alliance lasted 25 days.

Gender Based Violence in Guatemala

We don't know for sure yet but September looks to continue the downward trend in overall murders in Guatemala. It also appears that the number of women murdered will decline in 2011 (340 so far) compared to 2010 (838). Even if murders in Guatemala have declined in recent years and the murder rates of neighboring Honduras and El Salvador have soared, Guatemala remains a dangerous place.   

Two women were killed in an apparent robbery at a beauty parlor on Tuesday in Guatemala City. Cristina Siekavizza has been missing since July 7. The dismembered remains of four young women have been recovered in different parts of the country within the last month. And the remains of two young women were recently found after they disappeared in late August. The two teenagers were most likely killed by a man with whom one of them struck up a relationship on Facebook. 

Activists have also warned that there has been a sharp increase in the sexual trafficking of indigenous girls and women from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador during the last three years.

Finally, the Public Ministry in Guatemala reports that sexual violence against women in Guatemala is increasing.

Meanwhile in El Salvador, the department of San Miguel is suffering an alarming increase in femicide. Forty-three women have been killed there so far this year, five in the last week. Several victims were young girls murdered while still wearing their school uniforms. Three hundred forty nine women were killed in El Salvador during the first six months of the year.

The number of women murdered in El Salvador and Guatemala in 2011 are about the same even though Guatemala’s population is nearly three times larger.    

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

TPS in Central America

If you look around Central America today, Guatemala is probably the country most in need of relief through Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The US Secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to grant TPS to individuals from countries that are experiencing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other conditions. These people are then allowed to work and reside in the US until the secretary determines that conditions are acceptable for their return.

Guatemalans are suffering from the damaging effects of recent natural disasters including tropical storms, volcanic eruptions, flooding, and earthquakes. Their government originally requested TPS benefits in June 2010. However, the Obama administration has given no indication that it is interested in moving forward in providing relief to Guatemalans living in the US. Even though the administration has announced that it will take some steps to ease up on deportations of people living in the country so long as they are no risk to society, the use of TPS to protect thousands of Guatemalans here does not appear to be on the agenda.

However, Guatemala has not given up on asking. After last week's earthquakes and flooding, Guatemalan Foreign Secretary Erick Maldonado stated that he plans to send another request to the US government for TPS protection.

It's tough to see Obama moving on this request given that he won't want to look soft on illegal immigration heading into the 2012 election. I don't think that that's the right way to look at it, but I imagine that's some of the politics behind the lack of a decision. Fewer people are coming across the US' southern border. More people are being deported than under previous administrations. A relatively large number appear to be  leaving voluntarily. Finally, we also know that the border counties and states are by and large pretty safe. Obama should know by now that he is not going to get credit for any improved border security or reduction in the number of immigrants living in the country illegally. Extending TPS to Guatemalans is unlikely to affect anyone's perceptions of Obama's immigration policies even if they were paying attention. He might as well stop pretending that this is somehow going to change.

Meanwhile in El Salvador, Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez said that his government will request that the US extend TPS to over 218,000 Salvadorans living in the US. Thousands of Nicaraguans and Hondurans also are living in the US under TPS and presumably their governments will be looking for an extension as well.

If today you had to choose a Central American country most in need of TPS, it would be Guatemala. It has recently suffered the most in terms of natural disasters. Flooding has also taken lives in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but just not to the extent that it has in Guatemala. However, it's much easier for the US government to simply maintain the status quo with regard to TPS benefits- no TPS for Guatemalans and TPS for Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans - than it is to make a change.

It doesn't matter that TPS was extended to Salvadorans over one decade ago (2001) following a series of devastating earthquakes or that Hondurans and Nicaraguans were given TPS two years earlier (1999) following October 1998's Hurricane Mitch. It's a lot easier to just extend TPS to the nationals of those countries that it is to grant it for the first time to the people of Guatemala even though they might actually be in greater need of that protection today.

At the same time, it's not clear that the US will be ending TPS to Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans anytime soon. Given that many of these individuals have been in the country for a decade or more now, it doesn't make sense to make them go "home." The administration should start thinking about how to transition these people to some form of permanent legal status.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not Looking Good for an Economic Turnaround

It's not looking good for an economic turnaround in Central America. The International Monetary Fund's economic forecasts for the region don't look good compared to Mexico and South America.

El Salvador will be the growth laggard in Latin America this year, with an estimated expansion  of only 2 percent.
Other growth laggards include Venezuela and Guatemala (2.8 percent) and Honduras (3.5 percent).
We don't know how UNE would have done had it presented a presidential candidate in Guatemala this year (probably not that good). However, I wouldn't feel that comfortable if I were in the FMLN's shoes right now.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Manifestación Pacifica URNG a Favor De Walter Félix

ARENA - Don't call it a comeback


The ARENA party appears to have found new life five months before legislative and municipal elections in El Salvador. ARENA finished behind the FMLN with 32 legislative seats (out of 84) and 39% of the vote in 2009. It then lost the presidency months later which it had held for two decades. A terrible presidential candidate and postelection blues tore the party apart when twelve dissidents left ARENA months later and went on to form the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) in January 2010. ARENA has 18 members of congress.
ARENA now looks poised to make a comeback in March's elections. However, it's not because they have done anything particularly well since leaving office (i.e., Decree 743, response to red alerts issued by Spain). ARENA is poised to make a comeback because most Salvadorans believe that security and economic conditions in the country have worsened since Funes took office. There's also just a general level of disenchantment with his government. These are really the same reasons that led to the FMLN winning in 2009 and the reasons that it will likely suffer some losses in 2012.
In March, we'll have the FMLN, ARENA, GANA, Democratic Center (DC) and Partido Popular (PP) as well as the Socialist Party of El Salvador (PSOE), the ex-PCN National Conciliation (CN), and the ex-PDC Party of Hope (PE) competing in municipal and legislative elections. The PCN and PDC were cancelled but they'll just compete under different names. 
GANA might take some votes from ARENA but I think that it is more likely that they will suffer the same fate as those that defected from the FMLN to form new parties (the PD, FDR, and MR anyone?).
Will a new ARENA emerge in 2012? We’ll just have to wait and see. They have a new code of ethics and have indicated a willingness to work with other political parties to advance the interests of the nation. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Slow going in the Guatemalan congress

Representatives of several political parties have criticized the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for a delay in transmitting September 11's results, inadequate training at polling stations, lack of legal certainty in the registration of candidates, refusal to settle lawsuits and lack of security in the handling of the bags elections.

As of today, we still do not know the final distribution of seats in the Guatemalan congress. Here are the results based upon what El Periodico has up on its website. 

However, El Periodico reports that the calculations were based upon the results of 99.49% of the polling stations. The Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) and the Unionist party continue to battle over one seat so their numbers are not final. In Izabal, UNE requested a review of votes to determine if its candidate had won a seat rather than the PP who the TSE has the seat going to. 

Earlier in the week, the URNG lost its seat in Huehuetenango. Initially, they thought that the URNG's Walter Felix had won. Guatemalan electoral authorities say that they initially made a mistake by giving votes from the ANN, Winaq, and URNG to Felix. However, once they realized that the three had not entered into an electoral coalition in Huehuentenago, they took the ANN and Winaq votes away from Felix and the seat went to the PP. 

The URNG has sent a letter to the Organization of American States’ electoral mission stating that they might have been the victim of fraud. If the results stand, the left will have only two seats in congress. Now, we can say that it is a disappointing performance for the left in Guatemala.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dean Brackley returns to El Salvador

From the Independent Catholic News
Fr Dean Brackley SJ has returned to San Salvador, after being diagnosed with cancer that has already reached an advanced stage.  Dean, a Jesuit of the New York Province, was one of those who in 1990 volunteered to go to San Salvador to take the place of the six Jesuits assassinated by the army in a night time raid on the Jesuit University (UCA) in 1989 at the height of El Salvador's civil war.

Dean taught theology at the UCA in the Monseñor Romero Centre.  But he identified a special role for himself in educating US and European Church people about the realities of poverty and oppression in Central America and the role played by the United States in maintaining that situation...

The Chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust, Julian Filochowski, writes: 'Five months ago Dean was diagnosed with cancer that had already reached an advanced stage.  He has now returned to San Salvador.  Networks of prayer linking his friends and acquaintances of many years in the US, Central America and Europe, have kept Dean constantly in their hearts and minds.'

Dean himself sent the following message from San Salvador: 'I continue to have ups and downs, but the great gift and big change is that I feel at peace.  God has given me this grace to each day put myself in God's hands. I am deeply grateful for your prayers.'
Dean probably doesn't know this, but in 1995 he wrote a letter supporting my Fulbright application to El Salvador. With no questions asked, Dean offered up the university's resources and faculty. 
I have had the privilege to meet him several times since then, most recently when he came to Scranton to receive the Pedro Arrupe award for distinguished contributions to Ignation mission and ministries.

Dean's a remarkable person. My prayers go out to Dean, his family and friends. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Ortega Family in Nicaragua

UnivisionNews1 has a pretty unsympathetic view of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in this video on the political situation in Nicaragua about six weeks before November's election. The video speaks discusses Ortega's family and its role in the country's media, the youth vote, and Ortega's Christian transformation over the last few years.

As it appears right now, Ortega looks set to emerge victorious in November's election. According to the most recent poll that I could find, 40% of those polled between August 18 and 22 indicated that they would vote for Ortega in the upcoming election. Arnoldo Alemán of the PLC remains in second with 19%. 

In order to win on the first ballot, Ortega needs 40% of the valid vote or 35% with a margin of victory of at least 5%. Given the difficulties of accurately polling in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if a second round were needed. However, smart money is probably on a first round Ortega victory.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Civil War Crimes in Guatemala and El Salvador

Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco recently issued new "red alerts" against five former Salvadoran soldiers implicated in the murders of the Jesuits martyrs at the UCA in November 1989. The alerts were issued for the following individuals: 
Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno (Army colonel and director of the Military Academy), Joaquín Arnoldo Cerna Flores (colonel and head of the Joint Three of the Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces), Hector Ulises Cuenca Ocampo (Lt. Armed Forces stationed in the National Intelligence Agency of El Salvador).
They are also defendants Carlos Mauricio Guzman Aguilar (colonel and director of the National Intelligence Agency of El Salvador, DNI), and Oscar Alberto León Linares (Colonel and commander of Battalion Atlacatl).
Last month, the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that the government had met its legal responsibility by locating the nine soldiers for whom red alerts had been issued and that they were under no requirement to arrest the individuals. They were also within their own rights not to extradite the suspects because the judge’s request had not been properly forwarded to government officials.
While I can't say that I entirely bought the Supreme Court’s arguments, I figured that its ruling was only a beginning. People shouldn’t have gotten too worked up about the ruling and should instead let the legal process play out (that is, those who weren't actually pushing the case forward). Spanish authorities would in all likelihood alter their request in order to satisfy Salvadoran concerns. Once they had done that, the ball would be back in El Salvador's court. That sure seems to be where we are right now.
In neighboring Guatemala, a judge had been expected to rule Wednesday on whether former General Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes should stand trial for genocide in connection with ~300 massacres committed during Guatemala's civil war. A genocide case would be the first of its kind in Guatemala and the Americas. López Fuentes served as chief of staff of the Guatemalan military under president General Efrain Rios Montth between 1982 and 1983. 
Unfortunately, today’s expected decision was suspended "due to an administrative failure to transfer a file from the Appellate Court to the presiding judge." The judge is now scheduled to rule October 3rd. While this might be a legitimate reason, it is in no way going to reduce concerns that the court is simply acting to protect one of the men most responsible for designing and executing the government’s early 1980s scorched earth program. 
Finally in a third case, the Guatemalan Office of Human Rights submitted its case against Pedro Pimentel Rios for his alleged involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. Like the four ex-kaibiles convicted in August, the Public Prosecutor's office believes that Rios was a member of an "assault group who killed, tortured and raped in Las Dos Erres." Rios was arrested on immigration charges in the United States and subsequently deported to Guatemala in July.
While all three cases deserve their day in court, I am really interested in both the Jesuits' case and the genocide case. Those involved are some of those most responsible for the design and execution of the dirty wars launched out against the guerrillas and their civilian supporters and anyone else who dared speak out against the repressive regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Nicaragua would support Iranian terrorist attacks against the US?

Roger Noriega Guevara Mena recently published a press release from his campaign entitled 

Nicaragua and the Anti-American Axis in the Wall Street Journal. Among his wild claims, you'll find the following.
Ahmadinejad has made a habit of stopping off in Nicaragua during his periodic visits to Mr. Chávez. Exactly what ventures he has planned in the country are unknown. But don't count out trouble in this hemisphere if Iran acquires nuclear weapons or seeks to unleash terrorists on American soil. Messrs. Chávez and Ortega would be all too willing to help their Iranian friends.
I'm not sure what he means by "habit" (how many times has Ahmadinejad been to the Americas?), but that's not such a big deal. 

Wouldn't you have expected the editors to press just a bit harder on the author's claim that Ortega and Chavez would support the Iranian use of nuclear weapons and the unleashing of terrorists against Americans on American soil? 
Honestly, the WSJ has to have higher standards to publish something like this even if it is from a Nicaraguan presidential candidate with about 1% support July and August polls.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Earthquakes in Guatemala

Six earthquakes struck Guatemala on Monday. From Nic Wirtz contributing for the Christian Science Monitor
It was a rude shock for most Guatemalans as they returned to the grind following a weekend of Independence Day celebrations. Buildings shook in the capital and schools closed throughout the country as the midday quakes struck. The tremors provoked landslides in some areas. At least three were killed.
Emergency services are battling to restore power in the region and ensure that recent torrential rain combined with the earthquakes does not result in more landslides.
All Guatemalan presidents have had to deal with natural disasters on their watch and Colom is no different. In 2010 alone, Guatemala had Tropical Storm Agatha, the eruption of the Pacaya Volcano, and a sinkhole. Mudslides were caused by Agatha as well as other storms throughout the year. They continue to be an all too regular occurrence as three children died in a mudslide a day after the earthquakes. (Update - At least fifteen now believed dead.)

While it is always terrible when these earthquakes strike causing death and destruction, yesterday's multiple earthquakes do not appear to have caused too much physical damage and large-scale loss of life.
However, it brings up a reason to once again remind everyone that President Obama and the US government have failed to respond to Guatemala's request for temporary protected status (TPS) for its nationals living in the US. Not everyone has given up hope.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I am not familiar with the parties sponsoring the website, but I received this information about the Dos Erres website via email this afternoon.
Some of you may know that the Guatemalan community of Las Dos Erres was massacred on December 7th, 1982. Some of you may have even followed the efforts of survivors to seek justice and guarantee historic memory. What you may not know, however, is that Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes - a former elite military officer and one of the suspected perpetrators of the massacre - was arrested in Canada earlier this year.
Instead of facing charges of crimes against humanity, he has been judged fit for extradition to the United States where he is wanted on the charge of immigration fraud. We can’t let this happen. It is worth noting that both Sosa Orantes and one of the survivors have Canadian citizenship.
Collaborating with various organizations, including: Breaking the Silence, Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala, Lawyers without Borders Canada, Canadian Centre for International Justice, and Acoguate, we have created a website with further information on the case and a request to take action.
In English :
In French:
We encourage you to check it out, inform yourselves, and sign and send the letter under the “Take Action” section, to demand than an investigation be conducted in Canada under the War Crimes Act regarding Sosa Orantes’ alleged participation in this massacre.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Round 2 Election Maneuvering in Guatemala

Even though women voters outnumbered men in Guatemala's September 11 election, only 7 mayoral positions were won by women. Seven out of 333 is disappointing but it is one more than female candidates for mayor won in 2007.

While Nineth Montengro and the Encounter for Guatemala (EG) might not be big fans of Manuel Baldizon, it's tough to imagine them supporting Otto Perez Molina in the second around. However, the EG appears undecided between Baldizon, Perez, and neutrality and won't have a decision before midweek. Montenegro is scheduled to meet with Perez on Tuesday. Its coalition partner, Harold Caballeros of ViVa has already thrown his support behind Perez and will be making public appearances besides the former general.

Perez also says that he has the support of 25 mayors and six members of congress elected as members of UNE-GANA.

Three mayors and one congressman from San Marcos make up those URNG who have already decided to support Baldizon in round two. For the URNG, the choice was Baldizon or no one.

On the one hand, coalition building between rounds 1 and 2 is healthy in a system run by majority runoff electoral rules. It gives some of the smaller parties (ViVa, EG, URNG, etc.) the ability to leverage its showing in the first round into promises of government positions or policy promises in return for support in round two.

On the other hand, what's going on right now also reflects the weakness of Guatemala's political party system. The the top two candidates looking for support among individual mayors and members of congress. There's little search for programmatic coherence. The ViVa-EG coalition is so far split on who to vote for in round two and if Perez is correct, the UNE-GANA coalition looks like it'll have members supporting Perez and Baldizon.

Honestly, I have no idea how well these endorsements will translate into additional electoral support in round two. It's probably better to have them than to not have them, but it's not clear that those who support the URNG or EG are going to be influenced by whether the party leadership endorses Baldizon or Perez.

Guatemala Election Links

Kevin Casas-Zamora has an interesting read on Guatemala: Between A Rock and A Hard Place for Brookings. Like Casas-Zamora, I am not overly impressed by the two remaining candidates.

I’m not sure that Casas-Zamora would agree but I lean towards saying that Guatemalans probably shouldn't vote for Perez Molina given what he is alleged to have done in the past and they shouldn't vote for Manuel Baldizon given what he says that he is going to do in the future. Not a good situation to be in.

Nic Wirtz and Kara Andrade also do a nice job with a brief write-up following the first round in Guatemala's Election and Looking Toward the Second Round on the Americas Quarterly blog.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

News around El Salvador

Diario Co-Latino identified National Guardsman Sargeant Marino Samayoa Acosta as the individual who shot and killed Archbishop Oscar Romero. 
Tim summarizes a recent poll from Mitofsky from the Periódico News Millenium website that indicates 
  • President Mauricio Funes has a 65% approval rating. While it's still a strong rating, it does show ongoing slippage from the early days of his administration. 
  • Party preferences for the 2012 elections of mayors and the National Assembly show right wing ARENA and left wing FMLN each polling between 25 and 30%. No other party shows particular strength and most people are undecided. This has been the pattern in most recent elections.
  • Salvadorans are equally divided on what to do with the case of the murder of the Jesuits. 43% say the case should be reopened and 41% say no.
ContraPunto seems to have a summary of the same poll, but the numbers are slightly different. Funes is at 68%. In terms of who Salvadorans intend to vote for in the upcoming congressional election, 27.8% say ARENA and 25.8% the Frente. ARENA has a slightly greater advantage in mayoral races with 29.4 support versus the FMLN's 25.2%. 
The drop in support for the FMLN shouldn't be surprising given that 8 out of 10 Salvadorans say that the security situation has worsened, 9 out of 10 that the economic situation has worsened, and 75% that the political situation has worsened. Given such a sour outlook on the economic, social, and political situation in the country, the numbers aren't all that bad for the FMLN. ARENA support has increased a few points and few seem inclined to support third party alternatives.    
President Funes recently announced that he intends to support legislation that will enable Salvadorans living abroad to vote in national elections.
El Salvador was recently added to the United States' list of "major" drug producing and transit countries. The US still recognizes El Salvador, however, as a "key partner in our efforts to ruin the threats from transnational criminal organizations and gangs."
While remittances picked up in August, extortion continues to reduce investment and economic growth.  
Finally, ARENA hearts Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Prosecuting Human Rights Violators in Central America

Kathryn Sikkink, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, has an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Making Tyrants Do Time that should be of interest to those following events in El Salvador and Guatemala. In it, she speaks directly to concerns that have been voiced about the potential destabilizing effects of prosecuting individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity in postwar societies.
Historical and statistical evidence gives us reason to question criticisms of human rights trials. My research shows that transitional countries — those moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace — where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other factors constant.
By comparing countries like Argentina and Chile that have used human rights prosecutions with those like Brazil that have not, I found that prosecutions tended not to exacerbate human rights violations, undermine democracy or lead to violence.
Of 100 countries that underwent a transition from 1980 to 2004 (the period for which extensive data is available), 48 pursued at least one human rights prosecution, and 33 of those pursued two or more. Countries that have prosecuted former officials exhibit lower levels of torture, summary execution, forced disappearances and political imprisonment. Although civil war heightens repression, prosecutions in the context of civil war do not make the situation worse, as critics claim.
Such evidence doesn’t tell us what will happen in any individual country, but it is a better basis from which to reason than a counterfactual guess. The possibility of punishment and disgrace makes violating human rights more costly, and thus deters future leaders from doing so.
If political leaders in Central America want to improve the human rights situations in the region, the historical record indicates that Guatemala should continue with prosecutions and El Salvador should start them. Prosecuting former government officials for human rights violations is more likely to strengthen democracy than it is to destabilize it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Murders Continue to Decrease in Guatemala

As the two heavyweights continue to showcase their mano dura credentials before November's runoff , the murder rate in Guatemala continues to move in a positive direction. The PNC's August numbers are consistent with the numbers provided by INACIF a few weeks ago.

According to Carlos Mendoza at The Black Box, the PNC reported 440 August murders. This year's murder rate remains on track to show improvement compared to 2010 which was an improvement compared to 2009.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Still Wrapping up Sunday's Election in Guatemala

The URNG, Patriotic Party, Lider, FRG, and Unionist parties are all fighting for the last congressional seats up for grabs. The URNG, PP, and Lider are currently battling over who will get the last of ten seats from Huehuetenango. As I mentioned yesterday, the URNG had won at least one seat from Huehue in each election since the end of the country's civil war. No one seems happy about the TSE's slow reporting of final results. 

Parties are still working through the details of alliances for the November runoff. However, @EleccionesGua is reporting that UNE, GANA, the Frente Amplio and UCN will support Manuel Baldizon in the November 6th runoff with Otto Perez Molina. Several pre-election polls asked Guatemalans who they would support in a runoff between Perez and candidate X (Baldizon, Suger, Caballeros, etc.). Perez won easily each time.

I think that the runoff is going to be very competitive regardless of whether other candidates/parties endorse Baldizon. However, this will especially especially be the case if UNE, GANA, the Frente Amplio and UCN throw their weight behind Baldizon. A lot is going to depend on turnout in the second round and whether an endorsement by UNE or GANA or whoever's leadership is enough to get their voters to the polls.

In other news, President Colom extended the state of alarm in the Peten for another thirty days.

Scientists look for mass graves in Guatemala

Al Jazeera has a new video on the search for victims from Guatemala's civil war.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Composition of Guatemalan Congress Remains Uncertain

And here is an updated allocation of seats for the new congress from Prensa Libre.

As you can see, there are a few changes from what I posted last night. The PP is down two seats, LIDER is up 1, Frente Amplio down 1, and Unionista is up 2. The URNG/Frente Amplio picked up one seat from San Marcos and one from the national list. Now, I would say that it is a disappointing electoral outcome for the former guerrillas and affiliated groups. They only won two seats (out of 158) and lost in Huehuetenango, a department where they had successfully elected at least one member of congress since the end of the war (1999, 2003, and 2007).

However, El Periodico's numbers are a little different in that it has the PP with 56, Frente Amplio with 3 and LIDER with 13. It might not matter to the PP whether it has 54 or 56, but it sure matters to the Frente Amplio and URNG. 

Some other links to check out:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Guatemalan Congressional Elections

The URNG has an unofficial count of the distribution of congressional seats posted on its Facebook page.
It's very unofficial so take it with a grain of salt. However, given UNE-GANA's performance in congressional elections, I bet none are all too pleased with Colom and his ex right now. They would have had a chance at the presidency and a plurality in congress with a candidate.

Viva-EG looks like it might have done well (led by Caballeros for the presidency and Nineth Montenegro for congress. Controversy might even have hurt them.

And three seats for the Frente Amplio is a bit of a push. When I spoke with some URNG last year, holding on to their two seats was critical and capturing four or five would have been a coup. Unfortunately, that was before its alliance with Winaq and the ANN so three was probably the minimum they were looking for.

Again, unofficial but probably not too far off the final results.

Confusing Poll Numbers?

Some surveys conducted prior to this weekend's election in Guatemala reported two sets of number. In the first and most frequently reported one, analysts and commentators, including myself, reported support for the candidates in terms of what percentage of votes they received among all candidates on the ballot excluding null, blank and spoiled ballots.

For example, in Siglo XXI's most recent Encuesta IV (the one that lead people to ask why Perez's support dropped significantly during the final month) Perez came in at 44.8%, Baldizon at 22.5%, and Suger at 18.4%. However, these are the results when null votes, didn't vote, and blank vote are excluded.

When you include the the 39% of respondents who didn't vote (18.8%), spoiled their ballots (1.9%), or submitted a blank ballot (8.1%) in the poll, the outcome for the first election was more in doubt than previously recognized. Here, Perez counted 31.9%, Baldizon 16%, and Suger 13.1% support.

If you start from these last numbers and then try to figure out how the first round went the way that it did, it's not as difficult to figure out.

Surprising Results in Guatemala?

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has preliminary numbers in Guatemala and it's all but certain that front runner Otto Perez of the Patriotic Party will advance to a runoff against Manuel Baldizon of LIDER on November 6.

Here are the results as reported as the TSE's website.

Perez leads with 36% and Baldizon follows with 23%. Suger will likely come in third with 16%. There's no surprise in the order of the top three finishers. However, Perez' support seems a little low given where recent polls had his level of support.

Some other thoughts:

While several problems with the vote came across Twitter yesterday, local electoral authorities and OAS representatives claim that the overall vote went rather smoothly.

Greg argues that the Guatemalan left was routed yesterday. That's a tough one to assess so far. The Frente Amplio never had a shot at winning the presidency and the early returns actually give Rigoberta Menchu 3.18% of the vote which is quite good compared to what I was expecting (3.09% in 2007). She had been polling consistently below 2%, sometimes even below 1%. On the other hand, while the Frente Amplio considers themselves the Guatemalan left, you'll also find leftist candidates and supporters in the coalitions for UNE-GANA and Viva-EG as well as Baldizon's LIDER. For the Frente Amplio, I'll wait until congressional seats and mayors are determined before characterizing its performance as a failure.

On the other hand, if the results hold up, Perez is yesterday's big loser. He and the PP must have thought that they had a reasonable opportunity to win a first round knockout or, if not, to at least come close. Instead, he captured a little more than one-third of the national vote. However, if his support surpasses 40% when the final tally is in, I reserve the right to change my mind. But, then again, 40-42% is still disappointing.

We might have an idea later today, if not tomorrow, as to the composition of the 158-member congress. However, it doesn't look like any single party will have a majority. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quick Count has Perez in Front

A quick unofficial count of the ballots has Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party ahead of Eduardo Suger (CREO) and Manuel Baldizón (LIDER). As expected Perez is doing well in the capital and urban centers (Siglo XXI).
A second place finish by Suger shouldn't come as a surprise. He's been polling back and forth with Baldizon for the last several months even though the last few polls have put Baldizon ahead. 
TSE officials will have some official preliminary results within the hour so I wouldn't make too much of these early results.

Election Day is Finally Here

Here are a few more English-language stories for today's big election in Guatemala.
The AFP has Ex-general leads in race for Guatemala presidency. Okay, it's not a big deal but Otto Perez has had a commanding lead since well before Sandra Torres was permanently disqualified from the race. He's led since at least January 2009 but I would go back and say that he's been the prohibitive favorite since Alvaro Colom took office. 
How nice that Perez is now concerned about excessive campaign spending.
Perez, running for the Patriotic Party, urged voters to elect him in the first round of balloting. "By winning the first round, all Guatemalans would win," he said, claiming that the 19 million dollars that would be spent on the run-off vote "could be spent on health, education, highways."
The AP has Guatemalans go to polls to elect president. Whereas the AFP story has half the population living in poverty, the AP has chosen to go with the 75% figure (probably more accurate). The end of the article leads to a good question even though that wasn't its intention.
Alvaro Velasquez, of the Central American Institute of Political Studies, said people are disenchanted with politics as a result of the Colom government, which promised to quell the violence with social programs.
"They expected the government of Colom to be the transformation, but he didn't even try to be strong," Velasquez said.
The murder rate upon leaving office should be lower than when Colom first assumed office. Does he not get any credit for that because the Guatemalan people expected a lot more or does he not get credit because he is soft-spoken and does not exude strength? Again, maybe it's because violence might be up even though murders are down - don't know that one for sure.
Reuters comes in with Crime fears color Guatemala's presidential vote. Whereas the AFP goes with 12 murders per day to describe the violence in Guatemala, Reuters goes with 18 per day. 18 is accurate for 2010 which was lower than 2009 (19). Fortunately, Guatemala is on pace for a rate of 16-17 for 2011. Not great, but heading in the right direction. But it's nowhere near the 12 number that the AFP goes with.  On the other hand, if Perez can fulfill his campaign promise of reducing the murder rate by 20% during his term in office, we'll be looking at a number closer to 12 in 2015.
Neither candidate says how they will pay to fight crime.
It's more accurate to say that no one believes them when they say how they will pay to fight crime. Perez wants to cut down on corruption and contraband. No new taxes or tax increases. Baldizon will come up with an increase or new tax if only the Guatemalan people support one through a referendum.
Finally, UPI has Guatemalans looking for military presence. Actually, it just summarizes yesterday's NYT story.  
Polls open in a few minutes. While it hasn’t been the prettiest of campaigns, let’s hope that election day goes smoothly and that Guatemalans exercise their right to vote for those candidates whom they believe will best serve them over the next four years.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mano dura v. Mano dura in Guatemala

Ken Ellingwood has a new piece on Guatemala ex-general's tough-on-crime stand resonates with voters except that I am not entirely convinced. 

It doesn't make sense to call Colom a leftist - states of siege in Alta Verapaz and the Peten, repression of civil society organizations, and conditional cash transfer programs, free trade with the US, etc. In many ways, t's the same thing that the right will offer tomorrow.   

Yes, security is paramount for Guatemalans. However, it might have been better had he discussed how the murder rate grew terribly during Colom's first two years in office but that it has declined since. That hasn't been enough to change the theme of this year's election especially given the overall level of crime (extortion, assaults, robberies, etc.) and fear that pervade the country. Others might say that the media and the main candidates have neglected the declining murder rate so as to ensure a rightist is elected on Sunday. 

And there's also the fact that the top two candidates, Perez and Baldizon, both promise mano dura policies. They want to add more police and army (Perez) or a new guard (Baldizon). They both want a return to the death penalty. It's mano dura v. mano dura, not a choice between mano dura and something else. That's not entirely fair however. Baldizon, referred to by some as the Berlusconi of the Peten, seems just as comfortable on the populist right as he does the populist left.
And I'm not really sure that the following is accurate:
While liberal voters voice unease over the prospect of a tough-talking former military man in charge, others see Perez Molina's military experience as an asset during a crisis of violence.
The left is concerned about Perez because, in addition to his alleged crimes that Ellingwood mentions, he was in charge of one of the departments struck most ferociously by the Guatemalan military during the genocide period. He's not just some tough talking military man. 

He is believed to be one of the men responsible for designing and executing a scorched earth program in the countryside in the early 1980s. In addition, he has also been connected to the death of the beloved Bishop Juan Gerardi. Finally, he has also been connected to hidden powers in postwar Guatemala. 
But some critics worry that mano dura may prove to be shorthand for an approach that harks back to the era of iron-fisted military rule. 
I'd say other critics are more concerned with the possibility that homicide rates will escalate like they did in Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador after presidents in those countries took a mano dura approach to crime. 

A final concern is that Guatemala is just starting to make progress in bringing human rights perpetrators to justice. Perez, as a former military man who denies that genocide occurred, is unlikely to be support of criminal procedures that would hold former military men responsible for their crimes.

(That's it for now. Sorry if it was a bit rambling.)

Guatemala Election Links

Lots of news stories this weekend. Here are a few to skim through.
Revista Y Que has a list of notable candidates competing for congress on Sunday. (Spanish)
Guatemala Election 2011: Otto Pérez Molina Takes The Lead (Huffington Post) They lost me when they listed Rigoberta Menchu, Baldizon, and Suger as his competitors. Menchu? On the other hand, she is the only candidate that most people outside of Guatemala will recognize.
Danilo Valladares has More Not Always Better for Women at IPS.
Manuel Vogt takes on the issue of the lack of indigenous people in the government at El Periodico. (Spanish)
Sonia Perez has Former general leads polls for Guatemala president for the AP. It's good that she mentions (sort of) that Perez has been the front runner ever since his loss to Colom in 2007. Runner ups generally win the next presidential election.

However, she also writes that "The deeply divided country has a largely white elite and impoverished Indian majority, with the war leaving a legacy of rampant corruption and a culture of violence." The legacy of rampant corruption and a culture of violence springs more from the colonial and post-colonial period when a small, privileged elite dominated. In fact, for many, that's what led to the war in the first place. Sure the corruption and violence has taken on new forms in recent decades, but corruption and violence predate the war.
Anastasia Moloney has Anti-Corruption Views - Corruption concerns mar Guatemala elections at It looks like a summary of what others have written. However (and it's not just her), I would like to see people who are writing about Guatemala right now better defend statements like the "most expensive [yes] and violent elections [not compared to 2008]" or "spiralling violence" [as the murder rate continues to improve or remain unchanged].  See also Gangs, drugs fuel violence in Guatemala on CNN.
The Washington Office on Latin America has running commentary on this weekend's elections here.
Plaza Publica has an important article on how we should not place too much faith in this year's polls because (1) the polls were all over the place in 2007 and (2) most polls were conducted with candidates who did not end up running (Torres, Alvaro Arzu, Zury Rios). It's an important point.

However, the 2007 polls had Colom consistently in first prior to the first round election. He then won the first round. It wasn't until the months between the first and the second round that Perez took the lead in the polls before eventually losing on election day. Otto Perez has led this one throughout, sometimes by a lot and sometimes by a few points. Even the polls that asked about a second round between Perez and any other candidate, he wins easily.  
Finally, Carin Zissis has a nice quick rundown on the recent campaign with Guatemala Readies for Vote after Troubled Campaign Cycle.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Central America Violence

According to InSight Crime, 2011 is lining up to be a terrible year for Honduras and El Salvador. 
Honduras is on track to reach a murder rate of 86 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, while El Salvador could see a rate of 72 per 100,000, according to new reports.
On the other hand, August was another relatively nonlethal month for Guatemala and the country is on track to have somewhere between 39 and 40 murders per 100,000. 
Granted these estimates assume that murders occur at roughly the same rate for the remaining months as they occurred during the first eight months of the year. That's a big if especially considering that the last few months tend to be more violent, at least in Guatemala. 
However, at what point do reporters and analysts stop lumping Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras together as the murderous northern triangle? 
At a minimum, it looks like El Salvador and Honduras should be discussed in one extreme category with rate over 70 per 100,000. 
Guatemala and Belize should follow in a second, still dangerous, but less severe category with 40 per 100,000.
Finally, Nicaragua and Costa Rica comprise the third and final category with a rate just over 10.

Guatemala Election Links

Here are a stories on this weekend's election in Guatemala.
Guatemala Drug Violence Fuels Former General’s Presidential Bid (Bloomberg)
Retired general promises security in Guatemala vote (Reuters)
Controversial Guatemalan Presidential Front-Runner Banned from Campaign Spending (InSight Crime)
Guatemalan Women Enter the Political Limelight Ahead of Sunday’s Elections (Kara Andrade and Nic Wirtz for Americas Quarterly)
There's not much new to report. The continued insecurity and poor economic conditions in Guatemala, no candidate to represent the governing party, a second place finish in the last election, and nearly unlimited resources compared to its competitors, means that we are only waiting to hear whether Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party (PP) win a first round victory or need to take it to a second round in November.

Obviously, Perez will want to take victory this weekend. Although surveys indicate he will win against any challenger in a second round, it's not a chance he'll want to take.