Monday, July 7, 2014

Guatemala Convicts First-Ever Guerrilla for 1988 Massacre

On Friday, a Guatemalan court convicted a former guerrilla leader Fermin Felipe Solano Barillas to 90 years in prison for homicide and crimes against humanity, charges stemming from the 1988 massacre of 22 people in the town of El Aguacate. The AP reports that the court said the strict sentence was aimed at setting a precedent, “to prevent these acts from ever being repeated.”

The decision marks an important landmark in post-conflict Guatemala: while members of the security forces have been prosecuted for war crimes, it is the first time that a left-wing guerrilla has been convicted of committing such crimes. Considering that a United Nations truth commission report found that state forces and paramilitary groups were responsible for 93 percent of human rights violations in the conflict, this may not be surprising. Still, Solano’s conviction sends a message that rebel abuses are not going unpunished.

It is interesting to note that while prosecutors in Guatemala have used the chain of command principle to go after officials as high as former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, Solano has been singled out as the sole figure responsible for the massacre. According to Plaza Publica, several of Solano’s former commanders in the Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA) distanced themselves from the killings in their testimony, saying the massacre had been carried out by an alias “Lieutenant David,” who was acting on his own initiative. Only one of his comrades positively identified Solano as “David,” however.

Further prosecutions in the Aguacate massacre can’t be ruled out. In his ruling, the judge recommended that public prosecutors continue to investigate the incident to determine whether others in ORPA have any responsibility for the killings, Plaza Publica reports.

News Briefs
  • The presidential election campaign in Brazil officially kicked off on Sunday, and Estadao reports that both President Dilma Rousseff and her main rival, Aecio Neves, have launched campaign websites. The AFP notes that Rousseff appears to be retaining her advantage, as a recent Datafolha poll shows that her favorability rating increased by four points since the beginning of the World Cup, and now stands at 38 percent.
  • The Washington Post looks at the politics around conservation efforts in Mexico’s southern Lacandon Jungle, where local indigenous communities are seeking to establish legal recognition of their claims to the biosphere, leading to clashes with biologists who work there.
  • BBC Mundo profiles Bolivia’s new child labor law, which allows children as young as 12 to receive payment for work in certain cases. One of the most visible backers of the law was an association of child laborers known as UNATSBO, which played a key role in lobbying congressmen and the public for lowering the minimum working age.
  • In a speech on Saturday, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed the ongoing economic reforms on the island, warning that they must be carried out gradually in order to be successful. The AP notes that the remarks came amid a downgraded forecast for the country’s growth this year.
  • At a meeting in San Salvador over the weekend, Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan officials agreed to launch a joint campaign aimed at halting the flow of child migrants northward, EFE reports. According to an official press release, the three governments will carry out a public awareness campaign to discourage undocumented migration, and educate the public on the dangers of making the trek.
  • El Pais reports on a potential sign that U.S.-Venezuela relations may be improving. On Thursday, both governments exchanged charges d'affaires, a move that Foreign Minister Elias Jaua described as “a new effort” to improve ties.
  • According to crime stats compiled by the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), the first five months of 2014 have seen 33 massacres committed, with a total of 117 victims. UNAH researchers claim that the figure is nearly on par with the number of mass killings that took place all last year, El Heraldo reports.
  • An Argentine court has sentenced two former high-ranking military officers to life in prison for the murder of left-leaning Bishop Enrique Angelelli in 1976. Angelelli, a vocal critic of the military government, died in a suspicious car crash allegedly orchestrated by security forces. The details of the case will be released to the public on September 12, according to Clarin.