Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Drugs and Violence II

As Boz writes in the comments to my post on Drug use and violence in Central America
Illegal drug use in the US, particularly cocaine, is way down. In fact, it's near what's likely to be a natural floor. It would be hard and take excessive resources to get it much lower than what it is today.
This, of course, is a problem for everyone who says demand reduction is the answer. We've done demand reduction in the past two decades and done it quite successfully. Successful demand reduction in the US has had minimal and possibly even a negative correlation on the crime and violence linked to drugs in South and Central America. It's not a conclusion many analysts like to discuss, but it's what the data show.
So, drug use is down in the US.

The murder rate in Guatemala has also decreased two years in a row and is at its lowest level since 2004.

Murders are down in Guatemala. (Colombia too, right?)

On the one hand, it's an odd point in time to call for decriminalization as drug use in the US is down and violence, at least in terms of homicide rates, is down in Guatemala as well.

On the other hand, perhaps it's just a recognition on the part of the Guatemalan government that it's done everything possible to reduce violence and the only way forward is decriminalization. That doesn't sound right given Otto Perez Molina was just a few weeks into his first term in office when he threw out the suggestion.

I would probably support decriminalizing marijuana, but I just think that Perez is using the issue to distract from the country's historic and future (most likely) inability to reform domestic institutions. Greg reproduces this paragraph from Ralph Espach at The Atlantic and I will as well because it's really important.
Drugs are a major problem in Central America, but they are worsened by a much bigger problem, one that can't be solved by legalizing marijuana, cocaine, or opium: the lack of public security. From the out-gunned police on the streets to the weak judges in the courts to the corrupt politicians, communities and countries struggle to maintain basic control over their own security. Ultimately, drug legalization -- like the drug war it's meant to solve -- would succeed only if public security is fixed and would fail if it isn't. That means better-trained and -equipped police, new campaign finance rules, faster and more independent courts, and even improved prisons. It means addressing not just the problems in the police and courts but the widespread poverty, malnourished children, and poor education systems. It means creating transparency in the public sector, curbing corruption, and breaking the long-standing links between organized crime and politics. Without these enormously difficult steps, neither drug legalization nor any drug war are likely to solve Central America's problems.
I want to be an optimist but something tells me that it would be easier to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs that it will be to accomplish what I italicized above especially if CACIF and Guatemala's businessmen continue to see the state as a business.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Drug use and violence in Central America

Carlos Mendoza has had several posts about violence in Guatemala at Central American Business Intelligence that you might find interesting. In first one, you can view homicide rates by department and by municipality. The second one elaborates on a Siglo XXI article. Apparently, 88% of 2011's murders occurred in 40% of the country's 133 municipalities. And this post links to several articles about the violence as well.  

Mary Anastasia O'Grady at the Wall Street Journal also has an opinion piece on Otto Perez Molina's suggestion that the region should consider decriminalization. It's not terrible, probably because she doesn't really interject her opinion into the piece. However, I still don't like people using 41 murders per 100,000 (2010's numbers)  - double that of Mexico - to characterize disorder in Guatemala. The murder rate declined in 2010 and then again in 2011. I think that it's rather remarkable that the rate went down two years in a row and sits at 39 per 100,000 when El Salvador and Honduras' rates are in the 70s and 80s.

Now I have a question about drug use statistics. According to the US embassy's February statement, 
Although still very high, the rate of overall drug use in the United States has declined by about one third over the past three decades. More recently, the use of cocaine has dropped by 43 percent and use of methamphetamine in the United States has been halved.
Are these commonly accepted statistics? If not, anybody have suggestions for alternative statistics over time? How do we fill in the blanks accurately?
  1. Overall violence related to the drug trade in Mexico and Central America has _____.
  2. Illegal drug production has _____. 
  3. The confiscation of illegal drugs has ____________.
  4. The rate of illegal drug use in the US has _________.
  5. The total number of people using illegal drugs in the US has ___________.
  6. The rate of illegal drug use in Central America and Mexico has _________.
  7. The total number of people using illegal drugs in Central America and Mexico has _______.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eugenio Vides Casanova can be deported

On Saturday, Tim wrote about a recent decision by a Florida immigration judge ruling that the former Salvadoran defense minister General Eugenio Vides Casanova can be deported from the U.S. given his responsibility for human rights abuses that occurred under his watch during the 1980s. From the AP
In a groundbreaking decision, a federal immigration judge has ruled that the former defense minister of El Salvador can be deported from the U.S. for his role in killings and human rights abuses during the 1980s.
The ruling by the Orlando-based judge, James K. Grim, marks the first time a 2004 law aimed at stopping human rights abusers from taking refuge in the U.S. has been successfully used against a nation’s top military official, according to the San Francisco-based Center for Justice & Accountability.
It's not a given that he will be deported. (See also the New York Times) The judge only ruled that he can be. Unfortunately, there are no charges pending against him in El Salvador. Even though it doesn't look like he is interested, my hope remains that President Funes takes steps towards preparing the country for prosecutions of human rights violators. While the military might have threatened to carry out a coup had there not been an amnesty in 1993, I don't see that threat as credible today.

However, the FMLN is not pushing for a repeal of the Amnesty Law that would open the door to prosecutions. From what I understand, the only FMLN commander named in the Truth Commission who is still with the organization is none other than Salvador Sanchez Ceren. He benefits from the amnesty and it's hard to see the sitting vice-president fighting for its repeal.

Meanwhile in Guatemala, the trial against Pedro Pimentel, extradited by the United States last July for his alleged involvement in the Dos Erres massacre, began last Thursday. And in Canada, Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa is one step closer to extradition to the US after an appeals court denied his request for legal assistance.  Sosa is wanted in the US for lying on his immigration papers. However, Sosa is also alleged to have been involved in the Dos Erres massacre. Therefore, it's unclear whether he will serve any time in the US or if the government will simply begin deportation hearings to remove him to Guatemala.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Irregular Armed Groups in El Salvador

Apparently, there was a fifteen minute armed confrontation between an armed group and the security forces which ended with the arrest of five people. The five had an AK-47, military backpacks, bomb making materials, night vision goggles and revolutionary propaganda. Some wore black outfits and others military (type) uniforms. 

David Munguía Payés, El Salvador's Minister of Justice and Security, confirmed that they had detected an "irregular armed group or the revolutionary type" in Sesori, San Miguel and that they have knowledge of at least four other groups operating in the northern parts of the country..

The group calls itself the "Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Populares 22 de Enero" (Revolutionary People's Armed Forces January 22). Their flag is yellow and red and the date January 22nd refers to the indigenous and peasant uprising of 1932 that resulted in La Matanza (the Great Killing).

One of those captured was former guerrilla Fredis Isabel Garcia Guevara. It looks like some of the others were former guerrillas or were somehow connected to the guerrillas. Given their ages of 7 and 17 at the time of the Peace Accords, however, I'm not really sure what to think of their involvement. 

Authorities aren't saying or don't know whether they have any connections to the political party made up of former guerrillas, the FMLN. Authorities also believe that there are at least another ten members of this cell/group at-large.
"They are an armed organization for criminal purposes, but also in the future think of other questions of another kind," said Mendoza, who did not rule out that some people interested in generating more violence may be funding these illegal groups.
The early information is still sketchy, but Salvadoran authorities are leaning towards the hypothesis that the group is "an incipient guerrilla." Right now they are involved in kidnappings, extortion and other revenue generating crimes, but they might be interested in something more political.

If you remember, prior to the creation of the FMLN, guerrillas raised money by kidnapping members of wealthy families, extorting businessmen, and robbing banks and other institutions. All of this took place in the early 1970s up until full-scale armed confrontation broke out in 1980/1981.

Salvadoran authorities haven't commented on the revolutionary nature of the propaganda from what I can tell. 

Stay tuned.

El Salvador's March Elections

Salvadorans will go to the polls once again on March 11th to vote for 84 members of the Legislative Assembly and 262 mayors. In recent months, most polls have indicated that ARENA is poised for a comeback.

According to a recent LPG Datos poll on voter intentions when it comes to mayoral election, 29.3% of those interviewed support ARENA, 24.2% the FMLN. 8.8% the Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA), 5.2% the Concertación Nacional (CN), 1.7% PDC/PES, and 1% for the CD. Thirty percent remain undecided or won't say.

In the capital, current mayor Norman Quijano of ARENA has a solid advantage over Jorge Schafik Hándal of the FMLN. Sixty-one percent intend to vote Quijano and 15.1% Hándal. Another 2% are to other candidates and the rest are unknown. Eighty percent of those interviewed have a positive image of Quijano while only 31% have a positive image of Hándal.

CID-Galup/Diario La Pagina
Tim links to a CID-Galup/Diario La Pagina poll about voter intentions for deputies. Thirty-four percent are inclined to vote for the FMLN and 32% for ARENA. GANA is in third place with 10%. Six percent indicate that they will likely vote for another party and 18% didn't respond. In 2009, the FMLN won 43% of the congressional vote and ARENA captured 39%.

LPG Datos also poll voter intentions for deputy. ARENA has 26.4% support while the FMLN comes in at 24.4%. Twenty-six percent say they don't know how they will vote. See here for more about LPG Datos' poll.

Consulta Mitofsky also published poll results this week giving the advantage to ARENA. For congress, 30.3% intend to vote ARENA and 23.4 FMLN. GANA holds on to third with 6.2% and the other parties each receive less than 2% support. The remaining 33% aren't voting or don't know for whom they will vote. Thirty four percent are inclined to vote ARENA and 24% FMLN for municipal office. GANA's support comes close to 10%.

IUDOP/UCA also released poll number this week indicating a much closer race between ARENA and the FMLN. Twenty eight percent intend to vote FMLN for congress followed closely by ARENA at 26.4% GANA comes in at 6.3%. Interestingly, Jeannette Aguilar says that about 10% of the people who voted FMLN in 2009 have withdrawn their support for the party.

The difference between ARENA and the FMLN is narrower in the preferences for municipal council elections. Here once again heads the FMLN with 28.6 percent, followed by ARENA with 28.2.

We don't really know what's going to happen in two weeks. Since the last election, residential voting has been introduced in most municipalities but not all. Voting for individual candidates rather than parties has also been introduced. The FMLN agreed to candidate-based voting but has been encouraging its supporters to vote FMLN rather than for individual candidates. In the Mitofsky poll, 40% said that they are going to vote for the party and another 40% said that they will vote for individual candidate's photos. Forty-eight percent also said that they didn't know how elections for deputies work. (Check out Tim's posts here and here and the comments that go along with them as well.)

The PCN and PDC were cancelled following the last election but both will present candidates under different banners this time (CN and PES). ARENA split after the 2009 and this will be the first election for GANA. If the PD, MNR, and FDR teach us anything, it's that GANA doesn't have much of a future. This time might be different however.

Then there's the fact that President Funes is still relatively popular throughout the country even though the militants from the party with which he is aligned are very disappointed in his administration. Will they turn out in support of the party or will their disappointment with Funes lead them to stay home?

According to the LPG Datos poll, 34% self-identify ideologically on the right and only 23% on the left. Dinorah Azpuru's research indicates that this is one of the best predictors of the vote over the last fifteen years. Given the disappointment with the economic and security situation and the rightward tilt in ideology, the elections probably won't turn out too well for the FMLN.

I imagine ARENA will pick up a few seats in the congress and might surpass the FMLN as the largest party, but not by much. ARENA should also maintain its dominance of municipal elections.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Judge in Rios Montt genocide trial steps down

Carol Patricia Flores stepped down as the judge overseeing Efrain Rios Montt's genocide case. (AP, Prensa Libre)

The removal stemmed from a complaint filed by Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes' defense lawyers in November. Lopez was the army chief of staff under Rios Montt. His lawyers accused the judge of being biased against Lopez..

The judge was about to convoke a hearing to determine whether charges against Rios Montt should be dropped because of the amnesty law passed back in the 1980s shortly before the return to civilian rule. The new judge, Miguel Angel Galvez, postponed Tuesday's hearing until March 1st but did say that the charges against Rios Montt as well as the conditions of his bail and house arrest, remain in place  .

I would have preferred that Carol Patricia Flores had stayed on in the case. It's a little too early to see this as an ominous sign of things to come, but if there's one place where I was worried where we would see a reversal under a Perez Molina administration, it would be in the area of prosecuting human rights violators.

I'm not saying that he has directly influenced the court's decision in any way. However, one can expect judges and lawyers to approach their jobs somewhat differently when working under a president who denies that genocide or crimes against humanity occurred than when one operates under a president who apologizes for crimes of the state.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Femicide and Armed Conflict

There's a forum being held in Madrid on "Femicide and Armed Conflict." In the story, the President of the Advisory Board of the National Union of Guatemalan Women (UNAMG), Luz Mendez, talks (rightly so) of the violence against women in Guatemala. She points to the fact that over 700 women were murdered in the country alone last year. That would seem to indicate that she is using INACIF's statistics that indicate 710 women were killed in violent circumstances in 2011.

I tend to use the PNC's statistics which counts 631 female victims in 2011, down from 695 in 2011.

However if we stick with INACIF's number, the number of female victims declined from 842 in 2010 to 710 in 2011. A decrease of 130 (16%!!!!) would typically reflect an improvement when measuring murders rather than a sign that things are spiraling out of control. 

Maybe that's just me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Violence and Drugs in Guatemala

Carlos Mendoza continues to analyze 2011's homicide statistics in Guatemala in a post at Plaza Publica. Some up, some down, but mostly improved murder rates all around.
See also Carlos's posts on Violence in a Regional Context (parts 1 and 2) and Solola and mine on murder by department.

I also found this article by Prensa Libre interesting, especially the last paragraph.
In January there was a slight reduction in the number of murders in the country, compared with the same month last year.
After nearly two years of neglecting improved murder rates, now the press gets it right? I am sure that it's just a coincidence.

Here are a few more articles of interest that came out while I was traveling last week.
Decriminalize drugs: lure or justified proposal
Al Jazeera's piece on US hooked on Central American drugs
UTEP political scientist Tony Payan questions the benefits of decriminalization

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Campaign Posters in El Salvador

Some shots from around town. The last one with D'Aubisson and Schafik was a little tough to get as the bus was moving.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

OPM and Decriminalization

Reporter: Mr. President, your predecessor arrested fourteen of the country's most wanted drug traffickers, brought the country's murder rate down to its lowest level since 2004, declared states of siege in two departments and brought temporary relief to the people of those departments, and seized 7 times more drugs, drug money and goods than the two previous administrations combined. The first month of your administration saw another drop in homicides. How do you intend to capitalize on the improvements made these last two years?

OPM: Let's decriminalize everything - possession, use, transportation. Everything.

Why this proposed solution? 

  • We've done everything possible to bring the security situation under control using the resources available. It won't get better unless we decriminalize drugs.
  • I was hoping that you would say "no." Now, get ready for mano dura.
  • I actually thought the US would go along.
I still have no idea why OPM would have chosen this route one month into his presidency. However, I would just like to say that it isn't that unusual for the Guatemalan military (and retired military) to thumb their noses at the US. They are a proud institution that did not take orders from the US but appear to have acted in ways that the US wanted only when it was in their interest.

And who checks facts for The independent?
The decision to explore legalisation comes amid soaring crime rates in the country, which is regarded as prime real estate by Mexican drug cartels competing to shift cocaine from South America, where it is grown, to the US, where most of it is consumed....
Those profit margins have led to institutionalised corruption and endemic violence. Guatemala has one of the world's highest murder rates outside of a war zone, with 52 deaths per 100,000 citizens each year. About 98 per cent of murders go unsolved.
I have no idea where 52 deaths per 100,000 comes from. It was 46 in 2009, 41 in 2010, and 39 in 2011. The latest reports have between 5 and 10% of murders solved.

Given that murders are down, I would prefer that the president turn his attention to reducing extortion which seems to have gotten much more complicated in the last few years.

Least Violent Municipalities in Guatemala

According to Carlos Mendoza's analysis of PNC data, forty-seven municipalities tied for being the least violent in Guatemala in 2011. 

The news isn't all good. Click through to Carlos's page to see the rates for other municipalities.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Rosenberg trend?

Let's hope that Rodrigo Rosenberg did not start a trend.
Hours after he asked his parishioners to pray for him, Rev. Rafael Reatiga was found shot to death in a car in Bogota with another Roman Catholic priest.
The Associated Press reported that police initially suspected that Reatiga and Rev. Richard Piffano, 37, were victims of robbery. But now, three weeks after their bodies were found, Colombian prosecutors say the two Catholic priests hired hitmen to kill them when at least one of them was diagnosed with AIDS.
Prosecutors located the alleged hitmen based on phone numbers the priests had called from their cell phones days before their deaths.Prosecutors said Tuesday that the priests paid about $8,500 for the hit. They had originally planned to commit suicide by throwing themselves into a canyon but couldn’t bring themselves to jump. Medical tests showed that Reatiga, 36, had AIDS.
He also had syphilis and had been seen visiting places frequented by gay men in Botoga, according to the AP.
Two of the four assassins have been arrested, the AP reported. They face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
A terrible end for all involved.

Guatemala president weighs drug legalization, blames U.S. for not reducing consumption

Sorry, I've been travelling all day and haven't had much internet access. A few thoughts:

I still don't understand Perez' talk of decriminalization. While he did bring the issue up a month ago, it sure sounds likes blindsided the US. He's free to do what he wants, but that's not the way to get the United States to enter into a dialogue with you. Wouldn't you want to build some silent support for such an initiative before moving forward? And will this weaken him over the next four years?

Drug usage has apparently decreased in recent years. However, it was so high to begin with that I guess people don't notice. That sort of reminds me of the murder rate in Guatemala. People dismiss the reductions of murders and drug usage over the last few years.

I haven't gotten to read that much but are people saying that Funes changed his mind because of US pressure?

Boz has some interesting thoughts here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

US Embassy Responds to Decriminalization of Drugs in Guatemala

The US Embassy in Guatemala responded to President Otto Perez Molina's suggestion that the Central American nations should consider decriminalizing drugs so as to reduce violence in the region with what I consider a polite, but emphatic no.

I can't say that I agree with everything that is said (especially the we need to keep drugs illegal so that drug traffickers don't become more involved in other illegal activities and potentially make things worse argument) but it strikes the right tone.

Here's the translation (I hope they don't mind):
"The idea of ​​decriminalizing drug use has been debated in various jurisdictions, including Colombia, Mexico, California and several forums Central America.
The Government of the United States continues to oppose these measures because the evidence shows that our drug problem shared is a major threat to public health and safety. In the United States, drugs are present in about half of those who commit crimes ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Scientific research shows, however, that drug addiction is a disease that can be prevented and treated successfully.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Guatemalan President to propose legalizing drugs

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has repeated his suggestion that Guatemala and the other nations of Central America should consider decriminalizing drugs in order to help reduce violence.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said he will propose legalizing drugs in Central America in an upcoming meeting with the region's leaders.
Perez Molina said in a radio interview that would include decriminalizing the transportation of drugs through the area.
The Guatemalan president said the war on drugs, and all the money and technology received from the U.S., has not diminished drug trafficking in the area.
While the details would have to be worked out, he would also consider setting up legal mechanisms to sell drugs. I increasingly believe that some effort at decriminalization would be beneficial both to the people of Central America and the United States. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that the US government and regional governments could design some sort of effective policy. They would include too many loopholes and restrictions that would still make it highly profitable to operate on the black market.

It's also interesting that it is the Colombian and Guatemalan presidents who are suggesting this policy change. They are the leaders of two countries that have recently succeeded in reducing violence, at least when measured in terms of their murder rates.

Finally, maybe Otto Perez Molina does not believe that decriminalization is a viable option. In order to get the US's attention and action (lift the military restrictions in place that limit US cooperation with their Guatemalan counterparts and to get it to contribute more resources to battling narcotrafficking in Central America), Perez is raising the stakes of the game. This is just his way of negotiating. Now the US will have to deal or call his bluff.

And hey CBS/AP, the murder rate in Guatemala is not 45 per 100,000. That is so 2009. The rate is just under 39 per 100,000.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Unidad de Investigaciones sobre la Guerra Civil Salvadoreña (UIGCS)

El Instituto de Estudios Históricos, Antropológicos y Arqueológicos de la Universidad de El Salvador (IEHAA-UES), la Fundación Friedrich Ebert (FES) y la Dirección Nacional de Investigaciones de Cultura y las Artes (DNI) de la Secretaría de la Presidencia are sponsoring an International Seminar from February 15-17 in San Salvador on "Historia, sociedad y memorias:el conflicto armado en el XX aniversario de los Acuerdos de Paz."

I'll be there presenting a paper on “Los partidos políticos en El Salvador: Una vision desde el extranjero.” It's a bit of an overview of English-language works on the Salvadoran party system during the last two decades. 

Drop me a line if you are going to be at the conference or if you would be interested in getting together in the capital sometime next week.

El Salvador is still divided over its brutal, 12-year civil war

Miguel Cullen has an article up at the Catholic Herald on El Salvador is still divided over its brutal, 12-year civil war. Following President Mauricio Funes' apology for the state's role in the massacre at El Mozote, Sigfredo Ochoa Perez denounced the president's words and defended the actions of the armed forces during the war.
Among his attacks, Ochoa Pérez named as a “hero” Domingo Monterrosa, then head of the murderous Batallón Atlactal, which perpetrated the El Mozote massacre.
The row escalated when Roberto d’Abuisson – the son of Roberto d’Abuisson senior, alleged head of civil war death squads and chief planner of the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1981 – who is now a deputy in his own right, put his weight behind Ochoa Pérez.
You will remember Monterrosa well from Mark Danner's excellent book The Massacre at El Mozote. The guerrillas eventually shot his helicopter out of the sky, killing him. They wanted not only revenge for Monterrosa's command of the Atlacatl Battalion during the El Mozote massacre but because his new approach to war in which he tended to the needs of civilians was threatening the revolution because it was working.

Generals Mauricio Vargas and Humberto Corado and others also disagreed with the president's words and said that the military were heroes. They have nothing to apologize for.

All the more reason to open legal proceedings in El Salvador so that the military, the guerrillas, and civil society can also present their evidence and arguments as to what happened during the civil war so that people can make up their own minds. Don't hide from what happened.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Scavenging for gold in Guatemala

Al Jazeera's David Mercer looks at how Guatemalans are "braving dangerous conditions to search for gold" in Scavenging for gold in Guatemala. It's the first in a four-part series.

Guatemala News Roundup

Steve Dudley Insight Crime has the story on how Guatemala Traffickers Exploit Legal Tool to Fight Extradition. People have been banging their heads against the wall over amparos for awhile now. while suspects are fighting extradition to the US, Mexico is prepared to extradite Marvin Montiel or Marvin Leonel Barrios (aka El Taquero) to Guatemala. He is wanted in connection with the November 2008 massacre in which 15 Nicaraguans and one Dutch citizen died in Guatemala. He is the massacre's alleged intellectual author.

According to survey data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LA Times), approximately 8% of Guatemalans agree with the statement that that paying a bribe is sometimes justifiable. I have no idea why. It seems like the bottom countries are those with dirty and clean reputations.  

Fortunately, CICIG has agreed to stay on for two more years (WSJ and La Nacion). According to the WSJ article, Colom said at some point last year that the country might be ready to move on without CICIG. It's possible but I don't remember coming across that or the context in which those words were offered. 

The good news is that the current president has asked CICIG to stay at least two more years (into 2015) and that the Interior Ministry has asked CICIG to create an internal affairs unit in order to identify organized crime structures that could be operating within that institutions and its dependencies (police, prisons, migration). 

Unfortunately, some judges continue to try to impede CICIG's work.. Judge Carlos Aguilar ordered CICIG off the case of Francisco and Estuardo Valdez Paiz, two men implicated in the killing of Rodrigo Rosenberg because its mandate does not extend to femicide, murder, or kidnapping.

The Mutual Support Group (GAM), with the International Red Cross's assistance, help bring another war torn family back together twenty-five years after they were separated during an army operation. Reuters also has a story on how Long-hidden archives help Guatemala war crimes trials.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Inocente Montano Indicted in Massachusetts

Inocente Orlando Montano, a former Salvadoran general, was indicted by a court in Massachusetts on Wednesday on two counts of perjury and two counts of making false immigration statements. Montano was going to plead guilty to immigration charges last year but backed out of his plea bargain at the last minute. He s suspected of having played a role in the murders of the Jesuits at the UCA in November 1989. Unlikely, but he could serve up to 40 years if convicted.

And, according to Contrapunto, the Salvadoran Supreme Court of Justice will schedule a hearing to learn the position of thirteen other soldiers implicated in the Jesuit massacre before it decides whether or not to extradite them to Spain.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Not how I remember Eisenhower

Stephen Walt has an article up a Foreign Policy describing some of ways in which he would like to see Dwight D. Eisenhower remembered as part of an Eisenhower Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to Eisenhower, therefore, I'd like to see a memorial that underscored his singular contribution to our understanding of post-World War II security problems: namely, his eloquent warnings about the danger of the "military-industrial complex" and his consistent efforts to advance the cause of peace. Think about it: Here is a West Point graduate and five-star general, who had seen as much of war as any American, and who had presided over a significant expansion of America's strategic nuclear arsenal in the 1950s, who nonetheless ends his second term with a message to his countrymen about the dangers of unchecked military/industrial power.
Eisenhower, like Reagan, is remembered quite differently for those interested in Latin America. Eisenhower approved PBSUCCESS, the CIA-invasion of Guatemala that would remove elected President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. Arbenz's removal and the closing of political space under the military governments to follow would lead to thousands of deaths. (Happy Birthday URNG!)

Eisenhower also approved plans for the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion executed in 1961 during JFK's presidency. The failed invasion helped strengthen the Cuban government which oh by the ways just celebrated fifty years of surviving the US embargo.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Martyrs Cemetery Museum of the Armed Conflict

The Martyrs Cemetery Museum of the Armed Conflict recently opened in Zone 2 of Guatemala City. It is the first museum of its kind in the country that is dedicated to the victims. Helen Mack, sister of Myrna Mack, spoke at the museum's opening and said: "Many are asking us to forget the past, but that's not possible."

While the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala currently operates the museum, they are hoping that the state takes the gallery over at some point. It's difficult to see President Perez's administration taking over the museum's operations given that he is not just asking people to forget the past but he often denies that it happened at all. However, it would be a welcomed gesture. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

January Murders in El Salvador and Guatemala

Siglo XXI reports that 438 murders were committed in January - 205 during Alvaro Colom's last two weeks in office and 233 during Otto Perez Molina's first seventeen days. The good news is that the drop in murders has continued into the new year and the new Perez Molina administration. On the other hand, 9 more femicides occurred in January 2012 (54) than in January 2011 (45). 

It looks as if Siglo XXI is reporting murder statistics from the PNC but's it's not entirely clear.

I'm not sure that there's any evidence to support this but Mario Polanco of the Mutual Support Group (GAM) said that "It is likely that criminals are taking a kind of pulse to see if there is capacity to solve these crimes by the new authorities."

It's too early to project out for the year, but January worked out to 14.1 murders per day. For 2011, there had been 15.6 murders per day.

Again, Guatemala continues moving in a better direction than neighboring El Salvador where 413 people were murdered in January. That's nearly as many as were killed in Guatemala, a country with more than double its population.

***The PNC has since updated the total number of January murders in Guatemala to 444.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How will Montt defend himself in Guatemala?

I have a new post up at Al Jazeera on How will Montt defend himself in Guatemala? I'll leave you with the conclusion.
If the former general believes that the murders, rapes and torture that were carried out under his command were necessary to combat the guerrilla insurgency, he should make that argument to the Guatemalan people.
If he believes that the thousands of civilians who were killed, while tragic, saved the lives of untold millions of Guatemalans who otherwise would have been forced to live under the iron rule of the communists had the military not done its job, he should say so. If that is what he believed, and still believes today, he shouldn't embarrass himself by remaining silent.
No one is going to take his defence seriously if he blames a few rogue officers or if he says that no massacres ever occurred. In the end, the only satisfactory outcome will be a guilty verdict that leads to Efraín Ríos Montt spending the remaining years of his life behind bars. How he gets to there remains up to him.

Guatemala's Human Rights Profile

Human Rights Watch put out a pretty accurate report on the human rights situation in Guatemala several days ago.
Guatemala’s weak and corrupt law enforcement institutions have proved incapable of containing the powerful organized crime groups and criminal gangs that contribute to one of the highest violent crime rates in the Americas. Illegal armed groups are believed to be responsible for ongoing threats and targeted attacks against civil society actors and justice officials.
Although impunity remains the norm for human rights violations, there were significant advances for accountability in 2011, including convictions of four former officers for a notorious massacre in 1982 and the first arrest of a top-ranking official for human rights violations.  

I see the situation in Guatemala as still very difficult but having come off its lows in 2008 and 2009. Arrests of high profile drug traffickers have increased. There have been some prosecutions and/or arrests of human rights violators from the civil war years. Murders of both men and women have declined two years in a row.

Guatemala has gone from a murder rate of 46 per 100,000 to 39 per 100,000 at at time when the rates of its neighbors are in the 70s (El Salvador) and 80s (Honduras). When CICIG first arrived in Guatemala, there were reports that 2% of all murders resulted in convictions. Today, it's between 5% (2010) and 9% (2011).

There's still too much violence and too much impunity, but statistically the country is heading in a better direction than its neighbors.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Testament From Guatemala’s War Years

David Gonzalez at the New York Times has an interesting story about Jean-Marie Simon in A Testament From Guatemala’s War Years. Jean-Marie spent years documenting life in Guatemala during the war both in photos and in words.

I like her comment on Efrain Rios Montt's potential defense.
“I wish this trial would have happened 30 years ago, when he had a long life ahead of him in prison,” said Ms. Simon, who spent most of the 1980s photographing in Guatemala. “It is so disingenuous to say, ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘I wasn’t in control of the army.’ He was the commander in chief, he had command responsibility for the troops below him. Like a commander in the field once told us, there’s a very short leash between us and the National Palace.”
I agree and should have an op-ed on Al Jazeera stating the same thing soon. I submitted it on Sunday, but they don't seem concerned with the timing of Latin American stories so I don't know when it will go.

Go check out the NYT story, take a look at the photos, and buy her book.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Femicide in Guatemala (2001-2011)

President Otto Perez Molina recently formed a "task force to combat femicide" in Guatemala. Nobel prize winners Rigoberta Menchu and Jody Williams are traveling the region to help bring attention to the intentional killing of women in Guatemala and beyond. And the British Ambassador is organizing human chains around volcanoes. I hope that these three actions are going to help reduce femicide in Guatemala in the region.

In an article for IPS, Danilo Valladares cites statistics from the Presidential Commission Against Racism in Guatemala that indicates femicides increased from 675 in 2010 to 705 in 2011. I think that they are using INACIF numbers which includes murders and other violent deaths but I can't be certain.
However, when one looks at the National Civilian Police's statistics on murder over the last decade one sees that femicide more than doubled between 2001 and 2009 and then declined in 2010 and 2011. The increase and then decrease in murders doesn't look all that different from those of men.

This isn't to belittle the murders of Guatemalan women as a problem. It's just to point out that, according to the Guatemalan National Civilian Police's (PNC) murder statistics, the number of women murdered decreased in 2010 and 2011 and that's not even controlling for population increases.