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Tweet Could Land Guatemalan in Jail

Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 12:15 PM EDT

“If the Guatemalan authorities insist on prosecuting Anleu, cutting foreign assistance to the Colom Administration is fair game.”

Freedom of expression is one of the hallmark of a modern and free society. Rule of law is another. In Guatemala, both of the core tenets of democracy are heading for a collision course if the socialist government insists on prosecuting Jean Anleu for a tweet. The crime? Undermining the public trust in the country’s banking system. The punishment could land Anleu five years in prison.

Mr. Anleu was arrested for saying that “the first real act [of opposition] ‘take money out of Banrural’ bankrupt the bank of the corrupt ones. #escandalogt”. If this were a crime in the United States, some Members of Congress would land in prison for criticizing Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Fed, or for that matter any other banking entity.

No doubt the socialist President will seek to use this incident to distract attention from his current political problems. The country has long struggled with endemic poverty and wide-spread corruption. What the country needs it lacks most: open and free economic markets as well as political transparency and rule of law.

The most current national crisis in this Central American country stems from the death of a prominent lawyer who pre-taped a video message. Yet, this was no ordinary message. He opens with, “[u]nfortunately, if you are watching this message, it means that I, Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano, have been assassinated by President Alvaro Colom.” Rosenberg’s death has led to many street protests and has become a major distraction for Colom.

On May 10, 2009, Rosenberg was shot and killed while riding his bicycle. Rosenberg was representing two individuals who had allegedly been assassinated over alleged activities surrounding Banrural – the same bank Anleu tweeted about earlier this week. Rosenberg’s death is allegedly linked to this case. His death has become a rallying cry for Guatemala’s young people who are fed up with lack of jobs, rule of law, and prospects for a better future.

The United States is Guatemala’s most important trading partner. According to USAID, excluding debt forgiveness, the country receives close to $1 billion a year in the form of foreign aide from various sources. The goal in U.S. taxpayer-funded programs is to is to “promote a more secure, prosperous, and democratic society where rule of law prevails and human rights are respected.” Does it seem like arresting tweeters is consistent with this policy? Quite the opposite.

The arrest of Anleu by Colom authorities is just as wrong as what the Iranian clerics are doing to the opposition in Iran or the Castro regime is doing in Cuba. The Colom Administration should drop these outrageous charges. In the meantime, the Obama Administration and the foreign aid oversight committees of the U.S. Congress should take a close look at U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign assistance to Guatemala. If the Guatemalan authorities insist on prosecuting Anleu, cutting foreign assistance to the Colom Administration is fair game.

For more information on the Anleu case be sure to visit this blog. There is another, here.