Trump’s Administration Used to Fight Corruption in Guatemala. Then Guatemala Moved Its Embassy to Jerusalem

For a decade, the United States backed an international body investigating corruption in Guatemala. Now experts are asking why the White House is silent as the country’s president, Jimmy Morales, wages war on the panel

In May, Guatemala became the first country in the world to follow in the Trump administration’s footsteps and move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The White House promised at the time that it would reward the small Latin American country for its decision. Could that reward come in the form of turning a blind eye to attacks by Guatemala’s president on an international anti-corruption body?

Experts and former U.S. officials see a possible link between Guatemala’s decision to move the embassy and the Trump administration’s change of policy with regards to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a U.N.-supported panel that has uncovered vast corruption scandals in the country.

The administration, according to experts on U.S. policy in Latin America, is looking the other way while Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales tries to dismantle CICIG by sending military forces to its local office and barring the panel’s head, Iván Velásquez, from entering the country.

The American position on this issue has shifted dramatically – not just in comparison to how the Bush and Obama administrations treated it, but also in comparison to how the Trump administration treated it just last summer,” said Benjamin Gedan, an expert on Latin America at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Gedan said he has no direct knowledge of a connection between Guatemala’s policy on Jerusalem and Trump’s policy on the Latin American state. He notes, though, that “this seems like a possible explanation. The change in American policy on CICIG makes no sense.”

The Guatemalan government has accused CICIG of being a “super-national entity that dictates to governments how to exercise their duties” on behalf of the UN. An article in The Economist called this accusation “flimsy”.

He mentioned another possible explanation: That, unlike other Latin American countries, Guatemala has not cozied up to China and continues to hold diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
CICIG was established in 2007 with the strong backing of the George W. Bush administration. “Fighting corruption in politics is an urgent need in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America,” said Gedan, who worked on Latin America policy in the Obama White House. Over the past decade, he added, the panel has contributed to the downfall of a number of senior politicians in Guatemala, including the country’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina. He is currently in detention and awaits trial on corruption charges.

Molina was replaced in 2016 by Morales, who was a comedian prior to entering politics. Over the past year, Morales has been showing an increasing level of hostility toward CICIG, probably as a result of an investigation regarding his campaign finances. The panel is looking into allegations that Morales’ party received more than $1 million of illegal campaign donations in the 2015 election, according to a report last week in The Washington Post.

Morales’ attacks on CICIG first surfaced in the summer of 2017 when he tried to expel Velásquez from the country and get him replaced. The Trump administration reacted quickly and forcefully, signaling to Morales that the United States had the anti-corruption body’s back.

This was not the first time a U.S. administration thwarted attempts by the Guatemalan government to weaken CICIG. Under the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden at one point threatened to cancel all U.S. aid to Guatemala, in light of attempts by the country’s previous president, Molina, to shut down the panel’s investigations.

“When you compare those past responses to how the Trump administration is reacting to Morales’ current attack on CICIG, there truly is no good explanation for what they are doing,” said Gedan.

Morales announced last week he was shutting down the panel and barring Velásquez from entering Guatemala. He also sent military forces, driving U.S.-manufactured vehicles, to CICIG’s offices. While the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala released a statement expressing support for CICIG’s work, the statement did not include direct criticism of Morales’ actions.

On September 6, at the height of Morales’ attacks on CICIG, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to the Guatemalan president over the phone. The State Department readout of the conversationcontained no criticism of Morales’ actions. Instead, it opened by stating that Pompeo “reiterated the United States’ support for Guatemalan sovereignty.”

According to the readout, Pompeo “expressed continued support of the United States for a reformed CICIG and committed to continue working with Guatemala on implementing the reforms in the coming year.”

A former senior U.S. official who worked on Latin America policy told Haaretz that this statement was “a huge achievement” for Morales in his fight against CICIG.

The former official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “Pompeo basically told Morales that America had his back, and that CICIG is viewed as a problematic organization that needs to go through reforms. The fact that the readout included no mention of Morales’ aggressive steps against CICIG is a sad capitulation to violence, and it sends a message that has already been received by other leaders in the region,” the official added.

“Since 2007, across the Bush and Obama administrations, and in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, a bipartisan commitment to CICIG has been a fundamental element of our foreign policy,” the legislators wrote in their letter. They also mentioned Morales’ use of U.S.-manufactured military vehicles against CICIG, writing that “such a gesture is unacceptable and does not comply with the purpose for which the United States donated the vehicles.”

It should be noted that all four lawmakers are considered strong supporters of Israel. This could indicate that, on the congressional level at least, Guatemala’s decision on Jerusalem has not affected, so far, their response to Morales’ attacks on his own investigators.

Flight on Adelson’s private jet

Morales may be losing popularity on Capitol Hill, but there are other places where he still enjoys support and appreciation. One such place is Jerusalem.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement congratulating Guatemala on its Independence Day, personally applauding Morales for his leadership.

Morales is also popular in pro-Israel circles in the United States. Last May, for example, when Morales visited Israel to celebrate the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, gambling tycoon and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson let Guatemala’s government use his personal Boeing 767 aircraft for the journey. The plane carried government officials and other guests, according to a statement by Guatemala’s foreign minister.

Morales also spoke in March at the annual conference of the AIPAC pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, where he received a warm welcome from thousands of participants. An AIPAC official told Haaretz that it was not doing anything to help Morales push back against the current criticism he is facing in Congress. “We are not involved,” the official said.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington also said it was not aiding Guatemala on Capitol Hill or with the Trump administration.

But perhaps Morales doesn’t need any help. Hector Silva Avalos, a journalist and former diplomat who has written extensively on corruption in Latin America, wrote in InSight Crime last week that “mixed messages from Washington have left the door open for Morales to strengthen his fight against the institutions investigating him for alleged illicit campaign financing.”

Avalos added that “with several Trump administration officials in his corner, Jimmy Morales has the advantage in his battle against CICIG.”

Trump’s short-term achievements will cost conservatives

Amos went to Israel at a time of great prosperity to tell the nation God would destroy it for failing to care for its widows, its poor, its orphans and its refugees.

Everyone looked around at the success, riches, and plenty and mocked the prophet.

.. ch, and it has become far easier for conservatives to turn a blind eye to injustices than speak up.

.. More and more conservatives are modeling Trump’s bad behaviors. His vulgarity, his thin skin, his willingness to insult and demean, and his willingness to degrade his office are now reflected in conservative political leaders who increasingly see their goal as beating the other side instead of advancing ideas and sound public policy.

.. The party of small government is perfectly happy to grow government as long as Trump is spending the money. The party of limited government is perfectly happy to have a powerful chief executive as long as Trump is wielding the power. Trump and his supporters have also doubled-down on unwise precedents set by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama investigated leaks to reporters such as James Rosen; Trump now seems to revel in the idea of shutting down whole networks whose coverage he hates. Republicans who decried the left’s hostility to free speech in the Obama years now champion censorship of their opponents.

.. It is safe to say many of the president’s supporters have concluded that arguments and debates no longer work, so they will take what they can get as quickly as they can before the tide rolls in and washes this administration away.

.. The short-term gains of this administration, like those of the last, are being achieved by executive order and appointment. So too then can the gains of this administration be wiped out as easily as those of the last.

.. There will always be partisans on the left who hate anything those on the right do. But they are not who conservatives have to worry about. Conservatives have to worry about those in the middle who are persuadable. They have to worry about minority voters increasingly skeptical of the secular drift of the Democratic Party. They have to worry about younger voters.

.. It has become harder to make the case for family and morality as prominent evangelicals applaud and justify the bad behaviors of a thrice-married adulterer who believes immigrants should be judged based on their nation of origin, not the content of their own character.

.. not only has Anthony M. Kennedy not retired from the Supreme Court, but also he has drifted left.

.. the precedent is now there for Democrats to just ignore a replacement who Trump nominates. The conservatives who rallied to Trump to save the high court may very well lose it because of him.

.. Though many conservatives, myself included, have cheered the successes of this administration, most of them are easily reversible and, along the way, it will be harder and harder to separate the successes from the low character and behavior of the man whose name is connected to them. Conservatives may no longer care, but for most Americans, character still matters. At some point, those on the right will pay the price.

Sarah Polley: The Men You Meet Making Movies

He told me, in front of the publicist and a co-worker beside him, that a famous star, a few years my senior, had once sat across from him in the chair I was in now. Because of his “very close relationship” with this actress, she had gone on to play leading roles and win awards. If he and I had that kind of “close relationship,” I could have a similar career. “That’s how it works,” I remember him telling me. The implication wasn’t subtle. I replied that I wasn’t very ambitious or interested in acting, which was true. He then asked me about my political activism and went on to recast himself as a left-wing activist, which was among the funniest things I’d ever heard.

.. Women in technical jobs were almost nonexistent, and when they were there, they were constantly being tested to see if they really knew what they were doing.

.. the photo shoots in which you were treated like a model with no other function than to sell your sexuality, regardless of the nature of the film you were promoting.

.. How would one have left that meeting, or those hotel rooms, which have been described by others, with that relationship intact, when he displayed such entitlement and was famous for such anger? I was purely lucky that I didn’t care.

.. Shortly afterward, I started writing and directing short films. I had no idea, until then, how little respect I had been shown as an actor. Now there were no assistant directors trying to cajole me into sitting on their laps, no groups of men standing around to assess how I looked in a particular piece of clothing. I could decide what I felt was important to say, how to film a woman, without her sexuality being a central focus without context. In my mid-20s, I made my first feature film, “Away From Her.”

.. Most directors are insensitive men. And while I’ve met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers in my life, sadly they are the exception and not the rule. This industry doesn’t tend to attract the most gentle and principled among us.
.. I went into a film as an actor with an open heart and was humiliated, violated, dismissed and then, in one instance, called overly sensitive when I complained. One producer, when I mentioned I didn’t feel a rape scene was being handled sensitively, barked that Dakota Fanning had done a rape scene when she was 12 — “And she’s fine!”
.. for a long time, I felt that it wasn’t worth it to me to open my heart and make myself so vulnerable in an industry that makes its disdain for women evident everywhere I turn.
.. he was just one festering pustule in a diseased industry
.. I hope that when this moment of noisy sisterhood dissipates, it doesn’t end with a woman in a courtroom, being made to look crazy, as these stories so often do.
.. I hope that the ways in which women are degraded, both obvious and subtle, begin to seem like a thing of the past.

We need to look at ourselves.

  • What have we been willing to accept, out of fear, helplessness, a sense that things can’t be changed?
  • What else are we turning a blind eye to, in all aspects of our lives?
  • What else have we accepted that, somewhere within us, we know is deeply unacceptable?

And what now will we do about it?

The Myth of the Kindly General Lee

The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.

The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.

.. The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.

There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.

 But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black.
.. Then there are those whose reverence for Lee relies on replacing the actual Lee with a mythical figure who never truly existed.
..  Jack Kerwick concluded that Lee was “among the finest human beings that has ever walked the Earth.” John Daniel Davidson, in an essay for The Federalistopposed the removal of the Lee statute in part on the grounds that Lee “arguably did more than anyone to unite the country after the war and bind up its wounds.”
.. In the letter, he describes slavery as “a moral & political evil,” but goes on to explain that:

I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

.. emancipation must wait for divine intervention.  That black people might not want to be slaves does not enter into the equation; their opinion on the subject of their own bondage is not even an afterthought to Lee.

.. “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

.. “in their eyes, the work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited.”

.. Lee’s heavy hand on the Arlington plantation, Pryor writes, nearly led to a slave revolt, in part because the enslaved had been expected to be freed upon their previous master’s death, and Lee had engaged in a dubious legal interpretation of his will in order to keep them as his property

.. When two of his slaves escaped and were recaptured, Lee either beat them himself or ordered the overseer to “lay it on well.” Wesley Norris, one of the slaves who was whipped, recalled that “not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.”

Every state that seceded mentioned slavery as the cause in their declarations of secession. Lee’s beloved Virginia was no different, accusing the federal government of “perverting” its powers “not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.” Lee’s decision to fight for the South can only be described as a choice to fight for the continued existence of human bondage in America—even though for the Union, it was not at first a war for emancipation.

.. During his invasion of Pennsylvania, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia enslaved free blacks and brought them back to the South as property. Pryor writes that “evidence links virtually every infantry and cavalry unit in Lee’s army” with the abduction of free black Americans, “with the activity under the supervision of senior officers.”

.. Soldiers under Lee’s command at the Battle of the Crater in 1864 massacred black Union soldiers who tried to surrender.

.. The presence of black soldiers on the field of battle shattered every myth the South’s slave empire was built on: the happy docility of slaves, their intellectual inferiority, their cowardice, their inability to compete with whites. As Pryor writes, “fighting against brave and competent African Americans challenged every underlying tenet of southern society.” The Confederate response to this challenge was to visit every possible atrocity and cruelty upon black soldiers whenever possible, from enslavement to execution.

.. Nor did Lee’s defeat lead to an embrace of racial egalitarianism. The war was not about slavery, Lee insisted later, but if it was about slavery, it was only out of Christian devotion that white southerners fought to keep blacks enslaved.

.. that unless some humane course is adopted, based on wisdom and Christian principles you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free.

.. Lee had beaten or ordered his own slaves to be beaten for the crime of wanting to be free, he fought for the preservation of slavery, his army kidnapped free blacks at gunpoint and made them unfree—but all of this, he insisted, had occurred only because of the great Christian love the South held for blacks. Here we truly understand Frederick Douglass’s admonition that “between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”

..Lee told Congress that blacks lacked the intellectual capacity of whites and “could not vote intelligently,”
..To the extent that Lee believed in reconciliation, it was between white people, and only on the precondition that black people would be denied political power and therefore the ability to shape their own fate.
.. his life as president of Washington College (later Washington and Lee) is tainted as well. According to Pryor, students at Washington formed their own chapter of the KKK, and were known by the local Freedmen’s Bureau to attempt to abduct and rape black schoolgirls from the nearby black schools.
.. There were at least two attempted lynchings by Washington students during Lee’s tenure, and Pryor writes that “the number of accusations against Washington College boys indicates that he either punished the racial harassment more laxly than other misdemeanors, or turned a blind eye to it,” adding that he “did not exercise the near imperial control he had at the school, as he did for more trivial matters, such as when the boys threatened to take unofficial Christmas holidays.” In short, Lee was as indifferent to crimes of violence toward blacks carried out by his students as he was when they were carried out by his soldiers.
.. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866; there is no evidence Lee ever spoke up against it.
.. The most fitting monument to Lee is the national military cemetery the federal government placed on the grounds of his former home in Arlington.
.. There are former Confederates who sought to redeem themselves—one thinks of James Longstreet, wrongly blamed by Lost Causers for Lee’s disastrous defeat at Gettysburg, who went from fighting the Union army to leading New Orleans’s integrated police force in battle against white supremacist paramilitaries.
.. But there are no statues of Longstreet in New Orleans.
.. Lee was devoted to defending the principle of white supremacy; Longstreet was not. This, perhaps, is why Lee was placed atop the largest Confederate monument at Gettysburg in 1917,  but the 6-foot-2-inch Longstreet had to wait until 1998 to receive a smaller-scale statue hidden in the woods that makes him look like a hobbit riding a donkey. It’s why Lee is remembered as a hero, and Longstreet is remembered as a disgrace.
.. The white supremacists who have protested on Lee’s behalf are not betraying his legacy. In fact, they have every reason to admire him. Lee, whose devotion to white supremacy outshone his loyalty to his country, is the embodiment of everything they stand for. Tribe and race over country is the core of white nationalism, and racists can embrace Lee in good conscience.

The question is why anyone else would.