Monday, October 31, 2011

Mejia too sick to stand trial

The National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF)  has found that Former President Oscar Mejia (1983-1986) is too sick to stand to stand trial on charges of genocide. For now he will remain at a military hospital until his health either improves or worsens

Supporters seek sainthood for Father Stanley Rother

Those of us in the United States are generally familiar with the persecution of the Catholic Church during El Salvador's civil war. We're familiar with Archbishop Oscar Romero, Rutilio Grande, the U.S. churchwomen, and the UCA martyrs. Of course, they're not the only ones to have been murdered.
In Guatemala, the Catholic Church was also heavily persecuted. Bishop Juan Gerardi was killed in 1998 shortly after delivering the results of the Catholic Church's investigation into wartime atrocities. Brother James Miller was killed by the military in 1982. However, several other priests, nuns, and lay people were killed during the conflict.
One such priest is Father Stanley Rother of Oklahoma. Father Rother was sent to Guatemala in 1968 to serve the Tzutujil people. By 1975, Rother was the only member of the clergy remaining at the Church's mission. Rother was shot in the church rectory on July 28, 1981. Rother was one of ten priests killed in 1981. The committee for the cause of canonization is currently investigating whether Rother's life and death merit his recognition as a saint. 
Journeyman Pictures has a 25-minute video on Father Rother's life and death.

If Father Rother is canonized, he will become the first US born male saint.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

El Salvador Links

Dean Brackley's obituary in the NYT

Emily Achtenberg has a report on A Mining Ban in El Salvador? at Upside Down World that was originally publiched in NACLA.

El Salvadorans are the largest immigrant group on Long Island having increased in numbers 27% to nearly 56,000 between 2000 and 2009.

The Black Box has the world's most violent countries in table form. El Salvador is number 2 behind Honduras.

Finally, Tim links to a video from President Bill Clinton asking you to help the people of Central America following the terrible flooding..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saddam Hussein Confused about Iran-Contra?

According to reporting from the New York Times, Saddam Hussein was a tad bit confused about the whole Reagan Iran-Contra affair.
On Nov. 15, 1986, Saddam Hussein gathered his most senior aides for an important strategy session. Two days earlier, President Ronald Reagan had acknowledged in a televised address that his administration had sent weapons and spare parts to Iran.
“It can only be a conspiracy against Iraq,” said Mr. Hussein, who inferred darkly that the United States was trying to prolong the Iran-Iraq war, already in its sixth year, and increase Iraq’s enormous casualties.
In truth, the Reagan administration had arranged the arms shipment for a variety of reasons that had little to do with Iraq: to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, to open a private channel to the new leadership in Tehran and to generate secret profits that could be sent to Nicaraguan rebels.
What's so hard to understand? At the same time that the US was supporting Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War, the Reagan administration had Israel sell weapons to Iran. The US would then take the payment that Israel received from Iran and in return resupply the Israelis with more up to date military hardware

The Iranians would convince Hezbollah to release Americans hostages in Lebanon. Later Oliver North and the US sold weapons directly to the Iranians and redirected a portion of the proceeds from the weapon sales to fund the Contras based in Honduras and Costa Rica. And the Contras, of course, were fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. 

Oh, and by the way, the Iranian were also providing the Sandinistas with some support at the time. So you had the US supplying the Iraqis and Iranians and the Iranians funding the Contras (indirectly) and Sandnistas (directly).

Who isn't confused? Reagan allegedly didn't even know everything that he and his administration were up to.

Argentine Angel of Death get Life

In Argentina on Wednesday, Alfredo Astiz, Argentina's infamous "Blond Angel of Death," and 11 other death squad members from the country's period of military rule received life sentences following a twenty-two month trial.
Astiz, nicknamed for his cherubic looks, stood trial with other former officials accused of horrific crimes at the ESMA Naval Mechanics School, where about 5,000 dissidents were held and tortured during the 1976-1983 "Dirty War" dictatorship. Few of the captives survived.
The AP also has a round up of events in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile that are related repression under military rule. In Uruguay, the Senate voted to annul the country's amnesty law, while In Chile, forensic investigators recently identified the remains of Georges Klein, Salvador Allende's French doctor. 

“Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better…The human rights problem is a growing one.  Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help.” (October 1976)

While you wouldn't expect the AP to rock the boat, I would have like to have seem them follow up on the lack of effort on the part of the United States to come to grips with its frequent support and encouragement of murderous regimes and terrorists in Central and South America.
The two countries [Uruguay and Argentina] are among several Latin American nations still struggling to come to terms with Cold War dictatorships in which regimes routinely tortured, killed or "disappeared" suspected opponents. Most of those dictatorships ended nearly three decades ago.
They are struggling to come to terms with their past. In the United States, on the other hand, the majority of the people are either unaware of what the US did during the Cold War or they justify our government's actions with the all so persuasive, "we won, didn't we?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"A call to recognize the crimes of High Finance"

David Friedrichs, my criminal justice / sociology colleague from the end of the hall, has some commentary at MarketWatch in which he argues that Occupy Wall Street does have a clear message and that it is a "A call to recognize the crimes of High Finance".
What are the Occupy Wall Street protesters seeking? Critics of this endeavor claim that there is a lack of a clear focus, agenda and strong leadership. But the overall message of the protesters is crystal clear and hugely important: we all need to become broadly conscious of what is wrong with our present political economy, and we have to promote the political will needed to transform it in fundamental ways.

There's some good things that I agree with in David's commentary such as we should take white collar crime more seriously. On the other hand, I'm not entirely convinced that OWS has a single, clear message (I don't have a problem with that) or that
The top priority of Wall Street should instead be to foster economic development, high levels of employment across the economy, and a fair and equitable distribution of the commonly produced gross national product for the benefit of the 99%.
It might be nice, but that sound more like the goals of government than Wall Street. Any way, it's worth a look. David is one of the country's foremost experts on white collar crime.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mejia moved to a military hospital

Prensa Libre

Last I read former President President Oscar Mejia (1983-1986) was on the run from authorities after a Guatemalan judge issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of genocide. That was October 14th. Apparently, he was arrested sometime between then and now. 
However, like Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, he might also be too ill to stand trial.
A Guatemalan judge ordered that former President Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores be taken to a military hospital on Tuesday for examination to determine if he is fit to face trial on charges of crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors' spokesman Manuel Vasquez says Mejia Victores was under sedation when the judge in the case went to his apartment to conduct an initial hearing.
The former president's lawyers had said he was unable to appear in court because he had suffered a stroke. But when the judge went to his apartment on Tuesday Mejia Victores was also apparently unable to participate in the hearing. He is in his 80s.
While it has been important for the Guatemalan authorities to go after those directly involved in carrying out genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, I also thought that it was more important to go after the intellectual authors of the repression.
It’s tough to say that is not the case. Guatemalan prosecutors appear to be doing their best to hold those who orchestrated the violence accountable. For that, they should be commended.
Unfortunately, time appears to be running out on them as these two generals are in their eighties and another one might be preparing to move in to the presidential palace in a few months. 

Guatemalan Drug Gangs & Me: The Human Cost of Prohibition

Monday, October 24, 2011

Three for Three

The Patriotic Party's Otto Perez Molina is now three for three. Borge y Asociados and El Periodico released poll numbers today that have the former general in the lead with 55.1% of the vote. LIDER's Manuel Baldizon picks up the remaining 44.9%. 
However, when you factor in the 6.4% who don't plan to vote and the 10.7% who don't know who they are going to vote for or simply didn't respond, Perez’s lead looks a little more tenuous at 45.7% to 37.2%.   
No good news for those looking to keep the former general out of the presidency.
The poll was conducted between October 8 and 17 among 2,016 persons in the 22 departments of the country. The poll has a margin of error of 2.2%.

How about a little TPS for our Guatemalan neighbors?

A May 2010 eruption of the Pacaya Volcano outside Guatemala City sent ash flying into the departments of Guatemala, Sacatepéquez, and Escuintla. The eruption killed two people, closed the national airport for several days, and left thousand people homeless. President Alvaro Colom declared a state of public calamity. Days later, Tropical Storm Agatha left over two hundred fifty people dead or missing.

Following these natural disasters, President Colom asked the asked the US Government to suspend the detention and deportation of Guatemalans living in the US for eighteen months. In June of that year, he officially requested Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for those Guatemalans living in the United States.

TPS would provide a temporary reprieve for the nearly 1.7 million Guatemalans living in the United States, perhaps as many as sixty percent without the proper documentation, until the country was able to recover from these back-to-back disasters. In recent years, TPS has been granted to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Haiti following natural disasters. 

In September 2010, Guatemala was struck by another natural disaster when over fifty Guatemalans died from flooding and landslides caused by a tropical depression. Several people were killed when the buses on which they were traveling were overturned by landslides. First responders and civilians who raced to the scene to rescue the victims were themselves killed when the mountainside gave way once again. 

Guatemala was struck by a series of earthquakes that left over fifteen dead in September 2011. And now, in October, two weeks of uninterrupted rain has left at least 38 dead, 5 missing, 18 injured, and over 500,000 others adversely affected. Forty percent of the country's roads are damaged. Preliminary estimates put damage to the country's infrastructure and agricultural production at $250 million. 

So far, President Obama has far failed to respond to Guatemala's request for TPS. Instead, he has touted how many illegal immigrants have been deported under his watch. 

33,324 Guatemalans were deported in the last fiscal year. 

Here's an idea. The President should extend Temporary Protected Status to our Guatemalan neighbors so that the country can better recover from these natural disasters without the additional challenge of dealing with the deportation of thousands of their countrymen.

TPS isn't a magical solution to the migratory challenge that confronts the US and Latin American and its southern neighbors. However, it is one tool that the executive branch has at its disposal right now and can make a real difference in the lives of millions of people in Guatemala and the United States.

(Some of this was originally written for a letter to the editor of the Scranton Times in 2010. I hope that I won't have to use it next year as well.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Flooding in El Salvador

Al Jazeera has video coverage of the storms in El Salvador. (The link was down yesterday but back up today - h/t Tim)

President Funes intends to ask the United States to stop deporting Salvadorans from the United States and to not let TPS expire in March. He'll probably get more traction on the second part of his request than the first.

Brazil has announced that it will donate 1,100 tons of rice and beans and $100,000 to El Salvador. Japan, Germany, Taiwan, Guatemala, Venezuela, Spain, the US and Chile have also announced that they will be providing assistance of some sort.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Campaign ads in Guatemala

@EleccionesGua on Twitter links to some television advertisements in Guatemala. Here is the one for Otto Perez Molina and the Patriotic Party.

And here is the second one for Manuel Baldizon of LIDER.

Advantage Baldizon. 

Central America Links

Alma Guillermoprieto, always a great-storyteller, returns to El Salvador for the first time in thirty years. Check out her story on In the New Gangland of El Salvador. Here is one of her opening stories.
Is there a monument or a sign marking where the four Americanas were killed during the war?” I ask the driver of the hotel van.
Yes, up in the university, the UCA, where they died.”
No, those were the six Jesuit priests, years later, in San Salvador. I mean the nuns, in 1980, here.”
Oh,” he replies. “I don’t remember.”

El Salvador's Supreme Court (CSJ) ruled in favor of Servipronto. Servipronto took McDonald's to court because it claimed that McDonald's had illegally terminated its franchising agreement in 1996.The Golden Arches is on the hook for $24 million. You can read more background on the case through a few Wikileaks cables here.

The New York Times has coverage on President Colom's apology to the Arbenz family. They underplay the Cold War background of the coup a little too much for my taste. The US was willing to support a socially progressive government in Costa Rica at the same time that the coup in Guatemala happened.

The Costa Rican government and constitution was every bit as progressive as Guatemala. However, the Costa Rican government agreed to the US' request that it repress the communists. In Guatemala, Arbenz's reforms were almost certain to strengthen the small, but well-organized, communist party.

And here are two more links to stories about the life and death of Dean Brackley, SJ who passed away last weekend after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The Ignatian Solidarity Network has several links to Dean's talks and writings. CRISPAZ has reactions to his death as well.

Guatemala apologises to Arbenz family

URNG Facebook Photo

President Alvaro Colom apologized on behalf of the Guatemalan government to former president Jacobo Arbenz's family on Thursday. Arbenz was deposed in a CIA-sponsored coup in 1954. He died in exile in 1971.
The apology and recognition "that the Guatemalan State failed to protect the human rights of members of the Arbenz family" comes five months after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights helped to negotiate an agreement between the two parties. 
"Asking forgiveness has historical implications for the country and for Guatemalans' historical memory because (the coup) was when our coutnry's debacle began," Ruth del Valle, head of the presidential commission on human rights told AFP.
Here is President Colom's apology. 
Like President Funes's apology for the state's complicity in the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the six Jesuit martyrs at the UCA, President Colom's apology is an important act. I don't want to diminish what both Presidents Funes and Colom have done. However, one needs citizens on the right in El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States who were involved in these acts (or covered them up) to come forward, accept responsibility, and ask for forgiveness.
It sort of rings hollow when the "left" apologizes on behalf of the state for crimes committed by the "right" against the "left."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2nd Poll has Perez Molina in Lead

El Diario 24

According to a recent CID / Gallup survey, Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party has maintained his lead over Manuel Baldizon of Lider with seventeen days remaining before the second round. The survey was carried out among 1,215 Guatemala between October 9 and 16 and has a margin of error of 2.8%.
39.7% said that they intended to vote for Pérez Molina in round two. Baldizón followed seven and one-half points behind with 32.2%. The remaining 28% didn't mark their simulated ballots. If you don't take the null ballots into account, Pérez Molina leads 55% to 45%. 
CID/Gallup's poll is a bit different from the Prensa Libre / Prodatos poll carried out the week before (October 4 - 8). In that poll, Pérez Molina led 56% to 44%. However, when you factored in the undecided / null vote, Pérez Molina had 49.4%, Baldizón 39.2%, and 11% for the remaining categories. 
Remember, polling in Guatemala is not as reliable as when done in the United States. And I imagine that the rains of the last week are going to cause problems on election day. If anything, that is going to hurt Baldizón who has more support in the rural areas, precisely those areas cut off from the floods.
While the race could still go either way, Pérez Molina remains the odds on favorite.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Most illegal immigrants deported last year were criminals?

The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are touting that the Obama administration deported nearly 400,000 people from the United States in 2010. Headlines report that about 55% of the 396,906 individuals deported had felony or misdemeanor convictions. (Remember, these are the numbers that the administration already manipulated 11 months ago.)
Okay, so 55% of 396,906 had criminal records. That gives us approximately, 218,298 deported with criminal records (and 178,608 without a record). We "know" that 1,119 were convicted of homicide, 5,848 of sexual offenses, 44,653 of drug-related offenses and 35,927 of driving under the influence. That adds up to 87,547. 
Let's assume these convictions were legitimate. That leaves another 130,751 deportees with “other” criminal records. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director couldn't give a number as to how many of these deportees' only offense was a previous immigration violation, but he really needs to know.  Had they committed assault, robbery, trespassing?
Are we talking about 87,000 (22%) or 218,000 (55%) “hardened” criminals deported in 2010? I'm guessing that since he didn't have the answer to such a basic and predictable questions, most of the remaining deportees were simply people desperate enough to get to the US a second or third time.

The other thing to try to keep in perspective is the denominator. In this week's news stories, the denominator is ~400,000. That's the number of people deported in 2010, slightly more than half of which had criminal records. That's what the administration is using as evidence that they are focused on deporting those people who have committed crimes or who are a threat to the US.

However, that might not be the best way to answer the question of whether the administration is focused on the worst of the worst. We would really want to know how many of the 10-11 million illegal immigrants have committed felonies and misdemeanors (probably an unknown number) and how many of those individuals the government has successfully apprehended and deported. Don't compare criminal deportations to non-criminal deportations. 

Catastrophe in Central America

Central America is getting pounded by relentless rain. Tim has excellent coverage as to what is happening in El Salvador as well as ways in which you can help (The deluge of 2011, Weather map for El Salvador, Blog Action Day - The Rains and Food).

El Salvador from the Inside has some statistics and coverage of the storm's damage as well here and here.

Voices from El Salvador has been providing coverage all along. See here, here,  here, here, here and here.

Al Jazeera has video on the storm in Guatemala.

The Central American economies were already hurting and the economic effects of the storms will do nothing to help. Perhaps this presents itself as another good opportunity for President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to offer temporary protected status to Guatemalans instead of touting how many people it deported in 2010.

Thank you Dean Brackley

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, Father Dean Brackley, SJ died Sunday. Dean was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer about four months ago and, after undergoing unsuccessful treatment, he returned to El Salvador at the end of August. Dean was one of the Jesuits who volunteered to serve the people of El Salvador following the murders of six Jesuits in November 1989. 

Tim has a write-up from the honorary degree that Dean recently received from Marquette University. 

John Donaghy has an excerpt from "Meeting the Victims, Falling in Love" that Dean wrote and shares his thoughts at Hermano Juancito.

Like Ellacuria and the Jesuit martyrs before him, Dean will never be replaced. However, we can help in some ways to ensure that his work continues now that he has moved on to be with the Lord. 

For the last several years, Dean and other volunteers have funded a Martyrs Scholarship Program. The program is designed to help students with economic need attend the UCA. Today, approximately 50 students have their tuition and living expenses paid for through the scholarship. 

One of Dean's final desires was to institutionalize the scholarship program so that it would continue well after he left us.
Please help us transform El Salvador’s future. When you support an UCA Martyrs Scholarship Student you help a young person receive a college education that will change their life, their family, and their community for the better. Due to the economic crisis in El Salvador and in the U.S., the program has received fewer donations than before, but the need for scholarships is greater every year.
Help us by sponsoring one of the students in this newsletter or contact us if you wish to sponsor a student from a specific community or major. Your donation will go directly to pay for the student´s tuition and other educational costs. Your donation of any size helps or give $1100 to sponsor one year of the student´s college education. Send your donation to:
Dean Brackley, S.J.
Centro Monseñor Romero, VIP SAL No. 568
PO Box 025364
Miami, FL 33102-5364
Make your check payable to ‘‘Asociación Centro Mons. Romero’’
For more information contact Haydee Diaz at

Friday, October 14, 2011

Former General's Trial Delayed Again

From the AP
A Guatemalan judge has again postponed a hearing to decide if a former general should stand trial for alleged involvement in dozens of massacres of indigenous people during the Central American nation's civil war.
Prosecutors say the 81-year-old Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes was brought to Friday's hearing sedated, prompting Judge Carol Flores to cancel it.
Flores hasn't set a new date for the hearing. She canceled three previous hearings after Lopez's lawyers said he was too sick with prostate cancer to attend.
Lopez was detained in June on charges that he planned and ordered about 300 massacres when he was chief of staff of the Guatemalan military in 1982 and 1983.
I wonder if his lawyer's strategy is just to delay a hearing until the November runoff. Assuming Otto Perez Molina wins, it'll then be interesting to see what happens when the courts try to prosecute military officials for genocide and crimes against humanity when the president denies either of those things ever happened.
NISGUA has more on former Director of Military Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez who was arrested Thursday. 
Here are a few more stories to take a look at this weekend.
Rains blamed for 22 deaths (Fox News Latino)
Women like the all women buses (The Guardian) Are all women taxis next?
Little headway against rampant malnutrition (IPS)  
Guatemalan businessmen look to reduce poverty from 51% to 35% by 2021 (El Periodico) 51% looks low but it sounds like an ambitious, but reasonable goal
An analysis on the economic benefits and risks of the Marlin Mine from Lyuba Zarsky and Leonardo Stanley
22 days and 10 hours remaining until round 2 voting begins.

Mejia on the run

From Reuters
Authorities in Guatemala declared former president Oscar Mejia a fugitive on Thursday after ordering his arrest to face charges of genocide during the 36-year civil war in the Central American country.
Mejia, 80, is wanted for ordering massacres in the Ixil, Quiche indigenous region when he served as chief of the military in 1982-1983, the war's bloodiest years under former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, the government said.

Mejia is missing right now and is considered a fugitive. José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, former head of the G-2, was also sent to preventative prison. He is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. 

Meanwhile, retired general Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes had his hearing postponed as authorities look to determine whether he is healthy enough to stand trial. 

Important steps towards breaking down the impunity that continues to exist in Guatemala.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Social Assistance Policies and the Presidential Vote in Latin America

Matthew L. Layton and Amy Erica Smith from Vanderbilt University have a new report out for AmericasBarometer using survey data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). 

Layton and Smith find that citizens who benefit from conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs are more likely to vote for an incumbent party than are people who do not benefit from these CCT programs. The impact of these CCT programs on hypothetical votes is strongest in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. While one obviously does not want politicians to use these CCT programs simply for political gain (See Lemonade International with h/t to Tim Hoiland), the preliminary evidence is that they do reap electoral benefits.   

In this Insights report we use a cross-national analysis of nine Latin American countries to determine what correlations, if any, exist between participation in social assistance programs, including conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs, and support for the incumbent presidential candidate or party. We find that in almost every country examined, social assistance recipients are more likely to vote for the incumbent than non-recipients, even after accounting for social class, economic perceptions, and national context. These results highlight that social programs have political effects in addition to their social and economic effects.
In the 2011 Guatemalan elections, we don't know whether the incumbent party would have benefited electorally from its CCT programs. They would have needed a presidential candidate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Drug and violence links from around the region

From the Miami Herald 
The U.S. government’s anti-drug smuggling offensive on the Mexican border has caused a “balloon effect” that is expected to spur more narcotics trafficking through the Caribbean, South Florida’s top federal official warned Thursday.
Cocaine and other illegal drugs flooding the United States are still flowing mostly through a pipeline from Colombia to Mexico across the Southwest border. But the trend is expected to shift, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in Miami Thursday.
“We’re hitting them hard there,’’ Ferrer told reporters. “It’s only a matter of time before we see an increase here.’’
That's right. Our success in Mexico and Central America is leading to an uptick in drugs through the Caribbean. 

Some other drug and violence-related stories
Feds seize drug sub with 7.5 tons of cocaine off Honduran coast
Mexico's drug war comes to Belize (Why not the United States' drug war?)
 Guatemala: Drug Trafficking and Violence 
As Elections Loom, Report Profiles Guatemala's Drug Trafficking World
More on the the decline in homicides in Guatemala from Carlos Mendoza at CABI
At least 6 Colombians killed in Guatemala attacks (it's early yet, but October still looks a little more violent than the past few months)
Guatemala's murder rate hit a terrifying 52 per 100,000 in 2009. Colom is leaving with a murder rate approaching 40 per 100,000. Not bad considering where Honduras and El Salvador are today.

2nd Round Poll Numbers - Update

Siglo XXI
In Guatemala, Prensa Libre and Prodatos came out with the first poll numbers ahead of the November 6th runoff between Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party and Manuel Baldizon of LIDER. The poll was conducted between October 4 and 8 among 1,204 Guatemalans using the same ballot (party symbol and presidential photo) that voters will use.

Using just the valid vote, 55.8% of those surveyed indicated that they intended to vote for Perez next month and the remaining 44.2% intended to vote for Baldizon. However, Prensa Libre does not tell us what percentage of the 1,204 responses were invalid or undecided. We really need these number to make sense of the poll. If undecideds are evenly split, it doesn't matter. However, if undecideds break for Baldizon this could be a much closer race. Remember the first round polling does not appear so off if one only looks at polls that report undecideds.

It's only one poll so I am going to wait until others come out before giving the second round victory to Perez. And even if every poll this month gives Perez a victory, that might not be enough. In 2007, Perez won six out of the seven polls conducted between the first and second round vote before losing to Alvaro Colom.

Perez received 36.03% of the first round vote and Baldizon followed a distant second with 23.20%.

***Boz alerted me to some information on the undecideds. When the blank or null votes are included, Perez has 49.4% and Baldizon 39.2%. 11% of those surveyed completed blank or null votes. I know it would be a longer newspaper title, but these numbers are the more accurate ones and should be the headline rather than 56% for Perez.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Santa Luisa School in San Salvador

Bill Howard at the Catholic News Agency has a nice write up about the Santa Luisa School in San Salvador. I traveled with Bill to the school in 2008 on The University of Scranton's Bridges to El Salvador program..
For the more than 500 boys and girls — mostly from poor or destitute families — who get a K-9 education at Santa Luisa, the school is an oasis from a city suffocating from drugs, gangs and violence. For many students, Santa Luisa represents their best chance to break out of the cycle of poverty that surrounds them daily.
Santa Luisa is beginning its 76th year and would not have reached its milestone 75th year without the aid of a group of alumni from the University of Scranton (Pa.). Led by Jesuit Father Brendan Lally, who now serves as a spiritual director at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, the non-profit Salvadoran Children of the Poor Education Foundation (SCOPE) has helped Santa Luisa meet its annual budget and supply basic needs for the past decade.
SCOPE is the product of two immersion programs Fr. Lally steered over two decades at the University of Scranton. The first, International Service Program, began in 1987 and takes students and alumni to two homes for street children in Mexico City for six weeks of the summer. Its success spawned a second program, Bridges to El Salvador, formed after Father Lally’s heart was moved by the Catholic witness of the people there.

You can read more about the S.C.O.P.E. Foundation and ways to help the Santa Luisa School here

Abbas visits El Salvador

During his recent tour of Latin America, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stopped off in El Salvador on Sunday. (Yes, it even made CNN's website.)
Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes expressed his support for a Palestinian state and said that he hopes it will soon have a place at the United Nations, according to the president's website.
"We want to strengthen our relationship with Palestine ... and contribute to the reestablishment of talks between Palestine and Israel," said Funes.
El Salvador recently recognized the Palestinian territories as a "free, sovereign and independent state," the website said.
Presidents Funes and Abbas also announced their interests in establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries including the exchange of ambassadors and the opening of embassies in Palestine and El Salvador (can't wait for the "Hezbollah/Iran opens embassy in El Salvador headlines"). 
Funes also offered to assist Palestine and Israel return to the negotiating table.
Independently, Abbas and the newly appointed Israeli ambassador to El Salvador invited Funes to Palestine and Israel. The Israeli invitation, however, does not indicate any elevated role for Funes in negotiations between Palestine and Israel.
El Salvador has an active Palestinian-Salvadoran community including names like Handal, Saca, Zablah, Siman, Bukele and Kattan.
Greg has more on Abbas' visit to the region and what it might mean for Palestine in the United Nations at Two Weeks Notice.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Murder in Guatemala

I know that I've written several posts about the murder rate in Guatemala in recent weeks. It is frustrating that the Guatemalan and international media keep writing about murders increasing in Guatemala when they are not.

It's not that I want them to write that things are rosy in Guatemala, they certainly are not. However, here are a few suggestions for how they could better characterize the situation.
While the murder rate in Guatemala has declined the last two years, it remains one of the most violent countries in the world. (True)
While the murder rate in Guatemala has declined in 2010 and 2011, it is not clear that overall violence including robbery, assault, rape, extortion, etc. is lower. (Not sure, but is more accurate than what people are writing)
While the murder rate in Guatemala continues to decline, citizens do not perceive the security situation to have gotten any better.
A decrease in the murder rate from ~50 to ~40 per 100,000 looks better on paper than it does on the streets of Guatemala.
Any other suggestions?

I'm hoping that the murder rate continues to drop in October, November, and December, but after reading the local papers the first few days of this month, I'm a bit worried.

Salvadoran Court Refuses to Detain Five Officers

According to the AP, the Salvadoran Supreme Court of Justice has refused to detain five former military officers allegedly involved in the murders of the Jesuits in 1989. From the looks of it, the judges based their decision upon the same reasoning that led them to "release" nine officers in August.
A court spokesman said Friday the five men could not be detained because it has not received a formal extradition request from Spain.
Another roadblock, but not the end of the story.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Homicides up in Guatemala?

Yesterday, I came up with several questions about the violence in Guatemala. It wasn't an exhaustive list of questions and one group that I didn't question was nongovernmental organizations.

Why do some NGOs continue to write about an increase in the murder rate when it sure doesn't appear that it is increasing? Surely, they're not working hard to get Perez Molina elected.
Then later that day, the highly respected Mutual Support Group (GAM) announced that2,496 murders occurred during the first nine months of the year in Guatemala, a three percent increase over the same period in 2010. And I thought that that's not good.
The director of the Mutual Support Group (GAM), Mario Polanco said at a news conference that the 85.66% of the crimes committed between January and September were with guns.
He explained that of the 2.496 killed, 2.136 are men, including 40 children and 360 women, of which 9 are minors.
Polanco said the killings increased by 3% over the first nine months of 2010 when there were 2.421 homicides.
That didn't sound like go to well with my post on how murders are in decline. However, we have to remember that GAM doesn't actually measure homicides. GAM tracks homicides reported in the news. Carlos Mendoza at CABI tackled this on Thursday as well. Since they only count homicides covered in the media, they always under report, to varying degrees, how many people are actually murdered each month.

It would be more accurate to report that, based upon GAM's numbers, the Guatemalan media has reported 3% more murders during the first nine months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. That’s not the total number of murders, just what the media has reported. Unfortunately, one then has to ask why the Guatemalan media has reported on more murders in 2011 compared to 2010 when the number of murders documented by the National Civilian Police has gone down during that time period.

Honestly, I wish the GAM's numbers were accurate. If they were accurate, Guatemala would be on a pace for approximately 3,328 murders in 2011 rather than the 3,900 - 4,100 we think that it is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Homicides Soar in Central America?

A recent report from the United Nations, as summarized by the AP, states that homicides have soared in Central America over the last few years. Well, sort of. 

The AP article doesn't actually give any evidence that it has soared - it just gives 2010 figures - but why quibble. To really show that homicides have soared you need to tell us how many murders there used to be. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that's the evidence is in the UN document.

Here's more from the AP article.

Honduras and El Salvador have the highest homicide rates in the world as killings reach a crisis point in Central America, a United Nations report said Thursday.
The study on homicides by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime blamed organized crime for the region's surge in violence.
Honduras had 6,200 killings in 2010 out of a population of 7.7 million people, while El Salvador with 6.1 million people had 4,000 homicides.
The 2011 Global Study on Homicide calculated a rate of 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people for Honduras and 66 per 100,000 people for El Salvador. Cote D'Ivoire in West Africa followed with 56.9 and the Caribbean nation of Jamaica with 52.1. The United States had a homicide rate of 5 per 100,000 people in 2009, the report said.
Honduras Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio said Thursday that he was worried about rising crime and feared worse figures are yet to come.
Notice anything? That's right, the AP story on the world's most violent countries didn't even mention Guatemala. I wouldn't go that far. While the murder rate has been declining for the last two years, Guatemala is still a very dangerous country in which to live, work and travel, particularly if you are in Guatemala City.

In addition, if your headline is UN study: Homicides soar in Central America, you need to write about more than El Salvador and Honduras. We already know that Guatemala wasn't mentioned, but the same goes for Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama. If you want to make the point that violence has soared in Central America because it very well might have, you need to mention more than two out of the region's seven countries.

Some Questions on Violence in Guatemala

As the murder rate continues to decrease in Guatemala, year over year and month over month, 
Marco Augusto García, president of the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial (Cacif), noted that there has not been a decline in the statistics of criminal acts in the country.
"We have been affected by almost the same average annual violent deaths. We do not see a decrease on that side. The statistics reflect that, "he explained.
At some point you really have to wonder who benefits from denying the Colom administration's success in reducing the murder rate. Sure you can't give entire credit to Colom and his government, but the president and his administration have got to get some credit.

Is it in the media's interest to portray a deteriorating (or non-improving) security situation because it dislikes Colom? Is the media playing up the violence even when murders are decreasing because their offices are primarily located in Guatemala City where most murders occur?

Is it in the interests of businesses that sell security-related services to the Guatemalan population to highlight how bad it is? Is it in the interests of the PNC and military to say how conditions are deteriorating so that they can get their new super tucanos?

Is denying a decrease in the murder rate all part of a conspiracy to ensure that Otto Perez Molina gets elected?

Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forbes interviews Laura Chinchilla

Forbes magazine has an interview with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla up on its website. In it, the interviewer asks why drug cartels have become such a problem for Costa Rica. Chinchilla answers that
The most important factor is location. We are in the middle of the most important drug producers in the South and the most important drug consumers in the North. Since we are in the middle, what you find is a lot of activities in transporting and exporting through Central America. But we cannot move. [laughs] We have to raise the barrier so we can be able to protect our country.
It's not a great question in that it's pretty obvious that CR is right in the middle of the producers and consumers. However, Forbes readers might not know this. Chinchilla found her answer funny as did I.

Anyway, if the most important factor that explains why drug cartels are causing problems in Costa Rica and Central America is the problem of geography, there's not much that can be done about that.

Strengthening the political and judicial institutions in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica is a good thing. Reducing poverty and inequality is another important goal. Making sure that you have enough highly trained police and military to tackle the problems’ affecting you country is a positive development as well.

However, none of this will make a dent in the supply (Colombia, Peru, Bolivia) or demand (the US and Europe). At best, we’re looking at an argument that says we want to make it more difficult for drug traffickers to use the Central American mainland to ship their drugs to the US. Our goal is to make them go back to using the sea or some other alternative. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Guatemala Targets Intellectual Author of 2008 Bus Massacre

Guatemalan authorities will officially ask the Mexican government to extradite Marvin Barrios. Barrios is the alleged intellectual author of a massacre that killed sixteen people (Nicaraguans and a Dutch man) on a bus in November 2008. He was arrested in Mexico in August.
Guatemala is also filing an extradition request for Barrios’s girlfriend, Sara Mansilla, who was arrested along with him and allegedly participated in the massacre, the Cicig spokesman said.
Barrios faces murder, criminal conspiracy and drug trafficking charges in connection with the attack on a bus in November 2008 in eastern Guatemala that left 16 people dead.
The bus was attacked because the killers thought cocaine was hidden in one of the vehicle’s compartments, Cicig investigators said.
Juan Carlos Policarpio (life) and Rony Terraza (three years) were convicted and sentenced for participating in the massacre in 2010. 
CICIG and the Guatemalan courts have definitely had their successes in recent years. At the same time, there appear to have also occurred gross miscarriages of justice (Portillo). If Mexico does extradite Barrios and he is convicted in Guatemala, it will be another important victory for the Colom administration, the judiciary, and CICIG.