Thursday, September 30, 2021

Dog Botherer

It is our (small) misfortune to have two townships to the south of us named after this supernatural nuisance — St Michael the Archangel, a personage apparently responsible for a good deal of dog-bothering rumpus today, seen here rudely interrupting a young lady during her me time. 

She's like, whoooa dude, I'm reading...

(Above: The Annunciation by Hans Memling c1465-70. One of the largest surviving depictions of this unsolicited interruption, it was painted by a journeyman artist working at the time in Rogier's Brussels workshop who later established himself properly in Bruges.)


Say St Michael to me, and I start to think of not ordinary food...

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Old (2021)

You wait many years for a film with a lead character called Guy and then two come along in the same month! 

That the one here is being played by Gael García Bernal is one of the many things that feel a bit askew about this latest dose of hokum from M. Night Shyamalan. 

The premise is somehow promising yet it isn't his; he picked it up from a graphical novel called Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters — a secluded beach where visitors age years by the hour. 

From that starting point everything is kind of mangled. The casting, the dialogue, the acting, the direction. There surely needs to be some gathering tension and existential dread in the first hour or so, and to some extent there is, but it is served up disjointedly. 

Even the way the ageing is handled is unconvincing. For sure it is easier to fast-grow children by swapping actors, but the director doesn't really seem interested in the human ageing process — physical and psychological — and key developments are almost never gradual, but oddly abrupt and uneven.

Perhaps all this sloppiness derives from the moment we are in, for Old has that look and feel of a movie concept that was green-lighted largely because of the pandemic conditions the industry was grappling with. *

In his BBC Five Live show Mark Kermode name checked The Beach and The Twilight Zone as two antecedents that came readily to his mind. To mine too, but only as examples of things I'd rather have been watching. 

Still, I was never more annoyed with this movie that when in the midst of all of its idiosyncratic twitches. Now that time has indeed passed, my impressions are perhaps a little smoother and a tad more favourable. 

* On TV this year the ensemble cast in isolated spot trope has been explored successfully by The White Lotus. Meanwhile, Nine Perfect Strangers flattered to deceive.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Uncontrolled Descent

One of the first ready-made philosophical debating tools that I had, to some extent, rammed down my throat at Cambridge was the notion of the slippery slope. The speaker was none other than Baroness Mary Warnock, Mistress of my college, she of Warnock Report(s) fame, landmark UK investigations into special needs in education and experiments on human embryos, and so her own take on the matter was along the lines of not all slopes are as slippery as they may at first appear. 

A good many of the arguments being deployed against covid vaccination programmes are conspicuously batty — however, a few do seem to be grounded in some sort of intuitive grasp of the slippery slope, rather like the mindset of a passenger on a bus descending Las Cañas. 

So while us rational folk might chuckle when someone who has already been vaccinated half a dozen times in their lifetime suddenly resists this new jab, and usually for apparently loopy or selfish reasons, we must not entirely blind ourselves to the ever so slightly inclined wet floor here. It's fun being right, but one is never perfectly right. 

A couple of news items during the past week spring to mind. The view out of Oxford University that the novel coronavirus is on its way to becoming just another endemic pathogen causing the common cold and the announcement by Pfizer that their trials of a tablet, both prophylactic and treatment against covid, are showing promising results. 

There's a potential miniature slippery slope right there, between vaccination and therapy. Between measures designed to protect society and those that could protect smaller associations within it.  

One's childhood vaccinations are to some extent one's own business. As an adult I have had several boosters plus the Yellow Fever shot, all elective. And when I had an employer, my health records were never a talking point. 

But this could be about to change. Employers may be set to become inured to mandating certain medications for their staff. How much are they losing to sick days, even just those related to the sniffles?

Vaccine mandates are nothing new in US history. George Washington was a pioneer, making sure every member of the Continental Army received the jab (more like a stab really) for smallpox. And he did this knowing that he was in effect decimating his soldiery, as one in ten would go on to develop the proper, gross version of the disease. He was prepared to take the risk, with the appropriate cover-up package in place. 

The collective imperative was further upheld by a Supreme Court decision in the late nineteenth century supporting the vaccination imposed by Cambridge (copycat version) and thus permitting similar measures by state and township authorities across the US, which has remained unchallenged ever since. 

American liberty was never a 'free for all'. My special subject at Cambridge (original version) was the drafting and ratification of the US Constitution. It may come as news to contemporary American 'conservatives', but the so-called Founding Fathers generally believed in order through representation, in liberty constrained by obligation. 

Their basic beef was with arbitrary government, not any sort of government that pretends to tell one what to do. They spent a lot of time haggling over that document because they desired a durable framework. Drooling libertarians were duly dispatched to the frontier, which now exists largely only in the minds of MAGA eedjits.  

The needs of the one were always measured against those of the many. Where we perhaps need to be wary now of the slippery slope is in circumstances where collective becomes a not-so-invisible cloak for corporate

Saturday, September 25, 2021



An adjective that was apparently very much part of the discourse back in '69, and could perhaps do with a dust-off today, especially after those scenes of horseback charges at the Del Río camp in Texas. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Le Backstab

Covid has seemingly converted Australia into the deep space colony it perhaps always yearned to be.

It may look large enough in an atlas or on the Summer Olympics medals table, but population-wise it’s one and a half Guatemalas, or two thirds of a Tokyo...a sort of sub-tropical, leafy suburban outpost that the anglo-saxonne tendency has has thought prudent (though of course this is moot) to provide with nuclear attack submarines.

I guess if they do get into a lamp-post pissing contest with China and the world goes to shit, we’ll still always have the way the French have reacted to le backstab.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has kind of erased itself entirely from the map. They were already legimimately missable down there before, but they are now going the full hog. Or mutton.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Nine Elevens

A day to reflect perhaps on the covert non-linearity of time. I doubt there is anyone who experienced 9-11 as an adult that has any real sense of temporal distance from that moment. Or rather collection of moments — each as vivid and significant as something that occurred only yesterday. 

My first one is lightly blurred. I recall I found the news of a plane crash at the WTC — assumed to be a small plane — on the BBC News website and was soon after taking a call from a colleague working from home and simultaneously watching live who was cut short in mid-sentence when footage of the second plane's impact was shown. I then got in a lift and descended to the bar on the ground floor in search of plasma screens. There I found the Chairman sitting — alone — watching the towers burn, leaning back into the sofa with his arms outstretched either side of him. 

Then, a frantic exchange of calls with my wife. The reaction of the woman sitting at the desk beside mine whose mother had called from a bus travelling along Broadway, having just witnessed the jumpers. 

The next recollection is one of mental confusion. The need to attend a meeting about something which would have seemed trivial at the best of times and not really being able to comprehend how anyone was able to go through with it. Only a distraught American colleague seemed to get it. 

During that meeting the towers came down. And then, a long-scheduled trip that same evening to the Globe Theatre to see some minor comedic nonsense by the Bard. It had been set up as a 'treat' for the PA department following an award. I left at the midway interval. I remember standing beside the Thames and observing with a chill as jet after jet passed in their descent over the City. 

This image can be found on page sixteen of an oddly dystopian picture book called 'Starters Places: America' that I was given in 1972, mixed up with illustrations of tornadoes, dirty oil, hulking, gas-guzzling cars, slavery, sporting violence and junk food. (On the plus side, it asserts that the Pilgrim Fathers 'made friends with the Indians'.)


Remembering how John McEnroe rather smugly informed his BBC co-presenters during Wimbledon this year how the USTA would be unlikely to offer Emma Raducanu a wildcard. 

You know what I was thinking — you cannot be seeeeerious! 

Writing on Coffee House before the US Open final today Damian Reilly suggests that "The very best, in tennis as in all sports, almost without exception, make it look beautiful – it’s why we can’t take our eyes off them (because beauty is an element-bending superpower)."

This is true to a point. This ability to make tennis look beautiful has often been missing in the 'very best' in recent times, most obviously in the form of the undoubtedly great Djokovic and Williams, no matter how many affirmations they seem to make on court and afterwards of supernatural support. 

Going back just a bit we find also wonderful players like Navratilova and Sampras, whose ascendancy was grounded in the ruthless application of a single devastating technique, which was then most effective on grass. 

Element-bending is not the same as power, endurance, relentlessness, mental toughness, shot variety, on court intelligence, serving aces at break point and so on, useful and amazing as these things all are. Or the gladiatorial qualities we admire in the likes of Connors and Nadal. 

When Federer was in his prime, even when not winning, there was indeed a numinous quality to his play. Those moments that could bring an 'Oh I say...' out of Dan Maskell — and I reluctantly have to admit that there were occasions when John McEnroe himself was deserving of the exclamation. Yet, as with Andy Murray, these were flourishes only, somewhat smothered by a sulky on-court demeanour.

During Raducanu's semi against Sakkari the other night, the US commentators started to talk in hushed whispers, unconsciously responding to the aesthetic element of the 18-year-old's play. It's way too early to 'anoint', as another commentator said during the previous match, but the force does appear to be strong in this one...

Fernández too. On paper this was always going to be an exceptional conclusion to the women's event and it played out in brilliant fashion, potentially eclipsing Djokovic's scheduled coronation as the statistician's GOAT tomorrow. 

This interview with Leylah's Ecuadorian father Jorge was very touching. 

At a time when global citizenship might seem to be both outmoded and hazardous, these two young women could be significant role-models. 

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Nine Perfect Strangers — first impressions

We binged on Nine Perfect Strangers until we became held up at the end of episode five, perhaps the least satisfying, most daytime-soapy so far.  

It otherwise seems to be Fantasy Island meets Lost on shrooms. Not as good as and certainly more wayward tonally than The White Lotus, but kind of fun. 

It may not help that Dead Calm aside, I have always been a bit Kidman-sceptical. Here she does Russian only marginally better than Comrade Winstonovsky in Black Widow

Parry, riposte

I hate to do the whole "I told you so" routine, but in this case it was always blindingly obvious that Dr G would be disinclined to simply stroll away once his curfew was stymied. 

He will come back with alternative ways to restrict activities, and for some, these will appear more, not less, onerous. With another 80 deaths recorded yesterday, he will be left with little choice. 

Other than Allan Rodríguez the thing that annoys me most about this little fiasco is the damage done, in the short-term at least, to the inflow of tourists. 

Arrivals from abroad already have to complete an online health form that, when it works, serves them up with a QR code. Was it completely beyond the authorities to allow this to double up as a transit pass during the toque de queda?  

In 2010 I visited Bangkok during a curfew imposed at a time of significant political instability. I spent the first night at the airport. I am not sure if I could have found a way to leave, but the restaurants in there are (extremely) good, so I didn't really care. 

The next day I found that the Thais had established a sort of tiny tourist pocket around Khao San Road, where bedtimes were effectively unrestricted. Travel into the downtown area was impossible at night and unadvisable by day, but I managed to treat myself to the thrill of turning up as a lone farang at some of the major temples. 

Antigua is pleasant when it is quiet, but deserted bars and restaurants are hardly a big lure and a nighttime curfew is always a total buzzkill. 

Already limited to tourists almost exclusively from this hemisphere Guatemala's leading industry could (really) do without enforced lockdowns after dark and other blanket restrictions on inter-departmental movement. If Belize can conceive of and manage a system of safe corridors and other  amnesties for foreign visitors, it surely cannot be beyond Guatemala. 

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Llamadas Locales Pero A Gran Costo

33 years since I first came to Guatemala, and there are still things that anger and disgust me...

Schrödinger's Toque de Queda

After viewing the fifth film in the franchise I was left to ponder...where can they possibly take this next?'

And then Guatemala came to the rescue with 'Is there a fecking Purge?'

Seems not, but the original 9pm Ley Seca remains, plus all the Cemáforo Epidemiológico stuff that nobody seems to be paying much attention to. 

Meanwhile, since I was last in the USA...

That is what avoidable looks like.

See also the short-term impact on tourism revenues here in Guatemala just from the announcement of our abortive curfew and the wider determination to pursue a set of extremely clunky, un-sophisticated control measures.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021


At least someone has woken up this morning with a sense of clarity on this matter...

There does seem to be a suggestion that the Guatemalan Congress needs to come back and formally vote to disapprove of the State of Calamity, which is likely to go as well as their attempts to approve it. 

Anyway, I cannot see how a blanket curfew was going to be of much use in the current situation. 

And we kind of resented the restrictions on our freedom of movement when very clearly many organisations around town, largely in the spirituality and hospitality trades, seemed unwilling to even toe the line when it comes to the 'traffic light' system of controls, which have been in place since last year. 

The church in our village has been openly cheating with respect to 'virtuality' since the weekend. The Power And The Glory sprung to mind. 

We shall probably have to wait and see now what the executive can manage in terms of measures with real ameliorative impacts. Parts of the Estado de Calamidad involve edicts which could be imposed by local mayors anyway without constitutional consequences.

In yesterday's address Dr G said encouraging things about the vaccination programme. This on a day it was revealed that approximately 4/5 of the newly-infected hail from the un-vaccinated parts of the population. 

This is all too easily mapped on to the stat that 4/5 of Guatemalans remain un-vaccinated. 

The President spoke as if real progress is being made, of the kind that will soon make it possible to ignore those new infection figures. Yet, after 18 months of this, people surely do not need to be reminded that they can pick up the coronavirus handling tomatoes in the market and pass it on to others regardless of their own infection or vaccination status. 

This risk will only diminish when the virus starts to run out of vectors and Guatemala is a long, long way still from that scenario. 

The mostest truth...

A rather hilarious post today from an old acquaintance of this parish. 

One should worry less that he thinks that this is a 'metaphor' than about the fact that he seems to believe that the horse paste could be of some use against covid. *

“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space," said Orson Scott Card — but when you don't actually know what they are, they can lose their way in this respect. 

It is a well known phenomenon that those of a religious bent have a greater tendency to mistake metaphor for fact. 

Should we mention that he should actually thank the Jews for that day off every week? 

He strikes me as the sort who might tend to confuse them with communists, when not referring to them as capitalists...but not the good sort, like the convicted fraudster 'Mark Francis' himself. 

There's quite a bit of mortal sin going on (or about to go on) in that illustration. 


* The US National Poison Data System reports a 245% increase in overdoses of ivermectin, which some people believe can treat Covid-19 despite a lack of data, between July and August.


Friday, September 03, 2021

#JusticiaParaVerónica — #YositengoPrecedente

There's a line, one that every decent man is surely aware of, that leads from ill-bred rudeness, through psychological abuse, physical harm and on to rape. 

Yet referring to it as a line can be deceptive. Along its course there are some significant discontinuities — points where irrevocable, qualitative changes occur, leaps forward across sometimes vast, yet often barely visible rifts in the route. 

The pilots that take airliners at gathering velocity down the runway on their way on down and then up, have names for a couple of these: V1, V2. Women also have a word for the gap between rough sex and rape: NO. 

Perhaps the most insidious ploy available to a defence lawyer in criminal cases relating to gender violence, particularly when the defensora is herself female, is to downplay the significance of these discontinuities. 

In Verónica Molina Lee's case there was a parallel line she had to traverse, from thoughts of self-imposed amnesia and reconciliation to putting herself through the travails of forensic and media examination. There is a huge and daunting chasm there for any woman to contemplate. 

Followers of the twittering classes here in La Antigua will already know what has transpired. Diego Ariel Stella has a possibly temporary new home with bars in Chimaltenango. His accuser will now have her rightful opportunity to present her evidence in court. 

My sincere wish is that this establishes a precedent, and that my own Verónica will now also be permitted the same opportunity, despite those preemptive moves to downgrade the charges faced by her male aggressor — beyond the influence and purview of his victim — which this high-profile case has shone a light on. 

Meanwhile, if the parrillero is a profoundly misunderstood man, then I wish him good fortune. He will need it. He may struggle to get a fair trial now for he has conspired against himself to an astonishing degree, not least by picking a guilt-by-association defence lawyer and ending up in a situation where it has become unclear whether she is the bigger liability to him or vice versa

He didn't pick his sister, but she plainly isn't supporting the appearance of polished respectability either. 

Guilt by association — how it works.

Yo mucho te creo. 

Using autocue, but without Oprah, he has belatedly essayed the 'my truth' testimony and then in the sala this morning finally appeared to show some remorse. 

Too little, too late. The cabashero, frente en alto routine would have been more appropriate at the start of the process, not the middle, and he rather obviously originally went for the box of tricks instead before the Jugado de Primera Instancia Penal. 

The boycott gathering around the restaurants he has fronted in a naff gaucho hat — NiFu Ni-Fa* — is an unfortunate sideshow. Claudia Paniagua's other toxic male client  — Jason Wade Lever — is also part-proprietor of hospitality businesses in town, yet I have never mentioned them by name, as I am aware that they have other, more involved socios and employees who have had no part in the relevant transgressions. 

Lever and his lawyer appear to have no shared language, so one would have to ask why he would be prepared to tolerate this sort of inconvenience? What else has the "defensora de los..." been bringing to the party? 

Today she appears to have recluded herself from the Diego Ariel Stella case. This really should mark the formal conclusion to her scumbag-defending days. 

On one of several occasions that she has forced a delay in the juicio featuring Lever — one of Antigua's most prepotente masculine scumbags — she presented a sick note. 

Yet an old school friend, himself a judge, came up to V and informed her that he had only just been in a courtroom that same morning with the Magistrada Suplente, in which she had been representing a drug dealer. 

"Tiene Nombre"

Today the Magistrada Suplente did not appear in court beside her client but instead seems to have sent a surrogate who duly attempted to precipitate a re-programming of the audiencia — precisely the same artimaña attempted last month on behalf of Jason Wade Lever. On both occasions the judges were wise to this ruse and did not permit it. 

Guatemalans are rightly up in arms just now about corruption, but the traffic of influence is on many levels something more pernicious. There are functionaries here who would never take a brown envelope under the table who nevertheless permit themselves lapses in rectitude owing to pressure from the likes of Consuelo Porras and Claudia Paniagua. Enough! 

* I generally won't hold it against a bar or an eatery that its owner is a bit of a turd, just like I won't (yet) deprive myself of movies with Johnny Depp in them. However, in this particular instance, we went once and never again, because the waiters had that most bothersome tendency to take up position just at the edge of one's peripheral vision and from said station, spent the entire meal making exasperatingly unsolicited interventions. 

An invigorated optimism...

"As I emerge off the Penn Station elevator into a lightening gray dawn, the giant Corinthian colonnades of the post office building create the illusion of a grand boulevard, and an invigorated optimism floods me, like it's the first morning of a long-awaited trip to Paris" > Frankie Goldberg/Francisco Goldman, Monkey Boy


Thursday, September 02, 2021


Tomorrow morning, Friday the third, at 8am, a very brave local woman called Verónica Molina Lee will face her alleged aggressor in the Juzgado in La Antigua Guatemala, the man she accuses of a violent rape, whose defence counsel has hitherto been a Magistrada Suplente to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala. 

If you are able to understand Spanish and care in any way about the state of the criminal justice system in Guatemala, please take the time to view Verónica Molina's petition for her own share of sympathy and justiceIt's both compelling and very moving. 

Her story and the courage and determination with which she had propagated it have motivated me to write this piece grounded in some personal and frankly quite gruelling experiences of being on the wrong end of under-handed legal strategems  — most notably a pattern of overt intimidation including defamation, death threats and three unfounded and deceitful denuncias made against me for really no other reason than the fact that I am the husband of a victim of gender violence perpetrated by one of the extremely toxic male clients of the same Magistrada Suplente.

Back in February I found myself in front of a judge appealing against what was in effect a restraining order secured by the defensora on behalf of her client, the spouse and accomplice of the Australian citizen — himself a small-time comerciante in La Antigua — who had long been targeting my wife, Verónica's tocaya, with a campaign of sexually-aggravated aggression. 

This had resulted in actual psychological harm, as documented by INACIF in August 2019 and had included incidents of sexual exposure accompanied by verbal abuse.

The Magistrada Suplente and her clients had tried, and failed, to stitch me up with the crime of Femicide at the Fiscalía de Mujeres in February this year. I had soon afterwards visited that organisation in La Antigua and found that the fiscal who had received them there broadly shared my conviction that the motivation behind that denuncia was one of obfuscation on behalf of my wife's aggressor, to the level of a carefully-plotted legal vendetta. 

Even so, by then they had already secured protection measures on behalf of her client, because — as explained to me by the judge — the same law that had been deemed not relevant to the case, permits any woman in Guatemala to request them if she feels that she needs them, regardless of whether or not they are deemed objectively necessary — and they can be imposed at a hearing about which their proposed object has not been informed, nor indeed invited along to. 

And in this case they had been, regardless of the fact that my own wife has long been the victim of well-documented acoso callejeroby this same woman's husband and not been granted similar protections, which has allowed him to carry on as he pleases. 

I made quite an impassioned speech in the courtroom that morning in which I suggested to everyone present that the use thus being made of the femicide laws could be considered a GROSS INSULT to every Guatemalan woman who has ever genuinely suffered from masculine abuse and violence...such as Verónica. 

The crime they had been trying to pin on me was, coincidentally enough, that of psychological violence, by virtue of the account I had written in this very blog — in my own language and published in my own country — of the protracted abuse that my wife had suffered — and continues to suffer — at the hands of this individual Jason Wade Lever (below) and many of those close to him, including, but not limited to, his spouse and other close family members and employees within his household. 

This account accurately replicated testimony that I had already formally provided to the Fiscalía de Mujeres. 

Image credit: Carlos de León

Lever's wife had, according to her testimony, suffered her acute psychological ill-effects within hours of reading my truthful descriptions of her husband's deviance and her seemingly limitless spite for his victim. A crisis nerviosa, she informed the judge. 

She had spent months mocking this platform via her personal Instagram account during the course of the previous year, and yet had fibbed in her denuncia that she had only just discovered it via a tip-off — when the truth was she had been stalking me and trolling me online in a particularly sick and disturbing manner for months. (And when the judge was apprised of this, his opinion was that this kind of cyber-abuse could indeed constitute a delito.) 

To back up this specious and intimidatory complaint against me, Mrs Lever and her lawyer had made use of a bogus (and legally invalid, according to the judge) translation of my writings in her attempt to have me labelled a criminal in Guatemala. Key passages were omitted, while others were mis-translated in a manner that was all too convenient for her. 

In the sala that morning in front of the judge, the Magistrada Suplente bizarrely chose to read out this particular post from August 2019 — above all others — as an example of my violent misogyny.

Herewith the court audio – Paniagua reads out her translated version. 

Posted by Colectiva Feminista Artesanas

Anyway, have a read. Its subject was plainly men, at least a certain insalubrious sub-set of the not-so-fair sex here in Guatemala. It even occurred to me that it might have slipped her mind that morning who she supposed to be representing, the wife or the husband. 

Ask yourself, would the author of the piece deserve a prison sentence here as an abuser of women? 

Why should I even have to defend these observations in a Guatemalan court? My freedom of expression is guaranteed by the laws of my own nation. You might not agree with the perspectives, but do I deserve this kind of legal harassment here?

The original intent had rather obviously been satirical, but these days I find La Antigua's 'big fish' far less of a laughing matter. They tend to manifest as a compact clique of largely foreign-born men around town, not all but mostly lifelong mediocrities that wash up here with enough capital to start a business, and are soon acting like a self-imposed, near untouchable elite, when not carrying on like an actual mafia, plugging themselves into the endemic system of impunity, as if by right. 

I did not mention any of them by name in that post, but it is rather obvious that I had a perhaps concise multitude in mind. Almost anyone like me, with more than three decades of intermittent life experience in this town, will surely have plenty of examples to draw upon.

The small ponders now appear to possess a superstar wrongdoer in the form of accused rapist Diego Ariel Stella, an Argentinian best known locally as the public face of the Ni-Fu Ni-Fa steakhouses. 

The parrillero, said by some to treat women like pieces of meat.

Ever since he was formally accused of a violent rape, it has become clear from emerging testimonies that Stella has perhaps long been exploring his sociopathic and misogynistic urges in a land that offers way too much scope for that sort of thing.

When Verónica Molina went to the police and all the appropriate tests were thereafter conducted by the relevant authorities, the next step was the initial audiencia at the Juzgado, which functions in Guatemala as a way of formally registering the case file and charges. 

The Magistrada Suplentes's tactics during this session were sadly all too familiar to us. It would seem that when the evidence lines up against her often noxious male clients is damning — behaviour simply unacceptable in any decent society — she presumes to counter-attack with a string of spurious allegations, in effect distracting attention from the concrete facts of the case in a manner that will subsequently allow her client to play the victim — whilst demeaning the actual victim. 

Now, I am not one of those commentators who would deny even the worst offenders their right to a proper legal defence, but there are some manoeuvres that surely ought to be excluded by that qualifier: proper

For a start, foreign residents and tourists in Guatemala should ideally not be permitted to take cynical advantage of the well-documented weaknesses of the local justice system. This is not just a quibble, it is an important distinction that should be more than obvious to anybody honoured enough to sit on the C.C., even as an understudy. 

When my wife sought the support of the Fiscalía de Mujeres in July 2019, she requested certain reassurances of discretion and conduct on their part due to the nature of the abuse she had been submitted to and because she felt physically endangered. Her aggressor had been tracking her around our village.

She understood at the time that she had secured these, and was also given — unsolicited — a promise that if convicted, Lever could be expelled from Guatemala. And she had the supportive conclusions from INACIF.

Yet soon afterwards the Fiscalía started ghosting her and she was later informed curtly and electronically that her case had been shunted down to a lower court — before she had been given any opportunity to review this decision in person (and the case file submitted), as was surely her right as the victim. 

Unfortunately, something similar undoubtedly happened to Verónica Molina at the Juzgado last month where her aggressor secured a handy, yet highly improbable judgement from presiding juez Mélida Esmeralda Vásquez de Orellana at the first audiencia, which adjusted the charges faced by Diego Ariel Stella from rape to sexual violence. 

My own interpretation of this turn of events is that the downgrade will likely work to the victim's detriment, and not just because the sindicado was set free and the penalties at sentencing would almost certainly be less serious for him. 

Sexual violence is typically covered by the Ley de Femicidio, which sits on a different part of the statutes and has been, one has to say, rather crudely fashioned to operate across a somewhat limited set of circumstances — which therefore provides an opportunity for any defence lawyer with circumscribed scruples to throw up technical obstacles (many of which will tend to have been laid down by yes, the Constitutional Court), of the kind that can ultimately undermine the whole prosecution case. 

The Ley de Femicidio is to some extent the contrivance of local and foreign NGOs, crafted specifically to protect Guatemalan women from the violence of men who might be said to possess some sort of 'power' over them, domestically or in the workplace. So, one can easily see how its use in the case of a rape involving a pair of acquaintances might lead to diversionary objections geared towards effecting a long delay or indeed collapse in the entire proceso

An unscrupulous lawyer will find the cracks and squeeze the cases through them. 

In the specific case of my wife's denuncia, INACIF determined that she was had been victim of a violent, sexually-aggravated crime. Yet when the Femicide Law was duly applied, it was then commented that the Corte Constitucional has ruled that it cannot protect women from sexual violence committed by a neighbour (?!). 

And by way of this dodge my wife's abuser has seen the charges he faces switched from delito to falta, — in effect a far more minor civil offence — deceptively covering up the fact that it had already been determined during the investigation that a crime probably did indeed take place. 

My wife and her lawyer have spent many months contesting the consequences of this judgment — with an appeal currently under consideration by the higher court — and it should be noted that it can already be considered up-ended by key legal precedent. 

This involves another Guatemalan woman who successfully argued that the violence she suffered was not directed at her by virtue of her status as a neighbour but because of, and very specifically targeting, her gender. Precisely what Lever has done. 

And, when not inflicted by states, violence is surely always a crime no matter what prior relationships pertain, nor how much time has elapsed. Just as NO always means NO when the accusation has been rape. 

As a background to all this, attempts have been made to bully my wife into dropping her allegations via a series of denuncias presented against her for delitos, actual crimes, which are of course contrived and/or utterly fictitious.  

Take, for instance, a denuncia filed last year in September at the Ministerio Público by her aggressor, Jason Lever. In it he accuses her of xenophobic discrimination against him as a foreign resident in Guatemala, thus moving on from the victim-shaming that had hitherto characterised his defence, to an utterly crass attempt to play the victim.  

Just where to start with that? Imagine Harvey Weinstein had counter-sued the women he violated for anti-semitism. It is pathetic whilst it is heinous. 

And the MP should have put it in the bin, not the case folder. 

Lever said he feels 'threatened'. Of course he did, because a year earlier he had been caught on CCTV and in front of witnesses making a death threat against me (below), and has worked tirelessly to make my wife feel utterly unsafe in her own home — and in the streets outside in the community where she grew up — so one of the first things that his defensora apparently does is to try to even things up to the point of reversal between the agraviada/victim and the sindicado/criminal, however farcically. 

"So easy to 'clean' you..."

My wife is anyway not some small-minded chapina resenting the presence in her home town of outsiders. She is a talented, cosmopolitan woman who had a successful career in the City of London, working with and making lasting friendships with individuals from all over the world. And, for the record, when our neighbour first exposed himself to her, he was almost certainly not already a resident here, but instead still a tourist. 

But the really disturbing thing about this denuncia is the way that it was first fabricated and then utilised. 

We discovered it quite by chance during an informal chat with the fiscal-auxiliar at the Ministerio Público. It was secluded within the case file and he was obviously reluctant to show it to my wife. She had never been duly informed of its existence (as is her inviolable right) until that moment, some eight months after it was first concocted. 

It was typed on Magistrada Suplente Claudia Paniagua's letterhead, not that of the MP and had not been sealed or signed by any representative of the state. At no point had my wife been asked to attend a citación at the MP along with her accuser as per the legal requirement.

Yet — and this is absolutely crucial — it had by then already been used in a flagrant violation of her fundamental, constitutionally-guaranteed human rights as a citizen of Guatemala. For the fiscal-auxiliar had, previously in 2021, requested that she attend a psychiatric exam in the capital, along with the Levers. 

At the time I had asked him whether it was customary in this country for the victims of violent/sexual crimes to be obligated to attend such an examination — to be treated thus on a par with their accused — especially as my wife had already been attended by an INACIF psychoanalyst at the time of the alleged abuse. 

He became seriously evasive. He certainly knew of the accusation against her on the file, but was apparently not prepared to share it with her even when challenged about an unidentified case number appearing on informal documentation we had received. 

The day before the psych-evaluation Lever all too conveniently presented a positive covid-19 test result which would necessarily prevent him from attending. 

He did not however observe any form of obligatory quarantine for the subsequent week or so, and his household staff and other regular visitors continued to come and go. Later, when informed of this, the fiscal-auxiliar merely shrugged. The irresponsibility was mind-blowing.

The MP then contacted my wife to say that it was vital that she should not back out now herself from the trip into Guatemala City. The fiscal-auxiliar had still not informed her that her psychiatric examination would be tied to a denuncia against her, and that as a result she would not be attending in the capacity of victim. She sensed his ruse and declined, as she was entitled to. 

How is this anything other than a shameless and illegal attempt to shanghai the victim of gender violence into a process designed to cast doubt on her mental state? 

And we can now see that it all formed part of the standard heavy-handed approach to the female victims of gender violence, and that in this the Ministerio Público have been complicit. 

Indeed, the fiscal-auxiliar later admitted on the record that when he had visited our home under the understanding that he was investigating the protracted abuses against us he had in fact been there on behalf of the Levers and their all-too-obviously fabricated claims, in effect gaining access to our home using a false pretext.**

And this when the MP have ample examples on file of the campaign against us, including some compelling evidence of a dialogue during which Jason Lever self-incriminated, describing to two known associates — a Dutchman and a compatriot of mine — his plan to criminally conspire against us during the course of 2020. 

This was held before he was even aware of my wife's formal complaint against him, back at the start of August, 2019 — and we possess a more complete and fully incriminating record of this conversation. 

We were thus left with little alternative but to make a formal protest to our embassy and at the same time, given the violations of her rights, my wife also proposed to place a denuncia relating to the mal manejo of the whole process. 

The more senior fiscal at the MP had once, in a call to our lawyer on speaker-phone, indiscreetly referred to the Levers as 'los mios' — my people. His underling had always been careful to judiciously reassure us with all the usual platitudes about his independence as an employee of the state.

I cannot say that any of that has helped to a significant extent, but it does appear to have focused some minds on the relative risks and rewards of proactive impunity. 

I have anyway described here what is really just a limited selection of all the delaying tactics and other tricks deployed against us both.

Magistrada Paniagua was expelled from my wife's case as a result of some of these, yet soon afterwards had herself reinstated after an apparently behind-closed-doors intervention with a judge. 

I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the basic MO. For instance, the day I was appealing the measures against me, she arrived early, as she habitually does, and communicated with a number of judges and officials already present in the building, perhaps in order to influence their opinions outside of and prior to the formal session. I certainly overheard her making personally defamatory remarks about me and the testimony I have published. 

And on multiple occasions over the course of almost two years of extra-judiciary evasions, the expediente/case file has vanished in whole or part from the archive at the Juzgado. Quite the (serial) coincidence. 

The very first instance of violent gender abuse that my wife suffered took place in a street some distance from our home. One could hardly say that it occurred in the context of any neighbourly relationship. Lever had already passed once and knew precisely where to find her, so his return and the act itself were deliberate and pre-meditated, not spontaneous. There were multiple friends and family members of ours present and he simply did not care one bit. 

This is what makes him potentially pernicious to the entire community here in La Antigua: he has no natural self-restraint and apparently believes himself beyond the reach of the law. And it clearly amuses him. 

Lever intimidating my wife 

The first attack took place in March 2018 and V is still awaiting justice today. All through this long interval Lever has attempted to deploy nearly every artimaña in the shirker's book to avoid having to sit and listen in a courtroom as a judge examines the evidence against him. 

The behaviour of accused men like Jason Wade Lever and Diego Ariel Stella is not commensurate with the dignified defence of an innocent man, though the latter does not at this stage appear to have used his wife and children as human shields, nor indeed have co-opted them as hapless accomplices ***. 

María Consuelo Porras, the Guatemalan Attorney General, has been speaking about the duty of her organisation to protect the rights of everyone in a legal process, and this is of course correct. 

But above and beyond that, they also have an obligation to protect the process itself from the vicios associated with abject interference. 

In our case it is absolutely clear which way both the actos de revancha y odio have been directed. 

Verónica Molina Lee appears to have been the victim of a far more ignominious instance of sexual abuse — violent rape, where even the violator has been seen to have admitted that she said no. 

Yet it has to be noted that her aggressor has been swimming with the very same sharks that now endemically threaten the application of the law here in Guatemala, and not just for women. 

Our own experience is that the injury done by the original criminal acts and the underlying conspiracy to commit them, has been compounded, again and again, by the way the system that is supposed to protect the victims of crime has been repeatedly and unashamedly turned against us. 

A lack of basic rectitude in the manner in which the law is applied is tantamount to a steady augmentation of the damage done, and it is time that this country puts an end once and for all to these gruesome, poorly-camouflaged conspiracies between criminals, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

As well as incompetence and abuse of influence, corruption is surely also almost always present, but this tends to take place under the table and is usually largely invisible to the parties most affected by it. Yet what we have here is perhaps even more alarming, a most transparent form of the absence of transparence. 

In-justice, in broad daylight. 

Provocative tweet by OCAC

None of us would have to be making our cases on social media if the MP had not failed in its duty of care to the victims of gender abuse. The only reason why these women have been denied the opportunity to make their allegations in full in front of a judge is because the system is being openly manipulated, and sexual violence is being dismissed at the first hurdle as lios de parejas, peleas de vecinos etc. Defence lawyers are doing it for no other reason than because they can. 

Now is surely the moment for this community to take a stand, not just for existing victims like Verónica, but for those yet to come, women who deserve better from their country, who have a right to expect protection from sexual violence, in particular when perpetrated by men who are in a sense mere guests here. 

In her recent media remarks Verónica Molina has been clear that those defending her alleged rapist have picked the wrong person to tussle with, and in that she is now absolutely not alone. #NoEstasSola

In the past week la defensora del violador's dilemma has gone viral, and not in the way some 100,000 other, far more unfortunate Guatemalans have this month. It has become a key part of the developing story and the story is now international and set to last. 

Questions are rightly being asked if it is appropriate for a someone on the C.C. to simultaneously act as defence counsel for common reprobates and 'celebrity' creeps, as an enabler of craven cowards. 

For a woman tasked with representating of the rights all Guatemalan citizens to promote the notion that a rape that takes place within a relationship is no rape at all. And in so doing, deny the alleged victim her opportunity to make a case supported by evidence. 

I hope to be able to report very soon that Verónica is back on the path to the justice she so obviously deserves. I, we, are supporting her in every way we can, for we have chosen not to be silent, whatever the risks. 


* On one occasion playing to an exclusively male audience he had to hand.

**  A couple of days before this official visit, the Levers had a set of children's swings and slides installed in their front yard, presumably just so they could insinuate to the fiscal-auxiliar that either my wife or I had been spying on their children. How fucking low is it possible to stoop? 

*** In my country and many others, this too would constitute a criminal offence. In the specific case of the children, child abuse. 

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Rising Damp

My título doesn't seem to be much enjoying the Guatemalan weather.

And it was in a frame! I've lost a couple of favourite prints to precisely the same sort of meteorological gremlins. 

'Holden'. FFS. 

Throwback to the day I collected my free upgrade. I passed on the headgear. And the Blues Brothers sunglasses. 

And the original Rising Damp...with all sorts of fabulous British comedy talent, perhaps most notably the much missed Richard Beckinsale, dad to Kate...