• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Monday, the United States suspended all aid it was giving the Honduran Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP).
The DIECP is responsible for carrying out the confidence testing of Honduran police, part of a process to weed out those who should not be police.
A US embassy employee who did not want to be named told El Tiempo:
Hondurans have expressed their frustration with the slow progress of the confidence testing of the police....it's a frustration that we share and as a result, we have suspended the aid from the United States to the DIECP.
The funds, among other things used to pay for foreign lie detector contractors to assist the DIECP, come from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
It's been apparent for a while that the DIECP wasn't working well.
Earlier this year Porfirio Lobo Sosa "accepted" (after requesting) the resignations of Eduardo Villanueva, the DIECP director, and his deputy. However, both continue to serve because Porfirio Lobo Sosa has made no effort to appoint replacements.
As of Tuesday, Villanueva told El Tiempo that he had received no notice from the US Embassy of the funding cuts.
After more than a decade of tough talk and frigid foreign relations, the Maduro administration may have shown the first sign that Venezuela could be warming up to the United States. Timothy Tracy, an American documentary filmmaker, was released after spending more than a month in government detention for allegedly spying and planning unrest after Venezuela's April 14 presidential election.
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres (@MRodriguezTorre) wrote on Twitter: "The American Timothy Hallet Tracy, who was caught spying in our country, has been expelled from the national territory." Mr. Tracy's lawyers said his film had nothing to do with Venezuela's national security.
Tracy made his way to Miami International Airport today, hours before a meeting between Venezuela's foreign minister, Elias Jaua, and US Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to take place. The countries have been without ambassadors for three years. And while the Venezuelan government continues to insist the "gringo" filmmaker was "conspiring to start a civil war," analysts say the sudden release is meant as a show of good faith.
"It's a sign of rapprochement," says Elsa Cardozo, a professor of international relations at the Central University of Venezuela.
Ms. Cardozo says that given the country's current economic crisis, the move comes as no surprise. Venezuela's toilet paper troubles have been making headlines for weeks now, but consumers are struggling to find many staples, like milk, butter, and sugar as the inflation rate here remains one of world's highest, at about 30 percent.
Many believe the OPEC nation may now start looking abroad to solve its economic woes; recently appointed Finance Minister Nelson Merentes announced just last week he would soon travel to the US and Europe to speak with creditors and court additional foreign investment.
Even during times of strained relations under Hugo Chávez's administration, Venezuela could always depend on the oil-thirsty US to be one of its biggest buyers.
Will sending Tracy back to the US be enough to smooth over rocky US-Venezuelan relations? Perhaps not. But at the very least, Cardozo argues, the government may be realizing that “it's very hard to bring in new business when your investors are worried about being taken captive."
Frustrated with your Internet access? Try logging on in Cuba.
Since it started offering limited access in 1996, the communist country has tightly restricted access to everything but the bare Web essentials. Unless you were looking for government news or something directly related to your job, you were out of luck.
But now news comes that the government is inching toward wider access. In the Official Gazette, the government said it would provide access to the Internet – including e-mail and international websites – at 118 providers across the Caribbean island starting today.
Will a handful of Internet cafes in each major city across the island of 11 million make much of a difference in a country where connecting to the Internet is notoriously slow and difficult?
It won’t be cheap. Providers will ask users to fork over the equivalent of $4.50 per hour for access.
While those prices might compete with the service offered at 30,000 feet by US airlines, for most Cubans the fees make logging on out of reach.
Independent Cuban journalist Iván García Quintero makes this point in a column published by Infobae. Mr. García quotes a woman named Sandra who earns 375 pesos (roughly US$14) a month.
“I don’t see how I could surf the Internet or open an account on Facebook with a salary of 375 pesos. One hour on the Internet would cost me 112 pesos, nearly a third of my salary,” she says. “I guess that some people could. But the majority is not going to stop eating just to connect to the Internet.”
It’s not just the cost. Once you log on, the connection promises to be slow, too. Think dial-up.
A couple years back, The Economist said Cuba’s Internet speed was second-slowest behind the island of Mayotte, a French territory of around 200,000 people that sits northwest of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
And it’s not clear how heavily the Cuban government will restrict access to sites. The US-headquartered NGO Freedom House, which ranks countries based on levels of political freedom and civil liberties, gives Cuba one of the lowest rankings for Latin American countries in its Internet freedom category.
“Cuba remains one of the world’s most repressive environments for the Internet and other information and communication technologies,” the organization wrote in its 2012 report entitled “Freedom on the Net.”
Blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has famously worked around the island’s Internet restrictions to publicize her work, highlighted the importance of increased connectivity on a trip to the US this year. “The Internet,” she said, “is helping us explain to the world what is happening inside our country.”
Even if it’s slow and expensive, a connection to the Web seems to represent another step toward wider access.
Earlier this year, Cuba connected to Jamaica via a submarine cable on the ocean floor. That was expected to help bring Internet connections to more Cubans.
Separately, Cuba and Venezuela have connected via a fiber optic cable, although it remains unclear if that connection is providing service to Cuban residents.
The 118 new hotspots might not mean much to most Cubans. But, as one Cuban housewife told a radio station after the announcement, “something is better than nothing.”
The controversial and disputed testimony from a notorious protected witness in Mexico reflects the justice system's persistent inability to fully exploit the opportunities presented by turncoat criminals.
The most recent example of this problem is that of Roberto Lopez Najera, whose code name was "Jennifer." As reported by Proceso, Mr. Lopez Najera’s testimony helped advance some of the most important cases of the Felipe Calderón presidency, but the lack of veracity of his claims led them to all fall apart:
"The list of victims of Lopez Najera in Mexico include the ex-commissioner of the Federal Police Javier Herrera, who documented the irregularities in the tenure of Genaro Garcia Luna as the secretary of public security; Noe Ramirez Mandujano, the federal prosecutor who together with his team investigated ex-military officers that worked for SIEDO [the division for organized crime prosecutions] and were allegedly workeing for the Sinaloa Cartel, and General Tomas Angeles Dauahare, former undersecretary of defense.
"All were absolved after demonstrating their innocence following months or years in prison thanks to the false testimony of Jennifer."
Other similar cases abound. For instance, in December 2012, El Universal reported on the testimony of another witness, known as "El Pitufo," whose declarations helped spur some of the most famous recent prosecutions. Most of these failed and virtually all of them were littered with irregularities. El Pitufo contributed to the Michoacanazo, the celebrated arrest of nearly three dozen state and local officials in Michoacan, all of whom were subsequently released; the arrest of Florence Cassez, the French national and accused kidnapper whose detention under unusual circumstances sparked a lengthy diplomatic row; and the case of Gregorio Sanchez, the eccentric Cancun mayor who was arrested in 2010, while campaigning to be governor of Quintana Roo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexico's problems with protected witnesses go beyond faulty testimony in some high-profile cases. One basic issue is the lack of protected witnesses, plain and simple. According to a recent report by Excelsior, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) used just 379 such witnesses during former President Calderon's administration. This number represented a sharp increase (the figure was just 80 in 2006), but in a nation where the government estimates that 500,000 people earn their living from the drug trade, it is a paltry sum.
This lack of collaboration from criminal turncoats reflects the broader inability of Mexico's judicial system to move beyond the ethos of frontal attack. It also highlights Mexico's ongoing incapacity to use the justice system as an effective weapon against organized crime. For the most part, the judiciary is more like a millstone around the neck of the nation.
Mexico has also proved itself unable to protect the witnesses in its custody on a number of occasions. In one of the most famous examples, two witnesses into an investigation against Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada died in quick succession in late 2009. The first, Reyes Reinado Zambada Garcia, allegedly hung himself, while the second, Edgar Enrique Bayardo del Villar, was shot to death in a crowded Starbucks.
Mexico is not alone in its fraught relationship with protected witnesses. Many critics of the US legal system have argued that prosecutors have become too reliant on such figures, who often have dubious credibility and clear reasons to lie. This has the added consequence of eating into the ability of US officials to pursue alternative methods of investigations, creating a vicious cycle where finding criminals to flip becomes even more important. This was, for example, the basic thrust of the 2007 book Snitch.
But while these complaints against the US system echo Mexico's recent troubles, the problem is far more complicated south of the Rio Grande. If the US has reasons to be concerned about an over-reliance on protected witnesses, at the least the US can point to its ability to successfully prosecute successful cases built around such testimony. It's a controversial tactic that has certain unquestionable benefits. Mexico, meanwhile, must deal with all of the downsides (cases falling apart because of lying witnesses) but none of the benefits (witnesses regularly contributing to successful convictions against dangerous criminals).
Until this changes, Mexico will continue to do battle with organized crime without what should be one of its chief tools.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
What originally appeared as a visible but subtle change of direction at Venezuelan television station Glovovisión has in the last two weeks become a raucous turning point with multiple journalists being fired or resigning. The turmoil leaves Globovisión’s role as an opposition outlet in doubt and appears to represent a new extension of the Venezuelan government’s control over broadcast media.
Following Guillermo Zuloaga’s announcement in March that he had agreed in principle to the sale of Globovisión it was finally acquired at the beginning of May by a business group rumored to have ties with the Government.
The announcement of the hiring of journalists Vladimir Villegas and Leopoldo Castillo as station directors generated considerable optimism about the new Globovisión and its independence. However on May 13, after a meeting with the new owners, Mr. Villegas surprisingly announced on Twitter that he would not be accepting the position after all. He commented that “we didn’t reach agreement on programming nor on what my competencies would be.”
One of the new owners, Juan Domingo Cordero, declared on May 16 that there had been disagreements in the meeting with Villegas over the general direction the business should follow, but he assured that there would be no changes in the channel and that all the journalists would keep their jobs: “All the news anchors are staying, there won't be any changes here.”
However events have unfolded quite differently.
On May 22, President Nicolás Maduro met with two of the new owners of the Channel, Raúl Corrín and Gustavo Perdomo, in Miraflores. The meeting was qualified by the business men as “cordial” and they declared that they had told President Maduro that Globovisión would contribute to “the decrease in the levels of violence in the country.” Information Minister Jorge Arreaza, also present in the meeting, revealed that Maduro had insisted on the need for “generating television content with transcendent values for the future of the children and the need to struggle against fascism, which is a threat to society in any part of the world.”
Only two days after that meeting with the government, Globovisión confirmed rumors that Ismael García (opposition National Assembly representative and responsible for making public the Mario Silva audio) would leave his morning opinion program “Aló Venezuela.” The program will still be aired with co-host Delvalle Canelón but without Mr. García. The statement explained that the policy of the channel was not to air programs hosted by candidates for political office, and since García would be a candidate for Mayor of Caracas in the upcoming municipal elections, the channel had asked him to leave the program. In Venezuela it is common for elected leaders and candidates for office to simultaneously work as broadcast journalists.
The next day the channel also announced that the popular late night host of the show “Good Night,” Francisco Bautista “Kiko,” would leave Globovisión. On the same night of the 26th Henrique Capriles tweeted several times about Globovisión. He expressed solidarity with the workers of the channel and claimed that the new owners had given express orders not to provide live coverage of his speeches and declarations.
On Monday the 27th, news anchor Pedro Luis Flores, and “Buenas Noches” cohost Carla Angola announced they had quit Globovisión in solidarity with Kiko. The Globovisión web page announced the reporters where leaving the channel on “the best of terms.” That same day Globovisión published a statement on its web page reaffirming that the exit of García had been on friendly terms and that Kiko had made misinformed declarations on the matter. The statement denies the existence of a “list of professionals” that will be fired, and ends with the assertion that “media outlets are not political parties.”
That same afternoon, reporter Leopoldo Castillo (popular host of the show “Aló Ciudadano” and now temporary director of Globovisión), in a statement aired by Globovisión declared that there had been misunderstandings recently and that he would do everything in his power to keep the channel’s personnel “united,” but if that was not possible, he would simply leave. He also asked his fellow reporters to “not respond emotionally” and impulsively. He added that if he discovered recent events in the channel where part of a “systematic policy, which up to date I have not uncovered, you can be sure that I will speak out.” (The video can be seen here.)
That same night Kiko declared to CNN en Español that his meeting with the new owners of the channel had been “very aggressive”, and that they had “used the same arguments that the oficialismo [government] uses to attack me. They told me that the channel had been used as a political party and was responsible for what had happened in the country. They told me that I used slander and that I made fun of people.” He also denounced that the day Ismael García had made public the Mario Silva audio, in several occasions they had tried to take it off the air “and then that night at news hour, when that information was given, the reporter that wrote the note said that it had been edited. They took out the parts where Diosdado Cabello was named.”
In a press conference, Kiko reiterated that the new board of directors is exercising censorship in line with the Government. He also declared that during his last meeting with the new directors, they had offered to buy the name of the show “Buenas Noches,” which Kiko owns, but that he had refused.
On Tuesday May 28 Maduro declared that the problem with Globovisión is not disagreements over a supposed change of editorial line but a fight between different factions of the “right” for control of the channel: “They are dealing with a huge problem among themselves…In the end they are the ones that are destroying the TV channel that the fascist right used to poison the country: Globovisión.”
The Globovisión official twitter account has suffered an “unfollow” campaign by opposition followers unhappy with what they perceive is a change in the editorial line of the channel. According to Noticias 24, the account had 2,732,394 followers on Sunday 26th. At the time of writing this post the account has 2,349,779 followers.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
Low wages, gaping income inequality, poor education, long workdays, shorter life expectancy. By the sound of the statistics, Mexicans’ satisfaction with their lot ought to be low.
But despite weak performance across rankings in the 2013 "Better Life" index released this week by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexicans come out strong in terms of satisfaction. They’re more satisfied with their lives than the average in the OECD – a collection of mostly wealthy nations – and fall just behind a handful of countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark: 85 percent of Mexicans say they have more positive experiences than negative ones in a given day.
It’s not because they’re making more money. Mexicans earn roughly half the OECD annual average wage of about $23,000 in a country plagued by inequality. The top 20 percent of earners bring home nearly 13 times what the bottom 20 percent earn here.
And it’s not because they have more free time. The OECD report calculates that Mexicans work 2,250 hours per year – the highest rate of all the countries surveyed. Women, more of whom work in the informal sector, still bear the brunt of labor at home, too. Mexican men dedicate less than a third of their time on unpaid domestic work than women do.
School isn’t a bright spot, either. When it comes to education, Mexico falls well below OECD nations in reading literacy, math, and science test scores. Few people earn a high school diploma compared to the rest of the OECD field: 36 percent versus the organization average of 74 percent.
Mexicans even fare worse in life expectancy: 74 years versus 80 years, the OECD average.
So what gives?
Faith, family, and pride in the patria, or homeland, may have something to do with it.
“Even if the economy isn’t great, the opportunity God gives us to live every day is more than sufficient,” says Marina Garcia while playing in a park with her two dogs.
Rosalina Tuma, waiting for a Tai Chi class to begin, says, “I live happily. I travel a lot, outside the country, too. But I would never trade Mexico. I’m very proud of my country.”
Staying happy in the face of hardship “is how we are,” says Raul Gonzalez, a self-described proud grandfather. “Al mal tiempo, le damos buena cara.”
We put on a good face, even in bad weather.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
The Honduran gang leaders of MS-13 and Pandilla 18 signed a truce [Tuesday] officially mediated by the Catholic Church and the OAS. The truce, modeled off the one in El Salvador, looks to reduce violence across Honduras, but particularly in San Pedro Sula. The Honduran government says it supports the truce but will not give concessions to the gangs. However, it appears that like El Salvador, the Honduran government is more involved in this truce than they are admitting publicly.
Coverage: Heraldo, Tiempo, InSight Crime
1. The truce is unlikely to have the same level of success in Honduras as it did in El Salvador. Even those brokering the Honduran truce admit that. The gangs in Honduras are more diverse with less centralized leadership. There are also other actors involved in the crime and violence, including the Honduran police, that complicate the issue.
2. Let me add a bit of caution to that first point. Many analysts, myself included, underestimated the potential success of the Salvadoran gang truce when it was first reached. I did not expect the truce in El Salvador to lower the violence by nearly half, nor did I think it would remain so solidly in place over a year later. I'd be happy to be similarly wrong about Honduras if it means reducing violence by half.
3. Even a little success with this truce would be good. A 10 percent decline in murders would be hundreds of fewer deaths, particularly in San Pedro Sula. For that reason, we shouldn't hold this truce to the standard of El Salvador and we should be happy for any sustainable decline in violence that it can bring.
4. Lessons learned from El Salvador include issues to watch. Do the gangs shift tactics or increase non-violent crimes to make up revenues? Do NGOs identify increases in disappearances and extortion that aren't reported by official statistics? If violence is reduced, does the truce provide gangs political leverage over the government through their potential threat to undo the progress?
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
Six months after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government first sat down to try and negotiate an end to the country's half-century-long conflict, many citizens felt their hopes deflate. The talks were beginning to appear to be just another failed attempt at peace, and critics' voices were growing louder.
But on Sunday came a major breakthrough. The FARC and the government made a joint announcement stating that they had reached an agreement for "radical transformations" in the Colombian countryside. Land rights have been a flash point of the conflict, and the FARC claim they are the reason they rose up against the state 49 years ago today. Over half of the farmland in this South American nation is held by 1 percent of landowners. The new agreement “seeks to reverse the causes of the conflict,” according to a joint statement read in Havana, Cuba, where the negotiations are taking place.
Land is just one of five points on the negotiating agenda, and no single deal is final until the entire negotiation process draws to a close, according to negotiation rules. Few specifics on the land agreement have been released since the May 26 announcement, and the FARC’s chief negotiator said there are some land reform details that remain unresolved.
The fact that the two sides decided to announce the agreement nonetheless is an indication of the urgency negotiators felt to show the public they were making progress.
Some Colombians gushed with enthusiasm and hyperbole at the news. "What just happened in Havana is the most important thing that has happened in the last 100 years in the country," said Senator Armando Benedetti, a member of the government coalition. "The issue of land is 60 percent of a peace agreement."
But critics continued to question the peace process. "Terrorist Farc kills our soldiers and policemen and the Santos government rewards them with a land agreement," tweeted former president Alvaro Uribe, a fierce critic of President Juan Manuel Santos. In another tweet he wrote: "It's unacceptable that the Santos government negotiate the model of the Colombian countryside with narco-terrorists."
Lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said criticism was welcome. "We know that these negotiations generate controversy and that's fine," he said. "But we ask for the debate to be sensible."
Many victims of the FARC remain skeptical that a peace deal is possible. "I doubt it. This is the same as the last time there were negotiations" which ended in 2002, says Sandra SÁnchez, who was displaced by guerrillas in 2007 from her home in Vichada province after her son and daughter deserted from the rebel ranks. "They talk and talk and then the negotiations break off and we’re left with more war."
Doubts are understandable – The FARC marked their anniversary by torching two trucks on a highway in the southern Cauca province – and there are still many thorny issues to work out before a peace deal is a sure thing. But there may be reason for cautious hope, too: Never before has the FARC and government come so far on agreeing on anything, much less a very root cause of the conflict.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, centralamericanpolitics.blogspot.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
In a three-to-two ruling Monday night, Guatemala's Constitutional Court overturned Efrain Rios Montt's guilty verdict and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez's not guilty verdict and returned the trial to April 19.
While the dust is still settling, April 19 would mean that witness and expert witness testimony will not need to be re-admitted. The court will be at the point at which it will be preparing to hear closing arguments.
Obviously, the ruling is good news for Rios Montt, but it is bad news for Rodriguez Sanchez, who is in jeopardy again. It's also bad news for the survivors who worked so very hard to secure the guilty verdict.
Now the ruling could be a sign of corruption and impunity. That would obviously be bad. Mauro Rodrigo Chacón and Gloria Porras were the two judges who ruled against overturning the verdict. Chacón represents the University of San Carlos and Porras was appointed during the Colom administration. The court's reversal comes following weeks of escalating attacks in the press from a powerful economic group, veterans' groups, and other right-wing groups.
Or it could be a sign that the Constitutional Court is doing its job and making sure that all parties adhere to established legal practices. That would be good as it doesn't help if justice cuts corners.
Here's what I wrote on Al Jazeera last week:
First, the prosecution still has to secure the final verdict. The trial itself has been full of intrigue, with two different judges claiming they should be overseeing the trial. Pre-trial judge Patricia Carol Flores, who was responsible for evidentiary and other matters of the case, held a hearing on the morning of Friday's verdict during which she tried to annul the trial, once again, and send it back to November 2011.
The Constitutional Court (CC) already ruled that Flores had overstepped her authority and had interpreted its ruling too broadly. It seems the CC only wanted her to incorporate new evidence that previously had been excluded and then send the case back to Judge Barrios. However, Flores' latest decision to re-annul the trial remains pending.
Following Friday afternoon's verdict, Rios Montt's attorney argued that the defence had already lodged four constitutional challenges and eight amparos which had not yet been ruled upon. Those legal challenges could threaten the conviction. Guatemalan lawyers have a history of using excessive, often frivolous, legal challenges to delay or deny justice so it is possible that all are resolved in favour of the prosecution. In this trial alone, the defence lodged over 100 legal challenges.
Judge Barrios and her two colleagues must have decided that the best strategy to reach a verdict was to push the trial through to the end without waiting to resolve all the outstanding legal challenges rather than let the trial get bogged down.
If Judge Barrios and the other two judges remain in charge of the case and all that needs to be re-argued are closing arguments, the damage is minimal. If the CC determined that the trial court should not have proceeded when it did and it is now returning the case to the point in time at which it should have been stopped, April 19, that is justice in motion. That is a CC that takes its role seriously. However, the ruling might have gone beyond that.
As of tonight, though, the ruling's motivations and implications are not necessarily clear.
• The views expressed are the author's own.
His sentence – the maximum in Guatemala – came 12 years after the case was initially filed with the Inter-American Court in Spain. And it was long-awaited: Mr. Ríos Montt's 18 months as Guatemala’s dictator, is considered the bloodiest of the country’s entire civil war. His trial was the first time any domestic court has tried someone on genocide in the world.
When I called my mother in Florida to share the news she didn't miss a beat: "Por fin ese viejo se va a la carcel, donde se merece estar." At last, that old man is in jail, where he deserves to be.
I wasn't the only Guatemalan-American live-streaming the trial, reading the blogs, local papers, and any new piece of information that could help me grasp what my country was going through.
The rest of my family was doing the same from Los Angeles, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Miami, and North Carolina. And there were all the people I didn't know, who I was connecting with on Facebook from Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Amsterdam, Argentina, and other parts of the world. It seemed everyone was commenting on the Ríos Montt trial, which began in November 2012.
For many in the Guatemalan diaspora this was a David and Goliath moment, the giant dictator demolished by the humble stone of the Guatemalan court.
“I felt a rush of energy along the marimba of my spine, ending up as a cascade of tears of joy,” says Martha Chavez, a Guatemalan comedian based in Toronto. “I wanted to yell, ‘Champagne for the whole world, hooray!’"
Aida Morales, also in Canada, cried, too. This was the conviction of a man many long felt was most responsible for the genocide of the early 1980s.
“I was almost unwilling to believe that I was awake, rather than dreaming, it was too good to be true,” says Hugo Orozco, a political exile based in New York City.
History of the conflict
The origins of Guatemala's civil war date back to the split that emerged after the United States financially backed a military coup in 1954 that overthrew leftist President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. Mr. Guzmán’s election was viewed by many Guatemalans as the first sign of democracy: The country adopted a new constitution that broadened suffrage and supported the labor and agrarian movements. He initiated land reform and sought to make United Fruit Company pay taxes on its immense holdings in Guatemala. But the victory was short-lived.
In the context of the cold war, the US saw Guzmán’s moves as tainted by Cuba’s communist influence.
The US supported right-wing military governments in Guatemala until 1988. A significant period of support came after Ríos Montt’s brief presidency, which began in 1982 after a military coup. Some 200,000 people were killed during the Guatemalan civil war, mostly members of indigenous communities, and many point to Ríos Montt's tenure as one of the most violent periods of the 36-year internal conflict.
There were death squads, executions, forced disappearances, and torture of noncombatants. The majority of the human rights violations took place under Ríos Montt’s “scorched earth” campaign that aimed to destroy-all-opponents.
During this armed conflict, many Guatemalans became political refugees, asylum seekers, or immigrants looking for economic opportunity outside of a country at war. My family left because of the poverty in the rural areas that resulted from the conflict, and still remains.
The conflict only came to an end in 1996, with the signing of the Guatemalan Peace Accords, and Guatemala’s social fabric is still shadowed by its long history of political repression and decades of violence.
Included in the Peace Accords was the acknowledgement of the rights of indigenous people to receive a full range of social services in their own languages, including legal services, public education, and health care. But disparities in economic, health, and education services still remain between indigenous and nonindigenous populations.
The day of the verdict, there was a collective sigh of relief among the many Guatemalans who had long felt betrayed – by their country, their legal system, and the international community. But the court’s decision to charge Montt was also a reality check: Reconciliation won't suddenly appear thanks to one conviction.
Montt is only the beginning. There is a lot of work left to be done in terms of holding people accountable for a whole host of crimes committed during the civil war. These crimes are inextricably part of the social fiber that is our country and our continuing battle with “los poderes ocultos,” the hidden powers, today.
And some are not so hidden. Testimony during Montt’s trial implicated current President Otto Perez Molina in similar crimes against humanity. (As standing president he has political immunity.) Mr. Perez Molina stated in an interview with CNN that while he is willing to apologize for crimes of the past, he does not believe genocide occurred in Guatemala.
The verdict itself is being challenged by Montt's attorney, Francisco Garcia Gudiel. Mr. Garcia stated he had lodged four constitutional challenges and eight protections, or amparos, which have not yet been ruled upon.
My personal feelings about this trial bring up the same complex emotions I feel when I think about finding my father. He was a lieutenant in Guatemala during that era: Did he play a role in the atrocities? He abandoned my mother during the war, but he still shaped who I am. Much like Guatemala, he is inseparably a part of my identity, for better or for worse.
“Nothing will ever be the same,” Ms. Chavez from Toronto says. “Even if the reality is still gloomy, people now know there’s the undeniable truth of the sun. And it will eventually shine.”
– Kara Andrade is an Ashoka fellow working in Central America, and co-founder of HablaCentro LLC a non-profit that develops curriculum to help people in Latin America become more digitally literate and civically engaged.