Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guatemala Releases 12,000 Civil War-Era Military Files

Starting this week, Guatemalan citizens and foreigners alike will have access to more than 12,000 classified military documents that were archived from 1954 to 1996. According to elPeriodico, the files are available electronically but anyone interested in viewing the files must first make a written request to authorities for the information.

The director of the Committee on Declassification of Military Records, General Eduardo Morales, has said that the documents can be used in criminal proceedings, which reflects the “starting point of a new era in Guatemala," TeleSUR reports.

As it turns out, however, such a national catharsis is pretty unlikely. Officially, the government acknowledges that 55 of the 12,342 files initially up for declassification were withheld for “national security” reasons, and there’s no telling how many weren’t even considered in the first place. Since Monday, human rights organizations have expressed skepticism about the release, as many suspect them to be of minimal legal value (clerical records, mundane memos, etc).

Nery Rodenas, director of the Archbishop's Office of Human Rights, told La Prensa Libre that he was concerned that any documents containing traces of responsibility for war crimes have long since been destroyed. Magdala Sarat of the National Coordinator of Widows in Guatemala echoed these concern. "We know that the army destroyed many of their files, as well as the testimony of survivors, and we believe that it is difficult to know how and why they did it," she said.

Although this weekend’s arrest of General Hector Mario Lopez was hailed as a major victory for human rights in the country, it will likely be quite some time before dark side of the country’s thirty-six year civil war is ever fully addressed.

News Briefs

·      Program Director Geoff Thale offers some biting commentary on the upcoming International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy, which begins Wednesday in Guatemala. Thale draws a distinction between “serious leaders” who recognize the intersection of criminal and social justice as well as the complex societal nature of crime, and those who will largely use the conference to talk about the best military strategy to confront the tactics of drug trafficking organizations.

·      In the same vein, Plaza Publica highlights the hidden face of citizen insecurity in Central America: increased gender-based violence. The article cites official data which estimates that one in three women in Nicaragua who are either married or in a relationship will suffer physical or sexual violence.

·      Nicaragua’s La Prensa reports on the 127-kilometer-long border between Honduras and Nicaragua. In an area of the world where unemployment is drastically high, organized crime makes the region a land of opportunity for some.

·      Colombia’s Green Party continued to fracture on Monday, with former Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo stepping down from its board of directors due to internal disputes about the party's organization. Colombia Reports says he will remain with the Greens, but just wants to distance himself from their leadership. The announcement comes just a week after Bogota mayoral candidate Enrique Peñalosa’s acceptance of an endorsement from former president Alvaro Uribe caused Antanas Mockus to leave the party. Meanwhile, El Tiempo reports that a faction of the U party wants Uribe to officially take on the role of party leader.

·      On Colombia’s FTA front, WOLA’s Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli has a critique in Sojourners of the labor rights provisions in the agreement.  According to her, passing the deal would not only overlook flaws in the recognition of human rights in the country, but also “reward paramilitary violence.”

·      Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala is in Bolivia today to meet with President Evo Morales, who is expected to ask his counterpart to join the ALBA bloc. According to Infobae, Humala has said he and Morales share “a similar vision of integration." Still, the domestic forces behind Humala’s moderate shift make this unlikely. Although Humala was slated to continue on to Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, TeleSur claims he has postponed his trip by a week due to the fact that Chavez is still recovering from surgery in Cuba.

·      NACLA has published an interesting article on social movements in Bolivia, which the author claims are part of political life in the country. Over the past 40 years, Bolivia has apparently experienced an average of one “social conflict” (ranging from street protests to general strikes, road blocks and regional mobilizations) per day, and the figure is on the rise under Morales.

·      Peru’s La Republica has an interesting rundown of the politics behind Humala’s likely top appointments to military posts. Like him, most of them will be 1977 military academy graduates.

·      Jorge Hank Rhon, the former mayor of Tijuana arrested last week on murder charges, denied rumors that his arrest was part of a political plot to discredit his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  

·      Venezuela's top anti-corruption official, Clodosbaldo Russian, died In Cuba yesterday while undergoing medical treatment, which the AP claims inspired rumors of a government conspiracy.

·      The AP says that attempts at retaking the Rodeo I and II prisons from armed inmates in Guatire, Venezuela were unsuccessful  yesterday, despite the presence of 5,000 security forces. El Universal reports that 36 more prisoners have been evacuated from their cells.

·      According to Mercopress, UNASUR ollowing the lost decade of the 1980s, and the disappointing next two decades. Mejia believes that the region “could double its GDP in the next 14 years which would enable the region to cut poverty from 32% to 10%.”

·      The ATF’s acting director, Kenneth Melson, is rumored to be resigning in the next day or two in response to pressure from Justice Department leadership following the “Operation Fast and Furious,” says CNN.

·      The Cuban dissidents who receive the most attention from the U.S. media were largely unknown to Cubans seeking to emigrate, American diplomats in Havana found in a survey taken in 2008, according to a cable obtained by WikiLeaks. Instead, they were more familiar with those who have opposed the Castro regime through violence.

·      Reuters reports that the Court of Appeals in the Chilean city of Puerto Montt halted all construction and permitting processes for five planned mega-dams in the Patagonia region, which received their environmental approval in early May, until the Court makes its decision about a pending appeal. 

·      The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently published its 2010 annual report. Cristinel Buzatu at the Open Society Justice Initiative highlights three cases as particularly influential, which deal with discrimination, freedom of expression, and accountability for international crimes.