Guatemala News Update: April 14-18

La Puya protesters continue fighting, despite police intimidation


Community members at La Puya

Last week, members of the army and the police (PNC) visited San Jose de Golfo to try to break the La Puya resistance movement so that the mining company, KCA, could continue construction of the El Tambor mine that would severely contaminate the community’s water supply. The protesters believe President Otto Perez Molina is directly involved in the deployment of troops and police. A KCA spokesman denied contacting the PNC, but confirmed that he had been in communication with the Pérez Molina administration.

Support La Puya by asking KCA CEO Dan Kappes and the Ministry of the Interior in Guatemala to respect the rights of community members.

Students march against corruption and insecurity

Hundreds of San Carlos University (Usac) students gathered to march in protest of the rampant corruption and insecurity that plagues Guatemala on Friday. Various departments of the university participated, the majority centering their attention on the index of violence in the country, which stands at 16 homicides per day. In addition, in anticipation of Semana Santa, which in 2013 included 96 murders, the PNC is stepping up its forces again.

UN expresses concern for Judge Barrios suspension

The UN responded to the one-year suspension of Judge Barrios, voicing concern about Guatemala’s justice system. The International Commission of Jurists (CIJ) also spoke out against the “pact of impunity” in Guatemala that stands as an obstacle to judging gross human rights violations committed during the 30-year civil war.

GHRC and other international organizations also released a statement criticizing the suspension of Judge Barrios.

New president named to Constitutional Court

Judge Roberto Molina Barreto took on the role of president of the CC yesterday for the 2014-2015 period. Among his upcoming responsibilities will be choosing the next attorney general and the judges for the Supreme Court. Molina Barreto commented that there has been no interference in recent decisions such as the Rios Montt genocide case or the term of Claudia Paz y Paz. He also noted the necessity of reform in the judicial sector.

 Guatemalan President pleads for reelection

President Otto Pérez Molina expressed support for the possibility of reelection in Guatemala. He claimed that Guatemala has “the worst system,” and that four years are too few to effectively govern. Aristides Crespo, the head of congress, voiced his support for reelection as well, at least for the incumbents. However, there are no current plans to change the constitution in regard to the elections.

Task Force to combat crime announced 

The Guatemalan government announced its plan to “prevent, combat, dismantle and eradicate criminal actions,” specifically in areas near the Honduran border. Modeled after a similar task force in San Marcos along the Mexican border, the plan, called Fuerza de Tarea Interinstitucional Chortí (Chortí Interagency Task Force), will aim to strengthen security along the border. The “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to a recent UNODC report, has the highest murder rate in the world.

Guatemala News Update: April 7-11


Children from La Puya play at the movement's two-year anniversary

Children from La Puya play at the movement’s two-year anniversary

New tension in La Puya

Members of the peaceful resistance at La Puya are facing threats and intimidation once more from mining company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA). Yesterday, a new KCA subcontractor, Transmac, attempted to bring heavy machinery into the mining site. Due to community pressure, Transmac eventually removed the mining equipment, but a strong police presence has grown and remains around San Jose del Golfo. For updates, check our blog and Facebook page.

Nomination Committee to review objections against attorney general candidates

The 26 candidates that the Nomination Committee is considering for the next attorney general position underwent psychiatric evaluations. The results of the evaluations, however, will be kept confidential. Human rights advocates expressed their concern for the lack of transparency that surrounds the selection process of the Nomination Committee. The Committee will also review objections presented against 15 of the 26 candidates, among them current Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. Those who have received objections must submit evidence regarding the accusations in order to continue in the race for the attorney general position.

Central American Regional Security Conference focuses on Operation Martillo 

At the Central American Regional Security Conference last week, leaders from Latin American nations, the UK, and the US met to discuss Operation Martillo, the illicit trafficking mission in Central America and the Caribbean. Beginning in January of 2012, the mission has aimed to dismantle criminal organizations and confiscate drugs being trafficked through the region. U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, called the mission a success, and he and Guatemalan Chief of National Defense Major General Rudy Ortiz met with human rights group Grupo Apoyo Mutual to involve civil society in the operation.

Femicide gets spotlight in court

Guatemala is ranked as having the highest number of femicides in the region, though it is making progress through femicide courts created in 2010. This article outlines the death of 18-year-old Estéfani Julissa Estrada Neill at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, who was given a 50-year prison sentence. Hilda Morales Trujillo, director of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Victim Services, drew attention to the fact that femicide is not just the female counterpart to homicide, but it is a “result of unequal power relations.” Although progress is being made, challenges facing the courts include shortcomings in the use of forensic evidence, excessive reliance on testimonial evidence, and the fact that the courts are not operating all over the country.

Justice for victims of El Aguacate Massacre

At the hearing of Felipe Solano Barillas, alias “Lieutenant David,” families of the 22 people killed in the El Aguacate Massacre in 1988 testified and were horrified to finally learn the details of their relatives’ murders. The El Aguacate Massacre is one of the few massacres that took place during the civil war at the hands of guerrilla fighters. Solano Barillas is the only ex-guerrilla being tried.

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights denounces suspension of Judge Barrios

The Guatemalan Bar Association (CANG) issued a one-year suspension against Judge Yassmín Barrios, who issued the initial ruling against former military leader Efraín Rios Montt, which was later overturned. The suspension derived from an accusation from José Mauricio Rodríguez’s legal team regarding Judge Barrios’ supposed abuse of power. Judge Barrios fought back against the suspension, noting that it signifies “that the door to impunity and corruption is being opened.” GHRC stands with other human rights organizations in support of Judge Barrios.

Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples receives critiques

The Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples, headed by President Pérez Molina, was created to comply with the state’s promise to contribute to the construction of equality and unity among various ethnic groups in the country. According to indigenous rights advocates, however, the installation of the Cabinet is simply a political tool for Pérez Molina to use as positive publicity in the 2015 election and stands no chance of getting any real work done in 2014.

New case puts Guatemalan press freedom in spotlight again

In addition to the case brought against El Periodico editor Jose Rubén Zamora earlier this year by Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Juan Luis Font — editor of the magazine Contrapoder – will be tried for criminal libel. Reporters Without Borders has condemned the charges and is urging authorities to “recognize this judicial aberration.” Guatemala is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Guatemala ranked fifth in countries with the most homicides

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Guatemala is ranked as having the fifth highest homicide rate in the Americas, behind Honduras, Venezuela, Belize and El Salvador, respectively.


Members of ‘La Puya’ Face Intimidation, New Threats of Eviction

*From Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA):

Throughout the day yesterday, intimidation and threats of eviction by the National Police — at the service of US mining company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA) — continued against communities in resistance at ‘La Puya.’ Transmac, a local company contracted by KCA, arrived at the mine site with heavy machinery. The private company was escorted by the National Civil Police (PNC) as ordered by the Ministry of the Interior. By mid-day, community pressure forced Transmac to remove the machinery from the area, although two representatives of KCA’s local subsidiary, EXMINGUA, remained throughout the day. The police presence also remained and continued to grow. By 4 pm, there were roughly 300 agents, many of whom were women dressed in full riot gear, lined up outside the entrance to the peaceful encampment. No eviction order had been issued, but the intent was clear: to intimidate and provoke those in resistance.

*From Comunitaria Press:

Nuevamente la resistencia pacífica de La Puya esta siendo amenazada por la presencia de personeros y trabajadores de la empresa minera EXMINGUA – Kappes Cassiday & Associates KCA. Además hay presencia policíaca y del ejército en las cercanías de “La Puya“.

En horas de la mañana de este miércoles 9 de abril 2014, un nuevo contingente de trabajadores mineros pretende ingresar maquinaria y camiones al interior de la finca en donde se encuentra el proyecto minero “El Tambor” Progreso VII Derivada.

A las nueve de la mañana se hicieron presentes un convoy de maquinaria contratada por la por la empresa minera EXMINGUA , esta maquinaria grande y pesada entre ellas una retroexcavadora y camiones de volteo. Continue reading

Organizaciones Internacionales Condenan Suspensión de la Jueza Yassmín Barrios en Guatemala

(In English below)

7 de abril de 2014 — El pasado viernes, el Tribunal de Honor del Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala (CANG) notificó la resolución de fecha 9 de enero de 2014 en la cual se acuerda la suspensión temporal como abogada de la jueza Yassmín Barrios por el plazo de un año. La jueza Barrios preside el Tribunal A de Mayor Riesgo y en tal condición conoció del proceso en contra de los generales en retiro José Mauricio Rodríguez y Efraín Ríos Montt por el delito de genocidio y delitos contra la humanidad en perjuicio del pueblo Ixil.

La decisión del Tribunal de Honor se origina en una denuncia que presentó el abogado Moisés Galindo, defensor del imputado José Mauricio Rodríguez, debido a que el 19 de marzo del año 2013, el Tribunal A de Mayor Riesgo le ordenó asumir la defensa técnica de Ríos Montt ante diversas prácticas dilatorias provocadas por los abogados de este último. El abogado Galindo no estuvo de acuerdo con la decisión del Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo y por lo tanto acusó a la jueza Barrios ante el CANG de haberlo irrespetado y humillado públicamente.

El Tribunal de Honor del CANG acogió los argumentos del abogado Galindo y concluyó que la la jueza Barrios incurrió en una falta grave que atenta contra las normas de la ética profesional.

Para las organizaciones firmantes, la decisión del Tribunal de Honor es contraria a los estándares internacionales relacionados con las garantías para la independencia judicial. En primer lugar, dicho ente no tiene competencia para juzgar las actuaciones de los operadores de justicia. Así, de acuerdo con la legislación guatemalteca, el único órgano competente para conocer sobre las actuaciones de los jueces es la Junta Disciplinaria del Organismo Judicial, ente que conoció la misma denuncia presentada por el abogado Galindo y resolvió desestimarla.

Asimismo, dada la naturaleza gremial del Tribunal tampoco se reúnen las condiciones de independencia e imparcialidad, las cuales son indispensables en todo órgano de naturaleza disciplinaria.

Considerando lo anterior, resulta preocupante que el Tribunal de Honor sancione a la jueza Barrios sin ostentar las facultades para ello. De ejecutarse esta decisión, se estaría violentando la independencia judicial y el Estado de Guatemala podría incurrir en responsabilidad internacional.

Las organizaciones consideramos que la decisión del Tribunal de Honor forma parte del contexto de hostigamiento y persecusión que ha sufrido la jueza Barrios por su rol en el proceso sobre genocidio. En tal sentido, exhortamos a las autoridades guatemaltecas competentes a revertir la decisión de suspensión, en particular a la Corte Suprema de Justicia para que se abstenga de considerar la citada decisión y en su luguar se envíe un mensaje claro de apoyo a la labor de la jueza así como de respaldo y defensa irrestricta a la independencia de la judicatura en este país.

Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Washington (GHRC)
Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)
Iniciativa de Justicia de Open Society (OSJI)
Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA)
Plataforma Internacional contra la impunidad en Guatemala

April 8, 2014 – Last Friday, the Honor Tribunal of the Association of Lawyers and Notaries of Guatemala (Tribunal de Honor del Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala, CANG) issued a resolution dated January 9, 2014, in which they ruled to temporarily suspend Judge Yassmín Barrios from practicing law for one year.  Judge Barrios presides over the High Risk Tribunal A, where she oversaw the trials against retired generals José Mauricio Rodríguez and José Efraín Ríos Montt. They faced charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Ixil community.

The decision of the Honor Tribunal stems from a complaint filed by the attorney Moisés Galindo, defense counsel for José Mauricio Rodríguez. On March 19, 2013, the High Risk Tribunal A ordered Galindo to assume the technical defense of Rios Montt due to a variety of delaying tactics caused by Ríos Montt´s lawyers. Galindo disagreed with the decision of the Tribunal, and accused Judge Barrios before the CANG of disrespecting and publicly humiliating him.

The CANG Honor Tribunal heard Galindo’s arguments and concluded that Judge Barrios had gravely violated the rules of professional ethics.

To the undersigned organizations, the decision of the Honor Tribunal runs contrary to international standards which guarantee judicial independence. In the first place, the stated entity does not have the power to judge the actions of judicial personnel. In accordance with Guatemalan law, the only body which has jurisdiction over the actions of judges is the Judicial Disciplinary Board, which had already heard the complaint filed by Galindo and resolved to dismiss it.

Furthermore, the professional nature of the Tribunal, which is a collective of lawyers, does not allow for independence or impartiality; these two characteristics are essential for all disciplinary bodies.

Considering the above, it is concerning that the Honor Tribunal has punished Judge Barrios without having the authority to do so. To execute this decision would violate judicial independence and the State of Guatemala could be subject to international liability.

The undersigned organizations believe that the Honor Tribunal´s decision is part of a greater context of harassment and persecution that Judge Barrios has suffered for her role in the genocide proceedings. In this regard, we urge the competent Guatemalan authorities to reverse the decision to suspend Judge Barrios, and the Supreme Court to refrain from considering such a decision and instead send a clear message of support for the judge´s work as a sign of unconditional defense of judicial independence in this country.

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC)
Due Process and Law Foundation (DPLF)
Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Platform against Impunity

Guatemala News Update: March 31 – April 4

Say “No!” to U.S. funds for the Guatemalan Army

Upside Down World publicized the call from us at GHRC and our partners at NISGUA for the US government to maintain restrictions on funding to the Guatemalan Army, as Guatemala has not complied with conditions laid out in the 2014 US Appropriations Law.

Click here to sign our petition!

Activist Makrina Gudiel calls on students for solidarity during GHRC Speaker’s Tour 

During the GHRC Spring 2014 Speaker’s Tour, Guatemalan Activist Makrina Gudiel and GHRC Assistant Director Kathryn Johnson are speaking to students and community members at various locations along the East Coast. This article details Makrina’s presentations in Dartmouth and New Bedford, MA, where she outlined her struggle during the armed conflict in Guatemala and her fight to bring her brother’s and father’s deaths to justice. For the full Speaker’s Tour schedule, click here.

CICIG to investigate corruption in the judicial system

CICIG Spokesman Diego Alvarez confirmed that an investigation into the existence of links between criminal organizations and the judicial system is key. He noted that the investigation may be difficult, since certain individuals favor impunity.

Motives of suicide of Judge Barrientos questioned

Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice and human rights defender César Ricardo Crisóstomo Barrientos Pellecer committed suicide one month ago. An investigation suggest that the details surrounding his death relate to the pressure he was facing regarding his work in the judicial system. CICIG chief Iván Velásquez, who worked closely with Barrientos not long before his death, noted that Barrientos was primarily  concerned with judicial corruption and the need for action with respect to those facing a high risk of danger. Barrientos reported several incidents — including threatening phone calls, petitions to have him resign, damages to his mother’s grave and bullet holes in his car — that went unanswered.

New case regarding violence against women brought to Inter-American Court

Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz disappeared and was murdered in 2005. Ten years later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear the case regarding the Guatemalan government’s failure to investigate the crime. This hearing will question Guatemala’s policies of discrimination and violence against women.

Guatemalan government creates Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Diversity

In response to claims that Guatemala has failed to comply with the Agreement on Indigenous Rights, Guatemala has created the Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Diversity, which will last for a period of 10 years. President Pérez Molina will preside over the cabinet, which was created to comply with the state’s promise to contribute to the construction of equality and unity among various ethnic groups in the country, which make up 42 percent of the population.

Guatemala News Update: March 17-21

Human Rights Ombudsman to reprimand institutions for noncompliance with Access to Information Law

The Human Rights Ombudsman, Jorge de León, announced that his office will present a report to the Public Ministry that will list institutions which have failed to comply with the Access to Information Law. 

Format of elections for Supreme Electoral Court questioned

Last week, Guatemalan parliament chose five judges and five alternate judges to comprise the Supreme Electoral Court until 2020. The judges were chosen in private meetings and some are now questioning the secretive format of the elections, fearing that the chosen judges may have to return favors to the election committee. 

Mother of jailed military officer murdered

The mother of Juan Chiroy, a military officer awaiting trial for the murder of six indigenous people in Totonicapan, was found dead after being beaten and strangled in her home. The deaths for which Chiroy is accused took place in October 2012, when indigenous people were protesting a rise in electricity rates. 

Controversy continues over end of term for Claudia Paz y Paz

The Constitutional Court established that Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term in office will end May 17, despite having made major strides for justice in Guatemala. Paz y On her chances of being chosen by the Nominating Committee as one of the six candidates for the next term, Paz y Paz said she hopes her application and others will be examined by merits.

Prisoners held without conviction 

This article, titled “Guatemala: without freedom and without hope” outlines the tragic stories of women who are imprisoned simply for being poor. The article states that a report last August noted that up to 55 percent of those imprisoned are being held without a firm conviction. 

Former Guatemalan president pleads guilty to money laundering

Guatemala’s former president Alfonso Portillo, who held office from 2000 to 2004, pleaded guilty to a money laundering conspiracy in a New York City Federal Court on Tuesday. He confirmed that he accepted $2.5 million in bribes to recognize Taiwan diplomatically. Portillo acknowledged his wrongdoing and entered into a deal with U.S. prosecutors, agreeing not to appeal any prison term between four and six years. Now, Guatemala is requesting a report from Taiwan about the bribery.

National Civil Police adds to its forces

The PNC added 1,613 police officers to its force on Tuesday, among them 463 women. The new officers will be sent to southern regions of the country to “combat violence” and attempt to decrease the homicide rate, which stood at 6,072 in 2013. 

Another article notes that almost two-thirds of Latin America’s security forces are concentrated in seven countries — one of which is Guatemala — according to the platform Map of Citizen Security, a project by Brazilian NGO Instituto Igarapé, InSight Crime and the Inter-American Development Bank. 

Study finds greater conflicts in municipalities with high concentration of mining licenses

A study by the Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies (Icefi) and the NGO Ibis found that 78 percent of municipalities with high concentrations of mining licenses have high levels of conflict. Despite these high rates of conflict, Guatemala became the first Central American country to receive certification from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) this week.

Fashion Faux Pas? Free Trade and Sweatshop Labor in Guatemala

By Cyril Mychalejko

*Article originally published in Truthout.

Free trade agreements have not delivered promised protections to workers, as the case of Guatemalan sweatshop labor illustrates.

Juana, a 37-year-old single mother of two teenage sons, worked at a sweatshop in Guatemala that supplied clothes to more than 60 US retailers for four years.

“It was just enough to survive,” said Juana of the $1.05 hourly base wage she received at the factory. “When they paid for extra hours, one could get more resources. But it is not enough for education, housing, health, food and clothing. One does not live well with that wage. You need someone else in the family to be working, too.”

She is one of more than 1,000 mostly indigenous Mayan workers who were exploited and robbed at the Alianza Fashion Factory in the Department of Chimaltenango making garments for brands such as Macy’s, Walmart, JCPenney and Kohl’s. A worker such as Juana would have to work for more than 9,776 years to earn the $33.7 million JCPenney CEO Myron E. Ullman III made in 2012. JCPenney was Alianza’s top client in 2011.

report published in January by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights and the Center for Studies and Support for Local Development (CEADEL) offers a detailed case study of the corruption, abuse and shameless profiteering that often exemplify the global supply chain, demonstrating that globalization and “free trade” do not “lift all boats” but instead build more yachts for the 1%.

“Over the last 12 years, the Alianza workers were robbed of over $6 million in wages and benefits due them, most significantly health and pension benefits through the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS),” the report states.

During those 12 years, the report estimates that more than 52 million garments were produced for export. Retailers have marked up the price from the cost of production of items as much as 550 percent.

Bong Choon Park Seo, the South Korean owner of the factory, closed Alianza in March 2013 and is being sought by the Guatemalan government, although critics question how resolutely. In the 12 years that Park owned the factory he changed its legal name four times to avoid taxes and pocket the millions of dollars of stolen wages. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update March 8-14

Under the Volcano: Mining conflicts in Guatemala erupting in violence

Tensions continue to grow over mineral exploitation in Guatemala. One mining resistance movement, extraordinary for its dedication to non-violence and its success to date, is La Puya. The movement celebrated its second anniversary on March 3rd. The movement has lessons to offer other movements in Guatemala, as well as environmental movements in the U.S. 

Backlash continues over hydroelectric projects in Guatemala

An estimated 20,000 people demonstrated in Guatemala City last week against a plan to expand energy projects throughout rural areas of Guatemala complaining that energy prices are too high and that hydroelectric projects would result in displacement and land seizures. Of 57 sources of conflict identified by the country’s Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, 17 are hydroelectric projects, including Chixoy and Xalalá. 

“There’s no justice for the people whose human rights were violated,” Kelsey Alford-Jones, executive director of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission USA, said. Major hydroelectric and mining projects are notorious for “corruption and rubber stamping of environmental impact reports,” which has “led to severe lack of trust in public institutions.”

Survivors remember victims of Río Negro Massacre

Carmen Sánchez, whose son Miguel was murdered in the Río Negro Massacre at three years old on May 14, 1982, remembers her son and other victims of the massacre that was the devastating result of the installation of the Chixoy Dam. Community members, including Carmen, knew there were conflicts related to the pending dam, but never thought the soldiers would come to Río Negro. Thirty-two years later, justice has still not come. Through the Appropriations Act passed by the U.S. Congress, Carmen and other survivors are hoping that peace will come one day.

Continue reading

Victory in the US Congress: Reparations for the Chixoy Dam and the Military Ban

32 years ago today, 177 women and children were brutally murdered in Pokoxom during a series of state-ordered massacres which left a death toll of 444 Maya Achi people. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA expresses support for the survivors of the community of Rio Negro, who lived through brutal violence committed as part of the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam.

On January 16th, after a protracted battle, the US Congress passed a consolidated appropriations bill for 2014. The bill includes various restrictions on funding from the US Department of State (DOS) to Guatemala’s armed forces — a clear, if partial, victory against impunity and militarization.

Reparations for the Chixoy Dam

Chixoy dam

The Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam Reservoir. Photo by James Rodríguez.

The restriction that has received the most attention in Guatemalan news relates to reparations to 33 communities impacted by the construction of the Chixoy Dam in the early 1980s. Members of these communities, including survivors of the gruesome Rio Negro massacres, have waited for over 30 years for compensation and recognition of the injustice and abuse they suffered. The legislation bars the Guatemalan army from receiving funding under the Act until DOS certifies that Guatemala is taking credible steps to implement the Reparations Plan which the Guatemalan government signed in 2010, but never implemented.

In February, the organization representing the 33 communities affected by the dam — Adivima — released a statement criticizing the lack of progress in the implementation of the Reparations Plan. Adivima reported that, in the month after the bill was passed, the communities were neither approached by the government, the World Bank or IDB, nor were they informed of any concrete steps taken by the government to address the issue.

GHRC and partners are calling on the US Government to seek input from the communities as part of the evaluation process the bill requires. The US Appropriations Law creates a historic opportunity to finally compensate the communities that lost their homes and hundreds of loved ones, but if they are locked out of the process, we risk re-victimizing the very communities the law is meant to support.

The Military Ban

The bill contains another restriction, which has been largely ignored, related to ongoing and past human rights abuses committed by the Guatemalan Army. The language accompanying the bill bars DOS from granting funds from the Foreign Military Financing Program to the army until the Secretary of State certifies that the army is meeting certain conditions. The restriction is narrow, and still allows funding under this program to the rest of Guatemala’s armed forces.

That doesn’t mean that the restriction isn’t significant, though, or that it isn’t a thorn in the side of the Guatemalan government. When the current Guatemalan Ambassador to the US took over his post, he publicly stated that his number one priority was the removal of this very condition. Why does it matter so much to the Guatemalan government, when there’s a relatively small amount of money at stake?

The conditions state that to receive these funds, the Guatemalan Army has to:

1) Have a narrowly defined mission focused on border security and external threats, and a credible plan to end the army’s involvement in internal law enforcement;

2) Cooperate with civilian investigations and prosecutions of human rights cases involving current and retired military officers;

3) Publicly disclose all military archival documents relating to the internal armed conflict in a timely manner in response to requests by civilian judicial authorities.

What the bill is implicitly saying is that the Appropriations Committees believe that the Guatemalan Army currently doesn’t meet these criteria, and that’s the rub.

On the first point, Guatemala is clearly and unapologetically moving in the opposite direction. Under President Pérez Molina’s leadership, the Guatemalan army has been consistently deployed to carry out tasks that would normally fall to the police; soldiers have been stationed in various parts of the capitol to combat crime and insecurity, checkpoints were set up on highways across the country, and several army bases have opened in parts of the interior. In addition, the current government has imposed a form of martial law 13 times, putting the army in temporary control of the population.

The Guatemalan government has also taken steps backward on the disclosure of military documents. In January of 2013, the Defense Ministry classified documents from 1982 requested by the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office claiming that the information is still current and could endanger national security. There is also fear that many documents from the internal armed conflict were destroyed or remain hidden, despite a heavily publicized declassification process which began in 2011. In the archive created, which is supposed to cover the entire 36 year civil war in Guatemala, there are only 12,200 documents. By comparison, Guatemala’s police archive contains 80 million.

With the passage of the Appropriations Bill, it now falls to DOS to keep the pressure on Guatemala, and not just act as a rubber stamp. In other cases, like those of Colombia and Honduras, DOS has certified that those countries’ governments were abiding by Appropriations Committee imposed conditions despite abundant evidence presented to the contrary. Hopefully Congress will oversee the process this year so the conditions have a real impact on human rights in Guatemala.

In response to the bill a defiant President Pérez Molina stated, “We’re not anyone’s game. We’re going to do what we need to do.” He also singled out one Appropriations Committee Aide in particular as responsible for the bill. The President claimed that this aide “thinks he owns Guatemala just because he’s an aide to a senator.”

Senator Leahy, Chair of the Appropriations Committee responded by pointing out that the committee had authorized close to $100 million for Guatemala for this year. He also wrote, “Instead of blaming a member of the US Congress, Guatemalan authorities should comply with their responsibilities…”

Senator Leahy, with the help of his staff, has been a stalwart advocate for human rights and the rule of law in Guatemala for over a decade, using his position as the head of this powerful committee to keep US funds from supporting repressive policies. It’s little wonder that the Pérez Molina administration resents his efforts.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to the people of the US to guarantee that this law truly offers Guatemala incentive to change. The conditions are not a way for the US to insert itself in Guatemala’s internal affairs, but instead a tool for citizens to ensure that we’re not exacerbating an already explosive human rights situation, and instead supporting the ongoing struggle for justice.

Guatemala News Update: March 3-7

Investigation to follow death of Supreme Court Justice César Barrientos Pellecer

Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice César Barrientos Pellecer died last Sunday in Mazatenango bullet wounds to the head. News sources first presented conflicting reports as to whether his death was a suicide or a homicide; however, the National Forensic Science Institute (Inacif) confirmed that Barrientos committed suicide. GHRC expressed profound sadness regarding Barrientos’ death and released a note, written by Barrientos shortly before his death, which exemplified his dedication to justice. Now, the court must choose someone to fill the vacancy left by Barrientos.

Two years of peaceful resistance in La Puya

The communities of San José de Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc (‘La Puya’) celebrated two years of peaceful resistance last Sunday against a mining project by U.S.-owned company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates that would cause severe harm to the environment. Around 1,000 people joined a march on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary. See highlights and photos from the event here.

Claudia Paz y Paz to run for reelection

Claudia Paz y Paz announced that she will turn in her application to run for reelection as Guatemala’s attorney general on March 7. Four other candidates have officially turned in their documentation to run. Attorneys Jorge Luis Donado Vivar, Julio Cesar Rivera Clavería, Silvia Janeth García, and Edgar Abel López Sosa are the other candidates thus far. Though the CC still has not resolved the issue of when Paz y Paz’s term will officially end (May or December), the nominating committee must choose six candidates total by May 2.

Guatemala to analyze State Department’s human rights report

After the U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report on Guatemala, noting increases in homicides, impunity and corruption, President Otto Pérez Molina responded by announcing that the country will investigate the human rights abuses before taking an official position on the report. Still, he lamented that the report failed to recognize any of the advances that the country has made, including police reform.

Judge Barrios receives Annual Women of Courage Award

Judge Yassmin Barrios, who issued the initial ruling against former military leader Efraín Rios Montt, is among ten women who received the “International Award for the Courage of Women” on Wednesday. Michelle Obama participated in the awards ceremony. Barrios is lauded for her work in the Rios Montt trial, despite the fact that the decision was later overturned, and is recognized for giving a voice to the indigenous Ixil people.

Two Monte Olivo community members arrested

Two members of the resistance movement against the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam in the Monte Olivo community were arrested on Monday. The media reported that those captured were drug traffickers, criminalizing the detainees. This event is one of many acts of aggression against communities in resistance.

ACODET denounces military and police intervention in Xalalá

Police forces intervened last month in Xalalá, citing suspicions of drug trafficking activity. Residents have been protesting the construction of a dam in the community and are rejecting the notion that there is any drug activity in region; they believe the intervention is an effort to force the resistance movement out so the construction of the dam can commence. The Association of Communities for the Development and Defense of Territory (ACODET) spoke out against the arrival of National Police and military forces.

Guatemala asks for extension of UN Human Rights Commission

Guatemala applied for a three-year extension of the UN Human Rights Commission, which has been in the country since 2005. Ambassador Fernando Carrera presented the request to UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, at the UN meeting in Geneva. Carerra noted that Pillay “recognized this gesture as proof of Guatemala’s commitment to the promotion of human rights.”

Femicide increases in Guatemala in 2013

According to Guatemala’s Mutual Support Group (GAM), cases of femicide grew by almost seven percent in 2013, and represent 12.5 percent of the total 6,032 registered homicides in Guatemala in 2013. Mercedes Hernandez, President of GAM, stated that although the Rios Montt trial last year gave voice to indigenous women who were silenced by violence, it has also led to a surge in violence against women.