Concerns Over Incitement to Violence Across Guatemala

(Translation of a press release issued by the Human Rights Convergence. The original Spanish version is available below).

END THIS PROVOCATION AND TERROR

Faced with various events that suggest premeditated incitement of social conflict, the Human Rights Convergence states:

1. Over the last week, a number of acts have occurred that illustrate a pattern of incitement to violence with the intention of sparking conflict, in order to then justify repressive action. The following stand out:

• On Wednesday the 17th, during a day of protests organized by movements in defense of territory, a group of masked people tried to convince the community members located at the crossroads of Cubilhuitz-Salaquín to burn down government buildings. When the community members refused, the masked group threw rocks at the office building, provoking the arrival of the National Civilian Police (PNC), who attacked the community.

• On Thursday the 18th, while the National Civilian Police pressured protestors at a point along the highway in Camotán, Chiquimula to end the protest, supposed members of security forces shot at protestors and injured various members of the police. This provoked a reaction by the PNC against the community, to the point that community reporter Norma Sansir was arrested and unjustly charged, along with a lay employee of Nuevo Día, Carlos Juárez, and three other community members, including one person arrested on their own property. Police also launched tear gas inside schools.

• Community leaders from San Juan Sacatepéquez describe how on the afternoon of Friday the 19th, in the hamlet of Los Pajoques, a group of about 15 armed men, employees of the cement company that is attempting to build a factory in the area, arrived and shot into the air. They injured one person in the community who died upon arrival at Roosevelt Hospital. Another person passed away from bullet wounds later that afternoon. The community pursued the armed men and managed to hold four of them prisoner. The rest fled the area after having injured various people, including those who passed away. The community demanded the presence of the PNC, which never arrived on the scene  despite — according to declarations from the head of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) — assurances by the Chief of Police that he himself would arrive. The community members tried to hand over the four people they had detained (those accused of having shot, injured and killed two in the community) to the police.

Nevertheless, hours passed and the PNC never arrived in the community. With the absence of the responsible state authorities, the conflict intensified to such an extreme that unidentified groups set fire to houses and vehicles. Finally, in an equally reputable act, those who had been holding the four suspects prisoner executed them, raising the death toll to six.

2. It is notable that in each case, and particularly in that of San Juan Sacatepéquez on Friday night and early Saturday, the state authorities – absent from the scene of the conflict and without conducting investigations – blame organizations defending their rights to land and territory. This comes without any detailed investigation of the pattern of provocative acts described above.

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GHRC Announces Human Rights Defenders Award Recipient

bufeteGHRC is proud to announce that this year’s Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defenders Award will be presented to the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Firm.

GHRC selected the Human Rights Law Firm for its unparalleled defense and promotion of human rights through its work accompanying victims and challenging injustice. The mission of the firm, founded by Edgar Pérez in 2009, is to provide professional and dignified legal representation and to promote human rights.

Click here to RSVP now!

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Guatemala News Update: September 1-5

AP: Guatemala Bishop’s Killer Ran Alleged Jail Empire

Former Guatemalan Army Captain Byron Lima Oliva, originally sentenced to 20 years in jail for the 1998 murder of Bishop Gerardi, is facing new charges of organized crime and money laundering. Prosecutors allege that Lima built an “illicit prison empire,” extorting money from inmates and officials in return for favors. National prison system director Sergio Camargo also faces charges, and allegedly received money from Lima.

The hearing of first statements from Lima and 13 others who are being accused, originally slated for Friday, September 5, was rescheduled by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez over health concerns.

Telesur: US Court Sets Precedent by Ruling Guatemalan Domestic Violence Victim Can Seek Asylum

This week, the top US immigration court ruled that women fleeing situations of domestic violence can legally seek asylum in the United States.

KEY QUOTE: “‘This decision shines a light on the extreme gender-based violence which exists in Guatemala, and the same is true of El Salvador and Honduras – and many of those in the recent ‘surge’ should benefit from this ruling,’ said Musalo, a legal adviser who helped advance this historic case.”

Newsweek: Dubbed Terrorists, Mayans Fight Back Against Guatemalan Mining Projects

This article provides an overview of several indigenous resistance movements to mega-projects throughout Guatemala, as well as the repression and criminalization these movements are facing.

KEY QUOTE: “In theory, their communal right to land is enshrined in law; according to International Labour Organisation standards, these communities need to give free, prior and informed consent for any mining project that conflicts with those claims. In practice, a complicated system of land titling, and the constant re-evaluation of boundaries by local and national governments has created a vacuum of human and property rights.”

Telesur: Guatemala Strikes Down ‘Monsanto Law’

This week, Guatemala’s Congress, responding to pressure and public protests from groups across the country, voted to repeal the so-called ‘Monsanto Law’ — a seed-privatization provision in the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) with the US. Residents worry that the law would monopolize agricultural production and threaten food sovereignty. It remains unclear how the decision will ultimately affect Guatemala’s inclusion in CAFTA-DR.

CMI Reports Attacks After Coverage in Alta Verapaz

Information provided by the Independent Media Center in Guatemala (CMI-G).

Several attacks were made against the Independent Media Center in Guatemala in the wake of the center’s coverage of a recent violent eviction in the department of Alta Verapaz. In a joint operation carried out by the police, military forces, and some civilians, more than 100 families were displaced, at least five community leaders were arrested, and three people were killed. These events — which occurred in an area where there are strong interests in hydroelectric, extractive, and agricultural mega-projects — have still not been properly investigated or resolved.

Just after the eviction, CMI suffered attacks on its web page and server, which prohibited the immediate publication of information. Then, on August 23, a person who lives in the same house as one of the CMI reporters was kidnapped, harassed, and beaten. Direct threats were also made to the reporter who authored the columns about the eviction at Alta Verapaz.

GHRC echoes CMI’s concerns that this attack represents a growing trend of criminalization and repression of independent journalists and communications professionals. Others have been similarly targeted, such as Ricard Busquets from the Comite de Unidad Campesina (CUC), and Francisca Gómez Grijalva, a journalist who was threatened with trial for writing a column that critiqued industrial manufacturing company Cementos Progreso for abuse of power.

Read the original CMI article in Spanish:

Desde el inicio de la cobertura que realizó un equipo del Centro de Medios Independientes de Guatemala (CMI-G) acerca de los más recientes desalojos en el departamento de Alta Verapaz, realizados por agentes de la Policía Nacional Civil, ejército y algunos civiles que irregularmente los acompañaban, se inició una cadena de ataques, entre ellos informáticos, que impidieron publicar de forma inmediata la información recopilada durante los acontecimientos.1 En esa acción fueron desplazadas más de cien familias, se capturó a cinco líderes comunitarios y tres campesinos fueron asesinados, en hechos hasta ahora no esclarecidos. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 18-22

 

House burning in 9 de Febrero. (Photo: Konga)

House burning in 9 de Febrero. (Photo: Konga)

Hundreds evicted and three killed in conflicts over hydroelectric dam

An agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina on July 30 resulted in a violent eviction in Monte Olivo, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. 1,600 police were mobilized in response to the subsequent protests resulting in dozens of arrests and injuries, as well as the deaths of three campesinos in Semococh. Several indigenous organizations reported that police officers instigated the conflict that led to the extrajudicial killing of the three men. There was reportedly no consultation with the communities that would be affected by the project’s installation prior to the agreement’s signing.

Chixoy Dam protesters demand reparations or return of land

Around 350 people from the community La Campana in Chicamán, Quiché blocked the main entrance to the Chixoy Dam, demanding economic reparations or the return of their land from the dam’s operators, the National Electrification Institute (INDE). With the help of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and other mediators, the protesters agreed to dialogue with INDE and have left the site of the dam.

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In Ferguson and in Guatemala

Over the last week, we have listened with growing horror as news reached us from Monte Olivo, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Since 2010, residents of the region who oppose the construction of the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam have been victim to various attacks, including one in August 2013 that left two young boys dead.http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?key=-1&url_num=2&url=http%3A%2F%2Forg.salsalabs.com%2Fo%2F2690%2Fp%2Fdia%2Faction3%2Fcommon%2Fpublic%2F%3Faction_KEY%3D16152

Then, last week, according to the Prensa Comunitaria, the government deployed over 1,000 police to Monte Olivo to evict 160 families of the community 9 de Febrero. As helicopters flew overhead, police and day laborers destroyed homes and assaulted residents, leaving several people injured. Five people were also arrested in Monte Olivo, as well as two others in nearby Raxruhá. In response, hundreds of people blocked the highway to prevent the passage of the police. In an ensuing conflict between protesters and police, three men were killed in the community of Semacoch, allegedly by police gunfire, and several people were injured, including six police. Eight police were also detained by protesters, but have since been released.

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Guatemala News Update: August 11-15

Agreement to construct hydroelectric project leads to violent eviction

An agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina on July 30 resulted in a violent eviction in Monte Olivo, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. As a result of the eviction and subsequent protests, 24 people were arrested, six police officers injured, and three people died. There was reportedly no consultation with the communities that would be affected by the project’s installation.

Another Goldcorp crime is exposed

An interview with a woman by the alias of “Doña A” recounts the alleged 2009 murder of her husband by employees of the Marlin Mine in Northwest Guatemala. Her husband informed neighboring communities about the negative effects the mine would have and also helped organize a community referendum. Continue reading