17-12-05

Gemaskerde Veligheid

XELA Overdag zijn ze schrijnwerker, leraar of verkoper, maar ‘s avonds wordt het voor vele burgers in de steden van Guatemala menens. Dan trekken ze een skimuts over hun hoofd en om 21.00u stipt staan ze gemaskerd en uitgerust met stokken en baseballbats paraat op hun vaste plek. Klaar om in de buurt van hun familie en vrienden de veiligheid te garanderen.
Sinds 10 maanden zijn de vigilantes, de burgerwacht, actief in Xela. In een controversiële speech, verklaarde president Oscar Berger onlangs dat Guatemala een ‘Columbianisering’ meemaakt en dat het land nog nooit zoveel geweld heeft gekend sinds de burgeroorlog. De criminaliteit is de laatste jaren exponentieel toegenomen en Guatemala krijgt steeds vaker te maken met het fenomeen van de ‘maras’ (kader).
Het politiekorps staat met 5000 manschappen in een land van 14 miljoen inwoners machteloos.
Corruptie bij politie en in het rechtssysteem spoelen het laatste vertrouwen van de bevolking weg.
Het idee van de vigilantesonstond in de hoofdstad Guatemala City. Xela, de 2e grootste stad van het land, heeft ondertussen al een 180-tal vrijwillige vigilantes die zich gegroepeerd hebben in groepjes van 3 tot 8 personen.
Elke groep heeft zijn eigen afgebakende buurt waar ze ‘s avonds tussen 21h en middernacht rondwandelen.
Zelfs als de politie arriveert worden de maskers niet afgezet «De jongste van alle vigilantesis 16 en de oudste is 65 jaar, iedereen is welkom, ook vrouwen als ze willen», zegt de 28-jarige schrijnwerker Jose. «We bedekken onze hoofden volledig en kleden ons in donkere kleuren om onherkenbaar te zijn en zo onze families en onszelf te beschermen tegen wraakacties van de bendes.
De reden dat we stokken en baseballknuppels meenemen is alleen om onszelf te verdedigen.»
Ieder lid van het team heeft een fluitje bij zich en als er zich ergens een probleem voordoet wordt er meerdere malen kort achter elkaar gefloten, waarop iedereen naar buiten komt en de andere groepen naar de plaats van het onheil snellen. Eens de crimineel gevat, is het wachten op de politie, die tot een uur later arriveert om hem in de boeien te slaan. Maar zelfs voor de politie worden de maskers niet afgezet, omdat ook de vigilantes geen vertrouwen hebben in de agenten.
Katrien Greven (freemetro.be)

De mara’s zijn geweldadige jongerenbendes die verspreid over Centraal-Amerika (vnl. Honduras, Guatemala en El Salvador) opereren. De ‘mareros’ of gangsters zijn herkenbaar aan de vele tatoeages, die verschillen naargelang de bende waartoe ze behoren.
De geschiedenis van deze bendes gaat tot 50 jaar terug, maar de verhoogde activiteit startte een tiental jaar geleden. Na het einde van de oorlog in Guatemala en El Salvador begon de VS met het deporteren van duizenden allochtone bendeleden terug naar hun land. Op die manier exporteerde zij de Amerikaanse bendecultuur die ontstaan was in de grootsteden.
Men schat dat er op dit moment zo een 125.000 bendeleden actief zijn in Guatemala alleen. De gemiddelde leeftijd waarop jongeren zich bij een bende voegen is tussen de 8 en de 12 jaar oud. Om lid te worden ondergaan ze een inlijvingsritueel wat meestal wil zeggen dat ze moeten bewijzen waardig te zijn voor de bende. Het is in de meeste gevallen een geweldpleging binnen de bende of naar buitenstaanders toe. De gemiddelde levensverwachting van een marero(a) is 22 jaar.
De 2 grootste bendes in Guatemala zijn de M18 en de Salvatrucha, beide bendes zijn ontstaan in de VS. De Mara18 in Chicago in 1952 en de Salvatrucha in Los Angeles in het begin van de jaren ‘80.
De overheid probeert tegen deze bendes hard op te treden maar moet dusver toegeven dat het nog niet veel heeft kunnen helpen. In El Salvador hanteert men de ‘super mano duro’ waarbij men bij het hebben van tatoages al kans maakt op een ticket richting de gevangenis. (rh)

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11-12-05

The Guatemalian Police Archives - by Kate Doyle

Washington, D.C., November 21, 2005 - On July 5, officials from the Guatemalan government's human rights office (PDH - Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos) entered a deteriorating, rat-infested munitions depot in downtown Guatemala City to investigate complaints about improperly-stored explosives. During inspection of the site, investigators found a vast collection of documents, stored in five buildings and in an advanced state of decay. The files belonged to the National Police, the central branch of Guatemala's security forces during the war - an entity so inextricably linked to violent repression, abduction, disappearances, torture and assassination that the country's 1996 peace accord mandated it be completely disbanded and a new police institution created in its stead.

The scope of this find is staggering - PDH officials estimate that there are 4.5 kilometers - some 75 million pages - of materials. During a visit to the site in early August, I saw file cabinets marked "assassinations," "disappeared" and "homicides," as well as folders labeled with the names of internationally-known victims of political murder, such as anthropologist Myrna Mack (killed by security forces in 1990).
There were hundreds of rolls of still photography, which the PDH is developing now. There were pictures of bodies and of detainees, there were lists of police informants with names and photos, there were vehicle license plates, video tapes and computer disks. The installations themselves, which are in a terrible state of neglect - humid and exposed to the open air, infested with vermin and full of trash - contain what appear to be clandestine cells.
The importance of the discovery cannot be overstated. Since 1996, when the government signed a peace accord with guerrilla forces, Guatemalans have fought to recover historical memory, end impunity and institute the rule of law after more than 30 years of violent civil conflict. In 1997, a UN-sponsored truth commission was created to investigate the war and analyze its origins.
Despite a mandate granting it the right to request records from all parties to the conflict, the Historical Clarification Commission was stonewalled at every turn by military, intelligence and security officials, who refused to turn over internal files on the grounds that they had been destroyed during the war, or simply did not exist. The truth commission released its final report in 1999 without the benefit of access to such critical material. According to the report, some 150,000 Guatemalan citizens died in the war, and another 40,000 were abducted and disappeared.
Despite this terrible legacy, Guatemala represents today an extraordinary example of how information can advance the cause of justice over the barriers of impunity. Guatemalan investigators have drawn on victims' accounts, forensic records, published human rights reports, perpetrators' testimonies and thousands of declassified U.S. documents obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to provide some historical and judicial accountability for what happened during the war. Openness advocates have used the government's silence about the war to press their case for the passage of a national freedom of information law. Prosecutors have incorporated U.S. declassified documents into legal battles targeting military and police abusers in key human rights cases. And now Guatemalans are discovering their own buried, hidden, and abandoned records from the files of the repressive Guatemalan security services.
The newly discovered police archives, which cover a century of police operations, promises to be one of the most revealing collections of military or police records ever discovered in Latin America. The appearance of these documents has created an extraordinary opportunity for preserving history and advancing justice that the Archive is mobilizing to meet.
With support from the Fund for Constitutional Government and the Open Society Institute, the Archive sent international experts to examine the files and provide assessments for their recovery and management. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, a leading U.S. archivist, spent a week in Guatemala in September, and delivered a report two weeks later that will serve as an invaluable guide once an institution is designated to begin cleaning and ordering the documents.

In October, the Archive's Carlos Osorio accompanied two senior members of the "Memory Commission" ("Comisión por la Memoria") from La Plata, Argentina, to Guatemala - Ana Cacopardo, the director, and her chief archivist Ingrid Jaschek. The commission is a coalition of government and civil society groups dedicated to the study of Argentina's dirty war, which also oversees millions of police intelligence files. They examined the Guatemalan archives and met with government officials and NGOs to discuss some of the political and legal challenges inherent in designing long-term custody and control of the documents.
Once the authority to manage the files is established, the most urgent need will be for expert technical assistance to carry out the monumental task of ordering, cleaning, scanning, and databasing the files, with the goal of providing at least limited public access as soon as possible. Such assistance will be invaluable over the long run to those most likely to consult the material: lawyers, journalists, historians, human rights groups and the families of the disappeared.
The Archive will dedicate itself in the coming months to supporting this unprecedented rescue, recovery and restoration operation. This historical salvage mission is intended to secure these records of repression, restore them to readable form, and organize them into what promises to be the largest and most revealing collection of 'dirty war' documentation ever unearthed in Latin America.

photo:The Archive's Guatemala Project Director Kate Doyle visited the police archives in August and again in September. The buildings in which the documents are kept are so deteriorated from the presence of trash, vermin and mold, that employees working with the records risk serious health hazards.

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02-12-05

Cocaine's new route - Drug traffickers turn to Guatemala

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Globe Staff | November 30, 2005

GUATEMALA CITY -- With Washington's attention focused elsewhere, Guatemala has quietly become the transshipment point for more than 75 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States, according to US authorities.
Loosely patrolled borders, two coastlines, staggering corruption, lax enforcement, and judicial impunity have long made Guatemala a favored transit point for contraband. But with US resources channeled toward battling drugs in Colombia and terrorism in the Middle East, organized crime has made even more dramatic inroads here in the past several years.
In the first half of this year, traffickers moved 90 percent of US-bound cocaine through Central America, much of it through Guatemala, a top US Drug Enforcement Administration official told Congress this month. As Mexico has stepped up antidrug patrols and interdiction in recent years, traffickers are increasingly looking to Guatemala as a dropoff point for their payloads.
Senior Guatemalan officials said in interviews that they would ask for stepped-up US military cooperation and a permanent DEA base in the dense jungle bordering Mexico. Their remarks followed the arrest this month near Washington, D.C., of Guatemala's top three antidrug investigators on charges of narcotics trafficking. Guatemalan authorities are also investigating allegations of involvement by senior members of the Guatemalan armed forces in the drug trade.
The traffickers have already shown an ability to adapt in the face of increased enforcement efforts. With Guatemalan authorities increasing air surveillance of the northern province of Petén, where hundreds of abandoned drug planes litter the jungle, traffickers have shifted to speedboats to carry drugs to both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Using mobile refueling stations at sea, the traffickers rely on cooperation from Guatemalan customs and police, DEA agents and local prosecutors say.
''The narco nexus may be stronger than the state now," said Julio César Godoy, Guatemala's deputy minister of security. ''There are areas where the army, police, local officials all work for narcotraffickers -- it's like Colombia in the 1980s. . . . The narcos abuse and kill, and nobody says anything because the judges, prosecutors, military commanders, and governors are all bought off."
In addition, the traffickers are buying loyalty and recruiting among the population by ''playing a role like the state," he said. ''They loan money, host parties, help pay for funerals, provide jobs."
As US Coast Guard and Navy boats have stepped up patrols along the coast in the past year, traffickers have begun to use small planes to drop cocaine packets along the coastlines and then pay fishermen to pick them up and hand them off to the trafficking networks onshore.
Within Guatemala, production of drugs is increasing along with transhipment, the officials say. Opium poppy cultivation is up in parts of the countryside where law enforcement cannot operate because of traffickers' heavily armed security forces. Guatemalan heroin has become a new worry for the United States.
Another troubling shift, authorities say, is that Mexican and Colombian cartels have started paying Guatemalan smuggling crews and off-loaders in drugs, rather than cash. The strategy is to sow drug use in Guatemala, where an estimated 10 percent of the cocaine shipped remains for local consumption.
In 2003, the most recent year for which it provides data, the DEA estimated that 150 metric tons, or 330,000 pounds, of cocaine moved through Guatemala annually. But in just two years, the problem has dramatically worsened.
Some 220,000 pounds of cocaine were shipped through a single Caribbean port -- at Santo Tomás, in the northeastern province of Izabal -- during the first five months of this year alone, according to Guatemalan authorities.
From Guatemala, drugs are usually smuggled into the United States on overland routes across the poorly guarded jungle border into Mexico.
Recently, police have made some advances. Following a four-month joint investigation by US and Guatemalan authorities, the antinarcotics official in charge of the Santo Tomás port, Rubilio Palacios, and Guatemala's top two antinarcotics officials were charged in a three-count indictment Nov. 16 in Virginia, where they had traveled for a DEA training course. They are accused of shielding huge drug shipments from inspection, tipping off traffickers to enforcement actions, and providing official vehicles to transport drugs.
In response, the Guatemalan government has pledged to purge and restructure its antidrug agency, known as SAIA. Random lie-detector and psychological tests will be required of all agents, Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann said. But revamping the agency might not solve the underlying problem of poorly trained and corruptible officers.Guatemalan convictions of traffickers, whether private citizens or officials, are rare. None of 16 alleged Guatemalan traffickers wanted in the United States has been extradited in the last dozen years since warrants were issued because of delays in the country's judicial system, said Michael P. O'Brien, the DEA's representative in Guatemala. The United States has revoked visas for two retired generals suspected of major trafficking, but the two have not been arrested here.
The government of President Oscar Berger, which took office in January 2004, says it is doing all it can but lacks technical equipment, honest personnel, and antiracketeering laws to fight crime networks that ran rampant starting in 2000, under then-president Alfonso Portillo. Guatemala is seeking Portillo's extradition from Mexico on corruption charges, while numerous other top former officials have been prosecuted or are under investigation.
During that four-year stretch of lawlessness at the highest levels under the former administration, Mexican and Colombian cartels sowed roots in Guatemala and built up local cartels, while organized crime bought its way into nearly every institution from the banks to the courts, according to antinarcotics specialists here.
''Organized crime is a monster that always existed here . . . but it was permitted to get out of control, and this shadow power is devouring the democratic system," said Pedro Trujillo, director of the Institute of Political Studies and International Relations at Francisco Marroquín University.
Guatemala has also become a regional money-laundering center, drawing dirty funds from as far as California and Florida, and lubricating the economy with expensive houses, luxury cars, and private planes.
In the early 1990s, the DEA had a fleet of helicopters stationed here for surveillance and interdictions. Since then, ''enforcement efforts have shifted to other areas," leaving a dearth of resources for enforcement in Central America, DEA director of operations Michael Braun testified before Congress Nov. 9.
Godoy, the deputy security minister, said President Berger intends to ask Washington for a permanent DEA station in Petén and for more US assistance. ''We want a 'Plan Guatemala' like 'Plan Colombia,' " he said, referring to the $3 billion, five-year US antinarcotics aid package to the world's leading cocaine producer. Berger is also asking for a three-year extension of ''Plan Maya Jaguar," a joint operation that allows US aircraft and soldiers to conduct occasional antinarcotics operations with Guatemalans.Expanding military cooperation with the United States could be controversial, however, both among corrupt interests here who fear the long arm of the United States, and also in Washington. The US military has withheld military aid to Guatemala since the mid-1990s because of human rights abuses by the military during the 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.
Levels of drugs seizures by Guatemalan agents are pitifully low, raising suspicions that dealers are tipped off, said Fredyn Fernández, Guatemala's chief narcotics prosecutor. Nine of every 10 drug raids here are unsuccessful.
This month, some 70 border customs agents were transferred under suspicion of taking bribes to allow contraband to cross into Mexico.
Lack of resources is also a major impediment. The Guatemalan military has only a handful of aircraft, none with nighttime capabilities, allowing traffickers to land planes under cover of darkness.
Even when drugs are intercepted, weak laws impede the capture of suspects, authorities say. Congressman Otto Pérez Molina is sponsoring a bill that would allow undercover agents to infiltrate drug rings and police to conduct controlled buys. A newly passed law will permit wiretapping starting in January.
''If we don't take action now, we could become another Colombia," Molina warned.

photo:An antinarcotics officer counted bags of cocaine at the Guatemala City air force base after the drugs were confiscated from a ship. (Rodrigo Abo/ Associated Press)

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01-12-05

Guatemala faces hunger 'timebomb'

Parts of Guatemala are facing a starvation "timebomb" in the aftermath of Hurricane Stan, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned. Hundreds of people were buried by landslides after a week of intense rains in early October.
But Trevor Rowe of the WFP says there are fears even more may die from malnutrition unless they get help soon.
"We suspect that by the end of the year most people's food will have run out," he says. "We're talking about subsistence farmers, who live a hand-to-mouth existence."

Aid shortage

Many farmers had lost many or all of their crops, or even lost their land altogether, he told the BBC News website.
"There's concern they will be facing a severe hunger crisis" if international aid is not forthcoming, he added.
The WFP has launched an appeal for $14.1m (£8m) to help feed 285,000 people over a six-month period.
Mr Rowe said only $4.5m had been raised so far, from three countries: the US ($3.5m), Norway and Switzerland.
"The severity of the hurricane hasn't been fully grasped yet," he said.
"Compared to Hurricane Mitch [in 1998], the impact on Guatemala is much worse."

Another Niger?

He said even before Stan arrived, Guatemala had chronic child malnutrition of 50%, with 80% in some areas.
"The bottom line is that these people will not be in a position to cope by the end of the year.
"Without the necessary food aid to help them these people are severely vulnerable.
"What we want is to avoid what happened in Niger," he said, referring to the famine in West Africa that was predicted by the WFP and others, but only got international attention and donations when pictures of starving victims appeared on TV in July, when it was too late for many.
The situation in Guatemala, he says, "is a timebomb waiting to go off... the fuse is lit".

Story from BBC NEWS:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/americas/4426240.stm
Published: 2005/11/10 18:30:11 GMT

photo:Washington, D.C., November 21, 2005 - On July 5, officials from the Guatemalan government's human rights office (PDH - Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos) entered a deteriorating, rat-infested munitions depot in downtown Guatemala City to investigate complaints about improperly-stored explosives. During inspection of the site, investigators found a vast collection of documents, stored in five buildings and in an advanced state of decay. The files belonged to the National Police, the central branch of Guatemala's security forces during the war - an entity so inextricably linked to violent repression, abduction, disappearances, torture and assassination that the country's 1996 peace accord mandated it be completely disbanded and a new police institution created in its stead.
Files are crudely labeled by case type and year. There are whole file cabinets marked "assassinations," "disappeared" and "homicides."

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