Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guatemalan Military Criticized for Civilian Deaths

Guatemala is reassessing the domestic role of the military in light of the death of eight unarmed indigenous protesters who were killed by soldiers during a protest last week in the western province of Totonicapan. The activists were taking part in mass protests along the Pan-American Highway against increased electricity rates and reforms that increased the length of study necessary for becoming a schoolteacher from three to five years.

As reported in Tuesday’s Post, soldiers questioned about the deaths claimed that they fired into the air and in “self-defense.” Although the government of President Otto Perez has called for an investigation into the incident, Perez (a retired military general) has been accused of contributing to the violence with his military-heavy “mano dura” approach to citizen security.

The government came under further criticism on Monday, with diplomatic officials from the United Nations, Unites States, European Union and Israel condemning the incident. In response, Foreign Minister Harold Caballeros attempted to downplay the deaths, telling local press “With sadness, I recognize that in some parts of the world eight deaths is a very big deal, but, although it sounds bad to say this, […] every day we have twice that many deaths [from violence]. So, it’s not something that we should make a big deal about.”
Prensa Libre notes that Caballeros’ comments have only served to intensify criticisms of the government, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu accusing him of racism and calling for his immediate resignation. The opposition Democratic Liberty party has filed a formal complaint with judicial officials against the government over the incident, and Siglo21 reports that party leader Manuel Baldizon has traveled to the UN headquarters in New York to request that an international commission investigate the deaths as well as the state of “military repression” in the country overall.

The blowback from the incident has caused President Perez to announce that the government will no longer use the military to police protests, relying instead on the National Police, although he expressed concern over the number of police personnel available to do so. According to ElPeriodico, officials and police reform advocates alike have said that Guatemala must train two to three times as many police in order to effectively enforce the rule of law in the country without relying on the military.  

Guatemalan news site Plaza Publica has more on the incident, with an editorial arguing that it shows the need for a less militarized approach to citizen security in the country, investigative reporter Oswaldo Hernandez offering more details of the October 4th incident, and contributor Julio Roberto Prado discussing what the deaths illustrate about attitudes towards race, violence and poverty in Guatemalan society.

News Briefs
  • Newly re-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has named Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as his vice president, according to El Universal. Maduro will replace Elias Jaua, who will run for governor in the state of Miranda in gubernatorial elections this December. The Wall Street Journal reports that because Maduro has made a name for himself as a fierce Chavez loyalist, his appointment makes sense. As Reuters points out, the possibility that Chavez’s cancer could recur during his upcoming term means that in effect, Chavez’s selection makes Maduro his potential successor.
  • Amnesty International issued a new report on Thursday which accuses the government of President Felipe Calderon of “turning a blind eye” to torture committed by security forces. The LA Times offers a rundown of the report’s main points; chief among them is the fact that reports of abuse by the police and military have grown every year under the Calderon administration.
  • The LA Times’ World News Now blog profiles skepticism among Mexicans over the reported death of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, whose body went missing from a funeral home on Monday.
  • Progressive news magazine In These Times features an interesting analysis of Hugo Chavez’s re-election. Criticizing US media coverage of the elections as overly simplistic, Bhaskar Sunkara argues that Chavez is a “Post-Modern Peron” and his Bolivarian Revolution is “both authoritarian and democratic, demagogic and participatory.”
  • Brazilian judge Joaquim Barbosa has been appointed as the first black president of the country’s Supreme Court. BBC reports that he will assume the position once the landmark "Mensalao" corruption trial draws to a close.
  • The family of imprisoned Peruvian ex-President Alberto Fujimori has officially requested an official pardon for him, although President Ollanta Humala has made clear that he is not considering grating the request.
  • Reporting on the visit of Cuban economic minister Marino Murillo Jorgeto Vietnam, BBC Mundo on the potential lessons for Cuba from Vietnam’s rocky transition to a market economy.
  • Caracol Radio reports on the efforts of Colombian and international human rights groups to try the administration of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for failure to investigate at least 775 crimes against union activists from 2002 to 2010.

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