Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cocaine's Long March North, 1900–2010

Paul Gootenberg has a recent article in Latin American Politics and Society on Cocaine's Long March North, 1900-2010. Here's the abstract.
This essay charts the entanglements and “blowback” effects of U.S. policy toward Latin American drug exports over the last century as the backdrop to today's cascading drug violence in northern Mexico. The history of cocaine reveals a series of major geopolitical shifts (closely related to U.S. interdictionist drug war policies) that bring drug commodity chains, illicit trafficking centers, and conflicts, over the long run, closer to the United States.
It analyzes shifts from initial legal cocaine and small-time postwar smuggling of the central Andes to the concentrating 1970s–1990s “cartel” epicenter in northern Andean Colombia, to the 1990s political shift north to Mexican transhipment and organizational leadership. Violence around cocaine has intensified at every step, and the present conflict portends another shift in the chain.
Even more importantly, it's freely accessible for everyone to read so go take a look.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Perez blames US for boycott

President Otto Perez Molina is now blaming the US for convincing the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to boycott last week's drug decriminalization summit in Antigua, Guatemala.
"The boycott was because of fears in the United States that our region could unite around decriminalizing drugs," Perez, a right-wing retired general, told reporters....
"The boycott was not because of the Salvadoran president," he said. "The United States used the position of the Salvadoran president to force the boycott because they believe that we could unite around decriminalization." (Reuters)
I wonder if people really think that the US controls Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. The US made Funes remove Minister of Justice and Public Security Manuel Melgar. The US is imposing militarization on El Salvador's approach to crime. After saying that he was open to a discussion on decriminalizing drugs, Funes changed his tune because of US pressure. The US forced Funes to boycott last week's meeting in Guatemala. Do people have such little respect for Funes?

And Daniel Ortega? The US allegedly convinced him not to go as well? I read somewhere that it might have been because Nicaragua is one of a few countries (El Salvador is another) whose citizens residing in the US benefit from Temporary Protected Status (TPS). There seems to be only about 3,000 Nicaraguans that benefit from TPS. Doesn't really sound like a persuasive argument to me. And I don't remember Ortega being a guy that jumps when the US says jump.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

US Offers to increase assistance to Guatemala

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield spoke with the Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina on Tuesday. Following their meeting, Brownfield said that the US was willing to increase aid to Guatemala to continue the fight against drug trafficking.

The US support will come in the form of additional aircraft, particularly helicopters, as well as well as technical assistance in aviation, increased intelligence, strengthening anti-gang programs, support for prosecutors, specialized security units, drug control, prison reform, border control, and bilateral exchanges of digital fingerprints, among others.

I haven't come across any details yet so it is hard to come to any conclusions just yet. Will the US eventually come through with more assistance? What's the US congress' position? Did the Perez's threat suggestion that the region consider decriminalizing drugs increase the amount that the US was willing to offer? Will Perez continue to promote decriminalization or has he been "bought off" and will now drop the matter?

My initial reaction is that there's a good chance that Perez would have been able to get this type of assistance just by asking. If this was his ultimate goal, there was no need to threaten decriminalization. I don't know. It's a bit underwhelming if this is where the story ends.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Otto Perez Molina looks to regroup

Michael McDonald has a report on this weekend's meeting in Antigua, Guatemala up at The Nicaragua Dispatch.
Saturday’s Central American security summit, which was boycotted by half the presidents in the region, provided a clear indication that Guatemala’s efforts to push for an alternative, regional drug-control strategy are faltering quickly.
The three government leaders that did attend the meeting—Guatemala’s Otto Pérez, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla and Panama’s Ricardo Martinelli—offered up a messy hodgepodge of proposals, indicating how difficult consensus will be even among those who agree to sit down and discuss the issue.
To be fair, the other countries did send high-level representatives. There's also the possibility of a second meeting where the subject will be raised,

 What is the hodgepodge? Boz writes
  1. A stronger crackdown on drugs.
  2. US payments per kilo of cocaine seized by the region.
  3. A regional court with its own judges and lawyers.
  4. Decriminalization of drug trafficking and use.
I can't say whether policies one, two and three would be effective. However, I think that OPM would have been more likely to have garnered support for those suggestions among his regional colleagues and within the US had he not started and stopped with number 4.

As I argued in Decriminalising drugs in the Western hemisphere at Al Jazeera about two weeks ago, OPM would likely have gotten more support for changing regional drug policies had he not started off with the suggestion that they consider legalizing the production, transportation, and consumption of all drugs.

It's unfortunate because a serious rethinking of regional and national drug policies is necessary.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Murder of Monseñor Romero

March 24th marks the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador.

Here is a thirty-minute documentary about Archbishop Romero and Captain Alvaro Saravia, one of the men responsible for his death. Saravia had been living in Modesto, California.

You can check out the Center for Justice and Accountability's website for more details on the case.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Guatemala Heart of the Mayan World 2012

32nd Anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's Assassination

Dear Friends,

March 24 this year marks 32 years since the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. In memory of this anniversary please find here an exerpt from one of Romero's most famous sermons.

Please remember that one way to honor Romero's memory is to sponsor a University of Scranton Romero SEED for El Salvador (Scholarships to Establish Educational Development). The University of Scranton initiated these scholarships in 2003 to enable extremely impoverished youth to attend grade school, high school and college. All the funds go directly to help the youth in the village of Las Delicias which many of us have come to know personally through trips to El Salvador. 

Click here for more information on the SEED program.

Our first college graduate last year was José María Ortiz who is employed now as an accountant. Our next college graduate Albidia, a biology major, has a temporary setback with breast cancer but she hopes to graduate within a year. SEED is working to give these youth hope but we need your support. Please join me in sponsoring a student during the month of March. 

Please give whatever you can. It will be doubled during the month of March.

Thank you,

Marie Karam

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fiscal reform in Guatemala

The Guatemalan Congress recently passed fiscal reform that will raise taxes for the wealthy earners. From Kate Newman at Americas Quarterly
The reform will allow Guatemalans earning less than 48,000 quetzales (US $6,200) yearly to pay nothing in taxes; currently all earning above 36,000 quetzales (US $4,645) are obliged to pay. Those earning over 300,000 quetzales (US $38,709) annually will pay 7 percent income tax, up from 5 percent. Middle-class earners making between 48,000 and 300,000Q will pay 5 percent.
Why the sudden shift in support? Recently-inaugurated President Otto Pérez Molina claimed the reform was essential for lowering the national debt and generating funds for programs to improve security and development.
Yet concerns of debt, security and development have long been present in Guatemala, and do little to explain the reform’s recent passing. There are likely other factors behind this sudden show of support. One such factor was approval from the Coordinating Committee for Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF), whose resistance proved insurmountable in previous attempts to pass the reform. Perhaps its members trust that Pérez Molina respects their interests as others have not; the president depended heavily on private-sector support during his campaign, and appointed well-known business leaders to head several government ministries. Nor does this version of the tax reform work entirely against CACIF interests; while businesses will now pay a 5 percent tax on dividends—drafted as 10 percent in a previously rejected bill—the 31 percent tax they pay on utilities will be reduced to 25 percent by 2014.
I can't help but think that Perez and the congress' passage of the legislation is tied to Guatemala's efforts to get more support from the US to tackle poverty, crime, and other challenges. In one of the reviews of Alvaro Colom's presidency, someone at Plaza Publica wrote how Colom promised not to pursue significant fiscal reform during his first year or so in office so as to calm the business communities' fears. By the time he moved to pursue some reform, the main business organizations were ready to block any of his reforms. And then he was weakened by the Rosenberg murder/suicide. After that, fiscal reform was toast.

Claire Kumar at The Guardian has more on the positives and negatives of the reforms.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guatemalan paramilitaries sentenced to 7,710 years

A lot of interesting things going on in Central America and Mexico. Unfortunately, I am backed up at work. Here's some good news out of Guatemala from Tuesday.

Five former members of right-wing Guatemalan paramilitaries have been sentenced to a total of 7,710 years in jail for their role in a 1982 massacre.
The men were charged with guiding the army to Plan de Sanchez, a rural community in northern Guatemala, and taking part in the ensuing massacre...
Judge Jazmin Barrios set a sentence of 30 years for each of the 256 victims of the former paramilitaries, plus 30 years for crimes against humanity.
However Judge Barrios said that the five men would only have to serve 50 years each - the maximum sentence allowed under Guatemalan law.
The massacre at Plan de Sanchez was one of 600 documented by a United Nations Truth Commission.
The men were part of the Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, a civilian militia created by the army to help fight leftwing rebels.

An estimated one million Guatemalans severed in the PACs during the conflict.

See also El Periodico and Prensa Libre's coverage.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Summit of the Americas in South Carolina?

Summit of the Americas will be held April 14-15 in Columbia. Submit questions now using  for our Twitter Q&A, 3/21 at 11:45 EST.
How many points do you take off for this mistake? 

El Salvador legislative vote since 1994

Here are the vote percentages for congress of the FMLN and ARENA since the 1994 elections. While the FMLN shouldn't be happy with its March 11th performance, I thought that it should be satisfied that it only lost four seats and that the ARENA and CN will not be able form a simple majority in the assembly. It shouldn't be happy with losing 140,000 votes but it could have been worse.

The FMLN's loss was ARENA's gain because the former second largest party is now the largest party. However, ARENA only picked up one seat in the congress compared to what it was elected with in 2009 and only captured one percent more of the national vote.

I'm still sticking with GANA as the winner. Unlike other "new" political parties, it survived the first election in which it competed. It picked up some of the FMLN's 2009 support and has the opportunity to play a decisive role in the congress and maybe even the 2014 election. There's a hefty portion of the electorate that does not necessarily want to support ARENA or the FMLN. I don't know why they would want to support Tony Saca's party given his terrible term as president, but so far they are willing to give him and GANA a chance.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kino Border Initiative

The Kino Border Initiative "strives to accompany migrants and communities affected by the consequences of migration" and is located in the twin cities of Ambos Nogales (southern AZ and northern Sonora), a major port of entry and deportation for migrants in the southwest. 

In this interview, Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, the Executive Director of KBI, talks about the organization's work with displaced migrants.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

El Salvador's FMLN wobbles, but doesn't fall down

I have a new post on my reactions to last week's elections in El Salvador. The post is entitled El Salvador's FMLN wobbles, but doesn't fall down. I think that it's the first title I provided that they actually liked enough to keep.

In the piece, I argue that that ARENA, the FMLN and GANA should be satisfied with their performance in the legislative elections and that GANA, rather than ARENA, is the real winner by a slight margin. While I wrote the piece last Monday and Tuesday, it only went up Saturday. However, I think that conclusions still hold.

When you think of all the reasons why the FMLN was going to do poorly, they're lucky that they only lost four seats.
  1. Poor security situation
  2. Poor economic situation
  3. Divisions between the FMLN leadership and the base.
  4. Disappointment with the manner in which the FMLN handled Decree 743, red alerts issued by Spain
  5. An unpopular candidate for mayor of San Salvador
  6. Outside candidates imposed by the FMLN on communities
  7. Open-list voting while the FMLN told supporters just to vote party
  8. The lack of advantages from 2009 - popular presidential candidate, unpopular ARENA candidate, frustration with ARENA's ability to resolve the country's problems.
  9. improved internal cohesion
  10. Really high number of deputies to begin with - the only way the party was likely to go was down.
The other parties had problems too but for all the problems surrounding the FMLN in this election, losing four seats wasn't that bad. 

I don't know for sure, but I think GANA might have picked up more of the FMLN's 2009 voters than it did of ARENA's 2009 voters. Given that GANA is on the right like ARENA, we sort of thought that they would pull away several traditional ARENA supporters. However, it's possible that they captured the support of independents and some on the right who had voted FMLN-Funes in 2009.

Tim and Voices from El Salvador also have interesting thoughts on the results.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mass Graves in Alta Verapaz

The BBC has a short video on the remains of 32 civil war victims found near a military base in Alta Verapaz. There are several other graves in the area that they have not yet begun to process.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The other Alta Verapaz

On March 15, 2012, Counterpart International won the award for Best Video and/or Podcast Program at the PR News Nonprofit PR Awards for this multimedia package on Sustainable Livelioods in Guatemala!
Alta Verapaz made the international news mostly because of the two-month state of siege implemented there in December 2010.

Public Security in El Salvador

InSight recently published three interesting articles on public security in El Salvador.

In the first one, Is El Salvador Negotiating with Street Gangs?, Geoffrey Ramsey summarizes two El Faro reports on the government's approach to public security. One report indicates that Mauricio Funes' government has reached out to MS-13 and Barrio 18 to reduce violence by moving prisoners.

The second report says that gang leaders stopped the killings in return for large sums of cash. Ramsey says that whatever the cause, the government's approach seems to have worked. I'm not so sure. If it has, we are only going on two weeks of data - the first two weeks of March. Given the number of homicides in January and February, the country is on pace to surpass last year's numbers.

In the second article, Elyssa Pachico writes that the FBI [is set] to Train Anti-Extortion Unit in El Salvador. Given that the US has already been training anti-extortion units, this just looks like an attempt at a re-start.

Finally, Hannah Stone writes that US Hopes to Replicate Salvador Gang Policies in Honduras, Guatemala. Apparently, US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield" said that the country's anti-gang policies were among the most successful in the region and that he hopes that they will be exported to Guatemala and Honduras. While you don't want to say bad things about the country's that you are preparing to visit, you probably shouldn't make statements that are so divorced from reality.

Finally, in a non-Insight piece, Edgardo Ayala has an article on Schoolchildren and Teachers Under Fire in El Salvador for IPS. Schools have not been able to provide a sanctuary from the violence that exists outside the schools' walls.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic the likelihood that these "reforms" are going to lead to long-term improvements in the public security situation in El Salvador. I might be more optimistic if they instead looked to Nicaragua for ideas.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Femicide in Guatemala per 100,000

Last month I posted a graph reflecting homicides in Guatemala broken down by sex.

Carlos Mendoza just posted a graph using the same PNC data breaking the numbers down by population per 100,000. You have to go to his page to see the graphs - click here for the PDF version.

Nothing surprising. Homicides of men, women, and apparently children are down in Guatemala. Just thought that it was worth repeating.

Largely symbolic sentence?

The AP story floating around following Pedro Pimentel Rios' trial and sentencing is a bit annoying.
A former member of an elite Guatemalan military force extradited from the United States last July was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.
Pedro Pimentel Rios was the fifth former special forces soldier sentenced to 6,060 years or more for what became known as the "Dos Erres" massacre after the northern Guatemala hamlet where the killings occurred during the country's 1960-1996 civil war.
The sentence that was handed down late Monday by a three-judge panel is largely symbolic since under Guatemalan law the maximum time a convict can serve is 50 years. It specified 30 years for each of the 201 deaths, plus 30 years for crimes against humanity.
Pimentel got thirty years for each of the deaths and another 30 for crimes against humanity. The 54-year old could serve a 50-year term which would be a life-sentence.It's another important step towards tackling impunity for crimes committed during the Guatemalan civil war.

Elizabeth Malkin at the New York Times has it better.
Guatemalan law allows convicts to serve a maximum of 50 years, but the sentence assures that Mr. Pimentel, who is in his 50s, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Another perpetrator of the Dos Erres massacre,  Gilberto Jordan, is serving ten years in a US prison for immigration violations. I wouldn't be surprised if he is released early and sent back to Guatemala to face trial.

The big trial and hopefully sentencing of Efraín Ríos Montt is yet to come.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Decriminalising drugs in the Western hemisphere

Here's a link to my new post on Decriminalising drugs in the Western hemisphere on Al Jazeera.It's a little contrarian given that I think that Otto Perez Molina might have done more harm than good with his suggestion to decriminalize drugs.

Here's the gist of it.

For the most part, President Perez's suggestion has been warmly received throughout the region, earning praise from both the left and the right for calling for an approach based upon decriminalisation. While I am sympathetic, I am afraid that President Perez's suggestion might have set back efforts to achieve a smarter regional drug policy. Perez must have known that the United States would come out forcefully against his suggestion to legalise the production, transportation, and consumption of all drugs.
Had Perez suggested that the region discuss decriminalising only marijuana, it would have been more difficult for the US to have fought back as forcefully against the notion. There have already been efforts in the United States, Mexico, Argentina, and other countries to decriminalise small amounts of marijuana. There does not appear to be much of an appetite to extend the same reform to cocaine or other drugs, as was shown by the US's response to Bolivian President Evo Morales's "coca, not cocaine", policy. While still a long shot, a policy change targeted at marijuana would have been a much more viable goal than a reform involving all illegal drugs.
Perez also did not take into consideration that the United States is in the midst of a presidential campaign where taking a tough stand against external threats, wisely or not, is expected. As University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley said, "The last thing Obama wants is a decriminalisation debate in the midst of this campaign". Remember, Perez did not bring up decriminalisation during his campaign for the presidency. It was only after he was elected that he found it opportune to introduce the policy. He should not have expected President Obama and his administration to have responded any differently. I understand that Perez and the other presidents want change now, but they might have just made it more difficult for President Obama to make any reforms. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

More good news out of Guatemala

Sorry, I haven't posted much for the last few days. It was my son's birthday. I was granted tenure. And now we're on spring break. It's been tough to concentrate on the blog even though a lot has been happening in Central America. Here's some good news on Guatemala. I should have a post on El Salvador's elections later in the week as well.

After being extradited from the US last July, Pedro Pimentel Rios was the fifth former special forces soldier sentenced to 6,060 years for his participation in the December 1982 Dos Erres massacre. 

A Costa Rican man, Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez, was expelled from Colombia to Guatemala for having entered the country with false documents. Jimenez is wanted in connection with last year's murder of Argentine folk singer, Facundo Cabral, Authorities say Jimenez may have links to the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Costa Rican officials allege Jimenez is head of a criminal group that launders money in Central America, and they believe Cabral was the unintended victim of an attack on another man in the same car related to a rift over stolen drug money. Drug cartels, some from Mexico, have established themselves in Central America and grow and ship drugs in the region.
Costa Rican Security Minister Mario Zamora told RCN radio that Jimenez's arrest is "important because he is someone who plays a major role in the leadership and direction of organized mafias in Central America." Zamora has said Jimenez is wanted in Costa Rica for money laundering and drug trafficking.
In other news, Danilo Valladares has a depressing article on the failure of the Guatemalan government to extend reparations to victims of the armed conflict. Paula Dear at the BBC has a bit more uplifting piece on Maria Tulia Lopez Perez's effort to heal her pain and those of other Guatemalans who suffered during the war.

Jeffrey Dywood has an article on Drug legalization debate gaining momentum in Central America that is posted at The Guatemala Times. I should have an op-ed up on Al Jazeera Wednesday or the next day arguing in some ways the opposite - Otto Perez Molina killed the chance to make decriminalization a reality.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Preliminary vote totals in El Salvador

With 37% of the JRV's processed , ARENA is on pace to win 33 seats, the FMLN 32, GANA 11, the CN 7 and CD 1. These aren't the final numbers but it looks like GANA might be pretty important in the next legislative period. 43 is the magic number in the 84 seat legislature.

It's not looking pretty for Jorge Schafik Handal, FMLN candidate for mayor of San Salvador - 66% to 27%

Ciro Cruz Cepeda of the CN looks like he might not win a seat.

Independent candidates? What independent candidates?

It looks like turnout was pretty good with 55% of the registered voters turning out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Legislative Elections in El Salvador 2012

I'm going to try to get some comments up about El Salvador's elections this weekend but I'm going to be travelling a bit, so we'll see.

Tim posted some comments yesterday on his blog.

Joel Hirst had a piece last week at the Huffington Post.

Julio Rank Wright has a piece at Americas Quarterly.

And this is the electoral contest that I am watching this weekend. If the FMLN is smart, he'll be there 2014 presidential candidate.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Salvadoran civil war take II

Here are a few more comments on my Salvadoran civil war post on Al Jazeera. Some of what I wrote was a summary of what others presented at the conference. I didn't give my opinion on each and every point. My presentation was actually on the postwar political situation in the country but it didn't fit that great with the conference's overriding theme.

I think that everyone most sane people would agree that the majority of human rights violations committed during the war were carried out by the Salvadoran state's official and unofficial security forces. The 1993 Truth Commission documents those facts in great detail. However, while some people point to the Truth Commission as the final word on state and FMLN violence, I see it as only the beginning and, unfortunately, we haven't added too much since its publication.The Truth Commission didn't tackled stolen babies. It didn't tackle all massacres committed by the military. And it didn't tackle the violence of the 1970s.

Unlike Guatemala and other countries where we have reports on civil war fatalities and disappearances, we don't really have any statistical analysis of the Salvadoran war. It's not that we don't know anything about the war.

Some other interesting things to come out of the conference were reports that the ERP believed that the truth commission's findings were meant to isolate them and to make them take the fall for all/most FMLN crimes. This contributed to their break from the party a few years later.

There have been several excellent works that touch on the Salvadoran right both by journalists (Raymond Bonner, Mark Danner, Alma Guillermoprieto, Tina Rosenberg) and academics (William Stanley, Elisabeth Wood, Charles Call, Charles Brockett) but it remains an understudied area. However, there seems to have been consensus at the conference that the Salvadoran military hasn't gotten as much attention as it should.

Part of that is because the military, obviously, has an incentive not to talk about its actions during the war - whether that is because of what its forces actually did or because of a fear of future prosecutions. It's also because academics just haven't tackled the issue. There have been a few books about the Salvadoran armed forces and how its doctrine developed but they have been written by US military advisers, not academics.

Just looking quickly at a Wikipedia entry on El Mozote, one reads
The Atlacatl Battalion went on to commit many more atrocities, including, nine years later, the murder of six Jesuit priests and their cook and her daughter in November 1989.
I think that we'd like to know more about the history of the Atlacatl and the military between between December 1981 and November 1989.

Likewise, I don't really know of much research carried out on civil-military relations in El Salvador - other than the military didn't answer to Duarte, what was their relationship like? From what I understand, it got worse after the FMLN kidnapped his daughter but it was never very good.

Another thing that came out of the comments on my piece was some criticism of our desire to better understand the US' role in the conflict. We "know" that the "US" supported the "government" but it would be more helpful if we had a more complete understanding of how the US Embassy, State Department, CIA, White House, Congress, other US agencies, Duarte and the PDC, D'Aubuisson and the right, and the Salvadoran military interacted with each other. We have parts of the story in lots of different places but there's no single work that really tries to put it all together.

There's a book on Killing Hope that is very critical of the US government that keeps popping up on Al Jazeera commentary, but it doesn't differentiate among the different US actors and Salvadoran agency is non-existent. It's as if the Salvadoran military and the government played no role in the country's civil war other than acting as "yes" men for the government. I'm sure that some people adhere to this characterization of the US-Salvadoran relationship but I don't.

There's also a tendency to over-rely upon former US Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White's testimony. What he says is very important, and disturbing, but he was out as ambassador in 1981 right at the beginning of the war.

Hopefully, future conferences will focus more on other issues like refugees and internally displaced persons, the psychological and physical wounds from the war, the economic and environmental costs, and the role of the democratic/non-violent left. This was just the first meeting.

Sorry for not putting this together into a more cohesive post but I put it together over the weekend and then just let it sit there for a bit.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Homicides in Guatemala 2012

The Small Arms Survey released a report a few days ago on violence against women throughout the world, including Guatemala. The research report indicates that Guatemala is among the most violent countries in the world for women. It's not an entirely useless report, but it's not very helpful either.

If you want to know what the average homicide rate for women between 2004-2009, this is a start. For Guatemala, the average was 9.7 per 100,000 over that six-year period. )I can't find the homicide numbers or the population figures for each year, so if you do please direct me to me.)

However, we already know using PNC homicide numbers and INE population figures that the 2010 rate was 9.44 and the 2011 rate was 8.36. These would be down from 2008 and 2009 which were particularly brutal for Guatemalan women as it was for all Guatemalans. So while the murders of women remain high, homicides have decreased each of the last two years.

The Human Rights Obmudsmen also recently reported that homicides where the victims are minors has decreased since its high in 2009. It looks like they are counting up to 19 as minors but it is not entirely clear.

In 2007, 417 children were murdered followed by 409 in 2008, 510 in 2009, 466 in 2010, and 437 in 2011. So while the murders of minors remain high, homicides have decreased each of the last two years.

Finally, the PNC also just released homicide statistics for February 2012 - and they are down again. Four hundred Guatemalans were killed in February - remarkably, two fewer than were killed in neighboring El Salvador.

It's only two months, but if Guatemala averages 422 murders for the next ten months (422 is the average for the first two months), it would end up with 5064 homicides - 600 fewer than last year. It's still too early to take 2012 projections seriously, but it looks like Otto Perez's administration is going to continue to improve upon the reduction in homicides that took place under Alvaro Colom. Pretty impressive how Prensa Libre now can accurately report decreases in homicides. They must have hired someone new.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Funes goes off the deep end

According to the National Civilian Police, 402 Salvadorans were murdered in February. The month's total is much greater than each of the last three months of February and by a large margin. There were 330 homicides in 2009, 326 in 2010, and 311 in 2011. Sorry but you can't chalk up the increase to leap year. Add the 402 to the 419 from January and it doesn't look like El Salvador in going to make any progress this year. An average of 400 per month would bring the country to 4800 - 500 more than last year.

In an interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos, President Mauricio Funes might have gone off the deep end.
"Most murders, I would say that 90 percent or more is not about the murders of a defenseless civilian population. They are essentially the settling of scores, quarrels, summary executions, carried out by criminals of each other for control of territory and control of drug dealing. That is what has happened in recent days, there have been more killings of gang members or gang associates or employees of organized crime structures."
Come on man. 90% of the country's murders are carried out by gangs and now 90% of the murder victims are gang members or are tied to organized crime?.

Here's the entire interview.

Stratfor and Guatemala

There's at least one document posted about Stratfor and Guatemala that contains several emails about the significance of the Peten massacre. Stratfor is a "U.S.-based global security analysis company that has been likened to a shadow CIA."

The massacre may or may not be the work of the Zetas. It may or may not be the "the beginning of a trend which will have dramatic effect upon the geopolitics of the country and the greater Central American region." At the time, I said let's not get ahead of ourselves. It was one horrific massacre but not an indication that more were imminent or that Guatemala was becoming a failed state.

And, what do you know, ever since that massacre, homicide rates have continued to go down. Even the January and February 2012 autopsy results from INACIF indicate that violent deaths continue to decrease.

Some other tidbits. Some Guzman fellow was overthrow in a CIA-backed coup years ago. There was also disagreement as to whether Sandra Torres was more or less corrupt than Guatemalan elites.

These were just emails and not final products but it looks like Stratfor was doing the same thing that everyone else was at the time of the massacre. Read the group of Guatemala/Stratfor emails here?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fog Harvesting in Guatemala

Al Jazeera's Rachel Levin travelled to Huehuetenango to report on how indigenous communities in Guatemala are using low cost technology to harvest water from fog. It looks like the community will now have access to drinking water year round.

Not bad following up on last week's story about recycled bicycles.

Hug it Forward also does some great work with recycled water bottles.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Guatemala judge denies ex-dictator's amnesty claim

A few quick hits...

Efrain Rios Montt is one step closer to trial as a Guatemalan judge denied his lawyer's argument that he could not be tried because of a 1986 amnesty law. The National Catholic Reporter also had an article out two weeks ago on the former dictator that I never got around to writing about.

Tablet Magazine had a little write-up on Israel's relationship with Guatemala and there's at least one quote in there that backs up my unpopular stance that the US wasn't entirely to blame for the violence perpetrated by the Guatemalan army during the 1980s.
“The Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers,” proclaimed the chief of staff of the Guatemalan army announced. In 1982, Efraín Ríos Montt—the country’s first evangelical president and a general whose military regime was installed by a coup—told ABC News that his success was due to the fact that “our soldiers were trained by Israelis.”
The US was obviously involved but I disagree with much of the commentary that I've read, particularly on my Al Jazeera post about Rios Montt, that describes the Guatemalan government as a puppet government of the US. There's other anecdotal stories where Guatemala's military only said they would come to the US for training if they were the trainers because they had nothing to learn from the Americans.

James Frederick has a post on the availability of decent coffee in Guatemala for the Tico Times.
Guatemalan farmers grow some of the best coffee in the world. But until now, it was uncommon for them to drink their own product.
I enjoy the coffee shops in Guatemala and El Salvador but it's never a good feeling dropping $2 on a cup of coffee when so many people don't have that much to live on each day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

El Salvador's brutal civil war: What we still don't know

I have a new post up at Al Jazeera on El Salvador's brutal civil war: What we still don't know. The commentary is based off a conference I attended in mid-February in San Salvador. We hope to have a book out on the conference proceedings sometime this year.
From 1980 to 1992, civil war ravaged the Central American state of El Salvador, claiming the lives of approximately 75,000 Salvadorans.
For three days this February, scholars from around the world gathered in El Salvador to assess the state of our knowledge of that country's civil war, 20 years after peace accords were signed that ended the conflict.
The seminar - "History, Society and Memories: the armed conflict on the 20th anniversary of the Peace Accords" - was organised by the Unit of Investigations about the Salvadoran Civil War (UIGCS) of the Universidad de El Salvador. In the largest meeting of researchers on the civil war in El Salvador, participants from Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Germany, Holland and the United States joined local academics in sharing what we have learned about the 12-year-long war.
According to Jorge Juárez of UIGCS, the seminar's goal was to "make known to the public a version [of the war's history] without passions, without ideology, that presents the simple truth of the facts".

Recycled bicycles in Guatemala

Pretty cool story on how Guatemalans are using recycled bicycles to make up for the lack of electricity.
Founded by engineer and bicycle enthusiast Carlos Marroquin, the organization harnesses pedal power to perform a number of tasks that would otherwise require electricity, which is often unavailable in smaller villages.
Each Bicimáquina is hand-crafted in Maya Pedal’s warehouse in San Andrés Itzapa, where volunteers operate a bike repair service and build everything from tile makers to nut shellers to lenders – all made from old bicycles.
Some of Maya Pedal’s most awe-inspiring creations include a corn thresher – a bicycle machine adapted to fit a hand-powered grinding mill – and a water pump, which can lift water at five to 10 gallons per minute from wells and boreholes up to 98 feet deep.