Monday, January 23, 2012

Former Guatemalan Dictator to Address Genocide Allegations in Court

On Saturday, a Guatemalan judge ordered General Efrain Rios Montt to appear in court this Thursday  in relation to allegations that the former military dictator ordered the massacres of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans during his 1982-83 term.  As the New York Times reports, during the 17 months of his rule, the Guatemalan military conducted a “scorched earth campaign” in its civil war against small groups of left-wing guerrillas, which resulted in entire villages in the Guatemalan highlands being slaughtered.

Although human rights groups have been accusing Rios Montt of ordering this brutal strategy for the past 29 years, this is the first time that he will have to appear in court because of it.  He has been a member of Congress since 2000, which has given him immunity from prosecution. However, this immunity ended when his term expired this month.

While his appearance in court alone is a victory for those who have sought to hold high-ranking military officials responsible for their abuses in the country’s civil war, there is still no guarantee that the former de facto leader of Guatemala will be brought to trial. After he appears in court on Thursday, the judge will have to decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to try Rios Montt on genocide charges. While prosecutors have told the Associated Press that they are confident the case will move forward, Rios Montt’s lawyer told the Prensa Libre that he is “sure there is no responsibility, since he was never on the battlefield.”

However, the Times notes that “military documents have shown that the military was operating under a rigid chain of command,” in which field intelligence was transmitted up the chain of command to top military commanders. For instance, a 1982 intelligence report leaked in 2009 supports this claim, suggesting that rural massacres were in fact a deliberate, well-documented element of counterinsurgency strategy at the time.

News Briefs

·         Both this Sunday’s Miami Herald and McClatchy feature insightful articles on the state of organized crime in Honduras, which is heavily linked to police corruption. The Herald uses the recent killing of ex-deputy drug czar Gustavo Alfredo Landaverde, who made waves by accusing the police in the country of widespread collusion with criminals, as proof that it is dangerous to say that “elements of the Honduran National Police are closely tied to drug cartels which, in turn, are protected by politicians, judges and prosecutors.” McClatchy meanwhile focuses more specifically on the connections between police and organized crime groups, reporting that “in Honduras entire units of the national police appear to work for drug and crime groups, preying on the public and gunning down foes.”

·         The Associated Press reports that the family of a 20 year-old Honduran man who was denied asylum in the United States and later killed by gangs is petitioning the U.S. government to provide posthumous asylum. According to the family’s lawyer, the petition is an attempt to get the government to recognize that the “entire system let him down”

·         An unidentified gunman in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state killed thirteen people on Saturday, among them were eight people attending a funeral for a shooting victim.

·         The Wall Street Journal reports on the center-left candidate in Mexico’s upcoming July presidential elections, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. While he has long been known as a populist firebrand in the country, Lopez Obrador appears to be moderating his tone, courting business interests by promising to break up powerful monopolies in the country.

·         After a year in which he seemed both politically and physically weakened, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez appears to have beaten cancer and is back to his controversial self. The New York Times reports on Chavez’s ongoing self-reassertion into Venezuelan politics, which is taking place in an election year. But while the Times reports that “popular discontent with his government has grown,” a series of polls in late December suggest that Chavez remains more popular than his opposition.

·         Human Rights Watch released its World Report 2012 on Sunday, in which the organization accuses the U.S. of not enforcing human rights conditions on aid to Colombia. The report notes that “Thirty percent of US military aid is subject to human rights conditions, which the US Department of State has not enforced.”

·         The Ladies in White, a prominent Cuban opposition group, has blamed the state for the Thursday death of Wilman Villar Mendoza, a political prisoner who died of health complications related to a hunger strike.  The Cuban government has denied any responsibility for the death, and claimed that it took all the appropriate measures to try to save him.  It also claimed that Villar was not imprisoned because of his political activities, but rather because he physically assaulted his wife.

·         The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the growing crack epidemic in Brazil, which is partially fueled by regional drug traffickers’ desire to expand the market for their product elsewhere. President Dilma Rousseff has said her government will spend around $2.5 billion by 2014 to fight crack use around the country, but it is unclear whether that will be enough to curb the growing demand for the drug.

·         Police in Sao Paulo have broken up a community held by landless workers on the outskirts of the city, displacing some 6,000 residents according to the BBC. The site had been established following a 2002 land invasion, and had since developed into a bustling neighborhood, complete with shops and churches.