November 30, 2005
Two cups of coffee
I don't mean to sound like a broken record (or for the young and hip crowd: I don't mean to sound like a corrupted mp3 file) but sometimes I just can't help myself.
So please forgive yet another article about poverty, the United Nations, and the lack of humanitarian assistance from wealthy nations. It's just that when the need is so dire, and a solution so easily attainable... it infuriates me that our elected "leaders" are so incapable of acting in humanity's best interests.
George W. Bush, for example, is the "War on" President. (And we all know what "War on" rhymes with.) This U.S. president has spent billions and billions of dollars, and sacrificed thousands and thousands of lives, to fight the "War on Drugs" and the "War on Terrorism", with its sinister siblings: the "War on Afghanistan" and the "War on Iraq".
In fact, Bush is so busy fighting all these other Wars, that the "War on Poverty" has been, well... left behind.
Which to me seems to be the very essence of irony. No, not irony... evil.
And which raises some interesting questions:
* How many people die each year as a result of terrorist attacks or drug use? How many more people die each year as a result of living in poverty (ie: hunger, disease, forced labor, perilous migrations, natural disasters, etc.)?
* Wouldn't a concerted effort to alleviate poverty also have an enormously positive impact on addressing the root causes of terrorism, drug cultivation, and drug use?
* How many innocent men, women and children have been killed as a result of the "War on Terrorism" and "The War on Drugs"? How lives have been saved as a result of the War on Poverty?
For me the answer is quite clear: What this world needs is more bread and less bullets. (Ok, and much less Bush.)
UN launches biggest annual appeal
The United Nations has launched its largest humanitarian appeal.
It wants $4.7bn to help the victims of war, famine and natural disaster in 26 countries.
The UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, said that amount was the equivalent of 48-hours of global military spending.
The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said the international community had the capacity to pay, but now had to display the will to do so.
At the launch of the UN's 2006 humanitarian appeal, Mr Annan outlined its significance.
"In a world of plenty, continued suffering is a terrible stain on our conscience", he said. "It is inexcusable that we not strive, with every resource at our disposal, to eliminate suffering."
The UN wants provide life-saving help to more than 30 million people.
The appeal includes aid for those affected by the earthquake in Kashmir, and the Asian tsunami last December.
Many of the countries on the UN's list are in Africa. In particular, it is looking for $1.5bn for Sudan, which would mainly be split between the western Darfur area, where violence continues, and the now peaceful south, where reconstruction is under way.
'Two cups of coffee'
There are also ongoing emergency appeals for devastated regions in West Africa, including Ivory Coast and Liberia.
Elsewhere, the call for assistance covers Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya, the Palestinian territories, and flood victims in Guatemala.
Mr Egeland, said increased donations were necessary because of the large number and complexity of operations.
"We are asking exactly the amount of 48 hours of military spending in this world, or we're asking for the equivalent of two cups of coffee per rich person," said Mr Egeland.
"If they all gave the equivalent of two cups of coffee, we would cover all the needs for these 31 million people in a desperate situation."
BBC UN correspondent Susannah Price says that on average, the UN receives less than three-quarters of the funding it asks for every year, and countries often wait until the last moment to pay, which leads to increased costs.
Tags: Guatemala, Poverty, Drugs, War, Bush
Posted by elcanche at 09:54 PM
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November 29, 2005
Maid in America
Tonight PBS (U.S. Public Broadcating) is presenting the documentary "Maid in America" as part of its Independent Lens series.
At the end of the following article I've included a few links, including one which will tell you what time it will be showing on your local PBS station. (For example, it will air on Thirteen/WNET New York tonight at 10pm.)
The PBS website has also compiled an excellent list of resources about immigration and domestic workers.
MAID IN AMERICA
Housekeeper. Nanny. Maid. Surrogate mother. Such are the many roles of "las domésticas", undocumented workers who came to America in search of a better life and found themselves scrubbing toilets and setting tables, working long hours for little pay in private homes.
Most have no health insurance, no driver license, no pension and no recourse when it comes to employment injustices. They cook meals they could never afford, clean houses they could only dream of owning and care for strangers’ children when their own children are thousands of miles away. Deportation is a constant fear. And still they come to the United States by the thousands in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families.
MAID IN AMERICA is an intimate, eye-opening look at the lives of las domésticas, as seen through the eyes of Eva, Telma and Judith: three Latina immigrants, each with a very different story, who work as nannies and housekeepers in Los Angeles, California. Filmmakers Anayansi Prado and Kevin Leadingham followed their subjects for several years, and their cameras caught some of the most intimate moments of these women’s lives, both on and off the job.
"Am I going after the American Dream? No, I'm not. Because here we have to live in the reality of who we are.” Those are the words of Judith, a Latina housekeeper who emigrated from Guatemala to find work in Los Angeles. A mother of four, Judith left her children back home in search of a better future for her family.
Like Judith, Los Angeles is filled with stories of women who leave their families behind to come work in American homes cleaning and raising other women's children. The film also follows Telma, a Salvadorian immigrant nanny and Mickey, the 6-year-old she's been taking care of since he was a baby. Through their story, audiences see what life is like when Mom goes to work and the nanny becomes a surrogate mother.
For Eva, being a housekeeper is a means of making a living until her situation changes. She holds an accounting degree from Mexico, but because of her legal status she cannot obtain employment as an accountant and is forced to work as a housekeeper. But this persistent and determined woman is not about to give up.
MAID IN AMERICA also introduces others in the three main character’s lives, including Rossana Perez, coordinator for the Domestic Workers Project at the Coalition of Humane Immigrants Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA); the Marbury family, who are both reassured and guilt-ridden by their son’s near-maternal relationship with Telma; and Eulalia Camargo, a retired domestic who has written Call Me María, a short play based on a humiliating incident in her career when an employer threw a cup of hot coffee in her face. In the play, the fictional María is saved by a caped crusader called Superdoméstica, who fends off both the cruel employer and the immigration department with her domestic superpowers.
But Superdoméstica is fiction; unfortunately, the odds are against Telma, Judith, Eva and the other women profiled in MAID IN AMERICA. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are more than 10 million undocumented workers fighting for the same pool of low-paying jobs in the United States, and more than 100,000 of them are deported to Mexico and Central America every year. In November 2005, the Los Angeles Times estimated that Southern California alone is home to more than 62,000 Latinas working as nannies. It’s a hard life, but often better than the one they left behind.
The challenges faced by these women are as diverse as their stories. MAID IN AMERICA is the story of the American dream as seen from the perspectives of three women, all looking longingly through the glass…at the same time they’re cleaning it.
PBS: Maid in America
Maid in America official website
PBS: Independent Lens: Maid in America
PBS: Maid in America broadcast times
PBS: Immigration Resources
Tags: Guatemala, Maid in America, Domestic, Workers, Immigration, PBS
Posted by elcanche at 12:20 PM
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November 26, 2005
Put yourself on the map
Just a quick note tonight because it's Saturday night at 11:48pm, and I'm still in the office.
(Hey, if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas... "a life" might be a good idea. Just please don't buy it at Walmart, ok?)
Anyway, tonight I want to invite you to "put yourself on the map"!
No you don't have to be famous, or invent something spectacular, or do something unforgettable.. in this case, putting yourself on the map requires little more than a click of your mouse.
Thanks to fine folks at Frappr, I've added the El Canche Visitor map to my website.
All you have to do is go to the page, and click on "add yourself" in the right-hand column! Make sure you give a "shout out" to the others. You can also add a photo or an icon, if you'd like. Cool stuff.
And, like all Google Maps, you can zoom in and out... and even click on "Satellite" to get a photographic view of the world. Yep, you can spend a lot of time playing with this page, but just don't let your boss catch you!
I want to send a special shout out to the first visitors to put themselves on the map: Andy, Marisa, and Andrew (aka Moop) from Pleasantville, NY; Kim (aka my favortite Canadian) from Toronto, Canada; and Manuel (whose marker is kinda hidden behind the Pleasantville crew's, until you zoom in) from Peekskill, NY!
I hope you'll take a quick moment and add you own pin to the map. I'd love to know where you call home...
Tags: Guatemala, Frappr, Google, Map, Visitors
Posted by elcanche at 11:58 PM
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November 25, 2005
Violence Against Women
In 1999 the United Nations General Assembly declared November 25th the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Today, women around the world... regardless of their nationality, religion, ethnic group, or economic class... suffer the physical and psychological effects of gender violence.
According to the World Health Organization, one in six women worldwide suffers domestic violence. "Every 18 seconds, in some part of the world, a woman is abused", confirms Elena Salgado, Spain's Health Minister.
In Guatemala, violence against women has risen to horrific heights. In the first 10 months of this years, 527 women were killed.
To protest the lack of governmental response to this growing tragedy, Amnesty International members across the Americas visited Guatemalan embassies in their respective countries, demanding justice for the murdered women of Guatemala.
Killings of women continue unchallenged
Amnesty International Press Release
24 November 2005
On 12 August 2005, Claudina Isabel Velázquez Paíz, a 19-year-old law student left her home in Guatemala City to go to university. It was the last time her family saw her alive.
Claudina’s body was found on 13 August 2005. She had been raped and shot in the head.
“Claudina is yet another victim in a country that fails to protect women from violence,” said Amnesty International on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is being marked in Guatemala with activities organized by victims’ relatives and NGOs .
As with the hundreds of other cases of women killed in Guatemala, preliminary investigations around the case of Claudina were unsatisfactory.
Whilst forensic doctors carried out basic tests on Claudina’s body, the authorities failed to pursue important leads. No forensic tests were carried out on her clothes. Instead, they were returned to her family, potentially losing important evidence. No tests were carried out on the main suspects to determine whether they had fired a gun. Potential witnesses and valuable leads were also reportedly not pursued.
Since the publication in June 2005 of Amnesty International’s report on killings of women, Guatemalan civil society has continued to press the authorities to deal effectively with the killings. As of July 2005, there has been a draft law in Congress to create a National Forensic Institute.
However, Amnesty International is disappointed that the draft law does not appear to have government backing.
Amnesty International welcomes the increase of resources assigned to the investigation of murders of women within the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Against Life. “However, as long as the vast majority of killings remain uninvestigated and unpunished, these steps remain inadequate,” said Amnesty International.
According to information received by Amnesty International, the transfer of cases of murdered women to the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Against Life since January 2005 has not secured convictions or sentences on any cases.
According to press reports, 531 women were killed between January and October 2005, surpassing the total figure of 527 in 2004. The police have also reported that sexual violence against women has increased.
“Claudina’s parents would have been celebrating her 20th birthday on 21 November. Instead, they are fighting for justice for the killing of their daughter.”
Amnesty’s report on killings of women in Guatemala
Tags: Guatemala, Women, Violence, Amnesty, International
Posted by elcanche at 10:48 PM
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A Late Thanksgiving Tip
No, this has nothing to do with recipes for left-over turkey, hints on how best to reheat yams, or ideas for removing gravy stains from dress shirts.
This is a particularly personal tip from my particularly peculiar Thanksgiving:
If you should happen to go to the movies on a Thanksgiving evening, and if you should happen to see a movie about evil spirits and demonic possession (like, say, for example: "The Exorcism of Emily Rose") you should not... I repeat should NOT... walk home alone through the empty streets of a darkened city.
This was the first time I had actually hoped to be attacked by a pack of gang members:
Thug: "Oye, gringo, hand over all your cash!"
Me: "Ok, sure, but on one condition: will you guys walk me home?"
Seriously spooky film, folks. And it gave me a couple more things to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving day... I'm thankful that I made it home without getting mugged and without having six spawn of Satan invade my body.
I guess that I just thankful for the little things in life.
Tags: Guatemala, Thanksgiving, Exorcism, Emily, Rose
Posted by elcanche at 05:08 PM
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November 24, 2005
I hope that all of you in the United States had a very happy Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by friends and family and plenty of delicious food!
Thanksgiving is always a hard day for me, being so far away from home and family.
Unfortunately "Turkey Day" goes practically unnoticed here in Guatemala. It is a very U.S. holiday... for example you won't find the "Piedra de Plymouth" on any Guatemalan map.
But, pity me not! I found my own way of celebrating today...
First, I started with a delicious home-cooked Turkey dinner. (Well, ok, so it was a chicken nuggets lunch at Pollo Campero, but the thought was there.)
And I would've kicked back and watched today's football games, except for the fact that watching TV is kinda frowned-upon here at the office. Yes, that's right... no day off for me.
But I'm going to make it up to myself by going to the movies tonight. Sadly, my only two options are "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Exorcism of Emily Rose".
While the former is probably a more appropriate movie to see today (I hear it's a real turkey), I'll probably go see "The Exorcism". Ah, yes... light-hearted holiday fare.
You know what, come to think of it, go ahead and pity me after all. Just a little bit.
Well, even though Guatemala may not be the ideal place to celebrate Thanksgiving, at least one thing is certain: I have much in my life to be thankful for.
In particular, I am thankful for my family, for my friends, and for all of you who take the time to read these words each day. Wherever in the world you happen to be right now, let me say a heart-felt "thank-you" to all of you on this Thanksgiving Day!
Tags: Guatemala, Thanksgiving, Turkey, Family, Friends
Posted by elcanche at 05:16 PM
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November 23, 2005
Guatemala: Little Colombia?
The BBC today published a brief article on the growing drug trafficking problem in Guatemala. But as scary as the problem itself may be, the implied "answer" from the United States may be scarier still!
Guatemala needs to fight the growing power of drug gangs or it could become a "mini Colombia", the US Drugs Enforcement Administration has warned.
The DEA representative in Guatemala, Michael O'Brien, said that the agency was worried about the situation. He added that drug gangs were attempting to influence the public and the Guatemalan government.
Last week, the country's top anti-drugs official, Adan Castillo, was arrested in the US on drug trafficking charges.
Experts say that 75% of the cocaine smuggled to the US passes through Guatemala.
"If they don't change things, they could have a mini-Colombia here," Michael O'Brien told reporters in Guatemala City.
Guatemalan drug gangs concern US
BBC. 23 November 2005
The problem with the United States declaring Guatemala a "mini Colombia" is that it opens the doors to a Guatemalan version of the U.S.'s "Plan Colombia".
What is "Plan Colombia", and why would a "Plan Guatemala" be a bad idea? Here's an excerpt from a recent article published in ZNet Magazine:
Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." If he were alive today, he would consider US policy toward Colombia insane.
Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Colombia, the region's largest recipient of US aid, where she praised Plan Colombia as "very successful." In 2000, Congress passed "Plan Colombia" with the stated purpose of reducing the supply of cocaine to the US. Five years and $4 billion later (80 percent, or $3.2 billion, of which went to Colombian military), Plan Colombia is set to expire. But the Bush Administration has already requested $600 million in the budget to continue funding it. As Rice said on her visit to Colombia, "You don't stop in midstream on something that has been very effective."
But exactly how "effective" has Plan Colombia been? Before the American people are asked to continue spending $2 million a day on aid to Colombia, they should take a closer at the Plan.
If Plan Colombia was intended to reduce the supply of cocaine, raise its cost, and therefore, cut the numbers of users, then the program has been a costly failure.
After five years, the price of cocaine is lower, and the number of cocaine users is growing. According to a recent unclassified report from the National Drug Intelligence Center, "key indicators of domestic cocaine availability show stable or slightly increased availability in drug markets throughout the country."
A New Plan for Colombia
by David Martin, ZNet. 02 May 2005
But the damage isn't limited to spending obscene amounts of U.S. tax-payer funds on an un-winnable war.
It took only eight months after 9/11 for Congress to expand US engagement from fighting drugs to "a unified campaign against narcotics trafficking [and] against activities by organizations designated as terrorist organizations."
On the grounds of fighting terrorism, seventy Special Forces troops were sent to Arauca province in January to begin training Colombian soldiers to hunt down guerrillas and protect an oil pipeline partly owned by Occidental Petroleum.
Failed 'Plan' in Colombia
by Peter Clark, The Nation. 31 July 2003.
Bottom line: In Guatemala, a country that is still struggling to repair the social fabric ripped apart by decades of counterinsurgent violence, the security forces need to be reformed, not reinforced.
And frankly, if there's one government that has raised doubts about its intentions and abilities to "fix" the internal affairs of other countries, it's the current Bush administration.
So what can be done to help Colombia and Guatemala recover from the corruption and destruction caused by the drug trade? Well, it might seem simplistic but the drug trade exists to feed a need.... a need that is greatly concentrated in the United States.
As the ZNet article concludes:
In 1994, the US Army and the Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned a RAND study, which concluded that treatment for heavy cocaine users is twenty-three times more effective than drug crop eradication and other source-country programs. The study recommended that "if an additional dollar is going to be spent on drug control, it should be spent on treatment, not on a supply-control program."
In other words, the billions spent on aid to Colombia would be better spent on providing treatment to the millions of drug abusers in the US who need treatment, but do not receive it. That money could prevent drug abuse through education as well as address the social conditions, like poverty and unemployment, which make communities vulnerable to high rates of drug abuse.
So if the United States really wants to help Guatemala with its "drug problem" it would do well by focusing on its own drug problem. If there is one thing that neoliberal, hard-core capitalists like Bush & Co. can understand, it is the law of supply and demand.
And look... I made it all the way through this analysis on the War on Drugs without once mentioning the rumors of President Bush's personal cocaine use.
Tags: Guatemala, Drugs, Colombia, DEA, Cocaine
Posted by elcanche at 05:06 PM
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November 22, 2005
Breaking the Silence
I was determined to find some lighter, more upbeat news from Guatemala to post tonight.
After all, the website has been kinda heavy on the drugs, military, massacres, police, corruption, poverty, hunger, and other assorted forms of suffering lately.
Last Saturday, in fact, I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with a group of dedicated Canadian activists participating in a Guatemala - Maritimes "Breaking the Silence" delegation. I was asked to give a current events analysis and by the time I was finished I was looking at a number of shell-shocked faces, especially among the first-time visitors to Guatemala. One woman even approached me afterwards and asked, somewhat incredulously, "why do you even stay here?"
The answer to that question is a long and complicated one. Come to think of it, I may not even know the full reason why I feel called to live and work in this beautiful and difficult country. And even if I did know it, I'd be hard-pressed to explain it.
After all, there is something about Guatemala that transcends the logical, the understandable, the knowable. There comes a moment in one's relationship with this country where the heart takes over and moves you in ways that are emotional, mysterious, inexplicable and, well, wonderful. (Wonder-full, if you'd like.)
There is no doubt in my mind, that as this woman and her Canadian companions begin their travels throughout the country and witness the grace-in-struggle of the Guatemalan people, they also will come to that "aha" moment, and quietly sigh: "now I get it."
They may not fully understand it, but they'll definitely "get it". And they'll never be quite the same afterwards.
I'm very excited for all of them, and am honored to have been a small part of their Guatemalan experience. My sincerest thanks to Kathryn for the invitation!
Visit the Breaking the Silence section of the Tatamagouche Centre website for more information about this terrific program!
Tags: Guatemala, Breaking, Silence, Maritimes, Tatamagouche
Posted by elcanche at 08:54 PM
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November 21, 2005
Guatemalan Police Archives Update
The National Security Archive has just published an extensive report by Kate Doyle concerning the Guatemalan Police Archives.
The scope of this find is staggering - PDH officials estimate that there are 4.5 kilometers - some 75 million pages - of materials. During a visit to the site in early August, I saw file cabinets marked "assassinations," "disappeared" and "homicides," as well as folders labeled with the names of internationally-known victims of political murder, such as anthropologist Myrna Mack (killed by security forces in 1990).
There were hundreds of rolls of still photography, which the PDH is developing now. There were pictures of bodies and of detainees, there were lists of police informants with names and photos, there were vehicle license plates, video tapes and computer disks. The installations themselves, which are in a terrible state of neglect - humid and exposed to the open air, infested with vermin and full of trash - contain what appear to be clandestine cells.
The importance of the discovery cannot be overstated. Since 1996, when the government signed a peace accord with guerrilla forces, Guatemalans have fought to recover historical memory, end impunity and institute the rule of law after more than 30 years of violent civil conflict. In 1997, a UN-sponsored truth commission was created to investigate the war and analyze its origins.
The newly discovered police archives, which cover a century of police operations, promises to be one of the most revealing collections of military or police records ever discovered in Latin America. The appearance of these documents has created an extraordinary opportunity for preserving history and advancing justice that the Archive is mobilizing to meet.
I urge you to visit the National Security Archives website to read the complete article and view the startling photographs!
Tags: Guatemala, Police, Human Rights, NSC, Archives
Posted by elcanche at 08:59 PM
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News flash from the past
OK, I confess.
I don't actually spend all day and all night scouring thousands of internet sites for news about Guatemala that I can post to my website for your enjoyment, entertainment, and enlightenment.
Don't get me wrong... I would if I had to. For you, anything. Besides, it's a blogger's honor and duty, right?
Thankfully, it turns out though that there are a few ways to cheat the system. Legally, even. (And how often does that happen?)
For example, I use Google News Alerts to keep me updated on breaking stories about Guatemala in the international press. Google, bless their search-engine heart, automatically emails me links to articles containing the word "Guatemala" as they are published online.
The news isn't always what I'm looking for (ie: if I receive one more article about Survivor: Guatemala I'm going to vote myself off!!!). But, for the most part, this amazing service keeps me on top of the Guatemala news... which helps me to keep you informed!
(I hope you don't think less of me now that I've confessed my internet secret.)
Now you might be wondering why I've suddenly decided to "come clean" with you. Well, the truth is that with Christmas just around the corner, I was afraid of ending up on Santa's naughty list. (Sheesh, I can just imagine the comments THAT line is going to generate.)
No, no. The real reason is that something utterly odd, in a twilight-zonish way, just happened. While preparing to upload another article, a Google News alert popped into my Outlook program.
And this is what it looked like:
I read it once. And then blinked. And then read it again. And then... getting all goose-bumpy, clicked on the link. And was instantly carried back in time.
I have no idea how or why this article suddenly appeared in Google-land, but it certainly isn't recent news. On the contrary, it dates back to 1996, a time of hope and anxious expectation in Guatemala as the Peace Process seemed to be advancing inexorably towards a permanent and positive end to the armed conflict.
Indeed, the final Peace Accords were signed on December 29th, 1996, ending 36 years of war with a set of agreements between the Guatemalan State and the URNG guerillas that promised to reshape Guatemala into a new nation of peace with social justice.
There are many of us who believe that many... no, most... of the problems that Guatemala now suffers are due to lack of implementation of the letter and spirit of the Peace Accords by the Arzú, Portillo and Berger administrations.
But here is a quick look back at an exciting and tenuous time in Guatemala's history, thanks to a waylaid or way-delayed Google News Alert:
Oslo Talks Move Guatemala Toward Peace
After another round of talks in Norway between Guatemala's armed forces and their guerrilla adversaries, all parties involved shared a positive view of the prospects for a peace settlement, Norwegian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Asbjørn Mathisen reported recently.
The peace process started in Oslo six years ago and has made slow but important progress. The most important results are an accord on human rights and an agreement on the rights of indigenous Indians. Key issues that remain unresolved particularly involve social injustice and the role of the military in government and politics.
Guatemala's recently elected president, Alvaro Arzu, has expressed hope that a final peace agreement could be signed within seven or eight months. Arzu is the first president recognized by the armed opposition as legitimately elected since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. The guerrilla movement, URNG, has subsequently declared itself ready to move from armed confrontation to participation in the democratic process.
The Guatemalan civil war, which peaked in the early 1980s, has cost several hundred thousand lives. A peaceful settlement is urgently needed, not only by the people of Guatemala and the belligerent parties. Norway and the United States, two key players in the international group that supports peace here, are growing increasingly impatient with the slow pace of the negotiations.
The peace process is almost a year behind schedule, but the recent meetings in Oslo appear to have opened the way for concrete results.
News of Norway, issue 2, 1996
Tags: Guatemala, Norway, Peace, Google, URNG
Posted by elcanche at 08:16 PM
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November 20, 2005
Guatemala's Secret Police Files
The New York Times has just published an excellent article about the unbelievable discovery earlier this year of the "hidden" records of the Guatemalan National Police. These documents, photos, recordings and videos prove how the Police served as a violent, counterinsurgent instrument of the Guatemalan state.
The report also raises the all-important question: Now that this information has been uncovered... what happens next?
I've included an edited version below, but I encourage you to read the entire article!
Guatemala's Secret Police Files May Hold Clues to Atrocities
By Ginger Thompson, NY Times
Guatemala City, Nov. 20 - The reams and reams of mildewed police documents, tied in messy bundles and stacked from floor to ceiling, look on first sight like a giant trash heap. But human rights investigators are calling it a treasure hidden in plain sight.
In Guatemala, a nation still groping for the whole truth about decades of state-sponsored kidnapping and killing, the documents promise a trove of new evidence for the victims, and perhaps the last best hope for some degree of justice.
Last summer, authorities from the Guatemalan human rights ombudsman's office, searching a munitions depot here, discovered what appear to be all the files of the National Police, an agency so inextricably linked to human rights abuses during this country's 36-year civil conflict that it was disbanded as part of the peace accords signed in 1996.
Are these documents a step towards obtaining justice for the victims?
Following repeated requests, the ombudsman's office agreed to allow The New York Times to visit the files last week, after a rudimentary security system had been installed and archivists had begun taking samples of documents from the files.
Everything seems to be there: from traffic tickets, driver's license applications and personnel files, to spy logs and interrogation records. There are hundreds of rolls of film and videos, along with snapshots of unidentified bodies, detainees and informants. Some of the files seem to have gotten slightly more careful treatment and were tossed into file cabinets marked "disappeared," "assassins" and "special cases."
Sergio Morales, the head of the ombudsman's office, has previously told Guatemalan reporters that the archive contains lists of children kidnapped from suspected guerrillas along with the names of the families who agreed to take them in.
What remains unclear, investigators said, was why officials in Guatemala's prior governments - particularly the police - did not destroy the files, even though they appear to hold evidence of egregious abuses. Now that the archive has been found, almost 10 years after the end of the fighting that left at least 200,000 people dead, a new government, struggling to consolidate a fledgling peace, is still grappling with how to proceed.
"This presents a serious challenge for the government because there are going to be a lot of powerful names coming out of the files, and the justice system is very weak," Frank LaRue, director of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, said in an interview. "But the government remains committed to opening the archive, and prosecuting people responsible for crimes."
Later he toned down his statement, saying, "I am not sure everyone in the government would agree with that."
The New York Times is allowed to investigate... kinda.
As a precondition for opening the files to viewing by The Times last week, the lead investigator for the ombudsman's office, Gustavo Meoño, asked that specific details from documents describing extrajudicial kidnappings and killings, including names of victims and police officers, not be published.
"We have to act very carefully with this archive," Mr. Meoño said. "We do not want to unduly raise the expectations of the victims. And, for our safety, and for the safety of the files, we don't want to unduly frighten the people who are identified as perpetrators."
Mr. Meoño said there were files that referred to well known cases, including the 1990 assassination of Myrna Mack, an anthropologist. He said a team of Belgian lawyers investigating the 1980 assassination of Walter Voordeckers, a Belgian priest, and the 1982 disappearance of Serge Berten, another Belgian citizen, found files on those cases during a visit to Guatemala in September, and had the government subpoena the former chief of the national police, Germán Chupina, for the first time since the end of the war.
"I show you these," Mr. Meoño said, referring to documents from the archives, "to make clear to you that we have great hopes that this archive is going to clear up mysteries that have tormented this country for decades."
And why weren't these "dangerous" documents destroyed?
Heriberto Cifuentes, a Guatemalan historian who was among the first outsiders to lay eyes on the files, said the fact that the government did not destroy them reflected a simple fact of Guatemalan life.
"Impunity reigns in Guatemala," he said. "So whether there are documents or not, people responsible for crimes do not expect to pay for them. They have always enjoyed blanket immunity."
Tags: Guatemala, Police, Human Rights, Disappeared, Justice
Posted by elcanche at 10:09 PM
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November 18, 2005
Friday Night and Kites
It's a Friday evening at the end of a very long week. During the past few days I've been assailing you with several serious stories: a hunger "time bomb", a coke-smuggling drug czar, Temporary Protection Status for Guatemalan immigrants, and a 1,200 year old murder mystery.
So I thought I'd give you a well-deserved break tonight and just wish all y'all a happy weekend. (I went to college in North Carolina, does it show?)
Also: if you haven't seen them yet, I've posted the first 20 photographs of the massive kites of Santiago Sacatepéquez that are unveiled in the cemetery each year during All Saints Day. I'd love to get your feedback on the photos.
You can also read more about this incredibly colorful event in my original posts: "Flying kites with the dead and Flying kites with the dead (2).
There will be more photos to come! Some of my favorite shots from that day have yet to be posted. I'll add them to the site as soon as I get the.... yeah, time. (Sigh.)
At least I can take solace in the words of Leonard Bernstein:
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time."
Ah, so all I need now is a plan...
¡Feliz fin de semana!
Tags: Guatemala, Kites, Santiago, Photographs, Graveyard
Posted by elcanche at 09:57 PM
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November 17, 2005
A Massacre in Guatemala... 1,200 years ago
Here is a discovery to remind us that the saga of violence in Guatemala is a terribly gory and tragically long one:
Archaeologists have discovered what they believe was the gruesome scene of a royal massacre in the ancient city of Cancuén, once one of the richest cities in the Maya empire.
The bones of 31 executed and dismembered Maya nobles were found in a sacred reservoir at the entrance to the royal palace in Cancuén in the Petén rain forest of Guatemala.
Researchers also found a shallow grave nearby containing the skeletons of two people they believe were the king and queen.
The bones of more than a dozen executed upper-class Maya were found at a third burial site north of the royal palace.
The apparent executions—along with the discovery of unfinished defensive walls and houses—suggest that the city was wiped out by an invading force around A.D. 800, a critical moment at the beginning of the mysterious collapse of the great Maya empire.
Mass Graves Reveal Massacre of Maya Royalty
Stefan Lovgren, National Geographic News
And the "Guatemalan irony" part of this story?
"We're looking at it as an ancient war crime," said Vanderbilt University archaeologist Arthur Demarest, co-leader of a U.S.-Guatemalan excavation team.
"We know who was killed, and we've proved they were assassinated. The question is: Who did it, and why?"
To help find out, Demarest enlisted the Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala, experts in the archaeology of mass murder.
Perpetrators of ancient war crime sought
Guy Gugliotta, The Washington Post
That's right... the very Forensic team that exhumes and investigates the mass graves where modern-day Mayans were massacred by the Guatemalan army and civil patrols during the armed conflict, is being called in to investigate this ancient mass execution.
And once again I say "only in Guatemala!"
Interviews: Uncovering a Mayan Massacre - NPR talks with Demarest about his research team's latest finds in the Petén jungle region of Guatemala. (Audio)
Tags: Guatemala, Maya, Mayans, Cancuén, Massacre
Posted by elcanche at 10:21 PM
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November 16, 2005
The drug-smuggling drug czar
Guatemala is a country where the word "ironic" has simply ceased to have any real meaning.
When my coworkers and I found out about this following story we were shocked and yet, somehow, not surprised. In fact, in Guatemalan logic, it even kinda made sense:
The chief of Guatemala's special anti-drug police force, Adan Castillo, was arrested yesterday in the U.S. on drug smuggling charges, while planning to attend a conference on the War Against Drugs.
And it gets better than that! Attentive readers of this blog are no doubt muttering to themselves "Adan Castillo... why does that name sound so familiar?" Look back to this post, a mere 10 days ago, when Castillo announced that he would be leaving his post as Guatemala's Drug Czar at the end of December. Why?
Because he was tired of fighting a losing battle against drug smugglers!
"There are moments when you start to think you're swimming against the current," he said. "At those times, it's easy to think, 'If there aren't other institutions that can support me, if the government itself is weak in its response, then there's nothing left for me to do but leave it in God's hands.'"
Castillo said his country's anti-drug agents are no match for smugglers.
The Associated Press tells the rest of the story:
Guatemala's top anti-drug investigators have been arrested on charges they conspired to import and distribute cocaine in the United States after being lured to America for what they thought was training on fighting drug traffickers.
A three-count indictment issued today by a federal grand jury in Washington names Adan Castillo, chief of Guatemala's special anti-drug police force, who has lamented the slow pace of progress in combating cocaine smugglers in Guatemala. Also indicted were Jorge Aguilar Garcia, Castillo's deputy, and Rubilio Orlando Palacios, another police official.
They were arrested Tuesday after arriving in the United States for Drug Enforcement Administration training on stopping drug trafficking in ports, Guatemala's interior minister and two U.S. law enforcement officials said. In reality, the DEA had been investigating the men for four months with the help of the Guatemalan government.
"More than corrupting the public trust, these Guatemalan police officials have been Trojan horses for the very addiction and devastation that they were entrusted to prevent," DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said.
Read the entire article
Since Castillo has so much experience working both sides of the aisle, he no doubt has amassed a wealth of information about the "ins and outs" of Guatemalan drug smuggling. Although he initially pleaded innocent to the charges, I have no doubt that he'll end up flipping faster than a pancake at 24-hour Denny's. Can you say "Witness Protection"?
So that "clicking" sound being heard throughout the more well-to-do zones of Guatemala City tonight is undoubtedly the closing of hastily-packed suitcases as Castillo's cocaine contacts prepare to catch a flight to any country that doesn't extradite.
Finally, always looking on the bright side of life, is Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielman, who called the arrests:
"A strong blow to the infiltration of organized crime in the structures of the Guatemalan government."
Right... so your presidentially-appointed drug czar being arrested for cocaine smuggling and distribution... is a good thing?
Hmmm. This ironic turnabout does awaken other doubts...
Dick Cheney: undercover Al Qaeda operative????
Tags: Guatemala, Drugs, Smuggling, Castillo, NAFTA
Posted by elcanche at 10:13 PM
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Guatemala TPS Follow-up
Hey everyone... I just received the following information from NISGUA, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala. It is provides a perfect follow-up to yesterday's post on Guatemala's request for Temporary Protection Status.
Please read the following information and then contact the Department of Homeland Security (which now oversees all immigration enforcement) to voice your support for protecting Guatemalan immigrants under the TPS.
Included in this post are:
- Information from NISGUA
- A letter from the National Immigration Forum
- A sample letter to fax or email to Secretary Michael Chertoff of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- A brief explanation of Temporary Protected Status
Dear NISGUA friends,
Below is an action alert is regarding immigration issues, asking for Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Guatemalan nationals in the U.S. in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Stan. The alert was issued by the National Immigration Forum, with a sample letter for organizations. However, you can easily use the same format as an individual.
Granting TPS to Guatemalans does not correct the underlying injustice in economic and immigration policies, but is an acknowledgement of the enormous humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Stan. The call for TPS has been a rare case of agreement among the Guatemalan government and Guatemalan civil society, as well as Guatemalan organizations in the U.S. such as Conguate, Guatemalan Peace and Development Network, and Mayas in Exile (OPME). We hope you can respond to this alert.
Andrew de Sousa, NISGUA
To: Interested Immigration Advocates
From: Maurice Belanger
Re: Temporary Protected Status for Guatemalans in the Wake of Hurricane Stan
As was widely reported in the press, Guatemala was hit by a tropical storm early in October that killed many people, left thousands homeless, and caused widespread damage to the country’s agricultural production.
The Guatemalan government has made a request to the U.S. government that Guatemalans in the U.S. be granted Temporary Protected Status.
The Forum has sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff supporting the request for Temporary Protected Status.
Your organization can assist in this effort by submitting your own letter. A sample letter, with address and fax number, is copied below.
Via Fax: (202) 282-8236
or click here to post the letter on the DHS website.
I'd also encourage you to forward this letter to your elected members of Congress!
November 16, 2005
Secretary Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff,
I am writing to you to support the Guatemalan Government’s request that, in the wake of Hurricane Stan, Guatemalans in the U.S. be given protection from deportation by a grant of Temporary Protected Status.
On the first week of October of this year, extremely heavy rainfall caused by Hurricane Stan fell over Central America and southern Mexico. Guatemala was most affected by the disaster, with loss of life, widespread damage to infrastructure, and agricultural losses.
In Guatemala, there are hundreds of confirmed deaths, and thousands are missing, with entire communities buried. More than 120,000 people have been displaced. Some 700 communities have been affected. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, and tens of thousands have been damaged.
A preliminary assessment of damage to the infrastructure has found more than five thousand kilometers of road severely damaged, with nineteen main bridges out. Damage to hydroelectric plants is considerable, as is damage to the electrical distribution system. Food shortages for the general population are acute. News reports of the disaster indicate that more than one third of the countries’ agriculture was wiped out as a result of the storm.
The Guatemalan community here in the U.S. sends more than $2 billion worth of remittances that help maintain social stability and provide basic needs to relatives in Guatemala. These remittances take on added importance while Guatemala recovers from the storm.
Until the country can get back on its feet, we believe that granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Guatemalans in the United States will help ameliorate the desperate situation of those victims that may benefit from funds sent by relatives in the U.S. We also believe that it is in the interest of the U.S. not to return people so soon after this natural disaster, as that may create instability in a country that is only recently coming back from civil war, and where poverty was already very high before the storm.
Such a grant would certainly not be without precedent, as Nicaraguans and Hondurans were granted Temporary Protected Status after suffering widespread destruction from Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
We are aware that the Guatemalan Government has officially requested TPS for Guatemalans in the United States, as the conditions that justify this are widely prevalent in the country. Therefore we strongly support granting TPS, and we ask that you give this request serious consideration.
END SAMPLE LETTER
Temporary Protected Status
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is sometimes granted to nationals of countries in crisis who are presently in the U.S. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may designate a country for TPS if the people from that country who are currently in the U.S. would face "on-going armed conflict," natural disaster, or "extraordinary temporary conditions" that would place them in danger if they were to be returned to their home country.
People are granted TPS if they can prove they are from a designated country and that they were present in the U.S. on or before the date the DHS Secretary made the designation. A country's designation for Temporary Protected Status may last for 6, 12, or 18 months. Persons with TPS will not be deported, and may live and work legally in the U.S. until the designated period expires.
TPS can be renewed if the Secretary of DHS determines that unsafe conditions in the country persist. As of January 2005, nationals of eight designated countries were protected by TPS. Those countries were: Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Liberia, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan.
Revised January 2005
From The National Immigration Forum
Tags: Guatemala, TPS, Immigration, Stan
Posted by elcanche at 03:22 PM
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Hunger "time bomb" update
The United Nations World Food Program has issued an urgent appeal to donors to help feed an estimated 285,000 Guatemalan victims of last month’s Hurricane Stan, warning that they face a severe hunger crisis as early as this Christmas.
“We are looking at a ticking time bomb with grave consequences for thousands of people,” confirms Duilio Perez, WFP Emergency Coordinator for Guatemala.
For those wishing to help, the World Food Program has just opened a special page where you can donate online to help provide food for the victims of the floods and mudslides in Guatemala.
Click here to make a difference!
In related news, a number of countries have stepped up their aid to Hurricane Stan victims in the past few days. The United States pledged another 2 million dollars:
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced it will provide an additional US$2 million for food assistance in areas affected by Hurricane Stan in Guatemala.
The US$2 million, to be provided through the Food for Peace Program to the UN’s World Food Program (WFP), is in addition to US$2 million already earmarked for emergency aid to Guatemala.
The announcement comes on the heels of an urgent WFP plea for additional funds last week after donors failed to meet the US$14 aid appeal for the victims of Hurricane Stan, which tore through Guatemala on 1 October.
The WFP had warned that they needed aid to help feed an estimated 285,000 people in regions that could face a severe hunger crisis by late December.
ISN Security Watch, 16 November 2005
The European Commission has also donated an additional US$4.67 million to victims in El Salvador and Guatemala.
The European Commission has adopted a second emergency humanitarian aid decision of US$4.67 million to assist the victims of floods and landslides in Guatemala and El Salvador.
These funds are supplementary to the $2 million which the Commission already decided to contribute on 6 October 2005. The extra aid will help to meet the most urgent needs of 30.000 affected families in terms of water and sanitation, food security, health, emergency shelter, non food items and information management. The funding will be channeled through the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department, ECHO, which comes under the responsibility of Commissioner Louis Michel.
The Commission’s additional aid will primarily target a population living in shelters in Guatemala, but will also benefit the entire population living in the most severely affected districts of the country. As concerns El Salvador, the first emergency needs were already covered by the Primary Emergency Decision. Nevertheless, approximately 1,000 families from this country will benefit from the additional aid given by the Commission.
Specific attention will be paid to the needs of vulnerable groups, such as children, women, elderly, disabled and indigenous minorities. With a view to the disaster prone areas, priority will also be given to operations that mainstream disaster risk reduction in their relief activities. Furthermore, small scale emergency rehabilitation of houses, rural roads and bridges will be supported, to enable the efficiency of emergency aid.
Since the passage of Tropical Storm Stan, both Guatemala and El Salvador suffered profoundly. In Guatemala, there are 664 confirmed deaths, whereas 844 persons are missing. The UN estimates that 30% of the Guatemalan territory has suffered the consequences of the crisis. Thousands of houses have been damaged or have been completely destroyed. Therefore, some 140,000 people are being housed in emergency shelters. In El Salvador, the intense and devastating rains have caused 65 deaths and the displacement of more than 54,000 people into temporary shelters. Thousands more have taken temporary refuge in the homes of friends and relatives.
Since most vulnerable communities have lost their livelihoods, many people will continue to depend on the provision of international aid. As a consequence of the floods, roads and bridges have been severely damaged or completely destroyed. Many Mayan communities in the highlands have been cut off. On top of these infrastructural constraints, the continuing heavy rains hamper the aid distribution as well as the return of the population to their houses.
EuroFundingMag, 16 November 2005
Tags: Guatemala, Stan, Victims, Donate, mudslides
Posted by elcanche at 10:59 AM
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November 15, 2005
TPS: Protecting Guatemalans
The Guatemalan government has humbly requested of the Bush administration that it extend Temporary Protection Status to Guatemalan immigrants currently residing in the United States.
The name of this measure is very appropriate. It is provides a temporary protection for immigrants, both documented and undocumented, so that they may continue to work and send home desperately needed funds for the feeding of their families and the rebuilding of their communities.
This is the very definition of humanitarian aid. It would cost U.S. taxpayers nothing, and yet provide hope for thousands of families in need. With the United Nations World Food Program warning of a hunger "time bomb" ready to explode in Guatemala, what would it take for Bush & Co. to simply say: "you can stay for a while to help your spouse and children survive"?
And yet, there are voices of opposition from the racist right. Like Will Adams, spokesman for anti-immigrant Rep. Tom Tancredo, who says that we should send these people packing because they come from countries of "perpetual instability and disaster".
Which, it seems to me, should be exactly the kind of people that the United States of America offers protection to, even if it is temporary.
To quote a radical plaque adorning a shining symbol of U.S. solidarity:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I hope and pray that my country does the honorable thing, and helps protect the "tempest-tossed" of Guatemala.
Guatemala: too risky to return
By Nathaniel Hoffman
Katarino Abraham Juarez knows that his nephew, Aquilino, survived Hurricane Stan, but lost his crops and his home to the floods.
When the hurricane hit the Mayan highlands of Guatemala on Oct. 4, Juarez was thousands of miles away in Oakland, where he is a day laborer among thousands of other Guatemalan migrants.
Their government has asked the Bush administration to allow Guatemalans in the United States to stay as their country continues to dig out from the mudslides and floods that destroyed dozens of rural towns and roads.
The Guatemalans are seeking temporary protective status, or TPS, an administrative measure that grants temporary work permits to certain foreign nationals, including undocumented immigrants, when the United States deems it too dangerous for them to return home.
"They should give my paisanos, my countrymen, the opportunity to be legal and find work with companies," Juarez said in Spanish, pointing to more than 20 young Guatemalan immigrants who wait for work every morning just off of International Boulevard in Oakland.
Juarez, a Mayan, native Quiche speaker and green-card holder, is among about 25,000 Guatemalans in the Bay Area, according to 2004 Census Bureau data.
The Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles estimates that as many as 100,000 to 150,000 Guatemalans may be working in the United States illegally, after a wave of immigration from the Central American country during the past year.
Congress approved the TPS program in 1990 to shelter immigrants whose homelands are racked by war or natural disasters. It has been applied to people from Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone in recent years.
Hondurans and Nicaraguans affected by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Salvadorans hit by a large earthquake in 2001 all were granted the special status and given a series of extensions that ranged from six to 18 months and that continue today.
"We're very optimistic that the Bush administration is going to hear the cries of the Central American community," said Marvin Andrade, director of programs for the Central American Resource Center. "We believe it is the most effective way to provide aid to the region."
Andrade said that if Guatemalans get protective status they will be able to continue to work and send money home to their families rebuilding their villages and economy.
Central American immigrants in the United States sent more than $6 billion home last year, Andrade said.
Groups that seek more limits on U.S. immigration oppose the frequent TPS extensions and say those people could better serve their countries by returning home.
"It's great to provide temporary shelter for people who are in desperate need but we don't have limitless ability to take people who end up staying here," said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA.
Jenks and others who seek to scale back immigration say that TPS is not a bad idea, but that it has never really been temporary -- the majority of those granted TPS have gotten multiple extensions, allowing them to stay indefinitely.
"For a lot of these TPS countries there is perpetual instability and disaster," said Will Adams, spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., an outspoken critic of immigration policies.
Since 1990, immigrants from at least a dozen countries have been granted TPS. Some of the programs have expired. One TPS program that ended earlier this year affected about 300 nationals of Monteserrat, a Caribbean island with a volcano that the Department of Homeland Security determined would perpetually pose a risk to its citizens.
But Salvadorans and other Central Americans have been granted multiple extensions. Liberians in the United States recently won another year of TPS, first granted in 1991 and then terminated and re-approved several times.
Guatemalans are aware that their petition could be a long shot as Congress once again enters the debate over immigration.
"It's very difficult to get to the White House and Homeland Security these days," Andrade said.
The government is also considering a petition from Pakistan after the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed up to 80,000 people.
Estimates of hurricane deaths in Guatemala are approaching 1,000 with more than 100,000 living in shelters and camps.
Edgar Ayala, an Oakland graphic designer and member of the national steering board of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, said Guatemalans here will contribute more if TPS allows them to come out of their shadow existence as undocumented workers to support their families and their nation.
"They will be able to have steady work as opposed to daily labor at the corner and they will not be deported," he said.
The Mercury News, 15 November 2005
Tags: Guatemala, TPS, Stan, Immigration
Posted by elcanche at 10:03 PM
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November 14, 2005
Good news for Guatemala
This is surprisingly good news out of the U.S. Congress. (I'll pause to let the shock of those words sink in.) I'll be writing more in the next few days, about this forward-looking decision by the United States Congress not to cave in to the pressures of the Bush administration, but rather to put Guatemala's best interests first.
This analysis is presented by the Washington-based Latin America Working Group.
Good News, Bad News: Congress Votes to Finalize 2006 Appropriations
As the Congress wrapped up the FY06 foreign operations bill, there’s some good news and bad news for Latin America. Latin America Working Group and coalition groups won some of what we had called for in this bill, which funds US aid programs worldwide. The Congress decided to maintain the ban on military aid to Guatemala, in place since 1990.
The Bush Administration pushed harder than usual to lift the ban, arguing that Guatemala had made sufficient progress, and the House lifted the ban in its version of the bill. Grassroots activists, LAWG, NISGUA, Guatemala Human Rights Commission, WOLA and other groups called on Congress to keep the ban due to continued threats and attacks against human rights and social activists and lack of progress in implementing military reforms contained in the 1996 Peace Accords.
The final bill also contained $3 million in DNA analysis and support for forensic investigations in Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina and other parts of Latin America. It contained a provision we supported to stop the erosion of aid to Central America, by mandating that aid to the region not drop below 2005 levels.
Read the entire article
Tags: Guatemala, LAWG, Congress, Military, Aid
Posted by elcanche at 09:01 PM
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November 11, 2005
Guatemala faces hunger "timebomb"
Hunger crisis looms in Guatemala after Hurricane Stan
11 November 2005 – The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) today issued a new urgent appeal to donors to help feed an estimated 285,000 Guatemalan victims of last month’s Hurricane Stan, warning that they face a severe hunger crisis as early as this Christmas.
“We are looking at a ticking time bomb with grave consequences for thousands of people,” WFP Emergency Coordinator for Guatemala Duilio Perez said, noting that the agency had already appealed at the end of last month for $14.1 million to aid the affected population for six months.
Only $4.5 million had been raised so far, from three countries: the US ($3.5m), Norway and Switzerland.
“There is a very short time-line to receive money for this crisis,” he added, directing the appeal especially to governments and corporations in Latin America to show their support for their sister country.
Many people have lost some or all of their crops, especially those dependent on terracing, their homes have been damaged and in some cases destroyed, and entire villages have seen their sanitation and water systems partially or completely wiped out.
“All of this has occurred in a country where even before the Hurricane struck, the rate of chronic hunger among children was almost 50 per cent – the highest in the region,” Mr. Perez said. “Many people, if they haven’t lost everything, only have enough food to last them until the harvest begins in December, assuming they will harvest anything.”
He voiced concern that as the weather grew colder, people would need a higher intake of calories. Also, if their bodies were weakened by hunger, they would be more susceptible to disease. Local authorities point to a growing danger of gastro-intestinal diseases caused by damage to sanitation and water systems, which could have a devastating effect on children already suffering from chronic hunger.
“We need to be able to move quickly to buy food, distribute it and prepare for the coming months,” Mr. Perez said. “As people’s dwindling supplies run out and as they gather smaller harvests, they will need food assistance – especially when you take into consideration that it will be another year before they can harvest the next crop.”
Donate online to the United Nations World Food Program!
WFP: Central America and Caribbean Storm Crisis
WFP: Hurricane Stan hits Guatemala hard
WFP: Guatemala: food aid video
Tags: Guatemala, Hunger, WFP, United Nations, Stan
Posted by elcanche at 11:41 AM
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November 10, 2005
Crime and Punishm... well, more Crime.
So what's news? Well, one topic that never seems far from the minds and lives of most Guatemalans is: "crime and violence".
Which I admit doesn't make for very uplifting reading. (Or writing, for that matter.) But if you really want to know what's happening here, there's no way you can ignore these stories.
Not that there's nothing terribly graphic reported here, just a deadening sense that the battle for Guatemala's streets is being lost.
The first entry is from an article in today's Prensa Libre entitled "Towns without Police Presence".
[I should add here that all translations are mine, and I've linked to the original news story where possible!]
Eight communities in Guatemala are currently without any authorities to oversee their safety. Their police stations remain closed, and some of the installations still show the damage caused when throngs of angry residents -dissatisfied with police conduct- attacked the offices.
"We're not going back until there are minimal guarantees in those places where the police were expelled by mobs", stated Julio Hernandez Chavez, sub-director of operations for the National Police.
A police report states that two of the towns without police presence since last march are Ixtahuacán and Colotenango, in the department of Huehuetenango. Protestors there rebelled against police when the agents tried to forcefully break up a protest against the Free Trade Agreement - CAFTA." (One campesino farmer, Juan López Velásquez, was killed by security forces during the protest.)
Maria Cristina Monroy, who lives near yet another of the destroyed police stations, confirmed that people often take a stand against the police because they demand illegal bribes.
So what's the official answer to this widespread problem?
"We are drafting a proposal which will be reviewed by Minister (of the Interior) Carlos Vielmann and President Berger, to see if the there will be a permanent withdrawal from these communities", indicated Erwin Sperissen, Director of the National Police.
Pueblos sin presencia de la PNC por: Mike Castillo & Leonardo Cereser, Prensa Libre
And then there's this brief news item about the Minister of the Interior, Carlos Vielmann, who went to the Guatemalan Congress to promote a package of security policies. Notice what the Mr. Vielmann chooses to highlight as risks to the country's stability:
Representatives of the different political parties listened as the Minister presented the possible problems and sources that could lead to a situation of "ungovernability" in the country.
These would include, said the Minister, the lynchings and the senseless, massive protests that have intensified in the countryside.
Gobernación busca apoyo de partidos, por Óscar F. Herrara, El Periódico
Today's Editorial from Siglo XXI is entitled: Stop the Rising Crime Rate. It examines the growing threat of organized crime:
As if the population wasn't already worried about the climate of insecurity caused by common criminals, such as gang members, it must now also face an upsurge of organized crime, which in the last few weeks has become exceptionally notorious.
Events such as the recent bank robberies and the despicable and unjustifiable assassination of the artist (renowned pianist) Dorothy Áscoli, would indicate that the public has more than enough reasons to be alarmed.
The big question now is how the National Police and the Public Ministry will resolve this challenge, if their limited technical and financial resources have prevented them from achieving positive results in combating other types of crime.
Alto a Repunte de Criminalidad Editorial, Siglo XXI
The ever-unfolding tragedy of women assassinated in Guatemala continues to shock all who of us who watch as these numbers grow and grow. According to a recently-published article, in the first ten months of this year alone 547 women have been murdered. That numbing number is 16 more that the total number of females violently killed in 2005. And there's still November and December...
A group of women activists accompanied family members of the victims to the cemetery to commemorate All Saint's Day.
"We are in solidarity with the families of the thousands of murdered women, and denounce the State once again for failing to guarantee our safety and security", declared Andrea Barrios of the Women's Sector.
And once again, the officials point the blame at the victims:
"The numbers have increased because more women are participating in gangs or other illegal activities; many of the deaths are due to revenge", stated Erwin Sperisen, director of the National Police.
Muerte de mujeres supera cifra de 2004, por: Edgar López, Siglo 21
And finally, given all the above, today there was news of a very surprising move by the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy lifted the Travel Warning that it put in place after Hurricane Stan hit Guatemala. Which is a good and necessary step towards helping the country recover.
But that's not the bizarre part. The article goes on to mention, quite casually that:
The bulletin that the U.S. State Department published concerning the dangers of traveling to the country because of the security situation, also expired on November 3rd.
What?!?!?! That must be because everything is just swell here now, I guess.
Still, I noticed that although the official travel warning has "expired", the Consular Information Sheet doesn't seem to pull any punches:
Violent criminal activity has been a problem in all parts of Guatemala for years, including numerous murders, rapes, and armed assaults against foreigners. The police force is young, inexperienced, and under-funded, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know that there is little chance they will be caught and punished.
Hmmm.... I wonder if I've just screwed the possibility of anyone ever coming to visit me in Guatemala again.
Tags: Guatemala, Crime, Women, Police, Violence
Posted by elcanche at 11:32 PM
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November 09, 2005
One billion dollar clean-up
$1 billion to clean up Guatemala after hurricane
Guatemala City (AP) -- Flooding and mudslides fueled by Hurricane Stan in early October caused almost one billion dollars in damage in Guatemala, according to a report by a U.N. agency issued Tuesday.
The Economic Commission for Latin America said the damages to homes, crops, roads and infrastructure amounted to $415 million, and lost income and production amounted to an additional $567 million.
"Knowing the amount of damages is essential for reconstruction," said Roberto Gonzalez Diaz-Duran, who heads up reconstruction efforts for the Guatemalan president's office. "Now we have to work on the financial viability of the reconstruction."
Hurricane Stan hit southern Mexico at Category 1 strength on Oct. 4, causing flooding and mudslides that killed 71 people in the southern state of Chiapas and leaving 669 dead -- and 844 missing -- in neighboring Guatemala. Another 71 died in El Salvador.
Tags: Guatemala, Hurricane, Stan, Reconstruction, U.N.
Posted by elcanche at 10:18 PM
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November 08, 2005
CAFTA likely to hurt poor Central Americans
The following article, published in the National Catholic Reporter, is written by Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini, a man who I greatly respect not only for his political views but also for his decades-long commitment to working for social justice and accompanying Guatemala's poor.
CAFTA likely to hurt poor Central Americans
By Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini
The recent passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement by the U.S. Congress is a source of grave concern to my diocese and to citizens of my country, Guatemala. A good agreement might have been a tool to ease the grinding poverty that plagues the daily lives of too many Guatemalans. Instead, this agreement not only fails to address the needs of Central America’s poor, sick and vulnerable but may well make conditions here worse.
CAFTA’s U.S. passage, made possible by political threats, payoff promises and procedural manipulations, resembled the tactics employed in March to pass CAFTA in Guatemala’s Congress. The juxtaposition of certain politicians’ claims that CAFTA would promote democracy with the process that was required to pass it is one of CAFTA’s cruel ironies.
In my country, when thousands of protesters raised their voices against CAFTA, President Oscar Berger responded by calling on the Guatemalan military to suppress them, thereby violating the fragile Peace Accords that ended decades of bloody civil war. The military used water cannons, rubber bullets and armored vehicles in the capital. In the countryside, military police attacked a march of Mayan peasant farmers, murdering two civilians.
People who wonder why there is such passionate opposition to CAFTA -- an expansion of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement to six more nations -- need look no further than the results of NAFTA in Mexico during the last decade. NAFTA displaced 1.5 million Mexican peasant farmers. Many of these displaced farmers sought industrial jobs, causing Mexican wages to drop by 20 percent. Communities and families were torn asunder as those who lost their livelihoods undertook the perilous journey to the United States in hopes of finding some way to support their family.
CAFTA, like NAFTA, is designed to complement and lock into place the neoliberal structural adjustments imposed on Central American nations, with disastrous results, by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Formerly pro-NAFTA development economists, such as Professor Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, warned that CAFTA is “based on a logic that favors profit over human rights and sustainability.”
What benefits can come for Guatemalan workers when CAFTA will roll back the stronger labor rights requirements existing under current U.S.-Central America trade law? What will become of the 60 percent of Guatemala’s population that lives in small farming communities when CAFTA allows the dumping of subsidized food exports into our countries? And what can a priest say to the family of a person ill with HIV-AIDS for whom the generic antiretroviral medicines forbidden by CAFTA’s rules are the only hope? The Bush administration demanded that before the U.S. Congress would even consider CAFTA, our nation had to revoke a law that helped ensure access to these medicines for the more than 78,000 Guatemalans living with HIV-AIDS. Is this a good neighbor policy?
CAFTA did not come down from God. It is the flawed work of man, and only one of many versions of how our nations could be linked. I thank those members of the U.S. Congress who voted against CAFTA. They desire trade with fairness, justice and morality. They rise against the Bush administration’s threats to cut off our existing trade preferences so as to force Central American approval of this trade agreement. They yearn for a country that cooperates with, not presides over, its neighbors in the Western hemisphere.
I hope and pray that the valiant efforts of those opposing CAFTA both in Central America and the United States will prove lasting in confronting the challenges of CAFTA’s implementation.
Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos, Guatemala, is president of the Bishops’ Secretariat of Central America and Panama.
National Catholic Reporter, November 11, 2005
Tags: Guatemala, CAFTA, NAFTA, Ramazzini, Poverty
Posted by elcanche at 06:20 PM
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November 07, 2005
Here's an invitation for all of you living in Guatemala, or visiting soon.
This event, ManifestaRte, is one of the highlights of the Guatemalan cultural calendar. It is two days of free concerts (every type of music imaginable), dance, theatre, film, arts & crafts, etc.
I went with my friend Susan last year, and we had a blast!
This year the organizers will collecting food and material aid for the victims of Hurricane Stan.
Hopefully I'll see you there!
III FESTIVAL manifestaRte en el Cerro
"arte por un mundo más humano y solidario"
12 y 13 de noviembre de 2005,
sábado desde las 17:30 horas
domingo desde las 10:00 horas
Solidaridad con las víctimas de la tormenta Stan
El colectivo manifestarte, ante la situación de catástrofe que sufre el país, expresa su solidaridad para con las víctimas y sus familias. Sabemos que el fenómeno tiene raíces naturales, pero su efecto devastador en términos sociales, se sustenta en una estructura injusta que vulnerabiliza y pone en situación de riesgo a grandes sectores empobrecidos de la población.
Construyamos un país con una sociedad incluyente, en un mundo más humano.
Durante el “III festival manifestaRte en el Cerro” a realizarse los días 12 y 13 de noviembre recaudaremos víveres para “Pampojilá”, una de las aldeas damnificadas.
Programa sábado 12 de Noviembre
Banda de Concierto SAN RAYMUNDO DE PEÑAFORT
Dirigida por el Profesor Carlos Real.
Esta agrupación fue fundada por el Profesor Carlos Real en el año 2000. Está formada por niños, niñas y jóvenes del municipio de San Raymundo que participan en el proyecto “acción social por medio de la música”.
Actualmente cuenta con 40 integrantes de entre 8 y 25 años que interpretan instrumentos de viento madera, metal y percusión. Han ofrecido conciertos en importantes salas de la ciudad como el auditorio del Conservatorio Nacional, la gran sala del teatro nacional Miguel Ángel Asturias, el auditorio de la universidad del Valle, así como en varios departamentos de la República y en San Salvador entre otros.
SINFONÍAS del TRÓPICO.
Una evocación del imaginario poético de Flavio Herrera
Producción, realización y música: IGOR de GANDARIAS
Realización y fotografía: GUILLERMO ESCALÓN
Esta producción evoca imágenes poéticas, sentimientos y pensamientos del escritor guatemalteco Flavio Herrera (1885-1968).
La producción otorga a la música un rol principal. Sus materiales lo constituyen, exclusivamente, sonidos recogidos durante la filmación de los ambientes silvestres, principalmente de la bocacosta guatemalteca donde viviera el poeta.
EL PÁJARO SOBREVIVIENTE (El Tecolote Amaya) de LUÍS URRUTIA
Programa domingo 13 de noviembre:
La plástica estará representada por talentosos artistas que con su visión darán realce a este gran evento con una exposición de pintura, dibujo y grabado. El trabajo expuesto pertenece a artistas de diversas regiones del país, lo que enriquece la muestra.
Este festival está dedicado al pueblo de Guatemala y su único fin es ayudar a consolidar una cultura de paz.
ALEJANDRO NORIEGA, JULIO FLORES, JULIO AJÍN, MARVIN OLIVARES, FERNANDO VALDIVIESO, LUÍS ROBLES, ESTEBAN ARREOLA, BENVENUTO CHAVAJAY, PEDRO PICHILLA, GABRIEL POP SANTAY, CARLOS JOSUÉ BETANCOURT, DOMINGO SOTZ, LUÍS SOTZ, MANUEL CHAVAJAY, PEDRO CHAVAJAY, MARLON PUAC, AMPARO TOLEDO, JORGE LINARES, RENÉ RODRÍGUEZ, RUBÍN SOLÓRZANO.
Pintores Escuela de Puerto Barrios: WALDEMAR ALDANA, ANTONIO ALDANA
Pintores San Juan Comalapa: ANGEL POYÓN, FERNANDO POYÓN, LEONEL PICHILLA, PAULA NICHO, HERMELINDO MUX, FILIBERTO SIMÓN, MARÍA JOSÉ AGUILAR
Pintores del Cerrito Del Carmen: JAIME RAMÍREZ, GUSTAVO GARCÍA, CARLOS CHICAS, ROMEL CIFUENTES, FEDERICO BONILLA, MARIO VITOLA, MARIO GIRÓN, ALVARO CARRERA, EDGAR NORIEGA, ETHEL GUERRA, LEONEL DEL CID, ROGELIO CIFUENTES, MARIO MÉNDEZ, JULIO AJÍN, VÍCTOR XICARA MARIO GARCÍA, MARIO ROBERTO SERRANO, SERGIO LÓPEZ
Retratistas de la ENAP dibujando el día del evento.
Exposición de afiches participantes en el concurso que manifestaRte convocó para anunciar este festival.
Hoy, alegre baile de letras. Admisión: sonrisas y esperanza
10.00-10.40 FOLIO 114
10.40-11.00 MILDRED HERNÁNDEZ
11.00-11.20 LUIS ACEITUNO
11.20-11-40 CAROL ZARDETTO
11.40-12.00 JORGE GODÍNEZ
12.00-12.20 ANA MARÍA ARDÓN
12.20-12.40 MAYA CÚ
12.40-13.00 CARLOS RENÉ GARCÍA ESCOBAR
13.00-13.20 VICTOR MUÑÓZ
13.20-13-40 OTONIEL MARTÍNEZ
13.40-14.00 JAVIER PAYERAS
14.00-15.00 FOLIO 114
15.00-15.15 VICTOR COJULÚN
15.15-15.30 JULIO CALVO
15.30-16.00 MILTON TORRES
16.00-16.40 RADIO TEATRO TGW
16.40-17.00 MARIO CASTAÑEDA. OMAR LUCAS (ROCK Y POLÍTICA)
17.00-18.00 COLECTIVA DE MUJERES
Foto Rex: FOTOGRAFÍA HISTÓRICA DEL CERRO DEL CARMEN.
ESTUARDO PÉREZ, HÉCTOR SOTO, FARAH SOSA, LUDWIN MUÑOZ, JESSICA OCAMPO, LANCERIO LÓPEZ, ANTONIETA QUINA, RICARDO SANDOVAL, JAIRO CHOLOTIO, MARIO LINARES, COMUNICARTE, CARLOS SEBASTIÁN, RODRIGO AREAS.
Teatro y Danza:
10:15 hrs. Kajitoj / LA ESCENA DEL CRIMEN
12:00 hrs. Grupo de Danza Zoel Valdez / MOSAICO DE ESTAMPAS
12:30 hrs. Grupo Andamio Teatro Raro / EL GATO MURIÓ DE HISTERIA
14:00 hrs. Zona Danza / DANZA CONTEMPORÁNEA
14:15 hrs. Grupo de Teatro Enigma / ÚLTIMA LUNA
15:00 hrs. Contempoteatro / RAPIDÍSIMA HISTORIA DE LA PAZ
15:45 hrs. Zona Danza / DANZA CONTEMPORÁNEA
16:00 hrs. Teatro la Lumbre / LA LLAVECITA
18:00 hrs. Alex y Jonathan / ESPECTÁCULO DE FUEGOS
11:00 HRS. MÚSICA AJ (COMALAPA)
11:40 HRS. ETERUM, PROYECTO DE FERNANDO SCHELL
12:20 HRS. RANFERÍ AGUILAR
13:00 HRS. GRUPO IMOX
13:40 HRS. 4 X QUATRO
14:20 HRS. TRÍO DE CARLOS SOTO
15:00 HRS. JAZZ EXPLOSIVO
15:40 HRS. SIROKO
16:20 HRS. OCTETO DE DANILO RODRÍGUEZ (QUETZALTENANGO)
17:00 HRS. GRUPO DE CARLOS DUARTE
17:40 HRS. GRUPO G-502
Animadores: Alfredo Morán, Carlos Guillermo Rodríguez (Radio Clásica), Wendy Álvarez (Radio Nacional TGW) y Jorge Sierra (Radio Infinita).
Marimba y Trova:
10:00 hrs. MARIMBA GAUDIA CANTORUM
11:00 hrs. MARIMBA DEL INSTITUTO CENTRAL PARA VARONES
12:00 hrs. MARIMBA DE LA USAC
13:00 hrs. MARIMBA DE LA TGW
15:35 hrs. ELLATU
16:30 hrs. ALEJANDRO ARRIAZA
17:10 hrs. MONKEY´S
17:50 hrs. JAVIER MARROQUÍN
18:45 hrs. NUEVA RESISTENCIA
“... Y si nuestros caminos y sueños se cruzan, pues ¡Salud!..." Tuja’al Rock
10:05 hrs. SOLEMNE PSICODELIA (rock)
10:25 hrs. PROYECTO PSEUDO POLICIACO TIPO YEISON (latin power)
10:45 hrs. LA SANTA KRUDELIA (ska, new punk)
11:15 hrs. TUJA'AL ROCK “Sin Rostro” (fusión rock maya “sakapulteco-mam”)
11:45 hrs. ENTRETODOS (funk-chapín)
12:25 hrs. ELDER MENÉNDEZ (proyecto electro-acústico)
13:40 hrs. MORS (rock-pop sinfónico)
14:15 hrs. Trío BYRON SOSA con G.GIORDANO y A. CÁCERES (blues, samba, bebop, bossa nova)
14:50 hrs. LA HORCHATA REGULAR BAND (ska)
15:25 hrs. B3 y ALIOTO LOCKO'S (hip-hop)
16:10 hrs. CHAMALÉ (rock urbano)
16:55 hrs. SARAGUATE (cumbia-reggae)
17:20 hrs. RAZONES DE CAMBIO (rock-pop)
18:05 hrs. IGUANA MANGA (reggae, latino)
Niños y Juego
10:00 hrs. Alexis CUENTACUENTOS
11:00 hrs. GRUPO MUSICAL Ecos Musicales
12:00 hrs. Obra de TÍTERES “La luna y el sol” del colectivo Armadillo (Xela)
14:00 hrs. CUENTOS japoneses por Yosuga
14:30 hrs. Obra de TÍTERES “Estrategia del caracol” del grupo Giradondo
15:00 hrs. Presentaciones de MAGIA por la Asociación de Magos Gran Jaguar
Además a lo largo de todo el día tendremos: TALLERES DE PINTURA, JUEGOS TRADICIONALES (trompos, capiruchos, yoyos y cincos) y TALLER DE PERCUSIÓN por Oscar Bing.
Apoyo a damnificados tormenta “Stan”, coordinado por los compañeros de la Fundación Guillermo Toriello. Se recibirán: granos básicos (maíz, frijol, arroz), pastas, azúcar, sal, aceite, ponchos, ollas y sartenes.
Durante el Festival habrá puestos de comida en el interior del Cerrito y amplio estacionamiento vigilado en los aledaños.
III Festival manifestaRte en el Cerrito del Carmen
Zona 1, Ciudad de Guatemala
Tags: Guatemala, Manifestarte, Music
Posted by elcanche at 04:21 PM
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November 06, 2005
Drug-running in Guatemala
Here are a couple of articles that reflect the death-grip that the drug trade has on Guatemala.
How desperate is the situation? Well, Guatemala's drug czar, Adan Castillo, just quit out frustration. When asked by Guatemalan newspaper Siglo XXI if there is a lack of political will within the government to fight drug trafficking, he replied:
"I haven't seen it and I doubt that there will be any for at least another 100 years here in Guatemala. At the moment there is no-one who will do this, because the drug cartels are very strong. They are believed to own about a the third of the country; therefore it is a very difficult subject which, as time goes by, only becomes worse."
Siglo XXI, 4 noviembre 2005
Here's more on his resignation:
Chief Guatemalan anti-drug investigator says his country no match for smugglers
By Will Weissert
Guatemala City – He's Guatemala's top anti-narcotics investigator, and he's tired of fighting a losing battle.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Adan Castillo said he plans to step down in December, after just six months on the job.
"There are moments when you start to think you're swimming against the current," he said. "At those times, it's easy to think, 'If there aren't other institutions that can support me, if the government itself is weak in its responses, there's nothing left to do but leave it in God's hands.'"
Castillo said his country's anti-drug agents are no match for smugglers.
"They have speedboats with up to four motors, modern technology, the most modern communication systems and contacts all over the American Isthmus," he said. "It's easy for them."
Smugglers use bribes to pay off "information sources that are absolutely excellent," he said. "So they realize how the state is working. They monitor the state and the authorities and then do analysis on how to handle the drugs."
As many as 4,000 smugglers operate in Guatemala, Castillo said. They get cocaine shipments and move them to the Mexican border, where more powerful gangs take over.
He said a key lieutenant of one of Mexico's most wanted drug lords, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, oversees operations along the Mexico-Guatemala border and that Guzman himself is believed to have spent time in this country.
Castillo also said five major Colombian drug traffickers, whom he did not identify, were advising four formerly rival Guatemalan smuggling gangs on how to build a more powerful cartel. The groups have rallied together around reputed Guatemalan drug lord Otto Herrera, who escaped from a Mexican prison in May.
"Before, the organizations were jealous and were killing each other's members," he said. "Now they are forming a single cartel in Guatemala to dominate all of Central America."
Castillo said Herrera has been moving between Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and hopes to lead a Guatemala-based super cartel that can stand up to Colombian and Mexican drug gangs.
"This would give them tremendous power," he said of the proposed smuggling syndicate. "It would be very serious for us."
How prevalent are the drug smugglers? So much so that fishermen in the town of Ocos strings light bulbs across the bow of their fishing boats during overnight expeditions to prevent drug-running "go-fast" speedboats from ramming them!
Guatemala is key in drug smugglers' route
By Will Weissert
Ocos, Guatemala -- The dark, volcanic-sand beaches of this town just south of the Mexican border are mostly empty, populated by plump black pigs and an occasional surfer. It's the perfect spot for cocaine runners.
They arrive by sea and steer past the choppy waves of the Pacific into unguarded lagoons and lakes to unload their product.
A geographic midpoint between the jungles of Colombia and northern Mexico's coveted border smuggling corridors, 75 percent of the cocaine that reaches American soil passes through Guatemala, according to anti-drug authorities at the U.S. Embassy.
Drug traffickers have focused on this Central American nation in part because the government long did little to stop them. Police corruption, funding shortfalls and an ineffective judicial system helped smuggling flourish.
President Oscar Berger took office in January 2004 promising to undo the damage of his predecessor, Alfonso Portillo, who caused Washington to drop Guatemala from its list of anti-narcotics allies. But he has made little progress.
Read the entire article
Tags: Guatemala, Drugs, Smuggling
Posted by elcanche at 10:35 PM
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November 04, 2005
Guate Balls of Fire!
Last night I left the office around midnight. (Yes, these are the sacrifices I make for you, the esteemed readers of this journal.) Upon reached my apartment I decided to climb the stairs to the flat rooftop and admire the surprisingly stunning display of stars.
I say "surprisingly" because the bright lights of this big city often wash out all but the brightest stars. Lately Mars has been one of the few evening beacons visible from my corner of Guate.
Anyway, after admiring the heavenly carpet of constellations I started to head back down when suddenly a blazing firework shot across the sky. I waited for the accompanying whistle or bang, but none came. I waited for a follow-up flare of fireworks, but none came.
"A shooting star?" I wondered. But it seemed so... so.... bright. So intense.
After standing for a while in the still and chilly air, I decided to call it a night. I also decided that I shouldn't tell anyone else about seeing strange lights in the sky while standing on my roof at midnight. Let's face it, my friends already have their doubts regarding my ironclad grasp on reality. "El Canche", for example, is just one of my nicknames here in Guatemala... "Roberto loco" is another.
That's why I was immensely relieved to chance upon the following article. Not that it necessarily proves my sanity, but at least it explains what I saw in the sky last night:
by Dr. Tony Phillips
Science at NASA Headline News
Earth is orbiting through a swarm of space debris that may be producing an unusual number of nighttime fireballs. Astronomers have taken to calling these the "Halloween fireballs." But there's more to it than Halloween. The display has been going on for days.
What's happening? "People are probably seeing the Taurid meteor shower," says meteor expert David Asher of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland.
Every year in late October and early November, he explains, Earth passes through a river of space dust associated with Comet Encke. Tiny grains hit our atmosphere at 65,000 mph. At that speed, even a tiny smidgen of dust makes a vivid streak of light--a meteor--when it disintegrates. Because these meteors shoot out of the constellation Taurus, they're called Taurids.
Most years the shower is weak, producing no more than five rather dim meteors every hour. But occasionally, the Taurids put on quite a show. Asher thinks 2005 could be such a year.
When should you look? You might see a fireball flitting across the sky any time Taurus is above the horizon. At this time of year, the Bull rises in the east at sunset. The odds of seeing a bright meteor improve as the constellation climbs higher. By midnight, Taurus is nearly overhead, so that is a particularly good time.
According to the International Meteor Organization, the Taurid shower peaks between Nov. 5th and Nov. 12th. "Earth takes a week or two to traverse the swarm," notes Asher. "This comparatively long duration means you don't get spectacular outbursts like a Leonid meteor storm." It's more of a slow drizzle--"maybe one every few hours," says Asher.
A drizzle of fireballs, however, is nothing to sneeze at. So keep an eye on the sky this month for Taurids.
Read the entire article
Tags: Guatemala, Fireballs, Taurids
Posted by elcanche at 05:52 PM
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November 03, 2005
Flying kites with the dead (2)
It's difficult to describe the emotional impact of a 50-foot tall kite, constructed of nothing more than bamboo poles, rope, and a endless expanse of colored tissue paper.
Big? Pretty? Wow?
And just as your mind begins to wraps itself around this spectacular work of art... out of the corner of your eye... you spy one, two, three, four more!
And so you quickly walk towards the other multicolored masterpieces, careful not to trip over these immense dirt speed bumps that... are covered in flowers and... lined up row after row and... slowly it dawns on you that you are standing in a cemetery. Standing, in fact, on someone's earthen grave.
And a chill runs up and down your spine... and you can't help but wonder if that chill is the spirit of the person buried beneath, asking you to "kindly step off my stomach".
And you realize that this isn't a cemetery for the rich and famous of Guatemala, with manicured lawns and flowering trees and gothic, museum-like mausoleums. This is a simple cemetery in a mostly indigenous town. There are a few above-ground crypts, but the majority of graves are simple earthen mounds, many without markers. On this day, though, even the most humble burial place is adorned with wreaths, flowers, and marigold petals.
So you decide to stand still for a moment, and simply soak it all in:
children running from mound to mound laughing and playing,
ice cream vendors pushing their white carts and ringing their bells,
families having picnics at gravesites covered with tablecloths,
the smell of burning wood from the impromptu eateries at the cemetery entrance,
the distant cloud-capped mountains,
...and the kites. Everywhere, the kites.
The enormous kites: at the edge of the cemetery, each as detailed and as delicate as the lush sawdust carpets created during Semana Santa. Each fragile and elaborate kite, 5 stories tall, glows like a translucent mosaic. Serving, according to legend, to keep the bad spirits at bay... but also to transmit a message for today. The kites are covered in scenes that reflect the hopes and demands of the population: equal rights for women, respect for indigenous culture and beliefs, a decent educational system, rejections of violence and corruption, etc. Kites whose beauty soars, but which unfortunately will never leave the ground.
The tiny kites: flown by children and adults alike. These multicolored paper circles are lifted high by those who dash over the tombs and through the crowds hoping to catch the perfect breeze.
And finally, the most fun kites of all...
The medium-sized kites: Just right. 5 to 10 feet tall, and designed to have a fighting chance at flight. At any moment, and from any direction, one of these kites would suddenly lift into the air, pulled with gusto by a crew of four or five people. The kite would earn the "oohs" and "ahhs" of the crowd as it struggles to gain altitude.... and then enthusiastic applause as it soars into the sky, or laughing screams as it comes crashing back down to earth. (Often falling on the crowd itself!)
There is one final belief related to the flying of these marvelous kites. Tradition holds that these kites enable a connection between this world and the spirit world. I can believe that. After all, there's something to be said for a people that have so often (and so recently) been enveloped in tragedy and loss... and yet who can find pure joy, in a cemetery, remembering family members who have gone before them.
Even considering the elaborate designs and rainbow colors of the kites... that had to be the most beautiful sight I saw in Santiago Sacatepéquez!
Tags: Guatemala, Kites, Saints, Cemetery, Graveyard, Santiago
Posted by elcanche at 10:32 PM
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November 02, 2005
Flying kites with the dead
Yesterday was All Saints Day in Guatemala, a national holiday.
My friend Marc and I decided to celebrate our day of IDem independence by watching kites fly... and crash... while sitting on a tomb in the middle of a dusty graveyard.
Perhaps I should explain.
First of all, while Guatemala remains a predominantly Catholic country, the "Saints" commemorated on All Saints Day aren't the Peter, Paul, and Mary of the Bible but rather the Pedro, Pablo y Maria of the village. That is to say, November 1st is a day for remembering and honoring family ancestors. And many of the traditions of "el Día de Todos los Santos" are deeply rooted in indigenous practices, rather than Catholic dogma.
Throughout the country, families visit their local cemetery to clean, decorate, and spend time at the grave sites of relatives who have passed away. But the day is not necessarily a somber or mournful one. On the contrary, it is often a celebration of life. Traditionally, families will bring food to eat, enjoy a graveside picnic, and leave a portion as a gift for the deceased. In some cases, even mariachi bands are hired to sing to the dearly departed!
In a country that has suffered such horrific loss of human life, both by nature's anger and by man's hand, this often joyful coexistence of past and present, death and life... is simply astounding and uplifting.
Speaking of uplifting...
Santiago Sacatepéquez, is a small town about 45 minutes from Guatemala City, with a very special way of celebrating All Saints Day. According to local legend, the souls of the dead are free to roam the earth for 24 hours on this day. Unfortunately the evil spirits are also let loose, and can cause trouble for both the dead and the living, provoking sickness, crop failures and other misfortunes.
Long ago, the residents Santiago decided to consult a spiritual guide about this problem. "If you build kites and lift them into the sky, the sound of the wind blowing against the paper will cause that the bad spirits to move away", advised the guide.
And so one of the world's most fascinating celebrations was born.
Marc and I began the long climb up the only road leading into Santiago's cemetery. The narrow street was positively packed with vendors selling and visitors buying food, candy, gifts, toys, clothes and, of course, paper kites.
When we finally made it to the cemetery we were both stunned by the sight of a 50-foot tall kite...
[To be continued tomorrow.]
Tags: Guatemala, Kites, Saints, Cemetery, Graveyard, Santiago
Posted by elcanche at 11:20 PM
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