OAS 43rd General Assembly
The Organization of American States had its 43rd General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala. In attendance were 28 chancellors and 500 representatives from member countries, as well as 80 permanent observing countries. The main topic of discussion was drugs, though there were no major developments or changes in policy.
Pérez Molina and Kerry’s Bilateral Meeting
US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Otto Pérez Molina met and discussed the United States’ migration reform and the situation of Guatemalans in the United States. Molina expressed many worries; for example, how to stop deportations of Guatemalan migrants and that Guatemala should be involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Ontario Securities Commission Is Investigating Tahoe Resources
Tahoe Resources, a Canadian mining company, is being investigated by the Ontario Securities Commission in relation to the six people shot outside of the Escobal mines on April 27. It is reported that six of Tahoe’s employees have been implicated in the crime based on phone taps from the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s Office. As heard in court, Tahoe’s security director, Alberto Rotondo, ordered the murders of the protestors. The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project asked the Ontario Securities Commission to investigate Tahoe Resources claiming that the mining company had downplayed and hidden what their workers had done.
Ex-president Portillo On Trial in New York
Portillo is facing charges of conspiracy to launder $70,000. Defense lawyers insist that “our position has been that it is an illegal extradition, and still is.” Meanwhile, Portillo himself continues to deny the allegations, saying that it is a revenge scheme of conservative Americans to get back at him for refusing to support the US’s invasion of Iraq. The embezzlement schemes include one which involved $1.5 million intended for Guatemalan school children.
Abuses of Women in San Rafael Las Flores Denounced by the Alliance of Women
In its initial report on the state of siege in San Rafael las Flores, the Alliance of Women’s Policy Branch denounced the challenges facing wives of Xinca parliament leaders, and soldiers’ harassment of women and young girls in the region. Lorena Cabal of the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán says the women have no access to medical care, and must struggle with tremendous workloads while the men negotiate in meetings all day. A complaint filed in Mataquesculinta states that soldiers stationed outside a primary school had been sexually harassing young girls.
Genocide Trial Update:
Ríos Montt Genocide Ruling Overturned
On the evening of May 20th, the historic May 10th ruling that convicted former General Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide was overturned. The Constitutional Court met to rule on a constitutional challenged raised by Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. The 3-2 ruling in favor of the challenge sets the case back to April 19th, at which point all testimonies had been heard. However, while the annulment does not include the testimonies, it remains unclear whether the trial will be reconvened or repeated altogether.
Overturned Ruling Was Laden With Opposition
Challenges to the conviction do not come as a surprise. Since the trial’s conclusion, business and hard-line military supporters have issued numerous statements calling for its annulment. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Finance (CACIF) stated in a press release that the trial was illegal, that “justice had been prey to ideological conflict,” and the conviction of genocide was “an opinion of the court that we did not share.” Ríos Montt supporters have organized demonstrations protesting his conviction. Moreover, presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas criticized the international community for “driving the polarization” of Guatemalans following the trial. He also claimed that foreign interference from NGOs in the trial court proceedings ultimately influenced the landmark genocide verdict.
On Friday May 10, at approximately 6:30PM, Judge Yassmin Barrios declared General Efraín Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. “Justice is a right for the victims; these acts should never happen again,” she stated.
Rios Montt was found guilty of masterminding and overseeing the massacre of 1,771 Ixil Mayans in the department of El Quiche, as well as the forced displacement of 29,000, and 1,485 acts of sexual violence and acts of torture. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison and was ordered into police custody. His director of Military Intelligence, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, was absolved of both crimes.
Genocide Trial Update: On April 18, just as the genocide trial seemed to be coming to a close, a slew of legal challenges surrounding previous unresolved decisions temporarily halted the trial’s progress. Judge Flores, who presides over the Constitutional Court, ruled in agreement with the defense attorneys’ claim that the trial should be annulled. Judge Barrios rejected the decision, however, and the case went up for reconsideration. Now, while some but not all of the legal questions have been resolved, the trial continues where it left off on April 18. Both defendants’ defense teams have been reorganized numerous times until, as it stands, Ríos Montt is left with Francisco Garcia Guidel, his attorney at the start of the trial. Rodriguez Sanchez has been appointed a new public defender, Oscar Ramirez.
It remains unclear what direction the trial will go. Potentially, if the defense doesn’t make further attempts to stall the process, the final witnesses could be called and and final statements made. Considering the still-unresolved legal questions in the Constitutional Court, however, problems can still arise. For daily and comprehensive updates, we recommend the Rios Montt trial blog or CALDH. For further background on the case’s progression, check out our trial timeline.
January 1986- Ríos Montt’s successor General Mejia Victores files historic Decree 8-86, which provides general amnesty to all those responsible or accused of political and related crimes committed between March 23, 1982 and January 14, 1986.
December 1996- Peace accords are signed, ending the armed conflict. Partial amnesty is granted but explicitly excludes genocide, torture, forced disappearance, and other international crimes.
December 1999- Spanish National Court hears the appeals of a group of Guatemalans and Spaniards to charge eight high-ranking officials, including Ríos Montt, with genocide. In July 2006, Spanish courts issue international arrest warrants.
Over the last month, the historic trial has been moving forward in Guatemala’s High Risk Court charging former Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt and former Head of Military Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez with Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The victims have waited for over 30 years for justice to be served for the atrocities committed against Guatemala’s indigenous people, and finally, a verdict is in sight.
Thanks to all of our supporters who sent an email to U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon asking him to attend the genocide trial. Although the trial began on March 19, the US Ambassador didn’t make an appearance in the courtroom until April 9th. The following day the Embassy finally broke its silence regarding the trial and issued a press release reiterating the importance of justice for reconciliation in Guatemala. The press release also expressed the US’s support for justice processes which are “credible, independent, transparent and impartial,” and exhorted “all Guatemalans to respect the legitimacy and integrity of the process.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner and genocide survivor Rigoberta Menchu greets victims’ families. (Photo: mimundo.org)
Breaking News: We’ve received word that a decision in the trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodríquez Sanchez may come as soon as the end of this week. The trial has progressed at breakneck speed covering testimony from more than 100 survivors and dozens of experts, despite constant attempts by the defense to stall or derail the process.
Displaced Polochic Families Deliver Petition to Pérez Molina
Representatives of the over 700 families from the Polochic Valley who have been displaced since 2011 requested a meeting with President Pérez Molina Thursday to present a petition. The petition, signed by 80,000 people from 50 different countries, asks the government to comply with its promise to find land for the displaced families and to take steps to implement the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission to alleviate their precarious living situation. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also asked that the State of Guatemala guarantee respect for the rights of the evicted Polochic families.
26 Arrests in San Rafael Las Flores
On April 11, 26 community members who were part of the peaceful resistance movement in San Rafael Las Flores were arrested. Early reports suggests the arrests were illegal because the protesters were on private property with permission of the owner, and the authorities entered without a warrant. Furthermore, the accused were injured during the arrest and then forced to wait seven hours before seeing a judge.
Perez Molína sells Puerto Quetzal
Over Easter weekend, Perez Molína sold Puerto Quetzal to a Spanish company. Protesters hung banners around the city denouncing Molína’s decision, and insist that the sale was illegal. The company that purchased the port, Terminal de Contenedores de Barcelona (TCB), plans to construct a dock and terminal that deals directly to Spain.
Paz y Paz named in Newsweek’s 125 Women of Impact
Claudia Paz y Paz was named one of Newsweek’s 125 Women of Impact. This is one of several awards that she has received in recent years for her work as Attorney General of Guatemala
Indigenous leaders publicly denounced Guatemalan government
Ixil, Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Akateko, K’iche’, Mam, Kaqchikel, Q’eqchi’, Ch’orti’, Poqomchi’, Achi’, Xinka and Mestizo leaders presented further proof that the Guatemalan government is racist and disregards lives of indigenous communities. Specifically, they denounced mining laws as unconstitutional and demanded changes.
Update on Ríos Montt Trial
At this point, about half of the 122 witnesses have testified. Prosecutor Orlando López has said that the over 900 pieces of evidence, including testimonies of genocide survivors, are enough to prove Ríos Montt and Rodriguez were intellectual authors of the slaughters of the Ixil population. On April 1, 2013, the court heard testimonies from 12 more witnesses who described the massacres, inhumane conditions and, in one instance, torture suffered during the time of Montt’s 1982-83 rule. Attorneys for the prosecution also arranged for forthcoming testimony from survivors of sexual assault.