Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can El Salvador continue to resist calls to investigate war time atrocities?

The entire post might go up on Al Jazeera sometime in March or April if the issue is still relevant, but I thought that I would share this with you now. I wrote it last Saturday and as of right now I might have to add the Florida trial and anything that happens with Inocente Montano. What else?

Can El Salvador continue to resist calls to investigate war time atrocities?

While much of Latin America has made significant progress in the fight against impunity for crimes committed by their country’s armed forces during the Cold War (Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Guatemala, etc.), El Salvador has so far been able to withstand domestic and international pressure to pursue justice for victims of the armed conflict. However, its “successful” resistance to such pressure might not last for much longer.

During the civil war in El Salvador, approximately 75,000-80,000 Salvadorans were killed, including an estimated 6,000-8,000 disappeared. Mitchell Seligson and Vincent McElhinny estimate that over fifty thousand of those killed were civilians. On January 16, 1992, the Government headed by Alfredo Cristiani of the rightwing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the commanders of the leftwing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end the war at a ceremony in Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. 

Six months later, investigators set out “to examine systematic atrocities both individually and collectively.” After investigating many of the most serious and high-profile atrocities from the 1980s, the Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador, From Madness to Hope: The 12 Year War in El Salvador, found that eighty-five percent of the reported human rights violations (including extrajudicial executions, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances) were committed by members of the State’s official and unofficial security forces. The FMLN was responsible for five percent of all reported human rights violations.

The United Nations delivered its damning report on March 15, 1993. The Salvadoran right immediately criticized the finds as biased, incomplete, and illegal. Five days later, on March 20, ARENA and its allies in the Legislative Assembly passed a blanket amnesty law, the 1993 General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of Peace (Decree 486), in the name of national reconciliation that shielded both military and guerrillas.

For nearly the next two decades, the ARENA controlled the presidency and had no intention of overturning the amnesty law or in any way holding human rights violators accountable for their civil war era crimes. While representatives of the FMLN apologized for any human rights violations that they had committed during the civil war, they never made overturning the amnesty or prosecuting human rights violators a priority. Prior to the 2009 election, the FMLN’s presidential ticket made it clear that they were not prepared to call for an end to the amnesty.

However, President Mauricio Funes, who was elected at the head of the FMLN ticket in 2009, has made some progress on recognizing the State’s role in wartime atrocities. He and his administration have apologized to the Salvadoran people for a number of crimes committed by the State including the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, the forced disappearance of children, and honored the Jesuits slain in 1989 with the nation’s highest honor. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, President Funes has shown little interest in moving beyond apologies.

On May 30, 2011, a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for twenty former members of the Salvadoran armed forces for their roles in the murders of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in November 1989 on the grounds of the Central American University “José Simeón Cañas. Five priests held Spanish citizenship. The Salvadoran courts and government refused to extradite the suspects to Spain or to open criminal proceedings against them in El Salvador. In August of that year, the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that they only needed to locate them men and that they would not be extradited because an official request had not been received. While rejecting the Salvadoran court’s justification for not moving against the accused, the Spanish judge then formally issued an extradition request in November 2011 which the Salvadoran Supreme Court then simply denied in May 2012. The defendants are not under arrest in El Salvador but they run the risk of arrest and extradition to Spain should they leave the country at any point.

One of the men wanted in Spain is Inocente Orlando Montano. He was arrested on immigration violations in Boston, Massachusetts in August 2011. The authorities took him into custody because he lied about his military background when he entered the United States and when he applied for Temporary Protected Status. The immigration judge could send him to prison for his immigration violations or look to begin proceedings to have him expelled to his home country of El Salvador or extradited to Spain where he is wanted in connection with the Jesuits’ murders. However, the judge appears to be considering giving Montano a longer prison sentence in the US for violating immigration laws because of his long history human rights abuses as Vice Minister of Defense for Public Security. A longer prison sentence in the United States or his extradition to Spain could place additional pressure upon the Salvadoran government to act.

Over the last twenty years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (also the IACHR) have issued rulings or passed resolutions calling on the Salvadoran State to investigate the forced disappearance of children. In 2010, President Mauricio Funes authorized the creation of the Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Niños y Niñas Desaparecidos to help find out what happened to the hundreds, if not thousands of missing children. However, the country’s armed forces have not made public any records that might shed light on the disappeared as ordered by the IACHR and President Funes has been unwilling, or unable, to force them to open up the military archives.

Recently, the Associated Press ran a story on a number of children who were disappeared during the civil war in El Salvador. At least one dozen children were adopted during the war by members of the country's armed forces. Some children were subsequently raised by the soldiers who kidnapped them. Other children were given away to be raised by strangers. Finally, there were a number of children sold into the international adoption process where they ended up with families in the US, France, and Italy. While most of the information is already known, its international and national coverage should make it more difficult for the Salvadoran State and current and former military officers to stonewall investigations on missing children. As Marcos Aleman writes in the AP article, the Salvadoran military is the region’s second military “proven” to have engaged in child abductions during the Cold War. Argentina’s General Jorge Rafael Videla was convicted of baby thefts and sentenced to fifty years in prison in July 2012.

After condemning the amnesty law in 1994, 1999, and 2003, the IACHR ruled in December 2012 that that the country's 1993 amnesty law was invalid and that the government must investigate the massacre at El Mozote. Upwards of one thousand Salvadorans were killed in and around El Mozote in December 1981 during the largest massacre of El Salvador’s civil war. Most of the victims were women, children, and elderly. Many were raped and tortured before being burned to death. Very few remains were of military-aged men who might have served in the guerrillas. The IACHR called on the government to investigate the massacre at El Mozote, assist in the exhumation and identification of the remains, compensate victims and their families, and to not let the country’s amnesty law stand in the way of holding the perpetrators’ accountable.

March 20th is an appropriate date for the Salvadoran congress to overturn the amnesty law that it passed twenty years ago. It’s possible that, at the time, the amnesty was the price that Salvadorans had to pay for the military and economic elite to agree to civilian rule and to the incorporation of the FMLN into the political system as a political party. However, no one took the victims’ into consideration when they passed the amnesty.

It’s also possible, if not certain, that those who perpetrated or supported the repression against the civilian population during the war will provoke instability and warn of a military coup if there is any attempt to overturn the amnesty. In June 2011, ARENA and its allies in the Legislative Assembly unsuccessfully moved to neuter the Constitutional Court when it believed that the court might find the amnesty law unconstitutional. ARENA officials and retired military officers have voiced their strong displeasure with the president after each of his apologies.

However, if brave prosecutors, judges, and elected officials in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and elsewhere can successfully overturn their country’s amnesty laws or push ahead with criminal proceedings in spite of the existence of such laws and in the face of threats from those accused, so can prosecutors, judges, and elected officials in El Salvador. The survivors and the family members’ of the victims from the massacres at El Mozote, the Rio Sumpul, el Calabozo, and elsewhere deserve justice.

In addition, no Latin American government that has pushed to hold human rights violators accountable has succumbed to a successful coup. It’s unlikely that those who are against trials in El Salvador would like to be remembered as the first.

[See also Colin, Hector, and Tim I and II on recent developments.]

Héctor Silva Ávalos: The Battle for Washington

Héctor Silva Ávalos recently had his The Battle for Washington translated into English. It's an interesting look at how Salvadorans have mobilized to influence what Washington thinks and does and how they are likely to do so leading up to 2014.
The Salvadoran political parties have begun to outline – some with more, some with less depth and resources- their strategies to win Washington’s favor on the way to the 2014 presidential election. In essence this means that the collaborators, lobbyists and representatives of the ARENA and FMLN presidential tickets -and, yes, those of Antonio Saca, as well- have begun to seek out Washington congress members, academics and politicians with the goal of creating narratives favorable to their interests. In English this exercise is called “spinning,” and it consists of highlighting their political merits, silencing the doubts fed by their opposition and, obviously, emphasizing the errors of their adversaries.
Héctor focuses more on how Salvadoran political actors will lobby to curry Washington's favor leading up to the 2014 election while my Al Jazeera piece dealt more with how Salvadoran voters will respond to events in Washington and elsewhere. Click here for Héctor's original version in El Faro. There's some academic work to be done on how successful Salvadoran lobbying has been in getting Washington's ear and in determining how much Washington's position matters to Salvadoran voters.
And in case you didn't hear, Tony Saca has officially thrown his hat into the ring. He'll represent GANA as well as the reincarnations of the Christian Democratic Party (now PES) and the National Conciliation Party (now CN) at the head of the Movimiento de Unidad. He promises to govern with the Bible and the Constitution as his guides. Better late than never I guess. During his announcement, he promised to continue those social programs launched by President Mauricio Funes, to establish credits for farmers, to reactivate the parque cafetero (?), create scholarships for higher education and to bring El Salvador to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. No party has yet to break the two-party system in El Salvador and, as of right now, the odds are pretty low that Saca will. Another ugly year within ARENA might change that situation though.
Finally, while a judge in Boston is determining what to do what Inocente Orlando Montano, another Florida judge is determining whether former defense minister Jose Guillermo Garcia should be deported. In yesterday's testimony, he said that he was responsible for the human rights violations that occurred while he was defense minister but that he was not guilty. Apparently he couldn't get his subordinates to listen to his orders to stop massacring Salvadoran peasants. He even tried to quit three times. Sure sounds like a model officer, huh? However, the testimony was tremendously important as a very senior officer admitted under oath that gross human rights violations were committed by the Salvadoran armed forces. See also Tim and Héctor.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

La Chureca landfill gets a makeover

The Spanish government recently completed a $53 million dollar project to help close one of Latin America's largest open-air dumps at La Chureca in Managua, Nicaragua. The investment included not only the sealing of the dump, but the construction of a recycling plant and homes and schools for approximately 250 families who live and work in close proximity to the dump.

La Chureca is now a sanitary landfill, which means that while it continues to receive solid refuse, it no longer remains exposed to the air, and no longer do poor people seek their sustenance among the garbage.
Now the Churequeros, as the garbage collectors are known in Nicaragua, work in the modern plant for treating solid waste.

Here is a July 2010 BBC video clip that focuses on the project's beginning and another link to Brad Corrigan's work with the children of La Chureca. Brad is a U.S. musician who was very moved following a trip to the dump in 2005. Following the trip, he established Love Light & Melody to help children living and working in poverty. Brad gave a very moving talk at a conference I attended last year sponsored by the Seattle International Foundation.

Day of Light from Braddigan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guatemala suspends TPS petition

I just returned from Monterrico with my family and some friends. The black sand beach is beautiful but, as you can imagine or already know, it is really hot. Everybody warns about how dangerous the water is on the west coast. Though the waves were not big, you could still see the power of the sea. Since no one else was in the water, I stayed in the pool.

In case you are traveling out to the Pacific, I highly recommend Utz-Tzaba even though its website is down half the time. The hotel has a beautiful infinity pool, good rooms, very good food, a kids' playground and a nice swim up bar. The place is better for families and probably not one you want to hit as a single traveler.

While I catch up on the news, I did come across this news that the Guatemalan government had temporarily suspended its request for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Presidents Colom and Perez Molina had been seeking TPS for its nationals in the US for some time now. While I am not sure that it mattered, I'll always wonder whether Perez Molina would have been able to get TPS had he not gone all drug decriminalization within days of his inauguration.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera, who I met briefly last year and appears to be a very nice guy, made the announcement while touring Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and elsewhere

It doesn't appear that all Guatemalan migrant groups are happy with TPS's suspension. They would have preferred to have gotten more details on comprehensive immigration reform before suspending TPS.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A rough week for justice in Guatemala

Initial reports that most wanted El Chapo Guzman might have been killed in a shoot out in the Peten appear to have been a "misunderstanding" according to Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla. Peten is a remote department on the Guatemalan border with Mexico. It made international news in May 2011 following the massacre of 27 civilians on a farm at Los Cocos by the Zetas. Here was Hal Brands' take on The Peten Massacre in Context that he wrote following the massacre.

Thursday night's confusion capped a rough week for Lopez Bonilla. Last week, Captain Byron Lima was arrested after leaving his prison for longer than he was authorized even though it appears that he didn't really need authorization. It turns out that Lima and other special prisoners are allowed to leave prison quite regularly and, in this case, he was even escorted by the prison's warden and guards.

Lopez Bonilla acknowledged that there are VIP prisoners who are awarded special privileges and even get to come and go as they desire. Int his case, Lima appears to have been running an extortion ring out of the prison and he has only grown more powerful since his arrest and imprisonment.

Some of the vehicles in which Lima and his entourage were travelling werer used by the Patriotic Party during the campaign. I'm still waiting to hear a better explanation for why other than we used a lot of vehicles.

Romina Ruiz-Goiriena looks at the significance of Lima's new capo status at The Huffington Post writes
In many ways Lima's life reads like the perfect metaphor of Guatemala; a country plagued with rampant social inequality that was engulfed in a bloody civil war. That same country failed to complete a democratic transition and embraced political limbo. This created a haven for organized crime and corruption to overrun the nation of 14 million.
I wouldn't characterize it exactly that way. I would say that the civil war created the conditions under which many military officials became involved in organized crime. Their involvement, among other things, has made a true democratic transition impossible. Their establishment of parallel structures that exist outside the state, and in other ways are embedded within it, is what led the Guatemalan government and the international community to agree on the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

I would also be worried that the arrest and conviction of Lima only made him more powerful in Guatemala. While his case occurred prior to the arrival of CICIG and the improvement in the criminal justice system, it's still something that CICIG and Attorney General Paz y Paz need to be worried about - a successful prosecution and imprisonment does not necessarily mean the disruption of all criminal activities. Imprisonment might only make them stronger.

Finally, there's Ruiz-Goiriena's connection of the case to the United States.
And yet this is happening as the U.S. tries to make new inroads in the drug war by increasing military aid -- the biggest involvement of this kind in the last 50 years. In February, the Associated Press published a story examining how the drug war strategy that began in Colombia moved to Mexico and is now anchoring in Central America. Martha Mendoza writes, it's a place "where brutal cartels mark an enemy motivated not by ideology but by cash."
Like Lima, others have raised similar ranks. Lima may be the most notorious example, but he isn't the only one. If Lima's biography is a trope of any kind, it signals similar fates could be true of partners the U.S. tries to enlist in its battle.
Something about the Lima incident was eerie. But it wasn't the fact that prison guards were helping him "tour" the capital aboard an exuberant SUV when he should have been locked behind bars. Lima's reappearance was evocative of an era where the U.S. continues to spend millions of dollars maintaining a ruthless political climate. Short of asking more questions and demanding accountability, it seems as though history is bound to repeat itself.
I'm not sure where the connection to the U.S. is in this case. It seems as if something bad happened and there's an automatic need to indict the U.S. somehow. Yes, the U.S. has militarized the drug war in Central and South America. However, that has probably been less so in Guatemala than elsewhere. It hasn't lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala that has been in place for over three decades even though the Guatemalan government continues to ask. U.S. advisers are here and soldiers and DEA agents come and go but not in terribly large numbers. Now some might be too many but that's a little different.

And I am not sure what to make of the sentence that I italicized above. In what way is the U.S. spending millions of dollars to maintain a ruthless political climate? The U.S. might be failing to improve conditions in Guatemala, which is debatable, but why phrase it in a way that the U.S. is actually trying to keep things terrible?

And if anything, the U.S. is probably asking more questions and demanding more accountability today in Guatemala than it has for some time. U.S. ambassadors have appeared in court alongside victims of the country's civil war. The U.S. has voiced its support for the Attorney General who probably would have been removed upon the transition to the new administration without her international support. It has voiced support for CICIG. Again, it has yet to lift the ban on military assistance even though some, like always, still makes its way to the country. The U.S. has extradited individuals involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity and continues to request the extradition of Guatemalans involved in a variety of drug crimes and other crimes like money laundering and corruption (see Portillo).

The U.S.deserves a lot of criticism. However, in this case it just doesn't seem warranted.

What am I missing?

Friday, February 22, 2013

2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program core competition is now open

I highly recommend the following program.
The 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program core competition is now open.
The Fulbright Scholar Program offers teaching, research or combination teaching/research awards in over 125 countries for the 2014-2015 academic year. Opportunities are available for college and university faculty and administrators as well as for professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers, independent scholars and many others.
In order to meet the changing needs of academia and develop new options to accommodate better the interests and commitments of today’s scholars, the program has introduced several innovations to the 2014-2015 program, including: Fulbright Flex Awards, Fulbright Postdoctoral/Early Career Awards, Salary Stipend Supplements, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language Awards.
Interested faculty and professionals are encouraged to learn more about these opportunities, and hundreds of others, by visiting the Catalog of Awards.
The application deadline for most awards is August 1, 2013. U.S. citizenship is required. For other eligibility requirements and detailed award descriptions visit our website at or contact us at
I'm willing to share my application or to speak with those interested. Just drop me an email.

Central America Happenings

Some news from around Central America

In Panama, citizens are exchanging guns and ammunition in return for food and medicine. Some weapons date from the 1989 Panama invasion. Panama's homicide rate is 18 per 100,000.

In Guatemala, authorities are investigating whether a shootout occurred in the department of Peten last night. Initial reports indicated that there was an armed confrontation between rival drug traffickers and that one of the killed was most wanted El Chapo Guzman. Authorities are supposed to provide an update later this morning.

In Honduras, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid accused unnamed police officers for his son's murder which happened on Sunday. Ramirez headed the police for six months until last May.

Nicaragua is entering the solar market with an $11 million donation from Japan.

Finally, there are concerns that we might be seeing the beginning of the breaking down of the truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs in El Salvador.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lessons writing about violence in Guatemala

The Mutual Support Group (GAM) recently posted on Twitter that 170 men and 24 women were assassinated during the first 18 days of February and that the violence does not stop in Guatemala. It's tragic that so many people lose their lives to violence in Guatemala.

However, I responded that, if there numbers were to be believed, that would actually be an improvement over last year's daily murder rate. In 2012, 5,174 people were reported to have been murdered. That's an average daily rate of it 14.14 (it was a leap year). February's average daily murder rate with 194 murders would be 10.77.

Given how violent January was and my reading of the daily papers, I would be surprised, however, if February turned out to be a less violent month.

Lesson 1: Don't say things are getting worse when the numbers you present show an improvement. GAM is correct that violence continues in Guatemala. And there's evidence that it is getting worse. But their numbers indicate the opposite - an improvement.

Lesson 2: GAM does really important work but tracking crime isn't one of them. Don't rely on GAM's homicide statistics. They track murders reported in the media. It's better to rely upon the National Civil Police's murder statistics. I see those as the minimum number of violent deaths in which they have concluded that an actual homicide took place. Look at INACIF's numbers as well but remember that they measure total violent deaths - murders, suicides, and accidental killings. Unfortunately, they change their classifications each year which also makes it difficult to compare year over year changes. Their numbers are more of an upper limit. The number of murders committed in a given year is somewhere between those reported by the PNC and the violent deaths reported by the INACIF.

Lesson 3: Don't look at a two- or three-week window and draw conclusions. There are likely to be very violent, days, weeks, and months as there are to be relatively non-murderous days, weeks, and months. When the daily rate is ~14, recording 8 or 20 in a single day is not unusual.

Lesson 4: The murders of several women, including two children, in January and last week's murder of a prominent woman lawyer are terrible. However, be careful about using high profile murders to generalize about the situation in Guatemala. I said something after the May 2011 Peten massacre. Journalists and others used the massacre to describe Guatemala as a failed state and on the verge of large-scale massacres similar to what had been happening in Mexico. However, 2011 showed an improvement in the country's murder rate and there has yet to be another large-scale massacre in the style of Peten.

Lesson 5: Neither GAM, the PNC, nor INACIF have any idea how many people have gone missing in Guatemala. El Salvador has tried, unsuccessfully really, to grapple with the number of disappeared. And I'm not even sure that Guatemala or Honduras has even tried. It's really important to keep this in mind considering the recently released Human Rights Watch report that I noted this morning. Thousands of Central American migrants have disappeared between their points of departure and the US border. Some were most likely victims in Mexico whereas others most likely disappeared here in Guatemala.

Lesson 6: Tracking the murder rate is not the only way to measure crime in a country. Kidnapping, rape, assault, robbery and extortion are also important. However, each of these crimes tends to be severely under-reported compared to under-reporting on murder so we focus there. Plus, well, murder is murder.

Lesson 7: When I write that the murder rate has been improving or say to step back and look at the big picture, it doesn't mean that I don't hurt every time someone is killed needlessly in Guatemala. I am also not oblivious to the ongoing violence. Even with significant improvements in the national murder rate, the country still suffers from an alarmingly high rate of violence.

Latin America Happenings

In Ecuador, Leisa Sánchez and Ángela Meléndez report that Correa Calls for Irreversible “Citizens’ Revolution”. He's now going to find some leaders to follow through on what he started. He'll earn a little more of my respect as a leader if he steps down when his term is over and rides off into the sunset unlike Castro and Chavez.

Then we have two divergent responses to Correa's election. The first is from Seamus Milne in The Guardian. He takes to the defense of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and Evo Morales in Bolivia.
But what is happening in Ecuador is only part of a progressive tide that has swept Latin America, as social democratic and radical socialist governments have attacked social and racial inequality, challenged US domination and begun to create genuine regional integration and independence for the first time in 500 years. And given what's already been delivered to the majority, it's hardly surprising they keep getting re-elected.
Meanwhile, Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald criticizes Correa and the Latin American left for dismantling each country's political institutions and attacking the media.
My opinion: I agree. These narcissist-Leninist autocracies have been in power for several years now, and they all seem to follow the same manual: their leaders run for office as anti-corruption and pro-democracy crusaders, and as soon as they are elected, they change the rules of the game to grab absolute powers.
They may not last forever, because Chávez’s illness, for example, declining commodity prices, and disastrous economic policies may further weaken them in the near future. But for now, nobody should be surprised by Correa’s “sweeping victory.”
Obviously, the truth is a little more complicated. A number of the region's leftist governments have improved democracy in their countries by increasing the participation of historically marginalized sectors in the political process. However, in other ways, they've had a tendency to weaken democracy by attacking the media, politicizing bureaucracies, and doing away with checks and balances by gutting the judiciaries and centralizing power in the executive branches. See also Boz's take on Correa's reelection.

Human Rights Watch has a new report on disappearances in Mexico. See also here. The situation is pretty terrible but has been pretty well known, no? El Salvador has tried to count its disappearances in recent years but I haven't heard anything along those lines from the Guatemalan or Honduran governments. It's still black hole and could drastically change murder rates in all countries.

Two hundred Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) activists protested against the economic and security crisis in Tegucigalpa.

Finally, the big news out of Guatemala is that the judge moved Efrain Rios Montt's trial up to March 19th because of an opening on the calendar.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Possible crime of passion in veteran's murder

Timothy Wilson has an update on the murder of Michael James Brown in El Salvador. The police have one working hypothesis for motive in the case and that is an ex-boyfriend of Nury Aquino ambushed and killed the veteran in a "crime of passion." Aquino is Brown's wife who survived the attack.

However, Aquino rejects the jealous ex scenario.
Aquino spoke out on Radio Impacto to give her version of events. She said that masked men dressed in clothing similar to that worn by the country’s national police flagged their vehicle down. Brown, thinking that it was a checkpoint, stopped, whereupon one man shot him in the neck.
“Michael told me to run,” she said. “I took the wheel and the car accelerated, but I fell, and asked the men not to shoot me, throwing my bag at them and telling them to take it.”
Aquino specifically rejected the theory that a jealous ex-boyfriend was behind the attack. She said authorities had insisted she take a lie detector test before releasing her husband’s body. This has been denied by the chief prosecutor, Herberth Herrera, who said they had been waiting for her to retrieve her husband’s remains, but she didn’t show up.
However, there are no public details to back up the "crime of passion" motive in the case. There's nothing about a bad breakup or jealous ex wanting to get her back. It also sounds pretty unusual to me that an ex-boyfriend would enlist the help of ten other people to kill Brown as well but maybe the fact that he was a US veteran played into those calculations. That doesn't mean it wasn't a crime of passion just that there's no public information to substantiate that finding.

Guatemala adds 1600 police

Guatemala's National Civil Police graduated 1,617 new agents last Friday. That brings the PNC's total to 25,383, almost 2,000 more than the country counted when Otto Perez Molina took office in January 2012. Perez wants to end 2013 with at least 30,000 officers and, from what I remember, wanted to increase the police by 10,000 during his four year term (33,500). 

That's going to be tough especially if you actually want qualified people to fill the positions and the force continues to remove corrupt elements from its ranks. President Alvaro Colom added 6k or so officers during his four-year term but several thousand were also removed for corruption and other crimes during that time so it wasn't a net of 6k. We've had several arrests of police officers during Perez Molina's first year but no large-scale dismissals.

We often say that Guatemala needs more police and better-trained police. I still believe that's true.

Guatemala's police per capita of ~170 per 100,000, though, is still well below the UN recommendation of at least 222 per 100,000. The country will reach the recommended number, more or less, if they can get above 33,500 in 2015. It's not as if more police is a magic cure but I think that most of us would prefer police policing the streets rather than the military.

Approximately, 25% of this weekend's graduates (325) were women.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Salvadorenas por el mundo

With all the attention on Salvadorans living in the United States, it's always interesting to learn about other Salvadorans that have relocated to other parts of the globe. El Diario de Hoy does just that with a neat interactive map of Salvadoran women throughout the world in Salvadorenas por el mundo.

You should also check out links to Updates on security stories in El Salvador and Attempt to scale back government transparency blocked that Tim provided last week.

ARENA wants President Funes to clarify Salvador Sanchez Ceren's December campaign trip to Uruguay. ARENA doesn't think that the government should have to pay for Sanchez Ceren's trip to see Pepe Mujica.

Former president Tony Saca is getting the troops back together in preparation for his run at the 2014 election. What he has going for him is that he is well-known and that he is neither ARENA nor FMLN. Actually, those are his biggest weaknesses as well.

And could Mauricio Funes return to the presidency in 2019?

Monday, February 18, 2013

US veteran murdered in El Salvador

On Saturday night, a U.S. citizen was shot and killed in El Salvador. Michael James Brown, aged 53 or 55, was driving a rental car along with his Salvadoran wife on a coffee farm in San Isidro. San Isidro is located in the municipality of Izalco, Sonsonate.

They were attacked by a group of 8 to 10 men. According to authorities, Brown died after being shot at least five times in the head and shoulder. His wife, who was injured but was able to escape, is now being held as a witness.

As of today, Salvadoran authorities do not appear to have a motive for the crime. The attackers apparently hid among the coffee trees until their targets approached. They were waiting specifically for Brown and his wife. The couple frequently travel between the U.S and El Salvador. $1,500 remained behind at the scene of the crime which leads the police to believe that robbery was not a motive. It's possible that a gang operating in that area of Izalco was responsible for his death but it is still too early in the investigation.

According to Contrapunto, Brown was a veteran of the U.S. armed forces.

His death, obviously, comes just a few weeks after the U.S. government issued an oddly-timed travel warning for El Salvador. The warning came after El Salvador experienced its least violent year in quite some time following a March 2012 gang truce between the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs.

Ecuador's Correa rides to third term

Now, everbody, come kiss my ring
Ecuador's Rafael Correa won a third term in office on Sunday with approximately 57% of the national vote. The results don't look that different from his 2009 victory when he won with 52% and everyone else split the rest of the vote.

Why did he win? Well, everybody seems to agree that he was helped by a strong economy fueled by oil revenue. Poverty has been reduced and he has invested heavily in infrastructure and a variety of social programs. Lots of patronage. He has also brought stability to a country that has not known political stability in recent year. His standing up to foreign interests might also have helped him to win some voters.

What's not to like? His attacks against the press. The weakening of the country's judiciary. Basically, his intolerance towards those who hold opinions different from his own.

But there's also just a lot that we don't know yet or that is a matter of perception. The AP calls him a "a practitioner of one-man rule in the Chavez mold." He has consolidated power in the presidency but has promised to step down after this presidential period. Nathaniel Flannery, writing at Forbes, doesn't believe he will confront any difficulties should he change his mind. With a new four-year term coming, no one knows as of yet whether he will try to extend his term.

Reuters describes him as "pugnacious" and a "firebrand." The AP calls him "fiery-tongued." Flannery describes him as a "politically savvy and pragmatic president who is prone to occasional rhetorical flourishes when discussing the United States." He exhibits "strident anti-American rhetoric" but some believe that he has recently toned it down. The first two descriptions lead many to suggest that he might replace Chavez as the leader of the anti-American bloc in Latin America. Dedicating his victory to Chavez provides a little fuel to the fire here as well. However, other more pragmatic descriptions of him, and Chavez's sudden return to Venezuela, make it look like he's not one for the job. Again, we don't know.

There's also a bit of uncertainty as to the sustainability of the economic model. Where are oil prices going? Even with high oil prices, can his government sustain the large number of people added to government payrolls in recent years? Can Ecuador win foreign investment?

I don't have any answers to these questions and I'm not sure that anyone does yet. Like many things, we'll just have to wait and see how they play out.

Organized Crime and Insecurity in Belize

Julie López recently produced a report on Organized Crime and Insecurity in Belize for the Inter-American Dialogue. I highly recommend the report as one rarely comes across this type of in-depth investigative reporting on Belize.

López describes Belize as a small country poorly equipped, both financially and institutionally, to grapple with the challenges that it today confronts.
Belize’s low profile in Central America’s Northern Triangle—next to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—masks a startling reality. With a population that is at least 15 times smaller than any of its Central American neighbors, 43 times smaller in the case of Guatemala, Belize is threatened by the same problems that plague the region: a growing homicide rate, gangs, and role as a drug transshipment point, plus a budget for citizen security that is not proportional to its needs (on average, the government spends US$150 per person, per year, on citizen security).
Simultaneously, other symptoms of violence are overlooked outside of Belize, but their impact is just as dire: the scarred communities that cases like Suzenne Martinez’s murder leave behind and the sense of vulnerability that comes with an average of one theft, robbery or burglary occurring every three hours or less. In the hardest-hit areas, some Belizeans feel that if this is not rock bottom, they do not know what is. However, their struggles will remain unnoticed as long as other challenges in the region overshadow Belize’s security needs and the country remains unable to join its Central American neighbors in a regional and transnational approach to combating crime and insecurity.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Correa to win his last presidential term?

Prensa Libre: EFE
Ecuadorans go to the polls this morning to elect the president, vice president, five members of the Andean Parliament, and 137 members of congress. The president, vice president and members of congress will serve concurrent four-year terms similar to Guatemala rather than the non concurrent terms utilized in El Salvador. Concurrent presidential and legislative elections and terms generally benefit larger parties whereas non concurrent are thought to give some benefit to smaller parties. However, the runoff nature of the presidential election does give voters the incentive to vote sincerely in a first round.

In the presidential elections, incumbent Rafael Correa is expected to win rather easily over his seven competitors. Correa advanced to a second round runoff in 2006 against Alvaro Noboa and emerged victorious with 57% of the vote. After the promulgation of a new constitution, Correa won a first round victory in 2009. Most are expected a similar first round victory in 2013 with perhaps an even wider margin of victory. He has promised to step down in 2017 when term limits kick in.

Irene Caselli at the Christian Science Monitor and Boz at Bloggings by boz chalk up Correa's expected victory to a growing economy, reasonably good security situation, and the use of state spending on various infrastructure projects and on programs to support marginalized sectors of the country.

Freedom House characterizes Ecuador as partly free receiving 3 out of 7 on civil liberties and civil rights. (I am a consultant to Freedom House but generally make more contribution to discussions on Central American countries.) In 2012, Ecuador "received a downward trend arrow due to the government’s intensified campaign against opposition leaders and intimidation of journalists, its excessive use of public resources to influence a national referendum, and the unconstitutional restructuring of the judiciary."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gerardi murderer captured following trip to dentist

From the AP
Guatemalan officials say an army captain sentenced to 20 years in prison for the slaying of a bishop has been arrested outside the facility where he was living.
Byron Lima was sentenced in 2006 along with three other men for the 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi. The activist clergyman had released a report accusing Guatemala's military of being responsible for the vast majority of deaths during the country's brutal 36-year civil war.
Lima was driving an armored SUV Friday evening along with the director of the prison where he was living. Five prison guards were protecting them in a second armored vehicle.
Lima told the press he was being taken to a dental appointment. Officials said his exit from prison was not a jailbreak, but a violation of regulations.
This is the younger Byron Lima who stayed out longer than he was authorized. I imagine he'll be spending a little more time behind bars now. The prison director lost his job last night as well.

His dad, Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, was released from prison because of good behavior back in July.

Father Mario Orantes was released in January. He served a bit over half of his twenty year sentence. Church authorities are now in the process of determining whether he should be defrocked. This might take a few years and obviously leads to the question as to why the process was not begun years ago.

***Byron might not have been the only prisoner getting out on irrregular trips to the dentist and to the beach. (h/t @michaelcdeibert)

Femicides in Nicaragua

From the Argentina Independent
There were 85 women killed in Nicaragua in 2012 as a result of gender violence, according to The Network of Women Against Violence (RMCV).
Although the National Police only registered 76 cases for the year, Luz Marina Torres, of the RMCV, said the organisation’s National Observatory had documented the additional cases, which included four Nicaraguan women killed in Costa Rica.
Upon releasing the figures, the RMCV in Nicaragua demanded that the government ends impunity and fully enforces the law on violence against women, which was sanctioned last June. The RMCV claims that the state commission set up to tackle the problem has not yet communicated with women’s groups, despite them playing a major role in the creation and implementation of the law.
Nicaraguan officials recorded 675 overall murders in 2012. With 76 women killed, the percentage of female victims works out to 11.3%. The percentage edges up closer to 13% if you include the women killed in Costa Rica but then I guess the denominator would have to increase as well. I have no idea how many Nicaraguan men were killed in Costa Rica last year.

That's about the same percentage, perhaps a bit higher than what recorded in Guatemala last year. The absolute number in Guatemala was obviously much higher at 560 but still interesting to see the same percentages.

While in Guatemala you have a president who denied that any massacres occurred during the civil war and that genocide did not occur while people are on trial for ordering such events, in Nicaragua you have a president widely believed to have sexually abused his stepdaughter over several years. Not exactly the guy you want in power when trying to prosecute sex crimes.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Honduras: Why is there so much violence in our country?

Fr. Ismael Moreno has a fascinating story on Honduras for Revista Envio: Why is there so much violence in our country? It's a bit dated, May 2012. But I'm not sure that anything hasn't changed since he wrote the piece.
The violence in Honduras has old roots, but the newest ones have grown rapidly in the last 30 years. The accumulation of wealth, resources, land and power in few hands has generated levels of violence that now seem uncontrollable.
The breakfast, lunch, and dinner story is wild and could in many ways be written for each Central American country. It's also part of the reason why I don't blame capitalism for much of what it wrong in the region. That's, obviously, because capitalism doesn't exist.

The other challenge is the Father Moreno places so much hope in the State to solve the country's problems. The State needs to take a preferential option for the poor, at best, or be a neutral arbiter of disputes, at a minimum. It's not easy when the State is part of the problem but a solution is impossible without it.

Prominent Guatemalan Lawyer Assassinated

On Thursday evening, a prominent Guatemalan lawyer was assassinated on Avenida de la Reforma in Zone 9 of the capital shortly after leaving her office. Lea Marie de Leon was killed by two men riding on a motorcylce. Her husband is a Prensa Libre editor.

Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla speculated that a drug cartel was responsible for her death. However, there are other indications that she might have been killed because of internal office politics. De Leon recently received threats from a prosecutor which she had passed along to authorities. The threat was possibly related to the Valat case. They are not mutually exclusive - the motive could be related to both theories.

De Leon defended Maria del Rosario Melgar, accused of involvement in Victor Rivera's murder. Rivera was an adviser to the Interior Ministry who died in 2008. She also defended two men involved in the 2009 murder/suicide of Rodrigo Rosenberg. She was also involved in a number of other cases as prosecutor or defender.

There's a good chance that authorities will solve this case as well. They've been pretty good at solving high-profile cases and here they have ballistics, witnesses, and cameras.

However, at least based upon what Prensa Libre reported, it's tough to understand what Bonilla is thinking. In response to the killing, he said that the government is going to crack down on motorcycle violations since the assassins rode on motorcycles. They did this earlier in week anyway from what I was watching on T.V.

What he should have said was that attacks upon the criminal justice system will not be tolerated. De Leon was a defense attorney killed. In December, a prosecutor in Huehuetenango was killed. Several prison guards and police officers have also recently been murdered.

Bonilla should have said that they will prosecute those who threaten and kill employees of the justice system to the fullest extent of the law.

And that while they cannot restrict Guatemalans' right to free speech, statements that allege that the Attorney General's office is controlled by former guerrillas pursuing political witch hunts are counterproductive to establishing a true rule of law in Guatemala. In today's Guatemala, statements such as these endanger prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, and human rights activists.

Read more here:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Former chief of staff Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes

Former chief of staff for the Guatemala's army, Hector Mario Lopez Fuentes, was found unfit for trial. Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez had requested a medical evaluation of Lopez Fuentes from the National Institute for Forensic Science (INACIF). They found that he was mentally incapable of understanding others and expressing himself.
“en estos momentos el evaluado no se encuentra en pleno uso de sus facultades mentales, su capacidad y competencia para comprender y expresarse de acuerdo a esa comprensión se encuentra alterada de tal cuenta no posee capacidad para enfrentar juicio”.
Gálvez había solicitado el informe para establecer la situación psiquiátrica de López Fuentes. El informe firmado por el doctor Luis Carlos de León Zea explica que el procesado tiene problemas auditivos, del habla, para comunicarse, visuales entre otros a causa de un derrame cerebral. También confirma que en su expediente hospitalario se reporta que padece de Mieloma múltiple, cáncer de vejiga y próstata.
Judge Gálvez will decide what to do with the report on Friday. The case against Lopez Fuentes is unlikely to go forward as this is INACIF's second report that finds him incapacitated.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Q&A with U.S. Ambassador Aponte

The United States Agency for International Development's Impact Blog has a brief Q&A with the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte. In the interview, Ambassador Aponte speaks about the recently announced $42 million public-private initiative to "combat citizen insecurity and strengthen municipal responses to crime and violence in 50 dangerous communities in El Salvador."
As Ambassador to El Salvador, what are your top priorities?
My priorities in El Salvador are laid out in the Partnership for Growth (PfG) Joint Country Action Plan, which was signed by both governments in 2011. PfG is our joint, five-year strategy for expanding broad-based economic growth in El Salvador under an overarching commitment to democracy, sustainable development, and human rights. The Action Plan identifies insecurity as one of the binding constraints to El Salvador’s productivity and competitiveness. Crime and insecurity have had an incalculable effect on the potential growth of El Salvador’s business sector. They have also negatively affected the legitimacy of El Salvador’s institutions of government. The limitations of the state to combat and prevent crime can erode the confidence of the people and can undermine good governance. Crime and insecurity pose a threat to institutional and development advances and the Government of El Salvador and the Unites States are committed to advancing joint efforts under Partnership for Growth.
Security especially with regards to violent crime has improved with the gang truce. I'm not that sure that Salvadoran political institutions have improved much in the last year or two. And economic growth is pretty anemic.

Let's hope this partnership helps.

Central American Happenings

From Guatemala, the Pan-American Post has an update on Guatemala’s Corrupt Judges in the Crosshairs. A few months ago, CICIG identified eighteen judges as responsible for contributing to organized crime and impunity in the country. It's now time to find out what's going to be done about the accused.

Dana Frank has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times addressed to Secretary of State Kerry entitled "The Latin America mistake: Memo to Secretary Kerry: Stop funding the bad guys in Honduras." I don't think that the US is about to cut Honduras off. However, given the complicity of its government officials (appointed and elected) and economic elites in organized crime and the drug trade, now seems like a good time as ever to begin discussion about creating an International Commission against Impunity in Honduras (CICIH?). CICIG in Guatemala is scheduled to expire in 2015 just in time for many of its members to move down the line to Honduras.

And in El Salvador, Voices from El Salvador has Salvadoran Legislature Reforms the Law on Access to Public Information. The FMLN, GANA and PCN pushed through a number of reforms that are thought to weaken a law designed to give Salvadorans greater access to what their government is up to. There's always some balance that needs to be maintained between a government's need to keep some of its operations secret and citizens' right to information. However, at this point, it looks like the legislation is going way too far in the direction of secrecy.

U.S. crime reduction program comes to El Salvador - Updated

Now there's been some criticism concerning the lack of US involvement in El Salvador's gang truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs. I'm sympathetic to some of the criticism. However, I'm not entirely convinced that US involvement will be helpful.

I also think that we tend to dismiss other ways in which the US is actually contributing to the potential success of the truce through a number of economic initiatives. They are designed to  help at-risk youth and promote economic growth in El Salvador but are not focused specifically on dealing with the gang truce.

Here's another story from Jacqueline Charles at the Miami Herald on US assistance.
One of Central America’s most violent countries is getting a $42 million boost to help shed its image as one of the world’s most murderous nations.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is teaming up with five foundations in El Salvador to help bring homicides and gang violence under control in 50 of El Salvador’s most dangerous communities.
The program will focus on at-risk youths and helping cities develop anti-crime plans, said Mark Feierstein, USAID’s assistant administrator for Latin America. Feierstein said this is the largest partnership in USAID history with the private sector in one country.
Unfortunately, the article really doesn't give enough information. It looks like the aid is part of the US Partnership for Growth and not something in addition to it. Who are the five foundations? What is the $42 million going to be spent on? Presumably, the money is going to be spent on job creation since this is AID but the article also talks about "helping cities develop anti-crime plans."?

The title reads "U.S. crime reduction program comes to El Salvador." Therefore, the reader is under the impression, at least I am, that it is a program that has been created and/or implemented in the United States and is now going to be tried in El Salvador.

But I have not idea if that's actually the case.


Okay, I just found more details on AID's website.
SolucionES, the five-year partnership of $42 million, will:
  • Work with five municipal councils (consisting of local government, youth leaders, civil society, churches, the private sector, and civilian police) to assess local resources and develop crime prevention plans.
  • Train communities in conflict prevention.
  • Provide youth with after-school clubs, leadership programs, and employment opportunities.
  • Offer psychological counseling in schools traumatized by violence.
  • Increase the social investment of local private companies.
The partnership is part of USAID’s Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) work and builds on the agency’s mission to foster local capacity and sustainability. The SolucionES partners include: Fundación Nacional para el Desarrollo, Fundación Salvadoreña para la Salud y el Desarrollo Humano, Fundación Crisálida, Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social, and Fundación Empresarial para el Desarrollo Educativo.
That's much better. So its CARSI and not the Partnership for Growth. The plan will be developed in collaboration with Salvadoran partners and not imposed from the US. And it's anti-crime but not in the security-oriented way in which it is generally thrown about when talking about El Salvador.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Indigenous Pueblos assess Perez Molina's first year

The following analysis was distributed via the Guatemalan Scholars Network's listserve. I don't have a link but I thought that I would share.


A un año del Gobierno del General Otto Pérez Molina, las comunidades, organizaciones pro derechos humanos, mujeres, jóvenes, líderes, lideresas y académicos de los pueblos Maya, Xinka, Garífuna, Ladino o Mestizo; experimentamos un retroceso radical en la incipiente institucionalidad del Estado de Derecho y en los compromisos asumidos por el Gobierno de Guatemala a través de los Acuerdos de Paz, que constituyen derechos adquiridos por los pueblos originarios y sectores sociales históricamente olvidados.

Nos preocupa que la política del actual Gobierno de la República, favorezca y proteja a las grandes empresas transnacionales de minería a cielo abierto, minerías, de níquel, petróleo, hidroeléctricas y empresas productoras de palma africana; quienes han despojado y desplazado a los pueblos indígenas de sus territorios ancestrales, irrespetando la vida humana, las fuentes vitales de la madre naturaleza y las pequeñas propiedades de los habitantes de comunidades mayoritariamente indígenas y mujeres. Situación que agudiza la pobreza, extrema pobreza y la hambruna.

Estamos sumamente preocupadas-os por la militarización de nuestros territorios ancestrales y la sociedad en general, al crear destacamentos militares, “fuerzas de tareas” y patrullajes del ejército, estrategias de la política contrainsurgente practicadas durante el conflicto armado interno, el cual refleja una incapacidad del Gobierno de resolver la conflictividad económica, social, política, educativa y agraria, a través del diálogo y la paz.

Nos preocupa que desde el 23 de enero, la comunidad Las Trojes I de San Juan Sacatepéquez, se encuentra asediada por el personal de seguridad de la empresa Cementos Progreso, quien está cavando un pozo mecánico que afectará aún más el caudal del agua del pozo de la comunidad.

Han aumentado las amenazas a líderes y lideresas sociales, como el caso más reciente del Coordinador del Comité de Unidad Campesina –CUC- Daniel Pascual, y otros como los ocurridos a Juan Zet, Domingo Hernández Ixcoy y Lolita Chávez.

La reforma a la carrera magisterial planteada por el actual gobierno, elimina 21 Escuelas Normales de Educación Bilingüe Intercultural. Con esta medida el Estado de Guatemala viola el derecho al estudio de los idiomas, los conocimientos y los valores de la cultura de los pueblos indígenas, y en consecuencia, aleja a la juventud indígena, ladina o mestiza, del derecho de acceder a una carrera magisterial orientada a desarrollar una educación acorde al carácter multiétnico, pluricultural y multilingüe establecida en el diálogo y Consenso Nacional para la Reforma Educativa, en el año 2001.

La reforma del Acuerdo Gubernativo 525–99 de fecha 19 de julio de 1999 que creó la Defensoría de la Mujer Indígena (DEMI) por el Acuerdo Gubernativo 38–2013, publicado el 24 de enero de 2013, con el cual se elimina de tajo el mecanismo de participación y representación de las organizaciones de mujeres indígenas en uno de los niveles decisorios, en la elección de candidatas para el Cargo de la Defensora de la Mujer Indígena. Estableciendo la responsabilidad exclusiva de la Presidencia de la República en la elección de la Defensora de la Mujer Indígena, es otro revés al proceso de la paz y la democratización del país.

POR LO ANTERIOR, DEMANDAMOS: Al Presidente de la República, General Otto Pérez Molina, su apego al Estado de Derecho democrático y participativo para corregir el rumbo equivocado de su política de inclusión asistencialista, paternalista, partidista, folklórica y mercantilista con que se ha tratado a los pueblos indígenas y las mujeres. Suspender los proyectos mineros, hidroeléctricos, petroleros y de palma africana, por los irreversibles daños ocasionados a la madre naturaleza, los niños, las mujeres y la población en general. Apoyar al Ministerio Público para que investigue de oficio y castigue a los responsables de amenazas y persecuciones dirigidas a líderes y lideresas sociales. Asimismo asumir el compromiso de resolver la conflictividad social por medios pacíficos y no a través de la represión como se ha estado haciendo hasta la fecha. Garantizar la representación de las mujeres, la juventud y los Pueblos Indígenas en los espacios de toma de decisiones nacionales. Impulsar un proceso de consulta en los territorios indígenas afectados por el cambio a la carrera magisterial, tal y como lo estipula el Convenio 169 de la OIT, y como actualmente lo están demandando 21 escuelas normales bilingües interculturales. Cesar la criminalización de la lucha de los pueblos indígenas y las mujeres, ya que no contribuye en nada a buscar soluciones efectivas a sus demandas.

Integrantes del Colectivo pro Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas
Consejo de Organizaciones Mayas de Guatemala, COMG.
Asociación Política de Mujeres Mayas, MOLOJ.
Fundación Rigoberta Menchú Tum, FRMT.
Defensoría Indígena PDH.
Asociación Guatemalteca de Alcaldes y Autoridades Indígenas, AGAII.
Defensa Legal Indígena, DLI.
Consejo Nacional de Educación Maya, CNEM.
Organismo Indígena para la Planificación de Desarrollo, NALEB’.
Defensoría Maya, DEMA.
Asociación de Abogados y Notarios Mayas de Guatemala, NIM AJPU.
Asociación POP NO’J.
Movimiento de Radios Comunitarias de Guatemala.
Unidad de Pueblos Indígenas en la CSJ.
Paxil Kayala’ Waqi Imox, 31 de enero del año 2013. ¡No a la violencia institucional contra las mujeres, la juventud y los pueblos indígenas!

Appeal in Support of AVANCSO

Donations are needed to help AVANCSO rebuild after a suspicious break-in, in which all their computers were stolen. Many GSN members have done research and published with AVANCSO, and all of us benefit from the opening for social science research and praxis that AVANCSO has helped create and defend. Please see below for how you can help. Por favor, disculpen que la carta esté escrita en inglés.

In the middle of the night between January 17 and 18, the offices of the Association for the Advancement of the Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO) suffered a destructive break-in. After drugging the nightwatchman unconscious, the intruders stole some 30 computers, along with disks, flash drives, and digital cameras. The intruders also rifled through paper files.

In a January 18 statement, AVANCSO noted that the goal of the break-in appeared to be to steal research information and intimidate the organization, since other valuable equipment (scanners, etc) was left untouched. "This is a clear message against the critical social sciences in Guatemala," the AVANCSO statement concluded.

Please see below for what you can do to help.

Monday, February 11, 2013

El Salvador's Gang Truce at Eleven Months

Al Jazeera has a short video clip on the gang truce in El Salvador as it completes eleven months.

Americas Quarterly also had David Brotherton and Carlos Ponce respond to the question: Can the gang truce in El Salvador help improve security? Brotherton gets to answer yes and Ponce, as it has to be, say no.

Brotherton's article seems to address what has happened while Ponce's focuses a bit more on what might happen. That's just my basic take. I also had a different take on Ponce's last statement, however.
Negotiations between the government and gangs should cease immediately. Instead, a comprehensive approach to fight these criminal organizations must be designed and executed.
I see negotiations as one component of a comprehensive approach. The government can also target at-risk youth with programs, improve prison conditions, foster job creation, improve state institutions, and revamp how public security operates. While Ponce is a bit more concerned about how the gangs mutate as government takes a breath, I am hoping that the government can take a step back, breathe, and then approach gang violence in a more rationale manner. It wasn't possible when there were 4,000+ deaths in a year.

Even if the truce breaks down and violence escalates, I am hoping that the Salvadoran government is in a better position to respond to gang violence than it was one year ago.

You can read my recent take here for the Inter-American Dialogue.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Guatemala Happenings

Some Guatemala links. Cascadia Solidaria has a rundown on security gains and privatization initiatives. I am even more disappointed now that Guatemalans didn't have an honest campaign in 2011. Too much was focused on Sandra Torres' attempt at the presidency and a competition between Otto Perez Molina and Manuel Baldizon as to who could be tougher on escalating crimes rates. The media is only now trying to understand levels of violence in the country. But it's not as if the US has rationale campaigns.

Sonia Perez has an AP story on the coffee crisis in Guatemala and Central America. Guatemala recently declared a national emergency. Coffee rust, a fungus, is affecting 70 percent of the country's crop.
"The fungus directly affects coffee leaves, initially with yellow spots that later turn orange and reaches around the foliage of coffee, then makes the leaves fall," he said. "The plant loses its foliage. It's not able to breathe, so it ceases producing and it eventually dies."
Cabrera said climate change has brought a rise in average temperatures of about 2 degrees Celsius in Central American areas where the fungus was present, encouraging its growth and increasing the threat of severe damage.
The president of the National Coffee Growers Association says that coffee is grown in 206 of the country's 333 municipalities and that the industry generates 500,000 direct jobs and 700,000 indirect jobs each year.

Mary Jo McConahay has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on Justice for genocide in Guatemala? McConahay reported on the Guatemalan civil war and its aftermath and is the author of "Maya Roads, One Woman's Journey Among the People of the Rainforest."

More attacks against prison guards - two dead.

Too many articles on the dysfunctional congress to keep up with.

Finally, Prensa Libre has an interview with Mayra Palencia of the Rafael Landivar University and Ricardo Barrientos of the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales on the state of corruption in the country.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Overcoming adversity in El Salvador

Don Maximiliano Navarro was an FMLN militant who lost his hands and right eye while deactivating a bomb during the war. Today, he has his own business selling honey.

Tim also posted a video from El Salvador in the 1940s.

National Geographic has a story on Ancient Words: Deciphering an Ancient People and Their Language in El Salvador. El Salvador is a very underdeveloped country for archaeologists. However, that is beginning to change.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Most Dangerous Cities

The Atlantic posted this map about two weeks ago that compares gun homicide rates in several U.S. cities to those of countries around the world. Here are some of their takeaways.
  • If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
  • Detroit's gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
  • Baltimore's rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
  • Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).
  • Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).
  • Cleveland (17.4) has a higher rate than the Dominican Republic (16.3).
  • Gun murder in Buffalo (16.5) is similar to Panama (16.2).
  • Houston's rate (12.9) is slightly higher than Ecuador's (12.7).
  • Gun homicide in Chicago (11.6) is similar to Guyana (11.5).
  • Phoenix's rate (10.6) is slightly higher than Mexico (10).
  • Boston rate (6.2) is higher than Nicaragua (5.9).
  • New York, where gun murders have declined to just four per 100,000, is still higher than Argentina (3).
Remember, these are gun homicide statistics but not homicide statistics. Obviously, they are highly correlated. And the comparison is between U.S. cities and states around the world. There's a lot of variation within U.S. cities and within the countries to which they are compared. See Guatemala here and here.

Now, Security, Peace and Justice released its annual list of the world's most dangerous cities. Four cities have homicide rates over 100 per 100,000 people: San Pedro Sula, Acapulco, Caracas, and Tegucigalpa.

Ciudad Juarez and San Salvador saw significant decreases in homicide.

Durango, Mazatlán, Tepic, and Veracruz, México and Panama City dropped out of the top 50.

Guatemala City came in at number 12 on the list with 67 per 100,000.

New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Oakland make the top 50 from the United States.

Neither Scranton, Pennsylvania where I work nor South Abington Township where I live experienced a murder in 2012.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Guatemala’s murky politics

As I said, it's not easy to describe what is going on in Guatemala. Here's a recent letter to the Economist that challenges its somewhat rosy story of a week ago. The letter was sent by Armando de la Torre, the Dean of the graduate school of social sciences at the Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City.
SIR – You ran an encouraging article on Guatemala (“Edging back from the brink”, January 26th). Yet the politics of this country remain slippery. Guatemala has suffered from decades of civil unrest aggravated by a stultifying tradition of oligarchy. Left-wing insurgents tried to overthrow the state, but although they failed miserably the guerrillas won hearts and minds across the globe, and with that came political power. Today’s government is a product of that anomalous fact: an uneasy alliance between the oligarchy and the former guerrillas, with the presidency in the hands of the oligarchy and the justice ministry in the hands of the insurgents.
The arrest of soldiers at Totonicapán that you referred to was not a triumph for the rule of law, rather it was a case of the justice ministry disciplining its political opponents, to put it mildly. Claudia Paz y Paz, the attorney-general, has replaced the tradition of semi-lawlessness with something parading as constitutional law. Prosecutors who refuse to do the leftists’ bidding are punished, while violators of the law are the ministry’s off-the-record enforcers.
President Otto Pérez Molina allows this situation to continue in order to protect his position. The foreign media applaud it and say things are improving, even though they are not.
A few comments:

There are very few people who believe that the Guatemalan left has any "political power." Maybe if you characterize Colom, Baldizon, Paz y Paz and other as the "left."

I spoke to someone at the same Marroquin two weeks ago. They are researching the impact of foreign donations to local peasant and cooperative groups around the issues of mining and land reform. For them, the foreign money given to local organizations is much more threatening to the country than the mining industry itself.

There are those who believe that Paz y Paz should not be prosecuting Rios Montt and other former military officials because those individuals successfully defended the country against the communist URNG. They are heroes, not criminals. There's a relative of a former president here who just a few weeks ago said something to the effect that one should be thankful when people say/write "The US-backed Guatemalan government..." and Cold War in the same sentence.

There are others who believe that with so many challenges to Guatemala at present, any resources that prosecutors spend prosecuting human rights violations is time spent away from today's challenges.

I can't say that I agree with much in the op-ed but it is from a rather important educator.

Death Speeding Down El Salvador’s Roads

I wrote a little about traffic accidents / violence two weeks ago. Well, Edgardo Ayala has a more thorough write-up on some of the dangers on the streets in Death Speeding Down El Salvador’s Roads. He mentions poor maintenance of vehicles, failure to obey traffic signals, and the fact that so few passengers wear seat belts and helmets. That makes for a pretty dangerous situation.
The combination of widespread disregard for traffic regulations and poor vehicle and road controls puts El Salvador among the countries of Latin America with the highest rates of traffic-related deaths.
A Dec. 5 accident in which six people died when the car they were travelling in crashed near Santiago de María, 115 kilometres east of San Salvador, is just one of the many tragic accidents featured daily in the news.
“Traffic accidents are one of our leading emergencies; there are so many that we can barely cope,” rescue team paramedic Carlos Fuentes told IPS.
El Salvador has an average of 24.5 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in a population of 6.2 million, ranking sixth on the list of countries in the region with the highest number of deaths in traffic accidents.
I spent nearly all of 1997 in El Salvador. When I returned in 2004, I thought that drivers had actually started to be more careful - stopping before turning on red and stopping for pedestrians, at least once in while. I was only there for two weeks in 2004 so those observations weren't based on too much observation.

What I've really noticed since since 2004 is the congestion. There are so many cars, buses, and micros on the streets.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Introduction of evidence in Rios Montt trial

Kate Doyle has a very good rundown on Monday's Rios Montt hearing where the judge allowed nearly all prosecution's documents, witnesses, and military plans while excluding most of those introduced by the defense.
Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ended a four-hour hearing today in the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt by accepting all of the witnesses, experts and documents submitted as evidence by the prosecution. The defense, by contrast, failed in its bid to incorporate experts and documentary evidence on behalf of their client, although the judge approved several defense witnesses.
The ruling signifies that the case will now advance to the Sentencing Tribunal for a decision on when to open the final, oral phase of the groundbreaking trial against the retired general and his intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.
The oral phase of the trial should begin within the next three-to-four months in front of Judge Jazmín Barrios of the country's high risk court. Barrios is no stranger to high profile cases.
Judge Barrios has presided over some of the most important human rights trials in Guatemala, including the trials of military officers in the cases of the 1990 assassination of Myrna Mack, the murder of Bishop Juan José Gerardi in 1998, and the massacre cases Dos Erres and Plan de Sánchez.
Maybe I'm too optimistic. I might place too much emphasis on these high profile convictions and a decreasing murder rate rather than on all the people who are not prosecuted (but should be) and all those who still die too early.