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In the Media: NACLA Report on the Americas

2013 July 12

The North American Congress on Latin America is a progressive academic organization focused on the political economy of this crucial region, and on U.S. policy toward it. This month’s issue of its quarterly journal includes a couple of articles that I think would be of interest to my readers.  

Historic Verdict in Guatemala’s Genocide
Case Overturned by Forces of Impunity

monttJo-Marie Burt, Director of Latin American Studies at GeorgeMasonUniversity, analyzes the forces responsible for reversing the precedent-setting genocide conviction of José Efrain Rios Montt, former de-facto president of Guatemala during 1982-3. Under his command, the army carried out a vicious campaign designed (so the court ruled) to wipe out the Maya Ixil indigenous population. According to the trial proceedings, the army under Rios Montt’s command forcibly displaced at least 29,000 Ixiles, and was responsible for “indiscriminate massacres, rape and sexual violence against women, infanticide, the destruction of crops to induce starvation, the abduction of children, and the forcible displacement and relocation of surviving populations into militarized ‘model villages’.”  

“Judicially it is unclear what is going to happen. But symbolically, and for the historical record, a judgment was made, and it was made by the trial court. It is now known that in Guatemala there was genocide.”
                            — Edda Gaviola, Center for Human Rights Legal Action
                                 (one of the civil parties in the genocide case)

Burt’s article goes on to describe the truly massive campaign by Guatemala’s military and economic elites to overturn the trial court’s decision, including the threat that “45,000 of the general’s supporters were ready and willing to ‘paralyze the country’.” Just 10 days after the historic ruling the Constitutional court vacated the verdict. It remains to be seen Ixileswhether there will be a retrial, and whether such a trial would require a complete rehearing of all evidence, including the testimonies of nearly 100 victims, who appeared in court at great personal risk, and will legitimately feel frightened to do so again, given the political climate.
            Not mentioned in the article is the issue of U.S. backing for Rios Montt who, among other connections, attended and was trained at the U.S. School of the Americas in 1950. In the meantime, the Center for Justice & Accountability is continuing its efforts to bring Rios Montt (and other human rights violators) to trial in Spain.  (Photos above from CBC.)

Lost in the System: Unidentified Bodies on the Border

Robin Reineke, who is, among other things, Director of the “Missing Migrant Program” of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in Tucson, Arizona, attributes the thousands of deaths along our desert borderlands on “U.S. border enforcement policies that have made crossings much more dangerous…But the number of deaths is only the tip of the iceberg…Hundreds are unidentified, hundreds are missing, and distraught relatives are getting lost in the spaces between the various bureaucracies that can’t or won’t help.” Reineke’s article documents an impossible rat’s next of local, state, and national agencies that fail to interact in any rational way to help the families of the missing.  

“The result is that hundreds, likely thousands, of family members are still waiting for word about their missing loved ones, while in the meantime the bodies are being found, examined, and buried or cremated as unknowns. Even if a family reports someone missing immediately, and even if the body is found right after death, the two events will very likely not be connected.”

Framing Reineke’s discussion of how DNA information could be used to identify remains – if only the various actors could work together – is the story of Reyna, an “illegal” Guatemalan migrant working in a North Carolina chicken processing plant and desperately awaiting news of her husband, Felix, lost two years befoe while attempting to cross the border. In her case, the author was eventually able to locate and identify Felix’s remains, and Reyna was able to tell her children what had happened to their father. But, Reineke notes, “Hundreds of others are still waiting for news…The suffering of the families of the missing is a call not only to identify the dead but to recognize that these people too are loved, missed, and irreplaceable.”

Contested Development in Bolivia 

Also in this month’s issue: an important summation (so far) of my wife’s reporting about the ongoing conflict over a planned road that would bisect a national park and indigenous reserve in the Bolivian Amazon, the TIPNIS (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Secure), “a defining moment for the government of Evo Morales.” (Emily Achtenberg, “Contested Development”

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