January 31, 2005
Article: Spanish Embassy
25-year quest for justice in fatal protest intensifies
A 1980 Guatemalan upheaval, in which 37 demonstrators died during a clash with police, is the focus of a march today.
By Catherine Elton
Special to The Miami Herald
GUATEMALA CITY - Rigoberta Menchú will march through the this city's streets today with a black and red scarf tied around her neck, just above her Nobel Peace Prize medal.
The scarf is just like the one her father wore 25 years ago today, when he was part of a Maya peasant group that occupied the Spanish Embassy here to denounce military massacres.
Thirty-seven people -- including Menchú's father and three Spanish citizens -- died at the embassy later that day in a fire that began when police clashed with the demonstrators.
Today's is not the first march to demand justice for the 1980 incident. But it may well be the most hopeful.
After a 25-year quest for justice, the first arrest warrant was recently issued. In December, a Spanish judge asked Mexican authorities to arrest former Guatemalan Interior Minister Donaldo Alvarez for the deaths of the three Spaniards. Alvarez, believed to have been living in Mexico City, has not been apprehended.
With this arrest warrant, Guatemala became the latest country in the region -- after Chile and Argentina -- to be targeted by Spanish judges investigating human rights abuses in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s that were never prosecuted by the governments here.
''What happened in Chile and Argentina and [with] this recent arrest warrant reveal the weakness of the justice systems in . . . Latin American countries,'' said political analyst Renzo Rosal. "In the near future, we could see a whole wave of Spanish arrest warrants for former Guatemalan military leaders accused of rights violations.''
But even critics of Spain's recent decision admit that Guatemala's justice system is weak and prone to corruption and influence peddling.
That is precisely why Rigoberta Menchú, who won the Nobel prize in 1992 for her work on behalf of human rights in Guatemala, and others have looked outside the country's borders for justice and filed the complaint against Alvarez in Spain in 1999.
The case, which also involves the deaths of Spanish citizens in other incidents, also accuses three former army generals -- Romeo Lucas Garcia, Efraín Ríos Montt and Oscar Humberto Mejía Victores -- who ruled consecutively during the bloodiest era of Guatemala's decadeslong civil war.
The conflict between leftist rebels and the military ended in a 1996 peace accord, after about 200,000 people, mostly Maya Indians, were killed or disappeared. A Truth Commission concluded that the military and paramilitary groups committed genocide during the early 1980s, yet no one has stood trial for those crimes to date.
A special commission from Spain's courts is expected to arrive in Guatemala in coming months to interview some of the accused and witnesses.
Activists hope this will lead to more arrest warrants. They also say Spain's initiative may cause a boomerang effect in Guatemala's own justice system.
''The support of judges outside a country can trigger investigations back at home and creates the right environment for local judges to do their job,'' José Miguel Vivanco, the Washington-based executive director of Human Rights Watch America, told The Herald in a phone interview.
Since the unsuccessful attempts to try former Chilean dictator Augusto Pincohet in Spain, Chilean courts have reversed a decadeslong stance and ruled that Pinochet can stand trial in Chile.
And after the Spanish arrest warrant was issued for Alvarez, a Guatemalan judge ordered prosecutors to reopen the local investigation into the embassy fire.
Posted by elcanche at 04:22 PM
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January 28, 2005
Long day, perhaps even longer than a normal Monday.
Not only do we publish the Daily Report, but we also publish "The Week in Review" on Fridays. Which means: no sneaking out early! In fact, I'm uploading the files to our website as I type these very words.
As soon as the homepage is updated, I'll pull the plug on the laptop, make the four-block mad dash home, grab a bottle of rum and....
NO, not chug it! Bring it over to the home of Dania, one of my co-workers so that we can...
NO, not get drunk! Celebrate her leaving Incidencia Democratica because she was...
NO, not fired! Offered an amazing opportunity to work with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Team.
Yep, the great news is that she will be doing awesome work: interviewing family members who survived massacres, as preparation for the exhumation of mass grave sites.
The sad news, of course, is that she will be leaving us!
So tonight, we're all heading over to her home to celebrate her despedida ("farewell party").
Posted by elcanche at 06:21 PM
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January 27, 2005
How LO can you GO?
On a much, much lighter note...
It turns out that Guatemala is now a brand, complete with a logo and a slogan!
It took the Guatemalan tourism agency, the Interbrand Corporation, and Estudio C (a graphic design firm) eight months of "international study" and heaven-knows-how-much moola to come up with this winner.
According to the PR firm, the logo manages to capture the "mysticism, diversity, authenticity, evolution and closeness that collectively compose Guatemala's core values."
I'll let you decide for yourself if this logo reflects the "natural richness and cultural grandeur" of Guatemala.
Here's the official Press Release, at the end click on the link to see the new logo.
Guatemala Soul of the Earth
Jan 25, 05 - Guatemala's Tourist Commission (INGUAT) presented today the new country brand image, "Guatemala, soul of the earth". The logo and slogan were first revealed to the public last night at Guatemala's National Theater after an eight-month international study led by Interbrand Corporation, a company with more than 20 years of experience in branding.
INGUAT's objective was to create a logo that would represent a synergy of Guatemala's core values and origin. Research identified that mysticism, diversity, authenticity, evolution and closeness collectively compose Guatemala's core values. These elements are a symbol of variety, centricity and the continuous and timeless movement present in the country.
The new brand and phrase will be used for the first time in Madrid, Spain during the International Tourism Fair (FITUR), one of the most important tourism fairs in the world.
"Guatemala, soul of the earth, is a powerful tool that will distinguish the country among others in the world," said Willy Kaltschmitt, INGUAT's Tourism Commissioner. "With this image, we hope to be recognized worldwide and invite the world to visit and invest in Guatemala."
Guatemala is full of natural richness and cultural grandeur. Its volcanoes, deep lakes and exotic species of flora and fauna together with the warmth and kindness of its people, distinguish Guatemala from other regions of the world.
The synergy of its ethnicities and languages make it a country with explosive energy that translates into the evolution of a civilization maintaining its mysticism and authenticity throughout the years. All of these elements balance perfectly; signifying the soul of the earth is in Guatemala.
And here it is... THE NEW LOGO!!!
Posted by elcanche at 02:52 PM
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Article: Mining Conflict
Guatemala mines policy under attack.
By Colin Harding, The Tablet
GUATEMALA'S BISHOPS are locked in acrimonious dispute with the government over development policy in general, and open-cast gold mining in particular.
While the conservative administration of President Oscar Berger has been encouraging foreign investment in mining, the population of the rural San Marcos region, in south-western Guatemala, complain that their interests have not been taken into account. Most of them are poor, ethnic Mayan farmers, who fear the mining will poison their water and destroy their farms and forests. Prominent among their supporters is Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos.
Matters came to a head on 11 January, when one person was killed and more than 20 injured in clashes with riot police after protesters set up a roadblock to prevent heavy equipment reaching a Canadian-owned mining concession. The government was incensed that Bishop Ramazzini did not try to dissuade the protesters, and the president accused the bishop of being a rabble-rouser and inciting the demonstrators - which Bishop Ramazzini denied.
On Monday, President Berger and Bishop Ramazzini met and reached an understanding: the president agreed to revise the terms of future mining concessions, and both committed themselves to working together on the issue in future. However, a protest march against the mining projects was still due to take place in San Marcos on Thursday.
Mining was a prominent issue at the Guatemalan bishops' annual assembly, which opened on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, Archbishop of Guatemala. The cardinal said that the government's failure to take account of the possible impact of large-scale, open-cast mining on the environment and people's lives was irresponsible. This view has brought the Church into unusual alliance with organized labor: José Pinzón, general secretary of the country's largest trade union organization, CGTG, said last week that the government's mining policy was "against the interests of the vast majority of Guatemalans" and would benefit only foreign companies.
Underlying the Church-State confrontation are radically differing views of the meaning of economic development. The government argues that foreign investment is essential to exploit Guatemala's natural resources and to create jobs for the indigenous majority of the 12 million population - who, since colonial times, have been poor, downtrodden and excluded.
The Church's view is that open-cast mining cannot be the key to sustainable development for a country like Guatemala, which should instead be looking to activities such as forestry and eco-tourism. Aside from the environmental issues, the bishops argue that most of the jobs created by mining developments will be temporary. The mineral processing will use so much water and harmful chemicals that the long-term damage to settlements and farms, from which most local people must still derive their living, will far outweigh any short-term benefits.
Posted by elcanche at 10:09 AM
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January 25, 2005
Article: Arrest of leader
News Bulletin - Number 27, January 25, 2005
News From The Advocacy Project
World Bank Asked To Intervene
Following Arrest Of Guatemalan Community Leader
Washington, D.C., January 25, 2005: Human rights groups have called on the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to intervene with the Government of Guatemala, following the arrest of Carlos Chen Osorio, a prominent leader of Guatemala’s indigenous community and a survivor of the notorious 1982 Rio Negro massacres.
Chen was arrested on Thursday, January 20th in Salama, in the department of Baja Verapaz, and charged with making threats, causing bodily harm to government officials and threatening the internal security of the nation. He was released several hours later, and ordered to appear before a judge every 15 days until a trial date is set. Seven other indigenous community leaders also face arrest.
The Government’s move has been denounced as intimidation by Rights Action, the Toronto-based group and AP partner which has supported a decade-long campaign by the Rio Negro survivors to claim compensation and reparations for their 1982 losses. AP profiled the work of the Rio Negro survivors’ in 2001 and sent an intern from Georgetown University, Carmen Morcos, to work with Rights Action and the survivors last summer.
The Rio Negro massacres occurred after several indigenous communities were forced to relocate to make way for a large hydroelectric dam at Chixoy. One of the communities, also named Rio Negro, resisted and was attacked by paramilitaries in a series of massacres. A total of 444 men women and children were killed, including Mr. Chen’s first wife.
The survivors were resettled in a squalid resettlement center in the Pacux suburb of the town of Rabinal, where they began a long campaign for accountability and compensation. On September 7 last year, an estimated 2000 inhabitants from the dam-affected communities protested at the Chixoy dam.
A day later, they agreed to suspend the protest after the state electric company agreed to negotiations. But on September 14, officials from the company reneged on the agreement and secretly lodged a complaint against Mr. Chen and the other community leaders.
The move to muzzle Chen and the other community leaders is seen as deeply embarrassing for the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, which made several loans to Guatemala during the dictatorship to help with construction of the Chixoy Dam. One of the World Bank’s loans was made in 1985, well after the massacres.
For years, Rights Action and other human rights groups have urged the Bank to accept responsibility. The Bank has refused, claiming legal immunity. Instead, it has supported a project-based approach under which the government would provide support and land for the communities. This falls well short of compensation and reparations – a legal move that would imply liability.
The Bank has also played a role of good offices during the discussions between the Guatemalan government and the community leaders. These discussions are now presumably dead, and the communities face a long, costly and potentially devastating legal process that could well send their leaders to prison.
Rights Action hopes that this demonstration of bad faith by the Guatemalan government will put pressure on the World Bank to intervene. A growing number of other civil society organizations seem inclined to agree. Last November, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) issued a 90-page report on Chixoy which disputed the Bank’s claim to immunity and suggested several ways of holding the Bank legally accountable.
COHRE and Rights Action are also seeking a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as to whether the multilateral banks can be held legally accountable. If accepted, this would create a major legal precedent.
All of this indicates how Chixoy has come to symbolize the human cost of many multilateral infrastructural loans, and the fact that gross human rights abuses continue to haunt societies long after they are committed. This is entirely due to the determination of the Rio Negro survivors and the support of their international allies like Rights Action.
* For the COHRE/Rights report “Continuing the Struggle for Justice and Accountability in Guatemala” visit the Rights Action’s website: http://www.rightsaction.org/Report.Chixoy.Cohre.pdf
* For the story of the Rio Negro massacres, visit http://www.advocacynet.org/cpage_view/rionegro_guatemala01_15_7.html
* For Carmen Morcos’ blogs visit: http://www.advocacynet.org/cpage_view/Rights_RightsAction_24_65.html
Posted by elcanche at 03:19 PM
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Article: Gang violence 2
Gang Violence Blamed for Head Left on Guatemala Bus
Guatemala City (Reuters) - Guatemalan police blamed notorious street gangs on Monday for the murder of a woman whose head was found on a bus and whose severed limbs were thrown in the street.
The crime bore the hallmarks of the "maras," gangs of mostly tattooed youths who have terrorized Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in recent years.
A conductor found the woman's head on a public bus on Saturday. Her legs and arms were discovered on a public footpath in the Carolingia shanty town in the edge of the capital on Sunday morning.
"One of the victim's arms has a (gang related) tattoo of three dots and ... Carolingia is a red zone for the Mara 18," police spokesman Carlos Calju said.
Guatemala suffers from one of the world's highest levels of violent crime, with a homicide rate of around 36 per 100,000.
Police and the media frequently blame the deaths on retaliatory killings between the "Mara 18" and "Mara Salvatrucha" youth gangs, although under-funded and corrupt prosecutors rarely investigate cases in depth.
The woman's torso has not been located, he said.
The head was found on a bus running between the El Milagro shanty town and the city center after bus drivers on that route stopped work last week in fear of threats by mara members demanding increased protection money.
Analysts say the rampant violence is the legacy of a 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996, combined with widespread poverty, freely available firearms and corrupt authorities.
The maras have their roots in Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles. They established a strong presence in Central America when illegal immigrant convicts in the United States were sent back to their home countries in the 1990s.
They are now seen as a major security threat across Central America. Last month, gunmen murdered 28 people on a public bus in Honduras in an attack attributed to the maras.
Posted by elcanche at 11:03 AM
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January 24, 2005
So, thanks for hanging out with me! Thanks especially to all those who left messages, it was fantastic hearing from you. It helped me feel connected to all of you back home.
And now, if you don't mind.... it's way past my bedtime.
Que sueñes con los angelitos... may you dream with the angels!
Posted by elcanche at 11:15 PM
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OK, I was thinking about this... and reluctantly realized how silly is to go on and on (and on) about "a day in my life" without actually including a picture of myself. So, in the elevator up to my apartment I pointed the camera at the mirror, and...
Violá. That's me!
Posted by elcanche at 10:32 PM
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I'm back from Cien Puertas, where I downed a delicious egg & tomato sandwich with a large fresh lemonade (pucker-up!)
The restaurant is a bohemian-radical-artist-etc hangout. In other words, all my friends hang out there. The best part? Its in the alleyway next to my building! Very hip, very cool.
Tonight I had a fascinating conversation with one of the "musicians for hire" who pass from table to table, guitar in hand, offering songs for a modest fee. We discussed literature: Spanish, English, Italian, French, etc.... everyone from Shakespeare to Dante to Garcia Marquez!
Shortly thereafter I was joined by a friend who reminisced about his life and times in Cuba. For example, he told me how he had switched from smoking cigarettes to smoking Cuban cigars, because it was so much cheaper!
Yep, quite the night. Of course I'm so tired now that even my eyelashes hurt.
Posted by elcanche at 09:28 PM
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Monday, 7pm - 8pm
Now, normally, on a night like tonight, I'd probably make myself a sandwich, crash on the couch, and watch CSI-somewhere.
Mondays are kinda tough, especially after the care-free, sleep-late, hanging-out weekends. I usually run out of steam.... right...... about........ now...................
Even the café mocha is more for the sabor (taste) than its medicinal caffeinated properties on any given Monday night. Heck, I could chew coffee grinds and still fall soundly asleep by 10 pm.
But I want to make sure you get your money's worth from today's journaling, so I will step out tonight for some dinner at one of my favorite haunts: Cien Puertas (the Hundred Doors.)
Can I get you anything while I'm there?
Posted by elcanche at 07:33 PM
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Well, I went to Hogo's coffee for my café fix.
It's a cozy little place, a block away from my apartment. The coffee is fantastic, and inexpensive. The fancy mocha below costs Q10, or about $1.25.
They have comfy couches and chairs, perfect for reading an excellent book like "Sword of the Rightful King", which my nephew Petey gave me for Christmas!
The ideal place to unwind...
Posted by elcanche at 06:40 PM
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It's almost 6pm, but here's my 5pm entry... a final photo for the road:
The view from my window this morning. Guatemala City, believe-it-or-not beautiful.
Now, it's mocha time!
Posted by elcanche at 05:45 PM
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Officially, it's quiting time.
But I very rarely ever leave the office at 4pm sharp. This is usually when I work on my homepage (aha! I've caught up with myself!) or read online articles about photography or design or other subjects of interest.
I try to do as much internet "stuff" as possible at the office, because Telgua, the Guatemalan phone company, charges my connection time at home as a long distance phone call! (Yeah, the bastards.)
At around 5:30pm we'll head out for a cafe mocha, ok?
By the way, Quique is on the radio right now. He's being interviewed about crime and security measures on a program called "90 Minutes" (which is I guess like 60 Minutes, but 30 more!)
Posted by elcanche at 04:36 PM
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The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that "the observer changes the observed."
Today's' journaling has proven that for me. In trying to record every hour of a "normal" day, I have made this a very usual day indeed!
So, during a period that I would normally be doing research on Guatemalan news or international topics, I am updating my homepage by adding photos to the earlier journal entries.
Nah, don't think about it too much... just enjoy the pictures!
Posted by elcanche at 03:39 PM
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Ah, now that's more like it!
The office, post-lunch, is a much more peaceful place. Everyone works at a much more tranquil pace.
In fact, if you were to catch any of us napping, it would be right around this time of day.
We just returned from eating at our usual hangout... El Diamante, a very Guatemalan restaurant just about two blocks from here. There are usually 8-10 options to choose from, and since lunch is the big meal of the day here, the servings are very filling!
Today I ordered the "pollo quixón", chicken in tasty, semi-spicy brown sauce. It came with carambola fruit juice, vegetable soup, a small salad, rice, beans, potatoes, and tortillas. All for Q15, or less than $2.
I should also mention that it was quite delicious!
Posted by elcanche at 02:40 PM
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I'd love to stay and chat, but it's LUNCH TIME!!!!
Posted by elcanche at 01:23 PM
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(In clockwise order, starting from the left: Dania, Erwin, Javier, Arnoldo, Marc, y Quique. Not pictured: Silvia, Andrea and me.)
Just snuck out to say that the meeting is still going on, and quickly encroaching on lunch...
Oh, the inhumanity!
Posted by elcanche at 12:45 PM
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Ok, not too bad.
The Report is online, and now I can kick back and...
attend our weekly analysis and planning meeting. (sigh.) Every Monday we gather to discuss and analyze the current situation in Guatemala and plan the content of our Daily Reports for the upcoming week. It's usually a very interesting conversation, with everyone involved sharing thier thoughts and insights. It also helps me in particular because my emphasis on the international news means that I'm often not up-to-date on the latest Guatemalan news.
I'll be back in an hour, and I'll uploaded some photos as soon as our meeting ends.
Posted by elcanche at 11:40 AM
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My section is finished, and I've begun updating our homepage. My goal is always to finish before 11am, but I might be a bit late today.
Not that taking time out every hour to write these journal entries has had anything to do with that...
(Uh-oh, I hope Quique isn't reading my page today!)
Anyway, here's today's tentatively good news:
The good news out of the Ukraine is that the newly elected president, Viktor Yushchenko, traveled to Russia the day after being inaugurated to mend relations with President Vladimir Putin, who had backed his opponent in the elections. “The doors to the future are opening not through rhetoric but through concrete actions that can be shown to the people,” said Yushchenko.
The good news out of Gaza is that Palestinian resistance groups seem to be responding to Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas calls for a ceasefire. “The Palestinian national dialogue has made very significant progress and we will reach an agreement concerning this cease-fire very soon,” declared Abbas. Israeli leaders said that Israel is ready to hold its fire if calm prevails, moving the two sides closer to ending four years of bloody conflict.
Here's hoping that peace can prevail...
Posted by elcanche at 10:31 AM
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Ok, wrapping up the international news section. I just need to work on the Central American news and I'll be done.
As soon as I send my section to Quique for editing I begin to update our homepage at www.i-dem.org.
Once again, the international news has been quite depressing... save for a couple of hopeful signs from the Ukraine and Palestine. I'll tell you more about that soon.
For now, though, it's back to work...
YIKES!!! The building JUST started shaking! A minor tremor... such a weird feeling to have the world swaying under you.
It seems to have passed, no damage done.
Well, there's some breaking news for you!
Posted by elcanche at 09:40 AM
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Hey, I can't talk now... I've got work to do!!!
I have review some 30+ internet news sites (in Spanish) to summarize today's top international stories for the Daily Report.
One interesting note, though: as I looked out the windows while waiting for my elevator, I was shocked to see plumes of white smoke rising from the city.
Turns out that the municipal landfill (aka: the garbage dump) has caught fire!
Yes, I'm afraid to say that those fluffy white things aren't clouds, but smoke from burning trash drifting across the city. One city official stated that the fire might have accidentally been started by the "guajeros" ... those who make a living on the garbage dump by separating out plastics, metals, and carton... and who sometimes light fires at night to keep warm.
(And, yes, that's our office building in the lower left-hand corner.)
Posted by elcanche at 08:10 AM
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After the shower, and with coffee in hand, comes the international news on CNN. Really it's a fairly cruel way of starting the day, the news hardly ever seems to be uplifting.
This morning the lead story was the situation in Iraq... another car bomb, and a look at Iraqi families returning to their destroyed homes in Falluja. Also, the sad news of Johnny Carson passing away. And some impressive images of New York buried by a blizzard (so, I wonder, do my punk nephews and niece have the day off from school?)
Sometimes, if I'm having a hard time waking up, I'll actually turn on Fox News. Within minutes my blood begins to boil with their "fair and unbiased" reporting, and the adrenaline begins to flow. I just have to make sure that no throw-able objects are nearby. I'd hate to break my new tv!
Well, I'm off to the office!
Posted by elcanche at 07:13 AM
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Ok, as I was shampooing, I decided to include a photo of my shower after all.
Hot water heaters are hard to come by in Guatemala, so in order to have some sizzling water in the morning, most folks use this device.
It's lovingly referred to as a "widow maker" because it combines those two elements that go so well together: electricity and water. (Yep it's a classically dangerous combo, along the lines of: werewolves and full moons, dentists and drinking, peanut butter and anchovies, Bush and the presidency.)
Despite those two yellow wires pumping the AC into my H2O, I've never been shocked. In fact, the only jolt I ever received was when the darn thing broke, and freezing cold water poured over me!
Posted by elcanche at 06:10 AM
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5:15am on a chilly Monday morning in Guatemala City.
Time to get the coffee brewing (Maui Peaberry, from the Bad Ass Coffee Company. A Christmas gift from my friend Karla. Almost makes getting out of bed bearable. Almost.)
Then I'll hit the shower.
Aren't you glad I've decided to include a picture of the coffee and not the shower?
Talk to you in an hour!
Posted by elcanche at 05:15 AM
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January 22, 2005
Ok, this idea came to me this morning!
It's kinda crazy, and I'll probably come to regret it, but here it is:
On Monday I will record via hourly journal messages and photographs "a day in the life" of yours truly.
Not that anything spectacular is planned for Monday, or that anything even remotely interesting is likely to happen, but it'll give you all an idea of what my normal workday is like.
In fact I'm guessing that, in the end, you'll be suprised by just how un-strange daily life in Guatemala can be!
So, I'll see you on Monday! All day long..........
Posted by elcanche at 03:30 PM
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January 19, 2005
If you've tried to leave a journal comment here recently, you've probably received a somewhat confusing message about spam, servers, and moveable type. You might be wondering what it all means:
Have you, as a visitor, somehow broken the page?
Have the authorities finally caught up with me and shut down my site?
Is this some kind of horrible virus that will eventually bring the internet to its electronic knees?
No, no, and maybe.
I use a truly amazing service called Movable Type to upload and maintain the journal section of my website. It allows me to update the page from any computer, anywhere there is an internet connection. It also allows you to post comments, questions, jokes, threats, and other pithy remarks to the journal entries. Cool, eh?
Unfortunately, for every brilliant new technology designed to foster communication and build community, there exists a handful of dirtbags willing to exploit it for financial gain.
These lowlifes (will all due respect to amoebas, plankton, and protozoa) create programs to spam other people's sites with phony comments. They include a link to their own pornography, gambling, or drug sites so that their Google search ranking will improve. (An important factor in how Google ranks websites is how many other internet sites link to them.)
Sadly, these perverse programs can add unwanted comments to hundreds of journal entries in a matter of minutes. Not only is it painfully time-consuming to remove these spam comments, but they also play havoc on the servers that host our pages.
I have been attacked a number of times in the past, but was lucky enough to catch and block the bums before much damage was done. As a preventative measure (you might have already noticed) I now close all but the five most recent journal entries for comments.
Which is sad, because it means that new visitors can't add their thoughts to any of the previous articles or entries. Worse yet, I imagine that many bloggers (online journal keepers) simply decide that it is simply not worth the hassle and pull the plug on their sites.
My site wasn't affected by the latest round of attacks, but I guess that others on my server were. Hopefully they'll resume the service soon, and you'll be able to leave comments again. (You don't know how much I miss them!)
Until then I guess it'll just have to communicate via the "old-fashioned" email...
Posted by elcanche at 02:52 PM
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January 18, 2005
Article: Gang threats
Guatemala police escort workers after gang threat
18 Jan 2005 22:22:15 GMT
EL MILAGRO, Guatemala, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Heavily armed police escorted thousands of people from Guatemala's shantytowns to their jobs in the capital on Tuesday after bus drivers threatened with death by youth gangs refused to work.
Nervous residents of the El Milagro and Carolingia shantytowns on the edge of the capital squeezed into police buses, cars and pick-up trucks.
Police in body armor and carrying automatic weapons accompanied the vehicles as they drove through a maze of cinder block and tin homes on the way to Guatemala City.
Bus drivers stopped service to the district on Monday. They said that members of youth gangs known as "maras" had threatened to kill them if they did not pay increased protection money.
Many bus drivers are forced to pay what is known locally as a "war tax" to drive through gang-dominated areas of the city.
Residents said they were sick of gang violence.
"It endangers us and our children who take the buses every day," said local resident Carmen de Garcia, 71, while waiting to board a police bus.
Deadly assaults on buses are common in the city and are often attributed to "Mara 18" and "Mara Salvatrucha" youth gangs.
The maras are now seen as a major security threat across Central America, a region that was savaged by Cold War-era civil wars in the 1980s. Last month, gunmen murdered 28 people on a public bus in Honduras in an attack attributed to the maras by President Ricardo Maduro.
The maras have their roots in Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles. They established a strong presence in Central America when illegal immigrants in U.S. prisons were sent back to their home countries in the 1990s.
Posted by elcanche at 07:52 PM
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January 17, 2005
Article: Lawyer threatened
Guatemala: Death threats for lawyer and politician fighting corruption
Amnesty International today raised grave concerns for the safety of Guatemalan lawyer Armando Sánchez after he received death threats, apparently to stop his work on one of several cases, some of which involve local government officials and drug traffickers.
On 23 December an anonymous caller to Armando Sánchez’s mobile phone told him he would be killed if he did not leave the country within five days. He reported the death threat and was given 24-hour police protection.
At 2am on 26 December, three men knocked on his neighbor's door and asked where his house was. They did not approach the house, as there were two police officers outside. But this protection has now been reduced to three hours a day, with police sometimes failing to attend at all.
The first few days of 2005 has seen several Human Rights organizations targeted in what appears to be a concerted effort to stop efforts to bring perpetrators of past human rights violations to justice. On 9 January the organization HIJOS had their offices raided and important information about their work and contacts stolen.
Its members have worked to establish what happened to their parents who were "disappeared" or killed during the country’s internal armed conflict, and to call for justice. On 11 January CALDH, another organization which has been instrumental in pressing the authorities to bring to justice senior military officers implicated in massacres carried out during the conflict years, received a call saying that a bomb had been planted in their offices.
Legal professionals in Guatemala representing people who allege official corruption, pursue claims against drug traffickers or defend peasant farmers involved in labor disputes, have been systematically intimidated in an attempt to make them give up their work in recent months.
Armando Sánchez has represented people in several cases which could have given rise to the death threat, including a local human rights organization, which has accused local government officials of complicity in helping a murder suspect escape; a woman whose husband was allegedly murdered by drug traffickers; and labor disputes between farmers and their employers.
Armando Sanchez said, yesterday:
"It has affected me a lot because it has made me anxious. It has affected me emotionally and physically. It has made me scared to carry on working, even to go out in the street."
In a separate case raised by Amnesty International, the family of a UN-commended mayor who had been fighting corruption and impunity, and who was assassinated five days before Christmas, has also received death threats.
The organization believes they are in grave danger, particularly his daughter Makrina Gudiel Álvarez, a local councillor who had also been fighting corruption.
During the wake for the late mayor Florentín Gudiel, what appeared to be a military patrol led by a special forces officer positioned themselves as if they were going to storm the house, terrifying those inside.
They left shortly after this act of intimidation, without entering. During the traditional nine days of mourning, people who came to pray at the family home received spoken threats. Makrina Gudiel Álvarez received a number of spoken death threats via third parties indicating she is also the target of assassination and telling her to flee.
Amnesty International members are writing urgent appeals to the Guatemalan authorities, calling for full investigations into these death threats and to ensure that Armando Sánchez and Makrina Gudiel Álvarez are given full protection.
During 2004 two lawyers, a magistrate and a judge were killed in Guatemala in what appeared to be an effort to stop them carrying out their work. Numerous other lawyers and witnesses have received death threats because of their involvement in trials or complaints implicating government officials in corruption or other criminal charges.
Congress member Nineth Montenegro received a death threat in November 2004, apparently linked to her work investigating corruption among high-ranking military officers.
One year on since President Berger came to power, far from improving the human rights situation, criminal networks and what have been referred to as Guatemala's 'parallel powers' continue to consolidate their power.
The human rights challenges facing the fledgling government are as urgent as ever. Threats and intimidation, and impunity for those who commit them, continue to be the norm for human rights defenders in Guatemala.
Posted by elcanche at 05:46 PM
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MLK - by Stuart Carlson
Posted by elcanche at 05:03 PM
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Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now.
I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam.
I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted.
I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam.
I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.
I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation.
The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.
Martin Luther King
From "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967
Riverside Church, New York City.
Read more from MLK at AlterNet.com
Posted by elcanche at 04:26 PM
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Article: Replanting the dream
A labor advocate wants farm workers to be inspired by King's passion for economic justice.
By Tamara Lush, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer
IMMOKALEE - The farm workers had spent a long day in the fields, picking tomatoes and planting watermelon.
They are from Mexico and Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. Most have so little education they can't read or write.
But on this night they are sitting on cardboard boxes and folding chairs getting a lesson in American history. The subject is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Most of the farm workers have never heard of him.
If King were alive today, says Lucas Benitez, an organizer for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, he would be fighting for the rights of the people who toil in the Immokalee fields.
For most Americans, King is remembered for bus boycotts and lunch-counter protests and his long fight for racial equality. Often forgotten is that in the last years of his life, he broadened his focus to economic justice - decent wages, health care, quality housing.
And organizing farm workers.
Benitez, 29, knows more than a little about organizing. He got involved after seeing one too many crew bosses beat their workers senseless for requesting a water break.
In 1993, he co-founded the coalition and, among other things, helped federal prosecutors in several agricultural slavery cases. For this, he and other members of the group won the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award in 2003. The group's current fight is against Taco Bell, whose parent company, they say, refuses to pay more for tomatoes, which would mean better pay for farm workers.
Benitez and the coalition work from a cramped two-room office in downtown Immokalee, and it serves as a general store and gathering point for the farm workers. Benitez, who still works the fields, invites workers to a Wednesday night meeting. Each week, they flow inside, 50, 100, 200 strong. And every week, Benitez teaches them something new.
"Does anyone know anything about Martin Luther King?" Benitez asks in Spanish. The men shift silently. One of the oldest in the group, 49-year-old Jose Garcia, says softly, "He was a pastor in a church."
Benitez nods, then gives a brief biography. In the 1950s and '60s, he explains, King fought to give African-Americans in the South the same rights as whites, he said.
But he did more than that, Benitez explains. He fought for the rights of all poor people. The day he was assassinated, he explains, King was in Memphis to take part in a fight to raise the pay of sanitation workers by 10 cents an hour.
That gets their attention. Ten cents is something they understand, since most get only 45 cents to pick a bucket of tomatoes. On a good day, they pick 150 buckets.
"In your countries, you thought the United States was the promised land, didn't you?" Benitez asks.
"Is this the promised land?" he says.
No, chimes a chorus of voices, and everyone laughs.
"Why?" asks Benitez. The answers come in rapid-fire Spanish.
"Esclavitud, " one man says. Slavery.
"Salarios bajos ," another says. Low wages.
"Horarios trabajos ," says someone else. Working hours.
Benitez explains that King fought to improve all of these things more than 30 years ago, and that they need to keep fighting for them so they can help turn the United States into a promised land for all.
"It's our sweat and our work," he said. "It's our dignity."
Benitez invites the men to Immokalee's first celebration of King's life over the weekend. There will be a community dinner and a church service, he said.
There will also be a tour of Immokalee, organized for outsiders attending the celebration. It's a grim walk: where the men gather at 4 a.m. to find work, where they send money home, where they buy phone cards to call their parents.
What usually shocks outsiders, though, is the labor camps. They mostly are decrepit trailer parks. Some homes are mere travel trailers; others are gray concrete-block dorms. Roosters and chickens peck in the dirt, and at the end of a 12-hour day, men stack their boots outside the door. The smell of rice and tortillas wafts through the humid air.
Inside, seats pulled from vans serve as couches, the Virgin of Guadalupe the only wall art. The furniture is a TV and a few cracked, plastic chairs. There are no phones.
Inside one trailer, 12 people share three bedrooms, Benitez explains to a reporter. They pool their money together to pay $350 a week in rent. In a good month, the men make less than $1,000 each.
Immokalee was the dusty town Edward R. Murrow chose to expose the plight of migrant farm workers in the landmark 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame. If King were alive today, Benitez wonders how he would react to modern-day Immokalee. He laughs bitterly and answers his own question.
"Con verguenza," he said.
Tamara Lush can be reached at 727893-8612 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by elcanche at 04:16 PM
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January 15, 2005
Article: More Than a Dreamer
Dr. Martin Luther King's oft-quoted "I have a dream" speech was not about far-off visions, it was a call to action.
By Paul Rockwell
Every year, millions of Americans pay tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King. We often forget, however, that King was the object of derision when he was alive. At key moments in his quest for civil rights and world peace, the corporate media treated King with hostility. Dr. King's march for open housing in Chicago, when the civil rights movement entered the North, caused a negative, you've-gone-too-far reaction in the Northern press. And Dr. King's stand on peace and international law, especially his support for the self-determination of third world peoples, caused an outcry and backlash in the predominantly white press.
In his prophetic anti-war speech at Riverside Church in 1967 (recorded and filmed for posterity but rarely quoted in today's press), King emphasized four points: 1) that American militarism would destroy the war on poverty; 2) that American jingoism breeds violence, despair, and contempt for law within the United States; 3) the use of people of color to fight against people of color abroad is a "cruel manipulation of the poor"; 4) human rights should be measured by one yardstick everywhere.
The Washington Post denounced King's anti-war position, and said King was "irresponsible." In an editorial entitled "Dr. King's error," The New York Times chastised King for going beyond the allotted domain of black leaders – civil rights. TIME called King's anti-war stand "demogogic slander ... a script for Radio Hanoi." The media responses to Dr. King's calls for peace were so venomous that King's two recent biographers – Stephen Oates and David Garrow – devoted whole chapters to the media blitz against King's internationalism.
Dr. King may be an icon within the media today, but there is still something upsetting about the way his birthday is observed. Four words – "I have a dream" – are often parrotted out of context every January 15th.
King, however, was not a dreamer – at least not the teary-eyed, mystic projected in the media. True, he was a visionary, but he specialized in applied ethics. He even called himself "a drum major for justice," and his mission, as he described it, was, "to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." In fact, the oft-quoted "I have a dream" speech was not about far-off visions. In his speech in Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963, Dr. King confronted the poverty, injustice, and "nightmare conditions" of American cities. In its totality, the "I have a dream" speech was about the right of oppressed and poor Americans to cash their promissory note in our time. It was a call to action.
In 1986, Jesse Jackson wrote an essay on how Americans can protect the legacy of Dr. King. Jackson's essay on the trivialization, distortion and emasculation of King's memory is one of the clearest, most relevant appreciations in print of Dr. King's work. Jackson wrote: "We must resist this the media's weak and anemic memory of a great man. To think of Dr. King only as a dreamer is to do injustice to his memory and to the dream itself. Why is it that so many politicians today want to emphasize that King was a dreamer? Is it because they want us to believe that his dreams have become reality, and that therefore, we should celebrate rather than continue to fight? There is a struggle today to preserve the substance and the integrity of Dr. King's legacy."
Today, the media often ignores the range and breadth of King's teachings. His speeches – on economlc justice, on our potential to end poverty, on the power of organized mass action, his criticism of the hostile media, his opposition to U.S. imperialism (a word he dared to use) – are rarely quoted, much less discussed with understanding. In fact, successors to Dr. King who raise the same concerns today are again treated with sneers, and their "ulterior motives" are questioned. A genuine appreciation of Dr. King requires respect for the totality of his work and an ongoing commitment to struggle for peace and justice today.
Paul Rockwell, formerly assistant professor of philosophy at Midwestern University, is a writer who lives in Oakland, California.
Posted by elcanche at 10:57 AM
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January 14, 2005
Well, folks... it has been a long, long week. Not only did my vacation in New York end, and I had to say good-bye (once again) to my family, but upon returning to Guatemala I was faced with early mornings and long days at work, a New Year's overhaul of our website, unusually chilly weather, and a nasty flu, too.
On the upside though: none of my stuff broke en route from New York City ("the Big Apple") to Guatemala City ("the Big Avocado"). That said, however, a US customs official destroyed the zipper while searching one of my checked bags... they must have been threatened by the Linden's cookies I had packed. Chocolate chips in the hands of terrorists is no laughing matter. By the way guys, "nice" refolding of the stuff you tossed. Sheesh.
At least my flight arrived between the erupting volcanoes and the striking air-traffic controllers.
The cultural shift is another tricky ingredient in switching countries. After a month of speaking English, trying to hablar the español isn't easy. It feels as if your tongue is swollen. Add to that a head full of icky flu stuff, and, well, let's just say that I'm lucky the cab driver at the airport was able to figure out where I lived. (He probably thought I was speaking German).
As for work, the tough transition from laziness to labor has pretty much passed, and I'm back in the proverbial saddle again. (Well, ok, I did hit the snooze button 26 times this morning, but I still made it to the office on time. Giddyup.)
Thankfully, though, tomorrow is Saturday. Or, as we like to call it here in Guatemala: "el weekend". No big plans... but you can bet that movies, coffee , and reading are on the agenda. Maybe study some Photoshop. Write some long overdue emails. And make a trip to the upscale Hiper Pais supermarket to buy some peanut butter.
Yep, sounds like a plan. I hope your weekend is wonderful, too!
Posted by elcanche at 06:12 PM
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Article: Gang violence
Gunmen kill six in Guatemala quarry, gangs feared
14 Jan 2005 23:21:48 GMT
Guatemala City, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Gunmen shot and killed six youths in a quarry on Friday after snatching them from the streets of Guatemala City a day earlier, in what may have been a gang killing, police said.
"The victims come from poor neighborhoods; they are all young, and the shootings do not look professional. For this reason, we think this is a gang problem and not drug traffickers," officer Hugo Blanco said.
However, none of the victims bore the distinctive tattoos that identify members of Central America's ultra-violent street gangs, the "Mara Salvatrucha" and "Mara-18."
The six youths were found in a makeshift sand quarry tunnel on a hilltop at the edge of the city. Gunmen had shot them in their heads, faces and bodies.
Two of the victims were half-brothers, and another victim was a young female and thought to be Nicaraguan.
Witnesses said the brothers were ambushed in a poor district of the city on Thursday and carried off by 15 armed men traveling in five cars.
Guatemala is one of the world's most violent countries, with a homicide rate of around 36 per 100,000. Government sources admit less than five percent of murders result in a conviction.
Analysts say the Central American country's rampant violence is the legacy of a 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996, combined with widespread poverty, freely available firearms and ineffective security forces.
Retaliatory killings between the gangs are responsible for many of the deaths, although vigilante-style extra judicial killings of suspected criminals are also common.
Posted by elcanche at 05:50 PM
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January 13, 2005
Article: Gold Diggers
Glamis Urged to Halt Guatemala Mine After Clash
Thursday, January 13, 2005 3:42:38 PM ET
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Non-governmental organizations urged Glamis Gold Ltd. on Thursday to halt development of a mine project in Guatemala after one person was killed in clashes with police and soldiers helping to escort equipment through a road blockade.
Canada's Rights Action and MiningWatch Canada said Glamis must stop construction at its Marlin project in western Guatemala to deal with the indigenous community's concerns that they weren't consulted about the gold mine.
But Glamis said the mine, which is expected to start up later this year, has the support of local residents and the government and accused "anti-development" activists of inciting villagers.
The mid-sized Reno, Nevada-based miner has been in the news a lot in the past month because of a hostile takeover bid for rival Goldcorp Inc.
The dispute in Guatemala began in early December when residents of Los Encuentros, about 150 km (95 miles) from the Marlin site, objected to the temporary dismantling of a footbridge so that a convoy carrying large pieces of milling equipment could pass.
Glamis said in a statement that government officials called in police to escort the truck through the blockaded highway, leading to a confrontation with villagers earlier this week.
"We can confirm that a peasant named Raul Castro died but we have no information regarding the causes of his death. Our agents were not armed with guns," Erwin Sperinsen, Guatemala's national police chief, said.
Glamis said the ball mill was the last piece of large equipment needed for construction and was expected to arrive at the site on Thursday.
(Additional reporting by Herbert Hernandez in Guatemala City)
© Reuters 2005.
Posted by elcanche at 04:22 PM
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I'm leaving on a jet pla... damn!
CONTROLLERS STRIKE; FLIGHTS ARE CURBED
GUATEMALA CITY -- Guatemala City's airport was shut down to air traffic Wednesday after the country's 80 air traffic controllers went on strike over a contract dispute, but officials said they were bringing in replacements from El Salvador and Mexico.
Jose Antonio Presa, the country's civil aeronautics director, said four Salvadoran and several Mexican air traffic controllers were on their way to Guatemala and were soon expected to have the airport back in operation.
The walkout, which began Tuesday, forced 25 flights to land at other airports; 25 flights were grounded in Guatemala.
Posted by elcanche at 10:59 AM
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January 12, 2005
Well, I'm happy.
Maybe it's because my NY flu is finally fading. Maybe its because I'm back into my pleasant afternoon routine of cappuccinos and reading. Maybe it's because my work at Incidencia Democratica is challenging and satisfying. Maybe its because I enjoy the companionship of my friends and coworkers.
Or maybe.... it's because Guatemala is a happy place to be!
OK, I know what you're thinking:
1. The flu's fever brought about permanent brain damage, or
2. elcanche.com is now being subsidized by the Guatemalan Tourism Board, or
3. I've been inhaling way too much Guatemalan bus exhaust lately.
What about the crime? The poverty? The social conflicts? The exploding volcanoes? The... WHAT?
Yep, the day before returning to Guatemala, I came across this following news gem:
Alert in Guatemala as volcanoes become active
Jan 9 (IANS) Guatemala has declared a state of alert after three volcanoes in the Central American nation has become active again, almost simultaneously.
Hugo Hernandez, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Coordination, said the preventive alarm was meant to keep vigilance over the three volcanoes, Pacaya, Santiaguito and Fuego.
Over the past week, the three have been spewing out lava, ashes and rocks in a low magnitude, forcing local inhabitants to be evacuated. This is after a gap of 31 years that the three volcanoes have become active almost simultaneously.
So, how can a country with simultaneously erupting volcanoes be a "happy place"? Well, read on...
Secrets of happiness emerge in international database on life satisfaction
January 4, 2005
By Julia Stuart
London: In an office in the creepily silent social sciences block at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, two researchers sit silently tapping keyboards. Standing is a bespectacled, bearded man dressed in black.
Professor Ruut Veenhoven does not at first appear to be the most charismatic of individuals, but he is a man many would be delighted to take into a quiet corner at a party. For the sociologist may well have something that each and every one of us is after: the secret of happiness.
For 20 years, Veenhoven, 62, the world’s only professor of social conditions for human happiness, has been collecting every scrap of reliable research relating to life satisfaction.
The result is the World Database of Happiness, comprising more than 8,000 findings from 120 countries, sorted and made available on the internet.
Divided into two parts, the first rates the happiness of 90 nations on a scale of 0-10, based on 2,498 general population surveys from 1946 to 2004.
The second contains 8,496 findings of the correlation between happiness and elements as diverse as looks, weight at birth, watching television and intelligence.
So what is the secret to happiness? The first step, says Veenhoven, is to live in the right place. Step forward Denmark, Switzerland and Malta, the happiest countries in the world, with scores of eight out of 10.
Iceland and Ireland would also be good choices, coming in at joint second with 7.8.
You may also want to consider Ghana, a surprise entry at number three with 7.7. Canada, Guatemala, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden are at joint fourth with 7.6. Finland and Mexico follow at joint fifth, with 7.5.
“Happy countries are, typically, rich countries,” explains Veenhoven. “They are, typically, countries with a lot of freedom, well-governed and democratic and tend to be tolerant.
How does he explain the presence of Ghana, Guatemala and Mexico, not exactly known for perfect democracy or high gross domestic product?
“Maybe the data for Ghana is somewhat inflated because sampling is not perfect there.”
“But Latin American countries tend to be happier than you would expect them to be.”
So, there you have it. If you want to be happy too, you know where to find me! (You can sleep on my couch if you'd like.)
Posted by elcanche at 03:48 PM
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Article: Death Squads
History of Guatemala's 'Death Squads'
By Robert Parry
Though many Latin American governments have practiced the dark arts of “disappearances” and “death squads,” the history of Guatemala’s security operations is perhaps the best documented because the Clinton administration declassified scores of the secret U.S. documents in the late 1990s.
The original Guatemalan death squads took shape in the mid-1960s under anti-terrorist training provided by a U.S. public safety adviser named John Longon, according to the documents. In January 1966, Longon reported to his superiors about both overt and covert components of his anti-terrorist strategies.
On the covert side, Longon pressed for “a safe house [to] be immediately set up” for coordination of security intelligence. “A room was immediately prepared in the [Presidential] Palace for this purpose and … Guatemalans were immediately designated to put this operation into effect,” according to Longon’s report.
Longon’s operation within the presidential compound became the starting point for the infamous “Archivos” intelligence unit that evolved into a clearinghouse for Guatemala’s most notorious political assassinations.
Just two months after Longon's report, a secret CIA cable noted the clandestine execution of several Guatemalan "communists and terrorists" on the night of March 6, 1966. By the end of the year, the Guatemalan government was bold enough to request U.S. help in establishing special kidnapping squads, according to a cable from the U.S. Southern Command that was forwarded to Washington on Dec. 3, 1966.
By 1967, the Guatemalan counterinsurgency terror had gained a fierce momentum. On Oct. 23, 1967, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted the "accumulating evidence that the [Guatemalan] counterinsurgency machine is out of control." The report noted that Guatemalan "counter-terror" units were carrying out abductions, bombings, torture and summary executions "of real and alleged communists."
Human Rights Warnings
The mounting death toll in Guatemala disturbed some American officials assigned to the country. The embassy's deputy chief of mission, Viron Vaky, expressed his concerns in a remarkably candid report that he submitted on March 29, 1968, after returning to Washington. Vaky framed his arguments in pragmatic terms, but his moral anguish broke through.
“The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal, torture is used and bodies are mutilated,” Vaky wrote. “In the minds of many in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate youth, we are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed in doubt.”
Vaky also noted the deceptions within the U.S. government that resulted from its complicity in state-sponsored terror. “This leads to an aspect I personally find the most disturbing of all -- that we have not been honest with ourselves,” Vaky said. “We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear of insurgency that we have rationalized away our qualms and uneasiness.
“This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is alright. Murder, torture and mutilation are alright if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists. After all hasn't man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people.”
Though kept secret from the American public for three decades, the Vaky memo obliterated any claim that Washington simply didn't know the reality in Guatemala. Still, with Vaky's memo squirreled away in State Department files, the killing went on. The repression was noted almost routinely in reports from the field.
On Jan. 12, 1971, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Guatemalan forces had "quietly eliminated" hundreds of "terrorists and bandits" in the countryside. On Feb. 4, 1974, a State Department cable reported resumption of "death squad" activities.
On Dec. 17, 1974, a DIA biography of one U.S.-trained Guatemalan officer gave an insight into how U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine had imbued the Guatemalan strategies. According to the biography, Lt. Col. Elias Osmundo Ramirez Cervantes, chief of security section for Guatemala's president, had trained at the U.S. Army School of Intelligence at Fort Holabird in Maryland. Back in Guatemala, Ramirez Cervantes was put in charge of plotting raids on suspected subversives as well as their interrogations.
The Reagan Bloodbath
As brutal as the Guatemalan security forces were in the 1960s and 1970s, the worst was yet to come. In the 1980s, the Guatemalan army escalated its slaughter of political dissidents and their suspected supporters to unprecedented levels.
Ronald Reagan's election in November 1980 set off celebrations in the well-to-do communities of Central America. After four years of Jimmy Carter's human rights nagging, the region's hard-liners were thrilled that they had someone in the White House who understood their problems.
The oligarchs and the generals had good reason for optimism. For years, Reagan had been a staunch defender of right-wing regimes that engaged in bloody counterinsurgency against leftist enemies.
In the late 1970s, when Carter's human rights coordinator, Patricia Derian, criticized the Argentine military for its "dirty war" -- tens of thousands of "disappearances," tortures and murders -- then-political commentator Reagan joshed that she should “walk a mile in the moccasins” of the Argentine generals before criticizing them. [For details, see Martin Edwin Andersen's Dossier Secreto.]
After his election in 1980, Reagan pushed to overturn an arms embargo imposed on Guatemala by Carter. Yet as Reagan was moving to loosen up the military aid ban, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were confirming new Guatemalan government massacres.
In April 1981, a secret CIA cable described a massacre at Cocob, near Nebaj in the Ixil Indian territory. On April 17, 1981, government troops attacked the area believed to support leftist guerrillas, the cable said. According to a CIA source, "the social population appeared to fully support the guerrillas" and "the soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved." The CIA cable added that "the Guatemalan authorities admitted that 'many civilians' were killed in Cocob, many of whom undoubtedly were non-combatants."
Despite the CIA account and other similar reports, Reagan permitted Guatemala's army to buy $3.2 million in military trucks and jeeps in June 1981. To permit the sale, Reagan removed the vehicles from a list of military equipment that was covered by the human rights embargo.
Apparently confident of Reagan’s sympathies, the Guatemalan government continued its political repression without apology.
According to a State Department cable on Oct. 5, 1981, Guatemalan leaders met with Reagan's roving ambassador, retired Gen. Vernon Walters, and left no doubt about their plans. Guatemala's military leader, Gen. Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, "made clear that his government will continue as before -- that the repression will continue."
Human rights groups saw the same picture. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report on Oct. 15, 1981, blaming the Guatemalan government for "thousands of illegal executions." [Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1981]
But the Reagan administration was set on whitewashing the ugly scene. A State Department "white paper," released in December 1981, blamed the violence on leftist "extremist groups" and their "terrorist methods," inspired and supported by Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Yet, even as these rationalizations were pitched to the American people, U.S. intelligence agencies in Guatemala continued to learn of government-sponsored massacres.
One CIA report in February 1982 described an army sweep through the so-called Ixil Triangle in central El Quiche province. "The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the Guerrilla Army of the Poor [known as the EGP] and eliminate all sources of resistance," the report stated. "Since the operation began, several villages have been burned to the ground, and a large number of guerrillas and collaborators have been killed."
The CIA report explained the army's modus operandi: "When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed." When the army encountered an empty village, it was "assumed to have been supporting the EGP, and it is destroyed. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of refugees in the hills with no homes to return to. … The well-documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike."
In March 1982, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt seized power in a coup d’etat. An avowed fundamentalist Christian, he immediately impressed official Washington, where Reagan hailed Rios Montt as "a man of great personal integrity."
By July 1982, however, Rios Montt had begun a new scorched-earth campaign called his "rifles and beans" policy. The slogan meant that pacified Indians would get "beans," while all others could expect to be the target of army "rifles." In October, he secretly gave carte blanche to the feared “Archivos” intelligence unit to expand “death squad” operations.
The U.S. embassy was soon hearing more accounts of the army conducting Indian massacres. On Oct, 21, 1982, one cable described how three embassy officers tried to check out some of these reports but ran into bad weather and canceled the inspection. Still, the cable put a positive spin on the situation. Though unable to check out the massacre reports, the embassy officials did "reach the conclusion that the army is completely up front about allowing us to check alleged massacre sites and to speak with whomever we wish."
The next day, the embassy fired off an analysis that the Guatemalan government was the victim of a communist-inspired "disinformation campaign," a claim embraced by Reagan when he declared that the Guatemalan government was getting a "bum rap" on human rights after he met with Rios Montt in December 1982.
On Jan. 7, 1983, Reagan lifted the ban on military aid to Guatemala and authorized the sale of $6 million in military hardware. Approval covered spare parts for UH-1H helicopters and A-37 aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations. State Department spokesman John Hughes said political violence in the cities had "declined dramatically" and that rural conditions had improved too.
In February 1983, however, a secret CIA cable noted a rise in "suspect right-wing violence" with kidnappings of students and teachers. Bodies of victims were appearing in ditches and gullies. CIA sources traced these political murders to Rios Montt's order to the "Archivos" in October to "apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they saw fit."
Despite these grisly facts on the ground, the annual State Department human rights survey sugarcoated the facts for the American public and praised the supposedly improved human rights situation in Guatemala. "The overall conduct of the armed forces had improved by late in the year" 1982, the report stated.
A different picture -- far closer to the secret information held by the U.S. government -- was coming from independent human rights investigators. On March 17, 1983, Americas Watch representatives condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.
New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said these findings included proof that the government carried out "virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents."
Rural women suspected of guerrilla sympathies were raped before execution, Kass said. Children were "thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed." [AP, March 17, 1983]
Publicly, however, senior Reagan officials continued to put on a happy face. On June 12, 1983, special envoy Richard B. Stone praised "positive changes" in Rios Montt's government. But Rios Montt’s vengeful Christian fundamentalism was hurtling out of control, even by Guatemalan standards. In August 1983, Gen. Oscar Mejia Victores seized power in another coup.
Despite the power shift, Guatemalan security forces continued to kill those who were deemed subversives or terrorists. When three Guatemalans working for the U.S. Agency for International Development were slain in November 1983, U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin suspected that “Archivos” hit squads were sending a message to the United States to back off even the mild pressure for human rights improvements.
In late November 1983, in a brief show of displeasure, the administration postponed the sale of $2 million in helicopter spare parts. The next month, however, Reagan sent the spare parts. In 1984, Reagan succeeded, too, in pressuring Congress to approve $300,000 in military training for the Guatemalan army.
By mid-1984, Chapin, who had grown bitter about the army’s stubborn brutality, was gone, replaced by a far-right political appointee named Alberto Piedra, who was all for increased military assistance to Guatemala.
In January 1985, Americas Watch issued a report observing that Reagan's State Department "is apparently more concerned with improving Guatemala's image than in improving its human rights."
Other examples of Guatemala’s “death squad” strategy came to light later. For example, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable in 1994 reported that the Guatemalan military had used an air base in Retalhuleu during the mid-1980s as a center for coordinating the counterinsurgency campaign in southwest Guatemala – and for torturing and burying prisoners.
At the base, pits were filled with water to hold captured suspects. "Reportedly there were cages over the pits and the water level was such that the individuals held within them were forced to hold on to the bars in order to keep their heads above water and avoid drowning," the DIA report stated.
The Guatemalan military used the Pacific Ocean as another dumping spot for political victims, according to the DIA report. Bodies of insurgents tortured to death and live prisoners marked for “disappearance” were loaded onto planes that flew out over the ocean where the soldiers would shove the victims into the water to drown, a tactic that had been a favorite disposal technique of the Argentine military in the 1970s.
The history of the Retalhuleu death camp was uncovered by accident in the early 1990s when a Guatemalan officer wanted to let soldiers cultivate their own vegetables on a corner of the base. But the officer was taken aside and told to drop the request "because the locations he had wanted to cultivate were burial sites that had been used by the D-2 [military intelligence] during the mid-eighties," the DIA report said.
Guatemala, of course, was not the only Central American country where Reagan and his administration supported brutal counterinsurgency operations and then sought to cover up the bloody facts. Deception of the American public – a strategy that the administration internally called “perception management” – was as much a part of the Central American story as the Bush administration’s lies and distortions about weapons of mass destruction were to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
Reagan's falsification of the historical record became a hallmark of the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well as Guatemala. In one case, Reagan personally lashed out at a human rights investigator named Reed Brody, a New York lawyer who had collected affidavits from more than 100 witnesses to atrocities carried out by the U.S.-supported contras in Nicaragua.
Angered by the revelations about his contra "freedom-fighters," Reagan denounced Brody in a speech on April 15, 1985, calling him "one of dictator [Daniel] Ortega's supporters, a sympathizer who has openly embraced Sandinismo."
Privately, Reagan had a far more accurate understanding of the true nature of the contras. At one point in the contra war, Reagan turned to CIA official Duane Clarridge and demanded that the contras be used to destroy some Soviet-supplied helicopters that had arrived in Nicaragua. In his memoirs, Clarridge recalled that "President Reagan pulled me aside and asked, 'Dewey, can't you get those vandals of yours to do this job.'" [See Clarridge's A Spy for All Seasons.]
To manage U.S. perceptions of the wars in Central America, Reagan also authorized a systematic program of distorting information and intimidating American journalists. Called "public diplomacy," the project was run by a CIA propaganda veteran, Walter Raymond Jr., who was assigned to the National Security Council staff. The project's key operatives developed propaganda “themes,” selected “hot buttons” to excite the American people, cultivated pliable journalists who would cooperate, and bullied reporters who wouldn't go along.
The best-known attacks were directed against New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner for disclosing Salvadoran army massacres of civilians, including the slaughter of some 800 men, women and children in El Mozote in December 1981. But Bonner was not alone. Reagan's operatives pressured scores of reporters and their editors in an ultimately successful campaign to minimize information about these human rights crimes reaching the American people. [For details, see Robert Parry's Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ or Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
The tamed reporters, in turn, gave the administration a far freer hand to pursue counterinsurgency operations in Central America. Despite the tens of thousands of civilian deaths and now-corroborated accounts of massacres and genocide, not a single senior military officer in Central America was given any significant punishment for the bloodshed, nor did any U.S. officials pay even a political price.
The U.S. officials who sponsored and encouraged these war crimes not only escaped legal judgment, but remain highly respected figures in Washington. Some have returned to senior government posts under George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Reagan has been honored as few recent presidents have with major public facilities named after him, including National Airport in Washington.
On Feb. 25, 1999, a Guatemalan truth commission issued a report on the staggering human rights crimes that Reagan and his administration had aided, abetted and concealed.
The Historical Clarification Commission, an independent human rights body, estimated that the Guatemalan conflict claimed the lives of some 200,000 people with the most savage bloodletting occurring in the 1980s. Based on a review of about 20 percent of the dead, the panel blamed the army for 93 percent of the killings and leftist guerrillas for three percent. Four percent were listed as unresolved.
The report documented that in the 1980s, the army committed 626 massacres against Mayan villages. "The massacres that eliminated entire Mayan villages … are neither perfidious allegations nor figments of the imagination, but an authentic chapter in Guatemala's history," the commission concluded.
The army "completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their livestock and crops," the report said. In the northern highlands, the report termed the slaughter a "genocide." Besides carrying out murder and "disappearances," the army routinely engaged in torture and rape. "The rape of women, during torture or before being murdered, was a common practice" by the military and paramilitary forces, the report found.
The report added that the "government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some [of these] state operations." The report concluded that the U.S. government also gave money and training to a Guatemalan military that committed "acts of genocide" against the Mayans.
"Believing that the ends justified everything, the military and the state security forces blindly pursued the anticommunist struggle, without respect for any legal principles or the most elemental ethical and religious values, and in this way, completely lost any semblance of human morals," said the commission chairman, Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist.
"Within the framework of the counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, in certain regions of the country agents of the Guatemalan state committed acts of genocide against groups of the Mayan people,” Tomuschat said.
During a visit to Central America, on March 10, 1999, President Bill Clinton apologized for the past U.S. support of right-wing regimes in Guatemala. "For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake," Clinton said.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
Posted by elcanche at 01:26 PM
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Article: Sololá Clash
One dead in Guatemala clash
Los Encuentros, Guatemala (AP) -- At least one person was killed and 12 other peasants and police officers were injured Tuesday when protesters fired handguns, threw stones and erected barriers of burning tires to block a truck carrying equipment headed to a gold mine in northern Guatemala.
More than 750 police officers and soldiers, many wearing riot gear and flanked by an armored vehicle fitted with a massive metal scoop to clear the highway, were escorting the truck after residents of the provincial capital of Solola vowed to refuse to let it pass through their city.
Local officials initially granted permission for the mining equipment to move through the community, but changed their minds when they learned a Solola pedestrian bridge that leads over the highway would have to be taken apart, then later reassembled in order to allow the truck and its cargo of a towering metal cylinder, to pass.
The pedestrian bridge, built by residents who donated their time, has become a source of civic pride for many in Solola city, as well as the surrounding province of the same name. Locals have also objected to a gold mine located 60 miles to the north where the equipment is headed, saying activities there may be damaging the environment.
The truck originally began its journey from Guatemala City to the mine 185 miles to the north on December 6, but was forced to pull off the two-lane transnational highway and wait for weeks while authorities negotiated its trip through Solola.
Shortly before dawn Tuesday, the truck began its northward push again. Facing threats of violence, police and soldiers were ordered by Guatemala's government to help it complete the journey.
As the truck reached the town of Los Encuentros, located along an important interchange of highways 10 miles from Solola's outskirts, hundreds of protesters on either side of the highway pelted it with rocks and sticks and at least a few opened fire with guns, said Oscar Sanchez, a spokesman for the area's volunteer fire department.
Police ignited tear gas canisters and fired in the air to try and disperse the protesters. A 37-year-old farmer, Raul Castro, was killed and at least five other locals were injured, according to witnesses.
Sanchez said seven police officers had been transported to a hospital in the city of Chimaltenango to be treated for injuries.
The caravan was making a slow trek up the mountain highway late Tuesday, but its path continued to be impeded by a number of makeshift, burning roadblocks, he said.
Carlos Calju, a spokesman for the national police force, said authorities would continue to battle protesters until the mining equipment reached its destination.
"The order from the Interior Secretary is that the cylinder must move on," he said.
Speaking to reporters in Guatemala City before the protest turned deadly, President Oscar Berger said his government "had to establish the rule of law."
"We have to protect the investors," the president said.
Posted by elcanche at 10:25 AM
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January 11, 2005
The Salvador Option
Here's a scary story well worth following.
According to a recent Newsweek article, Pentagon officials are considering applying a desperate and sinister new approach to the war in Iraq. It is called "the Salvador option", and involves training Kurdish and Shiite fighters to kidnap and kill Iraqi insurgents and their supporters in the style of the right-wing death squads that terrorized Central America in the 1980s.
I have included some interesting quotes from this breaking story, and links to the original Newsweek article and other interesting commentaries. At the end is a press release from Jennifer Harbury and the Stop Torture Permanently Campaign of the UUSC.
"We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." (Senior military official, to Newsweek)
"[The insurgents] are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them." (Maj. Gen.Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service)
"The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation." (A Pentagon source)
"This is a perilous path to pursue. Trying to achieve democracy through death squads does, to say the least, seem counterintuitive." (David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation)
"If we are serious about freedom for Iraq, then we must, at all costs, protect its citizenry from all acts of torture, terror and assassination. Democracy imposed by us at gunpoint is poorly disguised tyranny indeed." (UUSC Stop Campaign)
"The Salvador option is of a piece with other policies suggesting how seriously the Bush administration has lost its way. The indeterminate jailing of hundreds of suspects without charge, the legalization of torture, and now the drift toward terrorism as a weapon against terrorism are all signs of an administration steadily brutalized by its own brutal and misguided war. For the United States to promote the Salvador option is an admission that our hopes and ideals have been defeated." (Editorial from the Rutland Herald)
"I'm afraid I don't have any information for you." (Sean McCormack, a White House special assistant who handles national security matters, to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, when asked about the White House reaction to the Salvador option.)
Read the Newsweek article
Read David Corn's Commentary
Read the Rutland Herlad's Editorial
UUSC STOP Campaign Statement on 'Salvadoran Option'
WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by The UUSC Committee on the "Salvador Option" proposed by the Pentagon:
"The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), wishes to express its profound opposition to the "Salvador Option" now proposed by the Pentagon for utilization in Iraq. We remember with great clarity and pain the horrors inflicted upon the people of Central America by the U.S.-backed death squads throughout the 1980s. This shameful and deadly chapter of our history must never be repeated.
"If we are serious about freedom for Iraq, then we must, at all costs, protect its citizenry from all acts of torture, terror and assassination. Democracy imposed by us at gunpoint is poorly disguised tyranny indeed. On moral grounds alone, we must categorically reject the use of U.S.-sponsored death squads. Torture and terror by proxy is still torture and terror.
"The devastation inflicted by the U.S.-backed army death squads in Central America is well documented. In El Salvador during the 1980s these units were responsible, for example, for the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero and tens of thousands of civilians, including union members, peasant leaders, physicians, and anyone working with the poor. In Guatemala, the 200,000 victims of the army and its death squads included Bishop Juan Gerardi and Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, a young mother raped and killed in 1985 together with her 19-year-old brother and two- year-old son. The baby's fingernails were torn out as a warning to others. The U.S. support for the Guatemalan death squads was sharply criticized by the U.N. Truth Commission report in 1999. In both countries, civilian institutions were dangerously weakened, and the rule of law was lost. Can we seriously call these results the building blocks of democracy for Iraq?
"Engaging in death squad activities is not merely immoral but also highly illegal. Such acts are prohibited by numerous international treaties, including the Convention Against Torture, the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions (which protects civilian saboteurs), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to life, freedom from torture and kidnapping, and a fair trial are sacrosanct. Our domestic laws, including the War Crimes Act and the anti-torture statute confirm these values and make conspiracy to carry out such actions a felony.
"Last but not least, we must remember that violence will always beget violence. Already, the U.S. detainee abuses are unifying the Islamic world against us. Sadly, it is our young service men and women who may pay the price, but civilians are endangered as well. Sowing the seeds of hatred and terror will leave us with a long and bitter harvest indeed to reap."
For information contact, Jennifer Harbury, 800-388-3920, 512-751-5852 (cellular), or at email@example.com. UUSC is an international human rights agency based in Cambridge, Mass., and directs the STOP (Stop Torture Permanently) Campaign.
Posted by elcanche at 03:35 PM
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January 10, 2005
Back in Guate
I’m back in Guatemala, having returned just last night from New York. I have to admit the transition back has been kinda tough: it is a cold and gray Monday, the 5:30am alarm clock wake-up was just plain painful, and updating the Incidencia Democratica homepage was complicated by the fact that we’ve entered not only a new month, but a new year. Add to that three hours of an analysis & planning meeting combined with the flu I seem to have imported into Guatemala, and today just screams: “vacation’s over!”
I hope you all had as wonderful a Christmas and New Years as I did. I spent my time surrounded by some of my favorite things: family, food, chocolate, coffee, books, and snow. I realized once again just how lucky I am, and have made a resolution never to forget that.
Speaking of resolutions... yes, I’ve made my list. I’ll share some of them with you over the following days. (I figure that if I make them public, they will be that much harder to break.)
For now, though, let me end with a journal entry from last night’s flight...
We’re about ten minutes from take-off and the Captain has just walked to the very back of the aircraft. I can only wonder why he has made this unusual trip down the center aisle.
* He doesn’t remember which end of the plane he’s supposed to steer from, or...
* He had to ask one of the stewardesses for directions to Guatemala, or...
* They had run low on cocktails in the cockpit, or...
* The co-pilot, in an unusually cruel move, had eaten a Bean Supreme Burrito at the airport Taco Bell just before boarding the plane.
Anyway... I'm safely and soundly back in Guate. I look forward to hearing from you all soon!
Posted by elcanche at 04:45 PM
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