Monday, October 29, 2012

Fighting drunk driving in El Salvador

President Mauricio Funes looks to make El Salvador's road safer.
The government of El Salvador will propose to the Legislative Assembly amendments to the traffic law to toughen penalties to irresponsible drivers and halt the increase of accidents in the country. The decision was announced by President Mauricio Funes, who said this weekend that the draft was prepared by the Deputy Minister of Transport and is now under consideration in the Secretariat of Legal Affairs.
The changes include bus drivers and offenders who drive while they are drunk, which is the main cause of car accidents.
In his usual Saturday radio program, Talking with the President, he said that one of the changes will be to suspend the driver's license for five years to those drivers who drive while they are drunk and cause injury or death.
The penalty will rise from 10 to 15 years if it is a public transport driver, he said.
The category of serious offenses will be created, in this case, fines will increase to 250 USD, and 350 USD when committed by drivers of buses and minibuses of public transport.
It's about time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Poverty sending Guatemalans to US

The most recent statistics indicate that 53% of all Guatemalans live in poverty, 13% of them in extreme poverty. Among the country's indigenous population, 73% live in conditions of poverty. As of August, the US was on pace to deport overt over 60,000 Guatemalans from the country.

Inter American Development Banks supports innovation in El Salvador

The Inter American Development Bank will provide El Salvador with a loan of $30 million dollars in order to
strengthen public agencies responsible for innovation policies and develop mechanisms to foster innovation and technological development in the productive sector.
The program will finance the design and implementation of an institutional framework to coordinate efforts to support innovation in El Salvador and provide management capacity at government agencies. The project will also support the development of instruments to promote investment in innovation and technology, including grant co-financing for innovation projects undertaken by firms, development of an incubator system for start-ups and creation of networks of angel investors.
The program will also support training abroad of scientific and technological staff. At a Seattle International Foundation meeting this summer, representatives of the business sector said that it was important for international donors to support entrepreneurs and innovative projects in Central America. New businesses need access to capital to realize their visions. However given the fact that many new ventures are going to fail, it is difficult for government to public defend many of the investments. The speaker called on international donors to pick up the slack which is what we are seeing her.

This announcement follows last week's announcement of a $20 million loan to support workforce development programs for youth between the ages of 16 and 29.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Weekend reading on El Salvador

Here are a couple of stories to take a look at this weekend:

The Americas Society / Council of the Americas has an interview with David Munguia Payes in El Salvador’s Security Minister David Munguía Payés on the Gang Truce and Overall Security.

Lauren Villagran has a couple of stories on the gang truce for the Christian Science Monitor with Can a gang truce in El Salvador open the door to lasting peace?, MS-13 labeled transnational criminal organization. Who are the 'Maras?', and Covered in tattoos, can El Salvador's gangs reintegrate into society?).

Danilo Valladares also has Gang Truce Can Break Down, Prevention Should Be Priority for IPS.

The AFP has the English version of a story I noted on Twitter yesterday. A family has been reunited 32 years after they were separated during the 1980 Sumpul River massacre

In business news, Reuters has El Salvador Congress approves $800 million debt issue and Edgardo Ayala of IPS has Fighting Abusive Rates on Loans and Credit Cards.

We had a foot of snow last year for my kids' Halloween party. It looks like the party will be safe this year as Hurricane Sandy won't be here for a few more days.

Now back to writing up some Freedom in the World reports for Freedom House. What do you think? Has 2012 been a step forward or back for Central America?

***Here's a late edition from with El Salvador: Undercover officers make public transportation safer.

Romney and trade with Latin America

I was invited to contribute a short blurb to the Inter-American Dialogue's Latin America Monitor on what trade (and overall policy) would like between the US and Latin America under a Romney administration. Here's what I concluded.
Emphasizing greater trade with Latin America as a campaign issue is a safe choice for Romney. Most other policy issues which he could have addressed – Cuba, Venezuela, Hezbollah and Iran, the 2009 Honduran coup, immigration, drug and weapons trafficking, decriminalization, cartel and gang violence – have their detractors at home and abroad. However, it is much more difficult to criticize increasing trade between the U.S. and Latin America.
Sign up for a free trial. It's a good source of up-to-date information on the region.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guatemala's Marlin Mine

David Mercer at Al Jazeera has a short clip on the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. It's the largest and most profitable mine in Guatemala that has been the source of conflict for several years now.
Located 300 kilometres west of Guatemala City, the Canadian-owned mine employs more than 2,000 people, the majority of whom are Guatemalan. Last year it produced 382,400 ounces of gold, earning the company $607m - nearly five times what it earned in 2009. Reserves will support production until 2017, with further exploration expected to extend the life of its operations.
The region around Marlin is home to the Mam and Sipakapense people, two of Guatemala's 21 indigenous Maya groups. The communities here, like most Maya communities, have traditionally been neglected by the Guatemalan government and have high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition.
Goldcorp, the company that owns Marlin, and their supporters say the mine has brought much needed economic development to the region, building roads, health clinics and schools.
"Boys and girls that used to walk up to eight kilometres to receive an education can now (go) to school in their own communities due to the company's contribution to infrastructure," said Eduardo Villacorta, Central and South American Vice President of Operations. He added that the company is also committed to capacity building.
"The objective is to train people so that when the company leaves they will have the opportunity to maintain a good quality of life, and more and better opportunities," Villacorta said.
But Grahame Russell, a human rights lawyer with the NGO Rights Action, told Al Jazeera the appearance of skin infections in the local population, cracking homes and threats against local activists tell a different story.
"While the mine is certainly providing sustainable and substantial profits for investors, the only thing sustainable it is providing to the local indigenous communities, besides a small number of very low paying jobs, is a long list of serious health and environmental harms, and other human rights violations," he said.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tracking the police in Guatemala

These don't sound like bad ideas.
Police in Guatemala will be equipped with computer chips to track their movements starting next year in a new bid to restore public confidence in a security force plagued by charges of abuse.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez said on Tuesday that the chips, which will be fixed onto officers' badges, will allow supervisors to track their movements and ensure they are responding to orders.
Police will also get new uniforms “so they can be considered friends of the population,” Lopez told reporters, without providing further information.
All police currently wear black uniforms, which Lopez said would be reserved for special forces and other elite units.
A GPS tracking device attached to police vehicles was used to track down the murderers of three Salvadoran politicians in Guatemala in 2007.

Cuba what?

WOLA's Geoff Thale has a good post on Less is more? Little mention of Cuba in presidential debate could be positive sign at the Christian Science Monitor.
The decline in Cuba’s salience as a domestic political issue is an encouraging sign. It suggests that, over time, we might be able to have a more rational discussion about US interests, the changes that are occurring in Cuba itself, and how the United States might play a constructive role in improving the climate for human rights and democracy in Cuba.
I hope that Geoff is right and that we will be able to have a rational discussion when it comes to the relationship between the people and the governments of the US and Cuba.

Obama doesn't seem interested in pushing discussions about Cuba or with its leadership. Neither does Romney but I imagine that members in a Romney administration would have different plans for "engaging" Cuba..

What do you think? I think that it's possible that Cuba didn't come up during the presidential debates because people are finally realizing that US policy is unlikely to change until one or both Castros pass from this earth.

$3 billion in FARC drug profits

So a week ago I was wondering where all the drug money goes. There are several costs associated with the production, transportation, and sale of illegal narcotics that eat into the revenue but there just seemed to be a lot of money unaccounted for. Boz answered in the comments that there are many people along the supply chain that take a cut and that the wealth is distributed unequally. 

Geoffrey Ramsey at InSight Crime helps fill in a few more of the details with his recent article on FARC 'Earns $2.4 to $3.5 Billion' From Drugs: Govt.
The Colombian government's estimate that the FARC makes up to $3.5 billion annually in profts from the drug trade is staggering, but may not be entirely accurate.
Speaking at the University of Miami on October 23, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon provided the government’s latest figures on the illicit activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). According to Pinzon, the FARC makes between $2.4 and $3.5 billion annually from the drug trade. He added that of the 350 tons of cocaine produced in Colombia annually, some 200 can be linked back to the guerrillas.
It's nearly impossible to measure the revenue generated from the global drug trade and then to factor in the costs incurred with the trade. While ~$3 billion annually for the FARC sure seems exaggerated, I'm not so sure if global revenues do in fact exceed $400 billion.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Move to Guatemala rather than Costa Rica?

Shelley Emling has an article at the Huffington Post asking Guatemala Retirement: Better Than Costa Rica?
Move over, Costa Rica. When checking out places to retire south of the border, retirees are increasingly turning to Guatemala -- dubbed Land Of The Eternal Spring -- rather than Mexico, Costa Rica and other perennial favorites.
Indeed, with the much more discovered expat destinations now becoming saturated with intrepid retirees, baby boomers are investigating more far-flung locales for great weather, natural beauty and -- perhaps most importantly -- the chance to luxuriantly stretch pension dollars barely covering necessities in the United States.
Guatemala fits the bill. In most parts of the country, for example, experts reckon one could live comfortably on between $1,000 and $1,500 a month.
“Guatemala offers an attractive option for retired people for several reasons,” said Glenn Wilson, a real estate agent with Century 21 Casa Nova in Antigua, Guatemala. “Among them, in my experience, are affordability, quality of life, and short travel times to and from the United States.”
I love Guatemala and I imagine that it is ahead of El Salvador and Honduras in terms of where to relocate. However, I'm not sure that it beats Costa Rica or many parts of Mexico. Then there's Belize too. I guess some depends on how much you value the beach versus Lake Atitlan or the colonial charm of Antigua among other things.
What do you think?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Environment and El Salvador

Here are a few recent stories on the continuing threat of climate change and various development projects to the people of El Salvador.

Edgardo Ayala has the story on how Communities Organise to Confront Climate Change in El Salvador.

Voices on the Border has another story on the Lower Lempa River Basin with Royal Decameron Announces Plans to Build Resort in the Lower Lempa.

Finally, Tim draws attention to a recent study, Totillas on the Roaster, from Catholic Relief Services.

And here's one more from Julio Rank Wright writing at the Americas Quarterly on Salvadoran politics.
The next presidential election doesn’t take place until early 2014; however, both major parties have already chosen their candidates. FMLN has, for now, decided on Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the current vice president and last historical figure of the 1980s. ARENA officially proclaimed San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano as its candidate. For now it seems unclear whether or not there will be a third candidate. Speculation lingers that former President Antonio Saca (2004-2009) will run again.
As the field of candidates becomes rather clear this far in advance, the expectation of moderation in political discourse and policy proposals should grow.
I suspect that Quijano and Sánchez Cerén will portray themselves as moderates of the center-left and the center-right. Quijano can leave it up to the media at LPG, EDH, and the various television stations to warn of victory by the communists.

Sánchez Cerén is probably in a more difficult situation. He is going to have to run a campaign that simultaneously criticizes and praises the work of the Funes administration. It'll be a little to the left of Funes but probably not that much more.

Deadly protests in Panama

On Friday, Panama's Congress passed a law that would allow the sale of state-owned land in a duty-free zone of Colon. The land would presumably be sold to private companies who are already leasing the land from the government. A ten-year-old boy was shot in the stomach and killed during Friday's protests. The emergency director at the hospital where the boy was treated said that another six people were treated for gunshot wounds.

Colon's duty-free zone employs approximately 30,000 people. The government argues that selling the land could raise $2 billion over the next two decades, several times more than it would receive if it simply continued to lease the land. Protesters, on the other hand, fear that the sale of the land will cost them jobs and income. The law requires that 35% of the proceedings from the land sales go into a trust for "social investments" in Colon and that the remaining profits go to the government. (See BBC and AP)

Unfortunately, President Ricardo Martinelli appears to have responded to the protesters in much the same way that President Perez Molina and Harold Caballeros did in Guatemala. After appealing for calm, Martinelli said "agitators" and "small-minded interests" were to blame for the protests. I'm sure that neither president wanted protesters killed in either confrontation. However, their words and their responses to these events tell the police, military, and protesters what is and what is not acceptable behavior. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

IDB funds workforce development in El Salvador

The Inter American Development Bank recently approved a $20 million loan to El Salvador targeted at helping young workers between the ages of 16 and 29.
The project will train 6,000 youths for jobs for which they would not otherwise be qualified. One innovative project component will finance training some 1,600 young entrepreneurs in the development of business ideas. The youths with the best business plans will receive project backing to establish their own microenterprises. The project will also provide assistance to participating mothers for the care of their young children.
In addition, the project will finance training for workers in more than 1,300 micro- and small-scale enterprises. In addition, the project will benefit more than 15,500 businesses across the country through the promotion of good practices to prevent accidents in the workplace.
Sounds like a great program that might help with both the short- and long-term needs of dealing with the country's gang tensions.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chief justice of the Criminal Chamber of Guatemala's Supreme Court

Lauren Carasik, who wrote Guatemala's past casts an ominous shadow for Al Jazeera, recently profiled Cesar Barrientos, chief justice of the Criminal Chamber of Guatemala's Supreme Court. As chief justice
he has been steadfast in his determination to restore the rule of law in Guatemala and to adhere to democratic principles both domestically and in the international arena. Due to his unwavering efforts to bring integrity to his role as a jurist and his efforts to modernize the judicial system, Barrientos has been the frequent target of threats and criticism aimed at blunting his effectiveness in constructing an independent judiciary.
Justice Barrientos has been instrumental in holding the Guatemalan state to abide by the rulings of the IACHR, strengthening the judiciary, respecting the rights of the accused, and ensuring that victims are accorded appropriate remedies.

CICIG and Claudia Paz y Paz get most of the attention for helping to reform the Guatemalan justice system. It's nice to hear about others working for the same ends because reform is going to need to be a system wide effort and not just the work of a handful of individuals.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Guatemala's past casts an ominous shadow

Lauren Carasik, Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law, has an op-ed at Al Jazeera on the killings of eight indigenous protesters in Guatemala earlier this month with Guatemala's past casts an ominous shadow.
On Wednesday, October 10th, intrepid Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz announced the arrest of eight soldiers and one colonial for the extrajudicial killings. President Perez Molina also announced that soldiers would no longer be used against peaceful protesters, blockades or in land takeovers. This is a step in the right direction, representing the first charges against military personal regarding their treatment of protesters since the end of the internal conflict. Observers must be vigilant to ensure that Perez Molina keeps his word, and that Attorney General Paz y Paz is not obstructed in her efforts to prosecute the perpetrators in the face of near certain resistance to the prosecutions of military personnel.
Guatemala continues to hover at the precipice: whether it will progress towards participatory civil society or revert inexorably back to repressive government control remains to be seen. The US and the rest of the international community must continue to shine the spotlight on Guatemala. President Perez Molina must be sent an unmistakable message: that his army cannot kill civilians with impunity and return into the days of unchecked military brutality, particularly against Mayan civilians. Guatemala faces daunting challenges, but it must avoid retrogressing.
I started an op-ed on the killings a few times but never finished so I am glad that Lauren got one together to let the world community know about the recent tragedy in Guatemala.

I still hope that the events of October 4th mark a turning point in Guatemala. Following the horror that day and the poor responses of Perez Molina (they weren't armed) and Caballeros (hey look, indians die all the time here), those immediately involved were arrested; the international community and civil society condemned the events of that day and called on the government to stop using the military for internal policing matters; and the government announced that it will not use soldiers in these matters in the future. I'm not that optimistic, but I am hopeful.

The other issue is that I didn't know how to address was Otto Perez Molina. Sure, he ran on a mano dura platform against crime but that has really been the policy of successive Guatemalan governments in practice. The Colom government, while painting itself as the first government with a Mayan face, frequently used the military and police to disrupt protests. Mining activists and other protesters were killed and arrested during his term in office as well. I wouldn't have been surprised had this same incident played out under Colom. That's not to say that it wasn't a horrific incident. I was just having a harder time connecting the dots between Perez Molina and the shootings of the protesters. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Battling Femicide in Guatemala

Seattle International Foundation Program Officer Michele Frix wrote about the inauguration of the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Women (Fiscalia de la Mujer, Modelo de Atencion Integral) and the Criminal Court for Crimes of Femicide and other Forms of Violence against Women (Tribunal de Sentencia Penal de Delitos de Femicidio y otras formas de Violencia contra las Mujeres) in Coban, Alta Verapaz for the Central American Network last month.
The inauguration of these new specialized government agencies to serve women in the Alta Verapaz Department, were announced as part of a campaign “Reto: Cobán sin violencia contra las mujeres” (Challenge: Coban without violence against women) led by local officials with support from international partners. In addition to representatives of the Supreme Court and Judicial Department (Organismo Judicial), Leonel Chacón (Mayor of the Coban), Ronald Sierra (Governor of the Alta Verapaz Department), and Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz (Attorney General of Guatemala), also shared their support of this campaign with the attentive audience. As Paz y Paz noted, the department of Alta Verapaz has the third highest incidence of violence against women in the country. Paz y Paz shared the following with the crowd, with the support of a Kachi interpreter:
“This is the first Department –Alta Verapaz—where we have succeeded to coordinate all of the justice institutions to diminish violence against women, which is a serious problem. You have a strong message, and that is no more violence against women. This afternoon we will inaugurate, jointly with the Supreme Court of Justice, a Femicide Tribunal and an agency of the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Women. With these agencies we intend to provide access to justice for all women, girls and boys, and ensure that we are establishing mechanisms that can prevent and combat violence against women and sexual violence.”
You should check out the Seattle International Foundation if you are not familiar with them. They do terrific work in the region address poverty in its many forms.

The Poor MS-13

Like President Funes, El Salvador's Minister of Justice and Security David Munguía Payés also questions the inclusion of the MS-13 on the Treasury Department's list of transnational criminal organization. As Ernesto Rivas says, He
insisted that the MS-13 in El Salvador are not rich and do not have other sources of income other than extortion. He did not say anything about that the trafficking of drugs is important to the gang.
I've always wondered where all the money from illegal activities go. With so much money floating around through various criminal operations, you don't see many gang members living the high life. Obviously, there are costs involved in sustaining an army of thousands and their families, but it doest not seem to be a lifestyle of choice if you want to become rich.

The same goes for the FARC in Colombia. Who exactly has benefited from twenty years of drug trafficking?  Show me the money.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

DeLuca on "Will Treasury’s Crackdown on MS-13 Work?"

Writing at the Daily Beast, Matt DeLuca asks "Will Treasury’s Crackdown on MS-13 Work?" Unfortunately, that's a tough question to answer because 
Treasury officials could not say how much money associated with MS-13 gang members is moving through the United States. But a departmental spokesman told The Daily Beast, “We know that money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the U.S. is consolidated and funneled to the group’s leadership in El Salvador.”
For the most part, it looks as if the move by the Treasury Department is primarily an effort to get out in front the MS-13 rather than an attempt to tackle a current problem.
But there are signs that the gang is “actively working to recruit new members, move into new territories, and expand its networks,” a Treasury Department official told The Daily Beast on Monday. Specifically, officials are concerned that gang members could begin to obtain ownership in legal businesses or make other legitimate investments with U.S. companies.
Such an expansion would mark a dangerous moment in the growth of MS-13, which has not so far been known as a money-making enterprise, according to ICE special agent in charge James T. Hayes.
That might explain why President Funes said that that the US is overestimating the economic power of the MS-13. He is looking at its power today and in comparison to other transnational criminal organizations. The U.S. Treasury Department, on the other hand, is looking to what the MS-13 might become and is taking preemptive steps to avoid the MS-13 turning into the next major transnational organized crime group.

Finally, DeLuca includes an email exchange that he had with George Grayson, a professor of Latin American politics at the College of William & Mary.
“Declaring a group a transnational criminal organization can pay off big time,” Grayson wrote The Daily Beast in an email. But Grayson said the U.S. government could run into problems getting cooperation from authorities in El Salvador, Guatemala, and other Central American countries, who may be too intimidated by the gang to take any significant action.
I don't buy this one. I don't get the impression that the authorities are intimidated by the MS-13. There are several other explanations that I would put forth before accepting the intimidation argument. Here are two. Local authorities are simply overwhelmed by the challenge of thousands of gang members. They just don't have enough financial resources or state capacity. Second, some officials are complicit and/or are somehow profiting from the gangs and therefore have little incentive to challenge them head on. 

In Guatemala, its been agonizingly difficult to get the congress to pass legislation against illicit enrichment. Going after dirty money moving between the United States and Central America is going to catch a lot more than MS-13 money.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

3 former Argentine navy officers convicted

From the AP:
Judges in Argentina have convicted three former navy officers of summarily executing 16 political prisoners, and called on the U.S. to extradite a fourth suspect living in Miami.
The "Massacre of Trelew" in 1972 presaged the violence leading to Argentina's bloody dictatorship four years later. The inmates were shot even though a judge publicly guaranteed their safety.
The judges gave life sentences for murder to Emilio del Real, Luis Sosa and Carlos Marandino. Former navy Capt. Roberto Bravo was charged with them, but a U.S. judge denied his extradition, saying Argentina's military had absolved him.
Judge Enrique Guanziroli called it long-delayed justice, but their lawyers are preparing an appeal, saying killings don't qualify as crimes against humanity.
Well, at this point in time, it doesn't look like the US judge's justification for denying Bravo's extradition should still hold. I wonder if the US will look to arrest and possibly deport Bravo on immigration charges. I can't imagine that he was forthcoming on his immigration papers.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Catholic church on Obama's Guantánamo scandal

From the editors at America Magazine (The National Catholic Weekly)
These legal disputes, however, can dangerously obscure a more fundamental question: Is it ever morally acceptable to detain a person, citizen or not, possibly for the rest of his life, without charges or a trial? Consider the Golden Rule. If a foreign government detained you, or a loved one, what would you expect as due process? Detailed charges? A presumption of innocence? Humane interrogation, skilled legal representation, access to evidence, ability to call witnesses, fair courtroom procedures, an independent judicial authority, a public trial within a reasonable amount of time and, if you are not charged or convicted, the freedom to return home to family? Some might argue that “terrorists” forfeit these rights. But this presumes guilt. No detaining authority, whether foreign or American, should have unchecked power over a person’s liberty.
The United States failed to treat Adnan Latif in accord with the Golden Rule. His only relief from Guantánamo was death itself. The Obama administration has no plan to prosecute or release 48 detainees in Guantánamo and hundreds more in Afghanistan. These men face the prospect that they will be “released” in the same tragic manner as Mr. Latif. In Guantánamo, 85 other detainees, already approved for release or transfer, remain in custody.
What has sustained this perversion of justice? As a nation, we have failed to acknowledge and repent of our sins. The problem is both political and spiritual. Leaving persons detained for an indefinite period of time is an inhumane practice that results in hopelessness, despair and sometimes, tragically, death. Human dignity requires that the United States reject this practice and firmly renew its commitment to basic fairness for all.
Just in case someone argues that the Catholic Church is a single-issue voter and that you need to vote for the better Catholic in this year's election.

Carmelo visits Regis High School to shoot commercial

Okay, not the biggest Carmelo Anthony basketball fan, but he did shoot this video at my high school alma mater in New York City.
Carmelo Anthony at Regis:
In many ways, the people in and around the hallways of Regis on September 29th were no different than on any ordinary Saturday. There were students participating in a Hearn Tournament, studious 8th graders filling REACH Program classrooms, and department faculty busy gearing up for an upcoming Parents Back-To-School night.
But there was one uncommon presence: 6ft 8in, 5-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony. The standout Small Forward for the New York Knicks was on location in the Chemistry Laboratory to shoot a video for an upcoming vitamin commercial. Before leaving Regis, Anthony, a 2012 Gold Medalist at the London Olympic Games, graciously posed for photos, spoke with a few students, and left an autographed basketball behind in the Chemistry Lab as a "thank you" to the Science department.
And if you are in the Scranton area, we have former NBA player John Amaechi on campus for an October 18 talk on promoting an inclusive, culturally competent, and mindful environment, free of bullying and harassment.

MS-13 designated a "transnational criminal organization"

On October 11, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a "transnational criminal organization" because of its involvement in murder, extortion, racketeering, drug trafficking and sex trafficking.
The move officially places MS-13 on a list of "significant transnational criminal organizations" which already includes the Brother's Circle rooted in Russia and Eastern Europe, Mexico's Zetas, Italy's Camorra and Japan's Yakuza.
It allows the United States to block any assets or property of MS-13-linked people or businesses, and prohibits any US citizens or US firms from doing any business with the group.
"This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13's activities," said Cohen.
Geoffrey Ramsey at InSight Crime looks at whether the designation is justified and appears to conclude that there's enough of a relationship between the DC's the Brotherhood and MS-13 members in El Salvador to warrant the designation.

I don't know enough about the criminal activities of the MS-13 in the US to really make a case one way or the other. What I do "know" is that prior to the March truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Streets gangs, most analysts seems to characterize the operations of the MS-13 as extremely decentralized. Members in the same country might not even know or recognize each other as members, let alone recognize the authority of some of the leadership. That characterization of how MS-13 operated in El Salvador does not appear to have been accurate given what we have learned about the more hierarchical nature of the group's activities these last six months.

Hey, but just because many seem to have been wrong about how the MS-13 operates in El Salvador doesn't mean that they are wrong about the relatively weak ties between MS-13 in El Salvador and MS-13 abroad.

In Los Angeles, many are worried about how the recent designation will impact non-gang affiliated Salvadorans and Salvadoran Americans and their businesses.
In L.A.'s Salvadoran community, some expressed concern that the federal designation would tarnish the larger Salvadoran community, which has been trying for years to escape the gang's shadow.
During the last 30 years, the El Salvadoran community has grown and has developed from refugees to legal residents to American citizens,” said Francisco Rivera, the president of the National Central American Roundtable.
“It's a problem if to be a Salvadoran immigrant is seen as being synonymous with being a criminal. It would stigmatize a community that has suffered a lot.”
What's interesting in Ramsey's article and in the Los Angeles based article is that it does really make sense to speak about a US-based MS-13 either. It's all local.

Wes McBride, executive director of the California Gang Investigators Assn., said the federal action might provide the most help to small and medium-size police agencies on the East Coast where MS-13 is growing the fastest. Some of these departments, he said, don't have the resources and experience in dealing with such gangs.
“L.A. was their birthplace, but they are stronger on the East Coast than they are here,” he said. (my italics)
In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes disagreed with the Treasury's Department analysis during his Saturday radio address. He said that the believes that the United States has overestimated the economic power of the MS-13.
"The problem has been overstated, not in the sense of considering MS as a criminal organization, but in the sense of overestimating the economic risk or financial risk that may involve the criminal actions of the MS and to put it on a par with other transnational criminal organizations as the Zetas or the Camorra in Italy, "he said.
The quantity of dirty money that a group like the Zetas controls is in another league compared to the financial resources of the MS-13.

How much money the MS-13 controls is obviously an empirical question. Unfortunately, we just don't know to how much they have access.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Study abroad with CIRMA in Antigua, Guatemala

A message from Dr. Jennifer Casolo, Academic Coordinator for CIRMA -University of Arizona Study Abroad

With our Spring semester 2013 deadline fast approaching, I am writing with an appeal for your support for  CIRMA, el Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica, in Antigua, Guatemala.  All you need to do is make your students and Study Abroad Office aware of the unique dual role that our Study Abroad Program  with the University of Arizona plays.

CIRMA is a Guatemalan non-profit foundations dedicated to preserving national historical memory, and to carrying out and promoting the high quality training and research of leaders in Mesoamerican social science.   CIRMAs institutional resources and activities contribute to the development of critical thought and the practice of constructive dialogue with the goal of promoting a more just and tolerant society.   CIRMA´s comprehensive social science collection includes: one of the largest Social Science Libraries of its genre in the region. The collection houses national and international publications about Central America, especially of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and is used extensively by national and international scholars. The Historical Archive with over 7,500,000 documents that rescue Guatemala’s history from the 16th Century to the present. The largest Photographic Archive in Guatemala with over 1,000,000 photos documenting Guatemalan history from 1850 to the present.

The University of Arizona Study Abroad Program at CIRMA in Antigua, Guatemala not only provides students with a transformational pedagogical experience based on the inseparability of theory and practice, and the opportunity to intern at CIRMA working to conserve and catalog our growing collection and/or to intern in a variety of service-learning outreach programs in the area, but it provides vital economic support to CIRMAs social science library, historical archives and fototeca.

The CIRMA/University of Arizona Study Abroad Program offers fully accredited Spring and Fall semester programs as well as a 6 wk intensive Summer semester. In addition to University of Arizona students CIRMA-U of A has helped transform the lives of students from a wide array of universities and colleges across the United States and Canada such as Yale University, University of North Dakota,  Skidmore College, and Fort Lewis College.

Please help us to continue our dual mission of sustaining the valuable work of  preserving the historical memory of the past  and educating US and Central American thinkers of tomorrow.  Forward the following to prospective students and check to see if your Study Abroad Office accepts our program.  

CIRMA-University of Arizona Study Abroad Program in Antigua, Guatemala
Deepen your understanding of the social, historical and political dynamics of Guatemala and Central America and learn Spanish while living in a fascinating colonial town. The semester programs and six-week summer intensive program provide undergraduate, honors and graduate college credits from the University of Arizona and are open to students from any university. The program includes courses such as:  Mesoamerican Archaeology, Maya-Kaq’chikel, History of Central American Revolutions, Narratives of Identity and Nation in Guatemala, Biodiversity, Climate Change and the political ecology  of “Disaster” in Central America, Globalization, Development and the Making of Modern Guatemala, and Spanish Language and Literature 

All the courses are taught by knowledgeable scholars either from Central America or with a long history in the region and are designed to promote an understanding of Central America based on the inseparability of theory and everyday practice. Formal classes are complemented by field trips to archaeological sites such as Tikal and communities seeking to recover and or preserve collective historical memory such as Rio Negro. Studies also include a colloquium series that introduces students to key public figures, artists, and analysts. Students have access to CIRMA's unique documentary and photographic collections and the option of interning (for credit) with one of CIRMA’s research archives and library, or with social outreach programs in areas such as health, sustainable agriculture, and child and infant services. Homestay and optional one-on-one exchanges with a Guatemalan university students complement the learning experience.

For more information check out the program at and/or or write Academic Coordinator Jennifer Casolo, or University of Arizona Study Abroad Coordinator, Jill Calderón,

Surveying El Salvador

Tim has provided a nice overview of some of the key findings from the recently released 2011 Multiple Purpose Survey of Households in El Salvador. Here are links to his four posts.

Income equality - I had read that income inquality had been declining in El Salvador in recent years but never the data to back up the claim.

Salvadoran households - 88% of Salvadoran households have a cellphone and only 12% have internet access.

Poverty rates - 35% of urban residents live in poverty and 50% of rural residents; 41% overall.

Demographics - El Salvador has a populatino of 6.2 million; 2 million are under the age of 16 and   1.47 million are between the ages of 10 and 20 years old

Friday, October 12, 2012

Salvadorean ambassador Altschul on the MCC

The US and Salvadoran governments have been on the PR offensive celebrating the accomplishments of the Millennium Challenge Corporation´s (MCC) first compact in El Salvador. Between 2007 and 2012, the US, through the MCC, invested nearly half a billion dollars in northern part of El Salvador with the goal of reducing poverty in the short- and long-term.

Here's Salvadorean ambassador Francisco Altschul in The Hill
Over the past five years, the MCC compact improved people´s lives by stimulating economic development. In particular, the investment focused on small-business development, access to markets, education, transportation infrastructure and improved access to potable water and electricity. A $278 million investment built a 138-mile highway across an isolated and marginalized northern area. Now that it is connected to the rest of the country, the area has been able to attract $57 million in new private investment. More than 17,000 people have been trained in business and entrepreneurship and more than 30,000 students have benefited from improved schools.
Laura Villagran also had coverage of the MCC's success in the Christian Science Monitor with a report on Aid that works: A new road, farmer co-op revitalizes rural El Salvador.
The 138-mile Northern Highway anchored the compact and paved the way for economic development projects such as El Salvador Produce; technical assistance and training for 15,000 farmers; as well as an expanded technical college. The funds targeted the “northern zone,” an economically depressed region that suffered disproportionately during the country’s brutal civil war, which lasted more than a decade until a 1992 peace pact.
Farmers in the northern zone previously only had access to poor slow-going roads, but today El Salvador Produce sends its own trucks out to the farms – which are better connected by the highway – to pick up the farmers’ goods.
Unfortunately, El Salvador has not been able to take advantage of the improved infrastructure because foreign direct investment has fallen off a cliff since the FMLN took power. The president of Nejapa Power blames the uncertain legal climate for businesses in the country as well as concerns about a new dividend tax, security and low levels of education.

Right now the US and El Salvador are working on a second MCC that would pertain to coastal and maritime development.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oscar Ortiz as the FMLN's Vice Presidential Candidate

It looks like Oscar Ortiz, the popular mayor of Santa Tecla, will be the FMLN's vice presidential candidate for the 2014 elections. He will join current vice president and the FMLN's presidential candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren on the ticket.

Ortiz was selected over other candidates such as Norma Guevara, Hugo Martínez, Gerson Martínez and Violeta Menjívar of the FMLN and Funes allies Alex Segovia and David Munguía Payés

The UCA's Álvaro Artiga doesn't believe adding Ortiz to the ticket will put the FMLN over the top. While I don't think that Ortiz puts the FMLN over the top at this point in time, there's a lot that can happen between now and the election. Should the gang truce remain in place between now, the economy improves, and Obama is elected in the US, there's a good chance that the FMLN will be able to capitalize.

It's a great pick. While I would prefer Ortiz at the top of the ticket, I don't get a vote. However, his selection as VP does improve the FMLN's chance of victory.

Guatemala's Historical Archive of the National Police Needs Help

A guest post:

Guatemala: Historical Archive of the National Police seeking urgent donations to continue vital work supporting struggle against impunity

The Historical Archive of the National Police (NP) was discovered by chance in July 2005.  Tens of millions of documents, including papers, books, photographs and floppy disks, were piled from floor to ceiling, filling entire rooms of an abandoned police compound. They contained critical information about the activities of the Guatemalan National Police, covering a period from the late 1800s and including the period of the civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.

The participation of the National Police in the commission of human rights violations during the internal armed conflict was documented by the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH). In its report Guatemala: Memory of Silence [], CEH affirms that the NP was an operative body for army intelligence, serving as the facade of the G-2 intelligence agency, and acted on its orders in the majority of cases. 

During the CEH investigation, state entities repeatedly denied the existence of any archives or documentary materials that would assist an investigation into human rights violations. The National Police was disbanded after the Peace Accords and replaced with the National Civil Police.

In seven years since their discovery, the documents have been painstakingly preserved, digitised and catalogued, and made accessible to the public, particularly individuals and organisations seeking justice for human rights violations, an end to impunity and progress on the path towards truth, justice and reconciliation. Evidence from the Archive has been instrumental in achieving some of the country’s first convictions for human rights crimes such as forced disappearance.

Currently the Historical Archive of the National Police is facing financial difficulties. The archives have progressed to where they are today thanks to international support and the work of the men and women who work in the archives. Unfortunately, the Guatemalan government has not assumed the financial responsibilities that correspond to it.

To be able to complete its planned work this year – which includes providing evidence in 20 prosecutions for forced disappearance, as well as the ongoing work of digitising and cataloguing, which is far from complete (it aims to have made 15 million documents publicly accessible by the end of the year) – the Archive is seeking to raise US$250,000.

It is asking for donations of any amount and anyone interested in making a donation should contact:

Avenida La Pedrera  10-00,  Zona 06
TEL(00502) 22690628  FAX(00502) 22702098

More info:
Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive

Benetech Statistical Analysis Provides Key Evidence in Conviction of Former Guatemalan Police Officers