Human Rights in Guatemala

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has published the Annual Report 2008 on Guatemala. And hardly could have been worse. Last year murder rate was of 48 homicides per 100.000 inhabitants, almost a world record for a country at peace. Extra-judicial executions were reported. The number of people who died in custody increased. Irregular militas were responsible for episodes of the so-called “social cleaning” where victims were tortured and finally executed. Over the year 722 women where killed. 56 people were lynched. According to the High Commissioner the Government should

refine the legislative framework for the protection of human rights (…);
improve criminal investigations carried out by the National Civilian Police, on the basis of an appropriate organizational structure, trained personnel, an adequate territorial deployment, and the availability of technical and scientific resources (…);
strengthen areas of civil jurisdiction, in order to prevent civil conflicts becoming criminal matters (…);
adopt special measures to combat discrimination in all areas, and in particular to overcome the conditions of inequality which impede indigenous peoples’ access to economic, social andcultural rights (…);
strengthen measures to increase the understanding and application of the new Law on Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women (…);
promote a comprehensive tax reform, enabling an expansion of fiscal resources and an increase in tax collection.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Understanding Capitalism

Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen argues, in an article published on The New York Review of Books, that the way out from the crisis passes through a better understanding of the ideas that contributed to build the actual economic system. Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Arthur Cecil Pigou, should be read, not just quoted. And I quote

Smith viewed markets and capital as doing good work within their own sphere, but first, they required support from other institutions—including public services such as schools—and values other than pure profit seeking, and second, they needed restraint and correction by still other institutions—e.g., well-devised financial regulations and state assistance to the poor—for preventing instability, inequity, and injustice. If we were to look for a new approach to the organization of economic activity that included a pragmatic choice of a variety of public services and well-considered regulations, we would be following rather than departing from the agenda of reform that Smith outlined as he both defended and criticized capitalism.

We must understand how institutions work and make them work better. But not just aiming at economic growth.

There is a critical need for paying special attention to the underdogs of society in planning a response to the current crisis, and in going beyond measures to produce general economic expansion.

A crisis not only presents an immediate challenge that has to be faced. It also provides an opportunity to address long-term problems when people are willing to reconsider established conventions. This is why the present crisis also makes it important to face the neglected long-term issues like conservation of the environment and national health care, as well as the need for public transport (…).

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Wars in the Backyard

The National Security Archive has just declassified eleven documents on the extra judicial arrests conducted 25 years ago by the government of Guatemala. It appears that the US embassy clearly knew that the security forces were involved in the kidnappings. In a Department of State secret report, dated March 1986, we can read:

While criminal activity accounts for a small percentage of the cases, and from time to time individuals “disappear” to go elsewhere, the security forces and rightist paramilitary groups are responsible for most kidnapping. Insurgent groups do not normally use kidnapping as a political tactic, although they did resort to kidnapping for ransom in their formative years.
First used systematically by security forces against Communist Party and members of the moderate left beginning in 1966, the practice of kidnapping became institutionalized over time. Some 6500 persons have been kidnapping or disappeared since 1977, far short of the 38,000 claimed by critics of the previous Guatemalan governments. The average number of monthly kidnapping peaked in 1984 under regime of General Mejia. At first security forces utilized kidnappings to intimidate the left and convince potential guerrilla supporters to remain neutral. Kidnapping of rural social workers, medical personnel, and campesinos became common between 1979-83. Often innocent victims were accused of being insurgents by military commissioners, other village leaders or an individual’s personal enemies or business competitors. (…) In the cities, out of frustration from the judiciary’s unwillingness to convict and sentence insurgents, and convinced that kidnapping of suspected insurgents and their relatives would lead to a quick destruction of the guerrilla urban networks, the security forces began to systematically kidnap anyone suspected of insurgent connections. This tactic was successful. Most of the insurgent infrastructure in Guatemala City was eliminated by 1984.

The Guatemalan Civil War ended formally in 1996. But violence did not. According to national newspaper Siglo XXI, in the last fourteen months, an average of 17.6 persons have been killed every day. How many during the 36 years of civil war? 15.2.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Detained and Dismissed

Human Rights Watch has just published a detailed report on Women’s Struggles to Obtain Health Care in United States Immigration Detention. Immigration detention facilities are black holes all around the world. For one thing it is difficult to understand or explain why a state should imprison somebody who has committed no crime at all. At least for those who tend to consider existing as a right and not as a crime. HRW writes that in the United States

the number of individuals held in administrative detention while their immigration cases are determined has skyrocketed in recent years. The detained population on any given day is now over 29,000 nationwide, up almost 50 percent from 2005.

And according to the report the overshadowing sanitary problems for women in this condition are

delays and denials of testing and treatment, obstacles to obtaining medical care, distortions in the doctor-patient relationship, detrimental and unnecessary use of restraints and strip searches, discontinuity of care, lack of effective remedies.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Brain matters

Saying that education strengths economic growth sounds good old common sense. But proving and measuring this relation is not immediate and therefore interesting. A reasearch, published last year, does it. Eric Hanushek, Dean T. Jamison, Eliot A. Jamison and Ludger Woessmann estimate that

each additional year of average schooling in a country increased the average 40-year growth rate in GDP by about 0.37 percentage points. That may not seem like much, but consider the fact that since World War II, the world economic growth rate has been around 2 to 3 percent of GDP annually. Lifting it by 0.37 percentage points is a boost to annual growth rates of more than 10 percent of what would otherwise have occurred, a significant amount.

Nonetheless, the research suggests that what really matters for economic growth is the quality of education. In other words it is not enough to send children to school: you have to teach them something. Using test-score performances around the world to measure the cognitive skills of students appears

that countries with higher test scores experienced far higher growth rates. If one country’s test-score performance was 0.5 standard deviations higher than another country during the 1960s (…) the first country’s growth rate was, on average, one full percentage point higher annually over the following 40-year period than the second country’s growth rate. Further, once the impact of higher levels of cognitive skills are taken into account, the significance for economic growth of school attainment, i.e., additional years of schooling, dwindles to nothing. A country benefits from asking its students to remain in school for a longer period of time only if the students are learning something as a consequence.

These results are extremely important especially for the countries of the Bottom Billion. What they are saying is that it is better to invest on the quality of the education (where rate of return is much higher) rather than spending to keep students in schools longer.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Crisis from the South /3

The Inter-American Development Bank publishes today on its web-site previsions for remittance flows in 2009 to Latin America: they will go down for the first time since 2000. And different countries are experiencing different situation. The Andean region is effected worse by the decline of the euro whereas the Mesoamerica region sees a strong dollar partially counterbalance the decrease in money flow.

According to the Banco de Guatemala, in the first two month of 2009 remittances to the country have diminished by 9.59% comparing with same period of 2008.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Crisis from the South /2

And it appears that the  problem is not just limited to remittances. According to The Institute of International Finance, private financial flows from rich countries to poor ones will decrease by 63% this year: from US$ 456,8 billions in 2008 down to 165,4 billions in 2009. In 2007 these flows amounted to US$ 928,6 billion.Talking about Latin America, inflows will be down  51% from 2008 level and 76% considering 2007 level.

Money are basically heading home.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

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    The fine folks over at @PacketTotal bequeathed an API token on me so I cranked out an R package for it to enable more dynamic investigations work (RStudio makes for an amazing incident responder investigations console given that you can script in multiple languages, code in C[++], and write documentation all at the same time... […]
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    Following up on the 10th anniversary and the 1.0.0. release, we excited to share the news of the first update release 1.0.1 of Rcpp. package turned ten on Monday—and we used to opportunity to mark the current version as 1.0.0! It arrived at CRAN ov...
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    I would like to once again recommend our readers to our note on wrapr::let(), an R function that can help you eliminate many problematic NSE (non-standard evaluation) interfaces (and their associate problems) from your R programming tasks. The idea is to imitate the following lambda-calculus idea: let x be y in z := ( λ […]

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    Over the last few weeks I’ve had a couple of interactions with folks from the computer science world who were pretty disparaging of the R programming language. A lot of the critism focused on perceived limitations of R to statistical analysis. It’s true, R does have a hugely comprehensive list of analysis packages on CRAN, […]
  • Open letter to journal editors: dynamite plots must die
    Statisticians have been pointing out the problem with dynamite plots, also known as bar and line graphs, for years. Karl Broman lists them as one of the top ten worst graphs. The problem has even been documented in the peer reviewed literature. For example, this British Journal of Pharmacology paper titled Show the data, don’t […]
  • Interview with Stephanie Hicks
    Editor’s note: For a while we ran an interview series for statisticians and data scientists, but things have gotten a little hectic around here so we’ve dropped the ball! But we are re-introducing the series, starting with Stephanie Hicks. If you have recommendations of a (junior) person in academics or industry you would like to […]

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