Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Root of Hunger in Guatemala

Al Jazeera posted a short video clip of what is means when we say that Guatemala has the fourth-highest rate of chronic childhood malnutrition in the world.

As Alberto Arce at Plaza Publica reminded us in October, 18 children die of malnutrition every day in Guatemala. (h/t @avilarenata)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quijano and Ortiz are the best candidates

On Tuesday, the University of Central America's polling institute, IUDOP, reported that 66.1% of respondents considered Norman Quijano ARENA's best presidential candidate for 2014. Former vice president and current deputy Ana Vilma de Escobar came in second with 15.5%.

On the left, 62.8% believe that Oscar Ortiz would be the best candidate for the FMLN. Current Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén garnered the support of 13.2% of those surveyed.

ARENA hopes to have its candidate known by September. The FMLN still looks like it will go with Sanchez Ceren but nothing's official.

Any chance that David Munguia Payes ends up as a viable candidate in 2014?

Profiles of Dos Erres victims, survivors, perpetrators, and lawyers

Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica and Ana Arana of Fundación MEPI have a terrific story on Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala. They tell the story of Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda. He was a survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre who was raised by one of the massacre's perpetrators. Oscar was recently reunited with his biological father after thirty years. His father was away from the village that day and thought that he had lost his wife and nine children. Little did he know that one survived.

It's worth your time to print off and read the article. I'm thinking of assigning it in my Latin American Politics class in the fall. There's a lot in the story to unpack.

See also Separated By Massacre, a Father And Son Reunite Three Decades Later, Survivor of Guatemala civil war learns his true identity, and 30 years after massacre, family comes together again.

Mike McDonald of Reuters also has a nice profile of Guatemala's tenacious Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz
With 39 homicides per 100,000 people today - nearly eight times the rate in the United States - Guatemala is one of the world's most murderous countries, and Paz y Paz is dealing with both current and long-buried crimes on a shoestring budget.
Since her tenure began in December 2010, Guatemala's homicide rate has dropped 5 percent and the number of cases resolved has nearly doubled in just a year.
After overhauling investigation procedures and improving training for prosecutors, Paz y Paz presided over a record 5,000 convictions for serious crimes last year.
"We have tried criminals who once thought themselves to be untouchable," the short, stout 45-year-old woman with curly hair said recently. "The level of impunity in our country is embarrassing. But we have made advances in Guatemala once thought impossible."

Women of the War, Stories of El Salvador

Voices from El Salvador is asking for financial support in order to help a group of women complete Mujeres de la Guerra, Historias de El Salvador (Women of the War, Stories of El Salvador). The project includes
a documentary, book, and series of photographs about women leaders who work for peace and justice in El Salvador, in many cases beginning with the repression and injustice at the cause of the Salvadoran civil war.
 They need to raise an additional $8,000.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Arrest in Santa Cruz Barillas shooting

2 Spanish power company guards face murder charges in Guatemala over shooting that led to the state of siege in Santa Cruz Barillas. Nic Wirtz has a write up on the conflict at Americas Quarterly.
The reasons for the shooting are unknown, but townspeople say it stemmed from the opposition of local residents to the construction of the power plant.
Miguel's killing sparked violent disturbances in Santa Cruz Barillas, which forced President Otto Perez Molina's administration to declare a state of emergency.
The emergency decree was lifted after 18 days when authorities reestablished control in the community, where 17 people were taken into custody for allegedly being responsible for the riots, including the forceful takeover of a military barracks there as well as the destruction of several private homes.
Great to know that the Guatemalan government was able to establish control over the victims of violence perpetrated by employees of the Spanish hydroelectric power company.

In other news, Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla reports that homicides have decreased by 485 between January 1 and May 25th compared to the same period last year. They count 1,894 deaths during this period (Prensa Libre, Inside Costa Rica, That's great news but I'm not sure where his numbers are coming from.

According to INACIF, 1,895 Guatemalans were killed through April 2012. INACIF reported 2,136 homicides during the same period last year.That's a difference of 240 or approximately 13% and a great continuation in the decline of the country's murder rate that has been going on for the last two-plus years. We'll have to wait another week or two until the PNC's numbers come out.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What's going on in El Salvador?

Here are some interesting stories out of El Salvador.

Frank Smyth has a report on Solidarity, a key to security, eludes Salvadoran press. Smyth writes about some important changes in the Salvadoran media environment but argues that one thing that they have not accomplished is solidarity.

The AFP has a short story on Ex-gang members seek redemption in work that includes a few stories of ex-gang members working in the country's export businesses.

Voices on the Border has a round up on some recent political developments in ARENA ahead of the 2014 Presidential Elections, including the possibility that ARENA leaders will use the secret ballot to choose its next presidential candidate.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Oxfam Petition on El Salvador and Mining

Voices from El Salvador has some information on Pacific Rim Mining Company’s lawsuit against El Salvador that you might want to check out. It includes information on a petition that Oxfam is organizing that calls on the US government to withdraw its support for Pacific Rim Mining Company.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salvadorans say the country isn't doing so good

According to a recent survey by La Prensa Grafica, 64% of Salvadorans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only 20% say it is going in the right direction. Fifty-one percent say that the security situation is the main problem confronting the country while 36% say it is the economy.

And just like past surveys where Salvadorans don't have many good things to say about the economic or security situation, they are not blaming President Mauricio Funes for their problems. Sixty-five percent approve of the job he is doing. That's 6% lower than his LPG February rating, but 65% is 65%. That's pretty impressive after three years given that he is opposed by both the FMLN and ARENA.

In looking ahead to 2014, 29% intend to vote ARENA and 26% the FMLN.

One third of the respondents say that the candidate chosen by each party will be key to their vote. When asked their opinion of certain individuals that might be 2014 presidential candidates, 67% gave ARENA mayor of San Salvador Norman Quijano the highest marks. Funes comes in at 65% but he can't run in 2014.
People also hold positive opinions of Wil Salgado, the mayor of San Miguel. The GANA mayor comes in 57%. ARENA deputies Ana Vilma de Escobar is at 41% and Edwin Zamora at 20%. The FMLN's Hugo Martinez is at 23%.

Former president of the country Tony Saca has 53%. Saca used to represent ARENA before he was kicked out of the party. He is now the force behind GANA. It remains unbelievable that people still hold such a favorable opinion of Saca.

Forty-eight percent has a favorable opinion of Oscar Ortiz, the FMLN mayor of Santa Tecla. Ortiz would be a strong candidate for the FMLN as he is popular among its base, the population at large, and possibly even the Salvadoran population here in the US.

Thirty-eight percent have a favorable opinion of Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the FMLN's likely candidate in 2014. However, he receives the highest negative opinions of any person listed at 29%. The good news for the FMLN is that the percentage of respondents holding a negative opinion of Sanchez Ceren has declined over the last year even though those giving him a positive evaluation hasn't really changed. (Saca has the next highest percentage of negative opinions at 18%).

It looks like the right has plenty of candidates that can seriously win in 2014 - Quijano, Salgado, Saca, and de Escobar. If the FMLN wants to win, Ortiz is clearly its best candidate. However, like Schafik Handal in 2006, Sanchez Ceren deserves to be the nominee as sort of a lifetime achievement award. The FMLN brand is strong but I'm not sure whether it is strong enough to overcome a Sanchez Ceren candidacy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vice President Marco Rubio?

Here's my latest post on Vice President Marco Rubio at Al Jazeera. I don't wouldn't say that he's a terrible running mate for Mitt Romney. He just probably won't bring as much to the table as Republicans hope in terms of votes and the potential baggage from his time in the Florida House won't help.
At this point in time, it doesn't appear that Rubio will bring much to the ticket for Mitt Romney. It is not certain that he will help the Republican Party with Latino voters, a population that they have spent years successfully alienating. Rubio's foreign policy knowledge, specifically towards Latin America, is unlikely to persuade Americans to switch their vote from Obama to Romney.
While I am all for the US government working more closely with our hemispheric neighbours to resolve pressing social, political, economic and security challenges, it is just not an issue that strongly resonates with US voters. It's also not clear that Rubio's position towards approaching Latin America is going to be effective one that advances an agenda that benefits either the United States or the people of Latin America.
At the end of the day, Mitt Romney needs to decide whether Marco Rubio is the best person to help the US should he win in November and the best person to replace him should he be unable to complete his four-year term. Obviously, it depends on who the other short list candidates are, but in 2012 it sure looks like Romney should pass on Rubio.
So what do you think? Would Rubio make you more or less likely to vote Romney in November?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

2nd genocide charge against Rios Montt

The big news out of Guatemala is that Judge Carol Patricia Flores ruled that prosecutors had presented enough evidence against Efrain Rios Montt to justify a new trial for the 1982 Dos Erres massacre.
Asked if he had anything to declare at a hearing on the new charge, the 85-year-old former general said he was innocent.
"It is under military law, your honor, that I declare I am innocent," Rios Montt said in a courtroom crowded with victims' relatives and human rights activists....
Advocates in Guatemala have said that charging Rios Montt for war crimes committed during his regime could stand as a precedent in the cases of two other former generals accused alongside Rios Montt in the first genocide case and of dozens of other lower-ranking military men accused of participating in atrocities.
That's good news indeed. It's pretty impressive that a country where the military emerged "victorious" can be held accountable by such a "weak" judiciary during the administration of a "mano dura" president who denies that any such crimes occurred.

Here are some other news stories from Guatemala that I meant to highlight these past few weeks.
The Two Guatemalas Meet
Guatemala's land grab and massacre
Guatemala Works toward Increased Security

Monday, May 21, 2012

Prosecutors and Police Arrested in Guatemala

From Hispanically Speaking News
Three Guatemalan prosecutors and four police officers were arrested Friday on suspicion of ties to drug trafficking, the country’s interior minister said.
The suspects “facilitated” the operations of a group that smuggled in precursor chemicals used to make synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, Mauricio Lopez told a press conference in the capital.
He said the prosecutors and cops ensured that chemical shipments from Asia entered Guatemala undetected and made it safely to clandestine drug labs.
The arrests followed an investigation by the Interior Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office based on intelligence information, Lopez said.
The suspects are charged with criminal conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Guatemalan security forces have seized more than 300,000 gallons of drug precursors so far this year and arrested a score of people in connection with those operations.
Obviously things aren't entirely rosy in Guatemala, but it was only about five years ago that one never heard stories like this. Maybe it's the optimist in me that says CICIG and the Colom and Perez administrations are doing better than their predecessors.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

An Increase in Disappearances in El Salvador

Hannah Stone at InSight picked up a story from La Prensa Grafica on an 8% increase in disappearances this year in El Salvador. If true, the details would undermine some of the security gains that have been made these last two months following the truce between the MS-13 and the Dieciocho.
In the first four months of 2012, 692 people were reported missing to the government forensic office, Medicina Legal, compared to 636 during the same period last year, reports La Prensa Grafica -- an 8 percent rise. This year's statistics only apply to San Salvador, but, according to the newspaper, disappearances outside the capital are not usually registered.
InSight Crime Analysis
The number of disappeared could undermine the achievements of a gang truce in the country, which has seen murders drop by around 60 percent since the country's two main gangs made a ceasefire in early March. Leaders of Barrio 18 and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) agreed to stop killing each other's members and suspend attacks on members of the security forces for an undefined period, that appears to still be ongoing.
There were 255 murders registered in March, some 147 in April, and 76 in the first 15 days of May. This averages at about six killings a day, down some 60 percent from the first two months of the year.
If we assume, however, that the vast majority of the disappeared are now dead, March and April would have seen 391 and 294 murders, respectively, using the number of disappeared cited by La Prensa Grafica. This would effectively wipe out the security gains of the gang truce.
In reality the effect would not be as dramatic as this, because those who went missing before the gang truce were not counted in the murder figures for that period either. There has not been a dramatic jump in disappearances reported since the truce -- the number stood at 197 in January, 212 in February, 136 in March and 147 in April. This would leave 2012 on course for the same level of reported disappearances as last year, which saw 2,076. The decrease in killings, then, would still stand.
Hannah Stone and La Prensa Grafica are right to take the number of disappeared into consideration in evaluation the security gains made since the gang truce occurred. If we add last year's murders and disappearances, the security gains made these last two-plus months.

However, if disappearances are still being carried out (by MS-13 and 18th Street) at the same rate since the truce, this is one area where it would not appear that the truce has extended to. I would also take into consideration that a lot of the criticism/concern in the article comes from Jorge Daboub, president of the private enterprise group ANEP, a leader in ARENA, and a sometimes mentioned presidential candidate for 2014.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Violence in Guatemala and El Salvador is down

Prensa Libre
According to Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde, the Deputy Director of the National Civilian Police (PNC) , murders were again down during the first two weeks of May in El Salvador. Homicides are down 16% compared to this point last year. January and February were pretty deadly but if the truce continues to hold for the remainder of the year, the decrease in homicides will obviously surpass 16% (ContraPunto). David Munguia Payes also stated that reported cases of extortion were down 60% during the first two weeks of May.

Two months of reduced violence is good news, but it's still just two months.

And in Guatemala, homicides continue their downward trend. President Otto Perez Molina claims that homicides are down 18% so far this year but we know he frequently lied about homicide statistics while he was on the campaign trail last year. Prensa Libre and the Guatemalan PNC have the decline at 2.15%. 

Not bad.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Food trucks in Guatemala

Anna-Claire Bevan has an interesting post on how Entrepreneurs in Guatemala dish up their version of American food trucks to serve locals. After their bus was put out of business because of a 2010 change in Guatemala City bus service, Hugo Cristal and Alexander Escobar re-purposed their bus as a restaurant.
The alterations took just two months, during which time the original seats were repositioned to accommodate tables offering indoor seating to 20 people. A kitchen was installed boasting a grill, fryer, sink and churrasco (barbeque), and some of the windows were removed to form a hatch, which allows the chef to take orders from the street.
The team of three, Cristal, Escobar and their former ‘cobrador’, who used to collect the bus fares, now work from Monday to Saturday selling churrasco and fried chicken to around 100 people a day. They drive the restaurant to its regular spot early each morning, head out to buy daily supplies and then start preparing for the lunchtime rush.
Even though the bus has only been in operation as a fast-food restaurant since last November, it is already proving to be a hit with locals and students alike. During Christmas it even catered at a handful of festive events around Guatemala City.
Now, obviously, not every bus can be re-purposed as a food truck and be successful. These guys had some cooking skills and, presumably, capital. However, it's still a great story and shows what can happen with a little ingenuity.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

El Salvador gears up for 2014 presidential elections

Here's my newest on Al Jazeera - El Salvador gears up for 2014 presidential elections.
El Salvador's three biggest political parties - the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), and the Grand National Alliance (GANA) - have begun to set their sights on the 2014 presidential elections, following March's legislative and municipal elections.
The FMLN hopes to win the presidency that they thought that they had won in 2009. ARENA will look to stop bleeding support and to prevent the country's leftward drift. Finally, for GANA, the 2014 elections will provide a chance to break the FMLN and ARENA's dominance of the country's political system.
The leftist FMLN won the presidency of El Salvador in 2009, nearly 30 years after the revolutionary group formed in 1980. The FMLN would spend the next 12 years fighting against the US-backed military and Salvadoran government in a war that killed approximately 75,000 Salvadorans, the majority of whom were civilians. Following the 1992 peace accords, the FMLN worked to remake itself as a viable political party. After becoming the legislative assembly's largest political bloc in 2000, the FMLN finally captured the elusive presidency in 2009. To do so, however, the revolutionary FMLN had to enter into an alliance with a non-revolutionary, Mauricio Funes. In many ways, then, the FMLN still hasn't controlled the presidency.
I can't say that I wrote anything controversial. The FMLN leadership wants Sanchez Ceren  as its candidate even though it's going to be more difficult to win with him rather than Oscar Ortiz, the popular mayor of Santa Tecla. Ortiz gives them a better chance of winning but the difficult relationship that the FMLN has had with Mauricio Funes is leading them to think twice about another "moderate."

What do you think? Can the FMLN win with Ortiz? I think it's possible, just less likely.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Recasting the Security Policy in Central America

José Miguel Cruz, a visiting assistant professor in the department of politics and international relations at Florida International University and long time research at the University of Central America, has an essay on Recasting the Security Policy in Central America for the Americas Quarterly blog. In many ways, the post repeats the findings from his research that recently appeared in Latin American Politics and Society "Criminal Violence and Democratization in Central America: The Survival of the Violent State."
Washington needs to reshuffle its approach to security in Central America. The renewed commitment of President Obama to the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is a unique opportunity to focus in what really matters, namely, the creation of democratic accountable institutions and a far-reaching effort to uproot corruption and crime from local public organizations. Plans that favor military budgets and Special Forces units need to be seriously reconsidered.
Doing anything less than addressing the root, institutional causes of crime and violence in Central America will amount to the U.S. simply lining the pockets of criminals and training the new paramilitary criminals (like the Zetas) in the region. That will require a balanced effort that links traditional security-related assistance with forceful accountability campaigns in the public sector. And more directly it demands an unflinching commitment to removing crooked officials and remodeling Central American democratic institutions to better fight against corruption, abuse, and impunity.
I agree that strengthening the region's political institutions and tackling corruption should be more of a priority than it is. However, it's not as if the international community hasn't been doing anything to promote democracy and institution building in Central America.

There's a lot of that already going on through CARSI as well as the US Partnership for Growth with El Salvador and Millennium Challenge Corporation initiatives with Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. There's also the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala and there have been some discussions about the viability of a regional commission.

Maybe the programs are not working because of poor implementation, a lack of vision, or under-funding. Much is already being done. I just don't think that those of us writing on developments in Central America pay enough attention to these developments. This gives the impression that the US and the governments of Central America are promoting strictly militarized approaches to improving public security when I'm not sure that's quite accurate.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

El Salvador denies Spain's extradition request

In a rather expected but still disappointing development, the Salvadoran courts denied Spain's extradition request for thirteen former military officers allegedly involved in the massacre of six Jesuits and two women on the campus of the University of Central America in November 1989.

The case was brought in Spain by Judge Eloy Velasco, at the request of the families of five priests: Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes, Armando Lopez and Juan Ramon Moreno. The five were of Spanish nationality.

According to the Supreme Court of Justice's spokesman, nine of the fifteen magistrates voted against extradition.

While the Salvadoran courts will not grant the extradition requests, the international arrests issued by Interpol will remain in effect. That means while the men will not be extradited to Spain they run the risk of arrest and extradition should they leave the country.

It's a shame that the Salvadoran people have been unable to find justice after so many years of war. Unfortunately, one can say the same thing about the United States. No American official has been held responsible for participating in the repression that occurred in El Salvador (and elsewhere) during the 1980s. Instead, we name airports after them and have leaders on both the left and the right trying their damnedest to inherit his legacy.

Monday, May 7, 2012

El Salvador's First Lady

Dr. Vanda Pignato, the First Lady El Salvador, recently spoke with the US Agency for International Development's Impact Blog about development issues in El Salvador. Her husband President Funes named her the Minister of Social InclusionEarly on his administration.

In the interview, Pignato speaks mostly about her support for women through programs like Ciudad Mujer and the disproportionate impact of crime and violence on women. Here's what she said about Ciudad Mujer:
Ciudad Mujer is a program that has raised awareness of the invisibility women have had when it comes to accessing state services, and has begun to change the model of government by integrating services and having a gender based approach. But what is most important is that Ciudad Mujer is changing the lives of thousands of women and they have begun to recognize themselves as right holders.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Constitutional challenges to former military appointments

CISPES has an update on the constitutional challenges to President Funes' appointments of "former" military officials to head civilian institutions in El Salvador
Civil society’s opposition to the rapid changes in El Salvador’s Public Security Ministry continues to gain ground. On March 26, the Supreme Court accepted a lawsuit seeking to annul the appointment of two former general David Munguía Payés as Minister of Public Security and former general Francisco Salinas as director of the National Civil Police (PNC). The petition had been presented a month earlier by 31 civil society groups from across the political spectrum. The plaintiffs criticize the naming of these two career military officers, both retired from the military mere days or hours before their respective appointments, as unconstitutional due to amendments that explicitly exclude the military from involvement in the Ministry of Public Security and the PNC...
The civil society plaintiffs argue that there is a difference between stopping the practice of one’s military career and terminating one’s military career. They claim that the conditions surrounding the retirement of these two officials constitutes a mere stoppage in their military careers – given the extremely short time-frame between Salinas and Payes’ retirement and their new ministerial appointments – which therefore constitutes a violation of articles 159 and 168 of the constitution, prohibiting military involvement in public security.
As I've argued before, I think that the appointment of "former" military officers to head civilian institutions sets bad precedent in El Salvador. It's one thing to be pulled out of retirement to head such an institution or to have years in between serving in the military and heading a civilian agency. It's quite another when the time in between jobs is a matter of minutes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Guatemala: The Maya

The Maya communities speak more than 20 different languages - each of them is technically accepted by the state, but little effort to promote them takes place in practice.
In comparison to the bloody days of the civil war, when indigenous rights were virtually non-existent, the past two decades have seen developments in the place occupied by the Maya in Guatemalan society. But Maya communities still lack access to health care and social services.
"Decolonisation is a process that does not happen overnight," says school principal Alvaro Coj. "We have been working on it for over 20 years, and we still don't have all the answers."
The video Guatemala: The Maya is from Al Jazeera's Living the Language series.

Romney Courts Hispanic Vote With Animated Sombrero-Wearing Parrot

Romney Courts Hispanic Vote With Animated Sombrero-Wearing Parrot