Lisa Haugaard

Guatemala: A Blow to Hopes for Justice

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Guatemalans dreaming of and campaigning for a nation governed by the rule of law were devastated June 7th when the head of a UN-supported body set up to investigate organized crime resigned in frustration. Carlos Castresana had labored valiantly, as head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), to investigate the organized crime that has penetrated the nation.

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Colombia's Authoritarian Spell

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The year was 2004. I was contacted by Colombian human rights activists. Would I please come to Colombia to join them in a book launch of the second edition of The Authoritarian Spell? They were worried that the book, a collectively written critique of what they saw as authoritarian tendencies by the administration of President Alvaro Uribe, would provoke a reaction, and wanted international accompaniment. I said yes, and went to one of the book launches in Medellín, where a professor at the local university spoke and introduced me and several of the book’s coauthors, and we had a genteel, scholarly discussion of current events, in an auditorium filled mainly with students and professors. 

Little did we know that the book, criticized by the government as exaggerated, was in fact far too light a critique of the government’s authoritarian tendencies.

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Colombia's President Rails against Justice, Clinton Stands By

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Colombia’s outgoing President has launched an assault against his country’s courts for taking some initial steps to bring high-ranking military and government officials to justice for their role in murder, illegal wiretapping, disappearances and torture.  This is no abstract political debate. When the President takes to the airwaves to denounce those working for justice, the judges, lawyers, witnesses and victims’ families know that death threats, and sometimes murder, often follow.  The threats and attacks usually appear to be from paramilitary groups. Colombia’s Supreme Court made a call for help:  “We make an appeal to the international community to accompany and show solidarity with the Colombian judicial system which is being assaulted for carrying out its duties.” 

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Still Waiting for Change: The Obama Administration & Latin America

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President Obama was elected with a campaign of hope, and change.  Those of us who care about Latin America hoped that U.S. foreign policy towards the region, too often unilateral and focused on military solutions, would also change.

A year ago, at a summit of Latin America’s leaders, President Obama hit a note that resonated well with his counterparts: “I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations.”

After that hopeful moment, though, the new administration stumbled at the starting gate. 2009 was a rough year for U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin American governments and civil society groups were disappointed by the Obama Administration’s inattention, vacillation on democracy and human rights, and failure of imagination in creating more humane policies, especially after it secretly negotiated a defense agreement with Colombia and backed off from efforts to urge resignation of the coup regime in Honduras despite an admirably united Latin American and OAS response to protect the democratic order.

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Colombia: "Soldiers Simply Knew They Could Get Away with Murder"

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As I listened to mothers and sisters and sons describe how they found their loved one in the morgue of a Colombian army base, dressed up in a guerrilla uniform when they knew he was a civilian, I was not only saddened, I was stunned by the striking similarity of the cases. From Casanare, Meta, Cauca, the facts were so similar. Witnesses saw the person being taken prisoner by a group of army soldiers.  They went looking for him, thinking he’d be detained on the army base. Then they were shown a photo or the body of their relative, dead and claimed by the army as killed in combat.

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