A farmer in Choco stands amidst his cacao plants. Photo: Anna Vogt
Mexico Ayotzinapa massacre: new theory suggests illicit cargo motivated attack
The government has responded cautiously to the report, welcoming its findings as a contribution to uncovering the whole story, while choosing to ignore the questions it raises about the credibility of its investigation. “Today we have more elements to help us clear up these unfortunate events,” said President Enrique Peña Nieto earlier this month. He did not mention the fact that the official version has not changed since November when it was described as the “historical truth” by his then attorney general. “The case is still open,” Peña Nieto added. “The investigation continues.”
‘The End of Power’ for LatAm’s Underworld
“From boardrooms to battlefields and churches to states, why being in charge isn’t what it used to be,” reads the front cover of best-selling book “The End of Power.” The same is true for underworlds across Latin America. In his book, author Moises Naim lays out how and why power is seeping out of the hands of traditional elites and into those of upstarts around the world. Naim stresses that this process is occurring in a wide range of our most cherished institutions, from political parties to militaries to businesses and religions. However, a similar dynamic is also playing out within the confines of a much more nefarious realm: organized crime in Latin America. InSight Crime identifies four ways in which the changing nature of power outlined by Naim also applies to the region’s organized crime landscape.
El Niño drought causing food crisis in vulnerable Central America
A second report, released on Thursday by the U.N.’s World Food Program and the International Organization of Migration explored the link between food insecurity, violence and migration out of the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The report estimated that 1.5 million people in the three countries now suffer from severe or moderate food insecurity. This represented 25 percent of households in Guatemala, 36 percent in Honduras and 13 percent in El Salvador. From 2011 to 2013, 30.5 of Guatemalans were considered undernourished, 11.9 percent of El Salvadorans and 8.7 percent of Hondurans.
Carlos Dada: Guatemalan Victories over Impunity Have Inspired People across Central America
So what will it take to allow for something like this in El Salvador? Well, if they don’t want a CICIG, something else will have to happen, because society there can’t go on anymore the way it is going. El Salvador is about to explode. It is now the most violent country in the world and Honduras is following really close. People get tired of this, so I know that what has been happening in Guatemala is forcing the two political parties to talk about bringing someone honest and credible to the prosecutor’s office, because they don’t want to be forced to allow the establishment of a CICIG in El Salvador. Because they see it as a direct result of pressure from Washington, so it goes against the state’s independence or sovereignty. But they need to do something to bring credibility to such a key institution.
Women Revolutionise Waste Management on Nicaraguan Island
A group of poor women from Ometepe, a beautiful tropical island in the centre of Lake Nicaragua, decided to dedicate themselves to recycling garbage as part of an initiative that did not bring the hoped-for economic results but inspired the entire community to keep this biosphere reserve clean.
How Women Trade Amid Tensions in Haiti
Reports from a busy border crossing in the north suggest that far fewer Saras are streaming into the adjoining Dominican town for market. As the Dominican Republic moves to tighten its borders, Haitian officials have responded by enforcing duties on Dominican goods moving the other way. Amid calls for an outright boycott of the D.R., Haiti’s minister of economy and finance, Wilson Laleau, announced this week that Haiti will soon enforce a ban on some Dominican goods crossing its borders by land and will restrict the number of ports at which they may arrive by sea. It’s a policy prompted by antagonism from abroad, but one whose most likely victims, at least in the short term, will be Haitian: the Saras and those depending on the essentials that they transport.
Farc peace talks: Colombia nears historic deal after agreement on justice and reparations
Colombia took a major step toward ending its five decades of war on Wednesday with a historic deal between the government and leftist Farc rebels on issues of justice and reparations to victims of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts, clearing the path for a final peace deal to be signed within months. In an unprecedented joint announcement in Havana, Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, and Farc’s chief, Rodrigo Londoño – known as Timochenko – said the two sides had agreed on a formula for transitional justice for conflict-related crimes such as kidnapping, murder, forced displacement, disappearance and torture, one of the most complex issues on the negotiations.
Tracking Down Bolivia’s Narco-Planes
These drug flights have also created a frequently updated list of aerial accidents. It is illustrative of the precariousness which the feared aerial traffickers — who are mostly Bolivian — are all too willing to face, for the sake of making money. The line between landing and crashing the plane is a thin one. The planes frequently end up smashed in the jungle. If the wreckage if found, a small group of police intelligence investigators will then begin a stubborn attempt to recreate what happened to the plane — and who were the owners. ..Martin Rapozo exported more than 30 planes from the United States to Bolivia. And — judging by what we know thus far — he was able to do this with impunity for several years.
Protesters outside the presidential palace in Guatemala City calling for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and an end to what many see as political impunity. Credit Josue Decavele/Reuters
Michael Chapman is the country representative, along with his wife Melissa, of Mennonite Central Committee´s program in Guatemala.
The year 2015 will be remembered as a year in Guatemala marked by controversy, corruption, hope and transformation. Through the revelation of unbelievably bold corruption scandals, the people of Guatemala have found a unifying and peaceful voice demanding justice and an end to corruption and impunity that will hopefully have lasting effects. In this installment we want to give a summary of what has happened in Guatemala over the last five months and where things might be headed in the future.
CICIG and the Start of it all.
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (or CICIG according to its Spanish acronym) is a UN-backed body that works closely with the Guatemalan Attorney General’s office to improve its investigation and prosecution capacity. Since the CICIG’s inception in 2006, numerous high level criminal structures and cases have been exposed and prosecuted, some with ties to the now past-President Otto Perez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti. These cases and the CICIG itself threatened the political and military establishment, causing a political shouting match in 2015 regarding the extension of the CICIG which was set to end in September 2015. President Perez Molina publically declared that he would not extend the term of the CICIG.
On April 16 2015, the CICIG and the Attorney General announced the discovery of a massive corruption scheme within the government that was frauding Guatemalan taxpayers out of millions of dollars annually. Roxanna Baldetti’s personal secretary was accused of being the head of this extensive network, but he conveniently went missing during an international trip he took with the vice president at the time of the announcement.
The scheme was a bribery ring, where businesses importing goods into the country would negotiate lower taxes via a secret phone line—for this reason the case has been dubbed La Linea, or The Line. While the CICIG only started investigating this case in 2014 through wiretaps and emails, it is clear that this structure has been in place and operating much longer than that. The estimate is that at its height, La Linea was bringing in $250,000 per week.
Immediately following the announcement of the corruption scandal, Perez Molina made an about face and extended the mandate of the CICIG. With such a close connection to the accused head of this fraud ring, then-Vice President Baldetti resigned on May 8, 2015.
In the coming weeks the CICIG and the Attorney General’s office unleashed a series of cases opening up further corruption deeply embedded in Guatemalan politics. The most notable was the revelation that the Guatemalan Social Security Administration and National Bank were implicated in a scheme where millions of dollars were skimmed off the top of medical treatment contracts. One report claims that 13 people have died due to negligent treatment connected to those contracts.
The revelation of the La Linea scandal created a mass movement that brought the people of Guatemala to the streets to unite its voice against injustice and corruption. This movement first demanded the resignation of then-Vice President Baldetti. When she resigned, the focus shifted to Perez Molina himself, with the hashtag #RenunciaYa or #ResignAlready becoming the movements slogan.
For 20 straight weeks, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City. This peaceful protest movement has been an unprecedented movement that has brought together people from across all parts of society. Not organized by any particular group or party, the protests were intentionally peaceful and reminiscent of images of the early moments of the Arab Spring which relied heavily on social media activism and organic-yet-contagious participation that spreads like a wildfire.
In late August, two weeks ahead of the presidential elections, the CICIG and the Attorney General held a press conference to announce the arrest of ex-Vice President Baldetti and that she and then-President Perez Molina were believed to be the heads of the La Linea fraud ring.
The protests intensified for the coming weeks, with President Perez Molina rejecting the calls for his resignation through a defiant public address. A National Strike was organized to stand together against corruption. That day passed without any major issues, and a clear sense of peaceful solidarity was seen everywhere. This public pressure and clear evidence opened up the way for Guatemalan Congress to remove Perez Molina’s immunity to prosecution, and the following day an arrest warrant was issued for him. Perez Molina resigned on September 3 and was subsequently arrested.
Election Day 2015
Elections moved forward as planned, despite calls by the protesters for postponement. The public recognized that there were no good options to vote for and would rather not vote at all. Due to his connection to “politics as usual” and his prior backing of Perez Molina and the establishment, the long-time front runner Manuel Baldizón, was quickly seen as a problematic candidate if this recent movement was going to have a lasting impact. Suddenly, in the final days, Baldizón began to hemorrhage support. On Election Day it was clear that he was not going to win. Shockingly he did not even come in second, which would have at least secured him a place in a runoff elections.
Relative newcomer Jimmy Morales shot to the front that day, and ex-first Lady Sandra Torres barely beat Baldizon for second place. Election day itself was relatively peaceful and joyful. Many protesters did turn out to denounce the whole process as a farce, but it remained relatively calm. In the rural communities, many journalists and elections observers documented problems at the polls, but overall there were a lower number of irregularities documented than expected.
The atmosphere after Election Day was one of surprise, hope and cynicism. There was surprise because the people of Guatemala finally had made a deciding impact in the course of politics. For so long people have felt that the clandestine political, capitalist, and military powers have pulled the strings and lead the horse in the direction they wanted the cart to go. But this time things were different. This time the people spoke up and made a change for their future. Many people, however, came away from the election process a bit cynical. People felt suspicion that things would quickly return to business as usual. For so long the people of Guatemala have been accustomed to impunity at the hands of corruption and violence, and so there is underlying skepticism things will be different this time around.
Many also have recognized that fundamental systems have not changed, and until that happens there will not exist the political will to effectively address painful realities that exist in the country and the region: realities of paralyzing violence at the hands of gangs, narcotraffickers, and clandestine security groups; crushing poverty and under-nutrition; community devastation from the extractive industries; and debilitating corruption and impunity. Until these things change I think people will be rightfully leery of placing too much hope in the outward appearance of exciting political progress.
To read more about the political awakening that occurred this spring here are some links:
In Guatemala’s capital, little enthusiasm for country’s next president
Otto Perez, Sleepless Nights and the CICIG
Guatemala’s Corruption Investigations Make Swift Strides
Guatemala: How a corruption scandal forced the president’s hand (+video)
Thousands in Guatemala demand president, deputy resign
GUATEMALA HAS A BIG PUBLIC RECKONING COMING
From President to Prison: Otto Pérez Molina and a Day for Hope in Guatemala
These events are not isolated. These events are rooted in Guatemala’s long history of colonization, repression and “progress” in the 1800s, and then U.S. CIA intervention in 1954 and subsequent civil war from 1960 to 1996. There are three excellent books to help frame these recent events in the historical context. Those books are:
Bitter Fruit by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer
Art of Political Murder by Francisco Goldman
The Guatemalan Reader edited by Greg Grandin, Deborah Levenson, and Elizabeth Oglesby