Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Update - Murder by gender in Guatemala (2010-2011)

I have my first class of the semester in a few minutes, but I thought this was interesting. Here's my lesson for today - don't post right before class, come back after class and double-check everything. I read 2010's numbers for women incorrectly. In 2010, 695 women were murdered. That means the number of women declined from their highs in 2009 in both 2010 and 2011.

According to the National Civilian Police, 5,681 people were murdered in Guatemalan in 2011. Of that total, 5,050 victims were male and 631 were female. Women comprised 11% of all murder victims in 2011.

In 2010, the PNC recorded 5,906 murders throughout the country. Of that total, 5,265 involved male victims and 625 695 female victims. Women comprised about the same percentage in 2010, 10.6%.

Therefore, overall murders dropped 3.8% (from 5906 to 5,681), male victims declined 4.1% (from 5,265 to 5,050), and female victims increased by 1% (from 625-631).decreased from 695 to 631.

Why have authorities been so much more successful at reducing male victims?

According to the National Civilian Police, 5,681 people were murdered in Guatemalan in 2011. Of that total, 5,050 victims were male and 631 were female. Women comprised 11% of all murder victims in 2011.

In 2010, the PNC recorded 5,906 murders throughout the country. Of that total, 5,265 involved male victims and 695 female victims. Women comprised about 11.8% in 2010.

Therefore, overall murders dropped 3.8% (from 5906 to 5,681), male victims declined 4.1% (from 5,265 to 5,050), and female victims decreased 9.2%  from 695 to 631 (720 died in 2009).

The PNC's statistics from from Carlos Mendoza's blog.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Funes pulls from the military ranks once again

In a new sign of the militarization of public security in El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes recently named a new retired military general, Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera, to head the National Civil Police (PNC). Salinas Rivera recently retired as vice minister of defense in order to sidestep a law that requires the country's police direction to be a civilian.

For now, my reaction to Salinas Rivera's appointment is basically the same as David Munguia Payes' appointment.
Funes does not appear to be someone who cares what the FMLN, civil society, the Catholic Church, and international solidarity activists say about his decisions. He has shown this in the past with his use of the armed forces on the streets of San Salvador and with Decree 743 that temporarily neutered the Constitutional Court. Funes does what he thinks is right. On the other hand, Munguía Payés' appointment could indicate that Funes does not have a deep group of individuals in which he places much trust. Funes might have felt that he had no option but to stick with Munguía Payés over the objections of much of Salvadoran society.
Personally, I think that Munguía Payés' appointment sets bad precedent. I am not worried so much about him as I am the fact that his appointment opens the door for additional appointments of former military officials to head state institutions. That's not a path that anyone wishes to see El Salvador travel down.
I don't necessarily have a problem with Funes removing FMLN loyalists from positions of authority. That's his prerogative as president. However, he needs to have some people outside of the military that he trusts, doesn't he? 

I was and still am a supporter of Funes. (Would you prefer the country run by a President Rodrigo Avila?) That doesn't mean that I am not disappointed and had hope for in nearly three years in office.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peace Corps Conversations

Even if Peace Corps is cutting back in Central America, that doesn't mean that it still isn't a great opportunity.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Honduras, a Mess Made in the U.S.

Dana Frank, a history professor and the University of California, Santa Cruz, has an op-ed in the New York Times on Honduras this morning. It's well worth the read.

IT’S time to acknowledge the foreign policy disaster that American support for the Porfirio Lobo administration in Honduras has become. Ever since the June 28, 2009, coup that deposed Honduras’s democratically elected president, José Manuel Zelaya, the country has been descending deeper into a human rights and security abyss. That abyss is in good part the State Department’s making.
The headlines have been full of horror stories about Honduras. According to the United Nations, it now has the world’s highest murder rate, and San Pedro Sula, its second city, is more dangerous than Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a center for drug cartel violence.
Much of the press in the United States has attributed this violence solely to drug trafficking and gangs. But the coup was what threw open the doors to a huge increase in drug trafficking and violence, and it unleashed a continuing wave of state-sponsored repression. 
I'm just not sure what the title is. On the webpage, it says "In Honduras, A Mess Made in the U.S." However, the link has a title of "In Honduras, A Mess Helped by the U.S." There's a pretty big difference between the two. One obviously concludes that the US is the primary actor behind today's violence. In the second, the US is a secondary actor whose action, or inaction, has helped contribute to the insecurity in the country today.

The US role in Argentina's dirty war is also the focus of Ex-diplomat: US knew about Argentina baby theftsA former U.S. diplomat testified Thursday that American officials knew Argentina's military regime was taking babies from dead or jailed dissidents during its "dirty war" against leftists in the 1970s, and it appeared to be a systematic effort at the time.
Elliot Abrams testified by videoconference from Washington in the trial of former dictators Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone and other military and police figures accused of organizing the theft of babies from women who were detained and then executed in the 1976-1983 junta's torture centers.
Abrams said U.S. officials were aware that some children had been taken and then illegally adopted by families loyal to the regime.
In this article, the US encouraged the regime to use the Roman Catholic Church to return the babies to their families, but the regime refused. 

In some ways it reminds me of the situation in Honduras. Following the 2009 coup and Zelaya’s removal from the country, the US encouraged the parties to find an amicable settlement that would lead to Zelaya’s return to the country. Our allies in Honduras, in this case those who carried out the coup, said no. The events were obviously a little more complicated than that, but the US’s failure to take a stronger stand in Honduras and Argentina makes us complicit in these crimes. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rios Montt to go to trial for genocide and crimes against humanity

On Thursday, Efrain Rios Montt appeared in a Guatemalan court on genocide charges. During the hearing, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule from 1982-1983 (Washington Post, BBC, Siglo XXILA Times)

Rios Montt did not speak during today's hearings, but it looks like he will be able to test his "I was never on the battlefield" defense. Tonight, judge Carol Patricia Flores determined that there is enough evidence to try Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The prosecution wanted him incarcerated because of his potential for flight but the judge ruled that he can remain out on bail. He has now been placed under house arrest and will be watched by the PNC. 

A tremendous victory for the people of Guatemala and a continuation of what I believe has been a pretty remarkable year-plus of human rights advancement in the region.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Honduras: Central America’s free-fire zone

The Miami Herald ha has a new editorial, Central America's free-fire zone, calling for stronger action against Honduras in light of escalating violence and corruption.
The recent withdrawal of America’s Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras is one more sign that the security situation in that Central American country has deteriorated to crisis levels not seen since the civil wars of the 1980s. The country is quickly turning into a disaster zone.
After the tide of civil war receded, the armies went back to their barracks and the insurgents laid down their arms. But then narcotics traffickers flooded in, and the violence has spiked dramatically ever since. The DEA estimates that 25 tons of cocaine move through the country every month heading north.
In my opinion, the editorial is poorly framed. First, why all this talk about civil wars, armies returning to their barracks, and insurgents laying down their arms when, in the case of Honduras, it didn't experience a civil war, the army returned to its barracks but never relinquished power, and few insurgents ever posed a threat to the survival of the regime. 

Why not talk about the US-encouraged militarization of the country during the 1970s and 1980s. How about the contras operating on Honduran soil and launching illegal attacks across the border and into Nicaragua? You could also write about US support and training for Honduran troops involved in helping to massacre Salvadorans along its border during the 1980s.   

They could also avoid the 1980s Cold War rhetoric altogether since the war's been over for twenty years. If there's been a "a 250-percent increase in half a dozen years," why not look to the source of violence six years ago rather than twenty-five years ago? They could write about some of the mano dura policies first introduced in 2002 or the breakdown of the rule of law prior to, during, and after the 2009 coup?

It's also a terrible title because, while violent, I'm not exactly sure that anyone would describe the situation as a "free-fire zone" and if it's an editorial about the situation in Honduras, why not put "Honduras" in the title rather than "Central America."

For a south Florida newspaper with an international audience, they should be able to write about Honduras' particular history rather than general regional patterns.
This time, however, there appears to be no effective U.S. strategy to combat the wave of crime and the gradual destruction of the country. To make matters worse in Honduras, there are indications that elements of the U.S.-backed government are complicit in the violence and criminality.
Way to beat around the bush. How about the Honduran government receives millions of dollars each year from the United States at the same time that members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches are responsible for much of the country's violence and criminality? The evidence that the Miami Herald lists after these two statements is much stronger but they already undermined its effect with indications, elements, and complicit framing.
Nudging Honduran leaders to do the right thing hasn’t worked. Time for Washington to get serious and put U.S. aid on the line, starting with an accounting of where U.S. dollars have ended up. The U.S. government helped fund a program to train Honduran prison guards, but has since lost track of where those guards wound up.
Historically, the United States has been the biggest bilateral donor of aid to Honduras, but where’s the accountability?
Congress should withdraw assistance if the Honduran government blocks reforms. This crisis requires more than tough talk.
Finally, I support an effort to hold Honduran leaders accountable for the security situation and corruption. However, the editorial also should have called on the US congress and the executive branch to review their own actions. How have they contributed to the situation in Honduras? How are they going to change the way that they operate? 

Does anyone in the US government have a clue? 

(h/t to Boz for a link to the article)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Civil Society and the Peace Accords in El Salvador

I would like to welcome Alberto Martin Alvarez for a guest post on political change and civil society in El Salvador. Alberto is a professor in the Centro Universitario de Investigaciones Sociales at the Universidad de Colima in Colima, Mexico.
El Salvador a veinte años de los Acuerdos de Paz: 
Cambio político y sociedad civil
Las elecciones de marzo de 2009 representaron un cambio político histórico en El Salvador. Al abrir la vía a la alternancia en el control del ejecutivo, se puede afirmar que dichos comicios cerraron el ciclo abierto por la firma de los Acuerdos de Chapultepec de enero de 1992.
Desde 1989 y hasta hace dos años, el gobierno salvadoreño, - pero también otras estructuras del Estado como el poder legislativo y el judicial-, estuvieron dominados por la Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). Surgido inicialmente como expresión política de diversos sectores de la derecha salvadoreña (grandes productores agrícolas y agroindustriales, financieros y militares), este partido puso en marcha una agenda de reformas económicas y del Estado a lo largo de las dos décadas en las que se mantuvo al frente del ejecutivo. Desde un planteamiento económico ortodoxamente neoliberal,  ARENA implementó un extenso programa de privatizaciones. Desde 1989 se produjo la re – privatización de la banca, del comercio exterior de café y azúcar, de la Administración de Comunicaciones (ANTEL), de la distribución de energía eléctrica, del sistema de pensiones, de los ingenios azucareros, entre otros. En la década de dos mil, el gobierno de Francisco Flores realizó el intento de privatización de la Seguridad Social (ISSS) y el de Tony Saca firmó la adhesión de El Salvador al Tratado de Libre Comercio de América Central (CAFTA). Con ello, los gobiernos de ARENA completaron el rediseño de una economía que hoy cifra sus posibilidades de crecimiento en la apertura comercial y en el desarrollo de las exportaciones, pero que a la vez genera una fortísima concentración de la riqueza (El Salvador continua siendo una de las sociedades con mayores desigualdades en la distribución de renta del hemisferio) que ha renunciado a la soberanía alimentaria, y ha condenado a cientos de miles de salvadoreños a emigrar.  
Si bien en los primeros años la sociedad civil no fue capaz de ofrecer una respuesta firme a estas políticas, - y la oposición del FMLN no fue efectiva al no poder ejercer un contrapeso efectivo desde el poder legislativo-, desde inicios de la década de dos mil una serie heterogénea de actores sociales se organizó en contra de ellas. Las movilizaciones contra la privatización del ISSS y en oposición al CAFTA fueron las más masivas de entre las registradas desde finales de los años setenta. Sin embargo, y frente al protagonismo que tuvieron  sindicatos, campesinos y estudiantes en aquel periodo histórico, las protestas de la década del dos mil han supuesto el surgimiento de nuevos actores como el movimiento de mujeres, el ecologismo, las ONG o los trabajadores informales.  También, y a diferencia de los setenta y ochenta, los movimientos populares mantienen una mayor independencia respecto de la izquierda política. Si en el pasado el FMLN hegemonizó – y con no poca frecuencia instrumentalizó- al movimiento social, las dos últimas décadas han mostrado a una sociedad civil mucho más independiente del Frente, con el que mantiene una relación de apoyo crítico.
La llegada del FMLN al gobierno creó fuertes expectativas de mejora de la situación de la clase trabajadora, de satisfacción de las demandas de justicia respecto de las violaciones a los derechos humanos durante la guerra, de oposición a los proyectos industriales o mineros de alto impacto ambiental, entre otros muchos reclamos populares y de la sociedad civil, no satisfechos durante los últimos veinte años. El lento ritmo de los cambios – o su inexistencia – en estos primeros dos años  y medio de gestión del presidente Funes, ha provocado protestas de diversos sectores: transportistas, empleados públicos (Hacienda, ANDA, INDES, poder judicial), lisiados de guerra, vendedores callejeros, entre otros.
Los sectores más críticos del movimiento social acusan a Funes de persistir en las políticas económicas neoliberales implantadas por ARENA, lo que en cierto sentido es verdad pues no ha habido hasta el momento una alteración sustancial de las mismas, ni se han conseguido mejoras en otros aspectos críticos (seguridad). En este contexto, da la impresión de que algunos sectores de la sociedad civil organizada empiezan a ser partidarios de tornar su apoyo crítico al gobierno en oposición abierta. En estas circunstancias es importante interrogarse en qué medida puede este descontento erosionar el voto del FMLN de cara a los próximos comicios. El partido ha tratado desde el principio de presentarse como un aliado del gobierno, y no como el partido que ostenta el poder. Pero, ¿hasta qué punto el electorado será capaz de distinguir entre las políticas del presidente y la estrategia de largo plazo del FMLN? ¿Otorgarán su confianza de nuevo los votantes al Frente esta vez con un candidato revolucionario de “pura sangre”, o el desgaste del presidente Funes afectará en la misma medida al partido que lo apoya?

Monday, January 23, 2012

What do you think about Reagan now?

From the New York Times
A Guatemalan judge has ordered a former military dictator, Efraín Ríos Montt, to appear in court on Thursday, the first step in a process that could lead to his being tried on genocide charges and to a reopening of the darkest chapter in Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war.
During General Ríos Montt’s 17-month rule in 1982 and 1983, the Guatemalan Army pursued a scorched-earth campaign in the Mayan highlands that included massacres that are regarded as among the most horrific in the war. To flush out small bands of leftist guerrillas, soldiers entered Indian villages and hunted down their inhabitants, slaughtering men, women and children indiscriminately.
How about during the next Republican debate, the moderators ask what the candidates think about Ronald Reagan's legacy given his relationship with Rios Montt, a man who Reagan claimed was "totally dedicated to democracy," "was a man of great personal integrity," and had been "getting a bum rap" by all those people criticizing him for human rights abuses. Reagan said these things in December 1982 during the height of the genocide in Guatemala. While many people knew what was going on at the time, the evidence today is incontrovertible.

While they are at it, can they ask if they, like Reagan, will allow Central American elites to finance death squads against the Salvadoran people while they are living the high-life in South Florida and perhaps even investing in Bain Capital?

For anyone who follows Latin America, this is nothing new. However, most Americans don't know much about Central American history or the US' role in the region during the 1970s and 1980s. It would be interesting to see if Mexican Mitt or The Historian know anything about the time period in question.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Murder and Police Corruption in Honduras

It's good to see the media begin to pick up on the fact that national police and government officials in Central American are involved in all sorts of crime. It's not just drug traffickers from Mexico and Colombia or gangs. (See the Miami Herald and McClatchy). Boz also has a write-up on Police Corruption in Honduras this morning.

A few things jumped out at me. I don't follow Honduran politics as closely as others, but how can you appoint a Security Minister to "lead a sweep of law enforcement" who had no idea that criminals were operating out of police stations? Maybe not to the extent that it was occurring, but not that it wasn't happening.
“It never occurred to me when I took over this ministry that inside police stations there were people committing crimes and acting against human life,” said Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla, named recently to lead a sweep of law enforcement. “We have a serious problem.”
While the Miami Herald article wasn't bad, I can't help but notice that the 2009 coup against Zelaya wasn't mentioned at all. Perhaps the the violence would have escalated in Honduras had the June 2009 coup not occurred. Obviously, we'll never know. But it sure seems to me that violence committed by authorities has increased since that date. There's also the concern that drug traffickers stepped in to take advantage of the chaos that ensued following the coup. It should have been mentioned even in passing.

Tim Johnson also has a good article for McClatchy on Crime booms as Central Americans fear police switched sides. I definitely don't like the title. Maybe they could have changed it to crime booms as Central American police remains on both sides of the law. Maybe it's worse today but problem is nothing new.
Murder rates remain stubbornly high across the region. El Salvador tallied 4,354 murders last year, slightly under Guatemala's 5,618 and the 6,723 that Honduras registered. The Northern Triangle now approaches far more populous Mexico in the total number of homicides.

Now, not to be picky but these are not rates. It's also not good to present these numbers without taking into consideration population differences. El Salvador has a population of approximately 6 million, Guatemala somewhere in the 14 million range, and Honduras about 8 million. 

Finally, changes in murder rates for each country do not look alike. While crime booms, the murder rate in El Salvador has gone up some years and down other years. In Honduras, it has gone straight up. And in Guatemala, it has remained pretty flat for the last few years. Unlike Honduras and El Salvador, it has declined two years in a row. Guatemala's murder rate has also been significantly lower than those for the two countries for just about every year under consideration.

A comparison of the three countries should take these differences into account.

The Miami Herald (The risks and rewards of helping Honduras) and Hermano Juancito also have stories worth checking out. Their focus is on doing good work in the midst of such violence. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Unity and Disunity in the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN)

It's two months before the 2012 legislative and municipal elections in El Salvador and campaigning has begun. We'll start looking towards that election over the next few weeks. Unlike Guatemala, congressional elections in El Salvador are pretty important as the legislative blocs tend to remain unified throughout the legislative period and the deputies tend to vote together. Not always, but more so than in Guatemala where, as of Tuesday, over thirty members of congress (nearly (20%) have already switched parties. 

To get us started on El Savador, here's a paper that Alberto Martin Alvarez (Universidad de Colima) and I have forthcoming in Latin American Politics and Society on Unity and Disunity in the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional(FMLN):
Problems of unity can affect an armed opposition group at many stages of its existence - during the war, peace negotiations, and its transition to political party. In this paper, we assess to what extent internal divisions affected the performance of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador.
We find that while the FMLN suffered significant internal divisions in the early years of the war, the group remained remarkably unified from 1983 onwards. Significant divisions among the groups began to show themselves during the later years of the war, but they did not become exacerbated until after the war’s conclusion when the FMLN suffered from repeated fracturing. The FMLN only began to present itself as a programmatically coherent party in 2005 and this ideological homogeneity allowed it to conclude a series of partnerships with moderate, non-revolutionary sectors of Salvadoran society and achieve victory in the 2009 presidential elections. 
The paper won't be out until later this year so there might be a few formatting edits before then. However, the paper really shouldn't change much.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guatemala Murder Rates by Department

Here are the approximate murder rates per 100,000 people for each department in Guatemala in 2010 and 2011.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guatemala – Change in murder rates 2010-2011

Here's a map that lays out the change in each department's murder rate from 2010 to 2011 in Guatemala. Green is where the murder rate has improved. Red is where the murder rate has worsened. And yellow is where there has been little to no change (El Progreso at 0%, Izabal worsened 0.78%, and Chiquimula improved 1.42%).

Monday, January 16, 2012

20th Anniversary of the Peace Accords in El Salvador

I'd like to introduce you all to Christine J. Wade. Christine is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College as well as a good friend. Among other publications, Christine is a co-author of Understanding Central America: Global Forces, Rebellion and Change (Westview Press, 2009) and Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle (Westview Press, 2011). 

Here's her post on El Salvador: Not what it was, but not what it might have been.

Twenty years ago today, the Salvadoran government and the FMLN signed the peace accords that ended the nearly 12-year civil war. While in retrospect it is easy to criticize the various shortcomings of the accords, it is also important to note the significant changes that took place because of them: the restructuring of the military, the creation of the new police force (PNC), the creation of the new electoral tribunal (TSE), judicial reforms, land transfers, and the legalization of the FMLN as a political party. However imperfect in their implementation, these reforms dramatically reshaped Salvadoran politics and society. It is also important to note that the ceasefire has never been broken- a rather spectacular feat given the number of peace accords that fail within their first five years. As late as 1991, many academics and policymakers doubted that a negotiated resolution to the conflict could be reached. That the peace has held this long is a testament to both parties.

Unfortunately, the quality of El Salvador’s peace has been compromised throughout the past two decades. There were serious problems with the implementation of key elements of the accords— too many to discuss in detail here. The Cristiani administration’s refusal to acknowledge, much less implement, the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission thoroughly undermined societal reconciliation. Only under the Funes administration has there been any meaningful acknowledgment of the grievous crimes committed by the state during the war. Impunity is rampant. The accords did nothing to alleviate the economic injustices that have long plagued the country. Over the past two decades, more Salvadorans have fled the country in search of work and better opportunities than did during the war. Finally, post-accord El Salvador has been plagued by a seemingly unending crime wave that threatens not only Salvadoran citizens, but the very spirit of the accords. The violence is so consuming that some Salvadorans refer to the past 20 years as “not war,” finding it impossible to reconcile such violence with “peace.” Limitations on political participation, such as the anti-terror law, and the joint patrols between the police and army undermine some of the most basic principles of the accords.

So how are we to evaluate the last 20 years of peace in El Salvador? There is no doubt that El Salvador is a country transformed in many ways. One need only look at the executive office to see that. There is also no doubt that the quality of peace has disappointed many, myself included. In sum, it’s not what it was, but not what it might have been.

As much as this anniversary offers us an opportunity to reflect on the past two decades, it also offers an opportunity to look forward- forward to the possibilities of peace in a new era. There is much work to be done— none of it easy. Transforming “not war” into “peace” will require resolve, creativity, acumen, and political agility. Getting to peace also requires a re-commitment to the spirit and letter of the framework established at Chapultepec 20 years ago. What better day than today to begin again?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tim's Top El Salvador stories of 2011

Go check out Tim's Top El Salvador stories of 2011

And then check out Contrapunto for a letter to President Funes asking him to do more than apologize for crimes committed by the state during the Salvadoran civil war.

AFP is getting a little better reporting on Guatemala

Here's part of today's story on Perez's inauguration from the AFP.
The Central American country has on average 18 murders a day, six times the world average, and has seen large swaths of its territory penetrated by drug cartels using Guatemala as a transit point on their smuggling routes out of South America.
18 murders per day works out to be 6,570 murders. That's a little higher than the 6,498 that the PNC reported for 2009 (the highest on record) and much higher than what it reported for 2010 (5,960) and 2011 (5,681). That was a little disheartening. If one uses 2010's murders, it is 16.3 per day and if you use 2011's murders, it is 15.6. Not great, but 18 to 16.3 to 15.6 tells a little different story.

But then a few paragraphs later, they write that Perez
has vowed to show results in his first six months in office, and to cut in half the murder rate — currently one of the world’s highest at 38 per 100,000 inhabitants — by the end of his term.
38 per 100,000 looks like 2011's murder rate based upon 5,681 murders and a population of 14.7 million.

I guess we should be happy that at least one of the statistics that they cite is current. However, it's still disappointing that they can't realize that the two numbers that they use (per and and per 100,000) are inconsistent.

Now if they would only ask the general why reducing the country's murder rate from 43 per 100,000 (the year before Colom took power) to 38.6 per 100,000 (Colom's last year in office) is evidence of an increasing and out of control crime situation, why is he promising to cut the murder rate in half? By his and the Guatemalan media's standards, that would just mean the country is even worse off than when he took office, right?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Inauguration Day in Guatemala

It's inauguration day in Guatemala. I wasn't impressed with the two main presidential candidates and I can't say that I'm excited to have Otto Perez Molina in charge for the next four years given what he is alleged to have done and what he intends to do. (NPRBloomberg, Christian Science MonitorReutersThe Foundry)  

On Friday morning, a Guatemalan congressman was shot and killed blocks from the country's congress. 
Oscar Valentin Leal Caal was elected to congress as a member of LIDER. However, just days ago, he agreed to switch his party affiliation to Perez' Patriotic Parry (PP). Even though President Alvaro Colom "said there was no immediate evidence the crime was linked to congressional affairs or Perez's inauguration" his murder has led to some speculation that he was killed because of political motivations as his party switch wasn't official at the time of his death. 

On the other hand, according to reports, he has been getting threats since his September reelection so it's hard to see how his switch played a role unless we know more about what has been going on behind the scenes.

The other scenario is that he was killed for some reason related to events in Alta Verapaz, the department which he represents in congress. It's also the department where the government launched a state of siege in December 2010.

Roxanna Baldetti spoke to the press this morning. She says they have recovered the murder weapon, a police revolver. They also have a protected witness. Let's just say that Leal's death was probably not a suicide. That one's been tried before.

In other news, after President Colom says good-bye, he will try to rekindle that loving feeling with former wife Sandra Torres. She apparently isn't going anywhere. She wants more security and the political persecution to stop. She's also one of the favorites in 2015 in case you are looking ahead.

Republicans derail US ambassador to El Salvador

Two week delay in posting, but here's my take on Republican efforts to derail Mari Carmen Aponte's nomination as US Ambassador to El Salvador. It's up at Al Jazeera now.

The United States Senate recently blocked President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to El Salvador. Mari Carmen Aponte had been serving as ambassador to El Salvador since September 2010 and, by most measures, seems to have done a fine job representing US interests in the country.
However, given that Aponte was a 2010 recess appointment which allowed Obama to sidestep Senate concerns, the Senate would have needed to confirm her nomination in order for her to continue to serve as ambassador beyond the end of this year. Instead, 49 Senators, including one Democrat, voted to block Aponte's nomination.
Several opinion pieces have taken to explaining that Aponte's nomination was derailed by an op-ed published in El Salvador where she defended the rights of gays and lesbians. However, I would argue that her nomination would have failed even if she had not written the op-ed. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Morning in Central America

Here are a few links to get you through the morning.
In Guatemala, a judge told former first lady Sandra Torres not to leave the country while she is under investigation for possible misuse of government funds when she managed President Colom's social programs. While she hasn't been charged, a complaint was filed against her last year. I don't think that anyone would be surprised if the former first lady and her husband used the social programs to benefit support for his administration and her electoral campaign. It's deplorable, but not surprising. Is there anything else to the charges?
In El Salvador, the government has confirmed that it has received a formal extradition request from Spain for 13 former military officers linked to the killing of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. Two of the 15 wanted by the Spanish court are currently in the United States. Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez said that the request has been forwarded to the high court for consideration.
The Institute of Legal Medicine says that it never reported that only 10% of murders were gang-related. 
"We have never said that is 10 percent (the percentage of homicides committed by gangs), what happens is that police investigations do not (...) 70 of 100 around where the murder was committed, did not report who was the perpetrator, only 30 reported who was the perpetrator. Of these 30, hence the confusion likely, 10 said they had been gang, "said Magana, who said to be responsible for half of national newspapers.
So, in general, police are only able to identify murderer in 30% of the cases in which they investigate. And one-third of those that they do "solve" is gang-related. 
The Tripartite Commission comprised of the ILM, PNC, and FGR has not met yet. They will come up with an official murder toll sometime later this month or February. Then we'll know for sure whether the murder rate has gone up and by how much.
In the same article, Contrapunto also provides additional statistics from last year's murders.
Sonsonate was the department's most violent country in 2011 with a homicide rate of 110.4 per 100,000 population, followed by San Salvador and La Libertad with a murder rate of 83.8 and 70.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively.
With regard to gender, 14.8 percent of those killed in 2011 were female and 85.2 percent men.
The Vatican Insider has a detailed report on The peace mosaic that caused a “war.” It's about the destruction of the mural on the face of the cathedral in San Salvador.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Does the Surge in Disappearances Reflect Gang Violence in El Salvador?

As I mentioned over the weekend, over 2,000 Salvadorans disappeared in 2011. I wanted to follow up on a few things that Hannah Stone at InSight Crime said about these numbers. 

First, she says that 
If the vast majority of those missing are now dead, as El Diario de Hoy reports, then this would increase the country's murder rate, which stood at 65 per 100,000 in 2011, by one-third. This would bring it into line with neighboring Honduras, which has a rate of over 80 per 100,000 -- the highest in the world.
Unfortunately, that's not quite accurate. If we take El Salvador's population for 2011 at 6,162,000 and its murders at 4,354, the country has a murder rate of 71 per 100,000. However, if we add another 2,007 to the murder country's murder total for 2011, its murder rate jumps to 103 per 100,000. I think that would put it in a league of its own. That is unless Honduras has its own problem with disappearances which would bring its murder rate up as well. 

Second, I'm not entirely convinced that the increased number of disappearances is "sign of growing gang violence." They might be. I just want to see some evidence. According to an official at the IML, "maras," were likely involved in three-quarters of the cases. 

However, the Institute of Legal Medicine (IML), in collaboration with the Attorney General's Office (FGR) and the National Civilian Police (PCN), argue that 11% of violent deaths the country were committed by gangs. The PNC, when it presents its own figures, claims that gangs are involved in nearly 30% of murders. The PNC does say that that number will eventually go up with more evidence. Finally, the Public Security and Justice Ministry believes that 90% of the murders in 2011 were gang-related. 

So there we have a range of 11% to 90% of the country's murders are gang-related. Maybe it's 75% as Stone reports, but I just don't really know. And I'm not sure that anyone does. 

Then there's the question of what it means that the murders are gang-related. That's helpful to an extent but I'd like to know more. 
  • How many were caused by turf battles between gangs (drug routes)?
  • How many were caused by gangs taking care of their own (internal power struggles)?
  • How many were caused by initiations where new recruits must kill? 
  • How many were just for fun? 
  • How many were caused when extortion, kidnapping, and robberies went bad?
  • How many were politically motivated murders?
  • How many were caused by death squads engaged in social cleansing?
This isn't an exhaustive list by any means. I'd also like to know how each percentage compared to 2010, 2009... Maybe even how El Salvador's situation compares to its neighbors. 

It's just some encouragement to ask what "gang-related" actually means. 

Here's an editorial in La Prensa Grafica calling for better statistics as well. I am definitely more impressed with the questions that are being asked in El Salvador compared to the lack of questioning of official statistics in Guatemala. 

Authorities need to ask the right questions so that they can try come up with the right solutions. They also need a way to measure whether their policies have been effective. Citizens need to have confidence in the statistics that officials provide so that they can hold them accountable come election time.

The raw numbers don't tell us the entire story or violence and crime in Central America. But they are helpful in both diagnosing the problem and measuring the effectiveness of the proposed solutions.

A difficult task I do say

From an AP story on President-elect Otto Perez Molina
Former general Otto Perez Molina takes office as Guatemala’s new president Saturday with a top priority of ending a long-standing U.S. ban on military aid imposed over concerns about abuses during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war.
Perez, who was a top military official during the war, has long insisted there were no massacres, human rights violations or genocide in a conflict that killed 200,000 civilians, mostly Mayan Indians...
Close advisers say he supports meeting the conditions set by various U.S. congressional appropriations acts for restoring aid that was first eliminated in 1978 halfway through the civil war.

Among the required steps is reforming a weak justice system that has failed to bring those responsible for abuses to justice. A U.N.-sponsored postwar truth commission said state forces and related paramilitary groups committed most of the killings.
The U.S. also insists that the government support a United Nations-supported international anti-corruption team whose prosecution effort has been criticized by Guatemala’s political elite.
I find it hard to believe that Perez is going to put a lot of effort into reforming a judicial system so that it can bring human rights violators to justice for atrocities committed during the civil war when the president himself believes that no such violations took place and his incoming administration is filled with former military officials.

Many of his other officials are tied to the country's economic elite who have been waging war on CICIG and the attorney general. I hope that I am wrong, but I don't have a lot of confidence here either.

He won handily this time with campaign promises to deal with criminals with an “iron fist,” a stand that resonated in a country of more than 13 million people where murders are committed at a rate of 45 for every 100,000 residents. That is almost three times higher than in neighboring Mexico.
45 per 100,000 is closer to 2008 or 2009 not today. Last year the murder rate was about 38.5 and in 2010 it was 41 per 100,000. While Guatemala's murder rate might be three times as high as Mexico's, it is about half its southern neighbors, Honduras and El Salvador, with which it is more frequently grouped.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Inocente Orlando Montano update

On Wednesday, Inocente Orlando Montano backed out of a guilty plea on immigration charges. Montano is alleged to have played a role in the 1989 murder of the UCA Jesuits. 
A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors says Montano informed the court Wednesday that he will not plead guilty.
Montano is charged with lying under oath and making false statements on immigration forms to remain in the U.S. He was arrested in August in the Boston area, where he has been living for about a decade.
He probably realized that a guilty verdict would have sent him back to El Salvador or put him on the fast track for an extradition request to Spain.

Courageous Stand by The Guatemala Times

The Guatemala Times released Our take on the Colom Presidency yesterday. There’s a lot of good stuff. President Colom has gotten bad press his entire term in office. Some of it is obviously deserved. However, much of it seems to be politically motivated and it's only gotten worse over the last few weeks. I use the term courageous to describe The Guatemala Times' position because what they say is dangerous and I am sure that they know it.
Guatemala’s mainstream media is owned by the status quo and defends the status quo. President Colom was always seen as a threat to the powers of Guatemala – a socialist, in the minds of the Guatemalan right - wingers that is considered the same as communist, guerilla, terrorist, anti- establishment, a menace to their power structure. He is not one of “them”, he must be the enemy.
Anyone who has the illusion that in Guatemala the President elect is the real power is a fool. The power behind the power is and always has been the Guatemalan elite, much the same as in the US, where President Obama has not been able to do anything of what he promised, because it is not convenient for the big money. It is a “moneycracy” not a democracy. Money rules, not the people.
Now the Guatemalan media smells blood and they must endear themselves to the newly elected government of Otto Perez. They are getting bolder and bolder, more offensive and disrespectful as the Presidency of Colom is coming to its end.
There seems to be several factors at play in the media’s coverage of Colom. One line seeks to connect him to the guerrillas and tends to argue that this is what happens when you elect a leftist of someone closely aligned with the guerrillas to the presidency. I get the impression that they don’t just want to take down Colom, but they want to undermine social democracy and the political left in Guatemala. This can be seen by both the media’s coverage of Colom as well as the legal actions brought against former guerrillas and peace activists for crimes committed during the civil war. While the guerrillas did some nasty things, what they did pales in comparison to what the Guatemalan armed forces and government did.

Yesterday’s story about a lawsuit brought against Colom for failing to extend CICIG’s mandate looks like it might be designed to discredit him as well. In 2010, it was thought that the Congress did not need to vote to extend CICIG’s mandate. Putting my conspiracy hat on, it is possible that the media, the elite, and members of the incoming administration do not want CICIG’s mandate extended and this is a way for them to get out of the country’s relationship with CICIG while blaming Colom. I’m not sure of this one, but stranger things have happened. We already know that the lawsuits against Claudia Paz y Paz was politically motivated and likely designed to get her to stop civil war investigations. It’s not that far-fetched to believe that this lawsuit is politically motivated as well.

Finally, the media’s brutal coverage of Colom’s last few weeks already has the effect of causing the people to look towards Otto Perez Molina as the country’s savior. I haven’t read one piece that questions statistics on the country’s murder rate. What explains why two years of reduced murders have led to a rising sense of insecurity amongst Guatemalans? Are the authorities not counting correctly? If murders are not the best way to measure criminal violence, how can we produce statistics that better reflect the situation in which Guatemala finds itself? Has there been any of that? No. They just report the decline and then repeat how Colom has done nothing to improve the security situation in the country.
You should definitely read the whole piece.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Guatemala fails to extend CICIG mandate

A Guatemalan attorney has filed a criminal complaint against President Alvaro Colom for failing to extend the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Colom didn't send the bill to congress and no one seems to have realized it until recently.

According to Gallindo's complain, President Colom didn't send the bill to congress because he doesn't want the CICIG to investigate his administration for corruption. His actions, or lack thereof, constitute a violation of the Constitution, abuse of authority and dereliction of duty. (Siglo XXIEmisoras Unidas)

I'm sure that there's more to come, but as I said earlier, if the Colom administration was as corrupt as previous administrations with the international community looking over its shoulders, CICIG should not have its mandate extended.

Defending Human Rights in Latin America

I have a new post up on Defending Human Rights in Latin America at Al Jazeera.It's been about two weeks since I wrote it so it sounds a bit dated already.
Time Magazine recently named The Protester as its person of the year 2011. If I were to confine the choice to Latin America, I would have to support the human rights defender. While there have been previous successes, 2011 seems to have been a watershed in which nearly every country has made some progress in bringing those responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses to justice.
What do you think? On balance, was it a pretty good year for holding human rights violators accountable? 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Different Take on Murders in Central America

Here's what Prensa Libre picked up from AGENCIA ACAN-EFE.
Violence has surged in Guatemala during the last ten years, officials said, because of the presence of youth gangs and drug gangs that have been installed in the country. Last year, according to official figures, 5,681 murders were reported in the country, an average of 16 per day, equivalent to a rate of 38.61 homicides per 100 000 inhabitants. These figures place this Central American country as one of the most dangerous and violent in Latin America.
Would it be so hard to say that 2011's murder rate was the country's lowest since 2004

Or how about Guatemala's murder rate of 38.61 is very high, yet it is no where near as high as those of Venezuela (67), El Salvador (70), or Honduras (86)?

Or how about Guatemala's murder rate has never told the complete story about how dangerous a country Guatemala has been? Here's a ranking of the most violent country years since 2000. These are based upon homicide rates for El Salvador, Honduras, and El Salvador per 100,000 people. 

I only intended to compile a list of the top ten. However, I had to go to fifteen so as to include Guatemala somewhere on the list. Guatemala's 2011 rate would rank 25th out of 36 country-years.  

While we are at it, is citing murder statistics useless when we describe Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala? The Northern Triangle is frequently described as one of the most dangerous regions on the planet yet Honduras and El Salvador have nearly double Guatemala's murder rate.

Then there's the title of post - "At least 19 people have been killed in the last 24 hours." Obviously, when you average 16 murders per day, it's not that unusual that you will have days where the total number of murders will reach 19. That's how averages work - some days below and some days above. The Latin American Herald Tribune picked the story up as well.

My hope that the coverage of violence Central America would improve this year isn't looking so good.

Here are some other posts since Friday in case you were busy with football or the NH debate.

Salvadorans Continue to Disappear - but what about Guatemalans?
Guatemala doesn't count?
Guatemala murder rates (1995-2011)

Salvadorans Continue to Disappear - but what about Guatemalans?

In addition to the 4,354 people murdered in El Salvador in 2011, the Institute of Legal Medicine reports that they are aware of another 2,007 reported disappearances (1,598 men and 409 women). And that is just in the capital of San Salvador.

While we read about the disappeared in Mexico and El Salvador, I've seen no comparable stories in the Guatemalan press. Are disappearances contributing to the disconnect between a declining murder rate and the increased perception of insecurity in that country?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Guatemala doesn't count?

From Jorge G Castaneda's opinion piece on Good times down Latin America's way up at Al Jazeera.
Three elections were held in Latin America in 2011. Two - in Argentina and Peru - went well; the other - in Nicaragua - was marred by egregious fraud and heavy-handed government intervention in favour of the incumbent. Still, two out of three is not bad in a region where, previously, if elections were held at all, disputes about the outcomes were the norm.
You can say that Guatemala's election wasn't as important, regionally speaking, as those in Nicaragua, Peru, and Argentina, but ya gotta include it. Maybe he's got something against Guatemala.

So, what's the reason why the United States is only sending its Peace Corps Director (to check out country conditions for himself?), US Ambassador to Guatemala, Senator Mary Landrieu, and the USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America to Otto Perez Molina's inauguration

Like Castaneda, does the US not place much of a priority on Guatemala? Or, are we sending low-level dignitaries (no offense) because we don't want to have the big guns standing with an alleged war criminal? Has anyone heard who, if anyone, is going to Nicaragua?