WTF Friday, 6/20/14

Welcome to this week’s WTF Friday, “Let’s All Demonize Refugees and Abused Children” edition.

The day started out promisingly. This morning, in honor of World Refugee Day, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement:

“It is a time to honor the strength and resilience of refugees around the world and renew our determination to support them as they rebuild their lives and communities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now counts the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons at 51 million. That number is staggering by any measure. It represents children, women, and men from Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and now Iraq, who face death, destruction, and dislocation.”

But refugees don’t just come from “Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and now Iraq.” They also come from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. And many of them come to the United States, including, recently, thousands of children.

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have “renewed our determination” to support those refugees. Vice President Biden is at this very moment meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to clear up “confusion” over U.S. immigration policy in order to stem the flow of migrants fleeing the brutal violence that plagues those countries.

The confusion he’s referring to, as best as I can tell, is the optimistic belief that we would actually follow our obligations under U.S. and international law. (Namely, that we would not return refugees to countries where they would face persecution or torture, and would not deport children to situations where they would face abuse, human trafficking, or worse.) Nah, bro, apparently the plan is to “step up detention and deportation.”

And then we have the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who has just announced a hearing next week on the ways that child refugees and migrants are “gaming” the system. By which he literally means “applying for immigration relief via the processes set forth in U.S. law, and obtaining such relief if the relevant legal standards are met.” To wit:

“Unaccompanied alien minors are not subject to expedited removal under current law, and many – if not a majority – of them are eligible for immigration relief under current law.”

Following current law? Apocalypse, basically.

Memo to the executive and legislative branches: there is no “unless it’s, like, a little inconvenient” exception to the Refugee Convention. Sometimes refugee flows are burdensome, and that’s just the situation. Jordan is currently hosting more than half a million Syrian refugees in a nation of only 6.4 million people. I am sure they would prefer not to have that responsibility! But they do. Life isn’t fair.

And speaking of which, the numbers here are not actually that big. An estimated 52,000 children have come to the United States since October, which is the mass-refugee-flow equivalent of a goddamned hangnail. That’s not even enough kids to sell out a One Direction show. The Met Life stadium can handle 90,000 screaming Harry Styles fans per night, but I’m expected to believe that the entire rest of this great nation can’t take 52,000 kids over a six-month period?

So yeah, happy World Refugee Day, everyone.


Greetings from Guatemala!

Hola from the Land of Eternal Spring/Land of Eternal Shenanigans in Genocide Trials. That’s right – I’m in Guatemala.

Yesterday morning I went to observe the Rios Montt/Rodriguez Sanchez genocide trial. (Why, what do you do on your vacation?)

The highlights:

  • Rios Montt’s entrance. He shuffled into the room, looked around, and then walked over to the prosecution table and shook hands with each lawyer, one by one, before waving and blowing them a kiss. It was so bizarre that I still can’t quite believe I saw it, but I’m reasonably certain that I did. I was too far away to hear their conversation, but Xeni Jardin was closer, and she said that it was “mostly small talk.”
  • My successful achievement of a nearly 1/1 correlation between “hours spent on an airplane” to “minutes of trial observed.” After Judge Barrios called the hearing to order, she explained that Rios Montt’s attorney, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, had called her this morning to complain that he was suffering from “problemas de salud,” (health problems) and would therefore not be attending the hearing. Without him, it could not proceed. (The judge’s decision to temporarily eject Garcia Gudiel at the beginning of the trial has proven to be a problem for the tribunal. So, unsurprisingly, she seemed unwilling to take any risks, even though the lawyer’s sudden “illness” is highly suspect.) I think the whole thing took about six minutes, from “all rise” to the dismissal for the day.
  • The dress code: jeans and linen for the human rights lawyers. Suits for prosecutors and defense lawyers, and a couple of nervous-looking students in the audience. (I wore my usual NYC work clothes, which led to me being mistaken for one of the aforementioned nervous students. Oh well.) Spectacular traditional dress for the Ixil women, but button-downs and slacks for the Ixil men. And one extremely snappy red skirt suit for Judge Barrios.

WTF Friday, 7/8/11

This sounds inspiring as shit. “Described by the official announcer as ‘birds of peace and progress’, Russian-made military jets made a flypast, leaving in their wake trails of smoke in the red, yellow and blue of the Venezuelan flag.”

South Sudan officially becomes a new nation tomorrow. Various folks have weighed in on what they’ll need to be successful. How did you guys forget cigarettes!?

A mayoral candidate in Guatemala has been charged with the murder of two rivals and faking his own murder to allay suspicion. Someone did not pay attention in physics: “The candidate claimed he was saved by a bulletproof vest he was wearing. But an investigation of the vehicle showed that at least three bullets had entered the driver’s seat, meaning that if Marroquin was there, they would have gone through him and his vest”

Guatemala Update: More X, Less Judy

Things have gotten more interesting down in Guatemala since last I blogged on the subject.

“I am Rodrigo, We Want Justice.” Photo courtesy of James Rodriguez, more at

In what the internets are referring to as “el efecto Streisand,” the government’s attempts to censor information about the Rosenberg assassination have served only to draw more attention to it, and increase public outrage. (The “Streisand Effect” phenomenon is explained here.) A quick guide to the developing situation:

Jean Fernandez: Yesterday, Twitter user Jean Anleu Fernandez (Jeanfer) was arrested and imprisoned for a 96-character tweet about the scandal urging people to withdraw funds from the bank involved, Banrural. The government accused him of “inciting financial panic.” Tried, found guilty, and sentenced within a day, Fernandez was ordered detained until he could pay a fine of US $6,500 -far more than most Guatemalans earn in a year. Luckily, the internets are coming to the rescue: Jeanfer’s friends have started a blog about his situation, and are organizing people to help pay the fine and sign a petition asking for charges against him to be dropped. (I signed it. Perhaps you will too?) His family managed to borrow the money to get him out of prison, so now he is under house arrest.

Street Vendors: Bootleg DVD copies of Rosenberg’s pre-assassination message are being sold on the streets of Guatemala, and apparently the government doesn’t like that very much. There have been reports of vendors being arrested, at least one of which seems to have been confirmed. According to the story on page 4 of this PDFd Prensa Libre, helpfully posted as part of Xeni Jardin’s amazing coverage of this over at Boing Boing, police in Villa Nueva arrested an assistant bus driver for selling copies of the Rosenberg video -sorry, i mean “publicly, or through any means of distribution, formally or directly inciting a rebellion or sedition, or giving instructions on how to create one.”

Protests: Protests have erupted in Guatemala City in response to Rosenberg’s killing, and his video accusation against President Colom.’s James Rodriguez writes:

“As a result of the crisis, two very different protests were carried out in the central park of Guatemala City. The first gathering brought thousands of demonstrators who angrily demand justice for Rosenberg’s death in addition to a resolution for the out-of-control violence in which Guatemalan society lives today. This first group, composed primarily by residents from the wealthier sectors, also demands the immediate resignation of President Colom.

Simultaneously, dozens of buses brought hundreds of organized people to show their support for President Colom in front of the Presidential Palace. These governmental sympathizers come primarily from low-income shantytowns, known as asentamientos, within the outskirts of Guatemala City. During a live CNN interview on Tuesday the 12th, President Colom admitted his UNE party had strong presence and support in such areas. These demonstrators claim that Colom’s government is victim of a movement seeking political instability. Despite the tensions among the groups, no violent confrontations occurred.”

The Future: Unclear so far, but it looks like this revolution will be twitterized. Follow developments on twitter (tweets tagged with #escandalogt), flickr, ustream, and youtube to find out in real time.

I also highly recommend Xeni Jardin’s fantastic posts -lady knows herself some Guatemala, and she is doing an amazing job of aggregating information about this, and updating frequently.

In Which Guatemala Clinches a Definitive X-Judy Win

Holy crap, guys. When we said that we couldn’t choose between Kenya and Guatemala for the title of Ultimate X-Judy champion, we weren’t suggesting that they should try harder to convince us. Apparently Guatemala understood things differently, however, because this is a doozy. Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg has accused the President Alvaro Colom of murder -his own.

Rosenberg was assassinated last weekend as he rode a bicycle near his home in Guatemala City. He had been representing two murdered anti-corruption activists, Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie, who were killed last March. Khalil had recently resigned from the board of Banrural, a Guatemalan bank rumored to be engaged in corruption on a massive scale. Supposedly, Guatemala’s President Colom had asked Musa to join the board, but then the bank never actually permitted him to take up that seat. Fearful that his good name was being used as windowdressing for criminal activity, Musa withdrew from the position that he’d never really been able to occupy in the first place. Apparently someone wasn’t cool with that, because Khalil and Marjorie were shot soon afterwards. (In public, in the middle of the day as they waited at a red light in a well-populated area. No one can accuse Guatemala of not knowing the X-Judy drill by now.)

Rosenberg anticipated his own death. Before he died, he recorded a short video accusing Colom, his wife Sandra de Colom, and his private secretary Gustavo Alejos of murdering him in retaliation for speaking out against the curruption at Banrural and the Musas’ assassination. They were posted on the website of Guatemala’s El Periodico, along with a copy of Rosenberg’s written statement. The videos are below, and a translation of the statement is included in full after the jump. It is heartbreaking, but well worth a read.

Via a helpful commenter at boingboing, a transcript of the written document left behind by Rodrigo Rosenberg before being shot to death:

Rodrigo Rosenberg’s Declaration, prior to his death

If you are reading this message, it means that I, Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano, was murdered by the President’s Private Secretary Gustavo Alejos and his associate Gregorio Valdez, with the approval of mister Alvaro Colom and Sandra de Colom.

The reason for which Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez have ordered my death, and for which the President of the Republic Alvaro Colom has approved it, is because until the day I was killed, I was the lawyer for two incredible Guatemalans, Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, and knew exactly how Alvaro Colom, Sandra de Colom, Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez were responsible for this cowardly assassination, which I made known to them and to anyone who could and would hear me.

I was a 47 year old Guatemalan, with 4 beautiful children, with the best brother one could ask in life, with wonderful friends, and with an overwhelming desire to live in my country, but I could not have lived with myself without rebelling, arming myself with valor and denouncing before all Guatemalans who have principles and values the real reasons for the deaths of Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, without regarding the consequences, and understanding that my life was in danger, I wanted to leave behind this testimony, should something come to happen to me, as it unfortunately did.

It was Alvaro Colom who, through Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, asked for the collaboration of Mister Khalil Musa to form part, Ad honorem, of the board for Banrural, without Mister Khalil Musa being aware of the illegal, million-dollar business transactions taking place daily in Banrural, which range from money laundering to the deviation of public funds to non-existent programs belonging to the President’s wife, Sandra de Colom, as well as the funding of paper firms employed for drug-dealing.

It was Alvaro Colom, in agreement with Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, who withheld Mister Khalil Musa’s already signed appointment, without his knowledge, for over three months, for in reality they had no intention whatsoever of granting him this post, but were using his good name with the argument that if new quotas of power were not distributed, Mister Khalil would denounce the corruption with which Banrural’s General Manager Fernando Peña operates this bank at his whim, for the service of Mrs. Sandra de Colom, as an associate and financier with the funds of the bank and of the businesses owned by Gregorio Valdez and Gustavo Alejos, without the bank’s president, José Angel López, doing anything to stop Fernando Peña from turning Banrural into the dwelling for thieves, drugdealers and murderers which it is now.

With the impunity with which Guatemalans in recent years have granted to thieves and murderers, José Angel López, Fernando Peña and the cowardly Gerardo de León directly threatened and intimidated Mister Khalil Musa a few weeks before his assassination, so that he’d give up his post and Mister Khalil Musa, as a true gentleman, told them he had no problem with his appointment being canceled, as it was Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, in agreement with our most splendid President Alvaro Colom and his perennial shadow, Sandra de Colom.

Mister Khalil Musa let Gustavo Alejos and Alvaro Colom know that he’s decided not to take part in the board of Banrural to avoid troubles, but they asked that he give them time, as all was getting resolved, without Mister Khalil Musa having the slightest idea that once the thieves and murderers had everything settled, they would kill him along with his daughter, Marjorie Musa (whose only crime was to be an exemplary daughter who always accompanied her father), as he’d served his purpose, without caring for anything or anyone and with the utter leisure of knowing that good Guatemalans would once more do absolutely nothing, justifying their inactivity in the impotence which always pervades us, or simply saying “Most likely, they were involved in something…”

Boasting lack of moral principles or values and of the vaguest sense of shame, Gustavo Alejos, after trying to invent other theories who nobody accepted on the grounds of the moral virtue of the victims, personally told Mister Khalil Musa’s family that he’d regrettably been assassinated for the horrible problems which exist in Banrural, reaching the point that the very President Alvaro Colom invites one of Mister Khalil Musa’s political relatives to his office to confirm what’s been said by his Private Secretary.

Now you can understand why neither Alvaro Colom and much less Gustavo Alejos publicly declared what they told to the family of Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa, and ordered the corrupt and incompetent Secretary of the Interior and the nonexistent Attorney General to let this assassination slide, as always occurs with the murders, thefts and violations which have thrust Guatemala into its darkest depths.

Day by day this horrible story repeats itself and fills with grief one more of our Guatemalan families, while good Guatemalans decide to look the other way and pray it’s not our turn.

It’s enough! Let’s rescue our country from thieves, murderers and drugdealers, and once united, let us reclaim our Guatemala, our values and our faith in justice, and let us kick out the current puppet we have for president, and let us imprison the thieves and murderers, starting with Gustavo Alejos, Gregorio Valdez, Fernando Peña and Gerardo de León, among others, and once and for all, let us demand the resignation of all the current members of Congress, all of who, with very few exceptions, are a bunch of thieves, and let us start all over again, for the love of God and our country.

Surely the cowards will try to defend themselves by staining the memory of Mister Khalil Musa or his daughter Marjorie Musa, and will try to convince Guatemalans that this is all a new ploy, but in the end, the one and only truth that matters is that if you are reading this message, it’s because I, Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano, was murdered by Gustavo Alejos and Gregorio Valdez, with the approval of Mister Alvaro colom and Sandra de Colom, for refusing to allow the vile and cowardly assassination of two incredible people like Mister Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa to become another statistic, thus continuing to hand over my country to the killers, cowards, thieves and drugdealers who currently govern it.

Rodrigo Rosenber Marzano

I remind Mister Vicepresident of the Republic, Doctor Rafael Espada, that he who’s silent, yields, and that you are neither a thief nor a murderer, and should be the first one to head the movement to recover our Guatemala, and make the law be carried out with the help of all the good Guatemalans who support it without reserve.

(Hat Tip: My sister, who sent me the boingboing link.)

Without Further Ado: The X-Judy Awards!

Today is an important day. After exactly one month, we are ending Extrajudicial Killings Week. (Let that be a lesson to us about making firm time commitments.)

Awards as follows:

To Karl Horberg, for naming the X-Judy, and for submitting a quality death-by-boiling entry from Uzbekistan, we are awarding one Cyrano de Bergerac-style ghostwriting of a letter of his choice. Choose wisely, Karl.

To the Transitionland blogger for her submission on chutzpah-tastic broad daylight killings of human rights activists in Russia, and to the anonymous source of the second Uzbekistan submission, we are awarding one hex apiece, to be used against the enemies of their choice. Again, choose wisely.

To Karolina Castro, who took us on a trip down memory lane to the 1992 Brazilian Carandiru prison massacre, we are awarding the newly-created Lucky Charms skull and crossbones marshmallow. Because that whole thing about playing soccer with the decapitated heads after the Ursa Branco riots was hella morbid. (We’ll get that to you as soon as we convince General Mills that it should be a new addition to our favorite cereal.)

To the anonymous source of the Uganda entry, we are awarding one box of Lucky Charms, because that extortion racket is just nuts. Let us know where to send it.

And finally, to Ryan Briggs, we are awarding an honorable mention for reminding us of a virtuoso extrajudicial killer who is sadly no longer with us: Odai Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, Ryan did not nominate any specific killings, so he gets no marshmallows. (A good choice might have been the time Odai killed his father’s valet with an electric carving knife in the middle of a dinner party for Egyptian President Mubarak’s wife. Alright, the hell with it: Ryan, you get two red balloon marshmallows for reminding us of that incident. Extrajudicial killings: they just don’t make ’em like they used to.)

Finally, the winner of the coveted “X-Judy Award” for the best instance of an extrajudicial killing is…

A tie between Guatemala and Kenya. In the end, we just couldn’t decide. Guatemala’s breadth (murder of foreign diplomats and then, in a clever twist, slaughter of the police officers who confessed to killing them) was matched by Kenya’s depth (a relentless campaign of threats and murder against the activists who were, um, publicizing the existence of that relentless campaign of threats and murder).

Congratulations to the police forces of both countries for exhibiting such excellence in cold-blooded killing. The competition was stiff, but their perseverance and hard work have paid off. We’re thrilled to finally bring them the recognition they deserve.

X-Judy Entry 6: Guatemala Gets it Done

Guatemala may be a small country, but when it comes to the X-Judys, they play with the big boys:

19th February, 2007: A burned-out car containing the charred corpses of three Salvadoran officials and their driver is found in the countryside near Guatemala City. The bodies are identified as Eduardo D’Aubuisson, William Pichinte, and Jose Ramon Gonzalez, all members of El Salvador’s then-ruling ARENA party. (If D’Aubuisson’s name rings a bell, that’s because his father was Roberto D’Aubuisson, founder of ARENA and fan of Hitler and blowtorches.) The three men had been visiting Guatemala as representatives of Parlacen, the Central American Parliament. Their car had disappeared from a police-led convoy the night before.

21st February, 2007: Guatemalan President Berger announces that the FBI will be assisting in the investigation of the murders. But not because the Guatemalan police can’t be trusted, or anything. Just because the FBI has all of these newfangled toys, like “DNA testing,” and “actual forensic methodology.”

22nd February, 2007: Wow, that didn’t take long! Luis Herrera, the head of the Guatemalan Police’s special unit on organized crime, and three of his officers are arrested for the Salvadorans’ murder. It turns out that they didn’t know that the police vehicle that they used to kidnap the men had a GPS tracking system. Which places them at the times/places of the kidnapping and murder. Photographs from traffic cameras corroborate the men’s movements that night, and clearly show who was in the car. The men confess quickly, claiming that they were confused -they thought that their victims were drug dealers. Which would, of course, have made everything totally okay. Carlos Vielmann, Guatemala’s interior minister, releases a public statement claiming that the arrests are a sign of newfound dedication to cleaning up corruption.

25th February, 2007: Oops, not so fast! Herrera and co. are murdered in El Boqueron prison, the maximum-security facility where they had been taken after their arrest. The government initially claims that they were killed during a prison riot, but news sources note that there was confusion about whether the riot started before or after the men were killed. However, eyewitnesses and the New York Times report that armed men in riot gear and ski masks stormed the prison, went through seven sets of locked doors, and murdered the men without any resistance from Boqueron’s guards.

2 March, 2007: Reporters Without Borders voices its support of Cable Guatevision, a Guatemalan TV station that has been receiving death threats ever since airing a report on the Feb. 25th murders at El Boqueron. In a rather charming understatement, it notes that recent events have given “reason to fear” that the police and security systems might have been infiltrated by criminals. (Um, what tipped you off?)

The Following Several Months: Guatemalan government shrugs shoulders, says “investigating high-level corruption and organized crime is hard!!”, makes no progress on solving the case.

19 June 2007: El Salvador’s President Tony Saca issues a statement condemning Guatemala’s lack of progress in solving the case.

Since Then: What, you haven’t forgotten about this yet? Those dudes were killed ages ago. I mean, seriously, by now they’d probably be dead of old age! This whole thing is totes a downer, so we’re just going to let it go. You know, for the good of the children. And the future. And puppies. We love puppies. You love puppies too, right? Nice puppy you’ve got at home, for instance. It would be a shame if something were to happen to that puppy of yours.

Right Now: Just saying.

File This Under "Things Unlikely to Turn out Well"

Guatemala has sent a group of Kaibile soldiers, the army’s “messengers of death,” to serve as peacekeepers in the DRC.

I do not think this is going to go well.

The Kaibiles are an “elite” group of Guatemalan soldiers who are put through Hell in the jungle in order to turn them into ruthless, relentless killing machines. (Note: not hyperbole. The training center is actually called hell.) Apparently their motto is “If I go forward, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I turn back, kill me.” As this guy points out, that outlook is not exactly in keeping with the traditional peacekeeping approach.

According to this information briefing, (issued by notable left-wing organization USCIS), the Kaibiles have a colorful history, including a massacre at Dos Erres in October of 1982:

“Dressed as guerrillas, the Kaibiles arrived in the hamlet at 2:30 a.m., December 6. They forced the inhabitants out of their homes, corralling the men in the schoolhouse and the women and children in the hamlet’s two churches. A subsequent search uncovered no sign of weapons or guerrilla propaganda. At 6 a.m., officers consulted superiors by radio, then informed the commandos they would be “vaccinating” the inhabitants after breakfast. In the early afternoon, the Kaibiles separated out the children, and began killing them. They bashed the smallest children’s heads against walls and trees, and killed the older ones with hammer blows to the head. Their bodies were dumped in a well. Next, the commandos interrogated the men and women one by one, then shot or bashed them with the hammer, and dumped them in the well. They raped women and girls, and ripped the fetuses out of pregnant women. The massacre continued throughout December 7. On the morning of December 8, as the Kaibiles were preparing to leave, another 15 persons, among them children, arrived in the hamlet. With the well already full, they took the newcomers to a location half an hour away, then shot all but two of them. To maintain the appearance of being a guerrilla column, they kept two teenage girls for the next few days, raping them repeatedly and finally strangling them once they were no longer useful”

So, it makes sense to send these guys to the DRC because…they are war-crimes experienced? They have shown their ability to do their jobs under high-pressure atrocity conditions? Because one of the qualities we look for in peacekeepers is “recent involvement with notorious Mexican drug cartels“?
Nice, guys. Real nice.

(For more about the Kaibiles, I refer you to this excellent Global Voices post by Renata Avila)