Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gloria Torres - fugitive from justice

On Wednesday morning, Guatemalan authorities raided the home of Gloria Torres, the sister of former first lady Sandra Torres. Torres and ten to seventeen other accomplices, including two of her daughters, are wanted in connection with money laundering and fraud. While Gloria Torres was not home, one daughter, Christa Castañeda Torres, was apprehended. She appeared before a judge this afternoon and is now sitting in a prison cell in Guatemala City.

According to authorities, Gloria Torres and her accomplices were involved in laundering at least half a million quetzales through contracts for "ghost work" in La Democracia, Huehuetango and El Quiché between 2005 and 2007. There looks to be other criminal activity in Petén, Jutiapa, and Chiquimula as well.

The allegations are nothing new, but I'm with Otto Perez Molina here, it's kind of weird that the arrests are being launched with one month remaining in Alvaro Colom's presidency. On the other hand, if you are the authorities you probably want to make sure that your evidence is really convincing before going after such a close member of the president’s family.

So this doesn't help my argument that Alvaro Colom's administration appears to have been less corrupt than the Berger and Portillo administrations. However, at least for now, the authorities are looking at what happened between 2005 and 2007. Then again, I'm not naive enough to believe that Gloria Torres and the others, if they were laundering money between 2005 and 2007, just so happened to stop when Alvaro Colom was elected president.

Inocente Orlando Montano charged with lying

Inocente Orlando Montano has been charged with lying under oath and making false statements on immigration forms in Massachusetts. Montano was a colonel in the Salvadoran armed forces allegedly involved in the murders of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and daughter at the University of Central America in November 1989. He was arrested outside Boston in August. No trial date has been set.
Montano might eventually go to trial and serve a prison sentence. On the other hand, the US might just be using the time to see what happens in El Salvador and Spain before deciding what to do next.
In another important case, a Canadian immigration judge is hearing arguments as to whether Jose Orantes Sosa should be extradited to the United States. Sosa is wanted in the US for lying on his immigration paperwork years ago. 
However, Sosa is alleged to have participated in the massacre of 200-plus men, women and children at Dos Erres, Guatemala in 1982. A Guatemalan man who is now a Canadian citizen and whose entire family was killed in the massacre is asking the immigration judge to reject the US' extradition request so that Sosa can be tried in Canada. Activists are also calling on the Canadian government to bring charges against Sosa for his involvement in the massacre.
I'm not in favor of having Sosa extradited to the U.S. He should be extradited to Guatemala and have his day in court. If Guatemala is unwilling or unable to prosecute Sosa, then try him in Canada. Granted I understand that we don't know what's going to happen under the new president in Guatemala. Canada would probably also have to revoke his Canadian citizenship. But given that several other Dos Erres suspects have already been found guilty, it's hard to make the argument that he'll just walk free should he (at some point) be extradited to Guatemala.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A changing of the guard in El Salvador

I have an op-ed up at Al Jazeera on the recent resignation of Manuel Melgar and the appointment of David Munguia Payes in El Salvador.

Munguia Payes' replacement of Melgar as Minister of Justice and Public Security is causing a bit of controversy in El Salvador - maybe even as much as Melgar's appointment did in the U.S. Embassy back in 2009.

Here's the intro, but you'll have to click through to read the entire article.
Manuel Melgar resigned as the Minister of Justice and Public Security two weeks ago in El Salvador. Initially, there was no public explanation for his voluntary resignation. On Tuesday, President Mauricio Funes appointed retired general David Munguía Payés to replace Melgar. The alleged involvement of the United States in Melgar's resignation, the role of the military in post-war El Salvador, and President Funes' relfationship with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) are three important issues related to Melgar's replacement with Munguía Payés.
I am going to be writing some longer op-ed pieces for Al Jazeera on the politics of Central America every month. I'll let you know about them here, but you'll have to visit their site to read the entire articles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Video on Gender-Based Violence in Guatemala

Here's a short video clip from UNICEF about violence against women in children in Guatemala.

It's a good follow-up from my post earlier today on femicide. It's a horrific story. However, the victim wasn't murdered and therefore would not show up in statistics that measure violence against women and children by homicide.

Does femicide obscure more than it illuminates?

Two thousand women marched through the streets of Guatemala City last week in support of the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. 
"Violence and impunity are still the major problems facing Guatemalan women. Violent deaths are not ending, and the crimes are more and more violent," activist Sandra Moran told AFP.
As I mentioned last week, femicide, or the intentional killing of women, continues to be a major concern in Guatemala. Approximately 650 women have so far been killed this year and the country is on pace to record the same number of female murder victims as 2010.

Obviously, it's terrible anytime that a person is killed. However, it's important to keep a few things in mind when it comes to the murder rate of women in Guatemala. Most of the following statistics come from Carlos A. Mendoza's post on ¡NO MAS VIOLENCIA CONTRA LAS MUJERES!

First, Guatemala's homicide rate in 2010 was 41 per 100,000. This is the rate based upon the entire country's population. For men, the homicide rate was 75 per 100,000 and the rate was 9 per 100,000 for women. In terms of homicides, it's dangerous to be a female but it's much more dangerous to be a male, especially a young male.

Second, while the absolute number of women killed in Guatemala is on pace to reach the number killed last year, the rate in 2010 (9 per 100,000) and probably 2011 will be down from 2008 and 2009 (10 per 100,000). Not great, but again, I'd rather that the rate be in decline than on the uptick. On the other hand, the drop in the murder rate between 2009 and 2010 was much greater among men (85 to 75 per 100,000) than it was among women (10 to 9 per 100,000).

Third, on average, 18% of the world's murder victims are women. In Guatemala, 10% of the victims are women. Therefore, as a percentage of murders in Guatemala compared to other areas of the world, women are murdered at a lower rate than men. In the United States, 21% of the homicide victims in 2005 were women. As recently as 2008, 23% of the US' murder victims were women.

Finally, the 838 women killed last year is the maximum number of women killed because of femicide - they were killed because they were women or as a consequence of gender-based violence. Some of the women were killed in robberies, extortion attempts, and drive-by shootings of one kind or another. Not all were necessarily killed because they were women. So the 838 number is the maximum number of women who were intentionally killed because they were women.

My point isn't to say that life for women in Guatemala is easy or that one should be happy about any reduction or leveling off of the murder rate against women. I would say that when we talk about femicide or the killing of women in Guatemala and around the world, one can't just start and stop with the number killed.

The killing of women in Guatemala and elsewhere is particularly heinous because women are often killed by their spouses or other family members. Women are frequently the victim of long-term abuse that only ends in murder. Focusing solely on their deaths neglects the long-term suffering that they endured in life. 

Finally, women are often sexually abused or tortured immediately before being killed. Their bodies are then left in a public place, for among other reasons, to instill fear in others. It's not just that women are murdered; it's the fact that they are so horribly victimized in death.

Those who use the term femicide would most likely agree that the term is not meant to characterize only the act of murder. However, I do wonder whether the increased use of the term obscures more than it illuminates. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New Genocide video about Guatemala

NISGUA reports that the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) have released a 30 minute Spanish-language documentary entitled "Our Voice, Our Memory: The genocide in Guatemala."

The documentary, available in full online, uses survivor and expert testimony to explain the concept of genocide, demonstrating how the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan military against indigenous Maya communities satisfy the requirements of the international legal definition of genocide.
It's important to remember and share with others how particularly brutal was the Guatemala army's counterinsurgency campaign. While I think that it is important to remember that the U.S. and the Guatemalan government were fighting Marxist-Leninist groups aligned with the Soviets and the Cubans, that does not excuse them for the criminal acts committed against both the guerrillas and the civilian population.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

House Arrest in Guatemala?

On Sunday, I noted that it is possible that upon his extradition to Panama, former military strongman Manuel Noriega might get to spend the rest of his years under house arrest. A Panamanian law allows elder convicts to fulfill their punishment under house arrest rather than prison. It doesn't look like this will be the case with Noriega as a prison bed is already prepared for him. However, I wrote that it would be a travesty should he get to spend the remaining years of his life under house arrest. 
I don't like the idea, but travesty might have been too strong a condemnation. Maybe it's because of celebrating Thanksgiving today, but I feel uncomfortable with wanting eighty- and ninety-year old men to suffer, no matter what they've done.
Well, someone in Guatemala must have heard about the Panamanian law because they are considering legislation that would allow convicts over the age of eighty to serve their remaining years under house arrest. The bill originally excluded individuals convicted of human rights violations, but at some point the clause was removed.
Human rights activists are obviously concerned that the bill is an attempt to ensure that even if high ranking officials from the early eighties are convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide, this law might ensure that they never spend a day in their life behind bars (See Oscar Mejia).
I can’t say that I am the biggest fan of letting octogenarians fulfill their prison terms under house arrest. However, at this point, I am more concerned that these men have their day in court. They should be tried for crimes related to their conduct during the war. Even if they never have to spend a day in prison, it will be something remarkable for a Guatemalan court to find them guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
They could spend the rest of their lives under house arrest, but history will not absolve them. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Noriega one step closer to returning home

A Paris appeals court ruled Wednesday to grant an extradition request from Panama so the elderly ex-military strongman can serve out sentences given after he was convicted in absentia there, in the latest phase of his complex legal odyssey.
France's prime minister, Francois Fillon, now needs to sign an administrative decree allowing for Noriega to be transferred, possibly within days. (NPR)

According to NPR's reporting, Noriega "turned into an embarrassment for the U.S. after he sidled up to Colombia's Medellin drug cartel and turned to crime." I'm not so sure how accurate that it is. From what I understand, Noriega had been working with the Colombians (drug trafficking) and the Americans (resupplying the contras) for some time. 
It wasn't that he became an embarrassment to the US (we have plenty of embarrassing allies) as much as he no longer was working with the US to supply the contras in order to help overthrow the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He even worked to help end the Central American civil wars.
Once he was no longer helpful in supplying the contras, it made no little sense to overlook his drug trafficking ties. But even then, disagreements within the US government remained as to whether to cut ties with him. Some thought he was still useful, others did not.
Then there are the other issues such as the security of thousands of US soldiers and families based in Panama,  Bush establishing his foreign policy credentials, and the future of the Panama Canal.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Femicide Continues in Guatemala

According to official statistics, seven hundred women have been murdered so far this year in Guatemala (see here and here). According to CONAPREVI, 838 women were murdered in 2010.
Therefore, if women continue to be killed at the same rate in November and December as they have been all year (an average of 70 per month), the number of victims this year will be nearly identically to last year's numbers (840).
Meanwhile, Chilean producer Sonia Demeyko stated her intention of making a documentary about Christina Siekavizza. Her disappearance was initially thought to have been a kidnapping but authorities now believe that her husband most likely killed her after an argument in July. He then fled with their two children. His mother, Beatriz Ofelia de Leon, an ex-magistrate of the Supreme Court of Guatemala, was arrested for corruption of justice in this case one month ago.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Noriega looks like he'll be one busy man

Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega looks like he is going to be busy should his extradition from France to Panama go through as planned and he returns to his native country by Christmas.
Salas recalled that Noriega must face six sentences: three for homicide, one for deprivation of freedom, one for corruption and another one for embezzlement...
The Second Superior Court has still to set the date of the trial for the disappearance and death of Heliodoro Portugal (1970), and Noriega will also appear in the Chiriqui Superior Court to respond for the disappearances of Everett Clayton Kimble and Luis Quiroz Morales in 1968 and 1969, respectively.
On the one hand, these additional trials don't really matter much for Noriega. He's already set to serve at least twenty years in El Renacer for the 1989 murders of Hugo Spadafora and Moises Giroldi.

On the other hand, I came across an article that is particularly worrisome.

It is widely known that he has long wanted to return to his home country. Many say that is because Noriega will essentially find freedom in Panama. “Here they will just let him go,” Francisco, the brother of the disappeared activist, worried.
His concern is not unfounded, despite the fact that Panamanian judges have already condemned Noriega in absentia to more than 60 years in prison for crimes against political opponents. Article 107 of Panama’s penal code says convicts who are over 70 can exchange jail cells for house arrest.
According to Sanjuro, Article 107 always “had Noriega’s name on it.” He says the law was crafted by the government of ex-president Martin Torrijos in large part to exonerate Noriega upon his eventual return.
Sanjuro shares the concerns that Noriega will spend his last days in the comfort of his own home, but is adamant about getting the former strongman into a Panamanian court. If Noriega lives to complete his current jail sentence in France in 2014 he will then be a free man, Sanjuro reminded.
The uncertainty surrounding his future in Panama is no reason to hold up his extradition, but if Noriega is somehow freed or gets to spend the rest of his life under house arrest, it will be a travesty.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Drug Seizures up in Guatemala

According to the Colom administration, it has seized 7 times more drugs, drug money and goods than the two previous administration's combined. It has also caught several important drug traffickers. That's the good news. 
Obviously, the bad news it that more drugs have been passing through Guatemala and more high-profile drug traffickers have been operating in the country during the last four years than probably at any other time in history.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Colom agrees to extradite former president Alfonso Portillo

On Tuesday, President Alvaro Colom agreed to extradite former President Alfonso Portillo to the United States. The US seeks Portillo's extradition because it accuses him of having laundered $70 million through U.S. banks. 
I thought that Colom was going to leave the final decision up to the upcoming president, but I can't really find that link anymore. He also said that he would wait until the legal process in Guatemala had been exhausted before acting. Portillo was cleared of charges in Guatemala earlier this year. He and his lawyers then challenged his extradition in Guatemala's courts, including the Supreme Court of Justice and the Constitutional Court. Those decisions cleared the way for Colom to act. 
The US Embassy in Guatemala issued a statement in which it welcomed the decision. 
"We applaud the efforts made by the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General's Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala," the embassy said in a written statement. "This sends a strong message that nobody is above the law."
My preference would have been to have Portillo found guilty in a Guatemalan court. However, that was not the case. We'll see what happens in the US.
Here's something I had read before. According to Fox News Latino
The Portillo administration is considered by local analysts as one of the "most corrupt" in the recent history of Guatemala, given the calculations that during the four-year term government officials embezzled more than $500 million.
I've always had the impression that Portillo's four years in office were pretty corrupt. However, I just hadn't seen a dollar figure associated with it. 
His administration's corruption is also why I argued that, as of right now, the Colom administration does not appear to have been as corrupt as its predecessors. Obviously, we won't know for a few months or years until the new administration takes the reigns and begins to open the books. However, does any really think that Colom and his administration were able to embezzle nearly half a million dollars with CICIG looking over their shoulders? If so, the CICIG experiment needs to pack its bags and go home. 
The Colom administration might have been corrupt in many ways. However, it's tough to agree with El Periodico's editorial that concluded that Colom's legacy to the country is corruption.

Corruption: The Legacy of Colom

El Periodico has an editorial on Corruption: The Legacy of Colom. In it, they call on the Public Ministry and the Comptroller General to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute Colom and his administration if they uncover wrongdoing. 

It's interesting because the editorial attacks both what the Colom administration did (expanding a system whereby government spending occurred through the creation of public trusts without legal regulation, the transfer of state resources to NGOs to avoid congressional oversight, using state resources to ensure political support, etc.) and did not do (no significant progress in the development of the Inter-American and UN Conventions against Corruption, especially regarding the creation of corruption offenses and stiffer penalties assigned to corruption crimes, no progress in reforming civil service laws).

While Colom might not have personally benefited from corruption in terms of financial gains to himself personally (a la Portillo) as I argued last week, that doesn't mean that his administration will emerge unscathed or corruption free. 

Again, I hope that the allegations are more spoke than fire. I wouldn't be surprised if there's fire. However, like many evaluations of what he and his administration did or did not do, it will take months if not years to unravel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Perez promises to improve security during first six months

President-elect Otto Perez Molina insists that security will improve during his first six months in office. I sure hope so. However, El Nuevo Herald then goes on to report that 
Official data indicate that 18 people die violently each day in Guatemala and that the homicide rate per 100,000 population reaches 48, six times the world average.
Look, if you are telling the world that, on average, 18 people per day or 6,570 per year die violent deaths in Guatemala, Otto Perez is going to look like a god-send even if things get much worse six months into office.

Here are the murders that have been committed over the last decade as reported by the PNC in (La Prensa Grafica).
2011 estimate is based upon 4733 during first ten months and 946 for Nov-Dec.
If you are going to measure whether Perez lowers crime and or the country's murder rate, you need to try to find recent data.

I'm fine with statistics from 2010 since we have the full year available. However, that number is about 600 fewer murders than what you are using - 10%!

With six-plus weeks remaining this year, we have a pretty good idea where murders will end up, but 2010 is acceptable. However, why pick 6,500 murders from 2009?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy National Pupusa Day!

November 13th is National Pupusa Day. So enjoy some pupusas, preferably of the frijoles y queso variety, and some Pilseners. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lynchings up 500 pct in Guatemala since 2004!

According to reports in the Latin American Herald Tribune and Fox News Latino, lynchings in Guatemala have increased 500% since 2004. However, the reporting is not entirely accurate.  

The headlines should read attempted lynchings. According to the human rights office in Guatemala, there were a reported 25 attempted lynchings in 2004 and 147 attempted lynchings during the first ten months of 2011. That's the increase of 500% to which they are referring (~488% actually). {Update - And each attempted lynching might have involved several targets.)
If we are talking about the increase in successful lynchings, the numbers are actually worse. According to the numbers presented in Prensa Libre, deaths as a result of lynchings have increased from 4 in 2004 to 47 so far this year. 
Deaths as a result of lynchings, therefore, have increased nearly 1100% since 2004. And that's with two months remaining in the year. That's obviously a much worse percentage change. (There were another 911 seriously injured victims during the time period under study, but none of the articles break these down by year.)  
But then again, the increase from 2004 to 2011 is only one part of the story. If you look at the deaths as a result of lynchings by year, you find a jump from 2004 to 2005 and then again from 2008 to 2009. I would want to better understand why lynchings jumped during those years.
And here is what I think is an equally important story that should have been highlighted. Death by lynching is on pace to increase by at least 7% from 2010 to 2011. It's not as sexy as the 500% or 1100% changes, but it's what Guatemalans are living today compared to last year.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Local concerns in Guatemala

There's at least one more thing from last night's post on President-elect Otto Perez's inheritance that I forgot to mention. While there does appear to have been a reduction in the level of corruption and death squad activity coming out of the national government, at least the executive, local government is in many ways where there has been little progress if any.

In the last few years, organized crime and cartels have been influencing local campaigns and the activities of mayoral offices. Most of us following events in Guatemala from abroad do so by following the major Guatemalan and international news publications which are naturally based in the capital and focused on the activities of the congress and the presidency.

However, there is less reason to be optimistic about what is happening around the country's 333 municipalities.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

President-elect Perez's Inheritance

Earlier in the week I gave my thoughts on some of the potential accomplishments that President Alvaro Colom will leave when he hands the reins of powers to President-elect Otto Perez Molina. See my posts here and here from earlier in the week. You also might want to check out Rachel Glickhouse and Carin Zissis’s Guatemala Election Update: The Roadahead for Pérez Molina from today where they say much the same, only more eloquently.

I argued that there has been some progress in terms of reducing the murder rate. There are what appear to be two very competent people in Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and Police Reform Commissioner Helen Mack. There has been some success in overcoming impunity with the successful prosecutions of individuals who perpetrated wartime atrocities and a recognition for past crimes committed in the name of the government.

The government has been less successful in prosecuting former officials for corruption and extrajudicial killings. On the positive side, those people seem no longer to be in government. Finally, CICIG has not been perfect but it does seem to have done a good job of removing some corrupt officials, helping to crack high profile cases, and begun training Guatemala's next generation of prosecutors and justice system employees. 
However, I said nothing about what President-elect Perez plans to do with his "inheritance." And that's where we should be worried.

President Perez has promised to bring mano dura with him into the presidency. Given the high level of support for mano dura in Guatemala today, Perez is probably going to have his way here. If he just intends to add more police and to deploy some kaibiles and other military to remote areas of the country, the effects probably won't be bad and might even do some good. However, if his idea of mano dura is to send troops into the cities, criminalize tattoos and looking like a gang member, lengthening prison terms for nonviolent and youthful offenders, etc. then I do worry what the future holds. These policies have not worked out so well in neighboring countries.

The question as to how he is going to pay for the new police and other policies is another matter. He wants to cut down on contraband. That's fine and might even help shrink the deficit. However, it's not going to replace fiscal reform. If he shows some progress in curtailing contraband, perhaps the elites will voluntarily agree to raise the amount that they pay in taxes? Yeah, I don't think so either.

As president, Perez does not have to keep Paz y Paz or Mack. Given that he doesn't believe that the military committed genocide in the early 1980s or military officers should be tried for civil war era crimes, it's easy to understand why he might want to get right of Paz y Paz and/or Mack. It's not even clear that either of them would want to be associated with the administration of the former general anyway. The question then becomes whether Perez replaces Paz y Paz with a serious, well-respected AG who only goes after today's crimes (not civil war era crimes) or does he appoint someone who isn't concerned with actually developing the rule of law in Guatemala. 

Perez, like some other Guatemalans, have been critical of CICIG and might want it to leave when its terms ends in 2013 or perhaps just have its mandate more focused. Either change probably would not help the people of Guatemala. I still don't know what to expect from a CICIG-Perez partnership. Wasn't CICIG sent to Guatemala to investigate someone like Perez? And Baldizon who is trying to position himself as the 2015 favorite? Would it help if CICIG came out and said that we have looked into allegations of serious wrongdoing by the President-elect and have found no evidence to substantiate the bringing of any charges against him? Then they could move on in peace.

Anyway, the point is that Perez has probably been dealt a better hand than Colom. It still might not be a winning hand and it’ll take some time to better understand how he intends to play his cards. I’m not optimistic. Like many, I was not impressed by the two finalists and I was not going to be optimistic about a presidency led by either man. I pray that I will be proven wrong, however.

In other news, 
Mica Rosenberg and Mike McDonald also have a very good article on Special Report: New Guatemala leader faces questions about past and Ezra Fieser tries to figure out what the Roman Catholic Church expects from the new president in Church officials not sure what to expect from new Guatemalan president.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Murders continue downward trend in Guatemala

According to the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) in Guatemala, homicides decreased by 2.50% in the first nine months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. 
According to Carlos Mendoza's analysis of the first ten months of 2011, Guatemalan is on pace to experience its lowest murder rate since 2004.
Between January and the end of October, the PNC determined that 4,733 people were murdered. If November and December are just as murderous as the first ten months (an average of 473 each month), the country’s annual rate will settle in somewhere under 40 per 100,000. That rate would be the country's lowest since 2004's rate of 36 per 100,000. 
Guatemala's 4,733 January through October murders occurred in a population of over fourteen million. By comparison, El Salvador's population of approximately six million suffered through 3,627 murders during the same time period. If El Salvador experiences 764 murders in November and December (362 in Nov. and Dece), its rate would end up around 72.5 per 100,000.   
At some point, people are going to have to stop lying about the escalating murder rate in Guatemala update their data from 2009. The question is why is the murder rate going down, not why is it going up.

Spain will ask for extradition

Spanish Judge Eloy Velasco will ask the Spanish Government to formally request the extradition of 13 military officers alleged to have been involved in the murder of the UCA Jesuits in El Salvador.

In August, the Salvadoran Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) issued an opinion that the red alerts that had been issued for the former military officials required only that they be located. The alerts did not require El Salvador to arrest or to extradite them. 

As I wrote in September
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.
"Too worked up" probably wasn't the best choice of words. However, I just though that it was part of the process rather than the conclusion. It's now November and the Spanish judge and government seem to have addressed the concerns of the Salvadoran courts and its government. The ball is now back in El Salvador's possession.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The last ten years in Guatemala

On Monday, I wrote that President-elect Otto Perez Molina inherits a situation more favorable than his predecessor. The situation in Guatemala is by no means pretty. However, when I say that it is more favorable, I think back to the administrations of Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004)and Oscar Berger (2004-2008).

Portillo was accused of having stolen approximately $15-16 million dollars from the Defense Ministry in 2001. Former Defense Minister Eduardo Arevalo and former Finance Minister Manuel Maza were also accused of corruption. Portillo was found not guilty earlier this year. The US also accused Portillo of embezzling $3.9 million from the Defense Ministry and stealing at least another $1.5 million in donations from Taiwan that were intended to buy books for school libraries.

While Otto Perez and others have accused Colom of using state resources to benefit UNE and then LIDER, which might be illegal, one doesn't get the impression that Colom was stealing millions from the military and school kids. If the Perez administration finds that Colom and the rest of his administration were corrupt, I'll take it back.
During the Berger administration, there seems to be a good deal of evidence that death squads were operating out of various government agencies. Alejandro Giammattei, the country's former prison director, was accused of participating in the murders of seven inmates during a 2007 uprising at Pavon prison and the alleged execution of three inmates who escaped from the “El Infiernito” prison in 2005. 
Giammattei, former Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann, ex-police chief Erwin Sperisen, and sixteen other people are alleged to have belonged to a criminal organization that carried out executions (social cleansing) both inside and outside the country's prisons. While Portillo, Giammattei, Vielmann and Sperisen have so far avoided jail, it is just as important for Guatemala that they are not in positions of power today. Failing to bring these four to justice is a failure on the part of Colom, CICIG, and the Guatemalan justice system. However, having them out of government is a victory for Guatemala.  
In December 2010, a Guatemala court sentenced eight Guatemalans for their roles in killing three Salvadoran members of PARLACEN in February 2007. In May 2008, CICIG's Carlos Castresana estimated that approximately 25 percent of the country's murders were of the extrajudicial killing kind. While I doubt that extrajudicial executions by members of the National Civilian Police have ended, they do seem to occur much less frequently under Colom than under Portillo and Berger. If the Perez administration finds that Colom and the rest of his administration were carrying out extrajudicial executions from the presidential palace, I'll take it back as well. Send him and the rest to jail.
Finally, Guatemala was rocked by Rodrigo Rosenberg's May 2009 murder and his beyond the grave accusation against President Colom. Thousands of people took to the streets demanding that he resign and that Congress lift his immunity from prosecution. Those were pretty stressful times for the government and the country. Carlos Castresana and CICIG eventually found that Rosenberg orchestrated his own suicide. Rosenberg's suicide accomplices were found guilty earlier this year as were those who killed the Musas, those who sent Rosenberg down his doomed path.
In some ways, Colom never recovered from the Rosenberg murder. He had already been dealing with a congress and oligarchy with little interest in supporting his proposals. Appointing Conrado Reyes as Attorney General in 2010 and then the circus surrounding UNE's presidential candidate didn't help. Nor did the decapitations in 2010, the Los Cocos massacre, or Cabral's murder. 
I didn't see much hope on the horizon for Guatemala in 2009 and 2010. I thought that it would just muddle through for a awhile. While I remain somewhat pessimistic about the country's near-term prospects, I'm just not as pessimistic as I was a year ago. And these reasons don't even include the declining murder rate from 2009 to 2010 and probably from 2010 to 2011.
However, my opinion might change in the next two months when the former general takes the reins especially if he goes ahead with some of his campaign proposals. I hope that some of his proposals were just the stuff of campaigns, but we shall see.