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In a Guatemalan courtroom Tuesday, prosecutors will present their case against a former military dictator who ruled during one of the bloodiest periods in the Central American nation's 36-year civil war.

Efrain Rios Montt is accused of genocide in the murder of tens of thousands of Guatemala's Indians. Human rights advocates and the families of victims have struggled for years to bring him before the court, and they say it is the first trial in Latin America of a former president in the country where he ruled.

Antonio Cava, an Ixil Indian with jet black hair, high cheekbones and a soft smile, remembers the exact date, Jan. 15, 1982, when his peaceful childhood high in the Guatemalan mountains came to an end. He was 11.

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A group of foreign college students who came to the U.S. on cultural work exchange visas in December have been protesting their working conditions at a McDonald's in Harrisburg, Pa. In the process, they've wading into a debate about guest workers in the U.S.

The students include Jorge Rios, who says three months ago he eagerly did the legwork necessary to get a J-1 visa, used for student work exchange.

"I had to do a lot of paperwork back in my country to get the visa. I had to travel long distances because I don't live in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, I live 14 hours away from there," he says.

Rios borrowed much of the $3,000 it cost. When he arrived in the U.S., the experience wasn't what he was told to expect.

He was escorted to a room in the basement of a house owned by family of the McDonald's franchise owner where he worked. He shared the tiny quarters with seven other students. Each of them got $300 deducted from their paychecks every month for rent — far above market rates.

"We didn't have any privacy. We slept in bunk beds that were meant for children because they moved and squeaked," he says.

Rios says the students were told they'd get 40 work hours per week. But they got only 25 and were told to remain on-call at all times. When they complained, Rios says, his employer threatened them with deportation and further reduced their work hours.

Student Workers Organize

Earlier this month, after reading online about previous student-worker protests, Rios retaliated. The social communications major organized his 15 student co-workers and staged a strike. They have filed grievances with the U.S. Labor Department and State Department, and are requesting a meeting with McDonald's corporate management.

According to the State Department, the J-1 visa, or Summer Work Travel Program, started after World War II to promote cultural diplomacy. Following allegations of abuse in recent years, the State Department curtailed the number of students permitted to come to the U.S. to about 90,000 a year, from a peak of about 150,000 a year.

Robin Lerner, deputy assistant secretary in charge of exchange programs, says the instances of abuse are regrettable and rare.

"Most of the program is filled with wonderful placements," she says, "and the students say what a wonderful time they had and the time they spent here in the United States will forever change their lives."

Investigating The Claims

Lerner says reports of abuse are taken seriously. Companies licensed to administer the programs are sometimes disqualified. The State Department conducts spot checks of programs — though it didn't visit the Harrisburg McDonald's. Now, the State Department says it is investigating Rios' claims.

McDonald's said in an emailed statement that it is also investigating the case. Kevin Morgan, chief executive of GeoVisions, the company that is the State Department-licensed intermediary with the students, said in an email, "we are collecting data, talking with people involved and investigating all aspects of this case."

"We don't want people to come here and have a negative experience, and then leave," Lerner says. "I mean, to me that is the polar opposite of the reason why we have this program."

The Debate Over Work Visas

But the McDonald's case taps into a broader ongoing debate about foreign temporary workers, over 1 million of whom come to the U.S. every year on various visas, including H-2A and H-2B visas. Agriculture and home health care businesses rely heavily on cheap imported labor. But businesses and unions are at odds over how many guest workers should be allowed, and how much to pay them.

Saket Soni is president of the National Guestworker Alliance, a union that helped Rios organize. He says both student and guest workers often fall victim to exploitation.

"It's a massive problem," he says.

Soni says many students — like Rios — go into debt to come here and then are coerced into hard labor or forced to live in destitute conditions.

"The problems with the J-1 visa are part of a bigger picture, which is that guest workers across the country are firstly exploited, and secondly used to undercut local workers and turn jobs into temporary and low-wage jobs," he says.

Unexpected Lessons

In 2011, Ionut Bilan, a 24-year-old student in Romania, helped organize J-1 visa student-workers at a Hershey's chocolate warehouse. He says his experience in the U.S. doing hard labor taught him some unexpected lessons.

"I wanted to stand up for myself, and I wanted to get this situation fixed," he says. Because the McDonald's student-workers were inspired by his protest, it was well worth the effort, he says.

Rios also says his stint has turned into a complex lesson about American society and politics.

"I think that our real cultural exchange started since we decided to get organized and expose this situation. Because we learned that, although we were going through that, most American people, they don't know this is going on," he says.

Rios says he plans to return to Argentina next week.


Breaking with tradition, Pope Francis delivered off-the-cuff remarks about God's power to forgive instead of reading from a written speech for the first Sunday window appearance of his papacy.

He also spoke only in Italian — beginning with "buon giorno" (Good day) and ending with "buon pranzo" (Have a good lunch) — instead of greeting the faithful in several languages as his last few predecessors had done.

His comments and humor delighted a crowd of more than 150,000 in St. Peter's Square, drawing cheers and laughter.

But Francis did tweet in English and other languages, saying: "Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. "

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was likely Francis, at least for the moment, given the off-the-cuff style, was sticking with Italian, a language he's comfortable with. Lombardi left open the possibility that other languages would be used in the appearances with the public in the future.

In just five days, Francis' straightforward, spontaneous style has become immediate hallmark of his papacy.

Earlier Sunday, he made an impromptu appearance before the public from a side gate of the Vatican, startling passers-by and prompting cheers, before delivering a six minute homily — brief by church standards — at the Vatican's tiny parish church.

Before he entered St. Anna's church to celebrate Mass, he heartily shook hands with parishioners and kissed babies.

After Mass, Francis put his security detail to the test as he waded into the street just outside St. Anna's Gate. As the traffic light at the intersection turned green, Francis stepped up to the crowd, grasping outstretched hands. The atmosphere was so casual that several people even gripped Francis on the shoulder.

A few minutes later as the traffic light turned red, Francis ducked back inside the Vatican's boundaries to dash upstairs for the window appearance from the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

The studio window was opened for the first time since Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, gave his last window blessing on Sunday, Feb. 24. Four days later, Benedict went into retirement, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years.

The crowd was cheering wildly when the white curtain at the window of his apartment was parted, and Francis appeared, but fell into rapt silence when he began to speak. Some people's eyes welled up. Many people waving the blue-and-white flags of Argentine, the homeland of the world's first Latin American pope. Some people help their children aloft or on their shoulders to get a better look.

Said Ivana Cabello, 23, from Argentina: "We are so proud. He is Argentine, but also belongs to the rest of the world."

Angela Carreon, a 41-year-old Rome resident originally from the Philippines, estimated the crowd was twice as big as for Benedict's last appearance on Feb. 28.

"I think he looks like John Paul II. I hope he is like him," she said. "He has a heart."

Francis, the first pope from Latin America, was elected on March 13. He has been staying in a hotel on the Vatican's premises until the papal apartment in the palace is ready.

Hundreds of extra traffic police were deployed Sunday morning to control crowds and vehicles, for it was also the day of Rome's annual marathon.

Bus routes were rerouted and many streets were closed off in an attempt to channel the curious and faithful up the main boulevard from the Tiber river to St. Peter's square.

Giant video screens were set up so the huge crowd could get a close-up look at Francis, and dozens of medical teams were on hand for any emergencies.

After the Mass, the pope stepped out jauntily from St. Anna's Church and waved to a crowd of hundreds kept behind barriers across the street, and then greeted the Vatican parishioners one by one. One young man patted the pope on the back — an indication of the informality that has been evident from the first moment of his papacy.

"Francesco! Francesco!" children shouted his name in Italian from the street. As he patted one little boy on the head, he asked "Are you a good boy?" and the child nodded.

"Are you sure?" the pope quipped.

In his homily, Francis said the core message of God is "that of mercy." He said God has an unfathomable capacity to pardon and noted that people are often harder on each other than God is toward sinners.

Edgardo Chapur, 42, an Argentine in Rome for first time, said it was very "emotional" to come to St. Peter's Square to listen to Francis.

"It's fantastic for us. I think it can change a lot of things in Argentina. It gives us hope," he said. "It has given us new strength."


Associated Press writers Daniela Petroff and Karl Ritter contributed to this report.


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