Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dancing one's way out of Central America's gangs

Anna-Claire Bevan has the write-up on BBoy for Life, a new film about young Guatemalans who have turned to break dancing in order to give meaning to their lives and to help escape the country's gangs.
Guatemala City´s ghettos are renowned for their gangs, drugs and violence, but when US-born director Coury Deeb stayed in one, he saw a different side to life in the slums – one of people trying to escape their surroundings, through dance.
“We met with some B-Boys and learned that though they look like gangsters, many of them are not gangsters or involved in criminal activities. Yet they live next door to gangsters who often pursue them to join their gangs.
“What we saw with the B-Boys was a group who desire to be a part of something good, to express themselves through art, through B-Boying, which is an element of hip hop. Their threat is very real so they dance largely to stay out of the gangs,” says Coury whose film production company, Nadus Films, believes in using what you´re good at to serve and empower people.
Shining a light on the breakdancing subculture of Guatemala City, BBoy for Life showcases the struggles and triumphs of Cheez, Gato and Leidy as they contend with dance and gang life in some of the roughest ghettos of Central America.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Radio Progreso employee murdered in Honduras

Radio Progreso marketing manager Carlos Mejía Orellana was found murdered in his home in the northern city of El Progreso on the night of 11 April. He was stabbed several times in the chest.
Mejía had worked for the past 13 years for El Progreso-based Radio Progreso, one of the many Honduran media that criticized the 2009 coup d'état. According to he station's manager, Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, around 15 of its employees have received death threats since the coup.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) formally asked the Honduran government to protect Mejía in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Father Moreno has accused the authorities of ignoring these requests and the threats Mejía received, although his life was clearly in danger.
Let me just say that I don't have a lot of faith in the Honduran police who are allegedly leaning towards chalking up Mr. Mejia's murder to "a crime of passion."

Does Torture Work? Evidence from Guatemala

Christopher Sullivan, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan and a Fellow at Yale University’s Program on Order, Conflict, and Violence, has a guest post up at Political Violence @ a Glance based on a recent article he published in the Journal of Peace Research.

I haven't read the original article (you can read it here) but it does look very interesting. There's a lot of quantitative data out there on the Guatemalan civil war that is available to scholars who are interested in trying to answer questions about the local level dynamics of the conflict. 
In a new article at the Journal of Peace Research, I bring to bear micro-level data from Guatemala to generate a systematic evaluation of how torture affects violence within the context of an organized insurgency. This is a case in which highly skilled military personnel tortured with near impunity. Among other tactics, agents of the Guatemalan military forced the victims to stand hooded for hours or days, forced them to eat excrement, forced them to stay awake for days at a time, refused to give them food or water, subjected them to electric shocks, stripped them naked, burned them with cigarettes, suspended them from chains, sexually abused them, submerged them in water, cut them and broke their fingers. Combining data from Guatemala’s Commission for Historical Clarification with a research strategy designed to overcome many of the hurdles associated with causal inference, the analysis identifies how local-level dynamics of violence change in the aftermath of torture. The study examines torture’s impacts on subsequent killings perpetrated by both insurgents and counter-insurgents.
Two trends emerge from the analysis:
  • First, torture has no identifiable systematic association with decreases in insurgent perpetrated killings.
  • Second, torture is shown to be robustly associated with increased killings perpetrated by counterinsurgents.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Just the type of Salvadoran who should be deported

An immigration judge in Miami has ruled that former Salvadoran defense minister General Jose Guillermo Garcia should be deported from the US back to El Salvador because of his involvement in human rights abuses committed in that country during the 1980s.
The ruling went beyond earlier court decisions and found that General García had played a direct role in some of the most egregious killings and torture in El Salvador at a time when Washington was supporting the Salvadoran military in its battle against leftist insurgents.
Judge Horn found “clear and convincing evidence” that General García “assisted or otherwise participated” in 11 violent episodes that scarred the Central American country, including the 1980 murder of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero as he was saying Mass in the capital, San Salvador.
The judge also found that General García helped conceal the involvement of soldiers who killed four American churchwomen later that year. He “knew or should have known” that army troops had slaughtered the villagers, including women and children, in the hamlet of El Mozote in December 1981, Judge Horn ruled.
In an unusually expansive and scalding 66-page decision, Judge Horn wrote that “these atrocities formed part of General García’s deliberate military policy as minister of defense.” He added that the general “fostered, and allowed to thrive, an institutional atmosphere in which the Salvadoran armed forces preyed upon defenseless civilians under the guise of fighting a war against communist subversives.”
Some Americans and Salvadorans are obviously concerned with how the FMLN will manage the economic situation in El Salvador as well as whether they will take anything from that made up new left playbook and lead them to consolidate power at the expense of democracy.

One of the issues that I am concerned with is related to how Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN plan to address transitional justice. I've never gotten the impression that the FMLN leadership is set on doing any more than they are already doing - (vague) apologies and symbolic gestures. However, they might not have a choice.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren might have to respond to the forced returns of General Garcia, General Vides Casanova, and Colonel Inocente Montano from the US. Legal maneuverings are still going on in Spain which already led to instability in 2011. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been putting pressure on the Salvadoran Government to investigate and provide some sort of remedy to victims and victims' families who suffered during the civil war. There is some movement in El Salvador on El Mozote and other well-known crimes.

This November is the 25th anniversary of the murders of the UCA Jesuits so it might be a particularly testy few months for the new president.

And it is not just transitional justice that former military officials and some ARENA officials fear. Several corruption investigations against ARENA officials are underway and will really test the country's judicial and political system. Combine these investigations with the 2015 legislative and municipal elections and things are sure to be interesting for the next several months.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

In El Salvador, a glimmer of hope for a stronger economy.

So I forgot to link to this when the first round of voting was occurring - In El Salvador, a glimmer of hope for a stronger economy.
In stubbornly slow developing economies, like El Salvador, cultivating entrepreneurship is an essential ingredient for growth. With modest start-up costs, it is the small, even micro firms -- from one to 50 employees -- that generate most of the jobs. Yet, here, their emergence has been "absolutely stifled by the security situation," says a seasoned diplomat in San Salvador.
Real numbers are hard to come by, but it's clear that criminal demands on the country's commercial life stymy growth.
El Salvador doesn't get a "favorable" story in Fortune very often.

And there's still this interview by Elaine Freedman with César Villalona in Envio that provides a bit of a different take on El Salvador's economic performance under Funes and the FMLN.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Challenges confronting the next Costa Rican president

The Inter-American Dialogue's Latin American Advisor and American University's AULA Blog both take a look at what Luis Guillermo Solis has inherited in Costa Rica and what he has to do in order to leave the country in a better position that what he now inherits.

In the Advisor, José Antonio Muñoz, partner at Arias & Muñoz in San José, argues that
Solís' challenge to govern, if elected, is threefold: to maintain the vibrancy of Costa Rica's productive sector, to find the right political and government figures to lead the administration, and to either find a working arrangement with Congress or to neutralize it. he easier task for the new president will be to seek and obtain the support of the business community. This, in turn, would facilitate the other two. 
Kevin Casas-Zamora, secretary for political affairs at the Organization of American States and former vice president of Costa Rica, argues that
The challenges that await Luis Guillermo Solís are complex, and he's been given a weak hand to play. The first one is to build a viable majority in a legislature in which his party controls only one-fifth of the seats and has no obvious partners to forge a stable coalition. The second one is to appoint a credible economic team that can soothe the anxieties of domestic and foreign investors. The third one is to rein in a deteriorating fiscal situation, which calls for a tax reform that Solís has pledged not to pursue in the first 2 years of his administration. All this is a tall order for a leader that lacks any previous executive or legislative experience, a solid political base of his own and a team with deal-making and policy-making depth. 
Solis inherits a troubled country (though that is a bit relative) and it is really difficult to predict how well he is going to do. His party's has little legislative support and his government experience is limited. I'm not sure that he can satisfy the country's needs with symbolic victories even if they are just intended as a means to an end.

Fulton Armstrong takes a look at Solis in Will Costa Rica Seize the Opportunity?
His public persona – as a university history professor, former diplomat, a non-corrupt political neophyte, and an unglamorous campaigner – has engendered sympathy even if, as the head of a party with no record, people don’t really know what they’re getting in terms of policy.  Various business groups have signaled they can work with him and presented their wish lists – all touching on energy availability and prices – but that agenda also remains vague.
It's unclear whether those characteristics that allowed him to move to the forefront of Costa Rican politics will help him to govern. Armstrong, like the first two responses, is also concerned with what Solis will be able to accomplish with so little legislative support.

I'd say that these responses all work well with Something is wrong in the region’s “exceptional” democracyCosta Ricans look to turn the page after a rough few yearsNo whammies! No whammy, no whammy…. STOP!, and Business Implications of El Salvador and Costa Rica Votes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No whammies! No whammy, no whammy…. STOP!

Costa Rica got hit with a double dose of bad news yesterday when Intel and Bank of American announced significant layoffs in the country.
Bank of America Corp. and Intel Corp. stunned Costa Rica’s government by announcing they would fire about 3,000 workers in the Central American nation just two days after the opposition won a presidential runoff.
Intel, the world’s largest computer-chip maker, is cutting 1,500 out of 2,500 jobs in the country as part of an effort to consolidate some operations in Asia, spokesman Chuck Mulloy said yesterday. Hours later, BofA said it would be exiting operations in Costa Rica, Guadalajara, Mexico and Taguig, Philippines, without saying how many jobs would be lost. Costa Rica’s foreign investment agency said the BofA move would result in 1,500 layoffs.
This is horrible news for Costa Rica, of course, but it is also terrible for the rest of the Central America. Each country is trying to attract high quality, better paying jobs, and the fact that Costa Rica can't maintain 3,000 Intel and Bank of America jobs should make them rethink what potential they have to attract such jobs.

Instead, they'll just have to settle for deal such as Fruit of the Loom shifting its clothing operations to Honduras.