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Guatemala’s “Political Mob” Strike Democracy Once Again

By: Steve Hecht and David Landau - Dec 2, 2015, 3:39 pm
The CICIG's and the US embassy's handprints are all over Óscar Platero's dismissal from Guatemala's Civilian Intelligence.
The CICIG’s and the US embassy’s handprints are all over Óscar Platero’s dismissal from Guatemala’s Civilian Intelligence. (Periodismo Sin Fronteras)

EspañolGuatemala’s political mob, which we call the blob, is once again trying to suffocate the country’s new government even before it takes power. On November 17, the new minister of the Interior, Eunice Mendizábal, appointed a retired army captain, Óscar Platero, as assistant director of Civilian Intelligence (Digici).

Digici identifies and analyzes criminal enterprises for the Interior Ministry, which is the law enforcement arm of government. Platero is an expert in criminal investigation. After retiring from the army, he did that kind of work as head of customs security. He later worked for the UN commission in Guatemala, or CICIG.

As Platero recently told us: “At its inception in 2007, I supported CICIG and collaborated with it because I thought it was going to pursue organized crime.” But the CICIG didn’t act on the information he supplied, and didn’t seem interested in getting more.

Five days after Platero’s appointment to the Interior Ministry, President Alejandro Maldonado said in a late night interview that, while he didn’t know Platero personally, he knew of no reason for the man not to serve.

The following morning, Maldonado announced through a spokesman that he had ordered his Interior minister to cancel Platero’s appointment. As the spokesman explained, the Interior Ministry’s Digici “is closely related to the justice ministry and to the CICIG. This harmony is important, so it’s important that those personnel have excellent working relations.”

The CICIG’s and the US embassy’s handprints were all over the dismissal. It was a move straight from the pages of Caligula or Nero — a cocktail of tyranny and twisted humor.

With foreign powers calling the shots, Guatemala has become a place in which bizarre adjustments are all too familiar. Platero’s dismissal was nearly identical to the 2010 Conrado Reyes affair, in which the CICIG, with the US ambassador’s help, had an attorney general removed from office before the man had served for three weeks.

Just as they blacklisted Platero, the CICIC and the Barack Obama administration have extended their blessings to extralegal forces which they term “human-rights groups.” Indeed, an influential witness against Platero was human-rights activist Helen Mack Chang, whose sister, an anthropologist, was murdered during the war.

Helen Mack made the case famous; she prosecuted the Guatemalan government for the murder, winning a legal victory, and a financial settlement. Since that time, she has been an outsized voice for the anti-military party, and has inserted herself into countless official matters.

According to Guatemala’s Prensa Libre, Helen Mack said that Óscar Platero “was army chief of intelligence in 1989 and 1990 … It was at the time that her sister Myrna’s death occurred.…” Helen Mack was directly quoted to say: “All these links to the most recalcitrant wing of the military are worrisome.”

Those statements, whether made by Helen Mack or concocted by the newspaper, are contrary to fact. Platero never served as the army’s chief of intelligence. That officer must have a rank of colonel or above, while Platero retired from the army at the lower rank of captain.

According to Platero, he was out of the service at the start of 1990; while Myrna Mack, as everyone knows, died eight months later. So Platero would have played no role in an army action against Myrna.

But this doesn’t matter much to the people and organizations that belong to the blob. Despite the exonerating facts, Platero wears the much larger millstone of having been “in the military.”

On its face, this is unjust. As a result of the peace accords, former guerrilla and their partisans, as well as retired armed forces personnel, enjoy the same constitutional rights as all Guatemalans to take part in political or governmental matters. Or has the guerrilla army faded forever from historical memory?

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Actually, the guerrilla army never existed — or so the folks in the blob seem to think. Just raise the matter with any blob member, and you’ll get a blank stare — or, at most, a statement to the effect that “it’s all in the past.” No such courtesy is extended to the ever-present, evil-minded “Guatemalan military.”

Those in the blob include the CICIG, the US embassy, the consortium of European social-democrats, the alleged human-rights groups, participants from various Guatemalan ministries, the extralegal militias, and the media — mainly international — that give the whole gang a positive press.

The motive that keeps the blob together is a dislike of Guatemala’s traditional structures, combined with a strong feeling in favor of the insurgents — the now-forgotten guerrilla army that lost last century’s war after four decades of fighting.

The blob is constantly looking for ways to grow its domain. Like any formless mass, it moves in an inexorable fashion. When challenged or repelled in one place, it surges forward in another.

Its excuses — like the one about why Óscar Platero should be kept out of government — are often laughable. The real reason for the blob’s campaign against Platero is much more serious.

The blob is protecting its chosen human-rights and environmental groups, like the CUC and the FRENA, which are actually delinquent gangs and illegal enterprises. Those are precisely the criminal structures that Platero would have identified for the Interior Ministry.

In the latter part of 2015, with the CICIG driving and the US embassy riding shotgun, the blob launched a major effort to overthrow the republic. The CICIG instigated the removal of the country’s leaders, and produced a report that blamed electoral corruption as the major source of mischief in the country.

The plan, which came close to succeeding, was to get the presidential election postponed while a group of “notables” reformed the Constitution. In that case, Guatemala would have become like Cuba, whose last genuine presidential election was in 1948.

But the ordinary people of Guatemala seized the moment. They thwarted Obama and the CICIG by flooding to the polls and raising to prominence a political unknown: Jimmy Morales, who later crushed one of the blob’s leaders, former First Lady Sandra Torres, in the presidential runoff.

Morales is now stepping into the presidency while the blob is on the street, trying to control, discredit, and ultimately destroy the Morales administration. The attack on Captain Platero is only the most recent, visible effort.

We can assume that much undiplomatic intervention has occurred out of public view, and we can expect much more of the same. A former US official has told us: “It appears the guerrilla has an executive-level connection in Washington that can immediately generate orders to the ambassador to do its bidding, like a puppet on a string.”

If that’s the case, then President Obama’s radical views are directly activating the blob and affecting the lives of all Guatemalans.

For now, the blob will keep doing what it does best. It will ooze toward power any way it can.

What’s the answer? Plenty of light, plenty of air, and, above all, plenty of freedom for people to do the things they do best. Faced against all that, the blob can only withdraw — and give Guatemalans their fair chance for a lawful, decent, prosperous society.

Steve Hecht and David Landau Steve Hecht and David Landau

The authors have worked together in Guatemalan political matters for 20 years. Steve Hecht (pictured), a businessman with two degrees from Columbia University, has lived in Guatemala for more than four decades. David Landau, based in San Francisco, cut his journalistic teeth as managing editor of the Harvard Crimson. He is an expert on Cuba and publisher of Pureplay Press. Follow @shecht6.