Weekly News Roundup

August 23-30

  • More than 400 Guatemalan and American soldiers join anti-drug operation The joint operation involves efforts by air, land and sea as a part of Operation Martillo, which began in January and aims to stop drug trafficking along the Central American coast. This phase of the operation began last week on the southern coast with the aid of four US helicopters. Guatemala is used as a port by drug cartels that transport drugs from South America to their destination in the United States. The article notes that 90% of the cocaine that arrives in the US has passed through Central America and Mexico.
  • Pérez Molina to give his proposal to combat drug trafficking before the UN in September President Pérez Molina will participate for the first time in the General Assembly of the United Nations where he plans to present his new initiative to fight drug trafficking. In a radio interview Monday the president noted that the world needs to be more creative in the battle against drug trafficking, because he does not see the methods used in the last 40 years as successful. In February he proposed the decriminalization of drugs as a strategy to end the drug trade.
  • General José Efraín Ríos Montt’s amnesty request denied Ríos Montt was denied amnesty for the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, which he had requested based on the Law of National Reconciliation. The law provides protection for some crimes committed during this time, but has exceptions. Ríos Montt’s lawyer has stated that they will appeal  the decision, an action that will further delay the case.
  • Commission Against Sexual Violence created Through a new piece of legislation the Commission Against Sexual Violence was created under the Vice Presidency in Guatemala. The Commission was created in order to investigate, report and monitor sexual violence and develope policies aimed at reducing the risk of sexual attacks.
  • Indigenous communities reject new group of Constitutional reforms The Mayan Coordination Committee has stated that the new group of constitutional reforms presented by Pérez Molina incites racism and militarization in the country. The Committee has expressed their full rejection of the group of reforms because the 35 articles make no mention of the recognition of Mayan languages as official languages, and do not establish greater indigenous representation in governmental institutions
  • The Right to Truth in Guatemala After filing an amicus brief in the Military Diary case against Guatemala before the Inter American Court of Human Rights, the Open Society Justice Initiative presented a study on the importance to victims of the recognition of the right to truth concerning the human rights violations committed in Guatemala. The Court has only accepted the existence of the right to truth as a subsidiary right to the right to due process and justice, but its recognition as an independent right, as requested by the plaintiffs in the Military Diary case, would increase the protection of victims, family members and survivors of gross violations of human rights.
  • State preforms acts to dignify children victims of the armed conflict After the Inter American Commission mandated that Guatemala must celebrate the National Day in Memory of the Child Victims of the Armed Conflict in 2008, the state has finally taken the first steps in this direction. The Commission ordered the state to dignify child victims of the armed conflict every August 25. The bill, which legalizes this celebration, was presented to Congress in 2009, but has yet to be approved.
  • Communities request consultations on gold mining project Community leaders have been requesting consultations on the San Rafael mining project for the last eight months. Roberto Pivaral, a community leader, stated that there is no information as to how the company is extracting the gold, how it affects the environment and what damage it is going to cause the communities.  As a result, the nearby communities have continued to protest the operations of the mine.

Weekly News Roundup

August 17-August 22

  • Anti-mining protests reach five months. The communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have now been protesting the presence of the El Tambor mine for 165 days. According to Ryan Adams, a representative of Kappes Cassiday (the company developing the project), the companies are awaiting the intervention of the government before moving forward with mining operations. However, the community members participating in the protest say that their blockade will continue until the government completely suspends mining licenses in the area.
  • Jorge de León Duque sworn in as Human Rights Ombudsman. De León Duque will officially assume the position today, and his post will last until August 20th, 2017. He affirmed that the office should not focus solely on the delinquent, but should also focus on the victim, and will create a plan for psychological support. Additionally, one of his first acts will be to reduce his salary, previously at Q100,000 per month, to Q45,000 per month.
  • Almost 400 femicides have been committed so far in 2012. The Presidential Commission for to Treat Femicide reported that 377 femicides occurred between January 1st and August 8th, 56 fewer cases than the same period in 2011. Eighty percent of these violent deaths, the commission reported, correspond to women who had previously suffered domestic violence.
  • Ex-police chief sentenced to 70 years in prison for 1981 forced disappearance. Pedro García Arredondo was convicted of helping to plan and carry out the 1981 disappearance of agriculture student Edgar Sáenz Calito. Sáenz was captured in March 1981 and was charged with endangering the security of the nation; he should have been freed on June 9th of the same year, but according to the prosecution, García Arredondo ordered members of security forces under his control to illegally capture the student.
  • Further links between war on drugs, militarization, and oil companies in Petén. A journalist traveling in Petén reports on the increasing militarization and development of oil extraction in the region, indicating that companies are providing financing for the military to install itself in communities. A resident who lives near Laguna del Tigre National Park described the presence of six small bases and 250 soldiers in the area, some of whom have taken part in evictions or restriction of access of goods to communities. Former Governor of Péten, Rudel Mauricio Alvarez was also interviewed, speaking of the challenges of damage caused by oil companies and drug traffickers.
  • Genocide trial delayed again. The defense attorney for José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez filed a motion to contest jurisdiction based on the Law of National Reconciliation. The case will be delayed until the appellate court resolves the matter. Rodríguez Sanchez, along with Efrain Ríos Montt and Hector López Fuentes are accused of genocide for their involvement in a series of massacres in the Ixil Triangle region of Guatemala in the early 1980s.

Weekly News Roundup

August 10-August 16
  • Coban residents protest hydroelectric dam, evictions. On August 8th and 9th, residents of the community Monte Olivo, near Coban, Alta Verapaz, carried out protests against conflicts in the area. On the 9th, they concentrated their efforts near the airport of the municipal seat of Coban, giving a document to mayor Leonel Arturo Chacón that contained denouncements by the communities of Tezulutlán Q’eqchi’, Poqomchi’ y Achi’, and Oxlaju Kame.
  • Mining rejection marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9th, indigenous groups denounced racism and discrimination on the part of the government in the distribution of funds in the budget. They consider indigenous peoples to be the least represented in economics, politics, and decision-making in the country. The Center for Human Rights Legal Actions pointed out that in the past couple of years, 250 conflicts have resulted from mining and development projects around the country. In addition, multiple communities came together in San Jose del Golfo to discuss the problems they are facing, where mining controversies stood out.
  • Campesino leader, involved in recent protests, assassinated. Héctor Girón, a leader of the Committee for Campesino Development (Codeca), was ambushed and shot by two men on August 10th, on a road near Teculatán, Zacapa. In a statement, Codeca said that Girón was involved in the roadblocks carried out on Wednesday, August 8th, to demand that the government attend to the needs of the rural population and put an end to repression of activists. The National Coordinating Committee of NGOs and Cooperatives met on Friday to urge the authorities to clear up the crime.
  • Xinca leader assassinated. Rubén Darío López was killed in his home in Jutiapa on August 12th, according to his wife, who was also home at the time. López had previously been the director of the Xinca Community of Jutiapa and was also on the list of candidates for the municipal council of Jutiapa, but relatives reported that he had not received any threats of death or violence and that they did not know the reasons behind the assassination.
  • Community members vacate housing under judicial order. Residents of Guatemala City had been living in a settlement named Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán since January 13th, on the outskirts of the Matamoros military headquarters. On August 13th, more than 200 families vacated the area peacefully following a judicial order, although they had previously submitted a request to the Ministry of Defense in April to be allowed to remain. Before deciding to leave the area, residents had formed a human chain in protest, asking for support from the authorities in their struggle to find a place to build their homes. Many of the families relocated to the side of the highway on the same property. On August 15th, the police removed the families once again, which led to a violent confrontation in which one police officer and three others were injured.
  • Judicial Branch inaugurates special tribunal on femicide. The president of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Judicial Branch, Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández, inaugurated both a court of first instance and a trial court in Alta Verapaz on August 13th. The courts will operate with five judges and a budget of Q5 million per year, in addition to personnel who speak Q’eqchi; 89% of the department’s population belongs to the Q’eqchi community. The inauguration of the courts follows Agreement 12-2012, signed in March of this year during the celebration of International Women’s Day, which approved their creation.

Weekly News Roundup

August 3-August 9
  •  Judge sentences former official to prison for falsification of environmental impacts from oil. On August 1st, a judge sentenced Sergio Veliz Rizzo, former secretary of the Protected Natural Areas Bureau, to three years in prison for ideological falsification and crimes against the constitution. The judge found that in 2007, Rizzo, who was in charge of the publication of a report on the Mayan Biosphere, eliminated paragraphs of the report that indicated the environmental damage caused by oil driling in the El Tigre lagoon by Perenco. While it is unlikely that Rizzo will actually serve any time in prison, the sentence is of extreme importance in investigating who the government is backing and working for.
  • Former members of the military deny that Coban remains are results of massacres. To date, the site in the former Military Zone 21, in Coban, Alta Verapaz, has yielded 316 skeletons, many of which are blindfolded or tied with ropes. The exhumations have been carried out by the Foundation for Forensic Anthropology (FAFG), and according to testimonies, the remains are those of people accused of being guerrillas during the internal armed conflict. El Periódico attempted to speak with various former members of the military who directed or led the military base in the 1980s, many of whom refused to speak about the remains or said that they were from two local cemeteries.
  • Court upholds appeal in Rios Montt case. On August 6th, the Constitutional Court affirmed an appeal by the Fourth Criminal Court in the Dos Erres case, which sought to stall the process and seek the application of the Reconciliation Law. By upholding the appeal, the Court has allowed the Fourth Criminal Court to decide if the law should apply to this case, which would grant amnesty to Rios Montt. Attorney Edgar Pérez, a representative of the organization Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA), called the decision absurd, noting that the Inter American Court on Human Rights had previously established that no reduction of responsibility or amnesty could be applied to those accused in the Dos Erres case.
  • Campesinos create roadblocks in protest. On August 8th, representatives from the National Coordination of Campesino Organizations created roadblocks at 16 points along major highways in the country, to protest the rise of electric energy, demand the approval of the Rural Development Law, and to protest mining, among other concerns. Leaders of the organization intended to protest outside the Presidential House but reported their intent to withdraw if a police presence was established in the area, saying that they did not want any conflicts.

Weekly News Roundup

July 20-August 2

  • Constitutional Court to hear case on constitutionality of mining lawOn Monday July 23rd, the court heard a case challenging the 1997 mining law for the failure to consult with communities. The lawsuit was filed by the Western Peoples Council (CPO) and will allow the Constitutional Court to have 20 days to rule after the hearing. The CPO plans to bring the case to the Inter American Court on Human Rights if the court does not rule in its favor.
  • Eight thousand community members march to oppose miningResidents of Jalapa, Jutiapa, and Santa Rosa protested on Friday, July 27th, in San Rafael Las Flores. In addition to opposing the San Rafael mine itself, the community members were protesting the absence of a visit by a high-level commission to the area, which was supposed to attend meetings on mining exploration. In response to the march, the municipal center was closed and 200 police agents were sent.
  • Indigenous communities and campesinos reject constitutional reformsThe Assembly of the National Indigenous, Campesino and Popular March (Amarc) expressed their rejection of the group of constitutional reforms presented by the executive branch to Congress. They stated that the reforms not only do not express the sentiment of the people of Guatemala, but that they disregard the sentiment and needs of campesino and indigenous communities.
  • Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Prize winner, calls for an analysis of the impact of development on indigenous populationsMenchu proposed an analysis of the impact development and development projects have had on indigenous populations around the world. Menchu called upon the international community to study the effects of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its fulfillment by the governments of the world. She also stated that indigenous communities should be taken into account when studying legislation and projects that might affect them.
  • MSICG denounces attacks on union leadersThe Campesino and Indigenous Union Movement of Guatemala (MSICG) denounced attacks on union leaders and requested that the Inter American Commission on Human Rights grant precautionary measures. The representatives stated that for years the rights of the people have not been respected in Guatemala and that the justice system has failed to protect union leaders.
  • Repression continues in Santa Cruz BarillasThe Court of First Instance in Santa Eulalia reported on July 25th that arrest warrants exist for another 33 people in Santa Cruz Barillas, following the 12 arrests made during the State of Siege in May. The charges include kidnapping, threats, and delinquency; the accused, who are activists and leaders within the community, deny that they have any connection to the crimes. Centro de Medios Independientes also interviewed Sergio Vives, a lawyer for the activists captured in May, about the recent events.
  • Public Prosecutor’s office to appeal Byron Lima decisionThe Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) will appeal the July 13th decision that granted release from prison to retired colonel Byron Lima, who was convicted of the assassination of Bishop Juan José Gerardi in 1998. The MP’s decision is based on the six years that the ex-colonel spent in the military hospital, during which time it was not possible to verify his conduct. Additionally, Prosecutor Jorge Garcia stated that in a previous attempt to seek early release, the authenticity of the documents submitted on behalf of Lima was in question.
  • Inter American Commission takes Guatemala to court. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights announced that it was remitting a case to the Inter-American Court for Guatemala’s lack of investigation into the murder of Florentin Gudiel Ramos, a human rights activist killed in 2004. The case remains in impunity and his family members had to leave their homes as the government could not guarantee their safety after testifying before the authorities.
  • Prosecutor’s Office requests additional charges against Garcia Arredondo The Prosecutor’s Office has requested the judge of the case against former director of the National Police to add the charge of attempt of murder to Garcia Arredondo. Arredondo faces charges of forced disappearance for the case of two students from the University of San Carlos who were kidnapped and murdered when they were coming back from the funeral for 37 Spanish citizens who died during the fire in the Spanish embassy in 1980. Garcia Arredondo is also being investigated for that case, as he is accused of preventing firemen from rescuing personnel from the embassy.