Secretary of State Kerry Outlines U.S. Hemispheric Foreign Policy

By Josh Manley

Josh Manley is a senior in the international affairs program at George Washington University, and is a GHRC Fall 2013 Intern.

Kerry, courtesy of flickr user MarkGregory

On November 18, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the Organization of American States on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy toward the Western Hemisphere. The Inter-American Dialogue co-sponsored the event, and leading Latin America policymakers attended, including Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Monday’s speech marked the first time that Secretary Kerry spoke at length about U.S. foreign policy toward the region since taking office in February. It is the most recent example of Latin America’s rise on the agendas of leading U.S. officials. This year alone, President Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica; Vice President Biden went to Brazil, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, and Panama; and Secretary Kerry traveled to Guatemala, Brazil, and Colombia. The fact that President Obama won 71% of the Latino vote in the 2012 presidential election may play a role in this renewed focus on the region.

Secretary Kerry made a good choice of venue. In recent years, the Organization of American States has been criticized by certain conservative members of Congress as a sort-of “talking shop” for the left-wing countries forming the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America (ALBA). And some ALBA countries have accused the world’s oldest regional organization of being a tool of U.S. imperialism. Ultimately, Kerry’s decision reinforced the value of having a neutral setting for the countries of the Americas to exchange ideas on the very issues that he highlighted in his speech. Continue reading

Weekly News Roundup

April 12th-April 26th

National

  • Lawsuit brought against Attorney General.  Danilo Rodríguez Gálvez, the lawyer for Efraín Ríos Montt, submitted a complaint against the Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz because she has not respected the legal process and is illegally prosecuting the former general.  Human rights groups have denounced this- among other appeals and injunctions- as an attempt to obstruct justice.
  • Remains of 99 victims of Guatemala´s internal armed conflict found inside a military base. A forensic team found the remains of 99 bodies in 15 pits on the grounds of a military base in Coban. The team of specialists is looking for the remains of 200 to 300 people who disappeared during the internal armed conflict. The exhumation efforts come as a response to requests from prosecutors and families of the disappeared. The military post where exhumation takes places is currently home to the UN Peacekeeping training Center, CREOMPAZ.  GHRC visited the exhumation in March with FAMDEGUA and has asked the UN to facilitate increased access for families, NGOs and the media.
  • Forced displacement of elderly protestors. At 3:30 in the morning on April 19th, protestors who had taken refuge at the “Refugio Dulce” during the night were brutally displaced by agents of the National Civilian Police and the Presidential Secretary for Security and Administrative Affairs. Earlier this week the demonstrators had set up their camp outside of the Presidential Palace to continue their protest which they had suspended during the Easter festivities. The protestors came from areas including Petén, Dolores and Jalapa to demand a budget of Q18 million (US $2.3 million) for the construction of housing in 9 departments. The budget was cut by Congress due to ‘abnormalities’ in the handling of the funds.
  • Group of unionists protest in Guatemala City  In the second large protest in a month, unionists of the Frente Nacional de Lucha asked for improvements in the health, education, and security sectors and the prosecution of the individuals responsible for the death of their fellow unionists.  They met with Vice-President Roxana Baldetti and future meetings will take place every 3 months.
  •  Second campesino march for rural development. Members of the National Council of Peasant Organizations (CNOC) and the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) demanded action from the government.  They want recognition of their ancestral lands, nationalization of electric energy plants, and an end to forced displacements.
  • Inter-American Court hears “Diario Militar” case.  The Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard testimony from family members of 27 individuals who disappeared during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.  Kate Doyle from the National Security Archive testified, saying that the Guatemalan government systematically hid information about the internal armed conflict.   The case was opened after the National Security Archive received and published the military book, known as the “Diario Militar.”  It was written by the President’s Intelligence Unit between 1983 and 1985 and implicates several members of the Guatemalan military, including Gudiel Álvarez, for forced disappearances and the torture of a young girl. Final testimony will be heard June 8th.
  • New technology revives investigation of Gerardi case. Fourteen years ago Monsignor Juan Gerardi was murdered in his garage; those who physically carried out the brutal crimes are in jail, but now new technology is being used in a second phase of investigations seeking to charge the intellectual authors.  DNA and fingerprint analysis, as well as reconstruction of the crime scene, are used to find new information on the suspects.
  • 201 crimes attributed to Ríos Montt.  The Public Prosecutor charged ex-head of state Efraín Ríos Montt for his role in sending the Kaibiles to Dos Erres, an act which resulted in the massacre of 201 men, women, and children on December 7, 1982. Five ex-Kabilies were already charged with 6,060 years in prison for their role in the massacre.  Ríos Montt’s defense attorney claims that his client is being targeted simply because he was the head of state.
  • Rosalina Tuyuc receives Peace Award.  Rosalina Tuyuc received the Niwano Peace Prize for her work as a peace activist and human rights defender.  This is the first time an indigenous woman has received the award.

International News

  • US announces aid program to Guatemala The United States Southern Command announced yesterday a 3-month aid program which will be developed in the departments of Coban, Alta Verapaz, Ayutla, Malacatan and San Marcos. In addition to providing medical assistance, the US military will participate in construction programs of public buildings and health facilities.
  • International Rights Advocates released a video denouncing the United States medical experiments on Guatemalans during the 1940s.  The victims of these tests still have not been compensated.

Weekly News Roundup

February 16th-February 23rd

  • Mixco will be protected by 420 new agents. President Perez Molina announced that a new police station will be created in Mixco to combat insecurity.  It is a pilot program that includes members of the National Police (PNC), the army, and support from the Municipal Transit Police.
  • Change of prosecutor in genocide case. Prosecutor Manuel Vasquez will no longer be in charge of the genocide case against Efraín Ríos Montt.  Vasquez was promoted to head of the district prosecutor’s office in Sacatepéquez.  He will be replaced with Orlando Salvador López, who worked with Vasquez on the case.
  • Second lawsuit brought against guerilla.  The lawsuit is brought by Telma Marcos Bernal, an indigenous woman, against the commanders of the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) for kidnapping and murder.  Bernal is bringing cases of genocide against 20 individuals who include human rights defenders, family members of the Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, and the sister of ex-president Álvaro Colom.
  • Judge in Ríos Montt case steps down.  The judge in charge of the genocide trial of Efrain Ríos Montt stepped down upon requests of the defense lawyers.  Judge Carol Patricia Flores announced her decision just before a hearing to decide if the charges should be dropped due to an amnesty law that was passed in 1986.  The new judge is Miguel Ángel Gálvez and he suspended the proceedings until March.
  • Retired general to be tried for Dos Erres massacre.  Oral debates will begin the legal proceedings against former general Pedro Pimentel, who was the head of the Kaibiles that carried out the Dos Erres Massacre in 1982.  He is being charged with assassination and crimes against humanity.

International News

  • Latin America divided by drug legalization debate.  President Perez Molina has reopened a debate within Latin America about the legalization of drugs as a way to combat narcotrafficking.  The US has rejected the proposal, and officials in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Mexico have also expressed doubts.  The article discusses the range of opinions held by various leaders in Latin America.

Otto Pérez Molina takes office as Guatemala’s new president

Photo: Al-Jazeera

Otto Pérez Molina was inaugurated on Saturday as Guatemala’s new president, making him the first military official to take office since the end of the military government 25 years ago.  As the murder rate, violence and infiltration of organized crime and narco-trafficking groups have increased, Guatemalan voters have offered their support to Pérez Molina’s ‘iron fist’ approach to security and crime.  In his inaugural speech, Pérez Molina promised to ‘show results’ in the first six months of his presidency and ‘cut the murder rate by half by the end of his term.’ Speaking directly to military officials yesterday, President Pérez Molina  called on the army to ‘neutralize illegal armed groups by means of military power’ and demanded loyalty, participation and enthusiasm from all military officials.

The new president is asking the United States and Mexico to support Guatemala in its efforts to crack down on drug-related violence, expressing his intentions to push for the lifting of a military aid ban from the U.S.  Lifting the ban would lead to greater emphasis on military training in a country suffering from continued military impunity from the internal conflict and a dire need for police and judicial reform–not more military support.  However, regaining aid from the U.S. would require Guatemala to meet a set of 6 conditions, including releasing all military documents from the armed conflict–something Perez Molina is unlikely to do.  The move to lift the ban is a glimpse of what is to come in the new president’s term, marking a shift back to the militarization strategy of the armed conflict and raising serious concerns over the potential for human rights abuses, given the accusations of war crimes held against President Pérez Molina and the well-known history of human rights violations by the Guatemalan military.

Check out video coverage of the inauguration from Al-Jazeera below: