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

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.

Secretary of State Kerry Outlines U.S. Hemispheric Foreign Policy

By Josh Manley

Josh Manley is a senior in the international affairs program at George Washington University, and is a GHRC Fall 2013 Intern.

Kerry, courtesy of flickr user MarkGregory

On November 18, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the Organization of American States on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy toward the Western Hemisphere. The Inter-American Dialogue co-sponsored the event, and leading Latin America policymakers attended, including Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Monday’s speech marked the first time that Secretary Kerry spoke at length about U.S. foreign policy toward the region since taking office in February. It is the most recent example of Latin America’s rise on the agendas of leading U.S. officials. This year alone, President Obama visited Mexico and Costa Rica; Vice President Biden went to Brazil, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, and Panama; and Secretary Kerry traveled to Guatemala, Brazil, and Colombia. The fact that President Obama won 71% of the Latino vote in the 2012 presidential election may play a role in this renewed focus on the region.

Secretary Kerry made a good choice of venue. In recent years, the Organization of American States has been criticized by certain conservative members of Congress as a sort-of “talking shop” for the left-wing countries forming the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra America (ALBA). And some ALBA countries have accused the world’s oldest regional organization of being a tool of U.S. imperialism. Ultimately, Kerry’s decision reinforced the value of having a neutral setting for the countries of the Americas to exchange ideas on the very issues that he highlighted in his speech. Continue reading

GHRC Stands in Solidarity with Women in Guatemala

Guatemalan women

Women in Guatemala, courtesy of flickr user IMs BILDARKIV

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, GHRC stands in solidarity with women in Guatemala. Since 2005, we have worked to support women victims of gender violence, raise awareness about rising rates of femicide, and lead annual delegations to Guatemala in order to investigate abuses and hear from women leaders about their efforts to address this violence. GHRC also just wrapped up a speaking tour with Lorena Cabnal, a Maya-Xinca woman, feminist, and community organizer.

Guatemala has the third highest rate of femicide in the world, and brutal violence against women has claimed the lives of over 5,000 women since 2000. Domestic violence within the country is part of the larger problems of institutionalized gender discrimination, trafficking, a history of sexual violence as part of the internal conflict, and rampant impunity which leaves women with little access to justice.

This issue was addressed last week in Washington, DC, as panelists convened for a congressional briefing on the current status of domestic violence in Latin America. In his introduction, Congressman Sam Farr stated that one in three women in Latin America are victims of domestic violence; the countries with the top five rates of femicide are also all located in the region.

Dr. Renos Vakis, of the World Bank, argued that it is in both Latin America’s interest, as well as the United State’s interest to address this pervasive problem. Not only is it a human rights issue, but it is also a matter which puts pressure on the health care and legal systems, and contributes to lost economic productivity. According to Dr. Vakis, while 30% of the households that escaped poverty did so due to women’s economic contributions, only six of ten women in Latin America currently participate in the labor force.
Continue reading

Conflict over Proposed Dam Flares Up in Guatemala

Community resistance to a hydroelectric project in Guatemala is once again met with government repression; a fourth attempt at dialogue ends with an inconclusive whimper

Community members rally against proposed hydroelectric projects, Oct 2013 (PrensaComunitaria)

Community members rally against proposed hydroelectric projects, Oct 2013 (PrensaComunitaria)

 On September 28, resistance leader Mynor López was walking by the church in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango, when he was suddenly seized by men dressed in civilian clothing, taken in a pickup to a waiting military helicopter, and flown to Guatemala City.

Mynor had been active in the widespread resistance movement against a proposed hydroelectric dam. In an already tense atmosphere, the irregular and perhaps illegal capture was seen by community members as yet another attempt by the Guatemalan government to break the opposition through intimidation and brute force.

The response of the population was both immediate and massive. In communities across the region – San Juan Ixcoy, Soloma, Santa Eualia, San Mateo Ixtatán and Nentón – residents took to the streets in peaceful protest, blockading highways and demanding Mynor’s release.

The government responded in its typical heavy-handed fashion. Guatemalan security forces composed of riot police and soldiers were mobilized. From September 28 to 30, remote northern Huehuetenango looked like a war zone: military aircraft circled overhead, white clouds of tear gas billowed, and residents lived in terror.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC’s) Guatemala office received periodic updates as rumors circulated:

  • “The military are shooting tear gas from their helicopters…”

  • “The combined forces…tried to leave through a community called La Florida. When the community denied passage to the police and military, police officers opened fire…”

  • “There are unconfirmed rumors of injured persons, amongst them children…”

The conflict resulted in several severe injuries, including women and children poisoned by tear gas, and the still-unexplained death of a soldier. In order to seek a peaceful resolution, community leaders met with high-level government officials and developed a 7-point agreement whereby the government would remove 60 percent of its security forces and the communities would liberate the highways.

Obtaining concrete or verifiable information about what actually transpired, however, has proved difficult. There was no presence of governmental observers such as the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) or the Presidential Human Rights Office (COPREDEH). Government investigators couldn’t get access to the soldier’s body where he was allegedly shot and the forensic report has not been made public.

A cursory investigation into the death of the soldier was evidently enough for Interior Minister López Bonilla to publicly blame community members for the fatality. In a press conference on Monday, September 30, he confirmed “approximately” 13 arrest warrants for “disturbances and the death of the soldier.” Another 40 outstanding arrest warrants, some dating back as far as 2011, were also made public. “Order will be imposed in Barillas,” he emphasized, seated next to the Defense Minister.

López Bonilla additionally threatened to deport any foreigners who might be accompanying or supporting local social movements: “We won’t permit their meddling in Guatemala’s internal affairs,” he said.

Communities in northern Huehuetenango released their own press statement, linking government aggressions to the new wave of officially sanctioned “transnational invasions.” The use of excessive force by security forces, they said, brought back memories of the counterinsurgency strategy of the 1980’s, when military troops and helicopters were used to terrorize and massacre the population. “We won’t allow mining licenses to destroy us or the territory we live in and have cared for over thousands of years,” their statement said. “We demand respect for community referendums and the cancellation of all licenses for all large-scale development projects in the region.”

National and international organizations, including GHRC, immediately expressed concern about the situation, including the lack of transparency in the investigation of the soldier’s death and the alleged illegalities in the detention of Mynor López. A delegation that included a congressional representative and a member of the International Council of Jurists visited Mynor in prison and witnessed signs of physical abuse that he had suffered while in custody of state forces.

President Pérez Molina addresses the public in Barillas on Oct. 8, 2013 (guatemala.gob.gt)

President Pérez Molina addresses the public in Barillas on Oct. 8, 2013 (guatemala.gob.gt)

On October 8, after a week of tense but relative calm, official dialogue began around the proposed hydroelectric projects in Santa Cruz Barillas. This was the fourth attempt at dialogue; past efforts had either been broken off by the government, or the official representatives simply never showed up. If talks failed this time, however, it would not be for lack of high-level participation: President Otto Pérez Molina was present, as well as his Ministers of Defense, the Interior, Energy and Mines, and the Environment. A representative of the Spanish hydroelectric company, Hidro Santa Cruz/Hidralia Energia, was also at the table. Local mayors, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and religious leaders joined representatives from affected communities, filling the room. Thousands more waited in their communities for news from the dialogue process.

Repression against Non-Violent Protesters

This remote region in Huehuetenango – about as far away from the capital as you can get without being in Mexico – is part of the so-called Northern Development Zone. It has been identified as a rich source of metals, hydro power, and petroleum, and successive administrations have courted international investment from Colombia to Canada to Spain to “develop” the region. There are now approximately 15 hydroelectric dams in different stages of planning and development in the area, as well as plans for oil extraction and mining.

Under international law and, by default, Guatemalan law, indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent before large-scale projects can be carried out in their territories. The Guatemalan government has consistently and  systematically neglected to implement that law. Instead, local Q’anjob’al, Chuj, and Akateko communities organized themselves and have taken the initiative to consult with the population. In a formal community referendum in 2007, residents in Barillas voted overwhelmingly to oppose to any mining operations or other projects funded by foreign investment.

The Barillas municipal government, respecting the will of the people, refused to grant a license to Hidro Santa Cruz for the Cambalam dam. The company sued to reverse that decision, and ultimately won. As the project advanced, still without proper consultation, opposition increased. Community leaders began receiving threats from individuals linked to the company.

President Pérez Molina addresses soldiers in Santa Cruz Barillas after declaring martial law in May 2012. (PlazaPublica)

President Pérez Molina addresses soldiers in Santa Cruz Barillas after declaring martial law in May 2012. (PlazaPublica)

On May 1, 2012, tension peaked when local community member Andrés Francisco Miguel was murdered and two others were seriously injured, in an armed attack apparently carried out by individuals working for Hidro Santa Cruz. (Residents commented that Andrés had been unwilling to sell his land to the company.) A large crowd gathered and tried to chase down the attacker, who took refuge in the military base.

That same day, President Otto Pérez Molina declared martial law in Barillas, suspending the constitutional rights of the population. Over the next 18 days, soldiers ransacked people’s homes in warrantless searches, dumping food on the floor, stealing identification papers and other documents, intimidating the population, and arresting community leaders.

Political Persecution and Criminalization

In the aftermath of the May 1st events, and under the cover of martial law, the government began arresting community activists opposed to the mine, charging them with a laundry list of crimes such as robbery, kidnapping and terrorism. Nine people were captured on May 2 by men in civilian clothing, much like Mynor Lopez. Two more were detained on May 4th. The arrests of the 11 community members occurred under questionable circumstances, and the months they spent in pre-trial detention (all were denied bail) were fraught with irregularities and gross violations of due process.

It wasn’t until January 2013 that a judge ordered provisional release of all of those detained for lack of evidence against them. In an interview with GHRC, Arcadia, a community leader whose brother had just been released and who was still in hiding to avoid arrest herself, spoke of her conviction to fight for her community.

“They are persecuting me because I am a spokeswoman for the people. I don’t just speak about my rights; I speak out about the rights of the community. I am speaking out for those children who cannot yet defend their rights,” said Arcadia. “I am speaking from the bottom of my heart for a common good. And that is why they persecute me, and not only me, but many others too, such as my friends who have already suffered in jail.”

Barillas has become a paradigmatic example of how the Guatemalan judicial system is being manipulated to target community leaders who oppose “development” projects. As defense lawyer Sergio Vives explained, when the Prosecutor’s office attempts “to charge a community leader with terrorism, simply because he demands his rights, because he exercises a constitutional right to protest, to rally, to express a difference of opinion,” the State is, in effect, taking political prisoners.

Fourth time’s the charm?

Expectations for the outcome of the latest attempt at negotiations quickly dropped. In an interview after the four-hour meeting on October 8, Q’anjob’al community leader Rigoberto Juárez said the conversation had been superficial. The success of the dialogue and the ability to reach a solution, he said, will depend on the political will of the government.

“We still need to get to the heart of the issue…Q’anjob’al communities have been demanding development for many years, but we have been one of most forgotten peoples in the country. It isn’t until companies come, promoting projects in our territory, that we hear about the ‘need to develop,’” said  Juárez. “Development for who? Will the money stay in the community? No, it goes to fill others’ pockets, and we will continue to live in poverty. What we’re asking now is for the government to cancel all the [mining and hydroelectric] licenses that have been granted.”

Few development projects in Guatemala have received as much political support and state resources as Hidro Santa Cruz has to implement their Cambalam Hydroelectric dam. (The 3-week period of martial law in 2012 alone cost the government almost $700,000.)

Unfortunately, the government’s political will seems to extend only so far as the transnational companies will allow. After participating in the dialogue, President Pérez Molina made clear that he would not restrict or cancel licenses to companies that had invested in projects in Barillas. The government, he said, might be open to “other solutions.”

By Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. First published on upsidedownworld.org on October 10, 2013.

Ríos Montt and the Need for International Accountability for War Crimes in Guatemala

Originally posted in Toward Freedom on February 12, 2013

Image

President Regan and Ríos Montt

By Cyril Mychalejko

In December 4, 1982, former President Ronald Reagan spoke in Honduras after meeting with Efraín Ríos Montt, the evangelical Guatemalan General who seized power in a military coup a little over 8 months earlier.

“I know that President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” said Reagan. “I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice. My administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

Two days later the regime that Reagan said was getting a “bum rap” sent a contingent of Kabiles, Guatemala’s notorious special forces unit, to the department of Peten. There they entered the village of Dos Erres, where they tortured the men, raped the women, took hammers to the children, and in the end murdered as many as 250 people. Afterwards they burnt the village to the ground as part of Rios Montt’s “scorched earth” campaign against the country’s Mayan population.

Thirty years later Ríos Montt may finally face justice. On January 28, 2013 a Guatemalan judge ruled that the former head of state accused of responsibility for “1,771 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations and the displacement of 29,000 indigenous Guatemalans” would be tried for genocide in a domestic court. This precedent-setting decision was lauded internationally by human rights activists and NGOs.

“Until recently, the idea of a Guatemalan general being tried for these heinous crimes seemed utterly impossible,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that a judge has ordered the trial of a former head of state is a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm.”

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action issued a joint statement on the day of the decision, also emphasizing the significance of the trial.

“This event represents the path walked by thousands of victims of genocide. It allows for the path of memory, truth and justice to continue, which offers a solid foundation for the construction of a more just country,” the statement noted. “We are hopeful that this case will continue on its course according to law and that soon there will be a final judgment against those who ordered genocide in Guatemala.”

However, in order for justice to overcome impunity in Guatemala there needs to be an international component.

The cozy relationship between Ríos Montt and the Reagan administration needs to be dug up from the graveyards of history, much like the bodies that are still being dug up from mass graves in Guatemala.

The US media should use this case as an opportunity to act like the forensic anthropologists in Guatemala to sort through Washington’s skeletons when it comes to the history of foreign policy in Guatemala. This could be done very simply by sifting through declassified documents, old press articles, and other past reports to accurately retell the story of modern US-Guatemalan relations and Washington’s role in aiding and abetting what the United Nations declared a genocide, a genocide in which over 200,000 mostly Mayan Guatemalans were killed and tens of thousands tortured, disappeared, raped and displaced.

While the recovery and discussion of national historical memory is central to creating lasting peace and justice in war-ravaged countries like Guatemala, US citizens must consider their own country’s history of promoting systemic violence in Guatemala if there is to be an improvement in US foreign policy toward the country.

Meanwhile, former US officials like Elliott Abrams, Reagan’s State Department point man for Latin American policy, should be called to testify as a witness at Ríos Montt’s trial, much like he did for a case in Argentina in January 2012.

Abrams testified via video conference that the Reagan administration knew that Argentina’s military regime were stealing babies from political prisoners and giving them to right-wing and military families. After finding out about such crimes, the Reagan administration then provided the military junta political cover by certifying its “improving” human rights record.

In the case of Guatemala, complicity in war crimes is not limited to the United States; there are other international actors with blood on their hands.

In December 2012 the Jubilee Debt Campaign released a report, Generating Terror, which made the case that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) helped legitimize and subsidize Guatemala’s genocidal regimes of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The report uses the Chixoy Dam project as a case study. The World Bank and IDB funded this dam project, the construction of which resulted in a series of massacres that resulted in over 400 deaths. Even after the documented massacres, these same international financial institutions provided additional funding to the same project seven years later.

Guatemala also turned to countries like Israel, Switzerland, France and Belgium during the civil war for aid, equipment and training.

There can be no peace in Guatemala without justice. In order for justice to prevail, the war crimes and impunity in the country need to be dealt with as an international issue, not just a local problem. While the Guatemalan government, again with the assistance of Washington, is re-militarizing the country, and corpses once more pile up, the need for accountability becomes more urgent—people’s lives depend on it.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at http://www.UpsideDownWorld.org, an online magazine covering politics and activism in Latin America.

Communities in Resistance in San Jose del Golfo under attack.

cantan

Women at the roadblock pray and sing as the face off against anti-riot police. (photo: Marcha Indigena Campesina y Popular)

mujeres en resistencia

Women lay down in the road continuing their resistance after suffering from tear gas exposure. (Photo: Marcha Indigena Campesian y Popular)

mujeres y policia

The police lined up in three rows, with the largest in front, the tear gas lauchers behind them, and a group with batons and sticks behind them. (photo: Centro de Medios Independientes Guatemala)

todos somos la puya

In response to the threat of eviction, women’s organizations gathered in front of the Interior Ministry demanding a peaceful settlement to the problem.

reunion

A “dialogue table” was called at the site of the roadblock including government representatives, community members, and human rights defenders, including GHRC’s Rob Mercatante. (photo: Radio Punto)

oacnudh

Alberto Brunori of the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights was also present. (photo: Radio Punto)

policia

At the end of the day, the government agreed to remove the majority of the police, but leave 15 to “guard the mine.” (photo: Marcha Indigenia Campesina y Popular)

On December 7th,  the communities in resistance to mining in San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc held their ground at the roadblock they have maintained since March of this year as the police attempted to forcefully evict them.

At 6am, anti-riot police arrived at the roablock in San Jose del Golfo and began tearing down the banners and other installations. They also arrested at least 5 people for supposedly obstructing the road, though the protesters have only been blocking the entrance of mining equipment, not other traffic.

Police shot tear gas at the protesters, which include children and men and women of all ages. Several people, including two young girls, have been treated for tear gas exposure.

Despite this aggression, the peaceful protesters have held their ground. They  laid down on the street with makeshift masks covering their faces, and sang hymns to give themselves courage. Meanwhile, the police tore apart the makeshift kitchen that the protesters have been using to feed themselves, and stole food and water.

the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, present on the scene, suggested opening a dialogue between the protesters and the government, but the government rejected the idea. Interior Minister Lopez Bonilla was quoted as saying that there could well be more arrests, and that the police would keep using force if need be to open access for the mining company.

Attorney Sergio Vives explained that the actions of the police are illegal, as there is no order for the eviction of the communities. 

Please contact the Guatemalan government to express your concern for these peaceful protesters and demand that those detained are accorded all their legal rights. 

..

Three pieces of breaking news at the end of the day.

1) Those detained at the roadblock this morning have been freed. They were taken to the city, but the judge there rejected their case and sent it back to the Judge of the Peace in San Pedro Ayampuc.

2) The government has agreed to remove the majority of the police from the roadblock. 15 of them will stay over the weekend to “guard the mine” but the rest of them will leave for now.

3) In statements directly contradicting this, the Interior Minister announced in a press conference that the government will take the steps necessary to open the road to the mine. He also insultingly accused “international organizations” of inciting the community members and said that those guilty of incitation would be expelled.

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GHRC Stands in Solidarity with the People of Santa Cruz Barillas/GHRC expresa nuestra solidaridad con la población de Santa Cruz Barillas

The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC (GHRC/USA) wishes to express its deepest concern about the crisis in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango and the excessive and arbitrary reaction of the Guatemalan government.

President Otto Pérez Molina in Santa Cruz Barillas from plazapublica.com.gt

We condemn the attack on May 1 in which Andrés Francisco Miguel was murdered and Pablo Antonio Pablo Pablo and Esteban Bernabé were seriously injured, an attack apparently carried out by individuals linked to hydroelectric company Hidro Santa Cruz SA. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the victims and their families.

In a community meeting held in the town of Barillas on June 23, 2007, the community expressed their opposition to mining activities and other mega projects. From the outset of the proposed project, residents have expressed their rejection of the proposed Canbalam hydroelectric project and have denounced the lack of prior and informed consent.

The government’s decision to declare a state of siege and suspend fundamental rights is ironic given that this conflict arose because of the state’s failure to recognize and respect the collective rights of the community. Far from pacifying and providing a real solution to the conflict, the state of siege only serves to generate more fear, disharmony and insecurity.

We criticize the baseless and defamatory statements of government officials linking social movements to organized crime groups, such as Los Zetas. This attempt to defame and discredit community leaders is a poor pretext to justify the improper use of the armed forces.

We also reject the malicious accusations against international organizations working in Guatemala. We are troubled by this smear campaign because of the negative impact it can have on those who work on behalf of human rights, solidarity, and the development of the country. We ask the media to maintain impartiality in their coverage of the news in order to promote peace among the people.

The actions of military officials and security forces –roundups, home searches, threats, and arrests–repeat a pattern of criminalization of social movements and community leaders who seek respect for their historic rights as indigenous peoples to decide the best use of their land and natural resources.

We are alarmed that the government has given priority to the capture of community leaders over the arrest of those responsible for the murder of Andrés Francisco Miguel.

In addition, we wish to express our concern for the irregular and furtive manner in which 12 community leaders were secretly transferred from Huehuetenango to a high-security prison in Guatemala City. Authorities not only failed to notify family members beforehand, but also refused to answer questions about the detainees’ whereabouts. The community leaders, not convicted of any crime, have been placed in the prison’s general population along with gang members, extortionists, and murderers.

We urge authorities to:

  • Guarantee the safety, welfare, and fully respect the rights of those imprisoned, and to immediately review the charges against them;
  • Investigate the assassination of Andrés Francisco Miguel and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of this deplorable act;
  • Lift the state of siege and demilitarize the response to social conflict;
  • Suspend the Hidro Santa Cruz’s construction license, respecting the community referendum carried out in 2007.

The government has a supreme duty to guarantee the inalienable rights of its citizens. At all times, in peace or in conflict, this obligation must be the guiding force behind every action of the state. The appropriate solution to the conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas can only be found through a respect for the rights of its people, not through the suspension or the violation of those rights.

La Comisión de los Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Washington (GHRC/USA, por sus siglas en inglés) quiere manifestar su profunda preocupación por la crisis desatada en Villa de Barillas, Huehuetenango y la reacción excesiva y arbitraria del Gobierno de la República de Guatemala.

Estado de sitio en Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango

Repudiamos el ataque del 1 de mayo en cual fue asesinado el campesino Andrés Francisco Miguel y quedaron gravemente heridos los señores Pablo Antonio Pablo Pablo y Esteban Bernabé, un ataque aparentemente perpetrado por personas ligadas a la empresa Hidro Santa Cruz. Nuestras sinceras condolencias están con las víctimas y sus familias.

En una consulta comunitaria celebrada en el municipio de Barillas el 23 de junio del 2007, la comunidad expresó su rechazo a la minería y otros megaproyectos. Desde el principio del proyecto propuesto, los vecinos han expresado su rechazo total al hidroeléctrico Canbalam y han denunciado la falta de consulta previa e informada.

La aprobación de un Estado de Sitio y la suspensión de los derechos fundamentales, es un acto que resulta hasta irónico dado que este conflicto nace por el no respeto a los derechos colectivos de esta comunidad. Lejos de apaciguar y buscar una solución verdadera a la situación conflictiva, solo ha servido para sembrar más discordia, miedo e inseguridad.

Criticamos las declaraciones sin fundamento de funcionarios del Gobierno vinculando al movimiento social con grupos de crimen organizado, como los Zetas. Este intento de difamar y desprestigiar a los líderes comunitarios es un mal pretexto para justificar el indebido uso de las fuerzas armadas.

De igual forma rechazamos las acusaciones tendenciosas lanzadas en contra de las organizaciones internacionales. Esta campaña negra nos preocupa por las repercusiones que pueda tener para las personas que trabajan en pro de los derechos humanos, la solidaridad y el desarrollo del país. Pedimos a los medios de comunicación la imparcialidad de sus notas con el fin de promover la paz en la población.

Las actuaciones de los funcionarios y las fuerzas armadas—redadas, allanamientos, amenazas y arrestos—replican un patrón de criminalización de movimientos sociales y líderes comunitarios quienes buscan cumplimiento con sus demandas históricas del derecho a la consulta y al territorio ancestral.

Estamos alarmados por la prioridad dada a la captura de líderes comunitarios por encima del arresto de los asesinos responsables por la muerte de Andrés Francisco Miguel.

Además, expresamos nuestra profunda preocupación por la forma en que los 12 líderes fueron trasladados desde Huehuetenango a una cárcel de máxima seguridad en la capital, sin previo aviso y de forma encubierta. Las autoridades no solo no avisaron a los familiares, sino también negaron contestar preguntas acerca del paradero de los detenidos. Los lideres comunitarios, no condenado por ningún delito, fueron colocados en la población general de la cárcel, junto con mareros, extorsionistas y asesinos.

Instamos a las autoridades:

  • Garantizar la seguridad, bienestar y el pleno respeto a los derechos humanos de los detenidos, y inmediatamente revisar las cargos contra ellos;
  • Investigar el asesinato de Andrés Francisco Miguel y llevar a juicio a los responsables materiales e intelectuales de este deplorable hecho;
  • Levantar el estado de sitio y desmilitarizar la respuesta al conflicto social;
  • Suspender la licencia de construcción de la Hidro Santa Cruz respetando la consulta comunitaria que se llevó a cabo en 2007.

El Estado tiene el deber supremo de ser garante de los derechos inalienables de sus ciudadanos. En todo momento, de paz o conflicto, esta obligación debería ser la guía primordial para el actuar de las autoridades. La solución idónea al conflicto de Santa Cruz Barillas solo se encontrará por medio de respeto a los derechos de sus habitantes, y no por la suspensión o violación de ellos.

Guest Post by Marvyn Pérez: The Return of the Military/El retorno de los militares


The Return of the Military
(español abajo)

General Otto Pérez Molina’s ascendency to the presidency of the Republic of Guatemala has provoked frustration and sadness in some and joy in others. For those of us who lived and survived the war, this fact can be hard to understand, as the general is accused of crimes against humanity including  carrying out massacres against the indigenous civilian population in the Ixil region at the beginning of the 1980s. There are also accusations of forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution such as that carried out against the insurgent Efraín Bámaca, who was captured alive and then was “disappeared.” The dark and tenebrous past of the general is benefited by his supposedly “moderate” posture within the military, which brought him to be the army’s representative during the negotiation process between the government and the insurgency and a signer of the Peace Accords, signed on the 29th of December 1996.

Despite the accusations presented against him, no case has been successful in the Guatemalan justice system. This includes the first week of January, when the criminal charges against him with the greatest chance of moving forward were dismissed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office based on the report/analysis put forth by a Peruvian army officer who serves the Prosecutor’s Office as an expert in military affairs. This report concluded that there were not elements that tied Pérez Molina to the chain of command responsible for the execution of the insurgent Efraín Bámaca. However, the report pinned the blame on other high military commanders who were also part of the criminal complaint brought by Jennifer Harbury, wife of Efraín Bámaca. The report apparently did not take into consideration the documents declassified by the State Department where Pérez Molina is mentioned as one of the people responsible for the captivity and eventual execution of the insurgent.

If the Prosecutor’s Office continues to work independently and without pressure of any nature, it’s likely that in the near future we will see other legal processes and arrests against members of the army accused of crimes against humanity. The arrival of Claudia Paz y Paz as the Attorney General has allowed the Prosecutor’s Office to move forward professionally and independently in many cases which were bogged down/shelved in the justice system. The advances in the investigations has allowed some military men to be captured, taken to jail and charges brought against them such as the case of the Kaibiles who participated in the massacre of Dos Erres as well as Francisco Arrendondo who led the feared “Command Six” of the National Police in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Other high ranking officers, soldiers and civilians have been sentenced, and others are facing charges for crimes committed in the past.

These open processes against military men and civilians have provoked the rage of retired military officers and ultra right-wing civilians who fear that they will be charged in the future or that their names will come to light and they will be connected to the investigations. These conservative sectors, accustomed to impunity, have launched a dirty campaign against the Attorney General. This campaign is meant to rid the Prosecutor’s Office of the Attorney General and thus stop the cases and other investigations which are being carried out. The dirty campaign consists of tying members of her family with the old insurgency, trying to create the idea that she is biased and only interested in damaging the military. As part of the same campaign, these ultra conservative groups have filed complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office against those who they claim belonged to the old guerillas, hoping in this way to equate the crimes against humanity committed by the army with those of the guerillas. The conservative groups have put together and presented to the press lists of the supposedly implicated, many of whom died long ago or were children when the crimes occurred, as is the case of the columnists and human rights defenders. These lists seem to send a message of terror to those who are still alive, in the style of the death squads who functioned with the help of the State and ultra conservative civilians during the war years and who are responsible for many of the forced disappearances.

It is very likely that these right-wing groups feel encouraged and emboldened by the arrival of General Otto Pérez Molina to the presidency in Guatemala. This step is not just the arrival of a military commander. His entire inner circle is also made up of military men who have accompanied him throughout his long military career. The security institutions, such as the Interior Ministry, the Secretary of Administrative Affairs and Guatemala’s Presidential Security, just to mention the closest, are all now controlled by military men. In this way, it doesn’t seem to be just that a military man is assuming the presidency, but that it is a return of the military men and the counterinsurgent military officers who are accused of committing the worst crime—bringing about the last genocide on the American continent.

Without a doubt, the institution which will face the most difficulty will be the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General, which will have to closely follow the support offered by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to the institutions charged with justice as well as the willingness of the new government to request the extension of the CICIG at the end of his time in office. Human rights defenders will surely be under the microscope of the ultra right-wing groups and, why not add, of the military and civil intelligence apparatus.

It appears that the future will continue to be difficult, civil society will have the complicated task of making sure the precarious rule of law is not turned back and will have to look to alliances with the international community to fortify the routes to denounce and pressure the new government. It seems that the international community, especially the countries which assisted with peace process, do not look favorably on the ascendency of a military officer to the presidency. This was clear from the lack of participation by heads of state and international delegations in the inauguration on the 14th of January. This could mean that the international community will closely follow the developments and steps taken by the new government, especially those which impact or violate human rights in the country.

Those of us Guatemalans who live outside the country, especially those of us who reside in the United States, will have the task of closely following the developments in the country and helping civil society with their just demands. It will be vital in this new period to fortify alliances with groups interested in Guatemala. For us, recipients of the Voiceless Speak Fund, who are working to keep war crimes from languishing in impunity, this could mean an opportunity to seek alliances with different sectors of whatever country we find ourselves in. We can participate more actively in bringing representatives of civil society in Guatemala to this country to denounce or share their experiences with their counterparts and taking delegations of various sectors of the social movement in this country travel to Guatemala to know, first hand, the developments and history of the country.

The Voiceless Speak Program opens opportunities to us survivors to help us continue denouncing the crimes against humanity carried out by the military with the complicity of many civilians. We have to knock on many doors—universities, religious groups, community groups, and unions— looking for youth, men and women to educate them about our history. Or obligation as survivors will continue to be the quest for justice through legal mechanisms, and to continue denouncing the crimes of the past to preserve memory and truth.

El retorno de los militares

La llegada a la presidencia de la republica de Guatemala del general Otto Pérez Molina ha provocado frustración y tristeza en muchos. Para los que vivimos y sobrevivimos la guerra éste hecho puede ser difícil de entender porque el general está acusado de delitos de lesa humanidad como ordenar masacres contra población civil indígena en el área Ixil a principios de la década de los 80´s. También hay señalamientos de desapariciones forzadas y ejecución extrajudicial como la llevada a cabo contra el insurgente Efraín Bámaca quien fue capturado vivo y luego desaparecido. El oscuro y tenebroso pasado del general se ve beneficiado por su postura aparentemente “moderada” dentro del ejército lo cual lo llevo a ser representante del ejército en el proceso de negociaciones entre el Estado y la Insurgencia y signatario de los Acuerdos de Paz firmados el 29 de diciembre de 1996.

Pese a las acusaciones presentadas en su contra ningún caso a prosperado en la justicia guatemalteca, incluso la primera semana de enero del presente año una de las demandas en su contra con mayores posibilidades de avanzar fue desestimada por el Ministerio Público (MP) basándose en un informe/análisis  elaborado por un  militar peruano que trabaja para el MP en calidad de experto en asuntos militares. Dicho informe concluye que no hay elementos que vinculen a Pérez Molina en la cadena de mando responsable por la ejecución del insurgente Efraín Bámaca. Sin embargo, el informe sí señala como responsables a otros altos mandos del ejército que forman parte de la denuncia presentada por Jennifer Harbury, viuda del insurgente Efraín Bámaca. El informe aparentemente no tomó en consideración los documentos desclasificados del Departamento de Estado donde sí se menciona a Pérez Molina como uno de los responsables del cautiverio y posterior ejecución del insurgente. Si el Ministerio publico continúa trabajando independientemente y sin presiones de ninguna índole es probable que en el futuro cercano podamos ver otros procesos legales y arrestos contra militares acusados por crímenes de lesa humanidad. La llegada de Claudia Paz y Paz como fiscal general ha permitido que el MP avance profesionalmente e independientemente en muchos casos que estaban atorados/engavetados en el sistema de justicia, el avance de las investigaciones ha permitido que algunos militares hayan sido capturados, se encuentren en la cárcel y enfrenten procesos legales como el caso de los kaibiles que participaron en la masacre de Las Dos Erres y de Francisco Arredondo quien dirigió el temible comando seis de la policía nacional a finales de los 70´s y principios de los 80´s.  Otros militares de alto rango, soldados y civiles han sido condenados y otros enfrentan procesos por crímenes cometidos el conflicto armado interno.

Estos procesos abiertos contra militares y civiles ha provocado la ira de militares retirados y civiles de ultra derecha que tienen miedo a ser procesados en el futuro o de que sus nombres salgan a luz y se les vincule en las investigaciones. Estos sectores conservadores  acostumbrados a la impunidad han lanzado una campaña sucia contra la fiscal general, dicha campaña tiene como objetivos: sacar a la fiscal general del MP y de esta manera detener los procesos abiertos y otras investigaciones que se puedan estar realizando. La campaña sucia consiste en vincular a miembros de su familia con la antigua insurgencia, pretendiendo así crear la idea de que ella es parcial y sólo tiene interés de dañar al ejército. Como parte de la misma campaña estos grupos de ultra derecha han presentado denuncias en el MP contra civiles a quienes ellos acusan de haber pertenecido a la antigua guerrilla, buscando de esta manera equiparar/igualar los crímenes de lesa humanidad que cometió el ejercito con los de la guerrilla. Estos grupos  elaboraron y presentaron a los medios de comunicación las listas de los supuestos implicados, muchos de los cuales murieron hace mucho tiempo o eran niñas cuando los hechos ocurrieron como es el caso de dos columnistas de medios escritos y defensoras de derechos humanos. Estas listas parecieran llevar el mensaje de atemorizar a los que están vivos, al estilo de los escuadrones de la muerte que funcionaron con apoyo del Estado y civiles de ultra derecha durante los años de la guerra y que son responsables de muchas de las desapariciones forzadas.

Es muy probable que estos grupos de derecha se sientan  animados y envalentonados con la llegada del general Otto Pérez Molina a la presidencia y es que no se trata de la llegada de un militar sino que todo su círculo cercano son militares que lo han acompañado a lo largo de su carrera militar. Las instituciones de seguridad como el Ministerio de Gobernación, la Secretaría de Asuntos Administrativos y de Seguridad de la Presidencia de Guatemala (SAAS), el secretario del Consejo Nacional de Seguridad y su Secretario Privado, sólo por mencionar a los más cercanos son militares. De esta forma pareciera que nos es un militar el que va a asumir la presidencia del país, sino que es el regreso de los militares y de los militares contrainsurgentes, aquellos acusados de cometer los peores crímenes: llevar a cabo el último genocidio en el continente americano.

Sin duda la institución que probablemente enfrentará más dificultades será el Ministerio Público y su fiscal general, habrá que seguir muy de cerca el apoyo que pueda seguir dando la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) a las instituciones encargadas de la justicia, así como de la voluntad del nuevo gobierno de solicitar la ampliación de la CICIG al culminar su mandato. Los defensores de derechos humanos seguramente estarán bajo la lupa de los grupos de ultra derecha y porque no decirlo de los aparatos  inteligencia militar y civil. El futuro seguirá siendo difícil, la sociedad civil tendrá una tarea complicada de vigilar que el precario Estado de Derecho no retroceda y tendrá que buscar alianzas en la comunidad internacional para fortalecer las vías de denuncia y presión sobre el nuevo gobierno. Pareciera que la comunidad internacional, particularmente los países que apoyaron el proceso de paz no ven con buenos ojos la llegada de un militar a la presidencia. Esto fue evidente con la escasa  participación de Jefes de Estado y de delegaciones internacionales en la toma de posesión el pasado 14 de enero. Esto podría significar que la comunidad internacional estará vigilante de los acontecimientos y medidas que tome el nuevo gobierno, en particular aquellos que afecten o violen los derechos humanos en el país.

Los guatemaltecos que vivimos en el extranjero particularmente los que residimos en Estados Unidos tendremos la tarea de seguir muy de cerca los acontecimientos en el país y apoyar a la sociedad civil en sus justas demandas, será vital en este nuevo periodo  fortalecer  alianzas con grupos interesados en  Guatemala. Para nosotros, los becarios del Voiceless Speak Fund que estamos interesados que los crímenes de la guerra no queden en la impunidad puede significar una oportunidad para buscar alianzas con diferentes sectores en cualquier parte del país en que nos encontremos, podemos tener una participación más activa buscando que representantes de la sociedad civil  guatemalteca viajen a este país a denunciar o trasmitir sus experiencias con sus semejantes. Y que delegaciones de diferentes sectores del movimiento social de éste país viaje a Guatemala a conocer de primera mano los acontecimientos y la historia del país. El programa de Voiceless Speak Fund abre la oportunidad y facilita que nosotros los sobrevivientes/supervivientes podamos continuar denunciando los crímenes de lesa humanidad que llevaron a cabo militares con la complicidad de muchos civiles. Tendremos que tocar muchas puertas: universidades, grupos religiosos, grupos comunitarios, sindicatos, buscar a los jóvenes, hombres y mujeres y educarles de nuestra historia. Nuestra obligación como sobrevivientes/supervivientes seguirá  siendo la búsqueda de la justicia a través de los mecanismos legales, continuar denunciando los crímenes del pasado para preservar la  memoria y la verdad.

President Pérez Molina’s First Week in Office Provides a Glimpse of the Four Years to Come

The military back en masse to Guatemala’s streets and public institutions; a former President to stand trial for genocide

Pérez Molina’s first week in office has been marked by some unexpected announcements and a seemingly schizophrenic approach to governance:

He assured the international community that he will support the rule of law, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and Attorney General Claudia Paz, and yet at the same time has increased the military’s involvement in citizen security initiatives and has filled his cabinet with army officials, some accused of human rights abuses during the armed conflict.

He promoted his “mano dura” iron-fisted approach to crime fighting…and then declared his support for the decriminalization of drugs.

He stated his respect for the indigenous population during his inaugural speech, and yet promptly removed the flags from the National Palace and the Presidential offices which symbolize the indigenous peoples.

“2012 marks the beginning of a new era of peace, of prosperity, and of hope for Guatemala, cradle of Mayan civilization,” Pérez Molina declared, referring to the upcoming transition marked by the end of the current Mayan calendar. He spoke about Guatemala’s “moral breakdown” and it’s “culture of corruption and impunity” as well as challenges such as the national debt and poor infrastructure, and his plan to focus on “key values” such as honor, respect and inclusion of indigenous peoples.

Pérez Molina’s cabinet appointments, however, highlight his deep connections with the military and private sector and provide insight into his priorities. His Interior Minister, Defense Minister, National Security Advisor and Private Secretary (which deals with administrative issues of the executive branch) are all career military men.  He has stacked other ministries – Economy, Energy and Mines, Labor, Health – with representatives of the business community. Despite his condemnation of corruption and impunity and words of respect for indigenous communities, his administration is poised to leap forward with deeply controversial development projects and mining licenses, working hand in hand with some of Guatemala’s most notorious human rights violators.

There is no doubt that Pérez Molina is a savvy politician, and despite the charges against him for his role in torture and forced disappearance while director of military intelligence in the early 1990s, he enjoys the support of the U.S. and European governments. However, it will be important to look past his rhetoric, and evaluate the impact of his policies and their significance for a nation with wounds still open from the civil war and increasing and violent conflicts over land rights in the face of multinational development projects on indigenous lands.

Remilitarization

In one of his first acts as president, Perez Molina made good on his promise to use the notorious Kaibil Special Forces to combat organized crime across the country. He has also has increased the number of highway checkpoints; each will include 5-10 police officers and 15-30 soldiers. Interior Minister – and former Kaibil – López Bonilla has dismissed claims of “remilitarization,” calling the military’s presence on the street “inter-institutional support.” The checkpoints aim to restrict the operations of organized crime and trafficking networks.

Pérez Molina has also publicly requested increased U.S. funds for the Guatemalan military. The U.S. Congress has maintained a ban on direct military funding to Guatemala since 1990, which in recent years has been amended to provide funding for Guatemala’s navy, air force and army corps of engineers. While direct funding and support flows freely through other channels, such as the Department of Defense, the ban is an important reflection of the atrocities committed by the armed forces during the internal armed conflict and the lack of institutional reform after the peace accords were signed. Pérez Molina views the aid as an important tool to fight organized crime, though human rights organizations – and so far the U.S. Congress – have maintained that the Guatemalan military has not taken the necessary steps required to lift the ban.

Will there be justice? Rios Montt to appear in court, other cases flounder

Throughout his candidacy, Pérez Molina was forced to confront his role in the military during the internal conflict, and accusations against him of torture and crimes against humanity. His outright denial of the genocide which occurred in the indigenous highlands and his criticism of the UN Historical Clarification Commission report have caused great concern among those who have spent decades seeking justice for the victims and families who suffered horrific crimes during the war. His references to the conflict in his inaugural speech focus on “overcoming the past.” Despite Guatemala’s nominally independent judiciary, there is no doubt of the existence of powerful political pressure, threats and back-room maneuvering. The political will to prosecute high-level military officials will be a real test of the new administration, and initial signs point to a selective approach to justice.

The appearance in court this Thursday of former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt, accused of genocide, is truly a historic moment for Guatemala. Rios Montt oversaw the military’s intense counter-insurgency strategy and scorched earth campaign in 1982-1983 that targeted the civilian population in the indigenous highlands, and resulted in hundreds of massacres and other crimes against humanity. As a member of congress, Montt has enjoyed immunity from prosecution since 2000, but as of January 14th, he no longer holds that office. To date he maintains his innocence and his lawyer has declared that Rios Montt’s role as president was purely political, not military, and focused on “stability and development.”  Two other high level officials named in the case, Hector Mario López Fuentes and Oscar Humberto Mejia Víctores, have been declared “too sick” to stand trial.

Meanwhile, the case of assassinated guerilla leader Efrain Bámaca has been in turmoil. The case, well known to U.S. audiences due to lawyer Jennifer Harbury’s decades-long quest for justice in the forced disappearance and torture of her husband, directly names Otto Pérez Molina and others in his administration for their role in his death. The allegation is based on command responsibility and Perez Molina’s direct authority over secret military detention programs as Director of Military Intelligence. Just days before Pérez Molina took office, the judge called a rush trial aiming to shut down the case, without notifying Jennifer or her lawyer until the last minute. In response, Jennifer has published her evidence against Pérez Molina, which is available here in Spanish.

“Logistical and bureaucratic” errors have contributed to the suspension of four other cases underway, including that of murdered singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral, the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the U.S., and the 1982 forced disappearance of student leader Fernando Garcia.

In a positive move, President Pérez Molina announced that he will support an extension of the mandate of the CICIG for two more years, until September 2015. The CICIG works to uncover clandestine criminal networks, promotes legislation to address organized crime, and can act as a joint prosecutor in court cases. The CICIG’s work has been integral to ensuring that sensitive and complex investigations occur, to the arrest of key crime bosses, and to successful judicial proceedings in these cases.

Will new policies seek to provide security for everyone?

Robberies, gang violence and extortions are, without doubt, important problems to tackle, and necessary to providing citizen security. But some of Guatemala’s citizens most in need of security are those the Pérez Molina administration doesn’t want to talk about: community leaders, journalists, lawyers, and activists who take a stand against impunity, corruption and human rights abuses.

Last year, 19 human rights defenders were assassinated, many of whom challenged corporate interests while fighting for the environment, economic justice, and indigenous rights. Plans to move forward with mining and development projects, and ongoing impunity enjoyed by companies and their private security, will likely lead to increased violence. When it comes to mining, the Pérez Molina administration seems blatantly unconcerned by the destruction of the natural environment, the displacement of indigenous communities, or the negative impact on the health of neighboring families. Instead, the debate over mining has been reduced to one question: what percentage of profits will foreign mining companies be willing to pay to the government?

In addition to attacks, in recent years, human rights defenders have increasingly become victims of unjust criminalization that twists the courts into venues for farcical trials that serve to benefit corporate interests.

Human rights groups have hesitantly supported the President’s steps to institutionalize key governmental bodies that will analyze and coordinate responses to issues such as violence against women and attacks against human rights defenders. However, the administration’s willingness to work openly with civil society organizations is still in doubt, and GHRC is working with partners to encourage the creation of effective institutions, transparency, and ongoing consultations with Guatemalan NGOs.