Friday, August 31, 2012

Former Guatemalan PNC director arrested in Switzerland

Erwin Sperisen, the former director of the national police force in Guatemala, was arrested in Switzerland on on Friday. He is wanted for his involvement in extrajudicial killings during the Oscar Berger administration.
It is based on “major suspicions” about Sperisen’s involvement in various killings as head of national police in Guatemala from July 2004 to March 2007, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Because of Sperisen’s Swiss nationality, the prosecutor’s office said, he is not subject to extradition and will face criminal proceedings in Geneva.
Several Geneva-based human rights advocacy groups filed two criminal complaints against Sperisen, in 2008 and 2009, urging further investigation.
TRIAL, a Geneva-based group, said in a statement Friday that it welcomed the arrest and hopes Sperisen will face trial on charges over his alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings and other abuses including the killing of nine farmers. The group said that as police chief he also is accused of involvement in enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence.
Portillo might be coming to a jail near you as long as violent felons aren't housed there. Sperisen might soon see the inside of a courtroom and, eventually, a cell. And General Efraín Ríos Montt is one step closer to a guilty verdict after a Guatemalan appeals court rejected his argument that he can not be tried for his involvement in the Dos Erres massacre because he is covered under the country's National Reconciliation Law.

Talk about a global effort. 

Portillo can be extradited

Washington Post
U.S. officials are praising Guatemala’s decision to allow the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo, who faces U.S. charges of laundering allegedly embezzled foreign donations.
Guatemala’s highest court says Portillo can be extradited, but can’t be sent to a U.S. facility for violent offenders.
In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala says the decision reflects the progress that Guatemala’s government is making against impunity.
While that's what the U.S. government has to say, a more significant step forward in Guatemala would have been had the courts found him guilty in the first place. Then there would have been no need to extradite him. (See also this AP story.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

1,000 fewer homicides in El Salvador

According to information provided by Minister of Justice and Security David Munguia Payes and reported in ContraPunto, there were 952 fewer violent deaths in El Salvador between January and the end of August compared to the same time last year.

After a rough start to August, the country looks like it will finish with an average of around 5.24 homicides per day. That would be the lowest daily average for any single month yet which was helped by the country's second homicide-free day of the year on the 24th.

Gang Peaces in El Salvador - MS-13 and 18th Street; FMLN and ARENA

I apologize for the sporadic posts this week. The first week of the fall semester and a little bit of writer's block are not helping. Anyway, the New York Times has had some coverage of El Salvador's gang truce this week. Randal C. Archibold has a piece on how Gangs’ Truce Buys El Salvador a Tenuous Peace. There's honestly not that much new in the story if you've been following me, Insight Crime, and/or WOLA and others. The photos that accompany the story are worth checking out however.

Once you are done, however, I suggest that you read Edgardo Ayala's post on Gangs and Government Put Their Cards on the Table in El Salvador. Ayala put together a lot of the gangs' demands that I haven't really seen in English.

Tim has a nice post on what he's learned from the recently resolved constitutional crisis in El Salvador. One of the things that I need to think more about is the role of the US. Yes, US congressmen prematurely discussed holding up or eliminating Millennium Challenge funds should the constitutional crisis have been resolved in a manner in which they disagreed. However, it looks like Mari Carmen Aponte, the US Embassy, and the State Department played a much more constructive role in encouraging the parties to find a solution amongst themselves. See also Polycarpio's comments in Tim's post. Funes hasn't had much legislative support in his three-plus year's as president and might have less going forward. I'd say it will disappear if Romney is elected here.

Voices from El Salvador has another good post on the ongoing conflict between President Funes and the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP). They also report on ARENA's selection of Norman Quijano as the country's next president its presidential candidate. Sanchez Ceren will be nominated by the FMLN in November. I picked Quijano and Sanchez Ceren a few months ago but it wasn't really hard to pick the front runners in each party. Voices also has a list of English and Spanish language sources for those who want to keep up on events in El Salvador. It doesn't look like I made the list unless I show up as Al Jazeera.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US on pace to deport over 60,000 Guatemalans

The United States is on pace to surpass last year's number of deportations of Guatemalans. In 2011, the US deported approximately 60,000 Guatemalans to their native country. 

According to the Pastoral de Movilidad Humana de la Conferencia Episcopal de Guatemala, 53,088 Guatemalan nationals have been deported from the US so far in 2012 - 27,269 via air and 25,819 via land.

See also the AP on Parents deported, what happens to US-born kids? and the New York Times on Young and Alone, Facing Court and Deportation.

Where the discretion, Mr. President?

Mining and Development in Guatemala

Here are two academic articles on Guatemala that I thought might be of interest to some of you out there.
Julie Stewart, an assistant professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Utah, has a new article in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography on A Tale of Two Communities: Divergent Development and Embedded Brokerage in Postwar Guatemala. Here is the paper's abstract:
Sociologists of development are increasingly interested in better understanding the reasons for intracountry variation of development outcomes, often focusing on community-level studies. I draw on extensive fieldwork in two return-refugee communities in rural, postwar Guatemala to explain why some community development initiatives succeed while others fail. I attribute this divergence to the presence of embedded brokerage, a new form of brokerage that is particularly useful in the context of aid relationships, which frequently cross transnational cleavages of class, power, and privilege. In particular, I argue that when brokers who are embedded in both the sending and receiving communities facilitate aid relationships, the outcome is more successful. This study demonstrates how embedded brokers responded to community initiative, attracted specialized funding, and helped institutionalize key development values in one community. In contrast, the absence of brokers in the second community contributed to the absence of community initiative, the delivery of generic projects and the failure to institutionalize development values.
Elisabet Dueholm Rasch, an assistant professor at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, has a recent article in the Journal of Developing Societies on Transformations in Citizenship Local Resistance against Mining Projects in Huehuetenango (Guatemala). Here's its abstract:
In this article, I analyze how Guatemalan indigenous citizens claim their rights to be citizens and agents of their own development through local resistance to large-scale mining projects. These indigenous communities face massive resource extraction by multinational mining companies that endangers the quality of land and water, adversely affects community relations, and impedes indigenous self-determination. At the same time, the political recognition of indigenous peoples allows them to negotiate the regulation of natural resources on the basis of their ethnic identity, as neoliberal reforms have led to decentralization and greater responsibilities for development at the municipal level. I argue that narratives of “alternative development and citizenship” are not only shaped within the multi-scalar character of the anti-mining movement but also constructed within the different ways the resistance is framed, that is, as an indigenous struggle, as a class-based resistance, or as resistance against neoliberal development policies in general. To understand the complex ways that citizenship is constructed from below, we need to take these two dimensions of analysis into account.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Turtle eggs lost in Salvadoran earthquake

According to a report in the Miami Herald, 45,000 endangered turtle eggs were destroyed in Sunday's earthquake in Salvador.
The director of the turtle conservation program for the El Salvador Zoological Foundation says the 7.4-magnitude undersea quake sent at least three waves at least 30 feet high up the beach and destroyed thousands of nests and just-hatched turtles. It also washed up on about 150 people collecting eggs in order to protect them in special pens hundreds of feet up the beach. The waves injured three.
Program director Emilio Leon said that in the last year and a half the foundation has successfully hatched and released 700,000 turtles from four species at risk of extinction.

Some scary weather in Guatemala

According to the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, the storms damaged 74 houses and affected 270 people. Prensa Libre has video of some scary looking weather in Guatemala City. There are more photos and videos here and here.

Looking at the videos and pictures, I'm left wondering why people are not running for cover.

Extortion in Guatemala

Here are a few important stories from Guatemala that I never got around to blogging about. The first three articles address how local and national leaders have tackled extortion and crime in the country.

In Villa Nueva, Against All Odds, Bernardo Jurema explains how local and national governments, the private sector and foreign donors have worked together to improve the security situation in a town southwest of the capital city.
It is too early to know what combination of factors is behind the drop in homicides and whether the trend will continue. But police and local leaders believe that better law enforcement combined with citizen cooperation explains the downturn in violence.
In Improving Public Transport in Dangerous Guatemala City, Danilo Valladares brings us up to date on the modernization of Transmetro and Transurbano. Unfortunately, the lack of competition might prove their undoing. Claire O'Neill McCleskey at Insight wonders whether a modernized bus system will reduce extortion in Could Guatemala City’s Smart Bus System Cut Extortion?
The high level of gang penetration, corruption in the bus companies, and the weakness of Guatemala's institutions make combating violence and extortion on public transport extremely challenging. The expansion of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Guatemala City, however, could prove to be an effective strategy for reducing extortion of bus companies and violence against drivers and passengers.
Hopefully, the new bus systems have cut down on extortion. Reading the newspapers and having traveled to Guatemala about two years ago, I am under the impression that extortion has simply changed. Gangs went after softer routes (those outside the city limits) and residences. That's good for Guatemala City bus drivers and companies but not entirely good for everybody. Hey, but it's a start.

Finally, Danilo Valladares has another article on Macro Privatisations Bring Micro Benefits to Guatemalans. Shockingly, government concessions to foreign businesses have brought little financial benefit to the people of the country.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Dos Erres Massacre and Human Rights Violations in Guatemala

The Washington Office on Latin America recently held an event on “Obstacles to Justice: Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Guatemala” in Washington, D.C.
Obstacles to Justice: Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Guatemala” featured the story of Óscar Ramírez, a 32-year-old Guatemalan living in Massachusetts who recently learned that he was a survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala. Óscar was three years old at the time of the massacre and was kidnapped by one of the Guatemalan soldiers who murdered his mother and eight siblings.
Also present during the event were Fredy Peccerelli of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala, FAFG), Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive, Francisco Quintana of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and Scott Greathead, a lawyer and human rights advocate representing Óscar on his application for political asylum. (See the full event description here.)

Sometimes I do wish that I lived closer to DC to attend these events but it's always nice when the proceedings are streamed live or posted online afterwards.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another day without a homicide

For the last several months, President Mauricio Funes has been meeting with representatives from civil society in order to brainstorm ways to help sustain the March truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs. Funes said on his Saturday radio program that this stage of dialogue will be coming to a close on Monday.

Beginning next week, a committee from the Ministry of Public Security will begin processing the proposals that have been presented in consultations with universities, churches, business, media, and other sectors. The Funes administration will then put together a series of proposals on (1) a national employment pact, (2) preventing domestic violence, and (3) improving prison infrastructure and the reintegration and rehabilitation of prisoners.

Funes continued to defend the truce inspite of some recent high profile killings. Between August 1 and 24, there were 132 deaths, down from the 291 homicides committed in the same period of 2011. Average daily homicides have fallen from 14 to between 5 and 6 since the truce.

President Funes' radio appearance came one day after the country experienced it second homicide-free day.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Revisiting the recent past

Al Jazeera's What Happened Next program is revisiting stories that they did a few year's ago to update readers on what has transpired since they originally aired. In June, Dan Drezner called on news programs to do this during the typically slow August month. Leave it to Al Jazeera to heed his advice.

In the first video related to Latin America, Rachel Levin returned to a turtle reserve in Tamaulipas, Mexico to see how the Kemp Ridley Turtles have fared since the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the second video, Teresa Bo returned to Argentina's Chaco state to catch up with members of the Toba tribe.Members of the tribe had been dying from "malnourishment and associated diseases" at a time when much of Argentina was prospering.

Fortunately, there is good news to report from both Mexico and Argentina.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Guatemala's crops suffer

Guatemala's agricultural minister announced on Thursday that half of this year's maize and bean crops have been destroyed because of a drought through which the country has been suffering in 2012. Eighteen of the country's twenty-two departments are experiencing a rainfall shortage.
Maize is the country's leading crop, with an average annual harvest of 1.67 million tons, while Guatemalan farmers produce nearly 200,000 tons of beans in a normal year.
More than 34,000 families make their living by cultivating maize or beans, according to the agriculture ministry, which quantified the economic cost of the destruction of the crops at 52 million quetzales ($6.6 million).
During the Colom years, the Guatemalan economy was also stung by severe climate conditions including tropical storms and droughts. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Coalition of NGOs and Cooperatives (CONGCOOP) of Guatemala questions the slow implementation and lack of transparency and efficiency of the government's agricultural programs 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Claudia Méndez creates interactive map of homicides in Guatemala City

During her year as a Latin American Knight Foundation Nieman fellow at Harvard, Claudia Méndez created an interactive map of homicides in Guatemala City. You can check out the visualization of the data as well as each murder victim's name at Una vida es una vida.

Claudia also say down for an interview with the Tania Lara of the Knight Center.Here are two of the questions that stood out to me.
What was your goal in creating a site dedicated to homicides in Guatemala City?
The goal is to make a media coverage model that will allow for news outlets to record each homicide victim in the city. It's a way of showing that each person that dies violently here is important. Also, the goal is to create a space where citizens can talk about violence that affects their neighborhoods, work areas, commute areas, based on facts, real numbers, which will also allow for in-depth analysis.
What was the most surprising discovery you made while making these maps and gathering information about homicides in Guatemala?
Breaking myths with the certainty of data: areas that are usually tagged as violent, in reality only suffer from violence in specific sectors. To see, for example, that violence is sometimes framed in districts, when they are geographic "waves" that transversely cut across the map. I'm surprised with the phenomenon of injured in the violence, we tend to get surprised with the number of homicides, but the people that are injured in the attacks double this number.
INACIF or the PNC should have been providing this data already.

Thank you Claudia. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Former Guatemalan police chief found guilty

In a follow-up to last week's story on the trial of former Guatemala police chief Pedro García Arredondo, he has been found guilty of crimes against humanity and the forced disappearance of university student Edgar Saenz Calito in 1981. Garcia was sentenced to seventy years in jail.
The landmark ruling made Pedro Garcia the highest ranking police official to be sentenced for war crimes in Guatemala and was the latest in a string of cases the government has initiated against former officials.
Sorry, I was away at the beach for a few days and am just catching up on the news.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Juvenil de Guatemala wins Senior League World Series

The team from Guatemala City, Juvenil de Guatemala, defeated the the U.S. West champions Lemon Grove 6-3 on Saturday in the title game of the Senior League World Series
“This is the biggest thing Guatemala has ever achieved in any sport,” said Guatemala manager Angel Hoyos. “We’re just very happy to make it to this level and be able to win at this level. These guys have put in a lot of work to get here, and they deserve it.”...
Congratulations to the team of 15 and 16 year-old kids from Guatemala!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The US and Honduras

Al Jazeera devoted a recent episode (24 minutes) of its Front Line series to examining the relationship between the United States and Honduras.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ex police chief goes to trial in Guatemala

The trial of former Guatemala police chief Pedro García Arredondo has just begun in Guatemala. García, who was captured just over one year ago, has two charges pending against him: forced disappearance and dereliction of duty in the 1981 forced disappearance of university student Edgar Sáenz Calito.

On Thursday, a former agent of Command Six which García ran testified that Calito Saenz was indeed arrested on March 4, 1981 for carrying propaganda that belonged to the Organization of People in Arms (ORPA). He was interrogated by Garcia's investigators at police headquarters.

Another witness, Saenz's wife, said that her husband remained in custody until June 9, 1981. At that point he was released for lack of evidence. However, he was kidnapped by four armed men minutes after his release from Command Six, never to be seen again.

According to the Prosecution, García planned and coordinated Sáenz Calito's capture and disappearance. Edgar Sáenz Calito was disappeared and, most likely, tortured and murdered like thousands of other Guatemalans by agents of the state. It doesn't matter that he was carrying subversive ORPA materials. He was not armed. He was not tried and convicted. And, even if he was, that's not the way one treats another human being.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Erick Barrondo's return to Guatemala

Nick Wirtz has more on Erick Barrondo's life and return to Guatemala at Americas Quarterly. Barrondo recently won Guatemala's first ever Olympic medal, a silver, while competing in 20-kilometer race-walking.

Barrondo made international news because of comments made following his victory in which he said that he hoped his victory would help to reduce the violence in Guatemala. I wasn't sure that would be the case but I didn't think that it was important to say at the time.
However, the reality for Barrondo is that his new found wealth and celebrity will make him a target for extortionists. Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla has already held talks with the Barrondo family over providing security to them as well as possibly moving from their current home.
Unfortunately, that is the reality facing the Barrondo family today in Guatemala.

Another narrative in El Salvador

During my three weeks in Northern Ireland, we listened to many different personal narratives. Former Catholic Irish Republican Army, former Protestant paramilitaries in the UDF and UVF, Catholic and Protestant Bishops, and various peace workers each had their own story to share about life, for them, during the war.

At times, it was uncomfortable listening to these people's stories. Sometimes they interpreted events that were far from the ways in which I would interpret them. At other times, their personal recollections of events went against historical facts what is generally believed to have happened. However, over the three weeks in Ballycastle, I came to appreciate the importance of listening to other people's stories regardless of the dangers in so doing. I thought of that as I read this story about Reina Howard, a woman who fled communist violence in El Salvador during the 1980s.
El Salvador has been shaken through history, not only by earthquakes, but also by political uproar.
In the search for answers to alleviate poverty and suffering, some people adopted the concepts of social justice and redistribution of wealth. This was promoted by the religious left in the form of the theology of liberation and imparted in schools and universities as social justice.
This manipulated the needs of people, and the agents of class warfare created the environment which would advance their agendas by increasing the hate among different groups in the Salvadoran society.
In the late 1970s the country was at a sweltering point; secular and religious leftists were harvesting the fruits of the indoctrination of the masses. They recruited and forced those who refused to join them to become members of their guerrilla groups which had been organized in cities and in the country side.
Now good people in need, who had been convinced that a Cuban-style revolution was the answer to social problems and poverty, were armed and had been trained to terrorize those who had more than what they did.
They kidnapped and assassinated national and foreign business men, placed explosives in public transportation, took radio stations hostage, and passionately expressed their hate for Americans and Capitalism.
In this environment, my parents thought it was time to leave. The bulletins from the American embassy in El Salvador sent to American citizens were telling them the same - leave or stay at your own risk.
The entire article is worth reading even though most of you, I think, are not going to share her narrative. That doesn't make her personal narrative any less real however.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Monseñor Romero

August 15th would have been Monseñor Oscar Romero's 95th birthday. Hermano Juancito has some reflections on this remarkable man who remains an inspiration to so many in El Salvador and around the world.
When he was killed at the altar on March 24, 1980, he was a strong advocate of the poor and critic of the repression he saw around him in El Salvador. But he was not always that way.
Many people talk about a conversion of Archbishop Romero after his friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande, was killed in March 1977. It is very true that that event sparked something within him and opened his heart to be more outspoken in the face of injustice and killing.
But I don’t think it was a road to Damascus experience, where – in one random moment – Monseñor Romero changed.
I think it is more a case of a long conversion where he let himself be opened more to God.

Peace in Northern Ireland: A model of success?

I have a new post up at Al Jazeera on Peace in Northern Ireland: A model of success? Here's the takeaway from the piece.
The peace walls, like the Belfast Agreement itself, have brought an important measure of temporary peace to Northern Ireland. Paramilitaries from the Catholic and Protestant communities are no longer killing each other. However, neither the walls nor the agreement resolves the long-term future of the people of Northern Ireland. Even with the important peace initiatives such as those promoted by the Corrymeela Community, the Protestant and Catholic religious and cultural communities are far from coming to an understanding of their shared past and future. Economically, Northern Ireland must find a way to sustain itself as it cannot count on millions of British pounds indefinitely.
Finally, the Belfast agreement left open the possibility that the people of Northern Ireland could vote to change the country's political status at a future date. While currently there is no pressure from the Catholic population to declare the country's independence or to join with the Republic of Ireland in a united Ireland, there is a good chance that the question of whether to do so will become much more salient as the country's demographics continue to favour its growing Catholic population. 

Juvenil de Guatemala L.L. baseball team

To add to Greg's post on baseball in Brazil, the Guatemalan senior team is on a role.
The Juvenil de Guatemala L.L. team from Guatemala City, Guatemala has something to prove to the world.
They want to show that Guatemala is about more than just soccer and that they can play the same type of baseball as the rest of the world.
They have already proven that to anyone that has seen them play during there first two games of the 2012 Senior League World Series.
In the first game Monday night, three Guatemalan pitchers even threw a combined no-hitter to defeat Canada. Not bad for the boys from Guatemala.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Honduras will cooperate with US

On Monday, Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales said that Honduras will cooperate with the United States on its investigation into current police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla's alleged ties to death squad activities.
"They have asked the Honduran government for information and we have given it. What happened a decade ago for us is something that has already been adjudicated," Corrales said. "We expect the investigation to be completed as quickly as possible."

According to U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske, "We take human rights very seriously." Obviously, she can't say anything differently, but it's only one part of the story in Honduras and elsewhere when examining US foreign policy. And just because the US State Department is critical of Honduras' human rights situation doesn't mean that US policy towards the country seems to have been affected much by it.

Be sure to read RAJ's push back against my commentary on the US's temporary suspension of aid in the comments to my last post and her new post on Leticia Salomón's criticism of policing in Honduras.

I stand by my doubts about how effective the letters signed by academics was in causing the US to act.  I say that primarily because the US government would reject almost all of the letter's criticisms of what the US has done and is currently doing in Honduras. In addition, there's very little likelihood that the US will do what the letter asks it to do - cut off aid to to the "forces of disorder" in Honduras, stop its occupation of the country, close its bases and then when conditions on the ground change, hold a referendum on the re-opening of those bases.

I'm not saying that their letter played no role. I was just questioning what the AP article wrote where it placed those letters front and center in causing the change in US policy.

Now, the question remains - what happens to Bonilla?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Did academics really stop US aid to Honduras?

On Sunday, I wrote about the temporary halt of some US aid to Honduras. The suspension of aid was brought on by alleged connections between the current national police chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla, and death squads that operated about a decade ago. The Us is going to step back and sort things out.

RAJ at Honduras Politics and Culture asks really important questions about where exactly the US is going to be holding back aid. The US said that it is suspending aid to those personnel and units who are not directly supervised by Bonilla.
"Direct supervision" is the operative phrase here, since Bonilla Valladares, as national police chief, is the commander of all the Honduran police. Does it really matter if there is an interposed subordinate officer between him and the units the US is still funding?
Or is the significant difference here that the US will still fund US trained, guided, and advised units which, while technically part of the Honduran police forces, would be expected not to follow orders from the national police chief?
Only those elements of the national police that the chief of the national police does not oversee? That's not very comforting. Given the evidence available, Tigre looks like it might be the unit cut from US assistance.

Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice has more on the role of a human rights agenda in US foreign policy. Given what the US cares about in Honduras, concerns about drug trafficking should trump human rights concerns. However, in this case, aid is being suspended because the chief of police might have been involved in extrajudicial killings years ago. Aid is not being suspended because Bonilla was involved in drug trafficking, was corrupt, or incompetent in carrying out his duties. Those might all be there case, but for now, they are not.

A few more things about the story. I don't think that the letter from US and Honduran academics and members of the US congress caused the State Department to do something that it didn't want to do. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's just a coincidence, but there's got to be more to the story, obviously, than what we already know. For example, what the State Department did isn't exactly what the letter writers asked them to do. (Here's the letter.)
We call upon you to cut off your support (logistical, financial, and training) to the forces of disorder that are also the most violent institutions in our society, and to put an end to your occupation of our territory for military purposes without consulting the people of Honduras. Any subsequent reestablishment of your aid should depend on the verification of progress made by the recently established National Commission for the cleaning up [of the police], and the re-establishment of U.S. bases should have the support of the citizenry, determined through the ballot box.
But U.S. appeasement and support of the violent agents of a rogue state have destroyed our fledgling democracy, brought us greater insecurity and a human rights catastrophe. Investment in the depressed economy will do much more for our mutual goals than these counterproductive expenditures. We call upon you to allow us as Hondurans to seek our own solutions to our problems in order to progress toward building a peaceful coexistence. Only with sovereignty can we work toward the refounding of Honduras as democratic nation that respects rights. And U.S. policy should not continue to be an obstacle to that goal. History will see the emperor without his clothes on.
Remind you, this is after blaming the US for just about everything that has gone wrong in Honduras since the 2009 coup. The letter talks about US responsibility "in part" but that's not really the tone of the letter. The US is directly and indirectly to blame for just about everything that is wrong in Honduras today. The US is asked to suspend all aid. It is asked to stop occupying Honduras (Occupying? Seriously?). And then, the US should only be allowed to re-establish bases once Hondurans allow them to do so "through the ballot box" which I take to mean not through their elected representatives (I know, today's leaders weren't really elected in free and fair elections nor do they really represent the people of Honduras) but through a separate referendum.

Here's the other quote from the letter that I found interesting.
Combatting drug trafficking is not a legitimate justification for the U.S. to fund and train security forces that usurp democratic governments and violently repress our people. Everyone here in Honduras, including the staffers of your DEA offices in Tegucigalpa, know exactly who the drug traffickers are and where to find them.
I've seen the first sentence quoted in a few places but it's the second one that interests me. I'm sure that everyone thinks that they know who the drug traffickers are and where to find them. However, that's not the same as knows. And even if the US knows who the traffickers are (even that's not very convincing to me), they are going to need some evidence on which to act. And even if they do have evidence on which to act, it's not really clear that the US has many reliable partners in Honduras with whom it can act.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Academics stop US Government aid to Honduras

The U.S. government will withhold financial support for Honduran law enforcement units directly supervised national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla until it can clear up whether he was involved in death squad activities one decade ago.
Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported that Bonilla, nicknamed "The Tiger," had been widely accused of killings and human rights violations in a decade-old internal Honduran police report. The report named Bonilla in at least three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002 and said he was among several officers suspected in 11 other cases.

Chief Bonilla's spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Only one of the allegations against the now-46-year-old Bonilla led to murder charges, however, and he was acquitted in 2004. The verdict was upheld by Honduras' Supreme Court in 2009. Bonilla took office in May.
Given that Bonilla was appointed in May and that the allegations were not new, I wondered why the US acted now. That answer comes later in the article.
This week's decision came after a series of letters from Honduran and U.S. academics, activists and members of Congress were sent to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to reconsider security aid to Honduras because of alleged human rights violations. In recent years there have been reports of kidnappings and killings by law enforcement, more than 65 people killed during farmland conflicts and dozens of deaths of gay and lesbian activists.
"Combatting drug trafficking is not a legitimate justification for the U.S. to fund and train security forces that usurp democratic governments and violently repress our people," said the June 7, 2012, letter signed by hundreds of academics.
It's pretty impressive, if true, that the US State Department responded to appeals from US and Honduran activists and academics, as well as members of Congress. I see these letters quite frequently and am rarely convinced that they will make much of a difference. Perhaps this time, the letter writing campaign worked.

The US is taking  a small step to withhold aid to part of what appears to be a very corrupt police force. However, it's a necessary first step. Now about those judges that set Chepe Luna free?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Kristi-Lynn Wine

Last year, I wrote about Thomas Perez who fled El Salvador in 1984 at the age of thirteen. He's been making quite a name for himself in the wine business. He has a new website up for his venture, Kristi-Lynn Wine, at
Born from world-class sommelier Thomas Perez’s humble beginnings and impeccable palate, Kristi-Lynn is a testament of his true love and passion for wine.
One of the very few sommeliers in the world who is also an enologist, Thomas engages his extensive knowledge of wine making and education from time spent with Jean François at Domaine Coche-Dury and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti to deliver some of the worlds most exquisite wines.
Carefully selected from arguably the best wine regions in the world, Kristi-Lynn produces wine using only the most seductive and complex grapes. Expressive of Thomas’ contemporary wine making techniques, Kristi-Lynn wine showcases the pure identity of these varietals from Santa Maria Valley, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon; Mendoza, Argentina; and La Rioja, Spain.
You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter (@kristilynnwine and @TperezWin).

Good luck Thomas!

Now where can I find a nice Malbec?

How will US respond to Chepe Luna "catch and release"

On Tuesday, Chepe Luna was arrested in Honduras. Here's Insight Crime on Chepe Luna's arrest and subsequent release.
“Chepe Luna,” the trafficker who has done the most to develop El Salvador’s drug trade, was freed just one day after being arrested in Honduras, in the latest of his series of narrow escapes from the law.

Jose Natividad Luna Pereira, known as “Chepe Luna,” was arrested by Honduran police at 11:30 a.m. on August 7 in the offices of his company Transportes Ulua, in Tegucigalpa, as La Prensa reported. Though Chepe has been one of El Salvador’s most prolific traffickers, wanted by the US and Interpol, he was arrested on the strength of a 1998 warrant issued by a Honduran court for human trafficking.
But just as it looked as though Chepe Luna's ability to evade justice might have run out, he was freed the following afternoon, after Honduras’ Supreme Court accepted a habeas corpus request filed by his lawyer.
And here's Boz
There are a lot of things that are troubling about this case. Let me point out just one. There are over 6,000 people sitting in prison in Honduras in pre-trial detention status. They are waiting, sometimes for months or even years, for a judicial hearing or sentencing. In contrast, Luna received a Supreme Court hearing and ruling about his detention less than 24 hours after he was arrested. He has a high-priced lawyer and good political connections because he's a major criminal leader, so he gets quick 'justice'.

The one time that the world would have benefited by having the Honduran court system move a bit more slowly, they are a model of efficiency and speed. Meanwhile, thousands of other people waiting in Honduras's hellish prison system would sure like their day in court.
So what's the over/under on whether U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs will threaten to cut aid to Honduras following this pretty clear sign of corruption in the Honduran courts? Menendez and Rubio threatened this action nearly one month ago during the constitutional conflict in El Salvador.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Former kaibil Jorge Orantes Sosa loses appeal

Jorge Orantes Sosa is accused of having participated in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in which the Guatemalan army killed over 200 civilians. Yesterday, a Canadian judge denied an appeal to block his extradition to the United States where he faces perjury charges.
According to court records supplied by the United States for the extradition hearing, Sosa misled American authorities about his military service and participation in the crimes when he applied for U.S. citizenship in California in 2008.
Sosa is accused of being one of several commanding officers of a squad of “Kaibiles,” an elite commando force accused of massacring the villagers of Dos Erres in December 1982.
Former Salvadoran general Inocente Montano is set to appear in a Boston courtroom today related to his lying on immigration papers. He faces the possibility of jail time in the US and, eventually, extradition to Spain for trial once his immigration charges are resolved in the US. He is not wanted in El Salvador. Sosa, on the other hand, is wanted by authorities in Guatemala who are looking to try him for war crimes.

I sincerely hoped that the legal proceedings begun in Spain, Guatemala, and elsewhere in Latin America would force Salvadorans to begin to chip away at the impunity that has reigned since 1993. While there have been important apologies by President Funes for the Salvadoran state's roles in the Romero assassination, Mozote massacre,  and Jesuits murders, it doesn't look like he or the country are prepared to do much more.

Perhaps it's possible that Mitt Romney and Bain Capital's alleged ties to Salvadoran death squads will force a reexamination of the US and Salvadoran state's roles in 1980s El Salvador. I'm not sure about this one yet.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Erick Barrondo to be Knighted

The accolades for Guatemala's first-ever Olympic medalist are only just beginning. Erick Barrondo won a silver medal last week in racewalking. On Tuesday, Guatemalan lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of making Erick a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress. He will also receive $64,000.
"If in England there is a Sir Alex Ferguson (manager of top soccer club Manchester United), why in Guatemala can't there be a Knight Erick Barrondo?" legislator Haroldo Quej asked as he explained why he voted in favor of the honor.
President Otto Pérez Molina met Tuesday with Dora and Bernardo Barrondo, parents of the athlete, who will compete next Saturday in the 50-kilometer walk, to coordinate the details of the trip that the government will provide so they can go to London and cheer on their son.
"They are being given the trip to accompany Erick and give him the warmth and support he needs for the race," a spokesperson for the president's office told Efe.
"He's going to be welcomed as a hero, as he deserves. We're going to be waiting for him with open arms," Pérez Molina said last Saturday after Barrondo's medal-winning performance in the 20-kilometer event.
I wonder if he'll have to pay taxes on his Olympic winnings.

Funes' approval ratings remain high

According to a late July survey carried out by CID-Gallup in El Salvador, Mauricio Funes maintained a 72% approval rating heading into August vacations. CID-Gallup interviewed 1,110 people nationwide and the poll has a margin of error of +/-3%.
Funes' high approval coincides with his role as a mediator in the institutional crisis caused by the power conflict between the judicial and legislative bodies, the publication noted.
It also mentioned a study performed in June that confirmed Funes as the president with highest approval rate in the last six governments, as of 1984.
It's pretty remarkable that President Funes' approval ratings have remained consistently high over the last three years given the constitutional conflicts of 2011 (Decree 743) and 2012 (two constitutional chambers), poor economic conditions including increasing debt, and, up until March, a terrible security situation caused by gang violence.

On the other hand, Funes has navigated the country's foreign policy pretty well (Obama's visit to El Salvador and a Millennium II compact) and overseen improvements in the day-to-day lives of many people in El Salvador (education and health reforms and now security).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Montano case to continue

The lawyer for one of the men accused of having participated in the murder of six Jesuit priests at the UCA in November 1989, Inocente Montano, is due in a federal court in Massachusetts on Thursday.
Montano was arrested on separate immigration charges in 2011. He has been living in suburban Boston for the last decade.
Prosecutors allege that Montano made false statements when he applied to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a protected status in 2002. The government says Montano answered ‘‘no’’ to several questions on the application, including whether he had ever served in a military, paramilitary or police unit.
It's too early to tell what will happen to Montano. He could be found guilty of immigration fraud and deported to his native El Salvador. He could be found guilty, sentenced to jail and, upon completing his term, be deported back to El Salvador. Finally, he could be extradited to Spain where he is wanted for his participation in five of the Jesuits' murders (those of Spanish nationality) regardless of how the immigration charges pan out. 

I guess another scenario would involve Montano applying for asylum here in the US because, as a former military officer fighting against the FMLN, he might be persecuted upon his forced repatriation to the country now that the FMLN is in charge of the executive branch.

What's your thoughts? I am leaning towards deportation to El Salvador but hoping for extradition to Spain.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Denying green card applicants with gang tattoos

From the Huffington Post
As reported by the Wall Street Journal in the above video, an increasing number of immigrants from Mexico, Central America and South America have found their green card applications denied. The reason? U.S. officials maintain they pose a security threat as the tattoos are symbols of criminal gang affiliation.
But many immigrants deny this, stating that their tattoos are ornamental -- no different than the tattoos sported by thousands of people in U.S. cities -- and that their treatment conflicts with the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
I'm not really sure about their legal case, but I am pretty sympathetic to the US government denying visas to applicants from Mexico and Central America who are marked by gang tattoos. I would say that their applications require extra scrutiny rather than outright rejection, but I'm not sure that the US has the manpower and expertise to be able to distinguish threatening versus non-threatening tattoos.

I can't imagine that it would be wise possible to hire MS-13 and 18th Street gang members in El Salvador for a little assistance..

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Guatemalan silver medalist comments on his victory

Prensa Libre
From the AFP

Erick Barrondo won Guatemala's first ever medal in Olympic history with silver in the men's 20 kilometres walk on Saturday and hoped his win would inspire youngsters back home to forego violence for sport.
The 21-year-old, who finished behind China's Chen Ding, said that if this brought a reduction in his impoverished country's problems with gang violence it would be another victory.
"It is well known that Guatemala has problems with guns and knives," said Barrondo.
"I hope that this medal inspires the kids at home to put down guns and knives and pick up a pair of trainers instead. If they do that, I will be the happiest guy in the world."
Barrondo's achievement prompted a phone call from Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina.
"The president congratulated me on the first Olympic medal for the country. He told me that everyone had come out on the streets to celebrate the triumph."
Here's more on Guatemala's newest national hero.

Where it all began

Emisoras Unidas
Guatemalans celebrating in London

Emisoras Unidas

Guatemala wins first ever Olympic medal

On Saturday, Erick Barrondo won silver in  the 20-kilometer racewalk. Barrondo won the first Olympic medal for Guatemala, a country which has been participating in the Olympic Games since 1952 (must be another accomplishment from Arevalo and Arbenz to add to my class notes). Barrondo is from the Chiyuc aldea in San Cristobal, Verapaz.

On Friday, the New York Times ran a piece on why racewalking is so popular in Latin America.

Congratulations to Barrondo and to the people of Guatemala!

Friday, August 3, 2012

That's not much of a bribe

Guatemalan journalist accused a Congressman of trying to bribe him with cash, according to the Center for Informative Reports of Guatemala (Cerigua in Spanish).
The newspaper journalist from elPeriódico, Enrique García, said that Congressman Estuardo Galdámezleft him an envelope with money inside, which the journalist immediately returned. Online, elPeriódico published the voice recording of the Congressman trying to convince the reporter to take the money on Wednesday, July 25.
Galdámez said on a radio interview that he forgot the money during the interview with the journalist and when García met with him to return it, the Congressman wanted to give the money to the reporter as a donation, expecting nothing in return, reported elPeriódico.
Yeah. When I forget two thousand Quetzales and someone returns it, I always tell them to keep it as a donation. (Knight Center)

Failure to equip in Guatemala

InSight Crime has news on the Guatemalan government not having enough weapons to equip its newest policing graduates.
Guatemala does not have enough guns to arm the latest crop of police graduates, pointing to the financial factors holding back the reform and expansion of the force.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said that the authorities were trying to find guns to equip 1,503 new police agents who graduated on August 1. He suggested that they could share guns with off-duty police, and said that there would be enough guns once repairs had been made to some broken ones, reported Siglo 21.
It's true, as Hannah Stone writes, that the failure to arm the new officers "points to the financial constraints facing the authorities in carrying out police reform." Yes, the new government doesn't have a lot of money.

However, the story seem to be part of a bigger problem with the Perez administration where it has some potentially useful ideas, but it has shown little expertise in being able to carry them out.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Operation Failure in El Salvador

Hector Silva Avalos has the story on how Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, and US authorities failed to capture the "transportista" kingpin "Chepe Luna," in 2005 because of corruption at the highest levels of the Salvadoran police force. Chepe Luna runs the trafficking network known as the Perrones.

Insight Crime has a translation of extracts from Hector's story.
The task force formed after the first meetings made a decision: the government would undertake a relentless search for Chepe Luna. Capturing the kingpin was meant to demonstrate, in the first months of the administration, that the police had not been infiltrated, that the Technical Secretariat was in control of smuggling and tax policy, and that El Salvador took the fight against drug trafficking seriously. All of this failed, because the basic premise was false. The police were deeply infiltrated, especially by Chepe Luna and his subordinates.

Sadly, the new PNC that was formed as a result of the Peace Accords was born in corruption.

You can read more from Hector at his blog or follow him on Twitter (@HsilvAvalos).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Military Service in Guatemala

Danilo Valladares has a new article on Military Service Leaves Culture of War Behind in Guatemala for IPS News.
"Young Sentries Against Malnutrition” was created in the framework of the Civic Service Law, in force since 2011, which requires Guatemalans between the ages of 18 and 24 – both male and female – to serve their country for a total of 728 hours. They are able to opt for either military or social service, and are paid 1.10 dollars an hour.

According to the legislation, military service “trains Guatemalans for the armed defence of the homeland, within a doctrine that respects human rights and civic, political and moral values,” in addition to providing first aid and risk management training. Social service, meanwhile, promotes young people’s participation in areas like health, education, the environment and other social assistance-related sectors.
The new law, put into effect by the administration of former social democratic President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), was welcomed by human rights activists because it regulates military service without making it compulsory – a practice that led to a series of abuses during the 1960-1996 civil war between leftist guerrillas and the armed forces, in which at least 200,000 people were killed or forcibly disappeared.
I share many of the same concerns shared by Guatemalans in the article. It's important to promote service of a nation's young people, both military and social. Youth in both programs are learning essential skills (first aid, emergency response) and, obviously, some not so essential skills (familiarity with weapons and shooting practice). However, the programs are overseen by the Ministry of Defense, an institution with little history of transparency. And like other government programs, authorities somehow always find a way to use them to promote political and electoral advantages.

But, as Arturo Chub of Seguridad en Democracia (Security in Democracy) told IPS, young people no longer being forced into compulsory military service is a step in the right direction.

At the sametime, I wonder how effective these programs are - economic and opportunity costs, benefits to the individual, institution, and nation and whose idea was it to call them "sentries."

Gang Peace in El Salvador: The Opportunity We Can't Afford to Miss

Luis Rodriguez has a piece on Gang Peace in El Salvador: The Opportunity We Can't Afford To Miss up on Fox News Latino. He has been involved in studying gangs for nearly the last two decades in El Salvador and elsewhere and recently travelled to El Salvador as part of an 11-member delegation of U.S.-based urban peace advocates, gang prevention/intervention specialists, and researchers from Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York City, and San Francisco.

His take is somewhat similar to what many of us have been arguing. The gang peace in El Salvador provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for the people of El Salvador (the US, and the region) to bring crime levels under control. However, it won't be easy - much needs to be done in both the short- and long-term to ensure success. He doesn't sugarcoat the challenges.
There is a need for short and long-range actions and policies. Gang leaders in El Salvador have asked for humane prison conditions, medical care, jobs and training and rehabilitation programs. There is a need for businesses to provide jobs and a livable income in one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. The country needs an expansion of educational opportunities as well as vocational and other training. What about full mental health and drug treatment programs? There is deep trauma to address, as well as orphans and broken families. How about the arts that in my experience has been instrumental in expanding the imaginations of the most troubled communities and allowing creativity to accompany any healing process?
Fortunately, Rodriguez appears to be somewhat optimistic that the gangs, government, and society are ready to tackle the challenge head on.
This time I found a more open and caring attitude from everyone we met in El Salvador, including government officials in the ministries of health, education, and public safety as well as among the heads of the penal system. The gang leaders were sincere and quite clear about their commitment to the peace. A meeting of the minds and hearts of the Salvadoran people would help make this process sustainable and significant, even beyond its borders.
However, he's not naive to the financial challenges needed to sustain the peace and argues there is money to be saved by changing the way that the country approaches gang violence.

2012 is looking to be another important year in El Salvador. I'm just not sure which way it's going to go. The gang truce has achieved more than anyone could have expected five months ago although it remains fragile. And the conflict between the legislative and judicial branches remains unresolved with the possible outcome of strengthened rule of law or political system that heeds court decisions only when it suits their interests.