Looking for help on immigration, the Trump administration is silent in the face of Guatemala’s effort to seal its dirty war archive.
With the quiet acquiescence of the Trump administration, the Guatemalan government is threatening to bar access to a collection of national archives that have been at the core of various attempts to prosecute Guatemalan politicians and officers responsible for some of Latin America’s most heinous atrocities.
The move to suppress the archives is part of a larger campaign by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, who faces allegations of receiving illicit campaign funds, to undercut the rule of law through the purge of judges, police officials, and archivists who have been at the forefront of Guatemala’s effort to investigate corruption, narcotrafficking, and war crimes, according to foreign diplomats and independent experts.
But senior U.S. officials in Washington and Guatemala City have rebuffed appeals from working-level staffers and foreign diplomats to publicly challenge Guatemala’s action. And U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which is seeking Guatemala’s help in stemming the flow of asylum-seekers and refugees into the United States, has remained largely silent over these developments.
One U.S. official said that America’s reluctance to confront Guatemala is part of a crude unwritten bargain between Morales’s government and the Trump administration: “They promise not to let brown people into the country, and we let them get away with everything else,” the official said.
The “assault on the police archive [is part of a] broader attack against human rights, justice, and anti-corruption efforts,” said Kate Doyle, a researcher at the National Security Archive and an expert on the Guatemalan archives. “The U.S. is saying nothing. The U.S. Embassy has been incredibly absent on these issues. They are not doing anything.”
In the latest sign of U.S. reluctance to challenge Guatemala on human rights, Kimberly Breier, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, blocked the release of a public statement in early June that would have urged Guatemala to back down on its effort to restrict access to the archives.
“These archives are an essential source of information to clarify and understand critical historical truths from Guatemala’s history,” reads the statement obtained by Foreign Policy, which was suppressed in June. “Access to the archives by historians, victims of abuse recorded in these archives and their families, the public, and the international community, has furthered Guatemala’s progress towards accountability, justice, truth and reconciliation.”
Foreign Policy sought a response from the Trump administration last Wednesday. The State Department did not respond until nearly an hour and half after this article was published Tuesday.
“The United States strongly supports continued public access to the Historical Archive of the National Police,” according to a statement from a spokesperson from the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs. The Tuesday statement included the two sentence cited by Foreign Policy in the suppressed statement.
The initial decision to block the statement—which had been approved by the State Department press office, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, and several other key bureaus—came as the United States was engaged in sensitive negotiations on a so-called safe third country agreement, which would commit Guatemala to process political asylum claims from foreigners, particularly from El Salvador and Honduras, who cross its border in transit to the United States. “My understanding is Kim Breier killed this because she didn’t want to do anything that would piss off the Guatemalans,” said one congressional aide.
During the past two decades, the United States has invested in efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Guatemala,
- funding a United Nations commission that investigates corruption and illicit activities by armed groups,
- strengthening the judiciary, and
- training and equipping police units with expertise in counternarcotics and corruption.
- The United States has spent millions of dollars over the years to preserve the police archives, including through the provision of document scanners and the funding of a digitized archive maintained by scholars at the University of Texas at Austin.
Guatemala’s bloody 36-year-long civil war resulted in the deaths of about 200,000 people, mostly at the hands of the Guatemalan security forces. A 1996 U.N.-brokered peace agreement paved the way for the return of exiled rebels, established a new national police force, and pried open the door to the prospect of public reckoning for crimes committed during the war. The Guatemalan military and police resisted, denying that they had preserved detailed records of their activities during the conflict. But in 2005, more than 80 million documents and records, dating from 1882 to 1997, were discovered in seven rat-infested rooms at an unused hospital building in Guatemala City owned by Guatemala’s now-defunct National Police.
Since then, the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive has helped convict more than 30 military officers, soldiers and paramilitaries, including a former presidential chief of staff, Manuel Callejas y Callejas, convicted of crimes against humanity, and Guatemala’s late dictator, Gen. Rios Montt—who was found guilty in 2013 of genocide for overseeing mass atrocities in the early 1980s — though his conviction was later overturned by Guatemala’s constitutional court.
The archive has proved a valuable resource for U.S. law enforcement. The Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have used the archive to identify Guatemalan rights abusers living in the United States.
But the management of the archives has long infuriated some of those in Guatemala’s most powerful business and security sectors, who believed that it has been used as a tool of the left to gain revenge against their former enemies. They have cited the role of the archive’s former director, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, a former guerrilla leader who has recruited staff from the country’s left wing to run the archives. In August 2018, the U.N. Development Program, which has helped administer the archive program since 2008, abruptly dismissed Meoño Brenner. He has since fled the country, following death threats.
The move to restrict archive access is only one element of a wider effort to defang justice institutions in Guatemala. In September, a landmark U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG—whose corruption investigations landed a Guatemalan president and vice president in jail will shutter its office.
The demise of the commission, which had also exposed alleged illegal campaign contributions in Morales’s 2015 presidential campaign, came after a two-year-long effort by the president and his allies, including sympathetic Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials in Washington, to undermine it. Pro-military lawmakers in the Guatemalan Congress, meanwhile, have been pressing to pass an amnesty law that would result in the release of dozens of military officers and death squad leaders from jail. That effort has been stalled by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.
The effort to suppress the archives is being spearheaded by Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, a popular figure in Washington, who has represented Guatemala in the safe third country negotiations.
In a May 27 press conference, Degenhart announced that his office and Guatemala’s National Civil Police would seek greater control of the archive. He also threatened to limit access to the archives by foreign institutions, an apparent reference to the University of Texas at Austin, which has assembled a massive digitized version of a large portion of the police archive. “You can’t allow foreign institutions to have the complete archives,” Degenhart told reporters.
In response, the U.N. and other foreign envoys invited the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Arreaga, to join ambassadors from several other countries, including Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, on a visit to the archive to voice opposition to granting police greater control over the archives. Arreaga declined. The spokesperson from the State Department Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs declined to comment on whether Arreaga declined the invitation.
In Washington, State Department officials sought support within the administration for a public statement that would place the United States squarely on the side of those seeking to preserve broad public access to the archives.
“The message [Guatemalan authorities] are getting is we don’t care what you do as long as you do everything in your power to prevent” foreigners from reaching the U.S. border, said Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat who was born in Guatemala. If that requires “supporting a corrupt government, that is what [the Trump administration] is going to do.”
Public messaging and statements from U.S. envoys and the State Department can have an outsized political impact in Central America, former diplomats say. “It’s astonishing how important the U.S. voice is in terms of journalists, human rights defenders, civil society … in this region,” said Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. “There are clearly things that governments would do, actions it would take, but for the U.S. watching and speaking out,” she said.
The lack of response, according to diplomats, emboldened Guatemala to ratchet up its campaign against the archives.
In early July, the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports informed the U.N. Development Program, which administers the archive budget on behalf of foreign donors, that it would take over full management of the archives, raising questions about its financial viability. The U.N., which pays staff salaries, was forced to lay off the archives researchers and archivists.
On July 10, Guatemala fired its chief national archivist, Anna Carla Ericastilla, on the grounds that she provided access to foreign institutions, including the University of Texas, and improperly raised funds from donors to pay salaries to archivists.
Degenhart, meanwhile, has overseen a massive purge of Guatemala’s reformed police force after being named interior minister in January 2018. The following month, he fired the director of the National Civil Police, Nery Ramos, along with three other top cops. All told, Degenhart fired some 25 ranking officers and more than 100 agents, including 20 of the 45 police agents assigned to work with the U.N. anti-corruption office.
Guatemalans “have observed a systematic process of dismantling the National Civil Police, ordered by the interior minister himself, who seems determined to destroy 20 years of progress,” according to an August 2018 study by the Forum of Civil Society Organizations Specializing in Security, or FOSS.
The fate of the archive has become inextricably linked to the White House immigration policy.
The threat to curtail access to the archives came on the same day that Degenhart had signed an agreement with Kevin McAleenan, the acting U.S. secretary of homeland security, for the deployment of 89 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection in Guatemala to help stem the flow of refugees through the country. It also coincided with the Trump administration’s negotiation of a safe third party agreement with Degenhart.
Trump in March ordered all U.S. aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to be cut until they drastically reduced the number of migrants traveling north through Mexico to attempt to enter the United States. Critics, including both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, said the move would only exacerbate the migration crisis, as U.S. assistance helped address root causes of instability that caused people to flee north.
In June, the State Department announced it would release $432 million of the $615 million in aid to Central America, but it warned that new funding would not be released until the Northern Triangle governments took more steps to address migration.
Last week, the Trump administration announced that it had reached agreement on the safe third country pact, which would commit Guatemala to processing political asylum claims from migrants who cross its border in transit to the United States. The U.S. has yet to publish a copy of the pact, leading to speculation about what the deal actually entails.
Still, the move has raised concern about the constitutionality of the agreement. Guatemala’s constitutional court has already asserted that such an agreement would require approval by the Guatemalan Congress. Democratic lawmakers and other activists have criticized the move and vowed to fight it in courts. Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it is “cruel and immoral. It is also illegal.”
“Simply put, Guatemala is not a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers, as the law requires,” Engel said in a statement released on July 26, after the Trump administration and Guatemalan government signed the agreement.
Ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos wasn’t helpful to the special counsel’s investigation, hurt investigators’ efforts to detain a Russian intermediary and should face at least one month in prison, special counsel Robert Mueller said in a filing late Friday.
.. Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors said Mr. Papadopoulos’s lies hurt investigators’ ability to “effectively question” the professor, Joseph Mifsud, who has been previously described as an honorary director of the London Academy of Diplomacy.
Mr. Papadopoulos admitted he lied about the timing of his meeting with Mr. Mifsud and played down his own assessment of Mr. Mifsud’s connections to high-ranking Russian officials, according to documents filed in connection with Mr. Papadopoulos’s plea agreement.
.. The filing said the FBI located the professor in Washington soon after Mr. Papadopoulos’s January 2017 interview with FBI agents, but didn’t detain or challenge the professor before he left the country on February 11, 2017, because Mr. Papadopoulos had lied to the FBI about him.
“The defendant lied…early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made,” prosecutors said in the filing.
An FBI agent told him at the voluntary interview: “The only thing, we don’t want dis-information” because that would “make…our job a lot harder,” Mr. Mueller’s office said.
.. “The defendant did not provide ‘substantial assistance,’ and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information,” Mr. Mueller’s team said.
.. “the record shows” that he was “attempting to secure a job with the Trump Administration” at the time of the interview and “had an incentive to protect the Administration and minimize his own role as a witness.”.. They cite communications Mr. Papadopoulos had in which he sought to obtain a position with the National Security Council, the State Department or the Energy Department.
The fact is, establishing the outlines of a “grand bargain” has never been the hard part. Indeed, the George W. Bush administration negotiated a joint statement in 2005 containing some of the key elements. The hard part has always been nailing down the specifics and enforcing them. Trump and Kim would just leave that to their respective teams, a process that would inevitably involve years of motion with little movement, and ample opportunities for deadlock, breakdown and North Korean cheating.
.. Trump’s supporters, starting with Fox News, would rapturously applaud the outcome, without pausing to remember that they relentlessly attacked President Barack Obama for far more rigorous agreements. Trump’s critics would undoubtedly temper their opposition, because the alternative is catastrophic war. And while Bolton would hate this approach under a different president, he may like the politics of it for Trump for now — and figure that he can press for military action later.
But here’s the rub: There is a real risk that this kind of outcome would work much more to Pyongyang’s advantage than Washington’s.
.. Our partners would take their foot off the sanctions gas, even if our concessions were meant to come later. After a grand, but premature, Trump announcement that he has “solved” the North Korea nuclear issue, South Korea would naturally accelerate its engagement with the North, including its economic ties. China, fearing that U.S.-North Korean engagement would weaken its hand, would scramble (even more than it already has) to offer incentives to increase Beijing’s influence with Kim.
.. we might not even get the full benefits of a freeze on North Korea’s capability. We know North Korea has a history of promising big and then working in secret to advance its program.
.. And since the Trump administration has deliberately degraded our diplomatic capacity and nonproliferation expertise — and Trump won’t be paying attention to what happens after the cameras are turned off — Pyongyang would enjoy an advantage in the period following a summit.
.. North Korea, in this scenario, would be implementing a new version of its old playbook: Make a series of promises in exchange for economic breathing room — and break them later. This could easily raise the risk of war in the medium term.
.. It’s an argument against approaching the summit with politics and pageantry in mind, rather than hardheaded practical concerns.
.. Congress should press Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing for secretary of state to acknowledge these risks and account for how he would intend to deal with them
.. Trump won’t be thinking about the risks, only about the political reward. It is up to the rest of us to hold him accountable to deal with the reality
Mike Pompeo went further than many members of his own party in blaming Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, and President Barack Obama’s administration for the deaths of four Americans.
His outspokenness was a key reason he gained favor with Trump.
.. some members of Trump’s team chose him because another potential contender, former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), was seen as too “soft” on the Benghazi issue.
.. The 2012 incident, they wrote, was “the story of a State Department seemingly more concerned with politics and Secretary Clinton’s legacy than with protecting its people in Benghazi.”
“And it is the story of an administration so focused on the next election that it lost sight of its duty to tell the American people the truth about what had happened that night,” they added in their report, which came out just a few months before the presidential election in which Clinton was running... Republicans like Pompeo argued that top members of the Obama administration
- ignored warnings about the danger of the situation,
- refused to call in military help during the attack and then
- tried to cover up what happened.But the independent investigations into the matter concluded that while there were systemic failures, Clinton herself was not personally responsible or deliberately reckless.
Pompeo, however, said the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi was “worse in some ways” than Richard Nixon’s response to Watergate. He also pushed a conspiracy theory about how Clinton supposedly received her intelligence about the attack... Pompeo will have a tough road to climb at the State Department after his role in the Benghazi investigation... “For all of the Republican fulminating about Benghazi, Rex Tillerson refused to meet one on one with his head of diplomatic security and did not nominate ambassadors, who are the officials ultimately responsible for the safety and security of our personnel overseas,” she said. “The bar for any secretary of State is understandably extremely high and, when it comes to Pompeo, will be even higher due to the role he played in politicizing a real national tragedy.”
dwell for a moment on the awfulness of Tillerson.
He came to office with no discernible worldview other than the jaded transactionalism he acquired as ExxonMobil’s C.E.O. He leaves office with no discernible accomplishment except a broken department and a traumatized staff.
Six of the 10 top positions at State are vacant; even now the United States does not have an ambassador to South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa or the European Union, among other posts.
.. he did seem to figure out that Vladimir Putin is a bad guy. But that’s progress only because he was previously the Russian despot’s premier apologist.
.. he opposed the president’s two best foreign policy decisions: moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and decertifying the Iran deal.
.. Some secretaries of state — Colin Powell, for instance — alienate their bosses by siding with the bureaucracy. Others, like Henry Kissinger, do the opposite. Tillerson is the rare bird who managed to do both.
.. unlike Tillerson, he will have credibility with foreign governments. Just as importantly, he’s been willing to contradict the president, meaning he’ll be able to act as a check on him, too.
Trump isn’t going to be disciplined by someone whose views are dovish or establishmentarian. But he might listen to, and be tempered by, a responsible hawk.
.. The notion that Kim Jong-un is going to abandon his nuclear arsenal is risible. What, other than reunification of Korea on Pyongyang’s terms, would Kim exchange his arsenal for?
Equally risible is the idea that his regime will ever abide by the terms of a deal. North Korea violates every agreement it signs.
.. might strike it at South Korea’s and perhaps Japan’s expense. This president has never been particularly fond of our two closest Asian allies, much less of the cost to the United States of aiding in their defense.
.. The promise of Pompeo is that he can provide ballast against some of Trump’s other gusts, particularly when it comes to the Kremlin.
- On Syria, he dismisses the possibility of a collaborative relationship with Russia.
- On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he insists, “America has an obligation to push back.”
- On WikiLeaks, he calls it a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”
- On Russian interference in the U.S. election, he acknowledges it as incontrovertible fact and warns of the “Gerasimov doctrine” — the Russian conviction that it can use disinformation to win a bloodless war with the West.
.. If the thought that Putin has strings to pull with this president alarms you, Pompeo’s presence should be reassuring. However much you might otherwise disagree with him, the guy who graduated first in his class from West Point is not a Russian stooge.
.. he’d be smart to model his behavior on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the administration’s one undisputed star, who thrives in his job because he’s plainly not afraid of losing it, much less of speaking his mind.
2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail.
Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes.
Such signals serve as public commitments, both to the other side of the negotiation and to citizens back home. It’s a way for both sides to test one another’s demands and offers, reducing the risk of surprise or embarrassment.
.. North Korea has not publicly committed to anything. It has, quite cannily, channeled its public communications through South Korea, making it easier to renege.
.. Mr. Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away.
The table is now set in such a way that virtually any outcome is a win for North Korea, but only a very narrow and difficult range of outcomes will save the United States from an embarrassing failure.
The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin.
3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking.
.. “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea.
.. North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons.
Normally, the United States and North Korea would have issued months, even years, of public statements on their goals for direct talks, to clear all this up.
.. 4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward.
It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work.Instead, the Trump administration is jumping straight to the last step.
.. There is little obvious gain in skipping over a process that is intended to lock North Korea into public commitments, test what is achievable and ensure maximum American leverage and flexibility.
.. “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.”
.. 5. The State Department is in a shambles.
Wouldn’t this be a good moment to have an American ambassador to South Korea? Or an under secretary of state for arms control and international security?
Both posts are empty. The desk for assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs is occupied by a respected but interim official who has clashed with the White House. Her boss, the under secretary for political affairs, is retiring.
.. There will be fewer high-level diplomats to run parallel talks, fewer midlevel officials to assist and brief the president, fewer analysts to feel out North Korean intentions and capabilities.
.. conventional wisdom among analysts, as summed up by The Economist, is that “Mr. Trump — a man who boasts about his television ratings, and who is bored by briefings and scornful of foreign alliances — could end up being played like a gold-plated violin.”
.. 6. Everything could turn on the president’s personality.
.. It means that talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Mr. Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation.
.. Mr. Kelly expressed concern over Mr. Trump’s “chaotic management style, erratic, moody personality and chronic staffing problems.”
He added, “That’s not ideology talking. I am a registered Republican and worked once for a G.O.P. congressman.”
- .. He has tended to oscillate unpredictably between policies, throwing talks over the budget or health care into chaos.
- He has set members of his own party against one another, weakening their position against Democrats. And
- he has offered the Democrats sweeping concessions on a whim, to the surprise of his party.
.. When legislative efforts have stalled, Mr. Trump has at times lashed out. In domestic politics, that can mean publicly denigrating his target or pressuring them to resign. In a heavily militarized standoff between nuclear powers, the stakes would be higher.
.. 7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory.
.. For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Mr. Kim seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage.
.. “Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote on Twitter. “Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”
Pointing to Trump’s management style, one informal adviser said the president is loath to fire aides outright and instead prefers to publicly humiliate them, hoping they decide to quit on their own. Later, he often tries to repair the relationship — a pattern that played out with several senior advisers, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
.. Tillerson, 65, has alienated onetime allies at the White House and his underlings at the State Department with what many call a highhanded and tone-deaf manner.
.. Vice President Pence and his staff had also come to believe that Tillerson was ineffective as the chief diplomat and had further undermined his standing by being disrespectful to Trump.
Pence was particularly upset when Tillerson’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, told NBC that the vice president raised questions about the role of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the administration — a claim Hammond later recanted.
.. Tillerson’s likely successor for a time appeared to be Haley, a Republican former governor from South Carolina who has clashed with Tillerson. Over the past several weeks, however, Haley and White House officials had signaled that she was not likely to be chosen, in part because she is seen as not yet seasoned enough. Haley insisted last month that she does not want the job and would reject it if offered.
.. Tillerson’s main project, a downsizing and streamlining of the State Department bureaucracy, has drawn widespread criticism on Capitol Hill, from leading congressional Republicans and from Democrats. Tillerson has been frustrated by the slow pace and inefficiency of government, as well as what he has complained to friends is a culture of backstabbing and self-aggrandizement.