Monday, October 16, 2006

Jerry Weller and the Butcher of Guatemala

There are some Republicans that are blatantly and arrogantly corrupt. Then there are those who are quietly corrupt, almost stealthily so. IL-11 Republican congressman Jerry Weller falls into the second category. But in his own way, he's as bad a Republican as any running anywhere in this country.

He was elected in the Republican sweep of 1994, promising to serve only 12 years maximum. (So much for that empty promise.) He has been a reliable vote for Bush, voting with the Republican line some 95% of the time. He's accepted money from Tom DeLay and is implicated in the Abramoff scandal. He's opposed to stem cell research and he's too gutless to talk extensively about Iraq. He's the utter captive of the lunatic religious right, and the summary of his record on key issues is appalling. From gay bashing homophobia to attacking teachers to advocating the privatization of Social Security, he's atrocious, as radical as almost any right wing member of Congress gets. He also has an utterly lousy record on helping disabled veterans, supporting them only 13% of the time on key votes. These things alone would merit his political destruction. But what really astonishes me is his connection to one of the most vicious mass murderers in the history of our hemisphere: his father in law, the notorious Guatemalan right wing criminal José Efraín Ríos Montt. Here's Rios-Montt's record:

1982 - On 23 March, after Romeo Lucas García has been deposed as president in a military coup, Ríos Montt is asked by the coup leaders to take control of the country. A three-member junta is formed, with Ríos Montt as its head, the constitution annulled, parliament dissolved, political parties suspended, and the election law cancelled.

Ríos Montt promises that the junta will "end corruption, guarantee respect for human rights and revitalise our institutions". Guatemalans and the international community initially welcome the coup, hoping it will herald a more humane and less corrupt regime.

However, the various guerrilla factions, united under the banner of Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), denounce the Ríos Montt junta and step up the attacks.
In April the junta passes the 'National Plan for Security and Development', which identifies the main regions of conflict. A state of siege is declared as the junta and military high command prepare to expand the army's anti-guerrilla activities in the countryside.

On 20 April the junta and military high command officially launch operation 'Victoria 82' (Victory 82), a "scorched earth" military campaign designed to destroy the support base of the guerrillas. The campaign makes no distinction between guerrilla combatants and the mainly Mayan civilian population in the targeted areas, inducing widespread terror.

On 8 June Ríos Montt disbands the junta and assumes the presidency, ruling as a dictator. He also acts as minister of defence until 31 August. In October Ríos Montt orders the 'Archivos' intelligence unit to apprehend, hold, interrogate and dispose of suspected guerrillas as they see fit.

The 14 months of Ríos Montt's rule become the bloodiest in Guatemala's history since the invasion of the country by the Spanish some 400 years earlier. Mayans suspected of sympathising with the guerillas suffer mass killings and atrocities, including the rape of women and girls, and the widespread use of torture. Over 400 Mayan villages are razed. Crops and livestock are destroyed. The insurgency is contained but with a tragic human cost.

As the terror reigns, Ríos Montt broadcasts weekly sermons on morality. His regime and policies are supported by the US Government and US-based, right-wing religious groups. US President Ronald Reagan is reported as saying that Ríos Montt is "a man of great personal integrity" who is "getting a bum rap on human rights".

1983 - The state of siege in Guatemala is lifted, political activity is once again allowed and elections scheduled. The US reinstates military training assistance in January, authorising the sale of US$6 million of military hardware. However, on 8 August Ríos Montt is ousted in another military coup.

It is estimated that during the period of Ríos Montt's rule about 70,000 civilians have been killed or "disappeared". During the period 1981 to 1983 about 100,000 have been killed or "disappeared" and between 500,000 and 1.5 million displaced, fleeing to other regions within the country or seeking safety abroad.

"When I arrived in the government, we began a change in the state," Ríos Montt later says. "We realised that it shouldn't be the state of a single boss, the state of a regent, the state of a king, but a state that guarantees the rule of law, a state that serves."

Referring to the genocide that occurred during his rule, he says, "I can't deny anything, nor can I corroborate or prove anything. I'm at an impasse. ... If there is proof that shows that I am responsible, then I'm going to wind up a prisoner, because I do not want by any means to evade my responsibility."

1985 - The Guatemalan Government passes a new constitution. The document includes a provision forbidding former dictators and those who participated in coups from standing as presidential candidates.

1987- Guatemala begins to move towards peace when representatives of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) and the government establish a dialogue during a meeting in Spain. The government also creates the National Reconciliation Commission. However, both sides continue to engage in armed actions.

1991 - Jorge Serrano Elías, a right-wing businessman and close ally to Ríos Montt is elected president in January. Ríos Montt had wanted to run for the post but is prevented by the constitutional ban preventing former dictators from standing as presidential candidates.
1992 - Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples".

Meanwhile, in October the government and representatives of Guatemala's large exiled population sign an agreement defining the conditions for their collective return from Mexico. The first group of refugees returns on 20 January the following year.

1994 - UN-moderated peace talks begin between the Guatemalan Government and the URNG. An early outcome is the signing of an accord to establish a Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) in order "to clarify with objectivity, equity and impartiality, the human rights violations and acts of violence connected with the armed confrontation that caused suffering among the Guatemalan people".

In August a new parliament is elected in Guatemala. It is controlled by the right-wing Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG - Guatemalan Republican Front), headed by Ríos Montt, and the centre-right National Advancement Party (PAN).

1995 - The URNG declares a cease-fire. In April the Guatemalan Government and the URNG sign the 'Accord on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples' acknowledging that the issue "of identity and rights of the indigenous peoples constitutes a point of fundamental and historic importance for the present and future of Guatemala."

The indigenous peoples "have been particularly subjected to levels of factual discrimination, exploitation and injustice because of their origin, culture and language ... and suffer unequal and unjust treatment," the accord says.

The accord commits the government to act to end civil rights abuses against the indigenous population by recognising ethnic discrimination as a crime, publicising the rights of the indigenous peoples through education, the media and other means, and opening the legal system to indigenous communities.

The government will also sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples being developed by the UN and implement constitutional reforms to establish indigenous cultural and linguistic rights. Communities will be given the right to "change the name of places where they live, when it be so decided by the majority of its members".

However, the accord will not take effect until a final peace pact is signed. The accord also fails to meet Indian and URNG demands for ancestral territory, local political autonomy and measures to alleviate the extreme poverty of Indian groups.

On 23 June the government and the URNG chart the road to lasting peace when they sign the 'Accord of Oslo'. The accord outlines measures for widespread social reforms, including the drafting and approval of a national reconciliation law, and activates the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH).

The commission has the backing of the UN as well as governments from around the world and international non-government organisations. It will spend four years interviewing survivors and identifying and examining gravesites. It will receive thousands of testimonies, speak to former heads of state and the high command of both the army and the guerrillas, and read thousands of pages of documents submitted by non-government organisations. It hopes that by establishing the truth of the violence committed during the civil war it will aid the process of reconciliation.
Meanwhile, Ríos Montt again tries to run for the national presidency but is again prevented by the law forbidding former dictators and those who participated in coups from standing as candidates.

1996 - Peace comes at last on 29 December when the URNG and government sign the 'Accord for Firm and Lasting Peace', ending the 34-year civil war, the longest in Latin America's modern history. The Civilian Civil Self-defence Patrols are disbanded. The National Police is disbanded in 1997.

1998 - Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera presents the Roman Catholic Church's Recovery of Historical Memory ('Never Again') Report detailing the Guatemalan Army's involvement in the atrocities of the civil war. The report attributes about 90% of human rights violations committed during the conflict to the state forces. Two days later, on 26 April, the bishop is beaten to death.
In 2001 three army officers and a Roman Catholic priest are brought to trial for the murder. Despite intimidation of prosecutors, witnesses and judges involved in the case the three are convicted. The officers are sentenced to 30 years jail each. The priest receives a 20-year sentence. The identities of those responsible for issuing the order to kill the bishop are never revealed.

Ríos Montt is meanwhile reelected for a third term as head of the FRG on 19 June 1998.
On 29 December, the president of Guatemala asks for forgiveness for the human rights violations committed by the military and its operatives during the civil war. The call follows a more limited appeal for forgiveness made by the URNG on 19 February.

Also during the year, US President Bill Clinton publicly apologises for his country's support of Guatemala's past regimes.

1999 - In May the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) hands down its report. Titled 'Memory of Silence', the report finds that the army and the Civilian Civil Self-defence Patrols were responsible for 93% of the human rights abuses documented by the CEH, including 92% of the arbitrary executions and 91% of "forced disappearances". Eighty-five percent of all abuses are attributable to the army, and 18% to the patrols.

The guerrilla groups are held responsible for 3% of the human rights abuses, including 5% of the arbitrary executions and 2% of forced disappearances.

Of all the violations documented by the CEH, 91% were committed during the years 1978 to 1984.

"The majority of human rights violations occurred with the knowledge or by order of the highest authorities of the state," the report states.

"In consequence, the CEH concludes that agents of the state of Guatemala, within the framework of counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people which lived in the four regions analysed."

The report documents 42,275 victims of human rights violations and acts of violence connected with the civil war, including 23,671 victims of arbitrary execution and 6,159 victims of forced disappearance. Eighty-three percent of the identified victims are Mayan, and 17% are Ladino (people of European decent). According to the CEH, these figures "are only a sample of the human rights violations and acts of violence connected with the armed confrontation".

Weller married in November 2004, after winning his sixth term. You can check out the biography of his wife here. An excerpt:

In 2003, Zury Ríos Montt was accused of being one of the organizers of Guatemala's jueves negro ("Black Thursday"). [12] In mid-2003, the FRG was again trying to get General Ríos Montt on to the presidential ticket, arguing that applying the constitutional ban preventing former coup leaders from seeking the presidency should not apply to him in accordance with the principle of nonretroactive application of the law: his 1982 coup d'état preceded the enactment of the 1985 Constitution. After a series of court decisions ruling alternately that he could or could not run, culminating with a 21 July 2003 ruling by the Supreme Court suspending his candidacy, on Thursday, 24 July 2003 FRG officials and supporters led a mass demonstration in Guatemala City to protest his disqualification. The demonstration degenerated into a bloody riot that left one man dead (journalist Héctor Fernando Ramírez); it was, however, perceived as having been successful in getting General Ríos Montt's name on the presidential ballot when, a week later, the Constitutional Court overturned the Supreme Court's ban.

Although General Ríos Montt ultimately lost the November 2003 election, he enjoyed his daughter's full support. Zury Ríos accompanied her father on his campaign trail, generally introducing him, in highly favorable terms, before he addressed his rallies. She was quoted in the press as saying, "my father is my inspiration."

What makes all of this even more outrageous is that Weller is vice chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. As such, he is in a position to reward Guatemala's ruling classes:

In January 2005 Weller became vice chairman of the western hemisphere subcommittee, by far the most important committee in Congress writing legislation on Latin America and the war on drugs and overseeing U.S. policy on those issues. "The western hemisphere subcommittee has been one of the only ones overseeing U.S. drug policy, and it has been the main one making U.S. drug policy," says Adam Isacson of the watchdog group Center for International Policy. "It has huge influence." The 16-member committee also focuses on trade and democracy in the region. Weller often talks about these issues as they relate to Caribbean and Latin American countries--but not Guatemala, even though it has 12.7 million people, a third of the population of Central America. He voted for CAFTA, the free-trade agreement that includes Guatemala, but he doesn't talk about specific trade possibilities with that country. He also doesn't talk about democracy in Guatemala, which is fragile at best, and he doesn't talk about money laundering or drug trafficking there, even though up to 70 percent of the drugs that enter the U.S. come through Guatemala. [Emphasis added] All of which raises questions about whether he's doing everything he can to address the concerns of his constituents. He's painted himself into a corner, and he seems to be making no effort to get out.

Sickening. Absolutely sickening. Weller is one of the worst Republicans in the country, so naturally he has the enthusiastic support of every corporate interest to which he has sold out. (Tragically, he has some minor support from some misguided unions as well.) He has a formidable financial advantage over his opponent, John Pavich and an overwhelming advantage in cash on hand. (Note that 61% of Weller's of money comes from PACs, as opposed to 14% for Pavich.) And some of Weller's money has an interesting source. From the DCCC stakeholder:

U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller accepted a campaign contribution from the owner of a phone-sex operation, his election opponent's campaign reported Thursday. A Weller spokesman acknowledged the donation, but downplayed its significance.

With just more than two months until the Nov. 7 general election, the 11th Congressional District race is heating up between six-term incumbent Weller, a Morris Republican, and former CIA intelligence officer John Pavich, a Beecher Democrat.

Pavich's office issued a press release stating Weller accepted contributions from Jeffrey Prosser, a "phone sex operator" in April 2005. The statement alleges Prosser paid Weller because Weller went to Belize and attempted to reverse the seizure of a Belizean telephone company Prosser owned. Weller's office says the trip was related to his work and was not personal.

"It now appears that Mr. Weller will accept cash from anyone and will pay it back tenfold," said Pavich's campaign manager, Matt Pavich. "I guess that if the voters of the 11th (District) want representation from this congressman, they better pay up first."

Folks, John Pavich needs your help!! Check out his campaign web page here. And make a contribution, if you can, to John's campaign by going here. My district, where 3 out 5 people disapprove of Bush, shouldn't be represented by someone as low and disreputable as Jerry Weller. We need your help. I know many people are asking for your support. But anything you could do would be appreciated.

Do it for our country. Do it for our future.

And do it for the 70,000 people killed by Jerry's father in law, the Butcher of Guatemala

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