Monday, November 12, 2007

Center-left wins presidential elections in Guatemala

Alvaro Colom wins presidential election with 53 percent of the vote

Election campaign marred by violence although calm prevails in voting

GUATEMALA CITY, November 5 -- Alvaro Colom of the center-left National Union of Hope party was declared Monday the official victor in Sunday's presidential election.

Fourteen members of Alvaro Colom's National Union of Hope party were assassinated during the campaign.

"God was with Sandrita and me," said Colom late Sunday night, referring to his wife Sandra. "Thanks to the Guatemalan people for making this civic holiday such a marvelous day."

It was the 56-year-old industrial engineer's third try for the presidency and his first to succeed.

Of the 2.7 million valid votes cast nationwide, Colom won 1.4 million (53
percent) versus 1.3 million (47 percent) for his challenger, retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina of the conservative Patriot Party, according to the nation's official Web site, which said 100 percent of the vote had been counted.

"We lost a battle, but we haven't lost the war -- the war against corruption,"
Perez told his supporters. "We are going to support and help with all that is correct for Guatemala, but we are also going to be disposed to be critical."

Analyst Sylvia Gereda said Colom owed his victory to support from the country's rural areas -- "the area where there is hunger, where there are necessities."

During the coming two months, Colom will put together his transition team and name his cabinet members.

Major campaign issues included policies for reducing Guatemala's high crime rate and violence and the migration of Guatemalans to the United States, where many are working illegally.

Colom, in an August 30 debate co-sponsored by CNN en Espanol and Guatemala's Channel 3, said reducing poverty would help reduce crime while Perez said he would strengthen Guatemala's police and military while getting tough with criminals.

Colom's party -- the National Union of Hope -- was hard hit by assassinations that marked Guatemala's election season. In the debate two months ago, he said the killings of 14 members of his party were "without any doubt carried out by organized crime."

Colom said the migrants to the United States are "true heroes who go there to work, not to bother anyone; they go there in search of a dream."

He said he would "build a great nation that will generate hope here in Guatemala and bring hope back to Guatemala."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Guatemala: Reject Bill Threatening Families

Discriminatory Bill Strips Rights of 40 Percent of Families

NEW YORK, October 1 — Guatemalan legislators should protect all families by voting against the “Integral Protection for Marriage and Family Act,” Human Rights Watch urged today in a letter to the Guatemalan Congress.

Human Rights Watch called on lawmakers to reject a bill that would bar single parents as well as same-sex couples from the definition of “family,” and threatens the legal status of children conceived through reproductive technologies. The bill would punish any Guatemalan officials who advocates, “in any national or international meeting,” for a different definition.

“No family will ever benefit from leaving others unprotected,” said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “The aim of this bill is to strip certain partners, parents, and children of rights and recognition all families deserve.”

The “Integral Protection for Marriage and Family Act” is currently scheduled for a final vote the week of October 1. The bill was initially proposed over two years ago, but Congress debated it for the first time in July 2007. On September 26, the debate over the bill was hastily reopened. Vice President of the Congress Oliverio García Rodas, has stated that it was brought forward amid concern about the “celebration of same-sex marriages.”

The bill, however, would declare that the nearly 40 percent of Guatemalan families that are not nuclear – consisting of father, mother, and children – are not families at all. Crucial health services now provided for single parents, their children, and indigenous families under a 2001 law could be taken away.

“This bill takes aim at lesbian and gay couples, but it has almost half of Guatemalan children and parents in its sights,” said Cano Nieto. “Targeting children and their caregivers in the name of a political agenda is not only unjustifiable, it is morally reprehensible.”

International bodies such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have recognized the need to respect different forms of the family. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Guatemala is a party, protects children from discrimination on the basis of their parents’ or caregivers’ status. Guatemala has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the UN Human Rights Committee has held to ban discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.

Growing international pressure condemns laws that discriminate against certain families. The “Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity,” developed by a group of experts in international law and released in 2007, call upon states to recognize and protect the existence of diverse forms of families, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of family members.

To read the letter from Human Rights Watch to the Guatemalan Congress, go to:
· In English:
· In Spanish:

To read the “Yogyakarta Principles,” go to:

Monday, September 10, 2007

BBC report on Sunday's (Sept. 9) election

Guatemala heads for run-off vote

by BBC News

Guatemala is heading for a second round in the presidential election as results indicate no candidate has secured an outright win after Sunday's vote.

Sunday’s voting, which was also for parliamentary and local elections, followed one of the bloodiest campaigns in the country’s history.

More than 50 candidates, activists and their relatives were killed.

As results came in, there were disturbances in several parts of the country, including in at least five communities where police used tear gas to disperse protesters, Guatemalan media reported.

However, the head of a European Union mission monitoring the election, Wolfgang Kreissl Dorfler, told the BBC’s World Today program that voting had gone well.

“In [comparison] with four years ago, the situation is really quiet. What we have seen is a very well organized election at all the polling stations, especially because the participation of young women and the young people here is very high.”

Murder rate

Preliminary results announced by the electoral authorities as votes were counted gave Colom 27% and Perez Molina 25%.

Alejandro Giammattei, from President Oscar Berger’s party, was trailing in third place.
Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, the best-known internationally, was sixth in a field of 14 candidates.

The bloody election campaign highlighted the levels of crime in Guatemala.

With nearly 6,000 people killed in 2006, Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Both Colom of the National Unity of Hope Party (UNE) and Perez Molina, who is standing for the Patriotic Party (PP), have vowed to tackle crime and poverty.

Colom, who is running for the presidency for the third time in a row, has promised to overhaul the security forces and the judicial system, which many criticize for being slow, corrupt and inefficient.

Perez Molina, who was the head of army intelligence, has pledged to increase the size of the police force by 50% and revive the death penalty.

Street gangs

Guatemala is still suffering the after-effects of the 1960-1996 civil war between leftist rebels and successive military governments, which left nearly a quarter of a million people dead or missing.

Some of the violent paramilitary fighters who were involved in the civil war are now part of organized crime gangs, analysts say.

Guatemala’s growing role as a transit point for large shipments of cocaine has also allowed criminals to wield more influence.

Youth gangs, known as “maras,” hold sway in some neighborhoods and prisons.

Some estimates put their membership higher than that of the 19,000-strong police force.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reuters story on the Guatemala election campaign

Bloodshed hits Guatemala election campaign
By Mica Rosenberg
August 9, 2007

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Gunmen have attacked candidates and an activist for Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu's political party three times in the last week in Guatemala's bloodiest election race since a civil war ended a decade ago.

The body of Carlos de Leon Bravo, a local candidate in the northwestern region of San Marcos, was found shot and stuffed in the trunk of his car on Sunday, wrapped in flags of Menchu's left-leaning Together for Guatemala party.

Bravo's death brings close to 40 the number of killings of candidates, activists and workers from different parties in the last year as drug traffickers and former paramilitaries muscle in on elections for president, Congress and municipalities.

Worst hit by the election bloodshed is front-runner Alvaro Colom's National Unity for Hope party, or UNE, which is struggling to rid its ranks of the influence of organized crime groups and drug gangs.

Armed men attacked the house of a congressional candidate from Menchu's party on Tuesday, seriously injuring her two teen-age girls. In another shooting on the same day, three armed men fired at a former guerrilla commander, now an activist for Menchu, injuring his bodyguard and his mechanic.

"This was an assassination attempt," said Cesar Montes, a leader of the leftist insurgency during the country's 1960-1996 civil war. Montes said he shot back at his assailants.

Central America's most populous nation, Guatemala is still suffering the after-effects of the conflict, which left nearly a quarter of a million people dead or missing.

Guatemala, a U.S. trade ally under the CAFTA pact, is one of the most violent countries in the Americas. Almost 6,000 people were murdered last year mostly due to common crime and gang feuds.

Political scientist Francisco Garcia blamed the election violence on a combination of attacks on leftist politicians and activists by shadowy armed groups, reminiscent of the civil war, and attempts by organized crime and drug gangs to win influence in political parties.

"The violent paramilitary forces that fought during the war weren't disarmed ...
They were just recycled and put to use by organized criminals," said Garcia.


Menchu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for defending Mayan victims of the war, is a presidential candidate who is trailing way behind in opinion polls in fourth place.

The UNE, which leads polls, has seen 18 of its candidates and party activists murdered in the campaign, including one congressman shot in front of party headquarters in April.

UNE leader Colom, 56, is a mild mannered center-left politician who is tipped to come first in the September 9 election although he will likely have to compete in run-off vote later in the year.

Some analysts say the UNE is targeted because it is most likely to win the election and has the largest party network.

But rival candidates say Colom, running for president for the third time, let criminals infiltrate the party as he struggled for funds in the last election campaign in 2003.

"Drug traffickers are embedded in the UNE," Menchu told Reuters. "They opened the doors to an ominous element."

One former UNE congressman was ejected from the party amid accusations he is a drug smuggler.

Colom says his party has been targeted because of his zero tolerance approach to organized crime gangs in the ranks.

"Guatemala is totally infiltrated by organized crime on all levels and fighting organized crime is dangerous. I am risking my life everyday," said Colom, who travels with a heavily armed bodyguards and chain smokes cigarettes to calm his nerves.

Sandra Duverge's reflection during worship Aug. 12

Mission Reflection
CHPC worship, Sunday, August 12
Sandra M. Duverge

I thought so much about going or not going on this mission trip. I had to come to Jane to ask for help in sorting through my thoughts. You see I grew up Catholic. I only went to church on special occasions. In my family that is what being Catholic meant.

I did not know about mission trips until I started coming to this church 7 years ago. I had many fears about situations on the trip that might give me away. For starters was I expected to know where all the books where in the bible? (I never even owned my own bible until I came to Louisville). Would I be asked to recite Psalms from memory? What if some one asked me what my favorite hymn was, and could I sing it? (You see, I have a creative mind).

Well, I put my application in with the thought that I could withdraw any time before the plane tickets were purchased. Going through the monthly orientation meetings was great. Every time we meet we learned something new about Guatemala. As time passed I wanted more and more to go.

I wanted to tell you how the planning for the mission trip went because some of the experiences I would have during this trip never occurred to me. Every time I would tell people I was going on a mission trip they would ask me what we were going to do there. I put together a little speech about going to make friendships and how we were not going to do heavy construction except for two days.

The moment I arrived in Guatemala I felt very comfortable. The scene at the airport was very familiar — all the people piled up in front of the exit door trying to see if their loved one was coming. The vendors come up to you to try and get you to buy their wares. I live it and love it every time I arrive in the Dominican Republic. There is something very welcoming about that organized chaos.

Of course I did as I always do in Dominican Republic I bought something. Yes, you are going to hear from the rest of the group that we went straight into the vans as soon as we came out of customs, but leave it to me to make a purchase in only a minute.

It was great to be riding in tall vans because it really gave us a great view. The ride through Guatemala City on the way to Rio Dulce was great — parts of the city looked so much like Dominican Republic. I was feeling very much at home, except for the weather, which was cool in July.

We had talked so much about how hot it would be that I began to worry, I did not have enough blouses with long sleeves. No problem, I would have to go shopping. How bad is that? At one of the pit stops I switched to the air conditioned van because some of the people there where getting motion sickness and needed to switch.

What a shock when I got out of the van in Rio Dulce. The humidity had gone from zero to eighty, but this was still nothing compared to what was expecting us in El Estor.

The next morning the drive was magnificent, the scenery was spectacular and best of all I knew most of the vegetation! As some of the others will tell you, I get a little carried away pointing out trees. I had never seen them in this form. This wonderful tropical vegetation covered the mountains whereever you looked. The Dominican Republic does not have as many mountains as Guatemala. As we got closer to El Estor things got a little flatter but not by much.

I was so happy to be there — it was like going to the Dominican Republic, except for the amazing humidity. If we told you a hundred times you could never imagine it. This is something that you have to feel to believe. The rest of the trip you can see in our pictures. It was amazing. Thank you for helping us get there.

The part that you cannot see in our pictures is our own personal experiences and learning. Remember I told you I never imagined some of the wonderful experiences I would have on this mission trip? Here is one of the simple lessons:

Some of you may not know me but those of you who do, know that I am not shy and I am extremely social. It had never dawned on me that some people may want to be alone at times. Thanks to one of our wonderful guides, David Wiseman, those people were able to be rescued from people like me.

The one that I am most thankful for is, being able to see Jane travel with us and be able to be kind and caring every day. She taught me what loving everyone means. This experience has really touched me and I think of her example often when I find myself in a difficult situation with a people in my life.

The other experience that will last me for ever is the stronger friendship that I built with Ada. At night when we were in our room we would tell each other stories and make each other laugh till our stomachs hurt. We where good friends before, but being together in this trip has made me closer to her. The bonding that went on in this 8-day trip probably could not occur in eight months.

I have so much I could tell you but there are other people that want to talk. Thank you for making it possible for me to have such an unforgettable experience.

Monday, August 13, 2007

David Wiseman's report on PRESGOV - August 2007

August 12, 2007

Dear Colleagues in Ministry and Friends of PRESGOV,

As the summer draws to a close and many of us return from vacations to resume fall schedules, it seems like a fitting time to send out an up-date to PCUSA supporters of the ministry of PRESGOV. As most of you know, my colleague Marcia Towers has completed her responsibilities with this ministry, having devoted 3 years of faithful service and extraordinary commitment to facilitating mission delegations to Guatemala. Though she will be continuing her responsibilities with the Young Adult Volunteer program, gracias a Dios, I will miss her non-anxious presence in the office, her clarity of thought and purpose regarding mission delegations, her ever-patient Spanish coaching and the many ways she has modeled mission service at its best. For those of you who have benefited from her gracious work, I urge you to send your expressions of gratitude to her via email at

With Marcia no longer working with PRESGOV and with Victor Batz leaving the program this past January, PRESGOV has moved from 3 coordinators to one. The Administrative Committee of PRESGOV is hoping to hire a Guatemalan coordinator at some time in the future. Until such a person is hired and trained, however, I anticipate that there will be limitations as to the services we will be able to provide.

Additionally, looking ahead to the new year, I will be completing my first three years of mission service in 2008 and will begin my time of interpretation in the states the first of May. That will mean I myself will not be coordinating PRESGOV groups or traveling with them in the late spring and throughout the summer.

Because I have a strong investment in the ministry of PRESGOV, I want to do all I can to anticipate and facilitate mission trips in the coming year. I will continue to urge the Administrative Committee of PRESGOV to do its best to guarantee the high quality of service that you deserve and have come to expect, all of which requires capable and dedicated staff. Though I hope it will not be necessary, it is my personal opinion that PRESGOV will need to cut back on the number of mission delegations that we host in 2008 and it will be difficult to confirm trips next summer until new staff is fully on board.

Despite the transitions within PRESGOV, I have been pleased with the myriad mission experiences that have deepened the connections between the IENPG and PCUSA. I ask for your prayerful support during this forthcoming time. If you have questions, concerns or suggestions, do not hesitate to be in touch with me. More importantly, since the Administrative Committee of PRESGOV is entrusted with this ministry’s future, I would suggest that you contact committee members. René Morales serves as the Moderator. You can attach a letter (preferably written in Spanish) to my email address and I will be glad to forward that to them. PCUSA staff Stan De Voogd, Area Coordinator for Mexico and Central America (, and Tracey King, Regional Liaison ( each play a significant role in this on-going conversation.

It goes without saying that the ministry of PRESGOV and the partnerships that you all have fostered over the years are an inspiring witness to Jesus Christ in Guatemala. I hope that together, along with our Guatemalan brothers and sisters, we can discern creative and faithful ways to meet the unique challenges of these times and listen for what God’s still small voice is calling us to do at this holy juncture.

Gratefully and faithfully yours,
J. David Wiseman, PRESGOV Coordinator
PCUSA Mission Co-WorkerGuatemala

BBC story on the breakup of an illegal adoption ring

Forty-six children in Guatemala, believed to have been taken from their parents for illegal adoption abroad have been rescued, officials say. The children's ages range from three years old to just a few days.
They were found at a house in Antigua, close to the capital, after neighbours reported seeing foreigners collecting children there every day. Police are investigating whether the children were stolen, or their parents were coerced into giving them up.
Last year, couples in the US adopted more than 4,000 infants from Guatemala, second only to China.

Stricter regulations

The Guatemalan attorney general's office said that few of the children had the necessary paperwork to be in the custody of anyone other than their parents, and the house did not have permission to operate as an adoption centre. The 46 children have remained at the house, being looked after by police, while the case is being investigated.
Latin America correspondent Daniel Schweimler says adopting from Guatemala can take half the time and cost considerably less than it does elsewhere.
Earlier this year, the Guatemalan Congress ratified The Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoptions which sets out a series of measures guaranteeing greater transparency in the process of adoption
However, the U.S. state department is advising against the practice because of reports that many Guatemalan mothers face pressure to sell their children into adoption.
Last week, the U.S. embassy in Guatemala tightened up the visa regulations for couples trying to adopt there.

Guatemala-based journalist Martin Asturias told the BBC that adoption had become big business in the country. Prices range from around $25,000 (£12,500) up to about $60,000 (£30,000) depending on how complicated the process was and how specific the adoptive parents were in their demands, he said.
The business of adoption has also had a wider effect, Mr Asturias said. "Guatemala has fallen into what I would say is a 'social psychosis'. Rumors can spread, especially in small Mayan villages or towns, that children are being stolen to be sold as adopted children."
The anxiety and anger caused by such rumors have in the past led to people believed to be involved in the adoption business being lynched or stoned, said Mr Asturias.