Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gangs as Political Actors in El Salvador?

As I mentioned the other day, Douglas Farah of the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently published a new report on the problems of the gang truce between the MS-13 and 18th Street Gang in El Salvador. I probably should have said more than I disagree with much of what he said but you should read it anyway.

Fortunately, now you can read Geoffrey Ramsey of InSight Crime's critique of Farah's piece.
Fears that the two largest street gangs in El Salvador are taking advantage of a proclaimed cease fire to reorganize and expand their overall influence are largely unfounded, as both the government’s strategy and the structure of the gangs themselves appear to be keeping this in check.
Basically, Farah's piece just lacks evidence. There's not much evidence that crime has increased since the gang truce. There's also little evidence that the gangs have the financial resources to become serious political actors now or in the near future. While I'm sure Farah has heard from some gang members that they are interested in political power, it's unclear how widespread a notion this is. It's possible; there just isn't much evidence for such a negative perspective on the truce.

Here are a few more things to consider. As Ramsey rightfully points out, the government seems to have offered very little to the gang leaders in return for stopping the mayhem. Thirty leaders were transferred to better prisons and are now living with better prison conditions. While that is great for the imprisoned leaders, I can't imagine that it is going to be enough for thousands of other gang members who are not incarcerated. How many of them are going to be satisfied with entry-level jobs and remedial education classes?

It's also true that no leaders were freed nor did any receive amnesty.What do you think? Should the government offer reduced sentences, even amnesty, in return for intelligence on organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption in public and private institutions? In the past, we've heard stories that the gangs were committing murders at the behest of others - organized crime, political assassinations, etc.

Finally, what would be so bad about having these organized groups that engaged in murder, extortion, rape, and other criminal activities sign a peace agreement, receive an amnesty, and then transform themselves into political actors competing for elections? 


Friday, June 29, 2012

Love, Light and Melody in Nicaragua

At the recent Central America Donors Forum 2012 sponsored by the Seattle International Foundation, Brad Corrigan, founder of Love, Light & Melody, and member of the band Dispatch, gave the most moving talk of the day.

Corrigan spoke about the need to invest in at-risk youth in Nicaragua. In particular, he spoke about his involvement with youth living and working in the La Chureca landfill in Managua, Nicaragua. Here's a little of Brad and his foundation's story.

In 2005, musician Brad Corrigan was invited to play for a benefit concert and a youth rally in Managua, Nicaragua. While on the trip, he was introduced to the incredible extremes of this Central American country: an elite upper-class and extreme poverty. Managua’s city trash dump is unlike most mountains of trash around the world: it is home to hundreds of people who depend on the garbage for their livelihood, their food, and their shelter.
After several visits to the dump, Brad met the most unlikely and beautiful little girl, Ileana, who in turn introduced him to her family and a vibrant community living in the shadow of past treasures and discarded yesterdays. Inspired by these newfound friends, Love Light & Melody was formed in 2007 to meet the educational, health, and vocational needs of this trash dump community.
Love Light & Melody embraces Brad’s powerfully simple concept: “When you walk with someone you’re saying to them, ‘I am with you.’ We can walk in hell and not have fear.” Each year, the organization invites friends, family, and college students to join them for Dia de Luz, to celebrate a profound love conquering hate, a beautiful light overcoming darkness, and a resounding melody breaking silence.
Check out their website to find out how you can help.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Migrant Corridor

Several Jesuits priests are currently completing a trek through Central America to the United States in order to better understand the reality of migration.
This blog are the reflections of a group of Jesuits who embarked on a five week journey along the “migration corridor” from Central America to the United States. Their intention is not to emulate the journey of the migrants  but to gain a better understanding of the reality of migration and the difficulties encountered by migrants on their journey to the U.S.   During the journey they will visit shelters, human rights organizations, parishes, and different Jesuit projects that assist migrants along the migration corridor.   This experience is more than an academic or social approach to understanding migration; it is a desire to deepen their faith by encountering Christ along the way.  “The goal of theology is not simply to understand, but to understand in order to transform the reality of oppression, violence, and sin in which people live as they journey toward the realization of the reign of God.” (Gioacchino Campese, C.S.)
Follow along with these young Jesuits at The Migrant's Journey

Good luck!

The Transformation of El Salvador’s Gangs into Political Actors

Douglas Farah has a recent report on The Transformation of El Salvador’s Gangs into Political Actors. In it, he paints a pretty sobering account of what has gone on in El Salvador since the gang truce between the MS-13 and 18th Street Gang went into effect over three months ago.
Given the temporary gains by the government in and the long-term advantages gained by the gangs, the negotiations could have the opposite effect of what the government wanted. If the gangs break the truce and kill at previous rates, the government will have no choice but to begin a significant crackdown for which there is no stomach. If the truce holds, the gangs could develop into political actors whose influence in more sophisticated criminal activities could increase dramatically. Either way, there is a risk the situation could get worse over the long term.
I don't agree with all of his analysis but it's worth checking out. I think that there's a strong likelihood that thousands of gang members will return to action at some point and the government is going to have to respond appropriately.

However, I don't think that this is right - " the government will have no choice but to begin a significant crackdown for which there is no stomach." It's in everyone's best interest to try to prevent as many as possible from returning to violence. Don't pursue a policy that is going to ensure that nobody can make it out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Do You Measure The Costs Of War?

Footnote recently spoke with the Costs of War project director Catherine Lutz of Brown University (h/t Kindred Winecoff). The Costs of War is "a multidisciplinary initiative to analyze the human, economic, social and political costs and benefits of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan." Here's what she said about the costs of the wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The total number of military and civilian casualties, American and foreign, is 280,845. A lot of Americans know that over 6,000 of our young men and women have died in uniform, but very few people know that the scale of human death and wounding has been much vaster. Approximately 24,000 members of the Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani security forces have been killed. Over 176,000 civilians have died and 7.4 million people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.
The total financial cost of the war to date for American taxpayers is between $3.2 and $4 trillion. In addition to Pentagon appropriations explicitly for the wars, these figures include additions to the Pentagon base budget, care for veterans, homeland security, war-related foreign aid, and interest payments. Another half trillion in military spending is projected from now until 2020. Our estimates include some of the biggest costs, which are yet to come: the U.S. can expect to spend between $600 billion and $1 trillion caring for veterans of these wars over the next four decades.
Pretty grim and it doesn't look like they take into consideration operations in Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Does anyone know of similar comprehensive studies for the conflicts in Central America? Usually we focus on the numbers killed and disappeared, human rights violations committed, and the economic costs (at least when it comes to US involvement in El Salvador).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Salvador Sánchez Cerén: “Yo soy el candidato del FMLN”

According to Zoraya Urbina of Diario Co Latino, it sure looks like Salvador Sánchez Cerén will be the FMLN's presidential candidate in 2014.
“Yo soy el candidato del FMLN, que es la segunda fuerza política del país, es un partido que tiene una larga historia, en la que ha sabido construir una base que es casi el millón de salvadoreños que acompañan este esfuerzo de transformación”, recalcó.
Sánchez Cerén said that El Salvador has begun to change under President Funes and that those changes will deepen during the next administration. During the next government, he will work to include all sectors of the country, including the business class and political parties, among others.
“Tienen que continuar las transformaciones, el pueblo está esperando una mejor vida, una mejor educación, mejor salud, mejores condiciones de vida, vivienda, trabajo, precios justos, tenemos que retomar los intereses de la población, porque entonces, dejaríamos de ser partido político, sino respetáramos los intereses de la población”, finalizó.
He also said that the vice presidential candidate will be someone who does not belong to the party.

Not much of a surprise, but it is disappointing nonetheless.

A second chance for President Funes in El Salvador

I have a new post at Al Jazeera on A second chance for President Funes in El Salvador.
As reported in April, the MS-13 and 18th Street Gang leaders agreed to stop killing civilians and fellow gang members. In return, the imprisoned gang leaders were provided with better prison conditions, including transfers and family visits. Since the initial truce, the gangs have also made commitments to refrain from recruiting minors and have designated schools as "safe zones".
For good reason, though, Salvadorans remain suspicious of the truce. The truce was negotiated in secret by a bishop and a former FMLN congressman. For the first few weeks, Mauricio Funes and members of his administration denied any complicity in the negotiations. It was only after the truce had held for a few weeks that the government admitted to a role. It's not entirely clear what the government "offered", other than improved prison conditions. While that might work for those currently imprisoned, there's a good chance that those on the outside will have less incentive to stick to the agreement made by those behind the prison walls.
I wrote about the content of the post here on Friday where I mentioned some of the ways other actors need to change (Everybody gets a second chance in El Salvador).

The basic argument remains the same. It's going to take more than simply "the gang members need to change." US and Salvadoran economic, migration, and security polices contributed to the gang crisis in El Salvador and elsewhere. These policies need to change in order for there to be any lasting transformation in the situation in El Salvador.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Everybody gets a second chance in El Salvador

Earlier this week, the truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang in El Salvador reached the 100-day mark. The truce has reduced homicides from approximately 14 to 5 per day. In recent weeks, that number has climbed a bit to 7.

The truce provides an important opportunity to reduce overall levels of violence in El Salvador. While most of the reporting is on whether 60,000 or so gang members can change, the truce won't stick if we are just asking the men and women who are members of gangs to change.

The state needs to change and make reforms that move its public security institutions away from mano dura and super man dura. The policies were critical to the expansion of gang-related crime. (I will have more on this at Al Jazeera probably this weekend).

If death squads that are eliminating gang member and former gang members continue to operate with impunity in El Salvador, the truce is bound to fail. If police continue to abuse gang members, whether they are in the process of arresting them or just harassing them, the truce is unlikely to hold. As long as prison conditions remain inhumane and authorities keep rounding up young men and women, the truce is unlikely to hold.

Finally, US foreign policy towards El Salvador, including economic, immigration, and security assistance, needs to change. El Salvador needs foreign direct investment and jobs. American businesses should be encouraged to invest in El Salvador to take advantage of the Millennium grants and the US' Partnership for Growth. Businesses or politicians that redirect investment to El Salvador should not come under political attack.

President Obama's decision to withhold deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants is a good start, but won't substitute for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for most of those living in the US illegally. President Obama could move to make TPS for Salvadorans permanent instead of two year extensions that look like they will go on forever.

Finally, the US needs to change its security assistance / approach to El Salvador - more financial and human resources need to be dedicated to gang prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies. The US could provide more support to the country's criminal justice system. Perhaps, at this time, there could be a serious discussion as to how to better assist gang members who want to leave the violence behind. Historically, it doesn't look like the US and Salvadoran governments have been able to deal effectively with gang members who want out or those who have gotten out.

I don't expect all 60,000 gang members in El Salvador to miraculously change their lives around. How do we assist those that do (10k, 20k, 30k?)? Experience has shown that many are going to fail on their first effort at transforming their lives. Are Salvadoran and US authorities ready to work with these young men and women, some not so young, so that as many as possible can turn their lives around?

So just to be clear, the truce gives the gang members a chance to reclaim lives of dignity for themselves and their families. However, it's not just the gang members that need to change. US policy and the Salvadoran state and people also need to change. They are getting a second chance as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Central America Donors Forum

I am out in Seattle at the Central America Donors Forum. The one-day conference brings together over 400 representatives from philanthropy, business, and the nongovernmental community who are supporting projects throughout Central America. Governmental representatives from the United States (AID and State Department), Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are also here.

The event is hosted by the Seattle International Foundation.

You can follow the event on Twitter using #cadonors12.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Political Violence @ a Glance

I wanted to let you know about a new blog by several political scientists called Political Violence @ a Glance.
Want to know why violence broke out in Syria but not Bahrain? Why the world has responded the way it has? Whether the United States should intervene or stay out? Political Violence @ a Glance answers questions on the most pressing problems related to violence and protest in the world’s conflict zones.
Analysis comes from a distinguished team of experts from universities including American University, BYU, Columbia, Denver, Georgetown, Maryland, Michigan, Princeton, Tufts, UCLA, UCSD, Wisconsin, and Yale. The goal is to anticipate the questions you have about violence happening around the world and to offer you simple, straight-forward analysis before anyone else does. No jargon. No lingo. Just insightful content. We hope you find it helpful.
I can't say that I expect much Central America content but I do know two of the people writing for the blog (Joe Young and Will Moore) and I wish them the best of luck.

Celebrating 100 days of peace in El Salvador

The peace treaty between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gang in El Salvador completes 100 days on Tuesday. As a result of the truce, the country's homicide rate has dropped from approximately 13 per day down to around five. At the same time, it's not clear that other forms of crimes have changed much with conflict reports about increases in kidnappings, extortion, and disappearances.

Contrapunto has an interview with gang member "Baby" who says that the gang members really want to change as they want a better life for themselves and their families. El Nuevo Herald also has a piece on the 100 day truce.

What I think has been missing from much of the coverage of the truce is the recognition that it is not only the gangs that need to change. Sure, members of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs need to stop killing, robbing, extorting, and the like. That's pretty obvious.

However, in the two stories linked to above there are repeated references to death squad-style killings of gang members and continued police harassment of gang members and their families (beatings just for fun). It's not going to be easy but for a long-lasting truce and a real transformation, ordinary Salvadorans and political and public security institutions will need to change.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aponte confirmed as US Ambassador to El Salvador

On Thursday, the US Senate finally got around to confirming Mari Carmen Aponte as US Ambassador to El Salvador with a 62 to 37 vote. It sure does seem that a few Republicans changed their vote so as to improve the Republican Party's image with Puerto Ricans and Latino prior to November's election.

I would imagine that this week's successful vote was also helped because the climate of US-LA relations has quieted down a bit. Sure very few people are happy about the OAS, but when Republicans last voted on Aponte (December 2011), we were much closer to her alleged inflammatory June op-ed on gay rights and Nicaragua's fraudulent November elections.

Either way, congratulations Madam Ambassador.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

El Salvador reduces maternal mortality

The Ministry of Health in El Salvador announced that that the country had successfully reduced maternal mortality to 52.8 per 100,000 live births earlier than the target date set by the United Nations as part of the country's Millennium Development Goals.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said that the previous maternal mortality rate was 75 deaths per 100,000 live births and that the current FMLN government reduced the rate through making care more affordable and establishing of over 450 Community Health Teams in the 153 poorest municipalities.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Another Mari Carmen Aponte Vote?

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Senate might once again take up a vote on the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to become the United States Ambassador to El Salvador.

We hear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may schedule a vote as early as this week. Aponte’s nomination fell through the last time the Senate voted on it late last year, when supporters didn’t have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Another attempt at approving the nomination could throw Sen. Marco Rubio back into the spotlight.The Florida Republican initially voted against breaking the filibuster--but later agreed to back Aponte and to round up the Republican votes needed to clear her nomination. Talks between Rubio and Democrats ended in bitter recriminations on both sides...but no vote.
We hear that Rubio is expected to vote for Aponte this time, but he won’t be whipping votes among colleagues again.
I wrote about Aponte's failed nomination on Al Jazeera in January. I can't say that I've heard that she has cleared up any of the problems that Senate Republicans had with her nominations in 2010 and 2011.

She hasn't apologized or taken back what she wrote about the treatment of homosexuals in a Salvadoran daily (nor should she). It's not clear that she or the administration have done any more to clear up the facts surrounding her romantic relationship with a Cuban spy. And derailing her nomination remains one of the Senate Republican's few tools with which to influence US foreign policy towards El Salvador and Latin America.

The one thing that Aponte might now have going for her is the 2012 presidential election. Republicans might have second thoughts about blocking a popular and successful Puerto Rican woman at a time when some in the party are worried about the electoral consequences of alienating Latinos on yet another issue.

Recent books on Central America

For the last few weeks, several academics have been promoting their new Central American-related titles list-serve on the Latin American Studies Association's Central American Section. I've only read one of the books so far but I thought that some of you might be interested in looking into them.

The first one is A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign by Roger Peace.
A Call to Conscience offers the first comprehensive history of the anti–Contra War campaign and its Nicaragua connections. Roger Peace places this eight-year campaign in the context of previous American interventions in Latin America, the Cold War, and other grassroots oppositional movements. Based on interviews with American and Nicaraguan citizens and leaders, archival records of activist organizations, and official government documents, this book reveals activist motivations, analyzes the organizational dynamics of the anti–Contra War campaign, and contrasts perceptions of the campaign in Managua and Washington.
Peace shows how a variety of civic groups and networks—religious, leftist, peace, veteran, labor, women’s rights—worked together in a decentralized campaign that involved extensive transnational cooperation.
For Guatemala, Cecilia Menjívar has published Enduring Violence: Ladina Women's Lives in Guatemala.
Drawing on revealing, in-depth interviews, Cecilia Menjívar investigates the role that violence plays in the lives of Ladina women in eastern Guatemala, a little-visited and little-studied region. While much has been written on the subject of political violence in Guatemala, Menjívar turns to a different form of suffering—the violence embedded in institutions and in everyday life so familiar and routine that it is often not recognized as such. Rather than painting Guatemala (or even Latin America) as having a cultural propensity for normalizing and accepting violence, Menjívar aims to develop an approach to examining structures of violence—profound inequality, exploitation and poverty, and gender ideologies that position women in vulnerable situations— grounded in women’s experiences. In this way, her study provides a glimpse into the root causes of the increasing wave of feminicide in Guatemala, as well as in other Latin American countries, and offers observations relevant for understanding violence against women around the world today.
Virginia Garrard-Burnett has written Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala Under Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt.
Drawing on newly-available primary sources including guerrilla documents, evangelical pamphlets, speech transcripts, and declassified US government records, Virginia Garrard-Burnett provides aa fine-grained picture of what happened during the rule of Guatelaman president-by-coup Efrain Rios Montt. She suggests that three decades of war engendered an ideology of violence that cut not only vertically, but also horizontally, across class, cultures, communities, religions, and even families. The book examines the causality and effects of the ideology of violence, but it also explores the long duree of Guatemalan history between 1954 and the late 1970s that made such an ideology possible. More significantly, she contends that self-interest, willful ignorance, and distraction permitted the human rights tragedies within Guatemala to take place without challenge from the outside world.
Karen Kampwirth has an edited volume on Gender and Populism in Latin America: Passionate Politics. The volume includes two chapters on Nicaragua.
In the first half of the twentieth century, classic populist leaders like the Peróns in Argentina and Vargas in Brazil sought to create direct, personal ties between themselves and their followers. At the same time, they incorporated large numbers of previously excluded people into the body politic. The resurgence of democracy in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s brought with it two new waves of populism: first, the neopopulism of leaders like Salinas in Mexico and Fujimori in Peru, who promoted neoliberal solutions to the economic problems of the 1990s; and second, the radical populism of leaders like Chávez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia, who repudiated neoliberal policies in favor of some form of socialism in what has come to be called “the pink tide.”
Cynthia Arnson has an edited volume on In the Wake of War: Democratization and Internal Armed Conflict in Latin America that looks particularly interesting.
In the Wake of War assesses the consequences of civil war for democratization in Latin America, focusing on questions of state capacity. Contributors focus on seven countries—Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru—where state weakness fostered conflict and the task of state reconstruction presents multiple challenges. In addition to case studies, the book explores cross-cutting themes including the role of the international community in supporting peace, the explosion of post-war criminal and social violence, and the value of truth and historical clarification.
La metamorfosis del Pulgarcito. Transición política y proceso de paz en El Salvador by Manuel Montobbio has recently been published in its electronic version

Yajaira M. Padilla has published Changing Women, Changing Nation: Female Agency, Nationhood, and Identity in Trans-Salvadoran Narratives.
...explores the literary representations of women in Salvadoran and US-Salvadoran narratives during the span of the last thirty years. This exploration covers Salvadoran texts produced during El Salvador’s civil war (1980–1992) and the current postwar period, as well as US-Salvadoran works of the last two decades that engage the topic of migration and second-generation ethnic incorporation into the United States. Rather than think of these two sets of texts as constituting separate literatures, Yajaira M. Padilla conceives of them as part of the same corpus, what she calls “trans-Salvadoran narratives”—works that dialogue with each other and draw attention to El Salvador’s burgeoning transnational reality. Through depictions of women in trans-Salvadoran narratives, Padilla elucidates a “story” of female agency and nationhood that extends beyond El Salvador’s national borders and imaginings.
Robin DeLugan has published Reimagining National Belonging: Post-Civil War El Salvador in a
Global Context.
Reimagining National Belonging is the first sustained critical examination of post–civil war El Salvador. It describes how one nation, after an extended and divisive conflict, took up the challenge of generating social unity and shared meanings around ideas of the nation. In tracing state-led efforts to promote the concepts of national culture, history, and identity, Robin DeLugan highlights the sites and practices—as well as the complexities—of nation-building in the twenty-first century.
Examining events that unfolded between 1992 and 2011, DeLugan both illustrates the idiosyncrasies of state and society in El Salvador and opens a larger portal into conditions of constructing a state in the present day around the globe—particularly the process of democratization in an age of neoliberalism. She demonstrates how academics, culture experts, popular media, and the United Nations and other international agencies have all helped shape ideas about national belonging in El Salvador. She also reveals the efforts that have been made to include populations that might have been overlooked, including indigenous people and faraway citizens not living inside the country's borders. And she describes how history and memory projects have begun to recall the nation's violent past with the goal of creating a more just and equitable nation.
This illuminating case study fills a gap in the scholarship about culture and society in contemporary El Salvador, while offering an "ethnography of the state" that situates El Salvador in a global context.
Finally, Elana Zilberg has authored Space of Detention: The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador. a powerful ethnographic account and spatial analysis of the “transnational gang crisis” between the United States and El Salvador. Elana Zilberg seeks to understand how this phenomenon became an issue of central concern for national and regional security, and how La Mara Salvatrucha, a gang founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles, came to symbolize the “gang crime–terrorism continuum.” She follows Salvadoran immigrants raised in Los Angeles, who identify as—or are alleged to be—gang members and who are deported back to El Salvador after their incarceration in the United States. Analyzing zero-tolerance gang-abatement strategies in both countries, Zilberg shows that these measures help to produce the very transnational violence and undocumented migration that they are intended to suppress. She argues that the contemporary fixation with Latino immigrant and Salvadoran street gangs, while in part a product of media hype, must also be understood in relation to the longer history of U.S. involvement in Central America, the processes of neoliberalism and globalization, and the intersection of immigration, criminal, and antiterrorist law. These forces combine to produce what Zilberg terms “neoliberal securityscapes.”
I did read this one and I would highly recommend it. For me, the most interesting and eye-opening parts of the book dealt with the evolution of gangs and anti-gang policy in California during the 1980s and 1990s. As a life long East Coaster, it's just not a history that I am very familiar with.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Politics in El Salvador

Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderon Sol, Francisco Flores, and three other ARENA members (most likely) are going to begin a process of selecting the party's 2014 presidential candidate in hopes of having one chosen by September before the party's national convention. An ARENA spokesman said that the committee is going to travel the country consulting with supporters before making a final decision. The process sounds much more democratic than the process for selecting the FMLN's candidate but it's not really. A small group of party leadership are selecting the candidates for each party.

ARENA looks like it will be choosing among San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, former foreign minister Francisco Laínez, and deputies Ana Vilma de Escobar (also former vice president) and Edwin Zamora. Unlike the FMLN, I'm not sure that it matters who ARENA selects, at least in terms of winning in 2014.

In other news, Tim has a nice round up on the current constitutional crisis in El Salvador where the country's Constitutional Court ruled that the Legislative Assembly's appointments of Supreme Court Justices in 2006 and 2012 were unconstitutional. The CC ordered the congress to select new justices and congress is balking. See here for more background on the dispute and the church's call for congress to resolve the crisis.

After three years in government, Funes will prioritize the economy and combating insecurity in his last two years. That sure sounded like a weird headline to me. What exactly had Funes been prioritizing his first three years?

Finally, Edgardo Ayala and Claudia Ávalos have a piece for IPS on Women Fight Blows from Climate Change with Sewing Machines and Eggs in El Salvador.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Violence in Guatemala

So the murder rate in Guatemala continues to decrease, but there's all sorts of daily violence occurring that it is really hard to get excited about fewer homicides.

Christopher Looft at InSight Crime has a story on police involved in kidnapping. In this particular story, eleven cops were arrested after they botched the kidnapping. Looft thinks that police corruption might help explain why kidnappings decreased by 42 percent over the last three years.
If police are carrying out kidnapping themselves, this would force down the number of crimes that are reported to the police.
That's possible but I'm not sure there's much evidence that we can gather to support this conclusion. Are the police more corrupt today than they were three or four years ago? I don't know how much better they are but I'm not sure that they are more corruption which would lead Guatemalans to have less faith in them and would lead them to report kidnappings at a slower rate.

Geoffrey Ramsey, also at Insight Crime, argues that it is difficult to see much progress in Guatemala despite increased efforts. I'm not entirely sure that I agree. I guess it depends if by "little progress" he means a little progress or no progress. I'd go for a little progress - bringing the murder rate down from 46 per 100,000 to 39 per 100,000 is impressive. He notes in the article that a recent report indicates that the Zetas operate in more than one-third of the country. I have no idea how this compares to earlier reports about the Zetas such as this one.
Former Special Prosecutor for Counter-Narcotics Leonel Ruiz told the BBC in June 2009 that the Zetas operated in 75% of the country. And the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute said last year that the influence of organized crime groups rivaled or exceeded that of the Guatemalan government in 40% of the country
What we read today and what we read a few years ago, just doesn't add up. It depends really on how each organization is coding "presence" or "control" or if they are coding them at all. Don't you just get the feeling that they are making up the numbers?

Guatemala remains one of the most violent countries in the world for trade unionists. It's not safe to be a student or teacher as the government continues to repress protesters violently. While the femicide against women in Guatemala is down, it remains a dangerous country for women. Plaza Publica has a story and a map on reported reported throughout the country. It doesn't paint a pretty picture.

And then there's President Otto Perez Molina's attack on the country's Peace Archives...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

FMLN candidate known by end of year

Vice President and Minister of Education, Salvador Sanchez Ceren says that the FMLN should complete the process of selecting its presidential candidate in October and that the candidate should be ratified at the ordinary national convention scheduled for November. The only surprise will be if it isn't Sanchez Ceren as the nominee.

I still believe that it will be more difficult for the FMLN to win with Sanchez Ceren than Oscar Ortiz. It won't be impossible, just more difficult. While many of us, including President Mauricio Funes himself, believe that Funes' candidacy was essential for the FMLLN's victory in the 2009 presidential election, Sanchez Ceren and other historic leaders probably hold closer to the interpretation that Funes only won because he was on the FMLN ticket. That's true also. They're also counting on the fact that the FMLN's growth in electoral support in each presidential election bodes well for the party in 2014 regardless of its candidate.

In 1994's first round election, 331,629 voted for the FMLN. That was good for 25% of the national vote. In 1999, in what most would consider a disappointing performance, Facundo Gardado received 343,742 votes, or 29%. In 2004 with another poor candidate, Schafik Handal captured 734,469 votes, or 36%. Then in 2009, the FMLN with Funes received 1,354,000 votes and secured a first round victory with just over 51% of the vote.

The FMLN increased its votes and vote share in each presidential election and will likely do the same in 2014 even with (someone like) Sanchez Ceren.

There's a certain logic to that. However, I would still maintain that the FMLN underperformed in both 1999 and 2004 because of their candidates. They are likely to do the same in 2014 with Sanchez Ceren.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An increase in homicides in El Salvador?

PNC officials in El Salvador announced that 172 homicides were reported in May 2012, an increase of 16 compared to the 156 reported in April.

Maybe it's just me, but that's not much of an increase.

April has 30 days. Therefore, 5.2 people were killed, on average, each day.

May has 31 days. Therefore, 5.54 people were killed, on average, each day.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, R.I.P

On Monday morning, former Archbishop of Guatemala Rodolfo Quezada Toruño died of natural causes at the age of 80. Quezada Toruño was a force behind the long peace process that eventually culminated with the Firm and Lasting Peace signed between the government of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit (URNG) in December 1996.

Quezada Toruño and Bishop Juan Gerardi were members of the National Reconciliation Commission. Quezada Toruño served as the commission's president 1987 to 1993. He was also the president of the Assembly of Civil Society from 1994 to 1996. The assembly brought leaders from civil society together to produce advisory documents for the peace process.

Quezada Toruño was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003. He then resigned in October 2010. Right up to his last days in office, Quezada Toruño continued to give his voice to the voiceless. He criticized Goldcorp for the environmental and social consequences of its mining in Guatemala. He also criticized President Colom for not doing enough to make the country safe for everyone.
President Otto Perez Molina has declared three days of national mourning.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Helping Hooves in Antigua

When an accident forced her to stop riding five years ago, California-raised Suzanne Divoff was determined to keep working with horses, and on the streets of La Antigua Guatemala she saw an opportunity; Helping Hooves was born.
Made up of three women, Helping Hooves started working with Antigua’s horse and carriage drivers with the goal of improving the well-being of the horses and educating the owners on how best to take care of them. Five months on, the project is going from strength-to-strength.
Anna-Claire Bevan at LatinaLista has a nice story on improving the working conditions of horses in Antigua, Guatemala.

60,000 homicides in Guatemala

Carlos A. Mendoza at the CABI Political Intelligence Unit pointed out yesterday that over 60,000 Guatemalans have been murdered since 2000. Surpassing 60,000 most likely occurred sometime around January 4th of this year.

That's 60,000 murders during the last three presidential administrations. The figures that he produced will be pretty interesting to those who have not been been reading his blog or my blog.

Guatemala experienced a steady increase in homicides from 2000 up into 2009. The Zetas entered Guatemala in 2007 with signs of their violence becoming more visible in 2008. Then there was also the political instability surrounding the Rosenberg murder in 2009.

Homicides then decreased in both 2010 and 2011. While the violence suffered during Alvaro Colom's four-year term was the worst since the 1980s (an average of 6,100 killed each year), there was improvement in both the absolute number of homicides and the homicide rate during his last two years in office.

Why? It's a combination of factors most likely including the addition of several thousand police officers, a better trained police force, a more professional prosecutors office (Claudia Paz y Paz), new legislation passed by congress, and the work of CICIG (recent interview with Francisco Dall'Anese).

And the improved security situation, at least when it comes to homicides, has so far continued under President Otto Perez Molina.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pacific Rim cannot file suit under CAFTA

In what would appear to be a victory for El Salvador, a World Bank arbitration panel ruled that the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim cannot sue El Salvador for damages under the CAFTA, the Central American-US free trade agreement. The lawsuit will instead proceed under Salvadoran law.
The panel, known as the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, or ICSID, found Pacific Rim "did not and does not have substantial activities in the USA" to argue its case under the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States, or CAFTA.
The case will now move forward under El Salvador's Investment Law, which prohibits expropriation without compensation, and will be overseen by ICSID, according to the decision seen by Reuters on Saturday.
Pacific Rim is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the Salvadoran government for failing to issue the permits needed to open the El Dorado gold project.
The company lost a key investment and took El Salvador to arbitration, arguing the country violated the trade pact.
The project would represent the first new precious metals mine in El Salvador in 70 years, but locals are worried about contamination from large-scale mining projects.
On Friday, both sides claimed victory after the decision.
Some estimate that the lawsuit has cost the government of El Salvador approximately $5 million so far and that the case is likely to take another 12 to 18 months to work through Salvadoran courts.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Homicides decrease in Costa Rica

Costa Rican authorities announced that the country registered its first yearly decrease in homicides in six year. The country registered 474 homicides in 2011, 53 less than 2010. That brings the rate per 100,000 down to 10.3 from 11.5.

Homicides in Guatemala decreased in both 2010 and 2011 and it appears as if the trend will continue in 2012. Homicides look to be down between 10-20% compared to this time last year.

While homicides did not decrease in El Salvador last year, the country will experience a sharp reduction in homicides for 2012 should the gang truce hold for the rest of the year. Homicides are down around 60% compared to the first few months of the year.

Homicides aren't the only measure of violence and the region's numbers are still higher than everyone wants. However, better governance and creativity can bring about improvements in the daily lives of the region's citizens.