Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Secretary of Defense Hagel to visit our key partner in Guatemala (and other news)

Central American homeless youth charity La Alianza and Austin-based ad agency LatinWorks team up to bring awareness of sex abuse in Guatemala.
In 2013 alone, according to The Monitoring Center of Sexual Health and Reproduction in Guatemala, more than 60,000 girls and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 gave birth … Of these 60,000, 4,356 are girls under 14 years of age and 89% of their abusers are family members, and among them, 30% are their own fathers, cited by a study conducted by the PDH (Procuraduria de los Derechos).
I haven't gotten around to it yet, but InSight Crime looks like what should be an excellent read on Claudia Paz y Paz and the fight for justice in Guatemala.

The FBI is helping to investigate the death of a Guatemalan campesino who was killed by Belizean soldiers.

A US soldier in Guatemala as part of the Beyond the Horizons program died in an accident when a large tree branch fell on him.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is visiting Mexico and Guatemala over the next three days "to Affirm U.S. Commitment" whatever that means.
Afterward, Kirby said, Hagel will travel to Guatemala to convey U.S. support for a key partner in the region challenged by narcotics trafficking and transnational crime.
Hagel’s visit will be the first visit to Guatemala by a U.S. defense secretary since 2005, Kirby said. “The secretary looks forward to meeting with the country's leadership,” he added.
While in Guatemala, Hagel also will visit with U.S. troops who are engaged in medical training and civil affairs exercises alongside members of the Guatemalan military.
While not the most worrisome country in the region, I'm not entirely sure Guatemala is a key partner, well, at least it doesn't act like it.

Sean Cox on Guatemala’s Toll Road Fiasco, or How to Give Money to Your Friends in the Private Sector. Part of the reason why I don't see Guatemala's political and economic elite as partners. You can blame the US for a lot of problems but it's not clear that we have reliable partners in high places.

Feel bad for Guatemala's banana bosses now?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Successful drug reforms require something Guatemala just doesn't have - strong institutions

The World Politics Review has a brief interview with Adriana Beltran, a very smart Guatemala observer, in Global Insider: To Succeed, Guatemala Drug Reforms First Require Strong Institutions. Adriana discusses some sources of violence as well as recent efforts to reduce crime in Guatemala.

But everyone wants to know what is going on with President Otto Perez Molina's interest in drug legalization and decriminalization (one of my early Al Jazeera op-eds).
WPR: What effect would marijuana and opium poppy legalization, as proposed by Molina, have on criminal actors and the violence they cause?
Beltran: Molina has been an outspoken proponent of drug policy reform on the international stage, but so far has done little on the domestic level. One of the proposals he has put forth is the use of Guatemalan opium poppy production for medicinal purposes. The proposal deserves consideration and is currently being evaluated by a recently established advisory commission.
Beyond increasing availability of medicines, the proposal could reduce a significant source of revenue for criminal groups and potentially make those groups weaker and smaller. Such a shift, however, could also result in criminal organizations tapping other illicit revenue streams and could even contribute to increased violence sparked by competition for dwindling resources. 
Establishing a regulated market in opium poppy is a complex undertaking, particularly given the deep-rooted problems of corruption. To be successful, it would have to be done on a step-by-step basis and in the context of a broader rural development strategy to improve the livelihoods of small farmers who grow poppy. It would also require strong and effective institutions, which the country currently lacks. If Guatemala is serious about legalizing the medical use of poppy, it needs to be serious about fighting corruption and strengthening its institutions.
Legalization and regulating currently illicit drugs is going to be quite the challenge. Given Guatemala's institutions and historical track record, I can't imagine that many people are optimistic that the government is going to be able to pull this one off.

Given that next year's elections are seventeen months away, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guatemalan president promises to investigate trade unionist crimes

The economic model needs to change. Reform the justice system and increasing physical security for those threatened will help but won't quite cut it.
The Guatemalan president Otto PĂ©rez Molina has promised to continue investigating crimes against trade unionists and to provide them with more security if they consider their lives to be in danger.
The pledge follows increasing international pressure to end impunity in the Central American nation and seek justice for the 73 trade unionists murdered there in the past few years.
On a per capita basis, Guatemala remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist.
Workers and their unions face widespread violations of the most basic rights, such as the right to organise and to negotiate on behalf of the workers they represent.
A number of the trade unionists killed for campaigning for better labour rights had previously sought government protection after receiving death threats.
However, the protection was not given and they were subsequently murdered.
Under international pressure, the government has consequently created protection programmes to provide trade unionists with security if they feel they are at risk.
But many trade unionists say this response alone is not enough.
As long as a relatively small number of Guatemalan and international businesses benefit from the economic model and utilize the political system to defend their privileged position to the exclusion of nearly everyone else, promises of increased security for trade unionists is not going to be that effective.

In other news, Guatemalan authorities arrested a suspect in the killing of prominent chef and restaurateur Humberto Dominguez of Kakao.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

To join or not to join - gangs and the police in El Salvador
From Reuters
El Salvador's government on Wednesday said it would charge gang members who attack police and military personnel under anti-terrorism laws, which impose longer prison sentences, to crack down on rising homicides in the poor Central American nation.
Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo blamed a faction of the country's Barrio 18 gang for ordering attacks against government troops, saying there had been 60 so far this year.
I don't necessarily have a problem with imposing stiffer penalties on individuals, whether connected to a gang or not, who assault and/or kill security officials. I'm just not a fan of having them fall under the country's anti-terrorism laws - the same laws, I believe, that were used by ARENA to round up anti-water privatization protesters in Suchitoto in 2007.

While attacks by gangs against the police are up over 50 percent, not all police appear to be the target of the gangs. In Santa Ana, officers arrested one of their own for drunk driving. The officer was arrested along with his four driving companions - all allegedly members of the Barrio 18 gang.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear

Christine Wade and I have a post in today's World Politics Review on To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear. Here's the kicker:
While ARENA demonstrated that it can still get voters to the polls, doubts remain as to whether the party will conduct the self-reflection required to modernize itself. Following the 2009 loss to the FMLN, several ARENA members also sought to renovate the party. While acknowledging that they had accomplished much after occupying the presidency for 20 years, they also admitted that ARENA had sometimes failed to protect low- and middle-income Salvadorans against the abuses of the state and some of the country’s wealthy businessmen. They called for an ARENA that would represent all those in support of democracy and individual freedom, regardless of their political inclinations, not a party that only defended the interests of a select few. However, as in the past, would-be ARENA reformers’ calls for renovation fell on deaf ears. Unless ARENA embraces such reforms moving forward, its appeal will continue to be driven by fear, rather than the offer of a credible political alternative.  
I'm not optimistic, at least in the short-term, but I am rooting for a renovated ARENA that emerges from this recent electoral loss as a pro-democratic and pro-capitalist political party that many Salvadorans desire.

Divergent views on the failed Salvadoran gang truce?

Steve Dudley looks at 2 Divergent Views on El Salvador Gang Truce, 1 Sad Conclusion for Insight Crime.
1. A means for the gangs to strengthen their political, social and military standing in an attempt to become a sophisticated narco-criminal-political movement.
2. A way for the gangs to better incorporate themselves into society via social and economic programs while lowering levels of violence amongst themselves and against authorities.
It's a bit of a chicken or an egg problem. Has the truce failed in El Salvador because national (the gangs themselves, the PNC, government, society, the business community) and international actors (the United States) failed to support it or was there never a truce in the first place (hidden graves, continued criminal activity) so there was no reason for national and international groups to support it?

I'll just stick with what I said in June 2012.
Earlier this week, the truce between the MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang in El Salvador reached the 100-day mark. The truce has reduced homicides from approximately 14 to 5 per day. In recent weeks, that number has climbed a bit to 7.
The truce provides an important opportunity to reduce overall levels of violence in El Salvador. While most of the reporting is on whether 60,000 or so gang members can change, the truce won't stick if we are just asking the men and women who are members of gangs to change.
The state needs to change and make reforms that move its public security institutions away from mano dura and super man dura. The policies were critical to the expansion of gang-related crime. (I will have more on this at Al Jazeera probably this weekend).
If death squads that are eliminating gang member and former gang members continue to operate with impunity in El Salvador, the truce is bound to fail. If police continue to abuse gang members, whether they are in the process of arresting them or just harassing them, the truce is unlikely to hold. As long as prison conditions remain inhumane and authorities keep rounding up young men and women, the truce is unlikely to hold.
Finally, US foreign policy towards El Salvador, including economic, immigration, and security assistance, needs to change. El Salvador needs foreign direct investment and jobs. American businesses should be encouraged to invest in El Salvador to take advantage of the Millennium grants and the US' Partnership for Growth. Businesses or politicians that redirect investment to El Salvador should not come under political attack.
President Obama's decision to withhold deportation of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants is a good start, but won't substitute for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for most of those living in the US illegally. President Obama could move to make TPS for Salvadorans permanent instead of two year extensions that look like they will go on forever.
Finally, the US needs to change its security assistance / approach to El Salvador - more financial and human resources need to be dedicated to gang prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration strategies. The US could provide more support to the country's criminal justice system. Perhaps, at this time, there could be a serious discussion as to how to better assist gang members who want to leave the violence behind. Historically, it doesn't look like the US and Salvadoran governments have been able to deal effectively with gang members who want out or those who have gotten out.
I don't expect all 60,000 gang members in El Salvador to miraculously change their lives around. How do we assist those that do (10k, 20k, 30k?)? Experience has shown that many are going to fail on their first effort at transforming their lives. Are Salvadoran and US authorities ready to work with these young men and women, some not so young, so that as many as possible can turn their lives around?
So just to be clear, the truce gives the gang members a chance to reclaim lives of dignity for themselves and their families. However, it's not just the gang members that need to change. US policy and the Salvadoran state and people also need to change. They are getting a second chance as well.  

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.