Articles by: Lisa Skeen
The Peruvian economy has been enjoying something of a heyday lately, basking in the glow of the mainstream media. Currently being hailed as something of a Latin American wonder child, the Andean country has received increasing press coverage for its near decade of strong growth, which has continued despite the global economic downturn. But extensive coverage of fawning comments by President Obama have overshadowed the parallel narrative of a country potentially on the brink of disaster, with widespread voter discontent, sharp income disparity, and explosively divergent claims to land and resources.
At a June 5 meeting of coca farmers in Cochabamba, Bolivian president Evo Morales threatened to expel USAID from Bolivia, accusing the U.S. governmental organization of lending financial support to groups that oppose his government. The announcement was made just days after the United States met with Bolivia, as part of ongoing talks aimed at reestablishing full diplomatic relations, after a damaging political dispute in 2008. While in public officials are giving glowing reviews of the progress of the negotiations, reality reveals that reconciliation may still be a long way away, especially as the United States continues to meddle in Bolivian affairs.
On February 25, José Armando Palacios and José Alberto Vicente Chávez, along with their families, filed a lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company in the New York State Supreme Court. The company is accused of allowing its bottling and processing plants in Guatemala to engage in a campaign of violence against the two men, both prominent union leaders. Though Coke claims the U.S. legal system is being manipulated, the prosecution maintains that Guatemala’s courts, rife with impunity, are incapable of delivering justice.
For residents of El Salvador’s northern department of Cabañas, 2009 was a year fraught with political high drama that reached a tragic climax in December with the assassination of two anti-mining activists. A public commemoration of their work, which marked the start of 2010, was as much a statement of solidarity as one of mourning.
Who is Rody Alvarado Peña? For much of the 1980s and early 1990s, she was one of Guatemala's thousands of battered women, suffering daily violent abuse at the hands of her husband. Since escaping to the United States in 1995, she has become a symbol of America's ambivalent treatment of female asylum seekers. Three presidential administrations and countless judges deliberated, appealed and ultimately deferred decisions on her case, but a recommendation issued in October may finally make Ms. Peña a legal U.S. resident.
As Mexico's bloody crackdown on drug trafficking continues, Guatemala's physical location and recent military ties to Mexico make it an inevitable haven for Mexican drug cartels seeking to continue doing business. Guatemala, however, is far less equipped to handle the burgeoning problem than its larger and wealthier neighbor, and now drug-related corruption and violence are being added to the seemingly interminable list of challenges to this small country's hope for democratic peace and security.
The announcement on June 25 that Spain will begin to limit its application of universal jurisdiction garnered no more than a humble blip in international media coverage. The principle, which asserts that certain crimes are so egregious that they are an affront to all humanity and therefore prosecutable by any nation, is at the center of fierce philosophical debate in international law. But for survivors of genocide in Guatemala, universal jurisdiction has represented something much more tangible—an important avenue for justice against the lingering impunity left in the wake Latin America's dirty wars.
A smoldering conflict between the Peruvian army and remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group has escalated with the government's launch of an all-out coordinated offensive. The government claims it has the violent group in its last throes, but human rights groups worry that innocent campesinos are bearing the brunt of the military's questionable tactics.
The Peruvian government and international media reports say that the Shining Path guerrilla group is in the process of staging a comeback. But statistics on violent acts linked to the Shining Path are inconclusive and statements from the guerrillas themselves present conflicting accounts of its activities and professed goals. Nonetheless, recent events raise pressing questions about the group's current status and potential for growth.
Human rights activist in Guatemala continually come up against the country's stubborn structures of impunity, but recent events have renewed their hopes that the tide is finally beginning to turn toward truth and justice. And behind them is a mounting body of newly released documentary evidence. These emerging victories, however, continue to come at a price: Brutal reprisals and violence against human rights activists in Guatemala are still rampant.