Thursday, October 23, 2014

El Salvador and the University of Central America: Yesterday and Today

I am giving the keynote address tomorrow at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on "El Salvador and the Central American University: Yesterday and Today."  As you might know, the 25th anniversary of the deaths of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter will take place on November 16th. All the Jesuit universities in the country are holding a series of events to commemorate the occasion. 

I don't imagine that I would be teaching Latin American politics today had it not been for the work and death of Ignacio Ellacuria, Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes and the other Jesuits in El Salvador. Their martyrdom caused me to focus on El Salvador while their academic and pastoral work led me to ask how do civil wars end and what happens to armed opposition groups, the FMLN in this case, one the war ends. 

I'll probably talk more about the topic over the last month but, for now, I'll just say the UCA remains a model for 21st century Jesuit and Catholic education.

Private security has become a labor option for a large section of society – namely displaced agricultural laborers

Anna-Claire Bevan takes a look at Have gun, will travel: The rise of Guatemala’s private security industry. There are currently 100,000 - 150,000 private security guards in Guatemala protecting everything from hair salons to the children of the country's wealthiest elite. Where do they come from?
The majority of people living below the poverty line in Guatemala are concentrated in rural, majority-indigenous areas where access to education and jobs are limited. Because few private security companies require their employees to have prior experience or a high level of schooling, many unemployed people from the rural areas flock to the capital to seek work as a security guard, allowing them to earn a salary without the need for credentials.
“Private security has become a labor option for a large section of society – namely displaced agricultural laborers,” says Dr. Argueta, the German researcher. “It works like an ‘arms sweatshop’: offering low wages, evading taxes and labor responsibilities, and contracting casual staff that lack qualifications.”
In recent years, the government has tried to get a handle on the private security industry with new regulations but it is obvious that the new regulations, just like every other regulation in Guatemala, has has limited success. It's just not entirely clear whether it is the lack of financial resources, organizational capacity, or will. Perhaps, a combination of each I guess.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The US already has a Plan Central America

Ana Quintana at The Heritage Foundation has a new look at Does the U.S. Need a “Plan Central America”? For the most part, she argues that we already have one. We "simply" need to make important reforms in its implementation. Here are her three recommendations for what the US should do:
Formulate clear goals for CARSI. CARSI was originally designed as a supplement to the Mexico-focused Mérida Initiative. Regional security issues and threats have evolved since then. CARSI should reflect these changing dynamics.
Lift congressional withholdings that undermine U.S. security efforts. Current withholdings against Guatemala and Honduras continue to weaken U.S. regional counternarcotics efforts. Increasing levels of U.S.-bound drug trafficking and accompanying violence will continue to destabilize Central America, and Congress should recognize the need for continued engagement.
Recognize the importance of supporting civil society in Central America. In the U.S. and other Western democracies, civil society functions as the intermediary between the government and the public. Democratic and governance institutions in many of these countries are weak and in many cases corrupt. The U.S. should support groups and organizations that hold regional governments accountable.
I'm all for recommendations one and two. However, with regards to point number two, which mostly corresponds to the Leahy act tying military assistance to human rights improvements, I clearly do not support lifting the conditions. However, instead of removing them, the US needs to move forward with our Central American partners (Guatemala and Honduras) to double down on programs that will help them qualify for the removal of such conditions. Because their militaries do not meet human rights standards is not a reason to remove the conditions. However, at the current rate, neither military is going to meet the standards anytime soon.

[Does this sound like US policy towards Central America during the Reagan administration to anyone else?]

The same goes for economic assistance. Only El Salvador qualifies for a large Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact. Neither Guatemala nor Honduras meet the necessary democratic and economic conditions for a compact but they do for a threshold program. While the US has told them what they need to do to receive one hundred million dollar-plus compacts, they need more assistance to get there.

How much more and how to deliver that assistance, I don't know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Panamanian Supreme Court justice suspended

Like every other recent administration in Central America, there were a number of allegations of corruption and abuse of power during Ricardo Martinelli's presidency - infrastructure spending kickbacks and court packing to name two.

Well, there's some movement in Panama right now to hold one Supreme Court Justice accountable for some unexplained wealth accrued during the last few years.
Alejandro Moncada has for weeks been battling accusations he profited from his ties to the former conservative leader after documents emerged showing he paid mostly in cash for two luxury apartments valued at over $1.7 million. Such properties are seemingly incompatible with Moncada's $120,000 a year salary and don't show up in a sworn affidavit delivered shortly before joining the bench in 2010 in which he declared a 4x4 truck and an expensive watch as his only assets.
As part of the ruling by lawmakers leading an impeachment probe, Moncada's assets were temporarily frozen. He was also ordered to turn over his passport and remain confined to his residence.
Moncada denies any wrongdoing and said he's the victim of a campaign by Martinelli's political foe and successor, President Juan Carlos Varela, to reshape the nine-member high court.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Salvadorans demand food and water security

On October 15th, Salvadorans took to the street in support of Food Sovereignty Day and World Food Day. Voices on the Border has the entire write-up.
Food sovereignty is a fairly straightforward concept articulated first by La Via Campesina in 1996. It simply asserts the right of people to define their own food systems, placing the individuals who produce, distribute, and consume food at the center of the decisions on food systems and policies.
Marchers had some very specific policy points they want their government to address. (If this post and these demands sound familiar, they held a similar march last year making many of the same demands.)
Salvadorans want the government to recognize food security as a basic right, ban several toxic agrochemicals, pass water and mining laws, and do more to protect the region's fragile ecosystem.
Again, none of these issues or demands is new, but people are protesting because there has been little to no action. While many celebrate the Sanchez Cerén administration as the second consecutive leftist government elected into power in El Salvador, many in the FMLN’s base are grumbling because they have not seen the kinds of changes they expected. Some have been reluctant to protest against the government officials they voted into power, believing the alternative to be far worse. But others are tired of the perceived inaction on issues related to basic rights such as food sovereignty and access to water, and are speaking up.
It's not clear that the FMLN wants to pass all these laws but there are international agreements / considerations that inhibit their passage and practical reasons such as the fact that the FMLN does not have a majority in the Congress. Liking the ban on mining, Salvadorans might have to settle for de facto bans for the time being. Those commitments are not as secure, however, as de jure bans.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

US extends TPS to Nicaragua and Honduras

On Friday, Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible nationals of Nicaragua and Honduras. TPS was originally granted to Honduras in 1999 and to Nicaragua in 2001. As a result, thousands of their citizens were provided with work permits and legal documents to remain in the United States even though their papers had expired or they had never received any.

As I wrote in 2011, the US probably won't be ending TPS to Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, or Hondurans anytime soon. All of the people eligible for TPS have been in the country for over a decade. It doesn't make sense to make them go "home." For many, this is their home. I also wrote that the administration should start thinking about how to transition these people to some form of permanent legal status. However, it's now time to move beyond thinking about it and to act on it.

Unfortunately, other than increasing the number of deportations, President Obama doesn't really seem to be concerned with the crisis affecting millions of precariously documented and undocumented migrants in our country. Or maybe he cares and just doesn't think that it is a politically winning strategy to care. We'll learn more after the November elections apparently.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Building a brighter future for Guatemala's kids


Guatemalan Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes has been named a 2014 Top 10 CNN Hero in recognition of his efforts to help over 1,000 young Guatemalans survive and maybe escape poverty and violence through turning his family's home into a community center in 2006.
Romero Fuentes' program takes place in the entire front portion of his family's home as well as another building down the block.
At the main center, painted with colorful murals and quotes, children are exposed to a number of creative outlets. They take classes in dance, music, photography, theater and juggling and often put on performances for each other.
"These classes are to show kids that they can pursue their own passions in order to improve their lives," Romero Fuentes said.
Leadership seminars teach the children about social, political and cultural issues. They learn the importance of moral courage, social justice and self-expression. They also explore ways to reduce violence.
"We are raising them to be the future leaders of Guatemala," Romero Fuentes said.
The group's feeding program provides a nutritious meal to more than 100 children each day. For many of them, it is the only meal they will have all day, says Romero Fuentes.
Los Patojos also runs a medical clinic that provides basic health services to more than 1,500 people each year. And the organization is in the process of building its own school, where more than 250 students will attend preschool through sixth grade.
Read more about Los Patojos and go to CNN to vote for Mr. Romero Fuentes.