US embassy cable - 03GUATEMALA220


Identifier: 03GUATEMALA220
Wikileaks: View 03GUATEMALA220 at
Origin: Embassy Guatemala
Created: 2003-01-28 15:23:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/28/2013 
     B. GUATEMALA 189 
     C. 02 GUATEMALA 3281 
Classified By: Katharine Read, HROff, for reason 1.5 (d) 
1. (C) Summary: The Ambassador visited the headquarters of 
the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH) on 
January 22 to meet with director Frank LaRue.  The Ambassador 
informed LaRue of his personal efforts in support of the 
commission to investigate clandestine groups with various GOG 
leaders, briefed LaRue on impending decertification and the 
link between combating narcotics trafficking and democracy, 
and promoted CAFTA as a democratic opportunity worthy of 
support from civil society.  LaRue credited the government 
for the naming of Human Rights Watch leader Jose Miguel 
Vivanco as a "facilitator", saying "it just goes to show that 
you should never underestimate the FRG," but was guardedly 
optimistic about Vivianco's possible role after direct 
discussions with him the day before.  After discussing the 
proposed commission, LaRue warned the Ambassador that the 
other dangerous development on the human rights front is the 
resurgence of the ex-PACs.  LaRue said he participates in a 
regional civil society effort to engage in CAFTA talks (at 
the cost of criticism from some US NGOs) and highlighted the 
effectiveness of an AID-supported project to prevent crime by 
working with urban gangs.  In remarks to the press, the 
Ambassador praised the work of CALDH, was cautiously positive 
on the Vivanco appointment, and warned about the pervasive 
negative effects of narco-trafficking on corruption of 
democracy and rising local drug use.  End Summary. 
Vivanco Appointment 
2. (C) In their meeting at CALDH, held at LaRue's request, 
the Ambassador began with a discussion of the Portillo 
administration's decision, announced on January 21, to enlist 
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Jose Miguel Vivanco to 
facilitate the formation of a mixed commission to investigate 
clandestine groups.  LaRue said this was a reminder to all to 
"never underestimate the FRG," because the FRG was prone to 
capitalize on any opportunity to improve its public image. 
While skeptical of Portillo and Gutierrez's motives, LaRue 
remained positive about Vivanco's inclusion. (Note: HROff 
spoke with human rights activists Helen Mack and Mario 
Polanco on January 22, who were initially leery of Vivanco's 
invitation, but now also think his leadership may be useful 
in pushing their agenda.) 
3. (C) LaRue said that he spoke with Vivanco on January 21, 
because they also have a long personal relationship.  Vivanco 
told LaRue that he understood he would only be facilitating 
discussions between the GOG, the NGO community, and the Human 
Rights Ombudsman's Office.  Vivanco promised LaRue that he 
would facilitate, not mediate, participation of all three 
groups to help define the mandate of the Commission.  Vivanco 
said he would arrive in Guatemala on February 10 to begin 
these talks. 
Other Commission-related Developments 
4. (C) The Ambassador briefed LaRue on his efforts to pitch 
the proposal from the "top-down" in the GOG. (Ref B)  LaRue 
mentioned that, since the release of the proposal on January 
16 (Ref A), he had received a "defensive" letter from 
Attorney General Carlos de Leon about the Public Ministry's 
efforts to investigate threats against human rights workers. 
LaRue expressed understanding for the AG's defensiveness, and 
said the human rights movement does not seek, by supporting 
the mixed international commission, to discredit or alienate 
the Public Ministry, which has its own key role to play as an 
investigative body. 
5. (C) In response to the Ambassador's question about the 
UN's response to the proposed commission, LaRue said that he 
views the UN response as mostly positive.  He cited as 
evidence meetings he had in New York during the holidays with 
Martha Doggett, who played an important role with the 
Salvadoran commission and now handles Guatemala at UN HQ, and 
more recently in Guatemala with MINUGUA Chief Koenigs.  LaRue 
and the Ambassador agreed that firm, public USG support may 
be motivating the UN to react more and more positively to the 
6. (C) LaRue asked the Ambassador if there was any 
possibility of the USG declassifying pertinent documents for 
the Commission.  The Ambassador said that the USG had not 
decided on that, but that the Commission should not pin all 
their hopes on evidence collected by USG agencies.  The 
Ambassador explained that declassification of documents from 
the post-1996 period the commission would potentially cover 
could be difficult because the issues are current and sources 
need to be protected. 
Twin Dangers:  Clandestine Groups and Ex-PACs 
7.  (C) LaRue said that, although he was thrilled that the 
threat of clandestine groups to human rights groups and the 
general population was finally being addressed, he felt 
increasingly worried about the resurgence of former civil 
defense patrols (ex-PACs).  LaRue heard that the military 
veteran's association (AVEMILGUA) was looking to include the 
ex-PACs as associate members.  This would swell AVEMILGUA's 
membership from its current 76,000 members to over 200,000, 
making it a very powerful lobbying group in the upcoming 
elections.  The Ambassador asked if the former URNG 
combatants had any sort of collective structure.  LaRue shook 
his head and said that, sadly, the political left is 
fractured and weak.  The majority of the former URNG members 
feel abandoned by their leaders because since demobilization, 
the leaders have been well compensated but the troops were 
financially "left behind." 
Opportunities:  Decertification and CAFTA 
8.  (C) The Ambassador told LaRue that decertification was 
coming soon, but that it will serve more as a moral statement 
against the GOG and not financially affect average 
Guatemalans due its probable waiver.  The Ambassador said 
that if the GOG earns back their certification, then the USG 
will give it to them, because the USG wants to be clear that 
this is not an attempt to influence 2003 elections.  LaRue 
said that he was pleased with the USG decision to decertify 
and that he hoped it would prompt real, serious convictions 
of criminals and steps towards improvement. 
9.  (C) The Ambassador and LaRue then turned the discussion 
to the coincidental timing of decertification and CAFTA 
negotiations.  While some in civil society question how we 
can engage the GOG on CAFTA and decertify them on 
counternarcotics cooperation at the same time, the Ambassador 
explained that at this stage there is no linkage.  He 
cautioned, however, that anti-drug cooperation would have to 
be on track if CAFTA is to be approved by Congress. 
10.  (C) LaRue briefed that Ambassador on his involvement 
with the Center for Integration and Development (CID), a 
Central American civil society consortium that would like to 
represent democratic and human rights concerns in the CAFTA 
negotiations.  LaRue explained that all the other Central 
American governments have been open to including NGOs in the 
informal process, while the FRG has ruled out any private 
sector or civil society participation.  The Ambassador said 
that he was pleased that civil society groups recognize that 
CAFTA not only promises lowered tariffs, but also good 
governance, and that the USG is fully supportive of a process 
that involves full consultation with a variety of 
non-governmental actors. 
Bright Spot:  AID-supported CALDH Gang Project 
--------------------------------------------- - 
11.  (U) LaRue asked the Ambassador if he would lend 
political support to a crime prevention program of CALDH that 
is funded by AID for approximately 18 more months.  LaRue 
said that CALDH was very successful so far, but that recently 
they had run into difficulties with the new police chief (who 
refuses to meet with them) and the they were concerned about 
the pre-Christmas preventative detention plan that triggered 
the Pavoncito prison riot (Ref C).  LaRue said that, during 
the Pavoncito riots, the CALDH mentees refrained from 
engaging in the violence and protected the art supplies that 
were part of their rehabilitative program.  The Ambassador 
pledged to raise the project with the new police chief and 
lobby for a meeting with project leaders. 
12.  (C) LaRue is an articulate and able human rights 
activist, open to working cooperatively with other sectors of 
society, and is the leader of Guatemala's largest human 
rights NGO.  He himself noted differences within the human 
rights community over engagement with the GOG (he is in favor 
of it, despite visceral dislike for Portillo, and CALDH's 
open genocide case against Rios Montt), engagement in CAFTA 
talks (again, he supports), and, frankly, his openness to 
engagement with the USG in support of the human rights 
agenda.  We will follow up this meeting by continuing to 
collaborate with the human rights community on the formation 
of the commission, on CAFTA talks, monitoring the resurgence 
of ex-PACs, and enlisting the support of civil society for 
more serious counter-narcotics efforts. 

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