Monday, September 1, 2014

Corruption in the Northern Triangle: The siren song of crime

Ivan Briscoe has a new report on Corruption in the Northern Triangle: The siren song of crime.
More than ever, it seems clear where Central America’s people and government should direct their efforts: to controlling money laundering, stiffening the autonomy of oversight bodies, bringing development to border regions, and eliminating graft from security forces and judiciaries. But in democracies where money and fear are important sources of mobilization, achieving public backing for these policies requires making lucid, tangible connections between progress in combating civil insecurity and improvements to the integrity of the state. It is this virtuous cycle that is needed to replace the current vicious cycle of emergency, militarization and crime, and the siren song of the ice-cream bell.
It is the third installment on a three part series for The Broker. Pien  Metaal and Liza ten Velde produced Drugs and violence in the Northern Triangle: Two sides of the same coin? while Wim Savenije and Chris van der Borgh wrote Anti-gang policies and gang responses in the Northern Triangle: The evolution of the gang phenomenon in Central America.

You can also check out Bastiaan Engelhard's Preventing crime and violence is better than fighting it.

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deportation for woman who killed US veteran in El Salvador

US Veteran Michael Brown was murdered in El Salvador in February 2013 (see here and here). He was killed while stopping for what he believed was a checkpoint along a road in road in San Isidro, Izalco Sonsonate. His ex-wife tried to flee the armed men but tripped. She was eventually left unharmed.

According to initial reports, $1500 was found at the scene so authorities did not believe the attack to be robbery-related. They then claimed that his death might have been motivated by a crime of passion but authorities, again, produced no evidence to back that up.

Nuri Liseth Aquino-Torres, Brown's ex-wife, was taken into custody at her home in March in Utah after a Salvadoran court issued an arrest warrant for her in January 2014. She was then ordered removed from the US in July and deported in August. She is accused of having orchestrated her ex-husband's murder. Police are now again saying that the motive was money.

I had received emails after Brown's death indicating that his murder might have been related to sex trafficking and a pretty famous strip club in San Salvador - dangerous people with perhaps terrible implications depending on where the investigation went. They thought Brown's wife had worked in the club before Brown helped her get out and that he might have been involved in helping or planning to get other young, trafficked women out of the club. We'll have to see where this investigation goes but there's a good chance we'll never know what happened.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A push is on in the US to reunite families torn apart by El Salvador’s civil war

Argentina has been in the news recently as two grandchildren disappeared during that country's dirty war have been identified, including the grandson of the president and founder of the Abuelas (Grandmothers) de Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto. The whereabouts of children stolen during wartime continues to be an issue for numerous Latin American countries, including Guatemala and El Salvador.

A new campaign has been launched in the United States to help identify children stolen during that country's civil war. The English and Spanish campaigns targets Salvadoran Americans who are seeking their biological parents.
“Were you separated from your child during the war in El Salvador between 1980 and 1992?  The Pro-Búsqueda Association of Disappeared Children from El Salvador will help you: Text the word FIND to 99000, or write to” 
A good number of Salvadoran Americans have already reached out to Cristián Orrego Benavente, the director of forensic programs at the Human Rights Center, at the University of California, Berkeley. Read the story here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

When Mothers and Fathers Migrate North

I just finished reading "When Mothers and Fathers Migrate North: Caretakers, Children, and Child Rearing in Guatemala" by Michelle J. Moran-Taylor (gated, ungated).
A substantial portion of Guatemala's population—about 10—15 percent of a population of 12 million—emigrates to the United States. Although this northward movement has produced significant social change, few studies have examined it from the perspective of the increasing involvement of household structures in transnational migration processes. Ethnographic research focused on transnational families reveals the social relationships that develop between caregivers and children and between parents and caregivers because of the necessity for transnational migration and identifies the emotional costs of these arrangements.
While violence and economic stress are clearly contributors to the recent surge in unaccompanied minors to the US, so too is family reunification. In this article, Moran-Taylor looks at what happens when one or both parents leave their children in Guatemala to seek out a better life in the US. In many ways, it isn't pretty.

Extended family, particularly grandmother and aunt caretakers, often watch the children of those who have left for the US. The caretakers raise the kids as their own. However, the parents who have traveled to the US often don't appreciate the sacrifice that their relatives are making in caring for the children. The children, while they appreciate the caretaker immensely, still have that unbreakable bond with their parent or parents in the US.

Over time, lots of negative effects are seen. The children left behind in Guatemala become almost single-mindedly obsessed with the remittances that they receive from the US. They get upset if they are interrupted or decreased. It often becomes the only thing that they care about.

The caretakers often have trouble when the parents send for the kids that had been left in their care. They've raised them as their own for years. The caretakers often do not want to expose the children that they have cared for to the dangers of the journey north through Mexico. That has led to conflict between the relatives. Sometimes they have paid their own way to accompany the children to the border.
They wanted me to send her [the niece] illegally. But I didn’t want to because I knew the mishaps she could potentially endure along the way. Because you hear of so many despicable things that happen, right? When we spoke on the telephone my brother-in-law would even insult me. He would say that I didn’t want to send their child because I was taking the money, the U.S. dollars they sent. But I never took any of the money for myself. I did, however, lump it together with mine to use for the household expenses, but even that wasn’t enough. They would send me $75 each month. And with these funds, I placed my niece in a private school. My youngest son, who just turned twenty, was very distressed about this whole situation. He then decided to go there [the United States] to accompany my niece along the way and drop her off at her parents’ house in Arizona. So now, there she is.
Since her arrival over there [Phoenix], my sister and her husband don’t even write to me—and they don’t even want my niece to have anything to do with us. My husband now tells me: ‘you see… since you raised her, they don’t even want anything to do with you now.’ But my little niece still keeps in touch—she calls me when they [the parents] are not around. Her father, though, always tells her that she needs to forget about us altogether. After children who have been cared for leave for the US, the remittances to the caretaker (the grandmother or grandmother-in-law, sister, sometimes friend) end abruptly. They might have sent a few hundred dollars a month to an aunt to take care of their nieces and nephews but once the kids are no longer in their care, the relationship ends. 
There are a great number of actual family scenarios described in this 2008 article, most of them negative.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Church and Central America

I'm starting my first week of class and my first semester as chair of the political science department so things are a bit hectic. Hopefully, I'll get matters figured out soon enough. Fortunately, we have a three-day weekend (four for me since I don't teach Tuesday) coming up. Now for the news.

W. Alejandro Sanchez writes on Pope pushes for beatification of Archbishop Romero. I still support Romero's canonization but I doubt that it will impact the violence and it might even make politics more divisive in El Salvador. I can't find the link but an opinion poll from a few years ago indicated that a majority of Salvadorans were unfamiliar with Romero.

Tim has a Pastoral initiative for peace coming from Christian and Catholic religious leaders looking to reduce gang-violence.

The Anglican-Episcopal Church in El Salvador has a new bishop, Juan David Alvarado.

The Guardian takes a stab at Pope Francis and liberation theology in a recent editorial. Here's what I wrote about possible changes in the Church should the Cardinals elect someone from Latin America.
Electing the next Pope from Latin America, or anywhere in the global south, would be symbolically important. Africa counts the fastest growing Catholic population, but Latin America is still home to the world's largest concentration of Catholics. While most Catholics today voluntarily profess their religion, Catholicism was violently imposed on the indigenous population that originally inhabited what we today call Latin America over five hundred years ago. And, it was only fifty years ago that Latin American bishops first travelled to Rome to participate in the Second Vatican Council after having been seen as second class for centuries. Given the large number of Catholics residing in Latin America and the global south, a successor from the south would be tremendously symbolic even if he were cut from the same conservative mold as his two most recent predecessors.
However, it is not all about symbolism. The selection of a Latin American pope might help to rejuvenate a Church that has lost ground in recent decades to Protestant and evangelical churches. It might help to heal the rift that occurred between those who supported a theology of liberation and those who preferred that the Church remain more traditional, some might say apolitical. Finally, the selection of a Latin American Pope might give added hope for the canonisation of the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.
However, in some ways, what might also change with the selection of a Latin American, African or Asian pope, is how the media, Catholics and non-Catholics listen to the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as their predecessors, have spoken very strongly not only on social issues, which get the most attention, but on issues such as the damaging effects of capitalism, poverty, inequality, climate change, the environment, migration, and war. Their stances on these important issues does not excuse them for the areas in which they have failed. But perhaps the selection of a pope from outside of continental Europe will force many to listen, not blindly of course, to what the Church has to say on many other important issues of the day.
In Guatemala, Elizabeth Bell writes about Francisco Marroquín: Guatemala’s first bishop and linguist. He has a park or two named after him in Antigua and a university in Guatemala City although I'm not sure what his connection to the individualistic thought of the university is. The community feeling at the Landivar and the UCA are just so much more appealing for my tastes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So how about some links from Guatemala?

Senator Rand Paul was on Meet the Press this weekend discussing his recent campaign trip medical mission to Guatemala. He might understand the actual causes of undocumented migration to the United States, but publicly he finds it more opportune to attack President Obama on bogus charges. I am hopeful that providing improved sight to hundreds of people outweigh the politics of the trip.

Victims and killers - niños sicarios.

US trade officials give Guatemala more time to install labor overhaul
Under the labor plan, Guatemala has agreed to strengthen labor inspections, increase labor law compliance by exporting companies, improve the monitoring and enforcement of labor court orders and establish mechanisms to ensure that workers are paid what they are owed when factories close, according to the USTR. 
At some point the US is just going to have to go to arbitration or give up. I'm not sure anyone thinks that labor conditions or enforcement of laws on the books is going to happen within the next four months or even four years.

Guatemala declares drought emergency
The Guatemalan government declared Monday a state of public emergency in the country's 22 provinces as a result of the prolonged drought that has affected more than 200,000 families and caused agriculture losses in the millions.
Central America is a beautiful region with picturesque volcanoes and beautiful coastlines. Unfortunately even the most well-intentioned development projects are going to be and have hamstrung by flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, and drought. There's a certain the US and Central American governments and agencies need to provide significantly more assistance to their populations not necessarily to improve conditions in the region but simply to prevent them from getting any worse.

Guatemala is in the final stages of purchasing two coastal patrol craft.

Guatemala: Inside the Border Crisis

And a not so atypical story - On Monday, Salvadoran police detained two Nicaraguans who were transporting nine Nepalese and three Bengalis on their way to the United States. They were apprehended while trying to enter Guatemala illegally.

Is Guatemala The Next Big Central American Must-See?
Everyone’s been to Costa Rica, most have hit Belize on a cruise ship, and let’s face it, the Yucatan Peninsula is pretty much been there, done that. Guatemala, however, is quickly becoming the new, fresh, must-see destination in Central America.
I only started going to Guatemala in the late 1990s when I heard the same thing. I imagine this is no different from what Guatemalans were saying in 1897. Here's Lisa Munro (maybe she'll post something on her blog or send it to me to post here)
The Central American Exposition flung open its gates to international audiences on March 15, 1897 in the capital city of Guatemala to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the nation’s independence. At the appointed hour, President Reina Barrios pressed a button that sent a telegraph over newly installed electrical wires with news of the exposition to distant regions of the globe. Parades and military bands played the new national anthem and accompanied the president, the exposition’s central committee, and other important guests to the fairgrounds.According to the official bulletin of the central committee, more than 40,000 people attended the exposition on the opening day.
Swept up in the global mania for world’s fairs, Guatemalan leaders and their fellow Central American counterparts seized on the idea of hosting an international exposition to refute their former colonial status, dispel prevailing stereotypes of their backwardness and barbarity and, in conscious imitation of the United States and Europe, promote their economic potential and draw foreign investment. World’s fairs allowed for the articulation of national ideals of progress, modernity, and visually illustrated a nation’s collective identity in an international context. Most expositions of the late nineteenth century attempted to promote a sense of national identity and pride by uniting citizens through exhibits that emphasized shared cultural values and important national symbols. 
Unfortunately, some things never change.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Canonization of Oscar Romero might not lead to peace but...

Tim Padgett argues for Saving El Salvador: Why The Vatican Needs To Make Archbishop Romero A Saint.
But this week Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, finally pledged a fast-track beatification for Romero. Let’s hope his canonization comes just as quickly, because Romero’s sainthood is a spiritual and social tonic that El Salvador and Central America desperately need.
It could, in fact, help the region pull out of its homicidal tailspin.
I'm all for canonizing Oscar Romero. He is truly a man of faith who was murdered for professing the Catholic faith. His outspoken support for the poor and the oppressed led directly to his murder.

I hope progress on recognizing Romero a saint will help reduce the violence in El Salvador, but I don't think that there's any reasons to link the two. I also wonder whether it might make things worse. In Guatemala, there was some support for improving the justice system and recognizing the crimes of the past over the last few years. That all stopped when it came to prosecuting those who ordered the scorched earth program of the 1980s.

Similar things have happened in El Salvador. President Mauricio Funes and the last FMLN government apologized on behalf of the state for a number of civil war era crimes. They recently set aside some money for victims of the war. However, there has been push back against efforts by the Spanish judiciary to prosecute those responsible for the murders of the UCA Jesuits and staff - a constitutional crisis. The military would not cooperate with efforts to release records on the disappeared youth - instead, Pro-Busqueda was attacked. And the military will not stop honoring those accused of massive human rights violations.

Recognizing Romero as a saint won't go over too well with those who see him as a communist and as a person who was leading the country down the path of revolution. The Nicaraguan Church's support for the removal of Somoza was important to convincing many Catholics to give the broad-based but Sandinista-led insurgency an opportunity. Romero wasn't at the point of throwing the Catholic Church's support behind the guerrillas (he had just supported the October 15 coup) but there was fear that he would eventually. That was unacceptable.