Weekly News Round-Up

National News

International News

International coverage of Otto Pérez Molina

Following Sunday’s presidential elections, there has been a swarm (at least by Guatemalan standards) of international media sources reporting on former general and president-elect Otto Pérez Molina.  It seems that the rest of the world has finally caught on to the potentially ominous political shift occurring in Guatemala and the serious implications it could have on the entire Central American Region.

As drug-related violence and organized crime has been steadily on the rise in the past ten years, foreign governments–particularly the U.S.–are beginning to pay close attention to security and military policy in Guatemala.  With his aggressive promises to crack down on crime and narco-trafficking, the election of Otto Pérez Molina reflects the growing dissatisfaction and frustration spreading throughout Guatemala.

Check out some highlights of recent international news coverage of Otto Pérez Molina:

GHRC Director interviewed on WBEZ Chicago Radio

During the Fall Speaker’s Tour, GHRC Director Kelsey Alford-Jones stopped in at Chicago Public Radio for an interview about the recent election of former general Otto Pérez Molina and recent increases in violence throughout Guatemala.  Kelsey provides valuable analysis of the incoming president and his controversial past and the challenges Guatemala is currently facing. The second half of the podcast brings in Emiliano Valdes, a curator based in Guatemala City, to discuss a unique artists’ movement arising out of the violence in Guatemala.  Listen to the full podcast over at WBEZ’s website.

Election Results are in…

Photo by: Associated Foregin Press, for BBC World

Otto Peréz Molina was the clear winner in yesterday’s presidential elections, receiving 54% of the popular vote and beating out opponent Manuel Baldizón, who received 46% of the vote.  The majority of Molina’s support comes from the capital city, where 66% of votes were in his favor.  Alongside the new president-elect, Roxana Baldetti will become the first female vice-president in Guatemala’s history. During a press conference following confirmation of the results, Molina announced the first official members of his cabinet–Mauricio López Bonilla as Interior Minister, Francisco Arredondo as Minister of Health, and Alejandro Sinibaldi as Communications Minister.

The election of the former general  marks a dramatic and worrisome political shift in Guatemala, as increasing violence and drug-trafficking has led many citizens to support Perez Molina’s ‘mano dura’ hardline approach to cracking down on crime.  Guatemala is facing some of the highest rates of poverty, malnutrition and violence in all of Latin America.  The election of Otto Perez Molina points to the increasing level of dissatisfaction and frustration with previous leaders’ failure to control what many view as a downward spiral.  Many Guatemalan’s seem to be desperate for results and the ‘iron-fist’ approach of Perez Molina is an appealing and dramatic shift in policy.

However, human rights defenders and organizations–GHRC included–have expressed serious concerns about the incoming president’s involvement in acts of genocide and war crimes during Guatemala’s armed conflict.  In alliance with Rights Action and lawyer Jennifer Harbury, GHRC presented a formal allegation letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights denouncing Otto Perez Molina and accusing him of direct involvement in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide during his military service as a general in the Ixil Triangle from 1982-83 and as Director of Military Intelligence in the early 90′s.  A recently published article in the Wall Street Journal provides an extensive profile of the general, including an interactive timeline of his involvement in the armed conflict and the torture, capture and murder of political prisoner Efrain Bámaca.

GHRC Launches Fall Speaker’s Tour with Maria Choc

GHRC is proud to present our Fall 2011 Speaker’s Tour with Maria Cuc Choc, a Mayan activist and community leader from Guatemala. Maria and Kelsey Alford-Jones, director of GHRC, will be doing a series of exciting and informative events together in Washington, DC, Chicago, Iowa and the Twin Cities.  We will kick off the tour tomorrow night at American University before heading to the mid-west. This is an incredible opportunity to meet an inspiring member of Guatemala’s indigenous community and spread awareness about the current human rights situation in Guatemala.

Photo by: Rob Mercatante

We are bringing Q’eqchi Mayan community leader Maria Choc to the U.S. from Guatemala. Maria has been struggling for indigenous rights, land rights and women’s rights in her community – and regionally – for many years and will be speaking about these struggles in the current context of increasing violence and a new administration taking office. Maria comes from a family of community organizers and activists, and it has been their struggle and sacrifice which has served to strengthen her solidarity with communities. Her brother, Ramiro Choc, is one of Guatemala’s most high profile political prisoners. Director Kelsey Alford-Jones will be accompanying her to translate, give historical context, and talk about what we can do here in the US to educate ourselves and support human rights in Guatemala.

Check out a full schedule of events on our website.

Weekly News Round-Up

National News

  • Presidential candidates Manuel Baldizón (Lider) and Otto Perez Molina (PP) will officially close their political campaigns today in preparation for Sunday’s final election.  The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) also held its final meeting yesterday and will finish distributing voting materials by the end of the day.  According to a public poll, OPM is the clear leader, 17 points ahead of Baldizón.
  • While the PP and Líder parties both agree that security will be a top priority if elected, they disagree on how to go about tackling the issue and neither has proposed clear explanations of their plans or where they will get the funding to implement their vague goals.  Proposals in the form of sweeping generalizations seem to be the trend, with Siglo21 also reporting on a lack of substance in both candidates’ social programs initiatives.
  • According to elPeriodico, the incoming president must be prepared to face a nation in dire economic conditions, with the lowest tax revenue on the continent, high rates of unemployment, poorly maintained highways, and a floating debt.  Tax revenue in Guatemala represents only 10.8 percent of Gross National Product (GDP) and an increasing majority of the economically active population is part of the informal labor sector, avoiding tax payments to the state.
  • On Tuesday, two men identified as the president and vice president of the illegal paramilitary force in Panajachel, Sololá were detained by the Civil National Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.  The paramilitary group of “hooded men” in Panajanchel on the shores of Lake Atitlan is responsible for dozens of beatings, illegal detentions, torture, three lynchings and forced disappearances over the past several months.  One of the men detained, Juan Manuel Ralón Solórzano, recently participated in the September elections for mayor as a candidate for the National Advance Party (PAN) and has been accused of using money from narco-trafficking to fund his campaign, as confirmed by a U.S. Embassy Wikileaks cable– 09GUATEMALA1025.  In connection with the case, Guatemalan journalist Lucia Escobar of elPeriodico was threatened after publishing a story linking the members of the local paramilitary force to the disappearance of a resident.  She has since fled the western city of Panajachel.

International News

  • According to Bloomberg, Perez Molina is leading the polls by 10 percentage points and will very likely win the election on Sunday, with more than 80% of the population supporting a hard-line stance on organized crime and drug-related violence.  The article analyzes the potential threat of bringing the military back into the forefront of Guatemalan politics, citing the armed conflict and OPM’s sketchy background as powerful warning signs.
  • According to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. has seen a record 400,000 deportations this year, partly due to a 42% increase in felony persecutions for immigration crimes, with Hispanics now the majority group being sent to federal prison.  The Obama administration has been cracking down on ‘criminal aliens,’ further contributing to a climate of fear among the immigrant population in the U.S. and raising concerns about increased poverty among Hispanics, high unemployment, and poor academic performance.  The crackdown could also be contributing to the increasingly negative discourse used to talk about immigrants and Latinos living in the U.S.
  • After almost a week of medical tests Guatemalan medical experts declared that former dictator Oscar Mejia Victores is too sick to stand trial for genocide and war crimes.  Mejia was captured and accused on October 10th for war crimes and genocide for the massacres of indigenous communities recorded during the armed conflict between 1982 and 1984.  His defense attorney now pleads Mejia is unable to face a criminal trial and the case must be discontinued and closed.

Crisis Group releases report on narcotrafficking and violence in Guatemala

The International Crisis Group, ‘an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict,’ recently released an extensive report documenting the recent influx of drug-trafficking and violence into Guatemala, highlighting state corruption, strategic geographic location and internal economic and social inequities as major factors contributing to the violence.  The report also includes an overview of the increased presence of the Los Zetas drug cartel and an evaluation of the state and judicial institutional systems, providing concrete recommendations for the incoming president. Check out the full report and executive summary. 

Following last month’s release, Kimberly Abbott (Communications Director for North America at the International Crisis Group) published an interview with Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America about the economic, geopolitical and institutional factors contributing to the increase in violence in Guatemala.  Schneider makes some recommendations for the incoming president, including support of Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, the work of Helen Mack and national police reform, and the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG). Listen to the podcast, which provides a succinct and helpful explanation of why the violence has been increasing and what should be done about it.