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
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.
- 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 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: