Thursday, December 10, 2009

Around Latin America

-In good news from Guatemala, this past week, an army officer was convicted for his role in the disappearance of eight indigenous villagers in 1981. Colonel Marco Antonio Sanchez was sentenced to 53 years in prison, and three of his subordinates also received prison sentences. While this isn't the first incident of conviction in an "enforced disappearance" case, it does mark the first time that a high-ranking military officer has been convicted in such a case. Meanwhile, lawyers entered damning evidence from secret Guatemalan military archives in the case of charges of genocide against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who seized power in 1982 during Guatemala's 36-year civil war and who oversaw some of the worst crimes against humanity during the war. While Montt is far from conviction still, the fact that a jury has found Sanchez guilty, combined with the horrible details of the military documents in the Montt case, allow hope that Montt finally pays for his crimes. And while an acquittal would be an injustice, the simple fact that formerly-secret military documents have now become public, revealing just how horrible Montt's "administration" (and others during the civil war) were will deal a major blow to any efforts to rehabilitate Montt or the right in this war.

-In bad news for women's rights in Brazil, a Brazilian doctor who performed abortions was found dead in her car last week. Authorities are investigating whether Dr. Neide Mota Machado's death was a murder or a suicide. Machado had had her medical license stripped earlier this year, after she was accused of performing nearly 10,000 abortions in Brazil (where abortion is illegal save for cases of rape, severe deformation of the fetus, or of a threat to the life of the mother). For those who feel that making abortion in the United States legal only in the cases of rape, incest, or health risks to the mother, it is worth pointing out that over 230,000 women entered hospitals due to complications from botched illegal abortions in 2008 alone.

-Finally, one of the darker aspects of the U.S. embargo on Cuba emerged in a recent story that alleged that "a dozen Cuban children with heart defects were forced to endure unnecessary surgery because the U.S. embargo blocked them from receiving American-made catheters." While the U.S. apparently made such exports to Cuba legal back in 1992, the paperwork is enough of a "hassle" that medical companies have little reward in going through all the bureaucracy imposed by the limited embargo, which allows medicine to get to Cuba. Even so, after $142 health care items were approved to go to Cuba in 2008, only $1.2 million worth of goods actually reached the island, according to this report. While I question the use of the term "genocide" to describe unnecessary surgeries on 12 children, there is no denying the fact that the embargo has very real consequences upon the daily lives and even survival of many Cubans, and this story just offers one more very stark reminder of that fact.