A former general and veteran of Guatemala’s civil war placed first — but did not secure a majority — in the first round of presidential elections Sunday. According to reports, Otto Perez Molina of the conservative Patriotic Party placed ahead of business executive Manuel Baldizon and is expected to beat him again in a second round come November. Molina has benefited from identifying himself strongly with mano dura (or iron fist) politics as a means to fight criminals. Baldizon, also conservative, is likewise a strong proponent of tough-on-crime measures, but has differentiated himself from Molina through economic populism.
There’s a reason mano dura can be smart politics — to a point. Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America and crime is getting worse. As a prime transit zone for drugs traveling from South America to Mexico and then into the United States, the country has been flooded with drug money, bases for narcotics and armed gangsters like the Zetas. “The main challenge for whoever wins may be building confidence in a state described by Guatemalans as a caricature, a failure, a shame or nonexistent,” reported The New York Times, adding that in the northern city of Coban, where drug violence is endemic, “many residents said that any attempted solution from the government, including a stronger military, would either never happen, or be blunted by the rich or criminals.”
Brazilian federal police and Paraguayan marines apparently engaged in a firefight with each other along the two countries’ border last week. There are conflicting accounts on both sides regarding what happened, exactly, but it seems to have involved confusion in heavy fog (one theory), or even possible collusion between elements of the Paraguayan military and drug traffickers.
Sometime Friday evening, a Brazilian police patrol boat attempted to seize two boats loaded with illegal drugs moving toward Brazilian territory along the Parana River, which comprises a section of the Brazil-Paraguay border. Paraguayan marines on the opposite shore then allegedly directed “high-caliber fire” at the police, which prompted the police to return fire at the Paraguayans. The smugglers slipped back into Paraguay during the forty-minute firefight, which was witnessed by hundreds of civilians at the nearby Friendship Bridge border crossing.
The Paraguayan military denies its forces were involved. However, given the depth of smuggling along the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay plus a history of “criminal links between military officials in Paraguay and organized crime,” analysts suggest the firefight could mark a data point in criminal infiltration of the Paraguayan military, and could potentially complicate Brazil’s security plans before the 2014 World Cup.
A new round of clashes between demonstrators and U.N. peacekeepers erupted on Wednesday following allegations five Uruguayan soldiers kidnapped and raped a Haitian man last month. Video of the assault filmed by the soldiers was later leaked to a reporter and distributed on the internet. “The soldiers — they accept their guilt,” Major General Luiz Ramos said, the Brazilian commander of MINUSTAH, the U.N.’s Haiti peacekeeping contingent. “It’s unacceptable behaviour, of course. I’d like to mention that as Force Commander. It’s not exactly what you expect from peacekeepers.”
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologized for the soldiers’ “criminal and embarrassing” behavior. The assault aggravated tensions between Haitians and the U.N. force, who are treated by a not-insignificant section of the public as unwanted occupiers. The country experienced unrest late last year after a major cholera outbreak was traced back to Nepalese troops.
The Uruguayan soldiers in this case were arrested and repatriated and their battalion commander sacked. “Under the UN’s Zero Tolerance Policy for sexual abuse, the peacekeepers were repatriated after a quick investigation. That’s the way it is supposed to work,” Mark Leon Goldberg wrote at U.N. Dispatch. ”The problem now is that there is absolutely no way for the UN to guarantee that the accused will be properly investigated and prosecuted by Uruguayan authorities.”