Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Environment and Economic Development in Central America

One factor that seriously undermines economic development in Central America is nature. The region suffers from regular volcanic activity, flooding, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Now some of the consequences can be mitigated by improved governance, but obviously not all.

In the Bajo Lempa region of western El Salvador, locals says that rising sea levels have buried approximately 1,000 feet of mangroves since 2005. Today, there only remains 1,500 feet between the village of La Tirana and the Pacific. According to El Salvador's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), rising sea levels will inundate 1etween 10 per cent and 28 per cent of the country's coastal territories in the next century. For this reason, environmental considerations should be front and center as El Salvador and the United States negotiate a second Millenium Compact that centers on maritime and coastal development.

In Guatemala, the government's response to the eruption of the Volcano of Fire has come under scrutiny.
One of Guatemala's active volcanoes, Volcan de Fuego, has erupted with lava and ash being seen on Sept. 13, prompting an evacuation alert to more than 33,000 people. However, the evacuation of nearly two-thirds of those people was not possible due to the lack of a robust emergency response system in the affected areas.
Critics have said that the agency in charge of the emergency procedures, the National Coordination for the Reduction of Disasters (CONRED), does not do enough to ensure that the thousands of people who live in isolated areas around the hills of the volcano, know what to do in an emergency.
Several other climate related stories have hit the neswire in recent weeks as well.
Little Concern for the Environment in EU-Central America Agreement
Algae bloom emergency in Coatepeque lake El Salvador
Adaptation of Nicaragua’s water supplies to climate change 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Joy and Sorrow in Guatemala

Rodrigo Abd of the AP has a story on how cemeteries in Guatemala City are both festive places and places of sorrow long after relatives are buried.
In Guatemala, which has one of the highest mortality rates in the world and where violence is rampant, burial grounds have transformed into social spaces where relatives and friends of the deceased drink and dance as photographers are hired to take pictures and musicians play during funerals. Meanwhile, workers exhume bodies from plots that are behind on their payments, street peddlers set up shop and children play hide-and-seek.
Six years after a burial in the General Cemetery in Guatemala City relatives must pay around U.S. $24 to renew the burial plot for another four years, according to cemetery rules. If there is no payment, cemetery workers exhume the body and place the corpse in a mass grave. Over 2,000 bodies are exhumed annually after relatives fail to pay cemetery fees.
Joy might not be the right word but you know what I mean.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Guatemalan Sex Slaves Testify

Danilo Valladares has an English-language write-up on a story I noted on Twitter earlier in the week about testimony being given by victims from Guatemala's civil war.
“In the garrison they had rooms where they would rape us; sometimes there were three, four or five soldiers,” Rosa Pérez*, one of the women used by the Guatemalan army as a sex slave during this country’s civil war, testified in court.
With her face covered, and with the support of a psychologist and a translator, a crying Pérez told a court hearing this week that members of the army kidnapped her husband and turned her into a sex slave and servant in the Sepur Zarco military garrison in the municipality of El Estor in the northeastern province of Izabal.
She and 14 other Q’eqchi Maya Indian women who were subjected to sexual and labour slavery between 1982 and 1986 testified at a preliminary hearing held this week in a court in the Guatemalan capital.
 Charges have been brought against 37 members of the military in the case.
The courtroom events are simultaneously an example of how far Guatemala has come since the end of the country's civil war - sex slaves held by the military were able to tell their stories openly in a Guatemalan court.

But it also demonstrates how far they still have to go - the immensity of the violence perpetrated by the Guatemalan military will never be satisfactorily dealt with - and the denial that some still possess about the magnitude of the repression.
As the women testified, former army reserves sergeant Ricardo Méndez Ruiz admitted that “the army committed abuses during the conflict,” but said “the guerrillas did too.”
He argued that “justice should be the same for everyone.”
In 2011, Méndez Ruiz, a businessman, brought legal action against 26 people for his 1982 kidnapping by left-wing guerrilla groups. Today he is a spokesman for the defence of the military personnel accused of civil war-era human rights violations.
I am open to prosecuting former guerrillas for human rights violations committed during the war but I wouldn't want their prosecutions to distract from the overwhelming responsibility of the state and its security forces. There's just no comparison.

Now I have a question. What do people want from the United States government? The US cut off most military aid to Guatemala over thirty years ago. President Clinton apologized for US support fifteen years ago. The US has begun to arrest and extradite Guatemalan officials alleged to have participated in some of that country's worst massacres. The US has also made available many documents from that time.

I imagine that more arrests of human rights violators would be welcomed as would the release of additional declassified information. Are we looking for the prosecutions of US officials? (If so, I am wondering who but that's besides the point.) Reparations?

Farinas convicted in Nicaragua and other news

Henry Farinas was convicted of money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime in a Managua court on Thursday. Farinas and 21 other conspirators were found also guilty of smuggling money for drug traffickers on Wednesday after a month long trial. Two were acquitted.

Farinas' gang laundered more than $1 billion for a Costa Rican drug traficker named Alejandro Jimenez, who is being held in Guatemala pending trial. Authorities believe that Jimenez launched an attack against Farinas in Guatemala in August 2011 that killed Argentine folksinger Facundo Cabral which is how this whole investigation started. Farinas stills maintains his innocence.

So are the convictions a sign that individual legal systems can prosecute wealthy and powerful drug traffickers or more evidence that drug connections between individuals operating in Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala need some sort of regional body to really make a dent?

In other news out of Nicaragua, Tim Rogers has a few stories of interest. First, the Central Bank argues that the country's economy is up 30% under the Sandinistas since 2006. Unemployment and poverty remain a problem but maintaining positive economic growth will make lowering unemployment and poverty much more likely. Questions remain about the destination about much of ALBA investments for the last five-plus years as well.

Second, Hezbollah in Nicaragua rumors continue. There's a little speculation at the end that the US military-industrial-complex might be behind the rumors so as to capitalize on militarizing the region. I don't know about that one.

Finally, Nicaragua's Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops called for political change in the country one month before November's local elections.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Otto Perez does Fox News Latino

I haven't watched the entire clip yet, maybe once I'm done grading, but President Otto Perez Molina was recently on Fox News Latino talking about his proposal to legalize drugs, human rights violations from the country's civil war years, and the work of Claudia Paz y Paz.

It was good that the reporter asked some tough questions, but it also might have been helpful had he followed up on some of Perez's answer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Interview with Guatemala's Paz y Paz

Danilo Valladares has an interview with Guatemala's Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, for IPS that is worth checking out. Here are the last three questions.

Q: What would conviction of Ríos Montt mean for the Guatemalan justice system?
A: If there is a verdict of conviction in these cases, as in other instances of particularly violent crimes against life, gender violence or particularly costly crimes like corruption, it sends a signal to society that these things cannot be done, and if they are, there will be consequences in the context of the rule of law, in other words a conviction.
The rule of law is the same for all. It does not matter who the victim is or who the perpetrator, a crime must be punished. Perhaps the only consideration is the gravity of the crime, in making its investigation and punishment a priority.
And in this case, as in others, when we are talking about someone who was head of state, the message of equality before the law is strengthened.
Q: What is your assessment of CICIG’s work?
A: In terms of its work with the public prosecutor’s office, the most important aspect has been the transfer of capabilities in joint cases as well as the strengthening of the crime analysis unit, the financial analysis unit, the department of security and the office of witness protection.
As for the country, it has done away with the sense that the judicial branch was not up to solving certain types of case. CICIG has demonstrated that extremely complex cases can be cleared up with scientific evidence and within the context of the rule of law.
Q: How far will you be able to progress with the fight against impunity during your term of office?
A: The best and most important legacy we can leave is a strategic working method that on the one hand reduces impunity because crimes are cleared up and criminals are punished, while on the other it prevents further crimes being committed. 
Meanwhile, President Perez is in New York continuing his quest to get the international community behind his proposal to decriminalize illegal drugs.

Nicaragua, Forlorn and Sex and the Barrio

The World Policy Journal has a number of articles freely available until October 31st. The journal bills itself as the "flagship publication of the World Policy Institute, a leading global think tank." Two of the available article might be of interest to readers of the blog.

The first one is by Forrest D. Colburn on Nicaragua, Forlorn. Colburn is a professor at City University of New York and a visiting professor at Incae. Here's his conclusion:
Countries, including those that are small and poor, do change. However, the case of Nicaragua, looking back through its recent history, suggests that change, if it comes, is not likely to follow any planned or anticipated trajectory. It is not going to be guided by any single individual or any cogent set of ideas—particularly any that seek to press their influence from abroad. Whatever change takes place in the future will likely just be a reworking, with contemporary flourishes, of the past.
The second article is on Sex and the Barrio: A Clash of Faith in Latin America by Anna Edgerton and Ina Sotirova. Edgerton is a journalist based in New York who just returned from Argentina and Sotirova is a multimedia journalist based in New York who has previously worked in Nicaragua.
Attitudes toward sex and sexuality are evolving, if slowly, in Latin America. Much of the progress is determined by the vastly divergent power of the Catholic Church across the continent.Despite objection from Catholic officials, same-sex marriage is now legal in Mexico City and Argentina. Abortions are also legal in Mexico’s capital. Such progressive legislation speaks to an accelerating secularization, although the cultural shift is far from universal. In many parts of the region, conservative Catholic views on social issues continue to dominate the public and educational discourse, often to the detriment of the region’s poorest women and youth.
I'll continue to try to highlight academic articles that are not behind paywalls. If you come across any that you think will be of interest to those interested in Central America or if you'd like to promote your own academic work, please shoot me an email.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pura Vida in Guatemala

Pura Vida is working in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to turn trash into building materials.

Survivor of Dos Erres massacre wins asylum in U.S.

Good news out of the US.

From Reuters
One of two known survivors of a notorious Guatemalan civil war massacre of 250 men, women and children in his small farming village has been granted political asylum to stay in the United States, his lawyer said on Monday.
Oscar Ramirez Casteneda, 33, who learned only last year that he had been kidnapped as a young boy by a Guatemalan army lieutenant during the 1982 bloodshed and raised by the man's family, was notified in a letter on Saturday that he had won asylum, attorney Scott Greathead said.
"Oscar is very, very grateful to get asylum, which means he can remain in the United States with his wife and their four children," Greathead said. "And if he hadn't gotten it, his prospects would have been very, very dangerous in Guatemala because he is so implicated in these cases against members of the Guatemalan military.
See here this report from Pro Publica linked to a few months ago for more background on Oscar Ramirez Casteneda's story.

Monday, September 24, 2012

US helps investigation into Trejo's murder

According to Alberto Arce of the Associated Press, the United States has promised to assist Honduran authorities investigate the murder of human rights activist and lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera. Trejo was murdered on Sunday.
The embassy offered a U.S. law enforcement adviser already embedded with a specially vetted unit of Honduran police to look into the assassination of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, 41, who was ambushed by gunmen early Sunday after attending a wedding in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because he was not authorized to give details.
Trejo's family was visibly upset at authorities, including an American woman who accompanied them to question the family after Trejo's memorial on Monday. The woman wouldn't identify herself, adding, "This is an active police investigation and this is the only thing I am going to say."
While it's critical for Honduran authorities to solve Trejo's murder, that is not going to be enough. Honduras needs to reestablish the rule of law so as to prevent the murders of human rights activists and other vulnerable Hondurans. Unfortunately, it's not that simple as there's plenty of evidence that there are individuals at every level of government complicit in organized crime. There are good people too but their actions have been undermined by the corrupt. It's also clear that the US does not have the answers.

Now might be a good time to restart discussions on the viability of a regional CICIG.

Presidential approval ratings - you know you want them

Consulta Mitofsky recently released its survey of presidential approval ratings for the Americas. President Mauricio Funes remains near the top of the list with 72% of all Salvadorans approving of his performance after three-plus years in office. Funes comes in second overall behind Ecuador's Rafael Correa who sits at 80%.

In Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina is on the right path after half a year in office according to 69% of the country. He is just ahead of Hugo Chavez who enjoys 64% of all Venezuelans' support.

Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua is still flying high with 59% support. He comes in slightly ahead of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli who is up nineteen percentage points since February and now stands at a respectable 52%.

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla are pulling up the rear. Lobo comes in 19th out of the 20 executives surveyed with 14% while Chinchilla comes in last with 13%. Really, one should just call it a tie for last.

Attacks against Honduran human rights defenders continue

Attacks against defenders of human rights continue in Honduras. On Sunday, Antonio Trejo Cabrera was assassinated while attending a wedding in the capital of Tegucigalpa.
Trejo was a lawyer from three peasant cooperatives in the Bajo Aguan, a fertile farming area plagued by violent conflicts between agrarian organizations and land owners. More than 60 people have been killed in such disputes over the past two years. The lawyer had recently helped farmers gain legal rights to several plantations.
Trejo had also helped prepare motions declaring unconstitutional a proposal to build three privately run cities with their own police, laws and tax systems.
Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private city projects to raise campaign funds.
 There's just no end in sight.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Jersey Goal" Project in Guatemala

The New York Times has a piece on an American trying to making it playing soccer in Guatemala After bouncing around a bit, New Jersey-born Italian American Vincenzo Bernardo is playing for Deportivo Gustatoya in Guatemala's second division.
He is hoping to share those unique experiences with soccer fans in the U.S. and around the world with a new online documentary project titled “Jersey Goal.” The YouTube series will track the Morristown, N.J.-born Bernardo’s day-to-day life in the Central American country. 
Click here for the first nine-minute clip.

"Denouncing human rights abuses saves lives"

El Faro recently received the Washington Office on Latin America's Human Rights Award for the year 2012. Through the award,
WOLA honors organizations or individuals who have worked tirelessly to promote human rights, democracy, and social justice in Latin America. Our awardees are organizations or individuals who exemplify a commitment to WOLA's vision of the future, where human rights and social justice are the foundation for public policy.
Carlos Dada accepted on behalf of El Faro.
El Faro was founded in 1998 by Carlos Dada and Jorge Simán with a small group of journalists committed to reporting on subjects typically considered taboo, hoping to strengthen democracy and accountability in the country. Since then, El Faro has moved to the forefront of Latin American news organizations investigating organized crime, violence, and political corruption, with over 100,000 readers weekly. El Faro has showcased the ability of independent journalism to effectively monitor those in power, exposing organized criminal groups and powerful political interests, and becoming a major force for democracy and human rights in the country.
You can probably jump to the 5-minute mark for Dana Priest's introduction or the 10-minute mark for his actual speech. "Denouncing human rights abuses saves lives" comes from Dada's acceptance speech.

You can also watch the entire ceremony here. Guatemala's Myrna Mack and El Salvador's PASSOS Education and Training Center were also recipients.

Congratulations to all the winners.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jose Sosa Orantes extradited to US

On Friday, Canadian authorities turned Jorge Sosa Orantes over to US officials. He is wanted in the US on charges of immigration fraud after having lied about his military background and participation in crimes when applying for citizenship back in 2008.

Sosa is a former Guatemalan military officer accused of having participated in the 1982 massacre at Dos Erres in 1982. Over 200 men, women and children were killed during this massacre.

The Open Society Foundation is hosting an event on September 26th that addresses Guatemala's past with the massacre at Dos Erres front and center.
  • Óscar Ramírez, survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. He is seeking asylum in the United States and is also involved as a witness in prosecutions of egregious human rights violations in Guatemala.
  • Fredy Peccerelli, executive director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG), has led the search for and exhumation of remains of many of the victims of atrocities, including those at Dos Erres.
  • Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University. Kate is the editor of a collection of declassified records entitled Death Squads, Guerrilla War, Covert Operations, and Genocide: Guatemala and the United States, 1954-1999, and uncovered classified U.S. government documents establishing that U.S. officials were aware that the Guatemalan Army may have committed a massacre at Dos Erres.
  • Scott Greathead, a lawyer and human rights activist, is representing Óscar in his U.S. asylum claim and has been active in human rights work across Latin America for decades.
Looks like a great event.

Friday, September 21, 2012

FMLN drags down Sanchez Ceren's popularity

Contrapunto recently had a good interview with Jeanette Aguilar of the UCA about polling in El Salvador. Here's the final question from the interview.
How do you see the figure of Sanchez Ceren?
"I think he can improve his ratings, but I'm not sure that it will be enough to beat Norman Quijano. We have to see if Quijano manages to maintain such levels of popularity. But I must say one thing: I do not think the erosion that the FMLN candidate candidate suffered is solely the result of the candidate. In this case one must add significantly the deteriorating public image that the FMLN has had in recent times, especially because of the performance of their legislative faction. The fact that the FMLN has led and starred in the conflict with the Constitutional Chamber and has spearheaded this affront to judicial independence, I think it will have significant electoral costs. The will be in 2014."
Sanchez Ceren is not a popular candidate and he never will be. It's doesn't look like he is going to win but 2014 is a long time off. I'd say his chances will improve if he is able to get Oscar Ortiz or David Munguia Payes on board as his VP, but that might not be enough. The FMLN has also recently given up its opposition to dollarization which might help.

However, Jeanette also says that Sanchez Ceren hasn't been helped by the recent performance of the FMLN, especially its legislative bloc. That's possible, but Sanchez Ceren's popularity has been quite low for the last few years and it's unclear that it has gone lower because of frustration with the FMLN. In the most recent Mitofsky poll, we see that the percentage of Salvadorans identifying with the FMLN increased from 26% to 29% from May to August - the period in time where frustration with the FMLN was increasing because of the most recent constitutional conflict.

It's possible that the FMLN's recent behavior is dragging down Sanchez Ceren's support, but I'd need more information before being convinced.

Monica Lewinsky and El Salvador

Who knew?
Having kept relatively mum on her infamous affair with former President Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky is now ready to divulge the intimate details.
The former White House intern, whose grandfather emigrated to El Salvador from Nazi Germany, is promising to reveal all in her new memoir --including Clinton's insatiable desire for three-way sex, orgies and the use of sex toys of all kinds, a friend of Lewinsky told the National Enquirer.
Well, obviously some people knew but I can't say that Monica's connections to El Salvador stood out to me at the time. According to this San Salvador tumblr,
Her grand parents migrated to El Salvador to scape from Nazism during WWII, her Father , Bernard Lewinsky was born in El Salvador, and worked as teacher at a local international school. Not sure if Monica was born here, she is said to have been born in SF, USA, but she attended school where her father taught in El Salvador. Her Grandparents are buried at the Jewish Cemetery in San Salvador.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mitt Romney, the Republican Party and Latin America

My most recent op-ed on Al Jazeera covers Mitt Romney, the Republican Party and Latin America.
With two months to go before the US elections, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have begun to lay out what their domestic and foreign policies would look like should they take control of the White House. For those, though, who had hoped that Republicans had thought seriously about Latin America since they last occupied the White House, there's very little to suggest that a Republican administration led by President Romney will improve the United States' relationship with Latin America from where it stands today.
It should have been posted last week but there were news stories in other parts of the world that bumped it. Given all the bad press that Romney has received in the last week, I kind of feel bad for having the op-ed up right now. It feels like I'm just piling on.
It's not as if Obama has excelled in his handling of US-Latin American affairs. However, it's tough to envision a Romney presidency making more progress on immigration, trade, and security than a second Obama administration.

Ambassador Aponte on what it means to be Hispanic

Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte speaks about what it means to be Hispanic in the short two-minute video.

I'd say that the US and the people of El Salvador are lucky to have her as the US Ambassador to El Salvador.

Brazil probes crimes of the military junta

Brazil's Truth Commission will investigate only human rights abuses committed by the country's former dictatorship, not any crimes committed by opponents of the 1964-1985 regime.
The commission said Tuesday on its website that it has been told to only look at the torture, murder and forced disappearances carried out by government agents of people opposed to the dictatorship.
It said it did not have the authority to investigate the acts of individuals that were not public agents.
I'd say that it's better to have investigated human rights violations committed by both sides as long as the investigation into the rebels' violations didn't distract from the violence of the state. It's a whole different ballgame when the state is engaged in the repression of its people than when a non-state actor does so.

It's also much more important today for Brazilians to have a better understanding of what their government did to protect during military rule, often with the full support of the US, than it is the non-state actors.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

CNN on the Salvadoran truce

CNN recently ran a report on the truce that the Salvadoran government reached with the MS-13 and 18th street gang in El Salvador: Church’s pact with the devil.

It's pretty clear that the Funes government was behind the truce between the gangs. Colindres and Mijango have been working as mediators between the gangs but they were hand selected by Munguia Payes and Funes. While it might have made sense to deny government involvement during the first few weeks/months, there's no need to deny it any longer.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Traveling Latin America

The New York Times had a special travel issue on Latin America last week. There are stories from all over the region, including Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Bogota, and Chile's surf coast. There are also two travel stories from Central America.
In one from Guatemala, Joyce Maynard takes the reader along on her trip to Semuc Champey in Alta Verapaz.
Semuc Champey, which in the language of the Maya means "sacred water," is a massive limestone formation -- a natural bridge -- under which flows a series of stepped pools and waterfalls. Another name for it might well be heaven.
But hell would be a good name for the rock-strewn, dusty, desolate road that brought us there. Nobody should attempt the drive without a four-wheel drive and an Indiana Jones attitude.
Sarah Wildman has the second article on 36 Hours in Managua, Nicaragua and points travelers to the Parque Histórico Nacional Loma de Tiscapa, the neo-Classical Vieja Catedral de Managua, Volcan Masaya and other cultural and political destinations.

I've never been to Semuc Campey and was wondering if anyone recommends other off the beaten path adventures in Guatemala?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Program for Violence Prevention in the San Salvador Metropolitan Area

Sounds like a good program that should be implemented even if it doesn't affect crime levels in any measurable way.
But the AMSS is hoping its “Program for Violence Prevention in the San Salvador Metropolitan Area,” a guideline to be followed by the mayors of the municipalities of Antiguo Cuscatlán, Apopa, Ayutuxtepeque, Ilopango, Mejicanos, San Martín, Tonacatepeque, Soyapango, Santo Tomás, Santiago Texacuangos and San Salvador will improve the quality of life for a collective 2,290,790 residents.
All the municipalities have committed to implementing the program, which has 10 components:
  1. Organizing the community to prevent violence;
  2. Encouraging basic education and health;
  3. Strengthening family relationships;
  4. Improving public spaces;
  5. Building athletic and cultural venues;
  6. Encouraging athletics, cultural and artistic activities;
  7. Offering technical and vocational training;
  8. Strengthening mediation centers and Misdemeanor Delegations to work with at-risk youths;
  9. Encouraging mediation in the communities;
  10. Raising awareness to prevent violence.
If successful, it's one more thing that ARENA's Norman Quijano can showcase in running for president.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Volcan de Fuego from space

I forgot about this photo of the view from space of the Volcan de Fuego's eruption.

Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego

On Thursday, the long-simmering Volcan del Fuego erupted in Escuintla, Guatemala. Yesterday was its sixth eruption of the year and the country's largest since 1999. Thick clouds of ash soared nearly two miles high while lava descended nearly 2,000 down the side of the mountain. The volcano is located six miles southwest of the famous tourist destination and former capital of Guatemala, Antigua.

About 33,000 people evacuated their communities according to most reporting although Prensa Libre reports 5,400 and Siglo XXI 10,600. Some made their way to Santa Lucia, a town close to the volcano, and to Guatemala City.
"A paroxysm of an eruption is taking place, a great volcanic eruption, with strong explosions and columns of ash," said Gustavo Chicna, a volcanologist with the National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology. He said cinders spewing from the volcano were settling a half-inch thick in some places.
He said extremely hot gases were also rolling down the sides of the volcano, which was almost entirely wreathed in ash and smoke. The emergency agency warned that flights through the area could be affected.
There was a red alert, the highest level, south and southeast of the mountain, where, Chicna said, "it's almost in total darkness."
He said ash was landing as far as 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of the volcano.
Fortunately, Thursday night rains reduced the ash plumes from the volcano and the immediate danger has subsided. It'll be interesting to see how Guatemalans evaluate Otto Perez Molina and his administration's response to the crisis. These disasters are unfortunately something that every Guatemalan president has to contend with. He was in Costa Rica at the time of the eruption.

A second thing to look for is whether this will push the US to act on Guatemala's request for temporary protected status. Plaza Publica had an article last week in which Perez Molina's wife said that she saw it very unlikely that the US would move on TPS before the end of the year. I thought the same months ago, but with Obama moving on immigration the last few months and the recent eruption in Guatemala, things might have changed a little.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Truce update in El Salvador

Carlos Martínez y José Luis Sanz at El Faro have a new update on the Salvadoran gang truce that is likely to be explosive. I haven't finished reading it yet but you should read it your self.
  • The government has been behind the truce all along. President Funes has known from the beginning.
  • Munguia Payes and Mijango had spoken about brokering a gang truce throughout 2011 but only had the opportunity to implement it once Munguia Payes replaced Manuel Melgar in November.
  • Colindres wasn't the first or obvious choice the lend the Church's credibility to the negotiations. He even turned them down.
  • Pollo Campero is really powerful.
  • 30 gang leaders were moved all at once because of concerns that their homeboys were going to disrupt the elections. The original plans were that they would be moved in small groups so as not to arouse suspicion. They would also be moved after the elections.
I'll try to finish reading the article today but have a pretty full schedule with classes and meetings. Maybe InSight can translate the article for everyone.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

American in Nicaragua to go free

The AP is reporting that Jason Puracal has won his appeal in Nicaragua and that he will soon be released.
The lawyer for a U.S. citizen jailed for nearly two years on money-laundering and drug charges in Nicaragua says he will be freed after unanimously winning an appeal.
Attorney Fabbrith Gomez says an appeals court vacated the charges against 35-year-old Jason Puracal of Tacoma, Washington, and ordered him released immediately.
That good news for Jason and his family.

CICIG extended until 2015

From the AP
The director of a United Nations commission investigating and prosecuting corruption in Guatemala says the team will extend its work in the Central American country three more years.
Director Francisco Dall'Anese said Tuesday the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala needs to keep working until 2015 to bring change.
The commission began operating in January 2008 to dismantle illegal security groups and to bring officials under the law. It has also taken on rampant vigilante justice, which includes contract killings of criminals.
The U.N.-backed investigative team of police and prosecutors from 25 nations has been highly effective in prosecuting crime in Guatemala, which has one of the highest murder rates in the region. Nearly 2,000 police and government officials have been fired or sent to jail since its creation.
So what do you think? I'm all for extending CICIG's mandate an additional three years. However, I am worried about how effective CICIG will be in Guatemala long-term if there are not similar efforts made to improve the justice systems in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and elsewhere. The same goes for the Millennium Challenge compacts that the US has signed with El Salvador. The US will have invested approximately $800 million in El Salvador over a ten-year period. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Montano expected to plead guilty - Update

Former Salvadoran General Inocente Orlando Montano is expected to plead guilty to immigration violations in Boston courtroom next Tuesday. That will bring us one step closer to determining what will happen to one of the men alleged to have been involved in the decision to murder the six Jesuits and their housekeeper and daughter at the UCA in San Salvador in November 1989.

I am still leaning towards the belief that he will be returned to El Salvador but am hoping for his extradition to Spain. Perhaps a Spanish court proceeding will kick start the wheels of justice in his home country.


Apparently, Montano pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three counts of immigration fraud and three counts of immigration perjury. It's not an upcoming court appearance next Tuesday, but today. He'll be sentenced in December.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Montano pleaded guilty to three counts of immigration fraud and three counts of perjury. He admitted he lied when he applied for temporary protected status, a designation that allows some foreigners to stay in the United States if they are unable to safely return to their own country because of an armed conflict or other reasons.
Government attorneys say sentencing guidelines call for up to two years in prison. Montano's lawyer said he expects to argue at the Dec. 18 sentencing hearing that the guidelines call for less.
The US government has not yet decided, or won't say, whether it will respect Spain's request that he be extradited.

Monday, September 10, 2012

El Salvador Community Corridor

Frank Shyong at the Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on attempts by the Salvadoran community in Los Angeles to create the El Salvador Community Corridor. In August, local officials declared a section of Vermont Avenue as the community corridor. But that was jusst the start. The challenge now is to figure out what it means to have first designated Salvadoran neighborhood in the city.
Businessman Oscar Dominguez, who led the effort for recognition, says the corridor is an important step for the community — a chance to promote Salvadoran culture and lure investment to a poor neighborhood. But even Dominguez will admit that the proud, impoverished community has a ways to go.
And the challenges
But the El Salvador Community Corridor still needs to develop its identity. For now, it is a concrete and asphalt expanse of jutting telephone poles, check-cashing businesses, auto repair shops with the occasional pupuseria — 10 blocks that could be from any immigrant neighborhood.
Some leaders worry that efforts to turn the corridor into a "Little El Salvador" could be diluted by competing plans. For example, sometime this month the City Council is expected to weigh a proposal to designate parts of the surrounding Pico-Union neighborhood as the Central American Historical District.
Longtime activist Isabel Cardenas said the Salvadoran community has a habit of splitting its efforts.
"There are people out there who are just trying to outdo each other," said Cardenas, who is known locally as the godmother of El Salvador for her activism over the years.
The area could probably sustain the two Archbishop Oscar Romero points of interest (Patron saint of the Americas) but it really doesn't make sense to hold three separate Day of the Salvadoran American celebrations hosted by three different groups. However, if the area can really sustain three great. If not, it shouldn't be that difficult to consolidate the activities or work on some collaboration in the future.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mixed results from El Savador's gang truce

Marcos Aleman of the Associated Press has a story making the rounds on the horrific killing of five schoolboys in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. The boys were found in an unmarked grave three weeks after having disappeared. Authorities speculate that the boys were killed after having rejected an "offer" to join the MS-13.
Six months after El Salvador brokered an historic truce between two rival gangs to curb the nation's daunting homicide rate, officials are split over whether the truce actually works. In March, MS-13 and its rival, Barrio 18, vowed to end the killings and the forced recruitments in exchange for better conditions for incarcerated gang leaders, who run their operations from behind bars. The government transferred 30 bosses of each gang from the maximum security Zacatecoluca prison, nicknamed "Zacatraz," to ordinary jails, where they would impart orders to their minions on the street, purportedly to stick with the truce.
Murders, disappearances, extortion, and robberies by gangs continue in El Salvador. There's no doubt about that. What's unfortunate is that at six months into the truce, people can't even agree if the numbers have improved or remained unchanged. While the government supports figures that show a decrease in each category, some outside analysts are unconvinced and say that the truce is simply a farce with gangs adopting new approaches, including making more frequent use of disappearances.

The other question that needs to be answered is who is violating the truce. Analysts in the AP story linked to above say that the truce have strengthened the gangs who continue to operate from prison. It's important to know if the imprisoned gang leaders who negotiated the truce are violating it in spirit and practice or whether it is gang members living on the streets who didn't receive anything in return for the truce who are continuing their criminal enterprises. It makes more sense if gang members on the streets are doing the killing because they haven't accepted what the imprisoned leaders agreed to but I've read some conflicting stories about this.

I still think that the goal should be to use the truce to get as many "kids" out of gangs as possible and to put in place smarter approaches to gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies. It isn't reasonable to expect all fifty thousand or so gang members to give up the gang life.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nicaragua to stop sending troops to WHINSEC

Following a meeting with activists from the US, Canada, and the UK, including Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced that his country would no longer be sending troops to the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). 

Previously, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Uruguay had stopped sending troops to Fort Benning, Georgia where the school is located.
"The SOA is an ethical and moral anathema," Ortega told the group, according to the news release. "All of the countries of Latin America have been victims of its graduates. The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror. We have been gradually reducing our numbers of troops at the SOA, sending only five last year and none this year. We have now entered a new phase and we will NOT continue to send troops to the SOA. This is the least that we can do. We have been its victims."
I guess I have mixed feelings here. I'm fine with Nicaragua pulling its participation from WHINSEC. However, in 2012, I would much rather it be based upon what the school has done for the last decade or so rather than what some of its graduates and attendees did during the Cold War. Maybe that's what Ortega is saying but it sure doesn't read that way.

The other issue is that this looks like part of a continuing worsening of relations between the US and Nicaragua following flawed 2008 elections, Ortega's controversial presidential victory in 2011, and the conflict over the property waiver, etc. Instead of condemning the school as a "symbol of death, a symbol of terror," he could have just announced that Nicaragua was no longer sending troops.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sanchez Ceren admits FMLN can't win on own

A few days ago, Salvador Sanchez Ceren admitted that the FMLN will need alliances in order to win the presidency in 2014.
El FMLN solo no puede ganar la presidencia. Necesita aliados. El FMLN se unirá con los sectores que no quieren a ARENA en el poder y que quieran darle continuidad al cambio.
At the same time, Sancez Ceren discarded the possibilities of forming electoral alliances with the GANA, the PES, and the CN. The FMLN is willing, however, to work with these groups in the Legislative Assembly.

He made these statements at the opening of an Alba Masferrer Sur gasoline station in the capital, the twenty-seventh such station in the country. El Salvador's agreement with PetroCaribe allows it to pay 60% of the gasoline upfront and the remaining 40% over 25 years at 1% interest.

Unfortunately for the FMLN, there are few parties to ally with once you cross ARENA, GANA, PES and CN off the list. And, with Sanchez Ceren's selection, none of them might have been interested in allying with the FMLN anyway. His selection doesn't just turn non-ARENA voters away but non-ARENA deputies.

The lower cost gasoline is helpful for the people of El Salvador and the FMLN, but it doesn't show up on the list of Funes' most important accomplishments. From what I recall, it also didn't help those FMLN mayors in the capital back in March's election.

Fortunately for the FMLN, free school uniforms and better education do emerge as two successes of the current administration which might help the current Vice President and Minister of Education.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren is right. Today's polls are just a snapshot of what people think today and today is a long time before the 2014 elections. I'm not comforted by his argument that the FMLN has its own internal polls which presumably tell a different story (where have we heard that before?), but he is correct in saying that a lot can happen before he and Quijano vie to be the country's next president.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

CICIG lays out 2012-2013 goals

Francisco Javier Dall´Anese Ruiz, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), recently made a presentation to donor countries about its plans for the next calendar year. (Click through to the link to see a few of CICIG's accomplishments.)
1. Contribute to reducing impunity rates: For 2013, plans are afoot to prepare investigation reports and conduct police investigations with the aim of fulfilling this objective. Furthermore, criminal analysis products and financial investigation products will be finished and procedural activities will be carried out.
2. Contribute to coordinating the State in the fight against criminality: This objective has been achieved and will continue to be achieved up until 2013 through the offering of technical assistance, training programs and the transfer of capacities to the Public Prosecutor's Office (MP), the National Civil Police (PNC), the Judiciary (OJ) and other government institutions.
3. Contribute to implementing strategies to eradicate and prevent the re-emergence of illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations (CIACS): To achieve this objective, strategic partners will be identified to take steps towards developing a plan to raise awareness among Members of Congress, an outreach strategy will be implemented regarding the need for legislative reforms, and elements will be identified that are conducive to the presentation of new legal reforms to fight the CIACS.
4. Contribute to raising awareness regarding the impact of impunity upon a democratic society: Up until 2013, this objective will be met through the drafting of thematic reports, work reports and reports on selection processes for public office-bearers.
If Barack Obama can receive the Nobel Peace Prize after a few months in office, I don't see any reason why CICIG can't be nominated. Hopefully, that's not like ending up on the front page of Sports Illustrated.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Quijano holds early lead in El Salvador

Earlier this week, Mitofsky y LPG-Datos released data from a survey that they carried out in El Salvador between August 25 and 27. The poll has a margin of error of  +/-3.1%.

In terms of which political party people identified with, 40% said ARENA, 29% the FMLN, and 25% independent. If we compare those numbers to August 2009, shortly after President Mauricio Funes was inaugurated as the first president representing the FMLN in El Salvador, we can get a better sense of how the tables have turned. At that time, 43% identified with the FMLN, 22% with ARENA, and 31% independent. Pretty significant turn around.

In terms of the 2014 presidential vote, ARENA's candidate, Norman Quijano, leads with 47% of the intended vote against the FMLN's Salvador Sánchez Cerén with 26%. One of the interesting findings from the survey is that when people are asked about a generic candidate with neither Quijano nor Sánchez Cerén mentioned by name, ARENA only leads 40% to 30%. According to the poll and to what is agreed by many inside and outside the party, Sánchez Cerén is a bit of a drag on the party.

But while I think that there's a tendency to believe that the FMLN would win in 2014 if they had only chosen someone other than Sánchez Cerén, that's not necessarily the case. In thinking about what would be best for El Salvador in 2014, 49% agreed that it would be better for ARENA to govern while only 28% said the FMLN.

Now it's not impossible for Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN to win. A lot can happen in the next two years. However, the FMLN has dug itself into quite a whole and it's going to be difficult to dig out.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Zombie candidates in Nicaragua

From The Nicaragua Dispatch
Recruiting votes in the cemetery is a classic trick used by corrupt regimes to fatten electoral victories with some help from beyond the crypt. In Nicaragua, however, several parties are now being accused of recruiting their candidates from among the dead.
Three minority parties accused of operating as “satellite parties” to the Sandinista Front are being denounced for allegedly resorting to identity theft and “grave robbery” to fill their candidate rosters. The Independent Liberal Party (PLI) alleges at least two of the candidates running on the ballot of the Conservative Party (PC) are dead and buried and claims the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) and the Alliance for the Republic (APRE) are stealing people’s identities to run them as fake candidates in the November municipal elections.
How times they are a-changin'. Not that long ago, the undead could only vote. Who knew that in the 21st century zombies would also be running for office?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Indigenous politicians in Guatemala unite

Writing for, Raúl Barreno Castillo has a rundown on some of the challenges confronting the indigenous in Guatemala and steps that nineteen indigenous members of congress are taking to change things.
Nineteen indigenous representatives from an array of political parties have united for a cause: to make sure their peoples receive access to education, healthcare and justice in their native languages.
Julio César Xicay Poz, a district representative for Quetzaltenango who is part of the group, said the legislators want to make sure the bills introduced – and passed – by the 158-member Congress benefit the indigenous, who comprise 51% of the country’s 14 million residents.
“The idea is to launch a specific agenda, to create a common bloc and support initiatives that benefit the vast majority of the Guatemalan population, which is indigenous,” he said.
Some issues around which members of congress would like to see progress include women's access to healthcare in her own language, intellectual property rights that would prevent crafts from being reproduced in China and elsewhere, the protection of sacred sites, and the promotion of bilingual, multicultural and intercultural education throughout the country.

The suggestions sound pretty reasonable except for the doubling and then some of the congress' membership from 158 to 356. The idea would be to increase the participation of the indigenous in congress. I would much rather see a strengthening of local governments rather than the suggestion to make each mayoral district and congressional district.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Just what they said that they would do

Sending US marines to Guatemala looks like it might just have been part of what William Brownfield, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, promised Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina in late March. This meeting came shortly after President Perez made his thoughts on drug decriminalization public. Here's what I wrote then.
Following their meeting, Brownfield said that the US was willing to increase aid to Guatemala to continue the fight against drug trafficking.
The US support will come in the form of additional aircraft, particularly helicopters, as well as well as technical assistance in aviation, increased intelligence, strengthening anti-gang programs, support for prosecutors, specialized security units, drug control, prison reform, border control, and bilateral exchanges of digital fingerprints, among others.

Marines land in Guatemala

Approximately 200 US marines are in Guatemala providing operational assistance to Guatemalan authorities in order to disrupt drug trafficking through the region.
Human Rights activists in Guatemala said Friday that a joint anti-drug operation between U.S. Marines and the nation's army threatens to revive memories of rights abuses during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war.
A team of 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala's western coast this week as part of a joint agreement to catch drug shipments.
"Rural communities in Guatemala are fearful of the military being used to combat drug traffickers because the same techniques are applied that were used in contra (counterinsurgency) warfare," said rights advocate Helen Mack, executive director of the Myrna Mack Foundation. "The historical memory is there and Guatemalans are fearful of that."
We should all be concerned about the arrival of US marines to Guatemala. However, Guatemala doesn't have the military equipment needed to tackle drug trafficking. They supposedly have about a half dozen helicopters and boats to tackle drug trafficking. 

Guatemala doesn't have enough military or police given a country of its size and criminal problems. They are increasing their numbers and training but look to be years away from what it is needed.

The US can't send a significant amount of money or weapons to modernize and/or add to its fleet. US legislation prevents that because of the military's history of human rights abuse and ongoing problems with corruption and abuse.

The US and international community are already investing millions in a variety of development and aid projects throughout the country. The US and international community are supporting CICIG.

What should the US and Guatemala do? Lift the prohibition on weapons shipment to Guatemala or send US troops to help? I imagine that this is the best of the choices available.