Investing in organized crime

Investing in Organized Crime:
How the Alliance for Prosperity Undermines Human Rights and the Rule of Law
Jackie McVicar and Annie Bird
October 12, 2018

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, is in Washington, DC October 11 and 12 to attend the 2nd Prosperity and Security in Central America Conference, alongside Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Salvadoran Vice President Oscar Ortiz. State Department communiques explain the event is co-hosted by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Mexican Secretary of Governance Alfonso Navarrete.
Jimmy Morales Strengthens Impunity for Corruption and Human Rights Violations

On August 31, surrounded by dozens of military officials in an image that evoked memories of the country’s military coups of the 1980s, Morales announced that he would not renew the mandate of the UN-backed International Coalition Against Impunity in Guatemala in September 2019. At the same time, J8 Armoured Jeeps, donated by the US Government, circled the CICIG offices and the Central Plaza in a show of force, purposely used to intimidate the civilian population.
Later, Morales stated he would not comply with a Constitutional Court ruling overturning the denial of a visa renewal for CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez, which has prevented Velasquez from returning to Guatemala after a trip to the U.S. This raised concerns that by defying the decision of the highest court, Morales was teetering on the edge of an auto-coup. Six challenges to the Constitutional Court ruling are currently pending a decision – five presented by the Morales Administration and one submitted by the Foundation Against Terrorism, a military-backed advocacy group dedicated to maintaining impunity for crimes against humanity.
Morales originally supported the CICIG and Velasquez, extending their mandate in 2016, but tensions grew beginning in August 2017, when it became evident that CICIG was investigating Morales and his party, the National Convergence Front (FCN), for illegal campaign financing. In response, Morales tried to expel Velasquez by declaring him persona non grata, a decision that the Constitutional Court ruled as illegal. Subsequently, the CICIG, working with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, three times formally requested that Morales to be stripped of his political immunity so he could be prosecuted for campaign finance crimes they allege he committed as head of the FCN party. The decision on Morales’s impeachment still sits with a Congressional Committee. There is concern he will not be impeached as members of Congress formed an alliance known as the “Impunity Pact” in 2017 to impede investigations and harsh sentencing in the future for crimes committed during their time in politics.

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE for its initials in Spanish), which oversees elections and political parties in Guatemala, has announced that it will make a decision on October 22 whether or not to officially cancel the FCN Party following an investigation into illegal campaign financing, including paying off prosecutors and receiving more than $2 million USD in illegal donations from members of the business elite. In September, Jimmy Morales spoke at the United Nations about security and justice, among other issues. “My government has been and will always be respectful of the Rule of Law. I can tell you, with my head high, that our government administration has not been accused of any kind of corruption.”

Initial statements from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to support the Morales Administration’s disregard for the rule of law. The day after Morales’ announcement he would not renew CICIG’s mandate, Mike Pompeo tweeted, “Our relationship with Guatemala is important. We greatly appreciate Guatemala’s efforts in counternarcotics and security.” However, CICIG has enjoyed longtime support from the U.S. Congress. On September 7, the powerful Republican and Democrat chairs of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs and Relations committees sent a letter to Pompeo expressing support for CICIG, followed three weeks later by a similar letter signed by over two dozen lawmakers. On October 9, Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Seth Moulton, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to place transfers or sales of military equipment to the Guatemalan government on hold while the State Department undertakes a detailed public report on the misuse of seven military-style J8 jeeps donated by the United States the Guatemalan government in an attempt to intimidate U.S. Embassy and United Nations personnel.

The Alliance for Prosperity Funding Corporations and the Security Industry to end Poverty

The Alliance for Prosperity (AfP) was promoted in 2014 and 2015 by prominent political figures including John Negroponte, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and the current Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, Commander of the US Military’s Southern Command at the time. In May 2017, after he was named Secretary of Homeland Security, Kelly took credit for spearheading the initiative.
Though the AfP was championed as a response to the surge of child migrants from Central America, Central American analysts point out that the plan deepens the same economic and security policies implemented over the two decades, in which the extreme levels of poverty and violence that force families to flee Central America developed.
The U.S. Congress allocated $750 million for 2016 in security and development assistance in the framework of the AfP for 2016. That number dropped to $655 milling for 2017 and $460 million in 2018. Much of this is to be channeled to private corporations through the Overseas Private Investment Bank and other publically funded private sector investment agencies. This aid is overshadowed by the tens of billions of dollars that are expected to flow into the region in the framework of the Plan through loans from the Inter American Development Bank and other “development banks.”
On June 15 and 16, 2017, at the first Prosperity and Security conference, “participants discussed policies to promote investment in the region, facilitate sustainable growth, and improve conditions for U.S. and other companies,”according to the DHS. Discussions focused on SIEPAC, the energy transmission line linking the power grids from Colombia through Texas, greatly increasing the potential for energy exports from Central America. SIEPAC was the centerpiece of Inter American Development Bank (IDB) promoted Plan Puebla Panamá, later renamed the MesoAmerica Initiative. The IDB also plays the central coordination roll in the AfP.

Privately promoted energy distribution projects have had a particularly negative impact. Steeply increased consumer energy prices have led to widespread and sustained protests. Privately owned energy generation projects impact prime agricultural land and water resources communities depend upon. On Wednesday, a Guatemalan consulting firm, Central American Business Intelligence (CABI) document entitled, “The national electric system under attack.” reporting on the presentation, national news media accused communities in resistance to large-scale hydroelectric projects of inciting violence and measured the cost of the “illegitimate” conflict that affects the sector.

In this framework, indigenous leaders, human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists who challenge interests of politically and economically influential corporations are increasingly subject to smear campaigns, malicious and false prosecution, threats and violent attacks. Human rights organizations have identified a pattern of attacks that grows from threats to criminalization and culminate in murder, as is so clearly demonstrated in the murder of Honduran indigenous rights defender Berta Caceres. This year alone, UDEFEGUA, the Unity for the For the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, have reported 21 violent deaths of human rights defenders, including Ramon Choc Sacrab, José Can Xol, Mateo Chaman Pauu, Luis Marroquin, Juana Reymundo, Florencio Nájera, Alejandro Hernández, Francisco Munguia, Juana Ramírez Santiago. Dozens more have been criminalized, including Bernardo Caal Xol, Abelino Chub Caal, Maria Choc, Eduardo Bin, José Méndez Torres, Melvin Álvarez García, among many, many others.


Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemalan Dictator Convicted of Genocide, Dies at 91 – The New York Times

Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt in 2003, the year he was nominated for president of Guatemala by the Republican Front party.

CreditMario Linares/Reuters


Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, who as dictator of Guatemala in the 1980s ordered fierce tactics to suppress a guerrilla insurgency and was later convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, died on Sunday in Guatemala City. He was 91.

The cause was a heart attack, according to his lawyers, Jaime Hernández and Luis Rosales. The general had dementia and had suffered lung and heart problems in recent years.

In the panoply of commanders who turned much of Central America into a killing field in the 1980s, General Ríos Montt was one of the most murderous. He was convicted in 2013 of trying to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group, a Mayan Indian community whose villages were wiped out by his forces.

A Guatemalan judge found that the general had known about the systematic massacres, in the hillside hamlets of the El Quiché department, and had done nothing to stop them or the aerial bombardment of refugees who had fled to the mountains.

The conviction, seen as a landmark in human rights law, was overturned shortly afterward. At his death he was being retried in absentia.

But the general was also a paradox. He began his political career as a reformer and became an evangelical preacher and teetotaler. Though reviled by many, he was a hero to others who believed his “beans and bullets” policy had helped keep Guatemala from falling under the power of Marxist-led guerrillas.

President Ronald Reagan was General Ríos Montt’s most prominent admirer. After meeting him in 1982, Mr. Reagan said the general was “getting a bum rap on human rights.”

“I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” he said. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

José Efraín Ríos Montt was born on June 16, 1926, in the highland town of Huehuetenango. He joined the army as a young man and was trained at the United States Army School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone.

Guatemala has long been under the shadow of American influence. The leftist president Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in a C.I.A.-backed coup in 1954, an event in which General Ríos Montt, then a young junior military officer, played a minor role.

In 1970, he became army chief of staff, but lost his post as a result of political rivalries and was sent to Washington to join the faculty of the Inter-American Defense College.

General Ríos Montt returned to Guatemala in 1973. The next year he ran for president as the candidate of a coalition supported by the center-left Christian Democrats. He lost after what was widely seen as fraud directed by military commanders. He was then sent out of the country as military attaché in Spain.

In the late 1970s, after returning to Guatemala, General Ríos Montt reinvented himself. He took a Dale Carnegie course in human relations, abandoned Roman Catholicism, became a preacher in the California-based Church of the Word, and struck up friendships with American evangelists, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

With his slicked-back hair, bushy mustache, charismatic speaking style and reputation for personal rectitude, General Ríos Montt built an enthusiastic following.On March 23, 1982, he and a handful of other officers staged a successful coup. He became head of a three-man junta.

By that time, leftist guerrillas had seized power in Nicaragua and were mounting strong campaigns in El Salvador and Guatemala. Determined to crush the Guatemalan insurgency, General Ríos Montt intensified the scorched-earth campaign that had been waged by his predecessor, Gen. Romeo Lucas García. In his first five months in power, according to Amnesty International, soldiers killed more than 10,000 peasants.

Thousands more disappeared. Hundreds of thousands fled their homes, many seeking refuge across the border in Mexico. Nearly all victims were indigenous people of Mayan extraction. 

General Ríos Montt liked to say that a true Christian carried the Bible in one hand and a rifle in the other.

“If you are with us, we will feed you,” he told Guatemalan peasants. “If not, we will kill you.”

Rival officers deposed General Ríos Montt in a coup on Aug. 8, 1983, after he had effectively ruled as dictator for 17 months. He remained a public figure, however, running for president in 1990 and 2003. Supporters portrayed him as incorruptible, and said he had brought a measure of peace to a country that was careening toward anarchy.

General Ríos Montt served several terms in Congress, which gave him immunity from prosecution. When his last term expired in 2012, he lost that immunity.

By then, advances toward civilian democracy in Guatemala had made it feasible to indict him. An exhaustive “truth commission” investigation provided much evidence. More came from the excavation of mass graves.

General Ríos Montt’s trial opened in January 2013. He and his former chief of intelligence were charged with responsibility for massacres in 15 Ixil Maya villages in which 1,771 unarmed men, women, and children were killed.

The general, who was then 86, protested his innocence.

“I never did it,” he testified at his trial. “Of everything that has been said here, there has never been any evidence of my participation.”

In pronouncing her verdict after a five-month trial, Judge Yasmín Barrios said she was “completely convinced” of General Ríos Montt’s guilt. She sentenced him to 80 years in prison.

Relatives of victims who packed the courtroom, many wearing colorful Maya clothing, erupted in cheers of “Justice!” and “Yes, it was genocide!” The general’s co-defendant was acquitted.

“For Guatemala it broke gound that these people are no longer untouchable,” Jo-Marie Burt, a Latin America expert at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said of the trial. “The Ríos Montt trial was another example of Latin America leading the way in showing that it is possible to bring war criminals to trial and to bring some measure of reparation to the victims, and to rewrite the historical record so that it’s a more accurate reflection of what happened and who was responsible.”

General Ríos Montt is survived by his wife, María Teresa; a son, Enrique, who served as army chief of staff but resigned after being charged with embezzlement; and a daughter, Zury, a former member of Congress who is married to a Republican former member of the United States Congress, Gerald C. Weller. Another son, Homero, a military doctor, was killed in 1982 when guerrillas shot down a helicopter in which he was traveling.

“Consider the thousands of unarmed men, women and children killed by the army while he sermonized about morality, and he is a monster,” wrote David Stoll, a professor of anthropology at Middlebury College in Vermont. “Consider the hopes invested in him by many Guatemalans, including poverty-stricken Catholic peasants, and he becomes a hero of mythic proportions.”

Elisabeth Malkin and Nic Wirtz contributed reporting.